NOT SO MUCH A CLIFF, AS SKY DIVING WITHOUT A PARACHUTE

By Paul

I’m sure that, like virtually everyone else, you are sick and tired of hearing the same worn out old metaphor related to the fiscal cliff. So, I’m changing it right now to sky diving without a parachute. Actually, that also seems like more of an appropriate image anyway, given what we are about to face with the upcoming fight in Congress related to the extension of the debt ceiling, as well as several other fiscal issues looming over the nation.

First of all, however, I have to overcome my own distaste when it comes to writing about the subject at all. How we as a nation can be so ill-informed and so misled as to potentially allow ourselves to default on our debt is beyond me. And I do place the blame squarely on those rigid, recalcitrant, unbending and unyielding Tea Party Republicans, who appear to be willing to sacrifice the entire country on the ersatz altar of their inflexible and uncompromising ideology.

How many times does it have to be explained to them that the debt ceiling has nothing to do with future spending? It’s about paying what Congress has already agreed to pay. But, of course, there’s the rub. They never agreed to it. They were against it from the get-go, and this is what they came to Washington to prevent in the first place. So, now it’s time for payback of another kind, political not financial. In other words it’s almost as if they want to bring the government down, in – what? — a vain and hopeless attempt at somehow remaking the country in their own deformed image?

I’m beginning to feel that the system we have of electing officials to govern us in the first place may be fatally flawed. It seems to me that our method of primary elections in particular has landed us with extremist of every stripe, but mostly those of the ultra-right, who find compromise a dirty word, and who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their own way. This includes holding the entire nation captive to their militant and radically immoderate points of view. Thus, a tiny fraction of revisionist zealots and extremists in the country may yet get to dictate to the 315,000,000 or so rest of us, who would prefer to find a way to a middle ground, where each side gets part of what it wants and what it believes to be fair.

Of course, I admit to being a believer in liberalism and in progressive values. If I weren’t, why would I be writing on a blog entitled “Two Old Liberals” in the first place? But I’m an even bigger and stronger believer in democracy, and American democracy is all about living in a pluralistic society, where people with varying points of view must find ways to coexist and together to share governance. I emphasize share in this context, because it is what so many fundamentalists are unwilling to do. They have somehow reached the erroneous conclusion that they have the answers to everything, that they know what is best in all circumstances for everyone, and they are more than willing to impose those beliefs on the rest of us. Sadly, this is true in the religious, as well as in the political realm, and even more sadly the two often go hand in hand.

What can be done about it all is another matter. I confess to being somewhat stymied, and I suppose that is exactly what the self-proclaimed Forces of Right probably want. Their bargaining strategy, if that’s the proper term, is to make the rest of us think they really are serious about pushing the country out of the plane, all the while yanking the parachute off of our backs. In other words, to speak non-metaphorically, they want us to think that they will allow the United States of America to default on its debts, thus pushing the country, and the world economy, into chaos and confusion. After all, for all of our foibles, the US is still the pillar of political and economic stability in the world. As such, what does everyone else do if we fall into some kind of political and fiscal anarchy?

The President’s approach seems to be to call their bluff, and I’m not sure exactly what else can be done. He is not, I don’t think, doing so simply to see if they are bluffing, however, but because he has been through all this before. He knows with whom he is dealing, and what they are capable of. And he is relying on the American people themselves to rise up and to make their voices heard. If enough of us raise enough of a hullabaloo, then maybe even the Republicans – or at least some of the more reasonable ones – will actually listen.

No one is saying, by the way, that the country does not have to look its debt crisis squarely in the eye and do something about it. It’s clear to most of us that we cannot keep living beyond our means. And a sixteen trillion dollar debt is very much beyond our means! Serious discussions have to take place in Washington and elsewhere to see how we can deal with this. And as always in human behavior, the answer usually is somewhere in the middle. In this case, that means both spending cuts and ways to create new government revenue. I’m not even speaking necessarily about new taxation, although that too has to be seen as a possibility. Additionally, the biggest spenders have to be looked at, namely the so-called entitlement programs and the military. But this is a much larger question, and an obviously more complicated one. One that will demand all of our fortitude and our honesty as a nation state.

In the meantime, however, incurred debts must absolutely be paid. That is how both the world and the financial markets work. Let us, therefore, not allow a few fanatics to hold the rest of us hostage. Let us make our voices heard, and remind Congress that bills have to be paid. Once we have shown ourselves, and everyone else, that we continue to be responsible citizens of the world, then perhaps we can begin to go about creating parachutes to ease our descent from other fiscal and political heights.

