Archive

  • Are the Elites Catching Up with the People?

    (Rex Features via AP Images)
    I nequality has at last arrived as the issue that mainstream politicians can’t ignore. You see it in Obama’s better-late-than-never embrace of “middle-class economics” as the signature theme in his State of the Union address; and in a surprisingly leftish report of a commission co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. The new report by the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity , convened by the Center for American Progress, is frank in its acknowledgment of the inequality crisis. “Today, the ability of free-market democracies to deliver widely shared increases in prosperity is in question as never before,” the report declares. It calls for several measures of the sort that the labor movement, the Economic Policy Institute, the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and others on the left edge of Democratic politics have been urging for years. What’s surprising is not what’s being said but who’s saying it. For instance, the commission offers a frank statement of what’s wrong with...
  • A Break In the Greek Tragedy

    (Tsipras at podium: AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) (Tsipras on Election Day: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)
    (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File) Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the Syriza left-wing party, speaks to his supporters outside Athens University Headquarters on Sunday, January 25, 2015. A triumphant Tsipras told Greeks that his party's win in Sunday's early general election meant an end to austerity and humiliation, and that the country's regular and often fraught debt inspections were a thing of the past. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope should count itself lucky that a left-wing anti-austerity party won the Greek elections, swept into office by citizens who've had enough. Elsewhere in Europe, seven years of stupid, punitive, and self-defeating austerity policies have led to gains by the far right. If a radical left party is now in power in Athens and sending tremors through Europe's financial markets, the E.U.'s smug leaders and their banker allies in Frankfurt, Brussels and Berlin have only themselves to blame. Alexis Tsipras, leader of the...
  • GOP Response: The Breadbags of Empathy

    (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
    I magine going to the doctor and saying, "My back is killing me. I can barely move. What can you do to help me? Should we do an X-ray? Physical therapy? Medication?" And the doctor responds, "Yeah, I hurt my back once. It was awful. So I know exactly what you're feeling. Anyway, thanks for coming in—just see the receptionist on the way out to pay your bill." That's not too far off from what we heard from Senator Joni Ernst in the GOP response to the State of the Union address last night. I'm particularly interested in this part: As a young girl, I plowed the fields of our family farm. I worked construction with my dad. To save for college, I worked the morning biscuit line at Hardees. We were raised to live simply, not to waste. It was a lesson my mother taught me every rainy morning. You see, growing up, I had only one good pair of shoes. So on rainy school days, my mom would slip plastic bread bags over them to keep them dry. But I was never embarrassed. Because the school bus would...
  • The Politics of Gesture

    (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool)
    (AP Photo/Mandel Ngan, Pool) President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, Janunary 20, 2015, in Washington. A version of this article first appeared at The Huffington Post . I f Tuesday's State of the Union address told us anything, it's this: We are seeing a somewhat bolder Barack Obama. In his speech, the president unveiled a litany of what he calls "fourth-quarter initiatives." Some of these can be accomplished by executive order; most will require legislation. The measures that can be achieved by presidential order include reducing the down-payment or interest on federally insured mortgages to stimulate home ownership. Obama has already used his executive power to suspend deportation of some 5 million undocumented Dreamers and in some cases their parents. He has required federal contractors to pay something closer to a living wage. He recently ordered federal agencies to give new parents up to six weeks...
  • Obama's State of the Union Preview Serves Up Pretty Weak Brew

    whitehouse.gov/video screenshot
    whitehouse.gov screenshot President Obama delivers remarks about his new community college proposal at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee, January 9, 2015. "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized." —Daniel Burnham I recently got an email invitation from a Democratic congressional office to come to a "watch party" to view President Obama's State of the Union address. His "fourth-quarter priorities," according to the White House-inspired talking points of the message, are "home ownership, free community college, and high-paying jobs." That sounds pretty good. But if you unpack the specifics, the president is offering pretty weak tea. Free community college sounds terrific. Community college is the great American institution of the second chance. Obama proposes to have the federal government cover 75 percent of the cost, if states will participate. This could save students an average of over $3,...
  • The GOP's 2016 Demographic Challenge Is Even Worse Than You Thought

