Faux News Returns: Republicans Announce Plans To Cut The Federal Deficit and Make America Great Again

March 31. WASHINGTON–In a much anticipated press conference, leaders of the Republican Party introduced a bill today which they maintain will cut the deficit by more than half in ten years and return America to greatness. Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, described the bill before a host of reporters and enthusiastic supporters gathered in front of the House of Representatives. “What this bill will do when it becomes law—and we know that it will become law because America needs it—is this. It will assure that every American is working and that no one, and I mean no one, will feast from the government trough ever again. And it is a first step in getting our financial house in order.”

Mr. Ryan then outlined the key provisions:

  • A work requirement will be imposed for all government “handout” programs. This includes, among others, Medicaid, food stamps, public housing, Section 8 low income housing, Housing Choice Vouchers, and TANF (“temporary assistance for needy families,” commonly referred to as “welfare”) and disability assistance.
  • The work requirement will be universal with no exceptions and stipulates only full time employment will be permitted under the law and that all workers must be paid the federal minimum wage.
  • The minimum wage for all employment will be permanently set at $8.00/ hour or $16,000/year.
  • Anyone whose income is $16,000 or more will not be eligible to receive any benefits associated with these programs.
  • Further provisions will cut all federal funding for homeless shelters, health clinics  and other “unnecessary government handouts.”

When asked by a reporter if this means that no one will be eligible for these safety net programs, Mr. Ryan responded that that was absolutely not the case. His proposed legislation is not designed to get rid of any government safety net programs.  If anyone meets the criteria of working at a full time job at the federal minimum wage and makes less than $16,000 a year, they will be eligible and will receive all the benefits.

Mr. Ryan  added, “We Republicans are the party of working people and the common man. This is a major change in government policy designed to bring all people up and discourage shiftlessness and laziness. The American people will love us for this just like they love our president.”

  Vice President Pence, who also attended the event, interrupted and talked for over 10 minutes about how President Trump has accomplished more for poor people and working people than all of the presidents before him combined and more than any leader in the history of the world. He was weeping at the end of his impromptu comments.

When pressed by reporters to say how much government spending would be reduced by this bill if it becomes law, Speaker Ryan stated  that OMB estimates  that no funds will be spent by these programs going forward. This would reduce annual federal spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, Mr. Ryan maintained, adding that OMB projects that the entire federal deficit of more than $19 trillion will be eliminated within a few decades. He went on to say that he plans to introduce similar legislation regarding Social Security and Medicare, which if passed, would get rid of all government debt in only a few years.  “The main problem in our country is that too many people expect something for nothing. They want handouts and they are shiftless deadbeats. This legislation is designed to help them and to motivate them and to make them great Americans.”

 He then described in glowing terms a future country without “slum public housing,” without homeless shelters, and without poor people.

Vice President then read a tweet from the president: ”Good job, Paul. Making America Great Again! Your legacy will live forever.”

Mr. Ryan concluded the press conference by stating once the legislation passes he plans to introduce legislation to reduce taxes “for the over-taxed, job generators in America.”


The Nuclear Threat and What To Do About It

This is the second installment of “The Stories of  Joseph Howell,”  and some may have read it before. Hope you will take a second look….

This week Trump is going to make a decision on the Iran nuclear deal, and the negotiations with South Korea loom in the future. The threat of nuclear war is probably greater now than it has been since the ending of the Cold War. But let’s not forget that it has always been lurking in the shadows, which recalls my experience with an organization called  Search For Common Ground as told below:

 The nuclear threat  is the reason when I got a call in the mid 80s, I responded the way I did. The call came from a guy who worked for one of the housing clients I was serving at the time (another reason to take the call seriously). The call went something like this:

“Joe, great to talk to you and hear your voice. I am calling to see how you feel about nuclear war.”

“Well, actually I am against it.”

“You know, I thought that you would feel this way and are one of us. I am part of a small but growing group whose sole purpose is to prevent nuclear war. We would be honored if you would consider joining us.”

He went on to say that his group–“Search for Common Ground”– would be meeting next week and that both I and my wife were invited. In fact it was really important that she come along as well, provided, of course, that she too was against nuclear war. I told him that we had not discussed the topic lately, but I was pretty sure that she also was “one of us.”  The meeting would be more like a reception, and there would be plenty of food and a chance to get to know others in the group. Most of the people would be new people, just like us.

