California versus Florida government workers

Jesus said “The last shall be first and the first last.” Perhaps he was talking about government workers in Florida and California who swapped jobs?

Searching the Web for teaching examples of strategic plans (private companies’ plans tend not to be available), I found one for the Florida DMV (“Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles”). Pages 11-12 cover the outcomes that Florida considers important to measure. All of them relate to the customer until the last one…

Employee welfare is not even a “value”. Page 4:

What about their brothers, sisters, and binary-resisters working for the California DMV? The 2021-2026 strategic plan puts workers #1 on page #1:

This is over a heading mentioning “stakeholders” (i.e., people other than customers). A little more detail on page 4:

Separately, it turns out that a resident of Florida doesn’t interact with “the DMV” to get a license, register a car, etc. County tax collectors are responsible for dealing with the unwashed. Due to coronapanic, the thinly populated counties are refusing to deal with non-residents and the densely populated counties, such as Palm Beach, require appointments. Once there, one finds that the front-line workers are all masked and behind the Plexiglas dividers that #Science first told us to install and now says are useless. What about the management overlords who set up the mask policy? They’re in open cubicles, about 20′ behind the front-liners, next to a bank of windows looking out at the palm trees… unmasked.

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U.S. after Afghanistan loss is like Russia after World War I defeat?

Fresh from losing a war, we’re in the midst of a transformation of the role and size of government, e.g., “From Cradle to Grave, Democrats Move to Expand Social Safety Net” (nytimes). Since the old system was plainly broken, as evidenced by the failure of our most diverse people, best technology, and $trillions to prevail over villagers armed with rifles, the typical American voter now has nothing to lose but his/her/zir/their chains.

(In U.S. states other than South Dakota and Florida, Americans actually started and lost a second war in 2020, this time against coronavirus. We poured all of our money and effort into the fight. Governors suspended what had been considered Constitutional rights, e.g., to assemble. After 1.5 years sitting at home growing (more) obese and less educated/skilled, Americans managed to rack up a COVID-19 death rate higher than in give-the-finger-to-the-virus Sweden.)

A leader with near-absolute power has run out of patience with the peasants. Scapegoats for our woes have been identified:

Have we seen this movie before? Let’s look back 100 years…. “How World War I Fueled the Russian Revolution” (History):

Ineffective leadership and a weak infrastructure during the war led to the demise of the Romanov dynasty.

World War I saw the crumbling of empires, and among those to collapse was the Russian empire of Czar Nicholas II. When Nicholas declared war against Germany and Austria-Hungary in July 1914, he was absolute ruler of a realm of nearly 150 million people that stretched from Central Europe to the Pacific and the edge of Afghanistan to the Arctic.

Less than three years later, in March 1917, after soldiers in Petrograd joined striking workers in protest against Nicholas’ rule, the czar was forced to abdicate. The following July, he and his family were herded into a cellar by Bolshevik revolutionaries and shot and stabbed to death, ending the Romanov dynasty’s three centuries of rule. Soon, amid the ruins of the Russian empire, the Soviet Union arose to become a world power.

The war quickly turned into a disaster, with Russia suffering a brutal defeat at the Battle of Tannenberg just a few weeks into the war. Some 30,000 Russian soldiers were killed or wounded, and nearly 100,000 were taken prisoner by the Germans.

“Things didn’t Improve as the months dragged on,” Hartnett says. “By the end of the year, the Russian empire had lost more than one million men.” Russia’s ammunitions were all but exhausted and the country’s infrastructure was not equipped to efficiently resupply troops.

Though peasant soldiers suffered the most casualties, “for regime stability, the most serious losses were among the officer corps,” Miner explains. Their loss weakened the army so much, he notes, “that when push came to shove in 1917, the army was not a reliable defender of the monarchy.”

The parallels aren’t exact. Russia lost one war. The U.S. has lost maybe three (Afghanistan, COVID-19, and Iraq?). The Soviet Union had some elderly leaders, but never anyone as old and confused as Joe Biden, and it was decades after their war losses before they turned into a gerontocracy.

