Thursday, May 23, 2013

Reality is a parody

Saturday Night Live since 1975 has been a leader in comedy thanks to their ability to do spot-on parodies.  The cultural shift against Sarah Palin can be tied to Tina Fey‘s imitation of the former VP candidate.  It’s rare that real-world events are a parody in and of themselves.  Thankfully, however, we have an example.  Congress just bailed out the helium industry once again.
According to the Washington Post (not The Onion or late night comedians) The Federal Helium program was introduced as a temporary measure in 1925.  Inflatable airships were being built in Europe after World War I and the U.S. was afraid of falling behind, so Congress ordered a stockpile of helium to make sure American dirigibles weren’t left behind.  Private companies do produce helium, but the U.S. Government continues to have a reserve – enough to fill 33 billion party balloons. 
President Reagan tried to dismantle the program.  President Clinton’s reinventing Government in 1996 got Congress to pass a law that the reserve had to sell $1 billion in helium to pay off its debt back to the government and then it needed to shut down.  The final payment is imminent, and under the law the program should finally shut down.
Scientists use helium in their experiments and research (in liquid form).  MRI machines and semiconductor plants use helium.  40% of all helium sales come from the U.S. reserve – which still has five years’ worth of supply.  So on Friday, April 26, 2013 the U.S. Congress in a resounding show of bipartisanship voted 394 to 1 to keep the program alive. The fear was that if the government stops selling helium that market conditions might change resulting added costs for research.  It’s an industry that has been propped up by taxpayers, making that whole concept of capitalism bravado?
Where to begin?  88 years the United States Government has been in the hot air business.  Literally.  Right at the moment of it closing down after a 17 year transition, Republicans and Democrats who demagogue spending issues until there’s no oxygen left couldn’t figure out a way to spin off this successful enterprise to private industry.  Congressman Hank Johnson (D-GA) mocked the program on the floor of Congress and the proceeded to vote for its continuation.  When asked how much longer the taxpayer would be underwriting the program he said:  “Five years?  We don’t know.  It could be shorter, it could be longer.”
There seems to be nothing that the Congress is willing to actually cut.  It shouldn’t surprise me.  It shouldn’t get me fired up.  But it does.  Whoa.  I am becoming a parody of myself.

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