It turned out that we could not make it  that meeting, but he came back with a bunch of other dates, and one of them worked. Boy, I thought, these guys meet a lot. They must be really dedicated. He then gave me very explicit directions to get to the location  of the meeting, which would start at seven. We should not be late. With some reluctance and skepticism, Embry agreed to join me, and we headed off to the meeting in plenty of time to get there by seven. In fact the meeting was in our neighborhood, less than a mile away.

For a couple of blocks we drove up Connecticut Avenue—the main drag—took a right  and went down a steep hill, toward the direction of Rock Creek Park.  His directions were very explicit that we should make a left turn on the dirt road just before the bottom of the hill. Dirt road in the middle of Washington? I certainly could not remember seeing any dirt road at that spot, which I passed all the time; but sure enough as we approached the bottom of the hill, there was a small, practically hidden dirt  road. We made the turn.

The road lead directly into Rock Creek Park. But for all we knew we could have been in a primeval forest. It was now twilight, and the huge trees cast shadows across our path as our car lurched forward up a  hill. “Where on earth are we going?” asked Embry. “It seems like we are in the wilderness.” I had to agree. There was an eerie feeling about the whole place, almost like we were characters in a Harry Potter movie. We drove along for what seemed like hours, but actually was probably more like ten minutes, when the road suddenly turned sharply down a hill where we could see a meadow in the dim light.

We emerged from the dark forest into the meadow and saw before us a giant, stone  mansion, four storey’s high with turrets, surrounded by luxuriant gardens. Were we in England, surely it would have been one of the estates of the Royal Family. We approached the house from the back where there was a parking lot full of cars, many of them late model BMWs and Mercedes. Beside the parking area was a large swimming pool and fountain. Could we possibly be in the right place? My friend said nothing about meeting in a castle. Parking our beat-up car beside a sparkling Cadillac, we wandered around to the front of the house. I checked the address with my instructions. We were in the right place. A huge plaque beside the front door read simply “Grey Stone.”

The front door was open, and we timidly walked into a completely empty, grand hallway with twenty or thirty foot ceilings and medieval tapestries on the wall and huge portraits of people who looked like they were dukes or counts. The dark wood floor was adorned with oriental rugs, and in the middle was a huge table with trays of cheese, various kinds of fruit, cookies, Perrier water and cokes. But not a soul was present. We looked at each other with puzzled expressions.

Suddenly out of nowhere a thin, white-haired woman, probably in her seventies, appeared. “You must be the Howells,” she said, smiling, and extended a hand. “Welcome to Grey Stone.”

I apologized that we must be early since no one else was here. “Oh no,” she replied you are right on time. The others will be here shortly. Have some cheese and fruit.”

As we munched away, the room slowly began to fill up. People—mostly in their 30s or 40s and dressed “business casual”—seemed to emerge out of nowhere just like our hostess. Within fifteen minutes the room was practically full with at least forty or fifty guests, all chatting away. This went on for at least forty-five minutes during which time we were never alone. I had never been with a friendlier group. One by one, almost every person in the room came over, extended a hand and said something to the effect, “You must be the Howells, I’ve heard so much about you, a true honor to meet you.” My spirits brightened immediately. Having emerged from the dark, primeval forest into a warm atmosphere of friendship and camaraderie was a welcomed relief and was just the kind of group I had always wanted to belong to. And they were all against nuclear war. What more could you ask for? I glanced at Embry, who was chatting quietly with one of her many new friends and admirers. She gave me one of her skeptical looks. But before I could think about it, I felt a pat on my back, “Joe Howell, right? How great to have you here….” How could all these people know about me?  It was the best reception I had ever attended. Nothing else had come close.

Just as I was beginning to wonder when the meeting was actually going to start, someone jingled a bell. It was our hostess. Suddenly the room became stone silent.  All eyes turned to her.

“I want to welcome you all to my home,” she said, “and I am so happy to have you here, most of you for the first time. I hope you are having a grand time and getting to meet each other. But it is now time for business, and we should move to the parlor.”

The “parlor” was another huge room but not as vast as the grand hall. The room had a nine or ten foot ceiling, was beautifully decorated with antiques and what I resumed was priceless artwork on the wall, some of it modern. As we gathered around a huge fireplace with the portrait of a baron above it, our hostess moved to the center of the room.

She started off by saying, “How many of you attended the lecture last week on ‘endophormorphic resonance’?” Almost everyone raised their hand. I had no idea what she was talking about or even if I heard her correctly; but from the conversation that followed I gathered it was the concept that ideas and thoughts can sort of float around the planet, which explains why two people separated by thousands of miles can come up with the same idea at more or less the same time. Think of inventing the wheel or using fire for cooking. In any event it was apparent that this crowd of anti nuclear activists was really into endophormorphic resonance.

