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  • Last modified 1566 days ago (July 30, 2014)

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Taking a vacation from sanity

Some people spend vacations soaking up surf and sun, reveling in Old World charm, and basking in high-tech nightlife.

I come to Marion County.

Instead of sun and surf, I soak up daily faxes spewing venom more deadly than blue-green algae about the latest things the truly clueless Westboro Baptist Church says God hates.

For those keeping score, it’s “lame rock has-been” Ted Nugent, “Antichrist Rebel-in-chief” Barack Obama, “America’s youngest whore” Miley Cyrus, and “fag media,” including Facebook, Google, and others.

Fortunately — so far at least (though probably not once this editorial is read, especially if county commissioners speak up) — the list does not include the Record.

We, along with the phone company and the Internet, apparently are OK, as Westboro continues to pour a small fortune from its collection plates into faxing us daily messages like “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.”

The so-called church’s rather peculiar notion of divinity, decorum, and patriotism aside, its “Pray for Obama’s Doom” message seems to be spreading like suddenly feared measles virus.

Among our favorite social media posts this summer were sequential manifestos from a local church lady, first extolling the virtues of forgiveness then, in the next post, telling us how the president is an unforgivable scourge who must be impeached.

The same shrill tone and doctrinaire cadence is sounded by virtually every candidate in next week’s election.

Forget what the constitution says, to be elected these days you apparently must support unlimited rights for everybody to carry whatever caliber of bazooka he or she desires, and your sole goal in life must be to simultaneously repeal Obamacare, Roe vs. Wade, gay marriage, and nearly all taxes while erecting the Great Wall of the Rio Grande to keep huddled masses, wretched refuse, and tempest-tossed from ever breathing free.

No longer do politicians list party affiliation in their ads. Everyone, it seems, identifies himself solely as a conservative.

Westboro would be proud.

Instead of Old World charm, I revel in the charm of city councilors and county commissioners poring over budget proposals and occasionally shooting their mouths off in the process.

If you still have space on your bucket list, you really haven’t lived until you’ve spent most of a day in a room full of politicians and bureaucrats, discussing — without anyone else (not even reporters from rival news organizations) present — how they plan to continue taxing and spending.

Oh, they talk cuts — sort of. But the overriding goal seems to be keeping happy the area’s largest and most powerful political force: government employees.

Back before Westboro and its ilk made those of us who regard ourselves as conservatives be afraid to admit it, a visionary public servant named Roy Ash came up with a concept called zero-based budgeting.

Rather than accept that everything currently spent still needs to be spent, plus or minus some percentage, Ash wanted every year to re-justify every job, program, and expenditure, starting at zero.

It was a great idea — one that tea partiers ought to want to serve with crumpets. Unfortunately, it never caught on in Marion or Marion County, where current levels of spending are taken as a given before bureaucrats begin their annual audiences with elected officials to plead for more money or fewer cuts.

To be sure, the atmosphere is different from city to county. The city, overburdened with more debt than it can reasonably handle, talks more about cuts. The county, though hardly without debt, talks more about prudently saving for big purchases. But the cadence is the same: start at current levels and impress or defend to move higher or lower.

What impresses most, though not in a positive way, is the nerve of employees who bemoan lack of across-the-board raises. Most government workers — I’m one myself, albeit employed by a distant university — are pretty well paid. And there are lots and lots and, oh yes, lots of us.

Often hired with minimal qualifications, many get extensive government-paid training then promptly demand more money, shorter hours, bigger benefits, more days off, and dedicated vehicles they need for only a few days a year. In return, they try to cut expenditures with local businesses so they can spend more on fellow employees.

It’s bureaucracy in its most classic sense. But because its Good Ol’ Joe or Good Ol’ Sue, not some inside-the-Beltway anonymous personage, who’s cashing paychecks and reaping benefits, no one seems to question it. They demand “comparable” pay, but the comparison is only to other governments, not to private enterprise, and there’s no comparison to see whether government actually needs as many workers as are on the dole.

Heaven help us if we had to run the Record that way. We actually pay our starting employees — people who need a college degree plus experience — thousands more than nearby dailies and TV stations. We have to. It’s what supply and demand dictates. Still we lose them to higher-paying jobs once they get more experience, and a lot of them earn less than what less educated, less experienced government workers make.

When was the last time you heard about private enterprise snatching some worker away from local government? Heaven (and Westboro) help us, we also have employees who do more than one task. Government often dedicates separate workers for each separate task. Our courthouse and city building have more employees than they can house. Most businesses, like ours, have more space than we can afford to fill with workers.

If government actually worried about free-market competition, we bet they wouldn’t be so worried about building more parking lots for government and employee vehicles.

Instead of nightlife, I bask in such things as scandals over celebrity goat-milking contests — including allegations by two members of our newspaper team that one county commissioner in particular couldn’t resist continuing to milk after time elapsed, kind of like how he milks concerns about a certain pipeline.

I also bask in the way commissioners are trying to take the heat off themselves for calling the Courthouse a “pit” by accusing us of saying they wanted to move it out of town. They said “pit,” but we never said that they wanted to dethrone Marion as county seat. What they did say — and letter writers caught — was that they have little to no respect for preserving great architecture like that of the Courthouse or the Bowron Building, which they seem to believe deserves to die because it’s a quarter of a block farther from their chambers than a pre-fab metal replacement might be, and that they wanted to move two big operations — refuse and shops — out of town. Two people who wrote us letters this week got it. Apparently they read more carefully than commissioners.

You’ll notice only one letter endorsing candidates, by the way. We usually publish every letter we get but chose not to use any of the dozens of orchestrated, out-of-county mass mailings pretending to be actual letters. We received one from an actual Marion County resident, and we printed it. We didn’t deluge you with the slew of others, including one from an out-of-town candidate’s Mom and Dad about how his fourth grade teacher thought he was the more conscientious than other fourth graders — which, come to think of it, might indicate he’s on the right intellectual level to serve in the legislature.

Meanwhile, Friend Cat, who mooches milk and battles over bedspreads with Friend Mother, is having a less enjoyable vacation, spending time at the vet’s for hopefully minor surgery. At least I’ll have my vacation bed to myself tonight.

Such is life on the banks of Luta Creek.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified July 30, 2014

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