Tuesday, May 26, 2009


City Councilor Kevin Starr has done something that I didn't think anyone on the City Council had the balls to do; he has proposed a Prop 2 1/2 override for Fitchburg.
Ward 4 Councilor Kevin Starr said he'd like to see an override question be put on November's ballot to avert deep cuts in public-safety departments.

"So many people have strong opinions and their voices need to be heard," Starr said. "The choices shouldn't be left up to 11 people on the council. They should be decided by an entire city."
Makes sense to me.

The city needs money, and a way to get it is through a Proposition 2 1/2 override. It certainly seems like the sort of thing that's at least worth exploring. If the voters go for it, then it can help fix a lot of problems. If they don't, they have nobody to blame but themselves.

Councilor Jody Joseph sounds like he's on-board with at least having a vote.
Ward 6 Councilor Jody Joseph said he doesn't see many places in the budget to cut.

"I've been through the budget and to me, to cut any more would be taking something that's already bleeding to death and cut it even more," Joseph said.

Joseph said his priorities are not only in the public safety departments, but the human service departments, too.

Joseph said the only option besides cutting is adding new revenues.
Joseph's quotes here address what will most likely be the biggest complaint about an override (besides "I don't want to pay taxes, waaah!"); the idea that it's a lazy way to get around cutting junk from the city budget. There's only so much junk in the budget in the first place, so cutting only works to a degree. After that, you need revenue.

Of course, not everybody is going to be so accepting of the idea.
Ward 2 Councilor Norman Boisvert said he would not support an override.

"Once you add taxes they never come off," Boisvert said.

Boisvert said the city's fiscal problems will not go away next year, or the year after.

"Are we going to have an override every year?" Boisvert said. "Maybe we should just learn to live within our means."
Or, you know, we could understand that Prop 2 1/2 is inherently flawed and counterproductive and look for ways to work around it?

There have been nearly 4,500 attempts (about 1,800 successful) to override Prop 2 1/2 it since it first became possible to do so in 1983. Does that sound like a law that's benefiting communities, or one that's standing in their way?

City Councilor Solomito also weighed in with a bit of stupidity:
Ward 5 Councilor Joseph Solomito said he wouldn't support an override either.

"I think the people have already spoken," Solomito said.
Attention Fitchburg: All future elections are hereby suspended, because Joseph Solomito thinks that you've "already spoken" about everything, and your decision is whatever Solomito says it is. Solomito will be declared councilor-for-life, because if he was able to get elected one time, that must mean he'll get elected every time he runs in the future. Representative democracy is for wussies.

Incidentally, the public perception is arguably that an override can't pass. I don't exactly know why this is the public perception, but it probably has something to do with the loud and incessant whining of the anti-tax brigades.

Luckily, we're not dependent on public perception for our facts here, and can just look at these statistics on overrides from the Mass. Department of Revenue.

Fitchburg has only had one override vote on this list. It was for fiscal '92, seeking $200,000 for ambulance services. It lost almost 2:1. But that was nearly 20 years ago. During the 90's, overrides didn't fare well in general, with 1,843 attempts being defeated and only 931 attempts passing.

Now times are different, so let's focus on the years just from 2000-2009. Things have changed pretty dramatically. From 2000-2009 there have been 1185 override attempts. Of those, 580 were defeated and 605 won.

You could perhaps argue that the dramatically lower number of total override attempts explains the wins. Maybe people are less likely to propose overrides after the drubbings of the 90's, and only propose ones they think they can get support for.

Maybe so, but it's already been proposed. I don't know what Starr's thought process is, but I doubt he would have proposed it if he thought it was doomed to go down in flames. So we're already past the first step, and overrides clearly don't carry the same "no way will that happen!" stigma they had for many years.

So yeah, let's vote on it. Up until we do, I'm sure there will be plenty of local idiots ranting about socialism and "unconstitutional" taxes and probably abortion (because they always work it in somehow) for us to enjoy. Which will make for easy blog posts.

Thanks, Kevin!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Is this seriously their new argument?

Yesterday I read this editorial in the S&E. It was mostly boring "give us whatever services we demand, but screw everyone else" bullshit, but one particularly odd pseudo-argument stuck out at me.

Here it is, with my bolding added:
We urge the mayor to remember she is still proposing a $92 million budget, which we feel should be more than enough to not only reject the idea of reducing the days of operation at the library and Senior Center, but to increase them.
Obviously, this stuck out because the fact that there's a $92 million town budget has fuck-all to do with there being money to spend on any particular service.

It's not like there's just a pile of 92 million dollar bills sitting around, unspoken for. The vast majority of it is going to be tied up, and there are far more programs and services that deserve funding than $92 million can cover.

