Baby, The Rain Must Fall, The Wind Must Blow. And Congress Must Spend.

A conservative friend posted a clever and shrewd tweet today.  Democrats (and some Republicans) on the Senate Finance Committee are holding up confirmation of US trade representative Robert Lighthizer, demanding a bailout of union miners’ pension funds in exchange for their votes.  What’s new?  This kind of arm-twisting politics is standard operating procedure in Congress.  But my friend’s exasperated reaction to the benevolent-sounding Miners Protection Act points out a fact that never seems to occur to anybody inside the Beltway:  “Taxpayers are not ATMs!  It’s not your money to give away!”

taxpayers-not-atmsI realized a while back that most legislators (and presidents for that matter) don’t worry about taxpayer disapproval when they pass a spending bill.  Here’s why:

  • Most voters don’t pay federal income tax, or pay very little.  They don’t feel personally impacted by government spending, because they think the money is extracted from somebody else – the “rich guys”.  Members of Congress (especially Democrats who rely on low-income or no-income voters to keep them in office) are heroes to their constituents when they spend more money.  In fact, incumbent legislators are almost always re-elected because they can brag about “bringing home the bacon” to their home districts.
  • Americans don’t worry about spending more money because there doesn’t seem to be any down-side.  Unlike families or businesses, the government never runs out of money, regardless of tax revenue or spending levels.  Our leaders have learned that they can print and/or borrow money without limit, because nobody has the courage to shut down the government and send employees home.  Yes, we have a $20 trillion debt.  Yes, interest on savings has been non-existent for many years.  Yes, wages have been stagnant for decades as the government crowds out private enterprise, gobbling an ever-growing bite of the GDP pie.  Yes, if continued it will all come crumbling down on the heads of our children and grandchildren. But the average Joe still doesn’t relate government spending to his own financial well-being.  In fact, most people think more government spending helps them.
  • And when you get right down to it, our congressmen are only doing what they were born to do.  The job description of a legislator can be boiled down to four words.  What do you do for a living?  Spend other people’s money.  The rain falls.  The wind blows.  Congressmen spend.  It is existential.  In the eyes of a government official, the solution to every problem is to spend more money.  If he isn’t spending money, he is a “do nothing” congressman.

Fortunately, the election showed that there are still (barely) enough Americans with a grasp on reality to step on the brakes before our nation careens off the financial cliff, taking the civilized world along for the plunge.  Our voices were finally heard.  But the narrow victory last November was just the beginning.  Too many of our leaders either still don’t get it, or will soon forget that they got it.  We may have stopped at the edge of the cliff.  But the cliff is still there.

We can’t eliminate all government spending, and in some strategic areas we will have to invest more than we have in recent years.  But it’s childish and dangerous to think that all of our current expenditures are still necessary and untouchable, and our only option is to spend more.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Some men climb a mountain,
Some men swim the sea,
Some men fly above the sky:
They are what they must be.
But, baby the rain must fall,
Baby, the wind must blow,
Wherever my heart leads me
Baby, I must go. Baby I must go.

Glenn Yarbrough – Baby The Rain Must Fall

The music scene in the early 60s went through a sometimes awkward transition from “folk” music to “rock”.  The Band was Bob Dylan’s backup group when he first put down his acoustic guitar and went electric.  After getting booed off the stage every night for weeks, Robbie Robertson, Levi Helm and the rest of The Band quit and went their own way, but Dylan soldiered on, clearly ahead of his time.  Here’s another example of the folk/rock insurgency: check out the blonde dancer bravely bouncing through folkster Glenn Yarbrough’s smoothie!

 

 

We Can Rebuild the Military AND the Budget

carrier-landing

President Trump’s campaign promise to “Make America Great Again” included his plan to restore our military preparedness to at least pre-Obama levels.  His message resonated with voters, and still meets little resistance from political leaders or from citizens.

Most Americans sense that our armed forces are no longer up to the task of defending our homeland while dealing with international conflicts, and this week’s briefings to Congress by our top military brass didn’t leave us feeling any less hinky.

General Daniel Allen reported that only three of the Army’s fifty combat brigade teams could deploy if needed.  Admiral William Moran said less than half of the Navy’s fighters are in service and our fleet is the smallest it has been in 100 years.  Our Air Force planes average 27 years in age, well past their life expectancy, and we are short 750 pilots and over 1600 maintenance technicians.

