Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Cuts Loom

This past season, people were sacked, programs were cut, job security vanished, and benefits packages shrank. With the statewide economy in worse shape now than it was six months ago, can another series of cuts be far behind?

Will there be a special session before the next regular legislative session begins? Could be. Will salary cuts be implemented in the coming year? One never knows, does one?

We twist in the wind with the flag of uncertainty.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Another Year at the City

The Great Blog City has added downsizing to its share of difficulties. Play the song "Abraham, Martin, and John," and you'll get the same sense of lost wandering that has been developing in the City in recent months.

If you see one of your colleagues this week, be happy that (s)he's still around. Most of all, what we need to remember is that we're a single team. If we stay together, no outside forces (governors, presidents, regents, legislators) is able to tear us apart.

Carry on now.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Episode 40 -- Interlude #2

Still having trouble sleeping, the Obese American continued to listen to the two spirits: Barry and Tom. Our hero asked...

QUESTION: “Then what is Liberalism?”

TOM: “Conservatism is the belief that reduced federal control leads to the greater good. Since the purpose of Government is to oppress people, and since people are basically good, greater involvement by government in the lives of its citizens leads to tyranny, whereas reduced government control allows people to flourish under the banners of Liberty and Freedom. True conservatives are independent spirits who want what is best for America.”

BARRY: “I disagree with your definition. Many so-called conservatives seem to want to control the citizens whenever it agrees with their objectives. Consider the conservative positions on abortion and on the legalization of certain drugs.”

QUESTION: “That's a good point, isn't it?”

TOM: “Barry makes a good point in one respect. People often confuse "conservatism" with the platform of the Republican party. There is no party that stands for pure conservatism, and republicans often confuse conservatism with religious-based tradition. A conservative must consider the issue of government control primarily above all other issues.”

BARRY: “So, you're saying that people who want to restrict gay rights aren't really conservative?”

TOM: “A conservative would not want the federal government to control the issue one way or another. States can define civil unions however they please. A federal government run by conservatives would not claim to sanction "marriage" for the fifty states -- a right that belongs only to God. Further, it would not force the states to adhere to a single standard that it defines.

“This was the problem with Roe v. Wade. Conservatives are often misrepresented as wanting to "outlaw abortion." Overturning Roe v. Wade would do no such thing; rather, it would allow the states to create their own laws instead of forcing the states to follow a single, federal rule. The Supreme Court overstepped its bounds merely by hearing that case. They should have said, "The constitution does not speak about abortion; therefore, we have no authority."”

QUESTION: “And we should legalize pot?”

TOM: “That's a view taken by many libertarians, and liberals often agree with them because they want to regulate and tax its sale and distribution. A conservative would say that there shouldn't be any such laws -- whether they are about alcohol, tobacco, or any other substance. Instead, adult citizens ought to be informed of the dangers of marijuana, cocaine, and alcohol and should be free to make an informed choice about personal use. Still, it would be up to the states to ban substances and to punish offenders. The federal government should only step in to mediate disagreement between the states. For example, if one state legalizes tobacco and another bans it, the federal government would ask the states to assure that the product would not pass from a state where it was legal into a state where it was banned.”

BARRY: “That's different from what most republicans say.”

TOM: “That's correct. Most republicans respond to the issue by appealing to tradition -- not to science or even reason. However, what we're talking about is the FEDERAL government interfering in the affairs of the states by making something illegal in all fifty states. Localities would be free to ban cocaine, for instance, if the citizens themselves wanted it so.”

BARRY: “The federal government has to protect a state's citizens from one another. You cannot have complete liberty.”

TOM: “A state or local government should be able to define crimes at that level -- without the interference of the federal government. We don't need national speed limits, national abortion laws, or just about any national law. The states should define these issues themselves.”

QUESTION: “Without federal regulation, wouldn't the country degenerate into chaos?”

