Waste and Inefficiency

Waste and Inefficiency

I have decided that I will no longer vote for any politicians who say they will fix the budget by eliminating waste and inefficiency.

It’s not that I’m in favor of waste and ineffeciency. It’s just that I’ve heard that argument so many times that I think I finally clued in to what it really means.

When a politician says he wants to trim waste and inefficiency, it’s usually an answer to a question about budget problems. No one wants to raise taxes or even talk about raising taxes; that makes people clutch their wallets ever closer to their hyperventilating chests.

So when a member of the press says, “How will you deal with schools? How will you deal with the budget? How will you pay for all the wonderful things you want to do?”, a lot of Republicans and Democrats alike will use this line.

“Well, I’ll cut out waste and inefficiency, and that’s how we’ll balance the budget without raising taxes.”

How many times have we heard this one? I’m not even going to bother naming specific politicians because so many of them resort to this dodge.

And if you’re a politician, and your opponent uses this line, it’s not like you can really go out there and say, “But I’m in favor of waste and inefficiency!”, because of course no one is in favor of that. And if you go out and agree with him, that there shouldn’t be waste and inefficiency, then you look like a copycat. (Better to just let the line hang out there, unanswered.)

But there’s a basic flaw with the whole idea. Balancing a state budget by trimming waste is like losing your job and trying to make up for it by clipping coupons and buying generic toilet paper.

Just picture it. The guy comes home and says, “Honey, I lost my job, but it’s ok because we’re going to cut out waste and inefficiency!” And then he starts running around turning off the lights when they’re not needed, and cancels the cable and pretends that will solve the problem. But the rent still needs to be paid. And the bills still keep coming in. If this family has a lot of money, this approach will appear to work for a little while until the money runs out.

And so it is with state and federal budgets. You can trim and trim but the money eventually has to come from somewhere. We are past the point of living on our “extra money” (an oxymoron if I ever heard one). We have trimmed and sliced and pared. Kids are having to pay for their bus rides to school, and all kinds of other things that they used to get for free back in the good old days when the Big Bad Evil Government paid for more things like music classes and sports teams and driver’s ed and what have you.

So when some politician tells you he’s going to trim waste and inefficiency, what he really means to say is this: “I won’t raise taxes, I won’t even talk about raising taxes, because then you won’t vote for me. So instead, when I get into office, I’ll try to take money from one program or another to pay for stuff. This will spark a lot of arguments over money, but nothing will get settled, and then we can all point fingers at each other about what went wrong. Nothing will get fixed and the whole crippled machine will lurch on like before; but I’ll have a safe and secure job for the next few years, and then I can say I didn’t raise taxes!”

So, yeah. I’m done voting for anyone that uses this tired old line. Whatever your party.

Economic Stimulus that Might Work

Stimulus Packages That Might Work (and what’s not working now)

You can tell I’m not an economist, or a politician, or a professional historian or anything, but this is how I’m seeing the story of our economy.

First, some backstory.

Ronald Reagan came along and said, “Let’s give more money to the rich people.” And they did. And the magic numbers all went up and they said, “Look, the economy is great!”

It wasn’t great for everyone, but it was great enough that the complainers didn’t get much attention, so that was good enough.

And nearly every president since has said, “Let’s give money to the rich people!” even down to Obama, although admittedly the bank bailout was started by Bush and Obama wasn’t about to change policies in midstep. (If Obama does anything the slightest bit radical, people will freak. But they end up freaking out anyway…)

So, how’s that “giving money to the rich people” thing working out for ya?

They tell us the magic numbers are up. Or were, for awhile, at least. They scratch their heads now and wonder if the economy will still recover or what?

The reason they are so confused is that politicians and economists have become disconnected from what all those numbers are supposed to mean. Pieces of paper get traded back and forth between the financial players with increasingly bigger numbers written on them, and they all go home from work at the end of the day and say, “We made money!”

I guess they did “make money” in a way. The numbers went up, their bank accounts are fatter, everybody’s happy…right?

