Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preserve the federal government

I start with a civics lesson on the federal government. This may be dry reading but there is a reason for the review. We learn in high school that our government is made up of the Congress who makes laws, the Executive who carries out the laws, and the Judiciary who interprets the laws when there is a dispute. I’ll bypass all the checks and balances and focus only on the Executive branch.

That Executive branch is led by the President, currently Mr. Trump (he may hold the title, but he’ll never be my president). He has various people around him to carry out his immediate duties. He has a Cabinet made up of all the department heads who have the title of secretary. The fifteen departments are:

Department of State. It was created in 1789. In 2009 (the year of the data in the above Wikipedia page) it had a budget of $16 billion with nearly 19 thousand employees. The Secretary of State is the president’s principle foreign policy advisor. He and the department advance US objectives and interests around the world through diplomatic means. It negotiates treaties and other kinds of agreements with foreign governments. It coordinates foreign affairs with departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, and such agencies as the CIA. It protects and assists US citizens living or traveling abroad. It assists US businesses in the international market. It maintains diplomatic offices around the world.

Department of Treasury. Also created in 1789 and had a budget of nearly $20 billion with 166 thousand employees. The department produces all the currency, through its printing office, and coins through the US Mint. It collects taxes and duties, manages the gov’t finances, pays all government bills, and manages the gov’t debt. It supervises the banks and enforces finance and tax laws. The largest department within this department is the Internal Revenue Service.

Department of Defense. Created in 1789 as the Department of War and merged with the Department of Navy in 1947. It had a budget of $651 billion and 3 million employees. This is everything related to the Armed Forces and national security. It is the largest employer in the world.

Department of the Interior, created in 1849. It had a budget of $90 billion with $71 thousand employees. This department manages all federal land, including the National Park Service. It also manages programs related to Native Americans.

Department of Justice was created in 1870. It had a budget of $46 billion with 113 thousand employees. It is responsible for enforcement of law and administration of justice. It runs the Marshall Service; the FBI; the Bureau of Prisons; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Divisions include Antitrust, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, and Tax.

Department of Agriculture was made part of the Cabinet in 1889. It had a budget of $134 billion with 110 thousand employees. Its areas of responsibility are agriculture, forestry, and food. For agriculture there are programs to help farmers and rural areas. For forestry there is the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service. For food there are the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Center for Nutrition Policy, and the Food and Nutrition Service. The largest budget item under the USDA and FNS is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps).

Department of Commerce, created in 1903. It had a budget of $16 billion and 44 thousand employees. The department is charged with promoting economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development. Its agencies include the Census, International Trade Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which includes the Weather Service, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Minority Business Development Agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Department of Labor was split off from Commerce in 1913. It had a budget of $138 billion and 17 thousand employees. Its purpose is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees; improve working conditions; and assure work-related benefits and rights. It enforces laws and regulations covering places of work for 10 million employers and 125 million workers. Agencies include Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance, Wage and Hour Division, Women’s Bureau, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Department of Health and Human Services, created in 1953. It had a budget of $879 billion and 67 thousand employees. Its goal is to protect health and provide essential human services. The agencies within it include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, Medicare, Medicaid, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Indian Health Service. Some of the programs within those departments include financial assistance to low-income families, Head Start, preventing child abuse and domestic violence, substance abuse and treatment, and home-delivered meals for seniors. This department has the largest budget and about 90% goes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Department of Housing and Urban Development, created in 1965. It had a budget of $40 billion and 11 thousand employees. The mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all, free from discrimination. Some of the departments are the office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, and Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. The programs include Community Development Block Grants, Section 8 housing, and Federal Housing Administration which regulates mortgage guarantee agencies Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Department of Transportation. Created in 1966 and had a budget of $73 billion with 59 thousand employees. It, of course, deals with the transportation system. Within it are the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Maritime Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Department of Energy, created in 1977. It had a budget of $24 billion with 109 thousand employees. Its primary responsibility is the safe handling of nuclear material, so it covers the nation’s nuclear weapons and nuclear power generators as well as radioactive waste disposal. It also promotes energy conservation, energy research, and energy production. It runs a system of national laboratories to conduct research into physical sciences. Surprising to me the DOE originated the Human Genome Project.

Department of Education was split off from HHS in 1979. It had a budget of $45 billion with 4 thousand employees. Unlike other countries the DoEd doesn’t actually educate students, doesn’t set curriculum or standards (with No Child Left Behind as a recent exception), doesn’t even do school accreditation. What it does is set guidelines, search for and promote good ideas, keep watch over the education system, and administer Pell Grants, Direct Student Loans, Title I Grants, and money for Special Education programs.

Department of Veterans Affairs, created in 1989. It had a budget of $98 billion with 235 thousand employees. The major components are the Veterans Health Administration which runs the VA hospitals and clinics; the Veterans Benefits Administration which handles Home Loan Guarantee, Insurance, Vocational Rehab and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and compensation and pension; and the National Cemetery Administration.

Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003. It had a budget of $40 billion with 240 thousand employees. It handles antiterrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cybersecurity, and disaster management. It includes the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

There are other government functions not a part of any cabinet, such as the Social Security Administration and NASA. Other functions have an administrator who is considered to have “cabinet rank.” They attend Cabinet meetings, but are not official members (I don’t know what the distinction means). These positions include Trade Representative, National Intelligence, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Management and Budget, Director of the CIA, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Its budget in 2016 was $8 billion with 15 thousand employees. It is not a department with a secretary in the Cabinet, though its administer is usually given cabinet rank. It conducts research and issues regulations to make our shared resources of air, water, and land are as uncontaminated as possible. It also issues regulations over endangered species.

Other entities funded by Congress include the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The president can propose how much it to be spent on them, but doesn’t run them.

Here is a chart of the relative sizes of the Cabinet budgets (based on 2009 data). Yes, the two biggest are Defense and HHS, much bigger than the others.

Yeah, dry reading. Keep in mind the guy who currently oversees all of this is a darling of white supremacists and is a confessed sexual abuser. He is obsessed with ranking.

Ranking is the belief that some people are inherently better and more important than others. Ranking shows up as misogyny, the belief that men are more important than women, and racism, the belief that white people are more important than people of color. Ranking is what drives all forms of bigotry, including straight over gay, Christians over other faiths, skinny over fat, abled over disabled, rich over poor, corporate bosses over workers, and many more.

Ranking is a strong force in both American society and societies around the world. It is so strong we are willing to commit violence and to kill to maintain our rank. We are willing to impoverish ourselves to maintain our rank. This is something effectively done when poor whites support leaders who keep them poor but rationalize that support saying at least they are still better than blacks.

Ranking has thoroughly infused our society. It is taught to our young through all cultural voices. These voices tell some that they are supposed to be on top. The voices tell others they are supposed to be oppressed. Ranking is reinforced through violence – I would even claim that violence is always a sign of the presence of ranking. I’ve written before about ranking and its manifestation of seeking power and how strong it is and why it results in bad behavior. I’ve also discussed ranking through history as documented in the book Chalice and Blade. This book makes two important points. First, there have been thriving societies that were not based on ranking, which means ranking is taught and not necessarily a part of the human experience. Second, if humanity continues to organize around ranking it will likely end in environmental destruction through overpopulation because men still insist women are only for birthing babies.

Trump is obsessed with ranking. Nearly everything I’ve seen him do since he came on the political scene less than two years ago is to enhance his position and the position of his fellow straight, white, Christian males (even if he doesn’t seem to profess Christian beliefs).

With that in mind let’s take another look at some of these government departments.

Department of State. The purpose of the department is peace, or at least the absence of armed conflict. One who is invested in ranking isn’t interested in peace, because that promotes the idea that the adversary is on equal footing. Many have observed that the current State Department doesn’t appear to be fully staffed and running. That has Bruce Bartlett concluding that Trump doesn’t want functioning State Department because he wants to be unable to have a diplomatic solution and must resort to military solutions. As I said, violence is a clear sign of ranking.

Department of the Interior. The purpose of this department, especially the National Park Service, is shared assets, what we as a country declare are spaces to be enjoyed by all, without regard to status. We all own, we all enjoy, we set these spaces aside to preserve their history, beauty, or wildness. We may argue that too much land is in federal hands (87% of Nevada is federally owned) and that is a debate worth having. But many other spaces – Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks – need and deserve strong protection. The idea of a shared resource, available to all, is abhorrent to someone obsessed by ranking.

Department of Justice. The name says someone is seeking to right the wrongs of an oppressor – someone who believes in ranking and is asserting rank over them. Consider now the various divisions: Antitrust is about breaking up corporate control when a corporation is asserting its rank over us. Civil Rights, along with voting rights, is about an oppressed group seeking to stop oppression, to stop ranking. But there is also the ATF and Bureau of Prisons. Both have been and easily could be used to enforce ranking.

Department of Agriculture. I don’t know how much their agriculture work is geared towards the small family farm and how much is geared towards big agribusiness. Many of the latter companies drive the smaller farmer out. In that way they support ranking. The forestry work is again managing a common resource. The food work done by the DoA is about keeping the citizen safe from careless food companies. In this case careless means both inattention to problems and not caring about the health of the consumer. The latter, and perhaps both, are a result of ranking. The SNAP program is to give help to the poor, the victims of ranking.

Department of Commerce. A corporate leader probably works closely with the International Trade Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office (though that might be to try to extend their patents and invalidate other company’s patents). As for the Census and Weather Service these are shared resources. We all get weather reports. We can get access to Census data.

Department of Labor. Except perhaps for the Bureau of Labor Statistics this entire department is about defending the worker against the abuse of the corporation. This is entirely about standing up to ranking.

Department of Health and Human Services. Again, most, perhaps all, of this department is about supporting those who are victims of ranking, those least well off.

Department Housing and Urban Development. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is definitely all about combating the effects of ranking. Refusing to rent or sell property to someone because of who they are or what they believe is part of the definition of ranking. The rest of the department is again supporting victims of ranking.

