Friday, January 29, 2010
By ROGER COHEN (NY Times)
NEW YORK — I see that Gore Vidal, in an interview with the British daily The Independent, has been predicting America’s demise with scurrilous relish, awaiting the day when it takes its place “somewhere between Brazil and Argentina, where it belongs” and China reigns supreme.
The United States, he suggests, can then bow from the stage, war-drained, broken by “madhouse” politics, to become “the Yellow Man’s burden.”
I think Vidal’s lost it, as the irrepressible Christopher Hitchens points out in a recent Vanity Fair piece entitled “Vidal Loco,” but I have to say the words of the grand old man of letters echoed in my head during a recent visit to China, especially as I watched footage of the coffins of eight Chinese peacekeepers killed in Haiti being returned to Beijing.
This was a big event in China to which national television devoted many hours. The flag-draped coffins of the Chinese United Nations personnel, greeted at Beijing airport by sobbing family members and solemn Politburo members, put me in mind of numberless flag-draped American coffins returning to Dover Air Force Base from far-flung wars.
President Obama wants out of those wars. Indeed, to judge by the nine paltry minutes devoted to international affairs in a State of the Union address of more than one hour, he’s weary of America policing the globe.
When Israel-Palestine merits not a word from a president, you know the United States is turning inward.
The coffins have weighed on all Americans, however deeply repressed the pain. A fractured, draft-free America no longer has a Main Street. But somewhere out there the feeling has coalesced that some of the billions spent in Kabul could be used to create jobs at home.
China, in its “peaceful rise,” has had no such distractions. Commentators on Chinese TV made much of how the Haiti sacrifice of the eight “heroes” was part of being “good global citizens.”
But I found my mind wandering, fast-forwarding to 2040. I tried to imagine a time when such images would be frequent, when China could no longer freeload on a declining America and was obliged to step up to great power status with the attendant cost and sacrifice.
(I believe the rise of China is unstoppable. As Obama noted, Beijing is not “playing for second place.” After my last column about bulldozing Chinese development, a reader wrote describing how a new semiconductor plant in Albany, New York, only got the go-ahead after “almost two years and two million dollars to prepare the environmental impact statements” to present to “more than 100 local public meetings.” Extrapolate from that to grasp how diktat outraces democracy.)
So, jump ahead to 2040. The United States has long since withdrawn its troops from Okinawa — “If the Japanese don’t want us, we can no longer justify staying” said Democratic President Mary Martinez in 2032 — and Japan has predictably gone nuclear in the absence of a U.S. security guarantee.
Now tensions between nuclear-armed China and nuclear-armed Japan have flared in an Asia where the United States no longer serves as the offsetting power. A naval clash over disputed, gas-rich islands in the East China Sea has revived century-old World War II grievances.
Asked about the escalating conflict, a State Department spokesman in Washington says: “We believe in good global citizenship, but frankly we don’t have a dog in that fight. You’ll have to ask Beijing.”
But Beijing is busy. U.S. troops have also long since withdrawn from South Korea —“the 38th parallel will just have to take care of itself,” a departing U.S. general was heard to mutter in 2034 — and China finds itself having to deploy its own troops to restrain the increasingly wayward North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, from his threats to reduce Seoul “to an ashtray.” A drunk-driving incident involving a Chinese general in Pyongyang and the death of three schoolchildren has prompted Kim to accuse China of acting “with imperial disdain.”
“Beijing seeks the wellbeing of all people on the Korean peninsula, regrets the Pyongyang incident, and calls for dialogue,” a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman says. The U.S. State Department has no comment but officials privately confess to a certain “schadenfreude” at Chinese difficulties.
These difficulties are not confined to Asia. A shadowy terrorist group called ARFAP (African Resources for African People) has just claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of 12 Chinese executives attending a Lusaka conference on copper extraction. Video has gone global showing the execution of two executives and threatening the murder of two more if China does not withdraw “from all predatory exploitation on the African continent.”
The United Nations Security Council (now down to four permanent veto-bearing members since the United States chose in 2037 to resign a position serving only for “sterile institutional haggling over faraway nations that do not need our counsel”) has been locked in discussion of the African crisis, but China is complaining of “paralysis.”
