Monday, November 14, 2011

Funnin' Rachel Maddow: You MISSED One!

I guess you're "human, after all" ... to quote Rick Perry. Our beloved Rachel Maddow, the best of the best at MSNBC, responded to yet another backfiring assault on the importance of the federal government and the scope of its essential functions. To a person, in my view, everyone who argues for the elimination and privatization of large chunks of the federal government is either (a) an ideological zealot (Ron/Rand Paul) or (b) doesn't know WTF they're talking about (Rick Perry, Teabaggers). What's wrong with this spirited defense of our government from Rachel? Watch:

Yup, what's missing is Rachel's BELOVED (and mine) National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency of the Department of Commerce. For those who think the right wing's anti-government hysteria is a recent development, driven perhaps by our deficit and down economy, think again. Back during the "good old days" of the Clinton presidency, a time of unparalleled prosperity in our nation's history, wingnuts were targeting for demolition the selfsame departments Perry couldn't name in all, let alone understand their function of service and paramount importance to our leadership position in the world.

The greatest single project ever undertaken by modern man was one cited by Rachel, the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, New Mexico, which built the first atomic weapon and began the nuclear era. Setting aside any moral reservations, the fact is, had it not been us, then it would be either the Nazis or the Soviets. And anyone who is familiar with the history of that "Pharaonic" project would understand that it was way outside the scope and competency of the private sector. The Department of Energy grew out of that project, and has become intimately linked to our national security. For any American to propose abolishing this department of the U.S. government is tantamount to madness. Who needs traitors when we've got destroyers of government running for president to serve destroyers of jobs in the public/private sectors?

Government, as President Obama said recently, by way of Lincoln, is here to do for us the things that "we cannot do for ourselves." After all, We, The People are the government. Second, this toxic idea that the federal government is an "alien" entity outside of the people and hostile to us is, similarly, a longstanding separatist strain in American history that dates back at least to the Civil War, and to the defeat and subjugation of the Confederate South by the Yankee North. The southern secessionists, represented by Governor Perry and his right wing "states rights" cohorts, have never gotten over it. The so-called "Tea Party" is the Republican wingnut manifestation of its Confederate wing. Debt and taxes are but pretexts for this rabid, irrational hatred of a "tyrannical" government.

The time was the late 90s. President Obama's Chief of Staff, Bill Daley, was then President Clinton's Secretary of Commerce. I contributed to a liberal political board populated by wingnuts who lost every argument, but hung on being endlessly circuitous and argumentative. For some reason they flocked to me. I think it was my exotic name. Sounded "foreign" or something. I tangoed with one of our favorite wingnuts — actually a decent dude, in his own way — who started a Gov. Perry rant about abolishing the Commerce Department. Well, I'd just about had enough, so I replied. This is what I said:
From the Commerce Department's "About Us" section:

"The Department of Commerce promotes job creation, economic growth, sustainable development and improved living standards for all Americans by working in partnership with business, universities, communities and workers to:

1. Build for the future and promote U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace by strengthening and safeguarding the nation's economic infrastructure.

2. Keep America competitive with cutting-edge science and technology and an unrivaled information base.

3. Provide effective management and stewardship of the nation's resources and assets to ensure sustainable economic opportunities.

The Commerce Department touches the daily lives of Americans in many ways — it makes possible the weather reports heard every morning; it facilitates technology that Americans use in the workplace and home every day; it supports the development, gathering and transmitting of information essential to competitive business; it makes possible the diversity of companies and goods found in America's (and the world's) marketplaces; it supports environmental and economic health for the communities in which Americans live and it conducts the constitutionally mandated decennial census which is the basis of representative democracy.

The Commerce Dept. has taken a leading role in negotiating trade and international agreements on behalf of our private sector (as recently in China). It has also facilitated trade and business agreements between countries and individual states, to the economic benefit of the states."

You know, it never ceases to amaze me how right wingers love to shoot from the hip when making cheap political hay about doing away with this government department, or that — until it gets down to brass tacks and specifics, and calmer voices on both sides remind them that many of the functions performed by said department cannot, and should not, be eliminated willy-nilly.

The function of our trade representatives is to negotiate treaties and agreements. The function of the Commerce Department is to regulate and administer those agreements on behalf of our country. That's why we have an executive branch and a president. The function of Congress, as the legislative branch, is to approve those treaties and provide oversight over budget matters and administration. I'm sure you know all this (duh), so why are you imputing administrative executive functions on the Congress? In the interests of greater efficiency? Please.

