The way things look ...
alt= gray dawn fire engine sprinkling children Ocean City boardwalk at night puppy peeking through porch spindles (estab. 1999)

Presidential Job Approval
Gallup Wkly: 35% - 8/27/17)
Average Daily Consumer Spending for July: $109
What Americans reported spending "Yesterday"
Gallup - 8/7/17
Gallup Payroll to Population for June: 46.3%
% of adult population employed full time for an employer


Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?
Joseph N. Welch, chief counsel for the Army (then under investigation for Communist activities by Senator Joseph McCarthy's Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations), addressing Senator McCarthy (R-WI). This confrontation during what was dubbed the Army-McCarthy Hearings (1953-54), was the turning point in the public's tolerance of Sen. McCarthy and his penchant for accusing witnesses of subversion or treason without offering any evidence.

 4/23/17 -- Something There Is That Doesn't Love A Wall 

The greatest "First 100 Days" accomplishment for Donald Trump and the Republicans may well turn out to be avoiding a government shutdown, never mind that they control of both houses of Congress and the White House.

In the immortal words of Walt Kelly's Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

If they should fail, it will be pretty hard pinning that one on Barack Obama.

The thing that could screw their effort up might be a failure to agree on preliminary funding for the southern border wall (the one Mexico was going to pay for). President Trump wants that included in the Continuing Spending Resolution (CSR) Congress must soon pass to keep the government operating until they can finalize the FY 2017 budget.

The $1 trillion-plus resolution is a can kicked down the road from last year's election season and would cover the operating budgets of every Cabinet department except for Veterans Affairs. (The government is currently being funded by a continuing resolution covering December 2016 through April 28.) Plus, the White House is looking to add about $1 billion to fund preliminary design work for the wall. Against a total cost estimated at anywhere from $20 billion to $70 billion. (Take your pick.)

One could argue that such an item shouldn't even be considered in a CSR since it's not really being continued from anywhere. It's brand new. The President is basically asking Congress to green light something for which they've never even seen, much less debated, a conceptual plan. Not even Hollywood works like that.

For a wall that no one who will be anywhere near it seems to want and that seems to serve little practical purpose beyond spreading out some walking-around money among some random US contractors (with some random ideas for a wall). So sad.

I will build a great wall -- and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me --and I'll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.

But the CSR is really small potatoes as such potatoes go. The wall is only one of several large nuts that will need to be cracked when the politicians finally do get down to dealing seriously with spending plans for the fiscal year starting next Oct. 1.

Take rebuilding the military. Or paying for a grand infrastructure plan. And of course tax cuts, for mollifying corporations and the wealthy, who suffered mightily under Obama and for getting our economy going again. And of course, there is health care and social security.

Much of this is eyes bigger than stomach sorts of things, reach exceeding grasp, beauty before brains, etc. Not exactly pipe dreams, but certainly missing the larger picture.

What is the larger picture? The need to do something about the sad reality that since 2001 basically, we've been doing a large-scale imitation of The Mamas and the Papas living in the Virgin Islands on an American Express card before they came up with that first big hit. The federal government has been putting almost a third of its spending for the last fifteen years on the card, living beyond its structural means and awaiting the arrival of a brighter, more remunerative future.

Uncle Sam needs a 40% pay raise just to get back on a pay-as-you-go operating basis. Before we buy another thing. And no, you can't just cut back on spending. There are not nearly enough babies on board to throw to the wolves running behind the sled to compensate for our baked-in annual deficit.

In years past, this site has offered little exercises where readers could flex their inner budget hawk, however unrealistically. (The intent being to demonstrate that you can't fix things by trimming around the edges.)

Perhaps it might be more constructive this time around to take a more informed, contextual approach, to explore not just where the money is going but how the trend lines in our various spending categories are moving.

A better understanding of past performance might guide future budget decision-making. (To give away the ending, the inescapable conclusion for all save the truly ideologically blind is, once again, your government needs more money.) How to raise it is of course a matter for a future posting. (Your author certainly doesn't have a clue.)

Just to take one instance, the bargain with the devil previously known as the Sequester, with its rigid and unreasonable curbs on military spending (and other discretionary spending as well), has left our armed forces significantly in need of investment and maintenance resuscitation.

