Veterans Bill Moves Quickly Through Congress

Work Hard and TogetherI wrote a post a couple of weeks ago about how Congress seemed united in an effort to solve the problem plagued Veterans Administration. Today comes the news that the Senate has passed their version of a bill that attempts to address some of the issues the VA has encountered. It will likely be merged with the bill passed by the House of Representatives and put into effect immediately.

I’m not going to discuss this particular bill. It might do some good but then again it might be a simple and useless band-aid to a much larger problem. Both are possibilities but the reality is that Congress immediately threw aside their partisan bickering and, with astonishing speed, is in the process of passing legislation designed to fix the problem. They stopped going on television and tossing out lies, distortions, and half-truths.

When the news of the problems at the VA first came out there was the usual attempt to blame anyone and everyone with whatever lies seemed likely to sound true. Republicans blamed Democrats and President Obama. Democrats blamed Republicans and the House of Representatives. Political pollsters immediately began to poll their constituency to see if this was the sort of issue that could win elections. If people would fall into the usual trap of believing the lies. It quickly became apparent that everyone understood there was plenty of blame to go around, that lying about it wouldn’t be good political fodder, and that people just wanted a solution. They wanted our veterans to get medical care as quickly and efficiently as possible.

This polling resulted in what we see today. Legislation passed without political bickering, lies, and rancor. Legislation quickly moving through the House and Senate and towards the President’s desk. Legislation that compromises on the hard-coded principals of both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.

Can we as citizens of the United State take a lesson from this? Can we see that playing the blame game only hurts us? That buying into the lie and distortion filled rants of our elected officials is not good for this country? We are the deciders. We vote. When we allow lies and distortions to drive our votes, when we blame everyone but ourselves for the ills of our nation, we accomplish nothing.

When we work together towards a common goal nothing is beyond us.

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

John F. Kennedy said that and I think it’s far truer today than it was then. Our politicians fear that the people of this nation, with the power of the vote, might actually insist upon real solutions. So they fill our heads with well choreographed lies and hope we forget about solving problems and focus on blaming each other.

Contrast that to the legislation we see today. Do you see what happens when we demand real solutions?

What would happen to this nation if we put this attitude towards all of our problems? What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery Fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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Our Constitution – All or Nothing

ConstitutionI recently wrote a blog post about how members of both the Democratic and Republican parties seem to have a rather relaxed attitude about those parts of the Constitution with which they don’t agree and more passionate support over things with which they do agree.

What do these words mean to you: … nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, …

I am physically sickened, upset to my stomach, by recent events in Congress by those who are our representatives, who swore an oath to uphold the Constitution.

Back when the Founding Fathers fought for the freedom you enjoy they decided this simple oath was enough: I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.

Some unnecessary words have been added but those fourteen sum it up pretty well and they are basically still there.

Lawyers can parse it all they want. They can claim Lois Lerner made a statement. They can weep and wail. The words are in the Constitution and great men fought and died to put them there.

When you subvert the Constitution for political gain, be it the Second Amendment, the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment or any other, you lose this Libertarian.

I don’t believe in Republicans. I don’t believe in Democrats. I don’t even believe in Libertarians. I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe in me. And I particularly don’t believe in the 231 Congress members who violated their oath today.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Broken Throne
Next Release: The Black Sphere

Internet Sales Tax – Getting Closer

Internet Sales TaxI wrote about this issue back in August of last year but I want to talk about it again. The legislation to put a sales tax on goods you purchase via the internet is moving forward quickly and there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of opposition to the idea.

I don’t want to cover the same topics I wrote about last August so I’ll review them quickly and then discuss why this sales tax is not just an example of a money grab but also a real danger to our nation.

A traditional brick and mortar store requires infrastructure that an internet store does not. Roads to deliver shoppers, electricity, plumbing, parking, gas, and maintenance on all those things. The government pays for this and therefore a tax is placed on sales in those stores. This is fair and reasonable. If a company has a warehouse in a state where the sale is made then taxes apply although this should be somewhat reduced as the need for infrastructure is somewhat lessened at a warehouse as opposed to a traditional store. Fewer employees, smaller parking lots, less traffic, etc.

The main argument for the internet tax is that brick and mortar stores are at an unfair disadvantage because existing taxes increase the price of their goods. This is, as I discussed in my earlier post, not an unfair disadvantage, it is a completely fair and normal disadvantage. Internet stores have less overhead and they cost the government of that state less in infrastructure costs. This is a perfect example of capitalism. They have a better business model. The goal of a government is not to make the field perfectly fair for everyone. Did we put a huge tax on cars to protect the horse industry?

