September 27, 2010

The GOP’s Worthless “Pledge” to America

Ever since the media descended on that little hardware store that shall now live in infamy to listen to some of the Teapublican Party’s most worthless representatives unveil their so-called “pledge” to America, I’ve been itching to take it apart piece by piece. Thankfully, a number of other great writers have done so for me, and called out the pledge for what it is – at best a shell of empty promises the Republicans simply can’t keep, and at worst a malicious plan to cripple the American middle class, shovel tons of money into the hands of the Republicans’ best friends, and pull money back from the areas that the American government should be investing in most heavily right now, like education and job training.

But the Republicans, as always, see things differently – mostly through a lens of “I’ve got mine, you can go to hell,” which results in a legislative agenda that does nothing in the good times and actually reverses public progress and common good in the worst times; and that’s exactly what they plan to do.

Over at The Washington Monthly (and reposted at AlterNet) was a fantastic piece calling the pledge out as the sham that it was – snake-oil designed to make Tea Partiers and people who are disenchanted with the fact that this hole the Bush Administration and the Republicans in Congress during the Clinton Administration dug is deeper than they have patience for turn out to the polls:

Looking at the bigger picture, it’s tempting to think House Republicans deserve at least some credit for making the effort. After all, the GOP hasn’t even tried to craft a policy agenda in many years. The point of the “Pledge,” presumably, is to help demonstrate that congressional Republicans aren’t just the “party of no”; this is a new GOP prepared to reclaim the mantle of “party of ideas.”

But that’s precisely why the endeavor is such an embarrassing failure. The document combines old ideas, bad ideas, contradictory ideas, and discredited ideas. The Republican Party that lost control of Congress four years ago has had an abundance of time to craft a policy vision that offered credible, serious solutions. Instead, we’re confronted with a document that can best be described as tired nonsense.

That sounds about right, but there’s definitely more:

Ezra Klein’s take was entirely in line with my own.

[Y]ou’re left with a set of hard promises that will increase the deficit by trillions of dollars, take health-care insurance away from tens of millions of people, create a level of policy uncertainty businesses have never previously known, and suck demand out of an economy that’s already got too little of it.

You’re also left with a difficult question: What, exactly, does the Republican Party believe? The document speaks constantly and eloquently of the dangers of debt — but offers a raft of proposals that would sharply increase it. It says, in one paragraph, that the Republican Party will commit itself to “greater liberty” and then, in the next, that it will protect “traditional marriage.” It says that “small business must have certainty that the rules won’t change every few months” and then promises to change all the rules that the Obama administration has passed in recent months. It is a document with a clear theory of what has gone wrong — debt, policy uncertainty, and too much government — and a solid promise to make most of it worse.

If Republicans set out to prove that they’re wholly unprepared and incapable of governing effectively, they’ve succeeded beautifully. That may have been obvious when there was an actual GOP majority and they failed on a spectacular, generational scale, but any hopes that the party has since learned valuable lessons quickly fade with the release of the “Pledge to America.”

Indeed, the moral of the story this morning is very likely the fact that Republicans probably shouldn’t even try. Last year, the House GOP released an alternative budget, which was so tragically pathetic, it neglected to include any numbers. Several months later, the House GOP released an alternative health care reform plan, which made no effort to actually improve a dysfunctional system.

In fact, the Republicans’ “pledge” would rob the coffers of K-12 education by millions upon millions of dollars thanks to drastic cuts in public education, but it wouldn’t strike a dime from tax breaks for the wealthy, the Defense Department’s budget, or their own salaries. How’s that for fiscal responsibility?

