Robert Kuttner

France and Italy Tell Germany: Take Your Austerity and Stuff It

(Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
(Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images) At the Nato Summit in Newport, South Wales, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francoise Hollande gather to watch a flypast of military aircraft from Nato member countries on the final day of the summit at the Celtic Manor on Friday, September 5, 2014. T here was a bit of good news from Europe last week. Two of the nations that desperately need some respite from austerity essentially told German Chancellor Merkel to stuff it . France, under pressure from Germany and the European Union to meet the E.U.'s straightjacket requirement that member nations carry deficits of no more than 3 percent of GDP (whether or not depression looms), informed the E.U. that it will not hit this target until 2017. The government of President François Hollande, under fire for failing to ignite a recovery, now plans economic stimulus measures—deficit target be damned. Under E.U. rules, France...

In Political System Disconnected From Society's Ills, Remedies Pushed to Fringes of Public Debate

(Kike Calvo via AP Images)
(Kike Calvo via AP Images) More than 100,000 people march through midtown Manhattan on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014 as part of the People's Climate March, a worldwide mobilization calling on world leaders meeting at the UN to commit to urgent action on climate change. F or half a century beginning with Franklin Roosevelt, there was a direct connection between the problems that afflicted American society and the remedies on offer from our democratic system. High unemployment? The New Deal, the World War II mobilization, and the postwar boom took care of that. Stagnant wages? With unions, growing productivity, minimum wage laws, and other regulation of labor standards, American real wages tripled. Education? The G.I. bill, massive investment in public universities, community colleges, and later in public elementary and secondary education produced a better educated and more productive population. And until the 1980s, public higher education was practically free. The exclusion of blacks from...

Two Cheers for Obama: Nobody Makes the Best Out of Bad Situation Like He Does

(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines)
(U.S. Air Force Photo/Staff Sgt. Jessica Hines) An F-16 Fighting Falcon takes off for Poland, September 5, 2014, from Aviano Air Base, Italy. This article originally appeared on The Huffington Post . I t took President Barack Obama a long time, and multiple stumbles, to back into a foreign policy role that looks something like leadership. If Russian President Putin is agreeing to a cease-fire in Ukraine that just might hold, the U.S.-led combination of pressure and restraint deserves much of the credit. Putin considers the loss of the Ukraine one of the great tragedies of Russian history, and before this conflict is over Putin will probably demand and get greater regional autonomy for Russian-majority Eastern Ukraine. But that beats an annexation or a war. At the outset of this conflict, Germany was prepared to subordinate the independence of Ukraine to long-standing German economic ties with Russia. Chancellor Merkel's new toughness, which helped alter the Russian calculus, would not...

Endless 9/11s: How the Bush-Cheney Response to the World Trade Center Attack Shaped Today’s Terrors

(AP Photo/Alexandre Fuchs)
T hirteen years ago today, al-Qaeda terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, took out a chunk of the Pentagon, and very nearly crashed a fourth jetliner into a target assumed to be the Capitol or the White House. That attack, in the wake of the Bush administration’s willful refusal to pay attention to increasingly urgent warnings from its own counter-terrorism officials, set in motion a series of events whose aftermath we are still living through. Vice President Dick Cheney and President George W. Bush decided that the real culprit was Saddam Hussein, and made war on Iraq. ISIL is, in part, the creature of the regional destabilization and Islamist backlash that followed. The Bush administration, at first an illegitimate and feeble presidency, found a new voice and a new purpose. Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld took over. In the USA PATRIOT Act, a long wish list of the most extreme warrantless surveillance techniques was rushed into law, and the U.S. became more of...

Could Scottish Independence Set Off a Cascade of Secession?

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(Danny Lawson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images) Scottish independence referendum. Deputy First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and actor Alan Cumming on September 8, 2014, outside the Yes Kelvin campaign hub in Glasgow ahead of the Scottish independence referendum vote on September 18. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . U ntil recently, few people took seriously the possibility that Scotland might actually secede from the United Kingdom. However, with a referendum scheduled for September 18, the latest polls show secession in the lead for the first time, and gaining dramatic momentum . The British government is frantically scrambling to offer the Scots a much more autonomous form of federalism, to head off the drive for full independence. Meanwhile, the specter of a diminished Britain has led to speculative attack against the British pound. What's going on here? For one thing, with the European Union allowing membership for lots of micro-states,...

