Category Archives: media

The Myth of the Greedy Geezer

The following appeared today as an opinion piece on Al Jazeera English.

Old people are becoming everyone’s favourite scapegoat for America’s economic woes. Among the growing ranks of self-styled deficit hawks, Social Security and
Medicare are depicted as an intolerable burden to the nation’s already crippled
economy, which can only be saved through massive cuts to these so-called old-age entitlement programs. To advance this agenda, proponents of entitlement cuts have attacked not only the programs themselves, but the people who benefit from them – the selfish old folks like myself, who insist upon bankrupting the
country for the sake of their own costly health care and retirement income.

We in the over-65 set have become the present-day equivalent of Reagan’s notorious “welfare queens,” supposedly living high on the hog at the expense of the taxpayer. According to what I call the Myth of the Greedy Geezer, we lucky
oldsters spend our time lolling about in lush retirement villas, racing our golf
carts to under-priced early-bird dinner specials and toasting our good fortune
with cans of Ensure – all at the expense of struggling young people, who will
never enjoy such pleasures since the entitlement “Ponzi scheme” will collapse
long before they are old.

The fervour for entitlement-cutting remains strongest among conservatives, but these days, even President Obama is taking part, promoting the recommendations of his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, commonly known as the Deficit Commission (and to its opponents as the Cat food Commission, since that’s what old people will be eating when the Commission finishes its work).

The appointed chair of the Deficit Commission, Alan Simpson, is one of the primary promulgators of the Myth of the Greedy Geezer. A former Republican senator from Wyoming who is known for his colourful turns of phrase, Simpson insists that “This country is gonna go to the bow-wows unless we deal with entitlements, Social Security and Medicare.” The majority of the people opposed to such cuts, he claims, are “These old cats 70 and 80 years old who are not
affected in one whiff. People who live in gated communities and drive their
Lexus to the Perkins restaurant to get the AARP discount. This is madness.”…

Read the rest at Al Jazeera.

The Radicalization of Peter King

Peter King is, in one sense, uniquely qualified to hold hearings on the “radicalization” of young men to a terrorist cause: He may be the only member of the United States Congress to have undergone the process himself, at the hands of the Irish Republican Army.

Some of King’s  previous dealings with the IRA have been reported, but the depth of his embrace is best documented by Ed Moloney, author of A Secret History of the IRA and former Northern Ireland editor of the Irish Times and the Sunday Tribune, whose reportage on the IRA’s operations is second to none. Moloney now writes a  blog, The Broken Elbow, in which he recently recapped what he knows about King–including his links to none other than Col. Muammar Gaddafi, long known as an arms supplier to international terrorists:

The re-emergence of the old links to the IRA are embarrassing to Peter King and his response has been both utterly predictable and supremely dishonest – he has wrapped the peace process around himself as protection and justification for what he did. This is what he told the Washington Post:

‘ “I [wanted] a peace agreement, a working agreement, where the nationalist community would feel their rights would be respected,” King said in an interview at his Capitol Hill office. “I felt that the IRA, in the context of Irish history, and Sinn Fein were a legitimate force that had to be recognized and you wouldn’t have peace without them. Listen, I think I’m one of the people who brought about peace in Ireland.” ’

The facts, sadly for him, do not support any of this. King first came to Belfast in 1980 just when the first hunger strike, the one led by Brendan Hughes, was reaching a climax, and was radicalized by what he saw and experienced. He came back for the second hunger strike, and it was then he met the family of Bobby Sands, in particular his sister Bernadette and her then partner, now husband Micky McKevitt. He would visit them on every trip he made and often stayed in their home in Louth. When he was elected to Congress virtually the first thing he did was to jump on a plane to Ireland to host a celebratory dinner with Bernadette and Micky – and this was all at a time when McKevitt was masterminding the smuggling of Col Gaddafi’s Semtex and AK-47’s from Tripoli. In Belfast, King’s best friends were Anto’ Murray and his wife. McKevitt was the IRA’s Quarter Mster General  and Anto Murray was Belfast Operations Officer.

