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Thursday, December 31, 2009

Toll Roads vs Fuel Tax vs "Miles Driven" tax

Here in TX there is a raging debate (raging at least among the gubernatorial candidates for next Spring's primary election to their party's nomination) about how to balance the desire [need] for more new roads and road repairs with the public's desire not to pay for it. Some suggest that toll roads would be "fair" since the people who used the specific roads would pay the cost via the the tolls that threw in. Others see adding to the state gas (fuel) tax as a more efficient way to collect the money without slowing down traffic on specific roads, and incidentally modifying what would otherwise be people's choices on line-of-travel.
Conventional wisdom is that it sure would be good to find a way for "the other guy" to pay these costs rather than me. This flows from similar successful efforts to fund public improvements with OPM financing ("Other People's Money"). This was fabulously popular here in San Antonio in May, 2008 when we voted to continue and/or increase the taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals in the city to pay for improvements to the Riverwalk and local soccer fields. Bring on the public improvements that will make life in San Antonio better, and since that might also lure a few out of town conventioners, make them pay for it.
Unfortunately, there's no OPM to be had when it comes to road improvements. Yes, we can indeed tax visitors and business persons traveling through TExas if we employ toll roads or gas taxes either one. But that shotgun approach also means that shudder Texans will also be burdened with those taxes and fees.
All of this "begs the question" on a couple of points:
  1. What's the most efficient way to collect the needed money? Toll roads require traffic to slow down to deposit the loot. They also, as mentioned above, can change people's minds about using certain roads if some are tolled and others are not. People will go a little out of their way to save a penny.
  2. More roads create more suburban sprawl. Do we really want that? Is that preferable to renovating and renewing urban areas where we've got adequate existing roads. (Oh yeah, those roads would then have to be maintained better -- never mind).

And now the political operatives are floating a supposed NEW third method for raising money. It would involve, as I understand it, having people pay a tax on the elapsed miles driven on their odometers of their cars. But how does that differ in effect from the gas tax? A gas tax is higher for people who drive more miles. But a gas tax discourages gas guzzler cars in ways the "miles driven" tax wouldn't.

Makes your hair hurt, don't it?

Sunday, December 20, 2009


The networks and cable news channels won't do it. But somebody ought to remind everyone of the meaning of and the rightful place of "compromise" in the political setting.
This weekend the US Senate has apparently reached a compromise on the health care bill that is claimed to be backed up by 60 Democratic votes. We'll see. The actual votes are scheduled later today and in the coming days.
But even if the Senate bill passes, we are a long way from final legislation getting signed by the president. The Senate compromise contains provisions that liberal House Dems had previously said would be deal breakers. So there is still some compromising to occur if agreement is to be reached.
And if those who are commenting are accurate and honest then the chasm still to be bridged is quite wide. Several important votes on opposite sides of the debate have declared that they will not move beyond certain specific lines drawn in the sand. And the "No Man's Land" appears large.
So, do people on both sides prefer no bill to one that violates whatever mandate they've declared must be met? Perhaps. They seem to act as if a "no decision" is a valid fall-back position if they can't round up enough votes to support their preferred position. Such thinking, however, seems to me to be faulty. Keeping the status quo in the absence of a bill is not a "no decision". It is a conscious action to allow current unencumbered powers to proceed as they wish. Costs will rise without the benefit of extending coverage. Insurance companies will feel empowered to act with impunity. (After all, if they were not suppose to protect their own interests and profits then Congress would have passed something addressing the question, right?)
It reminds me of football teams that play a weak zone defense. They are fine as long as the other team runs pass plays where they have adequate coverage. But the other teams don't play fair, do they? No, they run the play to the "seam" of the zone coverage. They throw the pass to right where the zone defenders each think his neighboring partner defender will take over.
But, back to the health care debate. I hope a compromise does get worked out. A compromise bill, even if called a "bad bill" by extremists on both ends of the debate, would represent an improvement over the status quo. Take what the defense gives you. Kick your field goal and wait for a later opportunity to sneak in a touchdown. That's my game plan.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Some of my friends will occasionally either quote from editorial columns they have read or in some cases even provided the link to them. I usually don't attempt this. But the Thomas Friedman (NYTimes) column dated I think Nov 22 but in the San Antonio paper on Nov 26 is well worth reading. So I will attempt either to link it or cite the URL.

