We Can Think of 535 Ways to Cut Government Spending

by David T. Bruce

House Speaker Boehner tells us that it is “time to focus on the real problem here in Washington and that is spending.” We couldn’t agree more, Mr. Boehner. How we disagree, however, as do a great many Americans, is how spending should be reduced.

education_deathThis sequester will force federal job cuts in the hundreds of thousands, affecting civilians and military alike. Education in America will further erode, as children will be cut from Head Start programs and teachers and aides will lose their jobs. The mentally ill, the disabled and the elderly will also be impacted, as funds for health and food services will be eliminated or reduced. Are these truly the people and services that are a priority in terms of cutting the federal deficit?

Those most affected are those that are already reeling from an economy that has never quite recovered from the Great Recession, except in the eyes (and the coffers) of those who work on Wall Street. Those most affected are those who already have little or nothing, who have been literally dealt a poor hand.

Doug Bandow, a contributor to Forbes.com, illustrated a variety of ways that our government is wasting money:

 “The Department of State used $306,000 to bring European college students to America to learn civic activism” (we need an exchange program for this one).

“Columbia University collected $606,000 for a study of online dating” (perverts).

“The federal government cut a check for $550,000 to underwrite a documentary on the impact of rock and roll on the collapse of communism” (hell, if that worked, I can think of another government at whom we could sling our guitars).

“A federal grant for $765,828 went to [. . .] bring an International House of Pancakes franchise to Washington, D.C.” (this requires no punch line).

Instead of wasting millions of dollars (which quickly adds up to billions) on discretionary and frivolous spending, why don’t you try balancing the budget (we call it penny pinching in the real world) without passing the buck(s) to the rest of us, asking us to pay for your ill-considered spending?

Instead of pointing fingers at one another, ask yourself what good you have done recently for your constituents and for your country that didn’t somehow benefit you. Instead of chiding or punishing the poorest of Americans (by eliminating support programs) who you believe have made poor decisions that have lead them to fiscal ruin, clean up your own act and demand the same from government employees who are sending billions of dollars in improper payments and overpayments out the door.

We cannot be the only ones sick and tired of the endless bickering that occurs on Capitol Hill. The only time our representatives take a break from throwing stones at one another is when they need time to rebuild their forts, preparing for yet another election year. While our elected representatives engage in yet another pissing contest, the working men and women whom they are elected to serve (those fortunate enough to still have jobs, that is), further struggle to make ends meet in the land of the American nightmare that is politics as usual.

Corporate Greed Fuels Resistance to Minimum Wage Hike

by David T. Bruce

Many analysts and columnists are insisting that the economy is getting better. The state of the economy is a relative condition, however, as over 12 million Americans remain unemployed, with long-term unemployed men and women accounting for 38 percent of that number. At any rate, this perceived economic recovery has prompted President Obama to offer up an increase in the federal minimum wage over the next two years.

minwageThe arguments against raising the minimum wage are predictable, as they are consistent. Business owners contend that an increase in the minimum wage would force them to pass that cost on to the consumer. As well, the costs associated with paying employees more would limit the number of employees that they could hire, thereby further impacting the unemployment rate. This may be the case, certainly for small business owners who are trying to earn a living, but for those larger corporations that are doing well, these arguments amount to pure greed.

The current minimum wage of $7.25 amounts to $15,080 a year; this places a family of two below the poverty level. This is recovery? To pay rent in 1960, a person would have to work 71 hours at minimum wage ($1); a person would have to work 109 hours at the current minimum wage, to afford rent. This is recovery?

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (unaffectionatly referred to as Obamacare by dissenters) compels business owners employing over 50 people to provide those employees with healthcare benefits. Companies such as Wendy’s (in Omaha, Nebraska), Papa John’s and Walmart are systematically structuring their workforce to avoid providing benefits. This is greed. And the bottom line of the argument against increasing the federal minimum wage is greed.