Also, is it truly the case that American voters have nothing to lose but their chains? We can’t say “Americans workers” for an exact parallel because the signature feature of the U.S. today versus the Soviet Union is that every able-bodied adult in the Soviet Union had to work while the U.S. is a work-optional society. Nobody in the Soviet Union lived on alimony or child support profits. Nobody in the Soviet Union could live indefinitely in a luxurious means-tested apartment, get free health care, shop with food stamps/EBT, and chat on an Obamaphone simply because he/she/ze/they preferred not to work.

Senorpablo, in a comment on Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?, expressed what has become a common American point of view:

The premise put forth by you and averros, was that the private sector would make better, more productive use of the money that would otherwise flow into the military and defense industries via the government. That represents an increase in GDP, does it not? And we know from the last 40 years, if not much longer, the vast majority of the benefit from increases in GDP flow to the top 10% and above, but mostly the top .01%. Why then, would your average American be in favor of downsizing the military? So they can work part time at Taco Bell, rather than playing will guns outside, or building tanks?

In other words, whether the economy is growing or shrinking is a matter of indifference to 90 percent of Americans. If the economy expands, the benefits will go to the top 10 percent. Necessarily, then, the flip side is that if the economy stagnates or shrinks, it will be the top 10 percent who suffer.

More concretely, if the “safety net” is expanded just a little more (or perhaps we’re already there), most Americans should rationally be indifferent to the overall health of the economy. If the economy sags, they’ll transition to 18+ months of unemployment checks and enjoy a lot of leisure time to catch up with friends and family, play Xbox, etc. If the economy booms, they’ll maybe get off the couch and give up 50 hours/week to commuting and work for wages in order to purchase some luxury items. Thus, these folks actually have nothing to lose from proposing, e.g., a 99 percent tax rate on income above $100,000 per year. If the tax discourages economic activity, they’ll go back to their couches and video games until the next government check comes. Thus, why not at least try radical transformation in order to address inequality, which is, after all, a “crisis” (see the March 17, 2021 Senate hearing “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America”).

You might ask what the point of the above question is. Whether the U.S. 2021 is like Russia 1917 or not won’t affect what happens next, right? But maybe it could affect what happens to you and your family. You could, for example, buy some assets in a country that won’t be affected by the Democrats’ transformation of the U.S. If you own an apartment in Taipei or a basket of European stocks in a European account, you should be okay even if the U.S. spins down (maybe invest in an EU passport too!).

My personal default is to predict that the future will look a lot like today, so I would ordinarily bet against a dramatic change in the U.S. After all of the “reform” talk and think tank results, we’ll continue to piss away 20 percent of GDP on health care inferior to what folks in Singapore get for less than 5 percent of their GDP. Having sex with a dermatologist and harvesting the child support will continue to pay better than going to medical school and working as a primary care doctor (at least in Maskachusetts; see also Arkansas for a lump-sum $2.5 million tax-free profit). The rich will be able to avoid Joe Biden’s new estate taxes via Grantor Retained Annuity Trusts and perhaps some insurance action (Trump made it tougher to use the captive insurance escape). But I wonder if all of the war losses makes my stability prejudice unfounded.

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How did the U.S. run out of coins if more people are paying by credit cards?

One of the things that struck me when I first began visiting Central America 30 years ago was the inability of some governments to manage what I had taken for granted in the U.S.: producing enough coins so that businesses could accept cash and make change.

Lately, however, it seems that we Americans have joined our brothers, sisters, and binary resisters south of the border. Here’s a gas station right next to Dulles Airport, almost walking distance from the center of American power:

To add to the Latin American authenticity of the experience, the sign is in Spanish (“No Tenemos Monedas”) and the cashier was apparently a native Spanish speaker. Note that he/she/ze/they is touching his/her/zir/their mask, thus negating any conceivable benefit from the non-N95 device.

Maybe the situation is less dire in our largest stores? From Septembrer 14, 2021 at Home Depot in Jupiter, Florida:

What caused the U.S. circa 2021 to be like Guatemala circa 1991, at least with respect to the ability of conducting transactions in cash?