Hey, the little icon above worked !

(Warning , this is NOT an anti-Obama right-wing rant.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Language Inflation __ Part Deux

During the Viet Nam Conflict (or did it, too, suffer from language inflation and become a "War" even though war was never formally declared) the elite Army units were known as the "Green Berets". There was a song written about them. John Wayne starred in a movie about them. They were big stuff.
Today seemingly every podunk average infantry outfit in the US military now sports berets. {I was reminded of this this week during the several press conferences held by the Commander at Fort Hood}. Now the beret is standard issue for many military purposes. Yet at one time it was exclusive, special. I'm not denigrating Fort Hood, just the fact that standard issue military headdress is no longer the norm.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Language Inflation

As time goes by various words and phrases apparently lose their punch. People cease to appreciate them, desiring to describe something that has grown, become bigger, grander, more intense than that which had existed to date. Two simple examples should suffice.
Jesus told in the parable of "The Widow's Mite"(Matt 12:13-17) about a woman who had contributed her entire resources to alms for the poor. And He declared that what she had done was unmatched because she "gave all". At that time "all" was sufficient. He had no need to declare she had given "110%".
Up until very recent years we would be warned of the potential for contagious illness spreading by being told of flu epidemics. And we understood that this was bigger than the possibly small, contained situation wherein one might catch an illness from immediate family members. This meant that schools and churches and the marketplace could harbor carriers of whatever contagious bug was out there.
But a mere epidemic is not grand enough to categorize Swine Flu (oh wait, we do injustice to poor pigs calling it that). The H1N1 virus is not just of epidemic proportions. No! We must crown it a Pandemic for surely none of our ancestors have seen anything matching its ferocity and reach. [And yes, I get that worldwide travel perhaps render this a technically correct differentiation.] But it still seems to me that many of the historic epidemics we're read about were more ferocious than our latest pandemic ever thought of being. This just ain't what I had envisioned for a pandemic back when I was studying epidemics. Where's the boils, spitting up blood, etc??
Returning to the "110%" nonsense, one fears that this type of playing fast and loose with our vocabulary is not just silly. It confuses many people who probably don't really need to be confused. If we blow away the concept of "giving your all", then what are the bounds? How is ALL not significantly superior to 110 or 120 or 200%? If we don't have a maximum value (such as "ALL") then where's the top? My giving 110% effort can easily be topped by somebody. All they have to do is give 125%. Where can it end?
This whole concept is, of course , not significantly different from the tendency in recent decades for "grade inflation" in schools. But I grow weary and don't wish to tackle it tonight.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Copycat Cable News

I know I've railed about this in the past. This latest example just reinforces and proves my earlier points. The producers and decision makers at the two CNN channels and at MSNBC and FOX never cease to amaze me. Early yesterday they acted like they were filming the scoop of the year. I'm talking about the two-hour balloon ride in Colorado during which the pundits and commentators breathlessly told us of the innocent six year old boy who was an unwitting passenger on the runaway balloon.
Like many televised car chases featuring local police and state troopers, the video we watched was uniform and mostly unenlightening. Toward the end, though, one side of the balloon deflated some, rendering it a giant beret flying across the Colorado high plains.
But the cable news boys stayed on the case. (And why did both CNN networks feel obligated to do this? Were they afraid one wasn't enough?) Their pronouncements were all based on the mistaken assumption that the lad was, in fact, in the basket or box at the bottom of the balloon. That's understandable enough and even forgivable enough. But what defies logic is that they proceeded to spout all manner of idiotic speculation in the absence of hard facts and news. One network (it only gets to remain anonymous here because I can't remember which one) compared the flight of this balloon to the "Ghost Flight" of Payne Stewart years ago. Several of them mused as to whether the boy would have any role to play in trying to effect a soft landing of the balloon. And all of them commented endlessly about the weather, that "10,000 feet" up it would be much cooler than the 70 degrees on the ground. (Of course, most of them omitted that "the ground" was/is over 5000 feet up there.) Was there sufficient oxygen for the boy to survive?? Would he "freeze"? In hindsight, it was a bit comical, though we couldn't know that at the time -- the fact that the balloon was empty.
Whether this ends up being identified as a planned prank by the family or merely confusion by a weird family, we don't know today. But my point is, cable news should abandon their senses when these events begin. They should act and think with some degree of intelligence. And yesterday, I didn't see it from any of them.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Obama agrees with Nave

