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Sequester may mark beginning of the end for bloated Pentagon budget

In Other Words

By Emily Schwartz Greco
and William A. Collins

  How do you gauge the impact of depriving 12,000 low-income California preschoolers of the opportunity to participate in the Head Start program because of budgetary gridlock? Or stripping more than half a million people living in poverty of their access to the highly effective Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children?
  Even if it’s short-lived, assessing sequestration’s toll may take years. In some cases, lives will change course. Depriving underprivileged kids of the programs that help give them what President Barack Obama likes to call “a fair shot” doesn’t serve the national interest or make any sense.
  Neither do many of the other $85 billion in automatic cuts now taking shape as part of sequestration. These budget reductions are bound to do real harm to individual Americans and throw the already sputtering economic recovery off course.
  Wait. What recovery?
  Good question. While the Great Recession officially ended nearly four years ago, the post-recession recovery never amounted to more than a myth for most Americans. Most of us don’t just feel poorer now. We are poorer. Median household income stood at $50,000 in 2011, a nearly 9 percent decline from 1999.
  This is why many progressives asserted in the final months of last year that starting 2013 without a fiscal deal would have meant tripping into a ditch, not tumbling off a cliff. It doesn’t, however, mean there’s no further to sink.
  Consider the performance of that unsung but illustrative economic indicator of poor and working class America: Walmart. Even in good times, its sales spike twice a month when most workers get their paychecks. The retail behemoth’s same-store sales rose an anemic 1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2012 from a year earlier, as the U.S. economy overall stayed just about flat.
  That was apparently a booming business compared to what Walmart experienced in February in the wake of the payroll tax cut’s expiration. “Sales are a total disaster,” lamented Jerry Murray, Walmart’s vice president of finance and logistics, in a Feb. 12 leaked email obtained by Bloomberg News. Early February marked “the worst start to a month I have seen in my ~7 years with the company.”
  Sequestration may further sap Walmart’s sales and its cash-strapped customers. But it may have a bright side if it ultimately helps Washington discover that trimming the Pentagon budget won’t make us less safe.
  The automatic cuts now being phased in will trim military spending by $45 billion this year. That may sound scary, but it’s merely a return to the lofty levels reached in 2007, when the Bush administration tried to see if a “surge” would bring peace to Iraq. It didn’t.
  The clearest evidence of this newfound military austerity came on the eve of the sequestration’s dawn, when the Navy canceled plans to dispatch a second aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf.
  Depending on how you measure it, the United States spends as little as half a trillion bucks on our military and as much as $930 million every year. This is much more firepower than we need for any legitimate “defense” mission. But there seems to be very little political will in Washington amid all this fiscal angst to do anything about it.
  The Pentagon budget doesn’t get much attention, not even during heated elections like the ones we experienced last year. In Washington, military spending cuts rarely figure prominently as a deficit-shrinking solution in polite conversation. The fear of being “soft” on defense seems to render candidates helpless to do anything about our oversized military budget.
  Ideally, sequestration will help our leaders see that this great nation isn’t broke. Overspending on the armed forces just creates that illusion.

Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org

Enter the 10th

Liberty Under Fire

By Dr. Harold Pease

  Finally the 10th Amendment is beginning to be used by states to prevent the Federal Government’s overreach of Constitutional powers. It reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
  Last I heard 26 states were showing their resistance to Obamacare by opting out of exchanges. Nine State Sheriffs’ Associations have put the Executive and Legislative Branches on notice that they will support the traditional interpretation of the 2nd Amendment of the Bill of Rights and 336 elected county sheriffs have inferred that they will protect their people on this issue—even against federal agents coming into their counties. Federal medical marijuana laws are openly defied by many states. States’ refusal to implement the Real ID Act, passed in 2005, is a form of resistance. When enough states say no, the feds will back away. Even Governor Jerry Brown, earlier this year, on federal mandated prison requirements suggested that the Federal Government back off, “We can handle our own prisons.”
  Unconstitutional overreach is epidemic and there is now measurable push-back. The “check and balance” part of the Constitution is the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and the Doctrine of Nullification. States do have the authority to “Just Say No!” but to be effective they need to do so collectively, the larger the group the more effective. We have previously covered its use in 1798 and 1832. We have treated Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, Fathers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, on the subject. This column restricts itself to arguments made in support of this doctrine by Alexander Hamilton. All emphasis in his quotes is his own.
  He wrote, “If a number of political societies enter into a larger political society, the laws which the latter may enact, pursuant to the powers entrusted to it by its constitution, must necessarily be supreme over those societies, and the individuals of whom they are composed.... But it will not follow from this doctrine that acts of the large society which are not pursuant to its constitutional powers, but which are invasions of the residuary authorities of the smaller societies, will become the supreme law of the land. These will be merely acts of usurpation, and will deserve to be treated as such. Hence we perceive that the clause which declares the supremacy of the laws of the Union… expressly confines this supremacy to laws made pursuant to the constitution”.
  Thus the door which the less informed propose, that they can enforce any law that is passed by the federal government because of what is called the supremacy clause (“The Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; …shall be the supreme law of the land”), is closed. Those laws “not pursuant” to actual constitutional power are invasions of authority, even usurpations, and should “be treated as such.” So, the Constitution remains the supreme law of the land only so long as it remains restricted to original grants of power.
  In fact, so strongly was it believed that the Federal Government not depart from original grants of power in the Constitution all federal authorities were required to swear by oath that they would abide by this understanding. Hamilton wrote, “It merits particular attention in this place, that the laws of the Confederacy, as to the enumerated and legitimate objects of its jurisdiction, will become the supreme law of the land; to the observance of which all officers, legislative, executive, and judicial, in each State, will be bound by the sanctity of an oath. Thus the legislatures, courts, and magistrates, of the respective members, will be incorporated into the operations of the national government as far as its just and constitutional authority extends”. Once again, original intent is the only constitutional interpretation permitted. Notice that the Supreme Court is not excluded from “the enumerated and legitimate objects of its jurisdiction” anything else are invasions of authority.
  Every act outside of enumerated authority is contrary to the Constitution and thus is void. Hamilton continues, “There is no position which depends on clearer principles, than that every act of a delegated authority, contrary to the tenor of the commission under which it is exercised, is void. No legislative act, therefore, contrary to the Constitution, can be valid. To deny this, would be to affirm … that men acting by virtue of powers, may do not only what their powers do not authorize, but what they forbid”.
  So, what should happen when the Federal Government overreaches its enumerated powers? Hamilton answers this question also. “The Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents”. Simply, states should use the Doctrine of Nullification—“It ain’t happening here.”

  The states are the guardians of this principle Hamilton explains because they “will constantly have their attention awake to the conduct of the national rulers, and will be ready enough, if any thing improper appears, to sound the alarm to the people, and not only to be the voice, but, if necessary, the arm of their discontent”.

  There exists no argument for any other interpretation other than original intent in The Federalist Papers. We have focused upon Alexander Hamilton because he is traditionally seen as an advocate of a strong federal government and thus the “father” of American liberalism. In a free society it is healthy to see the states exercising their united right to nullify; may they do so frequently. On following the Constitution all should be united.

Dr. Harold Pease is a self-described expert on the United States Constitution. He has taught history and political science for over 25 years at Taft College. To read more of his articles visit LibertyUnderFire.org

Letters to the Editor: Worth resident says mayor misrepresented village's financial situation

Woo for ‘Blue”

Dear Editor:

Don White’s guest column “Happy Blue Year” (Feb 28, 2013) was great and tells it like it is! My list of what needs to change asap:

1. Elect public servants who do not have hidden agendas.
2. Overall areas of government, elected officials need term limits.
3. Convert all public employee under funded pension programs into Social Security with a refund to the participants of over the 7.5% contribution and matched to the employer contribution, too. This should level the playing field and avoid double/triple dipping with retirees getting into the SS program even if they accept the cutback!
4. Make independent accounting firms actual become independent and not kiss ups to the accounts they audit, be it public or private, not have the ability to go out of business if the pot gets hot, like Arthur Anderson bailed when Enron went under.
5. All registered voters should come out to vote not just a few who do so maybe to just keep their public jobs, etc. secured. The statistics are sad percentage wise.
6. Make sure voter registration is encouraged by all education platforms beginning in high school through adulthood. It is our most cherished privilege to vote in our Republic, The United States of America! We the people, by the people and for the people should be shouted from the roof tops before we plunge into the republic that water.

