Thursday, July 07, 2011 9:29 AM
As we near the end of the first week of the Minnesota* government shutdown and talks on the national stage continue in a countdown to August 2, a trend—both local and national—is bubbling to the surface. While one party continues to give concession after concession, the other party clings to a single economic factor that is rarely, outside of the party, touted as the most important among a myriad of economic factors. Taxes. While Democrats have gone against the wishes of many of the party’s far-left constituents and agreed to cuts in the name of balancing budgets, the Republican party refuses to thwart the extremists among them to reach anything that might actually be called a compromise.
In a scathing article in the New York TimesDavid Brooks takes on a Republican party that he sees as abnormal in its inability to seize an opportunity to “take advantage of this amazing moment” where “it is being offered the deal of the century: trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.”
He goes on:
But we can have no confidence that the Republicans will seize this opportunity. That’s because the Republican Party may no longer be a normal party. Over the past few years, it has been infected by a faction that is more of a psychological protest than a practical, governing alternative….
[T]o members of this movement, tax levels are everything. Members of this tendency have taken a small piece of economic policy and turned it into a sacred fixation. They are willing to cut education and research to preserve tax expenditures. Manufacturing employment is cratering even as output rises, but members of this movement somehow believe such problems can be addressed so long as they continue to worship their idol.
Writing for The Nation, Allison Kilkenny sees this as “the era of the one-sided compromise, where millionaires are taxed at rock bottom rates while the working poor have their pensions stolen from them.” “The national calls for ‘shared sacrifice’ during these times of austerity,” Kilkenny begins, “presuppose that giant corporations like Goldman Sachs and Exxon Mobil share the same amount of privilege and power as, say, your grandmother.” Yet, a somewhat insignificant tax increase among the wealthy (from 35 to 39 percent) is not, argues Kilkenny, in the same ballpark as “significantly gutting the social safety net for the poor majority.” Focusing on Governor Christie of New Jersey, Kilkenny writes of the “one-sided compromise”:
The state Democrats laid down during this vicious attack on the working poor in the spirit of bipartisanship, naturally. Sharing the sacrifice, and what not. Of course, then the Democrats were simply shocked—shocked!—that a Republican governor, who they had just sold out their own party in order to support, would then turn around and stab them in the back.
In another article, Kilkenny concludes, “it seems like state governments operate in one of two modes: paralysis or aggressive punishment of the poor.” Currently the Minnesota state government is operating within the former mode. Here, too, we find the one-sided compromise at play. As Doug Grow writes in MinnPost, “The depth of the problem Gov. Mark Dayton faces grows more evident each day: He cares about governing; the Republican majority he is trying to deal with cares only about winning.” (See “psychological protest” above.) In a side-by-side comparison of the Dayton and Republican-controlled legislature’s budgets from Minnesota Public Radio reporter Catherine Richert, we see mostly cuts and reductions in the “Common Ground” category, including the following: “Cut education department funding by 5%”; “Eliminate scholarships for high achieving, low-income students”; “Reduce grants for child protection and mental health services”; and “Cuts to job training funding.” (Emphasis added.) When we get to the Taxes row, the “Common Ground” column is left blank.
Despite the widely-reported notion that these government stalemates are a product of the people electing officials that fall into one of two camps—no-new-tax-Republicans or tax-and-spend-Democrats—it seems to me that that’s not the case at all. While Democratic leaders continue to disappoint the far-left among them (and not just on economic issues; see, too, the Afghan and Iraq wars, health care, Bradley Manning, et al.), Republican leaders refuse to put aside for a moment a few core beliefs in the interest of anything resembling an actual compromise. As Brooks writes, “The party is not being asked to raise marginal tax rates in a way that might pervert incentives. On the contrary, Republicans are merely being asked to close loopholes and eliminate tax expenditures that are themselves distortionary. This, as I say, is the mother of all no-brainers.” But since they need to remain steadfast for the most die hard among them, they won’t even entertain that much. And still, some see the exact opposite. The St. Paul Pioneer Press, in the days leading up to the Minnesota government shut down, wrote,
Rather than work out differences and sign off on large portions of the budget on which agreement is within reach, Dayton has as of this writing refused to get deals done and preserve operations in those parts of government. This is not compromise. This is hostage taking.
I’m not sure how you debate, much less compromise, in such an atmosphere. But it seems that if most economists say a balanced budget must come from a combination of spending cuts and new revenue, including increased taxes, then a party that simply says “no” to one of those two is not compromising, while the party that agrees to at least some from both avenues is closer to achieving what that word—compromise—actually means.
Of course, the fact that I can only write about this in terms of two parties is probably really at the heart of all of our state and national problems.
*Utne Reader is based in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Source: The New York Times, The Nation, MinnPost, Minnesota Public Radio, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Image by GovernorDayton, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 09, 2010 9:13 AM
For a woman who is one of the great modern symbols of writer’s block, Fran Lebowitz certainly has plenty to say. Her ongoing relevance speaks volumes about the influence of the corrosively funny essays Lebowitz wrote in the late ‘70s (collected in 1978’s Metropolitan Life and 1981’s Social Studies). An entire generation has come of age since those books established their author as the Baby Boomer’s clearest heir to Dorothy Parker, and the enduring appeal of Lebowitz now has as much to do with her ongoing battle with writer’s block as it does to anything she wrote 30 years ago.
