Tue, Apr

The Congress As Comic Opera; The L.A. Freeway System As Tragic


GELFAND’S WORLD - The House of Representatives is stuck in a battle over averting a government shutdown for the second time since September. That's September of 2023, mind you. We have been on a 45 day extension -- what the congress refers to as a Continuing Resolution -- which was supposed to provide time for everyone to take a deep breath, chat with the folks across the aisle, and come up with a compromise.

After all, compromise is what brought this nation into existence. If you review the kind of compromises that were necessary at the time, they were monumental -- large states vs small states, populous states vs less populous states, agricultural vs big city states, and even that original sin of the United States, slave states vs free states.

But now we have a Republican party in control of the House which has adopted as its own principle the idea that compromise is unacceptable. Its corollary principle is that no legislation can go through if it requires the votes of Democrats to make for a majority vote. According to the rule, you have to be able to pass something with Republican votes alone. This way, the Republicans are totally in control, and the Democrats can vote Yes or No as they see fit, but without any effect on the outcome.

So what do you do if the Republicans can't decide among themselves? Or even worse, how about a situation where some small but controlling group of Republicans actually want the government to shut down?

That may be where we are right now. We don't entirely know. What we do know is that we only have a few days left before the continuing resolution runs out. So, we will be hearing a lot about the prospects for a CR between Tuesday and Friday. One side will be talking about a "clean" CR, which means a CR without nasty little poison pills.

What's a poison pill? That's where the controlling side adds some tweak that would be considered unacceptable to the other side. A few days ago, the new Speaker, Michael Johnson, shepherded a bill to provide aid to Israel. The only problem was that this bill also included a measure to cut an equal amount of funding from the IRS. It was of course Dead on Arrival in the Senate, and Israel therefore has not yet received that boost.

We can expect all sorts of poison pill proposals to come out between now and Friday. If we get a CR, it will be passed sometime between noon and eleven PM on Friday, and will be signed into law just before the stroke of midnight. This is the way that political parties communicate to their faithful that they are serious, and that they are being dragged into this small compromise by their fingertips.

It may be that the American people will be accepting of all this brinksmanship. Some few of them will actually like it. But there are a lot of Americans in both parties who would be hurt by a government shutdown. So the congressional Republicans are taking a chance in self-identifying as the party of government shutdowns.

The Democrats have been inadequate in making political points over successive shutdowns. How about the Democratic leadership holding a press conference on Thursday and asking the question, "When did a Democratic Speaker ever force a government shutdown?"

Real Life Mimics Opera in Our Own Immolation Scene

In the opera Gotterdammerung, the king of the gods orders that the World Ash tree be cut down, and logs taken from it be piled around Valhalla. At the end of the opera, the logs are lit on fire, destroying Valhalla and the gods living within. In the opera world, this is referred to as The Immolation Scene.

Allowing for the fact that the musical accompaniment was missing, we seem to have done something similar with respect to the 10 Freeway. Wooden pallets were evidently piled up rather close to the freeway and -- as sometimes happens to piles of pallets -- they caught fire, they burned up. And with them, we lost our own version of Valhalla (OK, the metaphor is a little forced), our source of life-giving transportation, the route for fuel, food, and the ability to get to the hospital.


What Politicians Do

It's standard for politicians to demand answers after the horse has escaped the barn, and the ship has sunk, and in this case, after the freeway has burned. We can expect that some legislative committee up in Sacramento will hold hearings, and the elected will deliver serious and learned dissertations on what we need to do.

This is not actually unreasonable. But we might ask why the state agencies were not warning about the risk long ago. We can expect a law to be passed, and a series of new regulations to go on the books, and perhaps even the creation of a new government job, the Inspector of Roads and Highways.

Meanwhile, the lack of proper preparation for a big earthquake comes up from time to time. The previous mayor gave it a lot of lip service, but we are still a long way from where we ought to be.

The View from the Balcony

The LA Opera presented the Barber of Seville the other night. As in other recent productions, the company included several young American singers along with a couple of Italians. Isabel Leonard as Rosina is an established world class star who is originally (and still) from New York City. She fits the bill as the beautiful young heiress both physically and musically.

Joshua Hopkins as Figaro (you know, "Figaro, figaro figaro . . .") is Canadian by birth, and also a star in his own right. Not a huge voice from my vantage, but worthy in what is, after all, the lead role.

Paolo Bordogna was a lot of fun as Dr. Bartolo, the slightly pervy old coot who has a lust for not only Rosina, but for her inheritance. It took me a while to figure it out, but Bartolo had his hair up the same way as the Pointy Haired Boss in the Dilbert cartoons. I wonder how many people caught the reference.

By the way, the place was packed, suggesting that culture is recovering from the Covid era. The young lady sitting next to me was at her first opera performance, and seemed to be enjoying things.

A word about the sets and staging: The sets by Scott Pask were outstanding, in that they conveyed the Seville atmosphere nicely, without being outrageous or intrusive. This by itself is a plus in an era of overdone and in-your-eye violations of what an opera is supposed to be about. The sets were shared with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. As for the staging, the show indulged in a lot of comic movement and gesturing, which worked to the advantage of the performance. 

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)