Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Illiteracy and the US Congress

When you saw the title to the blog posting you may have thought I was referring to education. While illiteracy among our nation's youth is worthy of a blog posting, that is not what I am writing about. I am writing about the epidemic of illiteracy among our representatives in Washington D.C. They can't seem to read the bills they pass. Now I am being facetious but the gist of it is this. Legislation matters. Words mean things. Especially when it comes to our nation's laws. Too often in Washington, we have Senators and Representatives who know bullet points but not the fine print. This is laziness, ignorance, and outrageous. We have a few problems that need to fixed for the next congress.
1. Too little time- Our Representatives and Senators cannot be expected to know what it is in a 2000 page bill in 24 hours. We have seen it time and time again. Bills that are too big and expansive, and too little time for markup, amending, and debating. Legislation is supposed to be a deliberate, slow process. It is not supposed to be rushed or hurried. Our legislators need time to read the bill themselves and understand the full ramifications of the bills before they vote.
2. Bills are too big and complicated- It amazes me that bills like H.R. 83, or Cromnibus, and The Affordable Care Act are thousands of pages long. These bills hurt our economy. They violate the  values of common sense, conservative thought. They are a blight on our legislative system. These atrocities of legislation are thousands of pages long, yet some of the greatest and meaningful documents are only pages long. Think of our Constitution. You can fit in your pocket, with a pocket sized edition. The Declaration of Independence is the same way. These two documents not only are the documents that defined and canonized our way of government. They have set the standard for democracy for over 200 years, and they can fit in your pocket. Try fitting a copy of the ACA or Cromnibus in your pocket. You will feel a draft is all I can say. Bills should be succinct. Bills should not be a catch all for hundreds of other bills. Amendments should be short and sweet. No more 500 page amendments. We need to simplify this process.
3. Read the bill- We elected our Senators and Representatives to govern. We did not vote for them to outsource the job of being a legislator. I understand the need for staffers. Staffers in Congress do a great job, but they do too much of the work. Legislators should be writing the bills. Legislators should be reading the bills. Too many times, a legislator will have talking or bullet points on legislation but other than that are clueless. Too many times their staff reads and researches the bill and not the legislator.
To prove my point, here is a section of an e-mail that our local Rep. Renee Ellmers sent my father. My dad had written her office to express his hope that she would vote against H.R. 83 or CROmnibus. Here is what she said that struck me.

" I took an oath to serve my constituents and that involves reviewing and understanding federal law, not voting based misinformation from outside groups with their own self-interest in mind. With that being said, our staff thoroughly reviewed H.R. 83, the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for FY2015
Notice a key phrase,
"our staff thoroughly reviewed H.R. 83"
My question to Rep. Ellmers is, why didn't you review the bill? If you took an oath to review and understand federal law than why did your staff and not you review HR 83?

Unfortunately, she did not read the bill, and she did not listen to my Father. She did not listen to the thousands of people in the 2nd district, who asked her to represent NC and DC. She voted for HR 83 anyways. I'm sad to say that in Rep. Ellmers case, even if she had read the bill and understood it, she still would have voted for it anyway. Since that is what the House GOP leadership wanted her to do.

The new GOP congress will have a fresh start. A new day in which to begin the process of reviving and repairing our damaged nation. I would hope that in addition to enacting common sense, conservative reforms that they would consider the above issues and reform our process of passing bills. Take your time. Cut the waste, and excess. Above all, read the bill. We have to live under it. The least they could do is read what they subject us to.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Let's Put Our Money Where Our Mouth Is

The NC legislature created a committee to study the Common Core standards, and ultimately come up with a new set of standards. I don't want to spend a lot of time on Common Core, since there is so much more material on this issue. I will provide some links that discusses the Common Core standards. The bottom line bullet points are these.
1. It is a another top to bottom, one size fits all solution or faux solution to our education issues.
2. These standards water down a lot of things in terms of math, history, etc. We can do better.
This committee convened in September of this year and has made real progress. We have now discovered that the committee is essentially out of funds and may not be able to finish what they started.

