Sunday, October 31, 2010

Afraid or Not Here it Comes

With America's best minds warning of the impact of the Republican wave, maybe we ought to be afraid, but I guarantee you nobody is, not even on Halloween. As Jon Stewart pointed out in his Rally for Sanity, Americans know how to work together, even if the political system is essentially and perhaps irretrievably broken.
That's why I was surprised at Paul Krugman for finishing off his latest editorial with the dire warning. "Be afraid. Be very afraid." He predicts, based on recent comments by Republican leader Mitch McConnell, that the next years will bring even worse impasse and economic misery as the Republicans aim to wrest control of the White House with a damn the torpedoes policy on any legislative progress dealing with our fundamental problems. It could be that this is the calculation Republicans will make. After all, they must ask themselves, which of the two parties seems to benefit the most from a hinterland of disaffected, ignorant and angry Americans, prone to manipulation and fear-mongering?
But I don't think they will, and that is because of the most important rule of American politics: the economy, stupid, to paraphrase James Carville. If we continue to tank or even stagnate in terms of middle class incomes and expectations, the GOP will have to share at least a portion of the blame in the following electoral cycle. They would be slitting their own throats to continue to play the obstructionist game for the next two years with a majority in any of the two legislative chambers.
There are ideological impasses that recent history teaches us will be impossible for the Republicans in power to overcome, such as what to do with our energy policy. But even here the beauty of our system, with its many layered checks and balances, comes to light. In the absence of any federal action, states are already banding together into regional alliances, some of them cutting across national boundaries, such as the Northeast's Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, to pledge measures to cut carbon emissions and increase the impact of energy efficiency and renewables. The infrastructure investments set up by the stimulus bill will continue to play out over the next two years, even with their relatively limited impact, providing the seeds of new manufacturing and business growth, enough to get us off our backsides and working again. And, sure, Republicans and Democrats will clash on how to improve the educational system and basic infrastructure, but nobody will argue for a hands off approach here, except the most rabidly libertarian Tea Party types.
Krugman is a Nobel laureate, and knows more than anybody of the inner workings of the American economy, but I think he is resorting to unnecessary fear-mongering. After all, most Americans are just trying to do the right thing, and if it seems that their priority is voting Republican in order to put a dent in our deficit because they've chosen to be amnesiac about the recent past, well the next time around they might follow another byzantine path to make a different choice that favors the left and its agenda. That's the crazy way we set things up and it's worked this long. There is a natural corrective mechanism. It's called the vote. No reason to fear, in my humble opinion.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Riding to Nancy Pelosi's Rescue

With a little over a week until these next elections, I've been hyped and scared to death by party activists predicting the end of civilization as we know it unless they make their fundraising deadlines by midnight tonight. I know this is going to sound heretical, but the horse race has lost its appeal to me. The prospects of real change taking place in our nation's capital just seem to have little or nothing to do with who controls the legislative chambers. If Obama, elected with 53 percent of the popular vote and controlling both chambers of Congress was powerless to enact measures on some of his cherished campaign issues, and was left bloodied and bowed by the marathon health reform bill, what will the next two years bring that's any different if the Democrats manage to hold onto their majorities, which seems unlikely at this point? The truth is the Democrats are ineffective at moving progressive reforms because the party is divided, and a sizeable chunk of the Democrats in the House are Southern conservatives who vote with the Republicans nine times out of ten. Sometimes I think the best thing that could happen is the Republicans getting control of one or both chambers and then being forced to work with Obama in a governing coalition to actually pass some legislation dealing with our problems. I predict we would see a lot less climate change denial, obstructionism on financial sector reform and unwillingness to live with most of the health care package, and instead a willingness to craft some compromises on the issues if the Republicans came to power. I can't believe they would be irresponsible enough to be beholden to the more extreme fringes of their Tea Party base.
On the other hand, wouldn't it be great to believe in the change again? Never mind the record of corruption, the control exerted by the financial sector on both parties. If the Dems could hold the line and find a way to get around the filibuster, might we finally get some climate change legislation? I'm not even talking cap and trade anymore, but some significant renewable portfolio standards on the federal level, some subsidies for research, high voltage transmission lines and mass transit, would go a long way with restoring my faith in our ability to control our destiny. If only our democracy were less messy. But that would be Scandinavia and boring. So I'll be making phone calls to get out the vote next weekend and might even dip into the credit card again before midnight. Hold on there, Nancy!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