A State Department spokesman says, “We hope China finds a way to negotiate with ARFAP. War is never a good option. We also hope the Chinese brokered Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire in Gaza, which is unraveling, can be saved by Beijing.”
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Republicans Strain to Ride Tea Party Tiger
by KATE ZERNIKE (NY Times)
As they look to make gains in statehouses and Congress this year, Republicans are trying to harness the Tea Party energy that helped make an unknown named Scott Brown the senator-elect from Massachusetts.
But it may not be easy, as one Republican in Colorado learned the hard way.
When Scott McInnis appeared on Fox News last month underneath a title calling him the “Tea-Party-backed candidate” for governor, he triggered a tempest. Tea Party leaders fired off angry e-mail messages and public statements insisting that he was not their choice.
“Let it be known that we will not be used by any party or candidate!” Lu Ann Busse, the head of a coalition of Tea Party brethren known as 9/12 groups, declared at a “Defend the Republic” rally where she was invited to set the record straight after Mr. McInnis’s appearance.
Mr. McInnis said it was Fox that gave him the description without consulting him. But he was quick to try to make amends, issuing a statement on his Web site, and in the weeks since he and the head of the state Republican Party have toured Colorado meeting with Tea Party groups.
Across the country, many Tea Party activists believe that they have to work within the Republican Party if they want to elect fiscally conservative candidates. But they want the party to work for them — not, they argue, the other way around.
For Republican officials, managing the tensions between the two parties — one official, one potent — can be something like a full-time job.
“I do spend a lot of my time running interference,” said Dick Wadhams, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.
“I’m a big believer in the Tea Party groups,” he said. “I’m not going to claim that every Tea Party or 9/12 leader thinks I’m hunky-dory, but I do think the people who I’ve reached out to would acknowledge that I’ve welcomed them into the Republican Party. It’s a big priority of mine.”
Some Republican Party officials say privately that they are not yet certain whether the Tea Parties will prove to be a real force or simply the loudest voices. But the Tea Parties have proven their populist rage can be a power, whether to destroy Republicans — driving one out of a special Congressional election in upstate New York — or elect them in the most surprising of places, like Massachusetts.
So publicly, Republicans are trying to make nice with Tea Party groups, particularly in states like California, Colorado, Florida, Kentucky and New Hampshire, where Tea Partiers are upending Republican unity with primary challenges to establishment candidates.
The chairman of the Republican National Committee, Michael Steele, proclaimed himself “a Tea Partier, a town-haller, a grass-rooter” in a recent interview, and organizers of the national Tea Party convention next month say he has expressed interest in their invitation to speak. Mr. Steele held a conference call with Dick Armey, head of FreedomWorks, an umbrella for Tea Party groups, to talk about how they would fight together against health care legislation.
“R.N.C. ad goes Tea Party,” one conservative pundit declared when the committee released a spot featuring a series of faces saying “Listen to me,” a refrain from a Tea Party rally outside the Capitol in December.
And in New York, the new chairman of the state Republican Party recently turned up at a meeting of New York City Tea Party leaders. Participants took it as a gesture of reconciliation after the party outraged grass-roots groups by backing a moderate Republican over a conservative in the special Congressional election in New York’s 23rd District in November.
At the moment, much of the focus is on primaries, and many Republican leaders are repeatedly reassuring Tea Party groups that they will refrain from making endorsements. Tea Party groups and conservatives argue that if there had been an open primary in the New York race, for instance, the Republican candidate would have been a true conservative, not the moderate chosen by party leaders.
In Colorado, where Republicans are seeking to reverse the big gains Democrats have made over the last four years, Mr. Wadhams and the Tea Partiers first clashed last summer when, he says, a low-level staff member at the Republican senatorial committee in Washington registered internet domains in the name of Jane Norton, a former lieutenant governor running for the Senate.
Tea Party groups disdain Ms. Norton as the establishment candidate — she is backed by John McCain and is the sister-in-law of Charlie Black, a political consultant and fixture of establishment Washington for three decades.
After what Mr. Wadhams calls “a backlash” of angry messages, he announced that he had called the Senate committee and told them not to endorse Ms. Norton.
