Robert Kuttner

What Murdoch Teaches Us About Policing Global Corporate Abuse

Rupert Murdoch and News Corp may end up being prosecuted in the US under a 1977 US law known as the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) for their illegal bribes to officials in Britain. The law prohibits American companies from bribing foreign public officials overseas. I had a hand in both drafting the law and conducting the investigative hearings that led to it, in my prior life as chief investigator for the Senate Banking Committee under the superb Sen. William Proxmire. At the time, there was an epidemic of bribery by American corporations overseas. What brought the issue to a head were revelations that Lockheed had paid bribes to several foreign governments to buy its military aircraft, including Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, West Germany and Saudi Arabia. To add insult to injury, Lockheed had been bailed out by the US government in 1971 to the tune of $195 million. Conventional wisdom had it that you could not do business in much of the world without paying bribes. We were...

A Little Courage on the Right to Unionize

I've long argued that the Obama administration, despite Republican obstructionism, could do a lot to help ordinary people in this economy through executive action. On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board began two days of hearings on a proposed rule change that would make it just a little harder for employers to stonewall and harass workers who want to vote in a union. Under the present rules, management can stall almost indefinitely, while they subject employees to captive-audience meetings, threaten to close the facility, and fire pro-union workers. The proposed rule change, though far from the full Employee Free Choice Act that the Obama declined to make a legislative priority while it had a majority in Congress, would reduce the time for management to stall once workers have filed a petition for a unionization election. And if management wants to appeal the validity of the petition, under the new rules the appeal will come after the election, not before. The rule would also...

Down With Shared Sacrifice

Muddled ideology leads to muddled rhetoric, which in turn leads to ineffective politics. This blog will periodically cite unfortunate examples. Today's Exhibit A, sadly, is our president, who repeatedly calls for "shared sacrifice" in resolving the economic crisis and the related fiscal deficit. Though a call for shared sacrifice, in the hands of idiot pollsters, tests well at the level of civic platitude, in these economic times a Democrat should never simply call for shared sacrifice. Why not? Because most Americans have sacrificed in advance--thanks to the recklessness of the financial elite. Regular people have lost income, jobs, trillions of dollars in the value of their homes and retirement savings. Millions of young adults who can't get traction in careers are back living with parents. Millions can't get or have lost health insurance. Isn't that enough shared sacrifice? Oh, and bankers, with massive federal support, are doing better than ever. Where is their sacrifice? You...

Senator Warren?

The White House this morning announced that President Obama will appoint Richard Cordray, former Ohio Attorney General, to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The appointment drew the strong support of Elizabeth Warren, who said today, “Rich has always had my strong support because he is tough and he is smart-and that's exactly the combination this new agency needs. He was one of the first senior leaders I recruited for the agency, and his work and commitment have made it clear that he will make a stellar director." What are we to make of this? First of all, Cordray’s views are the same as Warren’s, though he is not the kind of persuasive progressive super-hero as Warren. He will not be as effective in going over the heads of financial elites to move public opinion. Even so, Republicans have made clear that they will not confirm any kind of progressive and that they want nothing less than to kill the agency as an effective institution. So if Obama is serious about getting...

I Love It When You Get Angry

So far in his handling of the budget/debt issue, President Obama gets an A for splitting the Republicans and a D for offering far more substantive concessions than necessary. His bigger mistake was accepting the premise that what America needs is a ten-year budget deal, a premise that played to the Republican strategy of privatizing Social Security and Medicare. But the best moment in recent days occurred when Obama warned Rep. Eric Cantor "not to call my bluff," ended the meeting and strode out of the room. We need such more flashes of presidential anger. With a press conference set for 11 a.m. today (Friday), this would be a very good moment for Obama to say something like the following: It's clear that Republicans and Democrats are poles apart on the issue of how to reduce the deficit and what mix of taxes and spending is good public policy. The issue of raising the debt ceiling never should have been linked to the 2012 budget, much less to a ten year budget. Sen. Mitch McConnell...

Obama on the Dismal Jobs Situation

Here is President Obama Friday morning remarking on the dismal June unemployment numbers and its bogus connection to the budget and debt-ceiling talks: The sooner we get this done, the sooner that the markets know that the debt limit ceiling will have been raised and that we have a serious plan to deal with our debt and deficit, the sooner that we give our businesses the certainty that they will need in order to make additional investments to grow and hire and will provide more confidence to the rest of the world as well, so that they are committed to investing in America. Say what? To believe this, you would have to believe that America’s entrepreneurs are holding back investing in new projects and jobs, as they await progress on the ten-year budget. There is no economic theory that can justify such a belief.

Obama's Austerity Altar

The right has succeeded in dominating the framing of the entire budget issue, and tragically they have the perfect accomplice in Barack Obama. President Obama's willingness to throw crown jewels like Social Security onto the austerity altar grows more flagrant by the day. The press--even some of the progressive press--is treating the main issue as whether we include significant tax increases as part of the package of $4 trillion in budget cuts over ten years. But even that issue is a sideshow. Fallacy number one is that we need anything like $4 trillion in budget cuts, and fallacy two is that it's reasonable to devise a ten-year budget path. Both of these premises are traps. Even if by some miracle Democrats in Congress hang tough and insist that half of the total deficit reduction comes from tax hikes, $2 trillion in program cuts would be immense. A further trap is the Republicans' success in connecting the budget talks to the debt ceiling extension. Throughout the Reagan and Bush...

