10 ways to trash the country

A Facebook friend to whom I probably owe an apology for hijacking his conversation has a friend who posted what he calls “10 ways to improve the American Government.”

The list is actually pretty common, similar to emails floating around. It’s mostly a list of “simple” solutions to perceived problems with how the country runs, but simple solutions, in my experience, never work, and this list of simple solutions would set off a cascade of unintended consequences that would very quickly change American life for the worse.

Anyway, I thought I’d run the list here and then respond.

As a general rule, I tend to be wary of “big” changes done all at once — the push to pass a balanced budget amendment is one such move, for example, as are calls to do away with huge chunks of government. People who say the Dept. of Education doesn’t do anything obviously don’t know what it does. People who hate the EPA forget how bad the air was before it was formed. Like them or not, these things form part of the structure of the nation. Take one away, the rest might topple.

I’m still waiting for someone from the Tea Party to call me up and say they’ve followed through on their firm belief that government health care is socialism by taking away their parents’ Medicare cards and taking  over all their expenses.:

1. Abolish Political Parties
2. Restore a balance of power between Federal & State Governments.
3. Withdraw from the United Nations
4. Abolish Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development
5. Eliminate Environmental Protection Agency

6. Forbid Government Employees higher pay, better benefits or greater rights than comparable employees in the private sector(comparable to be determined by other than government employees or their representives).
7. Term Limits
8. Redistricting done by non-governmental/non-political committees.
9. Institute Tort Reform
10. Randomly Execute .5% of practicing lawyers per year (Washington D.C. & NYC 1%) (10. Is to see if you’re paying attention)

And my responses:

1 — Political parties are not in the Constitution, they evolved after George Washington, the first and only president everyone agreed on, left office and a system of selecting among candidates was needed. Parties are a direct off-shoot of the 1st Amendment as well, so doing away with them would be not only unconstutional but a pragmatic impossibility. 

2 — Not sure what this means, and I doubt anyone else does either. The states and federal governments have had shifting raltionships for 240 years, and much of what is called an imbalance now is really dissatisfaction with some aspect of policy, not power. Health care is called overreach, but I don’t see the states rejecting highway funds, for example.

3 — Withdrawing from the UN would make the US more isolationist, less able to control our fate around the world. The days of Teddy Roosevelt’s “big stick” and great white fleet are long gone.

4– All those federal departments were formed to meet specific needs that are responsible for the way our nation functions today. Do away with those departments, the problems they prevent or mitigate  will come back. People who say “local can do that job better” forget that, before national departments were formed to work on health, education and all the rest, local governments were in charge of them, and we had a mal-functioning mish-mash, to the detriment of the country as a whole.

For a look at what the US food industry looked like before the US Dept. of Health, for example, read Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle.”  Yuk.

5 — The EPA was formed because corporations were using the nation’s air and water as a toilet, and would quickly do so again if the EPA went away. People who say otherwise, claiming corporations have a financial interest in being good corporate citizens who clean the air and water out of the goodness of their hearts, haven’t been outside lately.

6 –  Government employees already tend to be paid less than private industry, and are already subject to the same laws as the rest of us. They’re getting no pay raises this year, for example.

7 – There are days I like Term Limits, mostly out of frustration with Utah’s tendency to keep electing the same bozos term after term just because they’re Republican.  However, people have the right to be represented by who they want.

8. Redistricting by non-political groups is a great idea.

9. Tort reform gets talked about a lot, and if there really are abuses they need to be reigned in, but one man’s abuse is another man’s horrible wrong that needs to be righted. Tort Reform tends to be code for “keep big corporations from being sued by little guys.” Most of the examples of abusive or silly lawsuits that you hear about — burglars who sue because they cut their hand breaking into someone’s house – turn out to be urban myths.

10 — Nobody likes lawyers, but everyone has one.

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28 Responses to 10 ways to trash the country

  1. Dan S. says:

    Heck, I’ve got half a dozen lawyers!

