Blow and Collins

In “A Game of Chicken” Mr. Blow says that when it comes to the sequester, once again, the American people are caught in the middle between Democrats and Republicans.    Ms. Collins, in “Peculiar Naming Rites,” says now, we’re not ones to go around spreading rumors. Why, really, we’re just not the gossipy kind!  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Well, here we go again. Another season, another manufactured, self-inflicted, completely preventable crisis of government. This time it’s the sequester.

We may as well put these things in the Farmers’ Almanac.

Now we’re engaged in a finger-wagging blame game of who proposed it, who supported it and who is opposed to preventing it.

Let’s lay out some of the facts of this disaster.

The sequester’s origin is quite muddy.

President Obama, responding to Mitt Romney in an October presidential debate, said: “First of all, the sequester is not something that I’ve proposed. It is something that Congress has proposed. It will not happen.”

John Boehner, on the other hand, now says that the sequester is Obama’s baby. In a speech on the House floor this month, Boehner said:

“The president first proposed this ‘sequester’ in 2011 and insisted it be part of the debt-limit agreement.”

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in The Wall Street Journal, Boehner wrote, “Having first proposed and demanded the sequester, it would make sense that the president lead the effort to replace it.”

PolitiFact rated Obama’s claim that the sequester was proposed by Congress as “mostly false” saying:

“It was Obama’s negotiating team that came up with the idea for defense cuts in 2011, though they were intended to prod Congress to come up with a better deal for reining in the deficit, not as an effort to make those cuts reality. Meanwhile, members of both parties in Congress voted for the legislation that set up the possibility of sequestration. Obama’s position is that Congress should now act to avoid those across-the-board cuts. Obama can’t rightly say the sequester isn’t his, but he did need cooperation from Congress to get to this point.”

PolitiFact bases its assessment largely on assertions in the new book “The Price of Politics,” by the renowned Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward.

The Web site does, however, point out that there are dissenting views, including that of Christopher Preble at the libertarian Cato Institute. PolitiFact quotes Preble as saying, “I do not believe it accurate to refer to the cuts that will occur in both defense and nondefense discretionary spending under sequestration as ‘Obama’s cuts.’ ”

And John Avlon, a senior columnist for The Daily Beast, wrote Wednesday that he “happened to come across an old e-mail that throws cold water on House Republicans’ attempts to call this ‘Obama’s Sequester.’ ”

According to Avlon:

“It’s a PowerPoint presentation that Boehner’s office developed with the Republican Policy Committee and sent out to the Capitol Hill GOP on July 31, 2011. Intended to explain the outline of the proposed debt deal, the presentation is titled, ‘Two Step Approach to Hold President Obama Accountable.’ It’s essentially an internal sales document from the old dealmaker Boehner to his unruly and often unreasonable Tea Party cohort. But it’s clear as day in the presentation that ‘sequestration’ was considered a cudgel to guarantee a reduction in federal spending — the conservatives’ necessary condition for not having America default on its obligations.

The presentation lays out the deal in clear terms, describing the spending backstop as “automatic across-the-board cuts (‘sequestration’). Same mechanism used in 1997 Balanced Budget Agreement.”

So, there’s that.

But I’m not sure where all this you- are-the-father origination blame game gets us.

The bill got bipartisan support in the House and at the time Boehner bragged:

“When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.”

And President Obama signed it.

None of this changes the fact that the sequester is still bearing down on us, and it still holds horrible consequences that we didn’t think we’d be facing.

Now we are stuck in a vicious fight about what, if anything, can be done to prevent it and protect an economy that is just beginning to emerge from the muck.

According to the Bipartisan Policy Center, “Our estimate of approximately one million lost jobs due to sequester remains our base case if a full sequester occurs as scheduled on March 1.”

So once again the American people are caught in the middle of a game of chicken between Democrats, who rightly warn that the sky could fall, and Republicans, who want to burn the coop.

Thus far, the president and the Democrats are outmaneuvering the Republicans in the messaging war, but that will be of cold comfort if the Republican hotheads prevail.

