Author Archive

In this Saturday, March 29, 2014 file photo, Aziza Yousef drives a car on a highway in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia's ban on women driving. Saudi Arabia says it will allow women to drive for the first time in the ultra-conservative kingdom. The kingdom, which announced the change on Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, was the only the country in the world to bar women from driving and for years had garnered negative publicity internationally for detaining women who defied the ban. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)I’ve blogged many times about Saudi Arabia’s obvious misogyny. Among the ways Saudis repress their women is by making it illegal for them to drive. The Kingdom is the only country on earth that has such a restriction.

It’s a ridiculous restriction that Saudi clerics claim is required by Islam, but no other Islamic country has anything like it, which suggests this probably isn’t the case. They say it’s about “respect” for women (?). One of those clerics, a rather high-ranking one, even claimed that driving was physically harmful for women. That, of course, is a fucking lie … but he said it, and I’ll bet a lot of Saudis believe it.

Well, times are changing, even in the incredibly-reactionary Kingdom. As the Associated Press reports via Religion News Service, the Saudi prohibition on women driving, will soon be lifted (Archive.Is cached article):

Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision to grant women the right to drive in the conservative kingdom marks a significant expansion in women’s rights, but activists said Wednesday it is also only the first step in a long list of demands for equality.

Saudi Arabia was the only country in the world to ban women from driving, and nearly three decades ago women first began agitating for the right to drive, at times facing arrest for their protests and for getting behind the wheel.

The lifting of the ban, which comes into effect next summer, is the most dramatic step yet in a campaign by the king’s son, 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, to modernize the kingdom. The young royal has been promoting change as needed to boost the country’s economy and ease international criticism, but he risks a backlash from powerful clerics from the ultraconservative Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.

It’s all well and good, I guess, that the monarchy is behind this rule-change, but it’s far from immediate, and it’s sure to be resisted, as the article mentions:

Almost immediately after the news broke, an Arabic hashtag on Twitter was trending that said: “The women of my house won’t drive.”

I can only hope things will continue improving for Saudi women.

Photo credit: AP Photo/Hasan Jamali.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Saudi Arabia Soon Will Allow Women to Drive

Haredi praying at the Western WallUltra-orthodox Jews (sometimes called Haredi or Haredim) are a strange group. They have this way, you see, of not only assuming the rest of the world is required to live as they demand, but assuming they’re allowed to impose that mandate on others, often because others willingly knuckle under to them.

I’ve blogged about their juvenile, religionistic antics on several occasions … like the time a plane was nearly kept from taking off because ultra-orthodox Jewish men on board refused to sit next to women (cooties, maybe? I have no idea). In that case, the flight crew had tolerated the disruption — even though most flight crews will never take crap from anyone for any reason.

Well, as Yeshiva World News reports, some Haredim on an airplane (unknown airline, unknown destination) covered up an in-flight movie, for unknown reasons (Archive.Is cached article). Here’s video of this incident:

Yeah, that’s mature … not!

For the record, I have no idea why they did this. I wasn’t aware they consider movies “non-kosher” or something, but perhaps they do. They didn’t explain their objection, they just went and covered it.

Now, if a group of Haredim had chartered this plane and didn’t want the movie shown, that’s fine. It’s their flight — bought and paid for entirely by them — but then, they’d have been able to order the screen turned off, and wouldn’t have had to cover it, the way they did. So I doubt that was the case.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: Friendly Atheist.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Ultra-Orthodox Jews Get In the Way of In-Flight Movie

In this 2012 photo provided by a former member of the church, Word of Faith Fellowship leader Jane Whaley, center, holds a baby with others during a church ceremony in Spindale, N.C. From all over the world, they flocked to a tiny North Carolina town in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, lured by promises of inner peace and eternal life. What many found instead: years of terror _ waged in the name of the Lord. (AP Photo)It’s been awhile since I blogged about the sorry crew which is the Word of Faith Fellowship in Spindale, NC. In their case, it’s not quite true that “no news is good news.” Far from it! The Associated Press has continued digging into their affairs, and reports on a scheme the church’s leadership cooked up (Archive.Is cached article):

When Randy Fields’ construction company faced potential ruin because of the cratering economy, he pleaded with his pastor at Word of Faith Fellowship church to reduce the amount of money he was required to tithe every week.

