Archive for the 'Economy' Category

Prodding those in need

What we really need is Martin and Mendel.

No, that’s not the name of a Jewish law firm.  It’s two Orthodox Rabbis in New York who, for a hefty fee paid by an unhappy wife, will arrange for the thrashing of a recalcitrant Orthodox Jewish husband who refuses to comply with a religious divorce, known as a “get”.

According to the New York Times, for about $50,000 Rabbis Martin and Mendel would get two tough guys named Ariel and Yaakov to kidnap the unwilling hubby, apply a cattle prod to his unnamed body parts and then deliver the now willing husband to the mercies of the Orthodox Jewish court.  As the Rabbis proudly expounded to an undercover FBI agent, it was important that the instruments of torture did not leave any mark that might otherwise reveal their nefarious deed.

So, after due consideration, I think that applying this novel approach to the current government shutdown might be just the ticket to our own salvation.

“Hello, Rabbi Mendel, this is Barack Obama.  I’ve got a situation that I think you can help me with.  I’ve been reading about your ground-breaking approach to problem solving and I must admit that it may be exactly what I need.”

“Yes, Mr. President.  I’m happy to hear from you even though I didn’t vote for you, not even once.  You know, it’s that Israeli thing.  But anyway, what’s your problem?”

“Well, I’ve tried just about everything to get John Boehner to see it my way.  I’ve offered to kick people off food stamps, open up Yosemite to oil exploration, and even let him beat me at golf.  But he still won’t let me re-open the government.  The stubborn mule says he won’t budge until I kill ObamaCare and default on the national debt.”

“Yes, I understand your problem completely.  In fact, I’ve been following it religiously on Fox News and must admit that I’m a really big fan of that nice young man, Ted Cruz.  Even though he doesn’t  attend my shul.”

“But Rabbi, maybe you can put your politics aside and, for a fee, see it my way.”

“Well as a matter of fact you’re in luck.  We’ve just begun a big fund-raiser for our shul.  It’s called “Prod Them to See It Your Way”.  Our hope is that we can help people like you bring the opposition around to your way of thinking.  After all, it’s our specialty.”

“Sounds great.  What else do you need to know from me before we can get going?  I’m in a bit of a hurry to save the greatest nation on earth.”

“For you, Mr. President, I will set aside our differences and get Ariel and Yaakov on the job tonight.  And, please, consider it a freebie.”

“A freebie?  Why so cheap?”

“It will be great publicity for our fund-raiser.  Can you imagine?  After all, Boehner isn’t the only one who needs some prodding.

Republican Poster Children

My good friend Ralph, in a somewhat inebriated state, once said “I don’t like so many things that I don’t even know what I don’t like anymore.”  Over the years Ralph and I have joked about his half-serious declaration that, for some people, is the center point of their lives.

I was reminded of it again when I read the sobering rant aired by Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-Ind.) who told The Washington Examiner  “We’re not going to be disrespected. We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Marlin was of course referring to the current budget crisis and the Republican crusade to banish Obamacare  before anyone can find out that it actually helps people.  A major brain fart was obviously gassing Marlin’s ability to reason, evaluate the consequences of his actions, and to speak without the intervention of serious drugs.

But to be fair, Marlin was probably just relying on those in his party who were feeding him a constant barrage of one-liners, manufactured facts, and u-turns in their twisted road to sway government opinion that would seriously challenge a Barnum and Bailey contortionist.

After shutting down the government because they couldn’t deep-six Obamacare, Republicans have taken the high road by picking those government programs that deserve to be reopened (like parks) and keeping other less important ones shut down (like the National Institute of Health and OSHA.)

Marlin’s good friend, Texas Republican congressman Randy Neugebauer, also had his facts somewhat mixed when he berated a  National Park Ranger at the Washington WWII memorial for doing her job.  Carrying an oversized American flag in his breast pocket, Randy objected to the Ranger’s attempt to keep people out of the facility which had been officially closed due to the government shutdown provoked by you know who.   “The Park Service should be ashamed” Randy declared as his flag began to wilt.

A near-by bicyclist shouted  “This woman is doing her job, just like me. I’m a 30-year federal veteran — I’m out of work.”  The man at this point was face to face with the Congressman who was perhaps irritated by being delayed from cashing his U.S. Government paycheck.

“Well, the reason you are is because Mr. Reid decided to shut down the government,” responded Neugebauer, no doubt restraining himself from calling the Senate Democrat a Commie bastard.

“No, it’s because the government won’t do its job and pass a budget” said the 30 year federal veteran.

