What will it take to wake up America to the many threats that currently endanger our health, safety, well-being and even our democracy?
- We see what is happening in the upper midwest and elsewhere to weaken workers’ rights.
- We saw what happened in the last election after the Supreme Court, in effect, allowed corporations to buy elections.
- We saw what happened to the media when long-standing rules against monopolies were eliminated.
- We saw what happened in the Gulf of Mexico when weak regulation of the oil industry led to unsafe drilling practices.
- We saw what happened when the financial industry was deregulated, leading to a global financial crisis and the Great Recession.
- We are seeing the consequences of weak oversight of the nuclear industry; safety problems were known in Japan for years and represent a risk to present and future generations; (prior reports documented weak regulatory oversight of the US nuclear weapons program as well) yet the federal government is expanding taxpayer subsidies for the industry.
- We saw what happened in Tucson and Columbine and too many other places because of weak gun control laws and regulations.
- We see how cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans, another form of the same anti-regulatory fervor, weakens our government and shifts the burden to the middle class.
- And we are seeing the Republicans mounting a major offensive against important agencies that we need to protect our interests, like the Environmental Protection Agency.
What is the common thread? Weakening regulations that protect people.
What is truly amazing and ironic is that the Republican/right-wing’s call for further deregulation has gained traction. It should be laughable. It should be a national joke (or a crime) to be able to call for deregulation right now, in the aftermath of the economic crisis, the BP crisis, the nuclear reactor crisis, the mining tragedies, the explosions at chemical plants, the massacres by people who got guns all too easily. Those espousing deregulation should be in full retreat, running with their tails between their legs, in hiding, publicly shamed, wearing a scarlet letter after the multiple disasters have shown how damaging deregulation has been to the people of America and other countries.
Instead, they are playing offense. I guess we should not be surprised at the hubris. Even while the Deepwater Horizon well was spewing millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, we heard the Republicans calling to open our offshore waters to more drilling. Today, while we are still in the midst of a major, unprecedented crisis at nuclear power plants in Japan, we are already hearing Republican calls for more nuclear power. This is their MO – they repeatedly deflect attention from the inconvenient truth (“pay no attention to that disaster behind the curtain”), so they can turn the tide of public discourse away from the obviously anti-people outcomes of their deregulatory policies. [I can’t help but observe that on a smaller, personal scale, this is Sarah Palin’s MO too – to double down when caught in a personal failings or disasters, like her “blood libel” reaction to criticism about her violent imagery and rhetoric, or even the idiocy of writing on her hand. Doubling down is obviously part of the Republican playbook.]
It seems that they are in the ascendancy and we progressives are on the defensive. Two years after Americans so hopefully reclaimed Congress and the Presidency, we seem to be in a tailspin, in retreat, defeatest. We need to get out of it. We need to regroup. We need to fight back against the disinformation that leads so many Americans to vote against their own interests. We need to boldly proclaim the truth about how deregulation puts us, and our children and grandchildren, at risk. We need to help our politicians have the courage to do the right thing. We need to organize and strategize.
Enough is enough. It is beyond time to call out the right-wing’s outrageous deflection of the truth for what it is – an elaborate scam to deny the truth and weaken protections that we all need. We have regulations to protect the people’s interests. Most regulations did not arise in a vacuum – they were a response to real problems that endangered our collective well-being, whether financial or health or safety or educational or environmental. Think child labor, Love Canal, mine disasters, factory fires, typhoid and cholera epidemics, oil spills, dangerous cars, unsafe toys. These were and are real problems that led to laws and regulations. I’m old enough to remember the first Earth Day, and the time before the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act. We need these laws and many others that protect us, and strong, competent, adequately funded regulatory agencies to enforce these protections.
We need a better strategy to build a stronger progressive voice in America. We need to ditch the infighting that always seems to happen. It is obviously not productive to split the vote. We certainly need a way to shift the terms of the debate toward how to protect the interests of the American people. I hear this need in what President Obama is saying. He needs our help to push the envelope. How can we help him, push him, pull him, prod him, strengthen his resolve and his effectiveness, without undermining him?
We also need to welcome disaffected Republicans, independents, moderates with open arms. This means not being dogmatic or absolute. To succeed, we do not have to appeal to the 20% that is farthest right, but we do need to appeal to the center.
And, as many of you know and are doing, we need to support the nascent efforts that are out there, like what is happening in WI and elsewhere. I love that it’s not a one-time protest; they keep coming back! Thank you, Wisconsin! You are so inspiring! Thank all of you who are protesting — I really hope that you are indeed “waking the sleeping giant.” Maybe we need another period of marching, protesting, petitioning, fighting back, not giving up. Hopefully Wisconsin and their friends ARE the wakeup call for all of us, and particularly for college kids to get more engaged.
The people, united, can never be defeated. But the people, divided, can and will be.
A note on the assault on environmental protection
I want to call your attention to the efforts to weaken environmental protection. The Environmental Protection Agency is making some progress in reversing eight years of the Bush Administration’s systematic effort to ignore science and weaken environmental regulations. Now EPA is again under attack by the Republican Party. Other agencies that play a role in protecting us and the environment, like the U.S. Geological Survey and NOAA, are also on the cutting block. The House Budget, proposed by the Republican leadership, proposes major cuts to EPA and USGS. This is at a time when the need for EPA’s and USGS’ services to protect our air and water and us could not be greater.
In my experience, EPA is a highly professional agency whose management and staff include many smart and dedicated scientists, analysts, educators and managers. In most cases, they are really trying to do the right thing. We need to give them our full support so that they can do more, not less, to ensure that we have clean air and clean water and address global warming. EPA is under assault by conservatives trying to weaken them even further. I urge you to let your Senators know that clean air and clean water are a high priority, and we need EPA to have more resources, not less, to do their work to protect us. Here and here are links on this subject.
Here is some up-to-the-minute information that shows where the Koch Brothers interests lie; this is another reason why we need a strong EPA, and why EPA is under siege.
P.S. I originally titled this post, “Wake Up, America!” and when I was looking for an image to illustrate the post, I found that many ultra-right-wing sites have co-opted that message. Of course; silly me; should have realized. Some of the words on those sites are very similar to mine, yet their understanding of the root of the problem and the solutions we need is diametrically opposite to mine. In the end, I decided to keep the title, as yet another reflection of the Twilight Zone in which we live. And to reclaim the message. And to welcome those who are frustrated and may be open to a different point of view.