Posts Tagged With: debt-ceiling crisis

TAKING INVENTORY

As 2013 winds down to its dreary conclusion, a look back over the year would seem to be in order. Both internationally and here in the U.S., events generally did not go well. From the hysterics surrounding the rollout of ObamaCare and the general dysfunction and demonization of political opponents in our so-called government, to to the triumphs of tyrants and murderers abroad, 2013 will not make the hit parade of winners over the years, decades or centuries, past or future. So lets us start with the “unpleasantness” occurring overseas before we swing back to what has taken place in this country.

Take Greece. Please. (Still attached to that old Hennie Youngman joke.) Greece, as we all know, has long been considered the cradle of democracy, if not civilization itself. Between Plato, Socrates, Homer and others, Greece has profoundly enriched western civilization and culture with literature, art, philosophy, etc. But modern day Greece, as we further know, has been an economic basket case. The country has been in a virtual state of bankruptcy for at least the last 6 years, and its economy would have been driven down to the very depths of depression if it hadn’t received continual cash infusions from wealthier European countries such as Germany. So, as what usually happens in societies that are suffering hard economic times, extremism on a broad scale has raised its ugly head.

A political movement in Greece called “Golden Dawn” which espouses a neo-Nazi philosophy, has been steadily gaining political muscle and influence. Much like the race riots caused by Nazi brownshirts in 1920s Germany, the Greek police have generally stood on the sidelines while Golden Dawn’s para-military squads have rolled into action, spewing forth hate and violent demonstrations against anyone deemed genetically inferior. And much like Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s, Golden Dawn, once considered a fringe group known for its stiff-arm salutes and Holocaust denials, has now achieved at least 15% support and growing, among the Greek populace. They also have 18 seats now in the Greek parliament. Emboldened by their rising popularity and parliamentary successes, Golden Dawn has embarked on an ever-increasing level of racial violence and street demonstrations which have resulted in scores of deaths. And why not? This was the same route so successfully taken by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis on their road to political domination. So, in addition to the economic misery the average Greek citizen is expected to suffer through, they now have to combat the rising tide of right-wing fanaticism. And I would submit that all this is all going on under most Americans radar screens.

I’ve written before about the other on-going, long-term,  festering foreign policy  problems that the U.S. tends more and more to walk away from. In 2013, the rising tide of U.S. isolationism gathered increased momentum. Both the political left and right in this country have entered into an unholy alliance to disengage from foreign affairs. For example, the one thing that Ted Cruz, on the far-far right, complimented President Obama for, was not taking military action in Syria. Even though bloody dictator Basher Assad has now slaughtered about 130,000 of his on people in a never-ending civil war. Even though Assad crossed Obama’s red line in the sand by using chemical warfare in killing hundreds of Syrians. Even though Assad orders bombings of Syrian cities, killing hundreds on a daily basis. But who are we to intervene? Certainly not the leader of the free world. Not anymore.

I’ve also written before about how Iran, the leading world sponsor of terrorism, is first-down and goal to go on the one yard line, as far as acquiring nuclear weaponry. About how, in 2013, we’ve eased up on the economic sanctions placed on Iran in attempting dissuade the ruling mullahs from crossing that goal line. In return for relaxed sanctions we’ve gotten supposed negotiations which appear to be going no-where. About how absent any direct military action by this country in bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, they will almost certainly come into possession of dirty bombs. And, about how, given the growing isolationist tendencies in the U.S., the chances of such military action are about….less than zero. Because we all know how well isolationism worked out in the past; say just before WWII. The one thing I’ve learned in life is that there’s always a price to pay for every action, or inaction, as the case may be. That free lunch everyone’s always looking for-it just ain’t there.

Moving back to our shores, 2013 saw an increasing amount of dysfunction and polarization among the American public and its representatives. We saw the Government shut down for weeks in October, as both parties created one phony crises after another to further their political agendas. Any thought of actually enacting something beneficial for the American public evaporated like the morning mist. As a result, the decades-long decline of the American middle-class continued unabated. Average annual income for middle-class families declined from about $56,000 before the recession to about an inflation-adjusted $51,000 currently. Meanwhile, the richest one or two percent saw their wealth grow considerably higher. We are becoming more and more like a third-world banana republic, where the one percent richest elite will rule the rest of us peasants. Republicans, smelling blood in the water, are attacking the highly Democratic ineptitude in rolling out ObamaCare. The GOP figures that the ObamaCare failures in 2013 will give them an absolute lock on winning both the House and the Senate in 2014, and perhaps they’re right. Won’t life in America be fun then. So to my thinking, 2013 has recorded a pretty dismal record when it comes to the betterment of mankind’s future.

Meanwhile, dysfunction will still be the order of the day, come 2014. Starting early next year, another Government shutdown is looming over the debt-ceiling debacle. And I haven’t even discussed the enormous progress made in  the ecological degradation of our planet during 2013, and sure to continue as 2014 unfurls. (I’ve written about that previously, if anyone is interested.) So raise a glass of good cheer come New Year’s Eve. After all, the fun just never stops coming.