To his shock, Fields said church founder Jane Whaley proposed a divine plan that would allow him to continue contributing at least 10 percent of his income to the secretive evangelical church while helping his company survive: He would file fraudulent unemployment claims on behalf of his employees. She called it, he said, “God’s plan.”

The scheme went like this: Companies owned by Whaley’s parishioners would pretend to lay off employees, allowing them to file for unemployment, but they would continue working at those companies. The business would have workers, but no payroll. For them, it must have been an amazing boon.

But if you’re smart, like me, you immediately knew the gaping hole in this plan … at least, for the employees:

The former congregants said that not only were they coerced into continuing to work while collecting unemployment, the money fell short of what they needed to pay their bills.

“The unemployment checks never equaled what you were making,” said [Rick] Cooper, who worked for Diverse Corporate Tech Inc., a manufacturing company owned by church leader Kent Covington.

“I was making about $700 a week, but I only collected $235 a week in unemployment,” Cooper said. “So I’m working the same hours — many times, much longer hours — for less. It was devastating for my family.”

Church members were expected to keep tithing regardless of their financial situations and Whaley kept close tabs on “who was giving what,” Cooper said.

The AP reports beatings were doled out for anyone who didn’t cooperate, along with separating people from other parishioners and even family members. Yeah, nice, huh?

All in order to keep tithes coming in from business owners who were having financial problems. Tithes, to a church which is part of the religion founded by a man who supposedly taught the virtues of poverty, and specifically — and explicitly — taught his followers not to amass money and never concern themselves with it:

  • “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. … No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24)
  • Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:21-25)
  • Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. And Jesus, looking around, said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” (Mark 10:21-26)
  • And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44)
  • And turning His gaze toward His disciples, He began to say, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20)
  • “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” (Luke 6:24)
  • “Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:33-34)
  • “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.” (Luke 16:13)
  • When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. And Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:22-26)
  • “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: … ‘Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.'” (Revelation 3:14a, 17-18)

(If those aforementioned Bible verses sound familiar, that’s because I cribbed them from a much-longer article I wrote, discussing many Biblical teachings that most Christians have refused to obey.)

Some participants in this scheme cooperated with the state’s investigation, even though risk being prosecuted for unemployment fraud themselves. I wonder what else the AP is going to uncover about these people?

Photo credit: Associated Press.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on AP Reveals Unemployment Scam Run by “Abuse Church” in NC

TBIT, via PixabayI’ve blogged a few times about “Biblical prophet” David Meade, who wrote a book and made the rounds touting September 23, 2017 as the start of “the End of the World.” Well, obviously, 9/23/2017 came and went, yet no such thing happened. As I expected, though — and as past failed “prophets” usually did — Meade refused to admit he’d been wrong. Oh no! As Newsweek reports, he just moved the goalposts (Archive.Is cached article):

The conspiracy theorist who supposedly predicted the world would end on September 23 has clarified his doomsday prophecy, saying the rapture is, in fact, coming in October.

David Meade, a self-proclaimed “researcher” and Catholic who hit global headlines last week, believes the end of the world as we know it, as foretold in the biblical Book of Revelation, will take place next month and the 23rd was simply a sign of the oncoming of the oncoming disaster.

Writing on his website, Meade clarified his belief that the 23rd is the date of a “historical event” in the skies that would signal the oncoming rapture. Doomsday itself, he says, will begin on October 15.

Frequent use of the word “clarify” here makes it seem Meade somehow hadn’t been clear enough about what he’d predicted. But that’s just not the case. His predicted scenario was pretty clear, and 9/23/2017 was to be an eventful day leading up to an Armageddon. “Clarification” is not needed. He was, very simply, wrong.

I love how these people just can’t — and won’t — admit failure. It’s as though they live in their own little worlds, detached from reality, and can just say whatever they want when their “predictions” turn out not to come true. It’s pathetic, really.

The real problem here is that too many other Christians fall for this shit, creating a market for books like the one Meade self-published. They like hearing that “the End” will come soon. They like believing their Jesus will come back for them — as though there can be any viable reason why a supposedly-omnipotent deity had do to return because s/he/it somehow couldn’t manage to do everything s/he/it had planned to do, the first time s/he/it was on Earth.