I personally wish the legislature would have passed their own standards through the legislative process. As a rule, with exceptions, I feel that outside committees are essentially a cop out. Regardless, of my opinion, the fact is that we have the committee and it needs to be funded fully so that it can do the important tasks of:
1. Getting rid of Common Core.
2. Replacing it with solid, dependable standards that will push NC to the top.
I believe that we need more local involvement. We need more local school boards, and parents involved in what they feel is best for the children. We all know the definition of insanity. Well, if we keep buying in to this idea that centralized standards will work, as we long as rename it every couple of years, we will never fix the problem.
The legislature will be sworn in on January 14, 2015. The real work will begin on January 28, 2015. We need to contact our state House and Senate members. We need to let them know the following:
1. I oppose the Common Core standards.
2. I support the replacement of Common Core standards with new ones created with local and state input.
3. There is a committee that was created to recommend changes to the Common Core standards, that has made real progress.
4. This committee is out of money and needs more funds to complete their directive.
5. Please, fund the committee fully and replace Common Core with real standards and real reform for North Carolina's children.
Below are the links to the Senators and Reps. who we need to  contact, who have a direct say on such a funding request.

NC State Senate
Senator Jerry Tillman

Senator Dan Soucek

NC House
Rep. Horn

Rep. Blackwell
Rep. McGrady
Rep. Johnson
Rep. Langdon

Please call, e-mail, use twitter, or Facebook, or write a letter. Let your state rep. in your local district know as well. Sen. Tillman represents Randolph and Moore County already. We also need to contact State Rep Jamie Boles.

Related links to Common Core:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Cut Spending First

     The Republicans have always maintained, since Reagan, that we need tax reform The reform takes many forms and has many faces. There is the old guard that wants to cut the marginal rates. There is the crowd that wants to consolidate the brackets into a two. Then there is folks, like me, who feel that a flat tax is the best way to reform our tax code. Any of these method are preferable to the current state of affairs. However, I feel that there is a much more fundamental challenge that needs to be surmounted. We have to reduce spending. Now you may say that we can do both at the same time. I disagree. Here's why.
     In the last 75 years we have seen three major tax reforms. John F. Kennedy reduced taxes in the early 1960's. Ronald Reagan reduced and reformed the tax code in the 1980's. George W. Bush reduced tax rates in 2002. Each time we saw economic growth, and increased revenues. Also, each time we saw dramatic increases in government expenditures. Each of these Presidents did the right thing, but failed to stop the expense of the balance sheet from going out of kilter. We can go 12 rounds and point fingers, but the system is broken and it needs fixing.
     Until we reform Social Security, Medicare, and other entitlements the balance sheet will never get balanced. I feel strongly that the GOP can seize the moment with a positive agenda. 

          a) Social Security
              1. Guarantee Benefits for existing retirees. 
              2. Transition those 35 and younger into a voucher based system.
          b) Medicare
              1. Guarantee Benefits for existing beneficiaries. 
              2. Transition those 35 and younger into a voucher, privatized system.
          c) Medicaid
              1. Block grant medicaid dollars to the states. This will ensure maximum help and minimal                       fraud and abuse. It will also allow the states to come up with plans that are more efficient                     and cost effective.
          d) Defund Obamacare
          e) Cut spending back to 2008 levels and then cap them.
          f) Pass a Constitutional Amendment that would require a balanced budget, except in cases of                   national emergency or war.
     These are common sense reform that can set us on a path to fiscal responsibility. After these steps are taken, than we can pursue tax reform. I personally favor a flat tax but there are several other options out there. My only point is this, taxes have gone down and up over the last several decades, but spending has continued to rise. We need to cut spending first. 

