December 18, 2010

Seriously Skewed Political Priorities

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Earlier this month, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to block any legislation from advancing through the Senate until all of the Bush tax cuts  - including those for the richest Americans - were extended. He and his fellow Republicans made good on that threat, and a number of important bills were stymied.

Among them were the DREAM Act, which presents a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants of good character; the new START agreement, which would reduce global nuclear arsenals; and the repeal of the Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT) policy that prevents homosexuals from serving openly in the U.S. military.  Certainly, some of these bills would have been contentious, but they all address issues of significance to the nation, even if, by apparent Republican reckoning, those issues are of less  significance than ensuring the continuation of policies which have done nothing to create jobs and seriously undermined U.S. financial health.

As if that weren't pathetic enough, another piece of legislation also ran into the brick wall of GOP obstructionism, and it's hard to imagine one which should be less controversial, or which better deserved a vote, no matter the partisan polarization on Capitol Hill.   That legislation was H.R.847, commonly referred to as the Zadroga Bill, which would improve health services and provide financial compensation for 9/11 first responders who have become ill or disabled as a result of exposure to dangerous toxins during rescue and cleanup operations at Ground Zero.

The Zadroga Bill would create a federal program to provide health monitoring and treatment for first responders and provide medical screening for people who were in the area of the World Trade Center when the attack occurred and who might be at risk.  The Zadroga Bill would also re-open the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to provide compensation for losses and harm instead of forcing affected individuals to work through the current system, which requires costly and time-consuming litigation.  It is a standalone piece of legislation, and as such, it isn't necessary for it to go through a lengthy process of debate and amendment - a simple up or down vote is all that's needed - and it is paid for by closing a tax loophole.

A New York City firefighter at Ground Zero
Republicans like John Kyl claimed that there simply wasn't enough time to get everything done before Congress adjourns for the holidays - except extending tax cuts for the richest among us, of course - and that meant no debate or vote on the Zadroga Bill.  Mr. Kyl, apparently ignorant of the work schedules of most Americans - including 9/11 first responders -  even went so far as to complain that Majority Leader Harry Reid's threat to keep the Senate in session through the end of the year in order to complete its business was "disrespecting" the institution of Christmas.  Mr. Kyl failed to explain, however, the manner in which ensuring wealthy people have low taxes while genuine, working class heroes are left without much-needed assistance pays homage to Christian tradition, but perhaps that's just as well.

Almost as bad as the failure to advance H.R. 847, however, is the national media's near-complete lack of reportage on the fact that it has been held hostage to the conservative tax cut agenda, despite the total, empirical failure of those policies to do anything but crush the middle class and bust the budget.  Republicans have not been shy about using 9/11 imagery in political ads, making the captivity of the Zadroga Bill to their legislative maneuvering even more disturbing than their skewed priorities already are, but almost no one in our national press corps seems to have found that worth discussing.  Meanwhile, the men and women who risked their lives - and often sacrificed their health - in order to respond to the single largest terror attack on American soil continue to suffer.

It's been said often in recent years, but it bears repeating as long as it remains true: the landscape of contemporary journalism is a pretty bleak place, and some of the best and most trustworthy reporting available today is on Comedy Central.  If you know about the Republican stonewalling of the Zadroga Bill, it's almost certainly because you watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, since other national outlets provided scant, if any, coverage to it.

Mr. Stewart devoted an entire show to the tragic state of affairs surrounding H.R. 847 on December 16th (available here), which built on segments on the topic from earlier in the week.  Below is the first such segment, from Monday, December 13th, as well as a portion of Thursday's show focusing on a roundtable with four 9/11 first responders, all of whom are suffering serious, life-threatening illness as a result of their heroism.

Mr. Stewart's frustration and anger were palpable on Monday, and only increased over the course of the week as the Zadroga Bill continued to be blocked by the GOP, and the roundtable discussion is a far cry from The Daily Show's usual satire.  Both are required viewing.


lokywoky said...

I remember about a year ago that a poll found that the most well-informed people were the ones who watched The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. That really says something about the "lamestream" media. I think al Jazeera also did a big story on this. Niiiice.

Here's one that will tip things upside down. There was a bill to join an international consortium of UN and other NGO agencies to work on the issue of child marriage - to prevent the abuse and rape of children some as young as 8, 9, 10 years old from being married off to 40 and 50 year old men. In this case, the Senate voted 100-0 to pass it. Wow! But wait.

Crying John Boehner - he who just loves children so much - managed to whip up his Rethug caucus and the Blue (scum) Dogs against this by claiming that it was a secret plot to fund abortions and that it cost too much ($108 million - yes million with an M) and between the R's and the scumdogs - they voted it down in the House! How's that for a reversal.

Once again, the US joins the company of places like Somalia, and Ethiopia, and Sudan as non-participants in this agreement. We also voted against the right to food (the only one), the right to water (one of three), and a few other nice things like that.

The US is exceptional. Yes we are. Yes we are. Yes we are.

PBI said...

That sounds familiar, and as I recall, it had something to do with manufacturing companies in - I think - the Marianas, where there were all kinds of horrible treatment of children and women in the name of cheap labor. They brough pressure on their Capitol Hill pals, and down went the bill...

lokywoky said...

The Marianas, what can I say. This is a place where Ayn Randian economics is in full sway. It is an absolutely disgusting place to live, the working conditions are worse than gulag slave-labor camps, and I could go on. The caption is that it is a US protectorate so no one can intervene.

All these Rethugs who are always arguing that free markets will take care of everything if we just get rid of all the regulations and get out of the way should be forced to go live in the Marianas. Without any of the guaranteed perks they normally get for being US citizens.