Friday, May 15, 2015

KRM's (Key Result Measures) and an Improvement Plan for the US

We are heavily entangled with, both supporting and depending on, two very large entities that we hope and pray are too large to fail. Unfortunately, those two large entities are also entangled with, supporting and depending on, each other, and the inevitable conflicts of interest combined with short term thinking and selfish behaviors have weakened both. The two entities are the United States Federal Government and the United States Economy.

Anyone responsible for an important enterprise must understand how the enterprise works and how well it is doing. An important first step in managing and driving improvement is establishment of KRM's, Key Result Measures, for the enterprise. Such measures must be carefully selected and based on accurate data designed to identify important trends and statistically significant changes. Such tools greatly facilitate diagnosis of problems and planning, implementation, and documentation of improvement projects.

In the charts below, you will see the results of an effort to identify high level measures for these two major entities. For all these variables, I plotted data from 1960 through 2014, the last full year for which government supplied data are available. I used ten year running averages because such averages eliminate noise and make each point very accurate, containing a lot of data, and because I didn't want to be accused of trying to correlate ups and downs with presidential terms. We attribute far too much of the good and bad news about our government and our economy to whoever happens to be in office. The actions a current administration or congress might take are far more likely to take effect a few years down the road rather than immediately. Our economic ship and our government ship are big and bulky and slow to turn. 

The most important measures are the size and growth rate of our economy. After that, the issues are how much of that economy is consumed by the federal government, how the money to fund the government is pulled from the economy, and how that money is spent by the federal government. Some of these measures are controllable factors, independent variables, and some are lagging results or dependent variables.

Variables that can be controlled over time
  • Spending as a percent of GDP
  • Percent of spending available for transfer payments
  • Percent of revenue coming from income tax, payroll tax, and corporate tax

Variables that are lagging and dependent
  • Total federal debt as a percent of GDP
  • GDP growth rate

The charts below indicate that we have opportunities with all three independent variables, one of them in serious trouble, and major problems with both dependent variables: 
  • A rapidly diminishing portion of our federal spending going to infrastructure and other key economic support items and a rapidly increasing portion going to transfer payments.
  • Unwillingness to match spending and taxing and resulting accumulation of unsustainable debt.
  • A corporate tax structure that advertises ridiculously high rates and motivates game playing to reduce the tax bills with the result that high rates are delivering low tax revenues even while complicating and discouraging business.
  • The federal debt continues to climb and is now at or above annual GDP.
  • GDP growth is in a long term consistent downward trend.
Click on the charts to read the paragraphs of explanation. The suggested "targets" are mine.

Chart 1 - This is probably not increasing as fast as many people suspect and has actually been relatively constant over the decades. Let's just agree that 20% of GDP is a reasonable target for federal spending. Of course we don't know what the GDP is until the year is over but adjustments for misses can be made in the following year so that the long term average homes in on 20%.


Chart 2 - This disastrous trend, so-called entitlement spending, is starving the federal government of funds needed for investment in infrastructure and other business and investment stimulating projects. Taking money from one pocket and putting it in another solves no long term problems, not even poverty.


Chart 3 - Income tax coverage is much narrower than in past decades with about half having little or no liability. We need lower rates with broader participation and no special treatment. A flat 15% on all earned income above poverty level would just about do it. And it would eliminate the need for tax returns on earned income and almost put the IRS out of business. Read more here.


Chart 4 - This apparently regressive tax is excessive and falling short of the poorly conceived promises made to those paying it. (I say apparently because, while the taxes hit lower income folks harder, the benefits also strongly favor them, thus making the overall system less regressive. Very little contribution is required to get benefits, and benefits are capped.) Some argue to raise the tax. It would be far wiser to reduce the benefits based on means testing and run less rather than more money through Washington DC. Read more here.


Chart 5 - The unholy trinity of business, lobbyists, and congress has resulted in an incomprehensible corporate tax system that is difficult for all, fair to none, and expensive to maintain. A flat rate of 15% to 20% on publicly reported earnings before taxes would stimulate business and investment, put thousands of lobbyists out of business, let executives focus on their businesses rather than on pursuit of special tax treatment, and give congress time to worry about important issues rather than where their next campaign funds are coming from. Read more here.


