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On Fiscal Cliffs and Free Trade Glory Holes

December 3, 2012
Justice Ginsburg rules.

Justice Ginsburg casts her vote on Citizens United

You’ve probably heard of the “Fiscal Cliff,” a popular term used to describe the forthcoming expiration of tax breaks and implementation of spending cuts that could plunge our economy off the proverbial precipice and into another devastating recession.

Catchy phrase, catastrophic implications – it’s nothing new. There’s a grand, old tradition employing features of the landscape as metaphors to describe pivotal turning points in America’s political history.

The Internal Revenue Code Root Wad

When the 83rd United States Congress sought to reorder and expand the country’s tax system, they sagely hired Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher to do the job. The result was the Internal Revenue Code of 1954, a clusterfuck extraordinaire of chapters and subchapters, paragraphs and subparagraphs, annotated punctuation marks and tessellating footnotes and provisions addressing trusts and estates, capital gains, estate and excise taxes, reorganizations, liquidations, lobotomies, prostate exams and Ben Franklin’s porn stash. So harrowing was the outline, Escher exhausted every conceivable combination of letters and numbers known to man in its organizing and was forced to identify the Code’s later sections and provisions using a byzantine system of saucy-seeming hand gestures, covert winks and tongue clicks.

The outcome essentially guaranteed that people who could afford big, fancy lawyers and personal accountants would prosper greatly at the expense of people who could not. Congress of course loved it and wasted no time signing it into law.

The Environmental Protection Hedgerow

Seldom heard tapes archived in the Nixon Library capture the erstwhile president carping to advisors, “Nuke the fuckers!!” Historians believe he was referring to a chemical manufacturing plant situated upwind from La Casa Pacifica, Nixon’s presidential hideaway in San Clemente, California.

With a blight threatening to kill his prized shrubbery and all conventional, pesticidal treatments exhausted to no avail, Nixon determined that pollutants from the nearby company were to blame. Dismayed to learn his executive privileges excluded the authority to personally incinerate their production facility with a nuclear bomb, Nixon pulled out all the stops and ordered the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency instead, thereby establishing the federal authority to regulate and enforce laws that protect the environment.

The offending chemical manufacturer was subsequently shuttered and the San Clemente shrubberies temporarily saved, only to succumb a few years later to a prolonged bout of negligent watering.

The Mideast Peace Monadnock Hump

On September 17, 1978, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin emerged from 13 days of secret negotiations at Camp David to announce their successful agreement on the framework for what would later become the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. The meetings at Camp David would have wrapped up in half that time were it not for a foreign policy blunder that threatened to undo the fragile accord.

While on a bathroom break and sequestered in a men’s room stall, Prime Minister Begin overheard an aide to the U.S. diplomacy team confuse the Temple Mount, a holy site situated in disputed territory and a flashpoint of Mideast tension, with a position he’d seen in his wife’s dog-eared copy of The Joy of Sex.

Carter is credited with salvaging the peace treaty, wielding his resolve and an endless supply of peanut-based confections like a cudgel of unity. It also helped that he hid Begin and Sadat’s car keys, preventing them from leaving until agreement had been reached

The North American Free Trade Glory Hole

The 1992 campaign for the U.S. presidency was a hotly contested and bitterly fought, three-party affair. One of the central issues of debate was international trade, specifically the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and whether it would help or hurt the American economy. In early campaigning, independent candidate and Texas billionaire Ross Perot employed some colorful verbiage cribbed from the oil industry of his home state, whipping up supporters with the rallying cry “WE WILL NOT BE MEXICO’S GLORY HOLE!” His intended message – that Mexico would siphon jobs from the U.S. in the same way an oil company siphons petroleum from a well (aka, a “glory hole”) – was muddied by the metaphor’s raunchier meaning, as Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton smugly pointed out in a televised debate when he said , “I know glory holes, I’ve worked with glory holes. Mr. Perot, the United States is no glory hole.”

The Judicial Beaver Dam

In January 2010, the Supreme Court handed down its 5-4 ruling in the case of Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission, upholding the constitutional right of corporations to spend embarrassing sums of money in the interest of swaying political campaigns.  So galled were the dissenting minority, Justices Stevens, Ginsburg, Breyer and Sotomayor took refuge in the Court’s Chamber, walling themselves behind an impregnable barricade of antique furniture and marble busts. When they finally emerged three days later they were, to a person, characteristically professional and discreet; however, the vehemence of their closed-door protest was more than hinted at by the indelible marks of gnawing teeth which permanently marred Chief Justice John Roberts’ seat at the Court’s raised, mahogany bench.

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