[ GOP’s New ‘Pledge to America’: A Pathetic, Destructive Sham ]
Source: The Washington Monthly (courtesy of AlterNet)

But the beat goes on: over at the Campaign for America’s Future, RJ Eskow calls out the “pledge” for pretending it’s fiscally sound and that it’s aiming at bloated government spending when it’s really a ruse for deep cuts to public programs that are unpopular with Republicans and their Tea Party ilk: programs like health care, education, and social services. He writes:

Once you strip away the rhetoric, the answer is simple: Off the top, their plan is a trillion-dollar giveaway to the rich – at everybody else’s expense. Their “pledge” would slash needed spending, kill jobs and end any hope of growing the economy. It declares open season on the public’s health and safety with a deregulation agenda that would unleash BP, Goldman Sachs, and every other corporation whose risky behavior endangers us. It would lead to even more financial crashes and environmental disasters. Firefighters, cops,and teachers would be laid off in droves. The deficit would soar. We’d face a permanently stagnating economy. The middle class would wither away.

That’s the future they’re offering. It’s Bush on steroids, fattened up and ready to feast on … you. If you like today’s economy, you’ll love the one these guys are cooking up.

If this document wasn’t written by lobbyists then it was certainly submitted for their review and approval. And there’s a lot for them to love.

He doesn’t waste time diving right into some of the same laughable notions that came up in the Washington Monthly piece – things so laughable that they couldn’t possibly ever become public policy in America unless the American people like shooting themselves in the foot (although the rise of the Tea Party and the “ignorance is bliss” political movement gives me pause to wonder if they’re not the case):

Where would they cut, exactly? They don’t say. David Frum, a former speechwriter for George Bush, explains why: “Here is the GOP cruising to a handsome election victory. Did you seriously imagine that they would jeopardize the prospect of victory and chairmanships by issuing big, bold promises to do deadly unpopular things?”

Deadly unpopular things. At least Frum is honest enough to say out loud what other Republicans won’t: They’re going to subsidize their tax breaks for the wealthy by doing things the American people will hate. They won’t just cut the everyday functions of government that make our lives better. Returning government spending to “pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels” also means ending the repair work that’s currently being done to fix what their policies have broken. That includes getting people back to work, providing loans for small businesses, and cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico.

But even though they slither past the specifics, the GOP leaders left some broad hints about their defunding priorities. In a graph that lists government spending, for example, the categories aren’t listed by size, or alphabetically. The ones at the top are the targets, and which figure prominently? The Departments of Health and Human Services, Agriculture, Education, Justice … you see where this is going, don’t you? (Yes, the Justice Department’s on the list. Law enforcement isn’t always a convenient thing in their America.)

Their list of 2,050 different assistance programs singles out Federal funding to the states—states that are in desperate need of federal support to keep people working in the fiscal aftermath of GOP policies. They need Federal aid to avoid the kind of cuts they’ll be forced to make otherwise: laying off cops and teachers, slashing Medicaid, letting roads crumble, and shutting down emergency services, just to name a few.

Why not rename this pledge the “fire a cop, buy a banker his own private island plan”?

The Pledge also promises to give “small businesses” a tax deduction equal to “20 percent of their business income” – but, as Rachel Maddow and others have observed, their definition of “small business” includes giant corporations like Bechtel and PriceWaterhouseCoopers. That would mean another multibillion-dollar tax break for the wealthiest among us.

This “deficit-conscious” plan wants to expand the “military/industrial welfare state,” too. “We are a nation at war,” it says, calling to “fully fund” a missile defense system that’s already plagued with persistent test failures, laden with cost overruns, and which most experts don’t think is needed or can ever wok. What it can do, however, is transfer a lot of middle-class income to Boeing and Northrop Grumman. We’ve already spent more than $60 billion on the “Star Wars” missile program in the last eight years, in fact. Why, that’s nearly as much as the GOP intends to give to the top 25 billion-dollar-a-year hedge fund managers!

They dress their plan up with the usual mumbo-jumbo about government spending that’s “crowding out the private economy.” That may sound good, Tea Partiers, but think about: How does it do that, exactly? Every government employee buys things from private companies—from supermarkets, pharmacies, auto dealers, and yes, hardware stores. Makes no sense when you think about it.