GSA and SECRET SERVICE SCANDALS — Righteous Indignation or Avoidance?

By Kevin

 
Congress is outraged over the GSA and Secret Service scandals — utterly outraged! The General Service Administration held a 2010 conference in Las Vegas that cost taxpayers $822,000. Unbelievable! A dozen members of the Secret Service advance team hired 20 prostitutes to party for an evening in Cartagena, Colombia. Impossible! Darrell Isa, Republican Chairman of the House Oversight Committee is outraged. Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi is outraged. On the right and the left in both houses of Congress everyone is viscerally and vocally outraged — so outraged that some are “sick to their stomachs” while others just cannot find words to express their horror at these unforgivable infractions — these very common and widespread sins of the flesh — partying – indulging in too much luxury, entertainment, sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Congress is obsessed by these tabloid misbehaviors and so are all the news outlets. Capitol Hill has launched investigations and hearings that have almost certainly already spent more valuable human hours and taxpayer money than both scandals put together, and it has only just begun. We are a nation of Puritans who just love a good prurient scandal that allows us to express our disdain, outrage and moral indignation against anyone who does not adhere to sufficiently chaste and modest conduct, while we ignore our most compelling needs and issues.

The GSA was stupid to hold a conference in Las Vegas in this economy. Secret Service members were playing with fire when they hired prostitutes. The “optics” are very bad. Nobody should eat caviar or entertain prostitutes when some of us are starving and all of us worry about terrorism and security. But $822,000 is an infinitesimally tiny droplet in the bucket of our economic misadventures. Would that amount even pay for one tenth of a stealth bomber? No, it would not. The investigations and hearings Congress has launched into these matters will cost many times more than the transgressions did. This is an absurd waste of time and money. So, here is my advice to Congress:

 

Dear Congress,

 

 

After you recover from your shock and amazement over learning that a government agency, GSA, spent too much money on a conference in Las Vegas, perhaps you will need some real economic issues against which to direct your outrage? Well, how about focusing on the fact that the Census Bureau reported 46.2 million Americans living at or below the poverty line in 2010? That number includes 22% of all our children. And it has gotten worse since 2010. One in six citizens of the most powerful country on earth struggle with poverty and hunger! Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress? Why don’t you spend your hours, investigations and hearings on the hunger and homelessness right under your own noses, instead of wasting your time and ours screaming about the GSA paying for expensive breakfasts and hiring a “mind-reader” to entertain their troops. Or if poverty and hunger at home bore you, why not focus on the fact that four million families have lost their homes to foreclosure right here in the USA in the last four years? Four million families were pushed out into the streets and many of their homes quickly fell prey to mold, decay and vandalism. Whole neighborhoods in Detroit and elsewhere had to be razed. Nobody is benefiting from these foreclosures — not the banks, not the wider economy, and certainly not the evicted families. Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress?
 
Then there is the matter of the Secret Service’s advance team to Cartagena hiring 20 prostitutes to party for an evening. I am concerned about the possibility that the safety and security of the president and his team might have been compromised by this sleazy activity. But if it turns out that these Secret Service party personnel followed protocol and cleansed their rooms of all information and material that could have been used against the president, then what they do in their free time is none of my business or anyone else’s. Unless they really did endanger the life and safety of the president and his party, then in my opinion special sexual services for the Secret Service ought to remain the Secret Service’s secret. I certainly feel sorry for their wives and families. But prostitution in Cartagena is legal and partying with prostitutes must surely be one of the oldest and most popular forms of self-indulgent debauchery in all of human history. It’s not new.

 

Give me a break, Congress! These Secret Service and GSA scandals are naughty play and foolish self-indulgence — not national emergencies, and they simply do not descend to the level that ought to arouse this much Congressional and national inquiry, time and outrage. Congress, do you need a national emergency to obsess about? How about a global emergency?… Try this one: Planet Earth is rapidly dying as an environment that will support the human species and other forms of life. According to the International Energy Agency, if we do not arrest and reverse Global Climate Change within the next few years, greenhouse gasses will exceed sustainable levels and pass beyond the point of no return. Where is your moral outrage about that, Congress? Don’t you care at all about your children’s and grandchildren’s future? Where are the investigations and hearings about Global Climate Change? Where are the hours of news coverage about the fact that extinction is on our doorstep? Wake up Congress! The sexual dalliances of overgrown adolescent boys guarding the president, and the excesses of government conference attendees, may be titillating and troubling and certainly beneath the level of behavior we expect of them, but our house is burning down and we are ignoring the fire in favor of punishing bad boys for masturbating in the bathroom! Don’t you smell the smoke? Where are your priorities, Congress? 

