Paving the road to nowhere, one word at a time.

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Location: Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

American born, living in Mexico since 1992.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ostensibly Nebulous

I am pretty sure that I could construct a fully functional nuclear bomb. In other words, if I had the means to procure some enriched uranium (I'm not enriching it myself, I don't have the room here), along with other necessary materials (you know, shiny reflective metal like beryllium, suitable trigger devices, and so on), and enough time, I could do it. Assuming that I would survive any setbacks during the assembly process, I have a lot of confidence in my ability to accomplish this. Don't get me wrong, I have no intention on actually doing it, but I bet that I could.

View this as a positive revelation, because if I had any doubts then I would almost certainly have to try it.

I remember the first time that I had sopes, the lovely and wonderful soul food of Mexico. The next time that Rocio's mother cooked them, I watched. I asked her questions concerning every step. It looked so impossible. Obviously, within a month, I had to try to make sopes.

* * * *

Last night, I walked with Anna to the convenience store after dinner, after we ate sopes. These walks really are some of the most wonderful moments of my life. For one thing, never did I ever imagine that my sixteen-year-old daughter would ever really understand me in any relevant way. And she does. Also, she's delightful company most of the time.

The night before last, I got a bit upset with her. She was on the phone for over an hour when I finally came out of my office, it was too much. It was also the second time that I had to tell her. All of my kids know, there is no such thing as a third time.

"Get off the phone, now," I ordered.

She hung up, she wasn't happy.

"Look, I give you a lot more latitude in these things that I gave the other two," I told her.

"I'm not the other two," she said angrily and began heading up the stairs to bed.

"No, you're not," was the only thing I could manage to say.

Anna stomped off to bed. She was right, even though the other two are fine children, she really isn't like them at all. Juan is an amazing kid - well, young man I suppose, and Sharon, even though she inherited her mother's resolute stubbornness, seems to have straightened up. But Anna is different.

Last night, I asked her how she liked the sopes.

"I didn't like the chorizo very much. I mean, it's okay I guess, but it was different," she said.

"The fruiteria was out of the stuff I normally buy. I went to Calimax and bought what was ostensibly pork chorizo. When I got home I discovered that it was made from soy," I confessed.

"What does ostensibly mean?" Anna asked.

"It's what something seems like in appearance or perception, but not necessarily true. I get words stuck in my head and use them too much. Like ostensibly, and nebulous. I was just confessing that to someone the other day."

She pointed at me and said, "I know what nebulous means."

"And don't forget my favorite phrase these days, it applies to any situation, even something like accidentaly buying the wrong chorizo," I said.

And then we said it together, "This is what happens."

* * * *

It's funny how cooking sopes to me now is so simple. The first few times that I tried it, it scared the crap out of me, but I had to do it. Anna is like that. She decides that she wants to do something and she does it. If it is less than successful, it doesn't detour her, she does it again. She loves to bake, and she's getting good at it. If she wants to do something she just does it.

Good for her.

She attempted to make sopes a couple of times while I was making them, she wanted to try it. Her first couple of attempts, less than perfect, reminded me of what my first attempts were like. I told her that practice would enable her to get it right. I think that the next time I make sopes, I'm going to have her do most of it. And she will. And I'm sure that she'll do fine.

"How many gringos do you think know how to make sopes?" I asked Anna.

"Probably not many," she said. "None that I know of, except for you."

And then, as we came back to the house last night, I only thought it, I didn't have to say it, because perhaps Anna was thinking the same thing. Ostensibly, there are more Mexicans that know how to prepare grits than there are gringos who know how to make sopes. And that distinction, at best, is nebulous. This is what happens.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Water And Clay

Initially, I ignore knocking at the door anytime before noon, because it's going to be someone I don't know. Someone is going to want to sell me something, or else it will be someone in a police officer's uniform asking for donations, or maybe even some poor people with a story about not having enough money to bury their uncle. This morning, after the third persistent series of knocks, I walked out of my office to see. There was two young men, well-dressed, and I pegged them as Mormons and mentally prepared my best polite, "No, gracias."

One of them was holding a breaker fuse, and pointing at the electrical meters across the entry to the cul-de-sac, babbling something in Spanish.

"Those meters belong to the houses across from mine," I told him in Spanish.

His friend then spoke up, "Do you speak English?"

There was no accent at all in his voice.


"Do you know who sells these?"

"No. There is a hardware store two blocks up the street. They probably don't carry them but they'll know who would."

"Okay. Can we borrow a screwdriver?"

"No. Again, you can get a screwdriver from the hardware store. Good luck, gentlemen."

I have never seen these people before. I still think that they are Mormons. Maybe they went to one of the houses to talk about Jesus and learned that there was an electrical problem. I have no idea. I'll never know. That's okay with me, because I still have my screwdriver.

* * * *

I noticed that it is bright and sunny outside and again perhaps seventy degrees. It rained a lot on Monday, pools of water still sit awaiting evaporation. People in San Diego first complain about the rain but then proclaim that it's needed, no matter that it's annoying. This isn't true for Tijuana. We don't need the rain. The ground here is mostly clay, it doesn't hold rainwater, and the rainwater finds its way to the Pacific Ocean without stopping unless it finds a place to pool up. This process is only messy and never functionally works in a positive manner.

And then one observation leads to another.

Out on the boulevard, there are often times – among the taco stands and taxi queues and street vendors – Mormons are also there and standing static, arms outstretched with literature in hand. They are mostly harmless, like clay, as the people pass them by as so much water. They seem nice enough. They'll barely say a word to anyone unless eye contact is made. These people out on the sidewalks of Tijuana do not bother me in the least.

Here, the dynamic person – the human being in motion – can avoid the static people made of clay. Just keep moving, just be fluid. Let gravity, or else your own energy, carry you along. That's the key to avoiding such annoyances. At least, this is one way of getting through the day here.

There is another thing that happens here, it is unique in many aspects, to Baja. Once that you stop, you are potentially a target. Drinking with Scott and Jody is the greatest example of this phenomenon. Sitting in the Nuevo Perico, people come into the bar all day. They sell everything from compact discs to cigarette lighters. Jody's favorite was the guy that walked in one day selling a toilet seat. Because if you need to buy a toilet seat, then logically you just go to a bar.

This is what happens.

My personal favorite was the very old woman who would, daily, go into the Dandy Del Sur at about five in the afternoon. She would be toting around some vegetables that were obviously discarded by a store that couldn't sell them because they were too old. Radishes, onions, and other almost rotten food. Again, this is because when you want to purchase old and unusable produce, just go have a beer somewhere and it will come to you.

"Boy, am I glad that she showed up," I told Jody one afternoon. "I'm all out of old onions and radishes."

Jody laughed. "One time I felt bad for her, so I just gave her five dollars for everything. When she left, I threw it away."

Jody stopped giving her money after that. He realizes that acting as an enabler just brings them back in hopes of another five dollars. Jody is more like clay now. I am more like clay now. You let the water flow around you, over you, even if it means that you have to say no a lot more often than you want to. Sitting still means ignoring the annoying water when you don't want to absorb it.

* * * *

When I'm at home, I don't have to answer the door. The telephone, which rings far too often, is also annoying, and so rarely for me that I am usually disappointed with myself for answering it. Often, it is a recording, from someone who wants us to switch phone or cable services. If you hang up on the recording, it calls back. I usually throw the receiver onto the couch and grab a beer, and by the time I get back from the kitchen the recording has finished.

I then go back into my office and write or read or research. The radio is always on, in the background, keeping me company. Outside, I hear the propane trucks honking, someone selling tamales, even a guy who roams around in a truck pitching brooms and mops. Occasionally, there is a man on a bicycle that rides by, he sharpens knives by turning his bike over and attaching a sharpening stone to the back wheel. This is easily ignored.

