Note from Dan: Well, well. It seems my column last Tuesday has encouraged some folks to write Rep. Morgan Griffith lengthy answers to the dumbly worded questions in his infamous survey of constituents. The latest is from Salem resident Frank Munley.
By Frank Munley
Dear Congressman Griffith,
Prompted by Dan Casey’s recent column on your survey (which I believe I responded to in short form), I’d like to offer more detailed thoughts on the complex issues your oversimplified and leading questions refer to.
1. “Do you support or oppose adding a balanced budget amendment to the constitution?”
I am adamantly opposed to such an amendment. Those who support a balanced budget amendment forget U.S. economic history and the importance of stabilizers (most importantly unemployment insurance, Social Security, and discretionary federal government spending) that have prevented a repeat of the Great Depression. The near-melt down we experienced in recent years (and still suffer from) was brought about by an unprecedented expansion over the past 30 years of the “gambling” (i.e., the financial sector) of the economy, accompanied by the elimination by free-market ideologues (Democrats and Republicans alike) of important financial regulations such as Glass-Steagall.
I am a proponent of a counter-cyclical federal fiscal policy: build up surpluses in good times rather than reduce taxes at every chance, and run a deficit in bad times. This type of policy can be implemented if the government always runs a “full employment” budget, i.e., a budget that would be balanced if the government received revenues obtained from an economy running at full employment. We can differ on what unemployment level is unacceptable. I would say 4%, i.e., anything more than 4% is not full employment.
2. “Do you support or oppose allowing exploration for oil and natural gas in the waters off Virginia’s coastline?”
I do not support allowing such exploration which leads inevitably to exploitation. As the song says, “When will we ever learn?” Deep sea drilling is problematic, as the fiasco in the Gulf proved. Mishaps continue, most recently in the Arctic where the challenges from sea ice, wind, and remoteness from centers of civilization make the proposition of drilling there fraught with danger. Deep sea drilling, whether in the Arctic or off the Virginia coast, is an experiment in progress—a careless and irresponsible experiment.
Then there is the problem of global warming. Be careful, we could be at a tipping point leading to severities that will shock us all. I am continuously surprised at the tendency of predictive models to underestimate temperature increases, ice melts,…etc. Climate skeptics like to say “Oh, those lousy models are uncertain, you can’t count on them,” but as I always emphasized to my students, uncertainty cuts both ways because the situation might turn out worse than the models predict. Unfortunately, that appears to be exactly the case!
At the Roanoke Rotary Club exchange with Anthony Flaccavento, you seemed impressed that the U.S. was poised to be the world’s biggest oil producer. I’m not impressed at all. We will still have to import a good portion of our oil needs, and the market price for oil is determined world-wide, whether we drill off the Virginia coastline or not. We have to break our foolish fossil fuel addiction if we care about posterity.
Adjustments should be made, but not the one you’re front-loading in this question. Ronald Reagan, whose positions I would guess you respect, said two important things about Social Security. First, he said Social Security does not contribute to the deficit. It is prohibited by its terms from doing that. In fact, Social Security, which I remind you is still running a surplus, helps to finance the deficit by buying the safest debt around: U.S. government debt incurred from general spending. To insure the long-term health of Social Security, Reagan succeeded in raising the ceiling on income subject to payroll taxes (which fund Social Security) from something like $67,000 to $83,000. Since then the ceiling has gone up with inflation, so today it is about $113,000. But that rise ignores the fact that income distribution has shifted to higher-income levels (super-high, truth be told), so a smaller proportion of total income is now subject to the tax than was in Reagan’s day. I am in favor of raising the ceiling to at least $183,000 as proposed by former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, or even more justly, eliminate the ceiling all together!
As for Medicare, there is a serious problem with the financing that will not be fixed by cutting benefits for those now under 55, because it does nothing to reign in the rapid rise of health care costs. These costs have risen historically well above the inflation rate, to the point that we are spending at least twice per capita what other developed countries are. Obamacare might help control health care costs a bit, but even that program is a sell-out to the health care and insurance industries and will probably not suffice.
4. “Do you support or oppose legislation that provides a pathway and a series of requirements for illegal immigrants to ultimately earn U.S. citizenship?”
I support the Dream Act, and I wish you would too. Again, Reagan had a “progressive” position on this point, essentially the same as proposed by the Dream Act. We should not visit the “sins” of the parents on the children. Enough said.
5. “Do you support or oppose regulations enacted by the EPA that make it harder to mine coal and use coal as an energy source, resulting in higher electricity rates?”