At least that's the word on the street.The Marines say half of their aircraft are not ready to fly. Naval commanders complain they are not prepared to respond to a major crisis. Sen. John McCain agrees, but then he would, wouldn't he?

President Trump has regularly expressed the desire for a beefier, more modern and more deadly military. His secretary of defense recently made the observation that even the military budget increase the White House is seeking won't hardly cut it. Much more will be needed. McCain is thinking around $640 billion.

Eliminating the constraints of the sequesters will require bipartisan cooperation. Republicans and Democrats reasoning together. That's how we got it in the first place, although admittedly both sides thought it was such a crazy idea that surely Congress would find some way to agree on a budget before subjecting the country to such nonsense. But they were wrong.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. It is true the money has to come from somewhere. And eventually it will.

Let's start by looking at what we seem to think we should be spending based on the historical record, and how those figures have been changing over time. Maybe we'll see some things we don't need to be buying and maybe some things should be buying more of, and even some things that would be nice to have but we need to give up because they're just too rich for our blood. Health care comes to mind.

Federal Spending by Category: Fiscal Years 2010 - 2016
Superfunction and Function 2010 2016 est +/(-) CAGR
National Defense 693,485 604,452 -89,033 -12.8%
Human resources 2,386,633 2,870,907 484,274 20.3%
Education, Training, Employment, and Social Services 128,598 113,932 -14,666 -11.4%
Health 369,068 525,860 156,792 42.5%
Medicare 451,636 595,317 143,681 31.8%
Income Security 622,210 528,181 -94,029 -15.1%
Social Security 706,737 929,444 222,707 31.5%
Veterans Benefits and Services 108,384 178,173 69,789 64.4%
Physical resources 88,835 143,528 54,693 61.6%
Energy 11,618 7,458 -4,160 -35.8%
Natural Resources and Environment 43,667 42,580 -1,087 -2.5%
Commerce and Housing Credit -82,316 -26,723 55,593 -67.5%
Transportation 91,972 92,361 389 0.4%
Community and Regional Development 23,894 27,852 3,958 16.6%
Net interest 196,194 240,003 43,809 22.3%
Other functions 174,048 193,573 19,525 11.2%
International Affairs 45,195 46,443 1,248 2.8%
General Science, Space, and Technology 30,100 30,803 703 2.3%
Agriculture 21,356 25,574 4,218 19.8%
Administration of Justice 54,383 64,415 10,032 18.4%
General Government 23,014 24,463 1,449 6.3%
Allowances 0 1,875 1,875 #DIV/0!
Undistributed offsetting receipts -82,116 -101,156 -19,040 23.2%
Total, Federal outlays 3,457,079 3,951,307 494,228 14.3%

The time frame for this chart displays spending by function and super-function in 2010 (after we'd begun to emerge from the recession) and shows how those categories have grown since through 2016, the last completed fiscal year. Where might we trim and where might we bolster, while still providing hefty tax cuts to stimulate our struggling economy? Here's your side by side. Look it over. What stays, what goes? What needs to pick up, what needs to slow down?

Take a moment. It will make you feel better. Or at least better-informed.

So whatever your cockamamie ideas about how to get where we're going, now, just like our elected officials, you'll have some idea of what we've been spending, how it's swelled and (perish the thought) how much more we need to throw at it.

Thus prepared, maybe we'll be in better shape to fight with each other than we seem to be now. A little pre-season training so to speak. Before we squat on the mat to the tones of, "Ready? Wrestle."

Charles Edward Anderson Berry Sr.: 1926-2017


It is sad that governments are chiefed by the double-tongues.
Ten Bears to Josie Wales in the movie The Outlaw Josie Wales

 2/22/17 -- The Natives Are Restless 

Americans first began with a relish to protest their incoming presidents in 1829 when John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, refused to attend the inauguration of his successor, Andrew Jackson, as did many congressmen and senators.

(His father, John Adams had chosen not to attend the inauguration of his successor, Thomas Jefferson, but that was mostly because he was simply dying to get the hell out of Washington. He had spent large parts of his one term in office conducting the affairs of state from his home in Quincy, MA.)

