Archive for the 'Deficit' Category

Napalm in the morning…

I love the smell of napalm in the morning.

That was Robert Duvall’s famous line from Apocalypse Now.  We laughed nervously at Lt. Colonel Kilgore’s morbid craziness while we also stared at the wild, crazy eyes of Marlon Brando, playing Colonel Kurtz, a berserk officer living in a cave, who had gone over the deep end in the same movie.

I was somehow reminded of that movie as I watched and listened to John Boehner this morning as he tried to explain why he couldn’t successfully arm wrestle enough members of his own party into voting for his Plan B.  A plan devised by folks who apparently had skipped arithmetic in first grade.  A plan that offered to microscopically increase taxes on folks making over a million dollars while, maybe inadvertently, also raise taxes on a few million poor folks.  Such a deal.

Eric Cantor, majority leader and Boehner’s Sancho Panza, stood next to the Speaker and, when his turn in the barrel came, told us how the Republicans had fought hard to maintain fiscal sanity while the Democrats simply didn’t understand the seriousness of the situation.  Then he quickly stepped aside, exited stage left, and went home for the holidays.

Speaker Boehner, looking like he needed some emergency time in the tanning booth, then took questions from the press.  “Mr. Speaker, now that you weren’t able to corral enough of your own party to pass your own Plan B, and since all of your members are headed for the airport, what are you going to do next to keep us from going off the fiscal cliff?”

Rising majestically to his full political height, a smile appeared on his face not unlike that of a kid who has no way out other than to tell the truth, and said “God only knows.”  For the first time ever, I actually almost believed him.

The Speaker knows the solution but can’t bring himself to say it.  To say it means that he will have failed to satisfy the Colonel Kilgores and Colonel Kurtzes of the Republican party.  The crazies who have hijacked the party and are holding it hostage until he and we agree to their every demand.  Holding a gun to their own heads like Cleavon Little did in Blazing Saddles.  The crazies who, like the NRA’s gun-toting national icon Charlton Heston, will never let a tax hike be pried from their cold, dead hands.

The same crazies worship Wayne LaPierre, head of the NRA, who earlier had promised to provide constructive suggestions that would stem the mass killings of first graders.  In satisfaction of that pledge he offered these remarks at today’s NRA news conference…

America has left its school children utterly defenseless.

The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Put an armed police officer in every school.

Laws that declare school zones as “Gun Free” actually entice killers to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.

He criticized Congress for not having established a national data base of the mentally ill (he did not, however, offer to be first on its list.)

How does one deal with crazies?  First, you convince the vast majority of our citizens that the crazies are indeed crazy.  We’ve already done that, in spades.

Second, you refuse to deal with the crazies on their terms.  We’re doing that.

Third, you replace the crazies.  We’ve done some of that but another opportunity will come up in 2014.

Yes, the fiscal cliff is ten days away.  As the venerable George W. Bush once said “bring ’em on.”  If we do that, here’s what will happen.

Sane folks, including a bunch of Republicans, will realize that the sake of the country is more important than Grover Norquist, The Tea Party, and Wayne LaPierre.  They will band together with enough votes to pass legislation that will lead to fiscal sanity and put a severe dent in mass murders.

Until then, get used to the smell of napalm in the morning.

Robert Duvall

Where have our priorities gone?

We subscribe to the Ventura County Star.  Since they refuse to deliver the NY Times, the LA Times or even the Bakersfield Herald to my mailbox, I have by default come to call the Star The World’s Greatest Newspaper.

If the Star didn’t have the NY Times Crossword and their own Letters to the Editor, I’d probably cancel the paper and save a lot of trees.  I might even survive the loss of the Crossword, but Letters to the Editor…never.  Some of the funniest lines ever written find their way to the Letters page.  I’m fairly sure the writers never intended that their carefully thought out and meticulously researched letters be laughed at, but it’s something that can be depended on in nearly every issue.

So I start with the Star’s Section B cause that’s where the fun is.  It also has local news, something that you can’t get on CNN, FOX or MSNBC.  Saturday’s edition was no exception and it even showcased a story close to home.  “Ojai Girl Fights Rare Condition” the masthead screamed.  And a very cute picture of adorable four-year old Aubrey smiled at me from the center of the page.  I wondered if I knew the family so I began to read the story.  A not yet fully diagnosed illness has plagued Aubrey since she was born.  Compounded by a number of medical mis-steps, little Audrey has been in and out of the hospital and now suffers the added burden of a feeding tube attached to a backpack full of nutrients.  Poor baby.

