The death of former First Lady Betty Ford reminded me of two things: that Betty was a really cool woman who was remarkably brave and compassionate (as well as good-humored), and; that there used to be Republicans that were not strident extremists, corrupted by both corporate money troughs and a demented idea of de facto Christian theocratic rule. We are experiencing a class war here in the ol’ USA, with Republicans on one side and Democrats on the other, polarized and unable to find a middle ground, nowhere more perilous and visible than in the current debt ceiling negotiations that are sputtering away in D.C.

What is all this about? What is a debt ceiling and why should you be freaking out about what is happening (or not happening) with a looming default deadline? Why should you be outraged that the people you elected are toying heavily with destroying the world economy to protect the very very very wealthiest of Americans, who have skewed the United States income balance to nearly unfathomable levels? I’ll tell you, in extremely simple terms because I like bottom line stuff. Furthermore, if you are a Republican and you tend to not want to believe me, a Democrat, I’m going to direct you to an excellent interview by NPR’s Liz Halloran with Steve Bell, a conservative GOP aide and financial expert who has been on the Hill for some time. He knows his stuff.

To clarify: the “debt ceiling” is the maximum amount of money the government can owe to others at any given time. So, who the hell do we owe 14+ trillion dollars to? Other governments, private investors, pension funds, and the commitments we have made to government programs and institutions. Why the hell do we owe 14+ trillion dollars? Because we are not taking in enough in revenue to pay it back. Is this a problem? Hell, yes. All parties can agree on this, that 14+ trillion dollars is not a reasonable amount of debt for any nation to carry. How did we get in this hole? Because of Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy paired with ungodly expensive, lingering, and unwinnable Middle Eastern wars, and economic stimulus packages and bailouts approved by Obama. Most people in the US are making less money (note my sarcasm in the word “most”), so less is paid to the government in taxes.

So, OK, this is bad. We owe far more than we could ever pay back. So what do we do? What would YOU do, if you owed far more than you could ever pay back, had creditors calling you night and day, your car and home were going to be repossessed, and some guy named “Duke” was hanging around outside your house with a baseball bat? You’ve got two options: declare bankruptcy and let everyone pick up the tab for your mess, or see if you can convince people to let you pay back a reduced amount on a set schedule, and vow to never overspend again. Well, three options, if you want to let Duke play ball.

The thing is, we as a nation cannot allow ourselves to go bankrupt. If you think the economic hell has been bad the last few years, you can’t even imagine life in Default U.S.A. Overnight, one by one, other already-fragile economies tied to ours would also go belly up. A million government employees would immediately join the jobless pool, further straining the social infrastructures. All government services other than those utterly essential (police, fire, hospital): gone, instantly. The suffering and chaos would be monumental, and we might never regain our position as world leader.

Steve Bell: “…When the United States government issues all this debt, people trust it. They believe it's going to be paid back on time and in full. That reliability means they consider our debt the most riskless thing they can invest in. By not doing a debt increase, or doing it badly, it looks like we won't be as reliable in the future. There will be higher interest rates; it will cost the country jobs and prolong the recession.”

Let’s keep in mind: no one is bringing the jobs back. No one. In all this Congressional tough talk, all the posturing, all the finger-pointing, NO ONE there has come up with a plan to put people back to work. The GOP insists that handing over the country to billionaire businessmen (via tax breaks and cuts and privatizing almost all functions currently provided by government) is the only way to get the country moving again, and REFUSES to allow taxes to be raised (or restored) on the richest. But we know what has happened. In the last 30 years, the rich have gotten richer – WAY WAY WAY richer – and the poor and middle class folks have gotten poorer. This is fact. Here is a pretty graphic for you to enjoy that might make the horror of this a little easier to view.

The bigtime capitalists aren’t investing here; they’ve already bailed to cheap, unregulated labor and brain pools overseas and they ain’t coming back. They don’t want to employ Americans or invest in Americans; they just want more of your money, and they want to keep that money. There will be no Big Daddy Capitalist saviors any more, and you can take that to your (empty) bank. Also note: restoring taxes to the super-wealthy will not at all gut them or befoul their motivation to succeed, nor is paying the rate that everyone else pays unfair in any way. If you can explain to me why some corporations and individuals making millions and billions should pay little or nothing in taxes while giving nothing back, oh please, give it a shot. Otherwise, let’s call it for what it is: unpatriotic shirking and immoral greed. And we can’t afford it one day longer.

Halloran: The path to a debt-limit-and-budget deal appears blocked, at this point. House Speaker John Boehner has not been able to persuade his caucus to move with him on a White House-backed plan that would reduce the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years with spending cuts, including those to entitlement programs, and rolling back Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. How do you envision the endgame for Republicans who continue to oppose what many conservatives see as a surprisingly good deal?

Bell: I'm a conservative. I'm a fiscal and defense conservative. I am astonished that federal politicians who must know what this will mean to their districts are still saying that if they don't get exactly what they want, it's OK what happens to their districts. They are not being conservative. They are almost being theological, led by Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey and Congressman Jim Jordan [R-OH], head of the Republican Study Committee. Both of them understand what a failure to increase the debt ceiling would mean. Both of them say short-term pain is OK for long-term gain. That's a false choice. There is no long-term gain. Either we'll have a short-term gain, or medium-term catastrophe.

Want to think further down the line and wonder why on earth the GOP and Big Biz would even dare to risk tarnishing the United States’ worldwide financial reputation and power over TAXES?  Well, first things first: when you are THAT wealthy, or your buddies are that wealthy, even big recessions don’t cut into your lifestyle too much. You already have more money than you could spend in several lifetimes. You’ll be OK. Now let’s think why Big Biz likes to hire in 3rd World workers rather than Americans…because they will do work – good enough work, if not always the best work – for very low pay, with no benefits, with little or no regulations on worker safety or health, which increases profit margins tremendously. Why do 3rd World workers accept these jobs? Because they are more concerned about survival than their rights. They can get by on low wages, and expect little else from an employer.

Now imagine orchestrating an economic situation so severe that it plunges millions of Average Joes and Janes into poverty, with little hope of recovery. Health care and education are decimated, opportunities to rebuild are few. Homes are lost by the thousands each day, with nowhere for the newly-disenfranchised to land, because there are no shelters, no welfare, no food banks, because there is no government that can afford to provide them, and no capitalist that can profit off them.

Imagine turning a nation, or nations, of formerly well-paid workers with benefits into a desperate populace that will take any job at any wage, in any conditions, just to survive, and a government that is too broke and broken to say anything but, “OK.” The country’s infrastructure is now bought up for pennies, because someone has to keep things going.

And it’s then that Big Biz returns, having won everything there is to win.

How I hope sanity and moderation can return to Congress by August 2nd. Reduce defense spending and end the useless wars, restructure government programs to end redundancy and waste, tax everyone at a fair rate, and think again before you ask 98% of the population to make 2% even better off in a time of national crisis. Read the NPR article with Steve Bell. 

And vote these extremists out of office, or get ready to take a $3-an-hour job and support your family on that.