This happens because those Christians don’t understand that all Biblical prophecy is bullshit. Pure, unadulterated, unfiltered, grade-A bovine manure heaved right out the back of the barn. All “Biblical prophets” are liars because the premise on which they operate … i.e. that the Bible makes reliable predictions about the future … is false and unsupportable. As I’ve noted a few times already — and will repeat here, for your edification — Christians’ Bible contains at least one specific, explicit prediction of the future, which absolutely failed to come true. It’s found in all three synoptic gospels (emphasis mine):

“Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom.” (Mt 16:28)

And Jesus was saying to them, “Truly I say to you, there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power.” (Mk 9:1)

“But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:27)

Almost two millennia have passed since Jesus supposedly said that, and all those people to whom he said it have been dead almost as long; yet “the kingdom of God” has not come (“with power” or without). The door on any chance of this prediction ever coming true was closed long ago.

It’s time for Christians who know better — such as those who tried to evade Meade’s “prophecy” last week, acting as though it had no connection with their religion — to do something about their religion’s apocalypticism and their co-religionists who love it. Don’t just sit back, let the “Biblical prophets” propound their dooms, then say, “That’s crazy and it’s not Christianity” and walk away. That simply is not good enough any longer. Christians who know better have to get up off their lazy asses, stop the “prophets,” correct and/or discipline them, and explain to the “prophets'” followers that the Bible contains no “prophecy.” Curiously, though, the religion has been around for some 2 millennia, with “prophets” like that popping up all through that time — yet it’s rare in the extreme for them to be confronted or their followers to be corrected. (It pretty much never happens.)

Photo credit: TBIT, via Pixabay.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on “Biblical Prophecy” Fails, But Its Promoter Won’t Admit It

U.S. Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) speaking at the 2015 Reagan Dinner for the Dallas County Republican PartyThe number of sanctimonious Religious Rightists using disasters like hurricanes to promote their dour messages — and framing them as messages from the Almighty — continues to grow. The latest example isn’t exactly the sort of disaster theology I’ve often blogged about, but as the (UK) Independent explains, it’s very, very close to that (Archive.Is cached article):

A Republican congressman has suggested that flooding in certain areas – exacerbated by two massive storms that recently hit the US – is God telling homeowners to move.

“We have these repetitive loss properties,” Representative Jeb Hensarling said. “For example, we have one property outside of Baton Rouge [Louisiana] that has a modest home worth about $60,000 that’s flooded over 40 times. The taxpayers have paid almost half a million dollars for it.”

He added: “At some point, God is telling you to move.”

While Hensarling is from Texas, which was hit hard by Hurricane Harvey, he represents its 5th district, which includes a snippet of Dallas and a chunk of the area to its east and southeast. I’m not sure it had many Harvey-related problems. So he’s spewing standard Right-wing “all-government-spending-is-horrific-and-can’t-be-tolerated” rhetoric. Later, though, Hensarling (through a spokesman) tried to swerve out from under the foolishness of what he’d said:

A spokesperson for the House Financial Services Committee, of which Mr Hensarling is a member, told The Independent that the Congressman was not talking about hurricane victims – although he mentioned victims of Texas floods several times.

“The interview was about the committee’s efforts to reform the National Flood Insurance Program,” spokesman Jeff Emerson said. “…He’s discussing the need to reform the NFIP. He was not discussing disaster assistance.”…

Mr Hensarling’s proposed solution is to privatise flood insurance markets, and even buy out homes in flood-prone areas. Offering federal flood insurance, he said, “is encouraging people to live in harm’s way.”

I’m not sure what God supposedly telling people not to live somewhere has to do with the NFIP … unless it’s a roundabout way of rationalizing terminating the program altogether. (Which I’m sure a lot of Rightists would just love to do.)

As for privatizing flood insurance, that’s already been tried — and it failed. Once upon a time, ordinary property insurance covered flooding. In the 50s and 60s, though, due to the high cost of claims, insurance companies carved it out, making it separate, and then were unable to charge premiums ample enough to reimburse policy owners for flooding events. They started exiting the business altogether. The federal government essentially nationalized flood insurance in 1968, as a consequence. Private-sector insurance is not — contrary to what Hensarling and his fellow Rightists would like — going to re-enter that business. No fucking way. They’ve been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, and went home. It’s just not going to happen. Ending the NFIP is not an option. Perhaps making it mandatory for more people than are currently required to have it (i.e. mortgage-holders in certain flood zones), is one solution. But ending it? No.

