Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas 1776

As we are enjoying our Christmas festivities this year, let us remember another Christmas day over two hundred years ago that may well have altered the course of American history.

1776 had been a very discouraging year militarily for the Americans. The Continental Army had suffered several defeats in New York and had retreated to Pennsylvania. Morale was low; soldiers were deserting. Soldiers lacked adequate clothes and sometimes even shoes. Public spirits were very low.

General Washington knew that he needed some sort of a success soon in order to keep the whole revolutionary effort from collapsing. He devised a plan to attack the enemy garrison at Trenton, New Jersey, which consisted of about 2000 Hessian soldiers. There is speculation that this particular target and time were selected because Hessians are German; they were mercenaries (hired soldiers). Christmas is a big deal in Germany, and it was felt that the Hessians would no doubt have a lavish dinner on the evening of Christmas Day with much beer and dancing. Early the next morning would be a good time to challenge them.

On Christmas Eve, Washington called together his Lieutenants and outlined the plan. The army was to attack across the Delaware River in three places. One force, a smaller one, would cross downriver of Trenton and advance north. A second, even smaller force would attack directly across the river at Trenton and hold a strategic bridge over a creek that could be used by the enemy as a retreat route.

Washington would lead the largest force, 2400 men, which would cross the river nine miles upstream and then head south to Trenton.

Everything depended upon the crossing of the river by these three forces. This was to occur on Christmas night and be finished by midnight. They would arrive at Trenton at five o’clock the next morning and the attack would occur at 6:00 a.m., an hour before daybreak.

On Christmas Day, the weather started deteriorating. The river was high and contained much ice. As the day progressed, the weather got worse. It turned into a full-fledged storm. It rained, hailed, snowed, and froze.

The river crossing was extremely treacherous, at night in a storm. Horses and artillery as well as soldiers had to be loaded onto the boats and taken across. The two smaller forces, unbeknownst to Washington, could not cross at all due to the ice. Washington’s force got across by 3:00 a.m., three hours late. A Sergeant informed General Washington that the soldiers’ powder was wet and they could not fire their muskets. Washington replied that they were to use their bayonets.

The attack began just after eight o’clock in the morning on Dec.26. It all happened very fast, in snow. After forty-five minutes, it was over. Twenty-one Hessians were killed (including their commander), ninety wounded, and nine hundred taken prisoner. About five hundred escaped over the very bridge that was supposed to have been blocked by one of the smaller Continental Army forces but wasn’t because that force couldn’t get across the river. Incredibly enough, no Americans were killed in the battle and only four were wounded, although two froze to death the night before in the march.

Although the strategic fruits of the battle were minimal, the psychological effects were phenomenal.The Americans had beaten a force of the British regulars. Prisoners had been taken; the Americans had captured canons and other materiel. The course of the war had been changed.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Commission Designed To Fail

The budget deficit and debt debate has been so debilitating to Congress that they gave up on trying to reach an agreement and instead appointed the so-called “super committee” to do it. This committee, consisting of six Democrats and six Republicans, was chartered to formulate a plan for reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over the next ten years. The committee would report back to Congress with its plan, and Congress would vote on it. If no plan was presented or if Congress voted it down, automatic spending cuts equal to the $1.2 trillion would kick in.

In government, when you want to make sure nothing happens, you appoint a committee.

There are 535 members of Congress (100 U.S. Senators and 435 Representatives). They argued about the debt and deficit for months, and couldn’t agree. What reason was there to think that this super-committee of twelve would be able to work magic and come up with a plan when Congress had been so utterly unable to do so for so long? And even if the committee did somehow develop a debt plan, what reason was there to think Congress would approve it after Congress had been deadlocked for so long?

The answer is that this committee was designed to fail. The people appointed to it were the most ideological from both sides. There was no chance they were going to come together after all of the political wrangling and suddenly have a love fest. It was just a way of letting Congress kick the can down the road a little longer and avoid having to make tough choices.

So the committee has failed, as planned, and the automatic spending cuts will be enacted.

In a paragon of political double-speak, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) said, “It wasn’t so much a failure as a failure to seize an opportunity.” If you want to know what’s wrong in Washington, just mull that statement over for awhile. Here we have a committee that was given the expressed mandate to formulate a plan to reduce the budget deficit by $1.2 trillion, yet when the committee functionally collapses with no plan, it’s not a failure, it’s a missed opportunity.

Mr. Hensarling, instead of lamenting this missed opportunity, why don’t you take the lead in getting Congress to fix the problem? Congress has unlimited opportunities to fix the deficit. Congress could have done it instead of appointing a committee. Congress could go into session tomorrow, or the next day, or next week, or next month, and do what needs to be done.

Well, now because this committee has failed, oops, I mean missed an opportunity, we’ll be afflicted with those “draconian” (if I hear that word one more time, I’m going to throw up) automatic across-the-board budget cuts.


Congress, demonstrating yet again that it isn’t serious about any of this, put in place the provision that the cuts won’t happen until 2013, over a year from now.

Once again, we see that the committee was a farce. It didn’t have those “draconian” (excuse me for a moment – OK, I‘m back now) cuts hanging over it ready to immediately fall like a guillotine if the committee failed to reach agreement. The cuts won’t happen until over a year from now!

Hmmm - 2013. There’s something about that date. 2013, 2013 – what is it? Oh, yes, we have an election in November 2012. They put the cuts off until after the next election!

So what do you think will happen in the first Session of Congress in 2013? They’ll undo the cuts, of course. The cuts will never happen, and that was the way it was planned.

You can’t make this stuff up.

$1.2 trillion sounds like a lot of money, but in the world of Washington, it isn’t.