In late November, hoping to avoid a primary fight in the governor’s race, Mr. Wadhams and Mr. McInnis introduced a “platform for prosperity,” echoing the language and demands of the Tea Party groups: less government intrusion, protecting states’ rights under the 10th amendment, opposition to federal stimulus bills.
But that was not enough for the Tea Partiers. They were angry that another candidate, Dan Maes, who has been endorsed by at least three Tea Party groups across the state, was excluded from the drafting of the platform.
“They thought the platform was going to tie into what we were after, that we would be one big happy family,” said Lesley Hollywood, the leader of the Northern Colorado Tea Party.
Mr. McInnis was promoting the platform on Fox News when they identified him as the Tea Party candidate.
Ms. Hollywood was on the telephone with Ms. Busse, the coalition leader, when she saw the interview. “Did you see that?” she shouted. She sent an e-mail message to her members warning that they were “being played like pawns,” and another to Mr. Wadhams expressing her “extreme disgust” at the “blatant hijacking of the Tea Party.”
Tea Partiers noted that Mr. McInnis made no effort to correct the host, Neil Cavuto, when he called Mr. McInnis “the country’s biggest Tea Party candidate.”
Ms. Busse said Mr. McInnis had failed to get support from Tea Partiers because he received low to middling scores on fiscal conservatism from the Colorado Union of Taxpayers and the National Taxpayers Union during his years as a state representative and a congressman. But Tea Party groups also say he has ignored invitations to their candidate forums and other events.
“My frustration is, I have to do all of this work, now the G.O.P. wants us to do what they want to do?” Ms. Hollywood said. “If we’re the ones doing the work, it has to be the other way around.”
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Massachusetts doesn't want reform because it already has that
by Froma Harrop (syndicated columnist)
The miracle in Massachusetts was made possible through a bigger miracle four years ago. That's when the commonwealth became the first and so far only state to guarantee near-universal coverage. The Republican winner of the Senate seat long held by Ted Kennedy, Scott Brown, voted for the legislation as a state senator. In vowing to be the key 41st vote against the Democrats' health-care reforms, Brown carefully added that Massachusetts voters should not worry about their own health-care security: They already have it through the state program.
Thus, Massachusetts was the worst state in which to test the wider public's feelings about national health-care reform. Polls showed people in Massachusetts, as elsewhere, unhappy with the legislation in Washington. But those numbers include many who thought the reforms too weak or were simply disgusted by the legislative sausage-making. And whether these proposals were better than nothing is a meaningless question to people who already have something.
The foes of health reform have long used a divide-and-conquer strategy in crafting an anti-reform coalition. They pit those who have government-guaranteed health care, such as the elderly, against those who don't. Rest assured that if there were no Medicare, the older folk with tea bags stapled to their hats would be on the other side of the barricades. Medicare is the most socialized element of the American health-care system.
Similarly, the damp enthusiasm in Massachusetts for the reforms coming out of Washington belies the popularity of the state reforms enacted in 2006. "It's not perfect," a Brown supporter told a reporter, "but why should we have to pay again when we have health care?"
Not perfect is an understatement. Unlike the legislation in Congress, the Massachusetts plan made virtually no effort to contain spiraling health-care costs. That makes the Massachusetts health-care plan, which Brown still supports, far less conservative than the national version he opposes.
But despite the program's unexpected costs — despite its individual mandate to obtain coverage or face a fine — the Massachusetts program retains solid backing at home. Once people realize that whatever happens to their job, whatever dire disease befalls a family member, they can get medical care without having to sell their house, they won't let anyone take it away.
So there's no talk of repealing the Massachusetts program, but of bringing it back to the lab for repair. The state has already cut benefits and raised taxes. A special commission is now urging a move away from expensive fee-for-service health care and to a model that would pay groups of doctors and hospitals fixed sums to cover the patient for a year.
Politically, the Massachusetts program could serve as a national model. Pass universal coverage now, fix it later.
Even though their reforms are superior, Democrats in Washington could have done better still by not trying to please everyone. But despite their control of the White House and majorities in Congress, Democrats seemed capable only of reacting to critics, of cringing with fear under even the most ludicrous attacks.
