Cover of April 29, 2013 Issue



Rinku Sen on the Associated Press's decision to "drop the 'i' word," Robert Dreyfuss on Hagel's bad budget rhetoric, and the editors on a prize for Nat...


More BS About ‘Both Sides’

Our political system is barely functional. The recently concluded 112th Congress set a record for the lowest number of  laws passed since record-keeping began, in 1948. We are in the midst (and at the mercy) of a budget sequester that was intended only to scare Congress into behaving responsibly. Republicans, in thrall to Tea Party fanatics, refuse even to discuss new sources of revenue. Barack Obama, meanwhile, has not only proposed a remarkably impecunious domestic budget but has also broken what has been an iron rule of nearly all Democratic politicians for more than half a century by offering to reduce future Social Security payments through the mechanism of a "chained CPI" that slows down the cost-of-living increases built into the payments received by seniors. Predictably (and understandably), he has infuriated his base by doing so. How are these diametrically opposed approaches being portrayed in the mainstream media? According to Politico's Jake Sherman, Obama's offer "might have been viewed as a bit more substantive. But [the] Republican leadership's calculus has changed. Since the fiscal cliff tax deal, which raised taxes on families earning more than $450,000, Republicans are demanding more expansive changes to entitlements." The rest of Sherman's report is devoted to detailing the Republican wish list without any sense of the radicalism of these demands, or their consistent unpopularity with real people (as opposed to pundits).  What about Slate's John Dickerson? He blames unnamed "forces of partisanship, ego, and limited imagination that have made crisis budgeting so dreary to watch.... The two parties have not even been in proximity of a major bipartisan deal in so long the very fact that they are in the same neighborhood is a possible sign that our system is not irreparably broken." Meanwhile, in a column called "Reclaim the Center" on the opinion page of The New York Times online, multimillionaire investment banker and Democratic Party funder Steven Rattner complains of "proselyt-
izers of wacky, extreme ideas" from "the left," as well as from "conservatives," before demanding that "the sensible center...rise up and push for a rational approach to our fiscal challenges." Believe me, I'm more annoyed at having to write this column again than you are at reading it. But dammit, nothing changes. The Republican Party has gone off the rails by virtually every available measure, and the media continue to blame "both sides." Let's look at some data. According to a forthcoming study in the Drake Law Review by Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, we are experiencing "the largest and most uniform gap in the ideological orientation and voting patterns in the Senate and the House of Representatives in modern times." Keith Poole of the University of Georgia and Howard Rosenthal of New York University analyzed decades of data and discovered that Republicans have moved approximately six times as far rightward as Democrats have leftward in recent decades (and the Democratic drift is due almost entirely to the collapse of the Southern conservative wing of the party). The respected pollster Andrew Kohut reports: "In my decades of polling, I recall only one moment when a party had been driven as far from the center as the Republican Party has been today," referring to the Nixon landslide against George McGovern in 1972.  Writing in Politico of all places, Scot Faulkner, personnel director for the Reagan/Bush campaign in 1980, and Jonathan Riehl, former speechwriter for the right-wing Luntz Global consulting firm, recently complained of the corrosive effects of a "Republican world view that was devoid of facts and critical thinking," combined with the creation of "a new self-perpetuating political echo chamber." This follows on the remarks by longtime Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren, who noted two years ago that "the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe." And respected scholars Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein announced last year that "The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Yet the pundits ignore all of the above because they prefer to spout their bullshit about the behavior of "both sides" free from the constraint of actual evidence. The very serious Jonathan Rauch of National Journal and the Brookings Institution wrote in 2010: "In the last two decades, a strong and persistent pattern has emerged, one that will dominate our politics for some time to come, because it is rooted in two important political realities. First, the public strongly prefers divided government. Second, it has every reason to." Alas, when Rauch says "the public," what he really means is "Jonathan Rauch and his pundit friends." In reality, Hasen notes, barely 30 percent of voters said they favored divided government in a poll taken the same year, as opposed to 66 percent who did not. Just 18.5 percent  of voters chose to split their tickets in 2012. This is down from a rate of roughly 30 percent in the 1960s and 1970s. How does he get away with spouting such nonsense and retain his position as a Very Important Pundit? As his fellow VIP, Matt Bai of The New York Times, brags: "Generally speaking, political writers don't think so much of political scientists, either, mostly because anyone who has ever actually worked in or covered politics can tell you that, whatever else it may be, a science isn't one of them." Alas, to judge by the willingness of so many in the mainstream media to parrot the nonsensical arguments of Tea Party Republicans, not even science is "science" anymore. And therein lies our problem. Read More



