Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Infamy of Abel Maldonado

Today's passage of California's $42 billion boondoggle budget is highly symptomatic of the problems we face nationally. That California chose a plan that precisely mirrors Obama's Anti-Stimulating Stimulus Package simply means that local politicians are no better at owning up to the problems that got us here than the Feds are.

Our last hope - moderate Abel Maldonado - finally caved and cast his vote to approve the budget. This allows Schwarzenegger to go back to loving his "girly men" in the legislature while simultaneously redacting all those pink slips he was starting to hand out earlier this week. CalTrans will go back to removing hefty chunks of California highways just in time for vacation season this year. And Abel Maldonado will have to consider whether the Republican backlash from his "yea" vote was worth the sellout.

Now, I'll grant you this: a quarter percent tax increase in my bracket is not going to kill me. State tax increases rarely have that kind of impact on my situation. I've been working long enough that I can make ends meet most of the time. I will admit to being concerned about my state refund this year, but on the whole I was all for holding the state accountable for all of its irresponsible spending decisions over the past several years.

Ditto the Feds. Zero Accountability is what got us into fiscal trouble, and the Faux Stimulus Obama just signed will take us right back to Zero Accountability. Oh, they created a so-called "Accountability and Transparency" board, but its only real function is to politicize the various Inspectors General and place them under the control of the board instead of maintaining their heretofore independent status. Reckless fiscal policy, that. And it will catch up with the Obamatrons both in the administration and in Congress.

But back to Maldonado. Being from Santa Maria, Maldonado has the taint of elitist liberalism, though he claims to be a Republican. I can pretty much guarantee, however, that if he aspires to any office higher than the state senate, he will find himself facing a somewhat unforgiving crowd down here in Orange County. I know why the man finally changed his vote. He found himself in the position of having the whole state see him as the man who was blocking passage of money needed to fund our state-wide pork. That's an uncomfortable chair, and he wanted to go home. He finnagled a few "concessions" before changing his vote, but we're still saddled with a budget that relies more on tax increases than in reduced spending measures. Again, reckless fiscal policy that will catch up with those who voted in favor.

And exactly how do I know that this budget is bad policy? Because Schwarzenegger approves; that's how:
This is the perfect medicine for our ailing economy, and it will boost public confidence in California, reassure the financial community and allow us to start selling bonds and rebuild our state."

"Now, instead of worrying every day only about IOUs and about red ink, we can start moving California forward once again. This action to solve our $42 billion deficit was difficult but courageous and just what California needs," he said.
Note to the Governator: You can't "solve" budget deficits when you're still spending more than you're taking in. Did you not read that definition when taking the state employee exams? Oh, wait...

Anyway, California has its approved budget, and everyone goes home happy. Until next year's deficit rears its head. Then it'll be every man for himself.

Maldonado will lead the way.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When Money Talks...

That money talks
I'll not deny,
I heard it once:
It said, "Goodbye."
   ~Richard Armour
I'm a little worried about my money these days. Not looking so good. In fact, not looking good at all. I went to visit it this morning and was shocked to see its condition.

"You look terrible," I said.

"No worse than you," it replied. "You look like death warmed over."

"Touch of bronchitis. Nothing serious. What's your excuse?"

My money, stacked morosely in small denominations in the back corner of the credit union vault, gave me the slightest ghost of a smile. "Well, I could blame everything on the economy, of course, but I'm afraid it's worse than that."

"Worse than the economy?" I asked. "How is that possible?"

"The Feds are after me."

Of course. It all made sense to me then. With the passage today of the so-called "Stimulus" bill, money all over the country would naturally be living in mortal fear of becoming fodder for pork barrel spending. Probably sooner rather than later.

"But how do you know the Feds won't spend you wisely?" I asked earnestly. "Certainly they couldn't do any worse than I have?"

My money actually laughed at me. "You're kidding, right? How much do you think I'm worth to you right now?"

I did some quick calculations. "Well, I know what your face value is. That can't have changed too much since last summer, could it?"

A few loose dollars fell to the vault floor. "I guess you haven't noticed yet. Can't you see how much weight I've lost since the Inauguration? I'm literally worth only pennies on the dollar right now. You just haven't caught on yet. Bet you haven't done your taxes yet this year, have you?"

I had to admit he had me there. "Well, no. Seems like I just barely filed my return from last year, what with the extension and all."

I've never heard money sigh before, but it had a somewhat chilling effect. "That's what I mean. You'll find out soon enough anyway. I guess you should know the whole story. You see, I've been called up by Congress and I expect to be deployed any time now."