Having wilted completely, both the flag and Congressman Neugebauer returned to the House floor where he proudly proposed an end to the National Park Service and the opening of Yosemite to oil exploration.

So to Marlin Stutzman I say, your disrespect is well deserved.  You’re lucky enough to still be employed even though you’ve refused to perform the functions required of your position.  Namely, to better the lives of those who look to you for leadership.  Not to make their lot more difficult.

And to Randy Neugebauer.  You should be greatly ashamed for displaying the symbol of our country while doing your best to destroy the thing it has most stood for.  Protecting and helping those less fortunate than you.

But I will grant both of you this.  You are the ideal poster-children of the Party to which we owe our current state of affairs.  Keep up the good work.

Stick ’em up

When I was nine I lived in a Chicago semi-tenement where my whole world was the one block area surrounding our building.  My closest buddies, Alan and Alfred, joined me daily in hide-and-seek, softball in the alley, setting fire to things, and playing cops and robbers.

In addition to our motley assortment of beat up baseballs, a make shift hand-me-down chemistry set and stubs of colored chalk that occasionally aggravated the neighbors, we had those not-so-real cap guns that looked like they belonged in Gene Autry’s holster.  The cheaper guns required us to laboriously place one paper cap at a time in the little slot just ahead of the firing pin.  The more expensive instruments of mass destruction let you put a whole roll of paper caps in the gun and then hope that it wouldn’t jam as we pointed our gats at each other and said stick-em-up.  We usually blasted each other even if we obeyed that order.  And then we went home for lunch.

I was recently reminded of my childhood cops and robbers as I listened to the contest between those who think Obamacare is worth trying, and those who would sooner turn us into a dead beat creditor than allow the law an even shake.

Republicans, who undoubtedly possess the automated cap guns of my youth, have yelled stick-em-up and waved an array of mind numbing ransom demands.  The Democrats, one-cap-at-a-time users, are standing by waiting for the Republicans to run out of caps before using the one cap left in their arsenal.

Holding the nation hostage while insisting that their demands be met reminds me of Cleavon Little, the black sheriff in the Mel Brooks movie Blazing Saddles.  Arriving as the new Sheriff Bart in the wild west town of Rock Ridge, populated by a majority of moronic racists, he is confronted by drawn guns and a less than admiring populace.  Sensing his imminent demise, Cleavon pulls his own six-gun, holds it to his own head, and threatens to kill himself if his adversaries don’t give up.  Confused by the display, the bad guys back off.  I always thought this was pretty funny until I watched Speaker Boehner pull the same stunt just the other day.

Convinced that the Democrats will, as usual, back off and give ground, Boehner has capitulated to the Tea Party crazies who are holding guns to their own heads.  Assured of continued job security through gerrymandered districts and terrified of primary challenges by an even worse right-winged zealot, House Republicans are perfectly content to demand unquestioning fealty to their every demand.  Or, bang you’re dead.

Sensing that the defunding ransom demand may not be quite politically correct, the House has apparently replaced it with a new wish list of unsavory pronouncements, including a one year delay of Obamacare.  That’s just enough time for the Koch brothers to invest a zillion bucks on sadly juvenile ads similar to the recent one sponsored by them showing Uncle Sam (looking a great deal like Donald Trump) leering up the skirts of a young coed who was foolish enough to sign up for Obamacare.  Poor, deluded girl.

It matters not one whit that Obamacare was passed by Congress, was used successfully to defeat its reborn antagonist Mitt Romney, and finally upheld by the Supreme Court.  Better to continue to wage a battle already lost by threatening to shut down the government and default on obligations already committed to.  Better to keep firing caps until the other side hollers ya got me.

Mel Brooks claims that his idea of the scene in Blazing Saddles of cowboys sitting around the campfire and farting came from watching lots of westerns where cowpokes seemed to always be drinking coffee and eating beans.  Mel assumed that this caused great waves of bloated gas that must have been freely expelled as they sat around and mused about life on the open range.

It’s too bad that Mel had to go all the way to Texas when the same kind of farting around happens daily in Washington, D.C.

Cleavon Little

The Sequester is Over

Thank goodness our elected representatives pay attention to their constituents.

Members of Congress took it upon themselves today to ease their own discomfort and at the same time quiet the wrath that came down upon them by the flying public.  Air controller furloughs have ended and all is well in the nation’s airports…for folks with money.

Airport passengers, having had their fill of overpriced bottled water, hard-shell seats designed for alien beings and delays that cut into their work and play schedules, took over public address systems and announced that they were mad as hell and wouldn’t take it anymore.  Prominently heard above the din were rants that focused on the sequester, a Rube Goldberg plan that had been designed and implemented by folks who never thought it would affect them.

