Friday, November 19, 2010
Thursday, November 18, 2010
UPDATE: Megan McArdle gives libertarianism a bad name by being an asshole.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
...And while the Bush administration took wise and bold steps to correct the disaster, the unpopularity of its Troubled Asset Relief Program bequeathed the Obama administration a political disaster alongside the economic disaster.
It’s an uncomfortable memory, and until now Republicans have coped with it by changing the subject and hurling accusations. Those are not good enough responses from a party again entrusted with legislative power. If Republicans are to act effectively and responsibly, we need to learn more positive and productive lessons from the crisis.
Yea. "Uncomfortable memory". Somehow, the program that George W. Bush enacted has been painted as Barack Obama's baby. Mind you, this conciliation is handed to us by the same man who handed us the "Axis of Evil", thus giving Bush a neat little hook to hang our economy from.
By the neck.
Frum echoes what more credible commentators like Fareed Zakaria have said: this time might be the Republicans last chance. Frum goes into detail as to why the Republicans have failed so badly in the past, including the eight years of the Bush administration and the four that Republicans held both houses of Congress, the Presidency and the Supreme Court.
Lesson 1: The danger of closed information systems. Well before the crash of 2008, the U.S. economy was sending ominous warning signals. Median incomes were stagnating. Home prices rose beyond their rental values. Consumer indebtedness was soaring. Instead, conservatives preferred to focus on positive signals — job numbers, for example — to describe the Bush economy as “the greatest story never told.” ...
Lesson 2: “The market” (the whole free-market system) must be distinguished from “the markets” (the trading markets for financial assets). Perhaps it’s because the most influential conservative voice on economic affairs is The Wall Street Journal. Perhaps it’s because conservatism disproportionately draws support from retirees who store their savings in traded financial assets. Perhaps it’s because a booming financial sector is uniquely generous with its campaign contributions. Whatever the reason, the intellectual right accords a deference to the wants and wishes of the financial industry that is seldom accorded to agriculture, manufacturing, transport or retailing...
Lesson 3: The economy is more important than the budget. During the recession of 1981-82, Democratic politicians demanded that a Republican president set a balanced budget as his top priority. Ronald Reagan disregarded this advice. He held firm to his tax cuts: once the economy returned to prosperity, there would be time then to deal with the deficit...
Lesson 4: Even from a conservative point of view, the welfare state is not all bad. G. K. Chesterton observed that you should never take a fence down until you understand why it had been put up. We should remember why the immediate post-Depression generations created so many social-welfare programs. They were not motivated only — or even primarily — by “compassion.” They were motivated as well by the desire for stability...
Lesson 5: Listen to the people — but beware of populism. Listen to the people and politicians who gather under the label “the Tea Party,” and you are overwhelmed by the militant egalitarianism of their message, the distrust of elites, the assertion that the Tea Party speaks for ordinary Americans against a privileged ruling class.
The irony there, of course, is that the Teabaggers will revolt, basically, and as Frum himself has said on many occasions, the GOP fears its base.
As well it should. It has no appeal outside of its base, and in truth, if it wasn't for scaring independent voters since 1980 with lies about liberals and social programs (a point Frum to his credit takes pains to point out), it would be an irrelevant sack of shit moldering in the corner of the country demarked by Texas in the West, Florida in the east, and South Carolina in the north. And maybe Wyoming. Possibly Utah.
Personally, I'd like to see it forced back into that box, but I digress. Frum calls for stability in a society and in a party and by extension in a government that cannot exist again until three things happen.
First, and most important, economic recovery. In a government hampered (and now crippled) by calls for modesty and restraint, this stability will never happen in this century. If you think this is impossible, I direct your attention to Japan which is now heading into its third decade of economic stagnation and instability, and is trying desperately to recover from the last recession it endured as it is being hit hard by this global one. Barring a war, and remember we've just fought and continue to fight wars financed by debt and debt alone, and an annexation of a nation with a good economy, we will not prosper again in our lifetimes.
That's just the facts, folks.