Moloney told me Thursday: “The point about the story is this: When King was most friendly with them in the 1980s, McKevitt was in charge of the smuggling of hundreds of tons of arms and explosives, including Sam-7 missile launchers, mortars, heavy machine guns, 1000’s of AK-47, 5-7 tons of Semtex, millions of rounds etc., provided gratis by Gaddafi. Given what is happening in Libya right now and that Gaddafi was, prior to Al Qaeda, main Muslim sponsor of international terrorism, it makes his hearings even more hypocritical. Add to that the fact that Libya was an enemy of the U.S. and the IRA was getting help from Libya–doesn’t that dent king’s claim that IRA never harmed America?” Furthermore, “One American was killed when the IRA bombed Harrods in London in 1983 and another wounded. So not quite true to say Americans were not directly affected.”

To summarize: Peter King is the last person in the world to be preaching about terrorism, including Muslim terrorism. The very idea that the U.S. Congress would put on such an odious display, led by this consummate hypocrite, humiliates the country at large.

Just a Nut Job

You could almost hear the collective sigh of relief coming from the right when accused Tucson shooter Jared Lee Loughner was revealed to be just another disturbed young man, clearly suffering from untreated mental illness. After all, conservative commentators leaped to point out, if the guy is a nut job, then all the right-wing political attacks on Democratic party office holders and candidates for office didn’t have any or much effect on the shooting.

That interpretation of events seems to have taken hold in the public mind. Most people don’t think there is any connection between the Tuscon shooting and what the pollsters call “political discourse,” according to the new ABC-Washington Post poll released Tuesday morning.

The public overwhelmingly sees the country’s political discourse as negative in tone – 82 percent say so, including three in 10 who say it’s “angry.” Still there’s a division, 49-49 percent, on whether it’s created a climate that could encourage political violence.

On the Tucson shootings specifically, 54 percent of Americans do not think the political discourse contributed to the incident, while 40 percent think it did. Those who do see a connection divide on whether it was a strong factor, or not strong.

The survey more generally finds blame for the political tone spread across a variety of groups. Half the public says the Tea Party political movement and its supporters, as well as political commentators on both side of the ideological divide, have “crossed the line” in terms of attacking the other side. Forty-five percent say the Republican Party and its supporters have done the same; fewer, 39 percent, say so about the Democratic Party.

Now, this doesn’t make much sense to me. Jared Loughner may be mad, but there’s clearly a method to his madness. He may be psychotic, but his psychosis manifested itself in a particular way. After all, Loughner didn’t attack members of his family. He didn’t go postal at the workplace. He didn’t shoot up the military recruiters or the college that rejected him. No. When he picked up his legally obtained assault weapon, he chose to try and assasinate a member of the United States Congress. And not just any old member, but one who had been targeted, singled out for political attack, reviled by the right wing. And this amidst a call by several right-wing figures for their followers to become “armed and dangerous” to defend their liberties against such Democratic party usurpers as Gabrielle Giffords. How can you say this attack is unrelated to the current American political culture?

As Lynn Parramore, editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s blog New Deal 2.0, puts it, one must  ignore that political culture, right-wing ideology, and Sarah Palin. Otherwise, one  will be taking advantage of the botched murder, and thereby contributing to a witch hunt. To avoid such accusations, the majority of the populace are willing to deny the following facts, as outlined by Parramore:

  • That a disturbed young man allegedly went on a killing rampage. That his rage did not manifest in an attack on a neighbor. Or a family member. Or a police officer. It manifested in the attempt to assassinate a member of the United States Congress.
  • That the disturbed young man recorded his ramblings on YouTube prior to the rampage. That his disturbance did not take the form of claims that he was pursued by aliens. Or expressions of a belief that he was Messiah. His ravings concerned the illegitimacy of the U.S. government and its currency.
  • That obsessions with the legitimacy of the U.S. government and its currency are not associated at this moment in history with liberals. Or centrists. Or members of the Flat Earth Society. They are the pet concerns of right wing ideologues.
  • That the target of the assassination attempt, Congresswoman Giffords, had been the object of threats, violent rhetoric and the witness to alarming incidents in public venues, including the sight of a gun dropping out of the clothing of a man holding an anti-government placard at a recent gathering. That she publicly expressed her fear of the escalation by naming a public figure, whose use of violent imagery was directed at her. The person named was not Howard Dean. Or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Or President Obama. The person named was Sarah Palin.
  • That Sarah Palin, the person Giffords publicly named as a spreader of dangerous rhetoric, is a political figure. That she is not associated with progressives. Or centrists. Or moderate Republicans. She is associated with the Tea Party.
  • That over the last two years, the Tea Party has been associated with the expression of dissatisfaction towards the current state of the nation. That this dissatisfaction has not expressed itself in demands for a renewal of the brotherhood of mankind. Or a focus on peaceful protest. It has been expressed in slogans like “Don’t retreat, RELOAD” (Sarah Palin); a call for “Second Amendment remedies” (Nevada Tea Party Senate candidate); and “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” (Congresswoman and Tea Partier Michelle Bachman).
  • That the very forces in our society that might have prevented the massacre — namely strong gun laws and adequate services for the mentally ill — are precisely the forces that a certain section of the American political spectrum seeks to undermine. That this section is not the far left. Or the U.S. Pacifist Party. Or the Green Party. Those that most loudly advocate weak gun laws and austerity measures that cut off health care are typically right wing conservatives.
  • That the person who has had the task of maintaining law and order in Tucson, Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, expressed his deep concern about the community just after the shooting. That the thing most troubling to him was not the real estate crisis in Tucson. Or unemployment. Or the need for looser gun laws. He specifically named violent political rhetoric as the thing that kept him up at night.

