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The Devil and Dan Webster

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By Jerry Waxman

   “I see Bonaparte a mean one if ever I’ve seen one
And Nero fiddling’ thru that lovely blaze
Antoinette, dainty queen, with her quaint guillotine
Ha ha ha ha
Those were the good old days”

I know it’s a cheap shot but I couldn’t resist the title. You could wait a lifetime to have a title like this fall into your lap and not have to think too hard about it. Okay, I stole it from Stephen Vincent Benet, but we’re dealing with similar themes here. In Benet’s fantasy Daniel Webster, a real life US Senator, and one of the finest orators this country ever produced, is called upon to fight the Devil for the soul of one of his unwitting victims. It’s a nineteenth century twist on the Faustian legend. Our twenty-first century Dan Webster appears to be more like one of the Devil’s henchmen, sorely in need of saving. Of particular note, reading through his biography he claims to be distantly related to his nineteenth century namesake.

The story of Faust is as old as human beings are. The Faust of fifteenth century tales and of Christopher Marlowe dooms him to damnation for making a deal with the Devil. Later authors like Goethe and Benet allow outside forces to save him from destruction. The story is really about yielding to temptation, sacrificing one’s integrity, dignity and humanity for either political, or financial and social gain. That story can be found in Genesis in the Garden of Eden, and in a particular passage in the New Testament that deals with “Thirty Pieces of Silver.” Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray is an outstanding example of temptation gone amok. More recently, in 1954, Douglass Wallop’s novel, The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant was adapted for Broadway as Damn Yankees. It’s a modern day fable wherein a senior citizen, Old Joe Boyd, sells his soul and is transformed (by Mr. Applegate aka the Devil) into the greatest baseball player ever (Joe Hardy) in order to help his home team beat the Yankees. Old Joe, being a businessman of sorts gets Applegate to agree to an escape clause, so Applegate in order keep Joe Hardy on a short leash throws a series of temptations in front of him so that he can collect Joe’s soul. With apologies to Richard Adler and Jerry Ross I’ve used excerpts from their song, Those Were the Good Old Days to accent some of my points. In the mid sixties Peter Cook and Dudley Moore gave us Bedazzled, yet another humorous take on Faust.

I’d sit in my rocking chair peacefully rocking there
Counting my blessings by the score
The rack was in fashion, the plagues were my passion
Each day held a new joy in store

As a freshman member of congress Webster is no stranger to the present day Republican way of doing business. His history in the Florida Senate is a history of self promotion at the expense of other peoples’ rights and privileges. He first ran for the Florida House because he felt that his church was not getting a fair shake on local government zoning. His record on women’s rights is abysmal. He considers his sponsorship of the 1985 Home Education Act, which made homeschooling legal in Florida as his finest accomplishment. Since taking his seat he has been in lockstep with the Republican majority, having voted most recently for the Draconian Paul Ryan budget. Since his swearing in four months ago Webster has been a part of this massive conservative movement to return to the “Gilded Age” of pre-twentieth century America. He may have an engineering degree from Georgia Tech but his ideology doesn’t allow his math skills to add or subtract in any way that makes budgetary sense.

Was anybody happy?

Since January the Republicans in the House of Representatives, who campaigned on job creation have done everything they can to kill meaningful jobs while promoting the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act (which would actually create jobs and help reduce the deficit) and passing a budget that would be the pride of the Marquis de Sade and actually increase the deficit; doublespeak at its best. Webster is enough of a businessman to know that the budget doesn’t work and that the health care bill, while flawed, does. The problem is that the people who funded his ads and his campaign have him under their thumbs and he can’t afford to go against them. Republicans all over the country are similarly afflicted. Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida voters are up in arms and the backlash is growing. On April 26th Webster held a town hall meeting in at which he was roundly booed and called a liar. When forced off his talking points he was like deer in the headlights, totally unprepared for the controversy. Here’s the video of that exchange. His carefully laid out charts, prepared by The Heritage Foundation and others on the deficit were misleading to say the least. Jim Callahan, a local activist, is a former employee of Chase Econometrics and works in the field of statistics was present at the meeting and expressed his concerns in this e-mail:

“Here is the CBO PDF — page 4 is the relevant page.
http://www.cbo.gov/budget/factsheets/2011b/medicare.pdf
“STATUS OF HOSPITAL INSURANCE TRUST FUND (in billions of dollars)”
The fund balance is going down by about $30-40 billion dollars a year and this in turn is reducing the interest income.
Close the $30 billion dollar gap; interest income recovers and Medicare is fine.
Hardly justifies the horror story that Congressman Webster was peddling to push the Ryan plan.
In other words Webster was using scare tactics with misleading data.

