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Friday, July 29, 2011

Different versions of reality

"The Son of Man" by Rene Magritte
As the witching hour approaches, everyone in this country – at least everyone who is still paying attention – is wondering how this will end, and which version of reality will prevail.

Part of what we see across the country, and it even translates down to the smallest community, including places like Charlestown, is that people can’t find a way to agree on just about anything – including what is true and what is real.

We behave as if we are a variety of alien species who have been thrown together on this planet. We see different colors and shapes in the same objects.  We perceive different dimensions. We can’t speak each other’s languages. We do not have the same frame of reference.

Here’s an example. In the current debt ceiling fight, one of the issues that de-railed House Speaker Boehner’s so-called compromise bill last night was the discovery by his Tea Party colleagues that Boehner had left $17 billion in funding for the Pell Grant program in the mix of discretionary funding programs that survived Draconian cuts.

Now, to a wild-eyed leftist like me, Pell Grants are a boot-strap program, a scholarship program that helps the children of low-income and working families go to college so that they could lift themselves out of poverty. To the Tea Partiers, Pell Grants are just plain ole welfare and a deal-breaker. Different versions of reality.

US taxes take a much smaller share than Europe or the rest
of the industrialized world
On the other hand, you have Congressman Paul Broun (Tea Party-Georgia) who is really worried about the shape of our economy because it is causing people to have to give up their country club memberships. "When someone is overextended and broke they don't continue paying for expensive automobiles, they sell the expensive automobiles and buy a cheaper one. They don't continue paying for country club dues, they drop out of the country club,"

Broun would probably like to see those wicked Pell Grants re-directed to help the deserving rich maintain their country club memberships. Different versions of reality.

This morning, the BBC reported that as of today, Apple Computer has more cash on hand than the United States. The United States has an operating cash balance of $73.7bn (£45.3bn), enough to get us through the first few days of August. In contrast, Apple's most recent financial results put its reserves at $76.4bn (£46.9bn).

So, on this theme of different versions of reality, is this a bad thing or a good thing?

Apple is doing very well, as many dozens of other Fortune 500 countries who have accumulated hundreds of billions of dollars in uncommitted cash reserves. Bravo for capitalism?

Or should we be asking why the hell they’re sitting on all that cash when they should be investing, making capital improvements and most important of all, hiring the legions of unemployed Americans. Many of those Fortune 500 cash balances are due to bail-outs and stimulus money – which helped these companies greatly increase their profits but without creating the jobs they were supposed to create.

And speaking of alien beings and different versions of reality, we have Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann both denouncing the very idea that anything bad will happen if we hit the debt ceiling limit. They say, with apparent deep conviction, that nothing is going to happen. Somehow, we’ll manage on that $73.7 billion even though we have around $300 billion in bills to pay in August based on past commitments. As much as I hate to say it, I really hope their bizarre and cynical prediction is correct.

The space aliens on the Right do this arithmetic and conclude that we need to bring this whole merry-go-round to a screeching halt, even if it means unforeseen and potentially terrible consequences. Me and my colleagues from Planet Progressive see:

The last budget surplus was FY2001, Bill Clinton's last year in office
The next eight years are all George W. Bush - where was the Tea Party?

(a) a pack of right-wing hypocrites who said nothing when George W. Bush took a budget surplus under Bill Clinton and turned it into an orgy of deficit spending, plus

(b) they caused an economic crash that happened in 2007 (a date often forgotten by the Tea Partiers), meaning

(c) less people working, meaning less people paying taxes and meaning more people who need government help to survive and

(d) a Recession that has technically ended – for big corporations now enjoying big profits and big cash reserves (see above), while not hiring the aforementioned unemployed people, leaving their lives in the toilet.

(e) And, on the subject of different views of reality, let's fix the budget by privatizing Social Security and Medicare. Let's raise the age requirements. Let's let the free market take care of the elderly - it's doing such a great job for their children and grandchildren.

Was the market crash of 2007 so long ago that there's no memory of what happened to people's free-market 401(k) plans, or do we need another market crash to remind us? It might come sooner than you think.

Omigod, how are we ever going to work something out when we can’t even agree on the numbers or on what's real and not real?

Author: Will Collette