Saturday, July 16, 2011

Waste, the Budget, and the Debt Ceiling

I've posted parts of this before, but given Obama's ultimatum to Congress yesterday, I think the expanded version should be shown again. I happily encourage everyone to copy this and mail it on to your congresscritters. If they get bombarded with enough repetitions, they might even listen.

There’s a simple way to deal with Obama’s ultimatum about the Debt Ceiling. Yes, vote to raise the Debt Ceiling right now, but make it clear that this raise is temporary; it will end within a year. Then pay our various debts to other countries, particularly China. Then, call in all our war-debts from World War Two, particularly from China. World Opinion can’t complain if we claim: “Fair is fair. We’ve paid our debts, now you pay yours.” As I recall, the only country which has ever completely paid us back for all the money, arms and supplies we loaned them in WWII is Estonia – which paid up in 1975. All the rest seem to have conveniently forgotten that they owe us anything. Best remind them.

Then we can get down to seriously trimming our federal budget, and that will be quite a show. It’s grimly amusing to watch the Republicans and Democrats fight over how to reduce the budget by goring each other’s oxen. Which program, they argue, shall we cut? Social Security or the military? Planned Parenthood or tax cuts for the rich?

And it’s all pointless!

The single biggest expense of government is waste. I’ve worked for government in two states and I’ve seen this for myself. It was Senator McCain who noted, in public, that the Bureau of Indian Affairs spends 90% of its budget on its own bureaucracy and only 10% on the Indians. I can tell you from observation that the Welfare departments of the states spend 50% of their income on their own bureaucracies and the remainder on the poor. If we could just eliminate government bureaucratic waste we could save at least 40% of the budget, right there. And that’s saying nothing about waste caused by deliberate corruption.

Bureaucratic waste begins with the very language in which bills are written. The impenetrable legalese by itself creates excessive regulations. The excessive regulations create excessive paperwork to keep track of them. The excessive paperwork creates excessive numbers of clerks to deal with the paperwork. The excessive numbers of clerks create excessive numbers of managers to keep track of the clerks. That’s how bureaucracies are created, and grow, and gobble up our tax money.

Corruptive waste is caused by legislators and bureaucratic managers who create unnecessary departments and projects for the express purpose of spending money on their cronies. Who was it that made the Bradley Fighting Vehicle into a 17-year and multimillion-dollar boondoggle? Who votes for construction of unnecessary bridges while our existing bridges degrade? Whose idea was it to bail out the very same CEOs of banks and mortgage companies who created the current Depression? Who was it that looted the Social Security system, which was paying for itself before then, so that Social Security is running bankrupt now? This is how politicians themselves waste our money.

Yes, there’s much that can be done to prevent this.

1) Let every government – municipal, state and federal – in the United States go out and hire a lean, mean, clean and completely private forensic accounting company, complete with canny lawyers who can translate Legalese and tell what enabling bills really say. Let them give those companies complete authority to go anywhere, question anyone and look at everything, with no complaints about “national security” to stop them. Order those companies to look specifically for both bureaucratic and corruptive waste, and bring reports and recommendations for reducing that waste back to the local, state or federal legislature – and then make the legislatures act on those recommendations.

2) Pass a simple law stating that no government agency, department, bureau, etc. shall print, use, maintain, etc. more than ten (10) separate and distinct bureaucratic forms. I’ve seen for myself that all the services performed by, say, the Welfare system could be performed for no more than ten forms, rather than the hundreds it currently employs. Less paperwork means fewer clerks, and therefore fewer managers. If we don’t want to fire those clerks and managers outright, let’s transfer them to more necessary and productive work – say, the Border Patrol – with reduced salaries.

3) Cut the salaries of all elected and appointed officials by 15%. It’s rather unfair to cut the numbers and incomes of the government’s foot-soldiers without asking the generals to share the sacrifice.

4) Pass a simple law which restricts government departments to no more than three levels of management. With the exception of the military, which has seven levels of officers, there is no organization which needs more than three levels of management to function efficiently. To eliminate waste we must stop having too many chiefs per Indian.

5) Do not allow legislators to pass regulations regarding any industry until those proposed regulations have been examined and approved by relevant civilian engineers. Most legislators know nothing about, for example, nuclear reactors; they should not write safety regulations for such reactors based on the glib claims of power-company managers rather than nuclear engineers.

6) Eliminate an old injustice by abolishing all laws restricting the possession of marijuana, or any other products of the hemp plant, and then tax all such products 5% at the point of sale. Also, “influence” all those “financial institutions” which are “friends” of government to “assist and encourage” start-up businesses processing and selling all the products of the hemp plant. Marijuana was made illegal in the first place precisely to stop hemp-industry development which otherwise would have created serious rivals to existing chemical, timber and pharmaceutical companies. We need those rivals now to restart our floundering economy.

7) Overhaul our tax system so that the poor are not taxed more than the rich. End the tax exemptions which allow the richest 1% of our population – including corporations – to pay no taxes at all, and raise the minimum-income level which obliges to poor to pay 15% of their income in taxes. Don’t raise taxes; just close the loopholes.

8) Close those 80+ overseas military bases that we no longer need, bring the troops home and put them to guarding our borders against illegal immigrants from anywhere.

9) Abolish the Federal Reserve and base our currency on federal government property – of which the government has plenty – as well as precious metals.

10) End all subsidies, to everybody. Period.

Following these policies would cut at least 40% out of the governments’ budget, create new industries and new sources of income, without destroying any necessary programs.

Now, will any of our squabbling legislators support them?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Encounter With A Demon -- I Think

I once met a psychic entity which could, I think, be called a demon. It was purely psychic, it dropped into my mind uninvited, and it didn't leave when politely asked to. More, it nattered constantly, making a pest of itself, and would have driven me to distraction if I hadn't found a way to get rid of it. In short, it attempted psychic possession and was not benign. What else could I call it?

