1. souse, n.5: 3. A drunkard. slang (chiefly U.S.). (OED)
  2. white souse, n.1: A blog for literature, politics, science, and the occasional cocktail.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mr. Culberson goes to Houston

I participated in a "town hall" teleconference last night with John Culberson -- my Republican representative of the 7th congressional district here in H-town. I'm assuming the other participants ended up there the the same way I did -- naively answering the home phone while putting the finishing touches on some Kung Pao chicken. And it was interesting to listen to my lackluster rep -- he resonates with the kind of aw-shucks commonsense that carries a Republican far down here in Texas.

He then talked about killing hundreds of earmarks and saving them for essential technologies like "nano-sponges" that can cure preemies of various diseases before they're born (note that the Houston Medical Center is in the 7th), and building a retaining pond to mitigate flooding elsewhere in the district. These seem like fine candidates for federal spending, but it seems that the key to Culbernomics is that Congress needs to slash pork in order to save our precious spending for *his* pork. (He went on note the other key crisis facing the United States today -- one which merits full attention. Not the war, not the economy, not energy prices, not the environment -- not even health care for the Med center rep -- but Illegal Immigrants. As he put it: "when the dam breaks and you're flooded, first you've got to plug the hole, then figure out what do with all the water." Aw shucks -- water/wetbacks? Now that's folk humor.)

His bottom line: the government is heavily in debt and can only afford to pay for the bare necessities. As he put it, his young daughter, as well as everyone else in the U. S., has a 100 thousand dollar-plus share of the national debt. And just like having debt on a credit card, the first thing you've got to do is stop spending money and then figure out how to pay down the debt. It makes so much darn sense.

But this triggered a more substantive question for me: why is it that in that in national politics, debt is considered bad? In business, I understand, a company is considered insufficiently leveraged when they don't carry a portion of debt in order to expand their capital and their business operations. And in household economy, I don't know many who are frowned upon for carrying a mortgage and making car payments. In fact, and investment counselor once told me that if I was 100 thousand in debt on my house, and received a 100 thousand dollar windfall, that I *shouldn't* pay the mortgage off -- that I should invest it intelligently instead. And not just because the rate of return might exceed the mortgage, but because it would diversify my resources and increase my long-term financial security.

What I take from this is some amount of national debt must be good. And yet I don't think I've ever heard this from a politician, or in broadcast commentary. What I'd like to hear is a discussion of how much debt the U. S. can and should carry. What are the trade-offs? What does this debt do for us (beyond propping up the dollar via China)?

Because these aw-shucks common sense arguments obscure more than they illuminate. Economists don't talk in parables (not even Greenspan). What "aw-shucks" means is "I am a rube -- rube with me." Our collective yearning for a Jimmy Stewartesque simplicity to politics and diplomacy is what got us in to this pig fuck with Bush in the first place. I don't want a president or a congressman I can have beer with or watch ball with. I have friends for that. What I want is a smart asshole who knows more than me and isn't afraid to say so.

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