The Deplorable Old Man and the Sea by Michael Moffitt

It surely was my watery grave. Cold and pitch black. I was almost overcome by fatigue. Then there was a sound. Then there was a light. It was a decrepit craft, once majestic mahogany planks now patched with pink fiberglass. A single old man aboard was crude and angry. He shouted profanely, “What kind of fool are you out there? Don’t you know you can drown or be eaten by sharks?” At first I thought he would speed by. I waved feebly and he threw a line with a tattered ring at its end. Not a very good throw, it missed me by at least thirty yards. It took every vestige of my will to reach it and grasp it and hold on as he pulled me in. As he dragged me aboard he continued his profane insults.

I did not complain about his decrepit craft or his profane insults or his tattered life ring or his lousy aim. It was all I could do to hug his legs and kiss his ankle. The memory is still vivid and real, even though I now know I was dreaming.

My country was founded on a unique and exceptional principle. Its government is guaranteed to be subordinate to its citizens by its constitution and its separation of powers. It is obligated above all other things to guarantee freedom to its citizens. Freedom to own property, to choose what they think and believe and to speak freely about it, freedom to move about both geographically and up and down the economic ladder, freedom to trade their property, their skills and services and to spend their profits, all according to their own values and ambitions. My country’s government is obligated to consider these freedoms as granted by a higher authority and to protect them from external threats and from degradation from within.

When I began first grade in 1945 I did not understand any of this. I did not understand the value of this gift, or the one hundred sixty nine years of wars, booms and depressions that had led to that magic moment. Freedom had begot innovation and charity. Innovation had begot prosperity. Charity had begot the will to perfect our union, to strive continuously for the vision that all Men are created equal, to be a generous society and to save much of the world from tyranny, twice. The guiding principal that my government is subordinate to its people had made my country the master of the universe and enabled its people to be the most powerful and prosperous in the world. I did not understand how good it was or how much better it was about to become.

I searched my memory for the first time we broke our stride. When was the first step we took toward the abyss? Perhaps it was August 13, 1961. That day construction began on the Berlin Wall, condemning nearly four million people, the second largest city in Europe, to slavery for three decades. Our young president said little and did nothing. Could anyone imagine Truman or Eisenhower standing for this breach of Pottsdam where they had struggled to restructure the Western World to avoid World War III? Just twelve years earlier and less than four years after Pottsdam the Soviets had blockaded Berlin. Truman’s response, executed by Eisenhower’s former comrades in arms was a massive airlift of supplies to that beleaguered city. For nearly a full year as many as 1500 flights daily each carrying three tons of cargo challenged the Soviets to shoot them down. The soviets blinked and the blockade fell. In a single day our President abandoned our defense of Pottsdam, all of the effort and risk and cost of the airlift and our best defense against ever fighting World War III. It took only fourteen months after the wall, until in October 1962 the Soviets moved missiles into Cuba and further threatened our people and our way of life. By then, our President had learned the lesson of power and is rightly applauded for his steely response, but the crisis was born of our weakness and the message of our vulnerability was etched in the Berlin Wall and received by evil forces around the world.

It took less than three years from the construction of the wall until Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution on August 7, 1964. On that day we condemned all Americans to eleven more years of wasted blood, spirit and wealth in Vietnam. The tragedy of Vietnam is not that bad tactical judgments were made, or stronger enemies met, or the domino theory flawed. The tragedy is that the domino had already fallen. Many in government knew at the time the duplicity of the lies underpinning the resolution and learned shortly the futility of the endeavor. How could there be a more eloquent display of contempt and disregard for the electorate, than subordination of the citizenry to a feckless government overreaching to save face? How great a testimony to the power our government will use to deceive us is the fifty-three years it took for Ken Burns and PBS to get the whole story out to the American people?