Business owners regularly raise prices to keep pace with inflation. Local utilities and governments do likewise. When will big businesses and governments realize that at some point, prices will be raised so much that they will lose money? The federal government does understand this, as government employees have historically received a cost-of-living allowance to help offset inflation.

The unemployed and underemployed Americans cannot give what they do not have. At some point, everyone will suffer. There is plenty of evidence to support that an increase in minimum wage would be a good thing, and the numbers demonstrate that big businesses continues to prosper while the middle class deteriorates. Every time you read or hear that the economy is improving, you can bet that Wall Street is doing very well, while the rest of us are worse off than we were yesterday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Credit Debt is the Enemy of Financial Health

by Shadra Bruce

Living in debt has become the norm. Credit has involved into one of the most profitable industries in the country. Credit card companies in particular prey on those who are least likely to be able to repay their debts as well as those who feel they must have what they cannot afford.

There is no doubt that accumulating credit debt is the enemy of financial health. Creditors make it possible to live above our means, spend what we don’t have, and create an illusion of wealth.

The path to true financial health begins with seeing through the illusion of credit.

  • We have to start changing the way we look at how we accumulate stuff. We must begin changing the reality of wealth in America.
  • We can’t lease BMWs when all we can afford is Hyundais
  • We can’t buy 50-inch big screen TVs with credit cards when all we can afford is 22-inch
  • We can’t charge $8,000 vacations and hope we get them paid off before we plan the next one
  • We have to change the way we live.

erCredit debt is the enemy of financial health.

The items you have hold no value because of the money you now owe (and the interest you now pay) to have them. You might have only charged $4,000 on your credit card, but if you make minimum payments on a card with 18% interest, you will end up paying $25,010 in interest – and it will take you 40 years to do so.

It is impossible to be financially healthy when you rely on credit. The steadily increasing rate of debt is part of why we were unable to survive the housing collapse and the recession.

To truly gain financial health, credit debt can’t be a part of your life. Any purchase is less inexpensive when it is done without loans or credit, avoiding the interest rates and fees. By living within your means rather than above them, you will be in a position to create financial health.

  • Live simply
  • Live within your means
  • Barter and trade
  • Ignore marketing ploys designed to part you from your money and make you want things you don’t need
  • Work only enough to survive; thrive by volunteering, being part of your community, and encouraging sustainability
  • Get rid of the extra cars, cable subscriptions, unlimited cell phone plans, and unnecessary debt
  • Pay off your credit cards and stop using them unless you pay off immediately what you charge
  • Leave big banks and move to credit unions
  • Donate extra money to Rolling Jubilee to help others
  • Teach your children to be smart consumers and self-sufficient citizens
  • Grow as much of your own food as you possibly can

Changing the Reality of Wealth in America

by Shadra Bruce

There was a time when we thought the growth would never stop. The housing market was thriving, jobs were everywhere, and money was plentiful. Unfortunately, we forgot that the economy is cyclical, and many of us did not realize (or did not pay attention to) how precariously we were balanced on the brink of ruin.

We pushed the limits of the American Dream, convinced that we needed to own more and more, bigger and bigger.

The United States  is considered one of the richest countries in the world, but underneath that thin sheen of wealth lies a thick layer of poverty. Even those considered part of the ever-dwindling middle class often have no source of savings. The American Dream evolved from the big house and the white picket fence to a big screen television and a BMW.

We have officially reached our spending limit, and the only direction that remains is down.

It is time to wake up and see reality.

Everything happens in cycles, and we are in the midst of the biggest financial crisis that this country has experienced since the Great Depression.

As a society and as individuals, we forgot how to be frugal. We love to have, and none of what we desire was or is sustainable. Middle-class America bought more house than they could afford, and now many are stuck with homes that will never regain their value. There are difficult choices to be made.

Our resources, both natural and artificial, are exhausting themselves.

 It’s not too late.

We haven’t completely failed yet, and we still have the means to recover. The biggest change that everyone must undergo is to realize that it is not about how much you earn. You have to change your mindset, because it’s really about how much you spend.

