Monday, April 29, 2013

The Politics of the Sequester and Hunger in America

(Edited from my remarks in comments at Ta-Nehisi Coates blog.)

This is not accident or weakness, but rather policy.
I will repeat myself and say that there are four main factions in Congress at this point. From right to left these are: Tea Party Republican, Wall Street Republican, Conservative Democratic, and Progressive Democratic. For some time now, the Democrats have been dominated by their conservative wing, which has formed a coalition with the Wall Street Republicans. This "centrist" coalition, centrist only in that it is the center of a political spectrum skewed heavily to the right, has little interest in social justice. The combination of deficit hysteria and the sequester provides a way for the centrist coalition to chip away at social programs and all the while claim that it is necessary while allowing both parties to escape blame. "It is no-one's fault," they say, "it is necessary to save the country from debt." Faugh! Such "logic" was heard in the English Parliament, as the Irish starved.

And it is coming to that. Outright starvation, at least, is so far rare, but hunger is common. In 2011, the USDA found that some 50 million Americans were malnourished due to poverty ("food insecure") at some point in the year and some 33 million went hungry ("low food security") at some time during the year. The Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC), which provides food assistance to low-income pregnant women and children under five, is subject to the sequester. Outside of the sequester, in 2010, food stamps was converted to SNAP, and cut. The cuts are continuing.

Our elected representatives, seemingly, have gone mad.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Criminals in Charge

I recently responded to a conservative friend on the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties by pointing out that the Republicans ran a war off the books and cut taxes during that war. This blew up the national debt and then, having lost the Presidency, decided to blackmail the country by threatening to threatening to destroy its currency. Conservatives point to Bill Clinton's sex life as if this was somehow equivalent.

It seems to me this is part of a pattern of escalating criminality. We had Reagan with his tax cuts and his militarism, then Bush I with the first war in Iraq, then Bush II with his tax cuts and the second war in Iraq, and now the House Republicans with their debt and currency blackmail schemes. The conservative wing of the Democrats which, alas, includes Obama, has been complicit.

What now?

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Evidence, Economic Policy, and the Future

(An earlier version of this was posted in comments to Paul Krugman's article.)

Paul Krugman writes:
Henry Blodget says that the economic debate is over; the austerians have lost and whatshisname has won. And it’s definitely true that in sheer intellectual terms, this is looking like an epic rout. The main economic studies that supposedly justified the austerian position have imploded; inflation has stayed low; the bond vigilantes have failed to make an appearance; the actual economic effects of austerity have tracked almost exactly what Keynesians predicted. But will any of this make a difference? […] The cynic in me therefore says that after a brief period of regrouping, the VSPs will be right back at it — they’ll find new studies to put on pedestals, new economists to tell them what they want to hear, and those who got it right will continue to be considered unsound and unserious.
I believe that US federal politics is returning to its usual state of deadlock, and there is no more need to make the case for austerity. In some years, due to changing demographics and perhaps emergencies, I expect the balance will shift, but for the moment, I do not anticipate change. The European Union seems to have arrived at a similar state.

There is perhaps something wrong with both US and European federalism. As George F. Kennan observed:
I sometimes wonder whether in this respect a democracy is not uncomfortably similar to one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: he lies there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath—in fact you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat. You wonder whether it would not have been wiser for him to have taken a little more interest in what was going on at an earlier date and to have seen whether he could not have prevented some of these situations from arising
As I have written before, I suspect the long-term outcome is foregone; countries that do not adopt Keynesian policies will be out-competed in world markets. I do not expect these policies, however, to be adopted first in any developed country. Just as emergent capitalism developed most quickly in the USA rather than Europe, I expect emergent Keynesianism will most likely take root in some other place, perhaps Latin America.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Chechens? Chechens?

Well, that was a surprise. And yet, looking at the past two centuries of Chechen history, I wonder why I am surprised at all. Conquered by the Russians in 1813, the Chechens revolted at every opportunity. They revolted in 1834. They revolved in 1877. They revolted in 1905, 1917, 1930, and the early 1940s. Chechnya was ethnically cleansed by Stalin in 1944. Chechens were allowed to return to Chechnya under Khrushchev in 1956, but under Soviet "Russification" policies intended to destroy Chechen culture. The Chechens revolted again in 1991. The most recent Chechen rebellion ended with a Russian assault on the Chechen capital of Grozny, with thousands of civilian casualties.

These are people who have never known peace. The motivations of the Tsarnaev brothers have yet to be studied, but I cannot see how the children of Chechnya could be anything war-traumatized. The surprise, perhaps, is that there have not been more international terrorists from Chechnya.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Party Watch: Howard Dean, Not Happy With the Obama Budget

Gov. Howard Dean, Democracy for America, on the new budget
If this is true I may have to become an independant.
More at Buzzfeed

It's as I foresaw; the left of the Democratic Party is thinking about tearing away. Now what?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

On Courage in Politics

This in response to Jim Wright's excellent essay on fear in politics. It ends with an exhortation to courage, and I found myself wondering why it is that, when there are many brave Americans, fear is so powerful. The answer seems to be that it is widely promulgated in mass media, while little effort is made to promote courage, except to children.