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Taking away guns from people who work in health care and/or for larger employers

Dr. Joe Biden, M.D., Ph.D., has read all of the papers and looked at the data and made a science-informed decision to order anyone who wants to keep working in a Medicare/Medicaid-funded health care business (i.e., everyone in American health care) to get vaccinated against the coronavirus version that existed in December 2019. Unless they want to transition to the disability lifestyle (“my long COVID is acting up”), employees at companies with at least 100 employees will also have to get vaccinated against this two-year-old virus under OSHA emergency rules.

Via this order, COVID-19 will be in full retreat. What’s next for this selfless hero of public health? How about bold action against gun ownership? “‘Something has to be done’: After decades of near-silence from the CDC, the agency’s director is speaking up about gun violence” (CNN, August 28, 2021):

For the first time in decades, the director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the nation’s top public health agency — is speaking out forcefully about gun violence in America, calling it a “serious public health threat.”

“Something has to be done about this,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in an exclusive interview with CNN. “Now is the time — it’s pedal to the metal time.”

This summer alone has seen a spree of gun injuries and deaths, and the weekends have been especially violent, with an average of 200 people killed and 472 injured by guns each weekend in the United States, not including suicides, according to an analysis done by the Gun Violence Archive for CNN. That’s nearly 3.4 people shot every hour every weekend.

In April, President Joe Biden said the country was facing “a gun violence public health epidemic,” but the CDC hasn’t said how it plans to address the epidemic until now.

(I trust and expect that the aforementioned weekend shooters were following all local mask mandates when on their sprees.)

If vaccines can be ordered by the President/Physician-in-Chief as a condition of employment, why not giving up gun ownership? If nobody with a job has a gun, then by definition there can’t be any workplace gun violence (examples: San Bernardino 2015 attack, in which 14 were killed and 22 injured; 2009 Fort Hood shooting, in which 13 were killed and 30 injured).

Just as President Biden’s order on vaccines won’t reach every American (since many of us wisely decided to choose disability or unwisely decided to work for a small company) and therefore won’t end the pandemic overnight, the above-proposed order from President Biden on gun violence won’t end all gun violence, but I hope that everyone can agree that it would be a positive step forward for our nation or, at least, that if President Biden has the authority to end anti-vax violence in the workplace then he has the authority to end gun violence in the workplace.

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Disability lifestyle getting more attractive under Biden?

I’m wondering if we should expect a massive increase in the number of Americans who transition to the disability lifestyle during the Biden administration.

Let’s consider today’s world of work. Unless remote, the worker will be exposed to variant coronavirus that laughs at our feeble vaccines. The worker may need to wear a mask for 8 hours per day. The worker will be forced to accept whatever injections Dr. Joe Biden, M.D., Ph.D. orders, according to “Sweeping new vaccine mandates for 100 million Americans” (AP):

In his most forceful pandemic actions and words, President Joe Biden on Thursday ordered sweeping new federal vaccine requirements for as many as 100 million Americans — private-sector employees as well as health care workers and federal contractors — in an all-out effort to curb the surging COVID-19 delta variant.

Speaking at the White House, Biden sharply criticized the tens of millions of Americans who are not yet vaccinated, despite months of availability and incentives.

“We’ve been patient. But our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” he said, all but biting off his words. The unvaccinated minority “can cause a lot of damage, and they are.”

The expansive rules mandate that all employers with more than 100 workers require them to be vaccinated or test for the virus weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans. And the roughly 17 million workers at health facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid also will have to be fully vaccinated.

Biden is also requiring vaccination for employees of the executive branch and contractors who do business with the federal government — with no option to test out. That covers several million more workers.

Biden announced the new requirements in a Thursday afternoon address from the White House as part of a new “action plan” to address the latest rise in coronavirus cases and the stagnating pace of COVID-19 shots.

See also

What is there to like about any of the above?

Let’s consider disability lifestyle enhancements during the Biden administration.

First, it should be much easier to qualify: “Biden says ‘long Covid’ could qualify as a disability under federal law” (NBC). Here’s a list of long COVID symptoms from Mayo:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Cough
  • Joint pain
  • Chest pain
  • Memory, concentration or sleep problems
  • Muscle pain or headache
  • Fast or pounding heartbeat
  • Loss of smell or taste
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Fever
  • Dizziness when you stand
  • Worsened symptoms after physical or mental activities

I.e., a pretty good summary of how I feel every morning while attempting to get out of bed. Is there anyone over age 40 who wouldn’t qualify as a long COVID sufferer?

Once your claim for disability due to long COVID is accepted, you don’t have to pay back those student loans that have been overwhelming your finances (NYT: “$10 Billion in Student Debt Erased Under Biden, but Calls Grow for More”).

Need to fatten up so that COVID-19 can get a good grip on your body? “Biden Administration Prompts Largest Permanent Increase in Food Stamps” (NYT): “Under rules to be announced on Monday and put in place in October, average benefits will rise more than 25 percent from prepandemic levels.” (See also “Swipe Yo EBT”) Most folks on disability should also qualify for SNAP/EBT, right?

(Separately, have we noticed COVID Karens displaying thinner/fitter bodies compared to 1.5 years ago and compared to their COVID-ignoring Deplorable counterparts? If people are more worried about COVID, shouldn’t they have been exercising a lot more over the past 1.5 years compared to people who weren’t afraid to resume their lives?)

What if you want to move into a $1 million apartment in Cambridge or San Francisco and pay a means-tested $200/month including utilities (set as a fraction of whatever you get from SSDI)? In the bad old days there was a long waiting list for taxpayer-subsidized housing. Maybe not anymore, though! “Biden Administration Proposes $318 Billion for Affordable Housing in American Jobs Plan” (June 1, 2021)

Other than qualifying for disability, how could a working age American escape being hassled by all of these new requirements and simultaneously avoid the risks of contracting COVID-19? A purely remote job sounds like a possible solution, but the government and employer can presumably still impose requirements as a condition of continued employment (anti-racism training, sexual harassment training, vaccine requirements, etc.), just as Rutgers constructively expelled an unvaccinated student who was taking classes from home.


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Shut down the U.S. Army now that we know more about our limits?

Some 9/11 reflections…

U.S. military spending in 2000 was $320 billion. That’s about $520 billion in today’s mini-dollars. The 2021 military spend is about $700 billion (35 percent higher in real terms) plus about $220 billion for veterans (pensions, health care, etc.).

We were recently defeated by a peasant army in Afghanistan. Might it be time to consider investing less in an area where we have a record of ineffectiveness?

My dumbest question: Why spend money on an army (1 million uniformed personnel plus 250,000 civilians)? I can understand why we might want a navy (though maybe we could lose it all in an hour or two? See Robot kamikaze submarines shaped like blue whales render navy ships useless?). I can understand why we want an air force, e.g., for drone attacks on people we don’t like, dropping bombs on the assets of governments we don’t like, etc. I can understand why we might want Navy SEALs and similar special forces. But what is the Army for in our current strategic situation?

We’re not going to invade Poland with tanks, right? We’re not going to occupy Canada (I hope!). We’re not going to try to secure the border with Mexico against unauthorized crossing. Why are we paying 1.25 million people to prepare for a land war and/or to fight unwinnable land wars, such as in Afghanistan?

One argument in favor of the Army is that it can be deployed against domestic enemies, e.g., those who violate lockdown and mask orders (see Australia and Peru) or Trump supporters who might have wanted to come back to the Capitol after January 6. Another argument is that the National Guard part of the Army can help with disaster relief, e.g., picking up people with helicopters after floods. But these roles wouldn’t seem to require 1.25 million people.

Here’s another way to phrase the question: If we had no military forces of any kind today, what would we choose to fund and build? Would a million-soldier land army be part of that?


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Express lanes: dumbness with concrete for a country that can’t be intelligent with electronics

As part of our escape to the Florida Free State, I drove our minivan down I-95 from Maskachusetts. Mindy the Crippler and I hit traffic in Virginia, associated with an I-95 Express Lane extension project (massive traffic jams now with the promise of clear sailing in the future).

A friend who is an expert on these matters told me that the entire concept was a terrible idea. “Adding two express lanes in the middle of a highway requires building two extra shoulders and lots of overpasses for the exits,” he pointed out. “It is spectacularly high cost compared to adding two lanes to the main roadway.”

In other words, instead of having two new express lanes, for the same cost we could build six new lanes on the main road.