Erskine Bowles, the former White House chief of staff for Bill Clinton, and the Bowles half of the Simpson-Bowles Commission, said of impending cuts: “They are dumb and they are stupid, stupid, stupid. They are inane.”

And yet dumb, stupid and inane have become the three pillars of government now that strong-willed, dimwitted hard-liners who see compromise as a dirty word have infiltrated the halls of Congress.

Now here’s Ms. Collins:

The Postal Service is looking to launch a clothing line.


This is not make-believe, like the story about Chuck Hagel giving a speech to Friends of Hamas. Dan Friedman, a New York Daily News reporter, says he thinks he inadvertently started that one when he called a Republican aide and asked if there were any rumors floating around about the nominee for secretary of defense. As an example, Friedman said, he asked about speaking fees from anything like “the Junior League of Hezbollah” or “Friends of Hamas.” Soon the idea was all over the right-wing media.

“The names were so over-the-top, so linked to terrorism in the Middle East, that it was clear I was talking hypothetically and hyperbolically. No one could take seriously the idea that organizations with those names existed — let alone that a former senator would speak to them,” Friedman wrote.

I think I speak for us all when I say: Hahahaha.

Also, as long as we’re at it, Sarah Palin is not working for Al Jazeera or teaching at Harvard. Those stories both started on a humor Web site. And it seems extremely doubtful that the 19th-century presidential candidate John Charles Frémont actually ate anybody when he was lost in the mountains during his exploring days. Also, contrary to rumors of the time, Thaddeus Stevens — the congressman played by Tommy Lee Jones in “Lincoln” — probably did not commit blasphemy by administering communion to a dog. My point here is, you can’t blame everything on Twitter.

But about the Postal Service’s new line of clothing.

“The agreement will put the Postal Service on the cutting edge of functional fashion,” a spokesman said in a press release announcing the birth of the “Rain Heat & Snow” brand of apparel and accessories.

The good news is that this is a way better plan than the U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team, which you will remember was an investment of an estimated $40 million in the theory that the American people would like their postal system a whole lot more if they associated it with Lance Armstrong.

This time, the service says it’s not putting up any cash at all. It’s just licensing its “unofficial motto” to a Cleveland apparel company in return for a little slice of any profits that will occur if it turns out that consumers have been harboring a secret yen for fashions that will make them look as if they were delivering the mail.

The motto, by the way, is: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” It comes from a translation of something by Herodotus, who is not getting a commission.

If “Rain Heat & Snow” doesn’t work, perhaps the folks in Cleveland would be interested in a “Never on Saturday” line of leisure wear.

The Postal Service is in a tough place. A while back, Congress turned it into a semiprivate entity, which was supposed to operate just like a profit-making organization except for the part where it had to continue to fulfill all the wishes, hopes and whims of Congress.

When you’re strapped for cash, dignity is the first thing to go. Just ask the members of the minor league baseball team in Corpus Christi, Tex., who play their games at Whataburger Field.

Auctioning off your motto is nothing, really. We have lived with the sale of naming rights so long that generations of Americans have grown up taking it for granted that it is a fine thing to see your college team end a season by winning the Beef ‘O’Brady’s Bowl. Remember when Houston was stuck with Enron Field in 2001? Embarrassing for a second, but then the city resold the rights to Minute Maid for $170 million. Naming rights: good. Renaming rights: better.

This week Florida Atlantic University announced plans to christen its football stadium in honor of GEO Group, a private prison corporation. “It’s like calling something Blackwater Stadium,” a critic told Greg Bishop of The Times. Meanwhile, the folks at the University of Louisville are cheering for their basketball teams in the KFC Yum! Center.

Yum! is the parent company of fast-food chains like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC. It forked over $13.5 million to imprint the stadium for the next decade. Sandra Kendall, the marketing manager for the center, said the exclamation point was “part of the deal.” The folks in Louisville, she said, do not find this disturbing.

Perhaps if the Postal Service agreed to become the Postal (Yum!) Service, the KFC people would be willing to pay off part of its pension obligations. This has not happened, people! But feel free to spread the rumor.


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