Beyond the Pell

Millions of students each year receive a pell grant. This is assistance provided by the Federal government to be able to afford college. It is a good program. I know many people, maybe you do too, that have been able to better their lives through this program. I did not receive a pell grant. I worked my way through school, and I had parents who helped me when I needed it. I wish we did not need it but the truth is that of all the waste and inefficiency of Washington, this program is a bright spot.

Here is a interesting article on the pell grant program and the funding levels. Over the last couple of years, and in projections the program has and will operate at a surplus. That means that less funds are being spent than was allocated. This means that there will need to be no increase in the annual commitment. There is however some caveats. 
There was a significant increase in the spending in 2009, due to the increase legislated through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This bill is also know as the President's Porkulus bill. This act raised the maximum grant level per student to $5550. This funding level has been maintained. The program will continue to grow and increase in cost. It is unknown how much longer this elevated rate and projected surplus will last. The program could stand some reforms. 
1. Take the per student allocation maximum back to $4731. This was the level back in 2008. This would still give students plenty of funds while scaling back the cost. 
2. Change the way the program operates. Instead of just taking the money, per semester, out for tution and books, and then refunding the difference to the student, roll the money over. Have the money maintained in a account, associated with the student's social security number. At the end of the allotted time, if there is any overage than the money is rolled back into the program. This will also save costs. 
I am not an expert in this field, but the system needs reform. At this rate the program will continue to grow in terms of expenditures. These ideas are just a start. We need to rethink the way we do things. Just throwing money at the problem is not going to cut it. 

Below is a chart that details the growth over the last several years. This chart was in the above article. 

Pell Grant Funding and Award Level by Year
Funding by Source ($ billions)
Prior years' surplus-----
American Recovery and Reinvestment Act13.54.2-------
2010 Student loan reform (one-time funds)-10.73.9------
2011 year-round grant elimination--3.2-----1.1
Budget Control Act--
2012 Grace period interest subsidy elimination/other---
Mandatory/entitlement formula2.
Maximum Grant ($)
Note: Appropriations prior to 2015 are law; figures for 2015 through 2017 reflect Congressional Budget Office estimates of the appropriation needed to fund the grant level shown at the bottom. All other funding sources are currently in law. Total funding row reflects what lawmakers made available, not the cost of the program, which was generally lower than the cost in recent years, particularly in 2012 and 2013, resulting in the large surpluses available in 2014 through 2016.
PUBLISHED SEP 23 2014 15:33

Thursday, December 18, 2014

First Gruber, Now Cuber

This article has nothing to do with Dr. Of Hubris Jonathan Gruber. This is a blog about the recent development on the Island of Cuber. For those of you who listen to Rush Limbaugh, you get it. I pronounce Cuba that way to mock the way our late President Kennedy pronounced in heavy New England brogue, Cuber. This deal is similar to the proud Gruber in this respect. That he, and the President take the American people for fools. This deal with Cuba is sheer stupidity. 
1. We received nothing in return. I know we received some prisoners in return. In return for what is the question. Raul Castro is still in power. There is no promise of future democratic reforms. There is no hint of change from the regime in Cuba. Now there is no incentive or impetus to change course. 
2. We are a now contributing to a dictatorship. With more lax restrictions, economic interests will begin to intertwine. The Cuban people will not see the fruits of their laboratory rewarded in a capitalistic system. Instead our monies will go strait into the coffers of a dictator. He will use the profits from our investments to empower and maintain the Castro stranglehold on the people of Cuba.
3. It sends the strong message to other Dictators. We have in the last six years, more tyrannical embolden meant and advancement than at any time since Detente. Let's review:
     A) The emboldenment of Communist Dictator Vladimir Putin. Not only has he continued his long history of repression and human rights violations, but now we see military aggression against allies like Crimea and Ukraine. 
     B) We have seen the continued advancement of the radical regime in Tehran. We have been operating under the guise that we are "enagaging" them. In truth, we are capitulating, and they continue their radical march to a Nuclear weapon. 
    C) In the vacuum of a hasty withdrawal, we have seen the rise of ISIS. This enemy continues to behead and murder innocent people. We have no coherent strategy to defeat them, only to contain them. 
    D) This week we have seen the rise of cyberterrorist attacks from North Korea. 
You get the picture. This deal with Cuba, is not an anomaly. It is a pattern of weakness and capitulation. It is the culmination of liberal foreign policy in which America retreats. In which America no longer is the leader of the free world, but rather a bystander. Where America is complicit in the oppression of people across the globe. 
The embargo may not have made much ground, but any seasoned negotiator knows that if you have leverage, no matter how small, you do not give it up. We have now given up the only leverage we had. In addition, the economic ties once solidified, especially in this sluggish economy, will be hard to sever again. Welcome America to your future. You are not a superpower. You are now the footstool for Tehran, Moscow, North Korea, and now Havanna. It's a sad day when you wish you had Jimmy Carter back. After the last couple of days, the Malaise of Carter seems better than the feckless, capitulatory policies of Obama. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Next Session