 
Expensive travel and conferences on the taxpayer’s dime are dead wrong and they need to stop. Secret Service agents must learn not to indulge in any behaviors that might endanger the lives of our presidents and the security of our nation – partying with prostitutes included. But these very human indulgences are among the oldest behaviors in the history of our species. Congress is acting like the GSA and the Secret Service just now invented waste and lechery, and if we heap enough scorn and outrage on them we might have a chance of nipping such bad habits in the bud. Get real, Congress! We have bigger fish to fry. We have heard your very pious and puritanical righteous indignation, and we are duly impressed. Now, please turn your attention to our real problems and spend your time and our money on issues that truly matter, like feeding and clothing the masses living in poverty among us, and housing the homeless while preventing more families from being thrown out of their homes, and saving the human race from extinction due to Global Climate Change. Can we get back to reality again and stop all of this avoidance of the devastating crises right in front of our noses? Can we focus on resolving some of these real issues and saving ourselves – now?! Thank you.

 

P.S.: If you address real issues, Congress, your approval rating could rise from 8% to 18%!

Love, – Kevin

Introducing Kevin…

Kevin will post political cartoons and other art occasionally, along with his comments.

I’m Kevin

We “Two Old Liberals” welcome you to our blog about life, love, politics, the arts, ecology, personal habits, philosophy, humor, labor, ethics, religion, sex, our  planet and the universe, gossip, the economy, human rights, diet and exercise, and anything else that might cross our minds. Paul and I have known each other for nearly 40 years. We were roommates a lifetime ago when he was a grad student and I was an administrative assistant at the University of Michigan. We both lived in L.A. for a long time in the 70s and 80s, and we used to get together for breakfast once a week to sort out the affairs of the world and our own young lives. Since 1997 we’ve lived on opposite coasts and written long email letters to each other almost daily. Just recently we decided to open our communications, cartoons and complaints to the rest of the world.

I’m Kevin – a fat old bald old guy with the glasses, goatee, and comb-over. For 22 years I’ve made a pretty good living prostituting my talents to Fortune 500 corporations as a business consultant, creative ideation facilitator and artist. I still do that, with increasing cognitive dissonance, and it allows me to paint and create any kind of art I want to make in my free time, without requiring it to sell to support me. I photographed the masthead image and drew the “Nude Gingrich” cartoon for this 2OL blog launch. Right now Robert and I (Robert is an artist, too, and my lover of 15 years) have about 60 large paintings and installations in our art gallery downtown, as well as 30 more big paintings in the beautiful, opulent new library, and in a week we will install 18 of our canvases in a fancy restaurant in the center of the city for a two-month exhibit. In 19 months we will both have tandem one-man shows at my alma mater – a small college in the Midwest.

It sounds like Robert and I live in the city, doesn’t it? But, in fact, we live at the dead end of a remote dirt road, deep in the woods where satellite dishes are required to get TV and Internet service. It’s really quiet and beautiful out here. We used to own a big 5-bedroom, 3-bath show home in the suburbs. We poured all our creative energies into it. People came by the hundreds every year to tour our home and gardens. But we sensed that the real estate bubble was about to burst, followed by the entire economy, so we sold it for a great price just weeks before the crash. Selling that house felt like cutting off a leg. But we would have been foreclosure victims, and instead we got out of debt and bought a shabby old trailerhouse in the woods, with a collapsing ancient barn and a half-acre pond and stream on 7 acres. That was 5 years ago. Since then we’ve added four more acres with a hunting cabin that we are expanding into a nice little cottage where we intend to make our last stand together until we cannot stand any longer.

As well as being an incredible and prolific abstract expressionist painter, Robert is a phenomenal woodworker and a handsome 45-year-old postal worker. Before that, he was in the US Marine Corps for eight years. He adores animals and they love him back. We have lots of animals. But Robert isn’t a vegetarian. He’s a regular guy – a hard worker and builder. He can solve any Rubik’s Cube in two minutes flat and install entire plumbing and electrical systems in our new cottage. He knows how to fix and construct anything. And I have personally seen wild baby rabbits and frogs approach my beefy, bearded husband and climb into his hands and arms. Animals just know and trust him.

