Friday, September 9, 2011

September 11

     As we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2011, I continue to be extremely frustrated and aggravated by the so-called leaders in Washington.  We continue to pump billions of dollars to OPEC, funding the people who hate us the most.  And we continue to participate in not one, not two, but three wars in the Middle East and North Africa, at the cost of at least $10 Billion a month.  And for what?  Is our country really an safer?  Are the people of Iraq or Afghanistan any better off than they were 10 years ago?  I think the answer to both questions is probably no!

     True, there have been no more successful attacks in the US since 9/11, but we continue to receive threats, like the current one that there will be a significant car bombing in NYC or DC on 9/11.  Why do we continue to fuel the fire?  Why do we stir the hornet's nest?

     Mainly it's because our country is adrift, and our leaders have no idea what to do to fix the problems in this country, and so we go around acting as police to the world, as if that will make things better.  Our economy is in an absolute shambles, and our government is completely paralyzed by the polarization from the Tea Party on the Right and the Progressives on the Left.  No-one wants to compromise, because to do so is to show weakness, and to prevent re-election.  Our so-called leaders are more concerned about November 2012 than they are about September 2011!

     With some enlightened leadership, we could easily fix the economy and national security at the same time. In my first rave, I wrote about solar energy.  Now, more than ever, we need a strong energy policy which brings the utility companies to buying large numbers of solar panels and leasing them to homeowners and small businesses.  By doing it this way, the customer's total power bill goes down and the utilities have a solution to their capacity and transmission problems.  We wouldn't have blackouts like the Southwestern US right now or the Northeast in 2003!  Couple with solar panels, we need storage solutions, so that the excess capacity generated during the day can be stored, reducing demand for generating capacity at night.  This would then reduce the demand for coal, oil, natural gas, and nuclear power generating plants.

     If we could get a good program going for biodiesel, through biomass, cellulosic waste, weed-oil plant crops etc (not corn, soybean and other food sources) we could stop using petroleum, or at least greatly reduce the need for it.  What we do not need for energy independence is more drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or Alaska.

     Ultimately the problem remains that the large oil companies, utilities, etc, have great (too much) power over Congress, so we won't see any progressive legislation like this.  It's really too bad, because the types of programs I've described could put so many Americans back to work in jobs that actually involve production of things.

     I pray for the day when we get a third party in our country, so the Repbulicrats and the Demublicans no longer have so much power.  I pray for the day when we have leaders who serve their constituents instead of themselves and their corporate owners.  I pray for the day when we have leaders who show leadership by taking as much pain as their constituents have.  I pray for the day we can tell OPEC to find new customers and defenders.  All of these things could happen if we only had decent leadership in our country.  The sad thing is that I don't see any good choice for President next year, and sadly I expect we'll just have four more years of the same old thing, irrespective of who gets elected next year.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Rav’s Rave–The Current Budget Mess and Veterans

I am absolutely fed up with the hypocrites in the Legislative Branch, and the spineless leaders in the Defense Department.  We are in a budget crisis right now, and changes have to be made.  Of that there is no doubt.  That being said, the priorities of our so-called leaders are completely twisted. I have said much of this before, but it bears repeating.


They scream about “entitlements” and how they are ruining the balance sheet.  So, let’s take a look at those so-called entitlements.  The first things that are attacked are Social Security and Medicare.  These are supposed to be self-funding.  They would be, too, if our leaders hadn’t raided their funds for so many years to offset the deficits in the general fund.  The result is that now these programs are hurting for money, and so they cut Medicare payments.  There are myriad Medicare recipients who cannot get medical care, because Doctors can’t afford to see those patients at the outrageously low rates Medicare pays.


A very simple fix for this is possible.  Currently, there is a maximum income cap on FICA (SS and Medicare) payroll deductions.  This was fine when the funds stayed where they were supposed to.  By raiding these funds to offset the general fund, they become a de-facto regressive income tax.  So, what to do?  Immediately remove the income limit on FICA deductions – make all earnings subject to them, and the problem goes away.  If at some time in the future, the fund is solvent again, then put the caps back in place, as long as there are protections put in place to protect the color of this money.


The next outrage is military retiree and veteran compensation.  We have an all-volunteer military, and have since the Viet Nam war.  Yet at no time since then have we ever actually been at peace. Our troops (myself included) have been deploying and engaged in military operations continuously.  We are currently engaged in two ill-advised, never-ending wars – Iraq and Afghanistan; worse, we are now also engaged in Libya.  So what do our so-called leaders want to do to fix the budget problems in the Pentagon?  Scale back operations? NO!  Scale back acquisition programs? NO! Too many pork barrel projects and rice bowls to protect.