    Wikimedia Commons
    There are reasons to be at least a little skeptical of the demography-is-destiny argument about presidential politics, which says that given the increasing minority population, it will be all but impossible for Republicans to win the White House any time soon. Most importantly, the argument rests on Republicans' continued eagerness to alienate minorities, particularly Latinos, which is quite likely but by no means certain. But more broadly, if there's anything one can predict with confidence about politics, it's that things change. You never know what might happen in the next election, which is why it's so interesting. There could be another economic collapse, or another war, or some other series of events that dramatically alters the landscape. But there's an interesting study released today by the Center for American Progress' Patrick Oakford (h/t Aaron Blake ) that runs through some scenarios for 2016 that any Republican ought to find utterly terrifying. The question Oakford asked...
  • The Bush Doctrine Lives

    U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 3rd Class Tyler J. Clements
    The process of evaluating presidential candidates always involves a lot of speculation and guesswork, because we can't know what conditions a president is going to confront a few years from now. On domestic policy, however, we can at least look at what the candidate says he wants to do, because candidates keep the vast majority of their campaign promises. Barack Obama said he would enact health care reform, and he did; George W. Bush said he'd cut income taxes, and he did. When it comes to foreign policy, though, it can be a lot tougher to discern. First, candidates tend to be a lot less specific about what they intend to do. And second, much of foreign policy involves reacting to developments no one can foresee. So if you're trying to figure out what, say, Jeb Bush would do in foreign affairs, what do you have to go on? Well, you can ask a question like, "Would he be more like his father, or more like his brother?" Which will tell you very little. But Michael Crowley gives it a shot...
  • Meet Austerity's Kissing Cousin: A Terrible Trade Deal

    (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
    (AP Photo/Martin Meissner) People protest against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) at the final election party of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) prior E.U. Parliament elections in Duesseldorf, Germany, Friday, May 23, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . E urope is right on the edge of another downward lurch into prolonged deflation. GDP growth is hovering right around zero. Germany, as an export powerhouse, continues to thrive, but at the expense of the rest of the continent—victims of German-imposed budget austerity demands. The euro, which keeps sinking against the U.S. dollar, is now trading at just $1.20, its lowest level in four and a half years. Unemployment outside prosperous Germany remains stuck at over 12 percent. All of this weakens the political center that supports the E.U., and increases the appeal of far-right parties. (You wonder if Europe's leaders bother to read their own history. When there is protracted...
  • Torn Between Two Presidents

    (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)
    In the 2008 primary campaign, there was a moment when Democrats began to debate Bill Clinton's legacy. At one point, Barack Obama seemed to minimize the significance of the Clinton presidency when he said, "Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not." Hillary Clinton and her supporters reacted with horror, accusing Obama of thinking more highly of a conservative icon than a successful Democratic president (though that of course wasn't his point). In the end, that internal discussion—just how good a president was Bill Clinton?—never proceeded too far. But with Hillary Clinton still the prohibitive favorite to be the 2016 Democratic nominee, we could well have the full debate we never quite got in 2008, and in the context of the Obama presidency now entering its final phase. Hillary Clinton, it is said, has to distance herself from her former boss to convince voters that her presidency would be more than a...
  • Squeezed By Austerity Imposed By Germany, Greece and Spain on Verge of Revolt

    (Sipa via AP Images)
    (Sipa via AP Images) Supporters of Greece's main opposition leader, Alexis Tsipras from the left-wing Syriza party, during a pre-election rally in central Athens on May 22, 2014. This article originally appeared in the Washington Post . A New Left is rising in Europe as the new year begins. And despite the fears it engenders in polite society, this New Left is less Marxian than it is—oh, the horror—Keynesian. Keynesianism is a complex economic theory, but its central insight is simple enough: If every institution stops spending, economic activity will decline. Self-evident though this may be, this insight has eluded such global economic institutions as the International Monetary Fund, as well as Europe’s economic hegemon, Germany, when dealing with the depression that has devastated southern Europe, and Greece in particular. In confronting the economic crisis that began with the 2008 implosion of Wall Street, nations such as Greece and Spain were unable to bolster their economies by...

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