Living in Baja, you turn to clay when standing still, and turn to water when moving about. When the Mormons come to your door, you don't have to answer it. When you go to the store, you don't have to acknowledge the Mormons on the street. Then, you just smile about it, even when the rains come down, because even the Mormons here need umbrellas sometimes.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Twenty-one – Conclusion And Opinion

Between the pirate and the privateer, there is a gray area that defies black and white or any other binary distinction along with a vast ocean in which to settle the differences. Politics and economics have always worked this way. In times of economic surplus, the pirate becomes a privateer. In times of economic peril, the privateer becomes the pirate. When the economy is stable, then it becomes difficult to determine the difference. This is what happens.

I listened to the Shiny New President's press conference the other evening. As with all presidential press conferences, the questions are prescreened, to a point, so that the President isn't embarrassed or ambushed. This is understandable. And when one reporter asked about "earmarking" on the stimulus package, Obama denied it. This is almost true, as there is almost no earmarks in the bill. But Obama went on to admit that there was a lot of "pork" in the bill. I admired his acknowledgement of the obvious. Previous administrations wouldn't have been that honest. On the other hand, he had nothing to lose, because he knew that he'd already won.

And the only obvious earmarking on the stimulus bill came from a Republican Senator, in case you are wondering.

A little more than half of this bill was written long before Obama won the election. Those portions of the bill sat on someone's desk, drawing dust and sitting patiently until an opportunity presented itself. This is how politics works. Republicans pass their type of legislation this way, too. In fact, the last administration hijacked congress, in that the act of a congressman voting against legislation that supported and funded a war that was very unpopular within their own constituency could translate to anti-patriotism. The current administration did not need such tactics, only the ability to pick off a couple of senators from the other side of the aisle.

The appropriations provisions in the stimulus bill are ostensibly designed from the Keynesian macroeconomic model which contends that increasing the cash supply to government for investment in infrastructure, when combined with tax cuts or credits to the lower and middle class, stimulates economic growth. This is similar to what the Roosevelt administration did with the New Deal. There is plenty of debate amongst economists and historians concerning the effectiveness of the New Deal, and that perhaps the second World War had more to do with recovery from the Great Depression than did anything else. I am willing to seek a compromise that the combination of the two events helped to get the United States of America back on its feet.

And to be fair, and completely honest, I don't believe that Supply-side macroeconomics had as much to do with economic recovery from the recession in the Reagan administration as did other factors.

* * * *

Many years ago, I took my family up to Del Mar for a day at the racetrack. I remember that they had these booths set up, temporary kiosks, and that people were giving away free souvenirs, horse racing stuff. One item - and it escapes me now as to what that item was, appeared very attractive to add to my collection. I wanted to buy one, but they weren’t for sale. They were free! All I had to do was to fill out an application for a credit card. I explained to the young lady that I really didn't want a credit card, but she insisted that it was harmless, and that the most that they would do is to simply offer me the card and that I could refuse it if I chose to do so.

Perhaps a month later, I was sitting at my desk at work, and I received a telephone call. It was a credit card company.

"We'd like to ask you a few questions," she said.

"But I don't own any credit cards," I told her.

"No, this is concerning your application."

"But I didn't apply for..."

Then I remembered that I had, indeed, applied for their credit card. I acknowledged it.

"We were wondering, how old are you?" she asked.

"Thirty-eight, why?"

“Well, you have no credit rating at all. In fact, we can't find any reference to where you bank. We were just wondering if you were just starting out, you know, maybe that you just graduated high school or something."

"Nope. I have no credit cards and no bank account."

She was dumbfounded. I told her why I applied, that it wasn't for the card, it was for the horse racing memorabilia that I could add to my collection. I told her that she could rip up my application and that I was sorry for wasting her time. But it occurred to me that people are sometimes worth more by what they owe than what they don't owe. This is truer now than it was then, in that if you have a credit card with a high limit and you aren't using it and you don't owe on it, the card will likely be cancelled soon. In order to maintain a good credit rating, one needs to owe something against it. Ironic, just a little?

* * * *

The last company that I worked for began to feel it immediately and it wasn't pretty. The majority of their business came from companies that provided material used to sell houses, mostly new houses, because traditionally such advertising and attention-getting has paid off for the housing industry. Orders began to drop fast as the inventory of unsold houses began to climb. I rationalized that the housing industry still needed to advertise, and that perhaps they wanted it at a lower cost. I argued, unsuccessfully, that the company should go directly after the homebuilders, cutting out the middleman. Unfortunately, the owner had a lot of loyalty to these middlemen, and even though our sales staff had leads on builders that our clients weren't pursuing, they didn’t have the required experience to go after them.

Last that I heard, that company is still in business, but in very bad shape. There isn't anything that I found in this stimulus bill that is going to help them, except that one of their clients sells motivational material to schools. Unfortunately, their profit margin with this client is extremely low. There are a lot of businesses that will not benefit enough from this particular bill to keep them from going under. This was a problem in the Roosevelt administration, and it will be a problem for the Obama administration. This is what happens.

Under the Keynesian model of economic recovery, the limitation is that government spending dictates the area of recovery. Under the Supply-side model, the limitation is that wealth in the private sector dictates the area of economic recovery. Both are, at best, unproven theories with supporters and detractors, and at worst, irrelevant to thousands of people who have lost their jobs, and their homes, and their future.

* * * *

Dismiss, for a moment, the catalyst that started this particular recession. The Reagan administration loosened the reigns on tight controls of financial institutions by the Federal government, in order to provide wealthy investors that had benefited from Supply-side tax cuts the opportunity to secure financing for reinvestment into the private sector. This had the appearance of success when the economy recovered and, in fact, flourished in the mid-eighties, but this also reduced government income, thereby creating a dichotomy. The twenty years that followed Reagan, this dichotomy was not only ignored but exploited by politics, and while the reigns were completely let loose on financial regulation by the time that the last President began his second term, government at both the State and Federal levels continued to spend money that it didn't have.

Financial institutions and government irresponsibly ignored what any child already knows: You can't spend what you don't have, and you don't loan money to someone that you know can't pay you back. But that's over now. The Federal government has no choice but to print more money in order to make some attempt at staving off a complete collapse of the economy, which would ensure a depression, and then maybe even a war in order to reset everything. Nobody wants that.

Economic recovery occurs when the private business sector begins to invest in the production of goods and the provision of services, mandated and balanced by the demand of the market. These businesses secure capital for such investments through loans and lines of credit, which are secured through banks and other lending institutions. Lending institutions make money through one of two methods: by marginally high interest made on a moderate amount of loans, or from marginally low interest rates on a high volume of loans. Because of their irresponsibility, these lending institutions don't have a lot of money, which precludes the latter method. But interest rates are so low that loaning only a little bit of money can't make a substantial enough profit.

So, under this stimulus plan, interest rates should rise. This will enable financial institutions to get back on their feet while also staving off potential inflation from printing out almost 800 billions dollars and pumping it into the public sector. Unfortunately, this isn't going to help the housing industry or the automobile industry, or any other industry that relies on consumer loans in order to sell their product. And small businesses will suffer, because their lines of credit will command higher payments. So, under this stimulus plan, you have to keep interest rates down, guard against rising inflation, while pumping billions into the public sector. They've tried to give the lending institutions more money in order to provide them with enough to loan at a reduced rate, but that didn't work out too well, because the banks decided to use their first bail-out to make money through other means, like buying up smaller banks.

This is an impossible task, because people seem to not want to cooperate.

* * * *

The spending of public funds in this bill is ridiculous. Most of it is not designed to get the economy back on its feet, and it is irresponsible and misleading to claim that it is. A National Health Care system is something that should be debated separately and that it's part of a stimulus package is deceitful. In fact, a good half of the items in the bill should all be legislated separately and so should funding for education and so should funding for the Army Corps of Engineers. The problem with such funding is that these funds are often misappropriated, especially when given in bulk. In the decade prior to hurricane Katrina, the State of Louisiana had been given nine billion dollars in order to repair and improve the levees that protect the city of New Orleans. Only ten percent of that money went toward its intended use.