Chart 6 - This just summarizes the last three, showing that the total contributed by the three big taxes is fairly constant over the decades except for the convolution caused by the inflating and bursting of the two bubbles of the last fifteen years, dot.com and real estate. (Added Later: That instability beginning in the late 1990's is a danger signal.)


Chart 7 - And this is a ridiculous picture of administrations and congresses from both parties over six decades consistently running deficits that pile on debt. The only exception was at the turn of the century when tax revenues from the dot.com bubble boosted revenues even as the associated false prosperity enabled some spending cuts.


Chart 8 - Read more here on the history of our national debt. The last good years were when we all worked very hard to pay off the burdensome debt incurred during WWII. That favorable trend ended in the 1970's with the first oil crunch and the end of $3 per barrel oil.


Chart 9 - This GDP trend is a pretty sorry and discouraging picture but does not present a situation without hope. Read more here about it.

Here are the actions we need to take to right the ship and change the trends on GDP growth and Federal Debt.
  • Reform corporate taxes to establish a new low competitive rate that every corporation pays, no favors allowed. Something in the range of 15 to 20% on all publicly reported profits, wherever earned, should do it.
  • Reform our social welfare programs, Social Security and Medicare, to stop paying bills for and sending checks to people who can afford to pay their own bills with their own income.
  • Limit Federal Government spending to 20% of GDP and fund 15% of it from corporate income taxes, 35% from personal income taxes, 30% from the payroll tax, and the remainder from excise and customs taxes.
It will take a while to kick in, but we would know this strategy has been successful if the GDP moving average and the federal debt curves change direction. Of course there would be earlier indicators such as more positive attitudes, more investment, better individual quarter measurements, etc., but, if we celebrate those, declare victory, and stop the improvement efforts, all will be lost. Solving these problems will require an extended attention span.


Below are links to sources used for the data in the above charts:
Who Pays Income Tax: http://taxfoundation.org/article/summary-latest-federal-income-tax-data

GDP and Government Revenue and Spending: http://www.bea.gov/itable/index.cfm

On Payroll Tax Regressiveness: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443684104578063140488175464

National Debt History: https://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt.htm

Corporate Profits Info: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/05/business/economy/corporate-profits-grow-ever-larger-as-slice-of-economy-as-wages-slide.html?_r=0


Monday, May 11, 2015

Economic Update: Crisis Impact

There is so much data available that it is very simple to make bad situations look good and good situations look bad by careful selection of data and time frame. A one quarter difference in starting and ending points can make a huge difference. It is very easy for example to claim a huge reduction in the federal deficit since 2009 without pointing out that the deficit is still twice as large as in 2007. (The deficit is the gap between the red spending line and the blue revenue line in the chart below.)

So, here is my attempt to explain, within context and without spin, what happened to our national economy and the federal revenue, spending, and debt during the crisis which kicked in in 2008. I am comparing the most recent quarter with the fourth quarter of 2007, the last before impact of the crisis, and I am showing all the data for the seven previous years and during the recovery itself.

My readers may try to spin this, but all I am doing is presenting information. Well, you might accuse me of spin for the large bold red print on the percent increase in national debt. Click on the chart for an easier read.





Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How About Some MSRP's for Medical Care

Physicians and hospitals in the USA offer excellent medical care, in quality, quantity, and timeliness, to rich and poor alike. Of course there are exceptions, but, overall, on average, all things considered, we are the best. Please note that I said nothing about our “health care" system or our insurance. I am referring only to the medical services physicians and other trained providers offer their patients. Non-medical "Health care," after all, consists mostly of advice and is now widely available at no cost on the internet. And, if what we have been doing had been effective, we would not have an epidemic of obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, etc. 

