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What Atrios Says

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I agree with Ezra that creating jobs is more important than appearing to fight for jobs, whatever the hell that last one is, but at some point we’re going to have an election campaign. Trying to get through backroom deals which may or may not have much positive effect on the economy won’t be enough, either. At some point it’s time to explain what you would like to do for the economy, and why the bastards on the other side are against it.

And, if I may, doing so would be good politics as well as good policy. Ezra Klein disagrees, as you can see if you follow the link in the quote above. Part of Klein’s argument is as follows:

Ron Klain, former chief of staff to both Al Gore and Joe Biden, thinks President Obama needs to make more of a show of fighting for job-creating policies. “The greatest risk to the president will be if the American people believe the administration isn’t trying hard enough to tackle the jobs problem,” he writes. “That is why it is imperative for the administration to do more — proposing new ideas, initiatives and job-creation programs — and without delay. It may not succeed, but it must get ‘caught trying’ to do more to spur job creation.”

This advice appeals to me. It’s what I’d like to see happen. But I also think it’s wrong, and if I were advising President Obama, I’d advise him not to take it.

Ezra has a lot more faith in the Republicans acting rationally than I do. Meanwhile, Obama needs to make the case for more stimulus and job creation by the federal government. The current House may not go along, but by winning the economic debate, the President can help change the House from red to blue.

Written by slothropia

June 29th, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Aaron Schock, Destroyer of the Middle class

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Well, the holidays are over and I’m out of egg nog so it’s time to climb out of my cozy little burrow and engage the world, or at least the blogosphere, once more.

And I have drafted a provocative title for my first post holiday post, no? Do I really mean to say that Aaron Schock is trying to destroyed the middle class in the U.S.? Why yes, yes I do. Please allow me to ‘splain.

Schock is a Republican, and the Republicans in congress do not talk much these days about unemployment and the need to create jobs. They do talk a lot about “balancing the budget” and reducing federal spending. They see the deficit and national debt as a crisis but unemployment not so much. What most economists will tell you however is that it is going to be pretty hard to do much about deficits until unemployment is solved.

Don’t take my word for it. Here’s my favorite Nobel Economics laureate, Paul Krugman:

What the government should be doing in this situation is spending more while the private sector is spending less, supporting employment while those debts are paid down. And this government spending needs to be sustained: we’re not talking about a brief burst of aid; we’re talking about spending that lasts long enough for households to get their debts back under control. The original Obama stimulus wasn’t just too small; it was also much too short-lived, with much of the positive effect already gone.

It’s true that we’re making progress on deleveraging. Household debt is down to 118 percent of income, and a strong recovery would bring that number down further. But we’re still at least several years from the point at which households will be in good enough shape that the economy no longer needs government support.

But wouldn’t it be expensive to have the government support the economy for years to come? Yes, it would — which is why the stimulus should be done well, getting as much bang for the buck as possible.

But of course, Schock and his reactionary party opposed the inadequate stimulus proposed by Obama and disposed by Congressional Democrats. stimulus Obama supported. And based on the year end tax cut sell out and GOP rhetoric, Republicans don’t care about the deficit anyway, as long as taxes for the wealthy are cut and the rich become richer.

On December 30 of last year the Peoria Journal Star published one of their periodic puff pieces written by Karen McDonald and based on an interview with Rep. Schock (or maybe just a press release – hard to tell) in an attempt to convince Schock’s constituents that he has their best interests at heart, that he is working to make life better for the good people of the fightin’ 18th. The piece, touches on the plans Schock and the GOP have for the upcoming congress:

Schock recently was appointed to Congress’ most powerful committee – the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee – for the 112th Congress. It also has jurisdiction over trade policies, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income and Medicare, among other responsibilities.

He said top priorities for the new Congress will be approval of the nation’s free trade agreement with South Korea – recently reworked from its original 2007 form to address concerns from both sides – and free trade agreements with Colombia and Panama. They are important to growing the agriculture economy in the 18th District and manufacturing base, Schock said.

When Congress reconvenes Jan. 5, Republicans will be in charge of the House and hold more seats in the Senate.

“We can’t fix the unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs and make significant cuts in federal spending with just a Republican House. These efforts will require bipartisan support,” Schock said.

So Schock wants to “fix the unfunded liabilities in our entitlement programs and make significant cuts in federal spending “. That is, he wants to cut and/or privatize social security and medicare while taking demand out of the economy during a period of high unemployment and under employment. So why would anyone who is not stinking rich vote for this guy?

Is it just me or does it not seem odd that Schock fails to mention a determination to fix unemployment as his primary goal in the upcoming Congressional session? He seems to think that trade deals will give the economy a boost, based apparently on the success of NAFTA in creating new employment in this country . Caterpillar, a major employer in Schock’s district, have created a lot of new jobs recently – in other countries.

Schock has it easy since getting the GOP nomination in Illinois 18 back in’06. His political life could become more interesting now that Illinois has lost a seat in the House of Representatives. He may find himself running in a district not so friendly to GOPers and Tea Baggers next time. Maybe that will encourage the Congressman to moderate his views and join with the Democrats on some House votes. But I doubt it.

Written by slothropia

January 4th, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Bill Moyers: “Welcome to the Plutocracy!”

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Remember Bill Moyers? he finished off a brilliant career in politics and political journalism with an outstanding PBS program, Bill Moyers Journal (archived video still available at the PBS website). On October 29 at Boston University, Moyers gave a speech paying tribute to Howard Zinn, the People’s Historian. Truthout was kind enough to publish a transcript of the speech and you can read it for yourself by following the link above (where it says Truthout in a blue font).

This wasn’t just a “What a great guy Howard Zinn was speech.” I did not know Howard Zinn but I imagine he would not have appreciated a glowing eulogy for its own sake and with no larger purpose. Rather, Moyers incorporated Zinn’s passionate democratic impulse into a discussion of the dire state of U.S. politics in the early twenty first century. He describes and names the new form of government in the U.S.: Plutocracy. Rule by the rich. That is the entire agenda of the Republican party, Teabaggers and all. They have no plan for reducing unemployment or for solving any other problem facing their country. Give the rich more wealth and the corporations more power. Everyone and every thing else can go hang. And of course that is just what many do.

Here then are some key quotes:

Time for a confession. The legendary correspondent Edward R. Murrow told his generation of journalists that bias is okay as long as you don’t try to hide it. Here is mine: Plutocracy and democracy don’t mix. Plutocracy too long tolerated leaves democracy on the auction block, subject to the highest bidder.

Socrates said to understand a thing, you must first name it. The name for what’s happening to our political system is corruption – a deep, systemic corruption. I urge you to seek out the recent edition of Harper’s Magazine. The former editor Roger D. Hodge brilliantly dissects how democracy has gone on sale in America. Ideally, he writes, our ballots purport to be expressions of political will, which we hope and pray will be translated into legislative and executive action by our pretended representatives. But voting is the beginning of civil virtue, not its end, and the focus of real power is elsewhere. Voters still “matter” of course, but only as raw material to be shaped by the actual form of political influence – money.

James Madison and many of his contemporaries knew this kind of corruption could consume the republic. Looking at history a tragic lens, they thought the life cycle of republics – their degeneration into anarchy, monarchy, or oligarchy – was inescapable. And they attempted to erect safeguards against it, hoping to prevent private and narrow personal interests from overriding those of the general public.

They failed. Hardly a century passed after the ringing propositions of 1776 than America was engulfed in the gross materialism and political corruption of the First Gilded Age, when Big Money bought the government right out from under the voters. In their magisterial work on The Growth of the American Republic, the historians Morrison, Commager, and Leuchtenberg describe how in that era “privilege controlled politics,” and “the purchase of votes, the corruption of election officials, the bribing of legislatures, the lobbying of special bills, and the flagrant disregard of laws” threatened the very foundations of the country.”

Referring to the Gilded Age of the late 19th century, Moyers continues:

Conservatives of the day – pro-corporate apologists – hijacked the vocabulary of Jeffersonian liberalism and turned words like “progress,” “opportunity,” and “individualism” into tools for making the plunder of America sound like divine right. Laissez faire ideologues and neo-cons of the day – lovers of empire even then – hijacked Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and so distorted it that politicians, judges, and publicists gleefully embraced the notion that progress emerges from the elimination of the weak and the “survival of the fittest.” As one of the plutocrats crowed: “We are rich. We own America. We got it, God knows how, but we intend to keep it.”