Second, talk radio and the opinionators who ladle out hate from the far right wing of this nation have to rein it in. I'm not sure this will happen voluntarily, but in the past, it has happened as markets have moved beyond them to more entertaining and positive voices. Remember, it wasn't that long ago in the US that Father Coughlin was a credible media figure.
This time, however, it's going to be more difficult. The Republicans have so strongly tied themselves to the Limbaughs and Becks of the world that to defeat one, you will have to cut off the other. One can only hope that there is so little money left in the GOP coffers after these last few elections that funding will dry up. While billionaires will still abound to pump some money in, they'll have to be more choosy about the recipients...yes, even they hurt in a recession.
Narrow the field and we can focus on eliminating the hate-filled voices that remain. Failing that, the collapse of the GOP will create the same vacuum. My fear there is, cooler heads may not prevail.
Finally, peace between Republicans and Democrats must be achieved but it must be achieved on a basis that allows both parties to look strong. This capitulation that Obama has made to the centrist Democrats in order to pass watered-down legislation looks weak. Period. And it has made him vulnerable, not personally, but it makes his legacy iffy despite the enormous achievements of the last Congress. As his fortunes wane, the Democrats go down with him. As his fortunes rise, the Democrats can rightly claim legitimate equal status in the political dialogue.
Peace through strength. Obama must insist on this and insist on it now. He is the de facto party leader, a position he has been reluctant to use to bully his colleagues in the party. He has to grow a set.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Beginning, perhaps, from the reasonable perspective that absolute objectivity is unattainable, Fox News and MSNBC no longer even attempt it. They show us the world not as it is, but as partisans (and loyal viewers) at either end of the political spectrum would like it to be. This is to journalism what Bernie Madoff was to investment: He told his customers what they wanted to hear, and by the time they learned the truth, their money was gone.
Monday, November 15, 2010
...The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America — our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness. Incredibly, the top 1 percent of Americans now have tax rates a third lower than the same top percentile had in 1970.
“How can hedge-fund managers who are pulling down billions sometimes pay a lower tax rate than do their secretaries?” ask the political scientists Jacob S. Hacker (of Yale) and Paul Pierson (University of California, Berkeley) in their deservedly lauded new book, “Winner-Take-All Politics.” If you want to cry real tears about the American dream — as opposed to the self-canonizing tears of John Boehner — read this book and weep. The authors’ answer to that question and others amounts to a devastating indictment of both parties.
Their ample empirical evidence, some of which I’m citing here, proves that America’s ever-widening income inequality was not an inevitable by-product of the modern megacorporation, or of globalization, or of the advent of the new tech-driven economy, or of a growing education gap. (Yes, the very rich often have fancy degrees, but so do those in many income levels below them.) Inequality is instead the result of specific policies, including tax policies, championed by Washington Democrats and Republicans alike as they conducted a bidding war for high-rolling donors in election after election.
Often, the more strident among my friends wonder how I can support the Corporatocracy Lite instead of opting for a third party. My answer, implicit in Rich's column, is Duverger's Law. We are never going to have a successful three party system. The bias towards two parties is way too strong and with all the money sloshing around out there for both parties, a successful third party bid that wouldn't be co-opted (watch the Teabaggers for proof) by Big Money is simply impossible under this system.
And there's the rub. We can stamp our feet and hold our breath until we turn blue, but the parental units will smile, maybe chuckle, and then turn around and do what they damned well please.
You want to cause trouble in this country, starting a third party is not going to do it. Starting a tax revolt, that might have the needed impact-- after all, if the hedge fund secretary refuses to pay her taxes, who's going to protect that hedge fund managers wealth?-- but it's going to require a coordinated effort that would make the Teabaggers seem like a grass-roots effort.
And we know they'll never be allowed off the leash long enough to join, even if it would be to their benefit.
(side note: As Frank goes on to point out, the lapsing tax cut that Obama proposes to kill off would generate an average $700 annually at the lower and more populated end of the $250,000 floor. Know anyone who would work for that amount?)
So how to beat back this enormous threat to the American way of life, the greed of the uberrich? Ideas?