I was going to post this as one of the followup responses to my post a few days ago about the President's health care initiatives. But then I decided it warranted its own separate "headline".
In his speech to the joint session of Congress the other night, President Obama used the argument I had offered in that previous post, that they ought to be comparing the value of "public option" in health care to the existence of both public, government colleges and private (for profit) colleges. Yeah, President!
I never did claim, and still don't, that this was my exclusive idea or eve that I was the first person to think of it. But my blog post did occur several days before any of the networks or cable pundits had ever even thought of it or uttered the words. Therefore, I think I'm on safe ground to go ahead and claim ownership of the idea and to magnanimously share it with the President.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

MJ Update?

I can't find it in the television schedules and listings. When and where will be this week's burial of Michael J??
I've become hooked on them. Don't think the mere retro-looks at his life & his music will be enough.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

"Public Option"

Haven't written anything political in a while. Had a pleasant two week road trip to see relatives and attend a wedding Then had to get in high gear for start of new semester preparing to dispense "discount knowledge at the junior college". But I have been paying some attention to the discussions about proposed legislation on health care . Particularly the "public option".
I'm mildly surprised that one comparison has not been made. (Maybe it has and I just haven't found it on the Internet. I'm sure none of the cable and broadcast pundits have mentioned it. Nor have I seen any elected politician quoted as offering this up. So I'll lay claim to it as mine.
Proponents of "public option" plans believe that existing for-profit insurance companies would be challenged by the direct competition of a government supported plan for the uninsured and underinsured to obtain health insurance coverage. They think this competition would be good and healthy.
Opponents claim it would be unfair because the government sujpported plan would be subsidized by taxpayer funds and that private insurance plans would not be able to compete. Therefore, they claim, the private plans would wither and all that would be left would be the public option and it would be a hated "single-payer" scheme in "public option" clothing.
My comparison is this. What has happened over the course of the last 150 years or so with regard to college education? Don't we have both tax supported, subsidized colleges and purely private colleges and hybrids of private schools that accept some public money? Isn't this comparable to what it would be like with health care? Have all the private colleges been forced out of business because public and state schools are cheaper than the private colleges? I don't think so. Even at double the cost or worse of public education, many private schools get far more applicants than they can take each year.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama's TV address on Health Care legislation

Obama's speech was understandably but regrettably light on specific details on how the proposed legislation will make things better. (Understandably b/c the details of the bill are way too fluid; regrettably because the Republicans & pundits keep harping on the vagueness.) It would be good if he & Dems could say "It won't be 100% perfect, some people may end up paying more than currently. But it will overall be an improvement, especially for blameless children". But in the era of "No Child Left Behind" and Zero Tolerance, we apparently can't admit that some people might need to sacrifice more than others.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fleeing the Heat

Gotta get out of town. Temps above 100 are making me crazy. Been a week or more here, losing track.
We're going to pack up (along with the grandsons & their Mom) and head over to the Gulf Coast. Spend a couple of days on the beach at Galveston. (Probably wouldn't have picked that destination, but they need the economic help after IKE.)
We'll come home in time to celebrate the nation's birthday.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Can Census Accuracy be Bought?