    I’ll go out on a limb and endorse term limits, at least for executives at all levels. For legislators it doesn’t make so much difference, but it would help if Congress members couldn’t acquire so much power based on seniority.

  2. Bob Becker says:

    ” People who say the Dept. of Education doesn’t do anything obviously don’t know what it does.”

    And with respect to the EPA are too young — or too senile — to remember the tragedy of Love Canal or the Cayahoga River I think it was catching on fire, it was so polluted with inflamables. Or remember states suing other states because the suing states were downwind of coal burning power generators creating acid rain [and much damage] in down wind states. Pollution often crosses state lines and such cannot be dealt with by individual states alone. Minnesota and Iowa and Missouri dump toxics into the Mississippi they turn up in New Orleans drinking water.

    And as environmentalists like to remind people, “we all live downstream.” Or as candidate Matheson puts it for Utahns, “we’re all downwinders now.”

  3. Ben Pales says:

    Another good article Charlie. If people would take the time to look into problems and then the consequences of our off the cuff reactions to those problems, we would all be in better shape now.

  4. Mike Brice says:

    As a former resident of the Buckeye State, I have to point out that the flaming river in northeast Ohio is spelled Cuyahoga.


  5. Bob Becker says:

    Ah. In a hurry, I took a stab. Came pretty close. Thanks for the correction.

  6. Owain says:

    With repect to #2, I think people are referring to the 10th Amendment to the Constitution.
    “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    The balance of power between the Federal Government has evolved considerably since The Bill of Rights were adopted, and many people feel that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of centralized Federal power.

    An example of this is evident in the recent rulings by several Federal Appeals courts regarding the mandate provision of Obamacare. If the Commerce Clause of the Consitution (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commerce_Clause) gives Congress such unlimited power that Congress can control your decision NOT to engage in an economic activity, why have a 10th Amendment at all that seeks to limit that power? EVERYTHING would then be subject to the commerce clause, which would give Congress unlimited power subject to no limits.

    Logically, this makes no sense, which is in large part why several courts have ruled that the mandate is unconstitutional, which will ultimately require resolution by the Supreme Court.

    • Charles Trentelman says:

      the 10th amendment is the current hammer being used by some groups to try to wrest power back in the states’ direction, but hardly the first and won’t be the last.

      However, I don’t see the commerce clause negating the 10th, and I doubt the apocalyptic scenario you predict as well. In case you didn’t notice, even in cases where Congress does have power, if not requirements, it does a pretty good job of tying itself into knots. In that respect we can only thank the wisdom of the founding fathers.

      • Owain says:

        If the Supremes don’t swat Congress down this time with respect to the mandate, what mischief will they try next?

        Be afraid. Be very afraid…

        One good thing that may come from this is that I don’t think Nancy Pelosi (or future equivalents) will be able to get away with another attempt at, “we must pass the bill so we can find out what is in it” nonsense.

        • Charles Trentelman says:

          i could say the same thing about the current “lets pass a balanced budget amendment and see what happens!” movement.

          What scares me is ideologically-driven big-sweep bills that have reams of unintended consequences. We can debate health care — which we should, and which should be a simple single-payer universal system — but we should also fear people who scream that “the nation is in peril RIGHT NOW so balance the budget!!!”

          Because what they don’t want us to do is look into their real reasons. No, I don’t know what they are, and neither do you, and yes, that is a huge problem.

          • Owain says:

            If you pass a balanced budget amendment, surprise, surprise, hopefully you’d end up with a balanced budget. Where is the mystery there?

            That is not the same as dropping a 2000 page health care bill into the hopper that many in Congress OR the public had a chance to read or analyze fully before it was rammed though. Only now as portions of it are being enacted are we discovering, “Oh crap, THAT was buried in there?”

          • Owain says:

            …didn’t have a chance to read or analyze, I should have said.

    • laytonian says:

      Logically, it makes no sense for the self-proclaimed constitutional experts to support ANY amendment.

