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Republican Meltdown

boehner-cries

We seem to be witnessing the implosion of the Republican Party. It just gets curiouser and curiouser.

On Friday House Speaker John Boehner first scheduled, then withdrew a vote on his “Plan B” as a step toward resolving the so-called fiscal cliff crisis, in which all the tax cuts of George W. Bush are set to expire and $500 billion in across-the-board spending cuts will go into effect.

Boehner didn’t have the votes for Plan B. He couldn’t get his own party to go along with him.

Plan B would have extended Bush’s tax cuts for 99.8% of Americans – everyone who makes less than a million dollars. (And even millionaires would have enjoyed continued lower rates on their first $999,999.) But House Republicans wouldn’t do it. They want no tax increases at all.

They don’t care that polls show the American people overwhelmingly favor increasing taxes on the rich.

These are the same “lawmakers” (put that in quotes because they’re not making any laws at all these days) who moan and groan about the budget deficit and the national debt, which they’re sure will “turn us into Greece” any day now, causing hyperinflation, high interest rates and mass unemployment. Indeed, they’ve been predicting this since 2008, yet interest rates remain so low my bank is now begging me to refinance my mortgage so it can profit on all the money it “saves” me.

Inflation-indexed Treasury bills carry a negative interest rate. If you’ve got ten grand to park, it will cost you money to give it to the U.S. government. We’ve never seen such a thing. Bonds are supposed to pay you, not the other way around!

The deficit hawks keep predicting the end of the world. The Mayan calendar comes and goes, the world keeps spinning, but the GOP/Tea Party is convinced we must cut spending – not for the sacred military, mind you, but for “luxuries” like unemployment benefits, food stamps, Medicare, Medicaid and disabled veterans.

If it doesn’t help millionaires, Republicans aren’t interested.

This is all very odd. And though this situation is incredibly complex, certain basic facts stand out.

Under ordinary rules of politics, politicians favor what’s popular with the public. But these Republicans don’t. People don’t want Medicare cut; they like Medicare and they paid into it. Congressional Republicans want to cut Medicare anyway.

A recent poll by CNN/ORC found that a majority of Americans say the Republicans are “too extreme.” That should cause them to moderate their positions, but so far it hasn’t.

If no deal is made and we go off the “fiscal cliff,” government spending will gradually drop so drastically that by spring, we’ll head back into a recession. And people will blame the Republicans if that happens, according to a Pew Research poll.

House Republicans are unmoved. They won’t raise taxes no matter what. They’re willing to let their Speaker twist in the wind on Capitol Hill rather than do a simple deal to keep the whole party from looking like idiots.

Grover Norquist’s infamous no-tax pledge has been shredded so badly that this week he declared Boehner’s tax increase on millionaires wasn’t a tax increase at all. He’s coming very close to political irrelevance, after dominating the party for 20 years.

Dick Armey took a $7 million payout from FreedomWorks, a phony Tea Party organization financed by the Koch Brothers, after the election, demanding that they remove all references to him immediately on his departure. This week, FreedomWorks declared “Two Cheers for Plan B” on Thursday, then Friday morning said, “That doesn’t mean to vote for it.”

The National Rifle Association held a “news conference” (a speech, actually, no questions allowed) Friday in the wake of the mass murder of 6-year-olds in Newtown. Wayne LaPierre’s speech was almost universally condemned; even Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post was appalled.

 

The Post is Rupert Murdoch's conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

The Post is Rupert Murdoch’s conservative paper; the Daily News is sort of moderate.

But so far Republicans are “sticking to their guns,” in the face of polls showing Americans want sensible gun safety laws. According to the Daily News, Pew found that “65 percent said that allowing assault weapons ownership makes the country more dangerous, while just 21 percent say they make the country more safe.”

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

Just hours ago, a candlelight vigil was held at Lafayette Park in Washington. (Mandel Ngan/AFP-Getty)

John Boehner has tried to get a deal with President Obama, but he doesn’t have enough support in the House. How long can he remain Speaker this way? Saint Reagan couldn’t corral these people; he raised taxes 11 times.

If compromise is now a dirty word to Tea Party Republicans, the government grinds to a halt. Whatever the House might pass, the Senate will reject, and we’re left with nothing.

When has a political party ever induced a recession, thinking this is what people want? It’s never happened!

So what’s really going on here?

First, Saint Reagan is dead. The Republican Party hasn’t had an idea since he left office, so they keep running on what they say he stood for, as distorted by lesser lights since then like Newt “Moon Colony” Gingrich, Norquist, conservative think thanks, neo-con warmongers at the National Review, Rush Limbaugh and Fox. When a new idea does surface – the universal health insurance mandate, part of Romneycare and Obamacare, originated at the Heritage Foundation – other conservatives beat it to a pulp. Eventually no idea can survive. Republicans become more and more right-wing, with no effective brakes to keep them from plunging off the cliff.