Budgeting is about choosing what gets part of that money and what doesn't. The total amount of money in the budget is somewhat irrelevant, unless it's so high that you can fund absolutely everything anyone suggests, or so low that you can't even fund the very basics. Even the richest of oil-rich nations don't fall into the first group, and few (if any) places in the US fall into the latter one. Everyone else needs to make choices about what to fit within the available budget.

Using the town's $92 million budget to suggest that money is readily available for any particular purpose is about as sensible as using Sudan's $12.95 billion budget to claim they should have no problem building a dozen world-class hockey rinks. That's just not the way it works, guys.

But we expect to find baffling non sequiturs presented as arguments in everything McMenemy writes, so it wasn't such a big deal.

Then just this morning, I noticed this (my bold):
"I have said all along that I don't believe we need to implement any kind of waste disposal ordinance in order to generate revenue because our budget is still in the mid-90 million (range)," [City Councilor Dean] Tran wrote in an e-mail.
I don't know who's stealing whose talking point there, or if Tran is actually just as pathetically clueless as McMenemy and they both arrived at their red herring independently, but it really doesn't matter. It's a stupid argument, no matter where it originated.

There may be sound arguments against a trash fee (although I've yet to hear anyone present one), but just mentioning the size of the entire budget is absolutely not one of them. You could have a $92 million budget with a trash fee paying for part of it and helping to fund services, or you could have a $92 million budget with no trash fee and fewer services.

And that's assuming a balanced budget. If revenues are below expenses we're still screwed, even if it were a $92 billion budget.

The total size of the budget is irrelevant to this argument. Well, it's irrelevant unless Tran believes that every service that deserves funding can be funded perfectly well on this size. Maybe he does, but since I haven't seen giant billboards listing the names of all area sex offenders at 100-yard intervals on every street in town, I'm going to bet he doesn't.

Of course, it's possible that Tran and McMenemy know that they're putting forward nonsense arguments. In which case they're just using the size of the budget as a rhetorical tool, because they think you're stupid enough to fall for it.

So we're left with two choices: Either the editor of the local newspaper and a prominent city councilor are totally clueless, or they believe that we're the clueless ones and that we'll fall for their nonsensical rhetoric.

Neither one especially fills me with hope.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The GOP is clearly thriving

Call it schadenfreude if you like, but I really enjoy watching those on the far right as they flail around trying to convince everyone that the Republican party isn't dying. It's an even mix of delusion and desperation, which unfailingly serves to convince all watchers that yep, the Republican party sure is dying.

Today we have a fine example of that, in a Star Parker-penned editorial entitled No need for a GOP eulogy.

Poor Ms. Parker doesn't like the way people are saying the GOP is dead!
The columns are all over the place, and all the analyses seem to be the same.

The Republican Party is supposedly deader than a doornail. Except in a handful of states in mid-America and in the South, Americans, according to these columnists, see Republicans as irrelevant, out-of-touch, mean-spirited dinosaurs.
Well, that's probably because Republicans are irrelevant, out-of-touch, and mean-spirited. I wouldn't call them dinosaurs, though. Dinosaurs are pretty cool, and as far as I can tell the coolest Republican in the world is Kelsey Grammar. That's definitely a sub-dinosaur level of coolness.
But, may I remind folks, that we just had a presidential election in which 130 million voters cast ballots and the difference between the winner and the loser was 9 million votes. Not exactly what I would call an insurmountable divide.
Personally, I would call the difference between Obama's 69,498,215 votes and McCain's 59,948,240 votes 9.5 million. But maybe that's splitting hairs.

Of course, when you consider that even 9 million votes is about 15% of the total votes for McCain, that seems a little more sizable than the way Ms. Parker frames it. Math is fun!
Nor should we forget that there was that window following the Republican convention when the McCain-Palin ticket was leading.
Yeah, for like two days after the Republican National Convention McCain was actually ahead!

If only people had voted back then, when half the country thought Sarah Palin was just some MILF-y governor and not the repugnant idiot they later recognized her to be, then the Republican ticket would have (possibly, and just barely) won. Informed electorates are bad news for the GOP, I guess.

Having exhausted the "Republicans are strong because we lost the election" line of reasoning, Parker turns to a recent poll to further strengthen undercut her argument.
A new Wall Street Journal/NBC poll shows 42 percent self-identifying as Democrats compared to 31 percent as Republicans. But the same poll shows 35 percent identifying as conservatives compared to 24 percent as liberals.
Umm, so? That conservative/liberal split doesn't really mean good news for the GOP. Unless she's just pleased that conservatives have done a fine job of convincing people that the word "liberal" is a pejorative.

Here's the source data (evil PDF link) for the poll. As you can see, Parker has her numbers right. But the implied interpretation that the GOP is doing okay because more people self-identify as conservatives than as liberals is just nutty.

