America’s decline and the assault on women’s freedom and the environment

April 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The right’s target list speaks volumes: from public broadcasters and scientists to health providers, unions, academics and women. Nothing drives the right into greater paroxysms of rage than NPR and Planned Parenthood, climate scientists and teachers unions.

How destructive is the assault on these institutions?

Start with Fareed Zakaria’s TIME article about America’s decline:

The following rankings come from various lists, but they all tell the same story. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), our 15-year-olds rank 17th in the world in science and 25th in math. We rank 12th among developed countries in college graduation (down from No. 1 for decades). We come in 79th in elementary-school enrollment. Our infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. American health numbers are stunning for a rich country: based on studies by the OECD and the World Health Organization, we’re 27th in life expectancy, 18th in diabetes and first in obesity. Only a few decades ago, the U.S. stood tall in such rankings. No more. There are some areas in which we are still clearly No. 1, but they’re not ones we usually brag about. We have the most guns. We have the most crime among rich countries. And, of course, we have by far the largest amount of debt in the world.

Not to mention staggering stats like this, from the LA Times:

One in five Californians struggled to afford enough food for themselves and their families last year, according to a new report by the Food Research and Action Center. The rate in California was slightly higher than the national average of 18%.

The American right is fiercely wedded to the notion of American exceptionalism, but there’s nothing exceptional about undermining women’s rights. Nor is there anything exceptional about blithely ignoring the scientific consensus that we’re endangering humanity’s future by ravaging the environment.

From women’s rights to climate change and a host of other issues, the right is setting America back. I wrote about it in a recent post, comparing America’s decline with the uprisings in the Mideast and North Africa:

The contrast between events in the Middle East and the political reality here in America is striking: as the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere rise by the millions to protest injustice, and as governments from Jordan to Syria see the writing on the wall, the United States gives power to a political movement bent on reversing generations of progress.

The GOP and Tea Party, drifting ever rightward, want to strip away health coverage, undermine faith in science, deny the overwhelming consensus on the mortal threat of climate change, give tax breaks to the rich, increase record wealth disparities, abolish women’s reproductive rights, defund public radio, gut gun laws, curtail gay rights, inject religion into government, and much more.

Targeting scientists, academics, public broadcasters, unions, health care providers and women, among others, they willfully misinterpret the Constitution to make specious arguments in favor of reactionary policies and are whipped into a frenzy by millionaire radio and TV blatherers, whose sole mission is to demonize liberals and liberalism — to the point of inciting violence against them.

Democratic leaders, obsessed with wooing “independent” voters, and captives of a toxic Beltway mindset, barely make a stand in the face of this all-out assault. If we fail to see the irony of a Mideast marching into the future while America races into the past, we will pay the price.

It’s the seemingly little things:

Okay, so it’s not exactly earth-shattering green political news — but it’s still indicative of the new anti-environment attitude that’s swept into the US House of Representatives. Four years after our nation’s esteemed governing body decided to stop using one of the most destructive, ungreen materials in existence, our lawmakers have decided it’s time to cancel the program that supported biodegradable packaging, and to bring Styrofoam back.

To the big things:

“We’re broke! We’re broke!” Speaker John Boehner said on Sunday. “We’re broke in this state,” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said a few days ago. “New Jersey’s broke,” Gov. Chris Christie has said repeatedly. The United States faces a “looming bankruptcy,” Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist, wrote in The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. It’s all obfuscating nonsense, of course, a scare tactic employed for political ends. …  a substantial part was caused by deliberate decisions by state and federal lawmakers to drain government of resources by handing out huge tax cuts, mostly to the rich. As governments begin to stagger from the self-induced hemorrhaging, Republican politicians like Mr. Boehner and Mr. Walker cry poverty and use it as an excuse to break unions and kill programs they never liked in flush years.

No matter the issue, the right’s reactionary positions are undermining generations of progress. The most egregious example is the shameless attack on women’s rights:

Using small-government, libertarian rhetoric, the Tea Party ushered in a new crop of Republican leaders under the banner of fiscal responsibility. But the aggressive antichoice legislation coming from the new GOP majority in the House makes perfectly clear that belt-tightening deficit reduction is entirely compatible with an older social agenda committed to pushing American women out of the public sphere.

