Archive for the ‘Stephen Colbert’ Tag
Senate Republicans aren’t required by…….well, anyone, to actually tell the truth and give factual statements on the floor of the United States Senate. Just ask Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, who last week berated the federal funding provided to women’s health care provider Planned Parenthood, saying—on the Senate floor—that abortions accounted for “over 90% of what they do.”
Not true. Not even close, according to Politifact.org.
According to the actual facts (provided by the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein), abortion accounts for only 3% of what Planned Parenthood does. So Jon Kyl was only 87% off.
Public funding does not go towards that 3% of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. It’s illegal. The Hyde Amendment has made sure of that since 1976.
What Planned Parenthood does do is provide cancer screening and prevention; provide affordable access to contraception (including birth control pills, which can be expensive); STD testing and prevention; pap smears………
When called on his gross misstatement of the facts, Kyl’s office released a statement saying that Senator Kyl’s “remark was not intended to be a factual statement.”
But perhaps the best thing to come out of this whole debacle is Stephen Colbert’s response in “support” of Senator Kyl. See for yourself below:
Comedian Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” (pronounced col-BEAR, and re-POUR…..and yes, as anyone who semi-regularly watches the show knows, Stephen would be horrified at my use of the word “bear” in the phonetic spelling of his name) took to Washington today to testify as a part of the “Protecting America’s Harvest” hearing in our nation’s capitol.
Colbert, the fake TV pundit, appeared before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigrants, Refugees, and Border Security “in character”—that is, as his neo-conservative, anti-intellectual, Republican mocking persona that has become such an icon alongside his Comedy Central counterpart, Jon Stewart. Earlier this week, as a part of his “Fallback Position” series exploring jobs available should his TV career falter, Colbert visited a farm in upstate New York to join the ranks of the migrant farm workers who are responsible for getting the food we eat from the fields to our tables. (Watch part one of the series here, part two here.)
Subcommittee Chairwoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who appeared in part one of Colbert’s report, invited Colbert to participate in the hearing presumably to draw attention to the plight of migrant farm workers, and to the “Take Our Jobs” campaign of the United Farm Workers union. And it worked; Lofgren commented at the outset of the hearing that she hadn’t seen so many cameras in the meeting room “since the impeachment.”
(It should be noted that the Democratic leadership is certainly not alone in tabbing celebrities to testify before congressional committees on subject matter that would appear to be far removed from their area of expertise. After all, as Colbert himself pointed out on his show Thursday night, Republicans once summoned “Elmo,” the “Sesame Street” puppet character to testify.)
All of the attention generated by Colbert’s appearance is terrific for such an important subject. But the overwhelming bulk of the coverage has focused solely on Colbert and his sarcasm filled opening statement (which, we were told by subcommittee member John Conyers, was significantly different from the written testimony he had submitted beforehand).
Not nearly enough attention has been paid to the actual discussion and issue at hand of the hearing itself. And that’s a shame.
Joining Colbert in testifying were Carol Swain, professor at Vanderbilt University; Phil Glaize, farm owner and Chairman of the U.S. Apple Association; and Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farm Workers of America.
Dr. Swain testified that her studies led her to the conclusion that there was, in fact, no shortage of American workers willing to man the fields. She cited the “experiment” of one Arkansas farmer who spent $250,000 of his own money on a program to provide transportation, better working conditions, and decent wages to Arkansans wanting to work harvesting his crops. Through this program he was able to provide jobs to dozens of African-Americans who were otherwise out of work and short on prospects. Swain held up this example as a triumph and an example that we don’t need migrant farm workers after all.
But on questioning, her argument fell apart. When Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) pointed to Dr. Swain’s written testimony that stated the grower in question discontinued the program because he couldn’t get any federal or state funding for it, she refused to acknowledge that perhaps he had stopped because it was too costly and unprofitable, and the only way to make it work would be with significant government subsidies.
Mr. Glaize had an entirely different take on the situation. As a farm owner and operator himself, he says the migrant workforce plays a vital role in keeping his business alive. Harvesting his apple crops, he says, is a time sensitive activity, and must be done within five days of the fruit ripening or else it will rot on the tree. It takes a certain level of skill to prune ripe apples without bruising the delicate fruit (which severely decreases their value) at a fast enough pace to harvest the entire crop in time. Even one day’s delay could cost the growers millions of dollars.
Glaize made two critical points: Farmers are usually leveraged to the hilt, exhausting every last line of credit available to them in order to get their crops to market. Even the slightest delay in getting the workforce to the crops could cause growers to lose a significant portion of their produce, causing them to ultimately default on their loans and lose at least part of their farm in order to pay them back. He cited one instance where the federal government held up Jamaican workers coming into the country legally on H-2A visas, sending the farming community into a panic. The Jamaican workers were ultimately allowed into the country just in the nick of time, and the farmers were subsequently able to get their fruit to market.
