Archive for February 25th, 2012
The Ugly Truth Behind Michigan’s Budget Surplus Patricia J. Williams
Michigan is a model of fiscal recuperation. At least that’s what the headlines said as I stepped off a plane in Detroit recently: its spending was slashed so ruthlessly in the past few years that the New York Times quoted a former state budget director as moaning, “We were so far down that the floor looked like up to us.” But now there is a budget surplus projected for 2013, of anywhere from half a billion to a billion dollars, with yet sunnier fiscal predictions ahead. This apotheosis is generally credited to the enactment of Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s stern austerity policies, which include replacing “a business tax with a corporate income tax that is expected to save businesses $1.5 billion a year,” according to the same Times article. “To make up lost dollars, lawmakers agreed to tax public workers’ pensions, reduce the state’s Earned-Income Tax Credit for the working poor, and remove or reduce other tax exemptions and deductions.”
On the ride from the airport, my friend Dee gave me an earful about what he described as “Snyder’s for-profit governance, while for us ordinary non-corporate humans, things just get bleaker.” The schools are decimated, he told me. Infrastructure is crumbling, zoos and parks are being eliminated, libraries closed and daycare all but nonexistent. Snyder has slashed funding for the state’s colleges and universities by 15 percent in the past year alone.
Moreover, Detroit is on the verge of financial ruin, in no small part because since 1998 it has been hobbled by a law requiring all cities to cut personal income taxes every year, for residents as well as nonresidents. Exemptions are given only if a city is in financial distress—a status virtually guaranteed by such cuts. “Financial distress” in turn triggers Public Act 4, an insidious law—detailed by Chris Savage on page 6 of this issue—that permits the governor to appoint an “emergency manager” (EM) whose job is, no joke, to displace elected officials and run local governments as though they were private, profit-driven corporations. Yet for all their considerable power, EMs lack the one thing that cities like Detroit need most (Republican dictum notwithstanding): the power to raise taxes. (Not that one would want a trickle-down executive branch boss like an EM tackling taxes, in addition to disappearing local legislative structures like city councils and school boards.)
EMs are balancing budgets by gutting government itself: selling off water and sewer lines (Flint), “redeveloping” public parks into private golf courses (Benton Harbor) and threatening to dissolve school districts (Highland Park). Detroit public schools, 80 percent of which fail to graduate any students with a college-qualifying ACT test score, have been taken over by GM’s former vice president for North American vehicle sales.
Meanwhile, in response to Governor Snyder’s recent intimation that funding for public universities may eventually depend on their graduation and student retention rates, the third-largest school in the system, Wayne State University, hastily revamped its admissions policy to include what a corporation might call “dashboard” measures that evaluate learning and retention as a matter of “value added.” “Value added” is a term widely introduced to the world of education as part of the Bush administration’s determination to turn learning into a business. Derived from economics and contract law, it ordinarily refers to the difference between production costs and sale price. While such arithmetic works well in the manufacturing of steel ball bearings, it’s somewhat less utile when grading an archaeology seminar or the translation of a poem.
“Value added,” snapped Dee, “is the ultimate emblem of a ‘knowledge economy’ rather than regard for actual knowledge.” He fears it will push Wayne State further from its mission as the only urban campus in the system, one that has historically served predominantly blue-collar students who may be working multiple jobs and supporting families while going to school. Like the City University of New York, Wayne State has served as a portal for generations of strivers whose circumstances might constrain them to a trajectory of eight, ten or even fifteen years to earn enough credits to graduate. Such hard-working students will now be written off as failures for dragging down the value-added goal of four-year graduation rates. The Detroit Free Press reports that in screening for applicants most likely to graduate in the requisite amount of time, Wayne State plans to create three groups: “those accepted, those who first need to complete an eight-week summer ‘bridge’ academic program, and those who will be counseled to attend a community college, trade school or even the military.”
Not surprisingly, many fear that students in Detroit’s already underserved public high schools will be passed over in even greater numbers as university seats are outsourced to wealthier students from out of town, from out of state or from other countries—from anywhere primary education is better funded.
But what of the budget surplus? I asked Dee. Surely that found money could be put to the rescue? Alas, no. Of more than $1 billion in cuts to school budgets last year, Snyder is restoring less than half—and not to per capita expenditure on pupils but for incentive programs. Schools that perform best will get the most money; those that “fail” could be eliminated. In other words, those with the most troubled students or least experienced teachers or children who speak little English or with high percentages of learning disabilities—those are the schools most likely to be assigned less assistance, less investment, less hope.