And while their rhetoric’s pretty polished, they tried a little too hard to channel the Founding Fathers with lines like this one: “Whenever the agenda of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to institute a new governing agenda and set a different course.” (Note for whichever lobbyist wrote that: “Agenda” is a business word, not an inspirational one. It doesn’t fit. It’s like writing “When in the course of human events we are called upon to write a Mission Statement …”)

Here’s the bottom line: They’ll raid your money to make their rich patrons even richer. The middle class will continue to wither away, and those manage to hold on will be worse off than ever. More and more people will slip into permanent unemployment, poverty, and penurious old age. More roads will crumble. More aging pipelines will explode in towns like San Bruno, Calif. This “pledge” is the oldest kind of promise in the world: the promise than con men make to their victims.

Remember, the Republicans made a lot of promises the last time they took control of the Congress. They promised to create more jobs, and their policies led to record unemployment. They promised to limit their own terms, then settled in for a long comfy stay in Washington. They promised that businesses would regulate themselves, and both the Gulf Coast and the Main Street economy were ruined.

Seriously people, remember this when you head to the polls. There may be no way to heal this wound in time for the elections, but there’s definitely time to stop the bleeding so we can continue the work of repairing the damage that these same people – and then the people who inspired the worst of them that are rising to influence – have caused and are eagerly planning to cause.

[ GOP’s “Pledge” To Rob The Middle Class: No Jobs, No Health Care, No Security ]
Source: The Campaign for America’s Future

September 20, 2010

The Obama Achievements Center

I know I ranted about this at length in my post, That “Change” is Working Out Great for Me, Thanks for Asking! but I wanted to drive it home a little more because memories fade so quickly and people forget exactly how far America has come in the few short months since Obama took office, and how quickly this American ship has managed to right itself and set a course for prosperity. Are we there yet? No. Is Obama perfect? Not at all – but has he accomplished a lot? Is he trying? Is he a hell of a lot better than who we had before – both in the White House and his cronies in Congress? Absolutely on all counts.

That’s why I’m really thrilled to point out the existence of the Obama Achievements Center, a great resource for people who want quick ammo to rebut the claims of history-rewriting conservatives who think that Obama hasn’t done anything, or at least hasn’t done anything good, and are basking in this kind of false reality where America has become a worse place since he took office. Quite the contrary, to fact. Here’s what the site’s builders have to say:

This site is the preview version of our new Obama Achievements Center. It’s a work in progress and a labor of love — for our country.
We’re building a crowd-sourced compilation of the achievements of the Obama administration, with documentation for each achievement linked to it. It
In today’s frenzied media zones, far too much time has been spent putting the spotlight on complaints while significant achievements are either ignored, not reported, or minimized.

The Achievements

Determined to change the media narrative to finally include the good works of this administration, a group of Twitter users got together under Shoq’s leadership and compiled a list of the achievements and promises of the Obama administration, with documented links to every item. It will be updated on an ongoing basis, as this President accumulates more successes and lasting reforms.
Defining what an achievement is in any administration, is itself an interesting issue. We decided that we would define it broadly to include executive orders,important legislation, and significant initiatives or outcomes of any kind, both foreign and domestic. We worked hard to screen out minor or subjective items whenever we had agreement on them. As anyone can see from this very impressive list, they weren’t needed.

Isn’t it beautiful? This is worth a bookmark, people, and includes everything I mentioned in my last post and then some. Best of all, it’s organized by topic and category, so if you have a favorite cause of topic, you can zoom right to it.

[ The Obama Achievements Center ]

Sorry Glenn…

Probably one of the best t-shirts I’ve seen in ages has come from the mind of Richard Stevens, author and artist behind the 8-bit-style daily comic gloriousness known as Diesel Sweeties, and it’s the image above.

The shirt is currently sold out, having sold out on pre-order a while ago – but I love it so much that I still want one, and something tells me you do, too. So bookmark the page, and when they come back into stock, think about picking one up for yourself and making a proud statement to the Tea Partiers that their self-appointed messiah has nothing on our favorite Scientologist musician!

[ Two Turntables and a Homophone Shirt ]
Source: Diesel Sweeties Store

300 Economists Warn That Deficit Hysteria Is a Big Con

If the only folks you listened to these days were the Republicans, you’d think that the national debt and deficit were huge and uncontrollable and were going to the the cause of the imminent collapse of our society. You wouldn’t hear that most economists believe that central spending is the best way to avoid and stimulate an economy back to a growth mode, and that by strategically spending money on projects that can help businesses grow and people get back to work, a federal government can go a long way toward building a fiscal bridge between economic hardship and recovery, without the economic hardship being nearly as deep or dangerous as initially feared.