By 1974, the Baby Boomers were all in school and our birth rate was approaching its nadir. It was clear that pension reserves for many citizens were not being adequately funded. Life spans were increasing. There was a call for government action. The response was The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, (ERISA), signed into law on Labor Day, September 2, 1974. This law requires companies, associations and unions with stewardship over pensions to fund their reserves to standards that will assure promises made to our citizens will be promises kept. This was a powerful law and caused many needed reforms.

One reform was conveniently forgotten. In 1973, Social Security paid $51 billion to thirty million beneficiaries. All of the same demographic and life extending issues were clear and applicable to all pension funds, including Social Security. The same remedies required of corporations, unions and insurers could and should have been required for future Social Security beneficiaries. The resulting deficits of today and tomorrow were clear at the time. Our government chose for itself a path that it declared immoral and made illegal for all others. It chose to subordinate its citizen’s retirement income security to its own convenience and political gain. According to the Annual Report of the Social Security Trust Funds, the actuarial deficit for the next 75 years is approaching three percent of taxable payrolls. Along with Social Security, ERISA neglected most state and federal employee pensions and the future taxpayers who would fund them. Our tradition now is to continue to defer these debts, hopefully to be paid by the yet unborn. There will, however, come a day when we reach our credit limit and the accounts will be reconciled. This is taxation without representation on steroids and we are all complicit.

These were perhaps the three most consequential of many foundational leaps toward the abyss. The ground is now shifting under our foundation, bringing on an accelerating tsunami that we seem to accept without noticing. Lets look at the recent record and seriously ask if we are not on a collision course with doom.

In 1990 auditors reconciled tribal accounts owned by individual Native Americans. The auditors found $2.4 billion in shortages in two thousand accounts and were unable to reconcile seventeen thousand others. A class action suit based on audit reports was filed in 1996 and finally settled in 2009, but only after two cabinet officers were held in contempt for, “Flagrant disregard for the orders of the court and … lack of candor in concealing their wrongdoing!” Damages to the 300,000 Native Americans in the class action suit were estimated at $10 billion to $40 billion. The settlement included $1.4 billion, pennies on the dollar, for these damages with no penalties, no interest, no acknowledgement of malfeasance by the government and no commitment to manage or account for the trusts differently in the future. The President proclaimed in consummate newspeak, “This is an important step towards reconciliation.”

On March 23, 2010 the Affordable Health Act was signed into Law. It was sold to the people with with cost estimates known to be fraudulent and the hollow promise that, ”If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.” and “If you like your insurance you can keep your insurance.” We were told that even Congress could not read the over 20,000 pages in the law and, “We will have to pass it to see what is in it.” Organizations that behave this way toward their customers do not survive.

On June 8, 2010 Uranium-One signed an agreement that would transfer not less than 51% of the company to Rosatom, the Russian Nuclear Agency. The agreement was reviewed and not objected to by all nine members of the Committee on Foreign Investments and the President. The Nuclear Regularity Commission then approved it on November 24, 2010. The result of this transaction was to transfer control 20% of domestic uranium production to the Russian Government while we still need to import over 80% of our requirements. During the approval period, while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State, a Canadian charity connected to Uranium-One made multiple seven-figure, initially unreported donations to the Clinton Foundation and an investment firm related to Rosatom paid a $500,000 speaking fee to Bill Clinton. These are the uncontested facts. It is a marvel that so many people of high rank could see this transaction as a benefit to the citizens of a nation obsessed with fear of Russian interference in our domestic affairs and international security.

On September 11, 2012 an organized attack was made on an American Embassy compound in Bengazzi, Lybia with no military response by the United States. We were told it was spontaneous. It was not. We were told that there was no time to deploy a response. That too was a lie. We were never told why our Ambassador was in such an obviously vulnerable and threatened location. Congressional investigations were stonewalled. No analysis of the attack or our failure to defend was ever published by the State Department or the Military.

In 2013 the IRS revealed that it been selective in approving applications for tax-exempt status based on keywords associated with political convictions. No one was disciplined or fired.