Five hospital stays in the last four months have compounded the family’s problems and depleted their financial resources.  The There but for the grace of God go I story ended with the promise that a fundraiser would soon be held.

Starved for something funny to counterbalance this tale of woe, I turned to the Letters page, skimmed an indecipherable Bill O’Reilly opinion piece and scanned the Letters.  I unanimously voted Lois of Oxnard the Bozo of the Day award.  Using the documented evidence always present as the cornerstone of Republican thinking, Lois reminded us that George Bush brought down gas prices in the first few days of his tenure and then concluded her Harvard thesis by imploring God to dump Obama in November.  But even this hilarity wasn’t enough to soften the heartache of the Aubrey story.

So I did something I rarely do.  I turned to the front page of the newspaper.  Taxes and school deficits were nicely counterbalanced by the chance to win a bazillion dollars in the Mega Millions jackpot.  Not bad.  I went on to page two and was amply rewarded with the picture of a smiling couple who had just engineered a double suicide.  Sa-weet.

Page three chronicled the story of the state Democratic campaign treasurer who embezzled $7 million from the party coffers, showing I suppose that Democrats can’t be trusted either.

And finally there was a photo of Leon Panetta quoted as saying “military cuts are rash.”  You may remember that these cuts are part of the absence of an agreement between the Democrats and Republicans on how to save $1.2 trillion buckeroos.  Since the twelve disciples on the special committee couldn’t come up with a plan, the default position was to cut the funding half from Defense and, putting a local face on things, half from little Aubrey.  Secretary Panetta concluded his remarks with this sage statement about Congress…What they essentially did is put a gun to their heads and the heads of the country.  Or to put a local face on it, little Aubrey’s head.

I’m a big supporter of our armed forces.  I don’t want to slash their budget to the point where Fidel Castro can easily maneuver his walker into my bedroom and suffocate me with a super burrito.  We even went to see Act of Valor where we patriotically joined seven other bewildered people on a Saturday evening.  The other three hundred people were next door watching Hunger Games, a story about little kids killing other little kids.  Inspiring.  No, I don’t want to slash the military budget but maybe a surface abrasion or even a painful papercut would be in order.

I’m sure little Aubrey is a big fan of the armed forces too.  Maybe she even understands why her parents need to have a fund-raiser so she can get the medical care she needs and rid herself of that backpack.  Maybe she even appreciates why Congressman Ryan wants to slash medical benefits while giving even larger tax breaks to those folks who might then be more inclined to attend her fundraiser.  But I doubt that even little Aubrey can understand how Justice Scalia can equate her medical disaster to broccoli.

What a Bunch of Bozos We Are

I see where the Congressional Supercommittee that was punted the job of deficit reduction is, big surprise, at a loss about what to do about it.  Duh.

I also note that the disparity between the haves and have-nots is greater than it was when Dickens wrote Oliver Twist.  At least we had soup kitchens and comfy debtors’ prisons back then.  Now all we get is the pronouncement from Herr Herman that poor folks got into trouble because they were too lazy or too stupid to do anything about it.  In his scholarly opinion they, like he, should simply grope their way to the top (or to the bottom depending on your point of view.)

Additionally, I congratulate the Republicans for doing a masterful job rewriting history.  Obliterated, after little more than two years, are the memories of how we got into this mess.  Bush tax cuts, two unfunded wars, wildly imaginative regulation dismantling and an unpaid-for-grab-bag drug program for old folks are but ancient myths vaguely remembered only by those who are presently protesting by sitting in front of Goldman Sachs, the Bank of America and Libbey Bowl.   Most of the rest of us are positive that this whole thing is Obama’s fault along with the sinking of the Titanic.  Short term memory impairment run amok.

As if that weren’t enough, our priorities also seem to be a bit skewed.  A New York congressman gets booted from public life for taking photos of his dick while Republicans are ready to anoint a masher who wants to enshrine his wanger on the ten-dollar bill.  Or maybe a $9 bill to go along with his remarkable Alice in Wonderland tax proposal.

