Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Stuck in the Middle

We look at China with its slave wages and rampant pollution and cheap products and wonder how we can compete and still avoid sinking to their level. We must, we think, only trade with countries who maintain the same high wage and environmental standards that we do. That way, cheap Chinese goods will not be a temptation (except via smuggling).

Well guess what? Over in the EU, they are already discussing us the way we discuss China--as a problem dragging them down.

This week, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went to Germany to propose that Russia and EU form a multi-continent free trade zone. This seems sensible for both the EU and Russia. Russia is the EU’s third-biggest trade partner. The EU is by far Russia's main trading partner, accounting for 52.3% of its overall trade turnover in 2008 Trade between the two economies was accelerating until the economic crash.

But a big appeal for everyone concerned and why Putin delivered his message in Germany, with whom we have a large trading deficit, is that forming a trade union would allow them to discard the US dollar as reserve currency.

Why should US currency be a big issue now? 600 billion reasons, namely the quantitative easing that will devalue the dollar and make our exports cheaper in Germany. Germany is not wild about that. Nor is China, but that was the point. Yet we can't affect one without affecting the other. We are stuck in the middle.

Here is another way we are stuck in the middle. We look at Asia and congratulate ourselves for our labor and environmental practices. But here is what the rest of the world sees when they look at our labor practices.

We give average workers no paid sick leave and no paid long-term illness leave. In other countries these are matters of right, as well as health care and more generous unemployment and retirement benefits. English media says more than our own media about how US workers have a raw deal and how our media enables our condition. But fewer benefits also gives the US a competitive advantage that Europe views much the way we view China's: they don't want to be dragged down to our level.

Right now we are stuck in the middle between prosperity and poverty, but the middle will not hold forever. We have to choose sides. Right now we still have a choice. And we can talk all we want about noble ideals, but the rest of the world is going to look at what we do, not at what we say. And as Vladimir Putin has shown, if we don't choose where we want to be, the rest of the world will choose for us.

By the way, my first source for the Putin news was not CNN or WaPo or even Rachel Maddow, but a blog called www.creditwritedowns.com. Check it out and follow @edwardnh on Twitter.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Why Has the GOP Turned Unpatriotic?

Most liberal bloggers, including me, preach to the choir. We share information, but we don't have to explain the language of liberalism to each other. If we ever want true egalitarian democracy to grow beyond a niche, we have to learn how to make arguments that independents and misled conservatives will recognize and relate to before we can ever hope to win them over. We also have to stop being defensive and put the greedy SOB corporatists on the defensive--but again, in a way that is familiar to their base and can potentially put a wedge between them and their base. We have to change the narrative. Here is a start. I chose words and spin for specific impact:

It's not what Americans expect to see. Conventional wisdom is that the right is all about military, fiscal responsibility, and patriotism. But the right has turned into something alien that true conservatives don't recognize anymore.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell was willing to throw our troops under the bus for party political gain

Senior senator John McCain is still willing to undermine the military against the advice of top military leaders

Bryan Fischer criticized recent war heroes. Fischer is Director of Issues Analysis for the conservative American Family Association and spoke at the far-right Values Voter summit.

The military budget under the stewardship of the GOP has become a sticky web of corrupt contracts that do not benefit the nation or the troops. During the last decade, spending ballooned and defense contractors got rich while troops on the ground lacked basic protection.

The GOP favors hiring disreputable mercenaries who have hurt our image, our credibility, and our own troops overseas and overcharged us at home. We need soldiers who serve our country, not a thug squad for hire.

Glenn Beck, of right-wing Fox News, accused Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America, the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars of the past decade, of being communists and a political front group.

EACH of the GOP presidents of the last 30 years have added to the deficit more than Democrats Carter and Clinton.

George W. Bush continued to irresponsibly overspend when the economy was good instead of setting reserves aside for a rainy day. When the rainy day came, we were already deep in debt.

A high GOP priority continues to be tax cuts for the wealthy, which raise the deficit by $700 billion and have not helped the economy. Put another way, if you told a farmer downstream that a dam upstream would give him more water, he'd look around for what you hit your head on.

Under GOP urging, the military budget has nearly tripled since 1997. Our military is larger than the next 11 countries combined, including China. (Got enough dynamite, there, Butch?) Part of why Europe enjoys a more leisurely lifestyle is that we are guarding it.

The GOP lied about the financial effects of the health care bill. The bill that passed actually reduces the budget deficit. Both the public option and single payer plans would have reduced the deficit even more.

The Bush administration (likely Karl Rove) deliberately compromised an active undercover member of the CIA, resulting in lives lost.

Senator Jim De Mint traveled abroad and urged foreign leaders not to deal in good faith with the United States government.

The right used to tell us to trust government beyond what was reasonable given human nature. Today, opinion leaders on the right from bloggers up to senators say we must never trust the government. Both extremes are impractical, but never trusting the government prevents the government from serving the people.

George W. Bush ordered inferior (and illegal) interrogation methods that damaged our anti-terrorist efforts.

There was a day when Republicans would have led the charge to try people like this for treason. Who will stand up for America today?

From other sources:

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Grow Up Already

I am so sick of hearing:

I don't have kids. Why should I pay for schools when I get no benefit?
I didn't get the carpet dirty. Why should I vacuum it?
Why should I pay for museums I don't go to?
Why do I have to go?
I don't want biodegradable chip bags! They're too noisy!
Because the trash can is way over therrrre!
Why do I have to subsidize sick, disabled, and unemployed people?
Why do I have to be around old people? They smell funny.
Taxes are tyranny!
I have to use my own money????

