Now that the evidence is flooding in that the "austerity" demanded by the world's financial overlords (and well-endowed, shadowy right-wing front groups) is failing miserably in the U.K., the American ruling families are cracking the whip on their political whores to get the job done here pronto. Well... they don't have to crack the whip on the Republicans-- unless they have a whip that creates competence-- but it takes some finessing to get Democrats to go along with a complete sellout of the New Deal and their party's entire agenda. Can they do it? Well, looks like their heavy investment in Barack Obama's campaign last year, is paying off for them. Of course, Obama can't do it all by his lonesome. The Congressional Progressive Caucus would stop him-- if they weren't overwhelmed by the rise of the Austerity Hawk Democrats. I hope Ari Berman took out a copyright on the phrase. He started with a quote from Wall Street's favorite-- if favorite is expressed in campaign contributions-- non-presidential candidate, Chuck Schumer (D- $18,669,941), who bragged that ?Our plan includes more cuts," comparing Harry Reid?s debt plan to Boehner?s.
The fact that Senate Democrats are trying to out-cut the cut-obsessed Republicans pretty much sums up the current political debate in Washington. ?Harry Reid?s plan wins the austerity sweepstakes,? Adam Serwer wrote yesterday. ?It's the austerity party vs. the austerity party,? blogger Atrios tweeted.
President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a ?clean bill? to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won?t), or that the government?s budget is like a family?s budget (it isn?t), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we?ve all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it ?the confidence fairy?).
?For the last few months, I and others have watched, with amazement and horror, the emergence of a consensus in policy circles in favor of immediate fiscal austerity,? Krugman wrote on July 1. ?That is, somehow it has become conventional wisdom that now is the time to slash spending, despite the fact that the world?s major economies remain deeply depressed. This conventional wisdom isn?t based on either evidence or careful analysis. Instead, it rests on what we might charitably call sheer speculation, and less charitably call figments of the policy elite?s imagination.?
In the last few weeks, the austerity hawk choir has only gotten louder. President Obama has successfully used the bully pulpit to undermine the case for progressive governance.
Even after the 2010 election, which supposedly was a referendum on government spending, there was little evidence that the public cared about the deficit and a lot of evidence that they wanted Washington to address the jobs crisis. For example, 56 percent of Americans ranked the economy and jobs as their top priority for the new Congress following the election, while only 4 percent named the deficit.
By a two to one margin, according to a July Quinnipiac poll, Americans still believe that reducing unemployment is more important than cutting the deficit. But they only narrowly believe that reducing unemployment is more important than reducing federal government spending, by a 49 to 43 margin. And the public now says that ?major cuts in federal spending? would help, not hurt, the economy, a 15 point reversal from March.
Things might have been different had President Obama made an aggressive and sustained argument that the government still has an important role to play in spurring an economic recovery and creating jobs. Instead, the president sided with the austerity hawks and strengthened the elite Washington consensus.
Throughout the debt ceiling debate, Obama keeps touting how he?s bucking the activists in his own party. It seems as if the president wants to run against the Democratic base in 2012 and position himself as the supposedly sensible centrist candidate. As a result, the president?s approval ratings among liberals are at the lowest point of his presidency.
That ?triangulation? strategy worked for Bill Clinton in 1996, although he had the benefit of a rapidly growing economy. My guess is the 2012 election will be much more like 2004 than 1996, when the country is fiercely divided about the incumbent leader, unsure of the opposition, and in a politically restive mood. If that?s the case, Obama will need his base to knock on doors, make phone calls and persuade undecided voters who to vote for. That?s how Bush won in ?04, by ratcheting up Republican turnout in states like Ohio. The more Obama bucks his supporters-- and keeps ignoring the jobs crisis in favor of deficit hysteria-- the dicier his path to re-election becomes, especially if the economy continues to lag.
But let?s forget about the 2012 election for a moment. Right now, the public is being deprived a real and vital debate about how to solve the economic crisis. Obama is governing like a moderate Republican. Republicans are governing like Grover Norquist. The net effect is that US politics keeps shifting further and further to the right.