Readers, please add your 7,8,9, and 10. We need to work together now!

Mim Jurcev, Oak Lawn

 

Worth resident claims
mayor, finance director
ran deception campaign

Dear Editor:

It wasn’t surprising to see that Worth Mayor Randy Keller and his financial director, Dwayne Fox, had to double-team in their effort to unjustifiably attack mayoral candidate and village Trustee Mary Werner. After all, it was Mary Werner who exposed the manufactured budget crisis Keller and Fox employed in order to try to grab at more taxing power that, if voters had approved the home rule referendum in spring 2011, could have included creating a new gas tax, a home rule sales tax and a property tax increase that would have devastated our real estate taxes above the present non-home rule limit.

I believe the residents of Worth will remember how Keller and Fox attempted to frighten and goad us into handing the Village Board more taxing power. Keller and Fox threatened we would lose our police department, that our streets would crumble, and that Village Hall would be padlocked if we didn’t give him his home rule power. If you remember, when the home rule vote failed he furthered his embarrassing threats to residents on the Village Hall marquee, warning “Home Rule Fails — service — program cuts — eliminations to follow.

Guess what? After home rule failed and once the dust settled, everyone got raises! In fact, the only one who voted against the outrageous raise for Fox was Mary Werner, the trustee they are both now attacking.

In his campaign literature, Keller has the gall to tell residents we are now doing great! How did that happen without Keller’s home rule and his absurd additional taxes?

In April 2012, Worth residents did agree to a 1-percent non-home rule tax which the village is bound by law to use only for property tax relief and/or infrastructure. Keller and Fox whined it would bring in a pittance. Wrong again, Mr. Keller. That non-home rule tax is bringing in almost a half million dollars a year! Now, Mr. Fox is circulating a piece of campaign literature against Mary Werner because she wants to abate the golf course tax levy and use the sales tax dollars for property tax relief — exactly as the law requires!

How many times will we subject ourselves to such dangerous political deception? Hopefully none after April.

So when you vote, do you vote for someone who tried to frighten you into giving him power by using distortions and threats to tax your prescriptions and food? Or do you vote for Mary Werner, who proved beyond a doubt we were all being deceived and misled?

Worth is lucky. Mary Werner has a 29-year background in accounting and budget, and without her expertise and her ability to expose the deception of the mayor and his financial director, our real estate tax increase would have more than doubled.

Dee Woods, Worth

Cutting government would boost the economy

Guest Column

By Sheldon Richman

  Budget sequestration is as modest a step toward cutting Leviathan as one can imagine. Further progress will be difficult as long as people believe that slashing the size of government conflicts with reviving the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth.
  In his recent debate on Charlie Rose, Nobel Prize-winning economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman said that even wasteful government spending should not be cut, because it would undermine job creation and economic recovery. This view isn’t quite as popular as it once was, but it is still influential.
  The logic of the argument is that insufficient consumer spending caused the Great Recession, the anemic recovery, and persistent high unemployment. If people aren’t spending, so goes the argument, businesses lay off workers. And when the newly unemployed workers reduce their spending, more workers are laid off. This ripple effect puts the economy into recession. To end the recession, consumer demand must grow again, but it can’t grow because unemployment is high. It’s a vicious circle: people don’t spend enough because they don’t have jobs, but they can’t find jobs because people aren’t spending enough.
  Therefore, says Krugman, government must spend. This is why he supports more debt. And this is why he thinks cutting spending to rein in the deficit is precisely the wrong thing to do now. Keep the deficit spending going to create jobs, Krugman says, and worry about the debt later. There’ll be plenty of time for that.
  If this were really how things worked, we’d be in a fix. But they don’t work that way. Business cycles — the boom and bust — don’t happen because consumers all mysteriously decide to cut their spending, throwing people out of work. And since that’s not the cause of the downturn, increased government spending is not the cure.
  In other words, the spending frenzy, the deficit, and the debt all can be addressed while the economy is recovering. In fact, radically downsizing government is the key to recovery.
  Recessions begin because a string of large-scale business investments prove to be unsustainable in light of real economic conditions. Why would so many entrepreneurs make the same mistake at the same time? Because the government and its central bank — the Federal Reserve — create misleading signals in the form of artificially low interest rates and (before the most recent recession) artificially high demand for housing. These policies fool entrepreneurs into thinking that consumers are saving rather than spending, that is, deferring consumption until the future. Businesses then use the easy credit for long-term interest-rate-sensitive projects, such as housing and stages of production remote from the consumer-goods level. Yet consumers have not curtailed spending.
  The recession sets in when interest rates rise and the cluster of errors is revealed. The malinvestments are liquidated, and workers are laid off. If the economy is to recover, the structure of production must be realigned with real economic factors, including people’s consumption/saving preferences. This is a costly and time-consuming process because workers may need retraining, buildings may need modifying, and machinery may need to be moved or junked. Government policy misshaped the economy, which now must be reshaped into something more appropriate.
  Government’s only proper task is to get out of the way so that the recovery can be as fast and painless as possible. In the past, when government cut spending and taxes with the onset of a recession, recovery was sure and swift. What the economy needs is resources — savings — to recover. If the government consumes scarce resources, they are unavailable for private efforts. And if the Fed keeps interest rates low, it discourages saving.
  Krugman and other Keynesians are wrong when they call for more deficit spending, because that would transfer scarce capital from recovery efforts to politicians, who can have no idea what they are doing. Since government spending faces no market test, it is unlikely to be what is needed. Only investment guided by the price and profit/loss system can make things right. But that requires government to relinquish its claim on private resources.
  We can have a vibrant economy and much less government.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation (fff.org) in Fairfax, Va.