So, what is their solution?  Cut benefits to veterans and retirees.  We have given our lives to our country.  Those who serve in the military always come out with higher injury and illness rates than the general public because of the inherently dangerous work we do.  We are always subject to what our peers are going through right now – endless conflict with no end in sight. Countless dead and even more whose lives are totally destroyed.


We chose to serve, but did not choose these wars.  Our so-called leaders did.  They must stand up and keep the promises that have been made to us for decades regarding our benefits.  Those of us in uniform don’t just work a desk or a factory (I acknowledge the dangers in those too).  If our leaders want to keep end-strength where it needs to be, our troops need to be able to trust our leaders.  We don’t have any other recourse.  Unlike Federal civilians, we don’t have unions or any other protections in the military, and unlike most Federal civilians, we are required to “Go in Harm’s Way”.


So, I think the answers are fairly clear about what our leaders must do:

1) If they are truly serious about cutting the budget, then immediately cut compensation and benefits for all elected officials.   Let them operate under civil service guidelines for all benefits including medical and pensions (of which they get two, after only five – yes 5 years).  To do anything less shows that they are total hypocrites and must be immediately replaced in 2012.

2) Preserve all military and veteran benefits until ALL other Federal programs, including Congressional budgets, first have been adjusted appropriately.

3) Immediately reduce military operations.  The only way to safely reduce the military budget is to reduce operations.  This means getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan. This means leaving Libya to the EU, NATO (other than the US), the UN and the Arab League – they all have militaries, that we have been subsidizing and covering for, since WW II.

4) Change our force posture to one of border protection and sea lane preservation only, as it should be.  We must stop being the Police Force for the World.

5) Put guarantees in place to protect benefits and compensation for disabled veterans and military retirees (FULL DISCLOSURE - I fall into this category as a totally disabled military retiree).


If our leaders could actually accomplish these things, we might actually have some faith in them, and might not begrudge cuts to programs we were promised from the day we enlisted (I came in in 1979, when recruiters promised us full, free medical for life).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rav’s Rave Number Eight – Military Healthcare, Medicare and Social Security

I get that this country is in a financial crisis, and that cuts must be made, in order to balance the budget.  That being said, there are many things being done or considered that are just outrageous.

First off, generations of military volunteers were promised “Free Healthcare for Life” if we served a full career.  I understand that free healthcare is not a rational option, however, I think that there are many places that cuts should be made prior to looking at the benefits of the military and veterans.

Before any military or veteran benefits or compensation are cut, I believe very strongly that every civilian in the Federal Government, from the President down to the lowest GS-1 and contract employee, must have their compensation and benefits reviews and adjusted first.  People who don’t deploy and don’t go in the line of fire do not deserve to have their compensation protected, while the military is made fair game, just because civil servants can unionize.

While the shooting of Representative Giffords and the others this past weekend is an outrage and a huge tragedy, I do not consider legislators and other civil servants who face danger at the hands of local lunatics to be in the same boat as the military.

Second, totally disabled veterans should automatically be granted both 100% disability compensation from the VA and Social Security Disability, both of which we have paid for. Many of us, myself included, are forced to fight one or both of these administrations to get the benefits that we have paid for through taxes and our lives.

Regarding Social Security, for many years there has been a surplus in the Social Security fund, and this money has been raided to offset the deficit in the general fund.  This makes the Social Security withholding a de-facto regressive income tax, since there is an earning cap on Social Security deductions.  I believe, therefore, that there should be no cap on Social Security taxes, and that all earnings should be subject to this tax.

Regarding Medicare, this is another benefit that we pay for.  Yet frequently, Medicare rates are cut to help offset the general fund deficit.  Medicare already pays less than most doctors can afford – they lose money seeing Medicare patients.  It is getting harder and harder for Medicare beneficiaries (and military retirees, whose TRICARE benefits are tied to what Medicare pays) to find doctors who will care for them.  Yet, there is a proposal to further cut Medicare payments by over 25%. 

There certainly can be many ways that healthcare costs can be reduced, but people have paid for their Medicare benefits, and to make it so difficult to find doctors is ridiculous.
Regarding Medicaid, The ObamaCare plan was a very poor attempt to solve the problem of the uninsured in this country.  What needs to be kept in mind, however, is that we already pay for all the uninsured in this country through Medicaid.  People without healthcare go to Emergency Rooms throughout the country, and they are required to treat everyone, irrespective of ability to pay. So people use Emergency rooms as their healthcare plan, primary medical care, etc.  There needs to be a more effective way to pay for this healthcare.

A very large percentage of the Medicaid beneficiaries are illegal immigrants.  There are many who say that all illegal immigrants should immediately be deported.  I disagree.  I believe that there must be immediate amnesty for all illegals – make them citizens, so they pay taxes. 

There is plenty of room in the Federal budget for cuts, but these cuts should not be on the backs of the military, and for those who have worked full careers and paid into Social Security and Medicare.