It used to be simple to have a home, buy a car, and to buy everything that piqued your interest. Everyone had lines of credit, because we never dreamed that we wouldn’t be able to fulfill our debts. But with nothing to fall back on, things have to change.

The reality of America’s wealth is that it is incredibly superficial.

You must start by clearing away the illusions and realize that the way forward begins with being smarter with the money you have now and realizing you don’t need to have it all.

  • Live simply
  • Live within your means
  • Barter and trade
  • Ignore marketing ploys designed to part you from your money and make you want things you don’t need
  • Work only enough to survive; thrive by volunteering, being part of your community, and encouraging sustainability
  • Get rid of the extra cars, cable subscriptions, unlimited cell phone plans, and unnecessary debt
  • Pay off your credit cards and stop using them unless you pay off immediately what you charge
  • Leave big banks and move to credit unions
  • Donate extra money to Rolling Jubilee to help others
  • Teach your children to be smart consumers and self-sufficient citizens
  • Grow as much of your own food as you possibly can
 
 

 

 

Is the Right to Bear Arms Automatic?

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

by David T. Bruce

guncontrolThe Second Amendment to the United States Constitution supports the necessity of a disciplined and prepared military force as a means to protect and defend each state. To that end, the Constitution provides that people will have the right to keep and bear arms.

This right has become a mantra for firearm enthusiasts; this right has become a refrain is boisterously sounded as a defense for owning assault weapons. Our federal government has been largely elusive in terms of how our society should manage the sale of guns and the expectations of gun owners. As of the end of 2012, there are “no federal laws banning semi-automatic assault weapons, military-style .50 caliber rifles, handguns, or large capacity ammunition magazines, which can increase the potential lethality of a given firearm.”  As well, Congress has allowed assault weapon prohibitions to expire.

Our representatives continue to dodge the issue while American citizens continue to dodge bullets.

The issue of gun control cannot hinge on the Second Amendment. Each year, our love affair with guns earns firearm manufacturers over $1 billion and costs our society over 30,000 lives. In 2010 the CDC estimated that 30 homicides were committed per day with guns, and while this number is on the decline and varies based on the statistics used, this cannot be considered tolerable.

The word “change” is thrown about on both sides of the political aisle, and we are told that change is inevitable at home and in the workplace.

Rules change as we grow up. We cannot effectively throw a temper tantrum to get our way. Rules that once applied when we were two years old do not hold true when we are twenty years old; the same can be said for our nation as it grows up. The rules set down by the authors of the Constitution reflected the world in which they lived. They did not – nor could they – conceive of the world in which we live today.

Is it not possible that “arms” may refer to bows and arrows, knives and spears, as well as muskets?

Is it reasonable to expect that each of us has the right to own a semi-automatic or automatic weapon?

Do we put our own lives and the lives of our families and neighbors at risk by clinging to this expectation?

Many people argue as to why the Second Amendment was drafted and worded the way it was. Unfortunately, none of us were there, and it seems that the best way to interpret the intent of this particular right is to apply it to modern times.

Can we, in good conscience, argue that the founding fathers of our nation could foresee the availability and proliferation of modern weaponry?

Do we need arms for reasons other than providing food for our families and protecting our homes?

I am not suggesting that our rights should be taken away; I am suggesting that there are some rights that we do not have to begin with.

Preserving our rights is paramount, and any discussion related to reinterpreting, modifying or amending our amendments guarantees to raise eyebrows and cause frustrations on all sides of the issue. By lumping all guns together under one amendment, however, we invite disaster.

Forget statistics; look at the facts.

We do not need semi-automatic and automatic weapons in our homes and in our neighborhoods.

We need a well regulated militia; we do not need mercenaries.

We have the right to keep and bear arms; we do not have the right to define “arms” as we see fit.

The Second Amendment is not at risk; human lives are.

For a variety of interpretations and a broader perspective about the Second Amendment debate, take time to read this interesting examination and analysis of the Second Amendment, authored by Professor Eugene Volokh.

Image source: WorldMeets.Us

WAKE THE FUCK UP!

