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“That Old Anti-Government Mantra”: Bashing “Big” Government Is Easy, Effective And Out Of Touch With Reality

It is easy. It is simple. It plays into the current cynicism of Americans.

Bash government. Tear into not just Washington and the gridlock but into the federal government itself.

If you listen to this crop of Republican presidential candidates you will get an earful – constantly.

Carly Fiorina, for example, said in the CNBC debate, “And this big, powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected.” Heck, she sounds like Huey Long, what a populist. But coming from Fiorina, the epitome of the super wealthy, this statement is, indeed, rich.

And Chris Christie couldn’t resist: “The government has lied to you, and they have stolen from you.”

The debate went on and on with each candidate trying to outdo the other with attacks on government. So, you say, what’s new about that – it has been going on for decades.

Aside from being destructive and counterproductive, the attitude towards government as a big, bad, out-of-control bureaucracy increasingly does not fit reality.

First, let’s take a look at what constitutes the current federal government. Across the U.S., there are about 2,750,000 executive, legislative and judicial employees (federal civilian employees). There are another approximately 1,400,000 uniformed military employees. These numbers don’t include contractors or the postal service.

But here is a very interesting fact: Of those 2,750,000 civilian employees in government, 1,232,000 are employed in a military or homeland security capacity – about 60 percent. And the vast majority are employed outside the Washington area.

Veterans Affairs leads the list with 326,000 civilian employees, followed by the Army with 257,000, Homeland Security with 193,000, the Navy with 192,000, the Air Force with 166,00 and the Department of Defense with 98,000.

Thus, when we add those to the uniformed military we come up with about 2.7 million, which leaves only about 1.5 million working for the federal government in traditional non-defense/security-related agencies or for Congress or the judiciary.

And many of those employees whom voters typically associate as “government” have seen serious reductions over the last decade.

For those who constantly complain about government’s growth, from 2003 to 2013 we have seen workforce reductions of 17 percent at Housing and Urban Development, 14 percent at Agriculture, 11 percent at Treasury, 10 percent at Education, 10 percent at Environmental Protection Agency, 8 percent at Interior and the list goes on.

In addition, when considered as a percentage of the overall workforce, the 2,750,000 constitute just 2 percent, and the 1.5 million non-defense/security-related, just about 1 percent.

The bottom line, too, is that most of these people are working hard to do more with less, are committed to serving the public and care about contributing to society. They may not be glamorous jobs, or very high paying, but they are fulfilling because civil servants know that they are there to make a difference in people’s lives. The vast majority simply care and care deeply. And they don’t deserve the derision of politicians. Government is not the problem, and it is not bloated; sadly, that may be more of an apt description of some of the politicians.

 

By: Peter Fenn, U. S. News and World Report, November 9, 2015

November 10, 2015 Posted by | Anti-Government, Federal Government, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“What’s Old Is New Again In Ferguson”: The Tensions In Missouri Are Part Of A Too-Familiar American Story

Ferguson, Missouri, has opened our eyes to old and new unpleasant truths about the U.S. of A. First, a small Southern town burning over race – that’s a story we know by heart. American history and literature foretell it over and over: the South is the South is the South.

What’s new to our eyes is the extent to which police forces have become militarized against the citizenry. Why we should tolerate police officers on tanks, looking like warriors, wielding heavy artillery, is beyond me. It’s another outrageous gift from the presidency of George W. Bush, who founded the Department of “Homeland Security.” The word “homeland” was not even in American usage before 2001. Now with military surplus hardware going out to law enforcement, the face of policing at home has changed to become more hostile in a post-9/11 posture. Violence on civilians is thus more likely to happen.

Because of Ferguson, black anger and grief at white power and force is now in starker relief than the nation has witnessed in years. As our collective conscience registers the death of an unarmed youth by a police officer, this is a good time – a crisis – to look back as well as forward. Michael Brown was slain, shot several times, caught in the crossfire on a summer night, like many other young black men before him. Emmett Till, a Chicago youth of 14, died a brutal death in the oppressive heat of Mississippi in 1955. All they did to deserve dying was nothing.

Missouri has always been contested ground, a border state with Southern slavery and culture, much like Maryland. It’s the setting of the greatest American novel, all about the crucible of race. Mark Twain, a son of Missouri, wrote in “Huckleberry Finn” about runaway Huck and fugitive slave Jim seeking freedom, rafting on the Mississippi River, away from the slave state Missouri. How stark is that imagery in our shared memory? If you’ve ever seen Hannibal, the riverfront town that was Twain’s boyhood home, you can breathe that languorous Southern air that keeps people in their place. Missouri is far from the self-reliant Midwest in origins and character, contrary to reputation. It’s more Southern, not so much heartland.

