Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Obama as the New Nixon?

Paul Krugman has a link to a fascinating and thoughtful post by Bruce Bartlett, a former economic adviser to Ronald Reagan and Treasury Secretary under George H.W. Bush. Bush argues that Barack Obama has been a moderate conservative president who continues the policies of his Republican predecessors--just as Richard Nixon was a moderate liberal who continued and expanded the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson.

In the process, Barlett gives a concise and cogent analysis of much of the political and economic history of the United States since the Second World War. For instance:
Liberals initially viewed Bill Clinton the same way conservatives viewed Eisenhower – as a liberator who would reverse the awful policies of his two predecessors. But almost immediately, Clinton decided that deficit reduction would be the first order of business in his administration. His promised middle class tax cut and economic stimulus were abandoned.

By 1995, Clinton was working with Republicans to dismantle welfare. In 1997, he supported a cut in the capital gains tax. As the benefits of his 1993 deficit reduction package took effect, budget deficits disappeared and we had the first significant surpluses in memory. Yet Clinton steadfastly refused to spend any of the flood of revenues coming into the Treasury, hording them like a latter day Midas. In the end, his administration was even more conservative than Eisenhower’s on fiscal policy.

And just as pent-up liberal aspirations exploded in the 1960s with spending for every pet project green lighted, so too the fiscal conservatism of the Clinton years led to an explosion of tax cuts under George W. Bush, who supported every one that came down the pike. The result was the same as it was with Johnson: massive federal deficits and a tanking economy.
Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Oklahoma City and Oslo

Today both The Southern Poverty Law Center and Common Dreams have interesting analytical pieces comparing the recent tragic act of terrorism in Oslo with the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Both posts point out that it's wrongheaded and dangerous to scapegoat Muslims as a threat to peace when right-wing Christian fundamentalists pose a serious threat.

The Common Dreams post is authored by Pierre Tristam, and crossposted from Tristam points out that after both incidents, news media initially made the assumption that the attacks were the work of Muslims:
After the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995, speculation flew on television news stations about Arab terrorists seen in the vicinity of the federal building. The thought that a home-grown, Midwestern Army veteran of the first Gulf war could possibly murder 168 people, including 19 children at a day care center, seemed as foreign as those Islamic lands that were then inspiring so much of bigotry’s latest American mutant. McVeigh turned out to be as all-American as he could possibly be, with extras. His paradoxical worship of the Second Amendment was the faith that fueled his hatred of a government he felt had betrayed American ideals by enabling what he called “Socialist wannabe slaves.” His idealism of a golden-age white America was the Christian translation of al-Qaeda’s idealized caliphate.

It became quickly evident that the bombing in Oslo and the massacre on Utoya Island on Friday had been carried out by Anders Breivik, who surrendered to police 40 minutes after beginning his killing spree on the island. Yet the Wall Street Journal ran an editorial on Saturday putting the blame for the attack on Islamist extremists, because “in jihadist eyes,” the paper said, “it will forever remain guilty of being what it is: a liberal nation committed to freedom of speech and conscience, equality between the sexes, representative democracy and every other freedom that still defines the West."
Of course, the problem is that there are is a strong, right-wing contingent of Anglo Westerners that is very much in opposition to such notions as freedom of speech and equality between the sexes. As SPLC's Heidi Beirich points out, Oslo terrorist Anders Breivik recently published a 1500-page tirade in which he accused something called "cultural Marxism"--meaning liberalism and multiculturism--with destroying "European Christian Civilization." Lest we merely dismiss Breivik as a lone fanatic, we should keep in mind that
Fears of “cultural Marxism” have a long pedigree in this country. It’s a conspiratorial kind of “political correctness” on steroids — a covert assault on the American way of life that allegedly has been developed by the left over the course of the last 70 years. Those who use the term posit that a small group of German philosophers, all Jews who fled Germany and went to Columbia University in the 1930s to found the Frankfurt School, devised a cultural form of “Marxism” aimed at subverting Western civilization. The method involves manipulating the culture into supporting homosexuality, sex education, egalitarianism, and the like, to the point that traditional institutions and culture are ultimately wrecked.

