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We can’t afford sacred cows

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We cant afforded afford sacred cows

In my last piece I pointed out how the Republican tax plan simply nibbles around the edges. It doesn’t provide any real tax relief, and it certainly doesn’t reform the corrupt system. More importantly, the GOP is clearly no longer interested in cutting spending now that Barack Obama is no longer President, and Democrats are suddenly concerned about the deficit.

Spare me.

The fact is we need MASSIVE spending cuts and nothing can be off the table. I mentioned the other day that one of the problems with cutting spending is that everyone is in favor of it, as long as you don’t touch “my” stuff. Everyone has their sacred cows in the federal budget, and we can’t afford them anymore.

The biggest one for the GOP has long been defense spending. Democrats point to “unnecessary wars” as the biggest reason for our national debt. Well, it’s not the biggest reason, and even if it was that’s a crap complaint. National defense is a power specified in the Constitution for which the federal government can raise and spend money. Social programs are not. However, the Democrats are not entirely wrong that defense spending is out of control.

I’ve been both a military officer fighting a war and I’ve been a working civilian trying to make ends meet. Here’s what I know for certain from both of those perspectives:

  1. As taxpayers we owe it to our military men and women to make sure they have the best training, facilities, equipment, and weapons in the world. We have been succeeding at this for decades.
  2. Military Officers and the civilians that work for the military have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers to make certain that their money is being spent efficiently. Right now, they are failing at this and in the most egregious ways possible.

Now, before you get your knickers in a twist, this isn’t a hit piece on the military. I was in the military for 10 years and nothing I ever do, except being a father, will be as meaningful. Yet if we’re going to talk about cutting spending we have to look at our sacred cows, and that’s means facing some hard truths. I have solutions, not just rhetoric, and I have personal experiences to back up my thinking on this, so bear with me.

Solution 1) Change the military spending culture

When I was a young Captain, I sat in a staff meeting at Ft. Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas. I was the operations officer and we were going over budget requests. After going over the requests, many of which were superfluous at best, the colonel looked at everyone and asked if there were any others. He said, “I know higher told us to do better on spending money but I want to spend all our money and all theirs too.”

My eyes went as wide as saucers as I looked at the man I worked with, a civilian contractor who was a retired lieutenant colonel. He knew what I was thinking and we discussed it later back at our office. We couldn’t very well complain about potential cuts to defense spending when this was the attitude about how to spend money. He even agreed with me, but he advised me there was little a captain could say to a colonel about it.

At is point it was 2011. The Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) had been going on for 10 years with no end in sight. Money was nearly limitless for those operations and any operation even vaguely connected to them, which is to say, the entire US military. That kind of spending is addictive and many officers, especially those of my generation, had no concept of a military on a strict budget. However, having grown up in the military, raised by an officer who did, I understood these principles.

Solution 2) Change the way the military issues contracts

For decades the US military has issued contracts to the lowest bidder, and almost invariably has them run into cost overruns before the project is complete. It’s just the way it’s done. When my father was put in charge of renovating a dental clinic at Ft. Meade, MD, the contractors came to him expecting more money, as was routine. Not to be, as COL Wilhelm reworked the contract to make it fit within budget.

This should be the way all military officer conduct business with contractors. If contractors can’t do the project that they are bidding on for the amount that they bid, then they shouldn’t bid on the contract for that amount in the first place. Contractors have to be broken from the idea that there will always be more money, so they don’t have to worry about cost overruns. Some contractors blame the military for changing the orders, and I have no doubt this is sometimes the case, which leads me right to….

Solution 3) Change the way the military plans for the future

John Kerry isn’t exactly one of the great minds of the last 50 years, but during his campaign against George W. Bush in 2004 he did have (to me) one memorable line. When speaking about cell phones he said “I really think they should finish inventing these things before they sell them.” I chuckled at that one. It was funny because it was true.

