Friday, March 29, 2013

Disabled by our stupidity

National Public Radio recently produced a feature called Unfit for Work.  It was about the startling rise in people on disability. and others have been calling attention to the disturbing rise in disability benefits for some time.  What was new in the NPR piece was the fact that states have been making a concerted effort in this direction for some time.

They told the story of PCG, Public Consulting Group.  This is a private company that states having been paying to sift through their welfare rolls and shift as many people as possible from welfare to disability.  Why?  Well, it’s always about the money, now isn’t it?  States have to pay a certain percentage for each person on welfare.  If that same person moves to disability, instead, then it’s the federal government that picks up the entire tab.

Of course, we the taxpayers are getting screwed either way but there has been an astounding shift from welfare to disability over the last 20 years.  Bill Clinton vetoed the Republicans’ welfare reform twice before finally signing it in 1996.  What’s interesting is what happened after that.  The number of families on welfare began to drop dramatically.  What no one was paying attention to was the number of new disability claims.  If you overlay the welfare chart on the disability chart you see the number of people on public assistance remained essentially the same.  They just started collecting disability.

What’s also interesting is what they’re claiming disability for.  In 1961 the number of disabled workers claiming back troubles was 8.3 percent.  That number today is 33.8 percent.  Have we had an epidemic of back trouble over the last 50 years?  I don’t think so.

I did my own research on a hunch.  I took the top 10 states for disability claims and ran a comparison to the top 10 states for obesity.  Guess what?  Six of the top 10 states for obesity were also in the top 10 for disability.  Imagine that.

So, what am I saying?  I’m saying that obviously there are states that don’t have an obesity problem and there are states that do.  I don’t think it’s the climate so it must have something to do with personal choices.  That should be considered when we dole out tax dollars.  Are you doing everything you can possibly do to remedy your situation?  If not, you don’t get a dime.

The number of people on disability also obscures the true number of unemployed.  Those people, although they’re of working age, don’t show up in that highly-touted unemployment number from the Labor Department.  The more people who go on disability the better that number looks.  The percentage of workforce age people on disability in 1985 was 2.2 percent.  In 2005 it was 4.1 percent.  By 2011 it was 5.4 percent of the workforce. 

In typical NPR fashion, they managed to find an excuse for the explosion of disability claims rather than the glaringly obvious reason of too many lazy people.  “There are now millions of Americans who do not have the skills or education to make it in this country,” they stated.  Wait a minute.  A guy with a second-grade education can sneak across the border from Mexico and find a skilled job laying bricks and you’re telling me too many Americans don’t have the skills or education to make it in this country?

There are truly those who are too disabled to work but certainly not triple what it was in the ‘80s.  In the process we’ve robbed millions of their dignity and that’s something they may never get back.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Republicans just don't seem to learn

It’s amazing just how little the Republican hierarchy has learned from the last presidential election.  RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and a group of project co-chairs completed what they called the “most comprehensive post-election review” ever.  The “election autopsy” made it crystal clear exactly why the Republicans lost and it had very little to do with their findings.

The group determined that they needed to reach out to minorities, gays and women.  That’s code for pandering.  They determined that the party would back “comprehensive immigration reform.”  That’s code for amnesty.  In other words, Reince Priebus and the people he’s surrounded himself with are convinced that in order to win presidential elections you have to become Democrat Light.

Priebus and the other RINOs who now seem to be controlling the party are utterly clueless as to what happened to them in the last two presidential cycles.  First of all, it cannot be ignored that 2008 was an anomaly as far as elections go.  The Democrats nominated a charismatic man who was in position to become the first black president of the United States.  This catharsis was long overdue in many people’s minds and substance was the least of their worries.  They wanted to purge the country of the sins of racism and Obama’s message of hope and change seemed the logical way to do that.

The Republicans fielded an honorable but weak candidate who had no chance of stopping history.  Not to mention that the economy was disintegrating before our eyes and the incumbent party almost always gets blamed whether it’s justified or not.

The defeat in 2008 was understandable and predictable but 2012 was another matter altogether.  Despite what the polls were showing, many people – me included – thought there was no way we would re-elect a disaster of a president.  We underestimated the vacuousness of the American electorate but the Republicans are to blame for not giving the people a clear choice.  The proper rebuttal to the policies of the prior four years should have been someone who understood and could articulate basic conservative principles.

The lesson learned should have been that you don’t try to beat the Democrats at their own game.  But that’s exactly what Reince Priebus and his minions at the RNC intend to do.  They plan to “assume the room” at every campaign stop, tailoring their message to whomever they happen to be addressing.  This is exactly what the Democrats do.  It leads to victory, you may argue.  Indeed it does but it also lends itself to lousy leadership.  When you’ve promised everything to everybody you spend your entire time – and the taxpayers’ money – trying to fulfill those promises.