At last the time came to focus on nuclear war, the prime reason we were there and the common bond that brought us together. It was somewhat odd, I thought, that at the reception not one person had said a word to us about nuclear war. But now the time had come to confront it head on. I was ready.

Our elderly hostess was replaced by a thirty-something man with a crop of black hair. He described the mission of the group known as Search for Common Ground: to eliminate the threat of nuclear war. When asked how many in the group were against nuclear war, everyone raised their hands but no one with more vigor than me. The next exercise was to go around the room and for everyone to stand up and say two things—first, what they really thought about nuclear war and second what they were going to do to stop it.

Well, you have never heard such moving speeches. Even Billy Graham would have been impressed. It was like an old fashioned revival. People poured out their soul as to why they did not think nuclear war was a good idea and then pledged lots of money to this organization, The Search for Common Ground. Several  pledged several thousand dollars each, somebody else 10% of all future profits in his  successful, hairstyling  business. Some were more modest but promised every penny they could come up with. People were reaching deep.

 Of the forty plus attendees I was probably around the thirty-fifth to speak. Embry actually was seated ahead of me in the speaking order but refused to say a word. Most of the speeches had been followed by applause. In some cases people were embracing. I could have sworn I saw some people crying. When Embry refused to stand up, there was a quiet, uneasy  murmur from the group.

I was next. I stood up, beaming. “I too am against nuclear war.” I said proudly, “In fact I have been against it for some time.” Applause from the group followed immediately. “I have heard all the stories about how nuclear war is not good and am deeply moved. It is true that I do not have a lot of money, but I pledge to give $500 to this worthy cause and join your group. I  am proud and honored to be part of Search for Common Ground.” The applause was deafening. Someone patted me on my back. Someone else embraced me. What a great thrill to be part of such a wonderful group of sincere, generous people.

I glanced at Embry who was now slouched  over in her seat with her head in her hands. The speeches continued.

Embry then sat up and whispered in my ear, “ We can’t even pay our utility bills, and you pledged $500 to this group that you know absolutely nothing about? Have you lost your mind?”

“Listen, there is nothing more important than stopping nuclear war, and I am going to do my part. We will figure out some way to come up with the money.”

Embry groaned.

Then it was all over. The speeches had all been made. I filled out my pledge card, signed up as a member  and was ready to talk to my new friends, who were cheerfully chatting away. Embry grabbed my hand and said, “Come on, we are getting out of this place right now.” She practically yanked me out the door as my new friends waved good bye and thanked me again.

On the way to our car a young woman raced up behind us, panting.

“Stop,” she said, “I need to talk to you.” She went on to say that she was a reporter from the Baltimore Sun and was doing a story on Search for Common Ground.

“You are new, right? I have two questions for you. First question—do you know how often this reception happens?” Before I could say anything, she said that it happens three, sometimes four days a week and that it has been going on for months.

The second question was if I knew how many people other than ourselves were “new” to the group. She said that tonight there were actually six of us, three couples. All three couples had pledged money, but I was the most generous. All the other people there were part of the organization.  This was a scam. People like  us were referred to as “pigeons”; and their hit rate on pigeons was pretty good, often as much as  several thousand dollars a night. All the other pledges were bogus.

“But they said it was about stopping nuclear war.”

“Stopping nuclear war, my ass,” she shot back. “These people are all part of Est, and the money they raise goes straight into the coffers of Est. It does not have anything to do with nuclear war.”

Est was one of the New Age, feel-good, self-actualization groups, popular at the time. They were known for having weekend retreats where they locked up everyone in a large room, would not let them out even to go to the bathroom, broke down their defenses, and if time permitted, rebuilt them to be happy members of the Est cult. Several of our friends had told us Est horror stories.

“But what about the nuclear war stuff?”

“That is how Est now raises money.  It has become  obvious to most people that Est  is a fraud, and members are dropping out like flies. They are desperate for cash. This is a cover.”

“But why the nuclear war angle?”

 “You idiot! Have you ever known anyone who is for nuclear war?”

“Oh,” I replied. Embry just laughed and shook her head with that “I told you so” look.

If you are seeing a pattern between this story and the Amway story, you are correct. I originally called these stories—and there are several more to follow—“Gullible’s Travels.” This is the story of my life. Well, part of the story. But rest assured: I did not give them a penny, and after several threatening letters to pay up or else, they left me alone. I never saw my friend again or heard anything more about the organization.