What would I do differently? A lot. First of all, don't give any money to businesses that substantially manufacture goods outside of the United States of America. General Motors is going to take what they get and invest it at facilities in Brazil and Mexico because they profit more from the assembly plants there. Secondly, give smaller companies the bigger tax breaks, because those companies are going to close quickly without their lines of credit. Banks will not close the lines of credit on larger companies as fast because the volume, in spite of the low interest rate, makes them more profitable. And another thing I would think would work better, is to figure out a way to get money into the public sector a lot faster than the appropriated funds seem to allow. Billions of dollars in highway funding will certainly create a lot of jobs, but unless the planning has already been completed this is going to take a long time before constructions actually begins.

The thing that most disappoints me about this particular stimulus package is that it is a combination of money that is both thoughtlessly thrown into government spending and unilaterally tied to partisan projects. Trying to make up for a lack of revenue by the government for necessary projects that were overlooked by previous administrations in this way isn't fair to anyone. One alternative would be to give the tax breaks and other portions of the bill that would have an immediate impact on the economy, and then to set aside the other appropriations and subsequent items of the bill, debate them, and come up with better organized and more widely accepted and acceptably compromised ways to accomplish what needs to be done in order to revive the economy.

"This bill is not perfect," President Obama told reporters at his latest press conference.

I agree, Mr. President. Thank you, at least, for not lying to me.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Twenty – Scotty, We Need More Power!

Fuck this is a grind, and I'm glad it's almost over (this is worse than following the Tour-De-France). The last section of the stimulus deals with energy. You can never have too much energy. Or apparently, pages in a bill. Anyway, this section amends the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. It increases benefits already given to anyone who took advantage of that bill. In addition, it provides for "financial support to smart grid demonstration projects in urban, suburban, and rural areas, including areas where electric system assets are controlled by tax-exempt entities and areas where electric system assets are controlled by investor-owned utilities." Grants will be provided to cover half of the costs in some cases.

There is also a lot about biofuels in here, none of which are specified but they keep using the word, "support". And there is more about Weatherization. And more Grants. And on and on. Again, very little is specific in here so far as money to be spent, but at least there aren't many reports to fill out. Maybe by the time they wrote this, they were tired and forgot about that part. The point of this section is to promote Energy Independence.

The last seven chapters didn't give much of a clue about cost, other than combined it would be somewhere around 435 billion, because direct Appropriations are around 390 billion. And I know, there have been amendments, and will likely be even more amendments. Health Care and Education make up the majority of this bill. This is a lot to digest. I will write a conclusion, which will be simply my opinion of course. But I won't be home tomorrow, so the only decision I have is whether to try and digest this tonight and write about it, or to give it some thought and come back tomorrow night or Wednesday and do it.

Next: Chapter Twenty-one – Conclusion And Opinion

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Nineteen – Dial-Up No More!

Okay. So now we all have internet access. Well, most of us. The first part of this next-to-last section deals with broadband, which implies something better than dial-up. First they're going to make a map. This is so they know where broadband isn't available. Then they're going to give Grants to deploy broadband for areas that are still struggling with dial-up. Then they’re going to make a web site. Then they're going to write reports. No fewer than 80% of people will have broadband access in the U.S. (by State) by the time they are finished.

Just so that you know, this is how the Government defines it: For the purpose of this section - the term "advanced broadband service" means a service delivering data to the end user transmitted at a speed of at least 45 megabits per second downstream and at least 15 megabits per second upstream. Just so you know. There is a lot more stuff on Grants and even how to apply for a Grant and of course, more reports.

One more section to go.

Next: Chapter Twenty – Scotty, We Need More Power!

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Eighteen - Free Nationalized Health Care

The Federal Medicare Assistance Percentages (FMAP), which is the ratio that Federal assists State government for Medicare, will temporarily increase for a couple of years. The percentage depends on how much unemployment or general poverty exists in that specific State. It could be as high as twenty percent. There is also an increase in cap expenditures, depending. The State may not deposit this money and sit on it until they need it. This is because States always know when they'll need it, because poor people get sick very non-randomly. There are dozens or regulations and even moratoria on other existing regulations. Because sometimes you need regulations and sometimes you don't. Again, there are more reports. And some clauses. And then more reports. And Family Planning Services, which I hope and presume is free birth control. And Native Americans get it, too. Fucking casinos.

And there are DSH allotments. DSH stands for Disproportionate Share Hospital, which has to do with one hospital treating more poor people than other hospitals. I think it's like revenue sharing in baseball.

We're almost done now.

Next: Chapter Nineteen – Dial-up No More!

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Seventeen - The Beginning Of A National Health Care System

Let's take a moment to talk about the "Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act", but because that's so damned long, let's just call it HITECH. This is another example of your crafty government at work, masters of the acronym. HITECH creates a brand shiny new office and lodges itself into the Public Health Service Act. Deeply. Deep and hard. Just the way America likes it.

This begins with identifying terms. It amends the Public Health Service Act, and adds Health Information Technology and Quality, and then defines EHR Technology, Enterprise Integration, and on and on. Then they establish an Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (HIT). It ensures stuff that Doctors use to ensure, because apparently Doctor's sucked at it. The duties of the National Coordinator are to Health Information Technology works. This is because the government has to have access to your health records by the year 2014 ("The utilization of an electronic health record for each person in the United States by 2014"). This is so they can determine whether or not your doctor should treat you. There are penalties that your Doctor will have to pay for not complying with it.

If you think that I am kidding, you need to read Division B, Title IV of the bill. Now, let's pretend that you are all pro-National Health Care and a Democrat. Why is this a bad idea? Because sooner or later the other guys will get to run the government again for a while. This happens. And now you want an abortion. Guess what's going to happen?

This section is the blueprint for Nationalized Healthcare. There will be a HIT Czar, and that HIT Czar, within twelve months, will have a "Chief Privacy Officer". And a Policy Committee. Here's a slice of their responsibilities: "Technologies that as a part of a qualified electronic health record allow for an accounting of disclosures made by a covered entity (as defined for purposes of regulations promulgated under section 264(c) of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) for purposes of treatment, payment, and health care operations (as such terms are defined for purposes of such regulations)". This will scare you, unless you are a Socialist. And if you are a socialist, you aren’t reading this anyway.

There are pages and pages of crap in here. It is, by far, the largest part of this bill.

There will also be a Standards Committee, because apparently there can never be too many committees. This is going to be a government regulated system, and they might even charge for it ("AUTHORIZATION TO CHARGE A NOMINAL FEE - The National Coordinator may impose a nominal fee for the adoption by a health care provider of the health information technology system developed or approved"). Then, they get Medicare and Medicaid involved, but those guys get it free. There are Grants and Appropriations to provide incentives to get Doctors and Hospitals on board. And other funding. Lots of other funding. Billions of dollars. It would take me a month to break this down.

Plus, I didn't get any tequila today because it's raining like hell here.

Anyway, welcome to the birth of Socialized Medicine in the United States of America. And don't argue with me unless you have read this provision, please, you would be wasting both your time and mine. If you want it, you've won. And if you don't want it, you're screwed, because it's here.

Next: Chapter Eighteen – Free Nationalized Health Care

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Sixteen - Healthy Bums Like Me

Once someone becomes dis-employed, they are eligible for COBRA, which is an extension of any Health Insurance that they had when they were employed. Once unemployed, in order to keep their Health Insurance, such people pay premiums. In this next section, the Federal government has decided that you only have to pay 35% of your premium. Again, there are rules and regulations. Also, there is some Emergency Medicaid provisions, but it would take me a week to get through it all. This all costs money. How much is anyone's guess.

