Monday, March 20, 2017

The Trump Budget. Guns, no butter, but maybe less pork? And Dangerous Assumptions

As loyal readers of this blog already know, I am not a Trump fan.  I'm not a Clinton fan either, and I think the  Democrats blew this past election as, in their heart of hearts, the party is controlled by those for whom 1973 is still with us and they won't let control of the party go until their in their graves for a decade.  The ongoing bizarre presence of Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi as Democratic spokesmen is proof of that.

But I will say, to my surprise a bit, that Trump has so far been perhaps the only President in living memory who came into  office with an agenda, even an extreme agenda, and stuck with it.  And, like it or not, he's been pretty successful so far, for the most part, in getting it moving.  Chuck coming on television and complaining about it hasn't done that much. To the extent that he hasn't gotten what he's want, it's been due to reluctant Republican, not Democrat, backstage maneuvering and the Courts.  The Democrats have come across so far like limp, 1973 flavored, noodles.

Which is why when Democrats come out and declare the Trump budget dead on arrival I don't think we need to listen too much. The same party that figured they'd coronated a Boomer Queen and buried that nasty experimentation with the young (if that's what President Obama was) and which brings out the the Greatest Hits of The Watergate Era for the news of the day can't really be taken all that seriously.

And, after getting the dope slap for not doing what they said they'd do, the GOP has to be really careful about not passing a budget, good, bad, or something else, that doesn't do what they've claimed they'd do, in part, for the past 20 years.

So, we'd do well to actually look at it.

And, while I'm genuinely horrified by big parts of the proposed budget, I'm also finding, in spite of myself, that. . . well. . . some of this stuff really ought to be cut.  Or if not cut, then paid for.

Let's start with what I don't think we need to add spending for.  Defense, and the Wall.

Now, I'm not an enemy of the Defense Department.  And I was in the National Guard back in the day when Reagan's first budget hit and things really improved in every way, including moral, in the service.  It was a huge change.

But, and this is important, we were building up to fight a really big, but short, war with the Soviet Union. That was what we were doing.  Oh, we said we were preparing to fight 2 1/2 wars, but one of those wars was with the Soviets. In other words, we were preparing to fight World War Three.

We aren't doing that now.

We are fighting a couple of wars. And we've been quite a bit more active in Syria (bout which I cringe) since Trump took office. But the big event, war wise, will be a slow burn war against Islamic terrorists.  I doubt we can win that overnight, but at any rate, that's the type of war best fought, quite frankly, by small armies.  Units like the Special Forces, the Rangers, or the SAS fight that kind of war. . . and the Air Force.  Not so much big infantry or armor formations.

So why are we building a big conventional military?  It makes no sense at all, and its really expensive.

And the wall is pointless.

I have a post in immigration in the hopper, but I haven't gotten it out. Any way you look at it, however, the truth is that we now have a net population loss to Mexico.  The whole big Mexican illegal immigration problem is over, and it started being over during the Obama Administration.

Besides, the whole sneaking over the river and into Texas thing is so, well, 1970s.  Not that it doesn't happen, but it isn't the vehicle for illegal immigration, for the most part, anymore.  It might be a little for smuggling, but that's not the problem we're supposedly trying to address.

So, you want to address illegal immigration?  Don't build a wall. Enforce the immigration laws inside the United States and punish Americans who hire illegal aliens. That would do it.  We're not going to do that.  Why not?  I have no idea other than that Trump said he was going to build a wall, his supporters believe that building a wall will do something, so he's going to do it.

Okay, now what about the cuts.

A lot of the cuts are deep and even shocking.  Some of the individual cuts, maybe all of them, create gasps in certain quarters that have specific interest in them.  For instances, the ABA is noting that the proposed budget eliminates funding for the Legal Services Corp, which is a Federally funded entity that provides legal aid for the poor.   Does it provide a service worth providing?  I think so.  We would have a less just society without it and, for the most part, I don't think the state's would fill in the gaps.  Should it be paid for?  Well, if we have it, it should be paid for.

What else fits in this category, i.e., things that are just flat out cut.  There's quite a list:

The 21st Century Community Learning Centers program
• Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy
• African Development Foundation
• Appalachian Regional Commission
• Chemical Safety Board
• Community Development Block Grant
• Community Development Financial Institutions Fund
• Community Services Block Grant
• Corporation for National and Community Service
• Corporation for Public Broadcasting
• Delta Regional Authority
• Denali Commission
• Economic Development Administration
• Essential Air Service program
• Global Climate Change Initiative
• Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Chesapeake Bay
• HOME Investment Partnerships Program,
Homeownership Opportunity Program
• Institute of Museum and Library Services
• Inter-American Foundation
• US Trade and Development Agency
• Legal Services Corporation
• Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program
• McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program
• Minority Business Development Agency, under Commerce
• National Endowment for the Arts
• National Endowment for the Humanities
• NASA's Office of Education
• Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation
• Northern Border Regional Commission
• Overseas Private Investment Corporation
• State Energy Program
• Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants
• TIGER transportation grants
• United States Institute of Peace
• United States Interagency Council on Homelessness
• Weatherization Assistance Program
• Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

None of these programs is individually large.  And none of them make up a significant part of the budget.  But they do all add to it. While each will have their defenders, there truly does become a point, in the philosophy of tax, where you have to ask is taxing just for a program.