The blueprint for another Republican presidential victory was laid out recently during the Rand Paul senate filibuster.  Senator Paul articulated for 13 hours what was wrong with America and, more importantly, what was right.  He redirected our attention to the founding fathers and their vision of what makes a great nation.  At the core is liberty.  One cannot enjoy liberty and a smothering nanny state simultaneously.  To paraphrase Ben Franklin, those who trade liberty for security deserve neither.  This country was built on rugged individualism, not collectivism.  What made this country great were the entrepreneurs and risk-takers and dreamers.  We still celebrate the greatness of achievement and America still offers achievement’s best hope.

That’s the message the Republicans should be advancing and if gays, minorities and anyone else answers that call then they should be welcomed but you don’t change the message to pander to the masses.

The Republicans’ instructions for elections seem to be lose, Reince, repeat.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rand Paul too good to be true?

I knew it.  Just when I was starting to get excited about Rand Paul as a possible presidential contender he blows it.  As he starts to lay out positions on important issue he voiced his support for a pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens.  No matter how you try to slice it, that's amnesty and it's a non-starter with many conservatives.

Why is this issue so difficult?  We have people who broke into the country.  The only logical solution is to make them go back home and start the process over the legal way.  That's not cruel.  It's not mean-spirited.  It's a common sense approach to a gigantic problem.

George W. Bush was fond of saying we can't deport 20 million illegal aliens.  We didn't import them, we won't have to pay to deport them.  Simply demagnetize America and they choose the path of least resistance which is to go home.

We demagnetize America by cutting off the lures that brought them here in the first place: jobs and government benefits.  You crack down on employers who hire them and you make it a crime to knowingly provide government services, outside of emergency care, to someone who's in the country illegally.  It's pretty simple, really.  These folks would be packing tonight if they couldn't get a job or government benefits.  Crime would plummet.  Schools would have more money to educate citizens.  Prisons would cease to be overcrowded.

Two-thirds of the people who come up from Mexico into this country come legally.  That's right, most of the people who come to this country from Mexico come legally.  So, apparently it can be done.  The one-third that broke in needs to get the hell out and get in line.

These folks don't need a pathway to citizenship.  They need to beat a path back home.

Bill Maher is finally starting to get it

Notoriously liberal television host Bill Maher may actually be starting to get it.  He complained recently that he was paying too much in taxes.  He said, "It’s outrageous what we’re paying (in California) – over 50 percent. I’m willing to pay my share, but yeah, it’s ridiculous.”

The question is no longer about fair share.  It's about reasonable spending.  Maher's point - and I'm not even sure he knows he made it - is that none of us really minds paying taxes as long as our tax dollars are being wisely spent.  Maher obviously makes millions per year and having over half of his money confiscated is starting to trouble him.

California just raised taxes on people like Bill Maher.  The implication is they're not paying their fair share.  The assumption is the government is putting that money to good use.  That assumption is now starting to crumble, even in the eyes of die-hard liberals.

The question has historically been what kind of country do we want?  Because of the reckless spending the question now is how much country can we afford?  We have enticed and trapped literally millions on government dependency. 

I was at the ACC Basketball Tournament in Greensboro recently and one of the main sponsors was the North Carolina Lottery.  They had a booth set up at the entrance where they were urging people to come over and buy a lottery ticket.  I thought of how pathetic it was that the government outlaws gambling but spends untold millions trying to lure you into gambling with them.

Our government dollars have been spent on public nuisances like housing projects which not only trap their residents in a miserable existence, they terrorize the surrounding neighborhoods with crime.  According to the Chicago Housing Authority, when they demolished these petri dishes of societal decay they saw violent crime reduced by 60 percent, property crime down almost 50 percent and gun crime reduced an astonishing 70 percent.

Like the failed green energy companies our government has chosen to back, government bureaucrats are famously horrid stewards of our money.  The poor and Bill Maher's money are much better served by private sector solutions to our problems rather than government programs that simply exacerbate them.

Friday, March 15, 2013

The new movement: consumerism

There are environmentalists.  There are minimalists.  There are pacifists, communists, socialists and apologists.  Me?  I’m a consumerist.  The dictionary defines a consumerist as someone who acts on behalf of consumers.  I guess I am that, to a certain degree, but that’s not the definition I mean.  One of their definitions for consumerism is “advocacy of a high rate of consumption and spending as a basis for a sound economy.”  Even though they don’t define consumerists as such, I’m staking claim to that philosophy and I’m calling myself a consumerist.

Before you decide to join my movement, understand that I’m not advocating that you spend beyond your means.  Mine is a movement of pushback.  I’ve grown tired of terms like “shared sacrifice.”  We’re bombarded with guilt on a daily basis, like having worked hard to earn a few things in life is somehow evil.