Many pages of information, a lot of money spent, but no way to know the total and I'm not about to attempt a guess.

By the way, I'm listening to the President's Press Conference at the moment. The Shiny New Guy is certainly right about one thing: This entire mess got started by banks taking stupid risks while the Federal Government cheered it all on.

Next: Chapter Seventeen – The Beginning Of A National Health Care System

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Fifteen - Non-Working Class

Another provision for "Assistance for Unemployed Workers and Struggling Families" begins with an extension of Unemployment Compensation – plus a raise! Ostensibly, people on Unemployment will get $25 more, which will keep me in booze quite nicely. This shall be reimbursed to the states in full, and in effect through next year, from the general fund in the Treasury, according to pages and pages of rules and regulations. There is also stuff in there about dependant allowances, but I am guessing that this changes from State to State. There are a lot of areas where 7 billion dollars comes up (multiple amounts of 7 billion), but it's fuzzy and sketchy as to how much money will go toward this part of the bill. Also, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) gets a couple of years of emergency funding, including Grants for extra caseloads. There is no apparent limit to this funding. This includes emergency money for SSI recipients. Again, there are a buttload of rules and regulation, so your mileage may vary.

Again, nothing to add to the total, but it's all in there somewhere.

Next: Chapter Sixteen – Healthy Bums Like Me

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Fourteen - Give Me Some (Tax) Credit

Other Provisions must be items in the bill that aren't Appropriated, otherwise they wouldn't get their own special section, and the first series of items falls under Tax Provisions. All of this stuff is applied to the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, in the form of revisions and additions. Don't think for a minute that I have the time or the talent to get into any detail. I don't. Plus, I'm out of tequila.

First in this section is an Earned Income Credit. I have no idea how to quantify it into one big number, but basically, for anyone making $75,000 or less ($150,000 if filing jointly), you get $500 ($1,000 if filing jointly), or 6.2% of your income, whichever is less. Once you hit over $75,000 of income, the amount starts to drop dramatically as income goes up. This is in effect for the next two years. We have no choice but to set this aside and see how it fits into the total at the end. There is going to be a lot of that from now on.

Next is another Tax Relief item, one for families with children. Basically, more than three qualifying kids will get you $5,000 per year over the next two years. I wonder what having 14 kids will get. Again, I have no idea how to quantify this. Sorry. Consult your own Tax Professional. And yet more Tax Credits! The Hope Scholarship Credit, for tuition and expenses (but not materials), can yield up to $2,500 if I'm reading this right. Of course, again, there's no way to quantify it. And it only applies for the first four years of college. Because, apparently, by the time you hit your fifth year of higher learning, you're already wealthy enough to afford college.

Now we get to Housing Incentives. First-time homebuyers no longer have to repay that tax credit, that is if you buy before July of this year. Oh, and they're reducing the ceiling for Low Income Housing Grants Received in 2009. Apparently, your government really wants you to buy a house.

And there are some Tax Incentives for Business, including a special allowance for certain property acquired during 2009, a temporary increase in limitations on expensing of certain depreciable business assets, an adjustment to 5-year carryback of operating losses (10%, ostensibly), except that none of this applies if you received a TARP payment, otherwise known as the old guy's bailout plan.

There are also incentives for hiring Veterans and "Disconnected Youth". Disconnected Youth must be between 16 and 25 years of age, and be unemployed, unskilled, and uneducated beyond high school. The best way to find a Disconnected Youth in order to hire him or her: Excessive facial piercing and/or tattoos, spends much time smoking dope behind convenience stores, is a member of a rock, punk, or emo band (irrespective of musical ability), has put to memory all lyrics of every song every published and/or performed by the band, "Greenday", and blames his or her parents for everything.

The next part of the bill gives the I.R.S. some sort of power concerning change of ownership of a company. Duh. They pretty much do whatever they want to anyway.

We now get to Fiscal Relief for State and Local Governments, starting with changes that make Tax-Exempt Bonds more marketable by modifying some of the obligations and limitations. There is a lot of modifying, and I'm sure this costs money, but I have no idea how much. There is a section on school bonds, but I have no idea what impact this has at the Federal level. It resets the limits on school construction bonds. Is it higher or lower? No idea. Where is a tax expert when I need one? Also, they address taxable bond options for government bonds. Apparently, if you own these bonds you get a 35% tax credit against the payable interest. Maybe. There are rules. Lots of them.

Speaking of Bonds, apparently there are Zone Recovery Bonds. This could be brand new, I have no idea. This is weighed by what zones have employment declines. There is something about limitations of 10 and 15 billion, depending. Oh, and they are repealing the withholding tax on Government contractors.

There are Energy Incentives, or at least there are changes to whatever existed prior to this bill. These include Renewable Energy Incentives, in the form of Tax Credits; Increased Allocation of Bonds for "New Clean Renewable Energy": 4 billion; Energy Conservation Incentives in the form of Tax Credits; Energy Research incentives in the form of Tax Credits. That's a lot of incentive.

Next in this section is stuff that didn't fit anywhere else. After a few paragraphs on Labor Standards, it seems that the Feds will match whatever the States will Grant for Low-income Housing Credit Allocations. There is also a provision that provides Grants in lieu of Tax Credits for certain Specified Energy property. You'll also be happy to know that after this year, there will be more reports made so that we can see where we're at. Every three Months. Because you can never have too many reports.

We have a little bit to add to our total, which is now 390.479 billion* but note the asterisk. There are billions being spent here that aren't quantifiable. At least for me. But we'll sort out all of that later.

* Plus Billions T.B.D.

Next: Chapter Fifteen – Non-Working Class

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Thirteen - Stop Shaking

Apparently, the States are so scared they're shaking. There is a section in here, the last section under Appropriations Provisions, that gives States some Federal money for, um, Stabilization. Schools get a whopping 79 billion to play with, half this year and the other half next year, above and beyond that already stated in earlier chapters. And since there must be oversight, 25 million, and since there must be more grants, 15 billion more for that. Then there are pages on how the Governor is responsible for all of it and if it isn't spent then it has to be returned (let's all take a guess on how much is really going to be returned). Then we get a 650 million innovation fund because you can never have too much innovation. Then there are pages on how many reports will be generated, and a clause prohibiting private schools from getting any of the money. This is because private schools suck and are renowned for their inferior performance to public schools.

This is the end of all of the Appropriations Provisions of the bill. All of the sections following this concern "Other Provisions". Most of these are not quantifiable, in terms of being able to add to the total spending. But since I am only on page 251 of 647 at this point, there are a lot of provisions in there, or at least a lot of words. We'll just have to do the best we can with it.

We're at 386.479 billion. And now this bill gets almost impossible to slog through, but go on we must.

Next: Chapter Fourteen – Give Me Some (Tax) Credit

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Twelve - The Road Home

We come to another interesting section of this bill, Transportation and Housing and Urban Development. Sexy. First up, the airports are going to get 3 billion dollars for discretionary projects. Most people would settle for improvements in luggage handling, but they're going to use discretion. Like when they take away your shampoo. You terrorist. You're probably better off driving, especially now with 30 billion dollars going into highway infrastructure. Oh, all of those new shiny roads! Except that it takes a long time to build roads. A really long time. But the old roads still are pretty damned good. People from the U.S. sometimes complain about their roads to me. I tell them to drive in Mexico for a few days. And the roads here are way better than they used to be. You have no idea.

If you can't wait for the new roads to be built, just take a train! The railroads are getting 300 million to maintenance their tracks and stuff, and Amtrak gets another 800 million for maintenance, but know that "none of the funds under this heading shall be used to subsidize the operating losses of Amtrak". Of course not. Now Amtrak can take the money they had set aside to repair the tracks and use them to offset their operating losses.

