Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stupidest Legislative “Money-Saving” Plan of the Month: The First Three Nominees

It’s true: I’ve been busy the last couple of weeks. Still, it surprises me that I apparently missed the memo announcing the contest for Stupidest Legislative “Money-Saving” Plan of the Month. Apparently there are some really cool prizes involved, as the contestants are lining up, each with a scheme a little more insane than the one before. Here are three contenders I found out about within about roughly a six-hour stretch a few days ago. (I really have been busy; that’s why I’m only now writing about it.) For the purposes of this contest, the Alabama town that demanded proof of American citizenship—indeed of Alabama citizenship—to get (and pay for) clean water, and the Let Women Die law that sailed through the US House are not eligible, as they are merely mean-spirited and depraved, and don’t even pretend to save money.

We still have some really good entrants, however:

Representing the great state of Kansas, we have the Topeka City Council’s decision to repeal the city ordinance banning domestic violence. Really. OK, so this isn’t quite as colossally cretinous as it might initially appear: this is really a petty and petulant jurisdictional dispute between the city and the county, neither of whom want to accept responsibility for misdemeanor cases (half of which involve domestic violence) because their respective budgets have been cut. So now the Shawnee County DA has in fact capitulated and agreed to do his freaking job prosecute such cases, clearly as a direct response to public outcry. This apparently includes re-visiting the cases of between 18 and 30 (sources differ) alleged criminals released because no one would take the case. Who’s right in the turf squabble? I. Don’t. Care. The council vote would be unconscionable and unsupportable under any circumstances.

Is it a coincidence that the 7-3 vote to de-criminalize such cases corresponds exactly to the ratio of men to women on the city council? I don’t know; I can’t find a record of who voted which way. But I’ll say this: I’m betting they weren’t going to de-criminalize the completely understandable crime of kicking idiot city councilmen squarely in the balls.

Next up: Camden County (Georgia) is contemplating a measure that would put two inmates—convicted of things like drug offences and theft—in each of three existing fire stations as a money-saving measure. What could go wrong, after all? Let’s see, we’re not only expecting professional firefighters to do their own highly risky jobs, but to “monitor” the inmates: a term I take to imply both supervision of their work and serving as guards. Put simply, the real firefighters would be under-trained to watch the inmates, who would not only be under-trained as firefighters, they’d also require constant scrutiny because, well, they’re inmates. The people of the area, no doubt, would be ever-so-happy to be suffering from the anxiety accompanying a fire, only to have a convicted thief wandering through their homes.

Stuart Sullivan, a firefighter, spoke to the Board of County Commissioners, urging them to drop the plan: “If you vote to bring these inmates into our working environment, you jeopardize not only the employees' well-being, but the safety of our citizens.” Well, duh. Seriously, Mr. Sullivan, when did coherent argument start becoming a legitimate way to influence government policy? True, the proposal is insulting to professional firefighters by suggesting they can be readily replaced both those Jack Marshall describes as “not just … barely-trained amateurs, but barely-trained amateurs who can’t be trusted to walk free in the community.” True, it unnecessarily endangers good citizens whose focus in a literally life-and-death situation is inherently distracted by supervisory responsibilities they shouldn’t have to perform. True, it serves to undermine the trust and camaraderie necessary for any such venture, and not for some legitimate ancillary benefit like civil rights: this isn’t eliminating DADT we’re talking about. But, Mr. Sullivan, these are county commissioners we’re talking about: you’d have a better chance of making your case to a collection of corn cobs.

After all, it might save a fair amount of money, although I’d be willing to bet that even the short-term savings are unlikely to approach, let alone equal, the $500K estimate that’s being tossed around: 20% of that would be a more plausible figure. But you can’t expect a county commissioner to have the mental capacity of a bottle of olive oil. Think I’m being too harsh? Here’s Commissioner Jimmy Starline (apparently his real name): “I've been told these inmates are very enthusiastic about being a firefighter. It's an opportunity to break that cycle. This is not like a chain gang. Life at a fire station could be a whole lot more pleasant than life in jail.” Oh, well, then. As long as the freaking prisoners like the idea, then it’s OK, right?

Finally, there’s Pinellas County, Florida, whose County Commissioners voted to stop fluoridating the water supply. You, Gentle Reader, might have been under the impression that this battle had been fought and won by the forces of science two generations ago. Ah, but the Tea Party crowd and their enablers (I’m looking at you, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, et al.) have successfully brought us to the point at which that which has long been accepted as scientifically proven is now up for grabs, not on the basis of new evidence, but based simply, in Isaac Asimov’s words, on “the false notion that democracy means ‘my ignorance is as good as your knowledge.’” I’m pretty sure gravity is next on the hit list for the tin-foil hat crowd.

Honestly, here’s some of the reporting of David DeCamp of the St. Petersburg Times:
Some speakers Tuesday compared it to Soviet and Nazi practices and warned of cancer, reduced IQ and deteriorating bones.

“Fluoride is a toxic substance,” said tea party activist Tony Caso of Palm Harbor. “This is all part of an agenda that's being pushed forth by the so-called globalists in our government and the world government to keep the people stupid so they don't realize what's going on.” [Note: it seems to be working.]

He added: “This is the U.S. of A, not the Soviet Socialist Republic.”
The fact that the medical and dental communities are unanimous in support of such programs means nothing to the self-appointed authorities, the Tea Partiers. Lunatics on the left and the right have been part of the American political system for as long as I can remember, and I suspect for a good while before that. Up until recently, however, the mainstream politicians and commentators kept the crazies in check. True, the anti-war crowd made life a little difficult for mainstream Democrats during the Vietnam War, but that was primarily because there was little difference in either the rhetoric or the policies of the two major parties at the time. Generally, the fringe elements of both parties have been recognized as precisely that: the fringe. That changed recently, though. The mainstream GOP loathed Obama with such a passion that they sold their soul to the Tea Party to gain a majority in the House of Representatives. The result is a pandering to the rampant anti-intellectualism of Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and similar shills.

The Democrats have their own populist movement, the #Occupy crowd, to deal with. But whereas there may be more of them than there are Tea Partiers, and those folks have far higher approval ratings than the Tea Party ever did—a 54-23% positive rating according to a poll just published in Time magazine—they will have far less impact on actual policy because they aren’t just a front for some left-wing equivalent of the Koch brothers or Dick Armey, and are therefore uninteresting to the pols who care far more about donors than about constituents.

Ultimately, what these stories show is an affirmation of legitimate uses of government. Punishing those who beat up women, preventing or extinguishing fires in the most efficient manner possible, providing at least base-line dental care that benefits all citizens: these are, it seems to me, undeniably good things, and appropriate uses of government resources. I bet it wouldn’t be difficult to find other available cuts, things far less self-evidently essential at the very least, in any of those jurisdictions. Or—God forbid!—there might even be additional revenue enhancements. But the country is long on stupid right now. There will be more idiotic ideas… and I’ll do what I can to give you the opportunity to laugh at them.

The really bad news: the month is still young.

1 comment:

C. S. P. Schofield said...

Regarding the fluoridation flap; while I'm not ready to stand with the tinfoil hat brigade, I do suggest that the idea of the kind of workers represented by Public Employee Unions putting a substance that is poisonous in greater than tiny amounts in the water supply is enough to make any cynic nervous.