I, like many of you, was disappointed in the Omnibus vote. I want to thank all of you who called, emailed, tweeted, etc. your rep in Congress. I do believe that we have built a foundation. From this foundation, we can fight to implement our conservative agenda in the next congress. The GOP will have a majority in both houses of Congress. I look forward to working with everyone to make our shared goals a reality. Let's get started. 

The Agenda  This is the link for the Roll Call Interview with Majority Leader Elect Mitch McConnell. 

1. Keystone Pipeline - There was a press conference with Majority Leader elect Mitch McConnell, with Roll Call. He intimated that the first item on the agenda for the new congress is a new vote on the Keystone XL Pipeline. This is great news. This pipeline should have been approved years ago. I hope that the pipeline is still viable and will have the maximum impact. This pipeline will create American jobs. Will reduce fuel costs, and start the journey to Energy Independence. It will garner most if not all GOP votes. The measure failed in the Senate by one vote. With 54 votes, the GOP will need 6 more votes to pass the measure. There will be some moderate democrats who will vote for it. The wild card is the threat of a Presidential veto. The GOP does not have veto proof majorities, so we'll see.

2. Executive Amnesty - The Department of Homeland Security budget will run out sometime in late February, early March. The new congress will have the opportunity and leverage to extend funding to the end of the fiscal year. There is no promise from leadership that a defund amnesty rider will be used. This will need to be pushed. It is important and will be important to call your reps and senators to remind them of this unfinished business. 

3. Export-Import Bank - The charter for the bank is set to run out in the summer of 2015. I have written blogs on the bank and there is tons of info on it. Bottom line, the GOP needs to let the charter expire. We have statements from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying that there is a lot of support in the House for letting it expire. Call your Rep. And Senator and ask them to end the Export-Import Bank.

4. Internet Sales Tax - The Marketplace Fairness Act, unfair really, has passed the Senate. It is in the House now. It did not have enough juice to make it to the floor in the lame duck session. Leadership had enough of a fight with the Omnibus bill. Our own Rep. Renee Ellmers and 29 other House members are co-sponsors. There is a fight brewing here. This must be defeated. There is a extension of the moratorium of the prohibition of the tax for a year. This may buy us some time. Regardless, we need to defeat this job killing, tax increasing bill. Call your Rep. and Senate and tell them to not increase taxes on small online retailers.

5.Obamacare - The Senate and the House GOP are talking about defunding Obamacare though the same process it was passed, reconciliation. This tactic can bypass the needed 60 vote threshold for cloture and only requires a simple majority vote. I feel that the American people are with us. The question will be are the GOP leaders in the House and Senate with us?

There are a lot of other things that will need to be addressed. There a decades of problems that have amassed on our plate and we have to boldly address them. 