But let’s not pick on Herr Herman.  He’s in excellent company along with Social Security privatizers, let-the-old-folks-eat-cake Medicare demolishers, child vaccines will kill you advocates, global warming naysayers, debt default or die lunatics, and God will save us crazies.  Even Mitt Romney, once the voice of a modicum of moderation, has donned the one-size-fits-all mantle of “Hey, I’m as nutty as they are…so vote for me.”  No statement is too ludicrous and no act too perverse for this group of Keystone Kops.  The end justifies the means.  Assaulting and capturing the Oval Office like Kamikaze pilots requires sacrifice, even if it’s our sacrifice not theirs.

So back to the Congressional Supercommittee.  Democrats, being the fools that they are, assumed that Republicans, being the crazies they are, would come to their senses.  The Party of No would become the Party of Maybe.  Laughing all the way to the bank, the Republicans could point to the twelve bazillion dollars in entitlement cuts they grabbed in return for twelve cents of tax increases reluctantly imposed on the 1% of the population owning 50% of the country.  But no, the Party of No never met a tax increase they liked.  All or nothing.  Never ones to learn from history, the Dems would repeat it and fold.  Business as usual.

As for me, I’m going to switch parties and vote for Herman in the primary.  I’ve always wanted to see a sitting President carted off to jail right after his inauguration for groping Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Then we can get the President we really deserve.  Sarah Palin.

Big Oil, Bigger Fools

I’m surprised that I haven’t seen bell ringers and kettles on the corner of Signal Street and Ojai Ave.  No, not for the Salvation Army.  For the oil companies.

After listening to the CEOs of the five largest oil companies testify before Congress, I feel it’s my patriotic duty to support them in their hour of need.   And I used to think it was school kids, poor people and seniors who needed help.  How could I have been so addled?

The five guys who expressed indignance and scorn at the idea of giving up $2 billion in annual tax subsidies have impeccable logic.  If they give up the $2 billion, prices will go up at the pump, exploration will be halted, and they will pout a lot.  Even worse, it will lead to more endangered subsidies, like for corporate farmers and stock brokers.

Sure, $2 billion is a lot of billion.  It’s almost two percent of the annualized first quarter profits of these five behemoths.  The oil companies only make about five percent on every dollar sent their way.  So, their annual revenue is about $2 trillion.  For those who can’t get their heads around a trillion, it’s a thousand billion.  And big oil’s got two of those.  Confiscating $2 billion in subsidies would leave them with only $1,998,000,000.  No wonder they’re upset.

But the Republicans will rise to the occasion and once again champion the underdog.  The Senate will never get to vote on the $2 billion reduction because the Democrats won’t get enough votes to block a filibuster.  And even if they did, the Katzenjammer Kids in the House will sit on their hands.

But no matter.  We’re headed for Armageddon anyway.  I watched Senator McConnell smirk on the NewsHour last night and realized that he has the winning hand.  He threatens economic meltdown by refusing to increase the federal debt limit if he and the chief Katzenjammer Kid, John Boehner, don’t get $2 trillion lopped from the federal budget.  It was a glorious display of my way or the highway.

Then I realized that the expenditure reduction demanded by Mitch and John is exactly equal to the total annual revenue of the five oil companies…and a solution to the problem leaped into my head.  Rather than gutting Medicare, privatizing Social Security, and limiting Medicaid benefits to only those folks who have been trampled by dinosaurs, let’s nationalize the oil companies, take their $2 trillion, and reduce the deficit.

Then we can pay closer attention to important things, like whether Moammar Ghadafi is really going to star in a remake of the Three Stooges.

Just say no.

I rowed this morning.  Not on Lake Casitas.  On the carpet of my cubbyhole just off the bathroom.  With all the international, national and personal stress filling my head, rowing seems to focus the mind on something other than “how in the world did this happen!”

My endorphin infusion was interrupted when Mitch McConnell, the Michael Pollard look-alike of the Senate Republican minority, appeared on the TV screen eager to express his views to David Gregory, the latest incarnation of Meet the Press’  Grand Inquisitor.  “So”, David said, “do you think there will be a compromise on tax cuts.”   Responding with a smile, Mitch offered “I hope so.  We’ve had more discussions with the President in the last two weeks than in the last two years.  We certainly hope for a compromise.”

The reality of it is that by holding 98% of Americans hostage, the Republicans are likely to win a big one for rich folks and add a bizillion dollars to the migraine-inducing deficit.  Their strategy of resisting an extension of unemployment benefits and allowing tax cuts to lapse for the middle class appears to be working.  Obama is ready to cave…again.

