Tuesday, April 30, 2013

TFP Column: Congress Is Indeed Exceptional

This week's TFP effort takes a look at the exceptional nature of our national legislature.  And no, this probably doesn't mean what you think it does.  That being the case, you'll have to read "Congress Is Indeed Exceptional" to find out what I did mean.

Meanwhile, the TFP Star edition is already out this week with a lot of information on the weekend opening of "Iron Man 3".  If that isn't enough to tempt you onto the TFP website, you're only days away from the weekend edition of Toledo's largest circulation Sunday newspaper, a paper that's been voted the best weekly paper in the state for the last four years. 

Of course that could be nothing other than the Toledo Free Press.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Heads In The Clouds, Faces In The Trough

Every city seems to have a pie-in-the-sky project or two that seems to outweigh common sense, financial sensibilities, and even political realities.  Through a little known branch of Einstein's theories which today's physicists have yet to properly recognize, let alone define; these projects usually turn themselves into a form of black hole that sucks in both political and financial capital in. 

In the City of Fountains, that project is for Kansas City to replace its user-friendly, three terminal airport  (one of which is currently being closed down from lack of use) with a new single terminal facility.  And the cost for tearing out an existing airport that many consider the most user-friendly in the country to put a single terminal monstrosity (Can you say Midway airport?), mostly for the purposes of streamlining the terminal security process and adding a few terminal shops and eateries to the mix is $1.2 billion before in-project changes, delays and increases in materials, and the cost overruns that are always involved with such massive government projects begin to have their way with it.  (Can you say "Big Dig"?)

Perhaps most bizarrely, the city and the Aviation Director in charge of the maintenance of the existing facility Mark VanLoh, is spending $117,000 of the taxpayer's cash on a PR campaign to show that he's apparently incapable of maintaining the existing 30 year-old facility in a move designed to push for its replacement.  He notes in an article in the Kansas City Star that, "the public doesn't see the many ways in which those terminals are deteriorating and can't be remodeled to meet the needs of the 21st century aviation world".  There are some who think that seems rather at odds with the Department's PR efforts only 9 years ago, when it was touting the success story of spending some $258 million in taxpayer funds designed to remodel and update those very same terminals.  And what about the millions spent to add underground parking garages to each of those terminals not so many years before. that  Where do both of these rather significant investments in the airports original future fit with this new plan for its eventual destiny?

What does the city's leader, Mayor Sly James (yes, that's his real name) have to say about this:  "I think what happened is that the concept got pushed out before we figured out how to push it out".  Yep, you guessed it ... bad PR.  Of course, every poll of local citizens shows that they are currently not in favor of building such a terminal, but what difference should that make?  (After all, no one listens to the people when they're not interested in letting the government spend their money.)  In fact, when a small local group started a petition effort to stop the city from pursuing the spending of taxpayer money in pursuit of the project, the City Attorney ruled such a citizen's effort 'premature' and invalid as a consequence.

Imagine the hubris!  It isn't about the fact that KC doesn't need a new terminal now in the wake of an ever-shrinking airline industry.  It's not that the city isn't already committed to building one of these black hole projects in the form of a 2-mile long streetcar system of doubtful use, except perhaps as a stepping stone to expanding it.  It's not even that like many other cities of its size, the city doesn't suffer grave infrastructure issues where streets, bridges, and water and sewer systems are involved; and that will only be solved by major increases in some form of equally massive projects funded by tax and fee increases to its citizenry.  The real problem with the airport project is that the Mayor and his minions have not been allowed to do the sales pitch for it at their own time in and their own way.

Unfortunately, those of you who live for the power, influence, and the vast amounts of cash involved with such projects should have no real fear however.  A new Kansas City Airport appears to have entered the event horizon of this non-Newtonian phenomena.  The shear mass of such a project will be difficult to slow down, especially as it gathers the mounting acceleration of taxpayer-funded, government-approved gravity well of a PR campaign and the refusal of government at any level to give up on such things until it gets it own way.  There's money to be made in such massive government projects for big contractors, for union workers, and for government bureaucrats who get to dispense these vast funds.  There's also a good bit political power and future fund raising to be garnered for any politicians who serve the purposes of these funding black holes.  There's little mystery to the result of question of the airport's future therefore, when those in charge have their heads in the clouds and their faces in the trough.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

This Is An Official Statement

"Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah ...."

