Perhaps you’ve heard, but approximately 300,000 people throughout nine counties in West Virginia finally have drinking water for the first time in more than five days. The source of the problem was that the river that serves as the main source of water for all of those people became contaminated with 5,000 gallons of MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, which is a chemical used in coal mining. The chemical entered the water supply via a small one-inch hole near the bottom of one of the storage tanks. The MCHM went into a containment area, but then seeped through the rather porous cinder blocks lining the containment area, and into the river. The company who owned the storage tanks and the chemicals, Freedom Industries, told officials after the leak that they had put $1 million in escrow with the intention of upgrading the containment area, but gosh, they just never got around to it, by golly.
Why would several storage tanks of a caustic chemical even be located on the shore of a river, less than a mile upstream from the intake for a water supply that serves 300,000 people in the first place? And why, in 2014, would the state department of the environment fail to consider MCHM to be hazardous enough to subject the site to regular state inspections? What does it take, really? This is, after all, tanks full of a chemical known to cause headaches, eye and skin irritation and respiratory problems if exposed to high concentrations for a prolonged period of time. How could that ever pose a problem, right?
Call me crazy, but if it’s serious enough to cause a panic when it does spill into the water, common sense would suggest that it’s serious enough to consider preventing contact with the water supply. Was it absolutely necessary to locate those tanks on the banks of a river? Is there nowhere else in the state, or the general area, to keep this chemical?
It’s like last year, when a fertilizer plant in the small town of West, Texas caught fire and blew up, killing about a dozen first responders and took out a few homes, a school and a nursing home, and which severely damaged dozens of homes. The plant stored about 500 times the amount of ammonium nitrate required to be reported to the Department of Homeland Security without reporting it. Texas state regulators knew it was there, and didn’t report it. Seven years earlier, the state seemed surprised that the plant had two huge tanks of anhydrous ammonia and finally permitted it approximately 20 years after the tanks had been placed there.
Five years ago, our economy crashed and the American people “lost” about $29 trillion in wealth because greedy people were allowed to create instruments and markets that had no rational purpose for existence, except to generate wealth for the people at the top of the pyramid. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had been operated under extremely strict controls for a generation and made home ownership possible for millions of families with very few problems, because they were operated under strict and rational controls. But six years as an unregulated irrational market, and it damn near brought down the entire economy, and brought us to the brink of our first depression in 80 years.
These are all signs of the “Republicanization” of America, folks. It’s the result of constantly cutting and cutting, without any regard to what we need or want as a people, as well as the “can’t do” spirit that imbues everything the Republican Party stands for. The current incarnation of the GOP has as its main theme that government can’t work, and it proves that every chance they get.
And after 34 years of it, it’s time to say, “Enough!” That’s why 2014 is absolutely the most important election in our lifetime. And the next 5-6 election cycles will be just as important as 2014. No matter what, every Democrat has to win every time, until the GOP purges the nuts out of their ranks and returns to something somewhat respectable. I know you’ve heard it all before, but there is no question this time; we have to make sure Democrats win for the sake of the country.
This coming election day marks the 34th anniversary of the election of Saint Reagan and the end of the most prosperous era in American history. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been asking people to compare the most recent 34 year period, during which Democrats only held control of the government for a grand total of four years, with the previous 34 year period, during which Republicans had control for a grand total of four years. The response has been interesting to say the least. The stark difference between those two eras is incredibly striking. Under Democrats, we were a “can do” nation that invested in the country, but had less debt. Under Republicans, we became a “can’t do” nation that takes a miserly attitude toward government investment. In fact, Republicans see all government spending as a problem, even though they waste far more money than Democrats could ever imagine. Think I’m joking? Consider the record.
Let’s start with the 34 year period between 1946 and 1980. For the most part, that 34-year period saw phenomenal growth and prosperity as a nation.