No. Regular people are still losing homes and jobs and prices aren’t coming down and benefits are discontinued and the guys on tv tell you that the economy is getting better! ‘cuz the numbers are up! Give me a break.

What’s wrong with the economy isn’t that their isn’t enough money in circulation. Well, ok, it kind of is, but the reason there isn’t enough money in circulation is that the RICH PEOPLE ARE HOARDING IT. They’re hanging on to it and passing it back and forth and not using it to create jobs and businesses and farms.

So giving money to rich people, like in the hated bailouts, was the wrong thing to do. And all the unimportant “little” people knew it and we were all pissed as hell, but of course it all went through anyway. And why should they listen to us? Those people just don’t know anything about the economy!

Regular people do understand things about the economy that rich people just don’t seem to get. Money and wealth are not the same thing. Money is a representation of wealth. Money is only useful so long as you can trade it for something of real wealth, something you can actually use…a meal, a car, a house, the services of a handyman or a babysitter. Money is great for exchanges but you can’t eat it or wear it or live in it.

In a society, you have to have people to grow food. And watch kids. And fix cars. And build houses. Maintain roads. Keep the peace. Heal the sick. Manufacture stuff.

You also need some people to manage money. That’s not a bad thing. But if you have a whole huge class of people that do nothing but “manage money” all day, you kinda have to ask yourself how much of that service your society really needs. Do we really need a bunch of Wall Street moneychangers to keep our country moving?

I think 90% of them could disappear off the face of the earth tomorrow and there would be no bad result at all.

It’s like this old Sesame Street sketch where the King gets an owie and the doctor fixes it and he decrees that “Henceforth, everyone in the kingdom will be a doctor!” and then there’s no one to cook food or put out fires and the King has to change the decree again.

I’d like to see some better stimulus packages that might actually work, like:

The Mad Biller: At Rainbow Gatherings, there’s this tradition/legend of Mad Dosers going around freely dosing random people with acid (though I’ve never seen it). Someone could do the same with money. Get some twenties, fifties and hundreds and hand them out. Go to the welfare office and give some to a mom or two. Hand some to shoppers coming out of thrift stores. Leave hundred dollar tips for waitresses. Stick one to the bathroom wall in Wal-Mart with a magnet. Just make sure that it goes to poor people and not rich people. The poor people will go out and spend it. And they’re not likely to spend it on derivatives.

Grants for Farmers: How many struggling small farmers are there out there that don’t qualify for help from the government? Seems like all the farm subsidies that gets handed out to “farmers” mostly goes to the big time businessmen who own huge farms, and anyone with a little land and the ambition to do something with it just has to go and get a second job to fund their little agriculture projects.

(Hell, every time I turn around I can think of something I need twenty bucks for…fertilizer, a tool, seeds, etc., but I can’t get any help from the government for that. I do what I can on my own, of course, there’s no use sitting around waiting for someone to hand me money, but if I was getting any, I’d sure as heck spend it on something useful.)

Grants for Small Businesses: Everybody and their dog in America dreams of working for themselves. Why not fund some of the good projects?

Or how about instituting something where someone with a business could get a small amount of money every month to help out? I picture a lot of moms with home businesses who might do just fine if they just had a little financial support. Sound too much like welfare? Put more of the emphasis on “helping an independent businesswoman” rather than “paying women to have more kids”.

(And did cutting welfare help the economy or reduce the deficit? It did not. It just made poor people poorer.)

Public Works Projects: C’mon, this is so obvious I’m embarrassed to even have to put it in here! Does no one remember the WPA? Let’s build some schools and rest areas and highways and community centers and stuff!

You get the idea, right? Let’s stop giving money to rich people. Let’s give it to real people who do real things that generate real wealth.

America Needs Six Political Parties

America needs six political parties.

What I mean is, if our political system were fundamentally changed in some way so that parties other than the Democrats and Republicans would have a chance, we would probably end up with six major parties.

