Manufacturing Crisis

"The crisis is now. You may not feel it, your constituents may not be overwhelming you with letters demanding a fix, but the crisis is now." BushThe first task then, is for Bush to convince Congress that there is a crisis, and expect the media to go right along with Bush on this, as this is one they've a vested interest in:Richard D. Parsons, chief executive officer of Time Warner Inc. and co-chairman of a Social Security reform commission appointed by Bush, said the government needed to begin making the same transition as corporations that had begun replacing traditional defined-benefit pension plans with newer defined-contribution 401(k) accounts.

"We have to gradually move from a system that is on a pay-as-you-go basis ... to a system that is on a fund-as-you-go basis," Parsons said. "This is exactly what's happened in the business world."

Yes it's a money grab. Bush says crisis and CNN jumps.

And here it is again, in Dick Armey's Tis the Season for Social Security Reform, well-funded talking points in action:

"America is rapidly approaching a retirement security crisis... The solution is obvious... Social Security reform becomes more difficult the longer we wait... the Cato Institute found..."

The first thing then, is to get Congress to debate the crisis, because once that is accepted, the solution becomes Bush's. Ivolsky correctly interprets the frame:

In the spirit of Lakoff, lets inspect the framing Bush uses when talking about his yet-to be-proposed Social Security privatization plan:
From his weekly radio address: "A crisis in Social Security can be averted, if we in government take our responsibilities seriously, and work together today. I came to Washington to solve problems, not to pass them on to future Presidents and future generations. I campaigned on a promise to reform and preserve Social Security, and I intend to keep that promise. "

Here, Bush elicits fear-- the same tool used to whip the population into a frenzy for the Iraqi war.

And he is painting himself as the savior, (in Lakoff's terms), a strong leader, the strict father who can lead the nation out of its "crisis," the omniscient father figure.

The fact that the crisis is fabricated is irrelevant; the language he uses urges change, it overtly identifies a crisis. And in a crisis, something must be done!

The framework: Bush is showing strength in a time of crisis!

Translation: How can you not support this brave and heroic president! He is willing to stand up to the problem.

As long as Democrats work in this framework they will loose the Social Security debate.

Progressives should frame social security in terms of responsibility to our elderly. Democrats are the party of responsibility. The Republicans/Reactionaries/Conservatives are the party of weakness: they are weakening the financial security of senior citizens.

There is no crisis. Republicans were against Social Security in the first place. Now, only because of political capital, do they seek to dismantle the safety net of our society that they oppossed being formed in the 1930's by FDR.

This is the only battle I will judge the Democrats upon this coming term of Congress. Yes, there will be rightwing judges, yes there will be a continued occupation of Iraq, and yes there will not be accountability in the Bush administration. But this must be stopped. Democrats must draw a line in the sand over this, and not give a single inch.

Yes, there is a crisis, in Iraq; yes, there is a crisis, in the national debt; yes, there is a crisis with the unfunded mandates of Bush's, but Social Security is just fine without any help by the Republicans.

Stem-Cell Brain Drain

Pro-stem cell research blue states are poised to suck anti-stem cell red states dry of biomedical research talent: Three years after President Bush announced restrictions on federally funded medical research using stem cells from human embryos, a California panel will meet today to begin the process of granting $3 billion in state money to stem cell researchers.(...)

New Jersey, Wisconsin and Illinois are budgeting taxpayer dollars or proposing California-style initiatives to try to prevent a brain drain of biomedical researchers to the West Coast. (Advanced Cell Technologies, a Worcester, Mass., company, is shopping for land in Northern California to build a branch facility.)

Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, a Democrat, will ask the Legislature next year to place on the ballot a proposal to grant researchers $1 billion. The money would be raised by a new tax on Botox injections, liposuction and other "vanity" treatments.

In Texas, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison has asked Gov. Rick Perry, a fellow Republican, to do what it takes to prevent California from stealing scientific luminaries from medical research centers in Houston. Pro-research bills are likely to be considered next year by legislatures in Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire and Washington state.

Social conservatives in several other states are fighting embryonic stem cell research. Eight states - Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia - now ban or limit such research. All but one, Michigan, were "red states" that backed Bush in this year's elections. South Dakota passed the most recent ban, in February.

Next year, legislators in Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana will consider barring at least some types of embryonic stem cell research.