Farmers, Glaize says, face a dilemma. They are forced to choose “between a reliable, skilled and illegal workforce, or a bureaucratic, unreliable H-2A program.”
Arturo Rodriguez, the UFW President, told the committee about his group’s “Take Our Jobs” campaign. The workers were tired of hearing that they were such a drain on our society; that they were taking jobs away from qualified American workers; that there was a ready supply of workers LEGALLY here just champing at the bit to take over their jobs. It was the workers’ idea, Rodriguez said, to initiate the “Take Our Jobs” campaign.
“Take Our Jobs” has generated over three million hits to the UFW website, with over 8,000 people applying for agriculture jobs. To date, according to Rodriguez, there are only seven (7) out of the 8,000 people who have taken up farm work full-time.
Steve King (R-IA) and Dan Lungren (R-CA) appeared to dismiss the “study after study after study” that Lofgren says prove that there simply are not enough American workers willing to live the migrant workers’ lifestyle for the wages migrant workers earn ($18,000-20,000 per year, Lofgren says). The Republican subcommittee members unanimously opposed any kind of program that would allow illegal migrant workers to earn legal status, since it would in effect “send them to the front of the line.” Farm owners, they say, should choose from the available legal work force; that there is a backlog of people waiting to get into the country legally, and it would be unfair to those people seeking to enter the right way.
Republicans were also challenged by their Democratic counterparts on their demand that by increasing the wage workers earn, agricultural jobs would become more attractive to legal workers. Ted Poe (R-TX) used the example of offshore oil jobs, and how well paid those workers are. The trouble with Poe’s example is that workers on oil rigs earn high salaries due to the extremely dangerous nature of the work, which calls for hazard pay rates.
Republicans in Congress excoriate farmers for using illegal migrant workers, yet refuse to take steps to make it easier and more efficient for them to enter the United States legally. They criticize farmers for not paying workers enough, yet refuse to support raising the minimum wage.
Critics have been quick to chastise Congresswoman Lofgren for the “publicity stunt” of inviting Stephen Colbert to participate in the hearing. But at least he has attempted to shed light on a controversial subject through his platform as host of a nightly talk show. And although his use of satire in the segments of his program and in his live opening statements appeared to belittle the topic, his point was still clear.
But it was this “jokester,” as MSNBC put it, that perhaps came up with the most poignant moment of the hearing: When asked by Judy Chu (D-CA) why he chose to highlight migrant farm workers on his show, Colbert uncharacteristically broke character with a very honest, straightforward, and enlightening reply: “I like talking about people who don’t have any power,” he said. “And it seems like some of the least powerful people in the United States are migrant workers who come and do our work, but don’t have any rights as a result. And yet we still invite them to come here, and at the same time ask them to leave. That’s an interesting contradiction to me, and, you know, whatsoever you do for the least of my brothers, and these seem like the least of our brothers……..Migrant workers suffer, and have no rights.”
Watch the entire hearing here. It’s long (2 hours), but worth the time.
So according to unconventional wisdom, when a Republican resides in the White House, deficits don’t matter one iota. But the instant a Democrat moves in, the budget deficit becomes the single greatest threat to American society since the War of Independence; the absolute bane of our existence.
How strange, then, that Republican economic policies have the effect of increasing the budget deficit, while Democratic policies have tended to decrease the level of deficit, or even result in a budget surplus. Yet Republicans in Congress would like us to believe that they have just the remedies necessary to stamp down that pesky deficit and cut our national debt!
So with the 2010 midterm elections fast approaching, let’s try to get an idea of what might happen should Republicans retake majorities in the House and Senate, and what they would do to change our economic course.
Meet the new fiscal policies, same as the old fiscal policies.
As usual, Republican economic policies revolve around tax cuts. Early in the Bush administration, we saw two rounds of tax cuts, neither of them accounted for in the federal budget; i.e. neither of them paid for. But according to Republicans, you don’t have to pay for tax cuts—they pay for themselves. And according to Arizona Republican Senator Jon Kyl, “You should never have to offset a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.” But even a cursory glance at the facts reveals this position to be an utterly ridiculous falsehood.
George W. Bush came into office with a $236 Billion surplus. Then, in a 2001 speech, he declared that the U.S. Government was running budget surpluses because taxes were too high, and thus he was going to demand a refund on behalf of all Americans. The resulting tax cuts plunged the deficit to the deepest levels ever. And so no, Senator Kyl, they didn’t pay for themselves.
In fact, according to the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities, the Bush tax cuts are BY FAR the biggest contributors to the budget deficits. It’s not even close! They account for 49% of the deficits, whereas the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with other defense increases, have accounted for 34%.
