Do Our Leaders Really Care?


Listening to the media and to our political leaders one would think it is impossible to straighten out our nation’s fiscal mess, and that we, our children, and our grandchildren are doomed to mediocrity for decades to come.   Oh, they want to help us, they “feel our pain”, but the task is just too difficult.


If our federal government really wanted to cut spending and reduce the debt and deficits, they would immediately:

  • Sell all of the excess, obsolete and unused federal property, including land, buildings, military bases and equipment.  Where does our constitution authorize the federal government to buy up all this private land, anyway?
  • Compensate federal employees similarly to comparable private sector employees – reasonable pay rates, raise the retirement age,  replace defined benefit pensions with 401(k) plans, require full forty-hour weeks, and implement the same social security and health care treatment as taxpayers have.  Government-sector unions must be eliminated because the pay-for-play election scam is irretrievably corrupt and imperils democracy.
  • Pay senators and representatives each $1 million per year, and make them responsible for all of their own costs – staffing, transportation, office expenses, mailing, etc.  If they want to take a “fact-finding” junket to Tahiti, have a girlfriend in Brazil, or travel home every weekend, they can pay for it themselves.  Term limits might not hurt either.
  • Outsource most of the costs of government to co-ops made up of top private companies.  Social security and welfare fraud would be zero if administered by IBM and Visa.  Defense contractors have proved they work better together than they do in competition.  With co-ops, the winning private companies will regulate each other.
  • Establish a real, non-partisan budget and cost management department, led by private-sector experts and technicians instead of political lackeys and cronies.  Pay commissions to those who find corruption, and prosecute the offenders.
  • Implement zero-based or priority-based budgeting.  Start every department and program at zero and require true cost justification for all expenditures every annual or bi-annual cycle.  Same process for entitlements – disability and unemployment must be verified.  Eliminate unnecessary, duplicative and obsolete departments.
  • Replace unemployment compensation and most direct welfare payments with honest work projects.  No work, no money.
  • Tie all foreign aid and investment to our own national interests.  Not one dollar to nations or despots whose actions are damaging to the US.  That includes the United Nations.
  • Simplify the tax code and work with businesses instead of against them.
  • Eliminate the EPA and make the United States the energy provider to the world – aggressively develop natural gas and liquefied natural gas as an alternative to oil.  Abandon the infaturation with ridiculously inefficient wind and solar energy and pour our efforts and investments into the efficient use of proven energy sources.

I could go on.  Maybe some of these ideas have holes, or need development.  Surely there are many more opportunities – bigger and better ones.  But if you and I can discuss many methods of improving our government’s performance, why can’t our leaders talk about it?

Do they really want to solve the problem?  Are they actually interested in reducing the drag of bloated government on our economy?  Obviously, no.  Otherwise they would be doing it.

So the only remaining solution is to replace all the self-serving charlatans with motivated leaders who ARE interested.  And the only way that will happen is if we can educate and win the majority of Americans who currently don’t get it or don’t care – our neighbors, our friends, and any stranger on the street whom we can engage.

Time is of the essence.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Whatever happened
To all the good times we used to have
The times we cried and laughed
I wanna know, I wanna know

Don’t You Care? – the Buckinhams

Govt. Spending Priority List – It’s Upside Down!

upside-downYou might think our free-spending government does not have a priority list.  From all appearances, once they have spent on an item or a program, they will continue to spend on that item or program forever – adding new items and programs to the list, but never removing any.

If we taxpayers wrote a priority list, at the top would be the things that are most important to us, and at the bottom we would put the porky programs that don’t accomplish anything, are obsolete, are wasteful or are flat-out fraudulent.  If we needed to cut the budget, we would go to the bottom of the list and start whacking away.  The stuff at the top would be protected.

The government priority list is the same as ours, except upside-down.  Whenever taxpayers balk at spending more money, or increasing the debt limit, the government threatens to cut the things that are most important to us:

Cut spending?  Why, we’ll have to get rid of all the teachers and firemen!  No social security, either!  And we’ll have to stop national defense completely!  Why, if we cut taxes, we can’t afford to provide any help to the disabled

Of course, we will have to keep funding the Essential Air Service program and subsidizing $3,652 for every airline ticket to Billings – that’s essential!   And how could we cut the subsidies to our campaign contributors in the Green Energy business?  They are broke!  They need our help!  And of course our unionized government employees are entitled to earn double the rate that taxpayers earn, for half the hours of work, and get fat guaranteed pensions at a young age.  How could we cut back there?

no_mosquito_controlWhen I lived in Topeka, KS, we had a mosquito problem every summer.  And the county government milked that baby for all it was worth.  Whenever the county wanted more money for whatever frivolous reason, they would threaten first to stop spraying for mosquitoes.  Worked like a charm.