Still Nader After All These Years

(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File)
(AP Photo/George Ruhe, File) In this April 27, 2008, file photo, Ralph Nader speaks to supporters as he campaigns for his 2008 independent presidential bid in Waterbury, Connecticut. F or many Democrats who came of age after 2000, Ralph Nader is a crank who cost Al Gore the presidency. But Nader deserves a more honored place in the progressive pantheon. Over the years, Nader has understood the stranglehold of corporate power on democracy as well as anyone, and throughout his career he has creatively organized counterweights. In the heyday of postwar reform, the 1960s and 1970s, Nader-inspired groups prodded and energized Congressional allies to enact one piece of pro-consumer legislation after another. As both a journalist and senior Senate staffer in that era, I can attest that nobody did it better than Nader. Since then, Nader has been a prophet, often without honor in his own coalition. I should add that I go back a long way with Ralph Nader. When I was in Washington, D.C., in the...

The Snake in the Market Basket: Can the Company Recover From Employee Revolt Without Loading Up With Debt?

(AP Photo)
(AP Photo) Market Basket assistant managers Mike Forsyth, left, and John Surprenant, second from left, hold signs while posing with employees in Haverhill, Mass., Thursday, July 24, 2014, in a show of support for "Artie T." Arthur T. Demoulas, the chief executive of the Market Basket supermarket chain whose ouster has led to employee protests, customer boycotts and empty shelves. Aurthur T. Demoulas has since been restored as the CEO. W ednesday night, the long-running Market Basket drama ended and the good guys ostensibly won. Or did they? When we last tuned in, the employees of the $4 billion family-owned New England supermarket chain were rallying behind a beloved boss, Arthur T. Demoulas, who had been ousted by a greedy board of directors. In the family feud, the board was led by a Demoulas cousin, also named Arthur, who controlled 50.5 percent of company shares. The good Arthur was beloved for paying above-average wages, sponsoring a profit-sharing plan, and pumping earnings back...

T-TIPping Point: Rise of Corporate Right Greater Menace than Rise of Far Right

(AP Photo/Richard Drew)
AP Photo/Richard Drew T he latest reports from Europe indicate that the continent is slipping back into recession. The U.S. is doing only slightly better, with positive economic growth but scant progress on the jobs front, and no growth in the earnings of the vast majority of Americans. Meanwhile, global climate change continues to worsen, producing unprecedented policy conundrums of how to reconcile the very survival of the planet with improved living standards for the world's impoverished billions, and for most Americans, whose real incomes have declined since the year 2000. Amid all of these serious challenges, what common strategies are top U.S. and European leaders pursuing? Why, a new trade and investment deal modeled on NAFTA, to make it harder for governments to regulate capitalism. The proposed deal, known as T-TIP (for Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) would define well-established domestic policies as illegitimate restraints of "trade," including protections...

No Jobs But Crappy Jobs: The Next Big Political Issue?

(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty)
(AP Photo/The Brownsville Herald, Brad Doherty) Wal-Mart employee Nidia Flores arranges shirts, Thursday, August 7, 2014, in Brownsville, Texas. F or decades, the increasing precariousness of work has been a source of mass frustration for tens of millions of Americans. But the issue has been largely below the political radar. Politicians ritually invoke good jobs at good wages, yet presidents have been unwilling to name, much less remedy, the deep economic forces that are turning payroll jobs into what I've termed "The Task Rabbit Economy"—a collection of ad hoc gigs with no benefits, no job security, no career paths, and no employer reciprocity for worker diligence. But there are signs that maybe this issue is starting to break through. One manifestation of job insecurity is extremes of inequality as corporations, banks, and hedge funds capture more than their share of the economy's productive output at the expense of workers. The Occupy movement gave that super-elite a name: the One...

Education Alone Is Not the Answer to Income Inequality and Slow Recovery

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O ur economy is now five years into an economic recovery, yet the wages of most Americans are flat. For the entire period between 1979 and 2013, median worker wages rose by just 7.9 percent while the economy’s growth and productivity rose 64.9 percent. The top one percent has made off with nearly all of the economy’s gains since 2000. I s there nothing that can be done to improve this picture? To hear a lot of economists tell the story, the remedy is mostly education. It’s true that better-educated people command higher earnings. But it’s also the case that the relative premium paid to college graduates has been declining in recent years. If everyone in America got a PhD, the job market would not be transformed. Mainly, we’d have a lot of frustrated, over-educated people. The current period of widening inequality, after all, is one during which more and more Americans have been going to college. Conversely, the era of broadly distributed prosperity in the three decades after World War...

