Simple_Solutions

I think often there’s a thought when we see a problem that if we would just do this one simple general thing, the problem would go away.  But are there really ever an easy answer?  For example:

Gambling/Lottery – This is a favorite magic bullet for solving budgetary problems (often in relation to education) that’s actually pretty popular across the political spectrum.  Alabama, which will never ever ever raise taxes ever, is looking at this now as a possible non-tax revenue source.  And it has appeal.  People can play or not play, it’s voluntary.  You can vote for this and still claim you didn’t vote for a tax.  A lot of money does flow through the lotteries.  But, John Oliver did a great job showing the shortcomings of a lottery:

Watch the video, as John Oliver will do better than I.  But the short version is this.  The people who play lotteries?  Low income (higher income folks will invest in something).  As such, state lotteries advertise themselves as a way for the poor to change their lives.  According to one study, the poor spend a whopping 9% of their annual income on lotteries.  It’s a de facto tax on the poor.

Meanwhile, instead of being a supplement to tax income, states often instead use it as an excuse to even further lower taxes and use the lottery money as simply a replacement.  Even though lotteries are often touted for education, in 21 out of 24 states in which that is the case, education funding is either flat or has actually DECREASED since the addition of the lottery.

My personal believe is that if something is necessary, we as society should be compelled to pay for it, not be able to opt out. There are a lot more equitable ways to do that than a lottery, even if the lottery seems like the easy answer.

Charter Schools – Charter schools is most popular in the conservative crowd, though you get an occasional progressive behind these too.  The idea is that private is always better than public, so let’s just give the funding to a private enterprise and they will do so much better educating kids.  Now it’s a heated debate which are better, charter schools or public schools.  But generally speaking, when you look at studies, you find that they perform about the same overall.  As in there are good charter schools and bad charter schools, just like there are good public schools and bad public schools.  I suspect that the while there are common characteristics for what makes for a successful school (adequate resources is a good start), what makes any given school work may be unique.  There’s probably not a one-size-fits-all solution, as every community is different.  But there’s nothing magic about being private that makes it any easier to figure it out.

Whether it’s a flat tax, prayer in schools, poor people are lazy, no big business is evil, guns kill people, no people kill people, blah, blah, blah, the real world is complicated and so is its problems.  The solutions will take hard work to find and a will to do so, that’s just the way it is (in my opinion).

Alabama Budget Insanity

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Uncategorized
And by rights, we mean right...to never have our taxes raise.  Even if it kills us.

And by rights, we mean right…to never have our taxes raise. Even if it kills us.

Alabama is finally having to pay the piper with a projected $700 million shortfall staring us straight in the face.  Looks like the state is out of budget tricks and is now truly faced with either cutting spending (well, cutting spending even more than in the past) or, gasp, raising revenue.  Governor Bentley, much to my surprise, actually has proposed raising some taxes.  Sure, it’s mostly on cigarettes, which is about as close to a tax on the poor as you can get without literally having a tax on the poor, but still, it’s a Republican actually proposing a tax increase.

Of course, Bentley is not eligible to run for governor again at the next election.  But the proposal of new taxes has gone over about as well as you would think with state congressional representatives in a state in which many citizens believe we should never have a tax increase ever again.  A part of me can appreciate how this is karma for Bentley, who while running for office would preach against the evils of taxes and “big government” with the best of them.  Unfortunately ultimately it is all of us who live in this state that will feel the impact of the budget shortfall.

So the funny thing is that since the state can’t raise taxes ever ever, it is tying itself in knots trying to find ways to get revenue, ways that are just self-defeating anyway.  One way many municipalities have been trying to make up for lack of tax revenue is through court and ticket fines.    Now to be sure, I think this is a terrible way to fund government services.  But it may not matter soon, because the state has cut funding to the courts so much, its capacity to even function (and collect those fees) will be significantly curtailed.

