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Paul Ryan Balances My Budget

Paul Ryan is absolutely right. Every family needs to balance its budget, and the government does, too, although except for the constant squabbling, it’s hard to see how the government is like my family.

By all accounts, unless you’re listening to anyone who’s not a House Republican, Ryan has put forth a “serious budget,” so I thought it ought to make a good blueprint for balancing my family budget.

To start with, making more money is off the table. Asking for a raise is out of the question. According to Ryan, that’s absolutely the wrong way to go about it, and because he’s an expert, I’ll just have to take his word for it. Making more money would mean taking it from my rich employer, who has way better uses for it than I do. If I took it, it would leave him less to put back into the economy, and that would seriously inhibit growth. So, my only choice is to cut spending.

Where to start? Health care would be an excellent choice. By not paying my health insurance premiums, which in 2014 means refusing to fund Obamacare, I can cut about $1000 a month from my budget. And, here’s the great thing: if I follow Ryan’s budget closely, I can also count the savings I would have had if I’d paid for my Obamacare! Make that another $500 a month. I know it seems somehow wrong to count both, but who am I to question such an expert?

Next, I really need to stop funding my kids’ education. I have a real weakness for the little darlings, I admit, but it’s time for a little tough love, and we all need to be self-reliant.

Too bad they’re older and I can’t gain any savings from not making their school lunches any more. When I think of all the money I wasted on that over the years! And what a fool I was to pay for their early childhood education. Who in his right mind would fund kindergarten when the budget is so out of whack?

I can stop helping them with their retirement funds, though. I wish I’d stopped doing that years ago. I thought I was so smart opening up IRAs for them when they had summer jobs. Little did I know that I was wrecking the economy. That Ryan guy doesn’t miss a thing, does he?

I do feel bad about their health insurance. Both kids were on my plan before I cancelled it. I’ll replace what I was spending on them with a block grant. It won’t actually be enough for them to buy their own insurance, and over the years it most likely won’t keep up with inflation, but Ryan and I are on a mission here. I just hope the kids use it wisely and don’t spend it on frivolous things like food or clothing.

I’m definitely going to stop giving money to charitable causes. Giving money to the poor is just bad economics; they bleed the system and they don’t employ anyone. Instead, I’m going to donate that money to my boss, who will use it to hire people, theoretically. I haven’t seen him actually doing that lately, but if he stockpiles enough of it, he’s going to have to start hiring people sooner or later, right? That’s the Ryan theory, anyway, and I’m sticking to it.

Now to my own retirement plan. Social Security will be insolvent in just a few years unless we fix it, and asking the rich to pay a little more into the system is a non-starter in the Ryan/Stein plan. Therefore, I need to scale back my expectations. For the good of the country, I’m going to stop funding my IRA and 401(k), and just plan on living on less when I stop working, which, in my new budget, will be when I’m 78.

Well, that about covers it. Thanks to the Ryan blueprint, my family budget is now balanced.

Remind me again why I’m not asking for a raise.

What’s Next

With the conservative majority on the Supreme Court signaling that they will vote to end key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, a number of organizations are contemplating challenges to other laws they view as no longer necessary.

"The Court’s majority is saying that the Voting Rights Act is so successful that it’s not needed any longer," said a spokesman for the League of White Southern Voters. "We agree with the Court that governments in the Deep South with an unbroken history of egregious racial discrimination will no longer discriminate as soon as sanctions are lifted.

"We’re just worried that the Court won’t go far enough. We’re hoping to persuade the Justices to throw out the entire act, and not just Section 5 covering southern states.

"It’s just preposterous in this day and age to think that any states, northern or southern, will go on a binge of Gerrymandering, discriminatory voter ID restrictions, absurdly short registration periods, understaffed vote centers and inconvenient poll hours in an attempt to discourage the minority vote. We haven’t seen any of those shenanigans since way back in November of 2012."

The National Association of Sweatshops announced that “we are seriously considering asking the Court to follow its own logic and get rid of the hopelessly antiquated child labor laws. Ater all, it’s been decades since children were forced to work, proving that the law is no longer necessary. And that goes for the forty-hour work week and overtime laws, too. They worked so well they’re unnecessary.”

The American Polluters Alliance agreed. In a press release yesterday, the group stated, “The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act have been so successful at protecting the nation’s environment, we simply don’t need them any more.