One thing I will say in Missouri’s favor is that President Harry Truman, a native son, desegregated the armed forces soon after World War II. Good for Harry.

Missouri was a slave state in antebellum America and the focus of festering debate in Congress during the bitter divide between North and South. The “Missouri Compromise” of 1820 was just the first skirmish. In the 150 years since the Civil War, in the 50 years since the landmark civil rights acts, we are still prisoners of the past. Reconciliation is far from complete. Racial relations still smolder in the former slave states – known as “the Slave power,” among the abolitionists who resisted it. Philadelphia Quakers and Bostonian Unitarians shone as anti-slavery leaders from the 1830s to the 1850s. These decades were our darkest historical hours.

We still have an unspoken fault line, descended from the Mason-Dixon Line that separated freedom and slavery. Not all states were created equal, let’s be honest. The leading states standing against slavery were Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. That’s just the truth. But old Missouri still has the weight of slavery hanging over it, our own American “peculiar institution.” It remains somewhere under the sun, painfully re-enacted in variations to this day.

Just ask Michael Brown.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, August 18, 2014

August 19, 2014 Posted by | Ferguson Missouri, Racism, Slavery | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Disloyal Opposition”: Obama Has Made America Safer, But He Could Use Some Help

To paraphrase a famous election-year question, “Is American safer now than it was four years ago?” Emphatically, yes.

We are safer at home, safer overseas, and our national power and position in the world are largely unthreatened. Our soldiers are no longer in harm’s way in Iraq, thanks to the fulfillment of a promise by the president. We are on a timetable to draw down U.S. troops in Afghanistan by 2014, and our allies and the Afghan police and military are carrying an increasing share of the burden, even if the security status there is somewhat dubious. Despite some rattling of sabers by Iran and scattered incidents of maritime piracy and terrorism, the U.S. military is still without peer or challenger.

The president has continued a war against al Qaeda that he inherited, and he has increased the intensity of that war, using UAV strikes and special forces raids. The killing of Osama bin Laden is only one symbol of the successes of the wider fight—one that the U.S. and its allies are winning, as the remnant of al Qaeda struggles to remain relevant amid the political awakening in much of the Islamic world.

In the area most visible to many Americans, security in our skies, we are, sadly, no safer. Despite spending billions of dollars per year, the TSA and Department of Homeland Security for the most part continue to offer only the appearance of security, rather than effective, efficient security. The president, like his predecessor, may take credit for the absence of any successful attack, but this is likely the result of our luck and our enemy’s ineptitude, rather than of millions of us taking off our shoes and throwing away our water bottles.

Finally, as Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told Congress in February 2009, our national security was most threatened by the financial crisis. The recovery may be unsteady, but we are immeasurably safer today than four years ago. The president took steps that most economists agree prevented a global depression, and his policies have resulted in a safer world, not just a safer United States.

With our troops still at war in Afghanistan, and threats from nuclear Iran and North Korea, the president’s policies are being criticized, and he is still being attacked personally. Our country would be safer, still, if the opposition were a loyal one, and the discourse more civil.

 

By: Lawrence Husick, U. S. News and World Report, May 2, 2012

May 3, 2012 Posted by | National Security | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Boehner Thinks We’re “Broke” But He’s Willing To Splurge

When the Obama administration announced that it no longer considers the Defense of Marriage Act constitutional, and would stop defending the law against court challenges, officials told Congress it could step in and defend DOMA if it wants to. Soon after, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the House would gladly to just that.

Yesterday, Boehner’s office announced it has hired former Bush Solicitor General Paul Clement to defend the discriminatory law, which seems like a wise choice. Clement is an accomplished attorney with extensive experience who’ll no doubt do a capable job.

But Clement is also a very well paid D.C. attorney, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would like to know what Boehner expects this little culture-war endeavor to cost. For that matter, Pelosi found it curious that the Speaker hired an attorney to represent the House, but hasn’t shared the contract with other congressional leaders.

Today, the picture started coming together.

House Republicans plan to pay former Solicitor General Paul Clement and his legal team from King & Spaulding as much as $500,000 of taxpayer money to uphold the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) on behalf of House of Representatives, according to a document obtained by the Huffington Post.

“The General Counsel agrees to pay the Contractor for all contractual services rendered a sum not to exceed $500,000.00,” the Contract for Legal Services obtained by The Huffington Post says. The cap could be raised “by written agreement between the parties with the approval” of the House, the document states.

