Saturday, December 29, 2012


It remains rather quiet here at the 'Just Blowing Smoke' headquarters with most of the staff still out on holiday; and being the end of the year, that would seem to make it an ideal time to pause for reflection on the year past and create some of the time-honored resolutions for the year ahead.  While there's certainly been time enough for proper pondering, such continued contemplation has in fact left me more unresolved than ever.

As it is for many around the nation, my attention instead continues to be drawn to so many things left unresolved in 2012.  Based on the quantity of press coverage if nothing else, the twin dooms of the Fiscal Cliff and the second coming of the Debt Ceiling probably top this list, though quite frankly I've long since grown tired of hearing about them.  For despite the protestations of some of our political leaders, this stopped being about 'regular Americans' some time back and has become (like far too many other decisions turned over to government) little more than a pissing contest between the members of two political parties who seem ill-equipped to compete in such an event. The current two-party system in our national legislature has become a warning sign that perhaps term limits once again deserves serious consideration. (Though I'm still more in favor of abolishing the Congressional Pension System, which would not only force legislators back into the public sector fairly quickly, but has the added benefit of putting them into Social Security.)

How Harry Reid can stand in the well of the Senate and complain about the obstinacy of anyone, when the legislative house that he's in charge of hasn't passed a budget in over three years is quite beyond me.  Despite his protestations to the contrary, partisanship in the Senate was not created in 2008.  Other Majority Leaders have faced it as well, and managed to find common ground and do their jobs.  If you can't Harry, man up and step down.   Instead of displaying the wisdom and experience that the longer six-year terms were supposed to grant them, they're instead used to put on 'secret holds' and find ways to dodge existing responsibilities on 'advise and consent' (when the President isn't using every bathroom break to shove in recess appointments)

As for John Boehner,  his fawning and whining approaches at leadership are probably what should be expected after his teary-eyed acceptance of the leadership position.  I don't question his heart or even his courage, but a leader praised for his experience must ultimately be judged by the success of his strategies.  Boehner's strategies have produced a level of consistent strategic failure that hasn't been seen in this country since the War of 1812. (US troops lost almost every battle in this war and Washington DC was sacked and burned ... not that I'm trying to give anyone ideas.)  Having won the House in 2010, Republicans gave two years of lip service to those who carried them into the majority, but failed to make substantive gains, which undoubtedly played some part in their lack of progress to reach a majority in the Senate or win the White House two years later.  While they retained that majority in the House this year, they have yet to demonstrate the fiscal responsibility that actually know what to do with it or how to sell their efforts to an increasingly angry voter.s

Like the Majority Leader, it seems strange too that the additional 'experience' of the President should once again prove him to be a poor winner.  Apparently our commander-in-chief has not only the innocent nature of a child, but the selective memory of one as well.  In fact, it might be said that he holds the vindictiveness of a petulant child whose only willing to point out that he won re-election in 2012 and that his party kept control of the Senate when discussing his bargaining position (my ball, my game).   All of the talk of compromise is merely paying lip service to the concept however.  He he seems incapable of remembering that the election of 2010 turned control of the House over to his opponents (though he did when it first happened), and left it in their hands after this most recent on.  His current 'campaign style negotiating' is done in public speeches, and in fact seems to ignore the opposition party unless he's looking for someone to blame his own lack of negotiating skill on.  How can anyone call what President Obama offers compromise when his proposals are unanimously voted down by his own party in the Senate.  

And so we look at the last days before going off the Fiscal Cliff; most seem to have forgotten that this 'Thelma and Louise' ski jump was created by the very people who ignored it for months while campaigning, and now see it as a Doomsday Clock ticking while saying that they're dead set on avoiding it.  Citizens in this country likewise seem perfectly willing to trust that the same leaders who created this no-win game of financial chicken are capable of solving it for longer than the next congressional election cycle (which none of them has actually proved in the last four years).   

Haven't the past so-called victories of these three leaders in fact turned out to be Pyrrhic ones, cutting a path or devastation that we're still dealing with.  Isn't anyone else tired of the 'Three Card Monties' and proposals where immediate tax increases (and I don't care who they're on) are to be followed someday by budget cuts or savings that never actually come about (or that appear insignificant unless added together for ten years)?  Does no one else understand promises agreed to by either house of the current Congress doesn't even obligate the one that takes its seats in a couple of weeks to follow through on? 

If taxes need to be raised however (as many are convinced of on the left), then so be it!  Let's not pretend however that raising what slick politicians now like to call 'Revenue' (rather than taxes) that don't even keep the government from running deficit spending are anything more than a symbolic gesture however.   (Hell, they're barely enough to run the govt. for eight days.)  While we're at it, let's recognize that increasing taxes on those who pay most of them is little more than punishment for success.  Let's also agree on the simple logic that spreading any these revenue increases over a greatest number of people makes them less of a burden for each to carry in a struggling economy.  The "E Pluribus Unum" printed on our currency doesn't translate to 'Let Government Pick'.  The burdens and benefits that are our lot were meant to be shared by all; and spreading the tax burden over the whole leaves everyone with some skin in the game.  I find it interesting, for example, that the tax cuts we're arguing about continuing were created to expire in the first place (Why is that by the way?), but the increases we're considering are to become permanent.  Why couldn't any of those finally agreed upon also have a built-in expiration date, forcing legislators to re-evaluate them again in the future based on what happens with the economy.

Of course the bone of contention for many is that while tax increases are being discussed for implementation immediately, spending cuts are only being hinted at eventually and are to be taken up later.  Plans that included both taxes and cuts that Republicans recently proposed, are being rejected out of hand now by the same Democrats who proposed the same thing eighteen months ago. Is this an honest effort to keep us from a fiscal cliff, or a political gamesmanship more interested in punishing an opponent than serving an electorate.  Apparently for the President and Majority Leader, contentment means tax increases (and apparently spending increases to go with them) now and any form of fiscal responsibility 'manana'.  Many of us are tired of the continued 'Wimpy Economics', long scorned by anyone not part of the Paul Krugman school of economics, and most recently perpetrated by government.  We're tired of the fact that this nations needs to borrows forty-six cents of every dollar it spends; a process which only continues to work as long as the Fed cranks out fiat currency 24 hours-a-day, in the hopes of inflating some part of that debt away.  Inflated or not however, this debt takes us right into the next of the unresolved issue, the Debt Ceiling.   

Yes, from the same leaders that brought you the Debt Ceiling of 2011, we now have the Debt Ceiling of 2012-13.  Making no attempt at living with their means and having kicked the can down the road some 17 months ago during a previous deadlocked budget debate (and for no better reason than the cowardly reason that they didn't want to deal with it while running for re-election), the financial geniuses of both parties in Washington tried to rig their last agreement so that the issue wouldn't come up again until the new Congress was seated in 2013.  Of course our government is about as good as understanding how fast they spend money as they are about what they spend it on, so the government credit limit is about to be exceeded a little early.  Not to fear however, as our Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner (who has some experience with not paying bills .... tax bills) decided he could get us into 2013 by using some accounting tricks that he'd probably have you put in jail for using.

Of course 2013, like 2011, will kick off another in never-ending re-election cycle in the House of Representatives and widen the yellow streak of our elected representatives (especially those most vulnerable for re-election).  Already faced with a Fiscal Cliff negotiations that will not make any of them look good and that points rather dramatically to the fact that we spend more than we take in, you would think that sufficient imperative would finally exist to seriously address the root problem.  Such thinking would not get you elected however, and would therefore make you wrong.  Congress is quite content to ignore Social Security running out of money, as long as it doesn't do so before the election of 2014.  Consideration of Medicare and Medicaid budget reform pretty much falls under the same category, which means that as long as the 'Social Safety Net' remains intact for now, nothing substantive will be done to reform their bloated nature or prevent their impending doom.  Besides, members of Congress rely on none of these plans themselves, and their cushy pensions and medical plans (also funded by taxpayer dollars) will not be affected; so there's certainly no rush to interfere with seeking re-election contributions.  But these are just the entitlement programs.

Corporations who get money to drill for oil or mine coal might see some reductions in their subsidies (after all, what do we need with energy products) as the budget negotiations ramp up.  Corporations that get their money not to plant crops or that use those they do plant to produce bio-fuel to replace the coal and oil (creating even greater pollution in the process) will retain theirs however.  So too will wind and solar panel farms that can never pay their investments back, and research on things so obscure that even the people doing the research aren't sure they care about.  Congress will at least consider reductions in military spending, but not very seriously, and certainly not in ways that will affect influential Congressional districts.  We may cut back some equipment orders that are important only if we continue to believe we must poke our nose into the internal disputes of every nation on the planet, but that won't stop us from poking anyway.  We will not consider however, whether to remove or even reduce funding to countless military bases that we have around the world.  (Can anyone tell me who else has so many worldwide bases?  Buehler .... Buehler ...)  But of course such bases are vital to the protection of our interests, property, and citizens around the world; unless of course, you're one of the citizens working for the State Department on our property in Benghazi.  

Which takes us to yet another unresolved situation.  Over three months have passed since the 9/11 attack on the Consulate in Benghazi and the State Department's report has recently been issued, but we still know little more than we did the day after it happened.  Why the US outpost remained manned in Benghazi long after everyone else considered it too dangerous (like the British and Red Cross) and pulled out has been made clear.  Neither have we a clue of why, if we were going to remain, upgrades to the defensive levels of the facility and to the size of it's protection staff were not made; especially after the Ambassador (one of those killed in the attack) sent multiple requests for such improvement after attacks had occurred only months before.  We don't even know who made the decision for a security contingent already in-country to be pulled out a month before the attack.  Sure, a couple of people resigned after the report was issued (no one of importance and no doubt all of them managing to keep their pensions), but no one in real authority has yet to speak officially before Congress or the media.  When there's a oil spill, we demand that the president of that company appear before Congress; and they had better be properly remorseful, penitent, and contrite when they speak.  In this case however, we've not heard from the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Defense, or the President; all of whom evidently had some real-time knowledge of events (or should have), about what decisions were made and why, while four other government employees died in a hours-long gun battle. 

So forgive me if I find that I have no desire to make self-serving attempts at self-improvement (no matter how badly they might be required) for 2013.  While I could certainly win a bit of approbation for listing a few New Year's Resolutions that I'm probably as likely to fulfill as our elected national representatives are their elected obligations, I choose instead to remain silent at a time when so many are seeking just such praise while leaving so much unresolved.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Banning US Adoptions of Russians - Well Played

Here at 'Just Blowing Smoke' the Senior Editorial Staff (which is still on holiday, by the way) takes great pride in the use of irony and sarcasm, especially when doing so allows us to make a useless point.  We're not even above using a bit a literary license to do so.  On their behalf however. I am force to concede to such efforts being far outdone recently by a couple of groups not normally known for either their wit or their sense of humor, Congress and the Russian Government.

It seems that a law recently passed by our national society of jocularity (sometimes known as Congress) has called for sanctions against Russia for Human Rights violations. There's nothing necessarily new in this, but it has in turn angered at least one half of the Russian Parliament enough to unanimously pass a law banning the adoption of Russian children by Americans.  The law needs only get passage of the lower house of the Russian Parliament before it can be sent to President Vladimir Putin for signature.  President Putin, long known as a paragon of Russia's democratic virtues and a staunch defender of human rights (note the sarcasm and irony here); has indicated that he will sign this legislation if it reaches his desk. 

Where to start with this one .....

Well we could start with the fact that there are probably a lot of kids who desperately need good homes and are already in this country.  I know it's become rather fashionable in recent years to imitate celebrities like Brad and Angelina or Madonna and lend a hand to the offspring of foreign lands, but might this actually be something where 'America First' really does have some value?  Is it really so tough out there for families who want to adopt that we have to import children in order for them to do so?  

Of course many would tell us that children in other countries have it far worse than those in our own.  While I think we in the US can concede that there are indeed far worse places than the US to raise a child (though sometimes you would be hard-pressed to convince extremists on both sides of the aisle that this is so), apparently there are those in Russia who would not agree however.  Why otherwise seek to prevent US adoptions if there are better places to raise a child, like oh say .... Russia.  After all, isn't this the same place where I pointed out just recently that one of Putin's Communist predecessors (Stalin) killed 20 million of his own people during his reign.  Then again, perhaps such numbers only need to be factored in as part of 'Quality of Life' issues (unless an automatic weapon in the hands of a right wing extremist is involved).

Then of course there's the US State Department, which when it's not having trouble properly securing our Embassies, tells us that in the last 20 years, some 60,000 Russian children have come to live with new families in the US.  Now while apparently the total number of adoptions per year in the US is not a statistic that anyone cares to track these days; in the last year that such a number was gathered (1992), there were some 127,000.  If the numbers from Russia were averaged (3,000) and those of the US remained relatively constant, that would mean that adoptions of Russian children accounted for less than 2.4 percent of adoptions in the US.  So even if it were to be passed, the ban would be little more than a symbolic protest at best.

Now don't get me wrong, one government (the US) telling another (Russia) that it doesn't like the way that they are treating their people is something that few countries would accept from any other nation.  Then again, that nation in return telling the world, as well as perhaps its most vulnerable citizens that they cannot seek a better life somewhere else for no better reason than a guilty national pride seems equally ridiculous.  Yet it's exactly because of such utter nonsense that some families are now left trapped in a bureaucratic limbo between two strutting asses for no better reason than they as individuals attempted to perform a simple act of human kindness, while their governments insisted on playing political chess with real human lives.