Like the kid who, having placed a tooth under his pillow, expects to find that the Tooth Fairy has left a surprise, I look forward to each new day in the hope that Obama will shed his politically correct clothes and appear on TV with a big red S on his chest.  Announcing…truth, justice and the American way are here.  Beware all you who tread on me and the people who made this country a shining beacon in an otherwise cruel world.  I shall not be compromised in my quest to return this country to greatness.

Alas, as the clock ticks away, I fall further down the rabbit hole.  Expecting to wind up in the usual place, before the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter.  My confidence in our leader wanes.  My belief that the forces of right will triumph over the Morlocks, the Dark Lord Sauron, and the Snow Queen ebbs with the passing of time.  I need something to shock my system.  Something that says now is the time to stand up and be counted.  The time for compromise has ended.  Two years of cowering over the lack of a Senate super-majority is fini.  Damn the torpedoes.  Rammmming speed.

Here’s what I suggest.  Refuse to extend the tax cuts for the 2% who’ll put in the bank anyway.  Let the Republicans continue to block the continuation of all the tax cuts.  Let tax rates go back to where they were when we had a robust economy, a surplus and full employment.  If anyone complains, blame it on the Republicans.  They did the blocking.  Take the additional tax dollars and reduce the deficit, invest it stuff that creates jobs, shores up our decaying infrastructure and restores our educational system to its former glory.

Bring legislation to the hill next year to a Republican House and a more Republican Senate (including my favorite Republican in drag, Joe Lieberman) that provides tax relief to those who most need it.  Let them vote it down because it doesn’t provide tax cuts to the 2% who don’t need it.  Keep pointing at Mitch, John and their cohorts as the guys who don’t care about the middle class.  Then do it again and again.  For two years.

I’m tired of bending over and saying “may I have more please.”   It’s time to stand up.  It’s time to say no…loudly.


It’s easy to say “no”

Thank goodness.  Congress is on the verge of passing a financial reform bill.  Like real people, Barney Frank and Chris Dodd stayed up late to push the damn thing over the finish line…even though nary a Republican felt inclined to be associated with it.

No more shudders when I go into my local bank, queue up to the tellers and wonder “how is this big, bad institution going to screw me today.”  No more worries about how much money my bank is putting into those nasty hedge funds.  No more giving me a big mortgage without asking me if I actually have a source of income to repay the loan.  And the real biggy…I can get a discount for paying cash instead of shoving plastic at the waitress.  Whew.  It boggles the mind.

And a big thumbs-up to the auto dealer lobbyists.  They managed to exempt their angelic clients from scrutiny by the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Doubtless because no senator has been victimized by bait and switch, inflated loan fees and expensive, unnecessary add-ons like rust protection in California.

No surprise that the Party-of-No decided to continue its unblemished record of contributing nothing, doing nothing and hoping for nothing.  It’s at times like this that I think back to the good old days when we were the minority and could relish lack of achievement, point fingers, and look forward to reading the NY Times every hour on the hour…hoping for more bad news.  News that would turn us back into the majority.  As someone once said, be careful what you wish for.

But if we were the minority, I wonder if we would have deep-sixed the extension of jobless benefits like the current minority-in-residence did.  Forgetting about the late-lamented trillion-dollar financial institution bail-out, and using the shop-worn argument that deficit reduction trumps the extension of the princely sum of $309 a week in jobless benefits, the Party-of-No deftly avoided the real impetus for their intransigence…the protection of tax breaks for those who earn considerably more than $309 a week.

At a time when nearly every economist in the country agrees on the importance of consumer spending in digging us out of the recession, the Party-of-No is willing to keep jobless benefits out of the hands of those who spend it on food and shelter…as a wedge to maximize the wealth of those who need it least.

I hope that, come November, the 1.2 million folks who lost their benefits will remember who to thank.  In particular, they might consider the following statement by that great deficit hawk, Senator Orrin Hatch.  Proposing an amendment that would require drug testing of all who apply for jobless benefits or welfare, he said…This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society, while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted…Too many Americans are locked into a life of a dangerous dependency not only on drugs, but the federal assistance that serves to enable their addiction.

Then again, maybe it would be better if we stay in charge.  It could be a whole lot worse.

Whaddaya got?

