GSA and SECRET SERVICE SCANDALS — Righteous Indignation or Avoidance?

By Kevin

 
Congress is outraged over the GSA and Secret Service scandals — utterly outraged! The General Service Administration held a 2010 conference in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers $822,000. Unbelievable! A dozen members of the Secret Service advance team hired 20 prostitutes to party for an evening in Cartagena, Colombia. Impossible! Darrell Isa, Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee is outraged. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is outraged. On the right and the left in both houses of Congress everyone is viscerally and vocally outraged — so outraged that some are “sick to their stomachs” while others just cannot find words to express their horror at these unforgivable infractions — these very common and widespread sins of the flesh — partying – indulging in too much luxury, entertainment, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Congress is obsessed by these tabloid misbehaviors and so are all the news outlets. Capitol Hill has launched investigations and hearings that have almost certainly already spent more valuable human hours and taxpayer money than both scandals put together, and it has only just begun. We are a nation of Puritans who just love a good prurient scandal that allows us to express our disdain, outrage and moral indignation against anyone who does not adhere to sufficiently chaste and modest conduct, while we ignore our most compelling needs and issues.

The GSA was stupid to hold a conference in Las Vegas in this economy. Secret Service members were playing with fire when they hired prostitutes. The “optics” are very bad. Nobody should eat caviar or entertain prostitutes when some of us are starving and all of us worry about terrorism and security. But $822,000 is an infinitesimally tiny droplet in the bucket of our economic misadventures. Would that amount even pay for one tenth of a stealth bomber? No, it would not. The investigations and hearings Congress has launched into these matters will cost many times more than the transgressions did. This is an absurd waste of time and money. So, here is my advice to Congress:

 

Dear Congress,

 

 

After you recover from your shock and amazement over learning that a government agency, GSA, spent too much money on a conference in Las Vegas, perhaps you will need some real economic issues against which to direct your outrage? Well, how about focusing on the fact that the Census Bureau reported 46.2 million Americans living at or below the poverty line in 2010? That number includes 22% of all our children. And it has gotten worse since 2010. One in six citizens of the most powerful country on earth struggle with poverty and hunger! Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress? Why don’t you spend your hours, investigations and hearings on the hunger and homelessness right under your own noses, instead of wasting your time and ours screaming about the GSA paying for expensive breakfasts and hiring a “mind-reader” to entertain their troops. Or if poverty and hunger at home bore you, why not focus on the fact that four million families have lost their homes to foreclosure right here in the USA in the last four years? Four million families were pushed out into the streets and many of their homes quickly fell prey to mold, decay and vandalism. Whole neighborhoods in Detroit and elsewhere had to be razed. Nobody is benefiting from these foreclosures — not the banks, not the wider economy, and certainly not the evicted families. Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress?
 
Then there is the matter of the Secret Service’s advance team to Cartagena hiring 20 prostitutes to party for an evening. I am concerned about the possibility that the safety and security of the president and his team might have been compromised by this sleazy activity. But if it turns out that these Secret Service party personnel followed protocol and cleansed their rooms of all information and material that could have been used against the president, then what they do in their free time is none of my business or anyone else’s. Unless they really did endanger the life and safety of the president and his party, then in my opinion special sexual services for the Secret Service ought to remain the Secret Service’s secret. I certainly feel sorry for their wives and families. But prostitution in Cartagena is legal and partying with prostitutes must surely be one of the oldest and most popular forms of self-indulgent debauchery in all of human history. It’s not new.

 

Give me a break, Congress! These Secret Service and GSA scandals are naughty play and foolish self-indulgence — not national emergencies, and they simply do not descend to the level that ought to arouse this much Congressional and national inquiry, time and outrage. Congress, do you need a national emergency to obsess about? How about a global emergency?… Try this one: Planet Earth is rapidly dying as an environment that will support the human species and other forms of life. According to the International Energy Agency, if we do not arrest and reverse Global Climate Change within the next few years, greenhouse gasses will exceed sustainable levels and pass beyond the point of no return. Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress? Don’t you care at all about your children’s and grandchildren’s future? Where are the investigations and hearings about Global Climate Change? Where are the hours of news coverage about the fact that extinction is on our doorstep? Wake up Congress! The sexual dalliances of overgrown adolescent boys guarding the president, and the excesses of government conference attendees, may be titillating and troubling and certainly beneath the level of behavior we expect of them, but our house is burning down and we are ignoring the fire in favor of punishing bad boys for masturbating in the bathroom! Don’t you smell the smoke? Where are your priorities, Congress? 

 
Expensive travel and conferences on the taxpayer’s dime are dead wrong and they need to stop. Secret Service agents must learn not to indulge in any behaviors that might endanger the lives of our presidents and the security of our nation – partying with prostitutes included. But these very human indulgences are among the oldest behaviors in the history of our species. Congress is acting like the GSA and the Secret Service just now invented waste and lechery, and if we heap enough scorn and outrage on them we might have a chance of nipping such bad habits in the bud. Get real, Congress! We have bigger fish to fry. We have heard your very pious and puritanical righteous indignation, and we are duly impressed. Now, please turn your attention to our real problems and spend your time and our money on issues that truly matter, like feeding and clothing the masses living in poverty among us, and housing the homeless while preventing more families from being thrown out of their homes, and saving the human race from extinction due to Global Climate Change. Can we get back to reality again and stop all of this avoidance of the devastating crises right in front of our noses? Can we focus on resolving some of these real issues and saving ourselves – now?! Thank you.

 

P.S.: If you address real issues, Congress, your approval rating could rise from 8% to 18%!

Love, – Kevin

SO WHO PAYS?

When my partner’s dad was still living, and we would sometimes go out to dinner with him and his wife, there was never any question of who paid.  He would always contrive to grab the check first and plunk down his cash (he didn’t much care for credit cards, as that meant going into debt), no matter how fast we might have tried to get at it before him.  That’s the kind of man he was, a former navy commander, upright, honest, no-nonsense, and the very definition of responsible.   A Republican all his life in that old-fashioned, now almost quaint, fiscally responsible take-care-of-yourself-and-those-you-love sort of way, he was a man I greatly admired. 

So, I’m left to wonder about Republicans these days and how they treat fiscal responsibility.  Yes, I know, they talk a lot about it, but what does it really come down to?  There’s a report in a recent issue of the Los Angeles Times that lists some very interesting facts.  First of all, the way that economists measure debt is, in a sense, not so terribly different from the way you and I might in terms of the family budget.  If you borrow money because you spend more than you take in, you go into debt.  Pretty straight forward stuff. And that’s exactly what happens with the US debt, too.  If we spend more than we “make” – and what we make is measured in a general way by the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – and borrow to cover the shortfall, then we’re in debt.  Another thing to understand is that virtually all nations carry some measure of debt.  That’s just the way the world seems to do business. 

What the big question really comes down to is: how much debt is too much debt?  Another way to put that is: how much debt is sustainable in the long run?   According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Budget, about 60% of GDP is what most countries consider a reasonable and sustainable debt load to carry.  OK, I’m willing to accept that, as much as I wouldn’t want that kind of debt for our household budget.  Still, I get it that countries are not the same as families when it comes to economics.  Now, for a simple guy like me, there are only a couple of ways to handle debt.  You can either a) make more money to cover your expenses, or b) you can spend less money, or there’s c), which is some combination of a) and b). 

It appears as though the Republicans pretty much favor b) by a long shot over a).  Spend less, spend less, spend less!  Reduce the amount of money the government pays out, and all will be well.  But that can only go so far, and like all budgeting, it comes down to a matter of priorities, that is, what to cut and what to keep?  On the other side of the equation, and to be fair about things, maybe the Democrats sometimes do lean too heavily on the a) part of our proposition above.  You can’t only take in more.  So, when it comes right down to it, I guess I’m a c) kind of guy.  Why not spend less AND take more in? 

It’s true that this means that we would have to agree on where and what and how much to cut.  That’s not an easy question, I know, since my priorities may not be your priorities, but in the end we have to come to some agreement.  Another contentious question may be the biggest of all: how do we raise GDP?  How do we make ourselves more productive?  The Republican answer is always to get the damn government out of the way and let the market do its thing, while the Democrats advocate for both increased taxes (especially on the wealthy) and for some measure of government oversight and assistance. These are maybe simplistic ways of putting it, but in the aggregate I think it’s not too far from the truth. 

Now, from what I’ve seen, especially in the free-wheeling Bush era of unhappy memory, when the cat was away, the mice just loved to play.  Government got out of the way, fiscally anyway, if not when it came to social, so-called “values” issues, and look what happened.  The rich got richer and richer, and the rest of us got a recession! So it doesn’t look to me as though that worked so well.  And what’s so unfair about asking those who earn a lot more to pay at least the same percentage in taxes as you and I?

Right now, again according to the Committee for a Responsible Budget, the country’s current debt load is at 70% of GDP, which is maybe shaky at best.  And Pres. Obama’s plan would push us to about 80% in the next decade.  That sounds pretty damning, until we look further and find out where the proposals of the current Republican nominees would take us.  With Romney’s, we’d reach between 85% and 96%; with Santorum’s proposals, we’d get to a dizzying 104%, and with Gingrich’s, we’d hit an astronomical 114% of GDP!  The only guy whose economics seem to work is Ron Paul’s, and even with his we’d still be at 76%.  But remember that his proposals mostly use cuts, and he thinks that raising taxes is another word for jihad

So, the question of who pays still remains.  You can’t go on forever borrowing from people.  Sooner or later, in my experience anyway, they want you to pay them back — with interest!  Again, that’s why, for now anyway, the only choice we may have is to make whatever cuts in spending we can agree on, AND to raise taxes, especially on those who can afford to pay them.  Maybe someday the economy will come roaring back so strong that we can actually lower individual and corporate taxes, but for the moment I’m not counting on it.  And the above numbers don’t lie.  What’s happening now in the economy is unsustainable.  Just ask the Greeks, and maybe the Italians and the Spanish, as well.   

The good commander, my partner’s dad, always picked up the tab.  And we were grateful, as much as we wanted to take them out to dinner once in a while, too.  But let’s not wait until there’s nobody left to pay the bill.  Let’s make the hard decisions now that will set us on the road to fiscal solvency.  And let’s not get duped by a bunch of Republican blather about how responsible they are, when their numbers just don’t add up – or to put it another way – when those numbers add up to just way too much.

Paul