It is therefore on behalf of the Senior Staff here at 'Just Blowing Smoke' that we take singular notice of the superior use of sarcasm, irony, and nauseatingly arrogant political rhetoric on the part of both the United States of America and the Russian Republic for this particularly awful and somewhat twisted example of what passes today for 'Diplomacy'.  It's not often that someone manages to do more damage to themselves than we here do through the use of language.  Almost unbelievably however, they've managed it.

Well played!  Well played indeed!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas

It's Christmas Eve here at 'Just Blowing Smoke' (just like everywhere else), and since I missed a weekend posting, doing one for the holiday almost seemed a requirement.  Things have actually been rather quiet for the last couple of days here at JBS, which probably had a lot to do with the plague symptoms of those who attended the JBS Christmas Party over the weekend, and the ensuing recovery period required for a return to sub-normalcy.    

In fact, all noise production in the facility immediately afterward was reduced to a level lower than the sound of a mouse fart, in hopes of stretching the Advil supply around here far enough for someone to manage to get to their feet long  enough to see to replenishment.  (It was a near thing, let me tell you.)  With most of the troops having recovered as much as they ever do, they were sent their way for the Holidays; their Christmas bonuses clutched tightly in their hands.  (Actually, they were all not-too-politely tossed out the front door and told not to come back until at least next year, if at all.)

All that's left in headquarters today in fact is the Janitorial staff, which requires these seasonal breaks in the madness to more carefully sweep up the piles of empty Cheetos bags and recycle the empty glass bottles that have accumulated since the last Holiday season.  For those of you who have yet to understand the budgeting process here, that means that I'm entirely alone in the building with a couple of over-filled trash bags and a broom so worn that Harry Potter wouldn't be caught flying across Diagon Alley on it. 

Don't get me wrong, as I'm perfectly OK with this situation.  After all, I've turned most of my real problems loose on the public at large for a few days, which is a greater relief than I can tell you.  Besides, this is that time of year which allows me an opportunity for reflection on the year past, and to prepare for some seasonal work that I'll be helping out with presently.  I'm sure that I'll have something to say on some part of 2012's events next week, but if it's OK with everyone (and even if it's not), I'd like to take some time to gather some Christmas spirit before doing so.  (Hey!  I said spirit, not spirits.  Geez, you guys must think that nothing goes on around here except adult beverage consumption.  In fact, there's .... OK, let me get back to you on that.)

If you'll excuse me now, I want go ahead and finish up the cleaning so that I've got some time available to bake some of my favorite Christmas cookies before the evening really gets going.  (So few kids leave snicker-doodles out any more.)  Besides, I have to make sure that there's enough left over from my requisite QC testing process for the visitor that I'm expecting later this evening. 

Meanwhile, I would like to wish all of you

Merry Christmas
By the way Big Guy, if you manage to read this before loading up the sleigh, the picture at the top is in fact a not-so-subtle hint that there are a number of us out here hoping for a 2013 World Series appearance for the Cubbies.  If however, this is something you find unable to deliver this year, don't worry about it.  We've been waiting for 104 years already, so I suppose one more won't hurt.     

Thursday, December 20, 2012

TFP Column: Naughty and Nice ....

There's some button busting going on here at "Just Blowing Smoke" (and not just because my latest diet isn't working out as planned).  It's seems that I've not only made the print version of this weekend's TFP with an extended bit of nonsense (a rare enough occurrence with all the great competition out there for column space), but because a Don Lee caricature of yours truly graces the edition's front cover.  

As some might remember, I sometimes get letters from the Post Office that are misdirected from another rather large, white-bearded gentleman this time of year (which this year I believe was done with a purpose).   Since the big guy himself gave me permission to read and use some of these missives to the North Pole "Naughty and Nice ..."  resulted.  The effort, which gave me some insight into gift requests and their likelihood of delivery for some of the members of local government in Toledo, will hopefully prove as much fun for you to read as it did for me to write.

When you're through admiring an image which is far too flattering (though it does get the wrinkles right) and catching up on who's really been naughty and nice in the Glass City, I'm sure that you'll find more than a little Christmas cheer in this weekend's effort to put you in the proper frame of mind for the holiday season. 

So while you're recovering from those workplace Christmas parties and preparing for the imminent arrival of a reindeer-driven sleigh, make sure to keep up with Toledo's holiday happenings in Toledo's largest Sunday circulation and Ohio's best weekly newspaper (for so many years that people are beginning to lose count), The Toledo Free Press.              

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What To Do About Guns Now

The president announced today that he's going to put VP Joe Biden in charge of an effort to make us all safer; an effort which will include consideration of returning so-called 'assault weapons' bans from by-gone days.  The VP is an experienced politician, but is probably more well known for his unarmed assaults on English grammar than his knowledge of assault weapons.  VP Biden has previously been given a rating of 'F' by the National Rifle Association for his gun control regulations stance, so we can be sure that he will be taking an aggressive position on this new assignment.  There's no doubt that semi-automatic and automatic weapons can dangerous tools in the hands of madmen with a will to use them (something that Joe has proved he can do with nothing more than a microphone).  Before we seek to take away those tools or define those madmen however, perhaps we would be best served to look at the historical record.

After all, if you really want to see madness and the use of guns, you have to turn to .... governments.  Joseph Stalin is credited with the quote, "A single death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic."  Stalin should know, since during his reign of terror in the Soviet Union, he apparently had some 20,000,000 Soviet citizens eliminated.  Joe is not unique in his pursuit of it however, though most of those of a like mind did so in regulation-filled, totalitarian regimes where the private ownership of guns was restricted and the use of a gun was incidental to much of the killing going on.  When these kinds of governments are not killing their own citizens with guns, they normally try to amuse themselves by killing their neighbors with them.  This inevitable result is called War, and in War even good nations find themselves killing people with guns in order to protect themselves from these evil ones.  No one seeks to deny ownership of such weapons to these governments for such self-protection. 

One of the other things that governments like to do with such weapons when not using them on their own citizens or those of nations they're at war with is to sell them to other nations for similar purposes.  Should we then be concerned that the government that would like to create additional language to restrict gun ownership in this country is the one that has a history to handing not only guns, but far more sophisticated weapons to people like Mao Zedong in China, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt; only to see those weapons eventually turn up and be used against us.  In fact we've yet to be given a reasonable explanation for the government's recent effort to sell similar guns not to an allied government, but to Mexican drug cartels in an infamous escapade known as 'Fast and Furious'.  Some or all of this might lead a reasonable person to conclude that taking gun restriction recommendations from a group of people with a huge and consistent record of epic failure might be ludicrous at best.  It's also interesting to note that many of the same politicians now calling for denial of such ownership to citizens in this country have access to armed security details using these very weapons to protect themselves.

