Thursday, March 12, 2015

Times a wastin’

During this Lent I’m participating with the program from the brothers at St. John the Evangelist Monastery in Cambridge where I’m a regular attendee. The programs focus for these forty days is time – what it is, how it exists, its relevance to our spiritual lives, etc. It’s always a fascinating and accessible program, and this year perfectly apt for my life. I’ve just passed my 30th physical month in the position I'm in but have put in 39 months of work time in. It's an average of 60 hours a week - and even though I meticulously track it all I’m not actually complaining. Much of the effort I’m putting in is for projects and schemes that have been of my own making. Time is precious to me so when I see things that I think are an inefficient use of it or just silly I often remark “they have too much time on their hands.” That remark is easily applied to the people during the holidays who seem to be able to decorate their houses, throw parties and do all the things that I can’t imagine accomplishing. I’m equally incredulous whenever I see something that the government or a political body does that indicates that they have too much time on their hands.

47 Republican Senators wrote a letter  3/9/15  that Democrats have called incendiary and potentially treasonous. In it the GOP describes how international treaties are processed under the U.S. system of government. Nothing in the letter is inaccurate, though it’s embarrassing to see the arrogance of letter which purports to “teach” those provincial Iranians about how law is made under the U.S. Constitution. I imagine they actually know the U.S. system pretty well. The letter does, however, appear to violate the 1799 Logan Act

Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

Congress has sued the President. (See my blog about it.) While improbable, it might be an interesting (and amusing) comeuppance in this schoolyard that is Washington politics if the Obama Administration seeks to fine or imprison the 47. It'd certainly be a great romp for the media.

The 113th Congress was one of the least “productive” in history - with 57 laws passed out of 6,366 introduced, the lowest since 1947. Fewer laws tend to mean fewer things for people to have to conform to and fewer regulations to tie up the economy – so for those smaller government advocates like myself, fewer laws has an upside. I’m not an anarchist, though, and there are certain things that must be legislated – such as the annual Federal budget.

According to the U.S. Constitution it is up to Congress to pass and authorize the budget for the United States. The process usually starts in May and 12 appropriations bills need to be submitted, negotiated and ultimately passed and signed into law prior to the start of the fiscal year. The last bill for the current fiscal year (Oct 1, 2014 to Sept 30, 2015) was passed in February 2015 – 4 months into the budget year under the threats of shutting down Homeland Security. This is not unusual.

Wikipeda reports: “Between fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 2015, Congress only passed all twelve regular appropriations bills on time in four years - fiscal years 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.” More appalling that than is that 2012 is the only year of the Obama Administration that a Continuing Resolution wasn’t required to fund the government at a set level while budgetary issues were negotiated. 

Once an agency is funded through the budget, under federal law each must pass an audit so that the entire federal budget can be audited. It’s never happened. Ever. The Huffington Post reports from the last audit report: “The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) cannot render an opinion on the 2012 consolidated financial statements of the federal government because of widespread material internal control weaknesses, significant uncertainties, and other limitations," the agency said. "As was the case in 2011, the main obstacles to a GAO opinion on the accrual-based consolidated financial statements were: Serious financial management problems at the Department of Defense (DOD) that made its financial statements unauditable. The federal government’s inability to adequately account for and reconcile intragovernmental activity and balances between federal agencies. The federal government’s ineffective process for preparing the consolidated financial statements." This statement is from the GAO - a government agency. What would happen if any major corporation in America got that report from their auditors? 

The DOD represents $799.1 billion that can’t be audited, and the Dept. of Homeland security has $48.7 billion that can’t be reported on.  There is no reason to believe that 2013 or 2014 will be any different. Who has the legal responsibility to have oversight on these departments? CongressApparently Congress doesn’t have enough time to do this, but is on its eighth investigation of Benghazi and has repealed Obamacare 58 times (as of 3/2015). And 47 senators have time to take on negotiating a nuclear treaty with Iran.

The meddling into foreign policy is inappropriate until such time as a treaty (or whatever it becomes) comes to the body for discussion and approval. Most remarkable is that they have enough time on their hands to get 47 signatures - not stamps, not typed names but actual signatures - on a letter that will have NO impact whatsoever on the negotiations while they and their Democratic colleagues jointly abdicate their fiduciary responsibility in passing a budget and then making sure that the money isn’t squandered. It’s stupefying that 97% of Congress was re-elected and 91% of the Senate. The American voter is to blame – and times a wastin to change things up.

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