So, we've previously seen how and why some Texans might not be as committed to an accurate Census count has they claim. What's the other side of the coin? Why and how are inducements applied to encourage Texans as well as other states to count every possible inhabitant/resident?
As stated earlier but repeated here for emphasis:
  1. Full, accurate Census counts ensure that a state is allocated its fair share of seats in the U S House of Representatives. Since the total number of those seats is limited (435), the allocation means that for one state (like Texas) to gain House seats that some other state must lose those same seats. In recent decades this has meant that New York and Pennsylvania as well as some other "Rust Belt" states have given up seats to the growth areas, including Texas and the rest of the South and West.
  2. The return of federal tax money to states for agreed upon social and societal reasons (such as Medicare/Medicaid) is based upon data that comes from the dicennial Census counts. Thus the greater the reported population both in total and demographically (# of children) affects the formulae used to allocate federal money.

And, of course, this federal money flows more to help lower income citizens than the wealthy. Thus, it is in the vested interest of many of the same people who are the subject of stated efforts to include all of them in the Census count. But they still avoid being counted and identified. Why?

People in these socio-economic demographic groups fail or refuse to see the vested interest in voting in as great numbers as the more affluent do. They also apparently don't grasp "what's in it for them" if they do or don't get included in the Census counts. Or if they do "get it" they are still not motivated to participate. What are they afraid of? One does not get their drivers license or green card stamped when they successfully participate in the Census. They can still seek the available assistance that flows through unemployment benefits and Medicaid assistance. It apparently doesn't hit home that the total pool of monies available to applicants in the state is partly determined by how many were or were not counted in the Census. This much has been widely reported and discussed.

What doesn't get much attention is consideration of what would happen if states like Texas did solve their internal issues and found ways to count virtually all their residents. Would other states (through their Congressional representatives) readily agree to give up federal dollars to the "growing" states at their own expense? Or would the allocation formulae be subject to modification?

I tire. More later.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Coming Census Count

Today's local newspaper has an opinion piece masquerading as a news story. (But then seems like all local newspapers do some of that these days.) The gist of the piece was that Texas needs to figure out how to "count" more of its residents in next year's census. We should do this to avoid "losing" one billion or more dollars in federal largesse and entitlements over the course of the following decade. The article mostly addressed two aspects of the issue. It quoted various "experts" who assert that Hispanics and presumably some other minorities are undercounted by the census. There was some discussion of why this occurs even though full counting would ostensibly benefit those who are undercounted, lavishing them with federal dollars for various public service purposes, including healthcare and other federal aid. The article also mentioned in passing that apportionment of U S House seats is based on the dicennial census and that Texas can expect to gain seats in a couple of years.
This article, however, failed to explore indepth the reasons for the undercounting. It also totally ignored some realworld realities. If the main purpose of the census, besides getting a reasonably accurate estimate of total number of inhabitants of the country at a specific point in time, is to decide how to divide up the "pie", well that has no impact on the size of the pie or whether or not it grows. Whether Texas "gets" 10% or 11% of all available federal dollars ends up being great for Texas. But it doesn't change the potential size of the available pool of federal dollars.
I think I will quit with this introduction. Future posts will look at the two separate issues: Why and how we historically haven't had good census counts in Texas (if that is in fact true); and the bigger picture if Texas were magically able to count all its inhabitants next time - (Does this assume other states are not similarly attempting the same thing? If they are successful, then we don't gain percentage share, do we?)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Them Amusing Repubs

I see where the latest "rebranding" effort by the Republican leadership involves not their own party, but the other one. They want to convince the electorate, independents, whoever that the Democratic Party ought to be called and thought of as the "Socialist Democratic Party".
har, har, har That's a good one.
Sure hope the Democrats don't respond by labeling their anemic opponent the "Republican Nazi Party". Ah, but they won't do this. If they were going to they would have back at the height of the blitzkrieg. And besides, they don't need to pile on. The Republican tagteam seems intent on bodyslamming each other.
Let the games continue !!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Another Media Lament

