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Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

Really?!

Apparently now it’s President Obama’s fault that there wasn’t an “orderly transition” in Iraq??? Or, so says the GOP.  Never mind that the first few orders given by Paul Bremer after the fall of Baghdad in 2003 virtually guaranteed the instability that resulted.  Let us not forget that Bremer totally disbanded the existing political and security institutions.  He fired the entire bureaucracy, making certain that all knowledge of how things worked disappeared.  And he disbanded the entire military and police forces, putting thousands of trained people out of work.  And we were surprised that an insurgency developed???

You can spin history all you want, but you can’t change the facts.  Epic FAIL!

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The situation at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan seems to be more dire as time goes on.  Not only does the news about the extent of damage and the potential for further radiation releases continue to escalate, but now we’re hearing that TEPCO, the utility company, vastly underestimated the potential for the very sort of devastating tsunami that caused the cascade of events.

It’s no wonder that the utility doesn’t seem to know how to solve the cooling problem.  I’m not certain that it is “solvable” in the conventional sense of the term.  Four reactors in trouble, along with several spent fuel cooling ponds.  There is concern of breaches to the ponds, meaning that water will need to be added continually — possibly for years until the spent fuel has cooled enough to be transferred to dry cask storage or eventual reprocessing or permanent storage.  And there is concern that at least one of the reactor containment vessels may have cracked.  Both problems make it almost impossible to contain the radiation, and we’ve seen levels up to 100,000 times normal in parts of the plant.  Elevated radiation levels, while still too low to cause immediate risk to human health, have been detected thousands of miles from the crippled plant.

It’s not surprising that people are wrestling with the advisability of increased use of nuclear energy here at home, in addition to the fact that most of our nuclear power stations are nearing or even beyond their design life.

No form of energy production is without risk.  That goes without saying.  But what is needed is an open and honest conversation  about risks, and about life cycle costs of the various forms of energy we currently use, including renewable sources.  We need to know the per megawatt cost of the entire life cycle — licensing, construction, operation, maintenance, fuel costs, decommissioning/dismantlement of the plants.  We also need to know and to understand the costs of rendering safe any  waste products of each energy source.  And we need that information for all types of electric generation — hydro, geothermal, solar, wind, natural gas, coal, petroleum and nuclear.  And finally, we need to know all the ways in which government subsidizes various forms of energy generation and the ways in which government guarantees against losses that might be incurred by investors or insurers in the event of a failure somewhere in the generating process.

It is only in knowing all of the above information and being able to compare one energy source’s costs and risks against the others that we truly can understand what is at stake.  We know that petroleum is a finite resource.  When it will run out can be open to debate, but it will eventually run out.  Having an informed conversation about the uses of petroleum products (beyond burning them to generate electricity and power our vehicles) is essential.  And it is equally essential to expand that conversation to the point that we recognize that not all petroleum was created equal.  The oil that comes from some locations burns cleaner than that from other locations.  And it’s not equal in terms of the cost of extraction.

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During the campaign leading up to the midterm elections, the GOP hammered the Democrats on the issue of jobs.  Yet, the first order of business when the GOP-led House began its session was to repeal the Affordable Care Act.  The repeal effort is loaded with irony, being almost exclusively a symbolic act that has no chance of succeeding through the Senate and surviving the inevitable presidential veto.  Contrary to GOP claims (and the title of the bill) that health care reform is a job-killer, it seems far more likely to be a job creator — mostly jobs in the private sector.  I enumerated some of that in my previous post, and while the numbers I suggested may have been inflated, I didn’t mention the new jobs in the health care sector itself that would be created.

The very next bill the House GOP is taking up is also largely if not totally symbolic: a permanent ban on Federal funds being used for abortion services.  Speaker Boehner and the GOP seem to have overlooked the Hyde Bill, which does prevent Federal funds to be used for abortions.  And the dreaded “Obamacare” act also contains provisions that ensure that no Federal funds will be used for abortions.  And this bill, as well as the health care repeal bill accomplishes nothing to create jobs and is more sound and fury, signifying only a sop to the GOP base.

Somewhere after they finish the symbolic moves, the GOP has signaled that they’re going to attack the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gases.  And, not surprisingly, they’re pointing to the “job-killing” aspects of regulations they don’t like.  Actually, it’s more like regulations the oil industry doesn’t like.  The truth of the matter is that moving to alternative forms of energy creates jobs.  Yes, there will be some jobs that will be phased out — jobs in the petroleum industry.  But that will happen over decades as the supply of petroleum on the planet is exhausted.  And the sooner we can begin a shift to non-petroleum-based energy, the longer the petroleum will last, along with the jobs in that industry.  Meanwhile, thousands of new jobs will be created — many more than will likely be lost.  That doesn’t sound like a job-killing idea.

Mr. Speaker, when are you actually going to do something toward creating jobs — something other than constantly using the phrase “job killing” when describing anything that might actually move the country forward?

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That seems to be the rationale of people like Glen Beck and Sarah Palin.  Both have chosen to respond to criticism that perhaps their political rhetoric has contributed to the vitriolic tone of our discourse by claiming that they are just doing what the other side has done.

Let me put my “mom hat” on for just a minute.  Since when do two wrongs make a right?  Blaming the other guy is a pretty poor excuse.  No body else can be held responsible for what another person says or does.  Someone can make us angry or frightened, but what we do with that emotion is entirely our own responsibility.  And just as that applies to an ordinary citizen who might feel that the heated rhetoric serves as a kind of permission to take action, so too does it apply to political and media figures who feel the heat when their own words or actions are called into question.

If political and media figures are so convinced that their words do not have any effect on another person’s actions, then why do they willingly spend so much money on advertising?

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This week, the House of Representatives is taking up the case to repeal the Affordable Health Care Act of 2010.  House Republicans campaigned on the call to repeal and replace what they derisively call “Obamacare.”  However, their efforts are little more than political theater.  The Senate is unlikely to go along, and President Obama has promised to veto any repeal legislation that reaches his desk.

Unfortunately, the debate promises to shed precious little light on the topic, despite the GOP promises.  The first hint come in the title of the bill to repeal.  House Republicans claim that the health care law is a job killer, or as they’ve changed the name of the bill a job-destroyer.  They cite a figure of 1.6 million jobs, claiming the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) as the source of their information.  And in a time of high unemployment (over 9% for the past 20 months), the idea of the economy shedding another 1.6 million jobs is sure to provide some political hay.  But let’s look more closely at that claim.  The 1.6 million figure is what the CBO estimates will be the number of Americans who can now afford to retire since the health care law was signed — people who have been working primarily to obtain health insurance.   That doesn’t sound like job-killing so much as a job creation effort — those 1.6 million new retirees will free up jobs for people who need and want them.  But it wouldn’t make much sense to try to repeal health care law by calling it a “Job Creating Health Care Law Act”, would it?  Further adding to the numbers is a Harvard study that demonstrates that repeal itself would cost somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 jobs.  That means a total swing of nearly 2 million jobs should repeal pass.

Polls are showing that even among Republicans, as Americans learn more about how the Affordable Health Care Act will actually affect them, the anger and opposition to it are diminishing.  And with that, support for full repeal is also decreasing.  In fact, when you look more closely at the numbers, those touted by the GOP as favoring repeal include a sizeable percentage who want the current law strengthened!

Ah, but what about the other half of the “repeal and replace” equation?  What does the GOP plan to replace it with, should repeal succeed?  Well, it appears that the GOP leadership is well aware of the silliness of their efforts because even after debating the current law and promising to come up with their own plan, it turns out that they still don’t really have a plan.  Sure, they have a rudimentary philosophical framework, but nothing concrete.  There isn’t much point in having a real plan when you know that your repeal efforts are strictly symbolic, that they have no chance of making it through the entire legislative process.  Yet, they proceed.

What the GOP fails to understand is that when you’re a majority in one of the legislative bodies, some responsibility for actually governing comes with the territory.  It will be interesting to see what they have on their agenda besides more doomed attempts to undo President Obama’s legislative accomplishments and threatening to vote against raising the debt ceiling.  Like some conservatives I know, it seems that the House GOP members are content to stand on ideology, even in the face of facts that warn against taking the extreme measures they support.

