Friday, February 11, 2011

Meanwhile in the Land of the Free

The new Republican governor of Wisconsin is proposing to strip state employees of their collective bargaining rights, and has alerted the National Guard to be ready in case of worker unrest. While Eygpt tries to leap into the 21st century, another Rabid Right GOPer leads us steadfastly back into the Dark Ages, with a quick stop in the U.S. 19th century.

Egypt Goes All Hopey Changey

A non-violent revolution of amazing speed has toppled the 30 year dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. First stories after his departure suggest that a council of the army is reconstituting the government completely, responding to the demands of the protestors. While the role of the v.p., the Mubarak apparatus, and even the army are all unclear, there is no doubt about the role of the Eyptian people, primarily young, but protestors reportedly cut across all lines of class and religion. While elements of our Rabid Right has been muttering darkly about them, they have succeeded so far with inclusiveness and without second amendment solutions. The road ahead is still perilous and will be contentious, now that the single object they all agree must go is gone. But what has happened so far must be celebrated. It's a sudden infusion of hope in so many ways.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"...the ingenious are always fanciful, and the truly imaginative never otherwise than analytic."

Edgar Allen Poe

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Centered on the Future

Because politics is instantly available spectacle, because the extreme Rabid Right has the power of media to influence the dialogue and agenda and decision-makers, and because of whatever else, nobody wants to be caught in the middle. When President Obama talks about listening to both sides, for combatants on the left and probably on the right, it's code for caving in. Governing from the middle is wishwashy and weak to both sides, it seems. But President Obama is staking out not the middle but the center. He's centered on winning the future with common cause and common truth.

He addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which covertly raised millions to support GOPers and their now uncontrollable and often embarrasing Tea Partiers. Much of what he said was in his State of the Union. But he talked in more detail about one of the great bugaboos: gobment regulation. Yes, it was Ronald Reagan who rode this to prominence, and set various forms of deregulation and privatization in motion, most of which we've paid for dearly. But President Obama didn't talk about that. He talked about lessons for the future.

Unnecessary government regulation is dangerous. Apart from unnecessarily slowing things down and making them more expensive to do, the power bureaucrats have can easily be misused. So there are and should be arguments over what regulations are necessary.

But the Rabid Right has pushed the button that says you get everything for free by having no government programs and no regulations. All (or nearly all, depending) regulations are wrong. This gets people elected, and it makes it easier for unscrupulous people to get very rich by ignoring everything but their own profits. But capitalism and democracy, capitalism and a healthy society, cannot coexist without regulations to make sure all businesses play by the same rules, and none gets a competitive advantage by, for example, skimping on health and safety. They cannot coexist without government investments in what no business or group of businesses can afford to do, which is create the infrastructure--the roads, water systems, air and rail systems, etc.--that the entire society depends on, including businesses but also individual citizens. The same goes for necessary functions like kinds of education and research that aren't always profitable enough for businesses to care about. But society needs them to exist and advance.

President Obama made the case on regulations in this way:

"Even as we eliminate burdensome regulations, America’s businesses have a responsibility as well to recognize that there are some basic safeguards, some basic standards that are necessary to protect the American people from harm or exploitation. Not every regulation is bad. Not every regulation is burdensome on business. A lot of the regulations that are out there are things that all of us welcome in our lives.

Few of us would want to live in a society without rules that keep our air and water clean; that give consumers the confidence to do everything from investing in financial markets to buying groceries. And the fact is, when standards like these have been proposed in the past, opponents have often warned that they would be an assault on business and free enterprise. We can look at the history in this country. Early drug companies argued the bill creating the FDA would “practically destroy the sale of … remedies in the United States.” That didn’t happen. Auto executives predicted that having to install seatbelts would bring the downfall of their industry. It didn’t happen. The President of the American Bar Association denounced child labor laws as “a communistic effort to nationalize children.” That’s a quote."

