Monday, December 19, 2011

Santa's Belt and some Political Drek

"Santa's Belt," an original children's short story, appears on this blog each year at holiday time.  Some have asked for copies to read to their grandchildren.  Enjoy it!

In our last posting, we talked about our new feature, "Political Drek."  Two Political Drek items are included in this posting.  Remember that the letters of the second word of this new feature's name simply stand for "Democratic & Republican Election Kaleidoscope."  Nothing more.  Remember that with either a kaleidoscope or politics, it's all done with mirrors and a little "spin."

Development of Political Drek as a separate web site of its own is continuing.  As it is being worked on, content from Jack's Potpourri is being used in it. You are invited to watch its progress as it grows at There is some duplication of content there with with what you are about to read.  Happy Holidays to all.

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                                                   Santa’s Belt  

                                          Jack Lippman

It was that time of the year when things were getting hectic at the North Pole.  Santa and the elves had been working overtime to make certain that everything would be ready to go on Christmas Eve.  After all, children of all ages throughout the world were waiting for Santa to bring them the gifts which they had been wishing for, gifts to make their dreams come true.

“Rufus,” Santa called out.  “Are all of the presents ready to load into my bag?  Have our helpers down on Earth, the toy manufacturers, gotten their toys and games ready for the kids?  And how about the parents?  You know, they all have to do their part too!  Hey, we only have a few days left!”

“Don’t worry, Mr. Claus,” Rufus replied.  “There won’t be any foul-ups this year.  The toys are all ready to go!”

“And is my sleigh ready?  Are the reindeer in good shape?”

“Don’t worry, Santa,” Rufus reassuringly replied.  “The sleigh has been repainted, the runners greased and the harnesses repaired.  And the reindeer are just fine.  Comet and Cupid are over their colds and the others have even gotten used to Rudolf, who wasn’t even in that poem about us.  Even Donder and Blitzen have calmed down.  Santa, you must stop worrying.  Everything is going to be fine!”

It had been three years since Rufus had been promoted to the position of Chief Elf in Santa’s workshop.  Of course, he had been helping out there for many years but only recently had Santa learned of Rufus’ prior experience working closely with Merlin the Magician centuries ago.  Some of Rufus’ innovations, obviously learned from that apprenticeship with the ancient wizard, had greatly increased the efficiency of Santa’s operation.  For example, it was Rufus who had developed the mathematical formulas which, when put into practice, enabled Santa to defy mere physical laws and be in many different of places at the same time.  Rufus had solved the problem of running out of toys with a procedure which in effect, cloned one toy from another, so Santa’s bag was never empty. And of course, he used a lot of old Merlin’s techniques to ease Santa’s trip up and down chimneys throughout the world, without his red outfit ever getting dirty.  Finally, it was Rufus who convinced Santa to include intangible things such as peace, love, brotherhood and wellbeing among the gifts he left on Earth for those who deserved them.

It was just a few nights before Christmas when Rufus encountered Santa in a state of real panic.

“Santa, what’s the matter?  Why are you holding your waist like that?”

“Can’t you see, you darn fool!  I’m holding my pants up!  If I let go, they’ll fall down.  It happened this morning.  My suspenders snapped and I don’t have a belt big enough to fit around me to hold my pants up.  Rufus, they keep falling down and if we can’t fix them, how can I go out on Christmas Eve?  Rufus, do something to help me!  You must!”

“Now, Mr. Claus” the elf answered, holding back a snicker.  “I can see how this happened.  Come to think of it, I should have seen it coming and done something about it.  I’ve watched the way you’ve been eating all of that delicious food Mrs. Claus prepares for you.  Pies and cakes, chickens and steaks, soups and puddings, pizzas and knishes, pasta and dumplings and on and on.  I’ve seen you put away enough for an army at one sitting and top it off with a banana split and a chocolate bar.   What did you expect?”

“Stop your preaching, Rufus!  What would your Merlin do?  Come on.  Think of something so that I don’t disappoint all the children who’ll be waiting for me on Christmas Eve!  I can’t go out there with my pants falling down!”

“Santa, I don’t think suspenders will do the job for you any more because of the pear shape you’ve developed!  We must to get you a belt big enough to hold up your pants!”

“What do you think I’ve been doing all day?  I’ve been looking for one and there just aren’t any made that big.”

Rufus thought for a minute and stroked his chin.  He then turned his eyes upward and look toward the stars, fixing them on the constellation Orion the Hunter.  In an instant, using a mystic incantation remembered from his days with Merlin, he turned himself into a thunderbolt and flew up into the heavens directly at the strip of stars which formed Orion’s belt.  Grasping as many as he could, Rufus flew back to Earth and fashioned a belt from them for Santa.  The old man, finding for the first time since his suspenders had snapped that he was able to keep his pants up, was ecstatic.   

                               star map showing the constellation, Orion the Hunter

A few nights later, Santa was able to travel his appointed rounds delivering gifts to children of all ages throughout the world.  As he headed back toward the North Pole, he smiled up at the constellation Orion the Hunter, whose belt, as you can see on any clear evening when you look up in the sky, consists of only three stars, which was all that Rufus left up there.