In the face of this preponderance of fact, the right has once again managed to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and sieze hold of the political rhetoric. That they did so in the current circumstances–while a judge and a young child lie dead, and a member of Congress struggles to recover from bullet through her brain–seems nothing short of astonishing. But then, one has to remember how completely the right has ruled the political discourse in this country for at least 30 years. 

Since the birth of the New Right  back during Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the right has ceaselessly steeped its political program  in an  ideology of “principle,”  as opposed to wishy-washy Democratic pragmatism. Principle, drawn from the study of the literal Bible text and the Constitution, was to be the foundation of rightward change, from the Reagan Revolution through Bush II. The Democrats largely ignored the ideological attack, laughing it off as the work of a bunch of crackpots. They also offered no competing ideology, having denounced liberalism and abandoned traditional  Democratic principles. 

The result was the repeated loss of the presidency, of the Congress, of any control over the economy and of foreign policy. Through sheer ignorance and arrogance, plus a dose of ideological bankruptcy, the Democrats willed themselves out of power. And when they managed to get some back, with the election of Obama in 2008, they had nothing in their arsenal with which to meet the right-wing ideological onslaught that followed.

Beyond the mainstream tenets of conservative principal, the further shores of the right fired up a fresh hodgepodge of nativist politics that spurred on the revival of  new militant white power groups, the rise of the militia movement, then the Minutemen, and then the more militant members of the Tea Parties. These days, it’s hard to tell the fringe from the center right, and what we used to call “extremist” views are expressed on the campaign trail and sometimes on the floor of the Congress.

But none of this, of course, has anything to do with the shooting in Tucson.

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Obama’s Cat Food Commission, Alan Greenspan, and the Dancing Grannies for Medicare

President Obama’s Deficit Commission is all smoke and mirrors. Its members are making a big show of laboring over “painful” choices and considering all options in their quest to bring down the deficit. But  inside the Beltway everyone knows what’s going to happen: The commission will reduce the deficit on the backs of the old and the poor, through cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Some opponents have taken to calling it the Cat Food Commission, since that’s what it’s victims will be forced to eat once the commission gets done slashing away at their modest entitlements.

In fact, the true intent of the Deficit Commission was evident before it was even formed. That intent was only driven home when Obama appointed as its co-chair Alan Simpson, who is well known for voicing, in the most colorful terms, what Paul Krugman calls the “zombie lie” that old-age entitlements will soon bankrupt the country.

So why the big show? Because neither Obama nor the Congress wants to get caught cutting Social Security and Medicare in public, certainly not before the November elections. (Medicaid will be cut as well, but politicians tend not to worry so much about poor people, since they don’t go to the polls in the numbers we geezers do.) So instead, they are foisting off this unpleasant task onto the Deficit Commission, showing what the lawyers call “due diligence,” sucking their thumbs and pretending to study how to cut the deficit. They’ve got $1 billion in walk-around money to pay for propaganda so the PR industry ought to be plenty happy. So too, should billionaire Pete Peterson, as he and his foundation lackeys push forward towards a victory in their longstanding attack on entitlements.

Quite frankly, if the Republican Right could get itself together and shove the Tea Party nuts back into their cave–as Reagan did with the crackpots hanging around him–they too could reap the benefits of the Cat Food Commission’s work. Ever since the New Deal, the Right has been kicking and screaming about Social Security. Things just got worse in the 1960s with Medicare and Medicaid. And now, thanks to our supposedly “socialist” president, they are within a few inches of cutting a nice hefty hunk out of the largest social programs this nation has ever known.

As one Capital Hill player recently wrote me: “Unfortunately, everyone in a position of power up here knows full-well the connection between Peterson, the commission and Simpson.  They either don’t care or are too afraid to say anything because they’ll appear ‘soft on deficits.’  It’s no different than their Iraq war votes…they believe they’ll appear ‘weak’ if they don’t jump on the bandwagon. The Democrats, (with the exception of Nancy Pelosi and only a handful of others–including commission member Jan Schakowsky), have no intention of taking on Peterson’s crew.  Congress may be  a lost cause on this issue, if the voters don’t get pissed off about the Commission fast.” 

Will enough voters get pissed off enough, soon enough to slow down the anti-entitlement juggernaut? It’s a long shot, at this point. There are signs of something like a small movement growing around the Cat Food Commission idea, and scattered protests (among them a demonstration dubbed the “Dancing Grannies for Medicare.”)

But it’s going to take a lot to waylay the likely course of future events:  The Cat Food Commission will undoubtedly recommend, and a lame duck Congress will pass, legislation that looks fairly innocuous: trimming Social Security a bit, maybe by upping the age by a few years, and cutting a little from Medicare–none of it affecting anyone who is over 65 right now. That will enable the politicians now in office to look like they are protecting seniors and fending off any drastic cuts, while at the same time appearing “tough” on the deficit. But the legislation, in the usual Washington mode, will gradually widen as the years go by, so that by the time this bunch of pols are retired (on their fat pensions) and out of the fray, the new rules will be eating  into entitlements in a big way.

The other side of this Faustian bargain would appear to be Congress passing some tax increases. “In setting up his National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform,” William Greider recently wrote in The Nation, “Barack Obama is again playing coy in public, but his intentions are widely understood among Washington insiders.” As Greider puts it, “The president intends to offer Social Security as a sacrificial lamb to entice conservative deficit hawks into a grand bipartisan compromise in which Democrats agree to cut Social Security benefits for future retirees while Republicans accede to significant tax increases to reduce government red ink.”

It remains to be seen how “significant” those tax increases actually turn out to be. But even former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan seems to be on board with this general plan. Greenspan’s credentials include chairing the first major entitlement-cutting commission back in the 1980s, as well as promoting the Bush-era tax cuts that helped the deficit grow to its current proportions. He still says that reductions to Medicare benefits are necessary–but in a recent interview in the New York Times, Greenspan also says that he now wants to remove all the Bush tax cuts. Seeing as it comes from the champion of “let them eat cake” economics, this pronouncement must be seen as predictor of how conservatives could end up voting. In short, the old and the poor will have to eat cat food, but the rich might kick in a few crumbs as well.

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The Annual Social Security Bash-a-thon Is About to Begin

Ida May Fuller receive the first Social Security check in 1940.

 Today is the big Day for Social Security bashers. The trustees of the nation’s retirement system will be releasing their annual financial report, and you can bet that no matter what it says, politicians from left to right will use it as the pretext for a smackdown, reluctantly and oh so sorrowfully concluding that Roosevelt’s New Deal project is about to cause the nation to go broke. The only thing to do, they will lament, is to cut Social Security as a small step in curtailing entitlements and thereby eventually balancing the budget. 

The biggest suckers in the Social Security takedown are not the politicians or policy wonks, but the journalists–and in particular, the gaggle of screaming pundits on cable TV–who lap up their spoon-fed pablum without casting anything remotely resembling a critical eye. They apparently consider the idea of reporters doing their homework as a quaint habit of bygone days. Otherwise, they would know that–as two longtime experts on Social Security write–our leading old-age social program, which is celebrating its 75th year, is actually “an essential program in admirable fiscal health.” 

In preparation for the coming attack, the Nieman Foundation at Harvard has asked Nancy Altman and Eric Kingson–both former staff of the Greenspan Commission that studied Social Security back in the 1980s, who have been tracking the program ever since–to write a primer to help the general public make sense of charge and counter charge. Altman and Kingson, who currently co-chair the Strengthen Social Security Campaign, call their report “Newsflash! Journalists prepared to once again utterly misread annual Social Security Trustees report.” I am reprinting salient points from the piece here. 

