The Ever-Upward Irresponsible Trend

Am I missing something?  Nobody seems to be paying any attention to federal spending and deficits anymore.

stacks-of-moneyThe Republicans, who used to be the preachers of deficit reduction, balanced budgets, and fiscal discipline, are much too busy trying to distance themselves from President Trump to do much of anything about anything, much less something detail-oriented and difficult, like tackling federal spending.  And the Democrats never seemed to have much appetite for actually considering whether legacy federal programs make sense in the current world, or are performing as they were intended, or are actually having a positive impact from a cost-benefit standpoint.  Expecting Congress to actually pass a budget seems to be hopelessly passe, and continuing to spend more, more, more seems to be the default approach.  And, given the kinds of deficits we’re racking up, and the experience of Puerto Rico, and Illinois, and other states that haven’t paid attention to basic economic realities, “default” seems like an apt word.

In case you’re interested, June 2017 was the first month in history where the American federal government spent more than $400 billion.  You can see the number — $428.8 billion — on page 2, in the “outlays” column, of this dry document called the monthly report of revenues and outlays, issued by the Treasury Department.   And here’s an interesting statistic, for comparison’s sake:  according to this report from the Congressional Budget Office, the amount of federal government outlays for the entire year of 1976 did not even reach $400 billion.  But ever since that time, it’s been an ever upward trend, and now we’ve reach the point where the federal government spends more in a single month than it spent in an entire year only 40 years ago.

You’d think that somewhere, someone in Congress would be up in arms about what is obviously an alarming and unsustainable trend.  You’d think someone, somewhere would be waving that dry Treasury report around and asking why the spending by the list of the government agencies set forth in small type later in the report needs to be ever increasing, and demanding that those agencies tighten their belts or justify their existence.  You’d think that someone, somewhere, would be glancing uneasily at Puerto Rico and Illinois, looking at the federal trends, and deciding that we need to do something to curb our profligate ways before we’re irretrievably on the road to economic perdition and financial ruin.

Of course, you’d be wrong on that.  It’s much easier to just react to the latest Trump Administration dust-up and let things slide.  The only worrying seems to be done by those of us out in the real world whose practical experiences with household budgets and controlling family spending makes us grind our teeth at the amazing irresponsibility of our elected representatives.

A federal government that spends more than $400 billion in a single month!  And nobody is talking about it.

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At The Bottom Of The Lottery Barrel

Here’s a telling indicator of just how bad Illinois’ financial situation is:  the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries have kicked Illinois out of the games because the state legislature has been unable to agree on a balanced budget.

You read that right.  The Land of Lincoln is such a financial basket case that even the big lotteries won’t have anything to do with the state.  Apparently the lotteries have been talking about pulling the plug on Illinois for years, and they’ve finally decided to do it.

310-million-powerball-ticket-sold-at-mich-gas-station

It’s a significant step on the lotteries’ part, because Illinois reported $99.4 million in Mega Millions sales and $208 million in Powerball sales within the 2016 budget year.  And the loss of the lotteries will be an issue for Illinois from a budget standpoint, too, because 40 percent of the sales revenue goes to fund public schools — and how is the cash-strapped state going to make up the difference?

A spokesman for the Multi-State Lottery Association, which runs the games, said the group “is focused on protecting the integrity of its games and the experience of its players.”

What does that mean, exactly?  It’s kind of weird for the lotteries, which make their money solely by selling tickets to credulous rubes who don’t know or don’t care that the odds of winning are astronomical, to be talking about the “integrity” of their games.  Are they saying they’re afraid that Illinois, in its desperate search for cash, might try to tinker with the games to jury-rig the results, or seize the proceeds if the winner happens to live in Illinois, or decline to hand over the sales revenues?

It’s not entirely clear, but we do know this:  You know you’re really in deep doo-doo when gamblers think you’re too tainted to deal with.   Even the gamblers aren’t willing to gamble on dealing with Illinois.

Eyeing The Illini

Tonight the Ohio State Buckeyes play their second night game in a row. This week, their opponents are the Fighting Illini of the University of Illinois, and the Illibuck — the wooden turtle that goes to the winner — will be at stake. I’ll be there in the Horseshoe with a group of friends for the match-up.

Ohio State’s performance last week against Penn State hurt it both literally and figuratively. Literally, because quarterback J.T. Barrett sustained a knee injury that is concerning, even though he was able to tough it out and lead the Buckeyes to victory in overtime. Figuratively, because most people — me excepted — thought the Buckeyes would beat the Nittany Lions easily, and the fact that Penn State came back to force the game into overtime clearly hurt the Buckeyes’ national reputation. It’s part of the reason why Ohio State is sitting at number 16 in the bowl playoff rankings, which puts it pretty much in the “out of contention” category for now.

Ohio State has three goals in the game tonight. First, win. A loss to Illinois, which had struggled mightily before upsetting Minnesota last weekend, would end any hope Ohio State has of making it to the first college football playoff. Second, perform well enough to allow J.T. Barrett to give his knee a rest while Cardale Jones and other quarterbacks play. Barrett says he will be ready, but I’m expecting that — if he plays at all — his role will be limited to handing off and passing, where there is less chance of aggravating the injury. That means Ohio State needs to run the ball effectively and get off to a fast start, and the Buckeyes can’t give Illinois any flukey scores, like the pick-six that allowed Penn State to get back in the game last weekend.

Finally, Ohio State needs to win impressively if it hopes to move up in the football playoff rankings. I’m not sure that it’s possible to wow selectors with a win over Illinois — no matter how lopsided — but Ohio State simply can’t afford a ho-hum effort that causes them to drop farther down the rankings.  As it is, a lot of dominoes will need to fall for Ohio State to have a chance.