(The only way this scenario would even work is if we switched to a European style system where a party would get a percentage of Congressional seats based on percentages of votes cast for the party…or something like that. Don’t quote me on the details!!!)

The Democrats and Republicans would still hold the moderate positions they hold now. Each party might pretend to hold more radical ideas, and their enemies regularly accuse them of such, but when it comes down to it, they stick to the safe positions. They won’t make any big changes to the system, they’ll just make noise about it.

Conveniently for both groups, the lack of any real change can be blamed on the other party. The Republicans won’t really outlaw abortion completely, and when they don’t, they can blame it on the meddling liberal Democrats. Democrats don’t have to really propose or vote in any actual social services, because they can always say that the Republicans won’t let them.

This really pisses off the voters on both sides. They start calling their representatives “sellouts” and bitching about how we need third parties.

Well, I agree, kinda. But we need more than one more party.

So, why six parties? I just think that’s how many major groups of political thought we’re looking at. In reality we’d end up with a bunch of little parties too but these would be the major players.

Well, look at the Republicans. If you take all the reasonable moderates out of the right wing, you’re left with two different “conservative” groups, which I will call the Libertarians and the Theocrats.

The Libertarians are a familiar group already, believing specifically in getting government to leave people alone as much as possible. They would not only be in favor of lowering taxes and deficits, like Republicans, but they would also champion such causes as legalizing victimless crimes, which is a big draw these days.

The Theocrats is the party that all the overly religious would flock to. Maybe they would believe in lowering taxes and all that boring fiscal stuff initially; but their focus is bringing America back to God. They want to make America a Christian nation.

That doesn’t imply the government leaving you alone at all; on the contrary, if the Theocrats had their way, they’d be all up in your face every time they could get away with it. They’d test your pee for drugs and give you the evil eye if you wore something that looked a little gay. If it was up to them, alcohol would still be illegal and all the women would stay home and have babies and all the infidels would mysteriously disappear. They’d pass a durned law every time they turned around.

(Try Googling “Cromwell” and “English Reformation” and “Puritans” if you’d like to research how this went down for the English in the 1600’s.)

Ironically, if the Theocrats really believed in outlawing abortion, and put their money where their mouth is, they’d have to institute a very generous welfare system and raise taxes to maintain it. (This is why Republicans don’t really want to outlaw abortion, because then you’ve got to take care of a bunch of kids, and that’s expensive.) And if they want to regulate everyone’s social life, that’d take spies, which would take money, which would mean raising taxes.

Or they could criminalize sex. I wouldn’t put it past them. They love to turn people into criminals; that’s what religion is about, after all! But prisons take money, too. Heck, it’s the 20th century American Puritans that got our prisons so full already from the misguided Drug War. There’s your “Christian Nation” for ya!

Now let’s look at the leftist side. I believe the left wing would split up in a similar way to the right wing. Let’s call their two extra parties the Socialists and the Greens. (Yes, I know those already exist.)

The Socialists would be in favor of social programs to better the country. They would be in favor of welfare (or some kind of decent safety net), nationalized health care, higher wages, support for unions, and all those nice things that Democrats used to pretend to care about. They might raise taxes but they’d hopefully be using them to better the country and provide services for Americans.

The Greens would be a different story. They’d have their focus on the environment, not necessarily people, and although it’s a good idea to clean up the environment, sometimes environmentalists have some pretty fucked up ideas. They’re the left’s version of the Theocrats.

I got an insight into this when I spoke to a woman in the Green party who said if it was up to her, people would have to pay a fine for wasting electricity and leaving the lights on when no one is using them. A shudder went down my back. She didn’t even consider whether people could afford those fines, or how much it would enrage people to be snooped on that much. I don’t want some government drone peering over my electric bill to tell me I’m using too much power, or telling me what kind of car to drive, or any of that.

I’ve seen a couple of examples lately of laws here in Hawaii enacted to help the environment that are just stupid.