See, Democrats had learned something from World War II that no Republican could ever learn. Not all government spending is the same; during the war, we spent our way out of our last depression, and it brought economic growth and prosperity. During the period between World War II and 1980, our government invested huge amounts of money on infrastructure all over the country. We built schools, we built town squares, we built cities out of dust, and we created a nation that was the envy of the world. We demonstrated to the rest of the world how to build a world-class highway infrastructure that made our economy the envy of the world.
During that 34 year time frame, we showed the world how to do almost everything to bring about economic prosperity, and as a result, the entire world economy grew by leaps and bounds. Domestically, we were a manufacturing power, but more than that, we started to take care of our own. We set up a mortgage system that made home ownership a reality for millions of families. Beginning with the GI Bill, we set up systems whereby just about anyone in the country could get a good education, including college if they wanted to, for an affordable price; sometimes, it was free. Between the G.I. Bill, Pell grants, Stafford loans and other programs, during this period, it was possible for just about anyone in the United States to get a good education and experience the American dream, whether that was to be a doctor, lawyer, auto mechanic or factory worker.
During that same period, the American worker was, for the first time in history, able to make enough to support a family, including owning a home and just about anything else he wanted with a single family income. Jobs were plentiful, and most workers were making plenty of money. We were the manufacturing capital the world at the time, and our goods were considered the greatest in the world, quality-wise. This country thrived under Democrats, largely because Democrats regulated commerce and kept the markets fair for everyone involved, rich and poor. Did they over-regulate in some cases? Absolutely. But when you look at the overall effect, what they largely did was done right.
Not only did virtually everyone who worked make a decent living, they were taxed fairly, and received a lot for their money. Working people paid less in taxes than the rich most of the time. The top tax rate for the very rich was 91% at first, then 70%, and in order to get that tax rate down, the very rich and large corporations had to do something that built the economy up for everyone. In other words, the quid pro quo for rich people back then was simple, but firm; if you wanted a lower tax rate, you had to help build the economy for everyone, not just you and your company. Not all of them liked it, but the fact of the matter is, a strong economy made more money for everyone, including the very rich. The middle class grew into a driving force when Democrats were in charge.
And because our middle class was mostly made up of formerly poor, we had a tendency to tackle problems back during this period. When poverty reared its ugly head, it was addressed with the development of a safety net to help protect those who fell through the capitalist cracks. When it was clear that large corporations were shortchanging their workers with regard to their safety, it was addressed by passing the Occupational Health and Safety Act, and creating OSHA. When the country finally started to take pollution seriously (admittedly, about 50 years too late), we formed the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, and passed Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to address it. We saw problems and we invested in fixing them. We invested in protecting the food supply, in making sure consumer products were safe, in seeing to it that the vehicles on the road were safer, and all manner of safety regulations.
It was during this period of time that we also passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare, and hundreds of other progressive laws that were designed to make life in the United States the envy of the world. And they all worked, eventually. We also sent astronauts to the moon and brought them back to Earth safely within ten years of our commitment to do so.
We had some problems after 1971, when Richard Nixon took us off the gold standard, and then OPEC proved that oil was no longer a free market by locking us out of the market and bringing us to our knees in 1973. But we spent the rest of the decade proving once again that we were a “can do” nation, and we were well on our way to reducing our oil dependency by 1980. By 1980, we were on pace to cutting our consumption by 5% per year, which means we’d be using roughly two-thirds less oil by now. We also got a handle on inflation (yes, that’s right; it was Carter who hired Paul Volcker, and Carter and Volcker who reined in inflation, not Saint Reagan.), which Republicans said couldn’t be done without “trickle-down” economics.
And let’s not forget about the national debt. The debt, which was at a record 120% of GDP at the end of the Second World War, stood at 31% of GDP by 1980. Why? Because we spent a lot of money. Because we invested in ourselves.
Now, compare that to the the current state of the country, after 34 years of Republicanization.
