Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Real Reason Republicans Are Stumbling On Iraq

Ah, Iraq.  Does anyone remember the time when it was supposed to be a political gift to the Republicans?  One that would keep on giving and giving political success after political success, for decades to come?  Sadly, I do.  I remember John Podhoretz, a member of the right-wing Lucky Sperm Club, using the New York Post column nepotism gave him to tell then-President George W. Bush to "go ahead" and "wag the dog," saying it would be "luscious" and "delicious" for his party and his country.

Of course, as all of us in the reality-based community know, things didn't work out exactly as the Republicans expected.  Curiously, even Podhoretz and his employer seem to know it as well; I recently did a search of the Post's Web site, and couldn't find the column.  Makes you think that George Orwell's "memory hole," supposedly a hallmark exclusively of left-wing totalitarian states, has found a home in Rupert Murdoch's right-wing media empire.

It's one thing for the conservative chattering classes to try to forget about the biggest foreign policy disaster in recent American history, a disaster authored and executed by Republicans.  It's quite another for 2016 Republican Presidential candidates to try doing it as well.  And, as they are now discovering, they cannot.  They have to deal with it.  And, as it turns out, they are not doing terribly well with it.  That may be putting it mildly, in fact.  They are failing.  Miserably.  Much like they failed in making the decision to go to war in the first place.  It was a war of choice, to look for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, with no plan to pay for it and a consequential diversion of resources for the hunt of the real mass destroyer, Osama bin Laden.

Why is it so hard to acknowledge what everyone knows?  Why are Republican candidates twisting themselves in knots on this subject to say that the sky isn't blue?

To answer that question, you have to go all the way back to 1980, and the presidential election that began the past three-decade-plus dominance of conservative politics.  More than anything else, the Republican campaign in that election was based on promoting the concept that the incumbent Democrat, Jimmy Carter, was weak, vacillating, unable to take a principled stand and stick with it regardless of the circumstances or consequences.  In contrast, Ronald Reagan was a bedrock conservative, unmovable on matters of principle (except during his actual presidency, when he was forced to move his principles on issues ranging from taxes to the so-called "Evil Empire).

Despite Reagan's own deviations from his alleged beliefs, the basic dichotomy painted during the 1980 campaign stuck in the mind of the public, with a generous amount of media help.  And it continued to play a role in later Republican victories, in 1998, 1994, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010, and 2014.  That is because even when Republicans deviate from their alleged principles, they never admit it.  They sweep their deviations under the media rug.  And, so long as they continued to do so, the deviations never really happen.

But the rise of ISIS in what is left of Iraq and, increasingly, what is left of Syria have forced all of us to focus on Iraq, whether we want to or not.  And, from the answers that Republican candidates have been giving, it's clear that they do not want to focus on it at all.  For one very simple reason: to do so would ultimately force them to admit that their party, and many of them personally, made a mistake. And they cannot afford to do that.  To do that would fatally undermine the entire rationale for Republican electoral success since 1980.

But they have no choice.  The war in Iraq was a mistake.  Their mistake.  And their inability to admit that may be the beginning of the end of their party.

How To Sell Blue-State Economics In A Red-State Nation

In the post-World War II era, which celebrates its 70 anniversary this year, America has always looked West--and, specifically, to California.  The Golden State set the pace for the rest of the nation in making us a country of suburbs and freeways, and in setting the tone of our politics from conservatism to liberalism, then back to conservatism and maybe, just maybe, back to liberalism again.  For the past six years, Californians have chosen to have the most predominantly Democratic state government in the entire county, with many Republicans and right-wing media outlets prophesying that this would be a recipe for economic disaster.

Far from it, as it turns out.  I have written many times about the California economic miracle that has taken place under the second coming of Jerry Brown to Sacramento.  And, as I wrote last month, while red state after red state has continued to fiscally gag under the mathematical impossibility of supply-side economics, blue California, along with blue Minnesota, has led the way in showing that combining tax hikes with targeted social spending is the key to a balanced public sector budget and a prosperous private sector economy.  And, despite what some may both expect and hope, California's miracle doesn't seem to be running out of steam; if anything, it appears to be picking up steam.

