Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Sippican Cottage: My Father Asks For Nothing

Sippican Cottage: My Father Asks For Nothing

Papa (Marci's grandfather Billy Wise) died in February 2003, I can gauge how long ago by how big my youngest daughter is. She was a tiny spark of happiness toddling around a gloomy living room back then. She didn't get a chance to know him, and it's her loss.

He was a supply Sergeant in the Army Air Force, based in England from 1942 on. His unit got there to set up everything so the B-17s based out of England could start the difficult process of sorting out what worked and what didn't in the aerial bombing of Hitler's Europe. He flew on a few missions, he called them "milk runs" across the channel to France, when they needed anyone who could hold a M2 .50 caliber machinegun in the side gunner position, but he would tell you he wasn't a combat soldier. He was a proud veteran of the Eighth Air Force, though. He had a story or three about going across to Normandy a few days after D-Day to set up Marsten matting to build an improvised airstrip. He wasn't a fan of war.

He came home to a wife who loved him for nearly sixty years (and still does today), a series of sales jobs at which he found middle-class success, and had two children: a daughter and a son, who is the father of my wife and the grandfather of my children.

I knew Papa for what seems like a very short time, it was only 12 years and some change. I intended to take him to an airshow and buy him and I a ride in a B-17, but by the time I had the resources I didn't have the time, and he passed away suddenly. It would have been a great thing, but I dithered, and I missed it. I miss him more.

He died the way he would have wanted to, I think: in the middle of a joke at a doughnut shop where he and his Greatest Generation compatriots met daily to solve the problems of the world. He probably would have wanted to make it to the punchline, but hey, leave your audience wanting more, right? He was a gem of a man.

His burial was at the National Cemetary in Grand Prairie. If you've never been to a military funeral you can't understand the bond that soldiers feel for one another. The attendants at his funeral showed the utmost respect for a fallen soldier, and his survivors. He fought, like so many others who proceeded him into that cemetery, because it was the right thing to do. My wife, my children, maybe even I were witness for him that day, because he made our lives as we know them possible. It was the least we could do.

This is a great piece about a son who got to take his father to see a B-24 like the one that was so formative in his young years. I'm glad for him that he did.

It's also a reminder to me to stop doing the urgent things, and start doing the important things.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Governance Registry

This is an idea I have been kicking around for a while. It would make (at the least) an interesting experiment, and not a particularly expensive one.

The proposed Obama budget for 2010 I find to be an abomination, it's only redeeming value is that it makes the steaming loaf of the $410 billion Omnibus budget bill for spending for the rest of 2009 look responsible by comparison. I fundamentally disagree with spending that much money on things that I do not share the President's concern for, and what's more, I pay a HUGE pile of taxes and stand to pay much more when the tax cuts of the Bush years run out.

I remember the misguided "Nuclear Peace" movement of the 1980s, and the phrase, "Wouldn't it be nice if schools were fully funded and the Air Force had to have a bake sale to buy a bomber?" Undoubtedly this doggerel was born in some left-wing think tank, or maybe air-freighted straight over from the USSR itself, but it got me to thinking: would the school or the Air Force win in a budget contest? And for me, there was no doubt, I'd be buying a share in the bomber.

With wedding and baby showers the US has developed quite an infrastructure dedicated to making lists and letting others fulfill the wishes of the honorees, it seems to be a reasonable step to adopt the same thing for the US Government. My "Government Registry" works like this:

1. The Congress adopts a budget for the year, which is divided as much as possible into the smallest dollar-value increment for each program and then fed into an online database. The Congress has 'registered' for the things it would like in a given year, down to the nuts, bolts, tires and policy costs.

2. Congress can set whatever taxation levels it chooses to, brackets, flat taxes, whatever.

3. Taxpayers get a report from the government when their taxes are filed, listing their payroll taxes, their income taxes paid, and their taxpayer ID.

4. Taxpayers then log into a secure website, enter their taxpayer ID and "go shopping", dedicating their tax dollars to specific programs the Congress has asked for in the next fiscal year.

You have to pay your FICA taxes toward Social Security and Medicare, which are programs that you front-end pay to directly benefit you, so when it comes to "shopping" for the government people who don't pay income taxes don't get to play in terms of determining which national priorities get funded.

For the lazy, there can be choices like "Evenly Distribute" and "All Social Welfare" and "All Defense" to allocate their dollars quickly and by formula. For everyone else, they get to know for sure what their tax dollars paid for in the next fiscal year.

I would buy a JDAM kit, medical insurance for a military family or two, childhood immunizations, practice ammo for the military and maybe buy some number of yards of interstate highway repair, and some hours of Air Traffic Controller hours (might need those guys if I fly). I would know what my money went to, and that makes paying my taxes a little more palatable.

The thing about wedding registries is that you occasionally get more in one category than you wanted, and have to return things. It would be interesting to see HUD trying to hawk 120mm tank rounds to fulfill their Congressional mandate, but probably the easier way to handle it is to make a public "gift" of some portion of overages from different government departments to the ones who missed out. The implications for the importance of the different departments of government in the eyes of taxpayers could not be clearer than the DoD announcing that it was funding 70% of the Department of Agriculture's budget for the year.

The budget would look very, very different, I think, if the people who paid the taxes chose where the money would go.