“Michigan’s future is dependent upon the education system,” says Michigan State Representative Jeff Irwin, who has called for funds taken from K-12 to be reappropriated. And to those in the Snyder administration who would prefer to squirrel the bulk of the surplus away for a rainy day, Peter Spadafore, who sits on Lansing’s school board, has a curt riposte: “It’s raining.”
© 2012, agentleman.
Arizona Debate: Conservative Chickens Come Home to Roost
POSTED: February 23, 12:20 PM ET
Ron Paul, Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich at the Republican Presidential Debate in Mesa, Arizona.
How about that race for the Republican nomination? Was last night’s debate crazy, or what?
Throughout this entire process, the spectacle of these clowns thrashing each other and continually seizing and then fumbling frontrunner status has left me with an oddly reassuring feeling, one that I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on. In my younger days I would have just assumed it was regular old Schadenfreude at the sight of people like Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich suffering, but this isn’t like that – it’s something different than the pleasure of watching A-Rod strike out in the playoffs.
No, it was while watching the debates last night that it finally hit me: This is justice. What we have here are chickens coming home to roost. It’s as if all of the American public’s bad habits and perverse obsessions are all coming back to haunt Republican voters in this race: The lack of attention span, the constant demand for instant gratification, the abject hunger for negativity, the utter lack of backbone or constancy (we change our loyalties at the drop of a hat, all it takes is a clever TV ad): these things are all major factors in the spiraling Republican disaster.
Most importantly, though, the conservative passion for divisive, partisan, bomb-tossing politics is threatening to permanently cripple the Republican party. They long ago became more about pointing fingers than about ideology, and it’s finally ruining them.
Oh, sure, your average conservative will insist his belief system is based upon a passion for the free market and limited government, but that’s mostly a cover story. Instead, the vast team-building exercise that has driven the broadcasts of people like Rush and Hannity and the talking heads on Fox for decades now has really been a kind of ongoing Quest for Orthodoxy, in which the team members congregate in front of the TV and the radio and share in the warm feeling of pointing the finger at people who aren’t as American as they are, who lack their family values, who don’t share their All-American work ethic.
The finger-pointing game is a fun one to play, but it’s a little like drugs – you have to keep taking bigger and bigger doses in order to get the same high.
So it starts with a bunch of these people huddling together and saying to themselves, “We’re the real good Americans; our problems are caused by all those other people out there who don’t share our values.” At that stage the real turn-on for the followers is the recognition that there are other like-minded people out there, and they don’t need blood orgies and war cries to keep the faith strong – bake sales and church retreats will do.
So they form their local Moral Majority outfits, and they put Ronald Reagan in office, and they sit and wait for the world to revert to a world where there was one breadwinner in the family, and no teen pregnancy or crime or poor people, and immigrants worked hard and didn’t ask for welfare and had the decency to speak English – a world that never existed in reality, of course, but they’re waiting for a return to it nonetheless.
Think Ron Paul in the South Carolina debate, when he said that in the ’60s, “there was nobody out in the street suffering with no medical care.” Paul also recalled that after World War II, 10 million soldiers came home and prospered without any kind of government aid at all – all they needed was a massive cut to the federal budget, and those soldiers just surfed on the resultant wave of economic progress.
“You know what the government did? They cut the budget by 60 percent,” he said. “And everybody went back to work again, you didn’t need any special programs.”
Right – it wasn’t like they needed a G.I. Bill or anything. After all, people were different back then: They didn’t want or need welfare, or a health care program, or any of those things. At least, that’s not the way Paul remembered it.
That’s all the early conservative movement was. It was just a heartfelt request that we go back to the good old days of America as these people remembered or imagined it. Of course, the problem was, we couldn’t go back, not just because more than half the population (particularly the nonwhite, non-straight, non-male segment of the population) desperately didn’t want to go back, but also because that America never existed and was therefore impossible to recreate.
And when we didn’t go back to the good old days, this crowd got frustrated, and suddenly the message stopped being heartfelt and it got an edge to it.
The message went from, “We’re the real Americans; the others are the problem,” to, “We’re the last line of defense; we hate those other people and they’re our enemies.” Now it wasn’t just that the rest of us weren’t getting with the program: Now we were also saboteurs, secretly or perhaps even openly conspiring with America’s enemies to prevent her return to the long-desired Days of Glory.