Thursday’s report will once again describe an essential program in admirable fiscal health. But every year, journalists twist the facts to fit a narrative favored by the political elite: that the program is in crisis. Rather than manufacturing a false drama that shakes people’s confidence about their future benefits, two Social Security experts write, reporters should stick to the facts. 

….. Social Security is the most fiscally responsible part of the budget, projecting income and outgo three-quarters of a century into the future — longer than private pensions or even the social security programs of most other countries. When projecting out over such a long time period, it will sometimes project deficits, providing considerable lead time for Congress to make adjustments that are needed from time to time. This careful monitoring and close examination of Social Security should provide the American people with confidence that the program will always pay benefits on time and in full, as it always has. Instead, the non-news in the report is spun every year to make the program appear headed toward bankruptcy — an impossibility, given how the program is financed. The natural result of that story angle is to shake the confidence of hardworking Americans who have contributed and earned benefits and to frighten those who currently receive benefits. 

Here are some questions reporters should ask about Social Security in order to accurately report the news. 

Q. What does the report say about the current and near-future state of Social Security? Doesn’t it reveal, just as last year’s did, that Social Security is currently in surplus? Doesn’t it say that Social Security has an accumulated surplus of over $2.6 trillion, which will grow to over $4 trillion by the 2020s, and can pay all benefits in full and on time for a quarter of a century? How much, or little, is today’s situation like that of 30 years ago, the last time Congress acted to eliminate a projected deficit?  

This year’s Trustees Report will make 100 percent clear that Social Security is in strong financial shape, notwithstanding the projection of a moderate shortfall still decades away. It will show that we are not in any way facing the type of financing crisis experienced by Social Security in the mid-1970s and early 1980s. Back then, Social Security faced large, immediate shortfalls. If Congress had not passed and if President Reagan had not signed legislation early in 1983, then some time later that year, Social Security would not have been able to pay all benefits as promised. Nothing like this is remotely possible today. In fact, the Social Security actuaries’ low-cost optimistic assumptions will project, as last year’s did, that Social Security faces no shortfall at all. These projections are simply not consistent with the claim that Social Security is in crisis. 

Q. If most of Social Security’s revenue in the future will come from future contributions of workers and their employers, and if the Trustees Report indicates that, even with no change whatsoever, three-fourths of all benefits can be paid on time for the next 75 years and beyond, why do so many young people think they will never get a penny from the program? Why aren’t politicians correcting this mistaken view?  

The undermining of confidence in Social Security’s future is central to the attack on the program, as it softens resistance to radical changes that would greatly reduce benefits, especially for middle aged and young Americans. After all, if these citizens can be convinced that Social Security is unsustainable, that it will not be there for them, then they will be more likely to embrace reforms, even if these reforms drastically reduce the benefits they are earning. 

Q. If there is no immediate problem, why has President Obama empowered a deficit commission — which lacks a single commissioner or even staff member whose primary expertise is Social Security — to propose changes to Social Security? And why has the Congressional leadership agreed to an up-or-down vote in a “lame duck” session, should the commission reach consensus? (See our earlier article for NiemanWatchdog.org, “Has Obama created a Social Security ‘death panel’?) 

Frankly, we do not know, though it seems that some political elites want to do something deeply unpopular, yet avoid political accountability. Poll after poll on the subject reveals that overwhelming percentages of Democrats, Independents, Republicans, the young, the old, Tea Partiers, union households and everyone else do not want benefits cut or the full retirement age increased. To close the projected shortfall, they want new revenue, preferably from progressive sources such as increasing or eliminating the maximum amount on which contributions are assessed (and benefits calculated). Seemingly, some among the elites think they know best, but can’t explain it and don’t want to take the heat from simply going against the will of the people. (In the past, Social Security legislation has always gone through regular congressional processes with review, amendment and debate by members of Congress, especially those serving on committees that have jurisdiction over the program.) 

Some politicians — the so-called “deficit hawks” — view the confluence of Social Security’s projected shortfall with the serious long-term fiscal imbalance in federal spending as providing an opportunity to position themselves as being “tough” on the deficit. Most concerning, the same forces that brought us unsustainable long-term federal deficits — the ones that passed tax cuts for the rich, that brought us into two unfunded wars, that deregulated the banks and mortgage systems, nearly collapsing the economy and then had the temerity to give themselves huge bonuses beyond what ordinary Americans can imagine making in a lifetime — these same forces are now trying to pin this deficit on the most cautiously financed program the nation has. 

