WASHINGTON – Here in your nation’s capital, things are not always what they seem.
There is great excitement that an actual “budget” has been hammered out in Congress, averting another government shutdown. This is the first budget since 2011. Even though it is Congress’ job to devise an annual budget, this once-in-three-years development is hailed as remarkable.
Never mind that the budget permits the coal industry to keep dumping toxic waste into public streams although 300,000 West Virginians just went through days when tap water was so poisoned it couldn’t be used for anything except flushing toilets.
Never mind that despite the 2008 recession caused by mismanagement by big money, government financial regulators such as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities and Exchange Commission will not get the enforcement money they need.
President Obama also has changed. He came into office pledging to work with Congress, including Republicans, to get things done. Now he says whenever he can get away with doing something by executive action without Congress, he will.
After Obama vowed that he will curtail overreaching by the National Security Agency, which has been spying on close U.S. allies and American citizens, it turns out the NSA has secretly put spying and cyberattack software on 100,000 computers.
And never mind that the government now uses drones not just against foreign dictators and terrorists but also for domestic surveillance. Growing marijuana may be legal in some states but in other states if you grow weed, a drone will catch you and authorities will whisk you off to jail.
In this country many think work determines who you are although just about everyone wants the respect that comes with having a job. And the government taxes workers to provide for compensation if they lose their jobs. But with three Americans in pursuit of every job opening, somebody is going to be left behind. Nonetheless, Congress cut off benefits to a million unemployed Americans saying they had been unemployed too long and that it must be their fault. Never mind that their families are now destitute.
I have a young, intelligent relative who lost the use of his right arm after being attacked as an innocent bystander by two killers, one now in prison for life and the other on death row. After 27 surgeries, this college graduate has been on 40 straight job interviews without success despite great charm and an incomparable work ethic. If it is hard in this economy for able-bodied people to find jobs, it is even harder for the physically impaired.
Yet many in Congress don’t seem to care why people can’t find jobs or what they are supposed to do without any income.
Some legislators also don’t seem to worry that after more than a decade of war, the nation is exhausted, its blood and treasure spent. The men and women of the armed forces need a break.
The budget calls for more defense spending and new weapons although mass transit and infrastructure projects (we are 25th in the world behind Barbados for fixing roads and bridges) were not funded. (The good news is that military employees get a 1 percent pay raise.)
Without giving time for Obama’s nuclear disarmament talks with Iran to conclude, some lawmakers are demanding tougher sanctions on Iran. Some appear eager for war with Iran, much larger and even more complicated than Iraq. We’re already spending about $92 billion a year on war.
But lest you are disappointed by such government shenanigans, some amazing budgetary compromises were made. No money may be spent on the mandatory switchover from incandescent bulbs. Federal agencies will get no more money for worker-training videos spoofing “Gilligan’s Island” or “Star Trek.” Despite attacks on U.S. embassies in such places as Benghazi, $224 million less is allocated to embassy security.
There are many more Washington maneuverings to follow, if you can get past the doubletalk.
The Wednesday Slice question
What goes through your mind when you hear a distant train in the night?
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