7/27/2011 12:51:41 PM
Who would have thought that one of the greatest labor victories this year would come from professional sports players? While attacks on organized labor continue in places like Wisconsin and Ohio, the National Football League players’ union has reached an agreement with owners that actually can be counted as a win for workers—in this case, NFL players—by improving health and safety standards.
Some of the statistics on player health are shocking. In a new documentary, Not Just A Game, Utne Visionary, radio host, and Nation contributor Dave Zirin highlights some of the scarier ones, including this: football players die an average of twenty years earlier than the general population. Even more shocking may be the NFL’s attempt, until very recently, to deny links between the extremely violent sport and head injuries. In the clip below, Zirin tells a story about a congressperson comparing an NFL doctor who denied this connection to doctors who previously denied the fact that cigarettes had anything to do with lung cancer. To any logical person, both seem impossible to deny.
Zirin also discusses the NBA lockout and the victory for the Japanese women’s soccer team in the World Cup.
Related: In addition to being named an
Utne Reader Visionary
, Zirin also recently wrote a piece for us about
patriotism and the militarization of American sports
Source: The Nation, Democracy Now!
7/26/2011 1:01:45 PM
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch
When my old gang and I were 14 or 15 years old, many centuries ago, we yearned for immortality in the fiery wreck of a bitchin' '40 Ford or '57 Chevy. Our J.K. Rowling was Henry Felsen, the ex-Marine who wrote the bestselling masterpieces Hot Rod (1950), Street Rod (1953), and Crash Club (1958).
Officially, his books -- highly praised by the National Safety Council -- were deterrents, meant to scare my generation straight with huge dollops of teenage gore. In fact, he was our asphalt Homer, exalting doomed teenage heroes and inviting us to emulate their legend.
One of his books ends with an apocalyptic collision at a crossroads that more or less wipes out the entire graduating class of a small Iowa town. We loved this passage so much that we used to read it aloud to each other.
It's hard not to think of the great Felsen, who died in 1995, while browsing the business pages these days. There, after all, are the Tea Party Republicans, accelerator punched to the floor, grinning like demons as they approach Deadman’s Curve. (John Boehner and David Brooks, in the back seat, are of course screaming in fear.)
The Felsen analogy seems even stronger when you leave local turf for a global view. From the air, where those Iowa cornstalks don’t conceal the pattern of blind convergence, the world economic situation looks distinctly like a crash waiting to happen. From three directions, the United States, the European Union, and China are blindly speeding toward the same intersection. The question is: Will anyone survive to attend the prom?
Shaking the Three Pillars of McWorld
Let me reprise the obvious, but seldom discussed. Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price. (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)
As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit. The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy until joblessness is in teenage digits and Lady Gaga is singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Lest we forget, we also live in a globalized economy where Americans are consumers of the last resort and the dollar is still the safe haven for the planet’s hoarded surplus value. The new recession that the Republicans are engineering with such impunity will instantly put into doubt all three pillars of McWorld, each already shakier than generally imagined: American consumption, European stability, and Chinese growth.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia. One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter. (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, and India -- have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)
Boardwalk Empire Times 160
China, of course, now props up the world, but the question is: For how much longer? Officially, the People’s Republic of China is in the midst of an epochal transition from an export-based to a consumer-based economy. The ultimate goal of which is not only to turn the average Chinese into a suburban motorist, but also to break the perverse dependency that ties that country’s growth to an American trade deficit Beijing must, in turn, finance in order to keep the Yuan from appreciating.
Unfortunately for the Chinese, and possibly the world, that country’s planned consumer boom is quickly morphing into a dangerous real-estate bubble. China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall. The result has been an orgy of over-construction.
Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.
In effect, a shadow banking system has arisen with big banks moving loans off their balance sheets into phony trust companies and thus evading official caps on total lending. Last week, Moody’s Business Service reported that the Chinese banking system was concealing one-half-trillion dollars in problematic loans, mainly for municipal vanity projects. Another rating service warned that non-performing loans could constitute as much as 30% of bank portfolios.
Real-estate speculation, meanwhile, is vacuuming up domestic savings as urban families, faced with soaring home values, rush to invest in property before they are priced out of the market. (Sound familiar?) According to Business Week, residential housing investment now accounts for 9% of the gross domestic product, up from only 3.4% in 2003.