Of course the other component here is the madness involved with someone who takes up a gun (knife, axe, or homemade bomb) and thinks it would be a good idea to end people's lives.  The cries are going up already for society to be more diligent in identifying these people early on, and stopping them before they can commit their heinous acts.  I don't know about whether such a "Minority Report" world can even exist, but I do know that it's one that I would be afraid to live in.  It's a world of George Orwell's 'thought police'; a world full of government watchers and of even more government regulations on guns than there are now (currently some 20,000) from well-meaning politicians and bureaucrats attempting once again to prove in their misguided efforts, that they are incapable of defeating the law of unintended consequences.  Knowing all this, one can't help but wonder why those involved are attempting to get us into another situation in which we need to wonder both 'who gets to decide' and 'who watches the watchers'.  

The Framers of the Constitution understood that the danger from weapons comes not only from bad men who would seek to use them for evil deeds, but from bad governments capable of doing evil in the denial of what they called 'inalienable rights' and attempted to protect themselves and future generations.  They experienced such denial at the hands of what many considered to be a madman at the head of the government in England, and experienced how the use of arms almost exclusively held by that government (even to the point of bringing in foreign mercenaries) could be used to pursue evil intent.  They understood that like madness, Government too is a form of power; and that it can only be judged by the tools it uses and the ends it seeks.  While the tools may not be judged as good or evil, the ends pursued must be; and must be constantly guarded, lest they turn to evil.
It's strange that I, who have not only never owned a gun, but have never fired one in my 57 years of existence (cap, water, and BB guns excluded of course) should seek to defend against additional ownership restriction Perhaps it's because I'm a reader of history however, and understand that the worst depredations of history come in societies that restrict ownership of guns exclusively to their government.  History likewise shows us that areas with additional restrictions on gun ownership does little more than take guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens while leaving them in the hands of criminals.  So what do we do about guns now?  Perhaps as little as possible.  Finding a way to protect the children in our schools at least as well as we protect our politicians is an obvious goal.  Finding a way to understand and to protect ourselves from the irrational behavior of troubled individuals should also become a greater priority.  Allowing those politicians to place further restrictions on law-abiding citizens attempting to protect themselves from things that government cannot and will not ultimately be able to however is unwarranted and unnecessary. 

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Dear Santa - 2012

Santa Claus
c/o North Pole

Dear Santa,

Like always it seems, this missive is being sent rather late this year and I apologize. Apparently you're not the only one out there that gets really busy around this time of year, and it didn't help when you had the Post Office drop all those letters off at my place. By the way, If this was supposed to be some kind of a joke, I have to tell you that everyone around here was laughing their butts off, with the exception of my apartment manager when the sacks were dumped on his desk (somebody must have watched the original “Miracle on 34th Street). Anyway, I did read through a few of them like your note suggested, and was actually able to use a few of them. Funny Stuff!

I'd like to tell you that I've been good this year, but that would only be adding insult to injury. So if by some mischance I still made the 'Nice List', it's only because I've been bribing a couple of the elves. (You might really want to consider getting some counselors in by the way. Some of those guys have a serious Twinkie addiction; and with all those Hostess bakeries closed, there's got to be some some little Vulcan wannabes with a serious case if the shakes by now.)

Anyway, there's just one thing on my list for you this year:

Could you do something so that the pundits and power brokers let go of the Sandy Hook thing. The people actually involved are already in enough pain with what's happened to them and they don't need a bunch of media vultures asking how they feel during the funerals of their children and those of their friends; nor do they need a bunch of self-serving parasitic politicians trying to make a reputation on their misery. I have a feeling you'll know just how to get an anthracite message across in such a way that they'll remember it.

I'm not going to ask you to do anything for the families themselves, since that's way out of your job description. As someone who lost a family member way too early in their life (and mine for that matter), I know that the only thing that has a chance to help is time.  I had a couple of other thoughts for this year; but in light of recent events, none of them seem worth bothering over.  So don't worry about the small stuff, we can handle it on our own.

Speaking of families …. Before you ask, mine is doing well again this year, and since it appears that we're going to get past this little practical joke on the part of the Mayans, there are some especially good things to look forward to in 2013. I know I haven't asked for anything for myself this year, but I never really seem to ask for anything and you always manage to show up with some pretty great stuff in spite of my annual misdeeds … thanks. I'm especially thankful to you by the way, for whatever you keep giving Michael Miller that convinces him to put my writing efforts up on the Toledo Free Press website.

Besides, I know that there are a lot of people out there whose need is far greater than mine, so you would be doing me a big favor to help them out as much as you can instead. (Come to think of it, you might want to get lots of them copies of the “Holiday Wishes 2” through the TFP, which would help twice over.)

Merry Christmas,


P.S. I will no doubt be up late again this year (nobody at our age actually sleeps well anyway), and I have plenty of cookies and Egg Nog (yes, the low-fat kind so you can watch your cholesterol), so feel free to stop by as usual. Not that you'll need it, but I'll leave the light on. 


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Happy 1000th

Contrary to the popular myth, based on the picture of me in this blog, this particular effort is not about celebrating my 1000th birthday.  (That's at least a couple of months away.)  No, the staff here at "Just Blowing Smoke" decided that it was worthwhile in chronicling the history of this blog that we take at least some notice of its 1000th posting.  Of course this is not exactly the 1000th post, as careful research brought to our attention that some of the posts put up over the years have in fact been duplicated.  Nevertheless 1000 efforts is a significant bit of writing when you consider that the average length of a post is between 800 and 1000 words.  The number is even more staggering when you realize that most of those words have been produced within the almost perfect vacuum found between my ears.

For those of you along for the ride for what is over five years now, again my thanks.  For those you who have only recently joined us here, I apologize for your exposure to what can often become a rather twisted and toxic truth.  In my own defense, let me say that no matter how horrific you may believe some of these efforts are, there have been worse.  For those of you who have as yet for some unfathomable reason failed to join us, who cares!  After all, if you haven't joined the rest of this twisted bunch by now, there's certainly no reason to suck up to you now; so ........NYEH!

I must tell you that I have often considered giving up these twisted efforts at compositional fame; but every time I get close, someone writes in to inform me of how truly horrible these scribblings are; which forces me to go on out of sheer spite.  With the right coercion however, I might be convinced to give up this life of crime in favor of a more honorable profession like lawyer, politician, or CEO of a hedge fund.  (Oh please, I'm kidding.)  Actually, in spite of what is horrible timing in media, I still have vague hopes of pursuing writing as a profession, rather than as a horribly expensive unpaid hobby. In the meantime, I will continue to attempt to disappoint my audience with the same regularity and frequency that I have done in the past.  