Of course every government program wants more money, more money, more money.  Always.  But it appears the military has been cut to the bone, and our leaders made it clear to President Trump that they need funds, now – if we want to continue to have any foreign policy leverage.

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is pushing for a huge military budget increase, but he may have to fight that through a conservative Congress and a tough new OMB director, Mick Mulvaney.  Mulvaney agrees with President Trump that national defense is our highest priority.  But he is also a budget hawk, tasked with keeping Congress’ promise to the voters to stop the insanity of our $20 trillion debt.

McCain attacked Mulvaney over his alleged “failure to support the military” by blindly supporting every request for “more money” as a congressman, but Mulvaney’s counterpunch embarrassed the crusty McCain, who could not differentiate between the “top line military budget” and the “overseas contingency operation”, a much-abused and unaccountable military slush fund.

McCain wants $100 billion.  The generals are asking for a $40 billion increase.  Trump is thinking more like $30 billion – with the requirement that it not be wasted.

Is President Trump right about the need to refresh our military?  Yes.

Is it time to send John McCain to the glue factory?  Yes.  Thanks for your service, John.  Have fun at Sun City.

Am I glad to have a tight-fisted skinflint like Mulvaney at OMB keeping an eye on our money?  Hell yeah!

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideHell yeah!
Turn it up!
Right on!
Hell yeah!

Hell Yeah! – Montgomery Gentry

 

 

Mulvaney Set to Drain the Swamp

mulvaney-alligatorFor a long time I have suspected that because liberals see everything through the prism of skin color, they assume conservatives do too, and are therefore racists.

Only recently have I realized that the same is true of political corruption.  Liberals think that conservatives who run for office or accept administrative posts must be doing it to enrich themselves unethically because that’s what they, the liberals, do – or would do, given the chance.

For instance, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) excoriated HHS nominee Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) during his hearing for a $300 profit he made on a stock purchase in a company that benefited from a ruling his committee made.  Her condescending rebuke was designed to paint Price as a monster who made shady self-serving deals using his government influence.  How rich.  Warren, a “one-percenter” with assets estimated at $10 million, falsely claimed Native American heritage to land a professorship, and received $350,000 for teaching one  college course.

Democrats point out, with faux concern and anger, that President-elect Trump’s cabinet picks are mostly wealthy individuals.  Like Trump himself, his nominees have accomplished a level of business (not government) success that not only builds wealth, it also indicates competence.

The Democrats can grandstand and delay, race-bait and class-envy ad nauseam, trying to hold up the confirmation process.  But it won’t work.  The swamp will be drained.

Only the shallowest of observers can’t see that these all-stars are not in it for personal profit.  Quite the contrary; they are sacrificing their earning power and precious time as an act of patriotism, service and charity.  And isn’t it just possible that the wealthy Democrats, most of whom have never earned a dollar in the private sector, are panicking at the prospect that their own gravy train may soon fall off the tracks?

The Trump team tapped budget hawk Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) to head up the Office of Management and Budget.  Mulvaney was a co-founder of the uber-conservative Freedom Caucus and has a stellar resume in budget, finance, and business – both inside and outside the Beltway.  Mulvaney isn’t rich – during legislative sessions he slept in the closet of his office.  But he is focused and determined.  And he is building his own all-star team, starting with Heritage Action brainiacs Russ Vought and Jessica Anderson.  The Beltway is abuzz today with talk of a plan to reduce the national debt by $10.5 trillion in ten years, based on the Heritage Foundation’s Blueprint for Reform published last year.

This is what common-sense Americans have been praying for since Rick Santelli’s rant on CNBC gave birth to the Tea Party in 2009 – a glimmer of hope that our children will not have to deal with the economic destruction caused by our monolithic $20 trillion federal debt.  In his rant, by the way, Santelli gave kudos to Wilbur Ross, another Trump appointee.

President-elect Trump calls it “draining the swamp”, which encompasses both rooting out corruption and slashing out-of-control spending.  It makes me picture OMB Chief Mulvaney in the role of Amos Moses, that badass Cajun in the Louisiana bayou, knockin’ alligators in the head with a stump!

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideNow Amos Moses was a Cajun
He lived by himself in the swamp
He hunted alligator for a living
He’d just knock them in the head with a stump!

