#202 – Dick Bernard: Why Are We a Ship Full of Fools?

Thursday afternoon a friend stopped by to visit. He’d been to a wake at a nearby mortuary, paying respects to a long-time colleague who, he said, had few friends and almost no family. A kindly gesture.
We visited.
Jim is a fairly recent retiree from a career position in state government. I suppose somebody could call him a “bureaucrat”; some others wouldn’t even elevate him to that hated status. But he’s had a career inside the state system and he knows it very well. He also knows local politics, having been an elected city council member in his suburban community.
Our state like many others is grappling with huge budget issues. Recently the legislature (Democrat) avoided a special session showdown with our Governor (Republican-and-running-for-2012-GOP Presidential-nomination) by, as Jim put it, putting off catastrophic decisions until 2011. Either taxes must be raised, or draconian cuts made in needed services (meaning also, of course, cuts in personnel and/or their wages and benefits which in turn hurts the economy). But our formerly (ten years or more ago, I’d say, when negotiating differences meant something) responsible state government has again succumbed to political reality – getting elected in November.
Earlier in the day my wife had been to the hospital to visit our friend Annette who’d been “fired” from her job in early December. I put “fired” in quotes, because she was simply let go under the guise of being “fired”: She qualified immediately for unemployment, with no contest whatsoever from her former employer. She has not actively sought a job as she needed the surgery to work. She could not get the surgery until she qualified for a certain stop-gap insurance to cover the bill, which in turn she couldn’t qualify for until a month after her eligibility for another insurance plan (one she could not afford) ran out. (Yes, it is complicated, but it’s how I remember the scenario).
Thursday night I watched the news, part of which was the failure, once again, to get an extension of unemployment benefits through the U.S. Senate. The vote was to allow an up-or-down vote and avoid a filibuster. The senators call it “invoking cloture”. It takes 60 votes for cloture, in a 100 member Senate. Fifty-seven Democrats voted aye; forty Republicans and one Democrat voted nay, and the motion failed. There are so many issues, and filibusters are diversions that cannot be afforded. The politicians have their issue: “that’ll show those shiftless and lazy dolts who are feeding at the public trough – go out and get a job” (even if there’s no job to get). Jobs are the reason the stimulus is needed in the first place. (The excuse used by senators – and it is only an excuse – is that this will increase the deficit; they all know its actual effect will be the opposite, which is why the Republicans want it to fail. I wrote about this multiplier effect one year ago on this blog.)
The Republican strategy is the same as it has been from Day One of the Obama Presidency: make him fail, and in failure, enhance the prospect for Republican success in November. That 60-vote cloture rule is one of their main tools.
Blocking legislation is a good short-term political strategy…and we are fools to bite, but many of us are – at least that’s the Republican calculus to win in November.
That night we had a house guest while I watched the national news. He was one of our grandsons, whose Dad was working his second job.
His Dad is one of those who was laid off from a corporate job last March, and has taken a temporary job – “no more than a year” – with lower wages than he was earning, with the State of Minnesota*. His job seems to be intake phone calls from fellow-unemployed persons, including occasional ones contemplating suicide because they can’t find work. He is the first point of contact with the State, and he is to help them navigate the maze to possible assistance on their particular problem. It is hard work.
When the axe falls, as it will, on our state in January, his job will almost certainly be history. So will, likely, the usual possibility that even a temporary state job might lead to something more permanent. He has to work two jobs to survive, which cuts into his opportunity to seek other employment….
And we continue on, cruising on this Ship of Fools, justifying our short-sightedness and selfishness.
At some point, our ship will sink; it’s now rapidly taking on water. We seem not to care.
* – Subsequent to this post, I visited with my son-in-law: he’s one of 400 doing this job, and he receives over 100 phone calls per day. There is no down time.
A directly related post, by Paul Krugman in Monday’s New York Times, is here.
A followup post at this blog and on this topic is #203, here.