Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Boz asks: "Do Republicans really want Americans to suffer, alone in the dark?"


Power lines downed by an ice storm yesterday in Danville, Kentucky

"People are dead, thousands are without the basic amenities they need to live, and the Republicans voted en masse to ensure that disasters like these happen again."
-- The Boz, in a Boztopia post, "Alone in the Dark,
or the Winter of American Discontent"

by Ken

During the snow and ice storms yesterday that crippled much of the midsection of America. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show last night, the weather event, while severe, really wasn't more than an eminently foreseeable event: a severe winter storm in January -- and yet it turns out that we are apparently largely unequipped to cope.

Unluckily for him, but luckily (in the end) for us, our colleague the Boz found himself stranded, en route from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, "in a podunk motel in Nowheresville, Oklahoma -- literally, I had no idea where it was, apart from it being two hours outside Oklahoma City." He stopped there, he explains, "because the roads were getting progressively worse as I drove through the states. Arkansas and Oklahoma’s sections of Interstate 40 are in terrible shape -- full of potholes, cracks, and the like -- and that’s before the freezing rain, sleet, and mush turned the trip into a potential deathtrap."
Still, it could have been worse -- I had plenty of food and supplies, and a place to rest my head. Many Arkansans, Oklahomans, and more are without power, and they may not get it back for weeks because the grid is collapsing under the strain of the bad weather.

Amazingly, I had working cable TV, and I had C-SPAN in the background, listening to the House debate the stimulus bill that will supposedly jumpstart our economy. And if anything could keep me warm, it was the boiling of the blood from listening to Republicans attempt to barter down an already-weakened package to buy themselves more tax cuts for businesses that have already larded up on billions of our dollars.

I don’t know what’s more galling. It may be the idea that the supposedly richest, most powerful nation in the world can ignore the fact that we’re literally falling apart from the inside out. Or it may be that the party that brought you a global recession, the loss of billions of invested wealth, and two ongoing wars that cost us billions of dollars a month (Why doesn’t anyone bring up ending the Iraq war as a way to bring in more revenue?), has the gall to say that the only way to get us out of the hole they dug is to give them more money.

Not to mention that the corporatized media is bound and determined to ensure that any message they distribute to the public plays their tune and no one else’s. I was listening to the editor of The Hill ramble on the radio as I was driving about the need for “bipartisanship” and for Obama to reach out to Republicans, as if nothing is more important to the destiny of the country than to make sure the party that got its ass thoroughly kicked in the last election at least has a cookie and milk as consolation.
And what we get in Washingon, Boz writes, is "political Kabuki Theater," "where everything is done for the benefit of those who maintain power."
Outside D.C., however, the fundamental issues we face are larger than any single election or politician.

The stimulus is already stingy in almost every respect. It won’t bring us nationwide broadband investment. It won’t give us enough for smart power grids. It won’t cover enough for mass transit development. It doesn’t fund enough investment in alternative energy sources. It will help a lot, make no mistake -- anything is better than nothing. But ultimately, all it does is paper over the cracks in the foundation -- the proverbial Band-Aid on cancer.
Boz recalls a Nevada congressman boasting about the "boom economy" of Las Vegas. The boom doesn't look so impressive now given the deep distress of its leading industries, construction and tourism.
As David Sirota wrote not long ago, Vegas is a symbol of the unsustainable cycle of development we’ve been pushing for decades now. You can’t build a thriving city based on industries that can go belly-up so easily. You need investment in new technology, new ideas, and new determination to see them through.
He returns to the situation in Oklahoma.
A modernized power grid that conserves electricity and provides more power with less waste could help families across the states hit by the ice storm and keep them from freezing or using portable heaters. Rural broadband investment could create statewide Wi-Fi networks that could keep people in instantaneous contact and give them all the information they need to figure out how best to deal with the storm, instead of trying to parse out information from the useless weather television channels or the equally clueless local news. (Imagine if the digital television transition had taken place during this storm, and all the people who would be completely in the dark, literally and figuratively, as a result.) And better roads with more people working on keeping them clean and sanded would not only keep people like me on the move, but it would provide more jobs and more economic boosts for states that desperately need them.

19 people would still be alive and thousands of people would still have power just from improving the services and systems we have. More money for states means more jobs, which means more services, which means both more tax revenue and more consumption of goods. I’m not an economist, but this isn’t freaking neuroscience.

Instead of the vision we need for true economic stimulation, we’re getting endless speeches from smirking Republicans unironically quoting Margaret Thatcher as an invocation of our slide into socialism -- while many of these same people cast votes for TARP (both times) and every military action that’s drained our Treasury, wrecked other countries, and cost thousands of lives.

And the people who should be providing the vision as the majority are willing to provide business tax cuts that don’t work at the cost of more money given to programs that do work. Instead of throwing everything we have at full-scale national broadband investment (which alone could provide aid to everything from health care to green tech), infrastructure spending, and renewable energy development, we’re going halfsies.

And half-assing it won’t cut it for a genuine solution to our fundamental problem -- that our way of life is unsustainable and can’t continue.

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