Then again, who’s only listening to Republicans?

Frankly, the only folks who honestly are worried about short term implications of current government spending are the people who are scrabbling to get themselves elected this season; aka the Tea Party and their commissioned thugs. As if I haven’t said it before, the Tea Party is what you get when you bundle up every idiot in America who knows nothing of civics and government but somehow steadfastly believes that everyone in Washington is evil and should be deported – to be replaced by some amorphous body that’s “more like them.”

Congratulations – here you go: if you really want to, you can replace qualified, knowledgable politicians on either side of the aisle with people like the Tea Partiers who are so lacking in basic knowledge that they’d be more than happy to impress their beliefs on the American people without so much as opening a book or reading the Constitution they so staunchly defend.

I digress though – everyone agrees that long term deficit spending is unsustainable and something should be done about it – when the country’s economy is strong enough to hit the treadmill and shed some weight, but right now? Not so much – and a panel of over 300 economists agrees and wants to warn Washington that spending too much time worrying about the deficit now instead of worrying about growth is a bad idea:

On Thursday, 300 economists and analysts issued a statement warning that the “deficit hawks” who appear to be gaining the upper hand in our economic debates are threatening to turn an already deeply painful recession into a full-blown depression.

In a conference call with reporters organized by the Campaign for America’s Future, the experts warned that the American economy now stands at a crucial juncture. They acknowledged that public debt is mounting, and presented a choice of two different paths to right the ship: imposing fiscal “austerity” today, in the midst of the most serious downturn since the Great Depression, or investing in the American economy — with public spending over the short term — in order to grow our way out of the red ink.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said that the economists’ statement “is both a warning about the danger of deflation and continued stagnation, and it’s also a plan for growth — the right way to approach and address long-term deficits.” Reich warned that if the policies being pursued by Washington’s deficit hawks continue, we risk not only a “double-dip” recession, but possibly a “lost decade, similar to that experienced by Japan during the 1990s.

The wonks advocate increased aid to cash-strapped states and municipalities, direct support for public service jobs and comprehensive investments in America’s aging infrastructure.

“This is about a high road to recovery versus a low road to fiscal balance,” said Robert Kuttner, a senior fellow with Demos. “All of us want reduced deficits at some point. The question is: what is the proper sequencing, and what is the proper analysis of cause and effect?” Kuttner said the economists’ view was “simple.” “You get the recovery first, and that requires increased public investment, and then the road to fiscal balance is much less arduous because people are working, businesses are investing and tax revenues go up because you’re in recovery.”

Absolutely correct. President Obama is doing the right thing, too – he’s making sure to spend some money on public infrastructure projects like roads and bridges and telecommunications infrastructure that will put people back to work and leave tangible results behind that will serve to improve our communities. I’m also a fan of more direct aid to states, and boosts for public sector jobs to encourage people to come to work for the communities they live in – it’s not just the private sector that has to start hiring; the history and spectre of deregulation and the Reagan-era belief that there’s nothing government can do that private industry couldn’t do better needs to be nailed into its coffin and shoved into the ground.

This is especially poignant considering the fact that the private sector isn’t hiring, and I blame them to some extent for that – they should be, but they’re not, primarily because they’ve realized through the economic downturn that they can survive with fewer people and by paying them less – there’s no reason to believe that they’ll change their minds and start hiring again for the good of the economy and the good of the American people, when their balance sheets are shining after they’ve been standing on our backs for so long.

Now if only people would remember all of this when they head to the polls, they’d be crying for more government spending.

[ 300 Economists Warn That Deficit Hysteria Is a Big Con ]
Source: AlterNet

September 13, 2010

Since That Day

On September 11th, I retweeted something that I thought was particularly poignant, and had been posted to Twitter by Xeni Jardin, where she said:

Honoring 9/11 by refraining from maudlin “where I was” tweets, or using the event as a mule to carry the cause-burden of my choosing.