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Like most people, I was horrified to learn of the attempt on the life of Rep. Gabrielle Gifford (D-AZ8).  While she is not my representative, I have friends in her district, so it hit closer to home.  Not surprisingly, Sarah Palin’s aide is denying any connection between the shooting and Palin’s target list, the one that showed a number of Democratic districts in the cross-hairs.  And Sen. Alexander (R-TN) chooses to accuse the media of irresponsibility for even bringing up a possible connection.

So, was it a predictable result of an over-heated political atmosphere or simply the random act of a deranged individual?  Or, was it a combination of the two?  It seems entirely possible that the images of cross-hairs, the comments about “Second Amendment remedies”, about wanting constituents “armed and dangerous”, about “don’t retreat, reload,” and the like are enough to push unbalanced people over the edge.  Free speech is a right, but like all rights, it comes with responsibility attached.  And before any of us engages in violent rhetoric, we should consider that there are people out there who are sufficiently detached from reality to take our words literally.

Democracy needs dissent, but we can disagree without becoming disagreeable.  My kids will nod knowingly when they read that.  It was something I said to them many times as they were growing up.  I don’t mind if you disagree with me, but don’t be disagreeable in the way you go about it.  That means a measure of respect for the other person and their ideas, and even the willingness to consider that he or she might be onto something you haven’t yet considered.   I love a good debate, but I will and do walk away when the conversation gets ugly, when the other person chooses to attack a person rather than an idea.

And isn’t it also possible that those who use violent political rhetoric will be the recipients of violence, should they take a position that someone opposes?  So far, that possibility seems totally lost on those who use violent rhetoric.

 

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Perhaps the better question to ask is, “Why are no new jobs being created?”  Answer that question, and the question of where the jobs are will be obvious.  Some members of the punditocracy (and their allies on Capital Hill) continue to serve up the “uncertainty” argument.

Don’t be fooled.  It’s a bogus argument.  Uncertainty is never going to go away.  There has always been uncertainty about interest rates, about tax rates and the like.  Business growth is always marked by uncertainty.

The real reason that new jobs aren’t being created is that there isn’t yet enough demand for products and services to warrant hiring.  And why isn’t the demand there?  People who are out of work don’t have extra money to spend.  And with unemployment running at nearly 10%, not counting the levels of underemployment or the people who are so discouraged they’ve quit looking, a lot of demand has evaporated from the marketplace.  So, if we really want to create an environment that would grow jobs and grow the economy, we need to get more money into the hands of the people who would spend it, not save it.  We need to extend unemployment insurance benefits through 2011 and continue the payroll tax holiday.

Yet, the Republicans continue to preach the benefits of permanently extending the Bush tax cuts, even for the richest of Americans.  It matters not that the majority of Americans don’t want the cuts extended for high earners.  It matters not that history has proven without doubt that lowering taxes on the highest earners does not actually create jobs.  Those who have more money than they can spend don’t need a tax break.  But those of us who would actually spend the money do.  It even matters not that Bruce Bartlett (Ronald Reagan’s head of OMB) and folks like Warren Buffett say that the wealthiest Americans should be paying more taxes.

Let’s look at the realities of the tax cut argument.  Does anyone with more than two or three active brain cells actually believe that a business owner would forgo over $60,000 in after tax profit just to save $4600 in taxes?

The CBO was asked to evaluate 11 potential policy decisions for their effect on job creation, the economy in general and the deficit.  The one that scored the highest — i.e., most stimulative effect on the economy with least impact on the deficit — was continuation of unemployment insurance benefits.  So which one did the GOP immediately refuse to implement?  Extending unemployment benefits.  Go figure.

Most economists worry that the struggling economy will falter with the loss of the billions in spending those unemployment checks represent.  Perhaps the bigger question is whether the GOP will pay a political price for its intransigence.  Even Scrooge figured out that he didn’t want to face the ghost of Christmas Future…  There is a lesson there.  Will the Republicans learn it before there is much more suffering imposed on people who are already struggling to make ends meet?  Will the voters figure out that the GOP cares more about the top 2% than it does about the millions of Americans whose greatest wish for the holiday season is a job?

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