With the Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of 2010, the latest fight in Congress is whether or not to extend them indefinitely, or as the Obama administration intends, to let the cuts on the wealthiest Americans—those making $250,000 or more—expire, while maintaining or even lowering the rates on the middle class.
Most economists agree—even Republican economists—that allowing the Bush tax cuts for those making over $250,000 to lapse is just good policy. But Republicans in Congress are adamantly opposed to allowing those cuts to lapse, insisting that it will further decimate the economy. Facts be damned.
Just for the record, Congressional Republicans made the same claims when President Clinton raised taxes on the top earners. But what actually ensued was one of the most prosperous periods in American history.
Republican economic theory stems from the supply side, or “trickle-down economics” of the Ronald Reagan era—a theory decried by his opponent in the 1980 presidential election, George H. W. Bush, as “Voodoo Economics.” The premise is that tax cuts are always a good thing. It holds that by putting money in the pockets of the uber-wealthy through tax cuts, that money will magically and mystically “trickle down” into the pockets of everyone else. It assumes that the wealthy will always take that extra cash and invest it into new business ventures, creating new jobs, boosting the economy, and putting more wealth in the bank accounts of the middle and poorer classes.
The theory also tells us that tax cuts for the wealthy don’t add to the deficit or national debt, and will pay for themselves. Even at lower rates, government tax receipts will increase, the deficit and debt will all but disappear, and the American economy will flourish! That’s the theory, at least.
Supply-side economics have been debunked, over and over, even by conservative economists. One of George W. Bush’s former chief economists, Greg Mankiw, finds the premise totally bunk. But while supply-side economic policy has been a complete and utter disaster for the economy, it’s been a political gold mine for Republicans. As Martin Wolf of The Financial Times puts it:
“Supply-side economics liberated conservatives from any need to insist on fiscal rectitude and balanced budgets. Supply-side economics said that one could cut taxes and balance budgets, because incentive effects would generate new activity and so higher revenue.
The political genius of this idea is evident. Supply-side economics transformed Republicans from a minority party into a majority party. It allowed them to promise lower taxes, lower deficits and, in effect, unchanged spending. Why should people not like this combination? Who does not like a free lunch?
How did supply-side economics bring these benefits? First, it allowed conservatives to ignore deficits. They could argue that, whatever the impact of the tax cuts in the short run, they would bring the budget back into balance, in the longer run. Second, the theory gave an economic justification – the argument from incentives – for lowering taxes on politically important supporters. Finally, if deficits did not, in fact, disappear, conservatives could fall back on the “starve the beast” theory: deficits would create a fiscal crisis that would force the government to cut spending and even destroy the hated welfare state.”
The budget deficit is the topic du jour in Republican political circles these days. And the hypocrisy is staggering. After all, it was former Vice President Dick Cheney who matter-of-factly declared in 2002 that “Reagan proved that deficits don’t matter.” Only now, according to his Republican contemporaries (because we have a black Democratic President?), deficits do, in fact matter. They might be the ONLY things that matter.
The trouble is that it’s because of Republican fiscal policies that this country is running such huge deficits and skyrocketing the national debt in the first place. And talk about running up the credit card for future generations to have to worry about? It has been Republicans who have presided over the biggest increases in our national debt in the last 40 years.
It was the George W. Bush White House and the Republican controlled Congress and Senate that presided over the largest increases in our national debt in the history of this country. But they would have voters believe that they’re the ones who are fiscally responsible and should be entrusted to guide us out of the economic ditch we’re in. They would have us believe that it is Barack Obama’s fault that the deficit stood at $1.3 trillion on the very day he was sworn in as President of the United States.
The Republican mantra is that in order to facilitate recovery, we must cut taxes. And after we’ve cut taxes, we cut taxes some more. And then cut taxes again. The idea is that by putting more money in the pockets of the wealthy, they’ll turn around and invest it. They think that productivity will increase despite the fact that there is no demand because those at the lower end of the pay scale cannot afford to purchase anything.
Never mind that every shred of evidence tells us otherwise. Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman explains in a segment on “The Colbert Report” with Stephen Colbert why tax cuts don’t work, particularly in this economic environment. He says if you give money (in the form of tax cuts) to somebody who’s well off, they’re probably going to save it because they’re “not living hand to mouth,” which doesn’t help the economy. What actually happens is that the wealthy put the money in their pockets and hang on to it, making them richer, but doing nothing to stoke business growth.
The last (or lost?) decade has seen an increase in wealth for the top 2% of the income scale, but a substantial decrease in wealth for the middle class: Real wages for the middle class have stagnated or decreased, while corporate CEO’s are reaping record windfalls. According to FactCheck.org, the top 2% of household earners (those making $250,000 or more) accounted for 24.1% of all income in 2009.