Oh yes, the government has the same spending priority list we do.   It’s just upside down.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

Upside down, boy, you turn me
Inside out, and round and round
Upside down, boy, you turn me
Inside out, and round and round

Upside Down – Diana Ross

Didn’t know she could dance!  Watch Diana bust a move with Michael Jackson!

Magic! We’ll Never Have To Work Again!

Readers of my blog have often heard me proclaim my faith in basic economics.  I still have that faith.  At it’s most basic level, here’s what I believe:

  • every person on earth wants to improve his or her family’s standard of living
  • the more scarce something is (goods, talent, labor), the higher its value
  • we obtain things that we want by providing somebody else something they want
  • rather than exchanging chickens for gasoline, and labor for nails, we use a “medium of exchange”

IOUMacroeconomics makes sense as long as we have a medium of exchange that we can trade back and forth with each other, and we all agree on its relative value.  Here in the United States we use dollars.

Sam’s employer will give him twenty dollars for loading a truck for an hour.  Sam will give twenty dollars to the pet store for a bag of dog food.  The store will give twenty dollars to the utility company for an hour’s worth of electricity.   It works great as long as we all agree on the relative worth of twenty dollars.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  Twenty dollars is a piece of paper in your pocket.  You can’t eat it.  It won’t keep you warm.  It has no intrinsic worth at all.  There was a time when that piece of paper could be exchanged for gold (a scarce commodity) at our national treasury, but those days are gone.  Now a twenty-dollar bill is nothing more than an IOU – a promise to pay.

Unlike you, the government does not create any wealth.  It can take IOUs from one person and give them to another person.  And if that’s all it did, the economy would still work.  But the government now gives out more IOUs than it takes in.  It can do that, because it can print IOUs.

Stick with me now.

It should follow that the more IOUs that are out there, the less each one is worth.  Supply and demand, right?

If this were not true, NONE OF US WOULD EVER HAVE TO WORK AGAIN.  We could just print as many IOUs as it takes to buy whatever we want, just like our government is doing now!

But our government continues to tell us that there is no inflation, they don’t expect inflation, and everything is under control.

You’d have to believe in magic . . .

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side

You have to believe we are magic
Nothin’ can stand in our way
You have to believe we are magic
Don’t let your aim ever stray
And if all your hopes survive, destiny will arrive
I’ll bring all your dreams alive, for you

Magic – Olivia Newton-John


You Paid $3,652 For My Short Flight. Thanks!

Silver Airlines*update 6/13/2013 – common sense prevails as Essential Air Service subsidies for Lewistown and Miles City are finally cancelled


Thank you, taxpayers!

I just booked a flight from Lewistown to Billings.   I fly frequently out of Billings, and usually I just drive to the airport – it’s only a two-hour trip.  I often stay overnight at a Billings hotel so I can leave my vehicle there until my return, because long-term parking at the airport is pretty expensive.  But last week I read in our local paper that we are only averaging one passenger per day through our Lewistown airport.  That’s one passenger for two flights in and two flights out.  Per day.  Kind of embarrassing.

So I thought I would check it out.  My airfare was only $71!  Heck, I would spend that on gas taking my truck to Billings and back, plus I would have to pay for a hotel or parking.  Why not?

How, you may ask, can air transportation from a little town like Lewistown be such a bargain?  It’s called Essential Air Service.   You wonderful taxpayers subsidize our tiny airline to make sure we don’t have to buy gas from a greedy privately-owned gas station and spend money at some evil, profit-hungry privately-owned hotel.  It’s one of those programs that our federal government says we just can’t live without.   In fact, they absolutely must raise our taxes because programs like this are . . . well, essential.

I am just overwhelmed at your generosity.  I looked up the Essential Air Service subsidy for Lewistown to see how much you are paying for my trip.   Let’s see, the most recent annual contract provides a $1,325,733 subsidy to Silver Airlines for serving Lewistown.  One passenger per day for 365 days, that’s about 365 passengers per year . . .  hmm, according to my simple math, you taxpayers are paying about $3,632 for my short trip to Billings.

