Posts Tagged 'budget'

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

Let ’em eat cake…

The annual Ojai Playwrights Conference is in town.  That’s where a bunch of writers take money from locals like me to watch a half-finished play performed by people wearing t-shirts, jeans and sandals, reading from three-ring notebooks on a stage that has no scenery, no props, no music.  And it only costs $25 a performance.  What’s that all about?

Well it’s pretty damn good entertainment.  Even on a sweltering day like yesterday when we drove over to the Zalk Theater in the Makows’ still new electric hybrid Ford Focus.  I can’t get used to sitting in the back seat while the car pulls out of the driveway without a sound.  I want to yell “Hey Yoram, switch on the engine before you lose control of this thing.”

You say, how hot was it Saturday?   It was one of those days where all of the oxygen seems to have been squeezed out of the air.  You breathe but nothing happens.  You compare it to what it must be like on the surface of Mars where the bazillion dollar space oddity Curiosity is currently taking pictures of rocks and confirming their existence on a planet that just screams for a Starbucks iced coffee.

The heat of the day was preceded by the announcement of Mitt’s selection of straight man Paul Ryan.  In turn it was accompanied by a slew of pundits predicting the Ryan impact on the polling numbers.   These ranged from “it’s an early Christmas gift to the Obama campaign” to “Obama might as well pack it in and return to where he came from…Kenya.”

Try as I might, I could not make a legitimate case for believing that Ryan was simply a re-run of Sarah Palin after a sex change operation.  On the other hand, I thought back to that night four years ago when I went to Tony’s house right after the who-the-hell-is-she Snow Queen had made her acceptance speech at the Republican convention.  “She’s something else” Tony said.  “Going to be tough to deal with and a real boost for McCain.”  Gloom.  Doom.  Pack it in.  Fuggetaboudit.

My own carefully researched conclusion is that Ryan was picked because he’s got a one track mind and is not easily confused by the facts.  His track is straight and narrow…squeeze the little guy and give the juice to the big guy.  Or as lovely Marie is reputed to have said so succinctly, “What, no bread? Let ’em eat cake.”

Rather than plaguing poor Mitt with insisting on the redundant disclosure of his we-already-know-what’s-in-them tax returns, we can focus our attention on the likely impact of the much publicized Ryan Budget.  You surely have heard of it.  It’s the only thing that the Republicans deal with in the House when they’re not voting for the repeal of Obamacare, or finding new ways to return women to second class status in accordance with biblical law.

In order to free you up from watching anything until November 5th other than reruns of Have Gun Will Travel, here’s just a few things that you need to remember about Mr. Ryan’s philosophy.  Pay close attention because this is what Mitt, Paul and the Tea Party congress have pledged themselves to begin working on next January.

—You will have the pleasure of getting a healthcare voucher that you can use to pay for an unstipulated set of benefits  from the friendly  insurer of your choice.  If the voucher doesn’t cover your needs, tough.  Ryan insists that this will bring competition to the marketplace, something that we have tried and failed at for the last hundred years and that no other civilized country would even dream of.  If you find yourself in an alley dragging your non-covered hernia behind you, eat cake.

—States will receive Medicaid block grants and can stipulate who gets what benefits and how much.  An estimated fifteen million people will lose their current healthcare coverage, especially in Texas.  Let ’em eat cake.

—Ryan is a staunch supporter of the privatization of Social Security.  That’s where you, as a highly qualified financial analyst, will decide where to invest your retirement funds.  And, if you should put all your beans into a Lehman Brothers clone or a Bernie Madoff look-alike, eat cake.

—Ryan’s stance on abortion equals or exceeds that of Michele Bachman.  No abortions, period.  Even if the life of the mother is in danger.  He co-sponsored a bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, even though they can’t eat cake.

—His most recent budget would shrink government spending on everything but entitlements and defense by two-thirds.  That includes silly things like education, law enforcement, highways, job training for displaced people, Pell grants for students, and food stamps for the hungry.  Cake for everyone.

—The non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities had this to say about the boon that will accrue to the wealthy based on Ryan’s tax cuts…In essence, this budget is Robin Hood in reverse — on steroids. It would likely produce the largest redistribution of income from the bottom to the top in modern U.S. history and likely increase poverty and inequality more than any other budget in recent times (and possibly in the nation’s history).

—Catholic Bishops responding to Ryan’s proposed cuts in the safety net  said in an April letter to the House that this proposed budget will hurt hungry children, poor families, vulnerable seniors and workers who cannot find employment. These cuts are unjustified and wrong.  Mr. Ryan responded by saying that he was helping the poor by eliminating their dependence on government.

He really meant to say let ’em eat cake.  And if that doesn’t work, squeeze all the oxygen out of the air.

Brother, can you spare a dime?

Carin sent me an e-mail this morning asking that I write my state legislators and tell them that we should keep the parks open.  The Governator has proposed shutting most of them down to keep California finances from falling into the Pacific.

Now I like trees as much as the next guy.  But I have so many requests to contact my legislators that I don’t know where to start.  Food for the home-bound, health care for the indigent, school class sizes smaller than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, help for single mothers with a dozen or more kids housed at Motel Six, prison guards who won’t be able to spend their normal two weeks on the French Riviera, and my own local library that may have to burn its books.  What’s a guy to do?

