Friday, April 16, 2010

Why I Don't Watch Local TV News

Here's a simple example of why I seldom watch local TV news broadcasts, other than to check the weather or maybe a sports score --

WBIR broadcast this "report" about the Greeneville Tea Party, as some locals gathered at their county courthouse to complain about taxes. I've no problem with that, it was an event where people attended and is was tax deadline day and all. But why did the reporter decide to hold up one of the signs created by the protesters? Plenty of their signs were visible.

And yes, the report's goal seemed to be to give air to the thoughts and opinions of the TP'ers.

One comment in particular was highlighted by attendee (and apparently a speaker at the event, judging by the video, but here again, the reporter never really identified the individual's role in the event). Anyway, the speaker was one Jeff Cobble - and he said "The majority of our taxes go to supporting the national debt."

Now that comment certainly intrigued me -- so I used this fairly commonplace tool available to most folks called the Internet, and Googled the phrase "majority of federal tax money is spent on" and in .35 seconds, what do ya know - a report dated April 15 2010 titled How Are Our Federal Tax Dollars Spent? is right there for anyone to read.

Sure, I'm wacko idealistic to think a local news report should supply more than just camera footage of unhappy folks and their opinions -- it just seems like a very good opportunity to provide accurate and detailed information on a topic that has many people talking and pondering. One would not have to include all the information - just some basic highlights on the video report, and hey, on WBIR's web site, they could have at least linked to the whole article.

So, as a public service, here's a good chunk of that article I found in .35 seconds of searching (and it's worth noting that approximately ten cents out of each tax dollar collected goes to paying on the national debt) -- the article is from the Live Science web site:

Three main areas each accounted for approximately one-fifth of the budget, while two sections of spending each made up about one-tenth, and the remaining fifth of the budget was used to finance a variety of programs. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, here are the most expensive programs:

  • Defense and international security: In fiscal year 2008, $625 billion, or roughly 21 percent of the government budget was spent on the military and other initiatives to protect the nation. This figure also includes the cost of supporting American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • Social Security: An additional 21 percent of the budget, equal to about $617 billion, was earmarked for Social Security, one of the largest government programs in the world. Social Security provides retirement benefits, survivors' benefits and disability benefits to millions of retired or disabled workers, or surviving children and spouses of deceased workers.
  • Medicare, Medicaid and CHIP: In 2008, $599 billion, or 20 percent of the government budget, was used to finance three health insurance programs – Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Approximately $391 billion went to Medicare, which provides health coverage to people who are over the age of 65 or who meet other criteria such as disability. The remaining amount helped to finance Medicaid and CHIP, which provide health care or long-term care to low-income children, parents and seniors and people with disabilities. Both the Medicaid and CHIP programs involve the federal government matching payments made by the state.
  • Safety net programs: The federal government supports so-called safety net programs that provide aid (other than, or in addition to health insurance and/or Social Security benefits) to individuals and families in need. Safety net programs accounted for approximately 11 percent of the 2008 federal budget, which equaled $313 billion. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, safety net programs include: the refundable portion of the earned-income and child tax credits; programs that provide cash payments to eligible individuals or households, including Supplemental Security Income; various forms of in-kind assistance for low-income families and individuals, including food stamps, school meals, low-income housing assistance, child-care assistance, and assistance in meeting home energy bills; and various additional programs that assist at-risk individuals and families.
  • Interest on the national debt: For every dollar that taxpayers send to the federal government, about a dime goes toward paying interest on the national debt. The federal government is required to make regular interest payments on money it has borrowed to close past budget deficits. This borrowed money makes up the national debt, which currently exceeds $12 trillion. In fiscal year 2008, interest payments accounted for 8 percent of the budget, or roughly $253 billion.

The remaining fifth of federal government spending goes toward financing a variety of other programs and public services, including: providing benefits and health care to veterans and retired federal employees; investing in education, scientific and medical research, and basic city infrastructure such as roads, bridges and airports. A small amount – about 1 percent – went to non-security international programs, including those that provide humanitarian aid.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Every Twitter Ever Made Is Now In The Library of Congress

The Library of Congress has announced that they have acquired every Twitter archive, every single Twitter post anyone has made or will make - an announcement they made via Twitter, naturally.

The NYTimes reports:

Academic researchers seem pleased as well. For hundreds of years, they say, the historical record has tended to be somewhat elitist because of its selectivity. In books, magazines and newspapers, they say, it is the prominent and the infamous who are written about most frequently."

Take that, you darn elitist books which apparently only some East coast genius can comprehend.

The Library has been actively gathering an immense amount of digital information in recent years, according to their own blog:

... if you think the Library of Congress is “just books,” think of this: The Library has been collecting materials from the web since it began harvesting congressional and presidential campaign websites in 2000. Today we hold more than 167 terabytes of web-based information, including legal blogs, websites of candidates for national office, and websites of Members of Congress.

We also operate the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program, which is pursuing a national strategy to collect, preserve and make available significant digital content, especially information that is created in digital form only, for current and future generations."

