Stupid Kabuki Theater

2.8%.   This figure is what we keep coming back to.  A 2.8% cut to the FY13 Federal Budget.  As in sequester.

Yes, we all understand now that the sequester doesn’t allow many federal agencies the discretion to cut where it makes the most sense.  Yes, it’s stupid dysfunctional policy designed to force some kind of eventual compromise.

But hold on a second…  The House sent up a bill that would give the President discretion to enforce those 2.8% in cuts.  Cut where you need to, just cut. He didn’t like that, though, because that puts the impetus for this thing on him.

The President’s proposal included another tax increase on the wealthy and the elimination of some tax loopholes.  The classic moving of the goal posts.  No-go for Republicans – they can’t abide another tax increase.  Meanwhile, no one can seem to agree on the amount of chaos and disaster the sequester cuts will truly cause.  Will 2.8% in cuts truly wreck things?  Even if applied stupidly? Continue reading

FIFA About to get Really Weird

The last two weeks have been fascinating for those of us who follow the international kleptocracy known as FIFA, the governing body of international soccer.  For decades FIFA has been run like a giant fraud scheme, like Illinois state government writ large on the backs of fans, World Cup TV rights, and soccer merchandising.  This has given license to men like Jack Warner of Trinidad, aka the Pirate of the Caribbean, who wields considerable influence as the head of North and Central America and the Caribbean for FIFA, to use a purported series of bribes and realpolitik to help prop up FIFA President Sepp Blatter’s power structure.  Warner has build a personal fortune as regional FIFA puppet master, and every time an allegation has emerged or charges have been filed, he’s managed to escape.

Maybe not this time.  The USA’s own FIFA Executive Rep, Chuck Blazer, brought bribery charges against Warner and Mohammed Bin Hamman.  Now Bin Hamman is running against Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency, a big reason why this has all come to light.  Bin Hamman is also the guy who orchestrated Qatar’s successful bid to host the 2022 World Cup (beating out the USA’s strong bid).  Bin Hamman and Warner attempted to bribe Caribbean representatives with $40,000 gifts and all-expenses paid to an exclusive Port-of-Spain resort  for their votes a couple of weeks back, a familiar shakedown tactic of Warner.  He keeps his plebes happy, and they vote the way he dictates.  And of course, we are now also learning that whispers of similar tactics used by Bin Hamman and the Qataris to secure the World Cup indeed have legs.  Recent testimony by a special investigation in Parliament in London has and will continue to shed light on that situation. Continue reading

Jury of his peers?

Jury selection is under way for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (and his hair) in Chicago.  It’s a retrial, as you recall, because in our last go around the defense attorneys managed to convince one weak-minded individual that “she couldn’t be responsible for sending him [Blago] away for that long”.  Never mind about deliberating on the facts of the case separately.

Of course this was the Team Blago strategy from the get-go:  seek out as much free publicity as humanly possible, thus interfering with a potential jury pool, then attempt to stock the jury with at least a few fools who could be somehow manipulated or .  Now comes round two.  We have one woman who warned the judge about the trial interfering with her tickets to the last Oprah show.  We have a claustrophobic and other characters.   Continue reading

Ryan Shows the Courage to Lead

On one side of Washington, the fringe-right of the GOP is using the budget crisis and Tea-Party momentum as an excuse to cut into those social and cultural programs they don’t like.  The Speaker and others with more practical goals look miserable.  On the other side of town, Harry Reed and the Democrats remain in denial about the consequences of their tax-and-spend antics.  Where’s the President?  Waiting it out like a true politician, hoping to make hay for next year’s election.  He’s certainly not proposing any reforms or worthwhile fiscal policy.

The President’s many admirers in the media like to refer to him as “the grownup in the room”, but it’s a Congressman from Wisconsin who’s showing the moxy and vision we need.  Paul Ryan unveiled a long-term budget plan yesterday.  It’s ambitious.  It cut’s approximately $6 Trillion according to his figures.  And here’s the thing: it addresses the unsustainable burden of Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security.

If you’re paying attention, you’ll recall that Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, and Defense Spending comprise the holy trinity responsible for the lion’s share of U.S. spending.  Meanwhile, the rest of the Democrats and Republicans are niggling over cuts to everything else, turning a blind eye to the true fiscal problems.

It’s a bold and risky movie, acknowledged by Ryan as he made the rounds yesterday.  And sure enough, Nancy Pelosi issued a vague statement about ‘starving seniors” while the MSNBC crowd pitched this as the “death of Medicare”.  There are reasons why the politicians don’t want to tackle these entitlements.  Seniors vote and they like their healthcare.  But we have to do this.  We cannot continue down the current path. Continue reading

Win Future? Get cutting…

Let’s be honest, if you’re engaged enough to have looked at the deficit commission’s report a few months back, it made you a little uncomfortable.  You saw stuff on the chopping block that directly affects you in one way or another.  But that’s how we win the future…  By ensuring our kids and grandkids actually have some hope and not a mountain of government-induced debt.