If you don't have the courage of your convictions, it doesn't matter whether your party has 59 or 60 or 65 seats in the Senate. Under President Bush, Republicans got whatever they wanted with 50 senators.
The Democrats remind me of King Lear. Having given away his land, the source of kingly power, Lear turns to his fool for amusement and threatens to whip him. "I am better than thou art now," responds the cheeky fool, who like all Shakespeare fools, has everything figured out. "I am a fool; thou art nothing."
Where Are the Real Populists Now?
by Joe Conason (salon.com)
The notion of right-wing "populism" is suddenly fashionable following last Tuesday's special election in Massachusetts, when even stiff millionaire suit Mitt Romney could be heard braying about the "royalists" who rule Washington. But all such fakery was exposed today by an event of far greater moment. The Supreme Court's narrow, poorly argued and highly political decision in the Citizens United case -- which removes century-old restrictions on corporate influence-buying -- is the culmination of a Republican dream. From this moment forward, what the original American populists once called "the money power" will be enabled to overwhelm all other forces in American democracy using sheer wealth -- and that includes every "tea party" activist with a dissenting opinion about bank bailouts, executive abuses or crooked contracting.
For establishment Republicans like columnist George Will and Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the court's decision is simply an overdue recognition of the First Amendment right to free speech. (Or what in fact is more aptly described as "paid speech.") But to understand its actual impact, listen to Michael Waldman, executive director of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, who drew this pithy comparison: Under the old dispensation, which prohibited direct corporate expenditures on elections for nearly a century, Exxon Mobil could spend only what its political action committee raised from executives and employees. In 2008, said Waldman, that was roughly $1 million. Under the new order, the world's biggest oil company can spend as much as its management cares to siphon from its earnings -- which in 2008 amounted to $45 billion.
While most of the anger stoked against the Obama administration by the tea party groups is currently focused on healthcare reform, the original irritant was the spectacle of hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the Big Banks, the crooked insurance behemoth AIG, the reckless traders at Goldman Sachs, and all the abuses that attended those bailouts.
According to Judson Phillips, the Tennessee lawyer who organized the upcoming tea party convention, many of the movement's rank-and-file "believe that Congress pays far too much attention to Wall Street and not enough attention to Main Street." Dale Robertson, the founder of TeaParty.org, reacting directly to the Citizens United decision, told blogger Joy Reid that it is a constitutional travesty: "It just allows them to feed the machine. Corporations are not like people. Corporations exist forever, people don't. Our founding fathers never wanted them; these behemoth organizations that never die, so they can collect an insurmountable amount of profit. It puts the people at a tremendous disadvantage."
All the ultra-wingers and tea partyers who agitate constantly over U.S. sovereignty should recall again how little loyalty the multinational corporations and banks have displayed toward the United States in their drive for profit. Now, in effect, the Supreme Court's "conservatives" have opened up the American electoral process to a new, potentially limitless source of foreign influence.
Dale Robertson spoke like an honest populist -- or even a progressive. For him and anyone else in the tea party movement who isn't merely a loudmouthed stooge of the Republicans, a moment of truth is coming soon. Will they support legislation to curtail its worst effects, even if sponsored by those hated Democrats, or surrender to a new era of corporate rule?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
2000-'09 warmest decade on record, U.S. reports
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON — The 2000-2009 decade was the warmest on record, easily surpassing the previous hottest decade — the 1990s — researchers said Tuesday in a report providing fresh evidence that the planet may be warming at a potentially disastrous rate.
In 2009, global surface temperatures were 1.01 degrees above average, which tied the year for the fifth warmest year on record, the National Climatic Data Center said.
And that helped push the 2000-2009 decade to 0.96 degree above normal, which the agency said "shattered" the 1990s record value of 0.65 degree above normal.
The warmest year on record was 2005 at 1.11 degrees above normal.
The findings follow years of gradually rising global temperatures, which atmospheric scientists attribute to the warming effect of gases released into the air by human activities, including burning fossil fuels.
Concerns about the effects of a warmer climate include rising sea levels and the potential spread of tropical diseases, changes in hurricane patterns, increased drought in some areas, disruption of crop growth and wildlife patterns, and loss of species unable to adapt.