United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay reviews the evolution of the LGBT rights at the United Nations, noting how one activist, Nicholas Toonen, filed a case that forced the United Nations Human Rights Committee to reaffirm that freedom from discrimination applies to everyone — gay, straight, lesbian or bisexual. Since 1994, more than 30 countries have taken steps to abolish their anti-homosexuality laws, but criminal sanctions “still remain in place in more than 70 countries,” Pillay notes. Watch it:
In 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin became the third U.S. city — after San Francisco and Washington, DC — to require paid sick leave for workers, thanks to a referendum overwhelmingly approved by the city’s voters. However, back in May, Wisconsin’s Republican legislature passed, and notoriously anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) signed, a bill that took away the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether they want to mandate paid sick leave.
The sick days law has been tied up in the courts ever since, but yesterday, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court officially said that the state is within its rights to nullify Milwaukee’s law:
After three years of legal and political wrangling over the Milwaukee paid sick-day law that voters approved but business groups denounced, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper declared Thursday afternoon: “It’s over.”
In doing so he found the city law, passed by 69% of voters in November 2008 and upheld by the state Court of Appeals in March, was moot because of state legislation approved in April that voided it.
“I don’t feel real good about how this happened politically,” he said in announcing his ruling.
Judge Cooper said the bill was perfectly targeted to negate Milwaukee’s paid sick days law. “You put a bull’s-eye on paid sick days,” he said. The ruling comes on the heels of a few wins by proponents of paid sick days, as Connecticut became the first state to require them and residents of Denver got the issue onto November’s ballot. Philadelphia’s city council also approved a sick days bill recently, only to see it vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter.
At the moment, the U.S. is all alone in the industrialized world in not mandating some form of paid time off for workers, and the U.S. economy as a whole loses $180 billion in productivity annually due to sick employees attending work and infecting other workers. Lack of sick days is a particularly acute problem in the food services industry (where sick workers attending work is obviously even more problematic). It’s a shame that the anti-worker fervor of Wisconsin’s Republicans goes so far as to nullify a law that the people of Milwaukee clearly wanted.
Appearing on Fox News this afternoon to discuss Republicans’ opposition to raising the debt ceiling, House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) said it is “contrary to our DNA” to raise the debt ceiling. Watch it:
Hensarling must have changed his DNA in the past few years, as, like 97 of his House GOP colleagues, the potential mutant-congressman has voted for a clean increase of the debt ceiling under President Bush.
A new Equality Matters analysis finds that Fox News largely ignored the government’s decision to certify the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, covering the story just 5 times between July 21 and July 24. Comparatively, “CNN covered the administration?s certification 26 times, MSNBC covered the story 11 times” and “ran a number of longer segments”:
Ignoring stories which benefit the LGBT community and undermine social conservative causes, however, is the norm at Fox. Back in March, Fox remained silent after a major law firm reversed its decision about defending an explicitly anti-gay law, and last year the network failed to report on former RNC Chairman Ken Mehlman ? who had orchestrated President Bush?s gay-bashing 2004 re-election campaign ? coming out as gay.
Last month, a similar ThinkProgress analysis revealed that Fox News also offered slim coverage to New York’s historic same-sex marriage law. The network ran the story just 5 times, compared to 32 mentions on MSNBC and 23 on CNN:
In principle, a debt ceiling bill could pass the US House of Representatives with something like 180 Democratic votes and 40 Republican votes. In that case, you wouldn’t need any tea partiers or even anyone with a safe GOP seat to vote for it. But the option isn’t being explored because it’s taken for granted that nothing will be moved to the floor of the House unless John Boehner signs off on it, and if Boehner were to green light a measure that the majority of his caucus disliked, he might be deposed. This is a “party cartel” dynamic. Powers that are formally assigned to the US House of Representatives are, instead, de facto exercised by the House Republican caucus and only measures that meet with the approval of the caucus can pass the House.
Except, as Jesse Richman writes (PDF) it hasn’t always had to work this way:
Describing his job in 2003, former Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert asserted that ?The job of the speaker is not to expedite legislation that runs counter to the wishes of the majority of his majority.? Cox and McCubbins? (2005) first commandment for party leaders is consistent with Hastert?s claim: ?Thou shalt not aid bills that will split thy party.? Further, Cox and McCubbins (p. 209) suggest that such negative agenda control is a constant in the US House of Representatives.