So from the Department of Just Blowing Smoke Security, the SOS Lexicographers, the Senior Editorial Staff, and myself  (Talk about your split personality ... geez.)  Thanks for playing along with my delusional behavior.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Random Thoughts on the CT Tragedy

In the twenty-four hours since the shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT took over every form of media in this country; I have been doing a good bit of thinking about it.  I'm sure many others have as well.  Some of my thoughts may not be particularly acceptable to those of you reading this, but I believe that whether like them or not (and I'm not taking a poll before putting this up), someone probably should speak them.  Feel free to comment if you will.  I will put up any that are not from anonymous trolls (feel free to create clever names for yourselves if you wish to hide your identity), but will put no restrictions on otherwise.  Better still, create your own blog and give your side of it ...    

Not all of these thoughts come from specifically from beliefs of my own.  Some come from what I believe which are widely held nonetheless, cogently argued, and worthy of mention.  As with most subjects, I am of two minds on this one; so I will separate my multiple personality disorder into the Humanist and the Cynic.  Because these are 'Random Thoughts', I will list them in so specific order, but will label them according to point of view.

  • H:  Twenty-eight deaths is a tragedy at any time.  The deaths of twenty children even more so.  That these children are so young makes the entire thing all but unbearable.
  • C:  Murder rates in this country are down, but still horrendous.  Most times such events barely rate a story in the local daily rag, or more than five minutes of news coverage in other media.  Over 1.2 million abortions take place every year (2008 is the last year for truly accurate data), which equates to just over 3,300 children's lives per day that are ended.  I'm not arguing for or against abortion here, just the inconsistency of outrage on such things.  It's also curious that some would consider this number to be in fact an example of freedom in this county, rather than one of horror.
  • H:  This tragedy in Newtown has absorbed every media outlet since it occurred, and with good reason.  Thanks to this coverage, we not only about the ongoing investigation and the history of perpetrator, but also of the heroism of many teachers and students alike in saving friends, co-workers, and those put in their charge.  Thank goodness that we have a media that can provide such coverage.
  • C:  We saw a lot less coverage in the news on rockets that were being fired into Israel just a few short weeks ago; and got very little detail, no names, and no back stories about its casualties.  We haven't heard much about civilians killed and wounded during US drone strikes in the Middle East, nor are there stories of local heroes attempting to do the same thing there in saving lives.  Rather than gaining 24 hour coverage in fact; those whose lives were ended are all too often simply listed as 'collateral damage'.
  • H: Thank goodness for the depth of news coverage of such events.  It allows us to understand the implications of such a tragedy and how it brings out all of the best in human nature.  It likewise allows us to more fully sympathize with the victims families, and begins the national healing process.
  • C:  The only thing that could be worse than experiencing a personal tragedy of this nature would be having the story drug out and paraded 24 hours a day.  I can't imagine the horror of seeing what must be considered your worst nightmare, and knowing such horror would be recycled every sixty minutes (or less) for the edification of an audience who can't get enough of your personal pain as a vulture media who lives for such stories to occur in order to get better ratings and make more money.   
  • H:  The fact that so many lives were once again ended through the use of a gun has to mean something.  Isn't it time we took up the discussion of guns again in this country?
  • C:  Why is it that Guns seem to be the only object that engenders this feeling.  No one calls for banning airplanes after a crash, trains after a derailment, gas lines after a house explosion and fire, or even cars after someone hits the gas pedal instead of the brake and runs through a parking lot, local market, or storefront; ending lives of innocents in the process.  What responsibility does the media have for the huge spotlight put on perpetrators.  Maybe it's as much the 15 minutes of fame provided them as it is the weapons being used that cause these 'off the rails' killers to commit their acts.
  • H:  One cannot help but be touched by the memorials and candle light vigils that spring up spontaneously across the nation in show of sympathy for grieving families.  At a time when so many decry the uncaring nature and growing cynicism of society, these act as a shining light to say otherwise.
  • C:  Maybe some of the professional mourners in this country should step back from buying flowers, teddy bears, and candles for street corner monuments to people they never knew.  How about taking the money you want to spend in such a way as to be seen (as you lovingly place your toy or candle), and instead donate it anonymously to a group that helps children without a homes or promotes help for those with mental illness.  Maybe you need to decide whether your display of sympathy is about you or them.
As for me, having written this, I'm now done with Sandy Hook Elementary.  My feelings for those children and their families are my own and not the business of interviewing reporters, agenda seeking lobbyists and politicians, or even my Facebook friends.  I won't be reading or listening to the details of the story endlessly repeated by newspapers trying to sell additional copies, or TV and radio shows trying to sell commercial time with a 'juicy follow up story'.  Neither will I spend my time in teary-eyed seclusion, in mourning for those whose lives have been touched by a tragedy that none of us can truly comprehend.  There's nothing that we can do about this one now, and many more that we might perhaps have some impact on if we could only turn our eyes away from yet the roadside accident and yet another random tragedy. 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Birthday Dad

Now this is a story that I've told before here, and in spite of that, I think it's worth telling again ... especially today.  You see ...

Today was my father's birthday.  

As you might have gathered from the way that I've phrased this, Dad is no longer with us; and to a certain extent I suppose that you'd be right.   It's certainly true that right before Thanksgiving in 2007, after being ill for some time and quite literally surrounded by his family, he decided perhaps that he'd fought the good fight long enough. 

As I've said, his health had not been good for some time prior to his passing, and as a consequence my nephew Patrick had been most of the yard mowing  with a riding lawnmower.  My mother, who wanted nothing to do with the riding mower, went around the edges and tight spots with a self-driven push mower. In the 2008 that followed, spring came to the 'City of Fountains' well before much of the rest of the Midwest, and the length of the lawn once again became a concern.

My mother jumped in and did her part around the edges and Patrick soon came over to the house to resume his normal role for the larger share. Now the riding mower hadn't been run (or even started) since the leaf pick up of the previous fall and neither had it really been properly winterized.  Young Patrick (young at the time anyway) was unsure of the proper choke settings to get it started after so long a period of idleness; and the things he tried brought no success. He asked my mother for any suggestions that she might have.  While not normally shy about sharing her opinions and being a person of amazing skills, an expertise with mechanical devices is not one of them and she had nothing to offer. 

So Patrick returned to his solitary dilemma, but it wasn't long before the full-throated roar of the riding mower was heard from the garage. While normally a hard working guy any way, on this day Patrick completed his task with remarkable alacrity even for him, and departed with very little to say for himself.

The hasty departure was explained a couple of days later, when my sister Maureen called to fill mother in. It seems as though Patrick, standing in the garage and scratching his head over a situation to which he had no ready solution, clearly heard my father say, "Pull the choke out and start it". He did, and the mower immediately caught. Distressed over how he had reached the solution however, and fearing my mother's sensitivity to what was far too recent a wound, he kept silent on how he got the answer he needed.  It was only later after returning home that he was able to speak about it with his own parents.