Not surprisingly, you won't hear so much as a peep about it from the likes of Fox News.  But what is a lot more surprising is that you hear absolutely nothing about it in the legacy media--i.e, what's left of the so-called "liberal press."  You would think that, if they were as liberal as their detractors claim they are, that they would be billboarding the success of blue state economics night and day.  So where are their billboards?  I think it's safe to say that their absence tells you all you need to know about how tightly the legacy media are gripped by their corporate masters.

Okay, so that's their excuse.  But what about the Democratic Party, and its national and state office holders?  For that matter, what about the rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party, and its allies in progressive causes all over the country.  Why aren't they shouting the good news from the proverbial housetops.  Why is the national silence, save for a select few Internet outlets (and bloggers like your humble and obedient servant), so unbelievably deafening on this subject?  It seems puzzling, especially in light of the contrasting records of recent Democratic presidents (shrinking deficits, and even an occasional surplus) with those of the last three Republican presidents (an unending river of red ink).

I can offer no definitive answer to this paradox, but I do have a theory.  Democrats have been mugged so often by a combination of corporate and media dishonesty when it comes to fiscal issues that, in time, as with most victims of bullying, they simply give him and hope that nobody will notice when they dare to make the occasional insight into public finances.  That may be understandable, but it is not excusable, given the long-term national and international interests that are at stake.  Bullying cannot be remedied with cowardice.  Bullying can only be remedied by bullying back.

And it is easier to do this if you have an argument whose conceptual framework can be undergirded by principles easily articulated to and understood by the broadest possible audience.  Which is why, without further ado, I offer The Three-Legged Stool, my own conceptual framework for justifying the tax reform (and yes, that will mean hikes) that will be required to give our public finances the stable footing they need and deserve.  The Stool's three legs can be described as follows:
  • Accelerate payment on public debt, to not only reduce long-term obligations, but lower interest rates and expand the money supply for everyone's use.  This can be justified by liberals (promoting government stability) and conservatives (protecting taxpayers from expanding debt obligations);
  • Put money aside for pensions and public assistance programs, including entitlements such as Social Security, and invest the money in short-term debt obligations.  Again, this can be justified by liberals (ensuring protection of the vulnerable), and conservatives (using the markets to finance public programs);
  • Finally, resolve that new public spending be financed by public investments, either in financial instruments or infrastructure, including solar-power installations.  Once again, this can be justified by liberals (creating stable streams of public revenue) and conservatives (focusing on "baking more pie," and not just finding new ways to carve up the existing pie.
So, there you have it.  The Three-Legged Stool.  Easy to explain, easy to understand, easy to justify on a bipartisan basis.  So get over your bullied selves, progressives, and get to it.  Bully back the other, clearly loosing side, and claim a well-deserved victory for yourselves and for Americans everywhere.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Everything You Need To Know About Red-State And Blue-State Economics

And, if you have a brain, it should make you choose the latter.

Are We Becoming A Nation Of Gun Nuts?

Maybe not.

It's The Last Call For "Mad Men" Tonight ...

... so I'm sharing this, to illustrate that great culture isn't destined, but sometimes is lucky enough to emerge.  My thanks to everyone involved in the series, for doing such great work, and creating so many great memories.

Fighting Global Warming Isn't Hopeless

In fact, we may already be making progress.

The Impact Of Comic Books On Our Culture, And Lives

I know it's not fashionable to praise comic books, and comic-book movies like "Avengers:  Age of Ultron," which I enjoyed seeing two Sundays ago.  But, apart from the role that they play in keeping the revenues of studios and theaters health, and thereby enabling the financing and distribution of riskier projects, they also inspire us to believe in heroes, and the ability to use our wits to solve our problems.  So, when someone like Robert Downey, Jr., "Iron Man" in the movies, can deliver Tony-Stark-like technology for a little boy, it illustrates the value of these books' values.  Thanks to him, and thanks to Marvel, for all of its inspiration.

