Archive for the ‘Government Waste & Inefficiency’ Category

Real tax reform…

Tuesday, October 10th, 2017

…won’t happen. It never does. Lobbyists and special interests vie for their special deals, the GOP hauls out its debunked trickle-down economics theory to make the rich richer and widen the income gap, the middle class gets the shaft yet again, and the poor just become poorer as always. We don’t need a Sheriff of Nottingham or Prince John when federal, state, and local taxes are much more egregious than Robin Hood’s foes’ and make the revolutionary mantra “No taxation without representation!” completely meaningless.

The average citizen is burdened with tiers of taxes. Local ones are usually in the form of property taxes. They are often the worst in the sense that they’re not progressive; the many fees charged locally are regressive too. You start asking yourself, “Why can’t renters and businesses also pay for schools?” and “What can I do that doesn’t have an associated fee?” (In our town, for example, you have to pay $250 to chop down a diseased tree on your property, but I suppose the pain would be much worse if it ever fell on the easement the town owns in front—they own ten yards or so, yet we’re responsible for maintaining THEIR sidewalks!)

What’s good about Trump’s plan? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nil. Everything is bad, but some items are worse than others. The major evil is the institutionalization of trickle-down: corporate taxes go from 35% to 20%. That will make Corporate America happy, I suppose, and the rich even richer—a GOP mantra—but it won’t help the economy at all because ordinary people will have even less wherewithal to spend on industry’s products. If Trump and the GOP don’t use trickle-down as justification, they haul out something more stupid and hypocritical like “taxing Corporate America is communism!” because those rich SOBs riding in from Connecticut to Wall Street on the commuter rail or driving on Silicon Valley’s highways equate socialism and communism and yet using the government-provided transportation system. Etc. Etc.

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Two ships passing in the night…

Tuesday, September 26th, 2017

…and sometimes colliding. This is a metaphor about the Dems and GOP. The passing and the colliding, though, refer to what these traditional parties promise. Neil Postman, writing in Amusing Ourselves to Death—and quoted in Brooke Gladstone’ little jewel, The Trouble with Reality–said: “In 1984…people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us, Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us….” 1984 shows us what the far-right’s end game is, where Trump and his cronies are trying to lead us. Equally damning, where everyone is happy, happy, happy is Brave New World’s message and also the message of the far-left. People swallowing either message will need to invest heavily in antacids.

Ms. Gladstone probably wouldn’t want me react to this quote in this way, but I’ve always lumped 1984 and Brave New World together; I just couldn’t pin down the subtle difference. I now can. Conservatives emphasize the differences between human beings, parroting Orwell’s other book, Animal Farm: “All animals are created equal, but some are more equal than others.” Progressives naively stop at “…created equal….” In neither Orwell’s dystopia nor Huxley’s utopia is there room for individual differences. Both extremes lead to the loss of individualism and the creation of demagogues who turn us into lemmings surrounded by cliffs.

Ms. Gladstone’s book did make me come to a reckoning, though: a logical and reasonable person shouldn’t be political, at least not in the sense of our two major parties that would like to play the pied piper and lead us down roads reasonable and logical people should never travel. But emotions are important too because they make us human. We just can’t let our emotions drive us into culs-de-sac like those depicted in 1984 and Brave New World.

Now I understand why my new post-apocalyptic thriller novel The Last Humans is more apolitical than political. It is about one human being, Penny Castro, and her fight for survival. She is logical, reasonable, and, yes, she’s emotional, as she beats all odds and forges a new life. This is what makes us human, not some corrupt credo, debunked and discredited ideology, or inane political platitudes. After the apocalypse, there’s no dystopia nor utopia, only survival and confronting her own reality. In all of this, Penny never loses her humanity.

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Can you afford Trump’s tax reform?

Tuesday, May 9th, 2017

Like many rich people, our president doesn’t mind spending money as long as it isn’t his. In the case of his proposed tax reform, he’s willing to steal from the middle class in a nefarious campaign to enrich his friends and destroy your future. Moreover, he’s also happy to waste money as long as you foot the bill.

Let’s start with the security for Trump Tower in NYC where the wife hangs out with the kid while he goes prancing around the country to faux campaign stops designed to bolster his already infinite ego. That security costs millions, and most of the bill due NYPD hasn’t been paid. The family will soon join Il Duce in either the White House or Mar-a-Lago. I guess we’ll have to call Trump a snow-vulture as opposed to snowbird as he flits back and forth between his properties. He even thinks the people’s house, the White House, is his own special property as he redecorates in a style reminiscent of a mafia mansion. Counting travel costs between NYC, DC, and Florida, and more security at Mar-a-Lago and other Trump properties, your money might as well be flushed down one of the golden toilets at his estates. In addition, he makes money off you too, because the State Department’s website advertises for free the sumptuousness of Mar-a-Lago and he has doubled the membership fee as a result.