In the same way, the Pentagon has a tendency to put the cart before the horse. They ordered the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first of the Ford-Class aircraft carriers, even though several key components of the new ships hadn’t even been designed yet. Though the Ford has been delivered, it was far over budget and won’t be ready for deployment for several years. Its arresting gear, which allows aircraft to land on the short airfield that is its deck, doesn’t currently work, and needs major changes to be made to work.

The Navy wants a next generation aircraft carrier to handle 5th generation aircraft? Makes sense. It doesn’t make sense if the technology hasn’t been invented yet. It also doesn’t make sense if the 5th generation aircraft in question have themselves become a costly boondoggle that never should have been in the first place. The Joint Strike Fighter project, which has now become the Lockheed F-35A/B/C Lightning II, has been a nightmare of cost overruns and failing systems.

The F-35 was supposed to eventually replace several different aircraft across the DOD. The traditional “A” model would have theoretically replaced 4th generation fighters for the Air Force like the F-16. The “B” variant would have replaced the iconic Harrier jump jet for the Marines, as it is supposed to have the same short take off and vertical landing capabilities as the Harrier. The “C” variant was supposed to be designed for the rigors of landing on an aircraft carrier like the USS Ford, the under constructions USS John F. Kennedy, or the 3rd Ford-class carrier, the USS Enterprise.

I have a family member who is a former aerospace engineer for Boeing and worked on the competitor for the F-35. Even from my meager military flight training, it seemed to me that trying to make three very different aircraft from one airframe was a fundamentally flawed idea from the state. I posed this supposition to my family member. He agreed wholeheartedly. This was never a good idea to begin with and never should have been adopted.

Solution 4) Time to start leaving some behind

In the military we live by the creed “leave no one behind.” Well, this became a bit of a joke at the Army Medical Department at Fort Sam Houston. We called it “No Sergeant Major Left Behind” or “No Colonel Left Behind.”

Why? Because these sergeants major and colonels would create high-paying civilian jobs, doing exactly what they were doing in the military and then retiring and sliding right into those jobs, thereby double dipping, their retirement PLUS a well-paying government civilian job. Did the jobs need to be done? Mostly. But they largely could have been done by someone making less money or in the military. Instead, you have military officers using the system to enrich themselves by staying on the government gravy train. This is a systemic problem that must be addressed.

The Takeaway

I could write a book about how expensive things are in the military, and how much casual waste there is. I could spend two chapters just on how sick it made me seeing how little the big-wigs in the Pentagon care about such things. Maybe I will someday. But for the purposes of this article, let me just point out that there are a LOT of ways that spending can be cut even in the DOD. It’s a lot easier to talk about cutting unnecessary spending in social programs when we’ve made the military more efficient, and believe me, the Pentagon could use a good house cleaning.

I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of James Mattis as the Secretary of Defense. There was no doubt in my mind he could do the job. He certainly had the military credentials. But in my mind the most important issue of the last decade is a massive government out of control and runaway spending. General Mattis wasn’t going to fix this, and it doesn’t appear that he has. It CAN and SHOULD be done though.

We can and should provide our service members with the best of everything, but that doesn’t mean we just throw money at every problem. We need that money to be used efficiently, and that is a concept of which the current crop of officers and civilians at the Pentagon doesn’t have the slightest understanding. You would hope that a well-known and successful businessman as commander-in-chief would put the DOD on the right path. However, based on the latest Trump Hotel closing, anyone paying attention knows that the persona of “great businessman” is more of a myth than anything when it comes to Trump. It would be nice if he took a look and realized we need to cut spending everywhere, but it seems unlikely the self-proclaimed “king of debt” will make strong moves toward that anytime soon. Otherwise, he’d be rejecting this horrible tax plan the GOP congress has put forward and come up with one of his own.

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Economy

What the partial government shutdown reveals about American’s finances

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What the partial government shutdown reveals about Americans finances

The partial government shutdown has been going on for nearly a month, with no end in sight. About 800000 government workers, according to politicians, are essentially getting paid not to work, but their paychecks won’t come until after the partial shutdown is over. Politicians are using this plight to tug at the general public’s heartstrings in the direction of their agenda. However, every politician and almost every media outlet is ignoring truth, to avoid offending people.