"Of course! Don't you get it? Obama's majorities in the House and Senate have already earmarked me for some pork project in a town neither of us has ever heard of! I'll be shipped off to buy toxic assets from heaven only knows where, or, worse, be put in the pockets of corrupt union officials in (here it shuddered visibly) Michigan."

"Surely the Republicans would have tried to eliminate all that pork," I rejoined. "I can't imagine them letting the Democrats have their way without a fight."

A shrinking stack of ten dollar bills actually made a sound of disgust. "You weren't paying attention to the Three Stooges, I take it."

"Larry, Moe and Curly?"

"Collins, Snowe and Specter. They sold me out. Helped craft the 'bipartisan' spending package and threw me under Obama's bus."

"Ouch. I had no idea."

"Neither did anyone else. We all assumed that, being Republicans and all, they would stand firm with the House Republicans and vote against this nonsense. Instead they betrayed good conservative dollars everywhere and voted to appease the Congressional Demagogues. Had they toed the line like they should, we might have been able to force Obama's water carriers back to the bargaining table. Instead, I'm hiding out in this musty vault, hoping against hope that they'll somehow overlook me."

"There's still a chance you could get a plum assignment. I hear that NASA gets a billion plus in this package. Maybe you could even go to Homeland Security..."

"To help build the Fence in Name Only? May as well convert me to pesos now and be done with it."

"Oh, quit worrying. You're still here and I'm not going to throw you to the wolves just because some politician sticks his hand out. Hey, I'm still here, right? And I still have my health."

"And Obama wants to socialize health care in this country."

Suddenly I don't feel so good, either.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Finding the Silver Lining

There's little question we're in for some rough times ahead. Most businesses have either announced or are pondering layoffs in just about every industry you can think of. So when I found this item from Reuters this morning, it made me smile.

Not long after I emerged from my post-adolescent cocoon and found myself struggling to meet the demands of a new marriage, I was shanghaied by an Amway zealot. Now, I have nothing personally against Amway or any of its several re-inventions over the years. Their products are, for the most part, reliable. I simply have no stomach for their multi-level marketing strategies which border on evangelistic fanaticism in my opinion. So I didn't last long. (Anyone who knows me knows that I am far too lazy to make an aggressive strategy like Amway really work anyway.)

I dredge up this piece of ancient history only because of what Amway preached back in the day. They really had only two selling points. One was the perceived benefits of the multi-level marketing approach. The other was the strength of the products they marketed. "People will always need cleaning products" was their mantra. It's true: rain or shine, good economy or bad, people want to be clean. Just because you have no money, you certainly don't want people thinking you have no money, so you'll keep cleaning your house no matter what your current debt load may be. Not to mention all the hygienic benefits from keeping your home and yourself as clean as possible.

(My "upline" did, however, fail to mention that when the chips were down and it was a choice between paying Amway whatever shipping charges were included with your order, or simply going to Ye Olde Grocery Shoppe down the street to pay a few cents more or less on the dollar, convenience will always win. Always.)

This is why the Reuters story made me chuckle. Yes, times are bad. A lot of good people are facing a new reality with no immediate income and bleak employment prospects. But the people who put food on our tables (as opposed to those who charge us for the simple pleasure of sitting at one of their tables and looking at their menus) are benefitting from our new-found reliance on good ol' home cooking.

It's expensive to eat out all the time. Heaven knows we do our fair share. We're not big restaurant people here at Hacienda Woody. But it's not at all unusual for Woody to be out running errands (including, ironically enough, grocery shopping) and have Mrs. Woody say, "As long as you're out..." and Woody suddenly finds himself in the nearest drive-through. If you do even a few of those every month it adds up to an alarming amount of money. And I know people who eat out far more frequently than they eat in.

Living on a budget does things to your priorities. You begin to remember just why, exactly, you have a stove. Or, at the very least, a microwave. (I prefer to do my vegetable steaming in the microwave, for example.) You also remember that nothing tastes quite like a home-cooked meal. This may be especially true if Hubby does any of the home cooking:


"Yes, Honey?"

"Dad cooked the meatloaf again, didn't he?"

"It's not meatloaf, Sweetheart."


(Actually, Woody cooks a fairly credible meatloaf. Allow me some creative license.)

My point is that I don't see it as a bad thing that people are eating at home more. Perhaps I'm just taking a glass-half-full approach to this recession, but it might just remind us that a certain amount of conservatism (with a small "c" if you must) is not necessarily a bad thing.