Now my father was the true patriarch of the Higgins clan; and while normally a rather self-deprecating individual, considered himself a master of all things mechanical. (In point of fact he was a world-recognized master of all things mechanical in the bookbinding industry, with a score of patents to his name to show for it.)  He was also someone who was inclined to share that mechanical mastery (sometimes rather colorfully) with his offspring of every generation (often without being asked). So it seemed only fitting (and hardly surprising) that he should find a way to make his presence felt when such a need arose.

As for my take on the story, knowing Patrick to be a fine young man of good quality and upright character, I take it on face value. If this is the way that he believes it happened, then I believe it. I am likewise happy to know that my Dad is still out there somewhere keeping an eye on the rest of us. I for one, can use all of the help that I can get.

Happy Birthday Dad

The Dark Side of Democracy

The voices of Democracy have spoken this week in Kansas City, and a new transit system will be implemented in a very small part of the downtown area.  According the Kansas City Star, voters approved, by a margin of 344 to 198, a 25 year property tax increase to fund a $100 million, two mile long streetcar system.  One might think that the only thing smaller than the size of what's being called a transit system is the voter turnout that approved it.  That turnout however, is not the result of voter apathy, but instead the result of what some might consider an abuse of the democratic process which created a 'special downtown tax district' to achieve its ends.  All well and good you might say.  If locals want to tax themselves for capital improvements of this nature, it's their right to do so.  Would you consider it equally fair however, if you knew that this property tax, and the 1 cent sales tax increase that's the other part of the funding for this project, could only be voted on by residents of the tax district
Then again, according to the KC Star piece, this isn't going to cost that much anyway.  "The owner of a $200,000 condo will pay $266 in additional taxes. That’s an 8.7 percent residential property tax increase.  Commercial property owners will see their property taxes go up an additional $1,500 for every $1 million in market value on their property. That’s a 5 percent commercial property tax increase.".   It's a song we've heard sung before.  Of course many of those residents voting were more probably tenants rather than owners, who though living in the special tax district would not be subject to the property tax imposed (at least, not right away)Is it fair to you that owners of businesses in this new tax district, most of whom do not also live on the premises of the business they own, were not allowed to vote on the tax that was about to be imposed upon them?

Would you find the whole process disingenuous then, if you realized that the burden of the sales tax as well would fall far more on industrial and commercial enterprises selling in the district than on residents, who still had the freedom to purchase outside of the area where the tax will be imposed? Would it likewise be considered voter disenfranchisement where KC residents outside the district were concerned that they weren't allowed to vote for the $2 million dollars annually that the city says it will now be contributing to the operation of this 2 mile transit system.  How about the fact that the city's water utility system, which like so many other metropolitan systems around the country is suffering from ill-kept and horribly out-of-date infrastructure, has announced that it will be contributing $4.5 million to the construction of the system?  When does a water department need to contribute to a transportation system, rather than their own desperately needed infrastructure improvements?  Why is it permissible, at a time when they are raising rates, for them to invest in anything other than their own needs?

But wait, there's more!  Without knowing whether this 2 mile system will garner any ridership, let alone enough to be able to come close to paying for itself, local politicians are already looking at expanding and incorporating this toy train system into a proposed $650 million dollar plan for two commuter rail lines to connect outlying areas with downtown.  These elected officials are right now pushing for yet another vote, this one for a county-wide 1 cent sales tax which could help pick up the slack (and spread the burden) of funding for these first street cars, with future tax revenues to provide a steady revenue stream for more to come. And of course, as with all public transportation systems, the federal government is supplying funding as well, contributing an initial investment of $18 million so far in (you guessed it, taxpayer funding) to prime the pump; something which none of the rest of us were allowed to vote on.

Now remember that this is a part of the city which currently has public transportation in form of buses.  All of the money being spent for this change will not provide something that currently does not exist, but merely a shinier version of it for a neighborhood.  And while each step of this process could ostensibly be considered the use of the democratic process to achieve a desired goal, somehow it feels like there's a taint to this particular use of the process that can't be easily removed.  While in theory nothing done has been illegal, what has been done cannot easily be considered admirable either.  Worst of all, the fact that a special interest group has successfully crossed over to the dark side of the democratic process here will no doubt inspire other groups to similar efforts in imitation of this twisted process.

I can't help but wonder if even the over 300 that voted for this toy transit system into being this week won't feel some doubts about it in the days and years ahead?  I wonder how thrilled they'll be while their streets are torn up and access to homes and businesses are restricted and the city attempts to lay track?  I wonder what commitment to upkeep and repair such street cars will continue to provide if the system remains an isolated anomaly and doesn't get to expand throughout the rest of the city?  Will this form of transit ultimately add or subtract to the value of homes and businesses in the area?  How happy residents will be with it, knowing that this performance of their civic duty will mean living in the highest tax district in the city?  Mostly however, I wonder if in the years to come, they and the city will be proud of the path that they've forged this week; or will they simply feel that they've sold their souls to the political Sith lords on the dark side of democracy? 


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Love Me Or Leave Me Alone ....

Is there anybody out there who still remembers the Republic primary?  You know, that was the part of the political process where we were told early in the game that long-time political moderate Mitt Romney was the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party (apparently because he'd run in the previous election cycle and lost to John McCain, which now made it his turn).  Since there was already an established primary process that taxpayers pay for, and in spite of the forgone conclusion of his nomination that the media promised us, someone in the Republican party apparently felt that they should at least go ahead hold these primaries.  With due diligence therefore, conservative candidates who at that time thought that Republicans were their party, lined up to take on this presumptive heir to the throne.

From Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, to Ron Paul and Rick Perry of Texas; conservative politicians threw down their gauntlets to compete in oratorical this jousting tourney.  Though often wildly greeted by the crowds, these conservatives were often met with skepticism and scorn by a media that challenged their credentials as conservatives, continued assaults on their qualifications to compete in so august a contest against the presumptive heir by their Party, and a fair amount of fear from the powers behind the throne throughout for the conservative ideas they represented.  In fact it seemed that these conservatives were apparently being asked to do little more than sacrifice themselves on a state-by-state altar of moderates.  

In spite of the sacrificial nature of these conservative campaigns however, the heir apparent was forced to assume a more conservative air in order to compete with party conservatives who were polar opposites to the candidate from Democrats that Republicans wanted to plan their strategies around.  With the primaries over however, we watched as this presumptive heir gradually abandoned the move to the right he made as the general election began.  He quickly re-established his position back in the center; 'evolving' beyond, if not completely deserting the temporary lean to the right required of the primary season.  This reversal became so evident that the heir himself, during the three debates held, many times admitted that he and his far left opponent's views were similar on given subjects.  Having failed to distinguish himself from his opponent and likewise failed to energize his party's conservative base, to the utter surprise of his party's faithful and many party pundits ... He lost.

