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Charlie Vignola: America worried about the wrong things

Posted: April 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 30, 2013 2:00 a.m.

America has always had a propensity to whip itself into a frenzy about the wrong things, but seldom has it been so clear as it has been the last few weeks, particularly in the wake of the Boston Marathon Bombings.

Predictably, the Right Wing is up in arms about all their usual talking points: Obama didn’t immediately call the incident "terrorism", didn’t have the guts to label the surviving bomber an "enemy combatant,"and once again refuses to admit that Islam is the obvious enemy.

But while the Boston bombings are getting all the attention, two perhaps even more critical stories got lost in the shuffle recently – and this is just fine with the Republican’s wealthy donor class since the two other stories point out just how much the rest of us are victimized by the monied elite whose campaign donations drive the Republican party’s ideological agenda.

First, some of you may have heard about a terrible fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, one that killed 14 people and injured 200, was so powerful that it rattled homes 50 miles away, fused railroad tracks and caused a tremor equal to a 2.1 magnitude earthquake.

It may come as no surprise to you that the latest legislation Congress has introduced related to this incident actually rolls back regulations rather than strengthens them. Turns out a bill sponsored this February by 10 Republicans (and one lone conservative Democrat) is designed to limit the EPA’s regulatory authority over fertilizer plants.

What’s the wisdom behind this dubious move? Well, Republicans are just knee-jerk opposed to any regulations that affect business, especially ones that could eat into profits – like, say, spending money to comply with regulations designed to enhance public safety.

Republicans insist that the magic of the free market keeps companies safe and honest, so there’s no need for the heavy hand of government to impose more burdensome regulations.

For instance, no sane or responsible company would ever keep 1,350 times the legal amount of the explosive compound ammonium nitrate on their premises, right? That’d just be criminally stupid.

Except, of course, that is exactly what happened. Republican "common sense" that businesses are always smart and rational enough to do what’s in the best interests of the company and the common good crashed headlong into the reality that this isn’t always the case. Which is exactly why you need government to step in and regulate.

The second big story in the last few weeks is less flashy and explosive in a literal sense, but in terms of its impact on the debate over economic policy in Washington, it’s a bombshell: a major economic paper written by two respected Harvard economists that’s been one of the main pillars for conservatives demanding that we cut government spending even in the midst of a massive recession – i.e., "austerity measures" – was exposed as being faulty and riddled with errors.

In 2010, economists Carmen Reinhardt and Kenneth Roghoff wrote an influential economics paper that basically stated countries with a 90 percent debt to GDP ratio suffered a growth rate that was on average one point lower than normal. This was the argument conservatives have been trotting out for why we should be slashing government programs despite an anemic economy to put America’s growth back on sounder footing and restore "confidence" to the markets.

But here’s the funny thing: the European countries currently employing these austerity measures, like Britain, Ireland and Greece — the canaries in the coal mine of this economic theory, if you will? Yeah, their growth rates are all stagnating or collapsing.

So where is all the capital and investment flowing from countries looking to get a good return on their investment? Why, it’s America! Yes, ironically, that profligate country with a $16 trillion national debt and running trillion dollar deficits is the safest bet on Earth at the moment, with a booming stock market, record corporate profits, low inflation and has a growth rate that’s making most of the rest of the world envious.

Given these developments, you’d think that Republicans would stop harping on a discredited macroeconomic policy as a panacea for America’s ills. But again they’re focusing on the wrong problem: it’s not that America’s businesses are doing poorly — they’re actually doing gangbusters — but rather that these gains aren’t "trickling down" to workers, which is why job creation is so crappy despite Corporate America popping the champagne.

See, it’s rarely about the actual evidence with Republicans. More often, they feel something in their guts, then cherry pick the data that proves they’re right – which is how we found ourselves mired in Iraq for a decade.

But you can only ignore reality so long before it catches up with you, and until Republicans accept reality as it is rather than as they’d like it to be, they’ll only continue to find themselves embattled and blinking in confusion at a world that doesn’t conform to their beliefs.

And as long as Republican mouthpieces backed by special interests continue to influence public opinion, millions of Americans will continue to focus on the wrong things at their own peril.

Charlie Vignola is a former college Republican turned liberal Democrat. He lives in Fair Oaks Ranch, works in the motion picture industry and loves his wife and kids.


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