Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Friday, September 1st, 2006.


Labor Day Review

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Bush Administration

Thomas Frank writes in today’s New York Times:

What we have watched unfold for a few decades, I have argued, is a broad reversion to 19th-century political form, with free-market economics understood as the state of nature, plutocracy as the default social condition, and, enthroned as the nation’s necessary vice, an institutionalized corruption surpassing anything we have seen for 80 years. All that is missing is a return to the gold standard and a war to Christianize the Philippines.

Iraq comes pretty close, I’d say. But back in the day progressivism arose to combat the forces of plutocracy. Alas, now we have the New Democrats, who feel our pain but think we should be resigned to it:

Mounting a campaign against plutocracy makes as much sense to the typical Washington liberal as would circulating a petition against gravity. What our modernized liberal leaders offer — that is, when they’re not gushing about the glory of it all at Davos — is not confrontation but a kind of therapy for those flattened by the free-market hurricane: they counsel us to accept the inevitability of the situation and to try to understand how we might retrain or re-educate ourselves so we will fit in better next time.

This last point was a priority for the Clinton administration. But in “The Disposable American,” a disturbing history of job security, Louis Uchitelle points out that the New Democrats’ emphasis on retraining (as opposed to broader solutions that Old Democrats used to favor) is merely a kinder version of the 19th-century view of unemployment, in which economic dislocation always boils down to the fitness of the unemployed person himself.

Also at the New York Times, Paul Krugman writes about the disconnect between our “great” economy and the perceptions of most workers.

There are still some pundits out there lecturing people about how great the economy is. But most analysts seem to finally realize that Americans have good reasons to be unhappy with the state of the economy: although G.D.P. growth has been pretty good for the last few years, most workers have seen their wages lag behind inflation and their benefits deteriorate.

The disconnect between overall economic growth and the growing squeeze on many working Americans will probably play a big role this November, partly because President Bush seems so out of touch: the more he insists that it’s a great economy, the angrier voters seem to get.

That’s exactly what sunk his dad’s administration.

But the disconnect didn’t begin with Mr. Bush, and it won’t end with him, unless we have a major change in policies.

The stagnation of real wages — wages adjusted for inflation — actually goes back more than 30 years. The real wage of nonsupervisory workers reached a peak in the early 1970’s, at the end of the postwar boom. Since then workers have sometimes gained ground, sometimes lost it, but they have never earned as much per hour as they did in 1973.

Meanwhile, the decline of employer benefits began in the Reagan years, although there was a temporary improvement during the Clinton-era boom. The most crucial benefit, employment-based health insurance, has been in rapid decline since 2000.

Krugman cites a Pew poll that seems to shrug off workers’ concerns — people always say things were better in the old days. But, in fact, things were better in the old days.

Why have workers done so badly in a rich nation that keeps getting richer? That’s a matter of dispute, although I believe there’s a large political component: what we see today is the result of a quarter-century of policies that have systematically reduced workers’ bargaining power.

The important question now, however, is whether we’re finally going to try to do something about the big disconnect. Wages may be difficult to raise, but we won’t know until we try. And as for declining benefits — well, every other advanced country manages to provide everyone with health insurance, while spending less on health care than we do.

The big disconnect, in other words, provides as good an argument as you could possibly want for a smart, bold populism. All we need now are some smart, bold populist politicians.

Brad DeLong comments:

The easiest and most important thing the government can do to neutralize the adverse consequences of rising inequality is to make the tax system more progressive, not less. A reality-based government would react to growing pretax inequality by taxing the rich more, and subsidizing the poor more (through policies like the EITC) as well.

But when I read Paul’s call for “smart, bold populism,” I am reminded of earlier calls a couple of decades ago by Milton Friedman, Marty Feldstein, and their ilk for smart, bold conservatism or smart, bold libertarianism. But they did not get what they ordered: on the economic policy front the policies of Reagan and of Bush II have been a horrible botch. What populist policies that we can think of would be smart? And how can we make our high politicians allergic to populist policies that are stupid?

Hmm.

Speaking of health care, be sure to see this op ed in today’s Boston Globe by Cheri Andes. Families often cannot afford to pay the increasing premiums for employer-based health insurance, never mind staying insured if if you don’t get health benefits at all. See also this comment by Merrill Goozner.

At TPM Cafe, Elizabeth Warren suggests we should “give up on the term ‘middle class,’ and divide America into the Insured Class and the Uninsured Class.”