Now the latest proposal is to take money from the Alabama Conservation and Natural Resource fund.  The result would be the closure of 15 of Alabama’s state parks.  The insanity of that is that the fund does not receive any money from Alabama’s general fund.  Rather the vast vast majority of the money comes from user fees.  You know, the ones that come from users using the parks.  The very ones that would be closed if the state takes its money.  So really you can only hit this well once (I suppose maybe twice as there would be about 6 parks left).   Meanwhile you are not only killing a source of revenue directly, you are also doing economic damage to the state tourism, which surely would have a further indirect negative impact on state revenues.

But I guess in a state where you can’t raise taxes no matter what, you have no choice but to propose insane measures.   How much more can you cut in a state that already underfunds everything.  Troopers?  50% of what we need.  Dams?  Nah, we just won’t inspect them at all.  Prisons?  Just keep packing them in.  Schools?  Teachers work for love, not money, and we can make the parents buy the supplies.  The poor?  Lazy bums who wouldn’t be in that position if they would love Jesus more.

And parks?   Gee, we like parks.  Really you should consider taking even more money away from education or social services first.  But if it’s taxes or parks?  Yep, take away the parks.  After all, if we really want parks, the invisible of hand of the free market will cause Wal-Mart to buy the parks and run them themselves!

That Oh So Slippery Slope

Posted: March 21, 2015 in Miscellaneous
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Why are you people just sitting there watching while we suffer the worst of fates, going down the slippery slope??!!

Why are you people just sitting there watching while we suffer the worst of fates, going down the slippery slope??!!

I was watching the “tele” the other day (sort of….it was on and I was half way paying attention) and there was a discussion of a proposed ban of a type of armor-piercing bullet.  The proponent for not banning the ammo (probably a NRA guy), after hemming and hawing for a bit, said that we shouldn’t allow this ban because if we did, who is to say we don’t ban other kinds of ammo….ultimately all ammo I suppose (see, Obama is not going to take your guns away, just your bullets….so clever).  And that got me thinking, with the same logic being used for not allowing same-sex marriage (because then you would have to allow dogs to marry cats and all sorts of terrible things), that man, EVERYTHING is a slippery slope!   I see it so clearly now!

  • We have established speed limits on our highways and streets.  But it’s a slippery slope.  Soon we’ll have speed limits of 20 mph, then 10 mph, then 5 mph.  You won’t be able to get anywhere!   But but but then we raised interstate speeds from 55 to 65 to 70 mph.  Oh no!  Now it’s going the other way!!!!  It’s going to be 100 mph, then 200 mph, then to ludicrous speed!!!!   Every road will be the Talladega Superspeedway!!!!   Speed limits were a terrible idea!
  • Employers can’t discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, etc.  Oh what’s next?  Soon you won’t be able to discriminate on the basis of education, experience, and skill set either.  Every job and every promotion will become first come, first serve!  Damn you anti-discrimination laws and the slippery slope!
  • At first only white men were allowed to vote.  But then black men were also allowed to vote.  And then women were allowed to vote too.  You can see where this is going.  It’s only a matter of time before children are allowed to vote.  And then babies!   And then will come the pets.  Then sloths.  Most definitely sloths.  Do we really want sloths electing the next President?  Why oh why did we even allow anyone the right to vote to begin with?
  • We have laws that says you can’t just take property from other people.  Sure, that sounds ok.  But who is to say that next you can’t take property from other people, even if they want to give it to you for exchange of cash?   Oh no, it’s the slope and, yep, it’s slippery!  It would be the collapse of the whole free market system!!!!   Oh no!!!!  How has this not happen yet?  Sure, nobody wants that, but the slope cannot be denied!

It is clear, once you try to establish rules and laws, it’s a slippery slope that can only lead to anarchy.   Better to not establish any rules or laws at all……huh, which is anarchy.  Crap.  This can’t possibly be some logical fallacy.  I’ll have to think on it some more.

Alabama The Beautiful?

Posted: March 8, 2015 in Miscellaneous
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(Fine Print:  Hearts may be excluded.)

(Fine Print: Hearts may be excluded.)

