Today concludes the federal fiscal year. The new year begins tomorrow. The United States finishes the current year deep in debt. We do not yet have a budget for the new year.
The Senate has adopted a continuing resolution to provide funding through November 18. Late Thursday morning a small rump of the House adopted a CR to provide through October 4 by which time the full House is expected to concur with the November 18 date.
Another CR will probably be required by November 18… and a bitter fight can be anticipated.
On November 23 the so-called super committee is scheduled to report out on how to slash $1.5 trillion over ten years. This process was put in place in early August as a compromise to increase the debt ceiling and avert a government shut-down. If the super committee cannot meet statutory debt reduction targets (and such agreement would be little short of miraculous) a series of triggers will “automatically” reduce expenditures beginning in January 2013.
The mandated reductions — or sequestrations — are designed as fundamentally unacceptable to practically everyone, essentially threatening to pull-the-trigger on a gun pointed at the head of every political clique’s favorite offspring. Ancient enemies guaranteed peace by exchanging royal heirs as mutual hostages. This is the modern version.
The original intent of this hostage taking was, I think (hope), to encourage compromise. Because effective compromise is almost impossible in the current political climate, the actual consequence will be to cause nearly everyone to point toward the prospect of profound disaster. Along the way the 2012 budget is likely to join the hostages.
The triggers threaten national security, social security, medicare, and economic recovery among other fair-haired heirs of our various political interests. (Although in the reading of many budget experts, DHS would not be seriously impacted by pulling-the-triggers.) The triggers justify an apocalyptic vision of what will happen if the other side wins in November 2012 (whichever other). Only a clear victory by the righteous (whichever righteous) can save the nation. Winner takes all.
Yet total victory is unlikely, despite visions of political sugar-plums dancing in the heads of opposing partisans. Further, given the context, total victory by any particular partisan perspective would only confirm the apocalyptic expectations of the other side, leading to even worse social and political confrontation. (If you haven’t, it is worth reading 1861 for breath-taking analogies to our current circumstance.)
Yesterday was the first day of the Jewish New Year. The ten days between Rosh Hashana (New Years) and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) are sometimes called the Days of Awe. It is a time set aside for introspection, repentance, and reconciliation.
One time Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Belz was asked to give an example of true remorse for one’s sins and errors. He explained with the following parable:
During a market day it was raining very hard. Many merchants had gathered at the market with their wares to sell, but as it continued to rain each one decided to pack up and go.
Only one merchant decided to stick it out offering his goods. Soon there were a lot of people around him since he was the only one selling anything. The value of his goods rose higher and higher, but he didn’t want to sell them as he wanted to wait until the price went higher still.
Even though the people were begging him to sell, and offering large amounts of money he still held his own and said he would wait until the price would get even higher.
Suddenly the rain stopped and the sun came out. In a short time all the other merchants came to the marketplace. Then the stubborn merchant saw the foolishness of his actions as the prices dropped precipitously in a few minutes. His heart was full of remorse for not selling his goods when he could have gotten for them a high price.
The Rebbe offered, “Remorse like that is what one should have in his heart when one wants to do repentance and return (t’shuva) regarding many sins.” (Teachings of the Rebbe of Belz)
When we seek to maximize our own interest without regard for the interests of others we undermine both ourselves and our whole community. This is true whatever our interest: commercial, political, spiritual… Remorse is appropriate, so is learning and reconciliation.
Some meaningful expressions of remorse, learning and reconciliation by next Friday (Yom Kippur) would be truly awe inspiring.
On Wednesday, November 7, 2012 we will — almost certainly — need to talk with each other, listen to each other, respect each other, and adapt to each other if we are going to move forward together as a nation. If we are unable to do this today, it will be even more difficult 403 days from now.
Increasingly homeland security gives priority to engaging the whole community in collaborative efforts to enhance resilience. These broader issues are relevant to our work… and vice-versa.