And they have never given up. The Gilded Age returned with a vengeance in our time. It slipped in quietly at first, back in the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan began a “massive decades-long transfer of national wealth to the rich.” As Roger Hodge makes clear, under Bill Clinton the transfer was even more dramatic, as the top 10 percent captured an ever-growing share of national income. The trend continued under George W. Bush – those huge tax cuts for the rich, remember, which are now about to be extended because both parties have been bought off by the wealthy – and by 2007 the wealthiest 10% of Americans were taking in 50% of the national income. Today, a fraction of people at the top today earn more than the bottom 120 million Americans.

(Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan) said President Reagan’s real strategy was to force the government to cut domestic social programs by fostering federal deficits of historic dimensions. Senator Moynihan was gone before the financial catastrophe on George W. Bush’s watch that could paradoxically yet fulfill Reagan’s dream. The plutocrats who soaked up all the money now say the deficits require putting Social Security and other public services on the chopping block. You might think that Mr. Bush today would regret having invaded Iraq on false pretenses at a cost of more than a trillion dollars and counting, but no, just last week he said that his biggest regret was his failure to privatize Social Security. With over l00 Republicans of the House having signed a pledge to do just that when the new Congress convenes, Mr. Bush’s vision may yet be realized.

Daniel Altman also saw what was coming. In his book Neoconomy he described a place without taxes or a social safety net, where rich and poor live in different financial worlds. “It’s coming to America,” he wrote. Most likely he would not have been surprised recently when firefighters in rural Tennessee would let a home burn to the ground because the homeowner hadn’t paid a $75 fee.

That’s what is coming to America.

Everyone knows millions of Americans are in trouble. As Robert Reich recently summed it the state of working people: They’ve lost their jobs, their homes, and their savings. Their grown children have moved back in with them. Their state and local taxes are rising. Teachers and firefighters are being laid off. The roads and bridges they count on are crumbling, pipelines are leaking, schools are dilapidated, and public libraries are being shut.

Why isn’t government working for them? Because it’s been bought off. It’s as simple as that. And until we get clean money we’re not going to get clean elections, and until we get clean elections, you can kiss goodbye government of, by, and for the people. Welcome to the plutocracy.

But here’s the key: If you’re fighting for a living wage, or peace, or immigration reform, or gender equality, or the environment, or a safe neighborhood, you are, of necessity, strongly opposed to a handful of moneyed-interests controlling how decisions get made and policy set. Because most Americans are attuned to principle of fair play, of not favoring Big Money at the expense of the little guy – at the expense of the country they love. The legendary community organizer Ernesto Cortes talks about the “power to preserve what we value.” That’s what we want for Americans – the power to preserve what we value, both for ourselves and on behalf of our democracy.

But let’s be clear: Even with most Americans on our side, the odds are long. We learned long ago that power and privilege never give up anything without a struggle. Money fights hard, and it fights dirty. Think Rove. The Chamber. The Kochs. We may lose. It all may be impossible. But it’s OK if it’s impossible. Hear the former farmworker and labor organizer Baldemar Velasquez on this. The members of his Farm Labor Organizing Committee are a long way from the world of K Street lobbyists. But they took on the Campbell Soup Company – and won. They took on North Carolina growers – and won, using transnational organizing tacts that helped win Velasquez a “genius” award from the MacArthur Foundation. And now they’re taking on no less than R. J. Reynolds Tobacco and one of its principle financial sponsors, JPMorgan-Chase. Some people question the wisdom of taking on such powerful interests, but here’s what Velasquez says: “It’s OK if it’s impossible; it’s OK! Now I’m going to speak to you as organizers. Listen carefully. The object is not to win. That’s not the objective. The object is to do the right and good thing. If you decide not to do anything, because it’s too hard or too impossible, then nothing will be done, and when you’re on your death bed, you’re gonna say, “I wish I had done something. But if you go and do the right thing NOW, and you do it long enough “good things will happen—something’s gonna happen.”

Shades of Howard Zinn!

If you’re looking fo0r a heroic example to emulate, how about that Howard Zinn.

Written by slothropia

November 10th, 2010 at 12:13 am