I am reminded of a blog post of mine from 4½ years ago. The post was written in the context of the 2008 Presidential campaign and is more positive about Obama than I now am, but the remarks about the broader issues of fear, social cohesion, and the need for dramatic social transformation still seem relevant to me. I suppose it is because we stand on the threshold of such transformation that our fears have only intensified since I wrote this.

“A lot of effort has been spent on making people so concerned and scared about particular single issues that they forget the whole, like someone who lets their panic fear of falling lead them to die in a fire rather than making a safe jump from a window.

“The how of this is, I regret to say, very well understood—if you have mass media it is depressingly easy to create mass panic. If only we knew as well how to allay fears and give people courage!

“Focusing on panicking people and electing poor leaders is the nuclear option of civil society—it can take generations to pick up the pieces. The basis of this, apart from greed and power-lust, is intellectual rigidity. It is difficult for me to draw any conclusion other than that we are in need of vast transformations in our institutions and philosophies.”

And, at this late date, I'd add that if we wanted to use the mass media “to allay fears and give people courage” we probably could. But it would need the kind of resources that have been put into the vast right-wing mass media networks, and those are not easily come by.

(If you want to read the whole post, it is here.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Retirement Savings: A Note To The Help

If you think the money in your retirement accounts is safe, you're wrong. We've already seen the savings of the middle class drained once. There's no reason it can't be done again; the same people are in charge. You may soon be living on a steadily decreasing Social Security payment.

All you upper-middle class people with your retirement savings, you think you're so smart, you think your savings are safe, you don't care about the little people who rely on Social Security. But the wealthy predators who run the financial system think that anyone who works for a living is fair game. Yes, that means you, Mr. Well-Paid Pundit. You hang out with these people, you think you're one of them. No. To them you're the help, and to be made or broken at whim. You're not a member. Never will be.

The truth of the matter is that Social Security is more, not less, secure than private savings, and if Social Security isn't secure, your private savings are even more at risk. Fight for both, if you want to keep what you have earned.

"Just because you're on their side doesn't mean they're on your side."


Sunday, April 7, 2013

The Grand Bargain and the Transformation of the Democrats into a Conservative Party

Josh Marshall, with the best explanation of Obama's loony centrism I've seen:
In conversations with the president’s key advisors and the President himself over the last three years one point that has always come out to me very clearly is that the President really believes in the importance of the Grand Bargain. He thinks it’s an important goal purely on its own terms. That’s something I don’t think a lot of his diehard supporters fully grasp. He thinks it’s important in long range fiscal terms (and there’s some reality to that). But he always believes it’s important for the country and even for the Democratic party to have a big global agreement that settles the big fiscal policy for a generation and let’s the country get on to other issues — social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy etc.
I think this is of a piece with the observation I made back in 2010; Obama "thinks that the jaw-jaw of politics is more real than the tangible results in the lives of the public." At the time, I wrote, "it is a deeply unpopular and undemocratic way to govern."

Obama is working to break the Republicans internal coalition. Cracks are appearing. But instead of doing so by offering the public a better deal, and getting Republican supporters to become Democratic, he's offering the Republican moneymen the cuts they want, and proposing enormously unpopular programs to do it. And being policy-deaf he doesn't grasp that this will lead voters to abandon his party.

I think it's too late for the Democrats to turn around—they've been on this course for years, and their captain has ordered full ahead. But what will the liberals, er, progressives, er, whatever they're calling themselves this week do? In the short term, I think, they will make common cause with the Tea Party Republicans, for whom Obama is not cutting enough. Since these cuts are so deeply unpopular, they may fail. But in the long term?

Government can never be cut enough to satisfy Pete Peterson and the Koch brothers. Emboldened by this huge victory, they will continue to drag the Democratic Party to the right. The other issues Mr. Marshall lists—"social and cultural issues, the environment, building the economy" will continue to be ignored. The military and homeland security budgets, despite their near-total uselessness, will be protected with every ounce of energy the conservatives have, while social insurance, education, and research programs will have no strong protectors. The country will continue ambling through the depression to the next financial calamity. The Republican Party will continue its surge to irrelevance. I cannot imagine what the political response to the next environmental catastrophe will be; neither major party is capable of a response.

And then…?

Look to the 2020 elections. I expect the emergence of a coalition of progressives and tea party conservatives who figure out how to stand each other long enough to gather votes. Call it the Progressive Libertarian Party. This will not be the party that progressives have hoped for; it is going to contain strong anti-government elements, but it will support at some progressive policies, and it will be environmentalist. It may be enough.

Friday, April 5, 2013

The DFHs, right again

Well, we've only been telling you for four years that Obama was a conservative. Now will you believe us?

Doom! Or WtF Obama? Part 3

Obama To Propose Cuts To Social Security.

This, if the Administration follows through, completes the conversion of the Democrats into a conservative party. There's huge numbers of Democrats who are going to feel a piece of their identity ripped away. Great, just what we needed.

Shootings in Denver: Called That One

James Holmes’ Psychiatrist Warned School Of Threat Before Theater Massacre

Me, ten months ago: "It will turn out that Holmes had a history of violent fantasies [...] His problems were recognized. It is possible he sought help for them. [...] If he sought help, he did not get it."