Saturday, October 4, 2008

Panic in Needle Park

Bailing out reckless, greedy, and probably criminal, wheeler dealers is hideous. But it would be even more hideous to see those who’ve been hard-working and careful lose their life savings in a nationwide financial meltdown. We face, in the words of Senator Tom Coburn, M.D. (R-OK), “the greatest financial risk and peril this country has ever seen.” According to Senator Chris Dodd (D-CT), “There is a crisis in our country … Our economy is on a precipice … and we must do what we can to move it back from that brink”.

October 3, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (HR 1424) aka the $700 billion bailout, was approved by the House of Representatives and signed into law by the President. I should be relieved. My IRA and 401(k) are safe, at least for the next week or so. But somehow I feel like I just bought a boatload of cocaine for a mob of crack whores—and so did you.

The full text of HR 1424 is 451 pages long. But only about a quarter of that (112 pages) actually addresses the “Troubled Assets Relief Program” (TARP), i.e. the mortgage meltdown, and related provisions. Despite our “financial peril”, our economy “on a precipice”, the folks in Washington found time to add over three hundred pages of special tax breaks and other programs to a bill that will already burden the taxpayers to the tune of $700,000,000,000.

Why bother to openly debate a comprehensive national energy strategy when you can just tack a 148-page “Energy Improvement and Extension Act” onto the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The bill has tax credits and/or allowances for everything from wind energy, insulation, and plug-in cars to oil refineries, coal, and tar sands.

There’s more.

There are pages and pages of special tax breaks. Some of these seem fair, such as those addressing costs generated by natural disasters. Others are shamelessly opportunistic, including provisions for the film industry, racetracks, the wool research fund, and “wooden arrows designed for use by children”.

What a generous people we are! Even in a crisis, we provide for the poor starving film industry and auto racing. And of course, whose heart doesn’t leap at the sight of children playing with their wooden arrows? Especially those who manufacture prosthetic eyeballs.

Wait! That’s not all.

There are provisions for revenue sharing with states and counties with large amounts of federally owned land and the Merchantable Timber Contracting Pilot Program. Guess the lumber lobby has a lot of pull. Lost in the middle of all this is the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which constituted the original HR 1424, before it got hijacked into the bailout bill.

To balance out this binge of spending and tax credits, there’s also all of nine pages of “spending reductions and appropriate revenue raisers for new tax relief” which primarily address taxes on deferred compensation.

What were they thinking?!?

Even if our economy is not completely broken, our system is. What were these Senators and Representatives thinking? Is the U.S. Congress so morally bereft that even a bill to address a worldwide economic crisis is just another opportunity to load up on pork?

Is the crisis really real? Could our economy be so close to collapse that lobbyists and Congressmen saw HR 1424 as their last chance to pick the carcass clean? Have we elected the sort of people who would rifle through the pockets of accident victims looking for cash and credit cards?

Maybe they’re so addicted to pork, they just can’t help themselves, like junkies who really intend to use that welfare check to pay the rent, really intend to buy food for the kids, but always end up in the shooting gallery.

Is this the best America has to offer?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Last Chance!

Today, October 2, is your last chance to submit comments regarding the southerly extension of the Foothill Tollway (Route 241). Comments by snail mail must be postmarked as of today and addressed to:

Thomas Street, Attorney-Advisor
NOAA Office of General Counsel for Ocean Services
1305 East-West Highway, Room 6111
Silver Spring, MD 20910 .

Comments may also be e-mailed to

Let’s hope the Secretary of Commerce has a better sense of geography than the numerous members of the Foothill/Eastern Transportation Corridor Agency board who testified at the public hearing. For some reason, numerous elected officials from cities like Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano, and Laguna Niguel seemed to believe that they had no means of evacuation in case of emergencies except the Highway 5. Did Coast Highway/El Camino disappear? Do folks in San Juan Capistrano not have access to the Ortega Highway of the San Joaquin Hill Transportation Corridor—built by the very people who now seem to have forgotten its existence?

Also failing Geography 101 were elected officials from cities like Anaheim who said the corridor extension was necessary to provide access to Riverside County if the 91 became inaccessible. Pretty strange, since the 241 would connect to the 91 within Orange County, where parallel routes are provided by La Palma and Santa Ana Canyon Road, doing nothing to eliminate the bottleneck through Santa Ana Canyon west of the 71 and, further east, Highway 15, which are also conveniently forgotten.

Even more strange was a member of the Orange County Board of Supervisors who maintained that San Diego would be cutoff from goods and services from the rest of the United States, if something happened along the 5.

WOW! Somebody buy these folks an atlas.

And get your letters in. NOW.