Department of Education. Though it does very little directly, its guidance and tone can influence schools across the country. Obama issues a guidance on how schools should treat LGBT students and schools pay attention (granted, some more than others). Trump rescinds it and schools pay attention and bullying against LGBT people increases. This department can be used to challenge ranking and also enforce it.

FEMA, part of Homeland Security, supports everyone after a disaster, such as a hurricane, flood, or exploding chemical factory.

I’m not going to assess how ranking fits into the Treasury, Transportation, Energy, and Veterans Affairs Departments. It isn’t clear to me how they support or stand up to ranking.

That leaves the Departments of Defense and most of Homeland Security. Enforcement of ranking is the purpose of Defense, as is much of Homeland Security. The last time Defense wasn’t about ranking was maybe the Gulf War (liberation of Kuwait) and before that probably WWII. All other wars and military actions had a strong component of a dominance display. That is ranking. These issues would have been much better resolved with diplomacy – without a component of American dominance – well before the shooting started. I’m sure I’ll hear about how we need to defend ourselves. But most of the people we feel the need to defend against had been on the receiving end of an American dominance display.

Yes, there is a reason for me to review the entire US cabinet and to comment about how departments fit into ranking.

On Monday, March 13 Trump issued an executive order to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.” Within 180 days he is to receive a proposed plan that “shall include as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.” The plan is to include whether the program “would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.” It shall also include “whether the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component, or a program are justified by the public benefits it provides.” Emphasis mine.

After that 180 days comes a public comment period (probably of standard length), then 180 days to create a final plan, including a list of needed legislation.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville guides me through all that. She notes:
* The primary objective is elimination.

* If it can’t be eliminated, privatize it.

* There are no metrics to assess public benefit.

Who gets to decide whether “public benefit” justifies the cost? Cabinet secretaries who, McEwan reminds us, were chosen “based on their contempt for the agencies they are asked to lead.” They decide.

Look again at my descriptions through the lens of ranking at the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education, Interior, Agriculture, FEMA, and State. All, or a large portion, of these departments have the purpose of standing up to those obsessed with ranking. Will a president obsessed with ranking allow them to continue to exist?

As for the Census and Weather service, a corporate leader would likely want to see them privatized – so some company could make a profit from them. This is an aspect of ranking because it takes a common resource out of the common arena, denying its availability to those of lower rank. Would Census data become a corporate asset not to be disclosed except for a price? Would people have to pay for the weather report? If you couldn’t pay would you be told about approaching hurricanes?

Your company is forcing you to work in conditions that might be deadly? Too bad. This new drug is more harmful then helpful? Oh, well. You are shut out of home sales because of who you love? Sorry to hear that. Your city’s police are so racist they would rather shoot than talk to you? Move along, nothing to see. Your school isn’t educating your kids and your state won’t enact reforms? Cry me a river. A name change means your favorite vacation spot is now at “Goldman Sachs Yosemite National Park” and they boosted entrance fees to beyond what you can afford? Try the spa in the Mud Flats. Can’t afford food for your child? Sorry, the SNAP program is gone. You ate tainted spinach? Go away. North Korea is blustering again? We don’t negotiate with enemies.

Here’s a preview: The West Virginia Senate has introduced a bill completely gutting mine safety laws. They say it is good enough to rely on federal safety standards. This is the state where 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch Mine seven years ago.

And another preview: Trump has submitted his budget to Congress for fiscal year 2018. Congress may adopt it, tweak it, or ignore it (which they did to Obama’s budgets) so a lot may change between now and when the budget is finalized in the fall. Even so, this budget is an indication of what Trump is thinking.

Such as: no funding for National Endowment for the Arts, for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and many other agencies, a 29% cut in State, 31% cut to the EPA, and a 5-20% cut to most departments. All to give a 9% increase to Defense. The increase to Defense looks so small while the cuts look so big because Defense is already much larger than nearly all the others. And – pardon me while I turn off the irony alarm – one agency to be cut entirely for this boost to Defense is the Institute for Peace.

But at least we’ll be saving billions out of the federal budget and our taxes will be lower. Well, not *your* taxes. And maybe not even the rich get a cut for this one. Gotta pay for that wall somehow. And we gotta pour more money into our “depleted” military (never mind it is larger than perhaps the next ten countries combined). Those who obsess over ranking love a big military they can use to settle scores.

So we wait until 2018, or maybe 2020, and elect people to undo the damage? McEwan says that won’t work. Rebuilding agencies will mean tax increases and those are never a popular election strategy. Oh, you mean reset the balance between Defense and the rest? Remember that Defense is the darling of those invested in ranking. They aren’t going to give up easily.

McEwan concludes: “This will be devastating, and its effects will reverberate for a very long time.”

There is a legitimate question here: Why should the federal government be the one to look after the little guy? Because nobody else can – state governments don’t cover the nation and charities can’t meet the need (they can’t do it now). Because volunteer policing is permission to not police. Because the Constitution says, “We the People.”

This post is written by The Crow as a post to the blog A Gay Crows Nest. You have permission and encouragement to forward this to anyone who would appreciate it as a way of resisting the destruction to the federal government. Please always include the links to the sources and the blog where it originated.

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