The State of the Discontented

exxon-mobile.jpg

Over the past few days, throughout the news, I have heard a series of arguments and complaints about the U.S. government. While I agree in principle that there are many areas in which we need to voice our concerns, so far most of the criticisms towards the Obama Administration from the Right – on taxes and spending, the environment, torture, and piracy — have been either hypocritical or downright silly. Instead of writing an individual post on each subject, I’ll summarize them here:

Taxes, Spending and Teabagging: I am not sure which was worse, the faux (pun intended) grass roots tea party promoted by Fox News or the faux outrage being referred to as teabaggers. In theory, I don’t have a problem with Republicans suddenly criticizing government indebtedness, even after they had supported Bush, until now, the worst culprit of mass debt. Republicans, like the rest of Americans, should be concerned with how we finance our public spending, from wars to infrastructure and social security.

That the outrage, which they say is now also directed at Bush, comes late I suppose is purely coincidental. It would have been nice to hear from them eight years ago. Speaking of eight years ago, after two failed wars and massive tax cuts paid for, like those toxic mortgages, by borrowing, the only company standing is Exxon Mobile (now at the top of Fortune 500). Isn’t it interesting that the Bush Administration and John McCain had wanted us to further reward the Exxon Mobiles – as if fighting two wars for them and jacking up oil prices at the detriment of the rest of society wasn’t enough – with the ability to drill for more oil (drill baby drill). If you thought government intervention didn’t work, well, it should worked out well for Exxon Mobile.

Back to taxes and spending. As mentioned, there are real questions about whether the Obama Administration is doing enough or focusing enough in order to jump start the economy. But the general argument, at a time of mass unemployment, deflation, and recession, that we need to cut government spend and taxes is not only absurd, it is – like Republicans’ views on science – like living in a medieval cave.

Once we’re done debating the best ways to spend public funds to restore the economy, we should begin that next important conversation on what government’s role in society should be. And if I understand correctly from the teabaggers, the government shouldn’t have any role at all? Should we have a national defense? Should we have basic retirement or should we continue with our private 401(k)s? Should we have the most expensive medical care system in the world where people who are sick go bankrupt or should health care be universally guaranteed? We should ask why after twenty plus years of bipartisan agreement on an economic model wages have only increased for a very small portion of Americans on the top while these same wealthy citizens have seen their share of the tax burden decrease.

We also need to face the facts – and here is where Obama should be criticized as well – Americans pay, on average, some of the lowest taxes in the industrialized world. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should necessarily pay more, but we need to ask whether we are truly paying too much. Obama is proposing more tax cuts and will most likely use the Bush toxic borrowing method to finance them. At the same time, though, no one wants to admit that taxes eventually have to go up as the baby boomers all retire and pass away.

Regulating Climate Change. The EPA has recently ruled that CO2 emissions are pollutants that can be regulated by the federal agency. With almost no arguments in their arsenal, Republicans have complained that if the EPA regulates carbon dioxide, that same air that we exhale, then the government will begin telling us when and where we can breath. In one of the worst performances of all time on a Sunday political interview, Republican congressman Boehner said just that. When pressed on whether he considered climate change a serious issue that needed to be addressed, he was left completely inarticulate. It was truly pathetic. By the way, Mr. Boehner, we defecate and urinate, and the government regulates where that stuff goes and how it is treated, and that is just as natural as breathing.

Torture and Security. One of the silliest arguments of all to come out this week was that by releasing the torture memos and saying that we were not going to torture any more, that we were somehow letting our enemies know how to prepare for detention. Let’s start from the beginning: a suspect in custody is not a terrorist until a tribunal finds that that person has committed a crime. That should be true of any person taken into custody in the U.S. by the government or even when we sequester individuals in other countries. The basic statistics from Guantanamo prove that the vast majority of those taken into custody were not terrorists, for they were released. So if me or you or anyone else in this world is taken into custody by the U.S. government or any other government that respects the rule of law, shouldn’t we have the reasonable expectation that we are not going to be tortured or subjected to humiliating treatment? So if the Obama Administration now says that the U.S. government will not torture those being interrogated, isn’t it just stating what should have been obvious? Or should we all undergo survival training, just in case, we’re ever questioned by the police?

Piracy. Something to keep in mind: the risk of piracy is mitigated by purchasing risk insurance. The insurance companies make huge profits off selling the insurance, and when the ships are forced to pay ransom, the insurance covers the costs. The pirates know this, the insurance companies know this, and the ship owners know this. It’s a transaction cost, like paying the troll toll. Like a tariff to navigate off of Somali waters.

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