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.