One of Alabama’s state slogans is “Alabama The Beautiful”.  But lately, whenever I hear the phrase “In Alabama….” in the media, I just cringe because I just know that what is about to follow is not going to be good.  I mean, just look at how Alabama makes the news:

  • In Alabama, the state supreme court ordered the state’s probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.  This despite a federal judge’s ruling to the contrary, and despite that the U.S. Supreme Court denied the state’s request for a stay on the federal judge’s ruling.  In order to keep discriminating against a class of people, the state court is literally trying to overrule federal courts.   I guess given this state’s history, there are expectations that have to be kept?
  • In Alabama, police beat up an Indian grandfather to the point of leaving him paralyzed.  His crime was apparently going for a walk in the wrong neighborhood.
  • In Alabama, the state has the stingiest Medicaid income cutoff in the nation.  If you’re a non-disabled family of 4 that makes over $3,221 annually, well, you’re out of luck.
  • In Alabama, if you lose an arm in a working accident, it’s worth only $48,000 and some change.  The most you can get for lost wages for ANY injury is $11,440 annually.  And if you lose your arm, payments end after four years.  It matters not what your job and training is.
  • In Alabama, there is not a single dam inspector or any safety program at all (the only state not to have one).  But no worries.  There are only, like, 2200 dams in Alabama.  They won’t fail I’m sure (they do fail) because they are built to the highest standards despite the lack of regulation (they aren’t).  It’s only lives and property at the end of the day…pfft, not important.

I could go on and on.  For a state to proclaim itself to be beautiful, it sure does a lot of ugly things.

Roy Moore - Patron Saint of the no more marriage movement!

Roy Moore – Patron Saint of the no more marriage movement!

So I have read that our illustrious Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the great state of Alabama has spoken out against the recent federal judge ruling against the ban of gay marriage in this state.  Justice Roy Moore says that if you recognize gay marriage, next thing you know you are going to have to recognize marriage between multiple partners or even incestial marriage.  I must admit, the logic is undeniable.  Let me go on to say (which I know Moore would have said if he had more time) that as we proceed, we would soon after have to officially recognize marriage between cats and dogs; Marge and Homer Simpson; if and buts and candy and nuts (and no Merry Christmas’s for ANYONE!); rainbows and unicorns; and MORE.  That’s not a world I want to live in, do you?

The only problem with Moore’s argument is that he didn’t take it back to the very start.  After all, when we started allowing marriage between one man and one woman, that’s when we started down this oh so slippery slope!   And now look at what’s happened!  Alabama became the 37th state where either gay marriage is either outright recognized by law or where bans on gay marriage have been struck down.  It’s only a matter of time before it’s all 50.  It is time to admit that this social experiment called marriage has failed, and all the warnings about “slippery slope” have come true.  The only way I can see not to fall down the slope (as slick as it is) is to never start down the path.

Besides, even the Bible seems to indicate marriage is a slippery slope.  Luke 16:18 says “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery“.   One thing I know about marriage is that it’s definitely the one thing that can lead to divorce.  May be best not to even start down that road.  Also 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 says “…It is good for a man not to marry….”.  That’s good enough for me! (I may be cherry-picking…..i.e. what everyone seems to like to do with the Bible.)

OR…alternatively, maybe we could all just chill out about the prospect of gay marriage.  Change can be scary, but one constant is that society is always evolving.  And usually it’s ultimately for the better, even if it takes the benefit of hindsight (or even the passing of generations) to see it (think back to slavery or even the Civil Rights Movement of the 60’s and beyond).  Then maybe think about what harm will actually come to you and others, real actual harm, if gay marriage is allowed.  Also think about what harm will come to you and others if gay marriage is not allowed.  For me personally, I am usually going to land on the side of freedom if I don’t think it’s going to actually harm anyone, particularly if the alternative does seem to harm others.

2/4/2015 Update:  When I published this article, little did I know that apparently some were taking option number one seriously.  A Chilton County judge has decided he is just going to stop performing marriage ceremonies, period.

Christmas

Posted: December 21, 2014 in Miscellaneous

christmas tree

I actually had been planning for a while to write an article on a different subject.  I thought today was going to be the day to write it.  It would have been about certain (in my mind anyway) injustices that had been bothering me. It would be snarky but hopefully a little bit funny too.  But it would also been one of those things where half the people reading would have been ‘right on man!’ and the other half would have been ‘what an idiot!’.  Maybe I’ll write that article down the road, but with Christmas being just a few days away, it just didn’t feel right.