TOM: “That's what liberals would have you believe: that control is good. They blame various problems on "deregulation" that were actually caused by federal interference. If the feds had not ordered lending institutions to provide risky loans to citizens who lacked financial stability, the current problem with out-of-control spending would not have occurred. The entirety of the current recession stems from government interference. Doing nothing at all would have resolved the financial "bubbles" the way that they always resolved themselves in the past. All we've accomplished here is to create a larger bureaucracy which exists in order to perpetuate itself.”

BARRY: “So if someone thinks that ignoring problems solves them, then that person is a conservative.”

NEXT: Nothing Special -- Hating Everyone

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Episode 39 -- Interlude #1

The great superhero known as the Obese American awoke at midnight from a restless slumber to discover two spirits in his bedroom – arguing about politics. The first, named Barry, was formally known as the Spirit of Liberalism; the other, Tom, was the Spirit of Conservatism. Since politics confused him, and since the spirits would not shut up, the hero began asking questions.

QUESTION: “What is Liberalism?”

BARRY: “Liberalism is the belief that increased government control leads to the greater good. Government solves social problems and ultimately brings about Justice. Liberals are kind-hearted people who want what is best for America.”

TOM: “I agree with your definition: liberals want control. I disagree, however, that increased government involvement brings about anything other than bureaucracy and misery.”

QUESTION: “What do you mean?”

TOM: “There are many examples of government programs. Very few of these programs that remain for any length of time serve the public good. The education system is a wreck that is more concerned with bean-counting than with learning. Social Security is always going broke, and yet it provides for a bare existence. If the aim is to assist poor old people, we’d be better off handing out cash on the street. Amtrak rail lines and trains are rarely upgraded, and the trains are late frequently. Rather than helping, the Welfare system encourages people to become addicted to Government. Even the Postal Service survives because private carriers are not permitted to deliver first-class letters. Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac created the current disaster precisely because of government interference. I can find no area in which government’s involvement has been beneficial.”

BARRY: “What about health care? Many people depend on Medicare, and many others are without health care. This is a crisis that the government must solve.”

TOM: “In the first place, it’s hardly a crisis. Most people who have no health care plan are in that situation deliberately. Secondly, nationalized health care is a poor alternative. Imagine waiting a year to get treatment! London’s newspapers report about year-long wait times for ten percent of all patients. The government has a “target” time-frame during which they hope to treat patients: that’s four and one-half months.” Canada’s system receives about 70% of its funding from the government. The average wait times for tests like MRI’s can be up to 22 months in some provinces; you might wait three years for surgery. Maybe that’s why 65% of all Canadians have another form of health care, in addition to what the government gives. I’ll stand by what I said: when government is involved, it’s a disaster.”

QUESTION: “What would liberals do for the economy?”

BARRY: “We’ll create millions of jobs with our stimulus package. People need jobs.”

TOM: “Very little of that ‘package’ creates new jobs. One estimate says that maybe 93% of it involves non-stimulative spending. While you’re providing a few dollars here and there, the people will have to pay for those massive spending increases. In the long run, that’ll mean reduced take-home pay.”

BARRY: “We’ll tax businesses –“

TOM: “—who will fire employees so that they can afford to pay the taxes.”

BARRY: “We’ll be fair to them by taxing only rich people.”

TOM: “You’re already doing that. The top 25% of wage earners pay about 86% of all taxes, and the top 1% pay about 39% of all taxes. That’s your idea of fair? Part of the liberal plan gives tax ‘rebates’ to people who don’t pay taxes!”

QUESTION: “Maybe there are a few problems, but what’s wrong with Barry’s plan?”

TOM: “This is how to turn a recession into a depression. First…create a panic. Liberals have done that; George Soros is saying that these times are worse than the Great Depression. People will stop traveling, and they’ll stop spending. Businesses will make less, and they’ll lay people off. Next, spend a lot of money on projects that create very little future infrastructure – like millions for fish hatcheries and electric cars. Some states that might take money are refusing to take it because of the strings attached. Then, because things aren’t really so bad, you pump up the money supply to create inflation – so the people have reduced buying power. Then hike the minimum wage, again forcing businesses to lay people off. Once the people have to pay for the projects, push more projects and more spending on the people – telling them that they’re helpless without the government’s assistance. UCLA economists determined that President Roosevelt’s policies added seven years to the length of the depression.