Jerry Reed – Amos Moses

 

I love this 1982 video of Jerry Reed and Glen Campbell rockin’ it up with this funky, swampy, bluesy version of Reed’s “Amos Moses.”  You won’t find more guitar pickin’ power in one camera shot.  Reed is most widely known as Burt Reynold’s sidekick in the “Smokey and the Bandit” movies, but he was an outstanding musician and songwriter, and was revered by guitar players world-wide.  Among his innovations was the “claw” style of picking, which he allegedly taught to Chet Atkins.  Campbell had a stellar career until it was derailed by alcoholism and, later, Alzheimer’s disease.  He started as a studio guitarist, was an early member of the Beach Boys, and eventually had his own television show plus many gold records.

 

Trump’s First Thirty Minutes in Office

trump-phone

 

[operator]:  Good morning, Mr. President.  I hope you will enjoy your first day in the Oval Office.

[Trump]: Thanks, Rosie.  But just remember, one screw-up and You’re Fired!  You’ll be back cleaning bathrooms at ‘The View’ with those other ugly broads in a New York minute!

[operator]:  Of course, sir.  I have made your first call – President Putin is on the line.

[Trump]:  Hello, Vlad.  Hey, I just wanted to let you know, no hard feelings about hacking the DNC.  I don’t blame you, it’s a hell of a lot of fun tweaking that bunch of whiney snowflakes, isn’t it?  I would have done it myself, but I can barely do Twitter.  Anyway, what do you say we get together next week and make a plan to take out those ISIS bastards once and for all?  Should be fun!  Later, comrade.

[operator]:  Mr. President, President Kim Jong-un of North Korea is ready to speak with you.

[Trump]:  Is that you, King Kong?  I have a message for you on my first day in office, you fat little f***, so listen up.  If you test one more nuclear device, if you launch one more missile – if you so much as pee one drip outside your hole in the floor, my boys will turn your God-forsaken armpit of a country into a flamed-out marshmallow on a stick.  You got that, Ping Pong?  Fagettaboutit!

[operator]: President Trump, the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto has been holding for you.

[Trump]:  Hello?  Hello?  Now, Enrique, please stop crying.  It’s . . . there, there, Enrique, it’s . . . now please . . . Look, I know it was Vicente Fox that said he wouldn’t pay for my f***ing wall, not you.  Enrique?  You need to get yourself together amigo, call me back when you can talk.  Okay, Adios.

[operator]: Mr. President, I have reached Prime Minister Trudeau of Canada.

[Trump]:  Well hello, there, neighbor!  I called to invite you to join me later this week, eh?  We need to work on our plan to make North America the energy powerhouse of the world.  I am so ready to get everybody back to work and our economy flying, eh?  Our low energy cost will attract the best manufacturers from all over the world.  What a one-two punch, eh?  Heck, if Mexico cleans up their act, maybe Enrique will want to join the party, too.  He’s got a lot of good workers down there, eh?  All right, my friend, let’s start Monday.  Oh, and by the way – let’s talk about that “Liberal Party” of yours, eh?  Okay, bye.

[operator]:  Mr. President, our conference call with the leaders of Germany, France, Great Britain and Japan is ready for you.

[Trump]:  Fellows, thanks for joining me on this call.  Oh, and you too, Frau Merkel, sorry.  I just wanted to let you know that I bought the UN building in New York City this morning.  Yes, and I am evicting all of those whiney little despots so I can turn it into a first-class resort hotel.  Right.  Last I heard they are going to meet up in Kinshasa.  I don’t know, it’s somewhere over there in Africa.  But hey, I thought we could start our own little club, you know?  We could watch each other’s backs and get some of these messes cleaned up, instead of paying for all those other little piss ants to cause trouble all the time.  Then if some of these other countries want to stand up for democracy, and human rights, and free trade and forget about getting rich by global warming hoaxes and identity politics, maybe they can join the club later on.  Right.  I’ll see you guys at Mar Largo next month.

[Trump]: Rosie, hold my calls for a while, I have to straighten out the tax code, fix our immigration problem, and get a new health care system running.  But I should be done in time for my 4:00 pm tee time!

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideListen kid, you paid for the call.
You ain’t bad but I’ve heard it all before.
Don’t call us, we’ll call you!
Don’t call us, we’ll call you !

Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You – Sugarloaf

 

Jerry Corbetta, founder and leader of the Denver band Sugarloaf, passed away a few months ago.  Sugarloaf had some monster hits in the seventies and they are as crisp today as they were then.  I feel a tiny connection to this band – I played in a band with a guy who played in a band with a guy who played for Sugarloaf.  Probably every musician in the world has played with every other musician in the world, twice removed!  Anyway, enjoy this classic – sorry, no live video of this song.

