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Something Wicked This Way Comes

From the viewpoint of the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, government programs that work are actually the most important ones to cut, because when government works well it actually becomes more popular.
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America is at war. Not with foreign enemies but domestically, with an unholy alliance of the allegedly grassroots Tea Party caucus of the Republican Party and the privileged, entrenched fossil-fuel cartels and other corporate insiders like the Koch brothers.

The Kochs and the Tea Party, of course, would like us to believe that this is a conventional, if epic, struggle between two political directions for the nation at a time of historic stress. They would like us to believe that the policy proposals they advance are designed to deal with the deficit and restore the economy -- they just have different priorities and ideas than their opponents.

But if, as Watergate's "Deep Throat" advised Woodward and Bernstein, we "follow the money," it's clear that the real strategic objective of the far right is an American society ruled domestically by a predatory oligarchy and projected globally as a militaristic empire.

The failure of the basic budget numbers being advocated by the Republican leadership to add up does not mean they never mastered basic arithmetic -- these guys (and gals) can count. They just don't think the media or the public will bother to check their math. Their seeming innumeracy is a smokescreen to disguise their real goal -- a nation in which the economic and political elite maintain their power and privilege globally on the basis of military dominance domestically supported by a "winner take all" economy where it is every man for himself.

In their vision of America, it doesn't matter if most Americans fall gradually behind, if the average worker lacks the education to compete with high-end competitors around the world, or if the our infrastructure is inadequate to attract manufacturing investment. High rates of death and disease from pollution are just further examples of Donald Rumsfeld's cynical dictum that "stuff happens." Increasing instability -- whether of the climate or national security -- simply reinforces the need for autocratic control from the top. America becomes more like Mubarak's Egypt and less like Merkel's Germany. (It's intriguing that these reactionaries always talk about how America must not become like Europe -- they never seem to worry that we might become like Latin America or Africa, which is where we are actually headed.)

The big picture -- Republican budget numbers that don't add up -- has been documented by everyone from the Obama administration to Paul Krugman and the Center for American Progress. But a few samples from the environmental front of this war quickly reveal how little the proposed budget cuts have to do with money -- and how much they have to do with right-wing power.

So far, no one has whole-heartedly endorsed Newt Gingrich's latest salvo -- a proposal to simply abolish the Environmental Protection Agency. But dozens of new Republican members in the House have come up with the "death by a thousand cuts" version of Newt's proposal to abolish public health, clean air and water, and environmental standards -- and take the U.S. back a century. Read Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune's letter to House members for more gory details, including cutting the EPA's budget by 30 percent.

Virginia Congresssman Bob Goodlatte wants to prevent the EPA from restoring the Chesapeake Bay. Florida Congressman Tom Rooney wants to stop the EPA from enforcing Clean Water Act standards in that state. Under another proposal, the U.S. president could no longer create National Monuments (I suppose the Grand Canyon and Grand Teton must have been fiscal disasters for Arizona and Wyoming). Needless to say, EPA action against carbon pollution would be completely off the table -- but so too would action against mercury, soot, and smog. Toxic lead and cadmium in coal ash could be tossed into landfills under standards more lenient than those that apply to coffee grounds.

The chainsaws are also out in the state governments. In Florida, the governor is actually sending back $2 billion in federal funding for high-speed rail, determined to protect the the highway lobby's monopoly on transportation. (California will be happy to take it, thank you very much.) In New Jersey, the Renewable Energy Standard that made the Garden State America's solar powerhouse is now being attacked by its governor.

It's irrelevant that all of these environmental investments have shown significant and proven benefits for both the overall economy and the government's bottom line. (Arizona, after all, now has the Grand Canyon on its license plates to increase tourist revenues.) A new Blue Green Alliance study shows that the $93 billion in green investments under President' Obama's stimulus program have already created one million new jobs, and that the payback period for this investment was only seven months. By the end of the year, the U.S. economy had added $146 billion in new value against the $93 billion that was invested. But from the viewpoint of the Koch brothers and the Tea Party, government programs that work are actually the most important ones to cut -- because when government works well it actually becomes more popular.

If there is a silver lining here -- and it's hard to find one -- it's that so much craziness is mixed in with the evil that a counter-reaction has begun. Yesterday in Madison, Wisconsin, 30,000 citizens gathered to protest the proposed destruction of vital state services in the name of budget balancing. Recent polls show only very thin public support for the kinds of attacks on public services being proposed. The EPA's plans to regulate pollution are very popular; Congressional interference is not.

And, in a sign that the mainstream business community recognizes that at the end of the day, folks, we still have a country to run here, a lion lay down next to a lamb. In an eyebrow-raising moment, Rich Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, was joined before Congress by Thomas Donahue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to jointly lobby for a long-term transportation infrastructure program funded by... a higher gasoline tax!

Candidly, it's not at all clear to me how all this will shake out. It could end badly, as it does in Shakespeare's Scottish play, where the line after "Something wicked this way comes" is a comment by the second witch, "Open, locks, whoever knocks!"

That's the approach being taken by many Tea Party activists, who are willing to partner with the worst kind of big corporate predators as long as the brand "conservative" is attached to the label. Or, we could see a public counter-reaction that's strong enough to reach across party lines and revive what was once an honorable and thoughtful political tradition -- American conservatism.

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