David and Shadra Bruce

Have you ever gone to the circus where they have those fun house mirrors? You know, the kind you stand in front of and it distorts your body all out of proportion. Right now, the Republican Party is as distorted as an image in a fun house mirror.

The leaders of the Republican party no longer represent standard Republican values and instead have been completely bought and paid for by wealthy corporations and SuperPacs who wield their money like swords, striking down any who would stand in the way of their greed.

2012-repugsWhile they tout small government, state rights, and the constitution, they pervert the foundation upon which this country was founded in order to protect their power base, seeing everyone as a disposable and consumable resource to be used to further their profits. This is not the Republican party of 1960; this is not the Republican Party of the 1970s, this is not the Republican Party of the 1980s.

This is the Republican Party of hate, war mongering, willfully lying, wantonly misrepresenting, hidden agendas, racism, and backwards thinking. We can’t help but wonder how nearly half the country can still be blindly faithful to this distorted version of what was once the party that championed the protection of the poor, the marginalized, and even the environment.

Samuel L. Jackson’s tongue-in-cheek story hour has a message, and while it’s a little rough around the edges for those who cringe at foul language, it is time to WAKE THE FUCK UP.

Voter Registration Deadlines for 2012 Presidental Election

Mississippi: Saturday October 6
Nevada: Saturday October 6
South Carolina: Saturday October 6
Alaska: Sunday October 7
Arkansas: Monday October 8
Hawaii: Monday October 8
Tennessee: Monday October 8
Washington: Monday October 8
 
OCTOBER 9
Arizona: Tuesday October 9
Colorado: Tuesday October 9
District of Columbia: Tuesday October 9
Florida: Tuesday October 9
Georgia: Tuesday October 9
Illinois: Tuesday October 9
Indiana: Tuesday October 9
Kentucky: Tuesday October 9
Louisiana: Tuesday October 9
Michigan: Tuesday October 9
Montana: Tuesday October 9
New Mexico: Tuesday October 9
Ohio: Tuesday October 9
Pennsylvania: Tuesday October 9
Texas: Tuesday October 9
Utah: Tuesday October 9
 
OCTOBER 10
Missouri: Wednesday October 10
 
OCTOBER 12
Idaho: Friday October 12
New York: Friday October 12
North Carolina: Friday October 12
Oklahoma: Friday October 12
 
OCTOBER 13
Delaware: Saturday October 13
 
OCTOBER 15
Virginia: Monday October 15
 
OCTOBER 16
Kansas: Tuesday October 16
Maine: Tuesday October 16
Maryland: Tuesday October 16
New Jersey: Tuesday October 16
Oregon: Tuesday October 16
West Virginia: Tuesday October 16
 
OCTOBER 17
Massachusetts: Wednesday October 17
Minnesota: Wednesday October 17
Wisconsin: Wednesday October 17
 
OCTOBER 19
Nebraska: Friday October 19
 
OCTOBER 22
California: Monday October 22
South Dakota: Monday October 22
Wyoming: Monday October 22
 
OCTOBER 23
Connecticut: Tuesday October 23
 
OCTOBER 26
Alabama: Friday October 26
 
OCTOBER 27
Iowa: Saturday October 27
New Hampshire: Saturday October 27
 
OCTOBER 31
Vermont: Wednesday October 31
 
North Dakota: No registration necessary

The Divided States of America

by David T. Bruce

No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.

~ John Donne

broken-u-sTraveling from Bath, New York to Seaside, Oregon and back again, exploring many points on the map in between, our family had the opportunity to discover the diversity of the United States. The spectacular shifting landscape was a constant reminder that Americans enjoy a variety of terrain: prairie, grassland, mountains and coastline. As we made our way to our destination points, my wife and I frequently prompted our children to set aside their music and their reading, directing their attention to the passing scenery. While Yellowstone National Park’s geysers and hot springs, Mount Rushmore, and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis are alluring and obvious tourist attractions, the uncluttered, panoramic scenery that is America is equally stunning.