Apparently they haven’t lost enough elections yet; that’s what causes party realists to slam the brakes. Democrats had to lose the White House three times before they found Bill Clinton, a Southerner and “new Democrat.”

Second, in the absence of a coherent ideology, the only thing that matters to most politicians is simply getting re-elected. They don’t really believe anything (which is a Tea Party criticism too). All that interests them is power. If a new ideology came along and seemed to offer a more popular outcome, they’d switch in a heartbeat; “forget what I said yesterday, here’s what I say now.” If Grover Norquist is out, “I didn’t really mean it when I signed that pledge.” If Grover Norquist comes back in, “I’ve been with Grover from day one.”

Congress is like “Survivor.” They just wanna be on TV.

The 2012 election thinned the ranks of House Republicans, but they retained the majority due to gerrymandering in the districts, where Republicans controlled the map-drawing after the 2010 census – AND the 2010 midterm elections. This year Democratic House candidates actually received a collective majority of the votes, but won only about 45% of the seats, thanks to gerrymandering. (Maybe someday, after the gridlock, Americans will finally decide gerrymandering harms the country. Maybe someday pigs will fly.) Indiana’s Congressional delegation flipped from 7-2 Democrat to 7-2 Republican in two short years.

Nate Silver of The New York Times suggests there is no way to put together a winning coalition in the incoming House. If so, we’ll have gridlock for the next two years.

Say that Mr. Boehner cannot count on the support of 34 of his Republicans when it comes to passing major fiscal policy legislation. That means he would need to identify 18 Democrats who would vote along with the Republicans who remained with him.

Here’s the problem: it might be hard to round up those 18 Democrats.

The reason is that most of the Democrats who remain in the House are quite liberal.

Here’s the really important thing: whatever political manipulations have occurred (and yes, they happen every day), the American people voted for divided government. A fascinating new CNN/ORC poll, little publicized so far, shows that despite all the bad press and lopsided polls listed above, people still want Republicans to control the House, 51%-43%. That poll was taken earlier this week!

People voted for gridlock and they still support it. Therefore, paradoxically, what House Republicans did this week was simply giving them exactly what they asked for – in general, not on specific issues. Republicans are losing on actual issues, but as a rule of thumb they’re doing great!

Americans don’t know what they want. And if we don’t know, how can Washington?

Obama and the Democrats made a huge mistake, losing the 2010 midterms. This is entirely the fault of the President, David Axelrod and David Plouffe. A census year is the most important midterm of the decade, because it determines who controls the statehouses, and they control the maps, which naturally favored the GOP.

We are at last ungovernable. Obama’s going to have to see what he can do by executive order, because nothing will pass the 113th Congress. Fiscal cliff? Debt ceiling? Recession? The Middle East? Toss a coin.

Meanwhile I’ll be curious whether anyone can lead the imploded Republican Party, and what life will be like if no one can.++

what-me-worry2

Gun Control after the Sandy Hook School Mass Shooting

(Tom Toles/Washington Post)

(Tom Toles/Washington Post)

I find that I am not comforted, after the murder of 20 children and 7 adults this morning in Connecticut, by the many prayers and expressions of grief posted by Church people on Facebook, any more than I am soothed by the blather of psychiatrists paid to spout off on TV about it.

I mean, any and all expressions of sorrow by people of goodwill are welcome, and every attempt to help is a good thing. I’m just saying I’m not comforted by them, because my primary emotion isn’t sadness, it’s anger.

After Columbine, I felt sadness. Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords in Tucson, the Sikh temple in Michigan, the mall shooting in Portland, they all broke my heart.

But this one makes me furious. Children in kindergarten?

I wrote on Facebook, “Enough with these mass shootings. Gun control now!

A few minutes later I e-mailed President Obama, then posted a link so others could do the same. You can too, right here.

I contacted one of my Senators; the other one’s a lame duck, so I didn’t bother with him. I can’t get in touch with my Congressman until after the new session, because his website is set up to take people only from the ZIP Codes in his current (2010) district, not his new one; we got redistricted. They’re both big 2nd Amendment types anyway, but they’re exactly the ones who need to hear the nation’s disgust.

As the day wore my Facebook news feed filled up with prayers, pictures of candles, the sayings of wise people, statements of bishops, “how to talk to children after a tragedy” and every other Hallmark card we’ve come to expect. Somehow the constant use of the term “tragedy” to describe what happened drove me a little bit nuts. I felt like shouting, “It isn’t a tragedy, it’s a crime!”

Which brings me to the National Rifle Association. I heard from one of their members, who commented, “I was raised with guns, and I vote.”

I promptly told her off and unfriended her.

As far as I’m concerned the NRA might as well be a terrorist organization. And I’m sick of politicians of both parties kowtowing to terrorists.

