Thoughts of winter

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    It has turned cold in Washington, with the nighttime temperatures often below freezing.  I woke up around 3:30 due to my sinuses.  As I sit in my living room so as not to disturb my wife with sneezing and coughing, I listen to the sounds – a Mount Vernon clock on the wall ticking as its pendulum goes back and forth, a cat or two padding almost noiselessly across the floor and down the stairs, and the blower for the furnace as the heat kicks in.

    It is that last sound that disturbs me.  

    I have heat –  and food – and roof over my head – and transportation – and the ability to pay our bills.

    Those whose unemployment compensation has run out?  They may have difficulty paying their bills.  Soon they may not be able to afford to put gas in a car, or pay mortgage or rent.  Food will become scarcer.  And heat –  at some point, will their house remain silent because there is no money to pay for it?  My furnace is gas, but the fan is electric.  If I were in arrears on either bill, might we need to bundle up and pray the pipes don’t freeze?  Might we be forced to live in car yet not be able to run the engine to stay warm?

    We are near the nation’s capital.  What if we were further north?

    What is our responsibility to our fellow Americans in a time where unemployment has remain high, creeping up again last month?  How can we say that continuing to extend unemployment compensation discourages people from looking for a job when there are no jobs for most of them, when companies are sitting on over a  trillion dollars in cash rather than hiring?

    Meteor Blades write of the state and local governments with serious financial problems.  My school system has furloughed and cut stipends.  The worst effects of our own shortfall were cushioned this year by money from the stimulus fund.  Next year?  When house prices, which are already down, will creep down further with more foreclosures, with fewer people seeking to purchase, thus further depressing the revenue from real property taxes, thus leading to more local employess – especially those in schools – losing their jobs, and possibly facing the next winter without the ability to maintain a roof over their head, or pay for their heat.

    Meteorological winter began December 1st.  Already there are parts of Virginia with snow.  Snow muffles the outside noise, but snow on the roof can help keep the house warm, retaining whatever heat remains.

    I have a choice.  I can turn my thermostat below its current nighttime 65 degrees and add an extra blanket.  The cats will curl up with one another, or next to one of us.  

    I can run the heater in my car.

    I can make soup, or take hot bath, or take a hot shower.

    It is winter.  Even in an ice storm without electricity I have a gas stove and a gas hot water heater.  We have in the past gone more than 24 hours without electricity and at worst lost some food.

    It is winter.  I think of the millions who will struggle to make it through.  I think of those who will not be able to have a holiday celebration.  I think of those whose income depends upon holiday sales, who will thus find themselves worrying about money, about rent and mortgages, about heat and transportation.

    The blower for the furnace shuts off, having guaranteed that the temperature matches that on the thermostat.  I still hear the clock.  The cats are settled, and now the only other sounds are the occasional car driving by and the noise of the keyboard as I write.

    It is winter.  Because it is winter I think of those in Congress who play games with the well-being of others for political advantage, because they want to be sure to defeat Obama.

    I may be critical of Obama, and I know we cannot afford to extend the tax cuts for the top 2%.  But if he sticks by his insistence that even to temporarily extend those tax cuts for the people who do not need them, the Congress will have to extend unemployment benefits so that people are not in desperate condition, I will be grateful on behalf of those whose suffering is thereby lessened.

    Minnesota is cold in the winter, much colder than New York where I grew up, Philadelphia where I lived for a number of years, or the Washington area where i write this.  I wonder if that contributed to Hubert Humphrey’s thinking, when he offered these words:  

    It was once said that the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.

    Those who are longterm unemployed are needy, many are in the shadows of life at least as far as the people who refuse to extend unemployment compensation.

    It is immoral to give tax cuts for incomes above a quarter of a million while others have nothing and no chance for a job.  It would be wrong in summer, but in much of this country, in winter it is immoral.

    I think of winter.  These thoughts make me want to weep.