The Federal Transit Administration is slated to receive 6 billion, most of which has to go toward urban transit. That would be busses and subways and so on. Nothing specific. Then they get another 2 billion for use in "fixed guideway" systems, which are ostensibly certain subway systems, or other forms of fixed transit. And then they get another 1 billion for the same thing, except that it has to go into projects already under construction (that should narrow things down, so you'll know which lobbyist to thank for that one).

Public Housing gets a 5 billion dollar boost, providing cheap rent to poor people, while 2.5 billion is going into energy retrofit projects for people already in Section 8 housing. This is because the elderly and the disabled who aren't poor enough to qualify for the cheap electricity back in a previous chapter, but are still somehow able to qualify for section 8 housing, should get an energy retrofit. The bill stipulates "that the Secretary may set aside funds made available under this heading for an efficiency incentive payable upon satisfactory completion of energy retrofit investments, and may provide additional incentives if such investments resulted in extraordinary job creation for low-income and very low income persons". In other words, if you're a poor electrician, you're in luck. And you're hired.

Native American housing gets another 500 million because those damned casinos are so stingy, while the Community Development Fund receives 1 billion ostensibly as HUD money in order to force poor people to own homes. They get 4.19 billion more to get poor people into already abandoned and/or foreclosed homes, because nobody likes a vacant house. Then, because HUD is so damned good at it, 1.5 billion goes toward the Home Investment Partnership Program, which encourages poor people to rent. After 10 million for the "Self-Help and Assisted Homeownership Opportunity Program" (please invent an acronym for this soon, it's long), we get to the Homeless Assistance Grants, which requires 1.5 billion. Usually the homeless are happy with a couple of dollars at a time, and now the bastards are getting greedy.

The "Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control" (Are you shitting me? This is a real office?) needs 100 million because apparently some people haven't figured out that lead is bad. BAD! The rest of this section is all about transparency. There will be reports issued. And there will be reports on the reports. And someone will have to report on the state of the report about the reports. It's the government, stupid.

Well, that was fun. And nice and pricey. We're up to 291.804 billion, but now the homeless are rich!

Next: Chapter Thirteen – Stop Shaking

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Eleven - Affairs With Foreigners

There are actually a couple of items concerning the State Department in here. Rather than to hide them somewhere else, they gave it its own section. Maybe they figured that no one would read this far.

For "Capitol Investment Fund": 276 million. This is for "the design and construction of a backup information management facility in the United States to support mission-critical operations and projects", and "to carry out the Department of State's responsibilities under the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative". This is a little bit scary. A country that can't manage to secure its own border is going to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to keep foreign hackers off of the internet. Mmmmkay.

And the International Boundary and Water Commission gets 224 million "for an additional amount for Construction for the water quantity program to meet immediate repair and rehabilitation requirements". Water quantity? Dude, the problem is quality, not quantity.

This section was short and easy, I wish that the rest of the bill was like this. Oh, and we're at 232.404 billion.

Next: Chapter Twelve – The Road Home

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Ten - Let's Build A Fort!

I thought that we were finished with the Armed Forces part of this, but apparently not. Military Construction and Veteran's Affairs begins with 920 million in funds for housing construction, troop training, and child development centers. The Army's involvement in child development is baffling to me, maybe it's another recruiting tool. The Navy and Marine Corps get a combined 350 million for the same purposes, while the Air Force receives 280 million. The combined Military gets 3.75 billion in order to construct hospitals and ambulatory centers in the United States. This is because they have guns and bombs and stuff. It won't be very effective if you're, say, deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, but if you stay home then pretty soon you'll have a shiny new ambulance to take you to a shiny new hospital if your weapon misfires. The combined National Guard and other Reserve units get a combined 400 million to build stuff with.

The Department of Defense Base Closure Account gets 300 million, because chains and padlocks cost money. The Veterans Health Administration receives 950 million for non-recurring maintenance (another confusing term and seemingly an oxymoron, non-recurring maintenance ), and the National Cemetery Administration will receive 50 million for monument and memorial repair.

Not a very active section, but we're totaling 231.904 billion now.

Next: Chapter Eleven – Affairs With Foreigners

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Nine - Get A Job

Okay, this must be where the jobs are, in the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education portion of this bill. Plus, there is a lot of money being distributed here. Starting with labor, Training and Employment Services gets 4 billion, to train unemployed people how to do those jobs that have all become available. You know, the government jobs. For the Community Service Employment for Older Americans: 120 million, because old people apparently don't matter as much. The Feds will give State Unemployment Insurance 500 million, with half go to pay claims and half go for reemployment programs. Reemployment is what happens when you lose a job that you like because the economy sucks and then start working for the government. The Labor Departmental Management people need 80 million because now they have to hire more unemployed people to train unemployed people to become reemployed, and the Office of Job Corps gets 300 million for no apparent reason.

In the area of Health, Health Resources and Services gets 2.188 billion half of which is for construction, and the other half for training and stuff. The Center for Disease Control: 462 million, I assume for controlling diseases, while The National Center for Research Resources wins 1.5 billion because you can never have too much research. Meanwhile, the Office of the Director of Health and Human Services gets 1.5 billion and can give it to Centers of the National Institutes of Health and to the Common Fund for whatever, except that it can't be used to build anything. On the other hand, Health buildings and facilities receive 500 million for that purpose. Healthcare research and quality nab 1.1 million. We need quality research.

Human Services must be where the jobs are, with Low-income home energy assistance getting 1 billion because poor people need electricity, too. Child care assistance for low-income families comes to 2 billion. and another child care service under the Children and Family Services programs gets 3.2 billion, shared about equally by the programs Head Start, Early Head Start, and Community Services Block Grant Act. The head start programs already gets around 7 billion a year in funding. The Community Services Block Grant Act gets around a billion. They need more, people already with six children are having octuplets now! Aging Services programs need only 200 million because apparently old people have a lot of trouble with the aging thing, and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology gets 2 billion to do pretty much whatever they want to. Public Health Services receives 900 million, almost half for vaccinations and almost half for construction, and the Prevention and Wellness fund gets 3.15 billion because healthy people apparently need it. Also, "there is hereby established a Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research". I have no idea what that is.

In the schooling stuff, we have Education For The Disadvantaged that gets 13 billion, although disadvantaged means poor not incapable. For Impact Aid: 100 million. This is the "No Child Left Behind" thing. For School Improvement, 1.066 billion, and for Innovation and Improvement 225 million, because innovations should be less costly than simple improvement. Special Education gets 13.6 billion, which makes little sense since Vocational Rehabilitation only gets 700 million. I mean, it's supposed to be about jobs. Student Aid receives 16.126 billion, because apparently all of you students out there have already paid off your loans and now they want to loan more. Student Aid Administration needs 50 million because someone has to administrate this. Higher Education gets 100 million because it isn't as important as lower education, apparently, while the Institute of Educated Sciences needs 250 million. Dude. It's an Institute. Students are tired of those trailers, so School Modernization, Renovation, and Repair receives 14 billion, while Higher Education, Modernization, and Repair gets 6 billion and a large and wordy number of pages instructing that construction should be green and that steel must be from the U.S. follow. Oh, and Increases in Mandatory Pell Grants: 1.474 billion Must. Have. More. Pell.

Other items that didn't seem to belong anywhere else include AmeriCorps Grants at 160 million, the National Service Trust with 40 million, and SSI Administrative expenses 900 million (because it takes a lot of administration to mail those checks).

We're making headway now, at 224.904 billion dollars, and our failing schools and health care systems will be made whole again. Not a lot of jobs, unless you're a government employee type of person, or a nurse, teacher, or student. But it sure looks shiny, whatever it is.

Next: Chapter Ten – Let's Build A Fort!