The members of the NRA believe in moderate proposals for gun control, but the leaders of the organization take their money and plow it into opposing every tiny effort to restrict access to guns by people who shouldn’t have them.

The NRA has become a front for the most vile, right-wing, Republican Tea Party fanatics in the nation.

But there are more of us than there are of them. The difference is they are ORGANIZED – and organized interests with money trump the common good every time.

We don’t have to put up with this. If politicians are worried that the NRA will come after them, we need to make them worry about us even more.

Meanwhile, to all my Christian friends, with all their prayers and candles and Hallmark cards, I answer this: Our God is a God of justice as well as mercy.

We ought to know that, considering it’s Advent; we’re reading Isaiah these days.

Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,
and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them;
the mountains quaked,
and their corpses were like refuse in the streets.
For all this his anger has not turned away,
and his hand is stretched out still.

Isaiah 5:25-26

Or maybe you remember this from St. Paul:

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

Romans 12:19 (NIV)

(Or maybe you prefer this translation.)

Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (KJV)

“Vengeance is mine” also means it’s not yours or mine. Now is not the time for anyone to get violent in response to violence.

But the 535 members of Congress, and the President of the United States, have everything to answer for.

Obama went a little further this afternoon in his public expression of grief than he’s done the last four years after all the other mass shootings; he made a reference to “policy.”

My view is that we must repeal and replace the 2nd Amendment. I support hunting, which is a way of life in rural areas; people feed their families by being good with a rifle or a longbow.

They do not feed their families with handguns. I say ban them all!

Sure, I know how hard repealing and replacing the 2nd Amendment will be, but we owe it to our children – specifically those 20 little kids in Newtown, Connecticut, killed today because some guy who shouldn’t have had guns had three semi-automatics, and loaded his car up with bullets, drove to their school and shot them. His own mother, too, and several other adults. But what makes me furious is that he killed 20 kids in kindergarten, bang bang bang.

I say this to every priest in my church and every Hallmark-sending friend on Facebook: I am not going to pray for his soul.

Instead I say this: May God damn him to hell forever.

That’s what hell’s for; our God is a God of justice as well as mercy. Learn this, people.++

2nd Amendment Twisted

So Far Away

Sure, I'll march - just don't expect me to pick up the damn banner.

Sure, I’ll march – just don’t expect me to pick up the damn banner.

I’ve noticed something lately. Whenever I go to pick up something off the floor, either I don’t bend as fast as I used to, or I’m just as fast but I don’t bend as far.

I stand, I bend, my hand is outstretched, but the thing I want (book, paper, Luke’s leash) just sits there until I bend a little more.

Which makes me wonder: why am I forever putting shit on the floor?

Yoga people make me sick.

Yoga people make me sick.

Christmas Is Better When We Keep Advent First

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn't got here yet.

The words of the great Advent hymn tell us plainly: Christ hasn’t got here yet.

Today is the 3rd day of Advent, the four-week season of preparation before Christmas. I find it’s my favorite time of year.

The best way to observe Advent is to avoid doing Christmasy things before December 24th; and to use the time in other, better ways.

This isn’t easy in the United States, or people think it isn’t; they feel an invisible pressure to run around and buy things, or go to Christmas/”holiday” parties, and generally be in a rush to “get everything ready.” Meanwhile they’re not getting ready on the inside, only on the outside.

This is mostly because of television, the great amplifier of commerce. But Christmas isn’t about commerce, it’s about the birth of a Savior.

Babies come when they get here, and no amount of preparation truly gets us ready. So why are we kidding ourselves? (Because somebody can make money by stoking our anxieties, then seeming to offer relief in exchange for money.)

I don’t watch TV; I gave mine away. That by itself eases the pressure by 90%. I take Advent at a slow, relaxed pace that allows me to think and feel.

I feel sorry for people who run around this time of year. I want to tell them, “You’ve got plenty of time!” But they don’t see it that way.

I wouldn’t be caught dead going shopping on Black Friday. Some people do wind up dead that day, trampled to death at Walmart. What a wonderful Christmas their survivors must have, thinking about the big-screen TV that never came home.

The world is upside down. That’s the Bible message in a nutshell; how we live is completely screwed up.

This hasn’t changed since the Scriptures began to be written down at the dawn of history. Everything we think is important is actually trivial; the things we take for granted are the most important of all.

People don’t want to hear this now anymore than they did 6000 years ago. Still, some of us persist in broadcasting the message, or at least trying to live by it.

I can’t make people stay home on Black Friday. All I can do is to stay home myself, and do something thoughtful and fun.

