The Daily Southerner, Tarboro, NC

April 3, 2013

What makes smart people do stupid?


TARBORO — It really gets me to see those you would think are smart people do what are obviously stupid things.  I’ve just read about what has been going on in the city of Stockton, Calif.  The population of Stockton is about 300,000.  It is next to a beautiful downtown waterfront and sports a handsome $46 million glass hockey arena and single-A baseball team, playing in a new taxpayer-financed stadium.  Sounds great, but actually this is part of the terrible financial problems the city is experiencing.

The city of Stockton spends a ton of taxpayers’ money to bring about all these attractive things without thinking about the cost and how it was going to be paid for. In the early 2000s the economy in Stockton was very good, so in an intoxicating mood, the spending took off.  Did anyone question that the good times might not continue on and on?  There are always ups and downs and just as surely as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west good times are followed by bad times before, hopefully, good times occur again.

The local leaders of Stockton (supposedly smart people) decided they should pay their city employees very high salaries and lucrative benefits in the belief that the goods times would go on forever and everything would be rosy.

Reality hit Stockton when the recession hit and the good times went bust.  This 13th largest city in California is now facing becoming the most populous city in the nation to enter Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

Within a two-year period Stockton accumulated almost $1 billion in debt on civic improvements, money owed to pay pension contributions, plus the most generous health care benefits in the state.  This included coverage for life for all retirees plus a dependent no matter how long they had worked for the city.

With all this going on, something had to give and it did.  The police department lost 25 percent of its officers and the fire department employees were reduced by 30 percent, along with a reduction of 40 percent of the city staff.  So we see terrible things can happen when supposedly smart people do stupid.

Now, taking a look at the small nation of Cyprus a lot of stupid things have been going on because of leaders, who were assumed to be smart, messed up big time.  Stupid decisions made by some of our liberal leaders in the U.S. actually started the economic crisis in Cyprus. When the United States’ subprime mortgage crisis occurred in 2007-2008 it caused a domino effect in other countries, especially in Cyprus.  It caused sharp drops in its tourist and shipping sectors and unemployment rose dramatically and its national debt soured upward.  The possibility of their banks going broke became a reality that had to be addressed.

Long lines now form at the banks in Cyprus but often customers are only allowed to withdraw $330.  At one point Cyprus threatened to withdraw 15 percent from everyone’s bank accounts. This has also affected companies being able to pay their workers’ salaries.  One lady remarked, “If I don’t get my salary, I could be out on the street.  I don’t know if I have enough to make a sandwich for my 12-year old daughter tomorrow.”

So it’s obvious that there are many so-called smart people who do really stupid things.  Here in the U.S., we have a $16 trillion deficit and it is climbing by $1 trillion a year.  Did some our smart leaders do stupid things?

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The writer of a recent letter to the editor pointed out a number of reasons why she didn’t see any need whatsoever for voter ID.  I thought I’d do some checking about when photo IDs and other types of identifications were called for.  Well, we best not try to cash a check at a bank, which is not where we normally bank without a photo ID.  If you’re not already drawing Social Security and want to start, be ready to be asked for some of the following:  Your original birth certificate or proof of birth, proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the U.S., a copy of your W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax return for last year.          

Another problem that we have and I’ve been told that it is more serious than one might expect is dead people voting.  It seems it’s not very difficult and it occurs quite often in states that don’t have voter ID.  Apparently the state of Louisiana has the best system.  In Louisiana you must present the following: a driver’s license, a Louisiana special ID, or other generally recognized picture ID that contains your name and signature.  If a photo ID is not presented, a utility bill, payroll check or other government document that includes your name and address can be presented.  However, such voters would also have to sign an affidavit, and if you sign an affidavit to a lie you could be charged with perjury. 

The letter writer also seems to be concerned about identity theft from a driver’s license.  There’s simply not enough information on a driver’s license for this.  What the thief really needs is your Social Security number.  A couple of things I just learned; a 13-year old kid has to have a photo ID to play basketball at the Rec Center in Tarboro, probably for liability reasons, but anyone can get a photo ID from the Driver’s License Bureau for $10.  So, the letter writer can stop worrying about hiring staff, training new workers on how to take photos, setting up a phone bank etc.  I figure that if North Carolina puts into effect a photo ID law and gives citizens a free one, if they don’t have one, my NC income taxes may go up about a dime or 15 cents a year.  Hey! I’ll pay that to keep dead people from voting and some folks from voting multiple times.

    There used to be an old saying some people advised, “Vote early and vote often.”  Some people still like to do this.

(Bob Harper is a Tarboro resident who writes topical columns on current issues.)