Conservatives As Terrorists?

Take a look, and remember it the next time you hear a right-wing talking head scream about terror.

Infrastructure Blood On Republican Hands

As a nation, in the legacy media and on the Internet (and yes, in person as well), we have discussed our nation's crumbling, out-of-date infrastructure and the need to make a sustained, national commitment to repairing it and modernizing it for the 21st century.  Often, that discussion dissolves into partisan perspectives on the role that infrastructure plays in our day-to-day lives.  For progressives, the decay of our infrastructure represents an abandonment of a key national priority, as well as an opportunity to create new, well-paying jobs that in turn would also create new sources of tax revenue, and a chance to demonstrate our ability as a nation to re-commit to meeting challenges.

For Republicans, on the other hand, the very word makes their eyes glaze over.  Real jobs, and real construction, are things that are always best done by the private sector, even in the face of facts to the contrary.  The space program?  The interstate highway system?  The Internet?  All of this, in some cramped way, reflects the triumph of capitalism, even though none of them could have happened without the government.  And anyone familiar with the history of our nation's railroads knows that they too would not exist without the help of the government.  Which probably goes a long distance toward explaining why modern conservatives are so disdainful of railroads.

But being disdainful is one thing, and being accomplices to murder is something else.

I am, of course, referring to the recent Amtrak tragedy outside of Philadelphia.  The investigation into the precise cause of this tragedy is ongoing, and we may not know for a while what that cause was. It appears, at this point, that, at the very least, excessive speed was one contributing cause.  But speed was neither the only cause, nor the proximate one.  Republican fiscal negligence was.

As I noted previously, railroads are a fiscal and philosophical bete noir for conservatives and their Republican operatives in Congress.  There is something about the idea of people riding together, shoulder-to-shoulder, toward a common destination that just drives them up the wall.  Personally, as someone who has always loved railroads ever since childhood, I think of that image as a nice metaphor for where we should be as a nation--moving in the same direction together.

But not for your average GOPer.  They've been cutting Amtrak funding for years and, lately, that cutting has begun to move almost as quickly as the train in last week's tragedy.  You can see this illustrated here, but this is the story that should break your heart.  We had the technology to stop even a speeding train.  And congressional Republicans didn't think the passengers' lives were worth the cost.

There is no way to mince words about this, and I'm not going to.  If I were a prosecutor, I would charge the Republicans responsible for these budget cuts with second-degree murder, based upon their reckless indifference to the lives and safety of Amtrak passengers.  But, whether they are charged or not, they are absolutely guilty.  The blood and pain of the dead and injured are on their hands.

How many more lives have to be lost before we realize that calling ourselves the greatest nation on earth is much more than a rhetorical act?  Other nations put a premium on public resources and don't hesitate to pay for them.  We, the people of this nation and its bought-and-paid-for government, feel differently; we worship the goal of making the rich richer, and pretend not to notice that this worship makes all of us poorer--or dead.

Do we have the ability to save ourselves?  That is what I believe God expects of us.  Before we can expect any divine intervention, we need to show that we can take care of each other, and be willing to pay a personal price for doing so.  Greed is not good; greed is deadly.  As last week's Amtrak tragedy shows, greed is slowing destroying us all.  And, as illustrated here, greed may be unstoppable, even in the wake of tragedy.  If we don't act to change our perspective and behavior soon, it will not just be the Republicans who have blood on their hands.

It will be all of us.

No, Conservatives, You Did Not Win In The U.K. On May 7

Well, technically, you did.  You shocked everyone in the process in the fact.  You shocked the pollsters, who were all on the same statistical page in predicting that the next British government would be some sort of coalition government, just like the last one.  And, in the process, you shocked people like me, who expected that result based not only on the predictions of pollsters, but also on a sense that voters around the world were getting tired of seeing right-wing politicians following William F. Buckley's advice to stand athwart history and cry "Halt!"

