Thursday, February 26, 2009

No really: he needs to stop.

I used to work for a man who said, “it’s ok to say in your plan, ‘a miracle happens here’.” He was referring to sweeping changes in the environment that relied on unknowable variables and blind leaps of faith. For example, rolling out a new public program with insufficient funding. You know where you want to go, and you know everything you need to do, but there’s just not enough money to make it happen. You don’t let on to such concerns in your plan, because a miracle has to happen somewhere. But you don’t make a whole project plan around miracles.

I just finished reading about the new federal budget, and it looks like 134 pages of “a miracle happens here”.

We’re going to cut farm subsidies. Yeah, that’s a good idea. Farming isn’t profitable. As the step-son of a farmer, I’ve heard a fair amount about what it takes to get food to your table, and cutting subsidies ain’t gonna help. Farmers lose money on almost everything they do, so the gov’t steps in with crazy ideas like “plant trees over here and we’ll give you $XXX” and “now cut those trees down and we’ll give you $YYY”. Seems like a waste, but those little goofy ideas keep your tomatoes from costing $5 each.

Corporate farming is only successful in an economy of scale, and generally when coupled with research & development, like finding crops that can produce 3 times a year instead of only twice, or developing new species of crops that are more resistant to pests / weather / other environmental conditions. Those corporate interests are also subsidized, although sometimes through round-about means, like partnerships with public colleges.

If the subsidies we’re talking about cutting are for bio-fuel, then I’m all onboard, because the ethanol madness seems to have finally subsided. (Who the hell thought it would be a good idea to cut our corn food crop roughly in half, develop a whole national infrastructure around refining it into an inefficient fuel, and then mandate that we all use it? Oh, wait: Congress)

But Obama just wants to set an arbitrary limit of $500K. If you’re a farmer making more than that, you’re boned. No more subsidies for you! Never mind that just replacing a combine harvester can cost that much. Or that replacing a failed irrigation system can approach those numbers. Hell, a John Deere tractor can cost well over $100K, and they do break every once in a while. So as long as you’re a farmer making over $500K and nothing breaks, you’re fine, I guess.

Then there’s health-care. We’re going to significantly step up funding for what is rapidly becoming socialized medicine. But we’re spending $787B at the same time, and federal spending on healthcare already exceeds that of any other nation. And universal health care will DESTROY an enormous area of our economy: the private insurance business. Yes: you hate them, but think about how many people work for Anthem, Aetna, UHC, CIGNA, and more. And who is going to administer your health plan? What will be the benefits? Will you be ejected from the hospital in as short a period of time as possible, or will the hospitals see a cash-cow and keep you as long as they possibly can? How long will you have to wait for a check-up? Will you be legally required to get an annual physical? Screenings? Immunizations?

Hawaii attempted universal health care for children a couple of years ago, and had to close the program within 8 months because of cash shortfalls. Their idea was to provide insurance for children whose families couldn’t afford private insurance, but they didn’t preclude those families who could, so parents across the state dropped their kids from their private insurance, and the plan bankrupted overnight.

So if our federal deficit is going to be $1.57T this year, what’s it going to be after the exodus from private insurance carriers? And who’s going to take on the burden of re-enrolling the country in private insurance after the federal plan fails? Or will we just keep funding the plan because we cannot admit failure at a federal level?

So how are we going to pay for all of this? Well, with troop withdrawals and tax increases for the wealthy. Ok, news flash: the truly wealthy don’t pay federal taxes. They didn’t get rich by just paying every bill that came their way. They got rich by being smart with their money, and if that means investing heavily in tax shelters, so be it. It’s not illegal, and shame on you for thinking it is. I’ve said for years that I want to found a charity, pay 100% of my salary to the charity, and live on a corporate stipend from the charity. If that charity happens to be based in Belize, I’ll have no tax burden.

US federal laws allow us to write off significant portions of our income as non-taxable, like our insurance payments, Social Security investment, 401k contributions, etc. There are plans that allow you to incorporate a private business and pay all the family members in your house up to something like $7000 right out of your paycheck tax-free. They can then give you one-time cash gifts that are equally tax-free.