      Let’s do away with all of them! You don’t like the 10th? Fine. Do away with the 2nd.

  7. ctrentelman says:

    A balanced budget amendment would be just that, end of story?
    Owain, i am disappointed in you. You can find no unintended consequences that might be possible?

    How about, a balanced budget would end borrowing. An inability to finance by borrowing (technically speaking, Utah’s budget is not balanced because Utah borrows massively) means that no capital spending could take place — no building bonds, no road bonds, no nothing of that sort.

    A balanced budget would pretty much mandate huge tax increases because right now so-called discretionary spending in the budget is not enough, even if they all were eliminated, to balance the budget. That means massive tax hikes to finance military, social security, medicare (a Tea Party favorite) and on and on. Failure to do so would throw millions of retirees into poverty and destroy the grocery stores, clothing stores and all the other types of business they patronize. Towns everywhere would dry up.

    Now, i suppose those things could be avoided, and cutting back spending and raising taxes to balance the budget gradually could do so with less harm, but I don’t see any of that discussion going on.

    All I hear is cries that the nation is in peril and demands to pass the budget amendment NOW!!!!!

    • Owain says:

      “How about, a balanced budget would end borrowing. An inability to finance by borrowing (technically speaking, Utah’s budget is not balanced because Utah borrows massively) means that no capital spending could take place — no building bonds, no road bonds, no nothing of that sort.”

      Given that the Federal Government is something like 14 TRILLION in debt, this is probably not altogether a bad thing. Borrowing is what got us into this pickle, so the inability to borrow isn’t about to make me slap my forehead and exclaim, “Now why didn’t I think of that?”

      When I was in the Air Force (a million years ago), we had a saying. ‘Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance’, otherwise known as the “6 P’s”. As I understand it, by law the government is not allowed to retain a surplus (if any were to exist somehow). Money left over in the treasury has to be spent or returned to the taxpayers. That should be changed, because it promotes gross inefficiencies. Instead of borrowing from China to fund government, the US government should borrow from itself. If you project you will need 100 million for highway construction in 10 years for a particular project, allocate 10 million a year NOW to pay for that when it is needed rather than wait for 10 years and borrow 100 million from China. That way, for 10 years, that money can earn interest that can go back into the treasury, instead of us having to PAY interest to China for the money we borrow from them.

      Given the fiscal hole we currently find ourselves in, it will quite a while before we can be in a position for government to finance its own debt. Further, Congress doesn’t have a very good track record on things like this (like the IOU’s they’ve been writing against the Social Security program for decades), so harsh restrictions need to be in place to discourage raiding the piggy bank. I would favor summary executions.

      “A balanced budget would pretty much mandate huge tax increases because right now so-called discretionary spending in the budget is not enough, even if they all were eliminated, to balance the budget.”

      Not necessarily. For one thing, I dislike the term discretionary spending. All spending, when you get down to it, is discretionary. What’s going to happen if ‘entitlements’ (another term I hate) are significantly changed? Will God punish us with a flood? No.

      Taxes will probably need to go up, and spending must be reduced. ALL spending must be reduced.

      “All I hear is cries that the nation is in peril and demands to pass the budget amendment NOW!!!!!”

      Who is saying that? Name names, Charles, and provide links and quotes. Otherwise, this is just another in a long line of straw men.

      In the end, I think you are presenting us with the logical fallacy of The False Dilemma. Whatever form a balanced budget amendment takes, the factors you mention will have to be addressed, debated, and mitigated. You presume the worst case scenario, that none of this will be taken into account, chaos will reign, fire and brimstone will come down from the skies, rivers and seas boiling, forty years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes, the dead rising from the grave, human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

      Why don’t we wait to see what form the balanced budget amendment takes before we start hurling ourselves out windows, shall we?

      • ctrentelman says:

        who is demanding a balanced budget amendment NOW?