Now that the election is over, the race to the right that other Republicans also made just over year ago has likewise ended.  Republican Party leadership, not having achieved the White House or the majority in the Senate that they wanted with the assistance of conservatives (one in which they'd often abandoned conservative principles in part to earn), have seemingly abandoned conservatives altogether. In perhaps some form of vengeance on the conservative voices that they paid lip service to, or in some twisted hope of appeasement to a even more twisted mainstream media, plum committee appointments going into the next session of the House have been purged of incumbent conservative House members.  Like the spouse whose looks or money has begun to fail, conservatives are apparently no longer appealing.  Perhaps afraid of what they friends will say about who they're hanging around with and realizing that they have some tough battles ahead of them with the fiscal cliff, entitlement reform, and the budget ceiling; Republicans seem more than willing to once again sacrifice their conservative base as a first step of capitulation to their political opponents.  With barely the first shot fired and perhaps are uncomfortable with the looks the receive from their erstwhile allies, perhaps they're feeling guilty over seeming ready to concede ground faster than the French in every war they've fought since Napoleon.

What fascinates me in all of this however as a Libertarian living through this process is the mixture of coercion and scorn in which those of a like mind have been handed.  We have been all but scolded during the last couple of election cycles that our votes would be wasted if used them for a true Libertarian candidate.  We were told that we were wasting our votes if we didn't come back inside the tent and vote for a mainstream Republican candidate that had a chance to win; and would be abandoning the nation to candidates without conservative values.  When I look at what seems to constitute a conservative Republican these days and at the recent treatment of real conservatives by the Republican party however; I cannot help but wonder in what way supporting these more moderate candidates (candidates who ultimately lose) is doing for the conservative cause.  If the current House purge of conservative committee members is now to be the measure of how conservative beliefs will be treated by Republican leadership,  one might even conclude that the 'loyalty' expected of them is doomed to be a loveless one and entirely one-sided.  

As a socially moderate, fiscally conservative Libertarian therefore, I'm not sure that I shouldn't begin to treat this party the same way it's currently treating me and my fellow conservatives ..... as an occasional convenience.  Quite frankly I can't help but feel like the abused spouse in an old country song.  I can hear Marty Robbins singing the chorus from "Love Me Or Leave Me Alone" right now:   

If you love me come and stay  
If you don't, please stay away  
Either love me or leave me alone  
Don't come back and say you'll stay  
If you plan to leave someday  
Either love me or leave me alone

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Fiscal Cliff ... Phoooey

(Please be aware that the occasional use of sarcasm is likely in this effort.  While I can promise you that it's there, I feel no obligation to specifically point out its use.)

The end of 2012 is almost upon us, and quite frankly there's not much to look forward to. After all, we're just about to see the last date with the same numbers that we're ever going to in our lifetimes (12-12-12).  And if that weren't depressing enough, I just discovered that we won't actually have Dick Clark this year to host "Dick Clark's New Years Rockin' Eve" from Times Square.  I mean sure, he's got a great excuse and all, having achieved room temperature in April; but I'm not sure that gives him the right to mess up a show that still has his name on it.  Now there's nothing to look forward from this mostly awful 'Made-for-TV' event than Ryan Seacrest and a bunch of mostly talentless performers (which actually sounds like an episode of American Idol, but that's another story).

So what do have we got to look forward to.  New Year's Eve is a Monday (not one of your prime drinking days), which probably leads to a mid-week hangover for those who insist on over-indulging despite the poor timing. Then there's a couple of weeks of screwed up checks (at least for those of us who don't pay all of our bills electronically), with the scribbled out corrections of the date, shrugs, and occasional apologies to clerks and grocery check out people who don't give a crap anyway.  Oh yeah, and then there's this pesky Fiscal Cliff thing.  I mean wow, what a fuss!

I suppose I don't want to give more to the government in taxes than the next guy (well, maybe except for that Warren Buffet character), but I figure that if any of us has to pay more, all of us should.  I mean hell, Democrats have been telling us for years that things haven't been the same since Bill Clinton was president anyway (and certainly they wouldn't lie about such a thing).  So being a big fan of "The Good Old Days", I say that we all ought to climb in the 'Wayback Machine' and take a trip back to the Magical tax rates of the 90's.  Of course I'd like to take government spending levels back to the same period as those tax rates, but that's just the kind of nostalgia fan I am.

I'm also a realist however, so I know that the government needs to take more of my money.  After all, without it how could they afford all the hiring that they've been up to again lately? (How else are they going to get the unemployment rate down?)  If not for government, who else could be counted to funnel money into solar energy companies that, when they're not shifting their manufacturing to China, are going bankrupt and sticking us for the money they the got from the feds?  How else could the government afford to pay farmers for crops they aren't growing?  Who else could continue to pay ethanol producers to make a fuel that still isn't affordable (even with the federal subsidies), causes more pollution in its production than the gasoline it replaces, wrecks the cars that attempt to use it, and drives up the price of the crops that the farmers do plant since they're being put in a gas tank instead of someone's pie hole.  Hell, they've got the system so well rigged that they can drive up the price of the fuel by forcing the mandatory use of ethanol, drive up the price of groceries being made with whatever's left; and ignore what it does to the cost of living, since neither fuel nor food count when the government calculates this rather vital number.   

But let's get past the nonsense of government's sad attempts to pick winners and losers in the game of capitalism. (Not that with their record, winners comes up often or that anyone's going to let them pick horses at the track because of their past performance ).  The US government has long sponsored pure science as well as commercial opportunities.  Oh sure, we've abandoned spending most of cash we once put in our space program, and NASA with it; but there's still a lot going on in important pure research.  For example, how else than by spending $3 million would we know how far a shrimp can run on a treadmill, or through a $300K grant learn how humans ride bikes?  (Personally, will all those legs I'd like to see a study with the shrimp on the bikes, but that's just how an inquiring mind like mine works.)  How about the $3 million given to the University of CA at Irvine to play video games, the $700K in government grants the University of New Hampshire is using to study methane emissions from dairy cows, or the $615K in taxpayer funding the University of CA at Santa Cruz got to digitize Grateful Dead T-shirts, tickets, and T-shirts?  Oh but there's more!  There's the $1 million in federal funds used to create poetry to raise environment awareness at the Little Rock, New Orleans, Milwaukee, and Chicago Zoos, or the $442K that the NIH is using to study male prostitutes in Viet Nam to name of few of the thousands in recent budgets.

And of course the government needs money to pay the 535 legislators that approve all of this money being spent on such worthy efforts in the first place.  House Speaker John Boehner's making $223K, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's right behind by pulling down a little over $193K, and all the rank (pun intended) and file legislators are knocking back $174K.  (And boy, they're worth it, aren't they?)  How can we expect to be able to afford such high-priced talent if we all don't redistribute a little wealth to those that are making far more than the rest of us (but just under the $250K line used to designate 'the two percent')?  And now that so many of them are retiring because of the toxic atmosphere they've created in Washington DC, there's some pretty fat pensions that have to paid to those who've made millions trading on the inside legislative and regulatory information they've gathered while in office.