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Eight - The Good Earth

It's very important to protect our interior and our environment, and this portion of the bill addresses that issue. First, the Bureau of Land Management: 325 million for construction, "priority road, bridge, and trail repair". Priority, as in, shouldn't that have been taken care of with the funding already given? There must be a lot of trails in bad shape. And the Fish and Wildlife Service gets 300 million for construction, "priority road, bridge, and trail repair". Because fishes need bridges, damn it. And wildlife needs roads, in order to drive their battery-operated vehicles. And there we go with that priority thing again. Hurry up! The fish and wildlife, which now have high-speed internet access, need to get home and check their email.

The National Park Service gets 1.7 billion for construction, because all of that annoying wilderness needs some big buildings and shit. Oh, and National Mall in Washington receives 200 million for repair because it's a lot easier to use tax money than to charge a mere five dollar admission fee to attend the shiny new President's inauguration. The Centennial Challenge, which is already slated to haul in 3 billion over the next ten years, gets an additional 100 million, limited to matching donated funds, because its goal is to make America realize the potential of the National Park System. Got it. I now realize that the NPS needed 3.1 billion in order to have potential.

The Geological Survey gets 200 million for equipment, because rocks are important, too. The Bureau of Indian Affairs receives 500 million for construction of schools, jails, and houses, because the casinos, even though people work there for free, are far too poor to provide such an infrastructure. And the Hazardous Substance Superfund of 800 million is absolutely necessary, because how else are hazardous materials going to get funding? The "Leaking Underground Storage Tank Trust Fund Program" has to have 200 million because Mr. And Mrs. Underground Storage Tank lost their children's inheritance when the stock market tanked (pardon the pun). A trust fund for the young Tanks is just the thing needed.

State and Tribal Assistance Grants come to 8.4 billion where the majority of the money "shall be for capitalization grants for the Clean Water State Revolving Funds". Just so everyone knows, these are already funded at about 5 billion dollars annually. This is what water treatment costs in the U.S. But more is needed. And don't think for a minute that any of this funding goes anywhere else. Because it doesn't. That we know of. I think.

Forest Service: 650 million for construction, because it costs a lot to saw down those damned trees and build stuff that they can actually use. Like internet cafes for all of the wireless high speed computers, and roads for the battery operated cars. Related to that is Wildland Fire Management at 850 million, because sometimes we have to burn stuff. Again, because of the inability for the poor and struggling casinos to make a profit, Indian Health Facilities gets 550 million.

The Smithsonian gets 150 million for maintenance projects because charging a small entrance fee to offset such costs would be downright capitalistic. And last, and apparently least, the National Endowments for the Arts receives 50 million, and the tradition of funding only matching donated funds is not required.

According to my abacus the total so far is 132.412 billion. This bill had better hurry up and start spending some real money, and quick.

Next: Chapter Nine – Get A Job

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Seven - The Gestapo

If the other guy was still in charge, I bet that a lot more of this bill would be devoted to funding the Homeland Security people, but the new guy seems to want to run a leaner Gestapo. Starting with the Sea Ports of Entry, 100 million for "non-intrusive detection technology" (don't they still call those things x-ray machines?). To repair and construct inspection facilities at land ports of entry, 150 million, but it doesn't specify if this includes rubber gloves for those infrequent yet memorable body cavity searches. Aviation Security gets a cool 500 million for explosives detection systems, and the Coast guard gets 150 million for alteration or removal of obstructive bridges. Of course, that last portion of funding could be eliminated by simply flying any aircraft found to have explosives from the new Aviation Security detection system into the bridge that's doing the obstructing. Problem solved.

Emergency Food and Shelter gets 200 million to feed and house the homeless and illegal immigrants. Speaking of illegal immigrants, there is section of this bill that buys section 401b (which directly affects sections 402 and 403) of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act of 1996 five more years of enforcing the rules on the books about verifying proper identification when employing people (and yes, I went to the trouble to research this because I am thorough). Because there is nothing worse than an irresponsible illegal immigrant. This must be why we need the shelters.

The remaining few pages of this portion of the bill reminds the Gestapo that it has to keep spending the money allotted from the other existing bills that are now law.

That was a lot of work for very little return, but we're at 117.437 billion dollars and we've solved the homeless crisis.

Next: Chapter Eight – The Good Earth

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Six - Show Me The Money

We come to a wordy section of the bill, all about Financial Services and General Government, that starts out simple enough by giving some love to the Federal Buildings Fund: 7.7 billion, of which one billion must go toward construction, repair, and alteration of border facilities. I can tell you first hand, that while I'm waiting an hour or two to be interrogated by the United States representative whenever I cross the border, my main concern is how much more beautiful the facilities should be. Same thing with the Internal Revenue Service, I mean, if I'm going to have to get a big stick rammed up my ass and lose lots of money to the government that I could have been using to stimulate the economy, the least that they can do is to remodel the building for me.

And it's about time that the government got some Electric Cars: 600 million. Especially now that they're subsidizing the battery-makers, because it would be a damned shame to have batteries for electric cars and no electric cars to put them in.

Then the bill starts to get boring, wordy, and downright confusing. The best that I can make out is that the government will continue to guarantee small business loans in existing legislation, but with some increases, percentage-wise. Unfortunately, it's impossible to calculate how much more money is going to be spent. I have no choice but to trust the Small Business Administration on this one. Oh, and if you're an illegal alien, you can’t have any money. Except for Welfare, of course.

There is one place that stipulates loans to small businesses can't exceed a total of: 3 billion, so it is entirely possible that I'm merely skeptical of that limit by all of the pages of SBA wordiness. Also know that you're limited to 10 million dollars. And we can't forget the administrative cost of loaning 3 billion dollars to small businesses, which is: 426 million.

We're only up to 116.337 billion so far. Probably. Hopefully. And we have electric cars!

Next: Chapter Seven – The Gestapo

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Five - Take The Power Back

In the spirit of Franklin Roosevelt, no debt created by government is complete without energy and water. This is because energy companies never seem to turn a good enough profit.

It starts with funding for construction by the Army Corps of Engineers: 2 billion. Well, construction, except "that funds provided in this paragraph may only be used for programs, projects or activities previously funded". In other words, remember that money you got in order to build something? Well here's some more. Keep building it. Just hurry up. And that Mississippi River project: 250 million, same goes for that.

And the Army Corps of Engineers also gets for Operation and Maintenance: 2.2 billion, as long as they don't build anything new. Just operate and maintain, and do it with a Regulatory Program: 25 million. It doesn't say what to regulate. Just regulate something. Operate, maintain, and regulate.

Water Reclamation: 500 million, but there's a catch – it has to be able to pay for itself within 25 years. This shouldn't be a problem, however, because by then, adjusting for the future value of the dollar, it's about what the average consumer will pay for water every month.

Renewable Energy: 18.5 billion. The money is divided up, most of it goes toward either batteries (I had no idea that batteries were renewable), or the Weatherization Assistance Program, which will make people in the insulation and caulking industries happy. I was hoping for windmills and solar panels. Maybe even some hydrogen. Luckily, I can press my investments in Home Depot and The Energizer Bunny. And for Electricity Delivery: 4.5 billion. Because there just aren't enough wires.

Advanced Battery Loan Guarantee Program: 1 billion. What's that you say? Batteries dead in your flashlight? Out of cash? Worry no more! I have no idea how this works, the bill certainly doesn't explain it, but if my electricity delivery person fails to show up it's nice to know that I can borrow some batteries.

Institutional Loan Guarantee Program: 500 million and Innovative Technology Loan Guarantee Program: 8 billion. This isn't explained in the bill. My guess is that someone who is innovative with their technology can step right up and get a loan. But only innovative people who would really need it. Someone like Bill Gates, for example.