Sunshine Week forecast is partly cloudy

Inside the First Amendment

By Gene Policinski

The forecast from this year’s National Sunshine Week, which annually focuses on issues of freedom of information and transparency in government, is “partly cloudy, with some sun and some storms.”

On one hand, an Associated Press analysis released during the week found that the Obama administration in 2012 answered the highest number during his time in office of FOI requests for “government documents, emails, photographs and more, and it slightly reduced its backlog of requests from previous years.”

But the same analysis shows the administration more often cited legal provisions allowing the government to keep records or parts of its records secret, especially a rule intended to protect national security – though some say that may just mean there were more requests for those kinds of documents.

AP also said that officials were making more use of exceptions in FOI laws that protect the “behind-the-scenes decision-making process.”

And the private National Security Archive, at George Washington University, issued a report on March 11 noting that only about one-half of 90 agencies ordered by President Obama to upgrade their responses to information requests and foster overall openness have “actually made concrete changes in their FIOA procedures.”

So what is the impact on you or me?

Well, first it means that even though President Obama’s first act in office was to declare a new effort to make government more transparent, some things have not changed.

If you write to a federal agency for information not generally available, it probably means at least as long a wait as in previous years and administrations – multiple years.

The AP report said that in 2012, “the government generally took longer to answer requests. Some agencies, such as the Health and Human Services Department, took less time than the previous year to turn over files. But at the State Department, for example, even urgent requests submitted under a fast-track system covering breaking news or events where  a person’s life was at stake took an average two years to wait for files.

And there’s a new bit of irony for those in the information business. Journalists have had to wait even longer for their freedom of information requests to be granted. AP said that “the rate at which the government granted so-called expedited processing, which moves an urgent request to the front of the line for a speedy answer, fell from 24 percent in 2011 to 17 percent last year.” The CIA denied every such request last year, it said.

So in an era in which data is more easily accumulated, sorted, tracked, analyzed and accessed, the response times to our FOI requests remain firmly rooted in the days of paper, manila folders and file cabinets.

The lifeblood of a representative democracy is information, so that citizens can make informed decisions at the ballot box about policy, spending, performance and goals.  For information to be useful, it needs to be accurate, complete and timely, particularly for financial data in times when budget battles seemingly are being fought every few months.

Some time ago, Obama also publicly renounced an earlier administration’s doctrine that became enshrined in the post-Sept. 11attacks era. The president declared that the posture of agencies toward FOI requests should return to “open-until-closed,” instead of the opposite approach in the name of national security.

But a government “door” that opens, on average, two years after citizens knock on it means that those seeking information on public programs paid for by public funds are spending a long time waiting “in the cold” – and that’s not good for those in charge of our public policy or for democracy.

Gene Policinski is senior vice president and executive director of the First Amendment Center. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .