Archive for category Democracy
Writing Friday in the New York Times, columnist Paul Krugman asks all of us to give President Obama’s big inequality speech a serious hearing. Speaking at the Center for American Progress Wednesday, our President pointed to a combination of growing income inequality and a lack of upward mobility as “the defining challenge of our time.”
Our political class has spent years obsessed with a fake problem — worrying about debt and deficits that never posed any threat to the nation’s future — while showing no interest in unemployment and stagnating wages. Mr. Obama, I’m sorry to say, bought into that diversion. Now, however, he’s moving on.
…The wrong turn we’ve taken in economic policy — our obsession with debt and “entitlements,” when we should have been focused on jobs and opportunity — was, of course, driven in part by the power of wealthy vested interests. But it wasn’t just raw power. The fiscal scolds also benefited from a sort of ideological monopoly: for several years you just weren’t considered serious in Washington unless you worshipped at the altar of Simpson and Bowles.
Now, however, we have the president of the United States breaking ranks, finally sounding like the progressive many of his supporters thought they were backing in 2008. This is going to change the discourse — and, eventually, I believe, actual policy.
So don’t believe the cynics. This was an important speech by a president who can still make a very big difference.
Many of us, including myself, tend to discount our President’s remarks about inequality because his administration has consistently favored Wall Street over Main Street. His support for raising the minimum wage comes too late– unless the Democrats re-take the House next year, he will likely be the first President since Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 not to sign a minimum wage law.
Economist Arindrajit Dube:
[T]he evidence suggests that around half of the increase in inequality in the bottom half of the wage distribution since 1979 was a result of falling real minimum wages. And unlike inequality that stems from factors like technological change, this growth in inequality was clearly avoidable. All we had to do to prevent it was index the minimum wage to the cost of living.
The question is, should we take President Obama’s inequality rhetoric seriously, as Krugman suggests?
A letter signed by at least 18 right-wing Republicans urges House Speaker John Boehner to bring up a “clean” continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government at the low sequester level when money expires on Jan. 15. This could subvert a budget agreement being negotiated by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to mitigate some of the painful sequester cuts. Without an agreement, the result will be another GOP government shutdown.
The sequester orders 2014 spending at $967 billion — hardline conservatives don’t want to spend a penny more than that. Ryan and Murray are close to a deal that raises spending to about $1 trillion. Democrats roundly oppose sequester spending levels and many Republicans, especially defense hawks, want to ease the cuts because they believe they’re unsustainable and damaging to national security. House Republican leaders support the Ryan-Murray framework but are often at the mercy of their right flank.
Progressives are not happy with the emerging Ryan-Murray budget deal either. It would cut off emergency unemployment insurance and it won’t close any tax loopholes. The deal may also cut some $20 billion from federal employee pensions.
House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) released his own budget proposal (PDF) Thursday.
The DNC has a nifty website full of actual facts in case the right-wingers at your family Thanksgiving get-together start repeating stuff they heard on Faux News Channel.
Matt Damon gives Howard Zinn’s take on civil disobedience
Rocky Anderson talks about the Trans Pacific Partnership:
Update: More information:
First from The Commonwealth Fund:
In 2013, more than one-third (37%) of U.S. adults went without recommended care, did not see a doctor when they were sick, or failed to fill prescriptions because of costs, compared with as few as 4 percent to 6 percent in the United Kingdom and Sweden.
And the second from JDI conservative Andrew Sullivan:
When a private sector system means you have ten times as many people failing to get basic treatment as in Britain’s uber-socialized NHS, you realize just how great the market failure is. I’m all for markets, but the facts seem to me to reveal that in healthcare, they are toxic to most people’s actual, you know, health. In what other area does socialism work so much better than capitalism? Isn’t that a first order question conservatives should address?.
The US healthcare system is a grotequely expensive disaster; plagued with inefficiencies, disconnected from the needs and wants of patients, distorted by massively misaligned priorities and goals, it consumes vast amounts of our national wealth without delivering corresponding benefits. More and more, it seems to me that healthcare and defense are exemplars of American dysfunction. Delivering sub-par outcomes in exchange for exorbitant amounts of money, driven by fear and a deep-seated mindset of scarcity, both healthcare and defense are expressions of American’s sense of vulnerability. We overspend on defense to keep us safe against military and other threats and we overspend on healthcare in a frantic desire for wellness. In both cases, our actions undermine our goals.
