December 27, 2010

Salmon: We must blame no one and engage everyone

Tom Salmon speaks to a lesson our culture must learn. Americans and Vermonters have become far too dependent on government for our wants and needs. Turning the corner, however, will not be easy or quick because so many people prefer their 'entitlements' and politicians are far too ready to accommodate them.

At the Federal level with deficit spending and in Vermont by high taxes and dependency on Federal handouts from this deficit spending we are creating government services and expectations that we can no longer afford.

But where to begin to turn the ship of state?

Vermont Digger Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Vermont State Auditor Thomas M. Salmon, a CPA and licensed teacher who lives in St. Johnsbury.
We just finished a brutal campaign season. Op-eds are popping up and “Where do we go from here?” is one catchy title. I feel the need to address that question.
My father often reminds me…. “It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear”, so I’m hoping you hear what I say in the spirit intended.
In 2010, the President’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform report was issued. Commission co-chair Erskine Bowles said: “We have started an adult conversation that will dominate the debate until the elected leadership in Washington does something real.” So the question “where do we go from here?” remains fertile. Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post writes, “This means telling both sides what they don’t want to hear. Conservatives must accept..(x). Liberals must accept..(y)..” Sounds simple enough. Are Conservatives and Liberals showing signs of communication? Who is communicating with the real people between Main St. , School St. and State St. ?
Reform is going to require new players; people not usually involved in formal civic activities. Ms. Marcus fell prey to the same inclination many big brains do; they speak of the problem as if it lay on a table or under a glass case. Paralysis through analysis and no action. Politicians and “experts” need to push the “stop and listen” button.. Einstein reminds us to “find the opportunity in the problem” and that will call for a different strategy.
As Auditor of Accounts, I warn of dangers, and the loss of “listening” is a real danger. I have testified on sensitive subjects like Sarcoidosis at the Bennington state office building when the legislature almost paid for that illness out of Workers Comp. I warned during the Act 62 Pre K discussion that resources for education are not infinite and may require rethinking how we deal with grades 11 and 12 to pay for age 3 and 4 educations.
People are starving for the truth, bold ideas and direction. Let’s give them some. We are talking about problems we can fix. A year and a half ago I took ample criticism for speaking up on a sensitive unemployment issue. Leaders were afraid to discuss curbing benefits to protect the fund or warn citizens that unemployment benefits may run out before their old jobs reappeared. I was vilified in my attempt to call out that urgent self-preparation and adjustment is required because some of those jobs are not coming back. Now, leaders are still silent while those unemployed Vermonters start falling off unemployment support.
It is very expensive when leaders focus only on votes, or promises to mitigate pain, or increase access or resources, while remaining afraid of looking the public in the eye and giving them the harsh truth. This country has a well-documented history of overcoming adversity, the ability of standing up straight immediately after getting knocked down. One of my favorite quotes is “People do not lack strength, they lack will”; it is up to us to demonstrate that we have the will to address our problems. Any government that provides benefits (education, health, employment, etc) without clear expectations from its citizens, in return, is committing a disservice.
One of the promises I heard on the campaign trail was a “Single-Payer System in Vermont .” I didn’t hear much about the fact that 70% of our healthcare costs are attributable to preventable causes. Not only are more than one-fourth the number of potential military recruits too fat to join the military, but now a report released December 21 says nearly one in four of the students who try to join the U.S. Army fail its entrance exam. Many have found it easier to blame teachers and schools for such academic results or McDonald’s and soda for childhood obesity. A commitment to reality is long overdue and we must make personal responsibility germane to both of these discussions.
I could dazzle you with financial facts that are all big and all bad. I could stress the challenges of demographics, unfunded liabilities and our inability to create private sector jobs in Vermont since 1997. We’ve been there, done that. After you read this, you may crinkle it up to start your woodstove, or you may ask, how do we engage the general population to address the problems we face? How do we get the discussion started on issues of citizen participation in government and parent participation in our schools as a first step toward addressing the question “where do we go from here?”
We need participation, and the time of good intentions and “hoping for volunteers” is over. It’s time to get in the game, or watch our country, as we’ve known it, vanish.