The hourly rate that King & Spaulding will be receiving is $520 per hour — which could actually be considered a deal. Some reports say that the firm’s top attorneys receive as much as $900 per hour.

Pelosi spokesperson Drew Hammill told Amanda Terkel, “The hypocrisy of this legal boondoggle is mind-blowing. Speaker Boehner is spending half a million dollars of taxpayer money to defend discrimination. If Republicans were really interested in cutting spending, this should be at the top of the list.”

That seems more than fair. After all, Boehner has been running around for months, falsely claiming, “We’re broke.” It’s how he justifies proposed cuts in critical areas like education, medical research, infrastructure, job training, and homeland security, even if it makes the jobs crisis much worse.

But if we’re actually broke, shouldn’t House Republicans want to save $500,000 of our money, and not give it to one high-priced lawyer to defend an anti-gay law?

By: Steve Benen, Washington Monthly, Political Animal, April 19, 2011

April 19, 2011 Posted by | Bigotry, Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, DOJ, Education, Equal Rights, GOP, Government, Ideology, Jobs, Justice Department, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will We Even Notice If The Government Shuts Down?

You’ll still get mail — but won’t be able to visit the Grand Canyon. Here’s a look at what a shutdown feels like: 

The probability of a partial government shutdown is increasing with each passing hour. With funding set to expire at the end of Friday, federal agencies have begun drawing contingency plans if President Obama and GOP congressional leaders fail to reach an agreement by then.

The basics of a shutdown, which we last experienced more than 15 years ago, are known: Hundreds of thousands of federal workers will be placed on furlough, and only those deemed essential to the protection of human life and property will continue to work — without pay. But the details are nebulous. What, in practical terms, would a shutdown actually mean to ordinary Americans? Would it disrupt their lives? Would they even notice? 

To help answer these questions, we’ve put together the following guide to life under a shutdown:

  • Social Security payments will be fine. The Social Security Administration doesn’t receives its funding from annual congressional budget appropriations, but rather through the Social Security Trust Fund, which is financed through payroll taxes. The Social Security Administration will likely continue doling out payments, and employees essential to guarantee those payments will continue working, although new applications may be affected. 
  • Medicare is safe … for now. Recipients will continue to receive checks for a limited time. However, if the shutdown were to stretch out for several months, payments could be cut off. 
  • The military will keep operating. Members of the armed services will continue to work, although they wouldn’t receive pay during the shutdown. Officials are rushing to put in place contingency plans to ensure that vital national security and foreign policy operations keep running. Two-thirds of State Department staffers would go on furlough.
  • The Veterans Health Administration would be unaffected. The V.A. operates on a two-year funding cycle that began last year, meaning it has already received the money it needs to keep operating. 
  • Good luck trying to visit national parks and museums. More than 350 federally run park sites, as well as federal museums, such as the Smithsonian and the National Archives, would be closed to visitors. Some museums that also receive private financing, such as the Kennedy Center, will remain open. The cumulative effect of the closures mean a half-million visitors could be turned away this weekend alone, according to some estimates. Security personnel, however, would remain in place.
  • Federal courts could conceivably operate unaffected. During past government shutdowns, the courts remained fully open through the use of fees collected by federal bankruptcy courts. Still, an extended shutdown could require furloughs for “court clerks, technical staff, security guards and other court employees.”
  • Homeland Security doesn’t stop. Most department employees would continue to work without pay. That includes border patrol, airport security and U.S. Coast Guard patrol. The department’s e-Verify system — which enables employers to check the immigration status of prospective hires — would be suspended. 
  • You’ll still receive your mail. The U.S. Postal Service, which is funded through customer payments, in large part from postage stamps, will continue to operate as normal
  • You’ll also still have to do your taxes. Income earners are still expected to file their taxes on time, although the IRS will suspend the processing of paper tax forms until government operations resume. 
  • Federally funded clinical research takes a hitNew research at the National Institutes of Health would be suspended, although ongoing research would continue. 
  • Tough luck if you need a new passport or visa. Most applications for passports and visas would likely go unprocessed. Such was the case in the ’95-’96 shutdown, when “nearly 30,000 visa applications were unprocessed” and “200,000 applications for passports were ignored.” 
  • Home loans will take a hit. The Federal Housing Administration could curb new home loan guarantees that private mortgage lenders often require for assurance that loans will be honored.

By: Peter Finocchiaro, Salon, April 6, 2011

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Consumers, Government Shut Down, Mortgages, Politics, Public | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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