To put things into perspective: Social Security’s entire projected shortfall is just 0.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product — about the same amount it would cost to extend the top Bush tax cuts for the top one percent of the nation’s wealthiest persons. 

Q. Is it accurate to say that Social Security is, for the first time, taking in less in payroll tax contributions than it is paying out in benefits?  

It is the first time since 1983 that it is paying out more, but 1983 marked the beginning of a period during which Social Security started building large surpluses in anticipation of the retirement of the baby boom. There is nothing new or surprising about Social Security’s benefits exceeding the so-called payroll taxes. Benefits exceeded payroll tax contributions in 1958, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1965, 1975, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983. The sky did not fall. Indeed, the trust funds acted as intended, providing a margin of safety so that benefits could be fully paid, even in very difficult economic times. (see Table 4.A3–Combined OASI and DI, 1957-2008 in the Social Security Administration’s Annual Statistical Supplement, 2009). 

Most important, though not well understood, payroll taxes are only one of Social Security’s three revenue sources. Payroll taxes are the mandatory contributions, deducted from the wages of workers, and matched by employers. But Social Security also collects interest on the surpluses it has invested in certificates of obligation and bonds issued by the U.S. Treasury. And the program also collects income taxes on the Social Security benefits of those with higher incomes. These three sources of revenue, taken together, exceed the cost of all benefits and associated administrative costs in 2010 by a projected $138.4 billion, according to the 2009 Trustees Report

Q. And finally, why is all the attention focused on sustainability, instead of celebrating on this 75th Anniversary how this program has, through good and bad times, protected working Americans and their families and given expression to widely held values — rewarding hard work, caring for parents, neighbors and ourselves? 

Today Social Security is America’s most important source of retirement income protection. It is also the country’s most important disability protection and life insurance protection, especially for all our children. Given the unpredictability of disability and premature death, and the insecurity of employer-sponsored retirement arrangements, stocks, home equity, and other savings, Social Security will be an even more important source of income for tomorrow’s workers. Adequate financing is obviously very important, but it is not an end in itself.

The Puppy Protection Act Offers (Slim) Hope to (Some) Abused Pups

Congress.org reports today on bills recently introduced in both houses of Congress. The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act (S 3424 and HR 5434) would “amend the Animal Welfare Act to provide further protection for puppies.”

The bills, from Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), were introduced at the end of May and tail a Department of Agriculture inspector general report regarding federal investigations of breeders.

The IG report, released May 25, says large breeders who sell animals covered under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA, PL 89-544) online are exempt from inspection and licensing requirements “due to a loophole in AWA.” The IG says there are “an increasing number” of these unlicensed, unmonitored breeders.

The bills would require licensing and inspection of dog breeders that sell more than 50 dogs per year to the public (including online) and would also outline additional exercise requirements for dogs at facilities – such as having sufficient, clean space and proper flooring.

According to a press release, Durbin said he would work administratively with the USDA to fix problems at its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, and then introduce addition legislation if needed.

Supporting humane treatment of puppies would seem like a political no-brainer, right? As Liliana Segura pointed out on Twitter earlier today, what could be better in the upcoming midterm elections than “to be able to say ‘our opponents HATE puppies'”? Mainstream groups like the Humane Society have been pushing for legislation action on puppy mills for years, to little avail. (Click here to see video of a Humane Society raid on a massive puppy mill in Tennessee, and here to read some gruesome details from the USDA’s report on puppy mills.) Yet the bills are not exactly barreling their way through Congress; both are waiting for attention from agricultural subcommittees, and after two months, the Senate bill has only seven co-sponsors.

