Thursday, June 4, 2009


A Coffee Klatsch Conversation

What follows is an email conversation among The Coffee Klatsch, a group I introduced to y’all in the last post. The participants are Yours Truly (Keatang), Cormie, JShin, and Stod.

I’ve lightly edited the transcript. The flow is occasionally awkward because some emails crossed each other and are not a direct reply to the one above. Also, I pick up the thread somewhat mid-stream - it started out as a discussion about possibly doing some group blogging, which led to a discussion about what topic we'd discuss, which led to the incredibly exciting subject of the federal deficit, which led to a bit of a free-for-all...

I hope you enjoy.

Heck, let's just avoid politics, we hacked that stuff to death over the years. How about we all watch the the Elvis Costello interview with the Police on You Tube and start with, why does Sting so obviously hate Stuart?

Where does Elvis C. fit into the pantheon of great pop musicians?

Why is Mel Gibson having an eighth child with a new girlfriend?

Why do "Buffalo Wings" confuse Californians?

Why do parents fart so freely around their children?

Rush Limbaugh and drug addiction? (now here might be where both sides could opine, and keep it funny).

So many topics, so little time.

Here's a potential topic, though one that may get a little outside our comfort zone. Actually, no, we'd all end up sounding like idiots. But still, I'm curious...

I've always been a deficit-shmeficit guy. Meaning: when others are worrying their little heads about the size of the federal deficit, I always say, deficit-shmeficit. I don't base this on any sort of rational understanding of how the federal debt impacts the economy generally, but more because, in my life as a voter we've gone from Ross Perot's the-sky-is-falling alarmism to Bush & Gore debating how to spend the surplus to the Age of Obama in which, according to one thing I read, we will triple the size of the Bush deficit.

And that's assuming some fairly optimistic things about the economy over the next few years. And it assumes that the spending doesn't even get worse with Democrats in complete and total control (an assumption that, in my opinion, would require that you have the IQ of trout).

Suddenly I'm not so deficit-shmeficit. I'm more like, holy spit, by the end of Obama's second term we are going to be so broke that Joe Biden will be in the White House kitchen preparing grilled cheese and PB&Js for state dinners.

JShin, meanwhile, has brought up the deficit more than once through the Bush years as a source of worry. And I'm guessing now that it’s his guy in office, he's more like, deficit-shmeficit...

So: are me and JShin both total hypocrites, changing our mind to suit our politics? Or our respective volte-faces somewhat defensible (mine because a trillion dollar deficit is one thing and a 3 trillion dollar deficit is another...and Shin's because who cares what the deficit is if Obama gets everything else right).


I'm more deficit-shmeficit than I used to be, truth be told, but not because of Obama or Bush, but more because I want to see some money flowing right friggin now, if you know what I'm saying. I also don't understand the economy for a minute. Christ, like you said, we went from an economy where we had a ridiculous surplus just a few years after we thought we'd never dig out, and then not much later we're looking at the worst financial crisis in almost a century. Seriously, what makes sense? The economy is Orwellian to me. Up is down. Profit is loss. Greed is good. All that kind of carp.

And again, I think it does often come down to the color of the uniform. What can Cheney say about Obama's handling of the deficit now? Sure, he can rip him a new one for not aggressively interrogating alleged terrorists because it's something different than the way he did it, but Cheney was definitely a deficit-shmeficit guy, so he's got to walk the tightrope there.

The Democrats will surely spend, but they got a good head start going with the last eight years. For a conservative administration, they threw the crap around like they were Democrats. Dang. I should have loved Bush, but I just couldn't.

Politics is still a tough topic for me in the klatsch. Back in the year 2000 there were at least 3 topics that we didn't discuss in our emails; deficits (didn't have 'em), torture (didn't do that), and photographing body bags at airports (nothing to see).

To begin any political discussion without starting with the ill cast of Bush's shadow over our lives in the present tense, is a willful act of amnesia, self delusion, or an abstract gift to evil men who should be in jail. If our national dialogue is still dishonest enough to allow Cheney to take credit for Sept 12th onward, while disavowing equal stewardship of Sept 11th, our fears so primal that we cannot stomach a terrorist in a maximum security prison on US soil; then why have dialogue at all? I'm a trout and you're all eagles. We've got the sky to talk about, why dwell in the muck?

Whoa, throwing down the friggin gauntlet. Looks like we have our pot-stirrer. Our Jane Curtin. Well, allright, Corms, you incorrigible slut, actually I don't have a good rebuttal. Cheney makes me want to vomit, and I may have mentioned pity for Bush, but I also pity some people that I really really can't stand and have done hurt to me or my children. So it's not like I've forgiven the btard or something....

Okay then, no politics…how about that new Green Day album?

That's political, isn't it? Or at least, they swear a lot on it. One of my son's teachers or a friend's parent objected to the album being played in public somewhere because of the language (shows you how clued in I am here). My son really, really liked their last album - probably one of the fundamental albums of his lifetime – but he said he doesn't really like what he's heard off the new one.

Anyway, we could debate profanity on music cds. Actually, I might as well confess: I rented a best of Britney Spears album from the library! I hope no one sees it on my desk, but I confess, I always liked the song "Oops I Did It Again" and figured ah, why not rip it. Now that I listen to it, though, maybe it's not as good as the first time I heard it while driving into Las Vegas.

Green Day. Possibly the one discussion that would drive me to talk politics. Here's what this trout thinks.

To talk about deficit concerns is naval gazing. We spend freely to assuage our fears, on bombs and prisons and non-stop rendition flights, but we have pangs of concern when it's saving jobs, homes or health care. We can talk all we want, but we are never more than one attack away from falling off the fiscal wagon. We need to manage our fear, insist that our politicians not fear monger, and learn to live in the world--not exempt from it.

Also. Spending 'got worse' with Republicans in complete control. I think it's fair to assume that this trajectory would've continued under a Republican administration. (It's not like Arnold has done much to change the trajectory that got a democrat recalled).We spend because we fear. We Americans like to privatize wealth and keep risks social. This cognitive dissonance is something we seem to be comfortable with, at least until China stops buying our currency.

We're selfish--money to ourselves good, money to others bad. We may change our minds when the next swine flu becomes a true pandemic and the 'consumer choice' of health care becomes a social issue as we find ourselves surrounded by 30 million uninsured carriers.

I have more, but need to get back to work.

Swing away, Keatang. I'm throwing high and inside.
Cormie McTrout

Sorry for the delay in response - I took a sick day today. Spent the morning watching West Wing re-runs. Now there was a noble Democratic President in action - if only those evil Republicans would get out of his way. (In this morning's episodes, President Bartlett was trying to broker a Mid-East peace agreement, but House Republicans wouldn't support it unless he supported a tax credit. Jerks. Can't they see he's trying to save the world?)

More importantly, sorry for the trout crack. I meant it as a throw-off and not to offend. Let me state it more soberly: I believe ANY political party with control of the House, Senate, and White House will spend in an irresponsible manner. When the majorities are strong and filibuster-proof, that is more so. When there is a crisis, that is even more so. And yes, when it is the Democratic Party, look out. So to say deficits and spending concerns is navel gazing seems going too far. Surely there is a point where massive, unsupportable spending becomes dangerous.

Then again - maybe not. The Second World War was pricey and the United States economy seemed to rebound nicely after that. Deficits-shmeficits.

The bigger issue is this: are we allowed, in any way, to criticize any policy of the Obama Administration? Or are you saying that we should all just agree he's better than Bush and bless everything he does?

Two other notes: my wife told me last night that Billie Joe Armstrong said he's going to start giving more thought to how his lyrics affect his kids as they get older. And Stod: I hope you realize we're publishing this whole conversation on my blog. Britney Spears, huh?

Whoops, didn't realize we were already in blog world. I'll try to hold out on all my little "friggin's" and "carps" from here on.

Like I said, I'm a biiiig fan of Obama, but don't find any problem in having problems with his problems. I like and don't like the fact that pundits are always applauding his political savvy, always making the other guy stick his foot in his mouth first, and thus Obama smelling, well, unlike a foot. Not that I don't like the pundits saying that, but it makes me wary of Obama as a Machiavellian genius, who may be up to grabbing the reins that Cheney made more accessible to an American president. And I think he's been, for lack of a better expression, a bit limp-wristed around some of the current gay issues, most particularly gays in the military

You sick, too? I have a monster much writing to do but it's tough today. Two thoughts keep seeming very far apart. And now I've discovered that the Dodgers are playing the Cubs at Wrigley on the tele this afternoon! On right now. How nice it would be to make myself a hot toddy and just watch a ballgame. WGN is really destructive to my home work habits.

Another song I hesitate to admit that I like is "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry. The video is a hoot. I guess I go for that pop vampy stuff from time to time.

I think the deficits or whatever you'd call them at this point are very definitely a concern for the future of this country. I feel like we're living in Britain during WWII, when the war basically destroyed their treasury and the Americans took a good grip of Winston's balls and told him that the British Empire was dead, long live the American Empire. Time to learn Mandarin!

I don't see why we can't go politics. We would need comments like Cormie’s “I'm a trout and you're eagles” one to liven up a boggy blog day. I found it offensive in the same way that I found some of Keatang’s “please stop poohpoohing on Bush” comments. They titillate, which is perky and bouncy, which is good for the audience.

I was and am a firm believer that what this country needed -- more than it needed Anita Ekberg or Sophia Loren -- was Obama in that seat instead of McCain or many others. I am constantly soothed by his language. I always felt like a foreigner (not in an American or anti-American or that kind of sense, just linguistically) listening to Bush and I always felt less secure, in just a scared human kind of way after hearing him speak. It seems that we were on the brink of disaster and Bush just hoped that the disaster would hold off until after the elections. I don't know that, it's purely conjecture, but he seemed so remote at the end of his era, that it made me want to scream.

I'm glad that Obama has called torture what it is and said we won't do it, I'm not so concerned about not seeing more torture photos, I'm dumfounded that he hasn't done more about things like gays in the military, I'm concerned about the deficit, I pray each day that the stimulus moves something in my direction, I feel like the world situation is as volatile as ever, but I'm glad he's up there representing me and my fellows.

I don't know jack about Green Day, and Britney Spears makes me want to turn and run.

Navel gazing, or perhaps it’s analogous to the purchasing of indulgences in 1546. We behaved poorly for a number of years, spending on unnecessary war and turning a blind eye to the supplemental budget requests that made the hemorrhage of money, from public to private hands, so conveniently opaque. Perhaps now we sleep better spending a few precious moments wondering about the well being of our yet to be sired grandchildren. We must be good people if we worry about such things, mustn't we? Perhaps its analogous to acid rain and global warming, situations brought about by enormous aggregation of individual poor behavior--Hummers in the driveway, McMansions in the newly drained everglades.

It's navel gazing because the only action point to each of these three things solely resides in the personal. We can worry about the national deficit, but we will have no effect on it. All we can do is live within our proper sense of proportion and humility and render ourselves immune to the deficit's effects. The payoff is muted.

A frugal family who lives within their budget and sets aside the rainy day retirement money can expect to bear more than their fair share of the ARRA, subsidizing the fools and dreamers who bought NINJA loans to finance their dream vacations, subsidizing the loan professionals who fleeced the lambs then doubled down with default swap bets that the lambs would bleed, subsidizing stupidity.

But what options do we have? I'd rather place my money on the bet that will pay off with assimilated, educated Americans who drive ambulances, teach schools, and contribute to the subjunctive hope that is America, than spend my dollars building higher walls and deeper moats to keep the preterite masses at bay. I'm with Garrett Keizer, and wish to live in a world where disposable income does not require the blood of disposable people.

To me, Obama gets a pass for now. He's been handed the largest shit sandwich I've ever seen. Smaller men would be choking on it. I'll hold off on criticizing until he starts trying to serve up some of his own.

And yes, he's improvising. He doesn't know what to do. Tim Geitner has no clue. For that matter, why are bankers deciding how to fix the banks? It's like asking a surgeon how to fix a backache, "why, surgery of course!" Ask a chiropractor and no doubt a different answer would be offered. Quite frankly, I'd like to stop asking Yale and Harvard graduates their opinions on anything.

Don't worry about the trout. I liked the trout.

Largest shit sandwich? Hardly. I’d put Washington, Lincoln, Johnson (Andrew), Hoover, FDR, and Nixon on the list of Presidents who got handed Carnegie Deli whoppers compared to Obama’s Subway footlong.

Three of those guys made it to the pantheon and three of them, well, not so much.

The three of them that made it to the pantheon may have also wished to live in a world that did not require the blood of disposable people, but it didn’t work out that way. FDR presided over a war that killed 50 million people around the world. Lincoln’s war killed 600,000 Americans. Washington, of course, was a peacetime President, but a wartime General with no Jeffersonian illusions about war and peace.

Obama’s a historic President at a historic time and I like the idea of debating if he’s making the right decisions. But I have no interest in playing the role of Roman centurion, shouting up to Obama “If you are the son of God, come down from the cross”. You want to give him a pass, we’ll give him a pass. After all (as he tells us in every press conference) it’s not his fault. (I have to add, though, that in all my Lincoln reading, I can’t recall Lincoln bringing up Buchanan at every turn…)

Next topic? Ah, but feel free to take last licks…

Just a quick rebuttal for Cormie, in spite of agreeing with your comments (FDR and Lincoln were dealing with Colossal Poo Whoppers. Corms mentioned the largest McTurdwich he'd "ever seen," so, in a sense, he is correct there, too.

The tone-deaf nature of email has always made it a challenge, for me at least, to write politics. Perhaps I'm too shy about using the ASCII smiley face. My head was in deficits, not George bashing, and my opinion is that we are too easy on ourselves, too forgetful of how we got to where we are, and not willing to make hard choices about what needs to be given up when the belt needs be tightened.

Perhaps my last two years at an eco company have radicalized my vernacular and I'm more shrill than I realize. Perhaps it's why Malcolm Gladwell, the Sports Guy, and myself, all suggest staying away from politics.

As for shit sandwiches, I guess I could cast the net wider than my email's intent, my lifetime. When I look at a destabilized Pakistan, and the regional super-power Iraq, and the bellicose crackpot North Korea, I'd suggest that, if nukes were an ingredient in the sandwich, the closest sized shit sandwich was primitive (proto) man staring up at the K-T asteroid. And really, in regards to Obama, banks, Yale.....if our politics can't envision a world where our good fortune doesn't have a concomitant dedication to the health and well being of all peoples and planet, then to hell with both parties. We can find a better way, or else the burblings of a starving third world, choking on our fumes and learning to read in a madrassa, will find the way for us. :-)

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