But, sadly, the threat of nuclear war is more real today than it was at the time of the story. More countries now have these weapons. Some like North Korea are borderline rogue. How long will it be before some nuclear weapons find there way into the hands of terrorists? And we have a volatile and unpredictable president, who appears to be on the verge of pushing the nuclear countdown clock a few more seconds closer to midnight. It is a frightening time. Yet most of us are lulled into a fog of belief that the unthinkable can’t happen. But it could. And no one knows what would happen after that.








Respect at Last

It is almost summer and time for a change from Faux News all the time. A few years ago I published on the web a number of essays called “The Stories of Joseph Howell.” Some blog readers may have seen some of them before. Here (again) is one of my favorites:


Okay, let’s face it: Most people like to be liked and respected. And I am no different. I  have yearned for popularity and respect  my entire life, an endless quest , so to speak, rarely fulfilled.

Of course, being liked and being respected does not happen all the time and rarely happens at the same time, but it happened to me in the hot summer of 1981.

It all started with a phone call from an acquaintance from my former job where I worked as a developer of affordable housing. I hardly knew the guy, but he got right to the point. “Joe,  I  just wanted to call and tell you how much I respect you and how important you were to me when we worked together.”

I couldn’t believe it. Me? Important to a guy I really didn’t know? It just goes to show, you never know when you are having a positive influence on someone. It was surprising that he even remembered my name.

He went on to say that he respected and liked me so much that he was having a party in my honor and was going to invite a lot of his housing friends and people at HUD. It was going to be fun—but it was not just for me, it was also for my wife, and there would not be a party unless we both could attend. Now was that thoughtful or what? He did not even know Embry.

“The party is going to be on Wednesday, July 18. Can you and your wife make it?” I checked with Embry. I could make it. She couldn’t. I was really disappointed. Here was a guy having a party in my honor, and I couldn’t even make it. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity lost. I expressed my regrets, thinking how wonderful it would have been to be the center of attention.

“Oh, that’s ok, we can move it to the next Wednesday.”   Wow, this guy won’t give up, I thought. The conversation continued with several other dates proposed until we found one that worked. Wednesday, August 9. Oddly, all the dates suggested were Wednesdays. His last words were that it was really going to be fun, that I would meet a lot of affordable housing people, and that it was very, very important that we got there on time.  He gave me the address of his apartment, conveniently located only a couple of miles from our house in northwest Washington.

Since the party was almost a month away, I did not give it a great deal of thought; though when I did, I could not conceal my pride and sense of satisfaction. Being honored like this does not happen to many people. It was not that I did not deserve this kind of recognition. It is just that it is so rare and in my case was so long overdue.

About a week before the event, my excitement was starting to build. I got a call from my friend reminding me of the party and verifying that both I and my wife would be present and on time. He stressed that we should be there at seven at the latest.

There are two other things that you should know. First, I had just started up my own consulting practice (in affordable and seniors housing) and was desperate for clients; and two, August 9, 1981, the day of the party, could well have been the hottest and most unpleasant day in the history of Washington, with sweltering humidity and temperatures near 100.

The reason the first fact is important is that on that very day I was in New York City consulting with one of my few clients. I had planned to catch the two o’clock shuttle flight   allowing me to get home in plenty of time for the party. My client asked if I could stay another day to finish the work on the assignment.

 Rule number one: you never turn down a client request, especially if he is your only client.

 I turned him down. I could not miss the party in my honor, after all the planning that must have gone into it. I just could not do this to my friend or, for that matter, to myself. I had never been honored in such a fashion. I caught the two pm plane, which was delayed, but did get into National Airport around five thirty, allowing time to get home, take a shower, get dressed and still make it by seven. But I had to hurry. I did not have a minute to waste

I told the cab driver to step on it, arrived home around six and stumbled out of the air-conditioned cab. The heat almost knocked me out. I raced up our front stairs, announcing that I was home and that we had only minutes to get ready. There was no answer. Embry was nowhere to be found. Puzzling, I thought. Before I had left for my business trip, I had reminded her how important the event was and how we had to be on time. Oh well, I thought, she will surely be here soon. The baby sitter showed up minutes later.

At six thirty I was showered, dressed, and ready to go. It would take about fifteen minutes to get to his apartment, plenty of time. Still no Embry. At six forty-five, still no Embry. By this time I was pacing the floor of our front porch scanning the sidewalk, sweating, and furious. How could she do this to me? At exactly five minutes to seven, I saw her. She was smiling, with our six-year-old daughter in tow, and had on her swimming suit. They had been for a refreshing swim at the neighborhood pool. She was casually walking toward the house.