 

 

 

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CAPITOL FISCAL FOLLIES

In 1907, a young man in Chicago named Florenz Ziegfeld decided that his career path would be that of a show business producer. He started with a light and inexpensive song and dance revue, for the summer season in Chicago, with emphasis on holding costs down, since he had little capital to begin with. But not even Ziegfeld could have imagined the the momentous impact his creation would experience. It was a huge hit from the beginning, and soon Ziegfeld would attach his name to what became as the “Ziegfeld Follies.” As he acquired more money the show became a more lavish and opulent spectacle. By the 1920s, this extravaganza was the smash hit of Broadway. But what really made the “Ziegfeld Follies” such a mammoth event were its showgirls, a collection of eager dancers and chorus-line singers all wearing dazzling costumes. Ziegfeld advertised them as the most beautiful girls in the world. Many huge show biz stars, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Josephine Baker, and Marilyn Miller got their career-starts in the “Ziegfeld Follies.” The show finally had to shut down in 1931 as the icy tentacles of the Great Depression were beginning to wrap themselves around the American economy and start plunging it into the deep freeze.

This is sort of a long way around to observing that the fiscal follies currently going on in our nation’s capitol, far exceed the extravaganzas put on by Flo Ziegfeld. Especially as it pertains to the theater of the absurd. As good a showman as Ziegfeld was, he couldn’t match the looney-tunes, dysfunctional antics currently underway in the U.S. Congress, even as we speak, (or write, as the case may be.) Two events explain this fascinating kerfuffle. The first is that the Government’s fiscal year ends September 30, a week from now. The Constitution has words to the effect that the Government cannot spend a farthing (or a nickel if you prefer) unless the funds are appropriated by an act of Congress. So far, Congress has appropriated nothing for the new fiscal year, about to start on October 1. The primary hold-up is in the House, where Republicans have a majority and are refusing to pass fiscal 2014 appropriations  unless all funding for Obamacare, (the President’s signature universal healthcare legislation) is stripped from the appropriations bill. Of course, it’s pure fantasy that the Democratic majority in the Senate, or the President, will agree to such shenanigans and extortion. But House Republicans are adamant that no new funding will occur unless resources for Obamacare are deleted. Even if it means shutting down the Government with all its ensuing consequences. Like military and civilian Government personnel, contractors and debt-holders not getting paid. Like no new food stamps, or housing assistance or other benefits to the sick or poor being issued. You know, fun stuff like that.

Senate Republicans also refuse to miss out on these entertaining follies. Senators, led by the four horse of the tea-party apocalypse, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, whom I’ve written about before, are also threatening to filibuster any appropriations bill that contains funding for Obamacare. Please do not disturb the ivory tower of self-delusion these four choose to dwell in. So here we are, one-week away from a total Government shutdown, with all its disastrous consequences, that could very well send our fragile economy into a devastating tailspin. But as these follies gather momentum, they do make for excellent theater of the absurd. It should be pointed out, however, that we are the only country in the world, from first to fourth rate, that is willing to shut their Government down over budgetary battles. Not even the weakest or poorest banana republic would entertain such thoughts.

If, by some miracle we can avoid a a Government-shutdown through lack of appropriations legislation; shortly thereafter comes the debt-ceiling fiasco, as Congress lurches from one phony crises to another. The debt-ceiling, unlike the appropriations process, is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Instead, in a fit of self-imposed masochism, Congress enacted legislation saying the Government cannot exceed an arbitrary debt-ceiling without Congressional approval. We are estimated to bump up against the current debt-ceiling around mid-October. Since we are borrowing about 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, it would seem rather imperative that Congress raise the debt-ceiling. If not, the Government once again shuts down. And once again, Congressional Republicans are holding the Government hostage, by refusing to raise the debt-ceiling unless all funding for Obamacare is erased. Since the Mafia has made blackmail and extortion so profitable, Republicans, I assume, figure, why not employ these same tactics.

Now we all know that Republican vitriol and hatred directed against Barack Obama, is almost legendary. To deprive the GOP out of 2 presidential election victories is unforgivable in most tea-party and Republican circles. To say nothing of the race issue that I won’t get into at this time. So what better way to seek revenge than depriving Obama of his signature legislated achievement. Plus they know that if Obamacare, flawed though it may be, is allowed to function for 2-3 years, it will become as popular as Medicare or Social Security. Then even the tea-party lunatics will not be able to advocate for its dissolution.

One other factor is in play. There is a whole group of far-far right-wing looney-tuners that would really like to see the Government shut down. The Rush Limbaugh/ Glen Beck/ Sean Hannity types with their millions of followers are practically frothing at the mouth, or drooling all over themselves, in anticipation of a Government shutdown. Instead of visions of sugar plums, such anarchists thrill at visions of such an event. Even Flo Ziegfeld, as good a showman as he was, would have hard time producing theater follies to match the current ongoing antics in our nation’s capitol.

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