Fossil Energy: 2.4 billion. Because we need to burn more carbon. And just when I thought that we already covered it, apparently there needs to be more Science: 2 billion. This is for the "America Competes Act", which sends money to the National Science Foundation, among other things. And for when the burning carbon or dropped test tubes make a mess, there is money for Environmental Cleanup: 500 million.

In case the Power Companies need money, they can have some. Western Area Power Administration: 3.2 billion, ostensibly a loan, forgivable, and Bonneville Power Administration: 3.2 billion, ostensibly a loan, can remain outstanding. All of the other Power Companies can go screw themselves. Or get better lobbyists.

The total so far comes to 104.611 billion, but the good news is that we're about one quarter way through the bill already.

Next: Chapter Six – Show Me The Money

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Four - Defense Wins Championships

It seems only fair that if the government is going to print up and spend 825 billion dollars, that some of it should go toward defense, single most important aspect of Federal government. Heck, some communist countries sink most of their GDP into it, and rely on aid from other countries to take care of everything else. You know what they say, defense wins championships.

Facility Infrastructure: 4.5 billion. According to the bill, most of the money goes to the Army and the Air Force. The idea is to "improve, repair, and modernize the Department of Defense", and to "restore and modernize Army barracks". Pentagon? Hah! What we need is an Octagon! With a bat-cave and a fleet of bat-mobiles. And those antiquated army barracks must go, they're behind the times. Replace the coffee makers with espresso machines, boom-boxes with iPods, and cots with futons. No remodel would be complete without bay windows and walk-in closets.

Also included is Energy Research: 350 million. This goes toward development, test, and evaluation. Blindly, boldly, and without direction. Just like most military projects.

We're at 55.611 billion, not including Bruce Wayne's consulting fee.

Next: Chapter Five – Take The Power Back

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Three - Traded, Jaded, And Sedated

Continuing on in our tour of the Stimulus Plan, the next section is Commerce, Justice, and Science. It's a baffling combination. Why they combined three seemingly unrelated areas is beyond me. But again, what do I know? I'm just some dumb-ass with a calculator.

It begins with administrative funding for Economic Development: 250 million dollars. Okay, so apparently the U.S. has an economy, and apparently, it is insufficiently developed. We need administration! The good news is that apparently it takes only half as much to administrate economic development as it does to administrate & distribute food and nutrition programs. Next comes Periodic Censuses and Programs: 1 billion. It's important to count people, and we need more statistics because statistics give the government reasons to create money and save the economy, as insufficiently developed as the economy apparently is. And this provides jobs! Clipboard, pencil, and go! I bet that clipboard and pencil manufacturers are loving this.

Administrative costs for National Telecommunications and Information: 350 million dollars. Apparently, broadband needs to be administrated. I guess I'm lucky. I have broadband here in Mexico, and my administrative costs are, um, nothing. Must be the exchange rate. Wireless and Broadband Deployment: 2.8 billion. I love the word deployment. I picture a massive number of geeky former cable-installers quickly marching throughout the countryside with wireless, high-speed modems, fighting the good fight in the war against dial-up. This is directly related to the Digital to Analog Converter Box Program: 650 million. Because nothing beats taking shiny new digital technology and converting it into good old analog. Well, except that giving partial credit toward purchasing televisions that receive a digital signal would create a lot of new jobs. Wait...

Moving along, we come to Scientific and Technical Research: 100 million (70 million for necessary expenses of the Technology Innovation Program and "$30,000,000 shall be available for the necessary expenses of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership.") Now, before you get all bent out of shape over the 30 million going to the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership, otherwise known as MEP, it's a non-profit organization. That doesn’t mean it's free, though. It's like church. You attend, and they pass the plate. Think of it as your government giving a little bit to the church, and you'll feel better. Wait...

Construction of Research facilities: 300 million. I have no idea what's going to be constructed, but for 300 million, I bet that it's awesome. And to NOAA Operations, Research, and Facilities: 1 billion. NOAA is already outstanding, I hit their web site daily. I can see storm cells approaching a full hour before they actually hit. With that extra billion, I reckon I'll be able to count the raindrops on my roof. I'll need that information if the census takers come around.

State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance: 3 billion. With State and local governments forced to spend money on lobbyists to get their fair share of funding in this bill, it's nice to see the Federal government reciprocate by providing funding in order to re-hire the cops that had to be laid off. And for Community Oriented Policing Services: 1 billion. Hell, the acronym alone is worth a billion. COPS! And I can't stress enough the accounts I've read where the police just weren't sufficiently community oriented. "Robber who shot store clerk is shot by police!" It's such a shame. If only the police would have been more community oriented.

NASA: 600 million. I'm happy to see government of the United States of America willing to fund a one-way trip back to the moon. Maybe those soon to be rich folk in the urban sector will pitch in and we can get the rocket ship back home. Also, for reasons beyond my simple mind's ability to contemplate, 50 million of NASA's money goes toward already guaranteed disaster relief from a previous disaster. Lastly, the National Science Foundation: 3 billion. This goes toward research and related activities. Related activities are, um, you know, related activities. It isn't important, I guess, to define related activities, it's only 3 billion dollars.

My calculator says 50.761 billion so far, but at least we won't be going back to the moon anytime soon, so we're in good shape.

Next: Chapter Four – Defense Wins Championships.

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter Two - The Care And Feeding Of Farmers And Ranchers

The second section in the Stimulus Package concerns Agriculture, Nutrition, and Rural Development. Agriculture concerns food, food is nutritious, and farms and ranches are rural. I am sort of confused on the concept of rural development though, as I always considered rural as undeveloped on purpose. I mean, once you develop rural you normally get something urban. But what do I know? I'm no Jedi Knight.

First on the list is buildings and facilities - rental payments, construction, repair, and maintenance: 251 million. I never knew that the Department of Agriculture even had many buildings, much less that they paid rent or were forced to, um, count seeds in substandard structures. This makes me feel uninformed. Also, I had no idea that rental payments created jobs. They probably taught that in Economics 101 in college, maybe I was out that day.

For the Farm Service Agency, additional salaries and expenses for maintaining and modernizing a technology system: 245 million. This makes sense, because the U.S. is so far behind the Russians in farming technology I was thinking that they'd never catch up. At least now they are trying. And watershed and flood prevention: 350 million (but not more than 50 million to one State). It's important to treat states equally, otherwise Rhode Island wouldn't get their fair share, and Louisiana might get too much. And watershed rehabilitation: 50 million. Because when watersheds become felons, they need to be locked up and rehabilitated. Once watersheds are rehabilitated and set free to become a part of rural society, studies prove that only in rare cases does such rehabilitation fail. Statistically, very few rehabilitated watersheds become repeat offenders.

The rural community advancement program: 5.8 billion, ostensibly as loans. Rural communities are so behind the times. Modernize those facilities, you farmers and ranchers! We need urbanization, dammit! And funding for administrative costs of ostensibly loaning 5.8 billion dollars: 1.8 billion. Because loaning money costs lots of money! And don't forget about the Rural Housing Insurance Fund: 22.1 billion, ostensibly as loans. Because rural housing can't be insured enough. And while the bill doesn't exactly say what rural housing insurance is, it's important. It must be, or it wouldn't require 22.1 billion dollars. The funding for administrative costs of ostensibly loaning 22.1 billion dollars: 501 million dollars. This is because, the reciprocal of the cost of loaning 5.8 billion dollars being 1.8 billion dollars is that the cost of loaning 22.1 billion dollars is 501 million dollars. You know, less is more, and more is less. It's the new math.

Rural Utilities Service Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband Program: 2.8 billion. This is so that farmers and ranchers have the same access and ability to download high-speed and wireless pornography as the city-slickers do. This is important because farmers and ranchers have spent less time working lately since dial-up is so slow. It isn't fair that someone in New York City can enjoy both corn from Nebraska and high-speed broadband pornography, when farmers in Superior, Nebraska have to settle for dial-up.

