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Junior Moments

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Message Kurt F. Stone
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  Unless I've gone dotty and am in the throes of what might be called  a "junior moment,"  I think I recall the Republicans and their Tea Party acolytes campaigning just a few months ago on the issue of "jobs, jobs, jobs."  As I recall -- and I believe the record will bear me out on this -- their Fall campaign was replete with calls for deficit and tax reduction, an easing up of governmental regulations, and the defunding -- if not the outright repeal -- of that which they cattily call "Obamacare." Furthermore, I seem to remember them accusing the entire Democratic establishment of being 'elitist,' 'uncaring,' and 'out of touch with the needs, wants and aspirations of the great American Middle Class.'  And it is with this message, writ both large and loud by the Koch brothers and their anonymous allies, that the GOP managed to capture a sizable majority in the House of Representatives, whittle down Democratic strength in the U.S. Senate, pick up twenty state legislative chambers and move an additional half-a-dozen of their political lantzmen into governor's mansions.

   According to the pundits and political professionals, the Republicans' overwhelming victory was due in large part to their message that "Elitists like Obama, Pelosi and Reid have been fiddlin' while our economy burns." And again, unless I'm having a "junior moment," I don't recall the Fall campaign containing much Republican bloviation on such hot-button issues as abortion, same-sex marriage or the need to once and for all stick it to labor unions by denying or severely abridging their collective bargaining rights.  No, they kept those issues largely out of sight . . . until right after the moment of victory.

   It seems that ever since the 112th Congress swore to uphold the Constitution, the GOP has been on a relentless quest not to create new jobs or bring the budget into balance, but rather to defund, defame and debunk every last vestige  of the New Deal, Fair Deal and Great Society.  According to the preachments emanating from the right side of the aisle, defunding OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration), FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio -- as but five examples -- will go a long way towards cutting deficits and balancing the budget.  The same preachments can be heard in the various states where legislatures -- which must, by constitutional statute have balanced budgets -- are using the current economic crisis to take meat cleavers to public education, Medicaid, AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and unemployment insurance.  Here in Florida, where House and Senate Democrats could easily caucus in my kitchen, the legislature has decided that in order for those who are unemployed to qualify for assistance, they will have to volunteer upwards of 4 hours of their a week to some cause.  And, to add insult to injury, they are in the process of cutting the amount of time the unemployed can receive that assistance. Moreover, they have just overwhelmingly passed a measure which will henceforth turn a blind eye towards tenure or advanced degrees and tie teacher pay to how well their students do on a single standardized test.  What in the name of John Dewey does this have to do with fiscal responsibility . . . let alone education?

   And before you ask about the revenue side of the equation, the Florida legislature, with the blessing of our new Governor  -- Rick "Let's Get to Work" Scott -- has decided that cutting both corporate and property taxes will go a long way towards lifting the Sunshine State out of its fiscal doldrums.  "Cutting corporate and property taxes is an extremely effective way of inducing businesses to relocate to Florida," Governor Scott has said.  "And these new businesses will of course bring with them plenty of new jobs."

   I for one do not understand how gutting public education can help lure business to Florida.  I would have thought that businesses are more likely to relocate to places where the quality and commitment to public education ranks high.  Then again, perhaps I'm just having a junior moment and forgot an important part of the equation.

   Just this week, the House of Representatives, by a vote of 228 to 192 passed a bill to defund National Public Radio.  True to form, Republicans said their decision to deny NPR federal funding made good fiscal sense; Democrats termed the vote "an ideological attack" that would deprive local stations access to such programs as "Car Talk," "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered," and "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me."  For the most part, Republicans are being disingenuous; they consider National Public Radio to be a biased (read: leftist) news source with a largely elitist (read: Democratic) listening audience. The desire to defund NPR has been gaining steam for many years.  It received a major boost with last October's firing of longtime news commentator Juan Williams, and peaked with the release of gonzo muckraker James O'Keefe III's video purportedly showing a major NPR fundraiser accepting bribe money from  fake Muslims in order to secure favorable news coverage.  As with O'Keefe's videos involving ACORN, Planned Parenthood and Shirley Sherrod, this one proved to be an atrociously-edited fake.  And yet, despite incontrovertible proof that the fundraiser never said that NPR could get along better without federal funding (which amounts to all of $5 million a year), and made it clear to the "Muslims" that NPR's coverage was not for sale, that was the final straw.  People believe what they want to believe . . .

   Although there is room for honest disagreement over whether we the people can afford (from a strictly financial point of view) to continue funding NPR, this is not, in truth, what the argument is about;  any more than the Wisconsin legislature's move to deny collective bargaining rights to public employee unions has anything whatsoever to do with fiscal sanity.  In the case of Congress, if it were truly about acting with a modicum of fiscal responsibility, House Republicans would not be so uniformly in favor of continuing federal funding for NASCAR.  (Yes, you read that right: NASCAR.  The Federal government provides NASCAR teams and track owners some $45 million in tax breaks which, both House Republicans and the Pentagon claim "helps military recruitment and could help save jobs . . .")

   If there is any logic here, I don't get it. 

   Must be one of those junior moments . . .

-2011 Kurt F. Stone

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Kurt Stone is a rabbi, writer, lecturer, political activist, professor, actor, and medical ethicist. A true "Hollywood brat" (born and raised in the film industry), Kurt was educated at the University of California, the Eagleton Institute of (more...)
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