That, of course, is what they all seem to sound like these days (remarkably like the adults in a 'Charlie Brown' cartoon, if I do say so).  A representative of the city is standing in behind a podium and in front of a bunch of microphones to tell us that there's a problem, and that the water and sewer system is going to hell.  Oh sure, he knows as well as you do that part of what we've been paying for years was to take care of the upkeep of the system (which evidently no one really bothered to do, in spite of the fact that they told us they were).  That's not important now though.  What's important is that without money, a lot of money, the problem can never be solved. 

No wait, it's a representative of the state telling us that in spite of the fact that we're spending more money per child than we ever have in the nation's history on education, we need to spend much more money for it.  This isn't more money to keep and reward the best teachers, to test more innovative teaching methods, or for technology that might make the process better for teachers and students alike; but only to perpetuate the existing failed practices.  Previous dramatic increases in spending have done nothing to produce students more ready for higher education, increase measurable test results, or even increase general literacy in this country.  Such prior failure however, has nothing to do with the potential of success (no matter how remote it is); but more money it is.  

No, it's a representative of our federal government telling us that in spite of the increasing amount of money that we're spending on the war on poverty, that we're losing the battle.  Not only are we losing however, but according to the government, our investment has led to a situation where things are worse than when we started, and in fact worse than ever before.  In fact, perhaps one of the few successful bits of strategy is that some of the money we're spending has been to recruit new victims to the struggle or to relax the rules so that more than would have in the past will now qualify.  We've been fighting this war for over 50 years now, but instead of it being one that America has long since become tired of funding at previous or existing levels, it's one that our leaders tell us can only be held at a draw (no one even talks about winning it anymore) through ever increasing staffing and budgets.  You've guessed it ... more money from us it is.

Fortunately for you this isn't an official statement, which means that it isn't filled with what one of those once in power in the Glass City used to call "half-truths, mistruths, and outright lies".  That means that you're free to actually pay at least some limited attention to it (well, as much as you normally do with JBS at any rate) without fearing that it's going to cost you any money.  Cause if you're being even minimally honest with yourself, that's what you normally do.  You're tired of hearing the same old crap from the same cast of characters; and knowing that each time they open the pie hole in one of their two faces, someone's going to be reaching into your pocket. 

Like many of you in this economy, I've been forced to recognize that at times I've been a bit wasteful and profligate in my spending.  I always figured that this was money, earned from the sweat of my labors, and I could therefore do whatever I wanted with it.  I never counted on being able to borrow money from friends and relatives in order to fulfill my financial obligations; and in spite of my setbacks, think I can say that what I owe to both is simply my thanks for being supportive when I needed them to (and putting up with me in the first place of course).  And in the process of my minor trials and tribulations, I like to think that I've learned from my mistakes. 

Government at any level however, seems incapable of this last part, and therefore unable to do the same.  There are those at least in government, honest to admit that many of the same programs designed to take care of a problem, though designed and initiated with the best of intents, are full of waste and fraud.  Whether we're talking about the quality of drinking water or that of education, they can point to glaring errors (usually far enough in the past to show that they weren't responsible); and assure you that now that such situations have come to their attention are being seriously looked at.  They can likewise point to serious breaches in the rules and enforcement as part of the bad old days that will go away if new and additional funding is approved.  When was the last time that you heard any of them making a subsequent official statement regarding the progress that's been made, the rules that have been changed to close or even address issues, or the enforcement cases that are being prosecuted against those who have done little more than steal both our trust and our money.

Unfortunately we hear nothing of the kind.  Journalism (especially investigative journalism) has all but disappeared from the airwaves.  Neither the television nor the radio networks (nor the daily newspapers for that matter) can afford the news staffs required to attempt to do what they once considered their moral responsibility.  Instead more often than not, their programs and pages are filled little more than the official statements handed to them by the very corporations and governments that they once attempted to protect us from.  Most of those dedicated to editorializing on paper and television talking heads that are their broadcast counterparts have become willing sycophants to the official blather of the ruling elite in order to keep their 'inside access' to those in power.  This unfortunately, has become a gift that's little more than a parasitic arrangement used by both for feeding off the public.  It doesn't take someone with their tin foil hats slightly askew to believe that the parasites like it this way, since when you've tuned them out, they can do damned near anything they like to you.  After all, they've more than adequately informed you about it by issuing an official statement.