Finally, the administrative & distribution costs for Food and Nutrition Programs: 500 million. There are so many families that don't realize that they qualify for food stamps and free school lunches, it's about time that the government spent some money to get the word out.

Now we're up to 36.711 billion. But hey, Yoda's ability to update his MySpace page from the planet Dagobah sort of makes it worth it, don't you think?

Next: Chapter Three – Traded, Jaded, and Sedated.

The Stimulus Miracle: Chapter One - Birth Of A Jedi Knight

There is a bill, which has passed through Congress and seems destined to pass the Senate, referred to as "The Stimulus Package". Economies of any country, even the United States of America, rise and fall and rise and fall, and so on, regularly and unpredictably, because this is the nature of economy in a free market. Or, at least, it was. Apparently, government has the ability to fix this random behavior. I remain skeptical, but what do I know? I certainly don't enjoy seeing businesses fail and people out of work.

The expected number of jobs to be created by this bill is 3,675,000 new positions. For the heck of it, I pulled out a calculator. Holy crap! I'll never doubt the government again. Here I was thinking that these new jobs would amount to nothing but low-paying labor positions, but much to my surprise, each new job will pay out $224,489.80 dollars which is almost six years worth of salary for the average worker. This is assuming that all of the money actually goes towards its goal. But it will, I'm sure. At least, I'd like for that to happen.

I decided to take a closer look at this bill, because it isn't every day that a government creates 825 billion dollars out of thin air.

"A BILL - Making supplemental appropriations for job preservation and creation, infrastructure investment, energy efficiency and science, assistance to the unemployed, and State and local fiscal stabilization, for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2009, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, this Act may be cited as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009".

Bills always start off sounding so promising. But the meat of the bill is what I am after, in other words, where is all of this 825 billion dollars going to go? Starting with General provisions:

Offices of Inspector General & Government Accountability Office for oversight and audit of programs, grants, and projects funded under this Act: 2.3 billion dollars.

Administrative costs are understandable. Especially when one considers that a committee has to ensure that the following provisions are followed:

"None of the funds appropriated or otherwise made available in this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool."

Apparently, none of these endeavors provide jobs. And are evil. Or wet. And golf, well, we all know about golf, and even if the television ratings of golf tournaments are far higher than those of, say, soccer matches in the U.S., golf is just too boring. And don't get me started on swimming pools, those snarky lifeguards and smug pool maintenance people piss me off. And everyone knows that employees of zoos, aquariums, and gambling establishments work for free, for the love of their hobby. So far, I'm down.

Another provision that must be closely watched for compliance is that construction projects funded by the bill must use steel produced in the U.S. This is important because of the ever-thriving steel industry in the U.S. See, the lying bastards that told you that the steel industry in the U.S. died because they couldn't compete with the Japanese and then the Chinese were wrong. It's a conspiracy. Honest.

So, the President appoints a seven-member board to conduct oversight of spending. After all, you can't trust just anyone with 825 billion dollars, freshly printed cash money, these people must be hand selected. The board members are chosen from the same departments where the President just nominated Secretaries. This is a lucky coincidence. The first thing that they will do is to create a web site so that you can see how wonderful everything is going. And it will be wonderful, you just wait and see.

Next, the President selects an independent advisory panel consisting of five people. I know what you're thinking: "But if the President selects an independent advisory council, isn't that conflicting what with the President selecting the board?" No. Congress and the Senate have come to learn that President Obama is actually Obi-Wan Kenobi. The force is with him, and only good flows through his light-saber.

The board gets $ 14,000,000.00 because Obi-Wan says so.

So far, we've spent 2.314 billion dollars. But we do have a Jedi Knight. I think it's worth it.

Next: Chapter Two – The Care and Feeding of Farmers and Ranchers

Monday, February 02, 2009


"This City is what it is because our citizens are what they are." ~ Plato

* * * *

They always let themselves in, because they are Rocio’s parents, and because this is Mexico and people really do marry the entire family here. I reckon that I am married to a lot of people, then, and many have keys to my house. My home is many things, it is a pit stop and a sports lounge and a restaurant and a public bathroom, and all of these things are conveniently situated near the main boulevard. There are currently several huge sacks, each filled with several hundred crushed aluminum cans sitting in my living room.

"Guess what happened?" she asked in Spanish as I emerged from my office this morning before nine o’clock, robed and disheveled and still choking down my first cup of coffee.

I didn’t want to guess. Maybe they were going to turn my living room into a recycling center. Perhaps Mexico was no longer trading in pesos and the crushed aluminum can is the new currency. Possibly, owing to the great bean bag chair craze back some forty years ago, they were bringing us the latest trend in home furnishing, the crushed aluminum can chair.

"We went down to turn these in and the recycling center is closed!" She laughed.

This time I had an answer.

"Yes, well, this is a holiday."

"Which holiday?" she asked.

Some Mexican holidays, much like many on the other side of the big metal fence, are now considered to be floating holidays. The fifth day of February is Constitution Day in Mexico, but now it floats to the nearest Monday. Today is also Ground Hog Day. Today is also my late grandmother’s birthday. Today is also Día de la Candelaria, an obscure religious holiday in Mexico celebrating the blessing of seeds and candles. Some days on the calendar are busier than others.

* * * *

Yesterday, Rocio’s parents came down the hill and watched the super bowl, the spectacle that defines American Football, even though neither understands the game. Soccer is infinitely more simple. Kick a ball into the net. American football is complicated, a game of controlled war without ammunition. They seemed to enjoy themselves anyway. Maybe they liked the halftime show.

Anna is a New England Patriots fan. I would like to tell you exactly how this happened, but I can’t. It seems that she just woke up one day and made a decision. She owns a New England Patriots cap and wears it whenever they show a game on television. One time I tried to give her an historical perspective on her favorite team. I lost her at Jim Plunkett, back in the days when they were called the Boston Patriots. This is what happens.

Everybody ate my first attempt at cooking mole verde, and even though I screwed it up, it was received with rave reviews. One ingredient, a very important one that I completely omitted by mistake, was cilantro. I have a large bag full of cilantro and I completely forgot it! Another ingredient that I knew nothing about, but apparently essential in all green mole, is pumpkin seeds. How would I have known?

I am still learning their food and I am still learning their holidays, but I am gaining on both.

* * * *

The large sacks of Aluminum cans remain static in my living room tonight. I presume that they’ll be gone at some point tomorrow. Before they left this morning, Rocio’s parents again congratulated me on the mole verde, which I knew wasn’t quite right, and so I did the best that I could to be humble in accepting their compliments. When Rocio came home, I mentioned this to her, that her parents have had many of my dishes here that are far more complex, everything from caldo de siete mares to paella. Why would they go so far out of their way to compliment my first attempt at mole when I know that it wasn’t quite right?

"You have to understand," Rocio said. "Mole isn’t just a dish, it is the defining Mexican dish, and it is complex and unique. Family recipes are guarded and passed down from generation to generation. On your first attempt, you surpassed anything that I could ever do, and you’re not even Mexican! We knew what ingredients that you left out because we know. And we also know what you put in. No one told you how to do this, and you did it, the mole was really good."

"Next time, roasted pumpkin seeds and cilantro," I smiled.

"And don’t precook the onions, they need to be raw," she added.

Unless I’ve forgotten some holiday, I’ll be going to the other side of the big metal fence tomorrow. Rechargeable batteries, kidney beans, and cayenne pepper are on my grocery list for items I have a heck of a time procuring in Mexico. But I’ll be trying mole verde again very soon. And I’ll keep my eye on the Mexican calendar, just in case some floating holiday is looming to confuse Rocio’s parents.

Those big sacks of aluminum cans make for very uncomfortable chairs.