That may sound like an odd way to look at it, but taxation is one of the primary aspects of sovereignty.  Only sovereign entities can tax.  An entity doing the same thing that isn't a sovereign would be committing extortion doing the exact same thing.  It's legal, because the sovereign does it.

Which brings us to the budget. At the end of the day, we have to ask if forcing cash  out of individual wallets, or taking loans from the unborn to pay for things now, is just.  If we can say it likely is, then that's one thing.  But we should be careful.

Just turning to these entities again, some, while they no doubt do vital work, ought to go.  The Weatherization Assistance Program, for example, probably does vital work. But vital enough to tax everyone for?  Maybe, but it ought to be justified.

What about the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars?  Well, I doubt it deserves my tax money, frankly.  Indeed most of these are likely on fairly shaky ground, no doubt all deserving in their day, but are they collectively deserving now?  Some no doubt are, some no doubt are not.

Only the big ones, in relative terms, or the controversial ones, will receive a lot of attention.  The National Endowments (Art and Humanities) will receive a lot of attention that way.

These are interesting in and of themselves as the classic way that the sovereign sponsored arts and the humanities was when it engaged in a public project.  Great works of art have been done at public expense, through the sovereign serving itself.  I do not mean to suggest this is bad. Great monuments and buildings stand out as examples everywhere.  Which points out something that's often missed. Art, and the humanities, are always tied to sponsors in some fashion. 

In Europe most of the great art of earlier eras, which makes up most of the great art, was sponsored by the Church and the Sovereigns.  And for their own purposes.  Which doesn't mean that they are not great. What's never been done is to simply fund art or the humanities.  

Now, these grants do more than that. But we have to ask, as part of this, if funding in the fashion in which they are funded through these endowments serves a taxing authority justifiable goal.

Let's look at the NEA.  It states that:
The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.
Should the Federal government be taxing to do that?  Should it be doing it at all?

One of the things the NEA is now doing is sort of campaigning for itself.  It's website has a statement about being cut and notes that it cannot campaign but that it expects this to be an active area of discussion. That's promoting, in very mild form, a campaign to save itself.

It's website also has a selection of programs and what not that sound fun and are no doubt educational. But, for example, should the NEA be sponsoring an April 3 jazz concert in Washington D.C. on my dime.  Frankly, probably not.  What about the NEH? Well, because I like some of the NEH programs quite a bit I'd be very sorry to see them go, but the same analysis has to be done. Is it just to tax for them?

If it is, and this is the rub, then its also just for anyone Administration to back only those that serve the interest of the government as they see it.  People hate that idea, but that's the gist of public funding. . . it has to be for a public purpose as the public defines it.

All of this, of course, deals with just the programs that are eliminated. What about those that are cut?  Well, the same analysis would apply.

Probably every single person could go through the list of things being cut and find things they very strongly disagree with.  For example, I strongly disagree with cutting anything having to do with science.  Funding science, it seems to me, is in our national best interest and even perhaps fits in the category of national defense in a real sense.  I'd favor funding science over the massive boost in funding to the military as, it seems to me, our national needs in this area are great.  Likewise, I"m also opposed to any cuts that cut funding for the Department of the Interior or the Department of Agriculture.

What about the Department of Education?  We've only had that department since the 1970s, contrary to what people think. Education is a massively important aspect of real life and perhaps this brings to a head how we intent to approach it. Right now, we approach it in a highly balkanized fashion. We have a national department of education, state departments of education, and local school boards.  What is the role of each? We seemingly have never figured that out. An argument can be made for any of these, but its time to have that argument.

How about the Department of Housing? Well, having dealt with it, I'd be in favor of completely eliminating it.  And I'm not joking.  It flat out ought to go, and tomorrow.

What about Transportation?  Well, here we need to figure out what we expect.  We started a national transportation system with the arrival of the automobile, and have kept it ever since.  It's a big country, and we're complaining about infrastructure collapse. Does cutting Transportation address that?  I think not.

And the EPA?  The EPA is a constant target from the right, but the attacks on it do not seem justified to me.  It has a big job its trying to do and only a national entity can do it.

So, in short, when I went through these I find that I support quite a few things being cut, I don't support some others, and some I just don't know what they do.  

Which would suggest that if nothing else, a debate on Federal spending, a real one, is needed. We're probably not going to get that, but it is time.  And part of that debate has to be on actually paying for things.  Taxes are not intrinsically evil or anything.  Not paying for what you expect to receive, however, is really a problem.

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