It's not really surprising that more people self-identify as conservatives than as Republicans, since there are presumably at least a few conservative Independents and Democrats. But if we assume that the vast majority of Republicans identify themselves as either somewhat or very conservative (which I think is a fair assumption), then that means that very few Democrats or Independents think of themselves as conservative at all.

What's more, the 35% of the country that self-identifies as "moderate" therefore must lean heavily towards either the Democrats or "strictly independent." Mostly the former, since only 19% of respondents identified as strictly independent.

Was this supposed to be evidence that the GOP isn't a party of far-right kooks who are driving away moderates (and everyone else)? Because if anything it just suggests that yeah, the GOP is totally driving away moderates.

Of course, Parker may be happy about this. Segue to ranting about Arlen Specter...
According to Dick Polman of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Arlen Specter's switch to the Democratic Party shows what's wrong with Republicans -- they can't tolerate moderates -- and not what is wrong with Specter.

But there is little doubt that Specter changed parties because polls were showing him getting his clock cleaned in the Republican primary by conservative Pat Toomey.
Yes, he was going to get beaten by Toomey in the Republican primary. Because he's too moderate for the increasingly hard-line conservative Republican base which votes in the primaries.

Apparently Ms. Parker interprets that to mean that Specter is a weenie-head, not that moderates can't win election in the Republican party. Now, Specter is indeed a weenie-head, but he was clearly driven out by the far-right Republican base.

Of course his switch was all about self-interest. He's said as much. But the only reason it's in his self-interest to switch is because the Republican base wouldn't vote for a moderate. If they would, he would have no reason to leave.

At this point the editorial sinks into a boring mire of whining about how Arlen Specter is a big jerk who isn't as awesome as George Washington. I'll ignore most of that tedious nonsense (because who really gives a shit?) and just skip to the end.
We should also recall Washington's guidance in his farewell address that "Of all the dispensations and habits which led to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

It's a message as relevant to today as when Washington wrote it in 1796, and relevant to every American of every background.
I guess atheists aren't Americans. Maybe Sweden will take me.

This is, however, a nice example of just why the GOP is dying. They just can't resist any opportunity to tell other people how to live their lives. If they can do so by quoting someone who died before the advent of indoor plumbing, so much the better!

Okay, last couple of lines.
Republican Party problems started from straying from principles, not from sticking to them.

The party's future lies in principles, not in pandering. We need George Washingtons. Not Arlen Specters.
Yep, it's another Republican saying that the way to stop moderates from leaving the GOP is to focus even harder on "principles." Which is wingnut-speak for "become even more conservative and drive out all the moderates!"

Good luck with that, guys. It's been working great so far.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Hey, remember this?

I'm taking a bit of a mini-vacation from the blog this week. To tide you over, here's an old (1997) clip from WFXT about a Marilyn Manson concert that local idiots treated as if it were a huge scandal.

I particularly love the totally unbiased way this starts off. TV news hasn't changed a bit...

I was actually there as part of the counter-protest, though I don't spot myself in that footage. Honestly, it's sort of odd that this clip even exists, because the whole thing was a total non-event.

For one thing, the anti-free expression protesters were apparently too frightened of those scary Satanists to cross the street, even though the vast majority of concertgoers looked perfectly normal. The elaborately made-up goths in the clip were an almost insignificant minority.

Instead, the protesters gathered in front of what used to be the old RMV, barely visible from the Civic Center. There really weren't many of them either (the "handful" mentioned in the clip is being generous), despite constant ranting from the newspaper and local church groups prior to the concert.

The counter-protest actually took place in front of the Civic Center, near the attendees but far from the pro-censorship nuts. It was also small, not to mention totally disorganized. But it didn't really matter, because the protest itself was just so incredibly lame.

Anyway, you can view this as evidence that Fitchburg has had a core population of whiny idiots for quite awhile. They may be ranting about different things now than they did twelve years ago, but it's the same principle at work.

And they're just as ridiculous and impotent now as they were back then.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Saturday Video Bonus

While I'm obviously an aging punk, Mrs. Unicow is more of an anti-folk fan. Oddly enough, there are instances where these two genres overlap.

As proof, here's a video for Jeffrey Lewis' cover of an old Crass song, off his album 12 Crass Songs.


Friday, May 01, 2009

Swine Flu, Satan, Obama, and the NWO?

I couldn't possibly introduce this better than the description given by the uploader:
EXCLUSIVE EVIDENCE .. comment ...rate ... AREA CODE 619 MANTRA WAKE UP TO TRUTH.. supercharged binary patheogens false flag bio weapons. USA is being sacrificed!..by NWO psycopaths ..wake up to the truth!
The video makes exactly as much sense as that description...

I don't know about you, but that sure convinced me. I am really disappointed that I missed the "Ba'al day of worship" festivities, though. Maybe next year.