If the idea seems irrational, just consider the most minuscule scraps we already spend countless days and years collecting - time-frozen footprints, shards of pottery, crude marks on cave walls, ancient accounting logs, and practically any bit of human history. Now we're adding a moment-by-moment historical record of just plain folk, along with more notable twitterings such as those which emerged online during the upheaval in Iran during their last so-called "election".

If you're a Tweeter or Twitterer or whatever you chose to identify yourself, and you think "hey, my privacy is being violated", then you're forgetting the basic nature of writing and posting online. You already abdicated your desire for privacy.

Here in the modern age your Tweet of "OMG! I just ate some bacon ice!" will now reside along the writings of Thomas Jefferson or Mark Twain. Forget Andy Warhol's claim that in the future, everyone would be famous for 15 minutes - your fame could last centuries (assuming someone bothers to keep the technological machinery needed to peruse your random commentaries).

All this brings to mind a few lines from the movie "The Incredibles", when the mother tells her son "Everyone is special", and her son replies "Which is another way of saying no one is."

Not much is excluded, really, or ever has been when it comes to historical analysis. Perhaps it's all just taking place faster and faster.

And speaking of that, here's a way for you to view every single painting on display at the Museum of Modern Art ... in two minutes. And it's set to music, and naturally, it's on YouTube.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Spring Is Here and Where Am I?

It's a rather disjointed day, what with the sun blazing like Love itself overhead and every green thing growing so fast you can almost hear it, and every thing that crawls or flies or burrows or sings or runs or talks or barks or purrs or swims or that just moseys from here to there amid all those bright Spring colors. It's all disjointed because here I am basking in all that Life and I am utterly perplexed, bewildered and snarled up from the inside out.

I can give a name to all these joyous and marvelous things so abundant all about me - but in my head and in my thoughts, something else is moseying about, something I can't really name at all. As a constant writer, such a lacking is deeply uncomfortable.

In this wee digital space I've made with this blog, and even in those long-ago times when I scratched across some bit of actual paper with a pen or pencil, I do the one thing I've always done: I write.

I happened across a proverb today which says "Any day you can wake up and put on your pants is a good day." That seems to set a notably low bar for a good day, though if one were unable to a) wake up, b) dress themselves, c) have any clothes or bed or to even experience a period of sleep, then the elements of the proverb might seem rich beyond measure.

I spoke with a friend today and he mentioned I might perhaps have some kind of 'writer's arthritis' or something. Maybe so. Maybe it's a stiffness, a lack of flexibility or something minor.

If -- or perhaps I should say "when" - someone tells me I am a bad writer, I think to myself (with no humility) "oooh, he called me a writer."

Or as Kurt Vonnegut Jr. once wrote: "
The primary benefit of practicing any art, whether well or badly, is that it enables one's soul to grow."

So maybe it's just Springtime in my writing mind and who knows what might grow from it?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Policing For Profit - A Practice In Need of Many Changes

In the first-of-a-kind report, law enforcement agencies across the country are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars by seizing property - even though quite often an individual is not even charged with a crime. The report from the Institute For Justice is here. And on a grading scale from A to D, Tennessee gets a D.

From their report:

And considering law enforcement officials in most states don’t report the value of what they collect or how that bounty is spent, the issue raises serious questions about both government transparency and accountability.

Under state and federal civil asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies can seize and keep property suspected of involvement in criminal activity. Unlike criminal asset forfeiture, however, with civil forfeiture, a property owner need not be found guilty of a crime—or even charged—to permanently lose her cash, car, home or other property."
Federal forfeiture law makes the problem worse with so-called “equitable sharing.” Under these arrangements, state and local officials can hand over forfeiture prosecutions to the federal government and then receive up to 80 percent of the proceeds—even when state law bans or limits the profit incentive. Equitable sharing payments to states have nearly doubled from 2000 to 2008, from a little more than $200 million to $400 million."

"For example, in 2008, for the first time in its history, the Department of Justice’s forfeiture fund topped $1 billion in assets taken from property owners and now available to law enforcement. State data reveal that state and local law enforcement also use forfeiture extensively: From 2001 to 2002, currency forfeitures alone in just nine states totaled more than $70 million. Considering this measure excludes cars and other forfeited property as well as forfeiture estimates from many states for which data were unreliable or that did not make data available for those years, this already-large figure represents just the tip of the forfeiture iceberg.

The report from the Institute offers some common sense guidelines for change:

The Institute for Justice recommends that, first, law enforcement should be required to convict people before taking their property. Law enforcement agencies could still prosecute criminals and forfeit their ill-gotten possessions—but the rights of innocent property owners would be protected. Second, police and prosecutors shouldn’t be paid on commission. To end the perverse profit incentive, forfeiture revenue must be placed in a neutral fund, like a state’s general fund. It should also be tracked and reported so law enforcement is held publicly accountable. Finally, equitable sharing must be abolished to ensure that when states act to limit forfeiture abuse, law enforcement cannot evade the new rules and continue pocketing forfeiture money."