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Posts Tagged ‘congress’

Veterans do not want pity

In Health, history, National News, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized on February 27, 2017 at 10:12 am

Deer In Headlines
By Gery L. Deer

DIH LOGOThe way in which we care for military veterans in this country is shameful, to say the least. And, so far in the Trump administration’s first term, there has been no movement to correct it. Strangely, some people still think veterans are just whining or wanting some kind of pity from the rest of us.

Well for those of you who think they’re whining, here are some facts. There are more than 21.5 million living veterans in America. From that group we know that they are 26.3 percent less educated than the average citizen, earn more money on average, about $8800 per year more, and 71 percent of them vote in general elections.

Nearly 2 million veterans and almost 1 million of their family members, lack health insurance and more than one-sixth of all veterans have an active duty related disability that they can’t get the Veterans Administration to recognize. If they do recognize it, some veterans must wait up to three years for treatment to begin.

Veterans don't want pity - they want what they were promised.

Veterans don’t want pity – they want what they were promised.

The divorce rates for veterans is at record levels while declining among the civilian population. Veterans are half as likely to be homeless as non-vets and more soldiers have committed suicide this year than have died on the battlefield. These statistics are incomprehensible to any sensible, thinking person.

My questions are simple. Where is the outrage? Where are the protests? Where are the executive orders? None of the above have happened, nor are they likely to.
Sure, occasionally you get an appropriations bill coming through congress that’s supposed to shore up resources for veteran programs, update medical facilities, or increase money for benefits a bit. But that’s it, and even that money gets whittled down repeatedly until the overall impact is negligible.

Dozens of veteran-focused organizations are out there with the mission to assist individuals with problems like jobs, housing, welfare, whatever. But these are people who have protected us from at least one full generation that has done so voluntarily. No one conscripted them – they went willingly to take up the front lines.

While elected officials debate and

Those of us with veterans in our families understand the reality of waiting weeks for a doctor’s appointment or months for treatment of a diagnosis. But it’s not all about medical care.

Make no mistake. Veterans don’t want our pity but our respect and to have the U.S. Government fulfill its promise of lifelong care for their service. In this writer’s opinion, beyond race or gender, a veteran should be given first consideration for jobs, loans, business opportunities and so on. They’ve earned it. They put their civilian lives on hold, and sometimes their very lives on the line for all of us.

To put it into perspective, members of the U.S. Congress receive lifelong retirement and health insurance benefits befitting most other federal employees at the same pay level – on average around $220,000 per year. But it’s a sure bet that none of them would have to wait three years for any diagnosis or treatment but all of them get to decide on how much money goes towards caring for the veterans who will.

It’s disgraceful that any serving enlisted military member must survive on welfare of any kind. Then, once they finish their tour – or tours – of duty, they must depend on the V.A. for services that are so low in standard as to be laughable. And change is moving at a snail’s pace.

I’m not a veteran. I considered going into the U.S. Air Force after high school, but health issues made that impossible. Still, as a citizen, I’m constantly impressed and in awe of the level of which military men and women, active and retired, serve with no regrets, and who express unshakable loyalty to a country which has done virtually nothing to support them after the fact.

Veterans don’t want a handout. They want an opportunity; an opportunity to receive what they were promised when Uncle Sam accepted their signature. There’s nothing charitable about that – it’s just the right thing to do.

Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business writer. Catch the podcast version, free,  at MyGreeneRadio.com.

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Reduce spending, the deficit and congress

In Economy, Education, Jobs, National News, Opinion, Politics on October 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm

DIH LOGOHow long can the national debt continue to increase before it finally collapses under its own weight? Congress seems to think it’s indefinite but when the debt is growing twice as fast as the economy, the country’s financial stability is so compromised it’s making the rest of the world nervous.

Just like having a credit card with an over-extended balance that racks up fees and penalties when defaults occur, the federal deficit grows exponentially with time. Even knocking a few billion off here and there won’t make much of a difference if the economy remains as stagnant as it has in the last several years. America cannot simply keep borrowing more money to cover debt that should have been reduced far earlier.

Photo Courtesy USA Today - www.usatoday.com

Photo Courtesy USA Today – http://www.usatoday.com

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it means to raise the debt ceiling. But continually increasing the amount of money the country is allowed to borrow will only add to the problem. Amid the congressional battles and strong-arming is a dance that averts the actual problem – the only way to reduce the deficit is to cut spending – period. That’s a tall order when all congress seems to want to do is sit by and watch the country hemorrhage money.

As the government shutdown enters a third week, congress is no closer to a solution than it was on October 1st. Government employees are still either furloughed or working without pay. Sure, they’ve been promised back pay, but how does that help when a family has mouths to feed and an upside-down mortgage to pay?