Now let’s turn to those Executive Orders. The first, an anti-Muslim edict that couldn’t pass constitutional muster, was replaced by Version 2.0, which was also declared to be unconstitutional. Narcissus le Grand vows to fight that all the way to SCOTUS, with you paying all the legal bills, of course, because the case is a squabble between the Supreme Court and a lower court, i.e. all government.

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Waging war against Gaia…

Tuesday, March 21st, 2017

I’m expecting a bloodbath in the EPA, NASA, NOAA and possibly other agencies as Mr. Trump wages war on the environment. Many employees there are civil service, but that might not stop Il Duce AKA Narcissus le Grand—he’ll just close down the agencies if he wants to get rid of them. The EPA, NASA, and NOAA are where many of those “bad scientists” can be found who disagree with the GOP claim that climate control and taking care of the environment have low priority. Narcissus le Grand even believes global warming is a hoax.

What’s driving all this is Trump’s desire to end all environmental regulations so that companies, his included, can pollute and destroy the environment as much as they want, a particularly virulent and dangerous example of capitalism without controls. Even now, they ship high-tech toxic waste and other crap to places like Bangladesh. Il Duce and his minions probably think it would be cheaper just to dump it somewhere in the U.S. How ‘bout not doing it at all?!

Disasters like that BP oil well in the Gulf, destruction of the Great Barrier Reef, poisoning wells and water supplies—those kinds of things are just part of doing business, according to Trump and his cronies. He names Pruitt to head the EPA and one of the gnome’s first public acts is to deny the role of CO2 in global warming. C’mon!

Many scientists are worried. A week before Il Duce’s inauguration, more than 250 volunteers met at UPenn for a two-day binge of downloading climate data and storing it on independent servers. “If you don’t want to do anything about climate change,” said Texas A&M atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler, “you are in a stronger position if you get rid of the data.” Gretchen Goldman, research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists said, “With a president who doesn’t respect scientific information, one abuse could be data mysteriously disappearing from websites, or government scientific websites may suddenly have misinformation.” Most of the data that was saved was from NOAA, EPA, DoE, and NASA.

One of those infamous executive orders from Narcissus le Grand could restrict data access from outside the U.S. Trump’s evil minions are already talking about clamping down on the internet and allowing service providers to have multi-tier systems—that’s been on the GOP hit list for some time. And shortly after the inauguration, Trump ordered the EPA to delete climate change pages from the EPA’s website, but he then backtracked on that order when the roars of protest became deafening. The order for EPA scientists and other agencies’ scientists not to post on social media or communicate with reporters still stands, though. Inside the agencies that do climate-related research, Goldman says “morale is low. People are scared.” Scared for their jobs, because Il Duce likes to fire people who disagree with him!

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Post-mortem of a speech to Congress…

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

In some dilating time machine or Mr. Trump’s parallel universe, ages have passed since he gave that speech to Congress. In real life, it was only a week ago—can you believe it? Everything he said is meaningless now, so dissecting that rambling rhetoric of a delusional man is anti-climactic. But let’s do it anyway because the president left the Twitter-sphere long enough to sound presidential and hide his narcissistic psychosis.

It’s curious that the media, after the president declared them to be the “enemy of the American people,” fell all over themselves to state that his “state of the union” (read: state of Trump’s parellel universe, that one that circulates among the dark energy and matter of his mind) set a new tone. Il Duce was even called presidential because he sounded presidential. But not for me—he’s not my president! He never will be my president, and isn’t the president of a majority of the American people.

What I heard was empty rhetoric reminiscent of Goebbels’s 1930’s propaganda in Germany—in other words, fascistic spin and appeal to populism playing on the fears of good Americans. His handlers, Bannon, Conway, and Miller, who take turns at the puppet strings—yes, he’s a marionette, even stringing himself along—carefully planned this atrocious display. If it was some crazy attempt to reach across the aisle, Dems won’t buy the snake oil from this charlatan, and didn’t—the thumbs-down from the Dem women in white were refreshing and evidence for their general mood—Trump the misogynist is women’s rights worst enemy. Narcissus the Wonderful shows no concern about women’s issues—we know he sees them only as objects—and on abortion, he’s as much a right-wing bigot as they come.