“If someone, perceiving a problem, thinks that the solution is to smother it with bureaucratic regulations and red tape, that person is a liberal.”

NEXT: What is Conservatism?

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Episode 38 -- Bail Water, Bail Water!

Inside a duffel bag, tied up in duct tape, stuffed into a storage canister, at the bottom of a deep lake there was a secret. That secret was the body of a once-powerful man, the Chancellor of the Former Checker. Once known as Little Jimbo, the Chancellor had inherited his father's industrial fortune. Unfortunately, he made the wrong people angry. This is what brought him to his present predicament.

Bride Lake, where the Chancellor was spending his retirement, was surrounded by electric fences, and the area surrounding the lake was guarded by hungry coyotes. Even so, it was not a difficult task for the Seven Angry Soldiers to dispatch their animal foes and to make their way under the cover of darkness to the lake's edge.

Once there, they fulfilled their mission without a sound. A very large raft suddenly inflated, and two of the men rowed it as the others used sonic equipment to probe the depths of Bride Lake. After several moments, one of the men held his fist in the air -- a signal for the rowers to stop rowing. The men dropped an anchor, and four SCUBA divers entered the water as silently as fish. A few minutes later, they surfaced with their prize: the chancellor's corpse.

By the next morning, the Seven Angry Soldiers were on planes to different parts of the world, and the rotting corpse of the Chancellor of the Former Checker lie on a slab at Area 61. In front of the hideously twisted body stood three doctors; on the other side of the table, pondering his own origin, was the Obese American.

"You're going to resurrect THAT?" Our hero was both astonished and gagging at the same time.
"Gentlemen," said one of the doctors, "we can rebuild him."
Another doctor turned to our hero and asked, "Did you bring the Vodan device?" The rotund one produced a small sphere that was connected to eight pods so that the object resembled a metallic spider. He nodded, still shuddering at the sight of the corpse.
The two remaining doctors had just finished extracting the Chancellor's brain from what was left of his body. The brain smelled of formaldehyde, sweat, and decaffeinated coffee. After placing the Vodan spider in a position around the brain, they smiled at one another and took the brain into another room. The Obese American could only wait.

About ten minutes later, Lectros strode into the room. Lectros was a fellow member of HERO Inc. who also had top-level CIA clearance. His presence was unusual in this situation, given that the CIA was not supposed to know about the medical procedure that was taking place next door. Lectros and our hero greeted one another, and then the operative continued:
"That's quite a sight," he said. The Obese American concurred.
"Are you sure this guy can help?"
"I'm fairly sure of it," reported the Large One with certainty. "He and the budget-cutting forces were great opponents back when he was ... when he was alive."
"Those guys know what they're doing. I'm sure your man will be back on his feet in no time."

Lectros was sure, but the Spirit of America was filled with doubts. Within five minutes' time those doubts were removed, for into the room strode the scientists together with a fully restored Chancellor. "I hear that I have you to thank for my revival," he said. Our hero acknowledged it humbly. "When the time comes, you'll be rewarded. Meanwhile, we've got to get to work. Explain the situation to me."

Both the Obese American and Lectros relayed what they knew, and what the FBI and other authorities had been able to learn. Elections were being rigged all around the country, and money was missing everywhere; indeed, it seemed to be oozing from every one of the nation's pores. Some were advocating stealing money from the people, but others were rumored to be killing off their opponents in order to cut costs. One college reportedly solved its financial woes by murdering one of its own employees and collecting the insurance money, although even the presence of on of the nation's best detectives could not prove that the college was responsible for the murder.