I absolutely agree with her. After seeing the woeful tearjerking by people all over Twitter and just about everywhere else on September 11th, people who were and always have been far from New York City and Washington DC, people who claim to have been “directly affected” but watched on their television screens from miles away, and people who to this day continue to use the attacks on that day as a prop for their own personal political causes and beliefs, I decided to keep quiet about my feelings about that day.

The day was complicated for me personally, but that’s not what’s important. The folks out there with the glittery animated GIFs of eagles crying as the towers fell and Facebook status updates like “Never forget: if you’ll never forget post this to your status,” and whatnot are more than likely people who had no direct involvement or impact from the attacks – they’re simply all too happy to use the event as a chest-thumping excuse for sensless – and selfish – nationalism.

Every year that progresses, I get more and more jaded at the people who seem to cling so deeply to that day, especially as their ranks grow and I know that none of them lost a loved one, none of them saw the planes that day, none of them heard the explosion at the Pentagon, none of them ran from the expanding cloud of dust in lower Manhattan, and none of them were likely even awake early enough on that day to see everything happen.

I’m not alone, either – I think there’s a growing number of us who are tired of seeing 9/11 being used as a justification for mindless hatred and anger that thinly covers the sadness of people who were so far removed from it that they don’t even know how to move on like those of us who actually were affected simply had to.

Something else I think was extremely poignant was tweeted by Clayton Cubitt, someone I don’t have the pleasure of knowing, but saw retweeted by a number of people I do know. He said:

America, we love you, but quit trying to drag us into your creepy 9/11 death cult. We chose life. -NYC

Washington, DC would like to co-sign that statement, please. Thanks.

William Rivers Pitt, like he always does, has something poignant to say on the matter. He shares his own story, but then nails it with this:

Nine years, four national elections, two wars and two presidents since that day, and where are we now as a nation? Broke, deranged and dangerous pretty much sums it up. We have Christian-Taliban pastors in Florida with filthy souls threatening to burn the Qu’ran, as if such an act had any meaning beyond a desire to make money, and a national news media apparatus all too happy to give them all the ink and air time he could ever wish for. We have seething crowds threatening arson and murder because a Muslim community center might get built next to a strip club on the site of a defunct coat store. We have national caricatures like Sarah Palin charging people more than $200 for the chance to meet with her on that day, as if she has any significance at all. We’ve got stabbings and beatings and firebombings, and this is nine years later.

We are a nation of euphemisms now. It’s not spying on the American people, it is “national security.” It’s not holding someone in a hellhole without charges or trial, it is “indefinite detention.” It’s not kidnapping, it is “extraordinary rendition.” It’s not murder or assassination, it is “targeted killing.” It’s not torture, it is “enhanced interrogation.” It’s not wildly and patently illegal and immoral on its face, it is “war.”

We are a lessened nation nine years later, and much of the damage has been done by our own hand. It is one thing for people to react with fear and rage after an outrageous act of violence. It is quite another for the leaders of those people to exploit that fear and rage for their own dark and greedy purposes, and nine years later, we are down in the ditch thanks to exactly that sort of behavior. Thousands of American soldiers have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tens of thousands more have been grievously maimed. Millions of civilians in those two countries have been slaughtered or shattered, but we may never know the true scope of the carnage, because “we don’t do body counts.”

Nine years later, one truth remains: America is an idea, a dream, a hope that has yet to be realized. Take away our people, our cities, our roads, our crops, our armies and navies and bombs and guns, take all of that away and there is still the idea, as vibrant and vital as it was when the Founders first put ink to parchment and changed the world. Everyone you know owns a heritage that began somewhere else; we are all different in so many ways, and all that binds us is the ink on that parchment and the ideas therein contained. We are all our brother’s and sister’s keeper, beholden to one another, all of us children of that idea.

Nine years ago, we were forced into an accounting of how dear that idea is to us, and were found wanting. Nine years later, we still are. The idea deserves better than what we have given to it. We can continue in this fashion, or we can summon within ourselves the will and wisdom to locate those better angels of our nature that are surely there, waiting for us.

