Wednesday, October 16, 2013


"But oh Lord we pay the price
With the spin of the wheel with the roll of the dice
Ah yeah you pay your fare
And if you don't know where you're going
Any road will take you there"

Any Road - George Harrison

The shutdown has left this street corner 'improvement' in Marshalltown, Iowa unfinished for the past 3 weeks. The bright yellow non-slip plates look nice but after a couple of years after the last 'improvement' were revealed to be a thin yellow coating over cardboard.

  The government ‘shutdown’ is in its third week and there seems to be no end in sight. The Republican controlled House won’t pass a new budget that includes funding for Obamacare unless the President will agree to delay the mandate for the individual participation for one year in his administration’s signature health care legislation.

  It was reasonable for the Congress to think the President would agree to concessions. Two years ago he made concessions to avoid the fiscal cliff by allowing the Bush Tax Cuts for high earners and last month decided to let the Congress have a vote on his Syrian ‘red line threats’. Since businesses with more than 50 employees had already been exempted from complying with Obamacare regulations for a year there was no reason to think further modifications couldn’t be made.

  President Obama has consistently been underestimated and refused to compromise on his legacy acheivment. He allowed the government to be shut down, calculating that the media and public will blame the Republican Congress for their loss of government and so far he has been right. Senate leader Harry Reid got to call the Republicans ‘anarchists’ and President Obama got to compare them to kidnappers and blackmailers, saying ‘You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job’ and ‘We can’t make extortion routine as part of our democracy’.

  The main furor over the shutdown the first week were feel bad stories about veterans not being able to visit their monument at the national mall and vacationers not being able to visit national parks. Stung by the criticism, the Republicans blinked first and passed funding for national parks, the National Mall and Washington D.C. But the Democrats are gunning for an unconditional surrender and the Democrat- controlled Senate has refused to consider the separate bills, insisting on a ‘no strings attached budget’.

  You can likely tell who is getting what from the government by their reaction to the shutdown. I talked to a government contractor that was very upset about being furloughed and when I gave my 80 year old neighbor a ride to the hardware store I asked him about the shutdown and he cursed the Republicans up and down because he was worried about not getting his Social Security check next month. I haven’t noticed anything about the shutdown at work, possibly because we don’t get many checks from the government. I work on a program that interfaces with a government agency. The agency is not considered essential and their support email address is sending out a reply noting that there will be no support as long as the government is shut down but since every email I’ve sent them in the last six months hasn’t been answered within a week, I haven’t noticed any difference from the normal level of support.

  I’ve noticed a shutdown effect on the street corners of Marshalltown. In September, crews were replacing the old sidewalks on the street corners with new sidewalks on the street corners only the new sidewalks have some sort of metallic looking non-slip plate at the downslope where the sidewalk meets the street. When I took Daisy and Baxter for walks after getting home from work there would be no workers except for this guy that would be sitting in his car keeping an eye on the newly poured cement. On October 1st the work stopped, the guy in the car no longer kept watch on the street corner, the dirt that was dug up hasn’t been replaced, and the safety cones are still on the corners or wherever they have been dragged to by the neighborhood rabble.

  As if the government shutdown wasn’t dramatic enough, the government’s authority to borrow more than the currently allowed 16.7 TRILLION DOLLARS is running out this week and while the Republican controlled House wants to use their authority to increase the borrowing limit as leverage to get budget concessions while the President Obama and the Democrat controlled Senate want the borrowing limit increased along with a budget that funds Obamacare before any budget negotiations take place. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has been pushing their case for an increase in the debt limit by warning of the ‘chaotic’ consequences of not raising the debt limit. Lew said he the government’s automated payment systems will not allow the prioritization of paying some bills and not others saying "Anyone who thinks that it can be done just doesn't know the architecture of our multiple payment systems," …They were designed properly to pay our bills; they were not designed to not pay our bills."

  The Democrats won the media battle because the Republicans had no talking points ready after their budget wasn’t accepted by the President or the Senate since they assumed there would be quick concessions. Now that the Republicans are have been painted as the ones solely responsible for the government shutdown, it is the Democrats turn to play hardball and they are not willing to accept a temporary increase in the debt limit unless a budget with funding for Obamacare is passed. In my opinion, the Republicans haven’t held the government hostage at all: they passed a budget that didn’t include funding for Obamacare and the Democrats refusal to pass a budget that doesn’t include the funding means to me that they share an equal responsibility for the shutdown. I saw this letter on a government website. In the letter, the administrator says the ‘President is intent on getting the government back up and running, and all of you back to work’. But the Congress did pass a budget for the Senate to approve and the President to sign – it just didn’t include funding for Obamacare and that was enough for both sides to dig in their heels.