Chávez and His People   Brownsville, Tex.   Greg Grandin’s “Chávez: Why Venezuelans Loved Him” [April 1] prompted this reflection. Revolutions are imperfect social and economic events led by imperfect people. Venezuela’s revolution and the late Hugo Chávez fit that bill. But I recall a former student, an upper-middle-class Venezuelan, who had a telling reply when I asked her why she hated Chávez. “It’s because after the revolution you would see people in restaurants, dark people, who would have never been there before.” I had my answer.   EUGENE NOVOGRODSKY Greg Grandin’s article deserves national recognition because it kills the journalistic Hugo Chávez stereotypes. See GUILMO BARRIO, a proud subscriber Bust the Banks Back to the Stone Age! Baltimore, Ohio William Greider, in “Bank Buster Brown” [April 1], describes how a handful of banks now control 63 percent of our GNP. I wonder how obscene these numbers have to get before people begin connecting the dots on the bigger corporate game plan. When Grover Norquist said the ultra-right’s goal is to “shrink government down to a size sufficient to drown it in a bathtub,” no one seemed to recognize this as the mission statement of corporate America. DAVID COOK ‘No Child’ Heads South of the Border Philadelphia Thanks to David Bacon for “US-Style School Reform Goes South” [April 1], his comprehensive report on the Mexican government’s recent passage of a program that mimics many of the flawed provisions of “No Child Left Behind.” Basing teacher hiring, raises and benefits on standardized test scores is a familiar theme. Also familiar are the education establishment’s tactics for squashing resistance. In Mexico, they have a powerful lobbyist, Claudio Gonzalez, who calls teachers “tyrants.” He must be using the playbook of George W. Bush’s education secretary, Rod Paige, who called the National Education Association a “terrorist organization.” We need more reports like this to shine light on the move to privatize and profit from public education. GLORIA C. ENDRES New York City David Bacon ties the Mexican film ¡De Panzazo! (“Barely Passing”) to the US film Waiting for Superman as evidence of “the corporate offensive to gain control of the country’s schools.” But ¡De Panzazo! encouraged Mexican voters, in an election year, to ask candidates how they would improve schools. Despite having the eleventh-largest economy in the world, Mexico spends more on education and achieves less than its neighbors. Mexico’s National Union of Education Workers (SNTE) has total control over teachers, strangling education. Only SNTE may license, hire, fire or promote teachers, rewarding friends, punishing reformers. More than 90 percent of the money spent on education goes to teachers’ salaries, which SNTE negotiates annually, but no one can detail where the money really goes. “No-show” jobs may number in the thousands, and teaching licenses are bought and sold. SNTE’s leader was recently arrested for embezzlement. Unionism is not at fault; it is the SNTE. LAURA FLIEGNER Oaxaca de Juarez, Oaxaca, Mexico After living in Oaxaca for five years, I still find it tough to know what to think about Sección 22, the powerful, radical Oaxacan teachers’ union. On the one hand, Sección 22 provided the only organized, disciplined muscle in the 2006 insurrection that nearly overthrew and certainly crippled the overtly corrupt and widely hated Oaxacan state government. That action galvanized citizens into uniting and subsequently electing a more responsive coalition government. Oaxaca badly needs just such powerful, organized, progressive organizations. On the other hand, there’s a growing perception that Sección 22 is abusing its power and public support by “blackmailing” the state with interminable and often lengthy protests that shut down major streets, commercial areas and the entire city center, with kids out of school on those numerous protest days. The union’s protests are increasingly seen as the usual institutional imperative of prioritizing its own power and wealth while masquerading as meeting the educational needs of students.  Pressure for educational reform is powerful and comes from parents and business. It’s clear some of the reforms serve to break the union and should be fought, but completely stonewalling on others, like objective testing, strikes many as self-serving avoidance of accountability—because testing, whatever its shortcomings and limitations, can and does provide useful data about student and school performance. The public justifiably wants from the schools exactly what they and the teachers demand of government: far greater accountability. Future Sección 22 viability depends on it.   KELLEN CAREY Vietnam Vets Spoke—No One Listened Brooklyn, N.Y. Regarding “The Real Vietnam War,” Jonathan Schell’s insightful and provocative article about Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse [Feb. 4], and your readers’ reactions [“Letters,” March 4]: I welcome Turse’s comprehensive account of the American war against the people of South Vietnam, but I must respectfully disagree that such a view was not available before. In the 1971 book Standard Operating Procedure, Vietnam veterans recount shooting civilians for target practice, torching villages, torturing and murdering captives—all the elements of the “pattern of savagery” and “systematic war against the people” Turse’s book describes. As one vet put it, “Gooks were gooks and you killed them. That’s what they were for.” The book grew out of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry, an event at which veterans gathered in Washington to tell their stories to the press and public. At the soldiers’ request, I edited the transcripts and added interviews and commentary in order to get their accounts published. Alas, neither the Washington event nor the book garnered very much attention. Perhaps, at long last, the American people may be willing to begin to listen to Vietnam vets and face the truth. JAMES S. KUNEN Update & Correction Jon Wiener, in “LA’s Homeless Vets” (April 8), reported that the Veterans Administration in West Los Angeles was leasing its land to various corporations, including Enterprise Rent-A-Car for use as a parking lot. Enterprise terminated its lease with the VA last May. Roane Carey’s “Documenting Israel-Palestine in Film” (March 11/18) should have said that according to an Israeli government commission, the Shin Bet used torture to wring confessions from Palestinian detainees from the very beginning of the occupation, not intifada. Read More


Books & the Arts

Recent Issues

See All "swipe left below to view more recent issues"Swipe →
See All