In addition, when it comes to animals routinely used in cosmetic testing, and animals (including puppies and dogs) treated cruelly in drug testing and medical research, the federal government has pretty much sat on its hands–or worse. To take one particularly galling example, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine last year exposed an effort on the part of the National Institutes of Health to sell young constituents on the idea of animal experimentation. As Stephanie Ernst wrote on Change.org:

[T]he NIH promotes, on its Web site, a children’s coloring book that gives a skewed view of animal experiments. The coloring book implies that researchers are trying to cure animals that are already sick—rather than purposely infecting them with diseases—and ignores the fact that animals suffer and die in the process. The coloring book, entitled The Lucky Puppy, was produced by an industry trade group, the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research, whose members have a financial interest in the continuation of animal research…

The book erroneously portrays the lives of animals in laboratories as pleasant and carefree. Published scientific research and numerous undercover investigations clearly demonstrate that animals in laboratories suffer pain and distress from experimental procedures and routine laboratory practices. The coloring book also makes misleading claims about the benefits of animal experiments, implying that research findings from experiments on animals are directly applicable to both the animals used in research and to humans.

The federal government is also actively engaged in protecting animal testing and experimentation against animal rights activists. Anyone who chooses to take action against an animal testing facility is not, as one would expect, subject to charges of breaking-and-entering or vandalism. Instead, they are branded terrorists under the notorious Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act; for actions in which no human being were harmed, they can end up serving long sentences in a federal supermax Communications Management Unit.  (See the blog Green Is the New Red for the best information on AETA.)

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Blame It On the Geezers: Matt Bai’s Generational Theory of Politics

In Sunday’s New York Times, Matt Bai argues that it’s old people who are disproportionately driving the Tea Party Movement, and especially its anti-government venom and its strong racist element. “According to a survey by the Pew Research Center in June, 34 percent of Americans between the ages of 50 and 64 — and 29 percent of voters 65 and older — say they agree with the movement’s philosophy; among Americans 49 and younger, that percentage drops precipitously,” he writes. “A New York Times/CBS News poll in April found that fully three-quarters of self-identified Tea Party advocates were older than 45, and 29 percent were older than 64.”
 
Based on this data, and on the history of the last 70-odd years, Bai constructs a theory that divides American politics largely along generational lines:  
[A] sizable percentage of the Tea Party types were born into a segregated America, many of them in the South or in the new working-class suburbs of the North, and lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s. Their racial attitudes, like their philosophies of governance, reflect their complicated journeys…
 
In other words, we are living at an unusual moment when the rate of progress has been dizzying from one generation to the next, such that Americans older than 60, say, are rooted in a radically different sense of society from those younger than 40. And this generational tension — perhaps even more than race or wealth or demography — tends to fracture our politics.
 
These numbers probably do reflect some profound racial differences among the generations, but they are more indicative of how young and old Americans approach the issues of the day, generally. Older Americans now — no longer the New Deal generation, but the generation that remembers Vietnam, gas lines and court-ordered busing — are less enamored of expansive government than their parents were. They fear changes to their entitlement programs, even as they denounce the explosion in federal spending. They are less optimistic about the high-tech economy, more fearful of the impact of immigration and free trade.
So what’s wrong with this picture? Mostly, what’s wrong with it is what’s left out. Bai (who is 41) mentions that todays old folks “lived through the marches and riots that punctuated the cultural and political upheaval of the 1960s.” But who, exactly, does he think was carrying out the marches and riots? The exact same age group, of course–made up of my own generation and that of the Baby Boomers.
 
These people are today, for the most part, over the age of 60–the precise age that places our roots, Bai says, in a “radically different society.” Despite these apparently rotten roots, the generations that Bai criticizes (with a hint of oh-so-condescending compassion) managed to accomplish the following:
 
1. Launched and fought the Civil Right Movement, in which several dozen African Americans and a handful of white lost their lives, and hundreds more were beaten and arrested. Compared to this, the accomplishment of younger generations–voting for a black president–was a cakewalk.
 
2. Protested against and eventually shortened the Vietnam war. These protests were large, fierce, and widespread, and went on for years. Unless I somehow missed it, I’ve yet to see a comparable antiwar movement mounted today, among the young people Bai celebrates.
 
3. Supported the War on Poverty–not only with our rhetoric, but with our paychecks. (The top marginal tax rate in 1965 was 70 percent; now it’s 35 percent). In contrast, today’s Democratic party, starting with Clinton and continuing through Obama, has pretty much abandoned the poor to their fate. So today’s bourgeoise youth can declare themselves “progressive” without having to give up a thing.
 
The gist of Bai’s article is that our society will improve as we bigoted old geezers to die off, and make way for more broad-minded generations. But I wonder: Are there any among the younger generations who are going to fight the kind of fights we fought in this brave new world? If there are, they’d better stand up now. 

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