In the United States last year the average temperature was 0.3 degree above normal. And on average it was moist, with average annual precipitation in 2009 for the 48 contiguous states some 2.33 inches above the long-term average at 31.47 inches. It was the 18th wettest in 115 years of record keeping.
Last year's climate milestones included:
• The 10th consecutive summer with above-normal temperatures in the U.S. Northwest.
• Record winter drought in Texas.
• The deadliest February tornado in Oklahoma history.
• Most active tornado season in a decade in Louisiana and Alabama.
• New seasonal snowfall records for Spokane, and International Falls, Minn.
• Worst deluge in decades in northern Brazil, affecting 186,000 people.
• Heavy rainfall in northern Argentina, causing a landslide affecting 20,000 people.
• Disastrous floods triggered by heavy rain in Central Europe.
• Britain's heaviest snowstorm since 1991.
• Extratropical storm Klaus (similar to a category 3 hurricane) kills 30 in France and Spain.
• Heaviest snowfall in northern China in 55 years.
• Typhoons batter the Philippines causing fatal flooding.
• More than 600 die in the deadliest typhoon to hit Taiwan in five decades.
There's a small, irrational part of me that almost wishes the Dems would just give up on the healthcare issue and let the GOP or Teabag Party or whatever deal with it.
Or maybe not deal with it. Your choice.
You've told us over and over and over what's wrong with the
way we're trying to help people. So, what's your solution?
According to most analysts, tort reform would solve about 2
percent of the problem. I'll even spot you another 3 percent
on top of that to be generous.
Should we do anything at all? Or just continue to go
around telling everybody we have the best healthcare in
Sunday, January 17, 2010
What’s Our Sputnik?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN (NY Times)
Dick Cheney says President Obama is “trying to pretend that we are not at war” with terrorists. There is only one thing I have to say about that: I sure hope so.
Frankly, if I had my wish, we would be on our way out of Afghanistan not in, we would be letting Pakistan figure out which Taliban they want to conspire with and which ones they want to fight, we would be letting Israelis and Palestinians figure out on their own how to make peace, we would be taking $100 billion out of the Pentagon budget to make us independent of imported oil — nothing would make us more secure — and we would be reducing the reward for killing or capturing Osama bin Laden to exactly what he’s worth: 10 cents and an autographed picture of Dick Cheney.
Am I going isolationist? No, but visiting the greater China region always leaves me envious of the leaders of Hong Kong, Taiwan and China, who surely get to spend more of their time focusing on how to build their nations than my president, whose agenda can be derailed at any moment by a jihadist death cult using exploding underpants.
Could we just walk away? No, but we must change our emphasis. The “war on terrorists” has to begin by our challenging the people and leaders over there. If they’re not ready to take the lead, to speak out and fight the madness in their midst, for the future of their own societies, there is no way we can succeed. We’ll exhaust ourselves trying. We’d be better off just building a higher wall.
As the terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman noted in an essay in The Washington Post: “In the wake of the global financial crisis, Al Qaeda has stepped up a strategy of economic warfare. ‘We will bury you,’ Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev promised Americans 50 years ago. Today, Al Qaeda threatens: ‘We will bankrupt you.’ ” And they will.
Our presence, our oil dependence, our endless foreign aid in the Middle East have become huge enablers of bad governance there and massive escapes from responsibility and accountability by people who want to blame all their troubles on us. Let’s get out of the way and let the moderate majorities there, if they really exist, face their own enemies on their own. It is the only way they will move. We can be the wind at their backs, but we can’t be their sails. There is some hope for Iraq and Iran today because their moderates are fighting for themselves.
Has anyone noticed the most important peace breakthrough on the planet in the last two years? It’s right here: the new calm in the Strait of Taiwan. For decades, this was considered the most dangerous place on earth, with Taiwan and China pointing missiles at each other on hair triggers. Well, over the past two years, China and Taiwan have reached a quiet rapprochement — on their own. No special envoys or shuttling secretaries of state. Yes, our Navy was a critical stabilizer. But they worked it out. They realized their own interdependence. The result: a new web of economic ties, direct flights and student exchanges.