Conservative opposition to scientific research has clear economic consequences. Missouri, Kansas and Louisiana will pass such bills to their own economic detriment. Now, I know that through our discussions of works such as Brad Carson's essay on his Senate campaign, What's the Matter With Kansas, by Thomas Frank, and Don't Think of An Elephant by George Lakoff, we have learned ad nauseum how many social conservatives, even poor and working class social conservatives, do not care about the economic impact of their policies. However, at the very least, the huge damage that these policies wreck on our economy should serve as a wake-up call to libertarians, reformers and ideological moderates everywhere. Innovation and entrepreneurship are liberal values. Stagnation and regression are conservative values.

Inventing Reform

Unfortunately, being out of power does not necessarily allow a political party to claim the reformer agenda. The Great Backlash narrative, which dictates that liberals are always in power because of their supposed control over academia, the judiciary, the media and the entertainment industry, is one problem that we face when trying to become a party of reformers. The narrative presents an imagine of conservatives as outsider reformers no matter who runs Washington or state governments. Another problem is that the party in power can intentionally force a budget crisis in an attempt to increase national popularity for reform that is only popular among conservatives. This is exactly what Krugman argues Republicans are doing when it comes to Social Security:Privatizing Social Security - replacing the current system, in whole or in part, with personal investment accounts - won't do anything to strengthen the system's finances. If anything, it will make things worse. Nonetheless, the politics of privatization depend crucially on convincing the public that the system is in imminent danger of collapse, that we must destroy Social Security in order to save it.(...)

Projections in a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office (which are probably more realistic than the very cautious projections of the Social Security Administration) say that the trust fund will run out in 2052. The system won't become "bankrupt" at that point; even after the trust fund is gone, Social Security revenues will cover 81 percent of the promised benefits. Still, there is a long-run financing problem.

But it's a problem of modest size. The report finds that extending the life of the trust fund into the 22nd century, with no change in benefits, would require additional revenues equal to only 0.54 percent of G.D.P. That's less than 3 percent of federal spending - less than we're currently spending in Iraq. And it's only about one-quarter of the revenue lost each year because of President Bush's tax cuts - roughly equal to the fraction of those cuts that goes to people with incomes over $500,000 a year.

Given these numbers, it's not at all hard to come up with fiscal packages that would secure the retirement program, with no major changes, for generations to come.

It's true that the federal government as a whole faces a very large financial shortfall. That shortfall, however, has much more to do with tax cuts - cuts that Mr. Bush nonetheless insists on making permanent - than it does with Social Security.

But since the politics of privatization depend on convincing the public that there is a Social Security crisis, the privatizers have done their best to invent one.

Make no mistake. The huge budget deficits that are repeatedly run up by conservative administrations are not just attempts to "starve the beast" and force massive cuts in the social safety net. They are equally attempts to position the conservative agenda as a reformist agenda to the status quo. If they can convince a majority of the population people that the budget shortfall is caused by Social Security rather than by tax cuts they will succeed. Without the reformers, the Republicans would be out of power. Thus, even in power, they need to invent ways to make certain that they can keep this crucial voting block in their coalition. A fake Social Security crisis is one such invention.

The Corporate War Against Enterprise

The consistent interventions on the part of state and federal governments to provide large corporations with whatever they want is a consistent check against creativity, new competition and innovation. Rarely is this more apparent than it is in Pennsylvania right now.

Mayor John Street of Philadelphia recently proposed providing the entire city with free, or at least extremely cheap, wireless service. As a resident of Philadelphia, I think this is a great idea, not only because it would provide me with free wireless service, but also because it is exactly the sort of thing a city needs to do in order to help attract the new creative class. Like much of the northeast, Philadelphia hemorrhaged nearly its entire manufacturing base decades before it happened to the entire country, and those industries are not coming back. Tolerance and creativity are two of the keys in rebuilding local enterprise.

Unfortunately, the Pennsylvania state legislature values propping up aristocratic, corporate oligarchies instead of the possibilities of creativity, innovation and new enterprise:

The reality today is that we live in an era where large corporations work hand-in-hand with lobbyists and compliant legislators to stifle any technology that returns control of our media system to the public.

The latest evidence lies hidden within a Bill en route to the desk of Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. House Bill 30 -- an industry-drafted and inspired sprawl of corporate concessions -- has tucked within its more than 70 pages an amendment that effectively kills efforts in Philadelphia to provide citywide wireless access at little or no charge.

