Monday, July 12, 2010

Bonanza Column 193 – The GOP Won’t “Spoil” Americans

Summertime, even in an election year, is not the best time to write a column at Tahoe. In the winter, when it's cold and dark, or even when it's sunny but there's snow on the ground, it seems easier to find things to write about, but when it's 80 degrees and the sun is shining, the breezes blowing and the lake is there in all its azure splendor, somehow it's harder.

Even more so after a successful Independence Day celebration – record crowds, great events and fireworks, beautiful weather. I keep wondering, as I did in my Independence Day column two weeks ago about what the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) would make of America today. What would those Easterners make of Lake Tahoe in the summer, or of San Francisco or Seattle or San Diego? All these places would, I suspect, seem very strange and foreign to them. What would they make of a society that, even though racist and sexist attitudes persist, has de-institutionalized discrimination to the point where we have an African-American President, a woman Secretary of State (who was a close second for the Presidency), a population growing to the point where Hispanics are headed for the majority, and an economy that, even when it's in trouble, dwarfs anything that would have been in their reality.

What, also would they make of double-digit unemployment? I listened to a story on NPR on Sunday about a woman in a small town in Georgia – she was an Assistant Manager at a bank and was let go when the bank was bought by a larger bank. She has a 17-year old son and an older daughter who has two small children, all of whom she supports, and her unemployment benefits have run out. She has been looking for a job for over six months in an economy where there are, on average, 6 applicants for every available job, she is behind in her rent and facing eviction, and in disconnect territory with her utilities (which I guess won't matter if she's evicted). She is qualified, willing – no, eager – to find any kind of job and so far has not found one. And her unemployment, which she figures paid her about $8.40 an hour or $17,470 a year (she was making $41,000 plus benefits in her job) is about to expire.

In time of high unemployment, Congress has traditionally extended the 26-week limit on unemployment benefits to as much as a year. Now, however, the GOP minority in the Senate is using the filibuster to block any such extension – I guess they agree with candidate Sharron Angle that the woman in Georgia is "spoiled" by her "benefits," which are 42% of what she was making in her modest job. I wonder if they think her children and grandchildren are spoiled also.

Republican Senatorial leadership are piously avowing that they are not opposed to extending unemployment but simply want to see cuts elsewhere so that they don't add to the deficit the estimated $3 trillion it would cost . (They had no such reservations about the deficit when they voted a similar amount for war funding, despite there being nothing in the budget to cover it.)

Economists are as close to unanimous as economists get that extending unemployment would provide a stimulus to the economy. It's simple: if you give tax cuts to the well-off, they are likely as not to save or invest their gains. Those who have been unemployed for six months or so do not have the luxury of saving – they will spend the money on food and rent and utilities and maybe consumer goods, and that money will instantly come right back into the economy, creating jobs which will, in the long run, obviate the need for further unemployment benefits.

But the Party of No doesn't seem to care. They will do anything they can to prevent the government's helping anyone other than the wealthy and the big corporations in whose pockets they live. I wonder what the writers of the Declaration of Independence, who said that the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are self-evidently inalienable and who said that the proper function of government is to secure these rights for its people, would think of all this. I fancy that, like the Native American in the old "don't litter" ad, they would weep to see how their ideals have been perverted by people who claim to speak in their name.

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