That’s what I want to talk about today in this follow-up post. What the federal government proposes to do undermines not only fair business practices but jeopardizes the growth of our country. My example of cars replacing horses seems ridiculous at face value. Cars contributed significantly to the growth of the United States and the world. They were better than horses in many ways. Not to say that they are perfect, pollution, accidents, etc. Still, I’m quite comfortable saying an effort by the government to stop the progress of cars, trains, and planes, would have left this country far in arrears of other countries who were taking advantage of the technology.

Maybe I’m being an alarmist to suggest that manipulating prices to encourage people to shop in stores rather than take advantage of internet sales is as much a danger to our country as would have been banning cars; but who can say what the future holds?

Internet sales offer many advantages. Fewer trips to the store, less pollution, fewer roads, fewer accidents, less law-enforcement, less emergency service, more parks, more people working from home. These are tangible economic, health, and social benefits. This is an example of government meddling that will end up doing far more harm than the perceived good it attempts to achieve. When the rest of the world sees the benefits and the United States does not; where does this lead?

If there are fewer brick and mortar stores and less traffic the government gets smaller. Thus our taxes should decrease! Let capitalism do its job. If internet sales are cheaper, more convenient, and better for society then they should win. Brick and mortar stores should vanish. The government shouldn’t have a vested interest in one or the other. That’s what this tax represents. The government taking sides to artificially alter the market. That’s never going to be good for the citizens of this nation.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water (buy it, read it, write a review, buy it again!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Paul Broun – Evolution is Lies

Religious FreedomThere’s an interesting political/religious article making the rounds, at least interesting from the perspective of an atheist.

The issue is that Georgia representative Paul Broun made some statements in a speech declaring evolution and the Big Bang theory satanic lies designed to keep people from understanding that they need a savior. I’m not at all surprised that people believe this sort of thing nor am I shocked that a member of our House of Representatives would say it. Polling of United States citizens suggests that in 2007 31% of them believed in biblical inerrancy. I’m not even surprised that Representative Broun is the Chairman of the House Science Committee’s panel on investigations and oversight.

The question that comes to mind is if Representative Broun is using his religious beliefs to drive his legislative decisions. In 2010 he introduced a doomed resolution to make it the Year of the Bible. Certainly his votes are going to be driven by his belief system in the same way an atheist’s votes or any other person’s votes would be. One of the most important tenants of the First Amendment is that our government cannot tell us how to believe and that entails that we must accept the beliefs of those of different religions.

If Representative Broun isn’t using his position in Congress to install Christianity on me then I really don’t have any problem at all with his beliefs. I think he’s wrong. I think he’s blind to the clear inaccuracies in the Bible. By the way for my Democrat friends, Broun was a Democrat for the early part of his political career but switched parties in the 1980s.

His legislative legacy includes a proposed ban on pornographic material at military installations, trying to define who can marry as a constitutional amendment, consistent votes against climate change legislation, and votes against TARP.

His speeches are littered with anti-President Obama rhetoric questioning his birthplace, his religion, and declaring him a socialist who wants to raise a private army to take over the United States in the same way Adolph Hitler created the SA and then the SS to take over Germany.

He’s a politician, a self-deluded fool, but I see nothing except the Constitutional Amendment to legislate who can marry who and who cannot as evidence he’s trying to push his religion on me. In other words, I don’t really have a problem with him if his constituents don’t. I would never vote for him but if the people want him; then that’s the way a Republic works.

When he tries to violate the Constitution and push his religion on me, then I’ll stand up and fight for the country that I love. As it is, I respect the Constitution and his right to his ridiculous beliefs.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Book: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

House Adjourns – Twelve Working days in Three Months

Paid for NothingThe United States House of Representatives adjourned on Friday after putting in twelve hard days of work during the quarter compromising August – October. This seems unusually low but let’s take a critical look at the situation before we condemn them to the depth of my ridicule.

This range of time is the election period for the House whose members all face campaigns. It is traditionally the shortest working frame of the year because of this. The representatives plan to spend 109 days this year at work. This is three days less than the average amount spent since 1990. Republicans defend this record saying that Democratic controlled houses worked relatively similar amounts of time in election years. As my mother would say, if all the kids jumped off a cliff ….

The reality is that in election years our representatives usually work a few more days than they did this year but it’s not completely out of line with recent historical reality. Back in the days before air conditioning they often took most of the hot summer months off.