December 18, 2010

The Corrosive Culture of Earmark/Pork Spending

The pre-Christmas controversy over earmarks or pork (depending on your ideology) is a valuable discussion. While Vermont’s targeted earmark/pork recipients whine about the loss of funding for their pet projects, the larger question deserves more attention. The culture of local slurping at the Federal trough that has fostered this entitlement mentality is corrosive to Americans’ trust in Congress and the federal government.

The massive spending bill that Majority Leader Harry Reid reluctantly pulled from consideration because he did not have the votes to assure passage in the lame duck Senate was laden with earmarks/pork.

According to the Heritage Foundation: “Gallup released a poll this morning (December 15, 2010) showing that the American people dislike this 111th Congress more than any other Congress. Specifically, a full 83% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job while only 13% approve. That is the worst approval rating in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance.
Why do Americans so despise this Congress? The reckless way it spends other people’s money, for starters. One would have thought that after getting “shellacked” at the polls this November, Congress would have gotten the message. No luck. Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced a $1.27 trillion 1,924 page omnibus spending bill last night that contains 6,000 earmarks worth $8 billion. Oh, and all this has to be approved by midnight Saturday or the government shuts down.”

Many argue that earmarks represent minuscule spending in the big picture and promote valuable local benefits. However, the more important factor for the taxpayers is that earmarks/pork is part of a political spoils game played by both parties using taxpayer and borrowed money. At a time of economic pain and imperceptible growth, this culture erodes public confidence in a government that refuses to reign in spending. Congress, the body with the Constitutional authority for budgets and raising revenue, is seen as frivolous spendthrifts who abuse the system for their selfish political benefit.

Now that the massive spending bill has been derailed by the Senate, the new Congress, particularly in the Republican dominated House where spending bills originate, must soon decide what to cut in order to fulfill the November 2 voters mandate to control spending.

December 11, 2010

Pay Attention to What Paul Ryan Has to Say

Here's one Congressman who is smart and is willing to commit to a direction that will put this country on a better course. Take 20 minutes for a refreshing view of constructive change rather than the political pablum we are fed by most politicians and the media.

Think how much more positive are Ryan's views than those of Vermont's junior Senator who prefers ego-building filibuster rather than practical solutions.

December 8, 2010

Note to Representative Peter Welch

Representative Welch,
     Thanks for highlighting the crippling deficits and debt in your recent town meeting.
     While citizens, the media and most politicians prefer to blame Presidents for over-spending and creating deficits, the deficit problem falls squarely in the lap of Congress.
Congress has the Constitutional authority and responsibility for authorizing spending and funding the operations of government. In that light, Congress has the final accountability for this problem and MUST reign in spending.
     Profligacy with taxpayer dollars and the trillions in debt that has been created is a failure of Congress and its leadership over many years.  The chickens have now come home to roost.
    The best place to start is with the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction proposal. You should immediately embrace the elements of that proposal rather than engage in a partisan fight about it. If your politics prevent that, then you signal that your ideology is more important than the fiscal health of the United States. I expect better from Vermont's lone Representative.

Microsoft Introduces Tracking Protection to Its Browser -

This new capability in Microsoft's IE9 browser, already a fast and efficient piece of technology, is good news for users. Users should have the ability to be tracked or not. Data and information that we generate should always be ours to share or not.

December 6, 2010

Google throws down gauntlet with eBooks - MarketWatch

Google is in the electronic books game now. Easily, I have bought a Google eBook, downloaded the Google book reader app to my DROID2 and now have the ability to read it in my Android phone and/or my browser. This device-independent capability is a winner for me. Thanks, Google.

"The main feature of the Google initiative is that it uses a cloud-hosting environment that allows customers to buy and store their books with Google, as opposed to downloading and storing books on traditional electronic reading devices.

This will allow books to be read using a Web browser on any computer or mobile devices, the company says. including smartphones and tablet computers running on Google’s Android operating system."

December 1, 2010

Debt-Busting Issue May Force Obama Off Fence - Matt Bai -

President Obama must soon define himself according to this excellent piece by Bai. He can no longer live in the campaign fantasy land of hope and change while he and Congress amass trillion dollar deficits.

Perhaps he will surprise everyone in the deficit reduction debate by declaring himself a Blue Dog Democrat once more. The proof will be in the pudding, but I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.