The Budget Fight: Over Before It Began

The stars are now in alignment for Democrats to capitulate to a draconian ten-year budget deal as the Republicans’ price for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad’s fiscally conservative budget for 2012, set to be released today, will add pressure for a cave-in. Conrad is one of the most hawkish of the Democratic austerity mongers. President Barack Obama created the Bowles-Simpson Commission partly to appease him. He appointed Conrad to the panel, whose majority proposed a ten-year deal not unlike the one that Republicans are pushing, with deep cuts in Social Security and Medicare as well as a mandatory cap on spending. (The main difference is that the report recommended raising taxes.) The Conrad 2012 budget is well to the right of where most Congressional Democrats stand on these issues. But the biggest source of pressure for accepting a deal on Republican terms is the now familiar picture of President Obama responding to GOP stonewalling...

Postscript on DSK

Many people whom I respect have taken exception to my earlier post about Dominique Strauss-Kahn , as if I were either excusing Strauss-Kahn’s conduct or making light of the victim’s complaint. I meant exactly the opposite. What’s important to appreciate is that a victim who can be discredited as a witness and still have been raped, as I thought I was arguing in the post. The oldest game in the defense book, when it comes to a rape charge, is to impugn the victim’s past and use any blemishes to argue that therefore she couldn’t have been raped. The fact that the housekeeper may (or may not) have had male friends who were allegedly involved in drug deals, as the Times reports, or that she may (or may not) have falsified her application for asylum, or even that she might have hoped to make money off this episode, has nothing whatever to do with this case. But it will make it harder for prosecutors to prove her complaint in court, because it makes it easier for the defense to impeach her...

Applying Occam's Razor to Strauss-Kahn

The latest leaks from prosecutors suggesting that Strauss-Kahn's accuser is less than reliable may well result in an early settlement of the case. Strauss-Kahn, who is now out of a job, may even resurrect his campaign for president of France (once he gets has passport back), as the wronged victim of the Anglo-Saxon rush to judgment and media frenzy. The French socialists have no other strong candidates. If it turns out that this was not a rape after all, the French incumbent, Nicholas Sarkozy, has at least as checkered a sexual past as Strauss-Kahn. He could even benefit from a sympathy backlash. Instead of a belated victory for French feminism, l'affaire Strauss-Kahn and the French election could be a battle of the womanizers. Plus ca change ! As unreliable a witness as the accuser may turn out to be, there is still the lingering question of what actually happened in that hotel room. Money evidently did not change hands. And as we all know from the date-rape controversy, there is a...

Gay-Marriage Envy

Sometimes I wish my personal overriding cause were gay rights. Then I could get up in the morning and feel that my side was making real progress. It is thrilling to see how a movement for human decency has made immense gains. Executive leadership married to millions of acts of personal courage in a strong grass-roots movement can be transformative. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is the hero of the hour for using all his political skills to move just enough Republicans in the New York Legislature into the Yes column on same sex marriage. Maureen Dowd's Wednesday New York Times column quotes Cuomo: "For a moment, you had people in this state capital who really heard their better angels and responded. Government has a renewed bounce in its step." Dowd, valorizing New York Cuomo's leadership, notes that he "debuted with a flawless six months as a social liberal and a fiscal conservative (he passed an austere budget with a property tax cap and no tax increases.)" But what's so flawless...

Avoiding a Bad Budget Deal

President Obama has backed himself into a corner on the budget negotiations, where he's allowed deficit hawks from both parties to define "progress" as a ten-year deal to cut the projected deficit by a huge amount. In fact, his own Bowles-Simpson Commission led the way. Obama has also lost the framing battle over whether it's acceptable to hold an increase in the debt ceiling hostage in order to achieve a deal as Republican congressional leaders have done. This is now taken for granted. Both assumptions make for bad policy, and they're bad politics for Democrats. The result is that Republicans can dig in their heels and make radically far-right demands, which include refusing to raise taxes and insisting on devastating program cuts. Of course, we've seen this movie before: Obama breaks the logjam by making most of the concessions. At his press conference today, Obama made the cases for increased taxes on the wealthy, but he was mostly conciliatory -- too conciliatory. He casually...

Introducing ... Another Blog

Gentle Readers, Like others of my generation who grew up with print, I resisted the blogging habit for a while, but I find it addictive. I have long been a columnist, as well as a writer of longer articles and books, but having tried my hand at blogging for better than a year, I'm hooked. Just like columns, only more immediate, and with links. These posts, on a variety of economic and political topics and the occasional whimsy, will appear as the spirit moves me, but generally several times weekly. Your comments are most welcome. -- Bob Kuttner

Pages