4.26.2009

Stuck in the middle with you, unfortunately



....Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you,
Yes I'm stuck in the middle with you,
Stuck in the middle with you.

[This song was used to devastating effect in the notorious 'ear scene' in Reservoir Dogs, and I could have embedded that clip here, but I decided that there is quite enough violence and brutality in the world today... so I didn't. Reader beware, it's one of the more violent scenes in a very violent movie, and can be viewed here.]

I have a lot of time on my hands these days -- my job has been cut back to two/days per week, and even this may go away entirely before the start of summer. These short hours give me plenty of time to follow the news, though I also think that this is unhealthy, and, as I have noted, can lead to a paralyzed, depressed stasis where even small tasks are difficult to complete. This ample amount of unwanted free time lets me watch the ongoing debates about Vermont's state budget (the subject is not as dry and boring as it sounds) with a mixture of contempt, extreme displeasure, and despair. Vermont is a very small state facing quite large problems that are, naturally, being sharply exacerbated by the current economic situation.

A chart tracking employment trends from the official (& very gloomy) Vermont Updated Fiscal 2009-11 Revenue Outlook report (pdf).

On one side, the current Republican Governor, Jim Douglas, is utterly lacking in a positive vision for the state. His administration has resisted almost all attempts to raise revenues while insisting that deep cuts need to be made to the state's workforce. I actually agree with some of this assessment, as Vermont politicians tend to have a rather expansive view of the role of state government. The way the options have been presented, however, lacks conviction or vision, and this lack of vision in many ways has been a defining characteristic of his administration. I also think that some of the administration's detractors do make valid criticisms, ie, that the administration has been stacked with hacks, flacks and an unprecedented (for Vermont) number of political appointees. Also, the proposed cuts to state government are made with a sledgehammer, not a scalpel, and lack finesse.

On the other side, the Vermont legislature is controlled by Democrats -- the people who tend to have an expansive view of the role of state government. The current governor may lack vision, but there not many clear rational voices in opposition, either. The legislature looks to federal stimulus money to avoid making very difficult decisions and seems to live in a world disconnected from today's harsh fiscal realities, it is all just papering over things and looking for the easiest solutions without addressing underlying fundamental problems. I find that it is very hard for me to respect 'leaders' who deal with these very critical problems by avoidance and digression, and I don't see many profiles in courage on the legislative side of things, either.

I wonder as things play out if there will be a rise of a new American demagogue like Huey Long in the 1930s. I certainly feel disenfranchised by what is going on and feel that the current leadership (left and right) is not remotely addressing my concerns -- I'm not saying that I want to join up with some anti-democratic third party movement -- just speculating that conditions are ripe for such a occurrence.

I recently read a very pessimistic analysis of the national economic outlook for Obama's first term, and while I can persevere through this month, the coming summer, even the balance of 2009, without much of a steady income, I can't exist for four years or more only on my diminishing savings: I feel like I am in a slow motion head-on car crash, it's not happening in the blink of an eye, but almost imperceptibly, but still heading towards an inevitably violent and catastrophic conclusion, and I can't find a way to hit the brakes and stop the pile up.

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