A key reason is that Taiwan has no oil, no natural resources. It’s a barren rock with 23 million people who, through hard work, have amassed the fourth-largest foreign currency reserves in the world. They got rich digging inside themselves, unlocking their entrepreneurs, not digging for oil. They took responsibility. They got rich by asking: “How do I improve myself?” Not by declaring: “It’s all somebody else’s fault. Give me a handout.”
When I look at America from here, I worry. China is now our main economic partner and competitor. Sure, China has big problems. Nevertheless, I hope Americans see China’s rise as the 21st-century equivalent of Russia launching the Sputnik satellite — a challenge to which we responded with a huge national effort that revived our education, infrastructure and science and propelled us for 50 years. Unfortunately, the Cheneyites want to make fighting Al Qaeda our Sputnik. Others want us to worry about some loopy remark Senator Harry Reid made about the shade of Obama’s skin.
Well, what is our national project going to be? Racing China, chasing Al Qaeda or parsing Harry? Of course, to a degree, we need to both race China and confront Al Qaeda — but which will define us?
“Our response to Sputnik made us better educated, more productive, more technologically advanced and more ingenious,” said the Johns Hopkins foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum. “Our investments in science and education spread throughout American society, producing the Internet, more students studying math and people genuinely wanting to build the nation.”
And what does the war on terror give us? Better drones, body scanners and a lot of desultory T.S.A. security jobs at airports. “Sputnik spurred us to build a highway to the future,” added Mandelbaum. “The war on terror is prompting us to build bridges to nowhere.”
We just keep thinking we can do it all — be focused, frightened and frivolous. We can’t. We don’t have the money. We don’t have the time.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
President Obama can live with Harry Reid's truth
By Lynne K. Varner (Seattle Times)
President Obama is right to pass up a schoolyard invitation to beat up Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
The Nevada Democrat was caught saying that Obama's electoral advantages included being "light-skinned" and carrying "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Reid's use of "Negro" and "dialect" struck me as outdated and incendiary. What person under 105 still says Negro? I'm afraid to ask what he calls Asians or Native Americans.
But Reid is guilty only of a Kinsley gaffe, a locutionary error that takes its name from columnist Michael Kinsley and is defined as an occurrence in American politics when someone accidentally tells the truth.
In that vein, Reid is guilty as charged. If then presidential candidate Obama had campaigned with chocolate-toned skin, a bass timbre to his voice and a penchant to mix English with idioms, he would have lost.
Yes, just as some assume a Southern accent denotes low intelligence, others get their internal hackles raised when they encounter people unlike themselves. The further one moves from what is familiar, the higher the hackles. When every vote counts, every difference is a concern.
The president would still be a brilliant, capable leader if he were dark-skinned and spoke in colloquialisms. But only if people make the effort to find out. Reid was betting they would not. Indeed, Reid might not either.
I have two powerful memories from childhood that when shared with other African Americans get nods of recognition: When my parents dealt with whites, their voices took on oddly formal tones.
"Hell-ooooo," my mother would greet them. "How dew you dew?" Goodbye was a throaty laugh, followed by the stock phrase, "The pleasure was alllllllll mine."
Say what you will, it opened doors and got phone calls returned.
Another memory the Reid hoopla raises: My favorite cousin is very dark-skinned. From the time she could walk, our loving relatives called her nicknames that began with the word black. Black doll, black snake, black girl. The insulting list goes on. And while it is no longer acceptable, many families use to encourage, if not intermarrying, something darn close to keep familial blood lines pale.
This is the ugly swamp Reid waded into; Obama smartly declines to jump in.
There is a study that adds scholarly testimony to Reid's remarks. Marianne Bertrand, a professor of economics at the University of Chicago, and Sendhil Mullainathan, a MacArthur-winning associate professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, named their analysis "Are Emily and Brendan More Employable than Lakisha and Jamal? A Field Experiment on Labor Market Discrimination."
The two found that résumés with "white-sounding" names — Jay, Brad, Carrie and Kristen — were 50 percent more likely to receive callbacks from potential employers than those with "black-sounding" names.