So before ending this I'd like to issue an official statement of my own:

"We regret that Just Blowing Smoke has done so few posts in the last couple of weeks.  Technical issues, in conjunction with a mild case of creative blockage and a healthy dose of pure laziness might normally have been considered the root of the problem.  In reality however, the sole responsibility for this has been a lack of government funding.

Since no government in their right mind is likely to change this situation, we at JBS will have to do our best to pull ourselves up by our collective bootstraps and return to doing a better job."

We apologize for the inconvenience, and now return you to reruns of Honey Boo Boo ...    

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

TFP Column: We Need A Law

I know that I have been absent from the pages of the TFP for a couple of weeks, and I want you to know that there are reasons for this to have happened.  Most of them involve an admission of sheer intellectual laziness and occasional bouts of creative nonappearance.

That being said, it appears that Editor-in-Chief Michael Miller has once more placed his well-deserved reputation in jeopardy by accepting my latest effort, "We Need A Law".

Please understand that I mean no disrespect to the victims of the recent Boston Marathon tragedy.  That being said, I can't ignore the current government practice of using the despicable behavior of whoever created these bombs to commit additional despicable behavior in their continuing attempts achieve the same goal as terrorists by restricting personal freedom and increasing government control.

On a more positive note, it's only the middle of the week and the TFP "Star" edition is just hitting the streets.  In addition, there will no doubt be a number of far more uplifting written efforts later in the week in Toledo's highest circulation Sunday and Ohio's Best Weekly newspaper for the last four years, the Toledo Free Press. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

I'm Feeling Generous

I have to admit that I've been feeling rather good about myself this week.  Like most people, some part of my attention has been drawn to the 15th and tax day, and none of it had to do with the fact that I filed my paperwork months ago and even received a small refund. (Imagine, getting some of MY MONEY back from the government.)   Instead, the reason that I've been feeling rather proud of myself is because of realizing what a generous guy I've become.  

Now this may be a little hard for many to believe.  After all, I'm a greedy Conservative, and therefore have no heart.  (They're right about having no heart of course, but being Conservative probably has little to do with it.)  While filling out my taxes however, I reviewed a number of slips of paper that listed donations that I had made to various charitable organizations over the last year.  None of them individually might be worthy notice in the local media, and I was not asked to pose with an oversize copy of one of my checks for eventual media publication; but percentage-wise collectively, I think I did better than the nation's leader and his foot-in-mouth 2nd in command in my good works.  

Just as I was beginning to feel a bit smug about my munificence however, I realized that all of us paying taxes this year have every right to be proud of our generosity, regardless of the number of tax-deductible receipts that we're holding. You see, these days we're all making charitable donations on a fairly grand scale whether we know it or not, at least according to this chart from the Heritage Foundation.

See!  We're all paying a sizable portion of our tax dollars to pay for other people's medical bills (after paying an ever-increasing amount for our own health insurance).  We're paying for a "retirement insurance" program (a Government-run Ponzi Scheme) that's likely to be broke before we're able to collect anything from it.  Part of the 19% in income security includes food and housing assistance for those less fortunate, as well as that we justifiably owe in recompense for those who have more than honorably served in our Armed Forces.  As for the net interest listed in the chart, apparently we're all donating to nations like the Chinese, in a capitalist transaction with a Communist country to finance the sad fact that the US continues to spend more than the money than it takes in from the tax revenues we 'donate' to it each year.   It's was also great to find out that we're all so generous that we're willing to be rather charitable where other people's transportation or their kid's education is concerned (beyond what those of us who have to pay in local property taxes).

And while it really isn't broken out in the 7% that's listed on the chart, we're generous in ways that we don't even know (and couldn't comprehend the lunacy of if we did).  We are after all, paying oil companies to drill for oil that our government says is bad for the environment, and grain-based ethanol as a sustainable replacement that's even worse.  Speaking of grain, we're donating money to farmers not to grow crops in places that they could and other farmers for poor returns on those that they did plant at times or in places that they shouldn't. 

We're generous with green energy companies that go broke as soon as they run out of our charitable contributions, on maintaining government buildings that the government no longer uses, and on such needy causes as training Chinese prostitutes to drink responsibly (which falls under the category of foreign aid affecting US interests, I'm sure).  Let's face it.  The truth of the matter is that we're spending billions in charitable contributions to bad governments with worse leaders all around the world who really don't like us; in the misguided notion that 'buying friends' is a workable plan.  (Proving that while the US doesn't negotiate with terrorists, they're perfectly willing to fund those considered only part-time terrorists and full-time political leaders; who then work with or subsidize other full-time terrorists.)