The US "health care" system continues financially stressed, and dysfunctional, even as Congress fiddles. It was reported last week, for example, that the United States House and Senate have passed similar bills that will:
  1. Stop a scheduled 21% cut in physicians’ Medicare fees (to keep Congress from having to deal with the traditional annual "doc fix.")
  2. Provide billions of “extra” dollars for health care for children and low income adults (with no explanation of the source of "extra" dollars.)
  3. Provide additional money for community health centers, (great vote getters for members of the House of Representatives.)
The article goes on to say that 66% of the cost of the new legislation is unfunded so apparently must be covered by borrowing, creating additional federal debt. And John Boehner brags, "For the first time in nearly two decades - and without raising taxes - Congress has come together in a bipartisan way to pass meaningful entitlement reform." That is an unbelievable statement.

About 16% of the cost of the new legislation will be covered with higher Medicare prescription drug premiums, and about 17% with lower Medicare reimbursements to hospitals. Given the current major trend of hospitals buying up physician practices and putting the doctors on salary, I can’t help wondering about the net effect on physicians of raising physician reimbursements while cutting reimbursements to the hospitals that are employing more and more of them. Is it any wonder that we see an increase in "concierge" practices?

What a mess! Here are some personal data to possibly shed some light on the issue and suggest a solution.

During the past year I had close encounters with a cardiologist, an ophthalmologist, and a dermatologist. In each case, the physicians, their staff, the services provided, and the processes used were excellent, and my level of satisfaction was very high. I paid nothing out of pocket, all expenses covered by Medicare. To top it all off, the news and prognoses from all three were very good. For myself, I have no reason to be unhappy. For the USA, I have deep concerns. 

For all that wonderful medical care, bills totaled more than $27,000, a significant amount of money to most of us, enough to buy a new car. But a closer look reveals that those bills were fiction. Medicare informed the providers that their total compensation would be limited to $5,664, only 21% of what they were asking. Well, for that, I would have been glad to whip out my AMEX Card several times during the year and pay for services as received. Some folks must spend almost that much a year at Starbucks! 

The reason I was not asked to whip out my AMEX card and pay is revealed in the linked article: “Congress seldom increases costs on seniors, fearing retribution come the next Election Day from older voters.” What a bunch of cowards! 

Here is the fundamental problem that needs to be fixed. We, patients and physicians alike, are held hostage by a complex, unfair, and burdensome system of government and private and employer provided health insurance and medical billing based on a provider-payer tug-of-war that leaves us sitting on the sidelines with no reasonable choice but to submit all our health care expenses, large and small, routine and exceptional, preventive and emergency, to the insurers for negotiation and settlement. We, as individuals, cannot get medical care for anywhere near that $5,664 Medicare paid on my behalf. And that is why Medicare has to process "four million medicare payments for doctors daily." The processing, possibly a great "job creator," is not free.

I would love to get a divorce from Medicare and free them of worrying about me, at least for a few years. I would love to have a major medical policy, government or private, that pays for my health care in full for all expenses above some reasonable percent of my income, say 20% or so, and pays nothing and requires no paperwork or claims below that point, except that I would be responsible for documenting expenses incurred. That won’t work in the current system of pricing because the only way I, or my insurer who is going to take over above a certain level of expense, can get a fair price is to let the insurer handle every little detail.

One pre-requisite to solving our medical care problems is transparent, fair, and competitive published prices, openly advertised, like cars, TV's, iPhones, houses, food, furniture, and clothing. If we had that, lists of MSRP’s (Medical Suggested Retail Prices) would be compiled and published on the internet, allowing us to negotiate and pay our own bills until we could document that we have used up our deductible. If and when that happens, we could notify Medicare that we have serious medical expenses, or have lost our incomes, and need help. Of course low income people would have little or no deductible and would be fully covered. And, the rest of us can all pray that we never reach that point of having to call on Medicare because of either seriously high medical bills or diminishing incomes. I'm guessing at least half of us never would.

Medicare would shrink, government would shrink, debt would shrink, Congressional influence would shrink, and freedom and personal responsibility would increase. Those are the reasons my proposal is just a dream and that a much more likely scenario is nightmarish growth and expansion of the government-health care-industrial complex leading to increased spending, increased benefits for all, increased competition for limited medical care capacity, increased taxes for many, increased debt for the nation, increased size of government, increased rules and restrictions, increased conflict with personal convictions, increased congressional power, and reduced freedom and personal responsibility.



Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Richard John Neuhaus: Liberal Lutheran to Conservative Catholic

A new biography, Richard John Neuhaus: A Life in the Public Square by Randy Boyagoda, does quadruple duty.  It provides a well-researched and documented critical look at the life and work of Neuhaus, in the context of  US history, including sociological trends, from the 1960’s through the early 2000’s, societal pressures on and changes in the role of the Church, or religion in general, in public life, and the continuing struggle over unresolved Reformation issues among and within Catholic and Protestant bodies. It is a great read.

Neuhaus (1936-2009) was raised the son of a Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor in Canada, received the Master of Divinity from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, and served as pastor of Brooklyn’s low income, mostly minority, St. John the Evangelist Lutheran Church in the 1960’s. He preached and spoke in favor of social justice and civil rights and against the Vietnam War, and became well known as a liberal activist. As his liberal friends and associates moved leftward and more secular in the 1970’s, Neuhaus moved right and became a strong spokesman for conservative Judeo-Christian ethics and positions on public issues.

One of a diminishing minority of Lutherans who saw Lutheranism as a reform movement within the universal Catholic Church, Neuhaus gave up on Lutheran reform, was received into the Catholic Church in September, 1990, and was ordained a Catholic Priest a year later. Included in the biography are his eloquent explanations of the reasons for this change and for his shift to conservatism.

A prolific and powerful writer, Neuhaus is perhaps best known for The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America, published in the mid 1980’s, and comprising a direct challenge to the emerging Political Correctness movement. Neuhaus later assured his own access to the Public Square through founding of First Things: America’s Most Influential Journal of Religion and Public Life. The journal achieved a paid circulation of more than 30,000 and has continued after his passing.

The image of Neuhaus based on the biography and on his quotes therein is of a bigger-than-life, somewhat rude, impatient, and outspoken man who loved bourbon and cigars and didn't hesitate to consume even the cigars in a friend’s living room. However, watching him speak on one of the many YouTube videos available (example), he comes across as a loving pastor serving God and neighbor. Well, I suppose that too is a bigger-than-life image. You can download the book to your Kindle or iPad here






Published also on www.lastofall.net.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Slanted Interviews and Loaded Questions

Megyn Kelly is sharp and so is Senator Rand Paul, and they are both right. Loaded questions such as the ones that caused the senator to demonstrate his impatience and lose his temper and sexist comments such as the one by Chuck Todd are both out of line and intended either to put focus on the interviewer rather than on the candidates we are supposed to be learning about or to simply make the candidates look bad. I think I could vote for a Kelly-Paul ticket. You can watch the interview here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Sewage, Social Security, and Slush Funds

The City of Columbia, SC, is currently being sued for misappropriation of water and sewer revenues. The accusation is that diversion of millions of dollars a year to such as business and tourism promotion, even as the water and sewer infrastructure crumbled and attracted the unwelcome attention of the EPA to frequent sewage overflows, was and is illegal. The plaintiffs are not seeking damages except that the funds allegedly spent inappropriately over the past three years, somewhere in the range of $12M to $22M, be reimbursed and that the practice of fund transfers be stopped.

It would be nice if all the money collected in water and sewer fees over the decades had been used to maintain and upgrade the utility infrastructure and that Columbia had continually enjoyed a state-of-the-art system, highly rated in reliability, and attractive to new investors in business and industry. But that is all water under the bridge so to speak. Now the city will be issuing bonds and collecting additional taxes to pay the interest and redemption costs to meet minimal EPA requirements for keeping sewage out of the river.

That story is not a big deal for anybody but Columbia folks, but it reminded me of a much bigger deal affecting everybody in the USA, the misappropriation, by the federal government, over the past thirty years or so of Social Security taxes collected. The only real difference is that Columbia openly misused the funds and told us that was OK. The federal government “borrowed” the excess Social Security taxes collected, put non-tradable US bonds in the Social Security Trust Fund as markers, and misled us by claiming that the money was still there in the Trust Fund and available to pay Social Security benefits as needed. There was nothing there but debt.

