Wikileaks and Assange have now been made in to cause celebres. If corporations and governments can destroy someone's access to the modern economy as they have Wikileaks, without even pretending due process of the law (Paypal, VISA, Mastercard, Amazon, etc... were not ordered by any court to cut Wikileaks) then we simply do not live in a free society of law, let alone a society of justice.
In news you may not have heard, the French have been protesting a bill to raise the retirement age in France from 60 to 62. And by protesting, I don't mean just showing up for one day. French President Sarkozy has struck back:
Clashes have broken out outside a major oil refinery in France after riot police moved in to clear strikers who blockaded the terminal for 10 days.
Two people were hurt outside the Grandpuits refinery east of Paris, one of 12 facilities affected by strikes.
President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered the authorities to lift the blockade earlier this week after thousands of petrol stations across France ran dry.
The Senate will vote later on the pension reform that sparked the action.
Ministers said the bill would clear its last major hurdle in a matter of hours, after the Senate was asked to halt debate on hundreds of opposition amendments and hold a single vote on all of them.
Changes to the retirement and pension age could become law next week, once they pass the committee stage and a final vote is held in both houses of parliament.
Notice something here: the protesters are doing economically damaging things. They aren't just showing up in the mall, waving some flags, making some speeches and wandering off.
Notice also, that Sarkozy is still going to pass his bill.
The key point will be whether the opposition keeps up the pressure. AFTER the bill passes, they must continue rolling strikes and occupations until the elite gives in.
RULE #1 Of Post-Modern Elite Thinking: Elites think in terms of costs. If the cost of something is less than the benefit of doing it, assuming the return is also high enough they will almost certainly do it.
The tax cuts’ two bills, in 2001 and 2003 – changed laws so that personal income tax rates were reduced, exemptions for the Alternative Minimum Tax increased, and dividend and capital gains taxes also cut.
Yet in the debate, it seems of no moment to either side whether the tax cuts were effective in achieving their goal of spurring business investment and making the US economy more competitive.
Our own examination of US non-residential investment indicates that the reduction in capital gains tax rates failed to spur US business investment and failed to improve US economic competitiveness.
The 2000s – that is, the period immediately following the Bush tax cuts – were the weakest decade in US postwar history for real non-residential capital investment.
Not only were the 2000s by far the weakest period, but the tax cuts did not even curtail the secular slowdown in the growth of business structures.
The logic of this is simple enough. If you have money to invest, you're going to invest it where it'll return the most. Right now and in the past couple decades that is either in leveraged financial games, or it is in economies which are growing fast and have low costs. The US does not have high growth compared to China or Brazil or many other developing countries. It has high costs compared to those countries as well.
If you can build a factory overseas which produces the same goods for less, meaning more profit for you, why would you build it in the US?
Until that question is adequately answered, by which I mean "until it's worth investing in the US", most of the discretionary money of the rich will either go into useless speculative activities like the housing and credit bubbles, which don't create real growth in the US, or they will go overseas.
There are a number of ways this question can be answered.
A zombie argument is going around about why Obama hasn't accomplished liberal and progressive ends to the extent many would have liked him to:
Obama can't do anything because he needs 60 votes in Congress and he doesn't have them because Republicans and Dems like Lieberman and Nelson won't vote for his programs.
This argument is misleading in one sense and incorrect in another. It is misleading in that it misrepresents how things get done in Congress. It is incorrect in that many liberal policies do not require the consent of Congress.
Let's examine the misconceptions this zombie argument is built on.
What makes me saddest of all things in the world is this: the vast majority of the time the right thing to do morally is the right thing to do in terms of broad self-interest, and yet we don’t believe that and we do the wrong thing, thinking we must, thinking that we’re making the “hard decisions”.
This spans the spectrum of issues. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about foreign affairs, where the money used on Iraq and Afghanistan could have rebuilt America and made it more prosperous. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about health care, where everyone knew that the right thing to do was single payer or some other form of comprehensive healthcare, which would have reduced bankruptcies massively, saved 6% of GDP and massive numbers of lives. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about the financial crisis, where criminally prosecuting those who engaged in fraud (the entire executive class of virtually ever major financial firm) and nationalizing the major banks, wiping out the shareholders and making the bondholders eat their losses was the right thing to do, and didn’t happen. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about drug policy, where the “war on drugs” has accomplished nothing except destabilizing multiple countries and giving the US the largest prison population proportional to population in the entire world and where legalizing marijuana, soft opiates and coca leaves would save billions of dollars, reduce violence, help stabilize Mexico and would help tax receipts. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about food, where we subsidize the most unhealthy foods possible and engage in practices which have reduced the nutritional content of food by 40% in the last half century. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about environmental pollutants, which have contributed to a massive rise in chronic diseases so great it amounts to an epidemic.