The entire piece is much worth reading, and I strongly suggest you do.

[ Since That Day ]
Source: TruthOut

Hatred and Stupidity…But I Repeat Myself

William Rivers Pitt, writing for TruthOut, calls out Glenn Beck and his cohorts for the culture of hatred and fear that they’ve been generating in America today, and he’s on point, as usual. The terrifying thing is that even in the face of informed debate, their supporters still shove their heads in the sand and pretend that the truth isn’t staring them in the face – that the cult of personality around some of these far-right demagogues is not only destructive for them and their supporters, but also destructive for America.

2010 is shaping up to be the Year of the Hate Crime in America, thanks in large part to right-bent Republicans and their Tea Party allies who have nothing to run on in the upcoming midterms. Think about it; would you want to run for office as a Republican these days? Their dearest economic ideas gave us the current recession, their foreign policies resulted in a war we lost in Iraq and a war we’re losing in Afghanistan, their environmental designs have resulted in yet another oil rig detonation in the Gulf of Mexico, a great many of their supporters don’t believe in dinosaurs because the Bible doesn’t mention them, and their biggest national superstar is Sarah Palin, who by all appearances is so drastically stupid that she couldn’t figure out how to pour piss out of a boot if there were directions on the heel.

So, yeah, not much to hang your hat on there. In the absence of anything substantive to give the American people, the right has gone home to their mothership: sowing discord, fear and hatred to distract people from the fact that, while Republicans are good at campaigning, they are walking cancer cells to the body politic if and when they actually win.

This time around, the right’s weapon of choice against this republic is spreading hatred and fear of Muslims and Islam. September 11 happened nine years ago, so it may seem an odd topic to harp on after so much time has passed, but the Cordoba House controversy gave them an opening and they ran right through it. Of course, it started before that, pretty much as soon as President Obama first threw his hat into the ring for the 2008 election. Once the right figured out his middle name was Hussein, it was hats over the windmill, and their incessant blather about his background and religion has finally begun to bear bloody fruit.

I really couldn’t put it better myself, he’s absolutely tight. In the same way I pity the Republicans and what’s left of their party – having been eaten alive by the most radical and flag-waving-yet-truly-anti-American members among them, I pity the poor voters who actually think that these folks, draped in their flags, are actually a political alternative.

It’s actually terrifying what could happen to the Amercian people and to American society if these folks are allowed enough of a foothold that they make an impression on American politics – and in a lot of ways I’d feel worse for sensible Republicans who would find themselves crossing the aisle more often than not simply because the opposition to progress in America would be so poisonous and entirely lacking in desire to work collaboratively.

We’ve seen the stories in the media of right-wing nuts stabbing cab drivers shortly after asking them if they’re Muslim, we saw some of the most idiotic among us protesting a cultural center in lower Manhattan – and their idiocy would have been enough if they hadn’t all but violently assaulted a poor carpenter who was passing through the area because he had brown skin and was wearing a skullcap and they all assumed he was Muslim.

This is what it’s like to be Muslim in America, and the Tea Party thugs like it this way – it’s a way to reassert White, Christian, and Male privilege and authority – by creating new religious and ethnic underclasses that they can feel good about oppressing and that society lets them get away with because of the complexities of the issues. Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, Gays and Lesbians – we’re all subject to the same anger, and we’re all exploited in different ways.

Whether Muslims are being denied the freedom to worship, Latinos are being denied the American Dream, African Americans are being told to be quiet when they’ve been offended because they’re somehow playing the “race card,” or gays and lesbians are being told that they for some reason don’t deserve the right to marry, partner, or make decisions together as a family unit, these are the indicators that America is facing a terrible and dangerous threat to our collective freedom: one we have to stand up and repel, even in small ways, every day. To do otherwise is to let the thugs win and to slide backwards into their so-called “Good Old Days,” where there was one face of America, and it looked like they do today – everyone else was relegated to the sidelines.

[ Hatred and Stupidity…But I Repeat Myself ]
Source: TruthOut