Now, why would us saboteurs do that? Out of jealousy (we resented their faith and their family closeness), out of spite, and because we have gonads instead of morals. In the Clinton years and the early Bush years we started to hear a lot of this stuff, that the people conservatives described as “liberals” were not, as we are in fact, normal people who believe in marriage and family and love their children just as much as conservatives do, but perverts who subscribe to a sort of religion of hedonism.
“Liberals’ only remaining big issue is abortion because of their beloved sexual revolution,” was the way Ann Coulter put it. “That’s their cause – spreading anarchy and polymorphous perversity. Abortion permits that.”
So they fought back, and a whole generation of more strident conservative politicians rose to fight the enemy at home, who conveniently during the ’90s lived in the White House and occasionally practiced polymorphous perversity there.
Then conservatives managed to elect to the White House a man who was not only a fundamentalist Christian, but a confirmed anti-intellectual who never even thought about visiting Europe until, as president, he was forced to – the perfect champion of all Real Americans!
Surely, things would change now. But they didn’t. Life continued to move drearily into a new and scary future, Spanish-speaking people continued to roll over the border in droves, queers paraded around in public and even demanded the right to be married, and America not only didn’t go back to the good old days of the single-breadwinner family, but jobs in general dried up and you were lucky if Mom and Dad weren’t both working two jobs.
During this time we went to war against the Islamic terrorists responsible for 9/11 by invading an unrelated secular Middle Eastern dictatorship. When people on the other side protested, the rhetoric became even more hysterical. Now those of us outside the circle of Real Americans were not just enemies, but in league with mass-murdering terrorists. In fact, that slowly became the definition of a “liberal” on a lot of these programs – a terrorist.
Sean Hannity’s bestseller during this time, for Christ’s sake, was subtitled, Defeating terrorism, despotism, and liberalism. “He is doing the work of what all people who want big government always do, and that is commit terrorist acts,” said Glenn Beck years ago, comparing liberals to Norweigan mass murderer Anders Breivik.
And when the unthinkable happened, and a black American with a Muslim-sounding name assumed the throne in the White House, now, suddenly, we started to hear that liberals were not only in league with terrorists, but somehow worse than terrorists.
“Terrorism? Yes. That’s not the big battle,“ said Minnesota Republican congressional candidate Allan Quist a few years ago. “The big battle is in D.C. with the radicals. They aren’t liberals. They are radicals. Obama, Pelosi, Walz: They’re not liberals, they’re radicals. They are destroying our country.”
In Spinal Tap terms, the rhetoric by the time Obama got elected already had gone well past eleven. It was at thirteen, fifteen, twenty …. Our tight little core of Real Americans by then had, over a series of decades, decided pretty much the entire rest of the world was shit. Europe we know about. The Middle East? Let’s “carpet bomb it until they can’t build a transitor radio,” as Ann Coulter put it. Africa was full of black terrorists with AIDS, and Asia, too, was a good place to point a finger or two (“I want to go to war with China,” is how Rick Santorum put it).
Here at home, all liberals, gays, Hispanic immigrants, atheists, Hollywood actors and/or musicians with political opinions, members of the media, members of congress, TSA officials, animal-lovers, union workers, state employees with pensions, Occupiers and other assorted unorthodox types had already long ago been rolled into the enemies list.
Given the continued troubles and the continued failure to return to good old American values, who else could possibly be to blame? Where else could they possibly point the finger?
There was only one possible answer, and we’re seeing it playing out in this race: At themselves! And I don’t mean they pointed the finger “at themselves” in the psychologically healthy, self-examining, self-doubting sort of way. Instead, I mean they pointed “at themselves” in the sense of, “There are traitors in our ranks. They must be ferreted out and destroyed!”
This is the last stage in any paranoid illness. You start by suspecting that somebody out there is out to get you; in the end, you’re sure that even the people who love you the most under your own roof, your own doctors, your parents, your wife and your children, they’re in on the plot. To quote Matt Damon in the almost-underrated spy film The Good Shepherd, they became convinced that there’s “a stranger in the house.”
This is where the Republican Party is now. They’ve run out of foreign enemies to point fingers at. They’ve already maxed out the rhetoric against us orgiastic, anarchy-loving pansexual liberal terrorists. The only possible remaining explanation for their troubles is that their own leaders have failed them. There is a stranger in the house!