This is no pity party; it is the truth. America is moving further away every day from its racist past. But race remains a fault line. Whether it is more often perception than reality, people of color feel — and whites like Reid agree — that minorities have a higher threshold to meet. Sort of an inverse of the innocent-until-proven-guilty rule. We'll assume you're an unqualified affirmative-action hire until you dazzle us with your brilliance and hard work.
Those who calculate political viability based on this theory aren't racist. One day they'll be woefully behind the times. But not now. Indeed, Reid's comments were exposed by a new book on politics, "Game Change," which also includes similar remarks made by former President Bill Clinton.
Clinton was trying to convince the late Sen. Ted Kennedy to endorse Hillary Rodham Clinton for president, when he allegedly noted that a few years ago Obama "would've been getting us coffee."
I'm not offended by the messenger, whether Clinton or Reid. I'm offended by the message's lingering truthfulness.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Learning From Europe
By PAUL KRUGMAN (NY Times)
As health care reform nears the finish line, there is much wailing and rending of garments among conservatives. And I’m not just talking about the tea partiers. Even calmer conservatives have been issuing dire warnings that Obamacare will turn America into a European-style social democracy. And everyone knows that Europe has lost all its economic dynamism.
Strange to say, however, what everyone knows isn’t true. Europe has its economic troubles; who doesn’t? But the story you hear all the time — of a stagnant economy in which high taxes and generous social benefits have undermined incentives, stalling growth and innovation — bears little resemblance to the surprisingly positive facts. The real lesson from Europe is actually the opposite of what conservatives claim: Europe is an economic success, and that success shows that social democracy works.
Actually, Europe’s economic success should be obvious even without statistics. For those Americans who have visited Paris: did it look poor and backward? What about Frankfurt or London? You should always bear in mind that when the question is which to believe — official economic statistics or your own lying eyes — the eyes have it.
In any case, the statistics confirm what the eyes see.
It’s true that the U.S. economy has grown faster than that of Europe for the past generation. Since 1980 — when our politics took a sharp turn to the right, while Europe’s didn’t — America’s real G.D.P. has grown, on average, 3 percent per year. Meanwhile, the E.U. 15 — the bloc of 15 countries that were members of the European Union before it was enlarged to include a number of former Communist nations — has grown only 2.2 percent a year. America rules!
Or maybe not. All this really says is that we’ve had faster population growth. Since 1980, per capita real G.D.P. — which is what matters for living standards — has risen at about the same rate in America and in the E.U. 15: 1.95 percent a year here; 1.83 percent there.
What about technology? In the late 1990s you could argue that the revolution in information technology was passing Europe by. But Europe has since caught up in many ways. Broadband, in particular, is just about as widespread in Europe as it is in the United States, and it’s much faster and cheaper.
And what about jobs? Here America arguably does better: European unemployment rates are usually substantially higher than the rate here, and the employed fraction of the population lower. But if your vision is of millions of prime-working-age adults sitting idle, living on the dole, think again. In 2008, 80 percent of adults aged 25 to 54 in the E.U. 15 were employed (and 83 percent in France). That’s about the same as in the United States. Europeans are less likely than we are to work when young or old, but is that entirely a bad thing?
And Europeans are quite productive, too: they work fewer hours, but output per hour in France and Germany is close to U.S. levels.
The point isn’t that Europe is utopia. Like the United States, it’s having trouble grappling with the current financial crisis. Like the United States, Europe’s big nations face serious long-run fiscal issues — and like some individual U.S. states, some European countries are teetering on the edge of fiscal crisis. (Sacramento is now the Athens of America — in a bad way.) But taking the longer view, the European economy works; it grows; it’s as dynamic, all in all, as our own.
So why do we get such a different picture from many pundits? Because according to the prevailing economic dogma in this country — and I’m talking here about many Democrats as well as essentially all Republicans — European-style social democracy should be an utter disaster. And people tend to see what they want to see.
After all, while reports of Europe’s economic demise are greatly exaggerated, reports of its high taxes and generous benefits aren’t. Taxes in major European nations range from 36 to 44 percent of G.D.P., compared with 28 in the United States. Universal health care is, well, universal. Social expenditure is vastly higher than it is here.