It is true that it is a pretty safe debt, “backed by the full faith and credit of the United States Government,” but debt nonetheless, requiring either additional tax revenues or reduced spending in other areas to redeem the bonds as needed. And, even now, in spite of a “balance” of almost $3T in the Social Security Trust Fund, Social Security Tax revenues and benefit expenditures, after three decades of surplus, have merged, thereby eliminating that source of money for other purposes and putting tremendous pressure on discretionary federal spending.

In general, older folks like to argue that the Social Security system is financially sound and not in need of any reform such as reductions in benefits (though increased taxes on working folks would be OK) because they know that the big trust fund, the federal government obligation to pay benefits, is adequate for the rest of their lives. Such folks are forgetting or don’t care that the result of continuation of current practices means that their grandchildren will not enjoy the same benefits.

Wise younger folks are interested in fixes such as reduced benefits for current retirees and increased taxes on folks earning more than they earn. They want that safety net to be there when they retire, but don't really want to pay now. Everybody seems interested in somebody else paying.

My personal preference as a fix for this problem is that benefits be phased out for all who meet some reasonable income level from other sources, the national per capita average for example, thus shrinking the size and payouts of the Social Security over the next two or three decades. Under such an approach, Social Security would truly become a welfare program, targeted at the poor, and would no longer fund golf vacations and second homes.

However, if that austere approach is not politically palatable, my second preference would be a significant boost in Social Security Taxes to begin redeeming the place marker bonds and truly funding the Trust, all assets to be invested in some well diversified global stock and bond index funds. If we did that for fifty to a hundred years, we could probably enjoy a Social Security Tax holiday for a few decades and just pay benefits from the Trust Fund.

But whether we take the austere socialist or the liberal free market approach or some middle ground, let’s pull our heads out of the sand and pay the bills as we go. There is no rational justification for Congress treating the excess Social Security Tax revenue as a slush fund or for the City of Columbia treating excess water and sewer revenues as a slush fund.

By the way, it is worth noting that the excess Social Security taxes began being collected after the 1983 Reagan Social Security Fix. Some argue that the whole thing was a ruse by President Reagan, or more likely his advisers, to increase federal revenues under false pretenses in the face of strong resistance to higher taxes. Below are links to pro and con assessments of the Reagan fix. I am on the con side. You can see the effect and the fact that the excess has now disappeared on the charts below. Click on them for a better view.

Positive View of the Reagan Rescue (Misleading I believe)

Negative View of the Reagan Rescue (Pretty much my view)







Tuesday, February 17, 2015

US Military - Covering the Globe

I am dipping into an area about which I know little to nothing but just presenting some data and wondering aloud if it makes any sense. All the news is about how we are withdrawing from the Middle East, but the issue I am raising is US military manpower and how it is spread throughout the world. I had a gut feeling that our big forces are in Japan and Germany, two countries we defeated in war about seventy years ago, and that seems to be the case. I am feeling some discomfort with the withdrawal in progress from the current trouble spots and wondering if that is the right approach. The question in my mind is not whether we can defeat the Islamic Radicals but whether we can bring some measure of stability through a continuing STRONG presence. Here are the data, readily available on Wickipedia which makes the following claim:


"The following are countries, listed by region, in which US military personnel are deployed. The numbers are based on the most recent United States Department of Defense statistics as of December 31, 2014.[1] These numbers do not include any military or civilian contractors or dependents. Countries with fewer than 100 US personnel deployed are omitted."
I'd like to see the numbers with all the military and civilian contractors included. That would be a more accurate picture I believe, more comparable to data in past decades, and a better indicator of spending levels. Given these numbers only, it is interesting that our total military force consists of only about one of every 300 persons in the population.

I am strongly suspecting that the World still needs a policeman, and I don't know who is going to do it if we don't. We will NOT submit to UN control! The alternative is to bring everybody home and put up impenetrable barriers around this great free land, but that seems a bit selfish. Click on the charts for a better view.


