Where the Republican Budget Really Came From

I’m feeling cranky.  I’ll spare you the extended list.  If you’ve read a few of my more recent posts, you’ll remember that life in hospital land has been stressful.  It ain’t over yet, unfortunately.

Granted, the whole country is cranky.  And irritable or irritating, depending on your perspective.

Gail Collins, NY Times columnist, in her column today, makes a compelling case that the Republicans have become even more irritating than the French, a feat that would seem to defy the very laws of Nature herself:

While the G-20 was finishing its business, members of Congress were showing how they did theirs by passing a budget resolution. The spending plan was somewhat smaller than the president had requested. The Senate also added the Republican priority of reducing taxes on people who inherit estates of $7 million or more – a move that would increase the deficit while stimulating the economy approximately as much as eliminating a sales tax on square potato chips.

But even so, not a single Republican voted yes on the budget. In the House, the G.O.P. came up with an alternative that would cut more taxes for the wealthy while clamping down on nondefense spending. House Republicans think we invest way too much on these government programs and try to cut back on them every single year that their party is not actually in power.

In the Senate, Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire predicted that the budget plan “will absolutely put this country on an unsustainable path.” This would be the same Judd Gregg who agreed to join the Obama cabinet as commerce secretary before a last-minute discovery that the president is a Democrat.

Actually, it’s no contest when you think about it. The French aren’t even in the ballpark.

(I’ve made my irritation with the former Veep very clear in a previous post.)

The Republicans are really cranky, after that whole election thing.  And, when it comes to the financial crisis, the budget, trillions of dollars of deficits, and the fact they have to cover-up and evade the the fact their  policies are responsible for a humongous part of it, they are in a tizzy of biblical proportions.

So, to counter the budget they disdain, despise, and dysphagiate (figure it out), they have concocted their own version.  Ta-da!  For us mere mortals, they have released an 18 page summary of the absolute best, paramount, pinnacle of Republican fiscal theory and solutions.  I read it.  You can read it here: “Road to Recovery.”

At least look at it.  That way you’ll understand my following comments.

I give it very high marks for:

  1. Expansive use of white space in a policy document
  2. The incomprehensible use of bubble pictures connected by lines
  3. Text in a font and use of Italics (!!) popular at the time of Abraham Lincoln
  4. No numbers, well, sort of.  The ones that just happen to be included are for the most part those nasty Democratic ones
  5. Exhibiting a level of hubris and claiming a doctrine of infallibility that exceeds the wildest dreams of the Papacy.

I could stop there, but, in my crankiness I wrote a short piece a couple of weeks ago that I titled, “A Long Time Ago in a Beltway Far, Far Away.”  It tells the tale of where the ideas for the Republican budget really came from.

A word of forewarning. This piece is a very edgy satire and in a style in which I usually do not write.  You can access it here: “A Long Time Ago…” (I apologize in advance to George Lucas.)

Fiat and Chrysler Merge??!! Will NASCAR run the Mille Miglia?

Header Photo: 1960 Fiat 1100B.  Notice the “suicide” front door handles.
One May Love Beer and the Other Wine, But, Oh, Do They Love Their Automobiles!

Americans May Love Beer and the Italians Wine, But, Oh, Do We Love Our Automobiles!

Holy MOPAR, Batman!  Fix It Again Tony!  If I had been asked to guess which international automaker the Obama administration would instruct Chrysler to join forces with to survive, perhaps to one day again be profitable, I wouldn’t have guessed the legendary Italian carmaker, FIAT (I use caps here, because, it originally was an acronym of  Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino: Italian Automobile Factory of Turin).  Fiat has been around for a long time, being founded in 1899.  Fiat has been always been known for its small cars, even though it does have a major truck division, along with with major farm implements, etc., etc.

Over the years, Fiat has produced some fine cars of note, even if they were only known in Europe.  They withdrew from the American market in 1983.  Between 1967 and 2008, Fiat was awarded European Car of the Year thirteen times.

