Robert Kuttner

National Security and the 2016 Election

(Photo: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv)
(Photo: Matty Stern/U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv) Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives in Israel in November 2012. This article originally appeared at the Huffington Post . Y ou may recall a campus slogan from another era, "Hey, hey. Ho, ho. Western civ. has got to go." That was at Stanford University in 1987, part of a wave of demands to limit traditional courses featuring dead white males, in favor of cultural pluralism. Sure enough, many colleges a generation later have more varied courses. Today, however, there are people out there who feel that western civilization really does have to go — not the courses but the thing itself. And they seem to be gaining. Call me sentimental, call me privileged, but I have a certain fondness for western civilization. Let me count the ways. I like the rule of law. I like the Enlightenment sensibility that a wide variety of religions and viewpoints must be accommodated. I like the connection of free speech and free inquiry to the scientific...

Will E.U. Leaders Wreck Europe’s Economy to Teach Greece a Lesson?

(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)
(AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris) Pro-government protesters passes in from of a banner outside Greece's parliament to support the newly elected government’s push for a better deal on Greece’s debt, in central Athens, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The protests held in Athens by around fifteen thousands supporters of the left-wing Syriza party as the new Greek government on Monday, February 16, presented its proposals to skeptical rescue lenders at a euro zone finance ministers' meeting in Brussels. G reece and the European Union are now in a final showdown. And if you had to place odds, the likelihood is that the stubbornness and folly of Europe’s senior leaders will create a catastrophe for both Greece and the E.U. On Monday, at a key meeting of finance ministers in Brussels, the Greek negotiators walked away from a demand that Greece recommit to the terms of the current austerity program as the precondition for extending talks on possible easing of the terms. In return, E.U. leaders had...

Will the Recovery Finally Translate into Better Wages?

(iStockPhoto/© JLGutierrez)
whitehouse.gov Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellen and President Barack Obama. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . T he good news about the economy's improved job creation dominated the weekend's headlines. Many commentators concluded that the economy is finally shaking off the effects of the financial collapse of 2008 and the long period of stagnation that followed. The creation of 257,000 new jobs in January is surely good news, as is the long-awaited increase in wages, reported at half of one percent in that month. Even so, the one-year increase in wages has been only 2.2 percent, barely more than 1 percent when adjusted for inflation, and it's been a long time since most workers have seen substantial raises. In this recovery, the economy has been creating more low-wage jobs than high-wage ones. The shift from standard payroll jobs to temp and contract work continues. The uptick in the measured unemployment rate, from 5.6 percent to 5.7 percent, suggests...

We're Jailing the Wrong People. We Need to Jail More of the Right Ones: Corporate Criminals

iStockPhoto/© pkline
(Photo illustration @pkline/iStockPhoto) This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post under the title, "We Should Send More People to Jail." Y ou know the statistic. We incarcerate a higher proportion of the population than any other country does. Russia and South Africa rank respectively second and third. Hundreds of thousands of young, now aging, men, are doing hard time for possession of small amounts of drugs. More and more people find themselves in jail because they got caught with bench warrants for their arrest for exorbitant fines they could not afford to pay. More than a century after debtors prisons were abolished, thousands are again behind bars because of debts. But one category of felon is free on the street. I refer, of course, to corporate criminals. Consider the case of a checkout clerk at Walmart who puts her hands in the till and walks off with a couple of hundred bucks of the company's money. That clerk could expect to face prosecution and jail. Now...

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...

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,...

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...

Intrigue: Doth Chuck Schumer Protest Too Much When Called 'Enabler' of Bad Budget Deal?

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta) Sen. Chuck Schumer, Democrat of New York, talks on a phone as he walks from the Senate subway on Capitol in Washington, Friday, December 12, 2014. This article originally appeared at The Huffington Post . L ast week, I wrote a piece lamenting the fact that so many Democrats had voted for a budget package that gutted a key provision of the Dodd-Frank Act. The so called swaps push-out provision, now repealed, required banks to separate their speculative business in derivatives from depository banking covered by government insurance and further protected by the Federal Reserve. The broader budget deal, technically a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through next September, also cut a lot of needed public spending and added several odious riders, including one that raises the ceiling on individual campaign contributions to party committees about tenfold. Had Democrats resolutely opposed the deal, I argued, it would have revealed Republicans...