"There’s a lot of evidence to prove that once these laws take effect, they outlive their usefulness. Look at the banking industry. Congress relaxed the regulatory burden on the financial sector years ago, and almost nobody in the industry has been prosecuted for any wrongdoing since. Doesn’t that prove our point?"

Added a spokesperson for the Corporate Legal Protection Council, “Look how successful workplace safety rules have been. Given the amazing decline in deaths and injuries ove the years, isn’t it obvious that we don’t need those rules? I think it’s pretty clear from the results that corporations absolutely can be trusted to put their employees’ health and safety above profits.”

"The Obama administration is living in the past," read a statement from the National Association of CEOs. "He’s asking to raise the minimum wage at a time when minimum wages have been shown to be astonishingly effective at preventing millions from falling into hopeless poverty. Why on earth would we want to continue a program that’s so outlived its usefulness? Does anyone honestly believe that American CEOs wouldn’t voluntarily pay people a decent living wage without some law forcing us to?

"We look forward to working with other like-minded groups to finally get rid of these useless, costly and burdensome laws which no longer have a place in 21st Century America."

Sequester Happens

With automatic budget cuts looming on Friday, the war of words between President Obama and Republicans intensified.

Mr. Obama traveled to Newport News, Virginia, where he warned that thousands of shipbuilding jobs would be jeopardized by the continuing budget standoff.

Republicans, meanwhile, accused the president of playing politics and trying to scare the American people rather than working to solve the impasse.

"If the president were serious," House Speaker John Boehner claimed, "he’d come up with a plan to target these cuts so that only the poor, minorities, the unemployed, the sick and inner-city school children are affected. Instead, the middle class is going to suffer because of his inaction."

"The House has put forth reasonable plan to spare all but the most disadvantaged the worst effects of the budget cuts," added Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the No. 3 House Republican, "but this president insists on policies that also impose burdensome new taxes on millionaires and billionaires. It’s a complete waste of time. He knows this is a non-starter."

Added Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, “We’d like to make a bipartisan deal, but we’re prepared to let the sequester take effect rather than give in to the president’s outrageous demands that the burden of balancing the budget be shared by the richest Americans.”

"Besides which, the American people are too smart to be frightened by Mr. Obama’s scare tactics," said Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI) "As you know, I’m a budget expert, and I’ve worked the numbers. The sequester simply will not be nearly as bad as the president wants you to believe.

"Tonight I can assure the American people that even if nothing whatever is done to prevent the budget cuts from happening, not one single billionaire will be harmed."

Cameras in the Court

The justices of the Supreme Court have rejected the idea of video coverage of arguments before the court, explaining that Americans would be incapable of comprehending what they were seeing.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor justified the decision, saying, “very few of them understand what the process is.”

"It’s not because they’re stupid, although they are," growled Justice Antonin Scalia," it’s just because we’re so incredibly much smarter."

"For example," said Justice Samuel Alito, "I doubt one percent of Americans could follow the arcane logic that led to the inescapable legal conclusion that corporations, even though they are soulless, lifeless artificial legal constructs, are actually people."

"Or," chimed in Justice Anthony Kennedy, "that money and speech are identical as far as the law is concerned. It doesn’t make sense to the average person that a corporation can secretly stuff unlimited cash into a campaign coffer, and that’s the same thing as some poor schmuck standing on a street corner trying to get someone’s attention. People would just be confused trying to unravel the arguments if they saw us in action."

Chief Justice John Roberts asserted, “it would have created unneeded controversy at a very emotional time if the voters actually saw how we made George W. Bush president, despite some pretty compelling evidence that Al Gore actually won. They wouldn’t have understood the highly abstruse reasoning behind that decision. They might have concluded that it was a completely unwarranted and unprecedented decision by a court that arrogantly and recklessly inserted itself into partisan politics, instead of the finely-reasoned determination that in fact it was.

"Plus," he continued, "it wouldn’t have served this court or the nation if people had been able to see the look on Scalia’s face when I voted in favor of Obamacare. You really wouldn’t have wanted that showing up on Youtube."

Alito wondered, “would you honestly want the public to see Clarence (referring to Justice Thomas) just sitting there day after day never saying a word? They might conclude that he’s only there as a token black who reliably votes with the conservative bloc. What would that do to the public perception of the court as a legitimate body?

"For that matter," he went on, "I don’t think anyone outside this room wants to watch Scalia when he gets rolling on one of his tirades. I love the guy like a brother, but the full Antonin when he goes off is hard even for me to take."