Of those cars, I find the 2006 Alfa Romeo (Fiat’s sport division) very attractive.  Small, but well styled:

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Alfa Romea 156 Selespeed, 2006 European Car of the Year

Once word of a Chrysler/Fiat merger hit the international media, this announcement, of course, or should we say thank the Stig, did not escape the notice of the guys at Top Gear:

With operations throughout Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, Fiat has vast resources and small car expertise. The Fiat 500 is one of the hottest cars in Europe, winning European Car of the Year for 2008, and the company wants to bring the car to our shores; initial reports indicate that Fiat plans to retool existing American Chrysler plants and sell it here. We say “non vediamo l’ora” and bring us the Abarth!

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

Fiat 500 Abarth 2008

The Abarth is a performance model of Fiat 500. The 1.4L engine with IHI RHF3-P turbocharger is rated 135 PS (133 hp/99 kW) at 5500 rpm and 180 N·m (133 lb·ft) (206 N·m (152 lb·ft) in sport mode) torque at 3000 rpm. It includes 5-speed C510 transmission, low ride suspension, dualdrive electric power steering with SPORT setting, 6.5 x 16” aluminium alloy rim with 195/45 R16 tyres, 4-wheel disc brakes (front ventilated). Interior includes turbo pressure gauge, Gear Shift Indicator, aluminium foot pedals, Blue&Me MAP with Telemetry monitoring and GPS system.  Source: Wikipedia

Okay, I look forward as much as the next gear-head to the Stig (some say that he secretly keeps a ’70 Plymouth Superbird under a tarp in his garage and that he made Jeremy promise to never call it “rubbish.”) blasting around the Top Gear track in a hot set of wheels with a Five-Point star stamped into the valve covers of it’s 5-Litre motor putting out 600 brake horsepower getting 35 miles per gallon.  Let’s just hope it does not, and I mean DOES NOT look like the Fiat 500 Abarth.

Now, it’s disclosure time.  I owned a Fiat.  Yep, Lorette and I bought a brand-spankin’ new 1979 Fiat 131 Brava while we lived in Fort Worth, Texas, my last year in seminary.  Two liter, twin overhead cam engine, five speed, and a snappy clutch.  I loved that car, especially because it replaced a 1974 Ford Pinto station wagon with “country squire” fake wood vinyl siding.  When you shifted from fifth to third, and put your foot in it, something actually happened “accelerationwise” with that pretty Fiat exhaust putter that sang all the way up to the redline.

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

Fiat Brava 1979 Ad

The ad above was a cleverly disguised code that only the likes of Ralph Nader and Joan Claybrook believed during the dark years of the 55 MPH national speed limit.  Relaxed?  In third gear, the engine wasn’t even breathing hard when it blasted through 55.  Fourth redlined something over 80.  Relaxed, my….

Yeah, baby.  Here’s what my Brava looked like, with the “champaign” paint job:

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

Fiat Brava 4D 1980

The only difference I can discern, between my ’79 and this 1980, is the wheels.  If I actually can dig out a picture of my Brava, I’ll replace this one.  It’ll be like old times.  Replacing part after part after part, like the time the distributor cap cracked in Tillamook, Oregon on a trip with several other ministers to check out a site for a church camp.  On a Friday afternoon…but that’s another story.

Anyway, in the real world, only time will tell if this is a match made in heaven or if our esteemed colleagues in the White House should have chosen BMW, Audi, or even, believe it or not, Hyundai.  I’d love to see Chrysler survive (not to diss Ford or Toyota, by any means).  I just hate to have to watch those snooty Chevy commercials every time one of their cars wins a NASCAR race.

By the way, 30 years later I still like cars with names that are acronyms:

Vorsprung durch Teknik  audi-rings-wet-copy


Soul’s Phoenix

This post has been redacted and censored to comply with my employer’s Social Media Policy effective Nov. 1, 2010.  This action appears the only recourse I have to preserve my Constitutional rights to free speech and free expression of my views on Extreme Thinkover.

In my post on March 12 I shared a letter that I had sent to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) chair of the U.S. Senate’s Finance Committee and champion of health care reform, regarding the closing of the Clinical Pastoral Education Program at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy

Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) is the national clinical ministry program that trains chaplains for hospitals, the military, prisons, hospice and other institutions.  Accreditation is difficult to obtain.  The standards for education are high, and the accountability is thorough.  CPE programs nationwide face similar uncertainty as the disaster in the economy collides with the disaster that is the American health care system.

Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy CPE program was a victim of that collision.

But sometimes very smart people with a driving sense of mission can find creative solutions.

And, this time, that sometime happened.

There’s a qualifier.  The reason the program was cut is that Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy, faced with an economy so bad our budget deficit is projected at $17 million, as well as, likely unprecedented uncompensated care expenses that could easily hit $70 million, has been forced to make acute action cutting staff and programs.  Colleagues we have worked with for years.  Programs that promote healing and compassionate care that have to be cut way back or eliminated.

The unemployment rate in Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy County where our hospital is located hit 12% percent in February, and Douglas County, just to the south of us, hit 18%.

So, nothing has changed.

Except the creativity and dedication of some very smart people (I commend them; I wasn’t directly involved).  After the initial decision was made, one key fact kept nagging at the Administration.  CPE had become so integrated into the spiritual care services provided daily by we who are chaplains, and was such a proven asset to our mission and care of patients, we just could not cut it off.  They rolled up their sleeves and went back to the drawing board.  They were able to save the program and meet the needed financial savings.

CPE will continue at Censored by Corporate Social Media Policy.  Changes had to made, of course.  Our program will now be be shifted to what is called “extended units” rather than full time, 20 hours per week rather than 40.  Three or four students, not our current six.  We still lose two of our close colleagues.

And guard against the inevitable organizational hazard of a hyena or two, stalking, plotting and hoping for failure and a meal.

These are the consequences of the economic trauma, inside and outside the organization.

We are not terminal.  Our CPE program and the fine people who comprise it will regain strength, providing a superior clinical education just as we have for the past six years.  And, too, we will plan to return to a full-time program as soon as the hospital can support it.

In the meantime, our mission as chaplains is to provide spiritual support and care to the patients who come through our doors.  We have work to do.

Universal Health Care: An Asinine Idea?

In today’s Sunday Edition of the Register Guard “Letters to the Editor,” Mr. Oral Robbins of Eugene, Oregon writes,

It is amusing to read some of the stuff that these ideological, philosophical people write — at least it is to this stupid old codger, who has lived through most of what they write about.

Fair enough.  Mr. Robbins, who states he is 77 years old, has seen a lot of history and has a lifetime of experiences from which he can reflect on.  He goes on to say “…we approve a project of public need that a private enterprise cannot supply, then by consent of the electorate we supply the funds needed.”  Okay, so he’s not quite the “stupid old codger” he claims.  Give him a point for literary irony.

His next statement, however, is chilling:

The idea of universal health care is one of the most asinine ideas being promoted by those in political power today, that and the bailing out of those individuals who borrowed money to purchase items they never had any intention of ever paying for.

As a hospital chaplain, I wish it were possible for all the Mr. Robbins in the country to spend one day with me and meet his neighbors who do not have health insurance, to hear their stories of how that  lack has in countless ways created barriers or has denied them their right to live as healthy, productive, hard-working, taxpaying Americans. It’s not amusing.

Mr. Robbins makes no differentiation between the Economic Stimulus programs and the need for universal health care.  In his mind it is all “tax and spend.”  I deliberately reversed the order in which he stated his objection.  His equation of the two “ideas” is a huge problem, not only because millions of Americans believe exactly the same way, but because as an issue of human, and dare we say constitutional rights, I assert the two are distinct.

Mr. Robbins, through the tunnel vision of his own ideological philosophy, fails to realize that he contradicts himself with regard to universal health care.  The fact is, private enterprise cannot and has never been able to supply the public need for medical insurance.  And he is probably a perfect example.  I am certain that, being retired and at age seventy-seven years, he is on Medicare, America’s universal health care plan for seniors and the disabled.  Without it, he and his wife would not be able to afford private health insurance.  To deny him and his wife that care would be truly asinine.

The benefit of universal health care in the modern era would have produced a very different America: Trillions of dollars in medical debts would have been avoided.  Trillions of dollars in uncompensated care by hospitals would have been avoided.  Trillions of dollars in unnecessary and wasteful medical expenses created by the broken health care system would have been avoided.  Trillions of dollars of lost productivity to private enterprise companies would have been avoided.  Trillions of dollars of wages would have been created and sustained.  Trillions of dollars for appropriate public state and federal projects would have been paid through the taxes of a healthy America.