The difference between the IC’s (insured class) and the UC’s (uninsured class) would not be whether they were vulnerable to an economic collapse as a result of a medical problem. The difference would be how much vulnerability each group faces. The current health care finance system assures that everyone is vulnerable, and insurance makes the difference only between those who can be felled by one trip to the emergency room and those who are brought down financially only by the co-pays, uncovered expenses, and caps that eat them up when a more serious illness strikes.

I think the division should be between Ostriches (“It can’t happen to me”) and Realists (“Um, yes, it can.”

E.J. Dionne writes in today’s Washington Post:

Perhaps the release of the Census Bureau’s annual report on income, poverty and health insurance coverage in this particular week is a sign that God and statisticians have a sense of humor. The report reinforces what we knew at the time of Katrina — that the poor are still with us and that the middle class keeps losing ground.

The “good” news is that the poverty rate, the proportion of Americans who are poor, didn’t change much between 2004 and 2005, falling in a statistically insignificant way from 12.7 percent to 12.6 percent. The bad news is that the poverty rate, having risen steadily in recent years, is still higher than it was in 2001, when it stood at 11.7 percent.

Worse is that the proportion of the poor who are very poor has risen. People are considered in deep poverty if they have half or less of the yearly income of those at the poverty line. In 2005 half the poverty line for a family of three was $7,788; for a family of four it was $9,985. (Try living on that.) According to the new report, 43.1 percent of poor people lived in that sort of deep poverty — a record since 1975, when the government started assembling such statistics.

In the six economic recoveries since the early 1960s, this is the first time the poverty rate was higher in the recovery’s fourth year than it was when the recession was at its worst.

The number of Americans without health insurance rose, too, to 46.6 million in 2005, up from 45.3 million in 2004 and 41.2 million in 2001. The proportion without insurance is up from 14.6 percent in 2001 to 15.9 percent in 2005.

What about the middle class? Yes, the median income of American households rose by 1.1 percent last year after five years of decline. But most of the growth was in households headed by Americans 65 and over — who are helped, rightly, by substantial government benefits. In households headed by people under 65, incomes fell yet again.

This is interesting:

Adjusted for inflation, men’s earnings were lower in 2005 than they were in 1973.

Two items I linked yesterday: This Harold Meyerson column on the devaluing of labor from yesterday’s Washington Post and “America Eats Its Young” by Garrison Keillor in Salon. Meyerson writes,

The young may be understandably incredulous, but the Great Compression, as economists call it, was the single most important social fact in our country in the decades after World War II. From 1947 through 1973, American productivity rose by a whopping 104 percent, and median family income rose by the very same 104 percent. More Americans bought homes and new cars and sent their kids to college than ever before. In ways more difficult to quantify, the mass prosperity fostered a generosity of spirit: The civil rights revolution and the Marshall Plan both emanated from an America in which most people were imbued with a sense of economic security.

That America is as dead as the dodo. Ours is the age of the Great Upward Redistribution. The median hourly wage for Americans has declined by 2 percent since 2003, though productivity has been rising handsomely. Last year, according to figures released just yesterday by the Census Bureau, wages for men declined by 1.8 percent and for women by 1.3 percent.

As a remarkable story by Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt in Monday’s New York Times makes abundantly clear, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of gross domestic product since 1947, when the government began measuring such things. Corporate profits, by contrast, have risen to their highest share of the GDP since the mid-’60s — a gain that has come chiefly at the expense of American workers.

Get this:

For the bottom 90 percent of the American workforce, work just doesn’t pay, or provide security, as it used to.

The bottom 90 percent, mind you.

On the other hand, if you want to get ahead be the CEO in the defense industry. The Associated Press reports:

The chief executives of corporations making big profits from the war on terror are enjoying far bigger pay increases than CEOs of nondefense companies, according to a study by two liberal groups.

The study, conducted by the Institute for Policy Studies and United for a Fair Economy, found that, on average, CEOs of corporations with extensive defense contracts are getting paid about double what they made before Sept. 11, 2001.

Garrison Keillor observes:

This country is squashing its young. We’re sending them to die in a war we don’t believe in anymore. We’re cheating them so we can offer tax relief to the rich. And we’re stealing from them so that old gaffers like me, who want to live forever, can go in for an MRI if we have a headache.