“Do you know what time it is and where we have to be?” I shouted. Several passersby on the sidewalk gave me a puzzled look. Embry’s smile changed to a frown. “What’s the big deal? It is unbearably hot. We went to the pool.” she said, “I’ll be ready in a couple of minutes….”

A couple of minutes? I was ruined. It was already seven, and we would be at least a half hour late. I can’t remember exactly what I said to her next, but she gave me a skeptical look and said, “Are you crazy? You don’t even know this guy!”

Around seven thirty she reappeared. By this time I had calmed down a bit, realizing that the damage had been done, and there was nothing I could do about it. Maybe my friend would be a little upset, but it was not the end of the world.  I jumped in the car and motioned to Embry to get in. How could she be so slow? I stepped on the gas as we raced up Connecticut Avenue, thankful that there were no cops around to nail us for speeding. We did not say one word to each other the whole way to the party.

Now that we were finally moving, I was finally able to relax a bit. I envisioned what it would be like when we did arrive. We would be warmly greeted. My friend would introduce us to everyone and say a lot of nice things about me. There would be great food, beer and wine and probably some good music in the background. I would feign humility and bask in the limelight, maybe even say a few words myself. All would be good. I managed to smile at Embry, who despite her look of bewilderment, managed to smile back.

I had his address on a sheet of paper—an apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, apartment 603. We pulled into a side street, found a parking space; and I leaped out of the car, pulling Embry along. Panting, we arrived at the front door of the apartment building, which thankfully was unlocked.  It was now almost eight, and the elevator took forever to get down to the first floor. As the elevator door opened on floor six, I bounded toward apartment 603 and found it only a few doors away. Oddly there was no sound coming from inside the apartment—no noise or laughter or music. I must have written down the wrong address. I paused for a long moment. Embry suggested I should just knock and see what would happen.

I did. The door opened, and we gazed into a room packed with probably thirty or forty people, all stone silent and sitting on the floor. The room was suffocating. Air conditioning units are not equipped to cool an apartment packed with people when it is over 100 degrees outside. All eyes turned to us. There was a man standing in front of the group. He was probably around 40, was wearing a dark suit and tie, and had a deadly serious look on his face. My friend was nowhere to be seen.

“The Howells I presume?” the presenter said in a sarcastic tone, “We have your place reserved on the front row. You are one hour late.”

My friend suddenly appeared from nowhere and escorted us to a spot on the floor in the front as we tried to avoid stepping on anyone. We sat down on the carpet as people shuffled around trying to make room for us.

 I had no idea what was happening or where we were. I immediately thought of Franz Kafka. Was this some kind of purgatory? Was this a bad joke? Was it some kind of torture? Was it a precursor to an execution? Or was it just a nightmare, which would fade into memory when I woke up?

 I was so confused I could not focus on what the guy was saying.

But after a couple of minutes I began to get my wits about me and was able to see what he was doing. He had an easel and was drawing a pyramid with dollar signs all over it.

Wait a minute. I had seen this movie before. An out-of-town, old friend from high school had showed up at our house a few years before, supposedly for dinner, but had immediately brought in an felt board on which he placed a pyramid with dollar signs and insisted on talking about some hair-brained, get rich scheme, selling toothpaste and laundry detergent. I had told him I had no interest in selling toothpaste or laundry detergent. He said, I didn’t have to sell anything, just enlist six friends, and I would be guaranteed riches. When I told him we were not interested in riches and that we should just have dinner and talk about old times, he left in a huff, not even staying for dinner. Embry thought the guy was nuts. I never saw or spoke to him again.

I quietly turned to the woman next to me, who seemed to be spellbound by whatever the presenter in the dark suit was saying, and asked in a whisper, “Amway Products?”

She nodded yes, smiling.

The moment the young woman nodded, Embry, with a horrified look on her face and in a stage whisper heard by everyone in the room, exclaimed: “Joe Howell, I have been married to you for a long time and I have put up with a lot of shit, but I am not putting up with this shit for one instant.” She stood up and headed for the door.

There was a hushed silence. Then everyone looked at me.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I stood up as well, waved my hand, and with an embarrassed smile managed to say, “Bye bye,” and bolted for the door, trying not to step on anyone.

Someone opened the door but not before I was able to notice the stunned look on the face of my friend. The door slammed shut and Embry and I stood alone in the dim hallway. We looked at each other for a brief moment and burst out laughing.

So much for being respected and well liked, I thought. But life could be a lot worse. I could be selling toothpaste and laundry detergent.