A number of hate groups, including the racist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), have raised the spectre of cultural Marxism as a way to explain contemporary events (click here to watch the CCC’s DVD on the theory). Some prominent conservatives also adopted the conspiratorial theory ( features MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan and Texas Congressman Ron Paul). In 2002, William Lind of the Free Congress Foundation, a far-right outfit long headed by the now deceased Paul Weyrich (one of the founders of the Moral Majority), gave a speech about the theory to a Holocaust denial conference. Saying he was “not among those who question whether the Holocaust occurred,” Lind went on to lay blame for “political correctness” and other evils on so-called “cultural Marxists,” who, he said, “were all Jewish” (Lind is mentioned in passing in Breivik’s manifesto).
As an apprentice librarian, I believe it's important to uphold everyone's right to free speech, even when this speech is hateful. But it's important to recognize that hateful speech does have consequences, and sometimes those consequences are extreme.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A synonym for "debt crisis"? How about "charade"?

Economist Michael Hudson, interviewed on Democracy Now! has an unusual way of pronouncing the word "charade," but his analysis of the artificial crisis around raising the federal debt ceiling is very revealing:

AMY GOODMAN: So, Michael Hudson, what could President Obama do?

MICHAEL HUDSON: He could say, "This debt ceiling has nothing to do with policy. You want to argue about the tax policy? Fine, let the Democrats and Republicans do it under non-crisis conditions. But this has nothing to do at all with the debt ceiling. If you want to refuse to increase the debt and plunge the economy into disaster, maybe you’d better talk to your campaign contributors and see what they want, because I know what they say. Your campaign contributors, in the Republicans, are my campaign contributors. They don’t like crises." And you’ll find that it’s all—the charade will—it’s just like pricking the balloon.
I've almost decided to just stop worrying about the debt limit. As Dean Baker points out, there could be some positive effects from failing to raise the debt limit:
If the question is default, that would end the supremacy of the U.S. financial industry. The downturn from a default would be very bad news for all of us, but the end of the supremacy of the U.S. financial industry would likely be good news for the rest of us. This would radically reduce the political power of this sector and their ability to steer the government to serve Wall Street's agenda. We could instead pursue economic policies that serve the rest of the economy with the resources consumed by the financial sector redeployed to more productive uses.

Friday, July 1, 2011

All work and no pay (but you could run off to Camp NaNoWriMo)

Over at Truthout, they've picked up this excellent description of the conditions faced by US workers today, from "part time" college instructors, to working mothers, to blue collar workers, to the people who work in your local big-box chain store. The original article, by Monica Bauerlein and Clara Jefferey, comes from Mother Jones.
On a bright spring day in a wisteria-bedecked courtyard full of earnest, if half-drunk, conference attendees, we were commiserating with a fellow journalist about all the jobs we knew of that were going unfilled, being absorbed or handled "on the side." It was tough for all concerned, but necessary—you know, doing more with less.

"Ah," he said, "the speedup."

His old-school phrase gave form to something we'd been noticing with increasing apprehension—and it extended far beyond journalism. We'd hear from creative professionals in what seemed to be dream jobs who were crumbling under ever-expanding to-do lists; from bus drivers, hospital technicians, construction workers, doctors, and lawyers who shame-facedly whispered that no matter how hard they tried to keep up with the extra hours and extra tasks, they just couldn't hold it together. (And don't even ask about family time.)
I so wish I had written it myself. I have so lived every sentence and paragraph of this article, and I bet you have, too. Do yourself a favor and read the whole thing, because it holds the open secret to why ordinary people are getting kicked in the teeth by this economy. Fewer workers are working harder and harder for no increase in pay, while corporate profits are up 22 percent. (And the f***ers don't even want to pay taxes on their ill-gotten gains.)

But enough ranting for the moment. I'm heading off for Camp NaNoWriMo to play with my novel. You could go, too.