From Ken Burns’ documentary “The Civil War” (1990). Today marks the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s 269-word Gettysburg Address.
Ken Burns: Learn Lincoln’s words by heart
If you’ve been following the news lately, you will know that Count My Vote is attempting to be a citizens initiative to change Utah’s caucus system to a primary system. At a minimum, it’s gotten Utahns talking about how we select our candidates for public office which is good. I’m not convinced Count My Vote’s solution solves the problem they claim to want to solve. Will switching from the current caucus system improve voter engagement and turnout? That depends on whether it addresses the reasons people don’t vote.
Starting today SNAP, or food stamp benefits, will be reduced by 5 percent. SNAP used to max out at $668 a month for a family of four. Now, the maximum amount will drop to $632, or a cut of $432 a year.
Thanks to the Great Recession and a commitment to austerity by the government in the wake of the recession, an additional 21 million people were added to SNAP since 2008. Today, more than 1 in 4 U.S. children live in a home that gets food stamps.
Another group with lots of members in SNAP: Veterans. U.S. Census Bureau data show that, in 2011, some 900,000 former U.S. military personnel lived in households that used food stamps.
Economists have found that every dollar of SNAP spending generates roughly $1.70 in local economic activity. The USDA has calculated that food stamps generate an even bigger bang for the buck. So pinching food stamp recipients will ripple into the broader U.S. economy.
Food bank operators are bracing for more people lining up at local pantries while Congress debates additional cuts to the supplemental nutrition program that helps 1 in 7 Americans, including 22 million children. Utah alone is already losing $26 million in SNAP funding this fiscal year.
When we go shopping at Costco we always pick up some additional food to donate to the Utah Food Bank, which provides food to a statewide network of 134 emergency food pantries. Also we send them an annual cash contribution. Washington politicians are always ready with handouts for the rich and the corporations, but not for ordinary American people who work for a living. It’s going to be up to us to bail out the food banks!
Source: Mother Jones
The federal government’s latest annual deficit was $680 billion, the smallest it’s been since 2008, according to Treasury Department data released Wednesday. Federal spending in 2013 totaled 20.8% of GDP, down from 22% the year before. The FY 2013 deficit was less than half the record $1.413 trillion figure inherited by the Obama administration from President George W. Bush. It’s becoming clear to everyone, not just economists, that deficits are not that hard to control. If we can fix the economy and get the rich to pay their fair share of taxes, deficit spending will vanish completely.
The so-called “sequester” austerity budget has effectively sabotaged our economic recovery, but at least it accomplished one good thing. Washington politicians are no longer talking seriously about a proposed “Grand Bargain” to cut Social Security and Medicare. Progressive blogs have labeled this the Grand Betrayal, an attack on the social safety net that has kept millions of Americans out of poverty.
Paul Ryan killed any lingering hopes of a grand bargain within moments of the budget conference kickoff on Wednesday.
In his opening remarks, the Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House budget committee laid down a firm marker against new taxes, which are essential to any major deficit reduction proposal that can pass Congress and be signed into law.
…His comments reflect the no-compromise mood of the GOP. That means the two chambers are unlikely to strike a major debt deal or reconcile the different budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this year.
Party of NO, do your stuff!
OTOH it would be good if the 29-member budget conference committee can find some way to avoid another government shutdown on January 15 next year. Hopefully, that’s not too much to ask. They have until December 13 to reach a compromise agreement.
Over 80% of Americans oppose cuts to our Social Security system — in fact, 71% want to expand Social Security. Yet President Obama seems committed to taking away Social Security and Medicare benefits, via the so-called “chained CPI” cuts and other proposals that Washington politicians call the “Grand Bargain.” Progressives have re-named it the Grand Betrayal.
This is not the time for austerity budgeting or proposals to hack away at our social safety net. Social Security, the only defined-benefit retirement plan most Americans have access to, pays less than minimum wage. We need economic recovery. The Republican Shutdown cost the economy $24 billion in lost productivity, which we can’t get back. The Tea-GOP has failed, and FreedomWorks chief Matt Kibbe said Friday that divisions on the right could cause the Republican Party to split in two.