I was twelve years old at the time, and my parents were going through some marital troubles which eventually led to their divorce. I kept away from their squabbling by hiding in my own room, with the radio on loud, under the excuse of doing homework. Of course, this meant that I had to actually do the homework – constantly – lest one or the other parent come peering into my room and catch me doing anything else.

This was no fun whatever. I could get through my English assignments quickly, even though the required books were painfully boring, because I could speed-read. History wasn't much more of a challenge, for the same reasons. Science was difficult, not because of the facts and relationships but because of the required mathematics, and Math was worst; I had no talent for mathematics, no intuitive grasp of it, and could get through it only by laboriously applying memorized theorems, formulas and multiplication tables.

I was sweating through the Math homework one evening when I felt another presence – in fact heard it in my mind. It was a nattering, whining, inflectionless voice demanding: “Give me data, set me a task.”

I'd been having psychic experiences since I was six, so I realized at once that this was a psychic presence rather than a physical one, and I was surprised but not frightened. I was also grateful for the distraction from my Math homework. I set down my pencil, closed my eyes and turned my attention to the intruder. “Who are you,” I thought at it, “And what do you want?”

The intruder hesitated over the first question, and I got the impression that it didn't know the answer itself. While it hesitated I mentally looked it over and saw that, as minds go, it was really very small. It had awareness and intelligence – a smoothly efficient rational facility and an enormous memory – but no emotions other than its eagerness to process data and an insatiable hunger for more. It wasn't a whole mind but only a fragment of a personality.
I dubbed it “The Driver” because of its driving demand for facts to ingest. “Set me a task,” it nagged, “Give me data to process.” I got the impression that if it weren't busy processing data, its awareness would shut down completely. If a computer could have a soul, that soul would be like this.

“Oh, this is neat,” I thought, seeing that The Driver could be useful. I opened my eyes, looked at the page of Math problems, and ordered it: “Do my homework.”

The Driver fell to the task with a will, and I could feel its purring contentment as it worked. Through my eyes it looked at the figures of each problem, and came up with the answer in a second. I had only to write down the numbers The Driver gave me, and then move on to the next problem. I was partly amused, partly annoyed, that I myself wasn't aware of The Driver's calculations; the process of actually solving each problem didn't go through my mind at all. This, I considered as I duly wrote down each answer, was proof that The Driver was something alien, from completely outside myself.

It got through the whole page of Math exercises in less than five minutes, something I'd never been able to do, and then nagged for more. I turned to the page of Science problems and turned The Driver loose on them, this time feeling a touch of regret that I was getting only the answers and not really understanding the questions at all. It felt something like cheating on a test; I knew that I'd get a good grade for having the right answers, but I wasn't really learning anything myself. History, next, was a little different; The Driver had to mine my memory for the chapter I'd just read in order to dig up the facts it needed to process for the answers, and the sensation wasn't pleasant.

On the English homework The Driver faltered, because the questions didn't just require digging up and connecting facts; they demanded interpretation, and that was something The Driver didn't know how to do. It could correlate all the data I'd read about the history and personality of Silas Marner, but it couldn't add the understanding of his motivations. I had to contribute that myself, and The Driver responded with a blank sense of bewilderment. For all its calculating power, there were limits to its understanding. Worse, The Driver nattered impatiently for more data, distracting me while I was writing my answers in the workbook.

But at last the homework was done, and at this hour the parents weren't likely to peep into my room to see what I was doing, so I had a good hour to myself before bathtime and bedtime. I tried to spend it reading something I liked, such as Albert Payson Terhune's dog stories. But now The Driver's whining for more data, more data, was becoming a distinct annoyance. I tried ignoring it, but the nattering voice still intruded. I deliberately told it: “Shut up, will you?”

It didn't. Its yakking spoiled my hour of personal time. The Driver was still yattering as I took my bath and got ready for bed, and by now I seriously wanted to be rid of it. But how?

As I was getting into bed for the night, the obvious solution occurred to me. The Driver was only a partial personality, and it had no understanding of human motivations. In fact, it did not even have a human sense of self-preservation. So I turned my attention directly toward it and asked: “How do I disentangle you from my mind?”

Sure enough, it answered. “Overload,” it said. “Overload.”

That was all I needed to know. “I have a task for you,” I said. “Calculate the nature and purpose of the entire universe. Correlate all data. Start now.”

I could feel The Driver revving like an engine gearing up to speed, felt it rifling through its own memory, and mine in passing. It began to hum with effort as it processed data, faster and faster, trying to correlate all that information. As the hum rose to a whine, I realized I didn't want to be awake when the thing reached its top speed – so I lay down, turned out the light, and deliberately blanked my mind as if falling asleep. And in a few minutes I really did fall asleep, hearing that whine in the back of my mind rising in pitch.

Sometime in my sleep The Driver overloaded and wrenched loose from me, and spun off to wherever overloaded psychic fragments go. Being preoccupied as it was with its impossible task, I doubt if it ever managed to attach itself to another mind again.

From this experience I concluded that what we commonly call “demons” are no more than fragments of a personality, somehow wrenched loose from their original minds and cast adrift, but bonded to enough psychic ability to maintain themselves until they can attach to another whole mind. I would venture to guess that if a “demon” can't attach to another mind within a limited amount of time, it will eventually wither to extinction. Just how much time that is, I don't know. What I do know is that I've never again encountered another parasitic psychic fragment like that.

I also wonder, at times, what would have happened if that “demon” had attached itself to a mind less centered or more easily frightened than mine.

--Leslie