Again, a loaded question, and the ignorance behind it is insulting to me. Morgan, I grew up in coal country and you know not the threat you pose with your anti-regulation rants. During the recent campaign, I had a letter published on this point in the Bristol Herald Courier on 4 November 2012. Maybe you saw it, but if not, here is a link to it; read it and you’ll know why your position on this article insults me.
You would serve your constituents more justly by attending to the threats to public health from careless coal operations that sacrifice our beautiful mountain tops and endanger water supplies.
6. “Do you support or oppose U.S. action in order to prevent Iran from acquiring or building nuclear weapons?”
This is a many-faceted issue, but given our current aggressive sanctions against Iran, which by international law are themselves arguably acts of war, you have to be talking about overt direct military action against Iran—Dan Casey got it exactly right.
I am adamantly opposed to military action against Iran, and have grave doubts about the wisdom of our unprecedented sanctions against them too. Iran is about three times the size of Iraq and like that war-ravaged country, Iran has sectarian divisions that could rip the country apart and cause untold suffering if we continue to insist (as Obama, like Bush, appears to favor) on regime change as the answer. To our country’s great shame, it is consorting with terrorist groups who are against the Iranian regime. I ask: do you support the removal of the group MEK off the terrorist list?
You should know that Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, has every right to enrich uranium. You might not know that each country enlists in a set of special protocols, and Iran’s compliance with the Treaty must be judged on the protocols it is a party to. I have seen nothing to indicate that Iran has violated the treaty to the extent that it should be sanctioned, certainly not at the level the U.S. and its allies have imposed. The most serious charge against Iran is that it failed to disclose sites where nuclear operations were underway. But the issue here is more the timing of disclosure under Iran’s protocols rather than an overt attempt by Iran to hide something from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
There is strong evidence of a willful intent by the U.S. to ignore the realities of Iran’s nuclear program, with the U.S.’s incessant claims that Iran has a “nuclear weapons program.” Take, for example, the enrichment of uranium to 20%. Iran offered years ago to be supplied by other countries for the 20% enriched uranium it needs for medical purposes. This was blocked by the U.S., as was the effort by Turkey and Brazil to alleviate the situation, an effort that the U.S. encouraged Turkey and Brazil to undertake and then withdrew its support when it appeared it might succeed.
Why should we trust what the national security apparatus, whether administered by Democrats or Republicans, says about Iran? In fact, most of Iran’s 20% enriched uranium has been fabricated into metal rods. Anyone familiar with nuclear weapons technology knows very well that the enriched uranium will not work for a bomb if fabricated like that.
There are other sorry aspects to U.S. policy towards Iran, the saddest in my opinion being the Bush administration’s refusal to accept Iran’s offer by moderate president Khatami to cooperate in the effort to go after al Qaeda in Afghanistan following 9/11. (Afghanistan’s Taliban government murdered 16 Iranian diplomats shortly before 9/11.) Then in 2003, less than two years later, Khatami offered to discontinue its nuclear program, which may or may not at that time had a weapons component. Well, it appears the only reason they had a program was to counter Iraq, but once we took care of their “Saddam” problem, they eliminated their nuclear weapons effort. The Iraq war surely ranks as one of the biggest strategic blunders by the U.S., as evaluated in either the dictates of raw power politics or the civilized idea of the inadmissibility of unprovoked attack. Iran would be a repeat of that type of blunder, and a bigger one!
7. “Do you support or oppose passage of laws that would restrict the rights of law abiding citizens to own and carry firearms?”
I can’t resist a bit of sarcasm here. Maybe you meant, “Do you support or oppose passage of laws that would restrict the rights of law abiding citizens to own and carry firearms (defined by Oxford as a portable gun) like rocket-propelled grenades and submachine guns?” Submachine guns, i.e., totally automatic guns, are currently outlawed. Do you think they should be legally sold to private citizens?
As for the semi-automatic weapons that require a pull of the trigger for each shot, the crucial issue of magazine size is totally neglected by your question.
Like most of your questions, this one is framed to get a particular answer, “Oppose,” from a certain group of people who fear that gun control has no bounds and will confiscate even hunting weapons from them. That’s nonsense, of course, and in fact, many gun owners, hunters included, do not agree with the NRA’s extreme position on this problem.
In conclusion, if you want to know what your constituents think about important issues, give them the consideration they deserve by framing your questions in a meaningful and unbiased, and not a leading way.