Budget cuts are rampant.  The Democrats, held hostage by minority Republicans who are the beneficiaries of the super-majority requirement bestowed on them by us, are catatonic and incapable of doing anything but closing down the state.

As the NY Times reported

The Democratic-controlled Legislature has been uncharacteristically silent on most of the cuts, most likely because lawmakers know that tax increases are not politically palatable, that huge cuts in some form are in the offing no matter what, and that any program they wish to spare will quite likely have advocates among their ranks.

Letters to the editor abound.  “About time someone took an axe to the state budget.  The voters have spoken.  No tax increase.  Cut out the waste.  A pox on their houses.”  Many cite the evidence of the overwhelming defeat of the recent unintelligible ballot propositions as clear evidence that tax increases are unacceptable.  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Less than a third of California registered voters participated in the election.  Last week American Idol polled about 100 million votes.  I’m proud to say that I voted in the election.  I’m also proud to say I’ve never seen American Idol.

I voted against all of the propositions, even the one that passed.  The one that punishes the legislature if we run a deficit.  I’m not sure why the legislature should be punished.  We’re the ones who’ve hamstrung them.  Maybe we should get a pay cut too.

I thought a long time about the propositions.  Maybe ten minutes which, at my age, is a significant commitment.  I realized that passage would be a band-aid on the real problem only to be followed by more ballot propositions.  And we would continue our role as the state’s budget experts and chief financial planners.  A dubious honor, the silliness of which is supported by any discussion overheard at Ojai Coffee Roasting.

No, I voted against the propositions in the hope that the Rapture would begin.  A wholesale slaughter.  The coming of the Messiah.  A cataclysmic event that would move the electorate.  An event so overwhelming and distasteful that we would admit to our wickedness.  And beg for change.  Beg that we change the way this state is run.  Beg that the legislature take over from us, the incompetent.  Beg that, unless we are trampling on individual rights, that a majority of our legislature enact the law.

So, please don’t ask me to tell my elected representatives to keep the parks open.  Don’t ask me to make donations to keep the schools open.  Don’t ask me to take over the legitimate responsibilities of our elected representatives.  Do ask me to vote for a change to the way this state is run.  Do ask me to support legitimate public services by paying my fair share.

Meanwhile, brother, I can’t spare a dime.

buddy-can-you-spare-a-dime

We were robbed!

Irv and Jeri are here, experiencing  below average temperatures and above average rainfall.  But if you come from the old country (Chicago), you take whatever you can get.

I’ve tried to ignore the political landscape while they’re here but find it a herculean task given the state we’re in.   The state of California, I mean.  The budget process goes on and on, we get frustrated, our bile rises, and we look around to see who’s to blame.  If you really want to know, just look in the mirror.

Proposition 13, the need for a two-thirds vote to increase taxes, and a similarly foolish rule about passing  budgets are requirements designed by us, the voters.  In a gleeful spree we happily made it so difficult to run this state that we are now enjoying the fruits of our labors.  So, dear fellow Californians, read ’em and weep.

But since you won’t take responsibility for the mess, let’s see who else we can blame.  The Governor?  No, I think he’s been an honest broker and keeps trying to be a mediator.  The Democrats?  Sure, they’re at fault for slashing expenditures, negotiating regressive tax increases and believing that those concessions would make the other guys come to their senses.

Three days ago after some nail biting negotiating between leaders of both parties, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, a Democrat, said “I’m very confident the governor will have this budget on his desk tomorrow morning.”  It’s Tuesday evening and the Eagle hasn’t landed.  Republicans, with their 1/3 minority are holding out for Armageddon.  It isn’t enough that the Democrats with their 2/3 majority have agreed to…

—$8.6 billion dollars of reductions to education while California is already the 49th lowest spender per pupil in the country.

—$1.3 billion in reductions to human services including cuts to monthly checks for the aged, blind and disabled.

—$880 million in cuts to higher education including a 10% reduction for the UC systems.

—$208 million in reductions to health-care funding, including the elimination of dental coverage for Medi-Cal recipients.

As if the dollar cuts weren’t enough, the Republicans also got…

—A $770 million reduction to the taxes paid by multi-state corporations.

—Environmental concessions, including a delay in the implementation of new air pollution requirements on diesel engines (cough, choke.)

—A spate of tax increases that impact those least able to pay.

Not good enough, they said.  We don’t care what our leadership negotiated for in good faith.  We signed a pre-election pledge not to support tax increases…and you know how important our pledge is.  No, we want more cuts to balance the budget.  Screw the tax increases.  Take it from the school kids or the blind guys.  Close the DMV…who needs a driver’s license anyway.  And if that doesn’t balance the budget, take away our cars, our per diems and cut our salary by two-thirds (I thought of this final idea.)

In reality, the Republicans are afraid of losing their jobs.  Their constituents would surely vote them out of office…and elect other dedicated Republicans who think more of  their job security than what the people of this state need.  But next time let’s make their replacements wear masks.  No sense having to guess who’s trying to rob us.

 robber_mg


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