The first was the mandate to put ethanol in the gasoline. Normally most of us wouldn’t care what’s in the gasoline as long as our cars keep running, but there’s some evidence that ethanol shortens the life of the engines that it’s used in. Boat owners here in Hawaii are extra mad, claiming that the ethanol is ruining their engines; and I know my husband’s chainsaw died extra fast after having ethanol laced gas in it. If you have to replace cars faster because the engine is messed up from ethanol, you force people to buy more cars, and how much energy does it take to make a new car?

The other law that sticks in my craw is the proposed shopping bag ban. I don’t know about you, but I use my plastic shopping bags as trash bags. If there’s no shopping bags, I have to not only buy a reusable bag for my groceries, but I also have to buy trash bags instead of recycling a bag from the store.

Ok, sorry about rambling there, but you get the idea. It’s my blog and I can go off topic if I want to.

Aside from the Democrats and Republicans, both left and right has a potential for one slightly more radical party that’s still sane and one really out there party that would cause more government intervention and make our lives hell.

So when someone says, “We need a third party!” Say, “No, we need four more parties, at least!”

Fire Departments Charging Victims for Services

Capitalism just gets better and better, don’t it?

Love the American health care system? Think insurance companies who take your money for premiums and then refuse to pay for services are just the bomb?

Well, then, you’re gonna love this.

Some people are now being sent bills by their fire departments for the cost of putting out their house fires.

Thank God there’s not some meddling socialist government coddling the populace by putting out house fires for free. Why, we can’t have all these people laying around all day doing nothing but setting their houses on fire so they can live off of government services!

Corporations…Are…Not…Persons!!!

So, it’s been a few days. You’ve probably heard about the Supreme Court ruling about corporations being able to donate as much money as they want to a political campaign with no strings attached.

(What? You hadn’t heard? Dude, the Supreme Court ruled that a corporation can give all the money they want to any politician! No limits.)

Ok, we all knew that big money was already buying most of our elections and thereby buying politicians, but they at least used to have to circumvent some loopholes along the way…now they can just nakedly buy any politician they want.

(It really is time for the politicians to start wearing those NASCAR-style suits with all the logos of their corporate sponsors on them. Everyone acts like that’s a joke, but I think it’s really a good idea. Not everyone has the time or energy to investigate the money trails behind the politicians talking to them, and it would be a good visual clue for the masses to know who actually owns “their” Senator or Representative.)

Pity the poor corporations, said the court. Let’s not infringe on their “freedom of speech”!

I have a real problem with corporations being considered “persons”. They’re not people. They outlive people. They have more money than most individuals. They are not burdened by a personal conscience, and when they do get caught breaking some law, the punishment given out is laughably inadequate.

Imagine that a bunch of big old monsters came to live in your neighborhood. They live for 500 years and have more money than anyone you know. As they run around gobbling up resources, the humans run to their government for help, and their Supreme Court says, “Now, now, play nice and treat them as equals.”

They’re not the equals of humans and they shouldn’t be on the same legal footing. Our Bill of Rights is supposed to protect the rights of humans, isn’t it?

But here’s an alternative idea: instead of rejecting the idea of corporations being considered “persons”, we could take the idea all the way and really start treating them as “persons”.

Yeah, yeah…and what if a corporation broke a law and everyone in the corporation had to do time for it? Like, every single stockholder. (I know, it’d never really happen, just picture it.)

What if you had invested in, say, a health insurance corporation and they inadvertantly killed someone by denying them health care? What if it happened in a state with the death penalty?

Of course it won’t happen. But I’m getting more than a little sick of seeing giant corporations call the shots in Washington, and this is only going to make things worse.

Oh yeah, and remember it doesn’t really matter if the corporation is American or not. (How many corporations are really “American”, anyway? Nearly any large corporation will have a diverse group of stockholders and officers and interests.) A corporation with a lot of foreign influence would have the power to influence our elections. And it’s not outside the realm of possibility for the same group to buy both politicians running in a race.

