Wringing Out the Old Year

It’s time to ring in the new year and wring out the old with some reflections on the election, the world, our fair city and, obligatorily, the fiscal cliff.

First, the election. Colorado voted to legalize marijuana in contravention to federal law. Apart from the joy of telling the feds to shove it, the argument for legalization is that it’s no worse than alcohol, and we all know what a good thing alcohol is. Now we’ll be able to get drunk on vodka and high on pot brownies for the drive home.

Speaking of the feds, the re-elected president nominated a new secretary of state, a certain John Kerry, who said that the soldiers in the Vietnam War were “war criminals.” The soldiers he was talking about were the American ones.

Back when Kerry ran for president against George W. Bush, the media were so dazzled by Kerry’s perspicacious proclamations that they declared him real smart. Later analysis of their respective military IQ tests, however, suggested that neither was a rocket scientist, but Bush was probably the smarter of the two despite his Texas accent and his inability to comprehend the criminality of American soldiers.

Kerry did have the sense to marry the 74-year-old heiress to the Heinz ketchup fortune, making him the richest member of the U.S. Senate. But this ketchup money doesn’t flow easily from the bottle. The senior senator from Massachusetts moored his yacht in Rhode Island in order to avoid taxes on it in his home state.

So the Cabinet position that is America’s envoy to the world, held by Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Daniel Webster and Henry Kissinger, will now be occupied by a boy-toy to a ketchup heiress who is not as smart as Bush and evades yacht taxes while going around saying that American soldiers are war criminals.

Here in Aspen, we voted whether to spend more (and more) to squeeze electricity out of a streamlet so small that you can wade across without getting your shins wet (or, some days, even the tops of your feet). We voted “no.” Our vote not to spend more, however, has not stopped the City Council from planning to do exactly that.

We know that the council did notice our vote because it scolded us for voting wrongly. If we keep voting this way, then I suppose the council won’t let us vote at all.

When it’s not scolding locals for refusing to spend more, the council is scolding the visitors for refusing to spend less. They should spend less on downtown condos, the council says, because such condos and their rooftop hot tubs smack of “exclusivity.” What we need downtown instead is regulated, subsidized, nonexclusive and tub-free “affordable housing.” That’s council-speak for condos paid for by taxpayers. Other taxpayers. Like the wealthy ones who won’t be allowed to live there.

Wealthy taxpayers who pay for these nonexclusive condos will be excluded from them, but the councilmen themselves won’t be. Rumor is that most of them, including the mayor, are on the subsidized housing dole.

On to the fiscal cliff. The federal government spends about a trillion dollars a year more than it receives. It’s the American way – to spend like the Greeks.

In May, our “leaders” considered what to do about that. Math being math, the only options were some combination of spending less money on expenditures (oops, I mean “investments”) and raising more money with higher taxes on everyone who makes more than the people doing the raising (because that’s “fair”).

After lots of talk, the leaders kicked the can down the road past the election. If they couldn’t agree, then certain spending cuts and tax increases would occur automatically on Jan 1. The net effect would be a small dent in the deficit.

So far, so good. But then the “economists” on CNN said the only way to keep the economy afloat (or at least submerged no deeper) is to carefully avoid denting the deficit. Any deficit dents, they warned, would be like (drum roll) – a fiscal cliff! (They would have called it a fiscal Armageddon but didn’t want anyone to think they are religious.)

Ideally, this undented deficit would go toward “good” things like solar-energy companies, union perks and laptops for the homeless. But it doesn’t really matter so long as we keep the deficit in mint condition for our children and grandchildren so they can repay it by sending the Chinese money that they might otherwise waste on school, housing and food.

Predictably, to avoid the dreaded (another drum roll) fiscal cliff, the leaders on New Year’s Eve kicked the can down the road again, this time for another two months.

So we are in a strange three-step treatment plan, you see, the first step of which is to admit that we have a spending addiction that will kill us, the second step of which is to pledge to stop at a certain date in the future, and the third step of which is to postpone that date over and over.

This will be fun while it lasts. Pass the brownies.

Published in The Aspen Times on Jan. 10, 2013 at http://www.aspentimes.com/news/6320888-113/columns-columnsivg-apcolorado-apunitedstates