Cliffs, On Driving Over

Today’s topic is the so-called (insert finger air-quotes) fiscal cliff.  It’s a fascinating discussion that warrants many hundreds of paragraphs of insightful commentary.  Or, I could take this salad fork and repeatedly stab myself in the head.  Important etiquette note – when choosing place settings to stab oneself with, always work from the outside in.  Thus, the salad fork becomes the first weapon.  But I digress…

Discussing politics today is like having a debate about the latest episode of Real Housewives.  Extremely strong political factions will have real, substantial disagreements on whether Sue-Ann had the right to not invite Alexis to the black-tie fundraiser because she was like totally mean to Sandy (with an i not a y) for leaving her baby with the maid for a week while she cheated on Benson with Tobin in the Caribbean.  There’s a lot of moving parts to this and you can’t expect to have an informed opinion unless you’re willing to invest time in watching the fifty-six hours of exclusive behind the scenes talk shows aired per week.

It’s easy to become completely absorbed by it all until you realize one minor little point.  It’s not real.  I mean the politics not the Housewives,   don’t panic.  Politicians don’t poop in the morning unless it’s been focus group tested, polls conducted, and K street lobbyists approve.  Every word, each nuanced statement, the appearances on the talk shows… all carefully manufactured.  This may surprise you but all politicians work from a standard book of phrases.  It’s called the APWW (American Politicians Weasel Words) Style Guide and has been updated yearly since Truman was president.  Here’s a brief sample of some of the entries that have been included the last few editions:

  • Taxes – This term is no longer approved for use.  Terms/phrases that are acceptable are:  Revenue; Contributions; ‘those who profited the most can afford to do a little more’;
  • Spending – This term is no longer approved for use.   Terms/phrases that are acceptable are: Investment; ‘improving our infrastructure’; ‘investing in our children’;
  • Liberal – This term is no longer approved for use.  Terms/phrases that are acceptable are: Progressive
  • ConservativeSee entry for hypocrite.
  • Sheep or lemmings – Acceptable for internal memos only. Public documents should use: ‘the American people’; ‘the electorate’; the voices of America’;
  • Austerity – No known definitions of this term can be found. Considered to be a ‘danger’ term. Advise against using.
  • Lobbyist – This term is no longer approved for use. Terms/phrases that are acceptable are: Advisor; ‘the business community’; ‘worker representatives’;
  • Cuts – This term can only be used when referring to projected revenue increases that don’t occur.

As you can see, politicians face a complex world.  This is why it’s vital they hire the best advisors other people’s money can buy.  Just as with reality television, behind the scenes there are thousands of people (hard-working AMERICANS) who spend countless hours crafting an image, a product, that’s sold to the public for one purpose. Money.  As Abraham Lincoln famously said at the Gettysburg address, “…Greed, for lack of a better word, works.”

The most disappointing aspect of the annual fiscal cliff negotiations is clearly a lack of respect for AMERICAN institutions. By that I of course mean Hostess Brands.  It’s a sad day when we’re willing to invest in the US Antarctic Program Blue Ribbon Panel Review, but not a beloved creamy snack cake.  It shakes my confidence as a member of the AMERICAN PEOPLE.  It’s clearly time for the quintessential critical thinker of our time to tell me how to think.  Obviously I’m referring to the oracle of talk, the wizard of image, Oprah.  She alone can unite this great country again.  I urge you to contact your network affiliates and plead with them to allow her to work her magic – to heal the deep divide between the parties before it’s too late.

Keyser Soze And Social Security

Verbal Kent, in describing Keyser Soze in the movie “The Usual Suspects“, used a quote from a French poet: “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.” I think it’s a pretty apt description of what our politicians (see Meat Puppet) have done to this country with the Social Security system. The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, created during the depression, is a pay-as-you-go system. Collect sufficient funding (taxes) from earnings each year to make the promised payments to eligible recipients. Seems simple enough, no?

This is the government we’re talking about – the folks who have $1 billion in dollar coins stashed in federal reserve vaults because nobody wants them… yet continue to mint them. Starting in 1937 the fund has collected more than it paid out virtually every year. Beginning in 1982 that surplus got big – Carl Sagan-ish, Billions and Billions big. Every year. The current overage collected stands at $2.54 Trillion. What prudent savers our politicians are! Open up an interest bearing checking account at Wells Fargo (free checks!) and we’re all good, right? As Albert Einstein famously didn’t say, “the most powerful force in the universe is compound interest”.

Here’s where sleight of hand that would make PT Barnum blush starts. By law the social security fund can’t keep excess money collected. Instead, they print out a bond / IOU and put it in a special lockbox. All that extra money is turned over to the general fund and the trust and care of our elected officials. What could possibly go wrong? As soon as we’re not collecting enough annually to pay social security benefits, we just go back to congress and cash in some of those IOU’s right?

Those of you with weak hearts or the vapors may want to collect yourself before reading further. Here goes – they spent it. All of it. Like drunken sailors on a three-day pass. Spent on exhibits for the Czech and Slovak Museum and Library in Cedar Rapids. Spent on mosquito trapping research in Gainesville, Florida. Spent on foreign aid to China (yes, China) and Russia. Spent on U.S. troops in 150 countries. Spent on a war in Afghanistan that has no end, for people who despise us, for no discernible goal or outcome.