All of these goals recognize one thing: the big game for Ohio State really is next weekend, in East Lansing, against Michigan State. They will need J.T. Barrett at his best for that game — which is the next big opportunity for Ohio State to impress the voters by beating an excellent team on the road. But focusing on that game just increases the risk that Illinois might pull off the upset tonight, as it did last week. The Buckeyes can’t let that happen.  Tonight, focus will be the key.

Richard’s Fine 9/11 Piece

Richard has moved over to the Metro desk at the Chicago Tribune, and yesterday he had a fine piece in the paper about an art exhibit that includes pencil drawings of every Illinois soldier killed in action since 9/11.  The exhibit, called “Portrait of a Soldier,” includes more than 300 drawings of members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines.

It’s a touching piece about a gentle way of remembering what has happened in the aftermath of 9/11, and the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform, and their families and friends, have made since that terrible day.  Interesting, isn’t it, how art can be such a powerful way of expressing things, and how something simple like a pencil sketch of a soldier can nevertheless have profound meaning?

Thanks for the Rafting Roommate for sending this along to me.

Farmers’ Markets Without Farmers

Richard has another good story in the Chicago Tribune today.  This one is about farmers’ markets in the Chicago area that don’t have enough participating farmers.

We’ve been hearing a lot about “urban food deserts” — that is, entire sections of urban areas where it is claimed that only fast food outlets, gas stations, and convenience stores sell food, and those outlets don’t stock fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, and other healthy eats.  As a result, the theory goes, people in those areas eat only crummy, salty, fatty, processed snack foods like chips and soda rather than green beans and peaches.

In Chicago, some people have tried to set up farmers’ markets to address the issue.  The problem, though, is that there aren’t enough farmers to go around.  Farmers want to go to places where there will be lots of traffic and not too much competition for sales of the goods they will offer.  Inner-city farmers’ markets often lose out in the cost-benefit analysis, and offering incentives might not make up the difference.

It’s surprising that Chicago is having this problem, because once you get outside of the Chicago metropolitan area Illinois is primarily an agricultural state.  You would think there would be lots of farmers, cheesemakers, and other food artisans willing to load up their wares and take them to the big city for sale.  The fact that it isn’t happening suggests that addressing the “food desert” issue might be more difficult than people think.

Style Points

This afternoon the Ohio State Buckeyes beat Illinois on the road, 60-35.  The win left the Buckeyes 10-0 and winners of 22 games in a row.

But, for commentators, winning just isn’t enough these days.  Sure, the Buckeyes won . . . butBut, Illinois stinks.  But, the Big Ten stinks.  But, the Buckeyes let Illinois score 35 points.  But, the Buckeyes led by less than two scores in the fourth quarter before putting the game away.  But, the Ohio State offense had to punt the ball more than they have in weeks.  But, but, but!

IMG_1815To the ESPN commentators, college football these days is all about “style points.”  If you’re not one of the top two teams in the BCS rankings, just winning isn’t enough.  You’ve got to pulverize your opponent, grinding them into the ground while at the same time showing the speed, skill, and flair that might cause wary voters to think that you belong on the same field as one of the top two teams.  And if you give up 35 points to a dreadful team like Illinois, well, you’re just not cutting it in the style category.

This all seems very silly to me, and largely a media effort to stir up pointless controversy and increase their ratings and website hits.  Oregon won with a lot of style . . . until they got manhandled.  Clemson showed a lot of style . . . until they got trounced.  I’d rather see the Buckeyes try to work on things and continue to improve — and win, of course — rather than just trying to score as many points as they possibly can.

Just win, baby!  Win, and let the chips fall where they may.  There are still a lot of games to be played, and talking about “style points” seems awfully premature.

Back, Safe And Sound

Yesterday we drove from Columbia, Missouri to Columbus, Ohio.  It’s a straight shot on I-70, and it was one of those journeys that offer the best and worst that the American interstate highway system has to offer.

At first we rolled through the Missouri and Illinois countryside on a sunny Sunday morning.  We racked up the miles and made good time on good roads, listening to the radio and marveling at the freedom of a fun weekend road trip.

DSC04124Then, as traffic picked up, we encountered the road rage crew — hyper-aggressive drivers who can’t stand to wait in the passing lane with everyone else.  If you drive, you know the type.  You first notice them in the rear-view mirror, darting back and forth through the traffic as they come barreling up.  Then they are upon you, passing cars on the right, stupidly flirting with a semi or two, squeezing into a too-small space in the passing lane left by a driver who still adheres to the quaint notion of maintaining an assured clear distance, and leaving the brake lights of law-abiding motorists flashing in their wake.  If they have to wait to pass, they show their impatience by swinging out to the left of the passing lane to see what is keeping them from driving 90.  I always feel safer when the ragers pass by without incident.

At the Indiana-Ohio border we caught up with the western edge of a slow-moving storm.  On a desolate stretch of road, traffic just stopped for no apparent reason.  We were out in the middle of nowhere in the blackness, the rain pelting down and the traffic inching forward, not knowing whether we were dealing with an accident or a road closure.  It was raining so hard that even putting the windshield wipers on rapid speed provided little visibility relief.  There was nothing to do but grit your teeth, stay alert to the traffic flow, and plow through the storm.  After traffic finally picked up again about 20 miles and an hour or so later, we had to deal with interstate truckers driving faster than conditions warranted to make up for lost time and coating our car with road water in the process.

The day ended with a drive down an unlighted country road in the downpour on our way to pick up Penny and Kasey from the kennel.  When we finally pulled into our garage, our dry and snug little house never looked so good.