Denny Rehberg and Jon Tester and Max Baucus are all big supporters of Essential Air Service.   Some other stingy Congressmen tried to shut down the program, but your Montana buddies don’t have any problem with you guys paying $3,632 for me to fly to Billings.   Oh, plus $3,632 when I return.  I mean after all, heh heh heh . . . it’s not their money!

So thanks again, I’ll be thinking of you as I glide over the Rimrocks into Billings-Logan airport to make my connecting flight.  You know, the Rimrocks sure are pretty, you can look right over the fiscal cliff . . .

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right SideGimme a ticket for an aeroplane
I ain’t got time to take a fast train
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby just wrote me a letter!
I don’t care how much money I gotta spend
Got to get back to my baby again
Lonely days are gone, I’m a-goin’ home
My baby just wrote me a letter!

The Letter – by the Box Tops

We Were Takin’ Care of Business

beatrice_memorialI spent a good part of my early career working for one of America’s greatest businesses – Beatrice Companies.  For most of us in Montana and the western U.S., the face of Beatrice was Meadow Gold Dairies.   While the Meadow Gold brand still exists in some areas, Beatrice is long gone.

The Beatrice story is classic, from its birth in 1894 as a small creamery in Beatrice, Nebraska, to its zenith in the 1980s as a huge multinational corporation encompassing companies and brands such as Avis, Playtex, Culligan, Tropicana, Airstream, Peter Pan, and many other household names.  The company’s ultimate demise was rapid, and the cause has always been pretty much a secret.

A Beatrice manager with a stellar record became CEO in 1980.  According to my very reliable sources at the corporate office in Chicago, he became mentally unstable shortly after taking the reins, and the rock-solid management corp at the top crumbled rapidly.  His actions were erratic, his decisions bizarre – certainly not consistent with the buttoned-down, well-disciplined playbook that had worked so well for almost a century, or with his own management record.  The company’s consistent growth and profits began to wane, and in 1986 Beatrice was acquired in a hostile takeover.   In a leveraged buyout funded by the sale of “junk bonds”, it was split up and sold, and the over-funded defined benefit plans were plundered.  I left the company just as the final axe fell.

There are many life lessons to be learned from the Beatrice saga.  The Beatrice business methods and philosophy were “old school” and tremendously effective.   Every Beatrice manager learned:

  • Hire good people, and treat them well.   Allow them to share in the success.  They will be loyal, responsible, and productive.
  • Promote and move your managers between locations.  They will take the best attributes of their previous company and add them to the strengths of their new company.
  • There are no short cuts.   The details of the business are where the money is made.
  • Accounting and controls are vital.  Count everything.  Never allow an opportunity for someone to get in trouble.
  • Quality is never sacrificed, but the path to profitability is to be the low-cost producer.
  • Competition is a good thing – it allows those who work the hardest to succeed.  And profit is the result of planning and hard work, not luck.

Using these guiding principles, the company grew and thrived.  We were always challenged to improve performance, and were rewarded when we did.  The lessons I learned from Beatrice served me well for the rest of my business career.

In today’s dismal economic environment, when we all question whether our nation’s best days are behind us, I take comfort in my memories of Beatrice Companies.  Profit is not evil, it is the life blood of our economy, and the source of wealth.  The “old school” business formula worked – for employees, for employers, and for the nation.  It will still work, if we don’t screw it up by throwing roadblocks in the way.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
And we’ve been takin’ care of business, every day!
Takin’ care of business, every way.
We’ve been takin’ care of business – it’s all mine!
Takin’ care of business, workin’ overtime.

Takin’ Care of Business – Bachman Turner Overdrive

Profit! What a Concept!

GoodJobI recently visited with a high school “job coach”.  This instructor works with local businesses who provide part-time jobs for students to give them an introduction to the working world.  Many years ago as a high school business teacher I had a similar program – back then it was called “distributive education.”  I found it to be a great learning experience for my students, and some moved right into good jobs with their sponsor employers upon graduation.

I asked the job coach what kind of preparation the student receives before embarking on the job.  It was not a trick question, but the teacher was caught by surprise, and really didn’t have an answer.   I admitted that my recent experience with school jobs programs as an employer had not been very enjoyable.  The student-workers I was assigned were arrogant, lazy, and not really interested in learning anything.  It may have just been the luck of the draw.  I did my best to get them on track.

