Fires, Leaky Pipes & a Meltdown
This week, Nathan gives Egypt a break and describes why, no matter how insane things get here, his home town takes insanity to a whole new level...
I’ve been a little hard on Egypt lately, so I thought I’d take this week to talk about how my home country, the US, has finally lost all pretense of sanity.
Trust me, no matter how angry you are about the situation here, you’ll feel a lot better once you hear about the batshit insanity that is – the sequester.
It’s an absurd and dangerous invention, slapped together by a schizophrenic government in a desperate attempt to make its members behave like adults. In this it has failed. I would love to be able to lay this out for you so it makes sense, but frankly the more you understand, the less sense it makes. There is no rational explanation for this manufactured crisis.
So let’s try an irrational one. Two brothers live in a house, and in a couple days they’re going to blow themselves up. No one seems too upset about this. Their ancestors were geniuses and warriors, poets and pioneers, but generations of inbreeding have produced a sad pair of halfwit brothers, charged with maintaining their inheritance while doing everything they can do destroy it. Their names are Barry and John.
John and Barry met in the living room one day. Barry had a bucket of water, John a roll of duct tape.
“Where you going?” said John.
“Roof’s on fire,” said Barry.
“No, it’s not.”
“Yeah, it is. Where you going?”
“No, it’s not.”
“Yeah, it is.”
They stared at each other for a minute, each thinking the other was crazy or lying or both. Above their heads the ceiling crackled and smoked, while water sloshed around their shoes.
Barry flailed away at the fire for a while, but nothing did much good. He got it roughly contained: unemployment fell a little to merely catastrophic levels, and GDP, which had been dropping faster than your standards on a Thursday night, started to grow a little again. But the flame refused to retreat and just soldiered on in a low, steady burn that kept businesses from investing and people from getting jobs. Barry used everything he had – blankets, water, stimulus, investment, even something called quantitative easing, which is basically printing money and selling it to yourself. All he got for his trouble was hair gone white from the ash.
John, meanwhile, was having fun downstairs in the house. The water was rising, flooding one floor after another. The pipes hadn’t been fixed in years, and the only tool he knew how to use was the roll of tax cuts on his belt. The worst part is that every leak had its own special interest, a parasite that lived off the spray of taxpayer money. Plug one, and you’ve got the corporations after you. Patch another, and the teachers stage a revolution. Don’t even look at the geyser of health care in the basement. And Barry kept bring in more water for his stupid fire, spraying it around without a care in the world. Sometimes it was enough to make John cry.
One day Barry showed up with a bomb. It was a classic model, red sticks of dynamite with a digital clock.
“So John,” he says, “you know how we can never agree on anything? Ever?”
“Right. I’ve got an idea. We say that if we can’t figure out how to save the house, we blow it up.”
“We would have to be so reckless and incompetent to let this bomb go off that there’s no way it’ll ever happen. We’ll force ourselves to make a deal.”
“I love it! I love it, I love it, I love it. Let’s set it up together.”
It was lovely to see the brothers finally working as a team. They placed the sequester bomb to be as destructive as possible, slashing almost every government program across the board. It’ll blow apart hospitals, schools, laboratories and national parks. It’ll cost over 700,000 jobs and slice a nice fat percentage point off GDP growth, which was barely above one percent already. Even healthcare comes under the axe, that most sacred of burst pipes.
The sequester was designed to be a bad bill, the worst Congress had ever written, and this is a group that knows something about writing bad bills. It cuts things that both parties support while accomplishing absolutely jack-all that either side actually wants. It’ll make the fire worse and do almost nothing about the water.
The bomb almost went off once, in December during the fiscal cliff debate. That whole thing was bizarre, an unlucky confluence of about a dozen bad decisions that all happened to explode at the same time. Besides the sequester, two major tax cuts were about to expire, unemployment payments were about to stop, and a handful of other terrible things were about to happen. It would have been a body blow to an economy that was still struggling its way out of a recession.
And so, in the time of their nation’s greatest need, with just hours left on the clock, John and Barry heroically came together, laid their differences aside, and crafted a brilliant plan that changed economic policy forever.
Ha! Just messing with you. They put together a moist napkin of a bill, a stunning display of mediocrity that did nothing to deal with the country’s long term issues and didn’t even diffuse the sequester, just put another two months on the clock.
Those two months are up March 1st. Less than 48 hours after this article is published, the sequester bomb will go off. It’ll be implemented in stages, but even the first stage will cause massive layoffs, pay cuts, and loss of benefits. A lot of people are going to get hurt by this, people who had nothing to do with starting this pointless brothers’ war.
What’s creepy is how calm Barry and John are. John took a vacation two weeks before the deadline. Barry went golfing. They keep arguing about the bomb, but only about who’s responsible for it, not how to stop it. Each has begun convincing themselves that it’s all right, that it’ll be worth getting shredded apart if he takes the other guy with him. The brothers relax, humming softly as they watch the clock tick down to zero.