As for getting everyone currently in a flood zone to move, that makes no sense economically. Let’s say the government forbids people living in certain zones. Their current properties — which for many are the bulk of their assets — would instantly cease to have any value. They’d be forced to rent or buy elsewhere, in places which are flood-proof, whose rent or purchase values will naturally shoot up. What’s more, they’d lose their jobs, and businesses in those zones would also be forced to close. They’d be left with no resources to pay for relocation; homeowners would have to scramble for new jobs, and businesses would have to find markets in new places. Anyone who thinks this is a good idea, is a brazen, fucking moron.

Put as simply as possible: Hensarling is a religionist, idiotic douchebag who has no idea what he’s talking about.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Hat tip: PMeldrum at World Politics forum on Delphi Forums.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Congressman Says Flooding Is a Message from God

Blender Cycles - ArmageddonMost people my age recall televised tests of what used to be called the Emergency Broadcast System. We all heard, “If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news, or instructions” more times than any of us wanted to. These days, this program is a little less intrusive, and is called the Emergency Alert System (the need for a name change isn’t quite clear, but hey, this is government in action). But those tests do still go out. Just this past Thursday, September 21, people in Orange county, CA got a test warning with an unusual twist. As the Orange County Register explains, they were warning about the Armageddon that had been predicted for today, Saturday, September 23 (Archive.Is cached article):

Some Orange County residents were stunned Thursday, Sept. 21, when television programming was suddenly interrupted for about a minute with an ominous message predicting the end of the world.

Stacy Laflamme of Lake Forest said she was watching the HGTV channel via Cox Communications about 11:05 a.m. when suddenly an emergency alert flashed across her screen followed by a voice.

“Realize this, extremely violent times will come,” a man’s voice boomed, according to a video of the alert.

This “warning” was about a “Biblical prophecy” I’ve already blogged about a few times, by a crank named David Meade, which definitely will not come true.OCR offers video of what they saw:

This was strange, but what might arguably be stranger, is the explanation that was offered for it (cached):

The end-of-the-world message heard on some Orange County channels during an Emergency Alert System test on Thursday was a technical glitch prompted by a local radio station, broadcasting officials said on Friday.

KWVE-FM, a Santa Ana station that broadcasts Christian programs, was conducting the test for the region that did not properly kick off – prompting a pastor’s comments meant only for that station to be heard over TV and probably radio channels in the county and beyond.

“During a regularly scheduled test of the Emergency Alert System for Orange County, KWVE-FM experienced an equipment failure that resulted in KWVE-FM not sending the end-of-message tones that would disconnect those media entities participating in the Emergency Alert System test,” a statement from the station says.

“When KWVE-FM resumed its regular programming, approximately 90 seconds of that audio was sent to the rest of the participants of the Emergency Alert System test.”

KWVE-FM has volunteered to be the primary Emergency Alert System station for the area since the inception of the alerts in 1996 and has never experienced a similar equipment failure, the statement says.

That this supposedly-prophetic warning would go out this way, is an awfully specific “failure.” I’m not sure I buy this explanation. It seems too convenient. Besides, the station itself never ought to have issued this apocalypse warning to its own listeners in the first place, let alone everyone in Orange county via the EAS — because it’s not going to come true. Period. End of discussion.

Photo credit: NGCHunter2, via Flickr.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on Orange Cty CA Residents Get Apocalypse Warning via EAS

CT state capitol tower & domeUpdate: There’s a little news about the Connecticut budget; please see below. And now, on with my original post:

Pardon me, Dear Reader, for another departure from the usual topics of this blog. This is something that desperately needs to be addressed … and since it involves immaturity and irrationality, it’s tangentially relevant to things I usually cover here. So here goes.

Oh, and forgive the length of this post. A lot needs to be said about this — for better or worse. OK, on to it, then!

For those of you not familiar with my home state of Connecticut, the government here is in dire fiscal straits. We face a massive budget deficit, which our government has not yet resolved (cached). Our fiscal year began this July 1, but as yet we have no budget. Our legislature convened this past January, knowing it had just under 6 months to get a budget together, but somehow it never happened. The legislature and governor’s office squandered that time, and did absofuckinglutely nothing whatsoever.

Of course, Connecticut’s government is still running, metaphorically on fumes via executive orders that continue many programs but have halted others. Since then, all that’s happened is a lot of kvetching, bellyaching, hand-wringing, and whining. A series of budget proposals were offered … by the governor, by Democrats in the legislature, and by Republicans. Some of those were revised over the past few months, but nearly all went nowhere. A lot of the inactivity was because the legislature bided its time, waiting until state employees could ratify a “giveback” package which (cached), unfortunately, still left a gaping hole to be filled (cached). With that deal in place — and because of it, lacking any ability to lay off state workers to save money — progress on a budget ground to a halt once again, with the usual sniveling and sniping between parties.