I think a better judge of a how much work was done is how much legislation passed and particularly if important legislation was left on the table. This Congress is a loser in both regards. Both sides blame each other for the stalemate because all their “good” ideas are not voted on by their counterparts.

I’ll tell you what really happened. The Senate has a Democrat majority and the House has a Republican majority. Both pass legislation which they know their counterparts will fail to pass. Stalemate.

It is difficult to ignore the clearly stated mission of Republicans that they consider their most important goal to be defeating President Obama in 2012. With a goal like that it becomes difficult to believe the lip-service they give to trying to strengthen the economy. This is particularly true looking at the abysmal record in passing legislation the last two years.

The House of Representatives has had time to vote on legislation designed to defeat Obama including health care repeal over thirty times. Vice Presidential Candidate Congressman Paul Ryan rushed back recently to vote for a resolution on waiving work requirements for welfare recipients. It’s an interesting situation on its own as the waiver was requested largely by state governors, many of them Republican, and authorized by Obama.

My point isn’t about the legislation, it’s about how much time was spent on issues that catch the eye of voters and how little time was spent on issues that are important to the well-being of the United States.

This is the problem, and it is not simply a Republican problem. The attitude of our Representatives is that getting elected is more important than legislating. That obstructing their foe is more important than passing useful legislation. We live in a world of non-stop campaigning that carries on far past the election and to the actual legislative process. It has corrupted everything and everyone.

Here’s the important lesson to take from all of this. Only you can change it. If you continue to vote for Democrats or Republicans you will continue to get legislators who care only for getting elected. If we start voting for Independents, Libertarians, Constitutionalist, Green party, None of the Above, or whatever, things might change. Not before.

Why would the House of Representatives risk taking on the huge fiscal problems the United States faces if it will cost them votes? Why look at bills designed to fix the farm situation? Why do anything? If people don’t care, then representatives don’t care. They can spout platitudes, attack their counterparts on the other side, lie and lie and lie, then eat a fancy dinner at the lobbyists expense and laugh at the electorate. If they lose they get a fancy job as a lobbyist, if they win they stay on the gravy train. The only losers are us.

And we keep voting to lose.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire
Upcoming Release: The Sword of Water

Pay Congress Minimum Wage – Good Idea?

Congress Minimum WageOne of my prolific Facebook posting friends recently posted a photo declaring that US Congress members should be paid at minimum wage. My first thought was it was a rather idealistic but silly idea but then I decided, what the heck, I’ll take a rational, Randian Objectivist look at it.

My first goal was to find the actual savings in real dollars. There isn’t an exact savings because the number of hours in a year fluctuates depending on how many weekend days there are and leap years but the formula looks basically like this:

Current Pay: (530 * 174,000) + (4 * 193,4000) + (1 * 223,000) = $93.2 million.

The breakdown is 432 House Members and 98 Senators at regular pay, Majority and Minority leaders at 193,400 and Speaker of House at 223,000.

Minimum Wage Pay: ($7.25 * 2088 * 535) = $8.0 million.

The Breakdown is all 535 paid for 2088 hours of a work in a fairly average year at the federal minimum wage. States have different minimum but I went with federal.

Savings: 93.2 – 8 = $85.2 million.

As a percentage of the 2011 budget this is (85.2 million / 3.7 trillion) = .0023%

So, the actual savings, negligible, although I’m not one to completely discount $85 million even if it is .0023% of a larger total. It’s still $85 million!

Now, as to the practical aspects of the idea. First the perceived cons:

  1. Only wealthy people could run for Congress as living on that salary would be extremely difficult.
  2. It would open up Congress members to bribery as they needed the money.
  3. It isn’t any real savings to the federal budget.

The perceived benefits:

  1. Saves $85.2 million in real dollars.
  2. Would attract only those who wanted to serve rather than those in it for the money

The cons seem to outweigh the pros at first glance but I’m not so sure. No one can run for Congress without financial backing anymore and the perks of being a Congress member, in the form of benefits given by lobbyist, far outweigh their simple salary remuneration. Congress members are already are bribed by lobbyist in the way of campaign contributions so I don’t think lowering the salary stops who can run or their susceptibility to bribes in any appreciable fashion.

The Supreme Court has ruled that anyone can anonymously give any amount to a campaign. Congress members will, until that decision changes, be completely at the whim of special interests in order to get elected. Once elected they might go against their financial backers but eventually such strong-willed individuals would be weeded out of the electoral process because they would get no financial backing the next election. Only those willing to do the bidding of the highest bidder would get elected.

