Tag Archives: Budget Cuts

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: CaliCourts.com

CaliCourt.com

Equal justice under the law. That’s the promise American courts make to plaintiffs and defendants alike. But year after year of budget austerity has forced California’s court system to slash its services so deeply that it has made a mockery of that sacred pledge.

Maura Dolan reports that “recession-driven cutbacks in California’s huge court system have produced long lines and short tempers at courthouses throughout the state. Civil cases are facing growing delays in getting to trial, and court closures have forced residents in some counties to drive several hours for an appearance.”

Backups in the courts are affecting Californians’ love lives: “Clerks in Contra Costa County said they have received complaints from people who divorced and wanted to remarry but couldn’t because clerks had not yet processed the paperwork for judges’ signatures.”

Every cloud has a silver lining. Because so many courthouses have closed, some Californians are automatically getting exempted from jury duty: “In San Bernardino County, the Superior Court has stopped summoning jurors from Needles, making the guarantee of a jury of one’s peers elusive. Because of court closures in the High Desert, a trip to court from Needles can take some residents 3-1/2 hours.”

But it’s still a damned dark cloud.

“We are really on the borderline of a constitutional crisis,” Marsha Slough, San Bernardino County’s presiding judge says. “We have victims who want to give up because they don’t want to testify in criminal trials because of the driving distances and costs.”

Whether you’re fighting a traffic ticket, fending off a neighbor over a property dispute or waiting for a divorce, everyone winds up in court sooner rather than later. And contrary to what conservatives keep saying, starving government institutions of cash doesn’t make them leaner and meaner — it makes them broken and, well, mean, but not in a good way (viz, court employees report that fistfights among frustrated citizens waiting in long lines are a common occurrence…and the extra assaults just cause even more backups in the courts!).

We need a better way. Not a bigger budget — that would solve the problem and reduce unemployment.

No, what we need is to automate the court system! There are, after all, algorithm-based lie detectors that determine whether you’re telling the truth by analyzing a scan of your face. Since California’s courts handle millions of cases each year, a huge database of precedents can be uploaded and used as a basis to help determine the outcome of new and future matters. And we already know from last year’s trouble-free launch of Obamacare that the Internet is the perfect tool for replacing old-fashioned human-based bureaucracies.

What could go wrong?

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Earthquake Maps

If God Existed

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: After the 1971 Sylmar earthquake, California began an ambitious effort to map faults across the state. Over the next two decades, officials published 534 maps of active earthquake faults. New construction was prohibited on top of these fissures because previous quakes showed that buildings could be torn apart during violent shaking. But the mapping campaign has slowed to a crawl — with many dangerous faults still undocumented. Since 1991, only 23 have been drawn. Because of budget cuts, none were completed between 2004 and 2011, according to records reviewed by The Times. State officials said there are still about 300 maps to draw and even more to revise — including some in heavily populated areas of Southern California. That represents about 2,000 miles of faults statewide.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: What to Do About Delays at LAX

LAXATCCuts

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Sequester-related budget cuts to air traffic control could cause big delays at Los Angeles International Airport.

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: A New Logo for the U.C. System

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: University of California officials said they were trying to project a “forward-looking spirit” when they replaced the university system’s ornate, tradition-clad logo with a sleek, modern one. What they got was an online revolt complete with mocking memes, Twitter insults and a petition to restore the old logo. Students and alumni have taken to Facebook and Photoshop to express their displeasure, showing the new symbol ready to be flushed down a toilet and as a permanently stalled computer operating system. One critic suggested the controversial image be tattooed on its creators’ foreheads as punishment.

President Romney’s First 100 Days

Highlights of President Mitt Romney’s First 100 Days are expected to include more tax cuts for the rich, voucherizing Medicaid, defunding Obamacare, and slashing all federal spending except the Pentagon. Maybe it would be easier to blow up the government using the nuclear football (launch codes).

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Fingerprint Rationing

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: The LAPD has notified cash-strapped police precincts that they may only apply for 10 fingerprint analyses from the crime lab every month. Cases are backing up due to budget cuts. What next in budget-cutting?

Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Jerry Mans Up

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times about issues related to California and the Southland (metro Los Angeles).

This week: Governor Jerry Brown wants California lawmakers to “man up” and make billions in cuts to state services.