If you listened to the state of the union address, you no doubt heard an uplifting speech by the President with many references to investing in people and programs.  Of course the Republicans quickly countered by labeling this as dem-speak for more spending.  Who has the right of it?  Well, you could look at recent history as an indicator…  And then folks like newly-elected Senator Rand Paul chime in, suggesting major cuts to a lot of programs that don’t meet with his particular social viewpoint (the NEA, Public Broadcasting, etc.).  Not all that helpful either, Senator. Continue reading

World Cups for Sale – Sold

Sepp Blatter

Yesterday FIFA confirmed what many have long suspected about the rulers of international soccer – they’re more interested in bribes and their own egos than what’s good for the game and its fans.  Using their secret-ballot elimination round voting (in which the participant with the least amount of votes is eliminated until you have a winner), the 22 voting members of the FIFA Executive Committee (two of the committee were suspended from voting for attempting to take bribes) awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

This wasn’t about who could provide the best cup experience for the fans, sell the most tickets, provide the best security and infrastructure.  It wasn’t about growing the sport.  It was politics, plain and simple – the kind of politics with which those of us who live in Illinois are painfully familiar.  This was a money and legacy vote. Continue reading

The Anger of the Ides of March

Like most adults, I understand and accept my burden as a taxpayer in this great country.  It’s part and parcel of being an American.  You may not exercise your right to vote, but by God you’ll pay the taxes.  (Unless you’re poor, in which case you’ll probably do neither…) And yet when mid-March rolls around, the tax forms roll in, the anger starts to set in.  If it weren’t for college basketball, MLS getting started, and the improving weather to temper my mood, I’d probably be a real handful.  So consider, if you will, some of the recent developments to make tax day ever more joyful:

  • Taxpayer-fueled bonuses to Wall Street Executives, most of whom contributed mightily to the recession
  • Tons of government programs that seem to give incentives for  not working and contributing to society
  • The State of Illinois $13 Billion in the hole and the governor playing chicken with the legislature over education dollars
  • If you get a refund check from the IRS, you’ve essentially given them a short-term interest free loan; if you owe them in the end, you can bet your ass they’re charging you interest (just doesn’t seem right, does it?)
  • All levels of government seem to favor creating programs and services to consolidate their hold in power rather than, you know, governing and providing the basics to society (I realize this is a broad statement, but it sure seems that way of late…) Continue reading

Throw ’em Out!

Your official 2010 Illinois Election mantra should be, Throw the Bums Out! Taking a cue from the Chicago Tribune’s excellent beginning-of-the-year editorial, that’s what ours will be.  And if there was ever year for it – especially in state government – this is the one.  To quote:

Too many incumbents enable the Illinois culture of political sleaze that continues to suffuse so many layers of government in this state. Even with one defrocked governor in prison and another awaiting trial, clout still drives decisions on whom governments hire and how they spend taxpayers’ dollars. The endurance of that culture has all but destroyed public confidence in Illinois’ political class. Ruling oligarchs, fed with campaign donations from the beneficiaries of their largesse, want primarily to extend their power…

The big problem is, we haven’t learned our lesson.  We continue to not vote them out even though they refuse to address the growing budget crisis, the bloated bureaucracy, the clout-based decision-making, the problems with the educational system.  Why is this?  Well, because it’s hard.

The Illinois primary system has been built to back those in power with established ties, not new candidates with fresh ideas and fewer political debts.  Also, we have some of the weakest political disclosure laws in the nation, which makes it difficult to sort through the morass of finances and influence peddling that makes Springfield tick.

Continue reading

Small Strides

Bureaucracies, by their very nature, function to stifle creativity, change, and flexibility.  They seem much more inclined to reinforce the status quo, block the free exchange of ideas, and deflect responsibility away from those who would rather do as little as possible.  Two keys here are a lack of results-driven attribution and reams and reams of arcane policy documentation.  Throw in a bloated and fearful legal element and you have yourself a  recipe for inefficiency.

It is any wonder why so many people are cynical and critical when it comes to big government and big business?

Sometimes, though, you can make it work in your favor.  Not very often, but sometimes.  Then, despite the pettiness and sloth of the bureaucrats, the rigidity of the policy, you get yourself a small victory.  And it tastes good…  Sweet, like a shiny ripe apple…

Six-Meeting Day

Today was the rare and heretofore unknown Six-Meeting Day. Yes, six fun-filled meetings: four of them scheduled, two unscheduled and more or less informal. Of course that doesn’t count the one I had to skip…

I know executives and important types do this all the time. Well, good for them. You do wonder, though how they manage to get any real work done and earn those multi-million dollar bonuses. One thing’s for certain, when a guy like me has a Six-Meeting Day, it can only mean additional projects and deadlines down the line.