So, will Chengdu become the next Orlando and China Construction Bank the next Lehman Brothers? Odd, the credulity of so many otherwise conservative pundits, who have bought into the idea that the Chinese Communist leadership has discovered the law of perpetual motion, creating a market economy immune to business cycles or speculative manias.
If China has a hard landing, it will also break the bones of leading suppliers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia. Japan, already mired in recession after triple mega-disasters, is acutely sensitive to further shocks from its principal markets. And the Arab Spring may turn to winter if new governments cannot grow employment or contain the inflation of food prices.
As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending -- all tangled metal and young bodies.
Mike Davis teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of
Planet of Slums
, among many other works. He’s currently writing a book about employment, global warming, and urban reconstruction for Metropolitan Books. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Mike Davis
[Note for Readers: A sample passage from Henry Felsen’s 1950 novel Hot Rod:
"The crushed pile of twisted metal that had once been My-Son-Ralph's Chevy was on its back in the ditch, its wheels up like paws of a dead dog. Two of the wheels were smashed, and two were turning slowly. Something that looked like a limp, ripped-open bag of laundry hung halfway out of a rear window. That was Marge.
"The motor of Ralph's car had been driven back through the frame of the car, and its weight had made a fatal spear of the steering column. Somewhere in the mashed tangle of metal, wood and torn upholstery was Ralph. And deeper yet in the pile of mangled steel, wedged in between jagged sheet steel on one side, and red hot metal on the other, was what had been the shapely black head and dainty face of LaVerne.
"Walt's car had spun around after being hit, and had rolled over and along the highway. It had left a trail of shattered glass, metal, and dark, motionless shapes that had been broken open like paper bags before they rolled to a stop. These had been Walt's laughing passengers. Pinned inside his wrecked car, beyond knowing that battery acid ran in his eyes, lay Walt Thomas. Somehow the lower half of his body had been twisted completely around, and hung by a shred of skin."]
Image by Dawidl, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/20/2011 12:43:43 PM
It’s a telling sign of our time when it’s a struggle to actually talk about the value of things and not just the price they are supposedly worth. When we struggle to discuss what actually makes something worth its weight in gold, so to speak, and not some speculative number put on it. Does it keep up safe from the elements? Does it sate our hunger? Quench our thirst? Educate our children? These are what actually make things worthwhile, but all we talk about are what those things cost, which is too often defined by, at best, speculation and at worst, deceit.
This is the thrust behind David Korten’s idea of phantom wealth and real wealth. (I’ve written previously about Korten here and here.) In a recent blog post at YES! Magazine Korten writes about a new report from the New Economy Working Group (NEWGroup) called How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule. In that post Korten takes on the malfeasance of Wall Street and corporations: “Despite the financial crash of 2008, the financial assets of America’s billionaires and the idle cash of the most profitable corporations are now at historic highs.” The report continues the attack:
The 2008 financial crash was a direct and inevitable consequence of a social engineering experiment conducted by Wall Street interests that allowed Wall Street financial institutions to consolidate their control of the creation and allocation of money beyond the reach of public accountability. The priority of the money system shifted from funding real investment for building community wealth to funding financial games designed solely to enrich Wall Street without the burden of producing anything of real value.
The report offers a six-part agenda for leading us back to a world where the real value of things comes to the forefront. The suggestions include, “Break[ing] up the mega-banks and implement[ing] tax and regulatory policies that favor community financial institutions” and “Establish[ing] state-owned partnership banks in each of the 50 states, patterned after the Bank of North Dakota.”
It’s hard to see something like this actually working right now, given the repulsion so many in Congress feel toward the government they make up—and the success they’ve had in turning that repulsion into votes. Still, it’s nice to see an approach that stems from actual values instead of made-up ones.
Source: YES! Magazine, How to Liberate America from Wall Street Rule
Image by aflcio, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/11/2011 5:22:42 PM
In his latest column for The Nation author Dave Zirin takes Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig to task for his refusal to move this year’s All-Star Game out of Arizona in response to that state’s “darkly punitive racial profiling law SB 1070.” MLB, Zirin points out, is, more than any other major professional sport in the U.S., reliant on Latino American players, including some of the game’s biggest names. Zirin believes that Selig is more interested in grandstanding about past civil-rights victories in the sport than going to bat for current ones:
Major League Baseball has prided itself—and marketed itself—on historically being more than just a game. Bud Selig, in particular, is a man, who publicly venerates the game's civil rights tradition. Jackie Robinson's number is retired and visible in every park and the great Roberto Clemente in death has become a true baseball saint. But Selig's inaction makes his tributes to the past look as hollow as Sammy Sosa's old bat….