Our primary motivation for launching this partial tour of the United States was to visit friends and family from whom we have been separated for several years. However, the variety of people we met and the communities we passed by or visited along the way were as notable as the landscapes and the monuments of the country. Most of the people we encountered were friendly, making us feel welcome in their communities. There were also a small number of people who were quick to judge us because of where we were from, treating us rather offensively.

Part of what I tried to understand is that a bias preceded us based upon where we lived: New York State. At the same time, the oftentimes pervasive judgments hurt. We were trying to make friends across the country. We were trying to share a part of ourselves in the hopes that others would do likewise. Apparently, the social and political gaps that exist in our country are wide enough that bridging them is tricky.

In addition to those preconceptions we encountered, separating one community and one state from the next were billboards and other assorted signs that pronounced (or denounced) a particular faith, political party or leader. These public notices were not offensive, but they were suggestive in their proclamation that deviating from the given belief structure was inadvisable, or at least something to be kept hush-hush.

Coming into an election year, it occurred to me why we as a nation are so divided at the polls. What was evident from one part of the country to the next was the impression that each state or community was an island onto itself. Pride in ones self and in ones community is certainly commendable. I think we all have pride in where our respective families and cultures are rooted demographically and historically. The danger lies in cultivating a social environment rooted in self-importance.

Our nation has become one in which it is not enough to have the right to live as we want to live. We have become a nation in which many of us seek to stifle virtually any word, image or idea that is remotely opposing to a given vision of what may be defined as the truth. Political correctness has somehow become an expectation. Voicing new ideas or contrasting opinions has become at least something considered unethical, if not immoral or deviant.

I would like to think that our family has left those we met with a warm feeling and a positive impression of people that call New York State their home. We certainly enjoyed visiting the home states of others, finding that we have more in common than not with people across the country. Perhaps this election year, we may all benefit by focusing on those commonalities, without placing emphasis on what makes us different. We as a people are becoming too divided, and we are being diminished as a result.

Through Which Lenses Do You See This Small World?

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_thelensthroughwhichyouseetheworldWhen I wake up each morning, I am blind until I grope for my glasses and get them on my face. Then everything sharpens into focus. In much the same manner, the way we look at the world around us is skewed by the lenses we wear to see it. If our lenses are colored with personal history, religion, or indoctrinated culture, it is impossible to see things clearly…we see them through thick lenses that skew reality.

None of us can be perfectly free from the skew of our personal lenses; we all have prejudice or bias. I have a very personal bias that I have a difficult time overcoming regarding Mormons. Personal experience has colored my perception; my father’s family is Mormon, but my father is not. He was at certain points in life quite vocal about his rejection of the faith, and my mother  even more so.

Then we moved to Idaho.

For those who believe Utah is the Mormon capital of the world, I truly believe that Idaho (at least in the 1980s when I was in school) was worse. The first question I was asked as a new and frightened 5th-grader at the elementary school I was enrolled in was, “What Ward are you in?”

I didn’t know what a Ward was, which of course made it clear that I was not Mormon. Being non-Mormon in Idaho in the ’80s was in many ways a hellish experience. Non-Mormons were often ostracized, not just by the students but by the Mormon teachers and counselors. We were a tiny minority.

My experience going to school in a predominantly Mormon society has colored my perspective. It’s a lens I have a difficult time shedding, even though many of my own Mormon family members have shown that it is not always that way. My uncle and my grandma are devout Mormons. My uncle has served as a Bishop and as a youth leader. He is strong in his faith, yet he never judges me or my family for our different beliefs; he welcomes us into his home; he treats my children with love.

Does my experience with Mormons color my view of Mitt Romney? I’m sure it does, and probably unfairly so. I wish I could peel off that particular lens to have a clearer view of the man and his potential as a leader. I am working to do that, and recognize in hindsight the many Mormon kids I went to school with who were nothing but kind and friendly.

But I also realize that the color of Obama’s skin has created a lens through which many see him as well, and I wish that they, too, could remove that lens and see him without it.

