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More than politicians responsible for so-called fiscal cliff mess

| Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Today's column was written Monday, less than 12 hours before the deadline expired for Washington, D.C., knuckleheads to keep us from falling off a “fiscal cliff.”

Therefore, it remained unknown if, how and for how long our elected officials saved us from economic peril or if they'll keep playing silly political games with our pocketbooks and our lives.

Although we represent only .00034 percent of the U.S. population, the Mid-Mon Valley's approximately 107,000 residents have considerable stake in the outcome.

A significant number receive food stamps, welfare, unemployment, Social Security and other government benefits or live in publicly subsidized housing. Only a few here have annual gross incomes of $250,000 or more that's the focus of so much rhetoric, as if raising taxes on them alone would solve all of our problems.

Meanwhile, the overall debt that's a result of years of reckless “buy now, pay later” spending by both Democrats and Republicans broke the $16.4 trillion barrier Monday. The nation's IOU was $16,420,383,803,721 or thereabouts, a number ticking upward faster than I could write it down.

The per-person debt was listed at $52,051 when I began writing. It already grew by $73 to $52,124 by the time I finished four hours later at 4:20 p.m. Are you prepared to pay up?

If you have a computer, go to to see for yourself how fast we're falling off the so-called cliff. It should scare the hell out of you.

Although the Mid-Mon Valley has been growing smaller, older and more government dependent, some of its people are nonetheless culpable and examples of why we've gotten into such a mess.

Do you know a “druggie” who refuses to work but qualifies for food stamps and government-financed rehab?

Do you know people collecting public assistance separately but shacking up in the same house or apartment in order to “double dip” for benefits?

Do you know someone bringing home big money as a “seasonal employee” in jobs such as highway construction and collecting unemployment for the rest of the year?

Do you know people on SSI “disability” who are healthy enough to do meaningful work?

Do you know anyone doing business “under the table” to avoid taxes or raking in extra cash while on the public dole?

Do you pay for goods and services in cash in order to get a better deal, knowing full well that you, too, are complicit in “cheating” government?

Do you know anyone receiving public assistance and food stamps (up to $668 a month for a family of four) who gambles at The Meadows or spends big bucks on the lottery?

Do you know parents using government benefits to buy booze or drugs when the extra money they're receiving for children should be spent on food and clothing?

Do you know people without health insurance who run to the hospital emergency room for little things that you'd normally administer to yourself?

Do you know people who file frivolous lawsuits seeking civil damages and insurance claims under false pretenses?

Do you know people content with collecting unemployment checks (a maximum $575 a week in Pennsylvania) in lieu of actively seeking new work or special training?

Do you know someone on workers comp who has exaggerated an injury in order to keep the “lost wages” coming in?

Do you know anyone who thinks federally-financed food stamps, public housing and public assistance are lifetime entitlements?

Do you know people who think these things are free?

Do you know people who don't give a damn?

I can say “I do” in response to most of these questions.

I think you can, too.

While most people are honorable, deserving recipients of government assistance and “safety net” programs, many are not.

If you take the people living here who are abusing or defrauding government, and then if you multiply them by the equivalent of 3,000 Mid-Mon Valleys to reflect the U.S. population, you see what has become of society.

You understand why the fiscal cliff may be the merely start of something worse.

Thought du jour - With odds of a prosperous New Year diminished, I wish you a survivable New Year.

Joe Grata is a freelance writer.

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