Archive for the 'Fiscal Cliff' 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.

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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.

Let’s delay Obamacare

Pretty amazing stuff.

Health care insurance exchanges open on Tuesday and millions of U.S. citizens without coverage will have the opportunity to participate in them.  After decades of attempting to join the rest of the modern world that considers health care a right, we are taking a significant step towards that noble objective.

A law has been passed in accordance with the procedures contained in our Constitution, its appropriateness validated by re-election of the man who fought for it, and its lawfulness adjudicated by the highest court in the land.

But apparently this is not good enough.  We must, as though there were another secret step in the Constitutional process, re-adjudicate the law before it is implemented.  Dissatisfied with the law, the House of Representatives has voted more than forty times to repeal it.  It’s as though their supporters need to be repetitively reminded of their distaste for this enabling legislation.  And, in reaction to their whistling in the wind, the Senate and the President of the United States have consistently said “No deal. It’s the law of the land.”

Is the law perfect?  Of course not.  Can it be improved?  Certainly.  Will boatloads of people suffer from its implementation?  Some.  Will the overwhelming majority of the millions of have-nots benefit greatly from its implementation? Undoubtedly.

But in the hope that serious men of goodwill can prevail, and since there is some doubt about the law’s absolute perfection, why not take a deep breath and, as the House now demands, delay the law for a year and…do what?  Well, we can convene a bipartisan commission, review the law’s imperfections and develop a list of changes that Congress can, to the everlasting benefit of those who they represent, correct the law’s current deficiencies and produce a product that is even better than the current one.  Just like we almost did with tax reform, immigration, the farm bill, food stamps, and the hands-thrown-in-the air simple-minded budget fix called Sequestration .

After all, what’s wrong with a one year delay to this law when we’ve been grappling with access to health care for at least fifty years.  Surely reasonable minds can get together, ignore the fact that there’s another election in one year, pay little attention to the rants of the extreme voices in the electorate, deal effectively with the millions of dollars that will be devoted to the production of falsehoods that will float through our TV sets, set aside the manic differences that separate Democrats and Republicans, think of what’s best for millions of have-nots instead of the consuming need to stay in office, and present a revised Affordable Care Act that will be passed by both houses of Congress without filibuster and obfuscation.

What’s wrong with that?  And if we can’t manage to do all that, we can delay it for another year or, in the alternative, shut down the government and refuse to raise the federal debt limit.  The millions of have-nots with pre-existing conditions, zero access to preventive care and financial ruin caused by serious illness will surely understand that further delay is in their best interests.  What’s wrong with that?  Huh.

delay obamacare

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

Philosophy and Shame

It’s been a very philosophical week.

Starting with Yom Kippur when we debated (sort of) the existence of God.  Concluding the debate and swooning from our self-imposed fast, we agreed that there was indeed a God, albeit a pretty powerless one.  Recent events including another dozen people gunned down by a maniac (ho hum), the inexplicable death of a twenty-six year old boy who had just begun to live, and epic Colorado floods that drowned innocents, made it impossible to believe that someone was micromanaging our lives.  Unless it was a very angry, vengeful God.

No, I sort of preferred the Rabbi’s definition that said there was something inexplicable, call it God if you must, that had provided us with a moral framework accompanied by the free will to choose either good or evil.  Topped off with a generous helping of universal chaos that capriciously allowed some to live and some to die.  And then stood back and watched us flounder.

We’ve also been attending an adult education program focused on Friedrich Nietzsche, that nineteenth century philosopher who famously said, “A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything”.   After stumbling through four two-hour sessions, I’m not sure that I’m looking forward to the next four.

Professor Garlington has done his best to beat Nietzsche’s philosophy into my head without much success.  It’s sort of like sitting through a Shakespearean performance surrounded by people who seem to understand every word while I, in my cocoon, wonder what all the fuss is about.  Nietzsche may have artfully described my confusion when he said, “You have your way. I have my way.  As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”  Right.

Just in case I hadn’t enough to scratch my head about, I started reading Jim Holt’s book, Why Does the World Exist?  Wondering why there is something instead of nothing, Holt visits a number of philosophers, presents a mind-numbing array of mathematical theorems and posits various theories including the religious, ontological and scientific.  To what end, I’m not sure.  As one of his notable interviewees, the eminent octogenarian philosopher of science, Adolph Grunbaum insightfully said, “who cares”.   Now that’s a man I can relate to.

Holt’s own philosophy of who or what created this mess goes something like this, “My own position is that the universe was created by a being that is 100 percent malevolent but only 80 percent effective.”

So I figured that with all this behind me I could handle just about anything.  Fool that I am.  I forgot about the United States House of Representatives.  Or as some people call it The Divine Comedy.  Dante’s depiction of the nine circles of hell through which we must progress is analogical to the House’s procession through some of the most amazing steps leading inexorably to self-immolation.

To make an example of the surfer dude who bought a lobster with his food stamps and the other guy who had the nerve to use his welfare check to bet on the ponies, the House without blinking removed the food stamp program for three million other supposed malingerers, cheats and presumed supporters of the Affordable Care program.  No matter, as the Congressional Budget Office noted this week, that the disparity between the haves and have-nots has continued to grow despite the re-emergence of Wall Street and the continued growth of banks “too big to fail.”

And just to make sure that the rest of America would get their message, the House voted for the forty-first time to abolish Obamacare.  They also made their consent to continue operating the rest of the United States government contingent on defunding Obamacare, thereby hopefully consigning it to the dustbin of history.  Take that, you folks who thought pre-existing conditions were dead.

That display of Tea Party inspired pique warrants reiteration of this Nietzsche quote, “There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it. Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all.”

But in spite of everything,  there was a ray of hope as the refreshing and uncomplicated  Pope Francis said something like “Quit bashing gays and don’t be so consumed with what people are doing in their bedrooms.  There’s bigger fish to fry.”  Maybe next week he’ll say something equally understandable to the U.S. House like “Have you no shame?”

nietzsche

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


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