Federal employee and public interest groups are asking key members of
Congress to significantly lower the limit on payments to Defense
Department contract workers. During a time when basic pay rates for federal employees have
been frozen for nearly two years, the government can pay individual
contractors up to $763,029.
That amount should be substantially reduced because of “fiscal
responsibility and fairness,” said the letter from 10 organizations. [...] This is important because of the taxpayers,” said J. David Cox Sr., president of the American Federation of Government Employees, in a telephone
interview. “Nobody in the federal government makes that kind of money,
so why should we pay contractors that? . . . If you want to find savings for taxpayers, this is a good place to find it.”
Follow the money. Big dollar amounts identify one of the very first places to look for savings. The immense agency budgets like the Department of (War)Defense come most readily to mind but even the smaller amounts like contractor compensation can identify systemic issues that drive up costs. So it makes sense to look hard at why we pay contractors more than the President of the United States.
Watching the Obama-Romney and Biden-Ryan debates I hear the latter selling a vision of America where all are free of government intrusion and fully self-reliant under the watchful eye of their Creator (with the occasional assist from a millionaire from your local congregation). Romney and Ryan are telling America that compared to their truly American vision, Obama offers nothing but limited choice and opportunity if not actual enslavement to government minders. In contrast to all that, Obama did not offer a vision. He offered facts and policies, but Romney ran circles around Obama, articulating American renaissance under a Romney administration. He was the businessman-salesman-promoter making a strong pitch and caught Obama flat-footed. Biden did not repeat Obama's mistake. He pushed back on the Romney-Ryan lies and spoke of social commitment--Americans helping Americans, his mom, dad and working class neighbors. He also came across at times as the politician making promises. Dimmed the vision message a bit I thought but good enough for damage control.
If Obama is smart, we will hear more about vision in these closing weeks of the campaign. Four years ago, the vision was hope. After eight years of CheneyBush, that was enough. Not in 2012. Obama still needs to offer hope but he also needs to tell us where he will lead America, not just talk about the policies. Most important, he needs to convince us that he can actually make that vision happen.
My own vision of America is rooted in its small town ethos. People
helping people. It's the same small town America that Republicans extol
but I include public institutions and involvement in the mix. I think
of it as people organizing to achieve common goals, of figuring ways to
solve problems and create social capital (you know, roads, hospitals,
parks, fire protection) together. For some needs, local and community
solutions as well as individual solutions are best. Matters that
transcend individual communities are addressed at the state and
national levels. And where those matters are of critical public
consequence, the public must have a strong voice in defining the issues
and identifying how to address them. People will trust a political-economic system to the extent they can believe that it's not rigged against them.
Policy wonk that
I am, I could spiral my vision into a host of policy issues and
alternatives but would obscure the point. Vision is not detail. Vision
is direction and trajectory, that promised land.
Barack Obama and I could both learn a lot from Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
The Washington Post story about an Army unit winding down the Afghan war sounds much like an updated version of my unit's experience during 1971 in Vietnam. Updated in that: 1) today's soldiers, unlike conscripts, may actually want to fight, 2) the combat outpost base in Afghanistan appears more substantial than Vietnam fire support bases, and 3) soldiers can maintain direct and sometimes frequent contact with family in the States. No doubt there are other differences.
But the differences don't obscure the fact that these soldiers aren't aren't sure that their efforts do much by way of contributing to their country's safety and national interest. Or maybe it's that serving the national interest as articulated by American strategy is a limited, boring job that can turn deadly. Either way, it doesn't offer much relief for the sacrifices made.
My experience in Vietnam showed me that soldiers can be brave, dedicated and determined even as their efforts are marginalized. But I also knew coming in-country that I would be marking time, paying for a "graceful" American exit with my body. When a bunch of us newbies joined Alpha Company, the commander spoke of "troop withdrawals and none of us being among "the last to die" in Vietnam. But in the meantime, we ran weeks'-long patrols, got wounded, had accidents and a few died. All while marking time.
Winding down. Marking time. It makes do difference if you're dead.