Let’s consider a few points. On trade, Trump might have sounded a wee bit like Sanders. There’s a huuuuge difference, though. Both men were born in Brooklyn, but the two are light years apart—Trump might actually live in one of those other multiverses where his marionette strings are tangled with those of general string theory. In particular, where Bernie was an earnest and honest champion for the working class, Il Duce doesn’t really give a rat’s ass about their plight—it’s all just show. He follows the time-tested fascist strategy of pretending to do so, of course—that’s how Franco, Hitler, and Mussolini came to power in the 1930s! U.S. workers should be wary about buying anything from this snake-oil salesman. Pay attention to his false promises at your own risk!

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Irish Stew #58…

Monday, January 2nd, 2017

[Double billing today…don’t get used to it, but 2017 is starting out with a lot of news to comment on. Don’t be shy. Your comments are always welcome, even rants. Just keep them clean!]

International

Russia and Syria declare ceasefire. How nice of them! Who’s speaking for the rebels? We have an international refugee crisis in the area; Aleppo, Palmyra, and other cities are completely destroyed and their populations dead; and Assad and Putin are patting each other on the back and chortling about how many rebels they’ve killed. Maybe ISIS will regroup and refocus and go after Assad—he deserves it!

Team Assad/Putin are closing in on Stalin’s record for murders, and Papa Joe had a lot more years under his belt. If there’s a Devil, he has some good assistants who work despotic hand in skeletal hand with the Grim Reaper. So little time…so many people to kill!

Say goodbye to the two-state solution. Netanyahu doesn’t want it, Trump doesn’t want it, and the Arabs don’t want it because it works against their campaign to destroy Israel. The main problem in the Middle East? Everyone wants a scapegoat. Secondary problem? Saudi Arabia! Even with low oil prices, the Saudi royalty are still living the rich life. When their people reach the level of the long-suffering Palestinians, maybe something will change. By then Netanyahu might be begging for his life!

National

Media and public senility. Loss of short term memory, they say, is one indication of senility. Whether senility or just plain stupidity, the American media and public have become so focused on the Russian hackers that the big issue has been forgotten. Did Russian hackers help Donald Trump or hurt HRC? There’s a difference, folks, and not recognizing it is part of that senility or stupidity too!

Not to minimize cyberwarfare crimes perpetrated by pimp Putin’s hacker-whores, let’s deal with reality: there were sleazy crimes committed by HRC and her followers once Mr. Sanders entered the primaries, and they continued all the way through them, the convention, and the 2016 election. Here’s a Bishop Berkeley-like question: if illegalities are committed by a candidate, campaign, and political party, does it matter who exposed them?

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Food for thought…

Tuesday, December 27th, 2016

There’s a lot of non-productive whining and misdirected finger pointing by defeated Dems still going on, considering that an arrogant HRC campaign simply dropped the ball, as well as non-justified chest thumping by certain knuckle-dragging GOP members, considering Trump had almost 3 million fewer votes than HRC. Both sides were ready to use the Electoral College to their advantage. Now one side abhors it and the other lauds the wisdom of the Founding Fathers for creating it. Those old colonists weren’t stupid, but many fixtures of U.S. representative democracy, like representative democracy everywhere, are flawed or out-of-date or just plain wrong.

That said, I thought I’d have fun reminding readers of this blog about a famous sci-fi master’s take on “democratic institutions.” Unlike John Galt’s overbearing and over-verbose multipage oration in Atlas Shrugged (parodied in The Midas Bomb), the old revolutionary Bernardo de la Paz’s speech in Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress mixes a lot of keen observation about human nature and plain common sense to express in a few pages some interesting ideas. Heinlein, like a few sci-fi writers (but not yours truly), has been considered a Libertarian (Hogan, Niven, and Pournelle are others). The ideas expressed in these pages would never be in that third party’s platform, though.

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Irish Stew #56…

Monday, December 12th, 2016

[It’s been awhile. I use this potpourri of news when I want to make a lot of mini-op-eds about current affairs—hence the name. Or, if you like, my Irish temper blows, and then I stew. Because I already had a political op-ed set for tomorrow about the healthcare crisis, I decided to pair this with “Monday Words of Wisdom” and clear my writing to-do list a wee bit. Let’s go to it…]

International

More Saudi duplicity. I’ve often railed against the duplicitous Saudis in this blog. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness. Here’s yet another example of their duplicity: while we’ve been fighting the Taliban, among others, in Afghanistan for years, the Saudis have been playing both sides, but more in support of the Taliban! To quote a recent Times article: “Saudi Arabia is critical [in Afghanistan] because of its unique position in the Afghan conflict: It is on both sides.” Was Machiavelli a Saudi? They represent the primary source for destabilization in the Middle East and are indirectly (if not directly) responsible for countless tortures and murders of innocents. They are NOT our friends.