(Doesn’t Bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia have a ton of money? Don’t know why that just crossed my mind…forget it.)

Fortunately, there is always the possibility that voters will see through the zillion dollar campaigns that are likely to run all over the media and elect a real human who wants to support the interests of real humans. Unfortunately if that human isn’t in one of the Only Two Parties That We’re Allowed to Vote For, their efforts are pretty doomed.

Aaaarrrrggghhh.

Well. Wasn’t that nice.

Yet another chapter in the reality vs. fakeality story

An update on the reality vs manufactured reality thing:

A woman named “Ellie Light” has written letters to the editor supporting Barack Obama. A lot of letters. Well, more like the same letter a bunch of times. Like in 42 different newspapers in 18 states.

And at the end of each letter she lists some address that’s within the geographic range of those newspapers.

Astroturf, anyone?

Actually, the fact that these were the same letters sent over and over again by someone with the same name seems to suggest that either Ellie Light is a real person and she just wasn’t quite savvy enough to change her name (along with her address) for every letter, or the government agents in charge of this stuf didn’t think anyone would catch on.

And ya know, there’s just something about the name Ellie Light that makes me wonder…it almost sounds like a code name, or a joke…or at least some kind of anagram. Or does L. E. Light mean something?

I suppose now the propaganda guys will have to disguise themselves better. But I hope they don’t. It’s kind of fun to find stuf like this, kinda like finding the Easter Eggs on Lost or something.

Hmmmm…….legit helli?…the legil il?…heil git lel?…get hill lie?…ill lee thig?…hmmmm…..

Visualize Secession

You hear people talk about seceding from the Union occasionally, let’s explore that just for fun.

I’m not specifically for or against any state seceding from the US, I just think it would be an interesting mental exercise to ask ourselves, what if?

What if one state, or several states, decided to be their own country? Sure, we had the Civil War when it happened before, but that doesn’t mean that’s how it would play out again. Slavery’s no longer an issue but there’s plenty of other things that could divide us–abortion, gun rights, health care, the separation of church and state, etc.

When the South seceded from the Union in the 1800’s, they formed one whole other country, the Confederacy. There’s no guarantee that any group of seceded states now would all get together and form one other country–they might decide to go their separate ways.

Texas is big enough and Texans are arrogant enough to want to be their own country. Alaska is also pretty durn big, and geographically isolated from the rest, and they might also choose to go their own way. In the old South, the states that seceded were all next to each other and so forming the same country wasn’t as problematic as putting Texas and Alaska in the same nation.

Maybe the other Southern states would stick together as before. Or maybe they’d splinter over regional and political differences.

So. Let’s assume we’ve got more than one country going, the United States of America, and one or more spin-off countries. Now what?

Whoever secedes is going to have to do the hard work of building the bureaucratic infrastructure for a whole new country. I imagine that a place like the Republic of Texas would just use the state capitol of Austin for its capitol, and other states would use their own existing capitols.

If a state or states secedes and doesn’t make any attempt to replace the work of the federal government, would those places still be safe? Would there still be enough cops to go around, or enough money to fix the roads? Would the schools still be funded? What about all the people on Social Security and Medicare in the seceded states–would they still get that, or would they have to live on whatever their neighbors felt like helping them out with?

I could see some places becoming pretty lawless and dangerous. You can’t just assume that if South Carolina declares itself a “Christian nation”, that all its citizens are good Christians who wouldn’t ever commit a crime.

I suspect that whichever nation has the best educated populace will do better. I say this with absolutely no clue as to which nation that would be. Sure, the Blue Staters like to think they’re smarter, being less attached to believing in a fake guy named “God”, and it’s easy to laugh at a few pictures of misspelled protest signs by Southerners, but that doesn’t mean that Blue State people are all that intelligent. There’s plenty of dumbass to go around up North, you know there is.

I just cringe whenever I see someone in a comment page on the Internet somewhere saying “Sarah Palin is a stupid bitch” or some other such childish statement; to me, it says, “I’m too dumb to talk about real issues, I’d rather just call people names.” If this is a sample of how intelligent the Blue Staters are, we have a problem.