The total federal deficit recently reached $15 trillion. So even if the deficit were reduced by $1.2 trillion, it would be a rather modest 8% reduction. And that’s over ten years, so it comes out to only 0.8% per year. Yes, all of this caterwauling in D.C. is because they can’t find a way to reduce the budget deficit by somewhat less than 1% a year.

Or look at it this way. The total federal budget for 2011 is $3.8 trillion. The $1.2 trillion of cuts over ten years represents a cut of $0.12 trillion per year, or a little more than 3% per year.

In a time of financial distress, Congress can’t manage to reduce the federal budget by 3% a year or reduce the deficit by 0.8% a year. How much do we pay these people?

It gets better. Another factoid that no one is talking about right now is that even if the $1.2 trillion of cuts do happen, nothing is actually going to be cut. That’s right, even under that “draconian” (there I go again) scenario, nothing will be cut, because in Washington, an increase is a cut. The “cuts” that are the target of all of these political machinations represent a reduction in the budget increase. That’s the notorious base-line budgeting process whereby every year the federal budget automatically increases across the board by some percentage, and then any reductions to those increases are demagogued as “draconian” (I can’t help it) cuts. But the spending goes up in absolute terms everywhere. So an increase is a cut in Washington; even if those $1.2 trillion in “cuts” happen, spending will still go up. Nothing will be cut!

Here’s what’s really going on. There is a fundamental ideological war going on in this country. There are two competing visions for the future of America. Liberals want to continue on the path to a European-style socialist democracy with lots more government spending, much higher taxes and more government borrowing, a much smaller military, complete government-run healthcare, more government spending on “green” energy, more entitlements (the latest proposal being government-paid-for baby diapers), more government jobs programs, more environmental regulations, and so on. Conservatives what to roll back the welfare state, cut government spending, reduce taxes, reduce regulations that inhibit the economy, keep a strong national defense, promote traditional American values and patriotism, foster individual responsibility and self-reliance, let the private economy create jobs, and not have the government do anything for people that the people could and should do for themselves.

This battle for the future of the country vis-à-vis big government vs. small government has been going on for decades, but it has intensified during the last three years. Since then, Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been fighting vigorously over everything, but especially over the issues of government spending, entitlements, the federal budget, and the deficit, as we have all witnessed.

The resolution to this fundamental conflict will not come until November 2012. Until then, expect more of the same.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Obama's Occupiers

On October 18, speaking of the Occupiers, President Obama said on ABC news, “We are on their side.” And the President told Occupy demonstrators in New Hampshire, “You are the reason I ran for office.”

Here are some recent news headlines and quotes concerning the Occupiers:
“Wall Street Protesters Evicted From Camp”
“Police roust protesters from New York square”
“It took 150 Sanitation Department workers hours to clear the mess, finding everything from hypodermic needles to buckets of human waste”
“L.A. Police Disperse Protesters’ Camp”
“Death brings more pressure to close camps”
“Occupy Atlanta organizers said Sunday that they plan to again try to camp at a city park, setting up yet another overnight showdown with police a night after 19 people were arrested -----.”
“Anti-Wall Street protesters dig in against police”
“Occupy Wall Street Gets More Violent”
“Kitchen Volunteer’s Sex Arrest Shocks Zucotti Park”
“Police clear protesters near Oakland’s City Hall” “They cited concerns about rats, fire hazards, public urination, and acts of violence at the site.”
“A woman involved in the Occupy Philadelphia protests was raped in a tent by another protester”
”Salt lake City police Chief Chris Burbank said officers have made 91 arrests at the camp -----.”
“These incidents follow violence last month in Oakland, California, in which protestors shut down a busy port, took over abandoned buildings, set fires, burned American flags, defaced private property, and destroyed ATM’s.”

These are apparently Obama’s kind of people.

Who, besides Obama, sympathizes with the Occupiers? The Socialist Party USA, the Democrat Socialists of America, the Communist Party, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, House Democrat Minority Leader Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, and one of the main committees of the Democrat Party (the Democrat Congressional Campaign Committee) have all either endorsed the Occupiers outright or expressed support for them.

I have some questions for you. How many tea party rallies did the police clear out? How many tea partiers were arrested? How many people were raped, shot, or assaulted at a tea party really? How many tea partiers shouted insults at police, or at anybody? How many American flags were burned at a tea party rally? How many buckets of human waste did the tea partiers leave behind? Did you ever hear tea partiers saying such things as “take back”, “reinforcements”, “tactics”, “demands”, and other such aggressive talk as has come from the Occupiers? No, tea partiers would have a remarkably well behaved rally and then go home (leaving the area cleaner than when they arrived). They might also call or write a letter to their Congressman.

What do the Occupiers want, other than sex, drugs, and a rent-free place to live? It’s hard to tell, since when some of them were asked, they gave incoherent answers. When they have been able to speak clearly about their issues, they have said that they want an end to all home foreclosures and millions of new living-wage jobs.

Lets look at the demand for an end to all foreclosures, and do a little thought experiment. Suppose that actually happened. What would immediately occur next, as a result? Everybody would stop paying their mortgage, of course, which would lead to a new economic catastrophe that would make the one we just came through look puny by comparison. So, ending all home foreclosures is a nonsensical idea.

What about the Occupiers’ demand for millions of new, living-wage jobs? This is a laudable goal, but where could those millions of new jobs possibly come from? In order for these new jobs to be sustainable, on-going jobs rather than just temporary make-work jobs, they could only come from a re-invigorated private sector, the very thing that the Occupiers decry! More silliness.

These Occupiers fall into the category of “useful idiots”. They are useful to the Democrats now because they direct the public’s attention away from Obama’s terrible record as President. And since the Occupiers have become experienced in street violence and anarchy, they could also be very useful to Obama and the Democrats after the next Presidential election in the event Obama looses.