At the end of our visit, I offered a suggestion to the instructor.  Having been on both ends of the equation – as an employer and a job coach – I think the most important wisdom one can impart to a student, or any job seeker, is an understanding of why a business exists.   Most students (and adults for that matter) when asked “why is that grocery store there?” will answer “because we need food.”

And there lies the problem. 

I gave my new job coach friend the correct answer:  that grocery store exists to make a profit for its owner or investors, who seek to feed their families and improve their standards of living.

It’s a subtle, but important distinction.  Yes, we need food.  But that doesn’t mean someone else is required to give it to us.  Free markets only work when each of us offers something of value to someone else.  We must all be producers of wealth or added value.  Those who succeed understand this concept clearly.  Want to make $5 million a year throwing a baseball?  You had better be good enough that people will fork over big bucks to watch you.  Do you want to own a business?  You’ll do great as long as you offer what a customer wants to buy, at the right price.

Do you want to have a job?  Then you had better understand that the only reason someone else will pay you is if you help them make a profit.

And that was my suggestion to the job coach.  “Make sure your student goes to the job with the knowledge that his or her purpose is to make money for the employer.  And that employers share their profit with their employees – the more you contribute to profit, the more you will be rewarded.  The employer owes you nothing, but he is always looking for somebody who will help him make money.  When you both are making more money, and spending it, the economy grows and everybody does well.”

A light bulb lit above the job coach’s head.  “Why, I never thought of that!  What a great idea!”

Yes, it’s a great idea.  It used to be what made the world go around.  Some may think it’s “old school”, but I’ll put my money on free enterprise, supply and demand any day of the week.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
Big Time, I’m on my way, I’m making it,
Big Time, I’ve got to make it show yeah!
Big Time, so much larger than life,
Big Time, I’m gonna watch it growing!
Big Time, my car is getting bigger!
Big Time, my house is getting bigger!

Big Time – Peter Gabriel

One of the quirkiest, and most popular, videos ever!

There Is No “Candy Man”

prioritiesThese days we often seem to bounce around in life’s pin-ball machine, feeling that much around us is out of control.   We are distracted by a barrage of information as the media pulls us this way and that.  Generally, whichever news story has the hottest video footage or the most startling sound byte is pumped up to become the “important” story of the day, or the week.  Example: Sandra Fluke and her birth control.

I’m as guilty as anybody else.  I get upset and pumped up over things that are insignificant, both on a personal scale and in the bigger scheme of things.  When I find myself getting a little over-wound, I find it helpful to do a personal priority check.  What are the most important things to me, and in what order?

My top priorities always pertain to my family.  Are we healthy?  Are we safe from physical harm?  Are we financially okay?  Are we generally happy and fulfilled?  Are we preparing for our future?

Our brilliant founding fathers established a government that is “of” the people, and that carries responsibility.  It is our duty as citizens to prioritize the makeup and the work of our government.  Maybe it’s time we do a government priority check.  What are the most important things that our government should do, and in what order?

I look at government the same way I do insurance. I see government as a way that I can spend a portion of my personal resources to do the things I can’t do by myself.  Individually I can’t defend the borders of my neighborhood, much less my state or nation.  But I am willing to join other citizens to give some of my time or money for that purpose, because it is a priority for my family.  I can’t build a highway.  I can’t put out a big fire.  I can’t do brain surgery.  You get the picture.

Of course I can only spend a portion of my time and money on these shared priorities, because I have my own personal priorities to attend to.  So my government priority list is fairly short.   Our brilliant founding fathers had a short list too; it’s called the Constitution.

Lately I find that many of my government’s top priorities are way down my family priority list, or not on my list at all.   Our leaders operate like the “Candy Man”.  They believe they can keep adding benefits to those already in place, without limit, and without having to prioritize.  Irresponsible voters endorse that fantasy, but realists know it can’t go on.

It’s time for a good, hard look at priorities.  Our own personal priorities come first, of course, and our government priorities are an extension of that.  As we consider each government activity at our schools, our city and county commissions, our state and federal governments – as we consider the “Fiscal Cliff” – we must compare our government’s priorities with our own family priority lists.  If they don’t match up, we owe it to our families to do something about it.

Tom Balek – Rockin’ On the Right Side

Rockin' On the Right Side
The government takes everything we make
To pay for all of their solutions
Health care, climate change, pollution,
Throw away the Constitution!
The Government Can – Tim Hawkins