Instead I’m going to take a different tack.  A common phrase during this time of year is “peace on earth, goodwill toward men”.   I think a good place to start living this phrase is through empathy.  Too often when I hear some people characterize others viewpoints or actions, I have to think ‘surely they don’t really think that’s the other person’s viewpoint or rationale behind that viewpoint?’.  Because if that really was the other viewpoint, that would make the other person really evil.  And while a very few are evil, most people are simply not.  Certainly not enough to make up whole political parties and their electorate, or whole organizations.  So I think if we go back to empathy, understanding that the person with this different viewpoint probably isn’t evil, and thus trying to understand why they REALLY have that viewpoint, it would lead to a better understanding.

I also am going to harp on something I heard at a church service I attended today.  The pastor mentioned the ol’ put the “Christ” back into “Christmas” thing, often used in response to threats, either real or perceived, seen by those in the church.  But then she mentioned putting the “Christ” back into “Christian”.  Then she went through the amazing list that I unfortunately can’t remember and can’t find (I think she was quoting someone, but I’m not 100% sure), but it represented the things that Jesus stood for.   It was things like standing up and helping the poor, against income disparity, against being judgmental, against abuses of authority, etc..  Anyway, it certainly would seem that it would be more productive to make it a point to do good (and do good all year around) yourself than to worry about how others may be missing the point of a holiday (a holiday which isn’t in the Bible in the first place by the way).

So I guess my point is to do good and think well of others.  Anyway, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas!

The Win-Win

Posted: November 15, 2014 in Miscellaneous

win_win

So while I was getting ready for work the other morning, and I had CNN on in the background.  This story about a non-profit organization that uses horses to help motivate at-risk children caught my notice.  Here, go ahead and watch.  I’ll wait:

http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2014/10/07/top-10-hero-patricia-kelly.cnn.html

What a creative way to help children, right?  A really great feel good story.  So after CNN airs the story, they go back to the anchor who also talks about what a great story this is.  But then he says something to the effect of “oh man, it’s just too bad you have to choose just one but you must”.  And I’m sitting there thinking, “um, I don’t think you actually HAVE to choose”, not really knowing what he was talking about.  But he goes on to explain that this particular story was actually all about finding the “2014 Hero of the Year”.  So the people must choose only ONE winner.  Because of course, this is America, there has to be A WINNER!

The question is why?  Why must there be a single winner?  I was lucky enough to be invited to a church service this past Sunday.  The preacher talked about how our society was so prone to declare “winners” and if there are winners, there must by definition be “losers”.  But he stressed that he didn’t think it had to be that way.  He believes that life doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game.  That if we would emphasize love and compassion for one another, it would be a “win-win” for everyone.  I firmly believe that the preacher has the right idea.

So looking at what CNN is doing, it is has a lot of good things going for it.  They are highlighting the good of society, instead of the dredges that usually get all the attention.  But the construct of all this is so American.  It’s not just heroes, it the “Top 10″ heroes (because by golly we need a ranking!).  And then it’s not enough to just have a “Top 10″, we MUST choose a WINNER!   I don’t know about you, but when I see the video, I wasn’t sitting there thinking “hmm, that seems ok, but could you give me 9 other choices (no more, no less!) to compare this too so if I can decide if this charity is a “WINNER” or not?  I can already see that charity and those children are just full of win!   I don’t think it’s going out on a limb to say that the other 9 is just full of win too.  And I will further say that there are a lot more than 10 people/organizations that are also full of win.

I don’t mean to pick on CNN.  Hey, like I said, at least they are using some time to highlight good things.  I’m just using this as an illustration for what I think happens too often, we turn everything into a competition.  But I could easily see how CNN could tweak this, make it an ongoing segment, highlight a different “hero” just once a week, but continuously.  It’s just a thought.  No votes, no winners, because they are all winners.  Really.  A win-win.

When it comes to sports and when it comes to business, competition is great!  But when it comes to life, I don’t think there is any reason that we should strive for winners and losers.  There’s no reason we can’t strive for as good of life as we can get for everyone because really that’s what is best for us all.  It’s the win-win.