What about the congestion and tolling angle? These new express lanes will require a fee to be paid (or an EZ Pass set to “HOV mode”). If we had gotten organized with in-car transponder electronics and a display reading “You’re now being charged 30 cents/mile,” we could just designate the leftmost lanes of a wider main road as toll-required express lanes. It should also be safer and easier to have the HOV mode set automatically by the car, e.g., with weight sensors on the seats or an in-camera camera that can count the number of occupants and subtract for canines. (Our 2021 Honda Odyssey, relying on weight sensor alone, gets upset when Mindy the Crippler sits in the front seat and is not belted.)

We’ll be fueling inflation by printing money to spend on infrastructure (see “Inside Biden’s $4.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan”). If my friend is right about the off-the-charts dumbness of the highway-inside-the-highways express lane idea, I wonder if most of the $4.5 trillion will be wasted.


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The governments that preserved us from coronavirus now start giving us the bill

“National insurance hike sets UK on path to record level of taxes” (CNN):

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s plan to hike payroll taxes to raise billions in funding for health and social care will raise Britain’s tax burden to its highest ever level, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Johnson described the plan as “the biggest catch-up program in the history of the [National Health Service],” which is grappling with a chronic backlog of non-essential treatments that has been made worse by the coronavirus pandemic.

UK government spending coming out of the pandemic is set to reach a record peacetime level, according to the IFS.

What are folks in the UK paying for? In the COVID Olympics, the country has suffered 1,992 deaths per million tagged to COVID-19, a somewhat higher rate than the U.S. and 1.4X the rate in give-the-finger-to-the-virus Sweden.

Proof that “A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take away everything that you have”?

Where does this end? Now that most people in most countries have begged for salvation at any price (and simply decided, without any precedent and contrary to W.H.O. pandemic advice through 2019, that muscular government action actually could prevent us from contracting a respiratory virus), are we going to enter a new era of much bigger government?

OECD data show that the UK government was previously spending a somewhat higher percentage of GDP than the U.S.:

Note that most countries include health care in “government spending” and some include nearly all higher education costs. If we add 10 percent of GDP to the headline U.S. number to adjust for these factors (i.e., the money that we have to spend on health care and higher ed privately that would be included via our tax bill, e.g., in Denmark), the U.S. government spending is about the same as in Sweden or Italy (and a larger proportion of the economy than in the U.K., even after Boris Johnson’s latest raid on the residents).

Same story, WSJ:


  • Wave of death among the elderly bankrupts Social Security (if governments and media are telling us the truth about COVID-19 killing reasonably healthy people, governments with big social insurance obligations, such as the UK and the US, should actually be flush with unexpected cash (due to beneficiaries having died 5-10 years prematurely))
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Annals of Government Computer Programming

On August 4, 2021, the Web site for renewing a Global Entry card tells me that I can’t start the renewal process until September 28, 2020:

One for the textbook chapters on the merits of the IF statement…

The site did not get better. On nearly every page, before I started answering questions, I would be greeted with a banner at the top:

The plus side of coronapanic:

And the renewal might involve a “remote virtual interview”.

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Free money isn’t free (Maskachusetts unemployment insurance rates going up for employers)

Suppose that you can convince an American worker to get off the couch, stop cashing checks from Joe Biden, and don a mask for the CDC-required 8 hours per day? If you’re an employer in Maskachusetts, in addition to paying higher wages you’ll be paying a higher percentage of those wages in unemployment insurance premium.

Email from the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, July 15, 2021:

Dear Massachusetts Employer,

… As part of the Commonwealth’s plan to manageably spread over time the cost of benefits paid by the UI Trust Fund in 2020 and 2021 during the COVID-19 crisis, experience-rated employers will be charged a quarterly COVID-19 Recovery Assessment. The 2021 COVID-19 Recovery Assessment Rate Schedule on page 6 shows the assigned COVID-19 Recovery Assessment rate for each UI rate, equal to 10.50% of an employer’s corresponding UI rate. The COVID-19 Recovery Assessment will be retroactive to January 1, 2021. …

Thank you,

DUA Rate Setting Team

Another great reason to use contractors rather than employees whenever possible!

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