I poured a glass of cheap wine, plunked myself on the couch and grabbed the clicker.  One of my favorite programs is the PBS NewsHour.  Jim Lehrer is the non-profit version of Dick Clark.  He goes on and on like the Energizer Bunny and his face displays but a few cute wrinkles probably acquired as a result of holding his breath while interviewing conservative neocons and America Firsters.

I was particularly amused on Wednesday when the program showcased John Cochrane of the University of Chicago who gleefully discredited the benefits of the Obama stimulus plan.  Not surprising since Professor Cochrane famously predicted the doom of the program when it was first announced.  Maintaining a perpetual silly smirk reminiscent of you-know-who, I wondered what his economics students must have to put up with.  Probably a proponent of the flat earth theory, the Professor holds sway on Chicago’s South Side by championing supply side economics in a manner that would make Ronnie Reagan proud.

One of the Professor’s more erudite statements was in response to Jeffrey Brown’s question of whether the stimulus might have helped stave off a second depression…I mean, the stimulus, in the end, is taking money from one place and giving it to another place. And it’s too easy to forget that you had to take money from somewhere in order to do any stimulating.  Pretty heady stuff.

Brown then asked Professor Cochrane whether any jobs might have been created or saved by the stimulus money…Well, it’s lovely to tout the benefits, but let’s not forget the costs.  Like any time the government spends money, it has to come from somewhere.  So, you get to see the jobs that the stimulus — I don’t want to say created, but the jobs supported by the stimulus. What you don’t see is every dollar of stimulus had to come from somewhere.  Thesis material indeed or at least fodder for a pop-quiz.

Sometimes though we are treated to folks who actually make sense.  Like Thursday when Judy Woodruff interviewed Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.  I like Judy.  She asks simple questions and her facial expressions speak volumes.  The subject was the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform.  Better known as “Cutting Costs and Collecting More Taxes”, Obama formed the non-binding commission when the Senate shied away from the opportunity in an election year.  But then every year seems like an election year.

I’m a fan of Alan Simpson.  The former three-term Republican senator from Wyoming mixes common sense and humor in a way that puts you in your place and you say “thank you sir, may I have more?”  The June 7, 1994, edition of the now-defunct supermarket tabloid Weekly World News reported that twelve U.S. Senators were aliens from other planets, including Simpson.  Those who argue that it’s downright unfair to give equal voting weight to an alien from a small state like Wyoming alongside big state senators, turn strangely quiet when Senator Simpson is mentioned.  Maybe they remember George Murphy, the song and dance man from California who tapped his toes for six years in the Senate before being defeated by John Tunney, the son of heavyweight boxing champ Gene Tunney.

Senator Simpson along with Bowles, a Democrat, are co-chairing the commission.  Bowles, a nice guy, was relatively quiet as Simpson took and held the spotlight.  WoodruffWell, some people, mainly Republicans right now, are arguing, what’s really needed are tax cuts, that, even if it raises the deficit in the short-term, that this would get government out of the way of business, business could grow, and the deficit will take care of itself.  SimpsonWell, I’m not smoking that same pipe.  Wise man.

The same program aired a clip of the Republican leadership reacting to news of the Commission.  Emerging en masse and in lock-step from a Capitol chamber, they were led by Senator McConnell and House Minority Leader  Boehner. They strode to the microphone.  Having escaped voluntary vetting by the Truth Squad and having conveniently forgotten that last year he had praised the commission idea as the best way to address the crisis, Mitch announced his opposition to the Commission on the grounds that it was loaded with Democrats and focused on tax increases.  This notwithstanding the fact that of the 18 members, 3 will be appointed by him, 3 by Boehner, and two more Republicans by Obama.  As befitting the current Washington mood of  “all for one and one for all”  at least 14 of the members have to agree on any recommendation.

At least these guys are consistent.  Having come up with a Republican plan that includes lying low, inciting the base and hoping for the worst, they refuse to see any good in any thing.  Like my friend Harry who said I don’t like so many things that I don’t know what I don’t like anymore, it’s enough that they just take sustenance, maintain their innocence and wait for November.

They’ve practiced this approach for so long that maybe they’re not devious obstructionists.  Maybe they don’t even know why they’re against anything anymore.  It reminds me of that scene from The Wild Ones.  The one where Brando’s asked what he’s rebelling against and he says, Whaddaya got?



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