However, Hastert misunderstood the job of the speaker, and his mismanagement of the agenda contributed to the destruction of the majority he served. Former Democratic Speaker of the House Tip O?Neill described a more flexible approach to agenda control. In his autobiography, O?Neill recalled his reaction to the legislative agenda pursued by Ronald Reagan in 1981. ?As Speaker, I could have refused to play ball with the Reagan administration by holding up the president?s legislation inthe Rules Committee. But in my view, this wasn?t a politically wise thing to do.? (O?Neill and Novak 1987, p. 344). O?Neill sacrificed agenda control in order to protect the Democratic majority. The majority was rolled (Cox and McCubbins 2005, p. 257) but the majority survived.
Richman’s thesis is that O’Neill had this right and strong carteling behavior has negative electoral consequences.
This is well-put by Julian Sanchez. A strategy of defensive patents only works if the “innovation” you’re patenting isn’t worthy of patent protection:
But now think about how defensive patents work. Companies aren?t buying them?or buying into the services of companies like Intellectual Ventures?because they provide otherwise unavailable technical insights. The point, rather, is to acquire (or have access to) a bundle of patents that any potential litigant who sues you is likely to be ?infringing? in their own products. Like nuclear weapons, the point is not to actually use them?but only to be able to threaten to use them if anyone else should deploy theirs against you.
This only works, however, if other companies are almost certain to have independently come up with the same idea. A patent that is truly so original that somebody else wouldn?t arrive at the same solution by applying normal engineering skill is useless as a defensive patent. You can?t threaten someone with a countersuit if your idea is so brilliant that your opponents?because they didn?t think of it?haven?t incorporated it in their technology. The ideal defensive patent, by contrast, is the most obvious one you can get the U.S. Patent Office to sign off on?one that competitors are likely to unwittingly ?infringe,? not realizing they?ve made themselves vulnerable to legal counterattack, because it?s simply the solution a good, smart engineer trying to solve a particular problem would naturally come up with.
The whole idea of patents is, as Aaron Swartz pointed out to me yesterday, pretty odd. A copyright forbids copying. A patent forbids independent discovery as well. And it does so even though it’s famously common for certain ideas to be “in the air” and independently developed by different people.
In the midst of the delightfully distracting debate over whether the Treasury Department could solve the debt ceiling crisis by minting a couple of trillion-dollar coins, Jon Chait suggests that such a scenario lends itself to a whole bunch of wacky movie ideas:
I actually feel like this plan could, in addition to rescuing the economy, provide the spark our film industry requires. I could sit here for ten minutes and rattle off a half-dozen great film concepts based on this story.
Bank caper: a dashing Clooney-esque figure assembles a team to steal the trillion dollar coin.
Comedy: a bumbling assistant Treasury Secretary played by Jack Black accidentally picks up the trillion dollar coin and spends it on a Mountain Dew, sending the entire government into a mad scramble for the coin before the world economy collapses.
Noir: Regular person somehow acquires the coin, and is slowly twisted.
Action: Super-villain plots to destroy the coin and bring the economy to its knees, from which he stands to profit due to a nefariously brilliant hedge he has prepared. Maybe we’ll call him “Eric Cantor.”
I like these, but I have some doubts about the first idea. A lot of what makes heist movies fun is the brilliant solutions to the logistical challenges of moving the loot. We’d never have the sheer joy of the Mini Cooper chase scene in The Italian Job if all we had to move was a couple of little coins:
On the other hand, you could do a gorgeous, high-level three card monte, like the climax of the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, one of my favorite movie sequences for pure fun and style (the clip spoils the end of the movie):
Anyone remember what it was like to work in the late 1990s? The memories are fading fast as the years of persistent joblessness pile up -- years that began well before the big crash in 2008, when it was already self-evident that the Bush administration's claims that massive tax cuts for the wealthy were the sure route to full employment were an epochal load of hooey. Now even that seems like a quaint and distant memory.
In 1998, it was a workers' market: Everyone I know had a good job, and a lot of them were in the tech sector. Good benefits were a given, as were good salaries. If the working conditions sucked, there was always someone else who offered a better environment and maybe better pay too.