Movements for Racial Justice and Economic Justice Could Converge to Form a Powerhouse for Change

(Photo by Rachel M. Cohen for The American Prospect)
What happens to a dream deferred? Maybe it just sags like a heavy load. Or does it explode? T hat was the poet Langston Hughes, in 1951. In that year, more than half a century ago, the most basic dreams of African Americans were deferred. Segregation was mandatory in the old South. Discrimination was legal everywhere in America, whether in housing, education, or employment. Blacks were not just separated, but isolated, marginalized, restricted to the worst jobs and most dilapidated neighborhoods, the most dismal schools. For many, the racism just sagged, like a heavy load. It destroyed hope that hard work would be rewarded. The deferred dreams of that era seldom produced explosions, because the state had a very efficient system of terror. Blacks who resisted were likely to be lynched, jailed, or otherwise destroyed. It is a testament to sheer grit, tenacity and courage that large numbers of blacks managed to get educations, raise families, start businesses, and enter professions at...

Carnage at The New Republic and Prospects for the Liberal Press

The New Republic
A .J. Liebling, the early New Yorker ’s celebrated press critic (he invented the genre) once wrote : The pattern of a newspaperman's life is like the plot of 'Black Beauty.' Sometimes he finds a kind master who gives him a dry stall and an occasional bran mash in the form of a Christmas bonus, sometimes he falls into the hands of a mean owner who drives him in spite of spavins and expects him to live on potato peelings. You might say the same thing of magazine publishers. Political magazines are something close to public trusts—key elements of a robust democracy--but most are privately owned. Like newspapers, they are at the mercy of the whims of owners who are sometimes astute at the publishing business, and sometimes inept; sometimes kind masters, and sometimes capriciously cruel. The New Republic , where I worked for a decade, was once America’s leading liberal magazine of essay, reporting, and criticism. In the past half-century, TNR went through a convoluted odyssey. A chain of...

Low Oil Prices Are History's Greatest Case of Market Failure

(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)
(AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File) R emember "Peak Oil?" The world was running out of oil , we were told: Prices would soon skyrocket, and we had better find other fuels. Well, that argument didn't work out so well for environmentalists, did it? As oil reserves and those of other carbon fuels became scarce and prices rose, the law of supply and demand kicked in. The industry invested the profits from those higher prices in new technologies, and the oil barons found even more destructive ways to extract oil and gas—by exploiting the muck from tar sands, inventing hydro-fracking, and despoiling sources in developing countries. So now, oil is cheaper than it's been in years, about $66 a barrel. Regular unleaded gasoline can be had for well under $3 a gallon. One of the few things sustaining U.S. consumer purchasing power in the face of dismal wages is close to $100 billion saved in energy costs. OPEC's pricing power has been broken , and the United States is about to surpass Saudi Arabia as...

How Democrats Can Win Back the White Working Class and Increase Turnout Among Blacks and Latinos

(Photo: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr/Creative Commons License)
(Photo: CNV Sioux Falls, SD Action via Flickr) Demonstrators in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, urge fellow citizens to vote for the November 4 ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage. The demonstration took place on Saturday, September 27. T he voting turnout in this year's congressional and gubernatorial elections was the lowest since 1942. Much of the story was in young people, poor people, black and Hispanic citizens, who tend to support Democrats, voting in far lower numbers than in 2008 or 2012. The Democrats just weren't offering them very much. But the other part of the Election Day story was older voters and the white working class, especially men, deserting the Democrats in droves—again, because Democrats didn't seem to be offering much. Republicans, at least, were promising lower taxes. Turnout on average dropped from 2012 by a staggering 42 percent. But as Sam Wang reported in a post-election piece for The American Prospect , the drop-off was evidently worse for Democrats...

Democrats Cede Advantage to GOP By Failing to Embrace Pocketbook Populism

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) In Kentucky's combative Senate race, Democratic candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes makes an appeal at a campaign rally, Saturday, November 1, 2014, at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. The results of the closely watched Kentucky contest will be crucial in the midterm election that could shift the balance of power in Congress. W hy are Democrats on the verge of an avoidable mid-term disaster? Some of the reasons include the six-year jinx, in which the president’s party normally loses congressional seats. Some of it is luck of the draw in terms of who is running, with less than stellar candidates such as Bruce Braley in Iowa and Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky. And some if it reflects an electorate turning against an incumbent president who is hunkered down rather than fighting back. Yet that set of alibis lets the Democrats off the hook far too easily. There is a huge amount of unfocused anger and frustration in America, much of it around...

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