This current race for the presidential nomination has therefore devolved into a kind of Freudian Agatha Christie story, in which the disturbed and highly paranoid voter base by turns tests the orthodoxy of each candidate, trying to figure out which one is the spy, which one is really Barack Obama bin Laden-Marx under the candidate mask!
We expected this when Mitt Romney, a man who foolishly once created a functioning health care program in Massachusetts, was the front-runner. We knew he was going to have to defend his bona fides against the priesthood (“I’m not convinced,” sneered the sideline-sitting conservative Mme. Defarge, Sarah Palin), that he would have a rough go of it at the CPAC conference, and so on.
But it’s gotten so ridiculous that even Santorum, as paranoid and hysterical a finger-pointing politician as this country has ever seen, a man who once insisted with a straight face that there is no such thing as a liberal Christian – he’s now being put through the Electric Conservative Paranoia Acid Test, and failing!
© 2012, agentleman.
Grover Norquist Says Conservatives Should Vote For A Candidate They Can Use As A Puppet By Stephen D. Foster Jr.
When Americans elect a President, they expect their new leader to have the ability to be independent, think for him or herself, and stand up for what the American people want. Conservatives believe the opposite. They want a leader who doesn’t think at all and agrees to do whatever they want him to do, including rubber stamping any and all legislation created by conservatives in Congress. At least that’s what Grover Norquist admitted at CPAC two weeks ago.
During his speech at CPAC, Norquist said that conservatives need a President who will let Congressional Republicans run the show and that all the President needs to do is sign each and every bill without a thought.
“All we have to do is replace Obama,” Norquist stated. “We are not auditioning for fearless leader. We don’t need a president to tell us in what direction to go. We know what direction to go. We want the Ryan budget. We just need a president to sign this stuff. We don’t need someone to think it up or design it. The leadership now for the modern conservative movement for the next 20 years will be coming out of the House and the Senate.
Pick a Republican with enough working digits to handle a pen to become President of the United States. This is a change for Republicans: the House and Senate doing the work with the president signing bills. His job is to be captain of the team, to sign the legislation that has already been prepared.”
In other words, conservatives like Grover Norquist want a mindless drone that they can control to sit in the Oval Office. They want a puppet who will just sign anything they put in front of him. Let’s just list some of what would be passed if conservatives get their wish.
1. The Ryan Budget, which effectively ends Medicare.
2. The privatization of Social Security, which would be owned by Wall Street.
3. A federal ban on abortion.
4. A federal ban on almost all contraception methods used by women.
5. Repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
6. Privatization of American prisons.
7. Disenfranchising voting laws.
8. Declaration of War against Iran.
9. Repeal of all environmental regulations.
10. Repeal of all financial regulations that protect us from greedy Wall Street bankers.
11. Repeal of child labor laws.
12. Federal ban on labor unions.
13. Repeal of labor regulations, which means no more weekends off, no more vacation time, no more minimum wage laws, no more anti-discrimination laws, no more benefits and pensions, and no more 40 hour work weeks.
14. A Declaration making Christianity the national religion.
15. Repeal of the Civil Rights Act.
16. Federal ban on same-sex marriage.
17. Corporations and the wealthy taxed at zero percent.
18. Declaration of War against every Islamic nation on Earth and against North Korea.
19. Women banned from serving in the military, and perhaps even from working.
20. Energy policy based solely on drilling for oil.
The above represents a mere fraction of the kinds of the kinds of things Republicans could do if they have a puppet president in the White House. It amounts to a dictatorship where the people have absolutely no say whatsoever about the GOP agenda. Conservatives aren’t interested in a president who can make decisions. They’re only interested in a president who answers to them and no one else. This president would not be able to make independent decisions. He would have to wait for his puppet masters to tell him what to do. That’s not a true president. Republicans have consistently claimed that President Obama is a weak President who cannot lead. But if a Republican were to capture the presidency, he wouldn’t be allowed to lead. A Republican president would end up being the weakest president in American history. Not even Ronald Reagan rubber stamped conservative initiatives. Hell, even George W. Bush wasn’t a full time puppet. But any Republican candidate who manages to win the election this fall, would be a full time stooge. It would make us a complete laughingstock around the world. We cannot elect a president who will take orders from conservatives who may or may not be elected. It undermines our democracy, our system of checks and balances, and makes Republicans an even more incredibly dangerous group to America.
In the words of David Frum, “A candidate who appeases the most disliked people in national politics? That guy will command neither public affection nor respect.” Basically, the new Republican president would be as respected by the nation as President Obama currently is by conservatives. The president is the leader of the whole nation. Not just of conservatives.