It happens with cable talking heads and news bunnies. It happens with local affiliate news personalities. It may happen with the "major broadcast network" people as well, though I don't see it there as much.
I'm talking about the strained efforts by those mentioned to demonstrate to their public and to whoever they are interviewing that they have done their homework.
"You say in your book that . . . blah, blah, blah . . . Why did you say that ?? "
Don't get me wrong. I do want them to actually do their homework. I just don't want them to be so obvious that they are trying to prove to everyone that that's what they are about.
And in this vein, I would offer a recommendation to the culprits who are not as smooth and professional as they shouold be. They should spend several hours observing, listening to Diane Rehm on NPR (I think it's called "the DR Show") midmornings on your favorite NPR station. Diane is the absolute best radio interviewer in the business today.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Republican Dilemma

Much of what has filled up time on the 24-hour cable news channels since November has been a discussion of what the Republican Party needs to change in order to become competitive once again. Many of the debates attempt to study strategy, looking out how the party can frame its appeal and ideology in ways that will be more attractive to more voters. These efforts assume there is nothing wrong or unappealing about that ideology. Advocates of winning through better strategy believe that the average citizen is slightly or somewhat "right of center" in their political ideology. Thus, they conclude, the message is not the problem. Must be the messenger.
There are, however, important power centers in the party that reject the notion that inept messaging was the problem. They see efforts to repackage Republicanism in more attractive terms as being insidious attempts to alter the ideology. Trying to show how their worldview can appeal to people who have not been voting with them is viewed by these party purists as caving in on ideology. They believe that the true road to success lies in going the opposite direction. They want even more ideological purity. And this includes both economic conservatism and social conservatism. One who wants small, efficient government but is open-minded about abortion is simply not welcome on the Republican reservation. "Log Cabin" Republicans simply cannot be accepted, no matter how pro-business they might be. Purity (of ideology) is essential to finding their way out of the wilderness and back to the Promised Land.
What is sort of left unsaid, but to me would be essential, is how these Republican power-brokers intend to succeed given this apparent dichotomy. In order to win as a "pure" ideological party they will need to devise some kind of evangelical message to win over those moderates they have been purging and shunning. If the specific issues they wish to live or die on are that important to them, then they must figure out how to convince people who don't share those views on those issues, and are in fact seemingly moving the other direction.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Local Public Radio

It's that time of year. The area NPR radio stations are in their semi-annual fund drive. A week enduring the predictable drivel from the local disc jockeys.
To be clear, I understand that these are non-commercial stations and that they must substitute donor money for the funds they otherwise they'd get from selling advertising time.
But I do not enjoy these days. I am and have been an occasional contributor. I do really like a number of the programs on public radio. But it annoys me that the fund drive organizers every year resort to the same trite pleas.
The most annoying of the all the gimicks is the "matching funds" scam. Some benefactor, sometimes named, othertimes remaining anonymous, agrees to match donations pledged by new or renewing contributors. They talk as if and try to get listeners to believe that those funds will not be given by the benefactor if those being solicited don't respond in sufficient amounts and quickly enough. What?? Will these benevolent companies and foundations just keep their money if it can't be matched? One grows skeptical. If the given deadline for some match challenge is not met, don't they just turn around and make the same offer a day or two later?
It might make some people feel good about themselves to think they are magically multiplying their personal contribution. But it sure appears to me a ruse. Instead of droning on and on about the "match" why don't they spend some time informing their audience of how they are striving to be good stewards of what they do receive, how they seek to be efficient. They could also describe some of the unusual, unexpected costs that they occasionally encounter. This would, in my humble opinion, be a better use of their air time.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sports Musings

1. From a "worm's eye" view, one wonders about salaries of the highest paid professional athletes. How can it be justified that such people are paid many, many times the wages of governors, our president, teachers & those of us who sustain the American way of life?? I know. "It is what it is." Whatever the market will bear.

But why does the market bear it? Why are ticket prices to games so outrageously high? (Obviously to pay the entertainers, the athletes people want to see.) But why?? If supply and demand was such a perfect rubrick then we shouldn't need local taxpayer subsidies of the need by professional sports cities to build larger, gaudier temples. But many cities believe they have no choice. If they don't cave in and subsidize, the team will leave and take with it all the peripheral profits.