These initiatives are well coordinated and poised to make an enormous impact on women’s lives. House Republicans, joined by ten Democrats, passed Mike Pence’s bill to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which in addition to pregnancy termination provides basic reproductive healthcare, STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings to millions of American women. The Republican Party has also proposed eliminating more than $1 billion from Head Start’s budget. As a result, 157,000 children may go without preschool care.

Meanwhile, the South Dakota legislature has considered a bill justifying homicide in the case of imminent harm to a fetus, a law that critics believe may in effect legalize the murder of abortion providers. Republicans in Arizona have proposed different birth certificates for children born to women who are not US citizens in order to nullify the birthright citizenship established by the Fourteenth Amendment. And Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is poised to eliminate most of the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including nurses, teachers and other pink-collar workers who are disproportionately women.

Put simply, America can’t be ‘number one’ as long as the right chooses to undermine the very entities that make it what it is.

UPDATE: Bob Herbert’s farewell column for the New York Times is a devastating look at America’s skewed priorities:

The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely. Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations.

…The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.

A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.

…Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

UPDATE II: Fred Hiatt goes after climate deniers:

The Republican self-deception that draws the most attention is the refusal to believe that Barack Obama is American-born. But there are Republican doctrinal fantasies that may be more dangerous: the conviction that taxes can always go down, but never up, for example, and the gathering consensus among Republican leaders that human-caused climate change does not exist.

The climate change denialism is a newer part of the catechism. Just a few years ago, leading Republicans — John McCain, Sarah Palin, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Tim Pawlenty among them — not only accepted global warming as real but supported some kind of market-based mechanism to raise the cost of burning fossil fuels. Now polls show declining numbers of Republicans believing in climate change, and a minority of those believing humans are at fault, so the candidates are scrambling to disavow their past positions.

And the New York Times describes the GOP’s eagerness to ravage the environment:

In the past month, the nation’s focus has been on the budget battle in Washington, where Republicans in Congress aligned with the Tea Party have fought hard for rollbacks to the Environmental Protection Agency, clean air and water regulations, renewable energy and other conservation programs.

But similar efforts to make historically large cuts to environmental programs are also in play at the state level as legislatures and governors take aim at conservation and regulations they see as too burdensome to business interests.

When Republicans wrested control across the country last November, they made clear that reducing all government was important, but that cutting environmental regulations was a particular priority.

UPDATE III: Check out these numbers:

It’s almost an unbe­liev­able fig­ure — 916. That’s the amount of leg­is­la­tions that have been intro­duced so far this year, in an attempt to reg­u­late a woman’s repro­duc­tive sys­tem, and we’re only in April.

This infor­ma­tion comes from a report by The Guttmacher Insti­tute, and it finds that 49 states have con­tributed to this num­ber with var­i­ous bills geared towards reg­u­lat­ing Abor­tions and a woman’s right to choose. The report states that in 15 states, the fol­low­ing mea­sures became law:

  • expand the pre-abortion wait­ing period require­ment in South Dakota to make it more oner­ous than that in any other state, by extend­ing the time from 24 hours to 72 hours and requir­ing women to obtain coun­sel­ing from a cri­sis preg­nancy cen­ter in the interim;
  • expand the abor­tion coun­sel­ing require­ment in South Dakota to man­date that coun­sel­ing be pro­vided in-person by the physi­cian who will per­form the abor­tion and that coun­sel­ing include infor­ma­tion pub­lished after 1972 on all the risk fac­tors related to abor­tion com­pli­ca­tions, even if the data are sci­en­tif­i­cally flawed;
  • require the health depart­ments in Utah and Vir­ginia to develop new reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing abor­tion clinics;
  • revise the Utah abor­tion refusal clause to allow any hos­pi­tal employee to refuse to “par­tic­i­pate in any way” in an abortion;
  • limit abor­tion cov­er­age in all pri­vate health plans in Utah, includ­ing plans that will be offered in the state’s health exchange; and
  • revise the Mis­sis­sippi sex edu­ca­tion law to require all school dis­tricts to pro­vide abstinence-only sex edu­ca­tion while per­mit­ting dis­cus­sion of con­tra­cep­tion only with prior approval from the state.
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