Ah yes, there is joy in Mudville again.  Senators and Congressmen can get back to what they know best, raising money from rich people who, they have been bluntly reminded, are not to be trifled with.

A nearly unanimous Senate and ninety percent of the House said with nary a whimper “oops, my bad.”  They can surely be excused from not anticipating the consequences of their actions since they only had a year to think about it after they adopted the poison pill, hara-kiri approach to running the nation’s affairs.

Now that five percent of the public can get back to their Boeing 727 seats and reach their destinations with a minimum of discomfort, perhaps those who are less fortunate than the flying public can learn something from that experience.

For example, seniors who will, as a result of the sequester, have their Meals on Wheels delicacies reduced to bare subsistence levels might think about taking a bus to Washington, invading the Senate cafeteria, and, like John Belushi did in Animal House, start a food fight.

Children who can no longer participate in Head Start programs might consider a field trip to Dulles Airport where they can plant their cute bodies in the middle of a runway and teach themselves the true meaning of representative government.

But some good might come of all this.  Piece by piece the sequestered funds will be restored.  Today, air controllers. Tomorrow, seniors and little kids.  Next week food inspectors and potholes. Congress can act like the tooth fairly.  Leave a broken life on the Capitol steps at night and get a wonderful surprise in the morning.

No need for our elected representatives to think.  They can just wait for the next body to be presented to them.  And vote accordingly.

Animal-House-21

Too little, too late

I love the smell of urine in the morning.

OK, so I’ve mangled Robert Duvall’s famous line in Apocalypse Now. It seemed appropriate given the recent, but thankfully abating, attention focused by CNN, MSNBC, ABC, CBS and the Jewish Daily Forward on that smelly Carnival Cruise Line floating toilet called the Triumph.

You’d have thought that the disabled ship was overrun by zombies devouring guests one by one as they emerged unfulfilled from their attempt to gorge themselves at the midnight buffet. But let’s look at the bright side…at least they were saved from those repetitive, overpriced, dockside shopping sprees in any number of overrated ports of call.

And if your week wasn’t satisfying enough, you were treated to a soliloquy of brain farts emanating from the newest stand-in for our sorely missed Majesty of the Ludicrous, Sarah Palin. Yes, Texas junior Senator Ted Cruz, darling of the musket wielding Tea Party, has cleverly gained the frontrunner position for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination by accusing that poor shlep, Chuck Hagel, of consorting with any number of America’s enemies including the North Koreans, Iranians and others who broadly support Sponge Bob and the Kardashian sisters. For those who yearn for the glory days of Joe McCarthy, your wish has been granted.

But things are now back to normal…nine days before Sequester. The Sequester, another manufactured opportunity for our elected representatives to once more save us from the Fiscal Cliff. An opportunity for them to recklessly do what they’ve had over a year to address in a less maniacal way. Another potential feather in their caps as they save us from a cataclysm manufactured by them and abetted by those of us who elected Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and any number of self-appointed patriots who choose to wave the flag while the rest of us go down with the ship.

I have no idea where the term Sequester came from to describe the ham-handed approach embodied in the legislation that Congress and the President so gleefully adopted more than a year ago. So I looked it up in my now defunct Funk and Wagnalls…to put somebody in an isolated or lonely place away from other people, the pressures of everyday life, or possible disturbances.

Perfect. An apt description of the legislation and of those entrusted with mismanaging our affairs of state. Whodathunk it? When they conjured up the Sequester they laughed all the way to the Capitol cafeteria and said “No one in their right mind would let this go on to its ultimate conclusion. No one could be so crass to think we won’t do our public duty. No one would think we’d risk igniting a new recession. No one would think we’d…or would they?”

Maybe it’s all for the best. Maybe Rand Paul and his look-alikes are right when they say damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead. Slash and burn. Lookee here, they say…”Why it’s what every American family has to do when their income doesn’t meet their outgo. They cut back, don’t they?” Well, Mr. Paul, you’re right. They do cut back. But they sit down around the kitchen table, look at their alternatives and make decisions based on what’s important. They look at the consequences. Then they do what’s in the best interests of their family.

But this time things have reached a zenith of contempt for the public. At least for the 47% despised by Mr. Romney and his cohorts. Republicans will have taken the next big step in dismantling government. They will be praised for the continuing demise of public education. They will be showered with plaudits for their mantra that insists that poor people have no one to blame but themselves. They will be congratulated for protecting the rich at the expense of those whose jobs will be eliminated. They will be praised for their refusal to compromise, for their insistence that even more needs to be done, for their proclamation that sacrificing the parents now saves the children later.