Lebowitz has never really stopped talking, though, and the million-dollar question is how someone whose trenchant and seemingly effortless conversational style so closely resembles her voice as a writer could ever suffer from writer’s block. Judging from her frequent interviews and public appearances, however, Lebowitz doesn’t seem terribly eaten up by her publishing drought. And as Martin Scorsese’s new HBO documentary, Public Speaking, demonstrates, Lebowitz is as caustic, funny, and in tune with the weirdness (and aggravations) of the times as she ever was.
If nothing else, Scorsese deserves credit for shoving his subject back out into public, and the spate of interviews Lebowitz has given in conjunction with the film’s release have been a bonanza for longtime fans. Whether she’s talking about kids, pop culture, technology, or New York—the city with which she is inextricably linked—Lebowitz has a remarkable ability to give some fresh spin to everyone she talks with.
In a conversation with Bust’s Phoebe Magee, Lebowitz says, “I like to tell people what to think. I just don’t want to tell people things about myself. I also believe that I am the last person who knows the difference between think and feel. These are two different things. These days, everyone feels, and almost no one thinks.” And on the subject of her beloved New York:
What used to be called middle-class respectability looked like it was going to disappear, but it didn’t. It’s returned. It just returned in a different costume. If you do it in a loft instead of a split-level in the suburbs, it’s still the same. I’m not saying you shouldn’t be allowed to do it; I’m saying it’s suburban. This is why New York today seems suburban to me—all kids and babies in strollers. It’s 1950s domestic life. The sidewalks are the same size, but now you have twins and dogs….Are you under the impression that we need more New Yorkers? Does this place seem sparsely populated to you?
Source: Bust(article not available online), New York Observer, New York Magazine, New York Times
Wednesday, November 03, 2010 3:20 PM
Noting that consuming fake news through a website or newspaper is just not enough for some people, The Onion has decided to indulge cynical news junkies by branching out into television. The Onion News Network’s half-hour long Factzone is set to debut in early 2011 on the Independent Film Channel, where it will engage in its customary antics and spoofs in a setting similar to that of Anderson Cooper 360.
Paste picked up on the story and posted part of the show’s press release on their website:
With more attack satellites than any other network and nearly a million surveillance cameras in cities, homes, and high-level government offices across the nation, ONN’s FactZone is the nation’s number-one source for breaking news, screaming political arguments, and vital information on missing teenage Caucasian girls.
William Grahm, an executive producer of The Onion News Network, said during a phone interview with David Itzkoff of TheNew York Times, “It just seems to us CNN, Fox News and MSNBC are already doing such great comedy out there, without a whole lot of competition….We thought it was about time that someone really gave them a run for their money.”
Is The Onion just capitalizing on the success of fellow sovereigns of satire Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? It doesn’t really matter, as the media world could probably do with more levity. However, while The Daily Show and The Colbert Report appear on basic cable, Factzone will be less accessible to prospective viewers; unless you have the super-mega-grand cable package that includes IFC, you're out of luck.
Source: Paste, The New York Times
Thursday, October 30, 2008 11:13 AM
The field of institutions and public figures endorsing Barack Obama is getting really crowded, and it’s a motley assortment. Some fairly unlikely personalities are in the tank, including Christopher Buckley, Christopher Hitchens and Colin Powell, as well as conservative publications like the Record.
Spend a few minutes perusing the Wikipedia page listing Obama’s endorsements, and you might visualize a rowdy cocktail party whose guest list includes editors from nearly every major U.S. newspaper (including the Chicago Tribune, marking its first endorsement of a Democratic presidential candidate in its 161-year history); hundreds of current and former governors, mayors, and legislators; CEOs, actors, rock stars, and authors; and even the plumbers’ union (presumably Joe the Plumber was not consulted since, well, he’s not a plumber).
The New Yorker provided a characteristically thorough endorsement of Obama. The New York Times argues for the relevance of newspaper endorsements. And there’s a nifty map illustrating the distribution of this year’s newspaper endorsements and comparing it with 2004’s.
Several cast members of HBO's The Wire are stumping for Obama. (Gbenga Akinnagbe, if he’s half as terrifying as the drug lieutenant he played on the series, will make a very compelling canvasser). An absolutely fabulous coterie of fashion designers has pledged allegiance. And ostensibly apolitical publications have weighed in, most recently the science magazine Seed.
Leading the ironic-endorsement pack is onetime McCain campaign advisor Charles Fried, whose decision to back Obama is partially due to McCain’s “choice of Sarah Palin at a time of deep national crisis” (via Talking Points Memo).
All of which begs the question: Who’s in poor old John McCain’s corner? The list of newspapers endorsing him is considerably shorter than Obama’s. There’s Steve Forbes, of course. And then there’s the small faction of Hollywood conservatives (say it ain’t so, Gary Sinise!).
Image courtesy of Philip (Flip) Kromer, licensed under Creative Commons.
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