Yes, Bud Selig would undoubtedly have received an avalanche of criticism if he had moved the game. That’s what it means to actually sacrifice something for the sake of the civil rights he claims to hold so dear. Instead, his legacy will bear another blot, joining the steroid boom, the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, and the gouging of state economies with tax-payer funded stadiums.
UPDATED: Read Zirin's article, "Balls and Stripes: The late Pat Tillman, patriotism, and the militarization of American sports," in the current issue of Utne Reader.
Source: The Nation
Image by Ken Lund, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/11/2011 12:19:43 PM
Last week I wrote a post about what Alison Kilkenny at The Nation has called “the era of the one-sided compromise,” questioning whether the Republican party, both at the state and national levels, could actually compromise on a budget deal that included some sort of new tax revenue. My conclusion was no, they wouldn’t be able to. Which is exactly what played out over the weekend, as Jonathan Cohn writes at The New Republic:
As you have probably heard by now, House Speaker John Boehner on Saturday evening informed President Obama that he was no longer interested in pursuing a “grand bargain” on deficit reduction. It was a major turning point in the debate. For the past week, Obama has made clear that he hoped to use ongoing negotiations over the debt ceiling to put in place a massive, potentially historic deal to reorder the nation’s spending priorities – a deal that would reduce deficits by as much as $4 trillion cumulatively over the next decade.
This abandonment by Boehner has left Cohn, like so many of us, wondering, “Does anything matter to Republicans more than protecting tax cuts for the very wealthy?” Cohn points out that any “grand bargain” that could have been reached as a result of the current debate would “reflect Republican priorities far more than Democratic ones,” including cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. In other words, the stuff that matters to one side would be represented far more than the stuff that matters to the other. Still, the Republicans can’t stomach the idea of the Bush-era tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest expiring next year.
Cohn sees Boehner’s willingness to negotiate as genuine and writes, “For what it's worth, I’ve actually gained some respect for Boehner…[he] was genuinely interested in negotiating a deal even if that meant agreeing to some compromises, albeit pretty modest ones from my perspective.” However, he acknowledges that Boehner’s not really in charge of the House Republican caucus. “The lunatics are,” he writes. “And it looks like they’ve won.”
And while the consensus seems to be shifting somewhat that the Republicans’ inability to touch their no-new-taxes sacred cow is actually the culprit for negotiations breaking down, Jonathan Chait recognizes a failure on the part of the media in reporting on this issue:
The other thing to add is that this demonstrates a fact that media centrists have failed to grasp for months: the impediment to a balanced (or even heavily rightward-tilting) deficit plan isn't "both parties." It's Republicans. Democrats may not like the idea of cutting entitlements, but their objections don't come close to matching the GOP's theological opposition to tax increases.
Source: The New Republic
Image by Enter The Story, licensed under Creative Commons.
7/8/2011 10:23:21 AM
This article was originally published at
We still don’t know if he did it or not, but if Bradley Manning, the 24-year-old Army private from Oklahoma, actually supplied WikiLeaks with its choicest material -- the Iraq War logs, the Afghan War logs, and the State Department cables -- which startled and riveted the world, then he deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom instead of a jail cell at Fort Leavenworth.
President Obama recently gave one of those medals to retiring Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who managed the two bloody, disastrous wars about which the WikiLeaks-released documents revealed so much. Is he really more deserving than the young private who, after almost ten years of mayhem and catastrophe, gave Americans -- and the world -- a far fuller sense of what our government is actually doing abroad?
Bradley Manning, awaiting a court martial in December, faces the prospect of long years in prison. He is charged with violating the Espionage Act of 1917. He has put his sanity and his freedom on the line so that Americans might know what our government has done -- and is still doing -- globally. He has blown the whistle on criminalviolations of American military law. He has exposed our secretive government’s pathological over-classification of important public documents.
Here are four compelling reasons why, if he did what the government accuses him of doing, he deserves that medal, not jail time.
1: At great personal cost, Bradley Manning has given our foreign policy elite the public supervision it so badly needs.
In the past 10 years, American statecraft has moved from calamity to catastrophe, laying waste to other nations while never failing to damage our own national interests. Do we even need to be reminded that our self-defeating response to 9/11 in Iraq and Afghanistan (and Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia) has killed roughly 225,000 civilians and 6,000 American soldiers, while costing our country more than $3.2 trillion? We are hemorrhaging blood and money. Few outside Washington would argue that any of this is making America safer.