The truth of the matter is: if a person doesn’t have enough money saved up for such a time as this, they suck with finances. If a family is woefully unprepared for an emergency situation, they suck with money. These are objective facts, even Biblical. However, I do not write this to shame those 800000 government workers. After all, the crocodile tears of politicians would be wholly ineffective, if the average American could not see the horror is a month’s wage deferred. American’s finances are in disarray to put it mildly. NBC News reported how majority of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck.

Though the parameters of what constitutes a livable wage varies greatly according to where you live, these staggering statistics show just how few of us have the means to make ends meet. Depending on where they live, even people who earn $100k per year say they’re living paycheck-to-paycheck, and 59 percent of people making that kind of money admitted to carrying debt. Of those 59 percent, 56 percent say they’re heavily in debt.

And that emergency stash of six month’s pay that experts keep saying we should put away? For more than half of us, it’s just not feasible. According to this survey, 56 percent of us can barely save $100 per month. All things considered, when you break it all down, most of us are just one misfortune away from financial oblivion.

Yet despite the woeful unpreparedness of most Americans to finance an emergency, Americans spend. We have the latest IPhone, subscribe to Amazon Prime, have $200 doorbells on our homes, dine at fast casual restaurants, and drink Starbucks. And despite mandatory financial literacy classes in many schools, we push young people to pursue a six figure education. A recent survey done by YCharts found that nearly two-thirds of millennials aged 22 to 37 believed that they would have seven-figure wealth by the age of 45 or sooner. While seemingly outlandish, this study presented a more optimistic view of the generation’s finances than one might expect. Though with similar spending habits as Gen Xers, it’s overoptimistic to think this generation doesn’t overspend.

We often joke about Congress not balancing the budget like normal people run their finances. Yet in a country and culture of fiscal irresponsibility, it should be unsurprising, though disappointing, that there’s 21 trillion dollars worth of debt.


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Economy

A reminder to GOP lawmakers from Justin Amash

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A reminder to GOP lawmakers from Justin Amash

When Representative Justin Amash (R-MI) hadn’t been in Washington DC for very long when he said this amazing quote. At the time, many weren’t paying much attention. After all, many Republicans say similar things when they get to DC, but over time they become jaded, corrupted, or start to get used to being in the DC Country Club.

Amash is different. He has remained consistent with his message and views throughout his career. Now, it’s time for other Republicans to remember what they were sent to Washington DC to do in the first place. Defense of the Constitution is their top priority as it’s the best protection against a government that wants desperately to control every aspect of our lives. From healthcare to the internet to how we use our energy, government intervention has become so commonplace, it’s often hard to see the fabric of our nation behind all the layers of bureaucracy that has been placed on top of it.

“I follow a set of principles, I follow the Constitution. And that’s what I base my votes on. Limited government, economic freedom and individual liberty.”

If more Republicans followed the same principles and didn’t just use them in campaign speeches, we may actually be able to return liberties that have been taken and remove layers of government that have been formed unnecessarily.


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Economy

Larry Elder, Sean Hannity discuss the shutdown

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Larry Elder Sean Hannity discuss the shutdown

Radio host Larry Elder joined Sean Hannity on Fox News tonight to break down the government shutdown. Elder pointed out that President Obama was being urged by advisers, including Rahm Emmanuel, to abandon Obamacare, but Nancy Pelosi urged him to go big or go home.

Later, they discussed the Speaker of the House’s refusal to meet with Angel Moms. Elder asked what she would say to them. Hannity said she should have given them condolences for their losses.

My Take

The talking heads on Fox News keep repeating the same narratives, but it’s not working. This is an example of mainstream media playing to the base by repeating the narrative for cheers from the crowd but failing to present better information the Republican base can use to argue for the border wall.

Many on the right, particularly in media, are failing to make a compelling case for the wall. They need to adjust their talking points if they really want their audience to help sell the idea to the rest of America.


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