        Geeze Owain, read the paper — a balanced budget amendment was part of the GOP demands for raising the debt limit — that cut cap and balance thing. The House did pass one, and it promptly died in the Senate. Sen. Hatch demands one to this day. So does Sen. Lee. So does Sen. Jim DeMint in South Carolina. So do many others.

        Do any of these people demand a national discussion and debate? Some reasoned consideration of options and results and potential problems?

        I have heard of none. They want it and want it now.

        • ctrentelman says:

          I suppose you could argue that the bill passed by the house wasn’t really the amendment, that it has to go through the senate and then be approved by the states and that’s where the debate can come in, along with consideration of after effects.

          Sorry, that doesn’t work for me. That makes the wording of the amendment passed now a take-it or leave-it thing — if we are going to change the way we have done business in this country for 240 years, we should give a lot of thought and debate to the matter before we settle on the wording, not after.

      • laytonian says:

        We don’t have a spending problem. We have an INCOME problem, caused by tax cuts while waging war, unfunded legislation and lost taxes due to two recessions.

        In 2000, the CBO projected the US would be out of debt in ten years.

        This is what the national debt is comprised of:

        $3.6 trillion — lost tax revenue (economic downturns/tech changes)

        $1.7 trillion — 2001 & 2003 tax cuts

        $678 billion — other new tax cuts

        $391 billion — Obama’s Dec 2010 tax cuts

        ——–$6.369 trillion TOTAL LOST INCOME (revenue/taxes)

        $1.3 trillion — Iraq/Afghanistan

        $663 billion — other defense spending

        ——— $1.963 trillion TOTAL (TO DATE) “DEFENSE”, mostly wars

        $1.4 trillion — borrowing costs for new legislation

        $700 billion — fluctuations in borrowing requirements

        $1.3 trillion — other new domestic spending

        $719 billion — 2009 recovery act (stimulus)

        $700 billion — fluctuations in borrowing requirements

        $272 billion — Medicare Part D

        $16 billion — TARP (2008)


        $5.107 trillion TOTAL “everything else”



    • efialtis says:

      Being able to borrow money isn’t altogether a bad thing… but like everything else, it needs to be done in moderation.
      We borrow $0.40 of every dollar the Government spends.
      THAT is not moderation.
      Having to balance the budget doens’t stop them from being able to borrow money, but it would require that they find a way to pay that back in the next budget… just like a credit card for consumers, they would no longer just be able to borrow and push the consequences for that borrowing off onto future generations.

      I think we should have a balanced budget amendment just to stop the madness.

  8. GJ says:

    None of the ten suggested reforms address money in politics, corporatism, or the lack of knowledge of history and the structure of our government by the American voter…these are the endemic, systemic problems that have deranged our system. With incumbency rates in the mid-90th percentile at the national level and voters expressing huge dissatisfaction with the institution of Congress while continually re-electing the same people and falling for the “they are all crooks in D.C. except me” line from politicians every 2 years we’ve been captured by politicians of both parties. Incumbents have a 10-1 money advantage over challengers, and the Citizens United case will only make this margin greater. Most Americans believe they should pay taxes to pay for government services, they simply don’t believe the current system is fair and then they hear from politicians that government is free—well, that’s where voters need to become educated.

  9. Owain says:

    \Most Americans believe they should pay taxes to pay for government services, they simply don’t believe the current system is fair…\

    One problem I have with the debate is that terms are seldom defined, and the word ‘fair’ when it comes to taxation is a prime example of this. What exactly does the word ‘fair’ mean in this context?

    • efialtis says:

      I see a few possibilities…
      1) The government uses a FLAT tax, charging everyone some % of their income. That % is the same for Rich, Poor, Old, Young… but EVERYONE pays it.
      2) The government uses a flat RATE, charging everyone an equal $$ amount. This amount would be the same for Rich, Poor, Old, Young… but EVERYONE pays it.
      3) Consumption tax, like FairTax.org, where you pay tax on things you “consume”. Those that consume more, pay more in tax, those that consume less, pay less in tax, but EVERYONE is paying SOMETHING in tax.