© 2012, agentleman.
Aspirins and short skirts and contraception, oh my! The last few weeks have seen a slew of Republican gaffes concerning women’s sexuality. From Rick Santorum’s billionaire supporter Foster Friess’s waxing nostalgic about the good old days when women put aspirin “between their knees” in lieu of contraception to an online furor over whether the young conservative women at CPAC dressed too provocatively—the GOP has a major woman problem on their hands.
Their fear of sex—of women’s sexuality in particular—has become a major media talking point, and a source of outrage among American women. But what I don’t understand is why anyone is surprised. Republicans have long based their agenda for women in a deep-rooted disdain for all things female. We’ve been down this road many, many times before.
When a picture of Congressman Darrell Issa’s all-male panel on birth control (the make-up of which prompted several Democratic women to walk out of the hearing) hit the Internet and mainstream media—I couldn’t help but be reminded of a similar picture of George W. Bush signing the “partial birth” abortion ban, surrounded by a group of smiling clapping men. All men. (Santorum was one of them.)
Dahlia Lithwick reported last week in Slate on a law that’s poised to pass in Virginia that would make it legal to penetrate abortion-seeking women against their wills by requiring a medically unnecessary transvaginal ultrasound—a procedure that would count as rape under state law. Delegate David Englin told Lithwick that one Republican lawmaker told him that the invasive ultrasound wasn’t an issue because women seeking abortions had already made the decision to be “vaginally penetrated when they got pregnant.” Apparently once women have been penetrated, all other future penetrations should be no problem, consent notwithstanding.
If this attitude sounds radical, consider that up until 2008, it was the basis for Maryland rape law. If a woman initially agreed to sex, but later withdrew consent, any sex that followed wasn’t rape. The justification was based on archaic legislation that said after the initial “de-flowering” of a woman, nothing could be considered rape because “the damage was done,” she was no longer a virgin and couldn’t be “re-flowered.”
The focus on birth control is not new either. Conservatives and Republican appointees successfully held up emergency contraception for over-the-counter status for three years in the FDA, despite a recommendation from an independent joint advisory committee to the agency to make the drug available. Dr. W. David Hager—appointed by then President Bush to the FDA’s Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs—told the New York Times about why he voted against the drug’s approval, noting, “What we heard today was frequently about individuals who did not want to take responsibility for their actions and wanted a medication to relieve those consequences.” (Hager also penned a book in which he argued that prayer could cure PMS—quite the expert on women’s health!)
It also came out that in an internal memo FDA medical official Janet Woodcock argued against making the contraceptive available over the counter for fear that it would cause “extreme promiscuous behaviors such as the medication taking on an ‘urban legend’ status that would lead adolescents to form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” (The same fear-based rhetoric over young women becoming promiscuous was used when conservatives tried to hold up Gardasil, the HPV vaccine that prevents cervical cancer.)
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that this is just a problem of men attacking women’s rights. Conservative women’s rights groups, always eager for a patriarchal pat on the head, have long thrown other women under the bus under the guise of protecting them from their own wanton sexuality. The Independent Women’s Forum—who oppose the Violence Against Women Act, Title IX and who don’t believe pay inequity exists—started a campaign years ago to get the award-winning play The Vagina Monologues banned from college campuses, arguing that it’s pornographic and reduces women to their body parts. (Specifically, the one they’d rather not think about.) The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, another right-wing women’s organization, launched a campaign and contest in 2008 to “Bringing Back the Dowry and Hope Chest.” The winner received a “cedar-lined hope chest filled with $1000 worth of dowry items” as well as $500 toward her future wedding. Retro-chic!
Given this long history of paternalism and efforts to rollback women’s rights—I think the calls that the GOP is launching a “war on women” are right on, but years late.
Perhaps today, with the Internet moving information faster than ever before, Republican and conservative sexism doesn’t go as easily unnoticed (just ask the folks at Komen). Perhaps the influx of young women and feminists into self-directed and social media activism has changed the course of the national debate. Or maybe women are just fed up with yet another legislator dictating how they should run their lives and use their bodies.
Whatever the reason, we need to ensure that Republicans are held accountable and don’t get to brush these comments and actions off as mistakes or misunderstandings. Because they’re not simple gaffes, they’re a crystal clear window into the future that the GOP wants for women.
© 2012, agentleman.