Summer Blues

September 17, 2011

I haven’t been posting recently because of demands at work. Here are comments from August and July sent to news media, two of which were published.

August 15, 2011

Sometimes it’s better to have a little more information about stories that seem familiar to us because key words are invoked that are inherently vague, such as “Congressional dysfunction” and partisan gridlock. The partial shutdown of the Federal Aviation Administration was caused by House Republicans, who wanted to close small airports and reverse a rule for airline unionization. We’re told that the National Mediation Board “relaxed union election rules” after President Obama appointed two new members to the panel, which suggests a partisan tilt to the decision. How reasonable is the Republicans’ objection? The new rule for union representation elections says that whoever receives the most votes in an election is the winner. The old rule counted non-voters as votes against union representation. With that standard for election, most of the Republican House members would not be in office today. The turnout in the 2010 elections was 40%, slightly higher than the long-term average for off-year Congressional elections. As usual, the party of non-voters swept to victory. Goodbye Republicans.

July 28, 2011

As we close in on the federal default date, the media is treating the debate as it does presidential elections as a horse race between candidates. But focusing on whether the Republicans or Democrats promise the greatest reductions in government spending is no more useful than which presidential candidate is leading in the polls when citizens have to make up their minds. When the parties promise huge cuts in spending, it is not merely the total we need to know, but the specific programs that will be cut. The Republican House already passed a budget resolution to turn Medicare into a voucher program for everyone under 55 years of age. Now, if you’re a voter who thinks that’s fine, that is OK, but the citizen who wants to keep Medicare will understand that this huge budget cut is unacceptable. The Republican plan also includes even greater proposed cuts — which are reported in the aggregate — which the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities calculates will lead not only to massive cuts in Medicare but also to cuts in Social Security Pensions. Now, again, if you’re a voter who supports cutting the income of seniors, then fine, but if you want to keep Social Security for yourself and the two-thirds of seniors who rely on Social Security as their primary source of income, then the fact that the Republicans can win the budget cutting race is irrelevant because the cuts are unacceptable.

July 26, 2011

It couldn’t be about rightwing extremism, could it? Ross Douthat, in his July 26 column about the murderous attack on Norway’s leading political party, the Labor Party, by a Norwegian Christian man steeped in the virulent xenophobia that flourishes on both sides of the Atlantic, wants us to believe that the real culprit is the Labor Party, which would not listen to the fact that “Europe’s cultural conservatives are right”.

Everything that Douthat claims is “right” is wrong. He sweepingly claims that immigration has left the Continent “more divided than enriched” – note the instrumental standard he suggests – whereas for decades most western European countries have feasted on cheap immigrant labor. That the economic slowdown, compounded by years of outsourcing by global companies, has created high unemployment certainly cannot be blamed on immigrants. About his claim that Islam and liberal democracy are “not yet proven natural bedfellows”, one wonders if he decided to weasel out – “not yet”, “natural bedfellows” – because he knows that the Christian extreme right does not support liberal democracy. Finally, he claims that “the dream” that the Continent will be ruled by a “benevolent ruling elite” is “folly” whereas it is precisely the insurgent extreme rightwing parties in many countries that have challenged the hope for a democratic (not dictatorial) European Union.

Douthat is still smarting from the fallout from Timothy McVeigh’s 1995 attack on the Oklahoma City federal building: “Timothy McVeigh’s connections to Republican politics were several degrees short of tangential, but Clinton successfully linked the heartland terrorist to talk radio…, implying that McVeigh’s crime was part of a broader story of antigovernment conservatism run amok.” He would like us to forget that several Republican members of the House played footsy with the Militia Movement’s armed groups, which engaged in military training precisely to combat the federal government. McVeigh was deeply involved with the American extreme right. Just as Jared Loughner is called “the schizophrenic”, now Anders Behring Breivik is “insane”. He’s not one of our group! We’re the sane immigrant bashers, xenophobes, elite class warriors, and Christian fundamentalists.

July 15, 2011

A syndicated editorial cartoon of July 14, 2011 perpetuates a false story that the Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for the budget crisis. It shows a Democrat and a Republican collapsed on the floor. The Democrat is labeled “Spend! Spend! Spend!” and the Republican is labeled “No tax hikes!” and the text reads “What happens when an irresponsible force meets an unreasonable object”. The truth is that Obama has agreed to trillions of dollars of spending cuts while the Republicans have not agreed to any tax increases. The Republicans are both irresponsible and unreasonable.

After all, the Republicans ran up the deficit with the Bush tax cuts ($4 trillion, mostly for the super rich), the Bush Medicare drug subsidies for the pharmaceutical industry ($500 billion), two wars paid for with debt (long-term cost $2 trillion and counting), the economic collapse of 2008, and the financial industry bailout. Now they don’t want to pay their bills, which is the definition of irresponsibility. It gets worse: the Republicans unreasonably want the middle class to pay for it all through benefit cuts (e.g. privatize Medicare for those under 55), lay-offs of teachers, police and firefighters, higher tuition at public colleges, banning collective bargaining about health care, and more, all the while protecting the vast privileges of the big banks and hedge fund managers.

The American voters have a more reasonable response, as shown repeatedly in opinion polls: two-thirds want to raise taxes on the super rich and big corporations, which have done very well under the Republican regime.