The real question is, apart from the small percentage of Americans who work for the federal government, who has really noticed the shutdown? Many experts say, very few. There are even those who say the park and memorial closures were done more as a publicity stunt to elicit public outrage towards the Republicans than to save money.

Looking at it objectively, that actually makes sense considering that government workers will receive back-pay for any and all days missed on furlough or unpaid time. If the shutdown of national parks services was really because “there was no money to pay them due to the fiscal crisis” during the shutdown, why would there be back pay to offer?

It has also been suggested that the shutdown has exposed another inherently expensive issue within the federal government – redundant or unnecessary employees. Excluding the military from the discussion for the moment, a certain level of redundancy is necessary for various reasons, but there is such a thing as overkill, even at the federal level. That overkill could be costing the taxpayers billions spent on unneeded civilian, contracted and other extraneous personnel.

After all, if you were running a small business and hired six employees when three would have sufficed, your business would soon be in financial distress. After a period of time, even large companies feel the effects of that kind of waste. It’s entirely possible that the government hires many more people than it needs (yeah – shocking, right?). This happens for a number of reasons from bad accounting to nepotism, but it does happen.

Which brings back the original point – Reduce spending and the deficit will come down. Clearly there are cuts that could be made without affecting the government’s overall operation or causing widespread layoffs. Reducing congressional salaries and perks would be a great place to start – particularly their perks. But the shutdown is proving that there are other areas of waste to be addressed. The trick is going to be finding the ones that are genuinely wasteful compared to those that need to be funded.

The difficulty exists in coming to an agreement about what needs to be cut and how much. Different sides have opposing ideas about the definition of “necessary” and required. Eventually they’ll have to come to some common ground and work it all out, but for now things still seem stalled.

The president’s approval rating, according to the Associated Press, is down to 37-percent and congress still lags behind at less than 20-percent. If people re-elect any of these people to congress they have only themselves to blame when this all happens again.

 

27th Amendment: Congress gets paid no matter what.

In Economy, history, National News, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized on October 1, 2013 at 9:57 pm

DEER IN HEADLINES

By Gery L. Deer

Did you know that the 27th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States prohibits Congress from changing its own pay? The exact wording is, “No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.”

congress 1Although the amendment was submitted to the states for ratification way back in 1789, it was not adopted until 1992, more than 200 years later. It was conceived to prevent the legislative branch from giving itself unwarranted and outrageous increases in pay, but it also works in the reverse. So, according to the constitution, congress gets paid, no matter what happens.

Amid a government shutdown unnecessarily created by a congress that simply refuses to compromise (on either side), it is thoroughly reprehensible that they are not also deprived a paycheck. Compensation certainly outshines performance, particularly by congressional leaders.

According to an article published in 2011 by the Center for Public Integrity, “No legislator – living or dead – has been paid a higher salary by the taxpayer than Speaker Boehner.”

The article notes that the Speaker earns the highest annual salary of all his peers, at $223,500. On the other side of the dome, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other congressional leaders are paid much less; just $193,400 per year.

Poor folks; It’s hard not to feel bad for them. Really, it must be terrible to have to struggle by on a measly couple-hundred-thousand a year. Yes, that was sarcasm.

There should be some way to cut Congress’s pay in midterm when they’re not living up to expectations and actually doing more harm than good. If they had to work a normal job, the current level of unsatisfactory performance would have gotten them all fired a couple of years ago.

con1Apparently, the only way to do have any financial impact on these people is to amend the 27th Amendment, allowing for congressional pay reductions at the will of the people. Administering such a procedure would be something of a logistical and legal challenge, but working it out would pay off in the end.

Direct and immediate job performance accountability, like everyone else endures at work, might actually motivate congressional leaders to the action of the people. At the moment, the only action they are taking is that which gives them the most spots on the Sunday morning news shows.

While hard-working government employees and their families go without pay, some struggling to put food on the table due to recent sequestrations, congressional big wigs luxuriate in the perks of the office, content in their jobs and in the foolhardiness and shockingly short memories of their constituencies. While there may be a few normal people on Capitol Hill, they are greatly outnumbered and hopelessly meek-voiced. A whisper from the back of the hall is nothing to the roar from the leadership seats.

Congress is currently enjoying its lowest approval rating ever, 87 percent of Americans disapprove of Congress’s performance according to an October 1st CNN poll. But until the American people say, “enough is enough,” this pointless bickering over the country’s finances will never cease. It’s as if the House and Senate are like an old married couple arguing over the checkbook register and who spent too much on the new blender they both needed.

Ridiculous filibusters and other Washington-style temper tantrums accomplish nothing, except to secure free press by presidential hopefuls no one has ever heard of now clambering for the spotlight. But, if members of Congress suddenly knew their pay would be cut and their jobs were in danger – now, not two years from now – they might make some effort to straighten all this out.