The chart below shows forces by country only outside the USA.



Friday, February 6, 2015

The Presidential Proposal (For Spending and Taxing)

I know we have been told that the president's budget is meaningless, dead on arrival, so to speak, and nothing more than a political statement. Still, there is some value in looking at the numbers because they reveal two major truths:

1. Mandated social spending is crowding out other important stuff from the budget.
2. Interest on the growing debt is going to be a serious problem as interest rates rise.

So, President Obama's spending and revenue projections through 2025 are remarkable in that they recognize and illustrate those two problems but don't even pretend to address either with meaningful changes.

His proposal includes these unsatisfactory spending trends:

1. Continuing deficits of around a half trillion dollars per year indefinitely
2. Social spending up 90% while total spending is up only 76%.
3. Defense spending shrinking from 17% to 10% of the total.
4. Little to no growth in non-defense discretionary spending (which pays for infrastructure).
5. Interest on the debt increasing 242%.


On the revenue side, income taxes are projected to increase 99% compared to total revenue growth of only 81%. I suppose only the "rich" will have to cough up the money.


I watched a House of Cards episode a day or two ago in which Congress and the White House struck a deal to rescue the entitlement programs by raising the retirement age from 65 to 68 over five years. That was definitely not a "reality show" because nobody in Washington seems willing to address the issue. We are more likely to get lower than higher retirement ages because that is where the votes are. 

And I would be interested in looking at any tax proposals that raise more money if combined with significant simplifying reform and spending restraint that lead, at least somewhere in the distant future, to debt reduction.

So, I suppose the good news is that the budget proposal is meaningless.

If you want to play around with the numbers, here they are, straight from Whitehouse.gov.







President Obama Misses Point in Prayer Breakfast Address

"And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was (sic) justified in the name of Christ." – President Obama at the 2015 National Prayer Breakfast
I am somewhat sympathetic and in tune with what the president said yesterday morning, but I think he used it, not as an opportunity to point out the real problem, but as a way to excuse or pardon Muslim terrorists, suggesting they really aren't any worse than Christians.

It is clear that, over the centuries, when the Christian church and the state were one, many atrocities were committed by bearers of Christian symbols. Some occurred as they fought to recover The Holy Land from the Muslims (who had previously taken it from the Byzantine "Christians"). The Spanish Inquisition was a travesty, and the Borgias brought shame on the papacy and the church. Pope Leo X, who condemned and excommunicated Martin Luther, was no hero. And for a real horror story, check out the Anabaptists and the so called "third baptism."

There are many other examples, but those "Christian" trespasses were motivated, not by personal faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ, but by the fear resulting from illiteracy, superstition, ignorance, and submission to tyranny that were hallmarks of life for the majority of our ancestors until everything was changed by the printing press, the American Revolution, public education, the death of feudalism and slavery, and the industrial revolution.

Fortunately, most of the western world has changed with the times, left behind those old problems, and moved, at least, into the twentieth century. Admittedly, we still have misguided fundamentalist crackpots popping up once in a while and getting a lot of publicity, but we have come a long way.

If it makes the president feel better, I am willing to concede that, in spite of the accompanying cries of Allahu Akbar, current atrocities in the Middle East are not motivated by the submission to God taught by the Islamic faith but are a result of much of the Middle East still being trapped in the same illiteracy, superstition, ignorance, and submission to tyranny that once plagued the Christian Church. And that is the real problem.

And the big question for us is this: How can we help our adversaries in the Middle East join the twenty first century and become our friends? Perhaps a good start would be to stamp out:

     Illiteracy
       Superstition,
          Ignorance, and
             Submission to tyranny.