"The situation is hideous," the Chancellor said. "I'll get right on this." He charged out of the room like a rogue rhinoceros, leaving the others gaping. The next day, the newspapers heralded the headline: Former Checker Returns -- Seeks Grant from Mafia. Indeed, the Chancellor was working on the problem, but he intended to solve it in his own way. "I've only made things worse," Bobby (OA) Yokel mumbled to himself while reading the morning news and eating a twelve-egg cheese omelet.

Another day passed, and the Chancellor of the Former Checker appeared on television. "I'll be brief," he said. And indeed his remarks were pithy. "I challenge the governor of this state to a high-stakes cage match. If he wins, I'll help him carve the budget like a turkey, but if I win, he has to find funding for the whole economy." The governor returned the challenge with one change: "The battle will be a grudge match -- to the death."

NEXT: Enter The Spoiler

Friday, November 7, 2008

Episode 37 -- The Winner Is...

Before Bobby Yokel had the accident that turned him into the Obese American, he was a mediocre attorney. Now he was much more than that: he was a mediocre attorney who doubled as a superhero. This fact became quite relevant when the Lost Wages mayoral race turned into such a blame game that lawyers were called upon to decide the fate of the city.

One woman, a rising star in the political sphere, disappeared mysteriously. The finger-pointing was so intense that the media outlets became consumed with it. One paper, the Moon, reported that Johan Barley must be responsible, since his opponents in the race had nothing to gain. The other paper, the Rotten Journalism, blamed Ashcan Goombah. "After all," the editorial ran, "Goombah is behind just about every other crooked enterprise in town. If he's guilty of fraud, then why not murder?" Goombah's people countered with a full-page ad in the moon proclaiming his outrage.

It continued like this for several weeks, with Bobby Yokel counseling Mayor Goombah to stay out of the political mud war. The reporters, however, seemed privy to every detail of the candidates' lives, for news about Goombah's partying and his opponents' wives' spending habits made the front page on a daily basis. Bobby wondered where these leaks were coming from, and he was unsuccessful at getting a judge to grant an injunction against printing such stories.

All at once in October, the tall tales died down -- as though the wind had been taken out of them. A new rumor about the state's financial situation began with whispers. By November, those whispers had turned into roars. So much money was suddenly missing from the state's leaky coffers that every department and bureau would have to reduce next year's budget by,, 20%!

The city of Lost Wages itself wound up cutting its staff by 34% to keep up with the downward spiral. Someone had spent $150,000 on clothing, but no one knew who had done it. Millions had gone toward polling, but again no one was responsible. Because of his connection to the case, Bobby Yokel was in court nearly every day, arguing for one action or another. Each one of his judicial appeals was denied.

Meanwhile, subliminal attacks on Mayor Goombah continued to pour out over the air waves. The people now hated him, but due to the massive morass of mudslinging they hated everyone else just as much. On election day, it occurred that there were more votes for mayor than there were registered voters in the city. This prompted several stages of recounting, with the attorneys riding shotgun over the process.

A group called OAK -- apparently a gang called "Obese American Killers" -- was accused of creating thousands of false ballots, but none of the charges stuck. Meanwhile, Johan Barley and the thirteen Lieges held secret talks -- even as the mayoral race was being decided. Three times the votes were counted, and three times the voting ended in a tie.

Marta Teufel was present on that deciding day, volunteering her own coin for the purpose of determining the winner. It was a two-headed coin, and she assigned "heads" to her good friend and political ally, Alberto Potter. How was it possible that Potter wound up in this situation, when his fates had been determined? No one knew, and yet, there they were: Potter and Goombah, staring at a shiny piece of metal with their fates in the balance.

While the coin was in the air, in strode Governor Lemur. Deftly, he snatched the coin from the atmosphere and strode to the center of the gathering. "I have declared martial law in the city," he said. "Until such time -- if any -- as I determine otherwise, there exists a state of financial exigency here. This election itself has cost taxpayers too much money. Goombah, you will retain your office until further notice."

The witnesses, among them our hero, were stunned senseless. Bobby muttered a nonsense syllable under his breath. THIS was how it ended? It couldn't be over! The governor paused, then spoke again: "Potter...due to the spending policies that you advocated on the radio, I order you to be incarcerated for a period of no less than thirty years." He snapped his fingers, and the police pounced on Potter.