I’m no big fan of Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal who will go down in history for his recent plea to his fellow Republicans “let’s stop being the stupid party.” Alas, Bobby. Too little, too late, too many fanatics who thrive on defeat.

To Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Bobby Jindal…it’s too late to wake up and smell the roses. If the electorate has half a brain, you’d better get used to urine in the morning.

Sequesterhands

Chutzpah

There are three crosswalks on Ojai Avenue in one itsy-bitsy block between Signal and Montgomery streets.  For some people this abundance of traffic clogging, accident waiting to happen, laughingly named safety zones is not nearly enough.  So they create their own personal spaces by stepping into traffic wherever their little hearts desire.

Sweetie and I were cruising down the Avenue yesterday when a thirtyish woman, cardboard coffee cup in hand,  invited great bodily harm by forging an angular path between the Coffee Roasting Company and Rains department store.  Bristling with indignation, I was tempted to maintain my usual snails pace and come as close as possible to her comely derriere.  Weighing my options,  I took the coward’s way out and merely honked.  She paid not a whit of attention to my muted reproach and slithered her selfish way to the curb.

Sweetie and I then exchanged our usual “what a bozo, big jerk, some people’s children, may she rot in hell” expressions of pique.  We continued our remonstrations by sharing the customary “she must be very lonely and in need of attention.”  Ending with “I hope someone does that to her the next time the bitch is behind the wheel”, we went on our merry way.

Not to be outdone by the jaywalking sphinx, I marveled at the next bit of chutzpah to share itself with my otherwise boring day.  AIG, the multi-gazillion dollar financial behemoth, sought to establish itself as the champion ingrate of all time.

You remember AIG.  When the markets tanked in 2008 and Lehman Brothers was thrown to the wolves for not being big enough to fling the Earth off its axis, AIG came crawling on its knees, pencils in hat, apples on pushcart, and begged for a handout.  Since no one knew what AIG stood for or what they really did for a living, the U.S. Government (i.e. Joe Taxpayer) shoveled  $182 billion into AIG’s sidewalk cigar box.  Well over the amount needed to buy a pack of cigarettes or a bottle of Thunderbird, I wonder if Tim Geithner, Henry Paulson and ninety-nine percent of Congress had any idea what AIG was going to do with the leftover change.

No matter that AIG’s problems stemmed from its own greed in participating in the credit default swaps market (whatever that was.)  The end of America as we knew it would take place as surely as Columbus would fall over the edge of the earth if we didn’t reward private greed with a public handout.  So bailout we did.

Probably more as a result of the improving economy, less hysteria among the general public, and to little if any credit of their own, AIG mended its fences, guillotined the old execs and hired new folks who promised to never do that again.  And they paid back the $182 billion with interest.  And AIG started running TV ads thanking us for our largess.  And everyone lived happily ever after.

Sort of.  Today, Wednesday, AIG’s board of directors meets to consider joining other destitute investors who are suing the U.S. government for $25 billion.  Maurice Greenberg, former CEO of AIG, filed the suit last year on behalf of himself and other AIG investors.  Simply put, Maurice claims that the terms of the bailout were so skewed in the government’s favor that they constituted an unlawful taking of personal property, a no-no frowned upon by the   Fifth Amendment, which prohibits the taking of private property for “public use, without just compensation.”

Mr. Greenberg doesn’t claim that the bailout wasn’t needed.  Just that it was like an armed robbery of a drowning person headed down for the third time.  What Maurice fails to highlight is that without the $182 billion, all of us today would be saying “AIG, who?”

Maurice ran AIG for nearly forty years before resigning in 2005 amid accusations of fudging the books.  The lawsuit against the government has already cost us the time of a legion of U.S. attorneys.  Obviously in need of more recreational reading, Maurice as part of the suit has asked for 16 million pages of government documents.

So you wonder.  Why is AIG even considering being a party to this sham?  As AIG spokesman Jon Diat said… “The A.I.G. board of directors takes its fiduciary duties and business judgment responsibilities seriously,”  Maybe except when there’s a buck to made in the credit default swaps market.

While I was writing this diatribe, the AIG board did meet  this morning and decided not to be a party to the suit.  As the Times noted… Lawmakers in recent days have warned the company not to side with Mr. Greenberg, which would make it “the poster company for corporate ingratitude and chutzpah.”

The jaywalking sphinx is gonna be hard to beat.  But I bet Maurice will keep trying.

Maurice Greenberg

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


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