And on, and on, and on.
Now the fact is that there is no free lunch. When you spend money on war, you can’t spend it on education or health or crumbling infrasture or civilian technology. When you allow oligopolies to control the marketplace and buy up politicians, the cost of that is a decreased standard of living. When you refuse to deal effective with externalized health pollution, whether from soda pop or carcinogens, you pay for that with the death of people you care for from heart disease, cancer and other illnesses.
The response is “we have to do this to protect ourselves/to make a profit”.
One of the most important videos you've never seen is this one, in which Benjamin Netanyahu, 9 years ago -- thinking there is no record -- explains his actually strategy to inflict pain on the Palestinians. He also describes how easy it is to manipulate the US, and how he made sure that the Oslo Accords would mean nothing.
hit them hard. Not just one hit... but many painful [hits], so that the price will be unbearable. The price is not unbearable, now. A total assault on the Palestinian Authority. To bring them to a state of panic that everything is collapsing ... fear that everything will collapse... this is what we'll bring them to...
The woman Natanyahu is speaking to wonders if the world won't object to what Israel is doing to the occupied Palestinians (she uses the word occupiers herself. He says the world will say nothing, just that Israel is defending itself. As for the US...
“I know what America is. America is a thing that can be easily moved, moved in the right direction... Let's suppose that they [the Americans] will say something [i.e. to us Israelis] ... so they say it...” [i.e. so what?]
He then moves on to deal with the Oslo Accords. Under Oslo, Israel was to give back land in three phases. However, there was a loophole: if there were settlements or military bases, that land didn't have to be given back. So the question is, who defines what is a settlement or military site?
I received a letter – to me and to Arafat, at the same time ... which said that Israel, and only Israel, would be the one to define what those are, the location of those military sites and their size. Now, they did not want to give me that letter, so I did not give the Hebron agreement. I stopped the government meeting, I said: "I'm not signing." Only when the letter came, in the course of the meeting, to me and to Arafat, only then did I sign the Hebron agreement, or rather, ratify it. It had already been signed. Why does this matter? Because at that moment I actually stopped the Oslo accord.
Any projection which goes out 27 years is so incredibly reliant on the embedded assumptions about growth, employment and lifespans that it amounts to a fiction. It is, at best, a guess.
Increase growth by just a little bit and the entire "problem" goes away. Get rid of the taxation cap so the rich are not capped in what they pay and the entire problem goes away. Assume higher employment, and the entire problem goes away. Assume a reduction in inequality, and the problem goes away.
The US has a number of problems which are at or near crisis, such as employment, inequality and healthcare costs, to name just a few. Social Security is not one of them. It isn't even close, and politicians and billionaires like Pete Peterson who are trying to gin up a crisis should be ashamed of themselves.
If they want the US budget more in order they should look at health care, where single payer could cut costs by at least a third, and at the military, where real spending has doubled since the end of the Clinton administration.
Or they should work on increasing employment and increasing wages for ordinary people. That's a crisis.
Instead of dealing with real problems, instead of tackling the medical industry or the military-industrial complex, instead of fixing the job situation, they want to steal money from old people.
I had a good time in Vegas, so I didn't spend a huge amount of time at NN, but I did spend enough time to take in the mood, and it was schizophrenic. About half the people there are some combination of angry, disappointed and bitter with Democrats in general and Obama in particular.
This group sees him as not a heck of a lot better than George Bush, and in fact the Democrat who extended some of Bush's worst policies, especially in civil liberties. This includes a lot of feminists (angry at what they see as betrayals on abortion), many Hispanics angry at the continued harsh enforcement of immigration laws, gays who feel Obama has betrayed clear promises on gay rights, anti-war activists saddened by escalation in Afghanistan and elsewhere, and a mishmash of folks who think health care reform was a dog's breakfast and that the general way the economy and financial reform has been handled is a disgrace.