That was before the tech bubble burst in 2001. I spent that year working in investment journalism in a newsroom that primarily revolved around the stock market.
I remember remarking on a number of articles we published in which corporate honchos bitched bitterly about the fact that they had lost the ability to control their workers, to ignore their workplace demands, and to short-change their benefits, or whatever other steps they might take to shore up their corporate bottom lines and make their shareholders happier. I remember thinking at the time that the economic tides would inevitably turn, and the next time these folks wound up on top and it became, once again, an employer's market, they would make certain that they never found themselves in that position again.
We used to joke, back in the '90s, that a recession was the Republican way of shortening the lift lines. It's a truism that the wealthy despise having to share too much of their space with too many other people. And in the late '90s, they were having to share their space with a whole lot of freshly well-to-do people.
Well, that isn't an issue now. Problem solved. I imagine the wintertime lift lines at Sun Valley are pretty wide open these days.
Because the reality, of course, is that while the average CEO now makes (as of 2009) only 263 times what his average worker makes (down from a high of 525 times in 2000), they almost never in fact take the windfalls they reap from those huge tax breaks and actually invest the money in employing people. Instead, they ratchet up their bonuses and salaries another notch or two, buy another yacht or another condo in the Bahamas, and tuck the rest away in a tax-free account in the Caymans.
They're currently proving, by sidelining all this cash, that giving them tax breaks doesn't do a damned thing for job creation -- perhaps it does exactly the opposite.
Moreover, they continue reaping large salaries while worker payrolls are slashed. Now people just cling to whatever jobs they can, keep their heads down, and count their lucky stars if they still have work. Either that, or they join the ranks of the eternal jobless.
A year ago, the conventional wisdom was that the ongoing hoarding of large sums of cash by corporate CEOs was "not sustainable". But instead, not only have they sustained it, the hoarding and resulting joblessness have soured whatever faint signs of a recovery we saw in 2000-2010.
Another bit of conventional wisdom we keep hearing is that 9 percent unemployment may be with us for quite awhile. They seem to be institutionalizing the joblessness -- and are quite content to do so.
This was what my late friend Frank Church used to tell me:
One comment in particular, however, stands out in my mind these days. We were talking about America's future, and where the conservative cadre that was then taking over the Republican Party intended to take us. His expression darkened, and it was clear that he had a good deal of foreboding in this regard. "What I fear most," he said, "is the Latin Americanization of America."
He wasn't concerned, of course, with the arrival of Latinos on American soil (or what Pat Buchanan calls "Meximerica") except insofar as that could be manipulated to achieve this end. What he feared was that corporatist conservatives, if given free rein, would turn our standard of living into what you find in Latin America. That working Americans would one day be reduced to the level of near-serfdom that is the common way of life for millions of Latinos.
During the Clinton years, of course, this fear looked farther and farther remote -- everyone's wages were rising, jobs were being created by the millions, and our standard of living was never healthier. I began to think that we had staved off Church's specter, perhaps forever.
But then, I never imagined the Bush years, either.
The Latin American landscape is largely an oligarchy: a land ruled by the wealthy, for the wealthy, and at the expense of ordinary working people, who are left to fend for themselves for whatever scraps the ruling elite deigns to toss them.
The ruling elite in the United States like that model. That's how America used to be, after all, a century ago: eighty-hour work weeks were the norm, there were no vacations or weekends or health benefits, no workers' organizing rights. Child labor was common. There was no Great American Middle Class then, no consumer society. It was an oligarchy then.
They've even been explicit about wanting America to be driven to second-class status. Take Paul Broun the other day:
Well, Andrea, the thing is when someone is overextended and broke they don't continue paying for expensive automobiles. They sell the expensive automobiles and buy a cheaper one. They don't continue paying for country club dues. They drop out of the country club. We need to pay down the debt.
That's why they're perfectly happy to wreck the economy in the hopes it will be blamed on President Obama: It suits their ends anyway. If the oligarchy has its way, the lift lines are going to be getting very short indeed.
Currently President Obama?s job approval rating stands at only 40 percent according to the latest Gallup poll. This is the lowest support Gallup has yet found in their polling. From Gallup: Part of the problem for the President is the likely the result[...]
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