Instead, against the odds and the polls, the next British government will be run by the Tories, with a mathematical majority in Parliament.  Not surprisingly, conservatives on this side of the pond are feeling vindicated.  Some are trumpeting a victory for austerity economics, while others are trumpeting the return of compassionate conservatism, W-style.  So which is it?

Actually, it's none of the above.  The success of the Tories is due in part to one factor related to American politics, and another that has somewhat more to do with European politics.

Let's start with a discussion of the former.  Although the Tories will now enjoy a statistical majority of the seats in the House of Commons, they managed to get there with about a third of the popular vote.  This is because elections for the Commons resembles elections for our House of Representatives in operating under a "first-past-the-post" system.  As a consequence, it is possible for one party to attract a majority or a plurality of votes nationally, but another party's candidates, by coming in second or lower in many individual districts, can still manage to win the majority of seats overall.

This is less likely to happen in a situation where two parties dominate the national political landscape, as was the case in Britain for decades with the Labour and Conservative Parties.  Of course, here in the U.S., we still have two dominant parties, but gerrymandering has so rearranged the voter composition of congressional districts that, in the 2012 election, the Democrats won a majority of the popular vote for House candidates, but lost enough individual races to ensure that Republican control will continue.  And, in 2014, Republicans won 57 percent of House races despite wining only 52 percent of the popular vote overall.

In the case of Britain, something else seems to be at work; namely, the rise of independent parties and the ability of their candidates to eat away a large share of the vote that would have gone to Labour or Conservative candidates in the past.  You can read a detailed analysis here of how the success of these parties played a role in the May 7 outcome.  Could this happen here?  On a presidential level, it already did in 1992 and 1996, thanks to Ross Perot and the Reform Party.  Given the fact that current approval levels of Congress are in single digits, and given the enhanced role of billionaires in our political system post-Citizens United, it can't and should not be ruled out.  Perhaps progressive billionaires should underwrite third-party conservative candidates, with this in mind, for House races in 2016.

Of the third parties involved in the British election, however, two stand out for reasons related to the more European explanation for the outcome, and that is the rise of nationalism among the British electorate--or, perhaps, I should say the English and Scottish electorates.  The rise of the anti-immigrant UKIP Party, and the near-domination by the Scottish National Party of the outcomes in Scotland's parliamentary districts, mirrors the ethnic breakdowns afflicting politics on the Continent in the post-Cold War Era.  In campaigning for his party, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was well aware of this, and played to it very strongly.  In the end, he and his party prevailed not because the British people as a whole liked his economic or foreign policy, but because English voters saw him as the one most likely to protect their interests.

The result?  Cameron is now the head of a parliamentary majority of a badly divided country.  His pledge to hold the U.K. together is at odds with his antagonism toward Scottish voters.  His plan to hold a national referendum on E.U. membership is likely to divide the country even further.  And, as a consequence, you can expect to see articles like this one even more frequently.

And, sadly, they may be forecasting the long-term future of the U.K.  Britannia once ruled the waves.  Now it seems incapable of ruling itself.  That, put briefly, is the "victory" that Conservatives won on May 7.  They are not likely to be happy about it for very long.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Fixing The CEO Pay Problem

It's time to bring an end to current levels of executive compensation.  None of these people are worth the outrageous sums they are paid.  And, if the best way to do that requires some measure of government involvement, so be it.  Whether in the public or private sector, there are better ways to spend the money.

Bravo, Joe Manchin!

It's inspiring to see a red-state Democrat do the right thing when it comes to guns.

Our Performance Palaces CAN Be Brought Back To Life

I've written about the restoration of the Loews' Kings Theater in Brooklyn before, but here's an interesting insider's piece on the process that brought that about.  I offer it to encourage anyone and everyone out there to save our cultural heritage, before it's too late to do so.

"The Party Of Me Versus The Party Of Me"

That's the wonderful summary of our two party system that this article contributes to our discourse. Someone should turn it into a bumper sticker as soon as possible.

And, Speaking Of Wisconsin ...

... it looks like its voters want to say "Come back, Russ Feingold, all is forgiven."  Amen!