"Not all of us are all that photogenic, either," said Justice Elena Kagan. "People might spot Ruth Ginsburg and wonder why there’s a garden gnome on the bench."

"So," Roberts concluded, "we’re not going to televise the proceedings of this court. When we really thought about it, the negatives so outweighed the positives, it was a no-brainer. When it came right down to it, it was as easy as refusing to stay an execution.

"All eight of us agreed. No cameras. Justice Thomas didn’t say anything, as usual, but we assume he concurs."

A Comet Tale

Only weeks before the almost certain extinction of all life on Earth, Senate Democrats were unable to muster enough support to force a vote on President Obama’s nominee to lead his proposed Comet Defense Task Force.

A visibly angered Obama vowed to take the fight straight to the people. At a speech in a field outside Dubuque, Iowa, at the very the spot where the massive comet is expected to strike, Mr Obama said, “With a rock a million times the size of the one that hit Russia the other day heading right for us,” he said, “it’s time for Congress to put aside partisan concerns and act. The American people deserve a vote.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) led the charge against former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Obama’s choice for the post. “We need more information about this guy,” Graham said. “For instance, why hasn’t he come clean about Benghazi?”

Reminded that Gates was not in government at the time of the attack on the U.S. embassy, Graham responded, “Is that why he got out? We need to know a lot more before we let him take such an important job. The lives of every American are at stake.”

Ted Cruz, the firebrand junior senator from Texas, was equally adamant. “How much contact did this Gates guy have with Martians before this comet suddenly appeared? How often did he communicate with our interstellar enemies?”

Meanwhile, House Speaker John Boehner threatened to withhold funding for the task force. “My caucus has two main concerns. Many of us are deeply skeptical of writing a blank check for something that might not even work at a time of crushing deficits. We won’t fund this boondoggle unless every penny is offset by spending cuts.”

"And," Boehner added, "a significant number thinks this comet is God’s will, and it would be wrong to try and thwart it. And the concerns of other members need to be addressed before we agree to move forward."

Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX) vowed, “Not one dime if illegal immigrants aren’t specifically exempted.” Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) said he would refuse to vote to fund comet prevention if gays were included in the protection. 

That sentiment was echoed by televangelist Pat Robertson, who said, “You just knew something like this would happen when they let homosexuals in the military.”

NRA head Wayne LaPierre demanded that private citizens be given immediate access to nuclear weapons and the missiles to launch them. “Those anti-gun zealots in Washington would rather let you die than allow you to defend yourself,” he said. “The Second Amendment was written to give Americans the firepower they need to shoot that thing out of the sky.”

An exasperated Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “This is insane! The longer we wait the closer that thing comes, and the harder it will be to deflect or destroy!”

John Cornyn (R-TX) countered, “Says who? A bunch of so-called scientists trying to scare us with their end-of-the-world hokum. The same bunch that’s behind the global warming hoax, I bet.”

Barbara Boxer (D-CA) bemoaned the loss of comity in the normally staid Senate. “This is a sad day. This is the first time in history that a nominee for such an important post has been filibustered.”

"It’s not really a filibuster," John McCain (R-AR) claimed. "It’s a temporary halt in the proceedings that just LOOKS exactly like a filibuster. We’ll allow a vote after the recess."

With the Senate not scheduled to reconvene until three days before the comet hits, there is little likelihood that there will be enough time to prevent the total annihilation of the planet. 

Conservative Republicans were unmoved. “It might not be such a bad thing just to let it happen,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK). “If the world ends, so will the deficit.”

The Next Pope

Within minutes of the shocking announcement that Pope Benedict XVI would resign, the betting on who would be the next Pope began. The early line in Vegas made Cardinals Marc Ouellet of Canada and Peter Turkson of Ghana prohibitive favorites.

Ouellet, the head of the Congregation of Bishops, would be a logical choice given his place in the heirarchy. Turkson, if elected, would be the first black Pope, and would certainly appeal to the fast-growing Catholic population in Africa. Both men share the outgoing Pope’s extreme conservative leanings, which have alienated many Catholics in Europe and the United States.

Come on, guys, way too predictable. It’s time for the Church to think outside the box. Pope Benedict is the first Pope to resign in six centuries. If you’re going to go back to old traditions, why not go all the way back to the beginning? All the early disciples were Jewish. Saint Peter, the founder of the Church, was Jewish. Why not a Jewish Pope? 

