Monday, December 21, 2009

Full Steam Ahead on U.S.S. Irresponsibility

We have no rudder, we're almost out of fuel, springing leaks everywhere. Let's take this baby out to sea!

The congress has been busy spending money these past few weeks. Your money. Well, not actually your money, per se, it's either China's money that you are responsible to repay, or they are stealing it from you via inflation by firing up the printing presses. Either way, they have shown that they have no more concept of reality than the Wall Street Fat Cats that they would have you believe are our only problem. Only Wall Street tycoons are in a position to steal from you, right? Regardless, I hope you have your $39,000, because that's your share, and they'll end up getting it one way of another.

It began with the new $1.1T spending bill that made its way through the House and the Senate about a week ago. According to the facts as provided to me by Evan Bayh (D - IN), there is an 8% increase in the budget across the board. Not many corporations are fortunate enough to get that kind of increase in spending in their 2010 budget. Not many workers are getting a cost of living raise of four times the rate of inflation, either. Bayh, to his credit, voted 'No' on the bill, only one of three Democrats to do so, but he has been guilty of plenty of reckless spending otherwise (cash for clunkers, TARP, Stimulus, Healthcare).

We can also thank our friends in Congress for over $4B in earmark spending hidden in the bill. Over 400 earmarks were submitted by Chuck Grassley (R - IA), though he claims not to know how many actually made it into the final bill. I subsequently saw him on television defending himself, saying that while he submitted the earmarks, he did not vote for the bill. Apparently that leaves him, in his mind, entirely faultless in the fiasco. It's all justifiable in politician-logic. The way Grassley sees it, everyone wins: He gets his earmarks to mollify those who pay for his elections, because the bill passed without him, yet can still feign outrage, citing his 'No' vote on the Senate floor. He's in luck, because the bill has been signed. What was that I remember about going line by line to eliminate earmarks (2, 3, 4, 5)?

They tried to sell us that the budget would be better next time around when they passed the $410B 'Omnibus' budget bill at the beginning of the year. They tried to sell that it was 'last year's business, leftovers of the reckless spending of the dreadful Bush era (even though all budgets are constructed by congress, controlled not by George W. Bush, or even republicans over the past two years).

Without a hitch, they moved straight to healthcare. Not that anyone has read or knows what is actually in the bill. We do know a few things, however. Chris Dodd (D - CT) was able to get $100,000,000 packed into the bill for a medical center in Connecticut. What, exactly, does that have to do with providing health insurance for those who can't afford it? Ben Nelson (D - NE), was paid off, outright purchased, by getting the federal government to pick up the state's ENTIRE Medicaid tab, FOREVER. He had been holding out on 'moral grounds,' regarding federal funding for abortions. The people in his state made it clear that they didn't support federal funding for it, and it was looking like he would not be re-elected in 2010 if he voted for the bill. So did he change his vote based on a compromise in the provisions that he (and his constituents) found objectionable? No. He supplied his vote in exchange for CASH, just like Mary Landrieu.

Such fortitude! Way to stand your ground for your 'beliefs,' good sir.

For those of you living in the 49 other states, realize that he is voting 'Yes' on the healthcare bill in exchange for YOUR paying Nebraska's Medicare bill for the remainder of the existence of our republic. Enjoy!

Don't get me wrong, we need healthcare reform. There are a great many things within the system that are broken. And who broke it? State and federal government, of course. They were lobbied by insurance companies to put up walls to competition and falsely inflate their profits. We would not be here without the complete and utter complicity of those who are entrusted with the authority to 'fix' it.

Yes, something needs to change. But we don't need secrecy and back-room pay-offs to get it. Is their cause really so noble that they need to pass it behind closed doors and the cover of darkness? We need to know what is in the bill BEFORE it is passed. And, I know that this might sound crazy, the bill should ONLY INCLUDE PROVISIONS WHICH ACTUALLY ARE RELATED TO THE ISSUE TO BE ADDRESSED. No pork. But Harry Reid (D - NV) said himself, if Senators aren't trying to get something for themselves, they're not doing their jobs.

Why are these bills so ridiculously massive? Why do they keep getting bigger? Well, Harry just said it. Everyone has to have a little something in it for them. And each time, they feel like they need just a little more. And a little more. Have we had enough of politicians using taxpayer money to pay off their campaign contributors? Have we had enough of their pandering to corporate interests? Have we had enough of them using tax dollars to ensure their own continuing power? It would seem not. Apparently it's only the bankers and Wall Street fat cats and insurance company executives that we need to worry about. That's what the politicians keep saying, at least.

Wake up and smell the debt. Feel the water we're taking on. Realize that it won't be the Captains who go down with the ship, it will be the passengers.