2. Why won't the BCS bite the bullet and create a workable playoff system for college football?? Can't they figure out how to include the historic bowl games into the tournament structure leading up to the "championship game"? I know. Those bowl cities plus the "big 6" or whatever it is conferences don't want to face the prospect that they might lose something, anything. But the general preference (and yes, I'm guessing that this is true; haven't researched any polls or anything) by the public for a playoff system is trivial in the eyes of those preventing a solution? Apparently.

3. Why doesn't the NFL deal with overtime games the same way college ball does, with a FAIR opportunity by both teams to win? Why the "coin flip" advantage to whoever gets the ball first? I frankly haven't even heard a rational excuse from NFL as to why they've drug their feet this long.

4. What is it we Americans don't "get" with regard to European "football" (what we call SOCCER)? As a TV spectator sport, soccer is boring. Is it that much better live? (I know that that's true of hockey). And I know that soccer for kids is very popular here. The reason for this is obvious to me. Soccer is much more democratic than other "skill" sports. A kid who is relatively slow and uncoordinated can get out on the soccer field, run around, kick the ball (or try to) occasionally, and that kid and his/her spectator relatives can enjoy the experience. The good athlete will still feel challenged going against the good athletes on the other team. None of this is nearly so true with basketball or baseball.

But this affection for kids soccer doesn't translate into any interest in watching adults kick the ball long ways in scoreless ties in professional games. The phenomenal bicycle kick that MAY occur once a game isn't worth the wait.

5. Perhaps more later.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Republican Monday morning quarterbacks

Republicans are self-destructing for the amusement of the general public?? Appears that way.
Republicans nearest to the center of power within the Republican establishment have decided that Americans are not rejecting their worldview. They think both that we just don't properly understand and appreciate what they "know" is right - (even though they had 8+ years to implement their programs). There's also a portion of them that think the only problems that linger from their days in power stem from the fact that they never implemented conservative enough solutions. They never trusted the Bushes. W. talked a good game, but was obviously a light-weight (in their view).

Media & Moderates

It may not be their intention, but the culpable media tend to eliminate all moderates. I guess it's easier to frame the points of a debate for their audience if the options are a stark contrast. And for purposes of sales and ratings, they think they don't need the moderates. They can get all the sales and all the ratings they want from the ideologues they appeal to, the extremes.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

And the culpable media

Brief conclusion to two prior posts on HB 1 as it has been cast to include so much "pork" and "wasteful spending".
Much, much more could be added showing that, while there may indeed be unnecessary inclusions in the bill, one shouldn't throw the baby out with the bath water.
But I'm determined to move on to the MEDIA. Especially the cable news outlets, FOX, MSNBC, and the CNN channels. (I largely omit C-SPAN from this diatribe since they mostly avoid the "me-too-ism" of the others.)
Why and how have the culprits listed above devoted so many hours of programming to regurgitating the objections to the Stimulus Bill voiced by partisan Republicans whose positions are set in cement? Why the mind-numbing recitation of the supposed evils of the bill? And why do all four (or more) of these different cable stations mimic each other in their approach?
I'm not sure I know. One can surmise that their internal research and analysis leads them to believe their ratings wars with each other demand this "race to the bottom".
Some of the channels mentioned above (CNN is particularly bad about this) show a 2-hour loop of the same drivel over and over. Does this mean their cost/profit margin is so slim that they can't afford to send reporters across this vast, diverse planet and report on all the events we really need to hear about? They must fill airspace with completed pieces, mostly talking heads parroting Republican drivel, over and over because those are cheap to rerun??
The one tiny exception to this I might mention (in the interest of fairness) is MSNBC, which tries at times to stray from the ongoing Republican talking points. Most of their energy devoted to this, though, flows through just two shows, Olbermann and Maddow.
But back to my broader diatribe: When's the last time one of these stations produced a piece worth watching on the worldwide economic meltdown from the perspective of the Europeans, or the Indians, or the Chinese?? How well have these media geniuses attempted to explain to us the ramifications of Chinese monetary policy or intellectual piracy? As a mere consumer, my answer is NEVER, or at least not in memory.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimulus Thoughts Continued

I kinda quit midthought. Pickin' it up w/o too much rehashing:

The bridge in MN over the Mississippi River needed to be repaired/replaced. In its own way, it demanded, yea required attention. It ultimately didn't matter if the decision-makers who write the checks or let the contracts for the repair had yet decided they could squeeze it into their budget. Once its time was up, that was it.