      Other ideas for “fair”?

      • ctrentelman says:

        this whole flat tax/flat rate idea is interesting if you are rich. If you are poor, not so much.

        The idea behind progressive tax rates was that the rich benefit far more from society than the mere tally of dollars in their bank accounts indicates, and so should pay a larger percentage of supporting the nation.
        Flat taxes ignore this, but the disparity is real and should be taken into account to be “fair.”

        Simple truth is that “fair” is not simple — if it were, we would have it. Your flat rates will, very quickly, be turned into massively complex tax codes just like the current ones which are larded with exemptions and credits and god knows what, each and every one approved by congress to be “fair” to some special cause or inresponse to some bribe (campaign donation) or whatever.

        I suppose someone will then say ” then make a flat rate/tax a constitutional amendment and that will be that,” But you can’t commit future congresses to present ideas of what is right — Thomas Paine noted that if governments could do that, the United States would never have existed, and the whole point of having Congress is to make changes and deal with the reality of the moment, not to rubberstamp the past.

        Plus, even if it were an amendment, Congress or the administration would find a way. The Constitution demands that Congress declare war, which means our little adventure in Iraq/Afghanistan/Yemen/Libya is unconstitutional, but I don’t see anyone yelling about that.

        And the 4th Amendment? HAH!

  10. Howard Ratcliffe says:

    Hurricane Irene tracking over America’s 1st 5 colonies and 25% of US population, 6 years to the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans is another way to trash the economy. August 29 is celebrated as the Feast Day of the Beheading of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas.
    Katrina is derived from Cathar or Catharsis “Discharge of pent up emotion”. Irene means Peace.
    Last month the bones of Rudolf Hess were dug up and burned; his charge at the Nuremberg trials was “Conspiracy against world peace”. In 1941 he flew to Scotland and tried to warn the world the goal of WWII was a lead in for WWIII.

  11. Annakin says:

    Again Trentelman has a very warped opion

    2. Restore a balance of power between Federal & State Governments.

    The feds are out of control

    3. Withdraw from the United Nations

    Useless organization (accomplishes nothing)

    4. Abolish Departments of Education, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development

    Name one thing these organizations have not made worse

    5. Eliminate Environmental Protection Agency

    All that has been accomplished does not need further regulations. (pollution has been reduced dramatically) Trentelman also believes that corporations want to kill their customers and their employees. (Including the CEO)

    6. Forbid Government Employees higher pay, better benefits or greater rights than comparable employees in the private sector

    Yes Government workers (State and Federal) generally do have higher pay than the private sector. You have to include job security, pensions, insurance availability, and any other benefits I can’t think of right now. (Look at the Fight in Wisconsin this year)

    7. Term Limits

    A good idea but California has term limits and the worst elected officials in the nation

    8. Redistricting done by non-governmental/non-political committees.

    No such animal will ever be assembled

    9. Institute Tort Reform

    Yes! Texas did for malpractice and doctors are flocking there because of the reduced insurance costs related to malpractice

    • Stephen M. Cook says:

      I slept late this morning and woke to an iced chai tea, served by what I am sure is a super model.
      Looking out the window at the Wasatch Front, I was amazed by the prosperity and technological advances of the last 50 years.

      I saw nothing wrong, certainly nothing worth screaming fire over. Just the usual semi-sentient ape things going on about this pile of feces, or that boundary, or this or that transitory nonsense.
      Richest nation in history, with toys that are like living in the future. And you all complain like you lived in the Dark Ages or something.
      Selfish little demons.
      Give a monkey a brain and threaten its little nest, and look at the screaming!

  12. Howard Ratcliffe says:

    Another way is to appoint Rabbi Dov Zakheim to the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan. He could track down the missing $60 Billion in Fraud, Waste and Abuse like he tracked down the missing $2.3 Trillion missing while he was Pentagon Comptroller on 9/11/2001.

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