Marta Teufel reached into her purse, where there rested a carefully-concealed luger. She glanced around at the number of people she would have to kill in order to get her way, and then she withdrew her hand...empty. There would be another day for the execution of enemies of her reich, but for now she would bide her time. She stared at Bobby, and a cold chill went up his spine. Or perhaps it was merely a draft in the air.

NEXT: Awaken the Chancellor

Friday, October 10, 2008

Episode 36 -- The Great Excommunicator

Alberto Potter was the chosen one, from Marta Teufel's perspective. Many viewed him as a vacuous politician, but he was also conniving. When he was Deputy Sheriff, he resigned from his post and then -- as the song says -- "shot the sheriff." No one ever suspected that he was behind the sheriff's untimely demise, and Alberto silently chuckled to himself every time the office of sheriff was mentioned. "Everybody loves Alberto," they would say -- and they still said that now.

Potter glad-handed everyone with whom he came into contact, usually saying something to them like, "What do you think we should do? ... Why, that's exactly what I want to do!" Then he would walk away, calling the people idiots under his breath. Potter was a man of opportunities who liked getting what he wanted and who enjoyed the false praise of toadies. He and Marta Teufel fit together perfectly.

Although the Obese American was aware of such people, he wanted eagerly to believe that they did not exist. His was a patriotic world of apple pie, free market economics, and justice for all. Unbeknownst to our hero, his world and the seedy underbelly of Lost Wages were about to collide.

Alberto Potter stood on a corner, shamelessly proclaiming to others how wonderful he was. He also picked the occasional pocket when the opportunity presented itself. When a wimpy individual said to him, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today," Potter flim-flammed the man into believing that not only was it Tuesday but also that the man owed him a considerable fortune. The man staggered away -- $200 poorer and no wiser. With so many rumors spreading about his opponents, in two weeks Potter went from being a Dark Horse candidate to being the clear front-runner in the mayoral race.

It was then that the strangest thing occurred. A boy -- or a man of barely eighteen years -- meandered through the crowd in the general direction of the gentle Alberto. The boy was wearing tattered jeans, flip-flops, and a brand new T-Shirt proclaiming the slogan, "Fork Potter!" Emblazoned under the slogan was a cartoon of Alberto Potter being jabbed in the rump by a giant pitchfork.

Suddenly, in front of a crowd of hundreds, Potter went ballistic. From his pocket he extracted a convenient roll of duct tape. Then he siezed the boy, threw him to the ground, and taped up his mouth. A moment later, he ripped the t-shirt from the boy's chest and set it on fire. "No one may be allowed to say such things," Potter said -- loud enough for the press to hear. After threatening lawsuits against the boy, Potter snapped back into character and resumed his previous baby-kissing and hand-shaking. Seconds after his face had gone red with anger, the traditional Alberto Smile again spread across that face. This time, though, the people were suitably unimpressed. As rapidly as had been his rise to stardom, Alberto Potter was now out of the running for the mayor's office.

Meanwhile, the boy wandered off in amazement. After losing the crowd, he looked around him, entering a parking garage. Normally, this garage was subject to video recording; strangely, the recording devices were "off" at the moment. The boy walked over to a corner pillar and leaned against it. Around the corner, leaning against the same pillar, was a shadowy figure. The boy said, "It was even better than you expected." The figure tossed down a suitcase, and the boy picked it up. The boy strode off, delighted to see so much cash.

As the figure moved toward his own vehicle, his shadow acquired the odd appearance of having a long tail. This, accompanied by the figure's chattering like a monkey, might have given a passerby the impression that the boy had been paid off by a monkey. Yet no one was nearby; not even a cockroach was witness as the figure entered his black car and drove farther and farther away until only the license plate was visible from the garage. From a distance, one could simply read, "CHEETAH."

NEXT: All the Money's Gone