FISCAL CLIFFS LOOMS AND RHETORIC TRUMPS REASON

Today is December 28, 2012. The fiscal cliff awaits us on January 1, 2013. A self-imposed, fixed and immutable deadline. To paraphrase the old military saying: “three more days, and we wake up.” What kind of America will we wake up to on January 1? No one knows, and few seem to care. In the past few weeks, most Americans have been going about their daily lives, pre-occuppied with the holiday season. The last thing they want to think about is some political wrangling over a “fiscal cliff,” most of them don’t understand and don’t see how it will affect them anyway. To some extent, that is understandable. But, unfortunately, the representatives we have elected to look out for our interests, to govern on our behalf, to be the voices of reason, to overcome their political differences and do the “right thing” for the good of the whole country rather than their respective self-serving narrow interests, have failed us utterly and irresponsibly. They are still, at this late date, engaged in rhetoric over reason.

The latest polls show that roughly 44% of Americans blame the Republicans for failure to resolve the impasse; roughly 33% blame the Democrats and the rest blame both parties. Of course, that is ludicrous. Those who have been following the issue closely realize that there is equal blame on both sides. Personally, I blame the leadership of BOTH parties, including President Obama and the Congressional leaders, who have failed to rein in their fringe elements on both the right and left so that common ground can be found for the good of the country as a whole.

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Some of you may recall that I have published two previous blogs on this subject. On November 24 I posted “Deal or No Deal” in which I challenged our government representatives, including the President, to “step up” politically. (We see how well they responded to that challenge.) I predicted “rhetoric and fingerpointing” but no meaningful deal. On November 30 I posted “Will America Fall Off the Cliff?” in which I listed the major negative effects of a failure to reach a meaningful agreement. I predicted a last minute deal, but not a meaningful one. Unfortunately, it appears that both predictions were pretty close to the truth.

People take heed! It’s not just about tax rates. If we go off the fiscal cliff 90% of you will see a tax increase, including virtually everyone who pays income tax, works, sells property or, yes, dies. And, that does not include the Obamacare tax (Yes, it is a tax. The Supreme Court said so.) and the incalculable effects on our economy and credit rating.

When all is said and done, don’t be surprised if there is a much ballyhooed last minute, face-saving deal that technically avoids the fiscal cliff but yet fails to resolve the larger economic problems. One thing our government is good at is the old children’s game of “kick the can.”

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ARE WE REALLY SAFE?

Most of us are fortunate enough to live in a nice house in a nice community. We work really hard and sacrifice for that privilege But, are we really safe? We love our children more than life itself. We want to protect them. We don’t let them play outside unsupervised, lest some evil befall them. We send them to the best schools. We tell them: “Don’t talk to strangers.” We watch them carefully at the mall scrutinizing every stranger like he or she is evil incarnate. In short, as parents, we do the best we can. But, are they really, really safe? After yesterday’s horrific shooting spree, I think we know the answer. It was there all along, but we didn’t see it. We know that despite our best efforts the answer is NOT REALLY.

The sad reality is that evil is omnipresent in the world. There is not only external danger from, say, terrorists, but also internal danger from our own people. Time and again, we learn that “normal” appearing people from “normal” homes harbor some defect that makes them capable of heinous acts of violence that are beyond the comprehension of most of us.

The media has been calling Newtown, CT the second-most horrific shooting in American history after the Virginia Tech slayings. I maintain that, qualitatively, it is the worst, because most of the victims were young children aged 5 – 9 with their whole lives ahead of them. I’m reminded of that truism “you’re not supposed to bury your kids.” Imagine, for a minute the terror of a parent walking into that firehouse looking for his or her child not knowing whether that child is alive or dead. Imagine what would go through your mind for those horrifying seconds until you finally see your child alive and well and hug him or her tightly for all the world…or not. I, for one, can’t imagine, and I hope and pray I never have to.

In addition, I think we all find it disburbing that this incident is perpetuating a trend in which a disturbed person with a “beef” against other people, or society in general, obtains a weapon and shoots up a school, an office or a building to take out his frustrations. In recent years, this has happened more times than I care to recall – Columbine, OKC, Va Tech, to name a few. The question is, what do we do about it? What CAN we do about it?

CONCLUSION AND PREDICTION

Yesterday, everyone was shocked, stunned, horrified, angry; you pick the characterization. President Obama was moved to tears during his address. Predictably, there will be calls for stricter gun laws, or even gun control, and corresponding resistence from the NRA, hunting enthusiasts and such. We have seen this all before. Typically, nothing meaningful happens, and we forget and move on.