Friday, January 30, 2015

South Carolina State House Grounds Statue Lottery

On a recent visit to Charleston, we stayed in the beautifully restored John Rutledge House Inn, built in 1763 by the first governor of South Carolina, one of forty signers of the US Constitution. We read that George Washington breakfasted there in 1791, but I have no idea where he had spent the night. You will find Governor Rutledge’s name at the top of this list of the 92 governors of South Carolina. Reading the list of famous names, Moultrie, Pinckney, Vanderhorst, Drayton, Hampton, Middleton, Pickens, Manning, Aiken, Seabrook, is like taking a driving tour of the state.


Governor Rutledge's name is on a fine home in Charleston but no statue honoring him has been installed on the State House grounds in Columbia, the Capitol City of South Carolina. Four of the names on the above list of governors are highlighted, indicating that they are the lucky lottery winners having been so honored and memorialized:

Wade Hampton Statue - Bigger Than Life

Wade Hampton, III, was a Confederate General, governor of the state in the late 1870’s, and a United States Senator from 1879 – 91. He was the grandson of Wade Hampton (1752-1835), lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary War, United States Representative from SC, and reputedly the wealthiest plantation owner in the United States, owner of 3000 slaves. Hampton III lost the family fortune in the Civil War and spent the following years opposing Reconstruction. The Wade Hampton III statue, focused on his ten Civil War battles, Gettysburg included, was installed in 1906, four years after his death. As far as I know, there have been no suggestions of revisions to his statue engravings.

 Strom Thurmond Statue - With Modified Inscription

Strom Thurmond  was governor from 1947 – 51 and was elected to the United States Senate in 1954 where he remained until age 100. Everybody knows about “Strong” Thurmond who might remind some of Moses of whom it was written at his death, “..his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated.“ Governor Thurmond’s statue is particularly interesting because the engraving on it was modified a few years ago, with approval of his family, to include his previously secret offspring, Essie Mae Washington Williams, born of 22 year old Strom and 16 year old Carrie Butler, a Black household employee of Strom’s parents. After Strom’s death, and at age 78, Mrs. Williams gave up the secret and told of her lifelong relationship with her biological father and his support of her.

Jimmy Byrnes Statue - Humility Suggested

Jimmy Byrnes  was a lifelong public servant, US Representative, US Senator, US Supreme Court Justice, US Secretary of State, and participant in the Yalta and Pottsdam Conferences with Presidents Roosevelt and Truman respectively. Byrnes was a protégé of Benjamin Tillman (next paragraph) and served as a moderating influence on Tillman, according to the Wikipedia article. Byrnes went to Washington as a self proclaimed “New Dealer,” and served with distinction. As far as I know, revisions to his statue engravings have not been suggested.

Benjamin Tillman Statue - With Engravings

Benjamin Ryan Tillman  was a farmer who played leading roles in the establishment of Clemson University and in the 1895 South Carolina Constitutional Convention which established education and property qualifications for voting, essentially eliminating the Black vote. After serving as governor, he was elected to the United States Senate in 1894, taking the seat vacated by Wade Hampton, III. Tillman was a champion of poor whites and a leading “white supremacist.” He earned the nickname “Pitchfork Ben” when he threatened to stab President Grover Cleveland with a pitchfork. I could say more about his extreme positions but leave it to the readers to do their own research. 

It is currently being suggested that Governor Tillman's statue either be removed or that the engravings, all shown in the photo above, be modified to tell “the rest of the story.” I could accept either choice but one or the other must be done.

The whole story makes one wonder about the process leading to a former governor having a statue on the State House Grounds. I'd suggest a wait until at least a hundred years after his or her death, just to improve the odds of the right ones winning.



Sunday, December 21, 2014

Saving Congress...and Ourselves

Be careful with the next sentence. It is the longest I have ever written. I’m dividing it up to make it a little easier to read.