You know, maybe too much generosity isn't such a good thing after all.  Maybe you and I are in fact donating far too much, and against our own best interests.  Maybe ....

Oh wait, we're talking about taxes after all.  Taxes are extracted at the point of a gun (or the threat of a federal prison sentence),  and their redistribution of our obligatory contributions fall under the same guidelines as most government operation.  Mostly begun with the best of intentions, they have morphed into a bureaucratic monstrosity whose only saving grace is the inefficiency of they're misguided efforts.  I suppose that as such, they cannot therefore really be considered generosity after all.  I feel better again ... sort of.

Donate Responsibly ....


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Sky High Dreams

Kansas City is going to get a new airport that will cost it over $1.2 billion.  It really doesn't matter whether it needs one or not, whether the existing one gets the job done or not, or whether it makes any sense to build one or not.  What apparently is important to this situation is that the movers and shakers within city government want this new airport (as depicted to the left), and they're determined to get it.

Now for those of you who have never actually used KC's aerodrome, Kansas City currently possesses a unique three terminal design which was originally dedicated in 1972.  It has consistently ranked in the top five facilities in the country in terms of customer satisfaction (as tracked by J D Powers and Associates), for the last decade and in 2010 was rated as the top medium-sized airport.  (All of which appear to be good reasons to tear it down.)  

This isn't to say that KC hasn't hasn't kept up the facility and indeed has spent considerable money on its airport to update it over the last 41 years.  In a move to upgrade the original design, additional millions were spent not that many years later to add underground parking garages at each of the three terminals for the convenience of travelers.  (What fate that underground parking would see after this latest revision has yet to be discussed.)  During the years of airline expansion, a fourth concourse was even considered (and delayed long enough to make it unnecessary).  Just nine years ago, the city spent a further $258 million to again update the very terminals that it now wants to tear down and replace. 

Of course airline traffic is down these days; and with the recent mergers led by American and United, KC is today using only two of those available three terminals.  Then again, flights all over the country are down as the airline industry attempts to consolidate in the face of years of incipient financial failure.  The ever-increasing cost of fuel, the compeititive nature of key air routes, and an economic slow-down that has only added to a significant reduction in non-business related travel all point to an airline industry that will be struggling for many years ahead to maintain any level of profitability and damned lucky to see anything approaching a full recovery any time soon.  But instead of seeing the closing of 33% of its gates as a warning sign against future infrastructure spending, supporters of the new design see this instead as an opportunity to build the new facility over the recently closed corpse of the A Terminal.

On top of the poor industry timing, one has to wonder about the timing involved with looking for bond financing during the tight budgets of a stalled economic recovery.  After all, none of this has been approved for state or federal grants that might provide any alternative.  That would leave the airlines largely responsible for picking up the cost of this project by increasing landing fees, a move which will likely see such costs passed on to consumers through increased fares.  The city, whose infrastructure budget is already stretched like many others around the country, would likewise have figure out how to pick up part of the tab, something likely to be offset by yet more in the way of a higher sales tax or increases in hotel taxes (or both).  

And yet all of this effort and expense is to be made fro no better reason than to simplify the current security process at the airport and add shopping and restaurant venues.  The current layout apparently requires more staffing than the single entry port model of many airports (though it does shorten potential security lines); a job which has been ably handled by one of the few privatized security forces instead of the standard TSA agents.  Of course the real boon, as it is for any other such big government project, are some really great high-paying 'union' jobs in the construction trades, along with the inevitable construction delays and cost overruns that go with such efforts.  Strangely however, part of the initial justification of moving forward with the project is that it would allow this new airport to operate with less in the way of both security and other operational personnel.

Not surprisingly, local residents are rather dubious of moving forward with what they see as unnecessary spending, and have said so repeatedly.  KC's City Council however, seems unfazed by such public opinion and have recently approved the spending of $117,000 of such taxpayer money for a public relations firm to attempt to sell local residents on the project that they don't appear to want.  Or at least, not yet ... 

The bad news about such a disasterous waste in government spending in such tough economic times is that none of this will be going to KC road, water, and sewer systems that are all but crumbling beneath their feet.  The good news however, is that when such collapse does eventually happen, at least KC residents will have a new and more efficient escape route.

