Robert Kuttner

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...

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?

(Danny Lawson/PA Wire - Press Association via AP Images)
(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

Chris Ison/PA Wire via AP Images
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...

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