The illusion of financial independence is simply that, an illusion. Our Congress Members are bought and owned by those who pay the campaign bills.

Having looked at it from this perspective I’d have to say, yeah, pay them minimum wage and save a small fraction of the federal budget but in examining it I realized something very interesting although off-topic.

I have an idea!!

The original the House of Representatives was to have one representative for every 30,000 citizens (Native Americans didn’t count and only 3 out of every 5 slaves counted). This has gone up with the increased population so that now we have one representative for every 700,000 citizens. If we went back to the original proportions we would have a Congress of about 10,000 members (300 million total citizens / 30,000).

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, we do have 10,100 representatives (100 senators added). At minimum wage that is about $153 million in salary or an increase in $60 million from current expenses but …. they work from home! No staff. Each one represents a much smaller district and has less influence, huge decrease in the cost to get elected, and less individual power so that lobbyist must spread their money very differently. It might even be impossible for a lobbyist to bribe enough Congressmen to get legislation passed.

There would have to be some serious reorganization in regards to committees but with the speed of computers I don’t see this as impossible. Voting is easily done with computers. It makes it much harder to play the You Scratch My Back game. It makes representatives much more accountable to their districts.

It does leave the Senate as a beacon for bribery and misconduct but with their six-year election cycle they’ve always been a bit more independent.

I think it might actually work to remove corruption from the cycle and I’m convinced that the reduction in staffing, housing, travel, and the rest would end up saving more than $85 million!

Am I crazy? Could this work? Tell me in the comments.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire

Democracy – Good or Bad

ResponsibilityYesterday I suggested that the United States is becoming a democracy and put forward some ideas to support that assertion. Today I’ll take on the proposition that this is a bad thing and the methods needed to stop the trend.

Many people with whom I speak think that the United States becoming a democracy is a good thing. They argue that the country was created as a democracy. I think this largely comes from the preamble of the Constitution of the United States.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

It’s that We the People line. It does all come back to we the people but the reality is that we are a Representative Republic which I discussed yesterday.

The other main argument that I hear to support democracy is that the politicians are in place to enforce the will of the  people. I’ll quote some of the founding fathers to refute this idea.

Alexander Hamilton: “Democracy was the surest path to tyranny” and “That a pure democracy if it were practicable would be the most perfect government. Experience has proved that no position is more false than this. The ancient democracies in which the people themselves deliberated never possessed one good feature of government. Their very character was tyranny; their figure, deformity.”

James Madison: “A pure democracy can admit no cure for the mischiefs of faction. A common passion or interest will be felt by a majority, and there is nothing to check the inducements to sacrifice the weaker party. Hence it is, that democracies have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have, in general, been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

John Witherspoon: “Pure democracy cannot subsist long nor be carried far into the departments of state – it is very subject to caprice and the madness of popular rage.”

I’m a particular fan of that last one and I can’t do better than these great men. I’ll try to sum up: In a democracy the majority will always tyrannize the minority and a government’s duty is protect all its citizens, not just the majority and the flavor of the moment.

So, if what I suggested yesterday is true, that we are becoming a democracy, it seems to follow that we are headed towards a violent death as suggested by Mr. Madison.

As always, I don’t want to spend all my time complaining, pointing fingers, and otherwise acting like a modern citizen of this country. I will try to offer remedies instead of five second sound bits to enflame popular sentiment.

If this trend towards democracy threatens the United States then what solution do I offer? Certainly polling is not going away, the internet and popular sentiment directly expressed to our representatives it not going to end, so how can we arm our politicians with the courage to make the decisions that are unpopular but good for the nation?

First, on a state and local level I would start to remove all direct vote propositions. The politicians need to make the laws, not the people. If the politicians pass a law that I disagree with then I will have to harbor that for a period of time and use my outrage in the next election. By then, their wisdom might shine through my momentary passion of opposition, or not.

I would repeal the 17th Amendment which allowed for the direct election of Senators. This is a complex issue because many states were already heading toward direct election anyway. It is a topic that probably deserves an entire blog.

Finally and most importantly, we must educate people to understand the principals of our government. The ideas of a Representative Republic, the dangers of democracy, the ideals of the Founding Fathers. If the majority of people think we live in, or should live in, a democracy then the politicians we elect will think the same thing.

Do you want the laws of this nation being made in the same way your local newspapers has a popular vote for Best of (my town)? When you peruse that yearly “Best of” article do you find the winner is actually the “best of” anything? Or is it simply the lowest common denominator?

Like, Tweet, Stumble, and otherwise comment if you think other people might be interested in these ideas.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist