Wednesday, February 27, 2013


It's all over the news right now.


In the words of Inigo Montoya...

Whatever it means, it's obviously bad. At least, that's the tone I get from the media reporting on it.

Turns out, sequestration was all the rage following the election in 2012. The Simpson-Bowles Commission suggested it, the President pitched it to Congress, both houses of Congress approved it, and the President signed it into law. 

The idea was that if you make the alternative so undesirable, so heinous, so beyond-the-pale, Congress will put aside its pettiness and come to a budget agreement. The deadline for the agreement was January 1st.

Yet, in the final days of 2012, Congress took the budget crisis and the looming threat of sequestration so seriously that it took its traditional Christmas recess and went home.

But the world did not come to an end. As the clock struck midnight on December 31st, tragedy was averted as Congress acted - not a budget solution, but simply to extend the deadline to March 1st.

Whew! That was almost as scary as the meteor that almost hit Earth a couple weeks ago... except that it was 17,000 miles away! And while that might be close in "meteor years", it was still pretty far away.

So  now it is February 27th, and we are fast approaching the new deadline - $1.2 trillion in draconian cuts to federal budgets will take effect (spread over the next ten years) unless Congress acts to reduce the budget deficit. Of that total, 50% will be from domestic spending, 50% will be from the military budget.

(Remember, dear children, that both houses of Congress passed the Sequestration law. Everyone shares the blame here.)

But once again, Congress is not acting.

According to Republicans, Democrats just want to raise taxes on the rich and continue entitlements for the poor. According to Democrats, Republicans just want to protect low tax rates for the rich and balance the budget on the backs of the poor. Both parties have dug in their heels; neither is looking for common ground.

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives is waiting for a proposal from the Democrat-controlled Senate... which they will vote against. The Republican Speaker of the House is waiting for a proposal from the President... which will be rejected.

The President has already proposed $85 billion in cuts, with the rest made up in closing tax loopholes. The Speaker immediately panned the idea, insisting that there will be no more new income through tax revenues. He wants spending cuts!

So the sequestration looms again.

This week, the White House started revealing where some of those budget cuts will fall, state by state. Some states will lose teachers. Some will lose airport personnel. Some will lose highway improvement money. A lot will be cut from national defense.

As might be expected, the people are shouting "Foul!" "We can't shut down our airport!" "We need more teachers, not less!" "Without those road funds, our bridge-to-nowhere will really go nowhere!"

And suddenly, the American public is made aware of just how much we have become dependent on federal subsidies for everyday expenses.

And just how much we take it all for granted!

We want nice roads to drive our nice cars on, but we don't want to pay taxes to pave them. We want free public education and the best schools for our children, but we don't want to pay taxes to pay teachers. We want to keep that airport in our town and we want to ensure safe travel, but we don't want to pay taxes to operate it. We want our nation to be secure from outside threats, but we don't want to pay taxes for a standing army.

And so, the world will come to an end on March 1st. The mandatory cuts will go into effect while Congress and the President blame one another.


What? There's an alternative?

Congress could seriously work toward an agreement...


Congress could extend the deadline yet again.


Congress could just vote down the sequestration law.

All three are viable solutions. The sequestration law is a self-imposed penalty designed to force Congress to solve the problem of massive federal deficits or "face the consequences". It can be repealed as easily as it was put in place.

But then, a lot of people in Washington would have to eat crow.

What I fully expect to happen is for the sequestration to take place, and then, with much drama and hand-wringing, Congress will simply write its pet appropriations back into the budget. 

Had I been allowed to write the law, it would have said that if Congress cannot come to an agreement by March 1st, they must all resign and new elections be held; furthermore, current Representatives and Senators cannot be re-elected.


I suspect that would have got them moving in a more productive direction.

I'm tired of all the posturing and drama. Ladies and gentlemen of the U.S. government: It's time to stop the shenanigans and start governing... like you were elected to do!

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Decisions, Decisions

There comes a time in every person’s life when hard decisions have to be made.

Even for Parrotheads!

Tickets go on sale tomorrow morning for Jimmy Buffett’s “Songs from St. Somewhere” Tour, coming to Nashville on April 27th. I was excited about the news, and immediately checked the ship’s log to see if we could make it.

The date is open on my calendar, although it is a Saturday night – meaning, I would either have to drive home after the concert and be ready to preach the 8:15 service the next morning, or take a vacation day.

Definitely a vacation day!

But as the ticket deadline approaches, I realize that I don’t want to go to the concert this year.

The First Mate and I have seen Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers on several occasions and in several locations – Memphis, Anaheim, Nashville. We were at the famous Nashville concert in 2010, the weekend that city flooded. We stayed an extra day because Interstate 40 back to Memphis was flooded.

We went back in 2011 – paid a premium price for some really GREAT seats!

Don't get me wrong. I want to see Jimmy Buffett again – let’s face it, he’s not getting any younger either! – and sing beach songs, and dream about the beach, and drink margaritas with the First Mate.

But what I really want to do is to actually go to Margaritaville, lay on a real beach, sing beach songs, and drink margaritas with the First Mate!

So I've made my decision. I’m saving my money and setting sail to a beach this summer!

I haven’t decided where yet. Could be along the Gulf of Mexico – the “Redneck Riviera”, could be the Keys, could be somewhere in Mexico, or one of those island nations.

No more dreaming. I’m 50 now. Time to start living!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Party Politics

On Tuesday night, while most of us were out partying, and others were watching UK get stomped by Florida, President Obama offered the annual State of the Union address.

Makes me feel a little bit sorry for the Congress people and other dignitaries who were forced to sit through the speech instead of partying!

Just a little bit.

The President's speech was what everyone expected.

At least, that's what I heard. I was out partying!

I understand Rand Paul, Senator from KY, offered a response from the Tea Party - who, again, said what everyone was expecting him to say.

What really caught the nation's attention Tuesday night was the Republican Party response, offered by Marco Rubio (R-FL).

That name may be familiar to you. He was considered as a potential V-P candidate by presidential contender Mitt Romney. The thinking was that this young, attractive son of Cuban immigrants could magically shore up the Hispanic votes for the Republican ticket. Rubio was not selected (more on that later), but after the drubbing the Romney-Ryan ticket took in November, the Republican Party is still looking for a way to broaden their tent. So Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) "personally selected" Rubio to give the Republican response on Tuesday night.

Here's the poop on Marco Rubio: he was born in Miami in 1971 to Cuban immigrants. During a speech in 2011, he claimed his parents came to America to escape persecution by Castro. Unfortunately, Castro did not come to power in Cuba until 1959. Truth is, they left Batista's Cuba in 1956, looking for better economic opportunities in America...

...which is the American Dream, right?

So why would he lie about that?

Apparently his parents found that economic opportunity, because Marco was able to earn his J.D. (cum laude) at the University of Miami School of Law.

His religious heritage is Roman Catholic, but he dabbled in the Mormon Church for a brief time. His family currently attends a "non-denominational" (read "Southern Baptist") church, but Marco still attends the occasional Mass.

Rubio was elected to the Florida legislature in 2000, serving as the Speaker of the House from 2007-2009, when Florida's term limit laws ended his run.

During this time, his salary as an attorney rose from $72,000 in 2000 to a whopping $300K by 2005. Suspiciously, his employer in 2005 had done a lot of business with the Florida House of Reps.

Coincidence? I think not!

It was also probably a coincidence that shortly after Rubio sponsored an earmark of funds for Florida International University, he was offered an un-posted professorship at that same school.


There's a lot more of this kind of stuff in his political career, but I don't want to bore you with the details. And it's not really the point of my blog.

What caught the attention of the news media / blogosphere on Tuesday night was Rubio's speech. No, not what he said. That was standard boilerplate stuff written well in advance of Tuesday.

No, it was his performance. On camera, Rubio was obviously uncomfortable, reminiscent of the first Nixon-Kennedy debate. Rubio was visibly sweating. He was licking his lips, suffering a serious case of dry-mouth. And then, just a few minutes into his speech - in a very awkward move - he reached for a distant bottle of water and, without breaking eye-contact with the camera, he took a drink!

"The sip heard 'round the world!"

As one person posted on Twitter, "If he'd been reaching for a Mojito, that would have been completely understandable!"

What's the big deal, you might wonder? Really, it is no big deal. I keep a bottle of water under my pulpit whenever I preach. We do occasionally get thirsty.

The big deal is that the President had just delivered a speech that lasted for well more than an hour without a single sip of water. He never broke a sweat. Yet Rubio was obviously dripping-wet uncomfortable - and ill-prepared - for his moment in the spotlight.

For this, I blame the Republican leadership. I'm looking straight at you, Mitch McConnell!


And while Rubio's bottle of water took attention away from what the President said - or didn't say - it also took attention away from what Marco Rubio said.

And what did he say?

Again, I don't know. I was out partying!

But I did hear this clip the next day:

"Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires. They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow and go to work to pay the bills. They're immigrants who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy."

A nice line... identifying with the common man... sticking up for the elderly and immigrants. I can just picture the old Cubans with their Bermuda shorts and orthopedic shoes drinking their high-octane coffee from those tiny little cups...

But here's the truth. Remember, I mentioned his $300K annual "working-class" salary? It turns out that Marco Rubio recently listed his working-class home in his "working-class neighborhood" in West Miami for sale for a whopping $675,000!

(Fact: Median household income in Miami is $44,000. Median home price in Miami is $246,800.)

Like with his parents' immigration story, why does the Republican Party feel the need to embellish Rubio's life story? He's not "working class"! He's "white collar"! 

And that's okay with me. I've grown to expect that from politicians. Washington is way too complicated now for the average "citizen lawmaker" that our Founding Fathers envisioned.

But rather  than make him something he is not, the Republicans who still insist "I built it!" should latch onto Marco Rubio's REAL life story and show people that the great American Dream is still alive... and possible.

...unless, of course, it's not.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013