Thursday, June 16, 2011


A week or so before Nancy and I left for Israel we sat one morning watching the news of a potential government shutdown. My first reaction was delight. “It’s about time,” I chortled. Nancy sat, bemused. She had obviously thought things through. “Do you realize?” she asked me. “Our social security direct deposits won’t hit our checking account if they shut the government down.” I was stunned. “That’s our money they’re messin’ with.” Nancy smiled. “You don’t really think they’re concerned with little ole us do you? When push comes to shove we’ll be thrown overboard with all the other flotsam and jetsam.” I went upstairs in a mild fit of panic, muttering to myself, “I’m gonna’ give Jerry Moran a piece of my mind.”

By the time we got back home we found that the crisis had been averted. Republicans and Democrats had agreed to spending cuts that would save billions and keep the federal government running. Unfortunately, like most things politicians tell us, it was a sham or a half-truth. The government is still running, but the debt wheel keeps on spinning. When we left for Israel in early April our total government debt was under fourteen trillion. Today, as I sit typing, it’s almost fourteen and a half trillion. I’m trying to calculate as I hunt and peck, but I don’t have the math skills to figure it out. It’s safe to say the debt is increasing by millions per consonant or vowel. It could be as much as a billion a sentence.

You’d think our political leaders would get it by now, but it seems that the closer we get to the precipice, the farther they drift from reality.

It’s not that they haven’t had authoritative voices telling them to abandon their insanity. President Obama gathered a non-partisan group named the “fiscal commission.” Two of the commission’s experts, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, were known for their honesty and straight/blunt talk. When the commission completed its work Simpson put our problem in stark terms. Noting that the days of bringing home the bacon should be over¸ he said, “The pig is dead. There is no more bacon.”

Unfortunately, Simpson’s eloquence has been met by government intransigence. Government has now exceeded the legal debt limit. Timothy Geithner is raiding piggy banks and mattresses to keep things afloat. We’ve now got four wars going on – Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Yemen. We’re rattling sabers at hackers and cyber-terrorists, threatening military retaliation against any violators. And, our government continues to diddle. Yesterday, Senator Olympia Snowe (Maine) made note of the fact that it takes a good four months to get hearings on important issues scheduled, let alone debated.

We are in deep trouble.

Knowing our government as I do I cringe at the thought of what creative solution they may be hatching. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear about them calling Emporia’s payday loan shops to keep the bombs dropping and the gears mashing.

I spent a few early minutes this morning listening to Bob Dylan’s “Workingman’s Blues.” The melody was haunting, the lyrics even more so. There was talk of the “the buyin’ power of the proletariat gone down,” money “getting’ shallow and weak,” and the new reality of low wages. There were the laments and complaints of the workingman – “Well, they burned my barn, they stole my horse and I can’t save a dime.” “I’m down on my luck and I’m black and blue.” The current economic reality a lot of Americans face was laid bare – “I can live on rice and beans.”

I’d broadcast the music and lyrics to Pennsylvania Avenue if I thought it would do any good. But, they’re in no mood to listen to one of their own. What makes me think they’d listen to a poet?

Here at home things aren’t much better. The Arts Council is screaming about the $26 thousand they lost. The price of green beans and asparagus is going up. The rocks are paid for, but now the CVB has its hat in its hand because visitor’s taxes fell far below expectations. Meanwhile, the price of bread and milk are on the rise. Yesterday, the Extension office floated its bi-annual trial balloon about becoming an independent taxing authority. They must think that slapping a coat of paint on the pig will make it look like Vermeer’s “Astronomer” to a gullible public. I also looked at my water bill yesterday. I’m using less, but paying more.

A year ago I wrote that we were heading for implosion. A lot of smart folks around town took me to task when I did. I guess there wasn’t enough happy talk to suit them. A year ago we were just flirting with disaster. Today, we’re smooching it. I wonder what the smart folks are thinking now.

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