UPDATE: Democrats have already conceded earned benefit cuts. Which is one of the reasons the Dems lost the 2010 election. RJ Eskow: What Are Democrats in the Senate Smoking? Caving into Right-Wingers to Cut Medicare Would Be Political Disaster
The viewpoint of a vast majority of Americans — including the vast majority of Republicans, and even of Tea Party members — has been marginalized inside the Beltway as that of “the left,” or even “the extreme left.” Politicians who defend these [earned benefit] programs will have to stand up to the talking heads and lobbyists who, despite all the evidence, continue to deny the truth: their anti-”entitlement” Beltway views stand well outside the mainstream of American public opinion.
That crowd, with its talk of “Baby Boomers busting the bank” and “Social Security gone bankrupt,” is the real political “fringe” in this debate. Unfortunately, this “fringe” has a lot of money behind it.
Yes, the astroturf for the oligarchs people invoke class warfare, hoping people don’t realize that means testing is a divide and conquer strategy. The reason everyone receives Social Security is because it is a program for everyone, everyone is a stakeholder. If it was just for the poor, like food stamps, the rich would try to cut it all the time.
Well, the manufactured crisis is almost over. Republicans did real political damage to their party and will basically receive nothing in return. The American people still don’t know what they were trying to accomplish by this blatant act of economic sabotage. It’s a mystery why the GOP didn’t learn their lesson from the 1995-96 shutdown.
The reliance on crisis-driven governing since the House changed hands in the 2010 elections has already cost 900,000 jobs, according to a study commissioned by the conservative Peter G. Peterson Foundation. Austerity budgeting has also hampered the excruciatingly slow economic recovery from Bush’s Great Recession. I know, at election time the GOP strategy will be to blame “the Obama economy,” and hope low-information voters will buy that.
I think voters will remember the Republican Shutdown of 2013. Especially federal employees who got furloughed or forced to work without a paycheck. The whole fiasco was completely unnecessary, because there was always a majority of both houses of Congress in favor of avoiding a shutdown, and then for re-opening the government.
Speaker Boehner has relented, and will now let the House members vote – probably late tonight. FDL’s Jon Walker:
Boehner basically let the government shut down for three weeks, did significant damage to the economy, showed his own weakness and destroyed his party’s brand just to try to hold on to his position. A position that is almost meaningless because he has proved he has almost no actual power. He preferred to let all these things happen rather than stand up to the roughly 50 Tea Party members in his caucus.
Pathetic is too kind of a word.
As a counterpoint to my earlier post, Eric Idle, writing at HuffPo:
Half of America seems to be entirely enviable: movies, books, TV, arts, liberal democratic institutions, great centers of learning and research, gay marriage, social freedoms, etc., etc.
The other half does seem to be, well, nuts.
Currently you appear to be almost in a state of civil war. If one party can shut down the government, then the social compact to rule is broken. In most other democracies this simply could not happen. In the UK, for example, the government would dissolve and the prime minister would call for an immediate general election, which would be held within three weeks. (Yes, that quickly.) With your fixed terms you do not have this benefit. You must limp on to the next overlong election cycle and then waste a whole year of execrable television and billions of dollars on it. This is a very expensive and not very flexible system of democracy that no one else wants to follow.
The Mad Hater’s Tea Party throws everything overboard, not just the tea. The captain, the crew, the ships dog… Pirates could hardly do worse.
And this from Think Progress:
Ultimately, the roots of the looming shutdown stem from a different distinction between our government and that of most other modern democracies. Canada, Britain and many other democratic nations are what is known as “parliamentary democracies,” meaning that the nation’s executive is chosen by whoever controls the legislature. Stephen Harper’s power flows from the fact that his party controls a majority of the seats in Parliament. Similarly, Prime Minister David Cameron owes his job to his position as the leader of a governing coalition in the legislature. President Obama’s election, by contrast, took place entirely separate from the (admittedly, quite flawed) election that placed Republicans in control of the House. In the United States it is possible for a president to serve despite the fact that he or she is widely loathed by both houses of Congress. This is a unique problem facing what are known as “presidential democracies.”
IOW, the Madisonian system is working exactly as it should and the outcomes are unacceptable; the flaw is inherent in the system, the system itself is flawed.