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King Features Column

(As usual, the arrangement with the syndicators means this column appears here a week after its newspaper release)

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 15th FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019

CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236

BOB FRANKEN

FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, AUG. 9, 2011

TROUBLE AND BLAME

BY BOB FRANKEN

“We got trouble, folks, right here in (Potomac) River City,

“With a capital “T” and that rhymes with “P” and that stands for Politics.”

Unlike Broadway's “Music Man,” in Washington there's no music, man. All we have is dissonance as the members of this marching band follow their own distant drummers. Instead of the shiny “76 Trombones,” they've managed, by strictly blowing their own horns, to tarnish the once-gleaming credit instruments of the United States.

When Standard & Poor's took the U.S. debt rating from the exalted Triple-A and knocked it down a notch to AA+, it knocked the nation down a notch, too. Whatever the practical effect, slipping from the top of the monetary heap to below France, Germany, Britain and Canada certainly is a wound, a real hit on our exceptionalist hubris. And it's a self-inflicted wound. A top S&P official called the bitter war over raising the borrowing limit a “debacle.”

To complete the picture, it should be noted that the other two credit-ratings agencies, Moody's and Fitch, are sticking by their AAA designations, at least for now. Just as importantly, all three of them certainly failed to cover themselves in glory leading up to the 2008 economic collapse. They all stand accused of providing unduly positive analyses of the exotic mortgage bundles, enabling the massive hustle that crumpled under the weight of financial reality. Many contend that Standard & Poor's is acting now out of skittishness.

“AAA,” by the company's definition, means that an entity has an “extremely strong capacity to meet financial commitments. “AA,” even with a “Plus,” is “Very strong.” If this were put in college terms, we'd have slid from a 4-point GPA to high 3-point, which would mean we wouldn't graduate with honors. In fact, we'd drag our entire institution out of the elite category.

In this case, just about everyone involved has dishonored his and her public-service responsibilities. This is a real morale killer. So, let's play the blame game. For starters let's turn to Congress, which is now under the control of fringe elements. It's easy to point to tea-party anarchists, but we also should reproach their craven leaders who are unwilling to corral them.


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Still another scathing poll -- this one the Aug. 2 and 3 survey from New York Times/CBS News -- projects negatives of Congress at 82 percent. Those who registered approval surely are only the lobbyists and special interests.

While journalistic equivalence is badly overdone, in this case, there is plenty of guilt that can be assigned to the president. He has been unwilling or unable to stanch the poison spewing from the other side. Barack Obama seems consistently hesitant instead of hellbent on pushing his agenda or even clearly defining it. He's so concerned about being reasonable that he's allowed the unreasonable to run roughshod over him. His supporters cringe at his insistence on playing fair in the face of the blatant fouls by his enemies. He tiptoes, they complain, when he should be stomping.

After the weekend, as the world's stock markets were tumbling, the president trudged to the cameras to declare “The United States will always be a Triple-A economy.” How was that for reassurance?

While we're handing out booby prizes, let's not forget us boobs in the media. We are all too willing to do our jobs the easy way, floating comfortably on the stormy seas that threaten to overturn our ship of state.

Meanwhile, there seems to be no end to the song and dance. Broadway-music enthusiasts will remember another magic moment in “Music Man” that comes when a barbershop quartet sings “Lida Rose.” It's a highlight, a showstopper. We need a showstopper here, too. But there's one big difference: A rose smells good.

© 2011 Bob Franken

Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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