A society that pays for MRIs for headaches and can’t pay teachers a decent wage has made a dreadful choice. But healthcare costs are ballooning, eating away at the economy. The boomers are getting to an age where their knees need replacing and their hearts need a quadruple bypass — which they feel entitled to — but our children aren’t entitled to a damn thing. Any goombah with a Ph.D. in education can strip away French and German, music, art, dumb down the social sciences, offer Britney Spears instead of Shakespeare, and there is nothing the kid can do except hang out in the library, which is being cut back too.

This week we mark the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and the Current Occupant’s line “You’re doing a heckuva job,” which already is in common usage, a joke, a euphemism for utter ineptitude. It’s sure to wind up in Bartlett’s Quotations, a summation of his occupancy. Annual interest on the national debt now exceeds all government welfare programs combined. We’ll be in Iraq for years to come. Hard choices need to be made, and given the situation we’re in, I think we must bite the bullet and say no more healthcare for card-carrying Republicans. It just doesn’t make sense to invest in longevity for people who don’t believe in the future. Let them try faith-based medicine, let them pray for their arteries to be reamed and their hips to be restored, and leave science to the rest of us.

Cutting out healthcare for one-third of the population — the folks with Bush-Cheney bumper stickers, who still believe the man is doing a heckuva job — will save enough money to pay off the national debt, not a bad legacy for Republicans. As Scrooge said, let them die and reduce the surplus population. In return, we can offer them a reduction in the estate tax. All in favor, blow your nose.

I want to conclude by going back to the Thomas Frank op ed linked at the top of the post.

Historically, liberalism was a fighting response to precisely these conditions. Look through the foundational texts of American liberalism and you can find everything you need to derail the conservative juggernaut. But don’t expect liberal leaders in Washington to use those things. They are “New Democrats” now, enlightened and entrepreneurial and barely able to get out of bed in the morning, let alone muster the strength to deliver some Rooseveltian stemwinder against “economic royalists.” …

…Democratic leaders must learn to talk about class issues again. But they won’t on their own. So pressure must come from traditional liberal constituencies and the grass roots, like the much-vilified bloggers. Liberalism also needs strong, well-funded institutions fighting the rhetorical battle. Laying out policy objectives is all well and good, but the reason the right has prevailed is its army of journalists and public intellectuals. Moving the economic debate to the right are dozens if not hundreds of well-funded Washington think tanks, lobbying outfits and news media outlets. Pushing the other way are perhaps 10.

The more comfortable option for Democrats is to maintain their present course, gaming out each election with political science and a little triangulation magic, their relevance slowly ebbing as memories of the middle-class republic fade.

Do try to enjoy your weekend, anyway.

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Judge Not

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blogging, Iraq War

I didn’t comment on the kidnapping of two Fox newsmen in Iraq. This was not because I didn’t care, but because I had nothing original to say beyond “gee, I hope they get home OK.”

Now that they are home, they’re being slammed by righties because they didn’t die.

I’m serious. Check out this post, titled “Kidnapped Fox Newsmen Let Us Down By Not Dying.” [Update: OK, I was snookered. This post is a satire. I missed it. Me bad.]

At first, conservative bloggers were pulling for Centanni and Wiig. They clamored for their release and attacked their kidnappers, knowing that the more they blogged about it, the more likely that the kidnappers would capitulate in the face of this virtual onslaught and release them.

The forces of evil tremble in fear of the wrath of the 101st Fighting Keyboarders.

They were outraged that the story wasn’t getting the attention it deserved from mainstream media and speculated that it was because of bias against Fox News. … Although Fox News President Roger Ailes later revealed that he had asked the rest of the media to keep a lid on its reporting while negotiations were going on, which might have accounted for the lack of stories by the MSM,”

Ya think?

“that does not negate the possibility that they did, in fact, have contempt for the Fox News journalists anyway.

Nor does it negate the possibility that every professional journalist in America prayed mightily for the safety of the two Fox News guys. But now that the newsmen are released, the Right wishes them dead. A rightie named David Warren explains why. [Note: This post is not a satire.]

They were told to convert to Islam under implicit threat (blindfolded and hand-tied, they could not judge what threat), and agreed to make the propaganda broadcasts to guarantee their own safety. That much we can understand, as conventional cowardice. (Understand; not forgive.) But it is obvious from their later statements that they never thought twice; that they could see nothing wrong in serving the enemy, so long as it meant they’d be safe.

I assume they are not Christians (few journalists are), but had they ever been instructed in that faith, they might have grasped that conversion to Islam means denial of Christ, and that is something many millions of Christians (few of them intellectuals) have refused to do, even at the cost of excruciating deaths. Christianity still lives, because of such martyrs. Not suicide bombers: but truly defenceless martyrs.