Perhaps the biggest hypocrisy, however, is the fact that despite the overwhelming evidence that tax cuts do not pay for themselves and have been a major contributing factor in exploding the budget deficit and national debt, is the insistence on the part of Republicans to indefinitely extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans without any need to offset them, which economists predict will add $650 billion to the deficit. But at the same time they refuse to extend unemployment benefits to the long-term unemployed to the tune of $30 billion. So it’s OK to add $650 billion to the deficit, but it’s not OK to increase the deficit in the short run by less than ¼ of one percent.
Conservatives scream that the debt and deficit are the single greatest threats to America today, yet they’re chomping at the bit to reintroduce policies that will make those threats even greater.
Besides, the CBO recently scored 11 different policies to increase economic growth and found that extending tax cuts—or further reducing the tax rate, particularly on the wealthy—was the LEAST effective way to stoke economic growth. The same study found that increasing aid to the unemployed was the single BEST way to aid economic growth.
Republicans believe that having a set of rules for corporations to follow in order to level the playing field and ensure the safety of workers, the stability of industry, and the vibrancy of the economy as a whole is a bad thing. This despite the fact that it was a lack of oversight and regulation that led to the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico brought on by BP. It was the lack of regulation and oversight that led to the subprime mortgage meltdown (and no, it was not Fannie and Freddie’s fault, but rather the fault of private lenders who were overzealous in their pursuit of profits) and the financial crisis that brought us here in the first place. It was deregulation that brought on a tripling of electricity rates in San Diego while energy providers found new and creative ways to game the system and drive up prices, and thus profits, all the while inducing rolling blackouts throughout California.
It was a complete lack of oversight and regulation that led to Enron.
Today, with the American economy slowly recovering from the massive meltdown of the financial industry in 2008 but still in the tank, it is more imperative than ever that our Congress enacts policies that are proven to stoke growth and promote our economic well-being. It has been made absolutely clear through the statements Republican politicians have made in recent weeks and months that should they retake control of Congress they will as sure as you are reading this return us to the very policies that brought on the economic crisis in the first place. They will return us to the policies that have been proven beyond a doubt to be an abject failure for America as a whole. Sure, times have been great for their corporate benefactors, but for the rest of us, not so much.
So come November, do the entire nation a favor: Vote Democratic.
UPDATE: David Stockman, Director of the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) under Ronald Reagan, has this op-ed in the NY Times taking Republicans to task for their miserable fiscal failures.
A couple of segments from “The Colbert Report” with Paul Krugman discussing unemployment and the economic crisis. In the first, he sums up the need to extend the unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed quite plainly:
This one from a year ago, discussing the stimulus and its effects:
There’s a lot of debate about whether or not Congress should extend benefits to the long-term unemployed. There are a couple of points that I would like to highlight:
1) As Colbert and Krugman point out, extending benefits will add less than 1/4 of one percent to the national debt. It’s a rather insignificant amount when you consider the crisis. And adding that much to the debt will not kill us. It will only slightly delay our ability to turn around and begin to whittle the debt down. So on the surface, it looks like a bad idea–enlarging the debt and all. But when you look deeper and examine the effects of paying or not paying the benefits, it becomes clear that by not extending benefits, it will almost surely further plunge our economy into crisis and send unemployment numbers skyrocketing again.
2) “Trickle Down Economics,” or extending tax breaks to the very wealthy, doesn’t work. It only serves to make the rich richer. It doesn’t do anything to create more jobs or stimulate economic growth. As Krugman points out, if you give a wealthy individual tax breaks, they’ll likely save most of it–they’ll put it in their pockets and not spend it. There is no incentive for them to do anything with their new-found windfall.
But by putting money in the hands of people who desperately need it, you continue to stimulate demand, which ultimately stimulates the economy. Eventually, the economy will start to expand from there. Otherwise, by cutting demand, the economy will contract again, and more jobs will be shed and more people will be out of work.
Relying strictly on private industry isn’t the answer. They need government’s help to stimulate demand and create jobs. And when the financial markets are all but frozen, small businesses don’t have access to the capital they need just to function. Certain tax incentives might help some, but not nearly enough.
So a message to Republicans: Stop hindering our economic recovery and get in the game! If you don’t like what’s being offered, then offer something new. More of the same old stale ideas that gave us this meltdown in the first place is a non-starter. Either get to work for your constituents, or leave public office and get to work for corporate interests. You choose, because right now playing both sides of the fence is only further devastating our economy.
EDIT: Jon Stewart with economist Nouriel Roubini:
Faux News and the Repubs are just plain wrong.