Until the 27th Amendment is amended, however, every single ineffectual member of congress will continue to collect their overstuffed paycheck. It’s time to show these people how the rest of America has to live because they clearly have no idea.

 CLICK HERE TO SIGN A PETITION TO AMEND THE 27th AMENDMENT …

Equal citizenry under the 14th Amendment

In Economy, Education, Opinion, Politics, psychology, Religion, sociology, Uncategorized on January 22, 2013 at 7:04 pm

14thAmDeer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

With a single sentence early in the text of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson established the concept of human equality in a fledgling country. “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” Jefferson famously penned, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Ironically, many of the men who signed the final version of the document were slave owners, with no acknowledgement of the hypocrisy they were about to go to war to protect. It took more than a century after John Hancock applied his prominent penmanship to the parchment to bring about a law that would provide the basis for the ultimate guarantee of a free and equal society.  But it didn’t exactly work out that way.

Passed on July 9, 1868, the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, in theory, sets equal status for each citizen. The wording clearly recognizes “citizens” as having either been born within the country or naturalized and goes on to grant equal privileges to each with no specifically stated restrictions based on gender, ethnicity, economic status, sexual preference or anything else.

At the time it was written, America was still experiencing shell shock following the Civil War, and it would be some time before full enforcement of the 14th would be widespread. Early on, even the government seemed to be choosing to ignore its own laws wherever it pleased to do so. A large part of the virtual annihilation of the Native American populations within the United States took place after the 14th was passed.

This legislation should have immediately equalized anyone born in the country, regardless of gender or race. But this was rarely the case. Some whites, particularly in the south, rejected the concept of overall equality. Racism and general prejudice ran high throughout the region, becoming violent on far too many occasions.

For those situations not expressly dealt with under the 14th, supplemental legislation has had to be passed to address those issues. But some people are offended that any subsequent legislation is required to enforce those “unalienable rights” already granted by the Constitution.  In their eyes, doing so only serves to solidify the idea that anyone other than the able-bodied, white male was somehow inferior and now needed ‘special’ legal considerations.

Sublime in their fortitude and thirst for liberty, America’s Founding Fathers are quoted by academics, politicians, world figureheads and even religious leaders. But in many ways that honorarium is less deserved because of staggering moral shortsightedness by not extending basic civil rights to everyone. Such a simple act in the beginning may have upended the economy of the new country, but it might also have helped preempt two hundred years of prejudice, war and bloodshed.

In the end, all rights are ‘civil,’ established and enforced by duly elected representatives of the people. Even with the country so divided over these issues, the government still has a chance to enforce the original purpose of the 14th Amendment.

People are always going to be frightened of change. But the opportunity remains to squelch old prejudice and make sure that all men, all citizens, are equal under the law no matter the color of their skin, to which god they pray, or whom they choose to marry.

It may be that no more laws need to be created. Each citizen is already endowed with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; not as much by their creator, as the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. If it really is the Supreme Law of the Land, it needs to be applied that way. If it doesn’t happen soon, Jefferson’s goal of an equal citizenry will never be much more than a pipe dream.

Congress is robbing Peter to pay Paul … and Mary

In Business, National News, Opinion, Politics, Uncategorized on January 8, 2013 at 8:53 pm

Deer In Headlines

By Gery L. Deer

debt calamityAnytime you take resources originally allocated for one use and direct it towards another, you are “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” Although there’s some dispute about the origins of the old saying there seems to be no doubt about its meaning, particularly with the United States Congress. Given the scope of the debt and the amount of money coming in, perhaps the saying should really be, “robbing Peter to pay Paul and Mary.“

Now that we’re past the overblown, media-hyped and mostly imaginary fiscal cliff, the next challenge is to get both sides of the congressional aisle to come together on how to pay America’s bills.

Just like the rest of us, the government takes in a certain amount of revenue every day and congress decides how it is going to be spent. In recent years, however, money coming in doesn’t come close to what has to be paid out – an issue all too familiar to their constituents.

To be fair, juggling America’s money is no easy task and trying to comprehend the full scale of fiscal goings on in Washington would be impossible in this short essay. So, let’s just focus on a single day in the life of the almighty federal dollar; say, February 15th.

On that day alone, according to a recent CNN report, the Treasure will take in only $9 billion. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Not when you consider the government is already committed to pay out $52 billion. Deciding how to allocate spending is the major challenge taking into account the kinds of bills that need to be paid.

