Sunday, August 07, 2011

Fear of Flying

Where did the fireman go
Now that we need him so?
And where is the meat inspector
Ensuring our food’s not infected
And the maintenance director
Who saw that our planes were inspected?
Don’t they know we are dying
Instead of just flying?
And who are we to judge it
If we are not in the budget?
And budget is high in the protocol
But why do we subsidize alcohol?

We continue to hear the cry from the right for ”less government.” It sounds compelling, especially if you have just been pulled over by the Highway Patrol, but we need to drill a little deeper and examine where this cry comes from and where it is likely to go. It is essentially a Libertarian chant and not Republican in origin although the GOP has amplified the sound and added its own lyrics. This is where analogies get tenuous and less meaningful. Libertarians propose to limit government to the barest essentials such as providing for the common defense. I doubt they would believe that traffic lights are essential except where citizens did not jump out and voluntarily direct traffic. If nobody volunteered, they might have a car wash to pay for a traffic light. Eventually, they might contract with some vendor to provide a light but no government for safety. Most Libertarians dream of restoring the gold based monetary system with a few stalwarts actually insisting on using gold directly for financial transactions. Libertarians would restore “Caveat Emptor” to the fullest degree to take government out of any responsibility for any inspection or oversight. Hence, if somebody sold you a package labeled “Pure Beef,” and it was actually pork or canine in origin, you would have to take his word for it or sue in court if you somehow determined that fraud was committed. While that may seem easy enough for something you could taste, it might be difficult to determine that the medicine you purchased from a vendor contained the ingredients promised without a laboratory supporting your aspirin purchase. Still worse, if other unseen perils such as Salmonella or E. coli were included in your transaction, you would have to investigate and prove that in court, if you were lucky enough to live and could afford the research and lawsuit. Note that you no longer buy federally stamped inspected meat and poultry. That service was eliminated during Reagan’s tenure as President. During WW II when black market meat crept into the market, horse flesh was often substituted for beef. Government inspectors could not keep up with black market vendors. Libertarians are sometimes called ”pot smoking Republicans” because of their penchant for individual freedom over the common good or “commonwealth.” I once served on a school board for ten years and the district was fortunate enough to have a physician volunteer to conduct all entry and sports physicals for the trivial sum of $500 per year for the high and junior high schools. A Libertarian on the board insisted that we fire him and that individual families bear the cost of the required physicals which, then, cost about $150 each. Obviously, that was not a smooth economic move for the common good, but it highlighted individual responsibility, another Libertarian tenet.

Now we also have Republicans who hold many basic philosophies similar to Libertarians, but they have morphed into a different animal over time. While Libertarians simply feel that government should take on very few functions, Republicans in the past thirty years have become so distrustful of government, that they are attacking it and accusing government of some kind of willful attempt to annoy and even harm citizens. Government is described as incompetent and incapable of efficiency or effective systems or behavior. Government has become an almost mythical self that is capable of willful actions and it has become de-linked from the live people who actually run and constitute our government. This leads to some humorous situations when politicians and the hired mechanics of government criticize it as though they were having an out-of-body experience. We frequently hear and see elected Washington politicians speak of “Washington” not acknowledging that they themselves work in Washington. The pronoun “they” is almost always used and “we” is never used. Unlike Libertarians, Republicans have found that by joining together, they can become more powerful and can select those functions that are better implemented by the federal government such as having women take lectures on abortion paid for by government or perhaps government subsidy of religious counseling clinics such as that run by Marcus Bachman (Michele’s husband) that includes “curing” homosexuals. Separation of Church and State applies to Muslims, but not fundamentalist Christians. They boast of a “moral” agenda that has bankrolled legislation like stopping funding for NPR and Planned Parenthood while simultaneously demonstrating outrage at reducing funding for corporations who support their campaigns. So we are in one breath able to decry the waste of a few million dollars for NPR and defend both the Billions in subsidies for corn/ethanol production and the tariff that discourages importation of ethanol. And this is from the party of “free trade.” Ideology reigns supreme. Less humorous is the drastic reduction of police and firemen across the nation due to shriveled budgets.

Taxes are evil because they only encourage government that is inherently wasteful and evil and yet income to offset the condition of an unbalanced budget is also evil. Free trade is the only way out, unless it might diminish campaign financing. In the Republican frenzy to “kill the beast” (government), they have taken an oath to Grover Norquist) a non-elected person who has become famous for his statement that he does not want to kill government but only to shrink it to a point where it can be dragged into the bathroom and drowned in the bathtub. While most of us would see an inherent conflict in his statement since drowning is killing, there are sincere Republicans who hold the Norquist oath at least as seriously as their oath of office. Defining “tax” then becomes a delightful fantasy where stripping any subsidy to a friend of the party is tax-like and removing the subsidy is anathema. So GE gets $ 1 Billion in subsidies and can shift its work overseas with impunity as is true for Exxon-Mobil and dozens of other large firms. Not coincidentally, negotiations with persons not party to the oath are a charade because no “new” income will be permitted by the GOP in budget talks. This total intransigence has recently been in the spotlight as we both cut the budget as raised the debt ceiling. The GOP refused to consider even a dollar of income. And this is in the time of the lowest taxes since 1928. Our system of government assumed compromise for the common good, but it is no longer common. The first decline of our national credit rating noted the inability of our elected officials to reach agreement during the process. The $4.7 trillion promoted by Obama was rejected by House Republicans because it contained “income enhancements,” and yet that is the general figure that Standard and Poors saw we needed for AAA.

We have some serious problems to solve in our republic. When any party, but mainly the GOP in the past 30 years, hews to partisan advantage OVER public good, problems become insurmountable. Over these past 30 years we have seen partisan use of a war to denounce critics, even in the case of Iraq that was a war of choice against a country that had never attacked us and yet criticism was assailed as unpatriotic. This constant attack mode had Senator Mitch McConnell openly stating that his number one goal is to make President Obama a one term president. Polls consistently indicate that about 70% of all voters and more than half of registered Republicans favor an elimination of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and yet the mantra for no “tax increase” remains strident and strong despite the people’s wishes.

Most recently, besides the debt ceiling fiasco, the GOP blocked funding the FAA because they wanted no unions. As a result, aircraft safety inspections were threatened, over 4,000 FAA workers were furloughed and over 70,000 construction workers at dozens of airports also were idled. The issue Republicans claimed blocked agreement was the voting rule for union recognition. The GOP wanted a rule where absence from voting would be considered a “NO” vote (instead of majority rule). Can you imagine what that would mean in any election? It also cost our republic $400 Million in uncollected ticket taxes that became a windfall for airlines (except Alaska and Spirit). But beyond that side partisan attack on unions is the frontal assault on the safety of the flying public. Do you fear flying? Given current events, maybe you should.

George Giacoppe
7 August 2011

No comments: