Thursday, January 29, 2009

If You Have About A Trillion Dollars, What Do You Spend It On?

The stimulus plan is coming.  $875 billion of government goodness.  Will it save our economy?  Well, we won't really ever know.  After all, we don't know what would happen if it fails, we'll just have to see what happens when it succeeds.

So what is of that mo all  ney spent on?  Over at the Republican Cloak Room, is the Republican Party's official statement on the stimulus plan.  It makes some pretty serious assertions.

  • "Supporters of H.R. 1 have described this legislation as a transportation and infrastructure investment package. However, the bill only includes $30 billion – a mere 3 percent of the funding – toward “shovel ready” road and highway spending."
  • "H.R. 1 provides funding for 32 new programs totaling $137 billion or 38 percent of all discretionary spending in the bill."
OK, there's lots of others that I don't have time to go over.  Give it a read.  It may just give you pause about what we're about to jump into.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Government Organization

I know it sounds like an oxymoron but there really is a government organization.  It's just such a mess that it's hard to keep track of.  Well, in honor of inauguration day, here's a link to an organization chart that shows what our new president is getting into.  It's a little java program that lets you click on any position and move it around to see who it reports to and who reports to it.  I thought it was really cool.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Atlas Shrugged - I Need To Read This Book

I've heard of the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand but I never really knew what it was about.  Well, I just read an opinion article in the Wall Street Journal that compared our current economic crisis with the events portrayed in Atlas Shrugged.

It was frightening.  The gist is that the more government tried to help, the worse things got.  The author of the article even made some fairly direct correlations from events in the book to things the government has already done (bank bailouts, auto bailouts, etc).  True enough, for all the money government is spending, things don't seem to be getting any better.

I think I really need to read this book.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thank Goodness For Comments

Have you ever wondered how biased the news you get is?  I try to look at both sides of an issue and find the truth that's usually somewhere in between.  However, I have also found that both sides of an argument can present their cases so well, that it's difficult to tell where the truth really lies.

This came up as I was trying to get more information on the fighting in Gaza.  Most of the information I had painted a picture of an Israel that had been hit by so many rockets from Gaza that it just couldn't take it anymore and invaded.  Then I read an article from Al Jazeera that paints an entirely different picture.  The article was well written and convincing enough that I had to wonder what was really going on.  Then I read the comments.

The article made several assertions about Israeli involvement in the violence and accused Israel of being the aggressor.  The comments, on the other hand, both supported and criticized the article (as most comment sections do).  The critical comments called into question many of the assertions of the article and called them patently false.  It was kind of a wake up call.  I realized (again) that just because it's posted on a news site, doesn't mean it's true.  The article makes no references to prove its points so it becomes the author arguing against commentors with neither side backing up their "facts".

I usually think of comments as mostly being entertaining but not having a lot of value.  In this case, though, the comments made me think, re-evaluate, and reconsider an article that is very one-sided.

So thank goodness for comments.  They're a reality check in this world of tenuous reality.  Keep them coming!

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Here Come The Cuts!

The State Legislature is meeting and something, probably many things, are going to get cut. The Arizona Capitol Times, the Arizona Guardian, the Arizona Republic, etc. are all running articles about people and groups trying to protect their funding.  First in line is our soon to be former Governor, Janet Napolitano.  She is pleading to save all of the programs she started when it seemed like Arizona would have an endless money supply.  Next in line is education.  Schools are forecasting doom and gloom if their budgets get cut.  Then there's social services.  In a bad economy, more and more people sign up for government services.

So my question is:  what do they cut?  Emergency services?  No, that's unacceptable.  How about, um... what's left?  The unfortunate truth is that all the things that governments pay for benefit society (well, depending on who you ask).  So, if all the government programs are good, how do you justify cutting any of them?  That's the problem.  No matter what gets cut, there will be people who think it was the wrong thing.  In my opinion, these are the things that are most important:

  1. Government itself:  The government needs to be able to run.  I'm not saying they shouldn't look for and eliminate inefficiencies, etc. but they do need enough money to function.
  2. Emergency Services:  Police, Fire, and other emergency services need to run.  They protect citizens from each other and from physical harm.
  3. Education:  Our State Constitution requires education and the future of our society depends on it.
  4. Services for the Disabled:  Notice I didn't put all social services.  I think the government has a responsibility for helping to take care of those that can't take care of themselves.
After that, prioritizing gets very difficult.  In fact, the priorities I put up there are subject to change.  If you have other ideas, I'm definitely open to them.  My point is that the Legislature and our new Governor are going to have to put together a similar list and then start cutting budgets and eliminating programs.  The only guarantee here is that somebody is going to get the short end of the stick.  We just don't know who it is.

If you have any thoughts/predictions, I'd love to hear them.

Monday, January 05, 2009

They're Not Stupid, Just Different

Apart from my political leanings, I work in information technology. This is a profession that is full of smart, but often misunderstood people. Many people look on us as having some sort of magical rapport with computers. I have spent a lot of time troubleshooting computer problems (in fact it started taking so much time, I started charging for it so people would quit bothering me) as well as giving advice. Usually I don't mind. I enjoy helping people. However, every now and then it gets frustrating when I see the same problems over and over again. It even gets to the point that I wonder how people can not understand what, to me, are the simplest concepts.

This frustration pervades among the "computer geeks" of the country. Many of the forums complain of how stupid people are. They rail against businesses, politicians, and any other profession they see as severly misguided. I fear, however, that this may give them the idea that they are smarter than everybody else; that anybody who doesn't agree with them is an idiot. Yet somehow this country has survived, businesses have flourished, and people have lived happy lives in spite of not being as smart as us techies.

I see the same thing in politics. There is a polarization that occurs and it seems to make people think that their side of the aisle has all of the good ideas. Too many democrats would assert that if a republican says something, it's wrong. Too many republicans think that all ideas from democrats are flawed. I have seen countless arguments on forums, etc. that summarily dismiss anything that doesn't conform to a preset form of ideals.

In other words, too many people are spending their energy villifying the other side. There are too many arguments that have no substance. Too much time spent on blame and not enough on resolving issues.

We, as a people, need to stop treating people as the enemy and start looking at where they are coming from. We need to stop spouting mindless sound bites and start examining our own beliefs. I have found, as I have spoken with several friends who - GASP! - are democrats, that the results that the democratic and republican parties are looking for are very similar. Equal opportunities for all, a prosperous people, a high standard of living. We all agree on the desired outcomes, it's simply the path to the outcome that we disagree on. However, if we can seek to understand them, it's possible to come to a middle ground that everybody can agree on. At least on some items. On others, we may have to agree to disagree, however, at least we will understand where they're coming from and they will understand where we're coming from and both of us can walk away thinking: They're not stupid, just different.