Look, at a time when the Catholic Church seems focused on losing as much influence as possible in the West, what better way to accelerate the trend than to appoint a rabbi as Pope? Let’s face it: nobody listens to rabbis.

Oh, sure, virtually every congregation has one, and rabbis perform essential functions like giving sermons and officiating at bar mitzvahs and weddings and funerals, but no matter how many times they ask their congregants to keep kosher and not work or shop on the sabbath or fast on Yom Kippur, they’re pretty much universally ignored.

Also, because the rabbinate doesn’t answer to a central authority, priests under a Jewish Pope would be a lot more free to deal with the individual needs of their own congregations without the heavy hand of Rome interfering all the time. So each individual congregation would be free to ignore its own rabbi rather than having to go to the trouble of tuning out the entire Vatican.

Finally, a Jewish Pope would most likely be married. Getting rid of the absurd prohibition against priests marrying would go a long way toward putting the whole ugly pedophile scandal to rest for good. Rabbis, unlike priests, actually have some experience with marriage and sex, and a Jewish Pope would not have a lot of patience with priests who torment boys. He would understand that that’s a job reserved for Jewish mothers, and that the abuse should be entirely emotional, not physical.

I know this is a long shot, but I think my idea is a winner. 

Assuming, though, that this is not going to happen, I’m reduced to pondering how the Vatican will announce the election of Cardinal Turkson, if he’s the choice. Will it still be white smoke, or will they dare reverse the tradition and announce the first black Pope with black smoke?

Just wondering.

Feb 5

Targeting Americans

A newly-released Justice Department “white paper” laying out the legal argument by the Obama administration for the targeted killing of Americans has come under scrutiny by alarmed members of Congress.

The undated and unsigned document asserts that it would be lawful to kill a U.S. citizen who poses an “imminent threat” to the United States. To date only one American, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric, has been killed under the authority claimed in the memo.

"That may be true so far," said a member of the United States Senate, who refused to be identified, "but the administration seems to be claiming unprecedented authority to act against American citizens. Under certain circumstances, you could see how the broad powers they’re asserting might include the right to shoot members of Congress.

"Heck, we’ve done more to endanger the American people than Al Qaeda ever did."

When informed of the senator’s comments, Attorney General Eric Holder reportedly replied, “Hmmm. Interesting.”

"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t deeply concerned," said a ranking member of the House minority, who also asked that his identity be kept secret. "The way this body handled the debt crisis, our constant attempts to destroy the safety net, our refusal to deal with global warming or gun control, our continued opposition to health care reform—if all that doesn’t qualify as an imminent threat to the safety of Americans, I don’t know what would."

His remarks were echoed by a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner.

"We do not believe the Obama administration can just claim the authority to kill Americans without due process of law."

"There’s no telling where this could lead," he added. "It might start with Al Qaeda, but there’s a dangerous slippery slope here. Under the broad language of that memo, you could make a pretty darn good argument for blowing up the entire House.

"Then again, if something unfortunate happened to that weasel Eric Cantor, I doubt the Speaker would shed too many tears."

Feb 2

Whodunnit

Frustrated administration officials admitted today that they were no closer to identifying those responsible for recent attacks on Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s nominee for Secretary of Defense.

A spokesman for the Defense Department said, “shadowy organizations calling themselves “Use Your Mandate,” “Americans for a Strong Defense” and “Secure America Now” have launched brazen assaults on Mr. Hagel’s character, but we have no way of knowing who’s really behind them.

"These groups hide out in the wild border regions between Northern Virginia and the District of Columbia, where they often operate with total impunity, given the lack of any real government oversight. Apparently they are extremely well-financed, and they’re careful not to reveal their funding sources. Identifying who’s bankrolling them is a real problem for us.

"We think they’re probably a loose confederation of determined ideologues with their own agendas, but who share a common hatred of the president. They come together briefly to plan an attack, place an ad buy and then disappear back into their clandestine caves on K Street. One day it may be Sheldon Adelson, defense contractors and drug manufacturers, and the next it’s Karl Rove and energy companies."

An administration spokesman added, “we have convincing evidence that they sometimes coordinate their activities with certain members of Congress, but they’re careful not to leave any fingerprints.

"It’s pretty annoying, but we’re doing what we can with what we have to work with. We can wish all we want that America was better able to control its rogue elements and that its political system was more transparent, but when you’re dealing with a country in  which wealthy oligarchs wield enormous power and the where the legislature and the courts don’t really value democratic principles, that’s what you get."

Eureka

"Boss, I think I’ve got it!"

”%$#@! Do you know what time it is?”

"Sorry, boss. I couldn’t sleep. It just came to me! THE solution! It’s so SIMPLE! It works all day! I tell you, it’s GENIUS!"

"That’s what you boys down in Skunkworks said about the last brainstorm you morons had, Finley, remember? Total gridlock his entire first term, and there’s no way Obama wins a second chance, right? And the Dems lose the Senate in the bargain. Isn’t that what you told me?  Guaranteed. Look where that one got us."

"Okay, so that was a mistake, I admit it. But this one is different."

"We damn near lost the company on that one, Finley. The Republican Party is Evil Science Labs biggest client, and to say they’re not happy is an understatement. If we lose them what’ve we got? Venezuela, with Chavez in a coma. Assad’s hanging by a thread and Morsi’s completely losing it in Egypt. After that fiasco in Libya we almost had to pack up our tents. If we lose the GOP we’re about three minutes from bankruptcy."

"I’m telling you, boss, this is the BIG ONE, the one we’ve been waiting for!"

"Right. Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t total opposition to immigration reform, gay rights and contraception your last big unbeatable idea?"

"A minor miscalculation."

"Well, there’s no way I’m going back to sleep now. Might as well tell me your latest brilliant scheme."

"Okay, follow me, now. The states can allocate their electoral votes any way they want, right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"For most of them it’s winner take all, but a couple assign them proportionally."

"I got you so far."

"Okay, here’s where it gets interesting. Nebraska and Maine give each congressional district an electoral vote. In other words, if a candidate for president wins a specific congressional district, he gets that electoral vote."

"So what?"

"Don’t you see? If we did this in states like Virginia, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which Obama won, Romney would have taken the majority of electoral votes!"

"Huh. How is that possible?"

"Because the congressional districts are gerrymandered like crazy. There are more safe Republican congressional seats than Democratic, even though more people voted for Democrats. That’s how the GOP kept the House even though House Republicans lost the popular vote by a landslide.

"And it gets even better. Republicans control both houses and the governor’s mansion in 24 states. If all of them changed to this system, we can virtually guarantee that Republicans never lose the presidency again!"

"Okay, Finley, I admit I’m interested."

"The genius of this is Republicans won’t even have to worry about moderating their image or going through the sickening charade of appealing to Hispanics and gays and women. No more embarrassing soul-searching or self-reflection. They can continue being the party of out-of-touch white men forever, boss! They win even when they lose!"

"I’m warming to it, but let me play devils advocate here. Isn’t there a risk people will be so angry at what appears to be a raw power grab the whole thing could backfire? You, know, protest, take to the streets, get violent? And Republicans could be blamed for the unrest."

"Listen, boss. Republicans keep the House no matter how much they lose the popular vote, and nobody squawks. We’re just applying the same system to the presidency. Oh, sure, there might be some grousing, but they’ll get used to it. We’re talking about fat, lazy Americans here, not Egyptians."

"Hmmm. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but I like it. I think you may be on to something."

"This one’s a winner, boss. I can feel it."

"Let’s say you’re right. That takes care of the House and the presidency. What about the Senate?"

"We’re working on it."

The Republican Response

Shortly after President Obama concluded his inaugural address, the Republican Party released the following statement:

Moments ago, President Obama challenged the American people to come together as one nation to address the many issues that confront our nation.

Without offering specifics, the president mentioned the numerous tasks we must undertake to ensure the continued strength of our nation, from managing the deficit and an economy still recovering all too slowly, to the difficult choices me must make in dealing with climate change, gun violence, immigration policy, national security, energy independence, the social safety net, and extending the full benefit of our nation’s freedoms to all it’s citizens, whatever their gender, ethnic background or sexual orientation.

Mr. Obama called upon us all to work together, across philosophic differences and party lines, to see past the poisonous partisan politics so that the next four years will be marked by progress toward a better, stronger, more just America and a safer, freer, more democratic world.

Faced with a such a stirring call to ignore our baser instincts and appeal to our better angels, to work hand-in-hand with the president to lead America and the world into a brighter future, we in the loyal opposition have a responsibility to respond to the challenge laid before us.

Mr. President, here is our answer:

NO