Years ago there was a great commercial slogan by Fram Oil Filter where the announcer or repair mechanic explained that, "You can pay me now, or pay me later." If one chooses not to perform preventive maintenance, then the repair costs will inexorably follow. What amazes me, though, is how such expenditures included in the Stimulus Bill are labeled as optional or wasteful. The timing of them may be optional. The ultimate payment is NOT. In fact, what's wasteful often is the myopic decision to deny "paying me now".

One could go down the list of projects included and nitpick individual ones as to how inevitable it is that they be done or the original investment/service forfeited. And we all understand how my pothole is urgent and yours is discretionary. Those debates, though, would just represent different perspective.

My next installment I may go back and tackle the issue of the self-serving, narrow minded media.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Preliminary Thoughts on the Stimulus Bill

The pundits and the Republicans just don’t get it. I know they think they get it. I know they sincerely think they are being level-headed looking out for the long-range concerns for the nation. I know that they suspect that secret, hidden supporters of those who have been “have nots” are trying to slip inappropriate items into the monolithic economic “recovery plan”. And they are sure that these items would never get approved independently. The Republicans believe and have convinced the pundits that what has happened is both myopic and insidious to the economic health of the nation, yea even the world.
This comes as no revelation that Republicans would take this tack. Much of what is involved in the stimulus plan and the bank recovery plan amounts to a repudiation of what Republicanism has wrought over the last decade, and perhaps even dating back to the Reagan era. What? The “free markets”, left unencumbered by “stifling” overregulation, could produce a meltdown of the overall economy? They would hide true costs and “leverage” the danger of national bankruptcy to the notion that profits can be made to rise steadily and without pause?? Say it ain’t so, Joe.
But how and why do the 24-hour cable TV experts climb aboard this train without asking where it’s going or what the fare is? What is going on with the news analysts who society tolerates in hopes they’ll help us analyze complicated issues?
The motivations and actions by both Republicans and media analysts are worthy of a full in-depth discussion. But at the moment I’m more intrigued by an aspect of the overall debate which is generating no intelligent discussion or consideration. It involves pondering what turns given expenditures or categories of expenditures into “pork” or “wasteful spending”. For this is what all of the anecdotal remarks and examples offered by Republicans and picked up by the media focus on. Millions for this or billions for that have been “slipped into” the bills or “rammed through” over the objections of suddenly thoughtful, prudent conservatives. But how do we know these projects are porky or wasteful? The implied answer is that they must be wasteful. Otherwise the previous administrations would have already championed them. These projects must not be vital and urgent. Otherwise the ruling body politic would have stepped up and addressed them.
They must be optional. We haven’t bothered to fund them, and we’re still here, aren’t we?
So, fixing a huge pothole on a heavily traveled road is considered “wasteful spending” if peoples or governments that could have funded its repair have demurred. It remains relegated to the status of “wasteful spending” until it becomes responsible for a fatal accident. Then we all of a sudden have “crumbling infrastructure”.
President Obama proposed spending billions rebuilding crumbling public schools. (Would these be schools in lower income inner cities and poor rural areas as opposed to wealthy suburbs?) WASTEFUL! But wait. We needed the president to tell us that many school buildings constructed 60+ years ago and not lovingly maintained are a worthy infrastructure expenditure?? Had local constituents of school districts voted repeatedly over the years to maintain low tax rates rather than support those buildings and their maintenance? And if so, do these collective local decisions translate into a fair declaration that the expenditure is “wasteful”?