The South (or whoever), on the other hand, might just feel a tiny bit inferior and decide to fund their schools really well, and while the Northerners are patting themselves on the back about their supposed superiority, they might forget to actually do the hard work of educating people.

I’m not sure who would win the “brain battle” on that one, but if I was governing a state that was thinking of seceding, I’d start promoting education. Even if you didn’t believe in the school “system” and would rather have everyone homeschool their kids (and not everyone wants to do that), you’d be better off giving the homeschooler families some money to help them buy books, as well as to help them survive so their parents have some time to educate them instead of just working all the time.

If you’d prefer to go with the traditional school system, you’d still do well to kick some money to the families, so your students have warm clothes and good food to eat, making it more likely that they would learn their lessons well and grow up smart.

‘Course, that sounds a lot like welfare and so maybe nothing like that would pass…but if they called it “investing in our future” or “investing in our new nation” it might have a chance. It seems obvious to me that if you want a really top notch nation, you’re going to have to invest in your children.

(So, when we “reformed” welfare till it was almost abolished, what does that say about the future of the United States? Are we a stronger country now for having taken support away from our kids?)

Now, like I said, I’m in Hawaii, and it’s nice, but I don’t plan on living here forever. But I don’t know for sure where I’d move to when I do go, so I’m really up in the air about whether it would be better to move to Texas, or Oregon, or wherever. I’m kinda thinking out loud here.

Blue States have medical marijuana, and not so much crushing emphasis on religion, and better weather, so I lean towards those…but…if this health care reform bill goes through, mandating everyone to buy health insurance with no public option, then Texas starts looking really good.

I mean, if we’re going to have a nation where the government forces you to buy something, anything, from a certain industry, then where will it stop? Will you be required to buy a car (and insurance) as part of a “transportation reform” package? (“Public transportion is socialist! Let’s have an individual mandate instead!”) Will you be required to buy the services of a security guard rental company instead of relying on the state to provide police? What’s going to happen to the people who can’t afford to buy all that mandated stuff?

I think they’d end up in the South, where (I’m assuming) there wouldn’t be any such requirement. Sure, you might still die with no health care, but you wouldn’t have the government waiting to seize all your money for refusing to buy insurance.

I picture all the poor people moving to the South and the richer people staying up North, and the Southerners having to cross the border to look for work. The Northerners will hire the cheap Southern labor, treat them like second class citizens, and deport them back home when they’re no longer useful. Sound familiar?

I’m not sure any one state has the balls or the energy to really secede. It’d be a lot of damn work. You’d have to be really motivated. You don’t build a new nation by calling the other one names. You have to protect your people, and educate your kids, and take care of the dependent, and all those boring details.

Ya know, if we were really motivated to build up a nation, we could just try to build up the one we’ve got. Just saying.

Footnote about the situation in Hawaii: Now, I’m in Hawaii, and I’ve heard there’s a “secession” movement here, but in reality, Hawaii has a “sovereignty” movement, a totally different kettle of fish. Hawaii was a monarchy before it was a territory, and then a state; the territory was forcibly seized by a committee of white guys (who weren’t even military at all) who commanded the Marines to depose Queen Lili’uokalani.

Queen Lili'uokalani


The Queen kept her cool and hoped to reason with the President of the US, since the takeover was so blatantly illegal, but no help came from Washington for the Hawaiians. I’d tell you more but I don’t want to bog down this blog entry in details. Go read her wikipedia entry and/orĀ “Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen” and you’ll see what happened. Makes you embarrassed to be white. Like we need more of those stories.

The problem that Hawaii would face if it split off from the Union would be that some other bigger country would want to come in and take it over, in order to have the base in the Pacific. The Japanese have already expressed an interest, way back in ’41…who else might decide to take it by force? That’s why I suspect Hawaii would be better off remaining part of the United States at this point in history.