Taiwan calling. This is one case where government intervention was required—lots of it! During the election, Trump bloviated a lot about his loathing of the People’s Republic of China (like many communist naming inventions, it’s not a republic and certainly doesn’t belong to the people). He took a congratulatory call from the Taiwanese president. Big deal! Irony?  Obama can call a brutal and murdering dictator in Cuba and Trump is criticized for accepting a call from a democratically elected leader?

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Abdullah bin al-Hussein…

Tuesday, October 4th, 2016

He’s King of Jordan and not a terrorist.  (I almost chose that name for a terrorist in one of my books.  What a mistake that would have been!)  I’m not into monarchs and dynasties, not even political ones, but he and his country represent the one shining star of sanity in a very troubled region.  Sixty Minutes, that venerable CBS news program, started its new season with him, and justifiably so.  In the interview he spoke candidly.  I came to admire this man whom I now consider a hero for not only his country but all the sane Muslims of the world (they’re in the majority) who want nothing to do with the torturers and murderers who call themselves jihadists.  It’s a wonder he’s still alive.  The region has a bad rep for killing anyone who speaks out sanely against terrorism and those who practice it.

I feel he’s a brother who understands the same things I do about how the West’s counterterrorism policies are ill-conceived at best and downright stupid most of the time—we’re riding a train into a dark tunnel with destruction waiting at the other end.  Radical Islam is NOT a geopolitical problem involving a few countries here and there.  We can’t chip at it here and there and hope to ever win.  As an example, the King pointed out that ISIS was (and is) losing ground in Syria and Iraq, so they moved into Libya and began exporting terrorists to Europe.  Everywhere a local economy in the Muslim world is failing (including Jordan’s because it’s receiving and/or taking care of thousands of refugees while besieged on all sides), angry, desperate young men take up arms against their scapegoat, the West, stirred up by psychotic leaders who don’t give a rat’s ass about those young men’s lives or anyone else’s.  ISIS and al Qaeda know these men are open to indoctrination and training and go about doing it.  At the same time, they do their best to create the economic conditions where hatred and intolerance can flourish.

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Common sense in a nonsensical world…

Tuesday, September 6th, 2016

If your perception about U.S. policies is that they don’t make sense, you are correct—most of the time they don’t. Not necessarily in order of importance, here’s why: First, the courts are stuck in the 19th century because the laws are. Second, American foreign policy is still based on the credo that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Third, the people running everything, the super-rich, don’t give a rat’s ass whether things are done right, as long as they get richer. I could go on, but you get the idea. Sure, problems in the 21st century are complex, but incompetent people and institutional resistance to change for the better make them more so.  My definition of conservative: someone who’s so satisfied with what they have that they don’t want any change. There’s a place for that attitude, but not in the three points I mentioned.

I’ve suffered in my life with both types of judicial systems, English and Roman. In the first, precedents are given weight so that there’s continuity to “justice” (the meaning given to that word could be a fourth problem–just ask the innocent victims of gun violence or those who think Hillary Clinton should be in jail). In the second, the system inherited from the Romans and popular in Latin countries, you can do anything the law doesn’t specifically prohibit (that’s why those countries’ constitutions, if they have one, are so long).  Both are unwieldy. The first practically precludes adapting to changing times, a conservative’s delight. For example, the internet was invented in 1983 (ARPANET) and only assumed something resembling today’s chaos in 1990—let’s give it thirty years. Adding to that the fact that most justices and juries (formed from users, not techies) have no tech background at all, you can see that the justice system can’t possibly make informed decisions about scientific and technical issues most of the time.

Roman justice has a similar problem. Its laws tend to be more “written in stone,” so new science and technologies occur without any control whatsoever. It’s impossible to prohibit something when it hasn’t even been invented yet, and when it is, it might be too late to prohibit it. Progress occurs so fast nowadays that neither judicial system can keep up. Unscrupulous people will take advantage of that, human nature being what it is. Common sense tells me that technical regulatory boards are called for to keep pace with the progresses in science and technology—groups of high-tech “philosopher kings” in the sense of Plato, incorruptible individuals serving limited terms. Again, given human nature, that word “incorruptible” is key. Do such individuals exist? But there’s no doubt the current system is broken and must be fixed.

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