So I say Phoooey to the current nonsense and worry being spewed about driving off the Fiscal Cliff in 2013.  I say that when we see that cliff, let's punch the gas and make a Dukes of Hazard, General Lee effort at the jump!  It's time to stand up and be counted for a government that's doesn't appear to be doing so well in the polls and fro some reason seems a bit short of cash. This is the Christmas season after all and our government needs us.  (Oops, did I just violate Jefferson's principle of the 'Separation of Church and State' by mentioning a religious holiday and government in the same sentence?  Sorry ....)  I say we all show the spirit of giving that Americans are famous for (even evil Republicans) and put some of that money we were going to use for holiday charitable donations (no doubt for no better reason than so we could write them off our taxes) and presents for the kids and put it instead where it can do the most good; in the hands of our trusted and respected politicians.  After all, who better than they would know what's best for us.  Besides, with just a little bit of luck, they might give a little bit of it back to us.  

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Fiscal Cliff or Debt Ceiling - Confusion of Terms

It seems like everyone is talking about the country going over the Fiscal Cliff; and most of them like to use the same "Thelma and Louise" movie reference for this December 31st event that I've often used for the entire process of how the government deals with borrowing and spending money.  Of course I would have thought that going over a cliff was a bad thing (since both Thelma and Louise attained room temperature as a result of this last drive), but maybe I'm just a little confused.  Silly me.  It appears that both sides preaching their share of doom and gloom only do so they could steal my Hollywood reference to describe what would happen if the country were forced to plummet into the depths of the horrible, the evil ... "Sequester".  (The Bastards!  I mean geez, it's not like I get a lot of original ideas, and the one I do get they steal.)

Now Sequester, for those of you who have buried your heads in the sand for the last couple of years and don't understand it (which is apparently quite a lot of you), is the agreement to automatic tax increases and budget cuts that Democrats and Republicans consented to when they discovered that they didn't have the testicular fortitude to come up with another piece of duct tape to hold on the budget band aid that holds on the actual band aid that holds in place the government budgeting process.  Sequester was meant to be the Armageddon which no one wanted, but which would be required of the nation if the D's and R's once again could not agree on how much money the nation should take in and how much it should spend.  This horror would involve the end of previously agreed to tax cuts (you know, passing a tax increase without actually voting on one) and across the board spending cuts (which can be overruled by new legislation passed as soon as possible after the Sequester occurs).  This way, legislators of both parties can tell you that Sequester is bad (in spite of the fact the they created it as an alternative in the first place), that higher taxes are bad (in spite of the process letting tax cuts expire), and that spending cuts are bad (in spite of the making them automatically part of the Sequester).  

By the way, can anyone tell me why tax cuts are always temporary, but tax increases are permanent?  It almost seems that legislators are saying that increasing taxes is good, hence their permanence; and tax cuts are bad and should only be allowed to exist temporarily and when no other alternative exists.  Of course, we all know that this can't be the case.  After all, they've told us so.

Not surprisingly, much of the current budget jury-rigging came about not because of the Fiscal Cliff negotiations currently stalled; but because of the fact that the annual budget process and the  Debt Ceiling have failed to reach any effective conclusion for the last couple of years.  The Debt Ceiling, lest we forget, is the credit limit on the ability of the government to borrow.  The Annual Budget of course, is the money that the government spends each year.  Since we continue to spend more each year than we take in through tax revenues, the need arises regularly to raise the limit of the amount of money that the government is allowed to borrow in order for it to write the checks on money that it doesn't have.  

Interestingly enough, the only things that the two parties of experienced legislators (perhaps too experienced, if you know what I mean) were able to agree on during previous Budget and Debt Ceiling debates was to go ahead continue to spend more than we were taking in for a while longer (called 'Kicking the Can'), and to let the country borrow more money than it ever had in the past. (Though curiously these days, most of that debt is not purchased by the Chinese as politicians on talk shows would like to have you to believe; but by the Federal Reserve, which simply goes out and prints more money in inflationary spiral that makes that debt worth less in a process which it also ignores.)  After years of intransigence. obstinancy, and belligerence, these same legislators decided to threaten themselves with the formidable prospect of Sequester in the future in order to convince us that their continue lack of serious action in the present was a plan and not simply a failure failure of leadership. 

The result of this lack of fiscal responsibility going into the 2010 election was that Republicans took back control of the House; I suppose in the hope that such Armageddon could be avoided (and scrubbing the Bruce Willis / Ben Affleck shuttle mission).  Since then, the House has regularly passed budgets bills that at least attempt to address the reining in of the expansion and out-of-control spending of government, mostly to no effect since the Senate refuses to vote on the House proposals.  Of course their efforts at responsibility are performed in so timid a fashion as to be unrecognizable as such, but they should get credit for at least trying.  Instead however, its members are pilloried for sending the Senate weak-kneed spending reforms that are demonized by the majority party in the Senate as 'draconian cuts' and attempts to throw mom off a cliff. 

Meanwhile, in what is supposed to be the more deliberative Senate, no actual deliberation takes place, mostly because the Senate Majority Leader Reid won't allow it to.  (The Senate in fact has failed to pass an annual budget for almost four years, in spite of requirements that it do so.)  Out-of-hand rejecting the ideas of the House (too far to the right) and the President (too far to the left), the Majority Leader is apparently incapable of coming up with anything of his own that might be 'just right'.  He instead appears content to sit quietly with his gavel and mumble to himself "My Precious" while not Rome, but the entire nation burns around him.  (My personal belief is that Senator Reid's stubbornness may be part of an advertising contract in which he receives a fee for using his manner and appearance to draw attention to the upcoming release of  "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure", which opens in theaters on December 14th.  Unfortunately, this may be a long running contract, as the movie is expected to have two sequels.)  Some say in Harry's defense that budgets coming from the House Republicans couldn't be voted on because the R's have thus far refused to compromise by replacing their own ideas with those of the D's; but that seems a rather lame excuse when a bi-partisan effort in the Senate rejected the last proposal of the leader his own Democratic party by a vote of 99 to 0.  

So if all of this appears confusing, don't feel bad ... it actually is.  You're not alone in having difficulty understanding this confusion of policies, described by terms that tells us that we are now going to go over a cliff in part because we are unable to agree on a budget that keeps us from hitting a ceiling.  You're likewise far from alone in confusion over the fact the end of the year will see us being forced into mandatory tax increases and spending cuts by two political parties who will tell you that both of these concepts, singularly or together, are an anathema not to be tolerated and the last thing that they want to see done in this country (except of course, for reaching agreement on any sort of alternative).