The only meaningful action took place last week, when Connecticut’s legislature, with a dramatic vote in the evenly-divided state Senate (36 seats are split 18-18 between the parties) approved the Republicans’ most recent budget, which has too many cuts (cached) to suit Democratic governor Dannel Malloy‘s fancy, and he’s said he’ll veto it.

Beyond some more sniping, nothing is happening. There are no budget talks. There’s nothing on the horizon, no progress to report. It’s expected Connecticut will begin October without a budget.

The problem is, even if Malloy signed the GOP budget, it would give the Nutmeg State a budget for the next two years … but it wouldn’t solve the state’s deficit problem (cached). It’d just put off the matter of the budget deficit until 2019’s legislative session, when this whole laughable exercise would start all over again.

There’s an underlying problem with state government finances, which neither party is willing to address — and in fact, they’ve worked hard not to address it, for decades now. That underlying problem is Connecticut’s massive liabilities … mainly in the form of pensions and retiree benefits (cached). Put simply, the state failed to fund pensions adequately (for decades), and retirement payments have blossomed over the last several years. Keep in mind that the state pays pensions not only for retired state employees, but also for public school teachers (hired at the municipal level, and by number of regional districts). As “baby boomers” retire, this will only get even worse than it already is — and it’s already sapping the state’s coffers.

The two parties offer the usual two solutions one would expect: Democrats want taxes increased, especially on the wealthy, to confiscatory rates; and Republicans want taxes cut, because supposedly this will cause an economic boom that in turn will increase revenues. Let me be honest: Neither of these is going to work. Tax cuts of the GOP style fail, as the state of Kansas found out — and as that state’s Republicans, who rule there, were recently forced to concede (cached). The Democrats’ scenario — raising rates on millionaires — isn’t much better. It’s not that they can’t afford it, or that they’ll leave the state if their taxes are raised (which is a common GOP contention); it’s that most of Connecticut’s highest earners run hedge funds, which are volatile, and it’s impossible to anticipate what they’ll be paying in, any given year (or quarter, for that matter). At times, they’ve accounted for up to 30% of state revenues (cached). That’s a big chunk of the state’s coffers to have to leave up to such an iffy income stream. Increasing the sales tax rate, or eliminating sales tax exemptions (say, on prescription drugs) would provide a more even, and thus anticipatable, revenue increase, but sales taxes are inherently regressive (cached) and furthermore, as they go up, the return diminishes. Adding (say) 50 basis points on a 7% sales tax generates less added revenue than adding those same 50 basis points on a 5% sales tax.

The only real solution is to cut the liabilities and (somehow) reduce retirement benefit payments. Ostensibly this was supposed to have happened with the “concessions deal” that was worked out in July. However, this deal is a mixed bag, because while it does save some money, it keeps state government employment where it is, which in the long run will tend to keep liabilities high. So it doesn’t really help much. The state’s GOP has said this since it was first negotiated, and although I disagree with them on many things, on this point, they’re correct.

The state’s other major expense — aside from employee wages and benefits — is Medicaid. While it gets some federal matching funds, this too is a major drain on state coffers. The problem is, there isn’t much left to cut here. Medicaid reimbursements have been pared down, little by little, with each budget that’s been passed since the early ’90s. There’s been a contraction in the number of nursing homes, with many of them folding, but the state’s elderly population is not dropping. It’s not that there isn’t any more that might be shaved off … the practice of having Medicaid patients taken to appointments by ambulance, rather than taxi or some other much-cheaper alternative, certainly needs to be changed and can save money. But there’s just not a lot left to be had.

What Connecticut needs are structural changes to its finances, both spending and taxation, as well as the reining in of long-term liabilities and debt. It needs more reliable revenue streams, and spending cuts, including paring down the state’s employment rolls, along with reducing pension payments. An easy start would be an immediate end to the practice of “double-dipping” such as in this case (cached) And that’s but one example … lots of these guys are getting two paychecks from the state. A state employee should either get a payroll check, or a pension check, but never both. The practice of letting them use spikes in overtime ratchet up their pension checks, also needs to end (cached). These are two reforms which would not only save money every year in payroll, but they’d save more than that in pensions, in the long haul. Thinning out the ranks of state employees would also have a similar cascading effect, saving some money in the short term and even more in the future.