Pelosi, you'll be back at the helm soon enough. Steer us well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Movie Perspective: Invictus

Is it a Nelson Mandela movie? Is it a rugby movie? No. It's a human movie.

The only things Clint Eastwood's latest has in common with his other recent movies (Gran Torino, Changeling, Letters from Iwo Jima / Flags of Our Fathers, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) is quality.

The movie, based on the novel Playing the Enemy: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation by John Carlin, paints a portrait of the cultural upheaval in South Africa in the early 1990s. It begins with a startlingly well conceived scene contrasting the two populations sharing the country. As Mandela is driven through his country, just released from prison, the black children play soccer in rags on one side of the street, while the whites practice rugby in uniform on the other. "Remember this is your country went to the dogs," the white coach tells his players.

I remember these events to a degree, from my youth. Taking place when I was ten or eleven, apartheid was explained to me, and my young mind couldn't wrap itself around the idea. What sort of people could allow such a system to take place? Yes, the U.S. has slavery in its past, but to me, at that age, it all seemed so long ago. I was shocked that this sort of thinking still existed in the world that I lived in.

Eastwood uses rugby as an effective storytelling device, demonstrating the tightrope that Mandela was forced to walk after he became president. Morgan Freeman's performance, per usual, is top notch as Mandela, who must persuade his people, to embrace the country's rugby team, Springbok, which they all hold as a symbol, down to the mere colors the team wears, of their oppression. In order to save his country, Freeman's Mandela must help his people to balance on a razors edge between justice and revenge.

Mandela works with Springbok coach/player Francois Pienaar, deftly played by Matt Damon, to find a way to overcome odds to win the 1995 rugby World Cup. A victory in the tournament, which was held in South Africa, could unite black and white in a way that few other accomplishments could. Mandela must inspire Pienaar to rally and overcome not only the cultural mores of the mostly white team, but their seeming lack of skill.

Other ideas explored were Mandela's own difficulty dealing with his estrangement from his family. The dichotomy of his ability to overcome the obstacles of integrating two people so untrusting of each other, with his inability to unite is family provides an interesting back drop. Furthermore, the integration, and later friendship, among the black and white presidential security detail is an entertaining underscore.

If I allowed myself one complaint, I suppose that I could have done without a few of the slow-motion-men-grunting-in-the-scrum scenes that portrayed the World Cup finals, but that would be nitpicking at the harshest. Invictus was a movie that informs while entertaining, keeping this viewer, with very little understanding of rugby fully engaged throughout. It has inspired me to learn more about the events as they took place, and is an moving tale of the unifying power of sport.

Rated 4, Recommended

Scale: 1 - Awful, 2 - Substandard, 3 - Average, 4 - Recommended, 5 - Must See

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Enlisting in the War on Christmas

When I woke up this morning, there were ships as far as the eye could see. The fleet had sailed in overnight. I watched as they loaded into their Higgins boats and amphibious landing craft, and now they are nearly to shore. But we will all fight to our last breath. We will take our beliefs to the grave. We will never be defeated in spirit.

Yes, the time of year is upon us again. The time when we are placed in the middle of a never-ending battle to the death: The War on Christmas. Fox News is on the television, droning on about their latest findings about which companies do and do not allow their employees to say "Merry Christmas." The ACLU has legions of lawyers at the battlements, prepared to fight off any perceived assault on what they believe to be the world view of the defenseless. Everyone has battened the hatches and armed themselves to the teeth. Careful liberals, Fox is watching you for war crimes. Don't get too cocky, Fox, Keith Olbermann has you in his sights. Gotcha!

But when did we transition from the tried and true cornerstone of democracy, "While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the death your right to say it," to "While I may disagree with what you say, I will defend to the point of offense to my delicate sensibilities to say it?" Have our skin really grown so thin?

I have a hard time believing that a Christian wishing someone of another faith, or no faith at all, a Merry Christmas in the television department of Best Buy is really going to alter their system of beliefs. Nor do I fear that one person's decision to be an atheist should play any role whatsoever in another's choice of faith. Yet, faithful and faithless alike still take to the streets and do battle every year. Both sides love nothing more than to evangelize their point of view.

But what if, just what if, an atheist said "Thank You," when someone tells them Merry Christmas? What if a Christian said "And to you, too!" when a Jew wishes them a Happy Hanukkah? If all are comfortable in their beliefs, they should not feel the need to belittle the other for a greeting that is really only meant to convey good will. Should stores, businesses or government bureaucracies require their employees to convey such a greeting? Of course not. But is it the end of the world if they do?

Here's hoping for a day where liberals and conservatives alike can find a way to avoid taking offense to things that have no real effect on them or the people they are wont to protect. Until then, I look forward to many more meaningless arguments about whether it must be called "Winter" or "Christmas" break. Enjoy the season.