Thursday, July 29, 2010


One of my morning rituals is gathering our mail. For a couple of weeks now, as we lurch toward the dog days of August, I’ve noticed something. Our mailbox is fuller than it has been for some time. And, the load our mail carrier is toting is getting heavier and heavier as the days pass. What’s the reason for the increased workload? It’s obvious. Our political primary is less than a month away, with national elections coming in November.

There are some consistent themes in the literature. Taxes are too high. So are deficits and debt. Second amendment rights need to be protected. Our borders need to be sealed. Conservatism, as defined by the candidates, is in. The glossies say it all. “I’m pro family, pro life, pro education, pro gun, pro business, pro farmer, pro jobs, pro social security, pro apple pie, and pro America.” “I’m against illegal immigration, high taxes, big government, terrorism, bailouts, unscrupulous mortgage lenders, fat cats, and political chicanery of any kind.”

What they fail to tell us in the glossies is that this elected excellence never comes to us pro bono. We, the people, may have altruism in mind, but there are lobbyists skulking around, honey dripping from their canines and carpetbags full of perks in their hands. Nothing I hear from the current crop of political saints leads me to believe that things will magically change in one election cycle.

I’ve had a few friends tell me I’m too cynical about government and the political process. About the only defense I can mount is that I tend to think I’m not cynical enough. The older I get the more I appreciate H.L. Mencken’s words - “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed, and hence clamorous to be led to safety.

It also appears that I’m not the only cynic around. A July 22nd Gallup poll revealed that millions of Americans rate our Congress about on par with drug dealers or forgers.

Now, it’s not that I’m ungrateful. Politicians have rewarded my cynicism many times. I remember Watergate….Abscam….Duke Cunningham….and Jack Abramoff. I remember a politician who kept a bundle of lobbyist’s money in his freezer for safe keeping….Marion Barry snorting cocaine….Rod Blagojevich trying to sell a senate seat….Charlie Rangel being charged with multiple ethics violations as part of an on-going swamp draining project. And, it wasn’t too long ago that Eliot Spitzer, New York’s chief crime fighter, was caught cavorting with high dollar escorts.

Sometimes I think there must be something in the water that politicians and their appointees drink. For example, in 2007 Christina Romer, the Obama administration’s chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisors published an academic study about the macroeconomic effects of tax changes. The study laid out the debilitating effect of taxes on both consumption and employment: “A tax increase is followed by a large and highly significant rise in the unemployment rate.” “In response to a tax increase of one percent of GDP, the maximum fall in personal consumption expenditures is 2.6 percent.” Interestingly, as a political appointee she’s now touting the benefits of the stimulus package and mountains of debt and their “positive impact” on employment. It won’t be long before she’s touting the virtues of what Kansas politicians call revenue enhancements to create even more jobs.

Dana Priest of the Washington Post recently published a series on the size and scope of the security apparatus that has sprung up in the wake of 9-11. Her findings were eye popping. “1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States, employing an estimated 854,000 people.” There are so many people and programs involved that not even the Secretary of Defense knows what’s going on in the belly of the beast. How, pray tell, can this insanity be unwound? The minute someone mentions redundancy, too much information, and billions of dollars in waste, the programs’ supporters will howl, “Do you want another 9-11?” The only “sensible” response will be to create thousands of additional organizations.

The I.R.S. recently reported that the homebuyer’s credit that was supposed to stimulate home sales didn’t stimulate much beyond fraud. Millions of dollars in credits made their way to convicted felons, including many serving life terms. Millions more made their way into the hands of folks claiming the credit multiple times for the same home. The I.R.S, in a fit of transparency, admitted to problems in auditing the program and promised to try to do better in the future.

Thankfully, this cycle will be over in a few months. In the end, though, not much will change, other than the distinct possibility that Emporia’s mail carriers will be candidates for the chiropractor’s table.

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