Our country, it seems, is confined by the lenses through which we see the world. None of us have been willing to look with open and clear eyes at the issues, recognize the need for compromise, and do what is best for the country as a whole. Whether liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, Christian or Muslim, or something else entirely, we all need to take a step back, remove our respective lenses and see the commonality among us. Regardless of our individual paradigms, we are all parents who care about our kids, kids who love our parents, sisters and brothers and aunts and uncles, and above all HUMAN BEINGS.

Disney has been warning us for decades: “It’s a SMALL world.” And the only way we’re going to get along in it is by making the choice to be not just tolerant of our differences but to embrace the diversity that makes all of us stronger.

We Shouldn’t Have To Buy Our Freedom

by Shadra L. Bruce

ethicalrevolutionist_buyfreedomThis country builds its values on freedom, but the only people who are free are the ones who give the “system” the finger and literally follow their own agenda. The only freedom we have as Americans is that we get to pick who tells us what to do. Let me explain.

The American dream: get an education, get married, buy a house, build a good career, have kids, buy toys, retire comfortably. And everything in this country is set up to support that dream, to funnel us as zombie-like slaves into corporate servitude, to encourage and enforce (and reinforce) reigning social values, by offering tax breaks for getting married and having kids, to entrap us with promises that if we just work hard enough, we too can be rich (all the while offering a mind numbingly below-par, over-priced education to ensure that we stay as sheep-like as possible).

What if you don’t want to live in the American rut? Everything – every law and societal attitude – attempts to force you into a lifestyle indistinguishable from anyone else’s: stay in one place, work at one job, and raise your kids to become the same mindless robots you become, kids who will ultimately believe in and reinforce the same system.

Imagine living in a society where the Earth is still appreciated, where people appreciate and respect each other, and where a person is truly free. People work to meet their needs and wants; that used to be about 8 hours a week. Now it’s 40-60, or more. We work, we eat, we sleep and we try to squeeze in a little fun.

Does that seem wrong to anyone else?

I think things really need to change. Peaceful revolution. Whether we evolve into small, self-sufficient, self-governing communities, or simply wipe the political slate clean and choose our representatives from among real people and not wealthy, out-of-touch imbeciles, I don’t know.

I understand why others look at Americans and think we are pigs. A good majority of us are greedy, gluttonous and hard-hearted; overweight, undereducated and lazy. We’re materialistic and demanding, and we all want something for nothing.

And it’s never our fault.

And yet, this is the only country where the potential for improvement is so possible. It has the POTENTIAL to be fantastic. I love being an American. The ideas America were based on are glorious. But politics corrupts men – hell, politics corrupts the Boy Scouts of America. And instead of a country of the people, for the people, and by the people, we have a country of political pigs getting rich off our growing poverty.

It disgusts me that in a country of freedom that touts itself as the greatest country in the world, children starve, people graduate from high school without being able to read and we can’t live peacefully with people of different cultures and beliefs.

How far down the wrong path are we willing to go before we make the effort to change? Who cares if children starve, if crime does pay, if politicians are greedy, lying, pigs? Most of us have it easy – and actually contribute to the greed with our materialistic demands – so why would we want it to change? Just don’t mess with our evening TV programming, OK?

Listen to your heart, your gut, and your brain – whatever part of your body you trust in an emergency. Listen to it. You should hear sadness, the lost soul, the warning that you’re on the wrong path. You feel the danger of doomsday (and not in any biblical sense).

Right now, we worry about the wrong things and don’t care about the important ones. Who cares who is having sex with whom? It doesn’t matter when we’re all going to get screwed by the government and by the freedom rhetoric. You want to be free? It IS possible.

You know what traps us all? Credit. Because we all want more than we can afford, we extend and overextend to the breaking point. On paper, we might look like the asset column is running ahead of the debt column, but it simply isn’t so. But there is comfort and security in the rut, and that’s why we’re stuck. Until enough people are willing to see past their own big screen TVs to see true reality, nothing will change.