The bill cleared both Pennsylvania's House and Senate on Friday. A signature from Governor Rendell would scuttle "Philadelphia Wireless" -- an ambitious plan to build a Wi-Fi network to serve the city's working-class communities -- before the project could begin.

The problem, according to the Bill's principal sponsor, Verizon Communications, Inc., is that community-supported wireless poses a "significant threat" to the multi-billion dollar company's near monopoly hold on wireless access across the city. Why allow for local competition and innovation in Philadelphia when you can shut it down via well-funded connections in the capitol?

Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street's spokeswoman Barbara Grant told MediaChannel that the bill was "terrible for cities around the country, because if the telecommunications companies can stop it here in Pennsylvania, they'll probably be able to stop it anywhere."

In 1998, when he was mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell signed a domestic partnership law intended to bridge the inequality gap in marriage rights between homosexual and heterosexual couples. In addition to the moral component of this legislation, it could also have served to help out the local economy. With tolerance comes creativity. With creativity comes enterprise. Unfortunately, conservatives have managed to mount legal challenges to the 1998 city partnership decision, and there has been an injunction against the law for several years now. After stifling that method of helping to rebuild local enterprise in the interests of intolerance, conservatives are now interested is stifling another in the interests of corporations. Hopefully, Rendell won't stand for this, and will protect the public interests of Philadelphia.

Through initiative and innovation, entrepreneurship is a liberal value. Through intolerance and aristocracy, entrepreneurship is not a conservative value.

The Intolerant War Against Enterprise

Treasury Secretary Snow after returning from Europe: Aides say Snow is not preparing to be lectured about US deficits, but instead will tell the Europeans they need to fix their "growth deficit", which Washington blames for the global imbalances that have led to trade deficits and, in turn, a drop in the dollar to record lows against the euro. (...)

"They have to get at the structural barriers that they put in place that restrain the natural potential of their economy. They've got to embrace the spirit of enterprise," he said.

I am not going to delve into the arrogance of telling others that you will not be lectured just before launching into a lecture against others, as I think it speaks for itself. As James Wolcott notes, it also seems to be speaking for itself on the bottom line: In late October, the Financial Times had a front page story "Well-known US brands see sales in Europe fall."

Coca-Cola, McDonald's, Marlboro, and GM were all revealing problems echoing those "already faced by Disney, Wal-Mart and Gap."

When it comes to domestic social policy, contemporary conservatism has become almost entirely defined by the Culture War. When it comes to international diplomacy, contemporary conservatism has become obsessed with nation-baiting. Hysterical, insulting proclamations against both homosexuals and nations such as France have become hallmarks of contemporary conservatism, and both are starting to function as, in Snow's own words, "structural barriers... that restrain the natural potential of [our] economy."

Every time we come up with some insipid name like "Freedom Fries," or publicly blast the people of other nations as "appeasers," our economic viability drops in the countries we insult. Open conservative intolerance of the opinions and attitudes of leaders and people of other nations serves as a structural barrier to American enterprise. We already have a huge trade deficit as it is. The last thing we needed is another structural barrier to American enterprise, in this case open intolerance, hindering our entrepreneurs and the growth of our economy.

The intolerant, conservative war against American enterprise goes beyond international trade and foreign markets. The Culture War cannot simply be understood as a war against tolerance and modernity that is being fought entirely within a textual and cultural realm. . A war against gay Americans is also a war against our continued economic growth. To again quote from Wolcott:

Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, numerous times has cited Procter and Gamble's efforts along with gay groups and civic activists to overturn Cincinnati's Article XII, which discriminates against homosexuals. They're not doing it out of simple idealistic atruism. It's smart self-interest.

P & G recognizes that it needs to be gay-friendly to attract young, innovative workers, and Cincinnati recognizes it too needs to be seen as tolerant and accepting in order to prosper in a postindustrial economy.

A gay community is often a creative community, and a creative community tends toward the entrepreneurial. With our nation hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, more than ever we are dependant on non-industrial business growth in order for our economy to keep growing, and in order to have any hope of closing our trade deficit. Conservative intolerance is a significant detriment to our economy, and a significant barrier to American enterprise. For them to continue to give the finger to wealthy allied nations and to continue their efforts to enshrine discrimination against homosexuals into law is a problem that negatively affects all of us.


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