My two kids are in high school. At one time or another, each one has said (whined) the things in blue. They wouldn't dare say any of those things today. They know better. We have taught them the principles of taking care of themselves, paying their own way, and helping those less fortunate.

We don't have any greater "sense of community" in our lives than other suburbanites--probably less because we don't attend church. And yet my teens are already better citizens than the greedy and immature people whose miserly sense of worthiness stops at their own front gate.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Open Letter to President Obama

Dear Mr. President:

You are a brilliant and disciplined man, and I'm glad you are president. However, I'm concerned about how you see your role in the current economic fight between a wealthy few and the rest of the nation.

Your insistence on bipartisanship and compromise that is not reciprocated hark back to the passive protests of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. You seem to want to be a role model of peace and persistence. They were great men, but you are not called upon to play that role.

Dignity and passive resistance was an effective tool for civil rights in the 1960s because there were powerful people in the government (Harry Truman, JFK, LBJ, the Supreme Court) willing to stand up for the oppressed. As President, you need to step up and be the champion that the middle class has been waiting for.

You have already moved some wealth through the Stimulus and extensions of unemployment, but the wealth redistribution was positioned as other things. Health care was also helpful, but it did not change the fundamental problem. Wealth distribution is an ideological and moral issue--in this it is like Civil Rights--and in our current state of inequality, redistribution is a worthy end in itself. You need to change your language to reflect this.

Studies show that average people think our wealth distribution is closer to Sweden's than what it really is. As Champion, you must bust that myth and decry the economic inequality that exists here today (and do it frequently). You must take advantage of the easy opportunities to put things right and build momentum.

1. Let the tax cuts for the rich expire. The public supports this, and even favors letting all Bush tax cuts expire.

2. Add a greed tax to the large bonuses given to bank employees and the incomes of hedge fund managers. Hedge fund managers have wangled a capped tax that has to go.

3. Don't be afraid to shame Congressmen. Who in Congress would stand up for banker perks if they knew they would be publicly branded for it? I know the media is not your friend, and you have found clever ways to deal with this, but some of them are only after a juicy story. If you can give it to them, they'll switch sides easily enough.

There is one fundamental difference between Civil Rights and the current economic fight. Granting the same human rights to everyone lifts everyone. In contrast, there is only so much money to go around. Giving it to some means taking it from others. More wealth equality does lift the whole economy, but greedy people will never see it that way.

But not everyone is greedy. Warren Buffett has already spoken out against the unfairness of his own low tax rate. There are more millionaires who would be willing to say the same. Use them to spread the word.

It is not enough to stand against something. You need to stand for something the way you stood for health care. You have the power to change how we talk about wealth distribution in this country and to start to undo 30 years of propaganda by conservatives.

Start by refusing to extend tax cuts to the wealthy. This is not negotiable. Bail on this, and you signal that the wealthy own you.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Why It is Still Bush's Fault

In the building meme to give President George Bush a better place in history than he deserves, the first shot fired across the bow was, "How can you say the economy is still Bush's fault after Obama has been in charge for two years?"

Well, let's take a look at how that works.

The responsibility for causing a problem is not the same thing as the responsibility for solving a problem. Calvin Coolidge was POTUS for most of the 1920s. He overspent, he let the balance of wealth get tipped, he oversaw the accumulation of unsupported paper wealth, and a lot of other familiar things. The Wall Street crash that launched the Depression happened less than a year after he left office. Thus, Coolidge is blamed for eight years of policies that led to the Crash.

His successor, Herbert Hoover, completely underestimated the scope of the problem left to him. He called on volunteers to help with economic problems. He let banks and other businesses go out of business, contributing to public fear and instability. He did not put more money into circulation after the crash sucked out a substantial portion of the money supply (though in fairness, the gold standard and Coolidge's overspending limited how much he could have added). Over three years, his policies turned a recession into a Great Depression, and he gets the historical blame for the Depression.

Franklin Roosevelt spent a lot longer dealing with the Depression than did Hoover: almost a decade of high unemployment, anemic economic conditions, and false recoveries. And yet, at no time did it ever change from Hoover's Depression to Roosevelt's Depression.

That's because the responsibility for causing a problem is not the same thing as the responsibility for solving a problem. Causation is fixed in the past, and the past does not change. Coolidge gets blame for the 1929 Crash even though Hoover was President at the time of the actual crash. Hoover made the economy worse, and he gets the blame for that. Roosevelt spent much longer bringing the economy back, but overall his policies caused steady economic improvement, so he gets credit for that.

Though the economic trends that led to the recent crash had built for decades, George Bush was President for the last eight critical years when the worst damage could have been prevented. Even preventing wealth siphoning starting in 2006 and limiting subprime real estate loans starting in 2007 could have turned a crash into a simple real estate slump. He absolutely deserves the blame for the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, and time won't change that.

However, just to make the contrast clear, President Obama's policies have helped the economy. After the 1929 Wall Street crash, the economy went on a four-year slide. President Obama came into office less than a year after the 2008 crash. Within months, his policies were producing measurable improvements. Had the timing been different, it could have been much worse for us.

Yes, it is still Bush's fault, it will ALWAYS be Bush's fault, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.