I had a lady call my radio show once and tell me that we all needed to be sacrificing because our soldiers were having to sacrifice so much for our freedom.  I became quite irritated.  Our military personnel sacrifice to protect our way of life.  They don’t, for a second, believe that we should lower our standard of living just because they’re serving in some far-flung locale.

The notion of purposely depriving ourselves is not only useless and hollow it’s downright destructive to our economy and our country as a whole.  Were I to deprive myself of consumer goods just to feel like I’m suffering I would inflict that suffering on others.  For example, every car I refuse to buy, every article of clothing I choose to do without in turn deprives those who sell those goods to make a decent living.

Let’s just focus on one industry for a moment.  If we were to all, say, refrain from eating at a fast food restaurant for a month we would collectively kill the fast food industry almost overnight.  Think of the jobs lost and the devastation to the economy just because we decided to sacrifice.

Again, I want to be clear.  I’m not advocating going out and running up the credit cards just to help the economy but many a downturn in the economy was caused by the consumer herd.  People think things are getting bad based on media reports and a recession becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Conversely, a healthy economy can be grown by an attitude of consumerism.  The dirt people incessantly whine about how much we’re consuming.  They urge us to conserve here and conserve there and all of this so-called conservation eventually leads to a lower quality of life.

My consumption isn’t based on some phantom calculation of CO2 tonnage.  My consumption is based on how much money I have.  I’ve been in the work force for more than three decades.  I didn’t work this hard for this long so I can now live like a pauper.

I love life and I believe in living life to the fullest.  That means getting out and doing things, going places, seeing what all the world has to offer.  It doesn’t mean living in some guilt-ridden paralysis standing on the sidelines watching the world go by.

If you need something – if you want something – and you can afford it, buy it.  You want to do something for the greater good?  Become a consumerist.  When you buy, people work.  When you don’t, people lose their jobs.  It’s really as simple as that.

In the end, I’m a realist.  If the environmentalists and socialists get their way we’re all going to be minimalists, whether we like it or not.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Money can't buy you good health

I love the way the mainstream media refer to any disparity in income as "inequality."  Like it's not fair that some people are rich while others are poor or that the money was just doled out unevenly instead of actually being earned.  In fact, the media elite are obsessed with fairness.  But what is fair?

A recent article in the Washington Post decried the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor.  It was as if to add insult to injury the rich not only enjoy a more prosperous life they enjoy it longer.  Somehow they equated money to longevity and nothing could be further from the truth.  It's not the money itself that makes people live longer.  It's the people who earn the money.

Could it be that many of the same principles that make people rich also make people healthier?  Let's look at some of the things that kill us.  Smoking, for example.  This is certainly not to judge anyone who smokes but we all know that smoking increases your chances of dying early.  It's common knowledge that poor folks smoke more than rich folks.  A gallup poll from a few years back shows that 34% of those making less than $12,000 per year smoke as opposed to only 13% of those making more than $120,000.

Obesity is another big killer and it's a well-known fact that, at least in the United States, the lower the income the higher the obesity rate.  What's ironic is those are the people most likely on food stamps.  Were we really concerned about obesity we would be making sure that food stamp cards could only be used to purchase healthy food.  Instead, people like Mayor Bloomberg in New York would rather target all of us.

Picture in your mind the guy standing in line at the convenience store with the six-pack of beer waiting to get to the counter to buy cigarettes and lottery tickets.  Do you think he's more likely to be rich or poor?  So, what if he scratches off the right number combo and wins $10 million?  Do you think just because he's now rich he's more likely to live longer?

People who are well-disciplined generally are well-disciplined across every aspect of their lives.  They're not only more successful but they're usually better educated and they're most likely healthier.  We don't need income redistribution because, as I just illustrated with the lottery winner, windfalls don't lead to healthier lifestyles.

If the nanny state people really want to see a huge change in this country then make it illegal for anyone to get any kind of public assistance if they're buying cigarettes, alcohol and lottery tickets.  If they have money for all that then obviously they don't need my help.  If they really need the assistance then they'll change their bad habits.

And for crying out loud, why haven't we instituted drug testing as a prerequisite to getting any kind of welfare?

But here's the thing.  If they changed their bad habits they wouldn't need our help in the first place because the problem is not obesity or smoking or income inequality.  It's personal responsibility.  The moment we begin to encourage that is the moment we begin to actually solve the problem.

Ryan budget not good enough

There's much fanfare over Rep. Paul Ryan's budget.  Although it's infinitely better than anything the Democrats have put forth it's not good enough.

For starters, it continues to increase spending, though not at the current rate of growth.  Right now we're increasing spending at 4.9 percent per year.  The Ryan budget increases spending at 3.4 percent.  How about increasing spending at zero percent?  Better yet, how about decreasing spending?