Jesus said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1-2, King James version) I’m not saying Mr. Warren won’t be allowed into heaven, but Saint Peter is gonna make Mr. Warren write the first two verses of Matthew about 20 million times on the celestial blackboard first.

[Update: More about Warren here.]

But let’s go back to the writer of the first post cited, who calls himself Jon Swift.

Michelle Malkin even quoted some liberals who expressed contempt for Fox News and seemed to feel the men deserved to be kidnapped, including such well-known and respected thinkers on the Left as Bob Laurence, the TV critic for the San Diego Tribune and former Snohomish County, Wash., Democrat party official Mike Whitney. They seemed to be speaking the unexpressed thoughts of all liberals.

First off, let me express gratitude to this blogger for telling me that the TV critic for the San Diego Tribune is a “well-known and respected thinker on the Left.” I generally don’t look to TV critics for political insight; maybe I’ve been missing something.

Next: We lefties do express contempt for Fox News, but “seemed to feel the men deserved to be kidnapped”? Really? Of course every groups has its assholes. But here is Mr. Swift’s first example of liberals expressing contempt: Glenn Greenwald, who wrote:

Justifying the targeting of Fox News journalists in a war zone, on the ground that they are so biased in favor of the Bush administration that they are basically propaganda agents, is outrageous. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure that journalists of all stripes are free to operate in war zones and report on what is happening without fear of being targeted, and there is no legitimate moral basis for celebrating attacks on them. For that reason, anyone publicly justifying the Fox kidnappings would be viciously stigmatized and probably permanently shunned.

Hello? But then Glenn linked to a Power Line post by John Hinderaker, who wrote in a different context:

Given Reuters’s coverage of the conflict in Lebanon, it would perhaps be understandable if the Israelis started firing on Reuters vehicles.

So if a leftie wishes death on a journalists it’s bad, but if a rightie does it, that’s just fine.

Another example of an evil liberal expressing contempt for the Fox News journalists came from Bob Laurence, TV critic of the San Diego Union-Tribune. But in the linked article Laurence does not express contempt for the journalists. Instead, he speculates that the lack of MSM coverage reflects some coolness between Fox and the rest of the media.

Starting at the top with Roger Ailes, the Fox sales pitch has been to deride other media, to declare itself the one source of the real truth, the sole source of ‘fair and accurate’ news reporting. As a result, there’s not a reservoir of kinship or good will with Fox on the part of the rest of the news media. You can’t keep insulting people and then expect friendship when you need it.

That’s actually not too far from what the righties were saying — the MSM is not covering the story because they don’t like Fox News. And it’s no where near expressing contempt for the captured journalists or wishing they come to harm.

But at last, the frantic search through the Internets for liberals being hateful turned up former Snohomish County, Wash., Democrat party official Mike Whitney. Whitney wrote an opinion piece that does veer rather close to saying the journalists deserved to be kidnapped because they work for Fox News.

And you know the rightie rule — if one “liberal” says something nasty, no matter how obscure that liberal may be, he is “speaking the unexpressed thoughts of all liberals.”

I love the way righties believe they understand our thoughts even when we don’t express them.

For the record, I think Whitney is out of line, and that no journalist attempting to cover a war deserves to be kidnapped or fired upon by anyone for any reason. There, Mr. Swift; that’s an expressed thought.

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The Gambler

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Bush Administration, Iraq War

Fred Kaplan writes in Slate:

In his speech this morning before the American Legion’s national convention, President George W. Bush may have gone a bridge too far. It was the first of several speeches he plans to deliver in the coming days to rally support for the war in Iraq (and, not incidentally, for Republicans in November). But one passage in particular reveals that the campaign is getting desperate:

    The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq.

Here’s the question: Does anybody believe this? If you do, then you must ask the president why he hasn’t reactivated the draft, printed war bonds, doubled the military budget, and strenuously rallied allies to the cause.

If, as he said in this speech, the war in Iraq really is the front line in “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century”; if our foes there are the “successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists”; if victory is “as important” as it was in Omaha Beach and Guadalcanal—then those are just some of the steps that a committed president would feel justified in demanding.

The Administration’s “fascist” campaign is desperation itself. At least twice before in the past year the President went on the offensive on Iraq, making highly publicized series of speeches in which he attempted to sound statesmanlike and resolute and sincere and all that. Both offensives failed. So if statesmanlike didn’t work, maybe mad dog crazy will. It’s all he’s got left.