Then there are the folks who would characterize themselves, in general, as hard-nosed pragmatists and "realists". These range from the "Obama is the greatest liberal president since FDR" types, who think that the Obama is just wonderful and those progressives and liberals who don't agree are simply delusional to those who feel that a lot of what he's done has been watered down pap in general but that it's certainly better than nothing and that those who are disappointed are unrealistic idealists who simply don't understand the constraints Obama and Congressional Democrats are working under.
As regular readers know, I tend to the first camp, but I'm not going to go into why, I simply want to note that this divide is very real. It's occasioning a lot of anger on both sides. The first sees the second as tribalistic sellouts, willing to excuse horrible things they would never excuse in Republicans so long as they are committed by Democrats and lacking an understanding of just how bad Democratic policy has been. These are folks who tend to sneer at the "wins" as either illusory or so underwhelming as to be a parody of the "lesser evil" argument. (Reminding one inevitably of the T-shirts which say "Why Vote for the lesser evil. Cthulhu 2008.") To many of these folks the other side are, crudely put, sell-outs.
The second side is angry at what they see as fairy-tale thinking and deeply unrealistic. "Obama couldn't fix everything immediately, but he's better than the Republicans will be if they get back in power" is their mantra, ranging from "really, he's wonderful and you're insane for thinking otherwise" to "well, yes he sucks but he sucks less than what the Republicans will do when they get in power." Either way, they see the attacks from what they consider the "purists" as deeply damaging. Democrats may or may not be a ton better than Republicans, but either way, they are better, and there is a moral case to be made for sucking it up one more time and working hard to elect, as the old progressive battle cry runs, "better Democrats". This is a two-party state, with those parties having an unbreakable oligopoly on power. Dissing Democrats just helps the even worse party win, at which point they will do even worse things. So get over your problems, whether they are with economic policy or Obama's continued shredding of fundamental civil liberties like Habeas Corpus, jump back into the trenches with your bowie knife or bayonet and fight for Democrats, not against them because by constantly bad mouthing Dems all you do is make it more likely that Republicans will win, and if they win, well, that will be baaaaddddd. Very, very baaaaaddddd.
To put it crudely and unfairly to both sides, it's the sell-outs without principles against the purists without realism.
But why should the political class listen? They get the majority of their reelection funds from corporations and the rich. Their spouses and children are given good jobs by such donors, and if ordinary people do actually ever vote them out for not looking after their interests, well, as long as they went down doing what they were supposed to, they'll still be very well taken care of.
Get elected, do what your corporate masters tell you to, and you'll never ever have to worry about money ever again.
Only a sucker or an idealist would do anything else.
This is the fundamental problem with the US. There is no accountability for the political class. They and those who take care of them have made sure of it. Go to war with a nation which has never attacked the US based on a big lie propaganda campaign, or spy on millions of Americans, or torture, or deregulate the economy so that Wall Street can cash in and crash the economy, and hey, so what, there's no cost for you.
And as long as there is no cost for them, they'll keep doing it. Just like Wall Street, having been bailed out after crashing the world economy, will do it again. They got rich doing it, why wouldn't they do it again.
Here's the good news: this record of progressive accomplishment officially makes Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. And here's the bad news: this shoddy collection of centrist, watered down, corporatist sellout legislation was all it took to make Obama the most successful domestic Democratic president of the last 40 years. Take your pick.
Here's the thing. What matters is whether policy works. It does not matter if what Obama did was more left wing than anything that's been done in a while (though in absolute terms I would argue it mostly wasn't left wing, the health care plan, for example, was essentially a Republican plan from the 90s), what matters is if it was left wing enough (big enough stimulus, smart enough health care plan) to improve people's lives enough that they noticed.
It wasn't, and that's all that matters. Policies such as the stimulus were not done well enough, and everyone from Nobel prize winners with good predictive records like Stiglitz and and Krugman, down to nobodies like me, predicted it at the time. The President hired the wrong people to give him advice, didn't even do as much as many of them wanted, and now we all pay the price.
Sometimes half doesn't work. Half-assed rarely does. All Obama's half assed "left wing" policies have done is discredit the left for another generation. Combined with the ability of the media, Republicans and hysterical Tea Baggers unable to use a dictionary to define him as a "socialist" this means that Obama's policies are seen as left wing, and left wing policies are seen to have failed.
I don't want Obama doing anything I agree with, because he will screw it up and discredit it. In this respect he is like Bush. He is poison because he is incompetent at policy.