Sunday, July 17, 2011

Knowing Republicans (in the Biblical sense)

We read in Genesis 41 that Pharaoh had two dreams that his advisers could not interpret for him. In one, seven fat, healthy cows are devoured by seven meager and ugly cows. In the other, seven healthy ears of corn are consumed by seven sickly ears of corn. Joseph is called upon to explain the meaning of these dreams to Pharaoh:

25. And Joseph said to Pharaoh, Pharaoh's dream is one; what God is doing He has told Pharaoh.

26. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears of grain are seven years; it is one dream.

27. And the seven meager and ugly cows coming up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears of grain, beaten by the east wind, will be seven years of famine.

28. It is this matter that I have spoken to Pharaoh; what God is about to do He has shown Pharaoh.

29. Behold, seven years are coming, great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt.

30. And seven years of famine will arise after them, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will destroy the land.

31. And the plenty will not be known because of that famine to follow, for it [will be] very severe.

32. And concerning the repetition of the dream to Pharaoh twice that is because the matter is ready [to emanate] from God, and God is hastening to execute it.

33. So now, let Pharaoh seek out an understanding and wise man and appoint him over the land of Egypt.

34. Let Pharaoh do [this] and appoint officials over the land and prepare the land of Egypt during the seven years of plenty.

35. And let them collect all the food of these coming seven good years, and let them gather the grain under Pharaoh's hand, food in the cities, and keep it.

36. Thus the food will remain as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will be in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not be destroyed by the famine."

37. The matter pleased Pharaoh and all his servants.

You bet it pleased Pharaoh. If it weren’t for Joseph, his nation would have been plunged into famine that would have killed millions. Pharaoh had billed himself out as a god, and a famine that kills the majority of his nation is bad for the brand. Joseph’s plan offered a way out of this problem. The plan worked out so well that Joseph was elevated to the position of viceroy, and the nation of Egypt survives to this day.

But it didn’t have to be that way. Imagine if Joseph’s plan had to also account for political realities that included a Republican House of Representatives intent upon toppling the regime. What would that look like?

38. But lo! There were those among his advisers who were not loyal to the Pharaoh. They huddled together and said, Who has made Pharaoh to be a god above us? Are we not fit to rule the empire as is he?

39. They looked upon his alabaster palaces, his monuments, and even unto the jewels with which he was bedecked. And they thought of the many who would face famine, while Pharaoh lived amid such magnificence and splendor.

40. And they had another thought. Thus said they, We, too, want to live in splendor and magnificence, for surely we have merited it. Were not our fathers men of stature?

41. God’s word to Joseph was fulfilled. Verily, the land produced a great abundance and a surplus of all manner of grains, such that the Egyptians needed to build great storehouses as Joseph directed, so that they could store the grain for the seven years of famine.

42. Now, the advisors who were not loyal to Pharaoh huddled together again. They looked upon the vast storehouses of grain, and they thought of the many who would face famine. And they said, We, too, want vast storehouses of grain, for surely we merit it. Were not our fathers men of stature?

43. So, they went abroad in the land and they spoke to the multitudes. Thus, said they: Our fathers were men of stature, so surely we know whereof we speak. Look you upon the wealth of our kingdom. Do you see starvation?

44. And the multitudes answered as one, There is no starvation in this land.

45. And they said, Are there not great surpluses, and storehouses of wealth, and gold and jewels in the Pharaoh’s alabaster palaces? And the multitudes answered as one, Yea, verily, it is so.

46. The disloyal advisors continued further. Does the Pharoah need more gold? Why then does he demand that we bring him grain?

47. The multitudes were confounded. And they said, we have been taxed too much, for surely, the Pharaoh has grain and gold and jewels. And lo! They believed it for they saw with their own eyes that the storehouses were overflowing with grain. So, they stopped bringing grain to the storehouses, and thus they departed from the plan that had been revealed to them by Joseph.

48. Now the disloyal advisors were wealthy men, for their fathers had been men of stature. And they built great storehouses for their own grain, for the land continued to produce more than they could use. And the multitudes could not store their grain, for they had not the wherewithal to build great storehouses. And vermin seized the grain that the multitudes could not consume.

49. But the men of substance said to the multitudes, give us your grain, and we will store it in the great storehouses. And you will pay us to store the grain, that you may have it in your time of need.

50. And it was well with the multitudes. Verily, they had enough to eat, and lo, they had savings with which to protect themselves against famine if ever it should arise.

51. And they forgot that the seven years of plenty were the work of God. And they believed that they, in their wisdom, had made the grain to grow. And they thought they could do no wrong.

52. Now the men of substance said, For storing your grain in our storehouses, and because we are wise men of substance, whose fathers were men of stature, you must pay us to use our storehouses one half of one half of one half of your grain each year that you shall use our storehouses.

53. And the multitudes readily agreed, for verily there was no want in the land. And so it was that after 7 years, there was but little grain in the storehouses for the multitudes, for the men of substance had earned it all by storing it in the storehouses that they had seen fit to build.

54. And so it was that the mighty Pharaoh had to borrow wealth from his neighbors so that the masses could be fed. For he had learned, that during seven fat years, it is wise to do as God had foretold to him through Joseph, and save for lean years.

55. And so, he borrowed from his neighbors to the east.

56. And the famine became hard on the multitudes, for lo, the grain that they had stored in the storehouses of the men of substance was lost to them for now it belonged to the men of substance.

57. But Pharaoh’s heart was not yet hardened, and his saw the misery of the people. So he borrowed more from his neighbors to the east. And he promised to them, that upon his oath, they would be paid back when good times returned, and he pledged to them the good reputation of the men of substance and of his entire kingdom.

58. For, surely, he said, the men of substance will pay their fair share, as they have benefitted the most and indeed, it was their cunning that had caused his nation to foreswear saving in the kingdom’s storehouses.

59. When the cunning men of substance heard that they would be expected to help the nation pay the neighbors to the east, they recoiled in horror. Said they, We did not cause this famine. We have saved for ourselves in our own great storehouses. And so, they forbade the Pharaoh to borrow any further.

60. And there was great starvation in the land.

61. And the neighbors to the east said, You have made a pledge to us. Will thou not uphold the honor of your nation? And thus Pharoah came to understand the words of Joseph regarding “the seven empty ears of grain, beaten by the east wind.”

62. Thus, did Pharaoh implore the men of substance: If it pleases you, and if your heart has been moved by the suffering of the people whom you did lead astray, and if you value your honor, then I beseech you to let me borrow from the neighbors to the east.

63. But the men of substance said, What will you do for us, if we allow you to do this thing for youself?

64. And the Pharaoh responded, What is it you demand of me?

65. And the men of substance replied as one, You must promise to us that we will never again save for lean years, but rather that which you spend shall be neither more nor less than what you collect from the multitudes. And you enshrine into law this promise, so that it will be a covenant for all time.

66. And so it was that Pharaoh enacted a law that forbade him to save grain during fat years, and thus, he was unable to feed the multitudes in the lean years. And his nation became impoverished. And there was a great suffering in the land, for the people had been persuaded by the men of substance to disobey God’s plan which was to care for all the people He had created.

“ … and tell ’em Big Mitch sent ya!”

Monday, July 11, 2011

If not now, when?

President Obama summed up the need for a comprehensive budget deal with these memorable words: “If not now, when?” Many may have presumed that the President was trying to appease right-wingers by quoting their patron saint, Ronald Reagan, who used the same quote without attribution in his second inaugural address.

Actually, the author is Rabbi Hillel, who lived from 30 BCE to 9 CE and is recognized as one of the very greatest Jewish scholars in history. The full quote is, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”

The President would do well to remember the entire quote. The President was elected because he is a man of the people. If he doesn’t stick up for his core constituencies, who will be for him? If he wants to serve the country he loves, he needs to get reelected. I hear talk that his reelection is not a sure thing. If he buckles on social security, on medicare, on tax breaks for millionaires, then I guess one has to wonder from whom his passionate support will come.

And what of these people whose greed is so out of control and so over the top that they have the nerve to say that they need more tax cuts? They are only for themselves, and the President doesn’t need to lower himself to their level. Indeed, he needs to oppose these kleptocrats.

By the way, if President Obama wants to pay homage to St. Ronny, he should remind the Republicans that during Reagan’s term the debt ceiling was raised 17 times, taxes were raised in 7 of 8 years, and tax rates were higher than they are now.

“… and tell ’em Big Mitch set ya!”