Thoughtful, Prudent and Faltering: The Paradox of Obama

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza
(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza) President Barack Obama meets with advisors in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Aug. 4, 2014. N ew York Times columnist Tom Friedman's extended interview with President Obama shed some light on how Obama can be well-informed, thoughtful, prudent—yet still be seen as faltering as a foreign policy president. If you compare Obama with George W. Bush (OK — a low bar), Obama wins, hands down. Unlike Bush, Obama inhabits the reality-based foreign policy space, with no apologies. Unlike Bush, he has no messianic zealots among his advisers. He gives the kind of well-considered responses that suggest a president who carefully engages with truly difficult policy conundrums. Yet at the end of the day, he often comes across as vacillating and indecisive—an impression that can be fatal in his dealings with allies, adversaries, and, of course, any electorate. In the case of Iraq and ISIL's murderous assault on religious minorities and rivals, not to...

Cold Porridge For Regular People: The Myth of the Goldilocks Economy

This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he economy grew at an impressive rate of four percent in the second quarter of this year, according to a government report released on Wednesday. But the stock market promptly tanked. The Dow lost more than 317 points Thursday and another 70 points Friday. What gives? Financial markets like it when the economy grows fast enough to signal that the recovery is continuing—but not so fast that labor markets might tighten and workers get more bargaining power to get raises. Markets also worry that if the economy grows too fast, the Federal Reserve might pull back from its policy of low interest rates. Not to worry, brave investors. The Labor Department weighed in with a report on Friday, revealing that the economy added only 208,000 more jobs in July, down from the June performance. The number of long-term unemployed was basically unchanged. Likewise the rate of labor-force participation. And the percentage of people employed...

Liberal Heroes Miss the Mark in Today's Times Columns

(AP Photo/ Francisco Seco)
New York Times columnist Charles Blow sure blew one this morning and, for good measure, so did Paul Krugman—our two most reliably liberal and intelligent columnists! Blow’s subject was the do-nothing Congress. Ordinarily thoughtful and original, this time Blow fell into the media cliché of assigning symmetrical partisan blame for Congressional inaction, as if the two parties were equally culpable. The piece was full of Blow’s signature: accurate statistics. This Congress has passed only 108 pieces of substantive legislation, the lowest in decades, he reports. It was in session an average of only 28 hours a week. Citing the usual cause of “polarization,” Blow indignantly concluded: “Legislating is only a hobby for members of this Congress. Their full time job is raising hell, raising money and lowering the bar of acceptable behavior.” Excuse me, but the problem is not “Congress.” One party—the Democratic Party— behaves quite normally, seeking to do the public’s business. The other...

7 Foreign Policy Crises That Show Republicans Prefer Disaster to Solutions

AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File
AP Photo/David J. Phillip, File In this April 25, 2013, file photo former Vice President Dick Cheney participates in the dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas. In an interview Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, Cheney said Republicans need to look to a new generation of leaders as the party deals with poor approval ratings following a 16-day partial-government shutdown. He said Republicans need to have "first-class" candidates and look to its strategy and a new generation. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . I t's hard to recall a time when the world presented more crises with fewer easy solutions. And for the Republicans, all of these woes have a common genesis: Ostensible American weakness projected by Barack Obama. People in the Middle East, former Vice President Dick Cheney recently said , "are absolutely convinced that the American capacity to lead and influence in that part of the world has been dramatically reduced by this president." He added...

5 Ways Wall Street Continues to Sandbag the Economy, and How to Fix It

Flickr/Alex E. Proimos
Flickr/Alex E. Proimos This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . The shocking thing about the financial collapse of 2008 is not that Wall Street excesses pushed us into the worst economy crisis since the Depression. It's that the same financial system has been propped back up and that elites are getting richer than ever, while the effects of that collapse are continuing to sandbag the rest of the economy. Oh, and most of this aftermath happened while a Democrat was in the White House. Consider: The biggest banks are bigger and more concentrated than ever. Subprime (subprime!) is making a comeback with interest rates of 8 to 13 percent. Despite Michael Lewis's devastating expose of how high speed trading is nothing but a technological scam that allows insiders to profit at the expense of small investors, regulators are not moving to abolish it . The usual suspects are declaring the housing crisis over, even though default and foreclosure rates in the hardest hit cities...

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