June 15, 2015
By: Kelly Diamond, Publisher
Amazing how easy it is to burn through someone else’s money. By trade, I’m a media buyer. I buy advertising time and space for my clients. I can blow through several hundred thousand dollars without even flinching. I worked on a $42 million account. I managed $20 million in regional allocations. I can and have spent some serious dollars in my advertising career.
Principle and profit incentive have me looking for the greatest efficiencies. But in my business, if something doesn’t air because I bid too low, lives aren’t lost or altered. I just lost an opportunity to profit. While that sucks, given the volume I manage, I can make it up elsewhere.
The thing is, I’m ALWAYS watching the money. How much did we clear? What can I actually bill my clients for? What’s our margin? I want to know! I must know. I’m held accountable… on a WEEKLY basis for those very numbers.
I assure you, it is very easy to become complacent. It’s not MY money, after all. The same is true with people who rent property as opposed to own it. Not their skin in the game. I’ve seen people abandon their apartments in total ruins. Yes, they lost their deposit, but the cost of what was left was far more.
In the case of a renter or even in my own occupation, there is still some skin in the game. For some, the deposit is worth fighting for and most folks don’t like living in gross squalor. For me, my ethic doesn’t allow me to be dismissive of the money I spend. And since my source of income is directly linked to keeping my job, naturally I care enough to keep my job.
What incentive does congress have, though? Or any part of any tier of government? “OH! We’ll just vote these losers out!” Will you really? Despite the consistently abysmal approval rating of Congress, 95% of incumbents were voted BACK into office in 2014. 13 senators have had their seat for twenty years or longer, with a fairly even split between Republicans and Democrats. 66 representatives have been rotting away for 20 years or more in their cushy House seat. Approximately one third of them are Republicans, while the other two thirds are Democrats. Check out the list of names here, and tell me they aren’t the ones we are always complaining about! It seems the more disastrous sound bites you have to your name, the more years you “serve” in congress.
So, let’s face it, their jobs aren’t exactly hanging in the balance when it comes to budgets and accountability.
Two places where people tend to turn a blind eye are defense spending and ear marks (or what is more commonly referred to as “pork barrel spending”). With us on constant high alert for terrorists, many are naturally reluctant to criticize defense spending. Even so much as a sideways glance at it, invokes the response of “putting Americans in danger”.
The response is tantamount to the emotional lashings I get with the shame-whip when I refuse to vote for a local bill that falls under the heading of “Education”. States spend millions on standardized testing, administrators, and bureaucrats. Why on earth would I vote for more funding when every bill has proven to ultimately fund those three things?
Likewise, why on earth do people have a default setting to protect defense spending? Did they ever think to ask if every dime was essential? Hell, did they ever check an audit to see how the money they have allocated to them NOW is being spent appropriately? Better yet, did they ever stop to ask if they actually KNEW where the money went?
Let’s back it up for a second. Remember the indelible words of Rahm Emanuel? “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Well, President Obama took those very words to heart. By keeping the US in a constant state of international crisis, with the nation’s safety precariously hanging in the balance, appropriations to the Pentagon have largely gone unquestioned.
Within that Pentagon budget is a sort of “slush fund”, if you will, called the OCO (or “Overseas Contingency Operations”) account. (Talk about word salad!) It’s estimated that anywhere between one quarter and one half of the $80 BILLION slush account has been spent on non-war related expenses. (Source linked here.)
In 2014 the Pentagon justified an OCO budget based on its involvement in Afghanistan. It was able to meet those “needs” PLUS two additional wars in Iraq and Syria. We can debate the necessity to fight ISIS on a separate occasion. My question is: assuming ISIS was an unanticipated issue when the budget was being determined, were it not for ISIS insurgencies, what would that money have gone toward?
The OCO account is meant to be used for current conflicts, not future projects. So why did it just fund 8 new F-35 fighter planes that won’t even be ready for another two years or so? The MSRP on one of those guys is about $770 MILLION.
Okay, okay… I will dust off and put on my jingoistic hat for just a moment and assume all of that is unequivocally necessary and war-related. (The latter is true, hat notwithstanding.) Shouldn’t this OCO account be able to stand up to a simple audit by the GAO (Government Accountability Office)? When asked, the Pentagon could not “properly figure out how many contractors it has, what it is paying them, or what kinds and amounts of spare equipment and parts it has on hand,” reports William Hartung for CNN.
$80 BILLION in one year in “discretionary funding” toward war-ish stuff not enough to grind your gears? Then you’re probably cool with $2.7 BILLION in earmarks. Citizens Against Government Waste rolled out a little book (which you can get for free here) calling out all the earmarks and respective price tags for all the pork barrel spending… during a MORITORIUM ON EARMARKS. You read that correctly.
A “moratorium”… what do you think happens during one of those? Well, when I was a kid, and got in trouble, my dad put a moratorium on TV watching. In kid-speak, that meant grounded… which meant NO television for a period of time determined by my dad. It didn’t mean going from 4 hours per day to 2 hours. It meant, “Stay the hell away from the remote”.
That’s not what it means in Congress. In congress it means taking earmark spending from $3.3 BILLION in 2012 down 18% to $2.7 BILLION. Wow. Moratorium amounts to 18% less? Wish I knew that when I was about 10 years old…
To be fair, those amounts are considerably less than the pork spent during the height of W’s Administration, or even the first year of the Obama Administration. But Ron Paul pointed something out about earmarks, when they are permitted: the money is going to be spent no matter what. Paul was known to be one of the highest earmarking congressmen on the Hill. Funny enough, he’d scrap around for all the earmarks he could, and then vote against the bills. But in the event that the bills passed, his district would get something out of it.
Isn’t it just astounding how so much can be flushed down a government toilet in the blink of an eye? What you pay in taxes over the course of your entire life has already been spent in a matter of days. Now here’s a question worth asking all those class warriors: If someone is a tax cheat because they avoid paying taxes into a system that can burn through tens of billions of dollars; what are the congressmen called who waste all the money that made it into the coffers on totally unnecessary things?