The ObamaCare Zone

obamacare-zoneWhat made the United States an economic powerhouse with the highest standard of living in the world?  Without a doubt, it is our belief in free market economics.  Why then would we even consider nationalizing one of the largest segments of our economy?  After six years of ObamaCare we have been to the edge of the abyss, looked in, and recoiled at what we saw.  Government takeover of private industries is always a disaster.

We are at a watershed moment in history, with an opportunity to hit the reset button and get it right.  It’s time to set aside the political posturing and get to work on repairing our health care financial system – not as an entitlement, but as a BUSINESS.  Because that’s what it is.

Problem:  When an industry like health care is removed from the free market and taken over by the government (nationalized), it always results in higher costs, reduced access and choices, and poorer products (outcomes).

Solution:  Repeal ObamaCare immediately, remove as much government interference as possible and restore free market for health care and insurance.  Implement reasonable regulations to protect consumers and maintain fair competition.

Problem: Health care costs and health insurance premiums continue to increase much faster than normal inflation.

Solution:  Require consumers to have “skin in the game” by paying directly for minor medical care – health insurance should be geared toward major medical coverage. Make medical expenses and premiums tax deductible for individuals, just like they are for corporations.  Require all medical providers to show costs to consumer before treatment.  Require insurers to offer large pool pricing and ERISA protection for individual plans at rates comparable to corporate group plans.  Establish reasonable restrictions on malpractice payouts.  These reforms will put purchase decisions in the hands of consumers where normal free market forces will result in price competition and improved product.

Problem:  Even though health care is not an entitlement, most Americans want to help fellow citizens who are legitimately unable to purchase their own care and/or insurance.

Solution: There are many ways to provide a safety net for the truly needy, such as subsidies and/or tax relief for private health insurance, taxpayer funded or subsidized health clinics, etc.  Regulations should prevent health insurance companies from cancelling coverage due to claims experience.  On the other hand, insurance companies can not be expected to cover consumers with pre-existing conditions, so state assigned-risk pools are necessary.  In all cases rigid vetting is absolutely necessary.  Our system can not support unlimited care for non-citizens and false claims of disability and indigence.

Problem: Many Americans fear that if the government is not between them and their health care, and they are left to their own devices to purchase health care, the powerful health care industry will abuse them for profit.

Solution:  The strongest motive to provide a good product is profit.  Consumers make good purchasing decisions every day.  The cost of products goes down as the quality improves, because consumers will always, always, ALWAYS select the best value when they are spending their own money.

Repeal ObamaCare now.  Release the health care and insurance industry to seek honest profits in the free market by competing for customers.  Implement common sense regulations that are fair for providers and consumers alike.  Stop pretending that health care is free and everybody is entitled to it.  Let the magic of the American free market work again.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

 The Twilight Zone – the Ventures

 

 

 

 

Maybe It’s Time To Retire My Obama Phone

obamaphoneI have had some fun over the past several years at President Obama’s expense.

Those of you who have rocked with me for a while remember that several years ago I applied for, and received, an “Obama Phone” – a free cell phone, with 250 free minutes and unlimited texts.  I only got my free phone to prove that anybody can get one, and to show how ridiculous and unmanaged the whole program is.  My application, and my renewals, have been completely honest – no mis-stating income or anything.  Now, I’m not going to lie to you.  We live a pretty fine Southern lifestyle here on the lake.  But I still qualified for a free phone, and I contend that anybody who asks for a taxpayer-subsidized ObamaPhone will receive one too.

President Obama didn’t actually start the free cell phone program.  It debuted under President GW Bush and his Congress as a well-intended but soon-corrupted “LifeLine” benefit for us poor folks, funded by a tax on the cell phone bills of all you rich folks.  During the free-stuff-for-everybody Obama years, the profiteering cell phone providers, led by Mexican kingpin Carlos Slim, really got with the program.  Soon it was Party Central, and people were dancing and singing and selling free ObamaPhones all over the place.

Here’s a fun exercise:  type “Obama Phone” into any search engine.  Go ahead, try it!  Up pops a whole bunch of “providers” who are more than happy to set you up for a free cell phone, courtesy of the taxpayers.  The really cool one is ObamaPhone.com.    Here’s part of their sales pitch:

Millions of Americans have been economically devastated by the economic meltdown, by the deep recession that followed it, and by the nation’s ongoing economic struggles. Many of those needy Americans have reached the point where they consider a telephone a luxury that they cannot afford.