I would applaud stricter gun laws. We all know that the constitution guarantees us the right to bear arms, but, I fail to understand why any private citizen would need an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. I would also favor stricter penalties for any crime in which a gun was involved. Finally, we need better supervision over gun shows and internet sales. Let’s hope that this time there is action, not just rhetoric.

POT SMOKING DRIVERS

So far, two states, Washington and Colorado have passed laws legalizing the possession and use of marijuana.  In addition, several other states – including Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Maine, Massachussets, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont – are seriously considering enacting similar laws in the near future.  Moreover, some states, such as California, permit the use of marijuana for “medicinal” purposes.  (It should be noted that Federal law still prohibits the possession, sale and use of marijuana, and Federal law trumps state law.  But, it is uncertain how zealously the liberal Obama administration will seek to overrride these states’ laws, particularly since many of its supporters are in favor of the aforementioned laws.)

Putting aside the argument over the propriety of the legalization of marijuana, there is one substantial unintended consequence.  That is the affect of its use on motorists who operate motor vehicles while under its influence, and, by extension, passengers and other motorists.  Studies have shown that marijuana and other drugs can impair a driver’s perception, cognition, reaction time, attentiveness, and coordination.  Furthermore, many marijuana users also use alcohol, which leads to a “double-down” deterioration of the above.

In Colorado and Washington as in most other states, the law regarding motorists driving under the influence of drugs is weak compared to to the laws regarding driving under the influence of alcohol.  DUI alcohol is universally a “per se” test.  If you are detained, your blood is tested, and your blood alcohol concentration (“BAC”) is greater than .08, bingo, you are considered to be DUI.  With respect to drugs, however, there is no agreement as to what constitutes impairment.  Only a handful of states have “per se” laws that make it illegal to drive when there is any detectable amount of a drug in the driver’s blood. In most states, the standard is much more difficult to prove.  In California, for example, prosecutors have to demonstrate that the driver with drugs in his blood was actually “impaired.”  This has been very difficult to prove.  Therefore, often, cases are dismissed or plead down to lesser offenses.

Conclusion and Prediction

Studies have shown that marijuana is the most common drug present in drug impaired drivers.  The trend toward legalization will only exacerbate the above-discussed problems, since many states appear to be rushing to pass marijuana legalization laws without having addressed the drug’s affect on motorists.  Lawmakers need to proceed more deliberately.  They should at least enact “per se” DUI drug laws with penalties that parallel DUI alcohol laws, and educate users and the general public as to the risks.  Unfortunately, I doubt that they will do so.

THE OBLIVIOUS AMERICAN

I have a huge financial problem.  My checkbook is severely overdrawn; my credit cards are maxed out; my credit rating is in the toilet.  Technically, I am bankrupt, only I don’t know it.  But, still, I want to spend, spend, spend.  I know I should curb my spending.  I know I can’t afford all the expenses I am incurring, but I can’t help myself.  What do I do?  What can I do?

But, wait, I don’t have to worry.  I am the United States Government.  I don’t have to repay my debt.  I can just keep on printing money.  Phew! To hell with the debt.  Let my children and grandchildren worry about it. 

Folks, that just about sums up most Americans’ current attitude.  Spend, spend, spend.  I don’t care as long as I get mine.  Be oblivious to the debt piling up.  Let someone else worry about repaying it.  maybe, we won’t ever repay it. I don’t care.  Not my problem.

“Tax the ‘rich.’  Let them take care of the debt.”  Polls show that’s the solution most Americans favor.  The only flaw in that solution is that even if the government were to raise the top tax rates to the levels proposed by Mr. Obama it would only make a very small dent in the debt.  There are simply not enough “rich” people.  We need to make meaningful cuts in spending as well, painful as that might be.

Conclusion

The sad fact of the matter is that we allow, or even encourage, the Federal government to conduct its affairs in a way that we would not dream of running our own personal affairs.  Most Americans have little or no conception of the problem, and many who do are too busy with their daily lives to make a big issue of it.  Wake up people!  If this massive debt continues to grow at the current rate it will soon threaten the very core of our economy, our very way of life!  Ignoring the matter is no longer an option.  Our representatives have been irresponsible to spend us into this mess, but we have also been irresponsible to allow, or even encourage, it.  We should be horrified!  Let’s stop it!  Let’s stop it now before it’s too late!!