It is a $30 billion (with a “B”) gap — hardly the trillions that Webster implied.

Rising health care costs is a real problem and the Ryan plan does nothing to address that and in fact makes it worse by getting rid of comparative effectiveness panels.

Rising health insurance costs is a real problem and I don’t see the GOP endorsing health insurers to pay out 85% of their premium dollars on health care.
http://healthaffairs.org/blog/2010/11/23/implementing-health-reform-medical-loss-ratios/

Callahan went on to critique Webster’s overall performance and in a second e-mail sent this:

“You might have thought that we were just shouting down Dan Webster, but I was listening too.

Dan Webster said at least 5 newsworthy things:

1. He won’t vote for a clean debt limit bill (hold it hostage for Planned Parenthood cuts?)
2. Drill everywhere (bye, bye beaches)
3. He opposes comparative effectiveness research (evidence based medicine) to reduce medical costs — the Ryan bill will get rid of the panels

Here are examples of comparative effectiveness research (scroll down on page).
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK42934/

4. “We get 5% of our oil from Libya” — the figure I have seen the most is 1.5%.
http://www.economist.com/blogs/dailychart/2011/02/libyan_oil

Essentially, Dan Webster gave a recitation of Republican talking points and
when he strayed from them (as in the case of Libyan oil) he got his facts wrong.

And the finale:
5. “Medicare will go broke in 9 years”

http://www.hhs.gov/news/press/2010pres/08/20100805d.html

It seems the Devil got Webster’s tongue. Compare and contrast Webster’s town hall with Alan Grayson’s infamous Aug. 17, 2009 meeting. Despite the raucous crowds outside (egged on by conservative talk hosts), the meeting inside was orderly and civil. Grayson was in total command of his subject and was not afraid to answer opposing questions honestly and candidly. District 8 voters are starting to experience buyer’s remorse big time.

And that glorious morn, Jack the Ripper was born
Ha ha ha ha
Those were the good old days

It’s not just happening here. Paul Ryan, the copyist of the Heritage Foundation’s sociopathic budget, has also met resistance as well as many others, including Sandy Adams, the newly elected representative from Orlando’s 24th House district. Under the guise of reducing the deficit these legislators are actually going to increase the deficit as well as sacrifice sorely needed jobs in the process. Unfortunately (for us), they and way too many Democrats have opted to serve their own interests via corporate cash rather than adequately serve their constituents’ needs. Although Webster claims to be a moral Christian there is no sense of it here. He comes across as any of the false biblical prophets who genuflect properly and say well practiced empty words. There is no moral compass there. There’s certainly no honesty, as shown by Jim Callahan, and integrity is merely a word that he might be able to spell. On April 28th Organize Now, a community based activist organization, dressed as zombies, demonstrated in front of Webster’s Winter Garden Office protesting the Republican budget that would cut Medicare, Medicaid and other important social programs that could force people to “work  until they die.” Organize Now is planning many more such demonstrations in the future including April 28 where they are going to “Pink Slip Rick” a plea for the citizens of Florida to fire Governor Rick Scott. According to Organize Now members the more that politicians cut needed programs they’ll be cutting their own throats.

I see cannibals munchin’ a missionary luncheon
The years may have flown but the memory stays
Like the hopes that were dashed when the stock market crashed
Ha ha ha ha
Those were the good old days

If Webster and his associates ever were to take an honest assessment of our present circumstances they could not pursue their current course, but that’s not likely since their reelection money depends on serving their funders’ desires. Our entire economic malaise is a result of corporate backed legislators overturning the 1933 Glass-Steagall act which preventing banks from becoming brokerage houses and instituted rules for investments. President Clinton signed into law Gram, Leach Bliley in 1999 which did away with Glass-Steagall and opened the door for all kinds of questionable investment opportunities. What is most disturbing is that too many Democrats voted for the bill. We’re still recovering from the debacle that followed in the last year of the Bush administration, but since we’re fighting three wars (two of them unfunded for several years during the Bush years, not taxing wealthy people and corporations their fair shares) we’re drowning in red ink. The Obama Administration did what it could to stem the blood flow and haphazardly began rebuilding the economy, but because our tax and trade policies hamper real economic growth it has been a slow and jobless recovery. It’s likely to remain that way as long as Republicans control the House of Representatives and control the budget process. It’s also possible that after they try to destroy the social safety nets in place since the New Deal, there could be a double dip recession which would hurt the country even more. So let’s issue this warning to Dan Webster; be careful what you wish for because you just might get it, and then there’ll be the Devil to pay.

  I’d walk a million miles or more
For some of the gore
Of those good
Old
Days!

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