The debt is astronomical. At the time Saint Reagan took office, the total amount of debt the United States held was $900 billion. That’s for the entire 193 years since the Constitution was ratified. Again, that was 31% of the constantly increasing GDP at the time. By the time Saint Reagan and the elder Bush were done, in just 12 years, the total debt topped $6 trillion, and it represented 63% of GDP. I’ve already discussed this in another article, so I’ll leave it at that for now.
With Republicans in charge during the 1980s, we began to see our “can do” spirit get ripped apart, and it’s only gotten worse since. It’s all part of the overriding belief that government can do nothing right, so there’s no point in letting them do anything at all. And that includes functions that only government can perform efficiently, if we’re being realistic. Over this 34-year period, Republicans have proven themselves to be petty and nasty, and they don’t seem to care about what happens to the country. Their ideology is all that matters to them. They only pretend to care about what happens to the taxpayers’ money. They cut deeply into programs for the poor, at the same time they’re funneling tax money into the pockets of their friends.
Think about it; they have been cutting — and continue to cut — money for food inspections, money for OSHA inspections, money for the EPA, money for customs inspections, and money for pretty much anything that makes us safer, at the same time they’re giving oil companies billions of dollars in subsidies and giving the Pentagon money that even it says it doesn’t need for projects it says it doesn’t want. At the same time, they crow about “free markets” even as everything in most of our stores is made in Asia. and they do everything they can to prevent workers from organizing into unions. Republicans have taken us from being a nation where every worker has a right to unionize to one in which “at-will employment” and “right to work” essentially gives employers the right to do anything they want.
In the past 34 years, the Republican Party has brought us a brand of cynicism that should have no place in government, whereby the people who work for us talk about the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They constantly pretend to cut the budget to the bone, when they’re actually diverting the money from programs that help the average American to contracts that line the pockets of those who put them into power, especially when it comes to their baby, the Department of Perpetual War. One of the worst legacies of the Democratic Party-dominated period has to be the Vietnam War, but the Republicans actually topped that by starting three preventable wars in the last 34 years, and turning two of them into major quagmires that lasted longer than Vietnam, and which did little more than line the pockets of defense contractors, to the tune of $2 trillion.
Republicans have also deregulated everything they could get their dirty little hands on. They cut regulations that were created to prevent another Great Depression, and they slashed regulations designed to keep markets fair and equitable. They have continually chipped away at regulations designed to keep workers safe on the job, as well as those intended to keep the environment safe. They even loosened regulations on food safety, and they virtually destroyed the regulations designed to ease our oil addiction. As one of his first acts, Reagan went so far as to take the solar panels off the White House roof in a sign of defiance. That’s put us more than 30 years behind the rest of the world in developing solar and wind power, which are not only the future of energy, but which are also the next global economic boom.
Republican rule has transformed this young, vibrant nation from a nation that once believed it could do anything, into a nation that believes it’s broke and can’t afford to do anything. Think about it; everything we discuss doing these days is through the frame of how much it costs and whether or not it will make money, which is not rational. While we are still the richest nation in the world, with Republicans in charge – especially the current crop – we won’t be for long.
The level of cynicism that courses through this government these days is not worthy of the United States. The steps we took to build this nation after World War II are largely being abandoned.
I won’t say Democrats are perfect; it took them almost two decades to pass Medicare and civil rights legislation, and it took until the late 1960s to even acknowledge the damage we were doing to the environment. But instead of being known for building out a manufacturing base and an infrastructure that were models for the rest of the world, we are quickly becoming a world laughingstock. We are now better known for our gun murder rate, and the stories of plants blowing up, or water supplies becoming contaminated than we are anything else. And it’s all because of the “can’t do” spirit that is engendered by today’s Republican Party.
I’m not saying that water never became contaminated, and fertilizer plants never blew up under Democrats. But if you’ll notice, there have been no calls to do anything about it in either case. In fact, if you look at the disastrous BP oil spill, only President Obama was out front about making BP pay or the cleanup, and Republicans chided him for it.
The Republicanization of the United States has to stop, and we have to stop it.