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fools

Here we are once again in the month of April. Now for those who didn't already know it, April is famous annually for two of its days, the 1st and the 15th.  The one is all about having a joke played on you that scares the hell out of you, while simultaneously making you look like an idiot.  The other is April Fools Day.  

I write regularly on various aspects of the national pickpocketing effort perpetrated by the government on all levels by way of taxation, so you'd think that I would have an increased level of immunity to machinations involved with such high jinks.  You would sadly be wrong.  (In my own defense, I also believe in the Easter Bunny, but couldn't likewise help but notice that I was without a wicker carrier full of chocolate-covered stuff and marshmallow peeps yesterday.)  

The truth of the matter however, is that there is no form immunity where this national caper is concerned, and the knowledge of its existence is no proof against falling for such annual antics.  In my case in fact, rather than wait until a mere two weeks before the mandated IRS deadline as we are now, I set myself as victim for the pratfall weeks ago.  While doing so, I in fact congratulated myself on beginning the process almost immediately after the tax rates had been firmly established by the delinquent efforts of Congress at dealing once and for all with the Bush Tax Rates in my apparent desire for victimhood.  Without a grumble and with nary a groan, I took up the process of self-abuse, dutifully took the deductions granted meby legislators and bureaucrats (legaleeze for additional crumbs of my own money that my government 'allows' me to keep) who saw it as their duty to impose their will upon me, and accepted my due as a 'tax serf'.  

Before I knew it, I had completed not only the required annual federal paperwork, but those required of me for the Sunflower State as well.  (Mission, KS does not yet have a city income tax, temporary or otherwise, a blessing for which I am pleased and grateful.)  Both were duly computer-checked and electronically submitted, courtesy of a nationally recognized tax firm, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself.  It was only as I began to think about putting together an effort this weekend (delayed so as not to impose on a religious holiday weekend) that I began to at last see the error of my ways.

Without realizing it, I had fallen into the trap expected of the very sheeple I often castigate.  Not only had I complacently and ungrudgingly conceded a significant part of my income to the waste, fraud, and thievery annually committed in the name of 'paying our fair share' through bi-weekly confiscation; but having done so, I had likewise fallen into the simplest of traps ... the now happy anticipation of a REFUND.  Ignoring what should have been bitter resentment not only for paying, but for overpaying for the few things absolutely required of government (and a lot of crap that these days seems must of necessity come along with it); I was instead happy and grateful for the return of that overpayment.  

That's the mindset that too many of us have in the increasingly subjugated serfdom into which we are born.  Like the illiterates of the Dark Ages, we are often little more than peasants burdened with a tax system that we've never had control of, whose complication is cunningly added to each year in the name of simplification, and which we now have no real hope of ever understanding (something I'm convinced is done by design) as we simply bow our heads in humble acceptance of the rules.  

Worse still is our pitiful reaction to any portion of our hard-earned money that's finally returned to us.  I in fact, was drooling over the prospect of such a government check (OK, direct deposit) as if it were a long-overdue Christmas gift; and not the grudging return of money by Washington and Topeka only weeks after asking for it back, as if it were theirs and not mine in the first place.  I was just beginning to become more angry at being the willing mark in this tired jest when it occurred to me in my complacency that I had yet to consider a potential audit.  I cowered once more while realizing that the government allows itself not only this second bite at the apple which could take away that which had chosen to bestow upon me; but has the ability and was more than willing to charge interest and penalty if it later discovered any underpayment, regardless of the reasons involved.  As for itself, there is of course no interest that accrues to any money that the government holds throughout the year in overpayment.  And in this fear I marvelled that we demand no redress of such disparity in treatment; because as victims of this now 100 year-old prank we've long-since accepted that the joke is on us, that the game is rigged so the house will always win, and that we'll never understand how and why this is or have the ability to change it.  

I suspect that all of this will make me mostly immune to the petty pranks that I expect to occur on this first day of April.  Oh some may engender some mild form of temporary surprise, but nothing that compares with the more permanent shock of that whose damage whose deadline is now two weeks away.  While I'm sure that I'm as susceptible as anyone to the day's practicle jokes, it's that in the grand scheme, they mean little.  For more troubling to me is that I've discovered myself to be part of the lowing herd that finds itself the annual victim of the horseplay of the Internal Revenue Service.  The sad fact of the matter is that in this country there is no escape from the ill-favored escapades that constitute taxation in this country.  As a consequence, the sorry truth is that when it comes to the shenanigans that occur on the 15th, we are all of us ... April Fools.