Good luck getting that to happen, though. The legislature’s leadership (namely, the Democrats who’re the majority in the House of Representatives) are closely hooked in with the state’s public employee unions. In fact, in his “day job,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz is a representative for one of those unions (specifically, AFSCME). Like his federal counterpart, Aresimowicz drives all legislation in his chamber. That practically screams “conflict of interest,” but no one in Hartford has noticed.

There’s yet another consideration: State aid to cities and towns (while Connecticut has counties, they exist only geographically, there are no county governments). This money typically goes toward funding public education, due to a provision in the state constitution (specifically, section 4 of article VIII). There are also PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes) which compensate towns and cities for untaxed property (e.g. for buildings owned by the state or non-profits). Over the last 15-20 years these payments have grown, as the cost of education has gone up. Among the bigger elements of that increasing cost are special education budgets, which in many towns and districts have literally exploded.

The governor has pushed to get school districts to begin contributing to teacher pensions (they’ve never had to before), and both parties’ budgets reduce payments to cities and towns. While this helps state finances, unless costs at the municipal level are lowered, all it will do is cause local property taxes to go up — which won’t help Nutmeggers at all. Ultimately, that sort of cost-shifting is also not a viable long-term solution. What needs to happen is that the cost of running municipalities — and for nearly all of them, that’s education — needs to be reduced significantly.

There has been talk of allowing municipalities to impose an extra sales tax of 1% on restaurant bills, which could ease the property tax burden, but … really? Why just restaurants? Why not on everything that has a sales tax? And what about very-small towns that have few or no restaurants? That this provision makes little sense probably explains why it hasn’t been mentioned over the last few weeks. Still, giving towns and cities an added revenue stream, is probably not a bad idea. Not that I’m a fan of new taxes, but property taxes are problematic.

The long and short of it is: Connecticut needs to restructure its government finances. It absolutely needs to happen at the state level, and ought to happen at the municipal level; and it needs to begin now. Not in a few months, or a few weeks — but now! The city of Hartford is at the edge of bankruptcy, and will soon be forced to make changes (cached) — either on its own, or by state or bankruptcy-court order), but really the whole state needs a drastic governmental-financial makeover.

But … knowing this … what are our leaders in Hartford doing? Nothing. Not. One. Single. Fucking. Thing. No budget negotiations are taking place. Not even the individual parties are discussing their next proposals. Nothing is happening — at all. This is an absolute, fucking shame. Everyone in the state Capitol; the governor, both houses of the legislature, and both political parties, appear to have collectively given up.

It’s time for them to get off their whiney little asses and start doing their jobs. Really, they ought to have done their jobs months ago and generated a new, workable budget prior to this past July 1. They ought to be ashamed of themselves for not having met that deadline. But they should be doubly ashamed for having thrown up their hands, now. It’s time for them to get back to fucking work already and do their fucking jobs, fercryinoutloud.

P.S. I will end this by explaining, especially to those of you who aren’t from Connecticut, that the Nutmeg State’s fiscal disaster is not of partisan origin. It wasn’t caused only by one party or the other. Yes, it’s dominated right now by Democrats, having had a Democratic legislature for what seems like ages, and a Democratic governor since January 2011; but we had Republican governors since 1995 (John Rowland, who was convicted of corruption in 2004, then succeeded by his lieutenant governor Jodi Rell, who was elected in her own right in 2006) and prior to that, an ostensible independent (Lowell Weicker) beginning in 1991. Both parties played a part in consistently and repeatedly putting off funding pension and benefit liabilities, and that tendency goes back decades. Thus, elected officials from both parties are responsible for it. That’s both of them. Don’t let anyone convince you this is solely the fault of only one party … because it’s not. By contrast, the fiscal crisis in Kansas is largely the fault of that state’s GOP (cached), and in particular governor Sam Brownback.

Update: It took a couple weeks but Connecticut’s leaders finally decided to try working out a budget. That this is what they should have been doing, back in May and June, doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

Oh, and despite of all of this, the state’s main teachers’ union is suing the governor to get school funding restored (cached). It doesn’t matter to them that the state’s finances are in the toilet; they just want their fucking money! “Show me the money,” they’re saying. “Show me the money!” I have no idea which stone they plan to bleed in order to get the money they demand, but they’re going to demand it, anyway. I guess.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments Comments Off on The Nutmeg State is Screwed, But No One in Hartford Cares