Quincy Adams/Jefferson was, if you can imagine, a far nastier contest than Trump/Clinton: Jackson's wife Rachel fell ill and at length died after suffering through a torrent of viscious, unrelenting attacks against her virtue and character. (Andy never forgot. Nor forgave.)

Inaugurals are supposed to be celebratory affairs not particularly marked by angry demonstrations. But through the years there have been ample and notable exceptions that served to emphasize the nation's differences rather than its commonalities. They haven't all brought us together.

In the run-up to Donald Trump's Presidential inauguration, The National Park Service granted demonstration permits to at least 28 groups. They were expecting more than 350,000 protesters in all, including about 200,000 for the "Women's March on Washington" planned for the next day. The latter drew approximately 2,000,000 by some third-party estimates, dwarfing the crowd that had gathered to watch the swearing-in, much to the new President's chagrin.

Most of the demonstrations were orderly, but six police officers were injured and 217 protesters arrested in several ugly street clashes in downtown Washington. Police in New York, Dallas, Chicago, Portland and Seattle arrested scores at demonstrations in those cities as well.

Protests also took place beyond America's borders in Australia, London, Hong Kong, Berlin and the West Bank.

In another form of protest, one-third of House Democrats boycotted the inauguration entirely.

Anti-Trump forces may have been heartened by this outpouring of opprobrium, but the truth is the day wasn't that much out of the ordinary for a US Presidential inauguration.

Some cite the 1853 swearing-in of Franklin Pierce as the first inaugural to draw an official protest, by a group of unemployed workers.

Wilson, 1913, East Portico.

Obviously, front-burner issues present greater incentives for crowds to show up and grab some of the spotlight, even if that issue has little actual direct connection to the president-elect. When there's nothing going on the crowds are less inclined to turn out. After all, January in D.C. is cold.

The day before President Woodrow Wilson took office in 1913, as many as eight thousand women suffragists marched down Pennsylvania Avenue in what one inaugural historian said was likely the first large-scale inauguration protest. But Wilson wasn't the target. He supported the women's suffrage movement, if not overly enthusiastically, and worked for legislation to grant women the vote. Which was stronger support than that offered by many.

James Bendat, who wrote the book Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President 1789-2013, said the women, who had a parade permit, were "pushed, spat upon, and beaten up" by irritated onlookers. The incident led to the firing of the capital's police chief. Four years later, the women were allowed to march in the inaugural parade, for the first time. Women gained the vote in 1920.

From the '20s to the '60s inaugurals tended to be orderly. What with three big wars, the death of FDR, the stolidity of the '50s and the can-do idealism born of Kennedy and Camelot, people weren't in a protesting mood.

Noteworthy, during that period, Roosevelt's 4th swearing-in took place on the rear balcony of the White House, and Kennedy's famously and stirringly memorable inaugural address was one of the quickest on record. Good feelings all around.

Kennedy, 1961. "Ask not what your country can do for you..." Under 14 minutes, fourth-shortest inaugural address in history.

Richard Nixon, inheritor of a hugely unpopular war, would not be so lucky. Americans had learned the art of protesting by the end of the '60s. They didn't just march. Anti-war demonstrators threw burning miniature flags and stones at police during Nixon's 1969 inauguration.

According to The Boston Globe, about 500 people participated in the protests. The paper noted it was first time in recent history that an inauguration fomented such a large public demonstration. And Vietnam wasn't even Nixon's war then; he ran for office as the man with the plan to end it.

According to another news report, as many as 5,000 demonstrators converged on a site where a reception for Vice-President-elect Spiro Agnew was being held, and U.S. Park Service police used horses, for the first time in a Washington demonstration, to drive them back (with mixed results).

Firecrackers were hurled at the horses, which reared up and then began dropping manure.

Agnew's guests began arriving and had to walk, in their formal attire and finery, a red-carpeted gauntlet from the street to the venue, while enduring a steady barrage of shouted epithets, hurled rocks and, yes, steaming handfuls of horse manure. Resourceful mob.

As police attempted to move the protestors back, they lost control and, as will happen, began clubbing people. Several protestors were trampled by the mounted horses.