Oh, but Phil you don't understand.  Entitlement spending is the problem.  Oh, I do understand but everyone talks about entitlement spending like it's this runaway train that nobody can control.  Congress created all of it and they could end all of it if they wanted to.  If they can end it surely they can mend it.  We're going to have to increase the retirement age for Social Security and Medicare.  That's a given.  We're also going to have to start rapidly moving toward privatizing those programs if we ever hope to pull out of this yet the Ryan plan calls for "means testing."  That's Washington-speak for welfare.

Basically, what means testing means is if I work hard all my life, keep my financial house in order, fund my 401(k) and otherwise prepare for my retirement then I get nothing back for all the Social Security money I paid in.  The government deems me too wealthy to participate in the program.  For those who save nothing and have nothing to show for their life's labor they get everything they paid in plus mine.  That turns Social Security and Medicare into welfare programs.  There has to be meaningful Social Security and Medicare reform if we're ever going to get control of spending.

Ryan's plan also asks federal workers to begin making some contributions to their pension plans by the end of the decade.  The end of the decade?  I literally laughed out loud when I heard that one.  Federal workers should be required to make 100 percent of the contributions to the pensions starting today!  That's a no-brainer.  When the recession hit in 2008 our company cut out the 401(k) match.  Although some of the employees got mad, I always looked at the match as a gift.  I was thankful I had it for the time I did. (They eventually reinstated it.)  Any contribution we as taxpayers make to the federal workers' pensions is a gift.  When you're $16 trillion in debt there are no more gifts.  End the pension contributions and end them now.

Ryan's budget purportedly balances the budget in ten years.  Ten years?  We can balance the budget in ten minutes.  Don't raise the debt ceiling.  And don't tell me we'll default on all our debt.  That's like saying you have a house payment and two car payments.  You go to the dealership, sign the papers and drive a new car off the lot then drive over to your bank and tell them you need 30 grand for a new car.  The loan officer informs you that you have too much debt and he's not going to loan you money for the car.  Do you default on the house and the other two cars?  Of course, not.  You might default on the car you just bought if you can't talk the dealership into taking it back but as long as you have an income stream you don't default on all your debt.

We have an income stream of about $2.5 trillion.  If we don't raise the debt ceiling it simply means that we have to live within that $2.5 trillion.  Oh, sure, things will have to be cut because we're spending over $3.5 trillion a year but we still have plenty of money coming in and we won't default on all our debt.

The pitiful whining about the recent sequester and its accompanying cuts made most Americans sick to their stomachs.  What a bunch of spoiled brats.  We've seen furloughs and layoffs in the private sector over the last few years and we had to cope.  The problem is we have a government hooked on the crack of taxpayer dollars and, let's face it, there will never be enough money to satisfy its spending jones.

It's time for the House Republicans to stick their foot in the revolving door of debt. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

New Yorkers take a collective last big gulp

UPDATE: A judge intervenes and saves New Yorkers from themselves.  At least for the time being.

Tomorrow is the day.  Mayor Bloomberg - the New York Nanny - institutes his ban on large, sugary soft drinks.  Retailers gear up for the change by spending untold amounts of money on menu changes, unusable cups and stocked inventory that now must be disposed of.  Starbucks is defying the big gulp ban, to a certain degree, by continuing to sell their Venti-sized beverages.  We'll see how long that lasts.

Bloomberg was on CBS  News’ “Face The Nation.” He said all the city is doing is “reminding you that it’s not in your interest to have too many empty calories.”  Really?  Banning large soft drinks is just a reminder?  "We’re not banning anything," Bloomberg claimed.  "It’s called portion control.”  Oh, it is, is it?

It's downright frightening to think that New Yorkers would just stand by and take it but several polls show residents of the Big Apple almost evenly divided on the issue.  This is exactly what happens when a population succumbs to the notion that their government is better at making choices for them than they are.

This all started with the smoking ban.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting smoking is good for you.  What I am suggesting is that people - and businesses - should be able to make these decisions on their own.  I've had people call my radio show and claim they have a right to eat at a restaurant without being bothered by smoke.  That's absurd.  Do you have a right to not be bothered by the music or the decor or the servers?  Restaurant owners should be allowed to make these decisions then you, as a customer, can decide if you want to eat there.

It's not a health issue.  It's a liberty issue.

Once you open the door to allow the government to make decisions based on health then you shouldn't be surprised when they ban large soft drinks.  And don't think this is the end of it.  This is just the beginning.  So-called junk food is next.  Hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, dips, donuts, you name it.  It gets even worse once Obamacare is fully implemented and the government is paying for most or all of our healthcare.

Those who cheered from the sidelines as the smoke Nazis descended on the country may even be cheering this latest incarnation of Big Brother but laugh while you still can.  They're coming for you next.