1. Entitlement Reform
2. Balance the Budget
3. Tax Reform
4. Tort Reform
5. Etc. 

We do have to accept the reality. We do not have veto proof majorities. A veto, unless we have Democratic's help, will slam the door shut. We also have leadership that has been timid on certain fights. I am not being pessimistic, just realistic. We will need to work together to get these things done. It is natural to feel cynical. I choose not to. I choose to be optimistic. I believe that this new congress is a clean slate and we must work hard to persuade our leaders to implement these common sense reforms. I believe if we, the grassroots, stay informed and engaged, we will be successful. 

P.S. I just want to wish all of you out there a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Incentives or Bribery?

Many times you hear that the GOP is the party of big business and the Democratic Party is the party of the workers. It may surprise you to know that both parties are the party of big business and corporations. As long as the corporations are contributors, or the shareholders are buddies, the business community has developed a close relationship with DC. This is evident in the Export-Import Bank debate. 
I have to be honest that until recently, the mention of the Export-Import bank brought about a Krispy Kreme glazed look from yours truly. I had heard of it but had never delved into what it is or what it does. Ignorance is bliss, especially when it comes to Government. It is time though, that we stop taking anything for granted, especially the Export-Import Bank. 
The Export-Import Bank is a facilitator or exchange for foreign companies and other interests. It has been existence, since the days of President Franklin Roosevelt. It is amazing the mess that one man creates. He may have been a great wartime President, but we are still to this day paying for programs and ideaologies that FDR created. The path to Hell is paved with good intentions, or so they say. 
The bank doles out loan and loan guarantees. The companies that many times receive these loans are wealthy and have capital. I guess the logic is, why spend our money when we can spend yours? This legal slush fund has become a favor pot. The lending limit for the Export-Import Bank is now up to $140 Billion. The line you hear is that other countries give their companies aid. They say that without the bank's loans and guarantees that American companies will lose out to foreign competition. 
The truth is in the numbers. Only "2% of export businesses received aid from the Export-Import Bank. According to Heritage Action, " 
It is odd that the Export-Import Bank loans are:
a) Mainly to very large corporations.
b) The majority of the loans have nothing to do with export related loans. 
c) They are for companies that otherwise would fail in the free market.

The logic is that by providing these loans, it translates into goods being purchased and that means profits. This does not take into account the basic principle of where does the money come from in the first place? You and me, that's who. The government is taking money out of our pockets, though taxation, and then giving it to rich companies to buy goods. Why not let the capital, money, stay in our hands and we can decide what goods are purchased and what company succeeds or fails. That is the principle of free market. The only reason that I can think of, for violating these basic economic principles is that the state has someone in mind for the benefit. In other words, the free market does not guarantee a positive outcome to a company. Governments can, however, give this assurance through subsidy, incentives, grants, etc. So the question is not why is the Export-Import Bank good or bad, but who are they there to benefit? It most certainly is not the American taxpayer.
Most of us agree that Russia is doing bad things in Ukraine. The administration has issued sanctions, and Russia has been condemned by members of both parties. Would it surprise you to know that, through the Export-Import Bank, Russia has received $580 million in export funding? That's right. We, you the taxpayer, are giving monies that  could stay in your pocket to a Communist superpower. This is a common theme. Companies, some of which are under despotic regimes, are given money that normally would not be given in the free marketplace. In other words our government is taking our money, spending it on things we don't want, and claiming that they are for a free market. This is typical statist, Keynesian economics. Do not fall for it. Even if the lines are coming from our Republican friends.
The Export-Import Bank's charter is going to expire next summer. There are many GOP Reps. and Senators who tout the line of "job creation" and "economic growth". What they are really fighting for is growth and profits for the select few and the continuation of a crony capitalistic system. 
Please call your Congressional Rep. and Senators and tell them to let the Export-Import Bank expire. If you live in Moore County call Rep. Renee Ellmers at 202-225-4531 and Senator Burr at 202-224-3154. 

Helpful links: