27 January, 2009

Worse than Italians trying to figure out the Euro

I was in Italy in January 2002, when they began their three-month switch from the lira to the Euro. Italians handled it true to form: they ignored the news as long as possible, and found themselves completely confused during the three-month period of the changeover. Despite the fact that the nth Berlusconi government had sent to every Italian household a free calculator that converted between lira and Euro, and that the conversion was relatively simple besides, most people had no idea what the conversion rate was. Everyone was convinced that it was just a huge scam to rob them of their money. It's hard to blame them when the news published evidence of government agencies pricing fees and bus fares at twice the proper rate.

My aunt works in a bank, and for an entire week she ended up working from dawn to dusk. (If this doesn't amaze you, you are unfamiliar with southern Italian culture.) The Post Office ran out of money, and had to stop all business. Talk about inconvenient: the Italian Post Office is also where people go to pay utility bills and collect government checks. It took me two hours to mail two postcards, and that was a couple of days after the day I gave up.

I used to find all that amusing. Looking at our switch to digital television broadcasting, however, I find myself less amused. Too many people have put off important decisions until the last minute. Worst among the bunch of rank incompetents is our fine Congress.

You doubt me? Upon hearing that there isn't enough money to pay for all the coupons that citizens requested for digital-to-analog converter boxes, these jokers are seriously considering delaying the transition by another four months, incurring, however inadvertently, punishment on everyone who had their acts together in time.

The sensible thing would have been to allot only one coupon per household. That aside, this same Congress has no qualms about robbing our grandchildren in order to blow $825 billion on a so-called stimulus package—seeing how well the government's last two interventions went, one wonders if the only stimulus they're aiming for is at the polling station—yet they can't find it in their hearts to fund the $160 million that it would take to send out coupons to the last 2 million households who need them. (That's one-fifth of one percent of the money they're planning to spend anyway.)

Welcome to the United States, where we make Berlusconi's governments look competent.

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