I wish it were possible for Mr. Robbins to spend just one day with me talking to his neighbors who have no health insurance.

Behold, the Black Swan: Updated

Economist Nassim Nicholas Taleb, author of Black Swan (2007), interviewed on PBS’s “The News Hour” on Tuesday, October 21, said:

The banking system, the way we have it, is a monstrous giant built on feet of clay.  And if that topples, we’re gone.  Never in the history of the world have we faced so much complexity combined with so much incompetence and understanding of its properties. . . We live in a world that is way too complicated for our traditional economic structure (Italics added).  It’s not as resilient as it used to be.  We don’t have slack.  It’s over-optimized. . . Of all the books you read on globalization, they talk about efficiency, all that stuff.  They don’t get the point.  The network effect of that globalization means that a shock in the system can have much larger consequences.

A “Black Swan” event, according to Taleb, is one considered impossible, because no one ever thought of it.

Alan Greenspan, former Fed chairman, testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, on Thursday, October 23:

“Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact. . .This modern risk-management paradigm held sway for decades.  The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year. . .This crisis has turned out to be much broader than anything I could have imagined. It has morphed from one gripped by liquidity restraints to one in which fears of insolvency are now paramount.”

Behold, the Black Swan.

UPDATE: New York Times’ columnist, David Brooks’ (previously quoted in this blog) latest piece (27 October) devotes the majority of the column to Nassim Taleb’s economic metaphor of a Black Swan event unfolding before us:

Taleb believes that our brains evolved to suit a world much simpler than the one we now face. His writing is idiosyncratic, but he does touch on many of the perceptual biases that distort our thinking: our tendency to see data that confirm our prejudices more vividly than data that contradict them; our tendency to overvalue recent events when anticipating future possibilities; our tendency to spin concurring facts into a single causal narrative; our tendency to applaud our own supposed skill in circumstances when we’ve actually benefited from dumb luck.

And looking at the financial crisis, it is easy to see dozens of errors of perception. Traders misperceived the possibility of rare events. They got caught in social contagions and reinforced each other’s risk assessments. They failed to perceive how tightly linked global networks can transform small events into big disasters.

Hear, hear!

This concept of “social contagions” and “risk assessment reinforcement” has been explored in organizational theory (now, don’t glaze over on me, here).  Selznick, writing in 1996, termed this process “mimesis” (as in mime) and that it is a response to uncertainty.  The more uncertainty, the more institutions rely on a single model of operating that is perceived as successful.  But there is another side to this.  Organizations, over time, begin to believe their own myths. He wrote:

“In postindustrial society, formal structures, ‘dramatically reflect the myths of their institutional environments instead of the demands of their work activities.’  Furthermore, ‘the more an organization’s structure is derived from institutional myths, the more it maintains elaborate displays of confidence, satisfaction and good faith, internally and externally‘” (quoting Meyer and Rowan, 1991). (Italics added)

For example, a Lehman Brothers myth was they could weather any financial storm, and so they maintained the “elaborate display of confidence” that they could manage their way out of anything, no matter how high the risk.  Or take an AIG, whose myth was they were too big to fail, so pushed fearlessly into derivatives because, well, they were too big to fail.  Risk assessments were trivial or even a barrier to higher profits.

As Taleb points out in The Black Swan, the turkey believes in its personal myth that is has the best of all worlds as it feeds daily without concern, until the Wednesday before Thanksgiving Day.

Edge of the Abyss: Black Hole Event Horizon?

I just read New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman’s, piece on the actual plight of our economy.  It’s worse than I thought.  Here’s an excerpt:

How bad is it? Normally sober people are sounding apocalyptic. On Thursday, the bond trader and blogger John Jansen declared that current conditions are “the financial equivalent of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution,” while Joel Prakken of Macroeconomic Advisers says that the economy seems to be on “the edge of the abyss.”

Here’s the link to Krugman’s article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/03/opinion/03krugman.html?hp

A black hole event horizon is the ultimate “edge of the abyss” in the Cosmos.  As a black hole is created it forms a flattened donut ring around its mouth.  At the inner edge of that ring is a boundary past which neither matter nor light can escape.  Ever.