An employee who screwed up this badly would either be fired on the spot or put under heavy supervision. Downsizing our entire foreign policy establishment is not an option. However, the website WikiLeaks has at least tried to make public scrutiny of our self-destructive statesmen and -women a reality by exposing their work to ordinary citizens.
Consider our invasion of Iraq, a war based on distortions, government secrecy, and the complaisant failure of our major media to ask the important questions. But what if someone like Bradley Manning had provided the press with the necessary government documents, which would have made so much self-evident in the months before the war began? Might this not have prevented disaster? We’ll never know, of course, but could additional public scrutiny have been salutary under the circumstances?
Thanks to Bradley Manning’s alleged disclosures, we do have a sense of what did happen afterwards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and just how the U.S. operates in the world. Thanks to those disclosures, we now know just how Washington leaned on the Vatican to quell opposition to the Iraq War and just how it pressured the Germans to prevent them from prosecuting CIA agents who kidnapped an innocent man and shipped him off to be tortured abroad.
As our foreign policy threatens to careen into yet more disasters in Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, and Libya, we can only hope that more whistleblowers will follow the alleged example of Bradley Manning and release vital public documents before it’s too late. A foreign policy based on secrets and spin has manifestly failed us. In a democracy, the workings of our government should not be shrouded in an opaque cloud of secrecy. For bringing us the truth, for breaking the seal on that self-protective policy of secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
2: Knowledge is powerful. The
WikiLeaks disclosures have helped spark democratic revolutions and reforms across the Middle East, accomplishing what Operation Iraqi Freedom never could.
Wasn’t it American policy to spread democracy in the Middle East, to extend our freedom to others, as both recent American presidents have insisted?
No single American has done more to help further this goal than Pfc. Bradley Manning. The chain reaction of democratic protests and uprisings that has swept Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Yemen, and even in a modest way Iraq, all began in Tunisia, where leaked U.S. State Department cables about the staggering corruption of the ruling Ben Ali dynasty helped trigger the rebellion. In all cases, these societies were smoldering with longstanding grievances against oppressive, incompetent governments and economies stifled by cronyism. The revelations from the WikiLeaks State Department documents played a widely acknowledged role in sparking these pro-democracy uprisings.
In Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain, and Yemen, the people’s revolts under way have occurred despite U.S. support for their autocratic rulers. In each of these nations, in fact, we bankrolled the dictators, while helping to arm and train their militaries. The alliance with Mubarak’s autocratic state cost the U.S. more than $60 billion and did nothing for American security -- other than inspire terrorist blowback from radicalized Egyptians like Mohammad Atta and Ayman al-Zawahiri.
Even if U.S. policy was firmly on the wrong side of things, we should be proud that at least one American -- Bradley Manning -- was on the right side. If indeed he gave those documents to WikiLeaks, then he played a catalytic role in bringing about the Arab Spring, something neither Barack Obama nor former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (that recent surprise recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom) could claim. Perhaps once the Egyptians consolidate their democracy, they, too, will award Manning their equivalent of such a medal.
Bradley Manning has exposed the pathological over-classification of America’s public documents.
“Secrecy is for losers,” as the late Senator and United Nations Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say. If this is indeed the case, it would be hard to find a bigger loser than the U.S. government.
How pathological is our government’s addiction to secrecy? In June, the National Security Agency declassified documents from 1809, while the Department of Defense only last month declassified the Pentagon Papers, publicly available in book form these last four decades. Our government is only just now finishing its declassification of documents relating to World War I.
This would be ridiculous if it weren’t tragic. Ask the historians. Barton J. Bernstein, professor emeritus of history at Stanford University and a founder of its international relations program, describes the government’s classification of foreign-policy documents as “bizarre, arbitrary, and nonsensical.” George Herring, professor emeritus at the University of Kentucky and author of the encyclopedic From Colony to Superpower: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy, has chronicled how his delight at being appointed to a CIA advisory panel on declassification turned to disgust once he realized that he was being used as window dressing by an agency with no intention of opening its records, no matter how important or how old, to public scrutiny.