As for the trade deficit, any economist will tell you that the Commerce Dept. has very little to do with it. The trade deficit is dependent on a variety of economic factors and indices that have developed over a couple of decades through both Republican and Democratic administrations. What Commerce can do is to provide assistance and data for U.S. companies to market their products, work to ensure access to international markets as required by our trade agreements, and safeguard U.S. companies and workers from unfair competition, dumping, or subsidized imports. Not only that, but who's going to issue export licenses and administer patents and trademarks? State, Defense, Interior?

You may argue with the effectiveness of the Commerce Department in certain high profile and politicized areas, like trade, but not with the necessity of its essential functions. I don't understand why you're in such a lather over it anyway; is it because Secretary Bill Daley is the brother of Chicago's Democratic kingpin, Mayor Richie Daley? 

It really irks me, a lot, how those who constantly criticize and bitch and moan about our government never seem to realize or acknowledge the positive impact it has on their everyday lives. Every time you turn on the radio or TV and tune in to the weather, it comes to you courtesy of the National Weather Service which is (you guessed it!) a division of the Commerce Department. I noticed the Weather Channel just posted huge profit and growth numbers; why? Because their raw data comes from the government, and it's free! Hooray!!

I don't think anyone today will seriously argue with the importance of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (of which the NWS is a part, along with the National Environmental Satellite Data, and Information Service which coordinates environmental and weather data collected from satellites), given the strategic impact of global warming and severe weather changes on our economic welfare. The concept of an earth science agency (NOAA) within Commerce was developed in 1965 by a Democrat, LBJ, and finalized in 1970 by a Republican, Nixon. We can thank them for their foresight on this question.

And then there is the Census Bureau, another (you guessed it!) agency of the Commerce Department. I vaguely recall your extensive use of Census Bureau data to make wrongheaded arguments about poverty during the Reagan administration. Do I hear a thank you, a few disgruntled words of recognition to our government? After all, it has so beneficently provided you with mountains of FREE data that could ostensibly become an instrument of its own destruction if the anti-government whiners have their way? I don't think so.

OK. So now you want to demolish the Commerce Department. According to your INFINITE wisdom, it's "useless." Let's go down the list: Do we do away with patents and trademarks? NO WAY! say the naysayers — who's going to protect MY intellectual property!? Well, what about export licenses? What, are YOU nuts!? Humm, surely the Census Bureau, the right wing has no use for it (Psst ... the idea is to balkanize and keep voter turnout low), right? OF COURSE NOT, wail the anti-government zealots indignantly, we just don't want the DEMOCRATS to run it! Well then, let's demolish the NOAA! Gee, my constituents might not like it if they're struck WITHOUT WARNING by a hurricane (like in the old days) ... my state is poor and we REALLY NEED the National Weather Service to give us adequate warning.

So I guess what you're saying is we smash the Commerce Dept. and carve up all these agencies, consolidating them within State, Defense, Interior, you name it, that we may achieve REAL economies of scale and TRUE efficiency! Brilliant!! It's an old cliche but a truism: The anti-government foamers just love to rail against "big government" until it comes down to slashing some agency that they like because it has a positive impact on their lives and economic well-being.

What's next on your right wing hit list: the Department of Education?
What can I say? I've mellowed quite a bit since the days of the Flying Monkey Right — yowza, they're baaack! — but even then, I had the gift of political smarts that isn't learned from experience (Chris) or D.C. connections (POLITICO, Idiot Punditocracy), but comes primarily from having core principles and beliefs, which they all lack to varying degrees. Keep trying, Lawrence; at least you can laugh your mistakes off, not take yourself too seriously, which is a prerequisite for political growth. Right now, your audience is still way ahead of you. But for some largely inexplicable reason ... we like you!

As for Chris, we like him too. For largely inexplicable reasons. I'm afraid there's less hope for Chris, as he is so in the grip of the John Harrises of this world. But then Chris writes a book on JFK ... and a glimmer emerges. (Still waiting on the Jon Stewart seal of approval, however.) Two things, Chris: Lee Harvey Oswald wasn't "a man of the left" (Jesus, drop the Charles Krauthammer affectation, already), rather he was a megalomaniacal lunatic; second, regarding the "ask not" line, Kahlil Gibran wrote it first (see my post), it's in print, circa 1926, and if JFK's Choate professor said it, where did he get it from, hmm? How about a prominent, successful author and Massachusetts resident? If you only write "truths" that are palatable to you, Chris, then you're no better than your polemicist pal, Bill-O the Clown, whose Lincoln book was banned from Ford's Theater for its many "inaccuracies" and for Bill-O'Really not knowing the difference between "furl" (a nautical term) and "furrows" one's brow.

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