On our random date, February 15th, again from the CNN report, America’s bills include $30 billion in interest on the national debt; $6.8 billion in IRS refunds; $3.5 billion in federal salaries and benefits; $2.7 billion in military active pay; $2.3 billion in Medicare and Medicaid payments; $1.5 billion to defense vendors; $1.1 billion in safety net spending, including for food stamps and unemployment benefits; and $4.4 billion in other spending.

Just like balancing your home checkbook, there is only so much money to go around and you have to decide what to pay and when. The stakes are a bit higher at the federal level, of course. If you don’t pay your electric bill the power company disconnects you. It’s inconvenient, but unless you’re on some kind of life-sustaining device, you aren’t likely to die from it.

If congress fails to pay Medicare or Medicaid or the salaries of our military, it becomes far more than an inconvenience. People could lose their homes, hospitalization and child support.

That said, the danger is also a bit over dramatized for the evening news. What happens next is a game of musical bucks, shifting and reallocating funds from one program or department to another until the immediate needs are covered without causing too much uproar in the area from which the money originated. Sound familiar?

It should. This is how most middle-class families balance their budgets every month; choosing which bills get paid over the ones that are less urgent. It’s more about weighing consequences and trying to keep from adding more debt to the pile than actually paying off the amount owed.

The debt ceiling is one of the determining factors in reallocating resources. If the debt ceiling is higher, they get more time to cover certain bills, thus allowing them to pay other, more critical ones.

Every bill passed by congress has “pork” in it; pet project funding that really benefits no one but the congressman or senator who sponsored it. In most cases elimination of that kind of spending would ratchet up the country’s bank account and allow more debt to be paid down, instead of using it for a study like how long it takes a cockroach to eat a bar of chocolate.

Congress has several fiscal deadlines coming up and, as usual, Democrats and Republicans are already posturing to gain ground before debate even begins. But in the end, the American people will be the ones paying the price; higher taxes, higher energy costs and more wasted money on a congress that has simply failed to do its job.

 

Rising Oil Prices Choke Economic Recovery

In Business, Economy, Opinion, Uncategorized on February 28, 2012 at 8:42 am

Gery L. Deer, Deer In Headlines

In July of 2008, gas prices hit an average all time high in theUnited Statesof $4.11 per gallon. By November of that year, however, the price of regular unleaded fuel fell to $1.79 per gallon. According to the auto club AAA, as of Tuesday, February 28, the average price of gas inAmericahit $3.71 and is still rising.

According to government officials, including statements made by President Obama, there is no one reason why fuel prices take us on this sickening roller coaster ride. And, though political candidates promise to change things, there is no clear way to lower fuel costs or prevent their upswing because there are too many variables causing the problem.

Some blame speculation in the market, when certain investors make a profit from the rise in prices of various commodities, like oil and grain. Politicians will lay the responsibility on their opponents or some middle-eastern government bent on crippling the Western World. Still others will blame the oil companies for the sticker shock.

Often an accident or shut down in a refinery is blamed for a price jump at your local gas station, but it ends up being more of an easy excuse for price gauging. Oil companies have so much fuel already produced and either in transport or storage it would actually take months for any change in their revenue to be felt so sharply as to require a price change at the consumer level. Oil companies will use any excuse to raise prices and enhance profits.

People have repeatedly asked the government to step in but not much is happening to that effect. Congressional power players, worried about donations to their next campaign, are unlikely to create any legislation that would anger the oil companies.

Oil and gas executives spend millions of dollars every year donating to the campaigns of friendly congressional candidates on both sides of the aisle – yes, Democrats take oil money too. Add to that the idea that members of congress get reimbursed for fuel and travel costs – by us – so it’s unlikely that any fluctuation at the gas pumps would even be on their radar.

Whatever the reason and however unwilling our government officials to act, we still have to get where we are going. And for most, ditching the minivan in favor of some over-priced, underpowered hybrid or electric car is simply not an option. So what do you do?

My best advice is to take some personal responsibility and try to drive smarter. Basic fuel conservation tips still apply today: don’t let the car idle any more than necessary, drive at the speed limit, try to consolidate your driving into round trips rather than short hops and keep an eye out for the best possible gas prices. In short, a little common sense can go a long way to stretching your gas-buying dollar. Also, if you have the option, leave the SUV or other large vehicle at home.

At a time when Americans are struggling to get a leg up after years of recession and record-breaking unemployment, the pain at the pumps is going to be felt in many more places than the gas tank. Gasoline, jet fuel and diesel are required in the production and shipping of every consumer product from toilet paper to a gallon of milk, so when oil prices rise, so does everything else.

Unfortunately, household incomes are not adjusted to this type of inflation. Families already struggling to make ends meet are pinched even harder and those out of work will have a tougher time getting to job interviews, all because of rising fuel costs. So, the economy remains depressed and any growth touted by the government is even more unrealistic than ever. What happened to that hope and change we were promised?