Any historian worth his salt would warn us that such over-classification is a leading cause of national amnesia and repetitive war disorder. If a society like ours doesn’t know its own history, it becomes the great power equivalent of a itinerant amnesiac, not knowing what it did yesterday or where it will end up tomorrow. Right now, classification is the disease of Washington, secrecy its mania, and dementia its end point. As an ostensibly democratic nation, we, its citizens, risk such ignorance at our national peril.
President Obama came into office promising a “sunshine” policy for his administration while singing the praises of whistleblowers. He has since launched the fiercest campaign against whistleblowers the republic has ever seen, and further plunged our foreign policy into the shadows. Challenging the classification of each tightly guarded document is, however, impossible. No organization has the resources to fight this fight, nor would they be likely to win right now. Absent a radical change in our government’s diplomatic and military bureaucracies, massive over-classification will only continue.
If we hope to know what our government is actually doing in our name globally, we need massive leaks from insider whistleblowers to journalists who can then sort out what we need to know, given that the government won’t. This, in fact, has been the modus operandi of WikiLeaks. Our whistleblower protection laws urgently need to catch up to this state of affairs, and though we are hardly there yet, Bradley Manning helped take us part of the way. He did what Barack Obama swore he would do on coming into office. For striking a blow against our government’s fanatical insistence on covering its mistakes and errors with blanket secrecy, Bradley Manning deserves not punishment, but the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
At immense personal cost,
Manning has upheld a great American tradition of transparency in statecraft and for that he should be an American hero, not an American felon.
Bradley Manning is only the latest in a long line of whistleblowers in and out of uniform who have risked everything to put our country back on the right path.
Take Daniel Ellsberg, leaker of the Pentagon Papers, a Pentagon-commissioned secret history of the Vietnam War and the official lies and distortions that the government used to sell it. Many of the documents it included were classed at a much higher security clearance than anything Bradley Manning is accused of releasing -- and yet Ellsberg was not convicted of a single crime and became a national hero.
Given the era when all this went down, it’s forgivable to assume that Ellsberg must have been a hippie who somehow sneaked into the Pentagon archives, beads and patchouli trailing behind him. What many no longer realize is that Ellsberg had been a model U.S. Marine. First in his class at officer training school at Quantico, he deferred graduate school at Harvard to remain on active duty in the Marine Corps. Ellsberg saw his high-risk exposure of the disastrous and deceitful nature of the Vietnam War as fully consonant with his long career of patriotic service in and out of uniform.
And Ellsberg is hardly alone. Ask Lt. Colonel (ret.) Darrel Vandeveld. Or Tom Drake, formerly of the National Security Agency.
Transparency in statecraft was not invented last week by WikiLeaks creator Julian Assange. It is a longstanding American tradition. James Madison put the matter succinctly: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both.”
A 1960 Congressional Committee on Government Operations report caught the same spirit: “Secrecy -- the first refuge of incompetents -- must be at a bare minimum in a democratic society… Those elected or appointed to positions of executive authority must recognize that government, in a democracy, cannot be wiser than the people.” John F. Kennedy made the same point in 1961: “The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society.” Hugo Black, great Alabaman justice of the twentieth-century Supreme Court had this to say: “The guarding of military and diplomatic secrets at the expense of informed representative government provides no real security for our Republic.” And the first of World-War-I-era president Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points couldn’t have been more explicit: “Open covenants of peace, openly arrived at, after which there shall be no private international understandings of any kind but diplomacy shall proceed always frankly and in the public view.”
We need to know what our government’s commitments are, as our foreign policy elites have clearly demonstrated they cannot be left to their own devices. Based on the last decade of carnage and folly, without public debate -- and aggressive media investigations -- we have every reason to expect more of the same.
If there’s anything to learn from that decade, it’s that government secrecy and lies come at a very high price in blood and money. Thanks to the whistleblowing revelations attributed to Bradley Manning, we at least have a far clearer picture of the problems we face in trying to supervise our own government. If he was the one responsible for the WikiLeaks revelations, then for his gift to the republic, purchased at great price, he deserves not prison, but a Presidential Medal of Freedom and the heartfelt gratitude of his country.
Chase Madar is a lawyer in New York and a frequent contributor to the London Review of Books, the American Conservative magazine, CounterPunch.org, and Le Monde Diplomatique. His next book, The Passion of Bradley Manning, will be published by O/R Books this fall. He is covering the Bradley Manning case and trial for TomDispatch.com. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Madar discusses the Manning case, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Chase Madar
7/7/2011 9:29:32 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.
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