But the morass in Iraq is the natural outcome of Bush’s weenieness. Ordering the all-out effort a “victory” would require is too politically risky. So he doesn’t do it. Admitting to the mistake and preparing to withdraw is, um, admitting a mistake. He can’t do that, either. George W. Bush isn’t man enough to either advance or retreat, and our troops pay the price.

Last week Julian E. Barnes wrote for the Los Angeles Times,

The Marine Corps said Tuesday that it would begin calling Marines back to active-duty service on an involuntary basis to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan — the latest sign that the American force is under strain and a signal that the military is having trouble persuading young veterans to return.

Marine commanders will call up formerly active-duty service members now classified as reservists because the Corps failed to find enough volunteers among its emergency reserve pool to fill jobs in combat zones. The call-ups will begin in several months, summoning as many as 2,500 reservists at a time to serve for a year or more.

The Pentagon has had to scramble to meet the manpower requirements of the Iraq war, which have not abated in the face of a continuing insurgency and growing civil strife. Earlier this year, the military called forward its reserve force in Kuwait, sending one battalion to Baghdad and two to Ramadi. Last month, the yearlong deployment of the Army’s Alaska-based 172nd Stryker Brigade was extended by four months to provide extra soldiers to roll back escalating sectarian violence in Baghdad.

For much of the conflict, the Army also has had to use “stop-loss orders” — which keep soldiers in their units even after their active-duty commitments are complete — as well as involuntary call-ups of its reservists. Both actions have been criticized as a “back-door draft” and are unpopular with service members, many of whom say they have already done their part.

“You can send Marines back for a third or fourth time, but you have to understand you are destroying their lives,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “It is not what they intended the all-volunteer military to look like.”

Reuters reported yesterday that the U.S. recently increased the number of troops in Iraq, to 140,000. That’s 13,000 more than five weeks ago. Prediction: A week or so before the midterm elections, the White House will announce a big troop withdrawal and send 13,000 troops home.

Kaplan points to “the glaring mismatch between the president’s gargantuan depiction of the threat and the relatively paltry resources he’s mustered to fight it.” As a result, in many ways earlier gains are slipping away. For example, as Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay write for McClatchy Newspapers, al Qaeda and the Taliban are taking back Afghanistan.

Five years ago, the United States fired its first shots in the post-9/11 war on terror here in Afghanistan, evicting al Qaida and toppling the Taliban regime that hosted Osama bin Laden’s network.

Today, the United States and its allies are struggling to halt advances by a resurgent Taliban and al Qaida fighters in large swaths of this still desperately poor and unstable country.

“Things are going very badly,” admitted an official with the allied military forces, who asked not to be identified because the issue is so sensitive. “We’ve arrived at a situation where things are significantly worse than we anticipated.”

The trends in Afghanistan appear to mirror the global war on terror a half-decade after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Bush administration and allied governments have won battle after battle, but appear to be in danger of losing the war.

As a result of Bush’s half-assed warmaking, “the threat from anti-Western Islamic extremists has rebounded, mutated and grown,” say Strobel and Landay.

Much has been written about how Bush boldly rolled the dice on his presidency by invading Iraq. But what he threw on the table wasn’t his presidency, it was our nation. He has squandered our military resources; the lives of our troops; our moral authority; and the respect our nation earned through two world wars, the Cold War, and a century or so of foreign policy and diplomacy. Big stakes. But when the risk is personal, he loses his nerve. He hasn’t antied up enough of his own chips by taking the personal and political risks real leadership sometimes requires.

I’m sure you’ve seen the warning signs that the Bushies are preparing for military action against Iran. Glenn Greenwald has a good post up that reviews some of the signs, and concludes:

All of that means one of two things (or some combination of both): (1) the President has decided already that we are going to wage some sort of military attack on Iran and is saying the same things as he said once he decided to wage war on Iraq while pretending to have not yet decided pending “diplomatic efforts”; and/or (2) the White House is trying to have its top officials, including the President, sound like Michael Ledeen because that’s necessary to (a) motivate its crazed warmonger base itching for more wars and/or (b) enable Karl Rove to create the warrior/appeaser dichotomy that has worked so well electorally for Rove for two straight elections (and for Republicans for 35 years).

The only way to stop this fool is to take away his chips and evict him from the casino.

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