George Will Takes a Cheap Shot Again

They saw the whites of our eyes and fired the first shot, as we knew they would. And it's not surprising that the sniper of choice was the professor, the amiable and shuffling George Will, who is to public opinion what the aw, shucks faux folksiness of Ronald Reagan was to politics: poison.
When Bill McKibben's entourage, bearing the Jimmy Carter solar panels that had been archived at Unity College in Maine, was rebuffed at the White House earlier this fall, one could easily see the political calculus that was driving Obama's staff. Carter, in the public's mind, is the icon for bumbling, ineffective do-goodism, and his calls for energy conservation, turning down our thermostats and wearing cardigan sweaters, along with the clunky White House solar panels, still function as a hound dog whistle call to the right. Ronald Reagan was applauded for taking them down as a disgusting leftist aberration. So no solar panels on the White House roof as of yet, said Barack. But then, veering back to the liberal base once McKibben had safely retreated back to New England and out of the headlines in the convoy of VW vans, our President announced he would indeed install solar panels on the White House as a symbol of the green energy and green jobs revolution that he has touted since day one as the top priority of his administration.
In his Washington Post column today, Will spoofs the move as a sign of the return of 1970s' nanny state over-reach, like the 55 mph speed limit, that led to public revulsion and the rise of the new Republican party under Ronald Reagan. He is right, of course, there is a similar backlash going on today. No-one could question the reality of what George Soros has called the "avalanche" of right-wing American anger, however misguided and ignorant of causes, at the health care reform bill and the stimulus package. But he is wrong to believe that the impulse to reform lies in some noblesse oblige desire to beautify the American way of life. There is genuine suffering when 40 million Americans are forced to go without health care, not to mention the economic distress it causes. There is surely a genuine need to wean ourselves from foreign oil, as even George Bush acknowledged. These are not liberal delusions, these are issues that need to be addressed, and a deregulatory, laissez faire approach to government intervention in the public sectors leaves us without a choice - witness the financial sector meltdown. It is too easy, not to mention satisfying to the ego, to rely on George Will's kind of ideological purity. It is the ideology of money, the Reaganite fixation on the bottom line as the only true metric. It is the ideology behind the Supreme Court's Citizen United decision, which conflates citizens with corporations when it extends to these the rights of free speech and has unleashed a barrage of shadowy advertising on this latest midterm election. If this corruption is triumphant in our body politic, it will also lead to a backlash of cleansing.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Toxic Sludge Floods the Truth

A wall of toxic sludge bursts down your streets, flooding homes and killing with its chemical stew of industrial waste. Another B movie plot warning of the perils of pollution? No, just another nightmare scenario from the pages of yesterday's newspapers. The sludge, which burst from its aluminum plant reservoir in Hungary on Monday, overtaking seven villages and flooding 40 square kilometers, is now threatening Europe's Danube River, according to officials. Cleanup will take at least a year. 
The Danube, one of the jewels of the Old World, has a name "from Celtic (Gaulish). It is one of a number of river names derived from a Indo-European word *dānu, apparently a term for "river", but possibly also of a primeval cosmic river, and of a river goddess (see Danu (Asura)), perhaps from a root *dā "to flow/wift, rapid, violent, undisciplined," according to Wikipedia.
Yet another massive slap to the face of our mother planet. We seem to be administering these on a monthly basis. The almost instinctual need for governments to cover-up from ourselves the awful consequences of our collective irresponsibility is a sign of the great shame we are under, but of course also only perpetuates it and brings greater problems to those in power. The Obama administration has not escaped this curse of authority, as reports from independent government investigators show that initial communication about the Gulf oil spill deliberately underplayed the worst case scenarios. Let us hope that European officials can hold themselves to a higher standard. The ten nations that share the Danube River watershed will presumably be on the lookout for hogwash concerning the fate of the sludge.
In the meantime, back in the US, so many people are fed up with the broken state of the political system and the harried lifestyle bred by America's love affair with laissez faire capitalism, that they are ready to vote anyone in power out of office, simply as a protest. Polling experts now are thinking that the pattern in the last several midterm elections of the incumbent party losing seats has little to do with the issues and more to do with a general sense of dissatisfaction with the state of the country. Voters just want to "throw the bums out" no matter what they say they stand for. Many are looking for a third party to speak truth to the voters and break the Washington gridlock that they see as threatening our global preeminence, much like the Roman Empire was undermined by its inability to reform. Call me a cynic, but we've been down that road before with Ralph and got nowhere. Truth is not enough. There has to be a sea-change.