Saturday, April 07, 2012

Budget Matter

In this political season much talk centers on the federal budget. Who gets what? Who gets hit? And all that. As a rule, I distrust budgets. I much prefer to see what is actually spent and where. Real numbers for real actions. Only when the books are closed and verified will I know what actually took place. Except for the Defense Department.

Budgets, on the other hand, are a promise and if we are talking politics, we are talking promises. And expectations. At this stage a budget is a a financial and policy road map that tells where this politician or that politician will steer the country.

Ezra Klein does a good job of digging into the budgetary weeds to show what Representative Paul Ryan's Republican budget will do, even if Ryan himself hasn't worked out the details. Klein comes to the inescapable conclusion that "You can't cut spending without cutting spending." Someone must take the hit. If not me, then you. Or someone else.

That's the detail. Klein works back to the broader assumptions and policies underlying Ryan's budget choices, which is a discussion Ryan would rather avoid. I read his budget and see a grim America: decaying public infrastructure, increasing economic insecurity and declining quality of life for all but the rich. That tells me all I need to know in order to make a principled choice in the matter.

That will get me through the political season but a budget is not the end of the story. The politicians may think they've made a decision but when the money hits the pipeline it can go in unsuspected directions. Down in the weeds lie many adjustments, transfers and encumbrances that sometimes account for real differences.

Only when the money is actually spent do we know how good were those budgetary promises.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

More Pluggery

As a way of building a "buzz" about my Appalachian Trail book, At the Speed of Foot, I am blogging my trail journal and sketchbooks on my other blog.

2012 is the 10th anniversary of my AT thru-hike which gives me some plausible for revisiting the original journals and sketchbooks. I don't know how much buzz I will get but it will give me six months of occasional content while I come up with other ways of unloading the many dozens of printed copies still available.

It's the raw stuff. The daily joy, wonder, exhaustion and uncertainly. Take a look. Maybe buy one.


Monday, April 02, 2012

Army Games

Friday during my volunteer shift at Coffee Strong, a sergeant came in to talk about a possible separation action he thinks his command has in store for him after five deployments as a Ranger to Iraq and Afghanistan. He's about six months away from 18 years service when he will qualify for a pension and is concerned that the Army wants to ditch him because of his attitude after those deployments. He says the what they call attitude is him not willing to be a "yes man" and put up with their bullshit.

The sergeant is not the first career NCO I've encountered who seems to be of no further use to the military. Since last fall, I can think of three others, including some E-7's who have described similar situations to me, including one who was discharged just shy of reaching that 18 year protected window.

By the time a soldier gets to the middle NCO ranks with 15 or more years of service, the Army has invested a lot in that soldier and certainly vice-versa. Yet these days, it seems that the Army is all too willing to discharge an experienced NCO after repeated deployments if he shows any signs of the stress of those deployments. Even more cynical is the Army's willingness to make sure the soldier doesn't get the pension that he would otherwise receive.

Maybe it's just my imagination, but when the Army treats its lifers like that, it's going to have a very difficult time earning soldiers' trust.