AdventLighting

I always start with an Advent wreath, which is just some evergreens arranged in a circle with four candles to light, one for each week until Christmas gets here. It helps us to mark the passage of time – and not get ahead of ourselves. That’s the temptation in December, always to get ahead of ourselves. The Advent wreath reminds us not to do that. Expectant parents don’t start the party until the baby gets here. Then it’s time to break out the gifts and have a feast. But not before.

The last few years I’ve had to make my own wreaths. I have a circular frame, arrange greenery around it and stick four candles in their holes. Make dinner, put the food on the table, light the candle(s), say the Collect of the Day, then eat. In the Gospel stories Jesus was always eating with his friends; they were a hungry bunch.

The wreath, and the waiting it enables, gives me the annual structure of Advent. I do the same thing with it every year. But I also do something different every year, because I’m not in the same mental place as before. Advent 2012 is new this year, and I want to be aware of what here and now is like. My circumstances have changed, so I ask myself what feels right for now?

This year I am writing, and publishing on my prayer sites visited by millions all over the world, a short, simple prayer for every weekday of Advent. I got the inspiration this year from seeing a photo on Facebook of my friend Cresta’s little boys making homemade Christmas decorations. This brought back memories; when I was a child everybody made little items to decorate their tree. Before there was plastic tinsel manufactured by heathens in China, people used to string together pieces of popcorn and drape that around their tree.

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon - far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

A big needle to pierce the kernels, some yards of thread; baked orange slices and some coarse ribbon – far better than store-bought. (Ladybird Cottage)

The Book of Common Prayer, from which I get the content that goes on my prayer sites, does not contain prayers for each of the weekdays of Advent, only for the four Sundays. So here’s tomorrow’s example of my little daily scribbles. You can see it’s just a thought or two.

[A Homemade Prayer for Wednesday of Advent 1
by Josh Thomas

Dear Lord and Friend, this world doesn’t make it easy to keep Advent. We live in a culture where the buildup is more important than the event. But you were a stranger in a strange land too, so help us be cheerful as we go quietly about our lives. Amen.]

My friend Stephen surprised me this year with an animated, online Advent calendar by Jacquie Lawson. Traditional Advent calendars are printed things you buy at the Hallmark store, with little cut-out doors for kids to open, one per day, showing and telling the Christmas story. I don’t have kids, so I don’t do Advent calendars anymore, until now. Ms. Lawson’s little product is a great way to start each day; every one is different. Her theme this year is “Alpine Christmas” and features her familiar dogs, cats and whimsy; she’s not religious because she wants to sell a lot of calendars, but a snowman’s a snowman and you can build your own with a variety of tools she supplies. Today she has a skiing bear who takes a spill at the bottom of the mountain.

I am also doing one other thing this year: I never decorate my house until Christmas Eve. I don’t believe in it; I believe in waiting instead. But this year, in case that feels too rigid, I go down to the basement every morning and pick out one little trinket to display. My house will gradually fill with signs of Christmas until the day finally gets here. On Monday I brought up my Christmas kitchen towels, because Monday is laundry day for me, and today my kitchen counter has a Santa Claus cookie jar right next to the flour and sugar. I am looking forward to finding my downy fawn tabletop, which always goes on an end table in my living room, as well as my miniature trumpet in its little black case, lined with red velvet. Christmas is a time for music, the making and singing of it, not just the listening. I don’t listen to Christmas music until December 24.

Yesterday I went to Murphy’s grocery and got subjected to the Muzak version of “We Three Kings.” Which isn’t even a Christmas song, it’s for Epiphany instead, but nobody knows that anymore except Episcopalians.

I like to host 12th Night parties on the Eve of Epiphany, but I probably won’t do that this year. Do you know what merriment people in England used to have on 12th Night? Jesters, fools, people in drag – like having a Gay bar right in your house!

Cast of "12th Night," Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

Cast of “12th Night,” Capitol Shakespeare, Bismarck, North Dakota, 2008.

You do whatever feels right to you; my only advice is to think about it and be deliberate. Maybe you’re one of millions who doesn’t like Christmas, religious or secular, because it makes you feel lonely and depressed. (I’ll write an Advent prayer about that, too.) If so, feel free to ignore what the world is doing. Jesus is in favor of taking care of yourself.

But if you love Christmas, as I do – the carols sound so much better when you wait for them and sing them at midnight mass – enjoy this time of year, wherever you find yourself physically and mentally. Christmas practices vary from place to place and person to person. I remember the pleasant shock I felt once, seeing a Gay-themed movie from Australia, which had the characters picking out their Christmas tree in the summertime, with everyone wearing shorts instead of bundled up like we are in the North. If you have a loved one, or several, I visualize you gathered with them, having some wonderful times. If you are alone, and aging like me, you can also enjoy the season, picking and choosing what to participate in and what to pass up.

This year I am glad to be who I am and where I am, safe and warm at home. I find my Christmas is better when I keep Advent first.++

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)

(Kerr Pelto, caligrapher)