So if there were anything to the economic assumptions that dominate U.S. public discussion — above all, the belief that even modestly higher taxes on the rich and benefits for the less well off would drastically undermine incentives to work, invest and innovate — Europe would be the stagnant, decaying economy of legend. But it isn’t.
Europe is often held up as a cautionary tale, a demonstration that if you try to make the economy less brutal, to take better care of your fellow citizens when they’re down on their luck, you end up killing economic progress. But what European experience actually demonstrates is the opposite: social justice and progress can go hand in hand.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Recently I've heard the usual right-wing howls about how
the president is treating the latest terrorist scheme as
a criminal effort rather than an act of war.
When I hear this, I always wonder what they're really
saying. Should we now invade Yemen because that's where
the bomb was made? Should we annhilate Nigeria because
that's where the kid is from? Should we invade Amsterdam
because the airport security wasn't strict enough? Should
our navy set sail to destroy Britain because that's where
the kid's father lives?
Saturday, January 2, 2010
The Decade's Top 10 Quotations
Before our country can move forward, we need to know how we got here in the first place. Here are a few clues...
By David Sirota (Salon.com)
While I'm loath to write a top-10 list, if only for fear of falling short of Dave Letterman's legendary bit, I'm making an exception in this first week of 2010 -- a moment when we get to not only make New Year's resolutions, but resolutions for the new decade. As we make those prospective pledges, let's take a moment to look back at the top 10 quotations from the last 10 years -- the ones telling us some painful truths about our country, society and worldview; the ones that might inform us of what we need to do as we move forward.
10. "They frankly own the place." -- Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., in 2009 admitting the taboo about banks’ influence in Congress.
9. "Haven't we already given money to rich people ... Shouldn't we be giving money to the middle?" -- President George W. Bush in November 2002, acknowledging to advisors that he knew his tax cuts were giveaways to the super-wealthy.
8. "Keep your government hands off my Medicare." -- Anti-healthcare protester at an August 2009 congressional town hall meeting in South Carolina -- the single most succinct sign that our country has become an idiocracy.
7. "We did this for the show." -- Falcon Heene on Oct. 15, 2009, telling CNN that the Balloon Boy chase was a hoax. The declaration demonstrated that the media‘s 24-7 knee-jerk sensationalism is irresponsible and proved that America's culture of celebrity aspiration is completely out of control.
6. "As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know they're some things we do not know. But there're also unknown unknowns; the ones we don't know we don't know." -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on Feb. 12, 2002, effectively telling us that the government had no idea what it was doing by invading Iraq.
5. "Bring 'em on." -- President George Bush on July 2, 2003, daring al-Qaida to attack U.S. troops -- yet more proof that the elite defines "toughness" as politicians flippantly sacrificing young American lives for Washington’s hubristic ideologies.
4. "The investment community feels very put-upon. They feel there is no reason why they shouldn't earn $1 million to $200 million a year, and they don't want to be held responsible for the global financial meltdown." -- Daniel Fass, chairman of Obama's financial-industry fundraising party on Oct. 19, 2009, insisting that despite wrecking the economy and then being handed trillions of bailout dollars, Wall Street is a victim.
3. "$500,000 is not a lot of money, particularly if there is no bonus." -- Wall Street compensation consultant James Reda on Feb. 3, 2009, giving the New York Times a good example of just how totally out of touch the super-rich really are.
2. "I didn’t campaign on the public option." -- President Obama on Dec. 22, 2009, expecting the public to forget that his presidential campaign platform explicitly promised to pass healthcare legislation giving all Americans "the opportunity to enroll in (a) new public plan."
1. "It doesn't matter." -- Vice President Dick Cheney on Nov. 5, 2006, referring to polls repeatedly showing the majority of Americans oppose the Iraq war -- a sign the ruling class truly does not care about the demands of the public.
These epigrams expose a nation that has internalized and accepted the forces of avarice, corruption, dishonesty, incompetence and insensitivity. Some of them are darkly funny, some of them are gut-wrenchingly sad -- but all of them are warnings. Whether we listen to them or not will be the difference between repeating the last decade's folly or learning from it.
Here's to resolutions for the new decade that finally choose the latter.