Los Angeles Times Cartoon: Cal State Presidents Cash In

I draw cartoons for The Los Angeles Times. This week’s offering: Cal State trustees have voted to hire two new presidents at high salaries, 10% more than their predecessors. Meanwhile, students face class cancellations and budget cuts.

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Thrifty Families and Other Lies

Like Their Government, Americans Live on Debt

his State of the Union address President Obama repeated this ancient canard: “We have to confront the fact that our government spends more than it takes in,” he said. “That is not sustainable. Every day, families sacrifice to live within their means. They deserve a government that does the same.”

Republicans have used this “families balance their budgets, so should government” line for years. Now Democrats are doing it too. Everyone is jumping aboard the pseudo-austerity bandwagon. (Why pseudo? Neither party really wants to balance the federal budget because it can only be done by bringing home the troops, shrinking the Pentagon by 90 percent, ending corporate welfare, and soaking the rich—i.e. major campaign donors—with higher taxes.)

The family budget talking point is a fascinating meme that reflects a rarely considered national blind spot. As with other cases of mass denial (we think we’re generous do-gooders around the world, foreigners see us for the crazy mean torturers we also are), we give ourselves more credit than we deserve.

We Americans value thrift and personal responsibility. We believe we should live within our means. These cultural ideals stem from our Puritan history.

But we don’t live up to our ideals. Not even close.

Americans are up to the ears in debt.

Four out of five individuals have at least one credit card. The average family has an outstanding balance of $10,700. It spends 21 percent of its monthly income to pay interest on that balance.

The average American family has assets: It owns a house worth $160,000. But it owes $95,000 to the bank. As the housing market continues to crash, equity shrinks.

Our average family’s savings are virtually nonexistent: $3,800 in the bank, no retirement account whatsoever (for half of families, average retirement savings $35,000 for the other half), no mutual funds, no stocks, no bonds.

The claim that American families live within their means is a joke.

To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The typical American family only earns $43,000. It’s hard to buy much of anything, much less the house that embodies the American Dream, with that. And it’s impossible to save.

So they/we borrow.

As grim as a life of indebted servitude may seem, imagine what the American economy would look like if families really did live within their means, spending no more than they earned. No debt. No credit.

Markets for big-ticket items—homes, automobiles, major appliances—would crash and burn. Countless businesses would go under.

According to the National Association of Realtors 23 percent of homebuyers paid cash in January. That’s more than ever before but that still leaves at least 77 percent relying on mortgage financing. (Why “at least”? Most “cash” transactions include money borrowed from banks and credit unions.) Take 77 percent of purchasers out of the buy side of the equation and million-dollar homes would be worth five figures.

Pop! Credit is the biggest bubble of all.

If credit went away, most Americans’ biggest asset would vanish. Everyone would be “under water” to their lenders. The burbs would soon look like Afghanistan.

The same goes for cars: At least 88 percent of buyers take out a loan.

What would happen if these buyers had to save actual cash money before they could hit the showroom? They wouldn’t buy a car. Air would get cleaner but the economic collapse that began in 2008, which has put one out of five Americans out of work, would accelerate dramatically.

Two-thirds of the U.S. economy directly relies on consumer spending. People can only purchase goods and services using one of three sources: income, savings or credit. As we’ve seen, the average American family doesn’t have savings. Its income has been falling since 1968.

That leaves credit. If consumer credit vanished, the corporato-capitalist system currently prevailing in the U.S. would deteriorate from its current, merely unsustainable form into total chaos. Without credit cards and other loans citizens would seethe, trapped between the mutually irreconcilable forces of falling wages and the aggressive advertising and marketing of products they would never be able to afford. There would only be two possible long-term outcomes: revolution, or the ruling classes would be forced to pay substantially higher wages to workers. To corporate elites, the latter choice would be too unpalatable to countenance.

The typical American family cannot live within its means because it cannot earn enough to sustain its lifestyle. Were it to downgrade its living standards to a level it could afford, there wouldn’t be enough consumer spending to drive the economy. This would force further personal austerity. Eventually we’d all be living outside.

You know what’s funny? Unlike the American family, the U.S. government can spend less than it earns. It can increase revenues by raising taxes. Unlike families, it spends trillions of dollars on stuff—wars—that it doesn’t need and actually makes things worse.

It could even use its power to force employers to pay workers what they deserve. If the government did that, families might not need credit.

They could (finally) live within their means.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL