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The Royalists Make Their Move February 8, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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So the House passed an $800 Billion stimulus package with no Republican votes. The Democratically controlled Senate proposed a $900 Billion package, but can’t pass it because Senate rules allow the minority party to prevent a vote. So a group of conservative Democrats and Northeastern Republicans (so-called centrists) got together and hacked roughly 100 Billion out of the Senate proposal and proudly announced that their sober, responsible negotiations have produced a deal with enough Republican support to barely pass.

So what was gained and lost? The Senate bill was larger than the House bill in large part because it included a modification of the Alternative Minimum Tax. But they produce this modification every year as part of the budget process. It has nothing to do with stimulating the economy and need not be part of this bill. The Tax Policy Institute claims that cutting the AMT tax increases the incomes of Americans in the top 20% by 1.3%, and the benefits drop off from there, doing nothing for Americans in the bottom 40%.

Did the fearless “centrist” negotiators eliminate the modification to the AMT? Why no. They eliminated 40 Billion dollars in aid to the states, $20 billion proposed for school construction; $8 billion to make federal buildings more energy efficient, 1 billion for early childhood education, and $2 billion devoted to expanding broadband data networks in rural and underserved areas.

It is beyond crazy to starve state government of much needed support. State revenues are plummeting and thousands of teachers, police and fire personnel, and state workers face furloughs and lay offs. Most economists agree that preventing state cutbacks is the quickest and most effective form of stimulus spending.

So to give the wealthy a few thousand dollars, we allow state governments to collapse, hastening the downward spiral of unemployment and reduced revenue that may land us in an economic depression. In this country, we can never improve the general welfare (let alone the worst off) without paying “Rents and Obligations” to the manor Lords. And like feudal Lords they need not provide coherent justification for their thievery. The leader of the Republicans said last week that state jobs are not real jobs. Why are we still listening to these people!

If the Senate bill passes, it will go to conference committee where the drama will center around whether the House conferees and/or Obama will exert sufficient pressure to reinstate this aid to the states. But modifications will be time consuming and Obama seems determined to make this happen quickly.

Update: Dumb mistakes corrected

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Poison for Profit, Local Style February 7, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Current Events, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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The salmonella-in-peanut-butter scandal is already old, and seems to have dropped off the outrage radar already, but I feel compelled to bring it up, since I made such a passionate call for outrage in the Chinese melamine-laced milk scandal. The bottom line is, of course, that greed and unethical business practices aren’t limited to a country on the other side of the world—Yes We Can poison our own people right here in our own back yard! The story involves fudging lab results, lying to the FDA, and disregarding state and federal inspections. Here are the basic fact, from Associated Press:

Federal investigators on Friday said the Lynchburg, Va.-based company knowingly shipped salmonella-laced products from its Blakely, Ga., plant after tests showed the products were contaminated. Federal law forbids producing or shipping foods under conditions that could make it harmful to consumers’ health.

So far, the salmonella outbreak has sickened about 575 people in 43 states and may have contributed to at least eight deaths. The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation and more than 1,550 products have been recalled.

The company has denied any wrongdoing, but said it is investigating.

So is this to be considered our own melamine story? Yes and no. The deliberate shipments of contaminated peanut butter products involve what we can call sins of omission (looking the other way), rather than deliberately adding harmful ingredients to a product, and for some, that difference between a passive and an active act is important. But is it? From a practical point of view, salmonella poisoning may be a different kind of threat than melamine poisoning, but morally speaking, both are results of an utter disregard for the welfare and humanity of the consumers. Here is one of those rare occasions where I think we reach the same conclusion regardless of whether we are utilitarians, deontologists, or philosophers of care (virtue-ethicists): For the utilitarian, the focal point is that people have been grievously harmed in both cases, so, no significant moral difference. For the deontologist, consumers have been shown disrespect and treated as a means to an end (for profit) either way, so no difference. And for the care ethicist, the virtue of caring for our fellow human beings has been violated, regardless of whether one turned a blind eye to a contaminant, or deliberately added a poison.

So if the managers of the GA plant were indeed aware of the health risk inherent in their product when they shipped it, what should their penalty be? Recently two people—a middle man and a manufacturer—received death sentences in China for their role in the melamine milk poisoning scandal, and the former manager of the Sanlu Dairy group received a life sentence. No long trial, no lengthy appeals. Some would say that this was a PR move, more than anything else. Is this the kind of punishment we would want for manufacturers of foods that poison our own citizens? Keep in mind that we are outraged that contaminated peanut butter products are sold in the United States precisely because we have a tradition and a system that, at least nominally, recognizes the intrinsic value of each citizen.

More Like This February 6, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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This is more like the guy we voted for in November.

I think Obama is finally tired of suffering fools gladly.

Beat The Press February 5, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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There has been a good deal of talk the last few days about Obama losing control of the debate over a economic stimulus plan. Part of the problem is Obama’s desire for bipartisan support. He has to “play nice” thus giving credance to ideas he ought to simply dismiss. But part of the problem is the news media in this country that aims to promote conflict rather than inform the public.

 ThinkProgress found that “the five cable news networks — CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Fox Business and CNBC — have hosted more Republican lawmakers to discuss the plan than Democrats by a 2 to 1 ratio this week.” From 6 AM on Monday to 4 PM on Wednesday, the “networks have hosted Republican lawmakers 51 times and Democratic lawmakers only 24 times.

Conservatives lost the election and their policies have been thoroughly discredited, but the media thinks we still need a steady diet of bunk.

The Real Agenda February 3, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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While global economic catastrophe looms, Republicans first in the House and now in the Senate continue to try to block Obama’s stimulus package–the only legislation that has a chance of getting the economy back on track. The stimulus package received no Republican votes when it passed the House last week and Senate Republicans are threatening a filibuster in the Senate.

Their complaints range from the demonstrably false to the ridiculous. They complain about “pet projects” inserted in the plan that represent a minuscule percentage of the total spending. They claim that tax cuts have no stimulative effect if they go to low-income workers despite the obvious fact that low income people have no choice but to immediately spend virtually all their income on necessities. They claim that  spending on major building projects will not create jobs. Who will build them? Ants? They claim that aid to the states is just bureaucratic bloat despite the fact that aid to states will save the jobs of thousands of teachers, health care workers, law enforcement personnel, and other people who man state agencies. They claim that the only policy that will work is corporate tax cuts, a claim that has been decisively refuted by economists across the ideological spectrum.

There are legitimate debates about what kind of projects will produce the greatest stimulus. But you won’t here these from Republicans because such a debate would presuppose the validity of government spending when trying to exit a recession.

Conservatives disagree on many issues, but they are united in their disdain for government spending, which they view as inefficient and unnecessary. If Obama’s stimulus plan should succeed, the core beliefs of conservative ideology will collapse. After FDR’s government institution-building that helped get us out of the depression of the 1930’s, it took 40 years for the Republican Party to regain its influence. Contemporary conservatives face a similar scenario. Thus, the real agenda of conservatives is to deal with this existential threat. I sort of feel sorry for them. They are between a rock and a hard place. They can go along with Obama and eviscerate their raison d’etre or resist and hope he fails. Most seem in the mood for resistance. (For once, Chairman Rush sees things clearly.) A puzzling approach for a party that claims to put country first.