6% of your paycheck, every paycheck, year after year, is taken from you. Employers kick in another 6%. All for a promised benefit upon retirement. Now that we need to start cashing in those IOU’s, the politicians are going to have to cut out spending on something else in order to pay that debt. They won’t do it. They are incapable of not spending. Too many promises to too many groups. You can’t get (re)elected by actually cutting spending. You’ll piss off someone who has their hand out. So what do you do?

Easy! Claim that we need to “strengthen” the social security fund. We need to “save” it. If debt ceilings aren’t raised, social security payments may not go out. Those who can most afford it can contribute more. We don’t want old people out in the streets. Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria. (Peter Venkman)  Now that you’re sufficiently frightened that grandma will be down at the soup kitchen, we can raise taxes. Bump up the contribution percentage. Increase the retirement age. Decrease the benefit received. Make it a “means tested” benefit. Gnash my teeth, moan, tear my hair, and wave my hands enough over here that you won’t pay attention to all the spending I’m doing over there. We need to do something about this crisis! We can’t let all those evil rich people collect a benefit they don’t need or deserve. Bastards need to pay their fair share.

Mic check, mic check! We should occupy someplace about this. Can’t let those 1%er’s steal my social security. Occupy is the answer! Right after I find someplace to plug in my iPad. Battery running low.

Thank You Sir, May I Have Another?

Pericles wrote “Just because you don’t take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you”. Why then, when it comes to this political season, do I have such a strong desire to scoop my eyes out with a melon baller? This country is on track to reach a debt level of $16 trillion this year. If you don’t think that’s an issue then please stop reading now and go back to your re-runs of Jersey Shore. How could you not be outraged, fired up, and follow all the riveting daily political analysis? Perhaps it’s because the meat puppet occupying 1600 Pennsylvania Ave (don’t get  your knickers in a bunch – I think they’re all meat puppets, not just this one) is particularly adept at convincing the masses that if we just made things more fair, all our problems would be solved.

First, a Test

Before getting to fairness we need a little test to see just how deeply the brainwashing has impacted your orb of gray matter. Ready? One simple question – do you believe the Bush tax cuts cost the government (insert mega-huge $$ amount)?  If you answered yes, it may be too late for you already. Why? Because to accept that premise you must believe the lost money was the governments in the first place. It was their money and dammit, the meat puppets had starving people in the streets to take care of that will now go hungry because you took it away.

How delusional is that? It’s like having the schoolyard bully stealing your lunchtime sandwich for most of the school year. When a teacher catches him and gives your sandwich back, you should now feel guilty because he’ll now go hungry? It’s just not fair. You still had the rest of your lunch to enjoy and yet you’d still deprive the bully of his tasty sandwich. As a nation we seem to have completely lost the sense that most of the “revenue” taken in by government is your money. Money you worked hard for. You spent time away from your family to earn that money. You skipped little junior’s soccer game because you had to be at work on a Saturday earning that money. When we decide that we’d like to keep just a little bit more of our money the rational response should be that government simply just doesn’t spend money that year remaking Sesame Street for Pakistan ($10 million reportedly) – NOT that we’ve somehow “cost” the government money.

Which brings me to what causes the horrific melon ball scenario. In broad terms, this country does not have a revenue problem – we have a spending problem. (technically, at our overall level of debt I’m not sure it’s actually recoverable regardless of steps taken) Generally speaking I’m ok with taxes. I buy into the social pact we’ve made with each other. Everyone contributes a little bit of what they earn so we can pay for some  housekeeping here and there and have a safety net for those who truly need it. Oh, and protect us from the pending zombie apocalypse.

What I do have a problem with is seizing a non-trivial amount of my income, spending it like a drunken sailor, and then claiming more is needed when it runs out. Am I completely against raising taxes? No. However, before you do that I want to see that you’ve made every effort possible to use what you have wisely. Cut waste. Get rid of useless programs. Cut aid. Pull the 28,000 troops from South Korea. Cut 20% from every department’s budget. When that’s done go back and cut another 10%. When you’ve reached that point, and only at that point, you can come ask for more of my money.

The national wealth envy that’s being pushed is nauseating. The concept that it’s only fair that gazillionaires pay just a little bit more to help solve our debt problem is offensive (and no, I’m not part of that evil 1%). If we collect more in tax revenue from any particular group the only thing that happens is Washington will have more money to spend. Are you really naive enough to think that any additional money won’t be spent as fast as it comes in?

Speaking of taxes and fairness… the top 20 percent earned about 55 percent of all income, yet paid 70 percent of all federal income tax. Is that fair? Only if you buy into the politics of wealth envy. Want to spark outrage in this country? Stop collecting taxes via deductions from paychecks. Force everyone to write a check every quarter for taxes owed. I suspect very quickly people would actually realize how much of their income goes to the meat puppets in Washington for redistribution. Well… since nearly half of the country paid no federal income tax, maybe not.

Back to taking an interest in politics. Should I care about the grand promises that will never happen? Probably. But I don’t. A used car salesman will always be a salesman, no matter what the words on the teleprompter tell them to say. Besides, thinking about it takes time away American Idol.