The Obama Phone program (also known as Lifeline Assistance) can lift that burden. More than 20 million Americans have already received a free Obama Phone and get 250 free cell phone minutes every month.

I was so grateful for my free phone that I made my own little musical thank you message to my friend Barack.  The phone was free, but even though I was a Tea Party guy, he still sent me an email asking me for five dollars every day.

Well, now that President Obama is about to retire, maybe it’s time for me to retire my ObamaPhone too.

Which raises the question:  Will Trump and the Republican House and Senate finally put an end to this stupid-ass, corrupt entitlement program once and for all?  Or will we all be carrying Trump-a-Phones for the next eight years?

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

 

Will Companies Like Dell Help Make America Great Again?

dell_headquarters_wide

 

If there is one slogan that really resonated with Americans in the election, it was this:

“Let’s make America great again.”

Donald Trump was elected because voters don’t feel the pride and confidence in our nation that we once did.  Our economy is stagnant at best, our middle class is dwindling, and real wages haven’t improved in decades.  Our political leaders in recent years seem to care more about the well-being of people in other nations than our own. We know we can do better, because we’ve done it before.  But we can’t expect the President to wave a magic wand and restore our greatness on his own.

A couple of months ago my computer assumed room temperature – dead as a doornail, without so much as a blink or a beep.  I am highly dependent on my computer, so I immediately got on Dell’s website, found the system I wanted on sale, and clicked on “add to cart”.  The order errored out, igniting an ordeal that consumed the rest of the day on Dell chat screens and phones with a series of Indian customer service people who kept saying “It” won’t let them do this or that.

Finally, an Indian supervisor got my order placed and confirmed by email, to be shipped in seven to ten days.

I will spare you the sordid intermediate details, but after six weeks I got a phone call from another Indian Dell representative who spoke with such a heavy accent that I could barely understand him.  He told me “It” says my order had been cancelled and I will have to reorder.  “It” can’t tell him what happened.  “It” doesn’t know when or whether a new order would be filled.  No apology.  No alternative.  Just start over and hope for better results than last time.

I gave up and ordered a Lenovo with the same specifications.  My computer arrived in two days in perfect order and cost about a hundred bucks less.

Because I had tried to buy a Dell computer, I have been receiving a dozen targeted Dell ads every day.  Today I commented on a Facebook ad that readers should avoid buying a Dell computer for Christmas, citing the horrible experience I had been through.  My post received an immediate response from an Indian Dell employee who wrote in broken English that Dell is so sorry, but they just can’t keep up with the crushing demand for their wonderful products.  A flurry of back and forth posts followed.  Dell didn’t give a rip about me when I was trying to get my order, but they sure were concerned about me when I posted my bad experience on social media.

There was a time when Dell was a proud, strong American innovator, manufacturer, employer, and retailer.  Now it is an international company, manufacturing and selling its products all over the world.  But most of its computers are still bought by American companies and consumers.

I’m not so naïve as to think that we can or should suppress global trade.  I just hate to see what has happened to our American companies.  American consumers are too often reduced to dealing with poorly-trained and inarticulate foreign employees who either work in offshore call-centers or were imported to the USA with H1B visas, whose authority is restricted to what “It” displays on their screens.  Meanwhile our own American-born skilled customer service people work two part-time convenience store jobs for $8 an hour.  Dell may be bigger than it was, but it is not better.  It’s not a better corporate citizen, and it’s not a better sales organization.  Dell was once a smart and proud group of high-achieving Americans.  Now Dell is an “It”.

Not all American companies have sunk to this level of cold, multi-national mediocrity.  In addition to Lenovo, I have received over-the-top customer service recently from the Carolina Panthers, Chamberlain Garage Door group, State Farm Insurance, and many others.  But it seems for every Chick-Fil-A there is a Wells Fargo.

Our president-elect promises to protect domestic jobs by welcoming American companies back to our shores with lower corporate tax rates and free repatriation of profits from foreign operations.  And he wants to take a fresh look at trade policies that have pushed investment and employment out of our country.

If we are going to “Make America Great Again” we can’t expect our president to do it alone.  We citizens will have to step up our games. And our American companies need to get on board.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

So take these words and sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

Better Days – Goo Goo Dolls