Money-smart wealthy people have full-time accountants on staff to keep them from contributing to this nut-job scheme. So “a miracle happens here” most definitely applies whenever we just raise taxes on the rich.

But here’s the real secret, and it comes from the other half of the proposed method of payment: troop withdrawal. That’s code, people. That doesn’t mean we’re gonna bring the boys back home and live in harmony. That means we’re in for another Clinton-esque era of military spending: we’ll just shut ‘er down. Get ready to see mothballed fleets, the elimination of development programs for new fighters, bombers, and mobile weaponry. BRAC will probably get stepped up and go through another round of investigations and realignments. And most importantly, our military and intelligence communities will shrink dramatically.

Good? Really? That means more people trying to enter the already-deflated private sector. But the good news is that under Obama, we’ll have a large enough government to hire all of them. If that’s really good news.

Consider the state of affairs when Clinton was in office. All seemed harmonious in the good ole US of A, but we had a heck of a lot of problems: Waco, Ruby Ridge, Timothy McVeigh, the first WTC bombing, the USS Cole, attacks on our embassies in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, and Beirut, and the 1996 fuel-truck bomb in Saudi Arabia. Every single one of these was a response to US policies under the “Let it Slide” president. Even the downing of the World Trade Center, which was set in motion long before GWB took office.

Clinton’s idea of military involvement was to limit US exposure. If we don’t talk about it and don’t commit troops, we’re not really involved. So we landed a few troops in Somalia and let them get cut to shreds as part of a UN task force. We fired cruise missiles into Iraq and other targets (occasionally and famously missing those targets for much higher profile targets, like the Chinese Embassy). We strongly condemned ethnic cleansing in parts of eastern Europe. But we didn’t get involved; we didn’t engage; and we turned down offers from our allies to hand over known terrorists.

How the hell did we vote to do all of it again? And why is everyone so damned gleeful about it?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Barack Obama needs to stop stimulating my economy

7115? Thank God I don't need to worry about retiring any time soon.

Friday, February 06, 2009

To Paraphrase Our Illustrous Leader

I know that building a new house will cost about $400K. I'm willing to spend $400K, but even though $75K of that is for a sports car, and another $35K is for a high-price country club membership, I'm spending the right amount, and getting roughly the right number of people involved. Yeah, it's not perfect, but broadly speaking, it's about right.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Oven Welding

Fancy-pants Jeepers and their emergency battery-welding are so 5 seconds ago...

Sunday afternoon Amanda decided to make banana bread before heading over to her parents' house for the Big Bowl. Great idea: we love banana bread! But as the time drew nigh for the oven to start beeping, Amanda decided to check the bread and told me that there was some food or something burning in the oven, and that we really needed to clean it.

Burning? Charred remains of pizzas-past don't generally burn... So I came to take a peek, and discovered that the lower element of the oven was burning. Or rather welding itself. A white-hot spot on the metal was very slowly marching from one end of the element to the other. Ok, no panic: we'll just turn the oven off.

Nope. Still burning 5 minutes later, and the spot has moved another 8 inches. Time to panic? Probably.

So we did what everyone with zero training does: we grabbed the fire extinguisher. And promptly covered the entire kitchen with fire foam. The oven, however, was not impressed, and continued welding. Time to panic? Oh, yeah, I think we're there.

So I pulled the oven out, leapt up on the counter (landing on a very gross dishrag), scrounged behind the oven, and pulled the plug. With a big arc of electricity from the plug to the outlet, the fission reaction in our oven winked out and left only a smoldering ember.

Hours later the element was still too hot to touch, and that night was a clean-up disastrophe. Don't believe the TV shows where people spray extinguishers and then go back to their merry lives: that shit gets everywhere. I had to wash everything that was exposed in the kitchen.

Later, when I'd had enough of cleaning and could actually touch the failed element, I tried to remove it. The metal, where the welding had occurred, was so brittle as to simply fall apart at the merest touch.

I will never leave the house again while the oven is on.