The Cliffhanger, Feb. 14

Ever since the language of the ???fiscal cliff??? was appropriated to describe the political battle over a tax increase, it???s become increasingly clear that every issue is a ???cliff??? now.  Here are today???s snapshots from the edge???

** Airline super-merger: A dying corporate giant is consumed by a scrappy up-and-coming company as venerable American Airlines merges with U.S. Airways, which is only half its size, and only a few years ago was the even smaller America West Airlines.  The resulting company will be the world’s biggest airline, if everything comes together as planned in the $11 billion deal, running 3,200 flights per day and employing 95,000 people.  This would complete a round of consolidations that leaves four huge carriers – American, United, Delta, and Southwest – handling 75 percent of domestic air travel.  This raises fears of higher prices due to less competition, although in fact inflation-adjusted ticket prices have actually dropped about 1 percent during the last 7 years of mergers.  American Airlines was plagued by strife between executives and labor unions, complaints about poor service, and the pursuit of market share at the expense of profits, even as U.S. Airways was pulling in record profits.  Since we all know profits are bad, perhaps the new super-airline will find the sweet spot of making just enough profit to survive, without being so successful that it makes Barack Obama angry.

** Unarmed father dies protecting his daughter from armed home invaders: Two individuals described by police as “beasts” broke into the Miami home of Maurice Harris on Tuesday night, holding Harris and his wife of 14 years at gunpoint during what began as a robbery… but one one of the home invaders made a move toward the room where the couple’s 11-year-old daughter was sleeping, Harris came off the floor to fight.  He died of a gunshot wound while protecting his daughter, who reportedly did not witness her father’s death.  The perpetrators fled the scene and are still at large.  Harris suffered from lupus, and according to local news sources, had a significant criminal record over the previous decade, including “cocaine possession, intent to distribute cocaine, marijuana possession, and occupied burglary.”  Police suspect his past deeds are the reason he was targeted for robbery.

A neighbor hailed Harris as a “super dad” and added, “I hope I have that much courage if something like that wouldn’t happened to me.”  Also helpful if something like this happens to you: a legal firearm.  That’s something Harris’ criminal record might have prevented him from owning, which is among the many good reasons not to accumulate such a record.  However he might have lived his life, Maurice Harris ended it as a hero, dying in the defense of a little girl who appropriately labeled her father’s murderers as “demons.”

** New York City to be rescued from the styrofoam cliff: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn’t banned anything in a while, and we all know how cranky that makes him.  America’s foremost champion of the overbearing but ineffectual Nanny State decided to relieve stress by pushing for a ban on Styrofoam packaging, because he says it’s “virtually impossible to recycle and never bio-degrades,” which makes it “environmentally destructive” and “maybe hazardous to your health.”  That means it’s “costing taxpayers money and that we can easily do without, and is something that should go the way of lead paint.”

Gosh, it’s a wonder he has to ban it!  Why would anyone use such weapons of mass destruction?  According to the styrofoam industry, it’s because “foam products minimize exposure to bacteria and other foodborne pathogens compared to reusables,” as well as “lightweight, sturdy, inexpensive, and insulated.”  Also, it can be recycled, and it only makes up about 1 percent of the volume in landfills, which are “constructed to discourage biodegradation because biodegradation can generate methane gas and leachate,” so paper cups don’t really biodegrade much either.  And paper hot cups with corrugated sleeves require 47 percent more energy to produce, leaving 148 percent more solid waste when discarded.  But why listen to these guys?  They just make the darn things, and sell them to people who voluntarily buy them.

Bloomberg is also going to mandate more parking spaces in his city for the electric cars that nobody wants to buy voluntarily at their true market price.  Stop making the wrong choices, people.  You’re already being taxed to subsidize the “right” ones.

** Student files million-dollar lawsuit for getting a bad grade: According to her teacher, grad student Megan Thode deserved a C+ in a mandatory fieldwork class at Lehigh University, because she was penalized for poor class participation.  This mediocre grade forced her out of the master’s program she was in, preventing her from taking the next required course.  There’s no way to take another stab at the fieldwork course?  You’re doomed forever because you get one C+ grade?  That seems uncharacteristically harsh for today’s world of higher education.  Maybe she couldn’t afford to re-take the course and delay her academic plans… but no, that can’t be it, because she was enjoying the entire graduate program for free, as her father is a professor at the university.

Thode wanted to become a licensed professional counsellor, but instead she had to get a different master’s degree and settle for working as a lowly drug-and-alcohol counselor.  She’s now suing the school for the $1.3 million in lost earning potential she thinks this undeservedly poor grade cost her.  Her lawyer says she “literally lost a career,” while the university’s lawyer “dismissed the claim as drivel.”

Ah, but it’s politically correct drivel!  You see, Thode alleges her grade was sabotaged as part of a university conspiracy to ruin her, because she’s an outspoken advocate for “gay and lesbian rights,” which is code for gay marriage.  Also, they were allegedly out to get her because she complained too much about a mandatory internship.  The university says she “showed unprofessional behavior that included swearing in class and, on one occasion, having an outburst in which she began crying.”  That attitude seems a bit inconsistent with a career as a licensed professional counselor – a profession in which serenity and self-control can evidently win you $1.3 million in compensation above what a drug-and-alcohol counselor gets paid, over the course of a mere three years.  Maybe we should just dispense with the professional counselors and just have lawyers handle everything, including the grading of grad students, before the dreams of any more aspiring “millionaires and billionaires” (i.e. people who earn over $200,000 per year) are thwarted.

** At last, a medal for the Playstation Generation: You can get a medal for killing people with drones now!  And the new “Distinguished Warfare Medal” ranks higher than the Bronze Star!  According to the Associated Press, unkind critics “dubbed the medal the ‘Geek Cross’ and speculated that the young video-gamers may soon get Purple Hearts for their animated wounds.”  Left unresolved at the time of this writing is whether or not the commendation must be shared with the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle.  I recommend doing so, because if there’s one thing a lifetime of consuming science fiction has taught me, hell hath no fury like a killer robot scorned.  As Jean Rostand so wisely said, “Kill one man and you are a murderer; kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror; kill them all, and you are a god; kill them with drones, and you get a Nobel Peace Prize.”

** Obama’s second vacation of the year begins: Speaking of those who enjoy the One Percenter lifestyle, President Obama will be heading off to his second vacation of the year on Friday, jetting in his fantastically expensive taxpayer-funded private plane to enjoy a weekend at the posh West Palm Beach playground of the super-rich.  No, you didn’t miss anything, the new year really is only six weeks old, the economy is still in the toilet, unemployment remains at standard Obama levels, and you just listened to another windy lecture about how we need to pump more money into a government riddled with billions of dollars in fraud so it can take control of everything you hapless Little People can’t do right.  Look, pretending to slash the deficit is hard.  Let the man enjoy his rest.  And stop complaining about the fact that you have to pay for his aristocratic lifestyle.  Just because this government is trillions of dollars beyond broke is no reason for the aristocracy to start tightening its belts.  Appearances must be maintained.