Circling the Earth, Santa made a promise to go on a diet.  He had learned his lesson.  Soon, recognizing the welcoming lights of the workshop far below, the reindeer guided the sleigh into a slow descent and the jovial old man once more waved his hand to the world, crying out, “Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night, especially to you, Rufus!”


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Political Drek:  The Valueless Payroll Tax Reduction 

Unless the House Republican majority stymies it, It looks like the reduction in Social Security payroll tax withdrawals will be extended for two more months, at which time, the Senate and the House will probably vote to continue it for another year.  At that time, as part of the deal which will make this happen, the Keystone XL oil pipeline will be approved in Congress and the President will go along with it assuming the President is assured that some modification in its route will also take place.  

Where the money will come from to allow the continued reduction in Social Security payroll taxes will be the nexus of the next battle to take place in Congress.  The President will insist on it coming from the wealthy and the G.O.P. will insist on spending cuts to make up the difference.  This is a benefit which is aimed at lower and middle income workers because there is no payroll tax at all on income in excess of $110,000.

I believe that for most workers, this measure means that somewhere between $20 and $30 will be in their paychecks each week, an amount which would not have been there if the reduction would not have been extended.  This amounts to a workingman's version of last year's extension of the Bush tax cuts which chiefly benefited the wealthy. This means that they will not see any “new” money but rather, a scheduled increase in taxes will not have taken place.  Most workers will not even notice it.  It won’t change their spending habits nor provide a boost to consumer spending as the President has claimed.  It will, however, enable him to point out that a cut in take-home pay will have been averted.  

A better move, in my opinion, would have been to retroactively double the amount of the payroll tax reduction for last year and send the taxpayer a refund check for that added reduction over the past year. This could be paid for by gradually eliminating the payroll tax reduction entirely after next year so that the rate will ultimately return to its original higher level, or even slightly higher, bringing in additional revenues for Social Security and making up for the retroactive reduction in last year’s payroll tax rate. By then, perhaps, economic recovery will be putting more dollars into paychecks.  This way, however, would put a check in the working man's hands right now which can be spent for the benefit of the entire economy.  Yes, it’s done with smoke and mirrors.

Jack Lippman

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More Political Drek:  What's In a Name?

Back in the fifties, when Senator Joseph McCarthy was conducting a witch hunt for the communists and communist sympathizers he believed had infiltrated our government, I recall that he had a peculiar way of referring to his nemesis, the Democratic Party.  He always referred to it as the “Democrat” Party. 

Senator Joseph McCarthy (That's Roy Cohn in the background.)

This was a usage which originated back in 1940 during the campaign of Wendell Willkie who ran against Franklin Roosevelt in that year.  His campaign manager, Harold Stassen, had explained to the New York Times’ William Safire that the Democratic Party, because of the influence within it of big city “bosses,” was actually not “democratic” and should be renamed the “Democrat Party.”  This partisan use of the word “Democrat” as an epithet instead of “Democratic” has been continued by many Republican leaders since then but I feel that McCarthy’s use of it was the most venomous.

“Democracy” is a word in the English language which comes from the Greek words for government (kratia) and people (demos) generally translated as “government by the people.”  Following the rules of the English language, the adjective describing “democracy” is “democratic” and one who holds to that belief is a “democrat.” By using the word “democratic” in its name, the Democratic Party therefore points out that by definition, it is the party of “government by the people.”

People who don’t like to give the Democrats credit for this positive image, usually Republicans, often try to refrain from using the words “Democratic Party.”  Instead, they call it the “Democrat Party,” as Senator McCarthy and those before him did, weakening the image to merely identifying a class of people, Democrats, who belong to that party.  Senator McCarthy, made the words “Democrat Party” take on a particularly pejorative air when he snarled them.  It came out of his mouth almost as offensively as when an anti-Semite who wants to identify the religion of the person he is talking about uses the words “Jew doctor” or “Jew lawyer” instead of Jewish doctor or lawyer. (While Senator McCarthy was not an anti-Semite, his campaign against communists involved his attacking many of the Jewish faith, and thereby gave it anti-Semitic overtones. Some McCarthy followers could not distinguish between anti-communism and anti-Semitism, but that is a story for another day.)

This is very subtle stuff that the Republicans practice, even to this day.  Speaker John Boehner does it all the time when he politely refers to the “Democrat” Party, which in his mind frees him from having to refer to the Democrats as the party of government by the people, which according its real name, the Democratic Party is.

(The Republican Party’s name does not lend itself so well to such word games.  Knock off the “Re” at the front end and you get “publican” which means “an ancient tax collector” or a present day English “pub owner.”  Knock off the “can” at the rear end and you end up with the noun “Republic” which signifies either a “representative democracy,” or for those old enough to remember, a filmmaker who concentrated on “B” movies and westerns.) 

Jack Lippman

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