In 2014 veterans died while waiting for medical care from the Veterans Health Administration. Managers there falsified reports to hide the problems and protect their bonuses. The senior executive at the VA was replaced but it is not clear that the guilty were punished or that the system has been improved.

On June 14, 2018 Bill Clinton met with Loretta Lynch in an airplane on the tarmac in Phoenix. Soon thereafter Lynch watered down the language in a report of investigations of Bill’s wife Hillary Clinton. In any such situation involving a private sector plaintiff or defendant, any prosecutor would automatically recuse herself from any decisions regarding the case, if only to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Apparently in this case, the people were assumed to be too dumb or too irrelevant to question impropriety.

We could go on, but it is not necessary. It was not long ago we ended a presidency for participation in a cover-up of overactive gumshoes for a petty off the clock burglary of an opposition political party office. That offense pales in the shadow of an active campaign of eavesdropping and unmasking members of an opposition campaign by a national security team acting on the clock, under orders and without customary constitutional process. Every one of the above scandals illustrates abdication of power to unaccountable administrators un-checked by Congress and in many cases unchecked by courts or the President. Each replaces rule of Law by rule of Men, unelected men. Each was an opportunity missed for investigative reporters coveting a Pulitzer. Each demonstrates subordination of our citizens to our government. Taken together do they not threaten our existence?

The “administrative state” makes countless regulations and decisions about every aspect of our lives: Where we live, what we teach our children and what bathrooms they use, what foods we eat, what medicines we take, what cars we buy, what businesses we can operate, who gets and does not get what tax benefits, research grants or subsidies, what priorities local governments must set to receive federal grants. It is not relevant whether the people in the “Administrative State” are good or bad, wise or foolish. The fact is that these are human beings, flawed just like the rest of us, they spend twenty two percent of all that we all produce and make many important decisions with our money and about our lives from a great distance without any accountability.

Many people say, “The world is so complex today, we need more rules!” These are perhaps the same people who say we need the same minimum wage in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia, Mississippi or who think the VA should be protected from loosing customers to others who serve them better or that all immigrants should be equally welcome.

Many people say, “We have always had scandals.” Yet who can argue that we are not witnessing a tsunami of disregard for the individual citizen? Who cannot see this as a reversal of the responsibility to our founding principle that government is by the people and for the people and its responsibility is to defend the rights of its citizens from external and internal threats, and especially from the government itself?

How can we be rescued from this tsunami? Can we find a leader who will reduce tax payments by at least 20% for every family with income under $75,000 who previously did not itemize deductions? Can we find a leader who will recognize and begin to act upon the dangers presented to and too often financed by us from actors like, China, North Korea, Iran, Russia and Venezuela? Can we find a leader who will carve down the Federal Register by 36,000 pages of new regulations and administrative decrees, or decrease the number of “Economically significant” (as defined by the OMB) new administrative rules from 72 to 19 in his first year? Can we find a leader who could survive two years of intensive investigation and relentless attack by those fully committed to his destruction, without any evidence yet presented worthy of prosecution?

If we could find such a leader, should we care if he were a deplorable and profane old man who we would not invite to dinner or introduce to our children? Should we scorn if he is imperfect in many ways we see ourselves superior, at times profane and inarticulate and off target? If we could find such a leader would we not dream that somehow he was saving us? At the end of our dream, might we not hug his legs and kiss his ankles, our only emotion being relief from the cold abyss and the sharks within it who he just deprived of our flesh for dinner? Would it be a surprise if the sharks in our dream were not happy?

Michael Moffitt
Michael Moffitt Column

Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America
by Michael Moffitt
ISBN: 978-1-4908-2916-6 (sc)
978-1-4908-2917-3 (hc)
WestBow Press
Published April 7, 2014
170 pages
Softcover: $12
Hardcover: $23

Author: Michael Moffitt

Michael Moffitt is the author of Granddad’s Dictionary: Reflections on Life in America. He is an inventor, entrepreneur, philosopher and economist. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.

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