One over-enthusiastic officer charged wildly into the crowd, on foot, before suddenly and belatedly realizing he had surrounded himself with demonstrators, with no other officers in sight. They proceeded to remove his helmet, gun, badge, and nightstick and then began pummeling him with their fists before some of his fellow officers realized his plight.

Nixon, 1969. Before things turned ugly for Agnew.

The situation was then different again in 1973 when Nixon won reelection and the war was still dragging on. Not only was he greeted with unruly inaugural crowds, but by then the war was his and the demonstrators' feelings were even more pointed and more personal. Plus, by this time, anti-war protests in America had evolved into highly sophisticated undertakings. The war issue helped draw over 25,000 protesters to Nixon's second inaugural, resulting in dozens of arrests.

When Ronald Reagan was sworn into office in 1981, there were some protesters in Washington led by the National Organization for Women, but they did not have a major impact on events. The freeing of the Iran hostages was the news of the day, creating a decidedly feel-good national moment. In 1985, a snowstorm and cold snap resulted in the cancellation of the usual outside ceremonies. Dutch: born lucky.

Reagan, 1981. Happy days are here again.

George W. Bush was greeted with notable demonstrations in both 2001 and 2005, the latter focused on his decision to invade Iraq; the former on the manner of his victory over Al Gore and his relatively low, for an incoming president, public approval ratings.

Earlier cultures felt there was little to be gleaned of much significance from the beginning of a person's journey. They were more inclined to commemorate their notables' deaths than their birth dates. Preferring to take stock at a point where they felt better able to assess the worth of a man's or woman's contribution to posterity. They saw the real story, as it were, as being more in where you finished up than in how you started out.

Donald Trump could perhaps take some comfort in such a perspective and fret less about the magnitude of his victory and the size of his crowds. In the great scheme of things such measures won't really amount to enduring accomplishments, even if successfully embellished. If he's learned anything from his first thirty days in office, our new President should realize by now that his future reputation is not going to hinge on accomplishments achieved before he actually took office.

Take the case of Abraham Lincoln. Seven states seceded from the Union upon his election. How's that for a protest? Lincoln's procession to the Capitol had to be surrounded by heavily armed cavalry and infantry, providing an unprecedented amount of protection for the President-elect as the nation stood on the brink of an actual war with itself.

Lincoln, 1861. Large crowd for its day, not altogether friendly.

His inauguration was the first time Lincoln appeared in public with a beard, which he had begun growing only after being elected to the presidency (supposedly on the advice of a little girl). This effectively made him the first president to have any facial hair beyond sideburns.)

In time, Lincoln would also become the first president to be assassinated by political opponents. And yet, in time, notwithstanding his truncated term in office, he came to be looked upon most favorably by both professional historians and the general public. His reputation endures to this day.

Size matters?
The National Parks Service stopped issuing official crowd estimates in 1995 after "The Million Man March" organizers accused the service of low-balling its estimate of the turnout for their event.

The Park Service's number: 400,000, significantly lower (obviously) than March organizers had in mind. (ABC-TV-funded researchers at Boston University eventually made an estimate of 837,000 with a 20% margin of error.)

How many people can you count in this picture? Million Man March, 1995

Whatever the actual number, the Parks Service concluded it was way too many people to have mad at you and exited the crowd-size estimating business.

Today estimates are done by private research organizations and educational institutions using a variety of techniques: aerial photo analysis (hard in D.C.; airspace restrictions), satellite images (weather permitting), mathematical area and density map analyses and, quite naturally, computer algorithms and even artificial intelligence.

Still in all, it remains a bit of an art. Crowd estimates for recent inaugurals:

  • Barack Obama, 2013: 1 million
  • Barack Obama, 2009: 1.8 million (generally considered a record for people on the National Mall)
  • George W. Bush, 2005: 400,000
  • George W. Bush, 2001: 300,000
  • Bill Clinton, 1997: 250,000
  • Bill Clinton, 1993: 800,000
  • George H.W. Bush, 1989: 300,000
  • Ronald Reagan, 1985: 140,000 tickets sold, but record cold moved the swearing-in ceremony indoors
  • Ronald Reagan, 1981: 10,000, according to The New York Times. This was the first year the ceremony was performed on the west side of the Capitol.