Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The US of A: the Upside-Down Country

Fun fact: Fred Koch co-founded the John Birch
Society. He also founded Koch Industries,
now run by, yep, the Koch brothers, Charles
and David, sponsors of far right-wing causes.
Over the years, I've tried to figure out how policy is designed and implemented, on local, state, and federal levels. Let's face it, it's gotten harder to make sense of it in recent years.

I was a young child during the McCarthy era, so I didn't get the import of it at the time. I got a notion of it by the early 60s when anti-communism was still in full flower, as epitomized by the John Birch Society. The more I examined the Birchers, the more my unsophisticated adolescent mind figured out they were "kinda dumb."

I admired John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and the great progress our nation was making with such programs as the Peace Corps, Vista, the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act. That admiration and trust crashed because of the Vietnam War, which was the essential radicalizing event in my life, as it was for many of my generation.

Still, I looked at government as a force for good. Even Watergate, probably our worst political scandal, was actually proof that government worked: Nixon got caught, was run out of office, and a lot of his cronies ended up in jail or banished forever from public life. Basically, the system worked.

The Tea Party: a force for good?
Today, no one can claim that government works at the federal level. It's as if everything is broken, everything is upside down. We can't pass a budget, a gun control law may pass that is ineffectual at best and might end up loosening gun laws instead of tightening them. An immigration reform law may do exactly the same thing.

Senator Marco Rubio, for some odd reason a major player in the debate (okay, he's Cuban), just said today that the bill should make it harder for undocumented workers to become citizens rather than easier. That's really going to fix things: give those undocumented reason to stay in the shadows. Really smart. The shame is we're likely to pass such a bill. (After reading the article, I think it's unlikely it will get through the House. We'll see.)

It's like curing a headache by banging your head against the wall, and then standing around congratulating yourself for what you've accomplished and not noticing you're bleeding and your head feels worse.

But that's exactly what's happening in this country today. We have an unemployment problem and most economists agree that stimulus spending is called for. The best our Congress can do is press for contractionary policies, which would never pass either, so it's a stalemate. Well done!

We have a gun violence problem, and the solution is to wave your hand in the air and then congratulate each other for finally taking a stand. Not! (I admit I'm a little premature here, but my sense is gun reform will be so watered down that it'll be meaningless, and, what's worse, I anticipate it getting shut down in the House anyway). As Atrios would say, happy to be wrong!

These guys are comedians, so they have a right, almost a duty, to be funny. What's not so funny is that what they're describing is essentially how our Congress does business. Jeebus.

To demonstrate just how upside down the U.S. has become, consider that Barack Obama is accused of being a socialist, when in fact he is a centrist who's probably to the right of Richard Nixon on domestic issues, and he really hasn't budged on most national security issues from the George W. Bush positions, other than working to get out of Iraq and possibly pushing up the exit from Afghanistan. He's fine with the warrantless wiretapping and the Patriot Act and the evisceration of FISA. He has yet to close Guantanamo. Will he ever?

Admittedly, Obama is decidedly less bellicose than W., but how hard is that to pull off?

We're letting our once-vaunted public education system unravel. We leave our youngest children to the vagaries of a largely unregulated childcare system, when research shows that the biggest gains are to be made in the earliest years. What gives with us?

Let's not worry about these kids. Let's, ah, go blow up some country.

Americans don't do a very good job taking care of its children. Read about it here and here. What should we do about it? Paul Ryan has a plan. Ezra Klein analyzes:
Here is Paul Ryan’s path to a balanced budget in three sentences: He cuts deep into spending on health care for the poor and some combination of education, infrastructure, research, public-safety, and low-income programs. The Affordable Care Act’s Medicare cuts remain, but the military is spared, as is Social Security. There’s a vague individual tax reform plan that leaves only two tax brackets — 10 percent and 25 percent — and will require either huge, deficit-busting tax cuts or increasing taxes on poor and middle-class households, as well as a vague corporate tax reform plan that lowers the rate from 35 percent to 25 percent.
But the real point of Ryan’s budget is its ambitious reforms, not its savings. It turns Medicare into a voucher program, turns Medicaid, food stamps, and a host of other programs for the poor into block grants managed by the states, shrinks the federal role on priorities like infrastructure and education to a tiny fraction of its current level, and envisions an entirely new tax code that will do much less to encourage home buying and health insurance.
Yes, we are the richest country in the world, and we have turned ourselves upside down. Why?

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