  However the shutdown and debt crisis is resolved, I think the real battle here was between the Tea Party and the Democratic AND Republican parties combined. Despite all the ultimatums by both Republicans and Democrats about their all-or-nothing approach to the budget a bill was passed hours before the shutdown to keep the military well-staffed and it looks like a compromise will be reached to keep the government spending for the next few months with both parties painting the Tea Party republicans as unprincipled extremists.

  If the American political system tolerated more than two parties, the Tea Party would have been firmly established on the sidelines as a small fiscally extreme faction, but since there is no way to influence American policy except through the two governing parties the Tea Party was able to successfully infiltrate the severely weakened Republican Party after their disastrous 2008 election results and have become a force in their own right thanks to the rigidity of the two party system. Now the same Republican party that welcomed the Tea Party support two years ago are planning primary challenges to the upstarts because they want the extra funding and power that goes along with it just as much as the Democrats but their stated principles don’t allow them to admit it. When the Republicans controlled all three branches of the government in the early 2000’s, there was tax cuts, record deficits, and a large Medicare prescription giveaway even while funding wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When it comes to fiscal responsibility, the Tea Party is the only group with any principles.

These rocks I discovered at the Bonudrant Git 'n' Go were part of a government-funded rock study, but had to make a return trip due to the shutdown.

  The Tea Party view of Obamacare as another large entitlement program is well founded and while I disagree with them about the need for universal health care I do agree that it can only be stopped before it begins because once it takes root and a third or more of the country receive health care subsidies from the government, it will never be able to be repealed. That is the way of ‘entitlements’. And these entitlements are also business entitlements. When the 2014 Social Security increase was announced at 1.5% it isn’t referred as an increase or an adjustment, but as a ‘raise’. Almost FIFTY MILLION people receive tax money from the government to buy food, but instead of the government cutting deals with food providers (as Medicare does and Obamacare proposes to do with medical providers), the government gives out SIX BILLION DOLLARS a month for food to be bought at retail and attempts to cut costs in that fashion are met by accusations of ‘stigmatizing’ the recipients and you won’t see any food producers or supermarkets or any of the other middlemen profiting from food assistance programs complaining either.

  The media has already started to paint of the Tea Party as the cause of the government shutdown and that may help the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives next year. Since the Republican Party was dead in the water until Obamacare was passed in 2010 and the natural tendency of the American voting public is to rail against Congress while reelecting their own representatives it seems far from a sure bet to me, but with so many people receiving payouts from the government and so many companies profiting from these payouts promoting fiscal responsibility is becoming akin to attacking the American way of life. A bank that borrows money from the Federal Reserve at .25% interest and uses it to loan money to the government at 2% interest (here are the details) has a vested interest in the government having to borrow money. Wal-Mart will not be working for a government food assistance reform when they have has so many customers getting assistance that they had a 'mini-riot' in a store that couldn't process the EBT payments. And whoever it is that is improving new street corners in Marshalltown, Iowa certainly doesn't care who borrows the money as long as they get paid.

  There were a lot of stories lost in all the media portrayals of people not being able to visit national parks and monuments and workers dependent on the federal government for their jobs and entitlements and the quick assignment of blame. I’ve missed the discussion in the debate over raising the debt limit is what will be done about the 16,700,000,000,000 DOLLARS of current debt? In a recent speech the president said “Our deficits are going down faster than anytime since before I was born”. I doubt this is really the case but I suppose it could be looked at that way if you choose to interpret the late 1990’s when the government was running a surplus as not really a deficit, but even so is reducing last year’s 1,3000,000,000,000 dollar deficit to a mere 650,000,000,000 dollar deficit something to be applauding like the audience of this speech did? If a contestant on ‘The Biggest Loser’ ate 750 Ho-Ho’s a day in the weeks leading up to the competition and then cut down to only 75 daily Ho-Ho’s during the first week would they win the contest because of their 90% reduction in Ho-Ho consumption?

  I wouldn’t say I’m a ‘Tea Partier’ but I like how they talk about the deficit and national debt as if they are obligations to be paid instead of some sound bite item to be glossed over or completely ignored. Some of the massive decrease in the deficit was due to a slightly improved economy but more was due to the automatic budget cuts that were part of the last deficit limit deal in 2011 (aka sequestration). When I do the math I see every citizen's share of the national debt as $50,000 and I know most of the people getting food assistance and living on social security aren’t going to pay their share. The media has focused on the drama over the shutdown and default scenarios but there are a number of questions that never get addressed that to me are far more important. Is the only thing keeping the national and global economy afloat the ability of the United States to borrow over 600,000,000,000 DOLLARS a year? How much can the United States possibly borrow before no one will lend us any more money? Is there any plan to repay the 16,700,000,000,000 DOLLARS the country currently owes? And why do new sidewalk corners in Marshalltown, Iowa depend on the federal government?