None of these things came to pass. In fact, companies adapt and standards often spark competition and innovation.

President Obama got an example from his Energy Secretary, Steven Chu: refrigerators. Refrigerators were a key item in the consumer economy revolution of the 1950s. That's Betty Furness up there, one of the first to effectively use the medium of television to sing the praises of new refrigerators. But the latest innovations didn't happen because of Betty Furness.

"But he started talking about energy efficiency and about refrigerators, and he pointed out that the government set modest targets a couple decades ago to start increasing efficiency over time. They were well thought through; they weren’t radical. Companies competed to hit these markers. And they hit them every time, and then exceeded them. And as a result, a typical fridge now costs half as much and uses a quarter of the energy that it once did -- and you don’t have to defrost, chipping at that stuff -- (laughter) -- and then putting the warm water inside the freezer and all that stuff. It saves families and businesses billions of dollars.

So regulations didn’t destroy the industry; it enhanced it and it made our lives better --
if they’re smart, if they’re well designed. And that’s our goal, is to work with you to think through how do we design necessary regulations in a smart way and get rid of regulations that have outlived their usefulness, or don’t work. I also have to point out the perils of too much regulation are also matched by the dangers of too little."

This is not scoring political or ideological points. It's about what works, and being serious about what we need to be considering and debating and doing, if we're going to deal with the future, let alone win it.

We also may be unused to measuring the benefits of regulations in a broad enough way. Junayd Mahmood, a Center for American Progress energy intern, assembled these amazing facts:

"Studies demonstrate that the costs of environmental regulations are miniscule compared to the benefits to Americans. In a study assessing the net benefit of the Clean Air Act, the EPA determined that Americans gained $21.4 trillion in health and environmental benefits between 1970 and 1990. The Clean Air Act prevented 205,000 premature deaths and millions of cases of asthma, heart disease and child IQ loss. According to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, the Clean Air Act “returns $40 dollars in health and environmental benefits for every dollar of compliance costs.” Rather than tax future economic growth, benefits are expected to grow further. A 2010 EPA study predicts that the Clean Air Act will produce health, environmental and productivity benefits valued at $2 trillion in the year 2020."

There is not much conflict in these facts. They are a public good. But our political and media and ideological environment is so sensationalistic and toxic that we can't deal with this on those terms: of what helps this society work, every day and to meet the challenges of the future. The toxic blatherers in Washington and their media minions certainly don't want anyone to think about how the Obama federal government saved the U.S. auto industry, and thousands of jobs directly, and millions of jobs indirectly and in the future, and did so by getting the industry and labor centered on what they needed to do. Now GM has paid back almost all of its loans to the federal treasury, and is well on the road to prosperity.

It's worth noting, for the partisan politics and ideologically obsessed, that to the Chamber of Commerce President Obama defended regulations that protect workers and their ability to make a living, as well as his Recovery Act, his planned investments in education and energy innovation and infrastructure, and even his health insurance reforms, on this same basis:

"We simply could not continue to accept a status quo that’s made our entire economy less competitive, as we’ve paid more per person for health care than any other nation on Earth. Nobody is even close. And we couldn’t accept a broken system where insurance companies could drop people because they got sick, or families went into bankruptcy because of medical bills.

I know that folks here have concerns about this law. And I understand it. If you’re running a business right now and you’re seeing these escalating health care costs, your instinct is if I’ve got even more laws on top of me, that’s going to increase my costs even more. I understand that suspicion, that skepticism. But the non-partisan congressional watchdogs at the CBO estimate that health care tax credits will be worth nearly $40 billion for small businesses over the next decade -- $40 billion, directly to small businesses who are doing the right thing by their employees."

President Obama hasn't changed, even if perceptions of him are changing. But perhaps he's making it clearer: He is not middle of the road, nor is he ideological and clueless. He is centered on the future.

Monday, February 07, 2011

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

“Only that which does not cease to hurt remains in memory.”