  • Since the original intent of the founders
  • to restrict federal responsibility to a specific few areas of national consequence
  • and leave all other responsibilities to the states
  • has been circumvented by bribing the states with federal grants,
  • to pay for strictly local needs,
  • voluntarily, if reluctantly, accepted
  • and accompanied with restrictions, regulations, additional costs, and ongoing obligations,
  • to the extent that such grants comprise more than 15% of federal spending,
  • improperly skew state and local government priorities,
  • and dominate the time of senators and representatives striving to assure re-election
  • by currying favor with the voters and financial supporters,
  • drawing their attention away from the essential duties
  • that can be performed only by the federal government,
  • it is essential for the future of the nation and for the integrity of the congress,
  • that such grants be outlawed,
  • that federal taxes be reduced correspondingly,
  • that state and local needs be funded by state and local taxes,
  • and that congressional term limits be established
  • to allow members time to focus on the currently ignored federal essentials
  • rather than on fund raising and campaigning.

It's a long sentence, but I think it is a pretty good summary of the case developed by James L. Buckley in “Saving Congress from Itself: Emancipating the States and Empowering Their People.” It’s a short book, only around a hundred pages or so, but Mr. Buckley, who has a rich history of public service and political experience, does an excellent job of explaining in simple language why his proposals make perfectly good sense and would rescue us from many of the problems we currently face. He explains what the founders intended, what happened and why it happened, and why the current situation is unsustainable. He addresses every objection to his proposal. So, unless you intuitively agree with what I wrote above, please read his book and see if you can come around to his and my way of thinking.

I’m not as well educated, experienced, or eloquent as Mr. Buckley, and my objections to the current system are based mostly on logic and common sense rather than on personal credentials. Several times, often in frustration with people trying to draw analogies between the USA and such Atlanta sized, culturally and ethnically homogeneous countries as Finland, Norway, and Switzerland, I have expressed dismay at the idea that states as diverse and geographically distant as Alaska and Connecticut, Florida and Washington State, Hawaii and Georgia, New York and Utah, Alabama and California, can be controlled and forced into some state of uniformity from politicians up for re-election occupying a couple of square miles of property in the District of Columbia. That would not make sense and was never the plan.

Mr. Buckley hopes a lot of people will read his book, agree that he is right, and do something about it. I’m just trying to help. Since Mr. Buckley is 91 years old, we need to get busy if he is to enjoy seeing any progress.

The Kindle version of the book is only $11.50.



Saturday, December 13, 2014

Church and State, Christianity and Islam, Good News, Bad News, and No News

This week there is a report of the beheading of four teenage Christians in Iraq because of their refusal to convert to Islam. I am willing to concede that Islam may be, or may at least become, a religion of peace if it is stripped of and separated from any political or state power, but that is not the current situation. Alignment of church and state is always tragic, and Christianity also has suffered many shameful failings when established as the official religion and sanctioned by the state.

We are still trying to overcome the residual effects of the Emperor Theodosius's A.D. 380 decision, expressed in the Edict of Thessalonica, to make Nicene Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. How much better it would have been had he simply expanded the concept of freedom of religion begun by Constantine sixty seven years earlier in the Edict of Milan. He should have stayed on "the right side of history" and left such theological decision making up to the Church. Had he done so, the infamous Crusades would have rightly been seen as struggles for religious freedom rather than as Christian vs. Muslim.

I suppose Mr. Ron Prosor, who explained the current persecution and extermination of Christians in the Middle East in an April 16, 2014, WSJ Editorial, must have no credibility and shares that problem with Canon Andrew White who reported the beheadings. I know of no other explanation for the failure of ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN to report daily on this horrible activity. Such stories could displace at least  the regular Kardashian reports.

Last evening Brian Williams chose to dedicate part of his precious twenty two minutes to a bit of fluff about some new study which concluded that men are idiots and do stupid things. He missed a perfect opportunity to point to the current situation in the Middle East, including our role in it, as obvious proof of the hypothesis.

As the suffering and death go on, we can and must give thanks to God daily for the separation of church and state and freedom of religion we enjoy in the United States of America. Such freedom was not a sure thing and was not present in early settlements here. We can thank God for leadership of such as Roger Williams for avoidance of establishment of just another theocracy here in the "Land of the Free." Let us exercise that freedom and defend it from every encroachment, even as we remember that is is "freedom of" and not "freedom from" religion that we are guaranteed.

As a reminder of early American history, here is a picture I took earlier this week of an explanation posted in The Museum of Charleston, Charleston, SC.