I used to be a vegetarian for 18 years. Now I eat some fish and fowl, but left to my own devices I like to eat piles of green vegetables and whole grains with a bit of cheese or spicy sauce. I’ve been interested in metaphysics and meditation for over 40 years, and in my old age, with our Cairn Terrier Scrappy by my side, I’m actually starting to practice a bit more meditation. Robert calls it “vegetation.” I used to enjoy drinking most evenings, but my old body won’t stand for that anymore, so I’m “vegetating” instead. I am a 63-year-old, totally gay, quasi-vegetarian, meditating, social-democratic liberal, environmentalist, hermit artist, who nevertheless makes a living with occasional forays to serve the corporate world of new product development and market research. How do they put up with me? I have no idea… 

“Bizarro World”

This morning, while Robert was waking up over the morning coffee I always make and serve in bed, I told him that increasingly I feel like we’re living in “Bizarro World.” Do you remember that alternative universe in the Superman comic books in which the whole world had gone cubist and backwards and weird? Well, that’s how our world is looking to me these days. Everything is so distorted and nothing makes sense anymore:

  • In Robert’s work world, the USPS promotes the most incompetent and laziest people into managerial positions where they do not have enough knowledge, expertise or work ethic to do a good job, and excellent workers are abused, enslaved and terribly mistreated. It’s the same everywhere these days… and the Republicans want to deny police, teachers, firefighters and other public servants collective bargaining rights. Indeed they want to kill all the unions and repress middle class workers.
  • Virtually all scientists and climate experts agree that our planet is racing toward the edge of the cliff called Global Climate Change and nobody will acknowledge or discuss the terminal implications of this manmade disaster. There are things we could do to save ourselves, but as a species we choose radical denial instead.
  • The Republican Party is engaged in a truly terrifying circus clown primary contest to select their creepy candidate for the US Presidency. Only in “Bizarro World” could distorted caricatures like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich be serious contenders for that profound honor. I have closely watched all US Presidential contests for over 50 years, and for the first time the list of leading characters who have topped the Republican polls in recent times simply takes my breath away: Donald Trump, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and now Rick Santorum! It’s a horror movie! What the hell has happened to the Republican Party? Where did all the reasonable conservatives go? Are they hiding? No. Reasonable conservatives are now called mainstream Democrats. President Obama is a right-of-center moderate conservative in my book.
  • In “Bizarro World” everything is upside-down. Billionaires and people like Mitt Romney who make millions every year pay only a 14% or 15% tax on their income, while the middle class is being squeezed and pushed out of existence and paying a 30% or 35% income tax. That’s the reverse of what it should be, isn’t it?! In Bizarro World the top 1% of the populace has more money and power than the other 99%. It’s really unbelievable, but true! They do!
  • We have a Congress that would be more productive if they adjourned and did NOTHING at all, rather than what they are doing now. The Founding Fathers weep.
  • The planet is dangerously overpopulated with 7 billion souls, but the Republican candidates for the US Presidency do not believe in birth control!… Birth control! What year is this?… 1812?!
  • Meanwhile, scores of citizens are being murdered by their own governments while the rest of the world does nothing, but just watches.
  • And, horror of horrors, governors and states are slashing and burning their public education budgets. Forget art and music programs, the Republican governors seem to want to make ALL education a privilege that only the wealthiest can afford. How do they expect the US to remain a superpower if we do not educate our populace? But they are afraid. America is turning brown, and the last thing they want is more educated brown people like President Obama aspiring to leadership and power.

There’s a reason why we live at the dead end of an isolated dirt road deep in the woods. Take a look at the masthead photo, above, of our half-acre pond. Although nature is beginning to show signs of breaking down, it still bears enough resemblance to its former glory that we do not feel like we are living in “Bizarro World” at home here in the woods. There is tremendous comfort in observing what is left of the seasons, the wild animals, and the weather in our 11 woodland acres and on our pond and in the stream that runs through it. We are so deeply fortunate to have a place to get away from “Bizarro World.” I wish everyone could experience the peace and purity of these woods. Nature may yet find a way to speak to us. What will She say?

— Kevin