FROM PAUL KRUGMAN’S NY TIMES BLOG: AMERICANS’ SPECIAL TAKE ON INEQUALITY

 

 

PAUL KRUGMAN 2      ROCKEFELLER  JUNGLE UPTON SINCLAIR

The piece published below by Paul Krugman, at  http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/?8dpc.

is part of our occasional series of comments by respected progressives (and sometimes non-progressives!). Here Krugman argues, as we have, that Americans tend to have an acceptance of economic inequality based on a kind of implied Social Darwinism. This oversimplifies Krugman and the American outlook but observes that those that have greater wealth generally Merit it, and vice versa. This is not only different from the current view in many countries that greater wealth is not always “earned,” there is a larger component of luck—or structural factors than many Americans would acknowledge. It also (America’s view for much of the past 150 years) different from the 19th (and earlier) Century view that wealth was just sort of the natural order of things (a view prevalent in ancient and Medieval times as well), without much attention to how that order emerged. Systematic inquiries into the origins of inequality emerged in the 19th C. writings of David Ricardo and Karl Marx, among other, and at least hinted at in the work of Adam Smith in the late 1700s. The topic has been most recently taken up on a grand scale, as noted in our previous blog entry, by Thomas Picketty in his CAPITAL… IN THE 21ST CENTURY.

 

KRUGMAN

AUG 20 1:17 PM 
Inequality Delusions

Via the FT, a new study compares perceptions of inequality across advanced nations. The big takeaway here is that Americans are more likely than Europeans to believe that they live in a middle-class society, even though income is really much less equally distributed here than in Europe. I’ve truncated the table to show the comparison between the U.S. and France: the French think they live in a hierarchical pyramid when they are in reality mostly middle-class, Americans are the opposite.

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Credit

As the paper says, other evidence also says that Americans vastly underestimate inequality in their own society – and when asked to choose an ideal wealth distribution, say that they like Sweden.

Why the difference? American exceptionalism when it comes to income distribution – our unique suspicion of and hostility to social insurance and anti-poverty programs – is, I and many others would argue, very much tied to our racial history. This does not, however, explain in any direct way why we should misperceive real inequality: people could oppose aid to Those People while understanding how rich the rich are. There may, however, be an indirect effect, because the racial divide empowers right-wing groups of all kinds, which in turn issue a lot of propaganda dismissing and minimizing inequality.

Interesting stuff.

GETTING AROUND TO THOMAS PIKETTY

 

PICKETTY, THOMAS

I feel like one of the last kids on the block to take on this book, cited by Paul Krugman as possibly the most important book on economics of the decade. From an opinionated Nobel Laureate no less. The buzz, the hype, the blockbuster nature of CAPITAL: ON THE ORIGINS OF INEQUALITY IN THE 21ST CENTURY made this web-blogger cautious about taking it on too quickly. Was this a “black swan”, a good piece of work by a French thinker that could have been written (but wasn’t) by 100 other equally talented writers, or “the real deal.” It is the latter. I am listening to it the first time around on CD, an odd way to “read” an Important Book, but one that allows the listener to focus on the literary qualities—even poetry– and hear without easy access to tables and graphs. That can come later.

 

The book beguiles from the starting gate by its simplicity, down to earthiness, accessibility, common sense arresting phrases like “the regaining of control of capital wealth by Democracy.” It so far lacks the punchy agenda writing of a Krugman, Frank, Kevin Phillips on the “Left” or a Buckley or Breitbart, Friedman, Sowell for a Whitman’s Sampler of the Right Note: we put left in quotes because we consider the above mentioned to be centrist Left, and for that matter, the Rightists mentioned to be center Right. Although the comparison may be laughable, Noam Chomsky and Ann Coulter would be further out on the Left- Right Spectrum. And lively reading! Infuriating!

But back to Piketty. He immediately sets himself out of the pack by at least three writerly qualities, in his history and analysis of inequality as nearly if not The social issue of the last three and possibly next three centuries. He seems to strive to be: 1. jargon free (also cliché), he is clear and he is likeable, because of 2. references to books by Jane Austen and other familiar authors—not economists, but who breath a sense of the consequences of inequality into their stories. I am waiting for Charles Dickens. He is also, so far, 3. relentlessly Clear, and there, being anti-jargon, helps.

He then considers Malthus, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx (we are only in the Introduction is this piece) and bores in on the pervasiveness of inequality in every aspect of life, without, at least here, politicizing it or passing swift judgment.

Jeremy Harding, in the 31 July LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, surveying David Marquand’s MAMMON’S KINGDOM: AN ESSAY ON BRITAIN, NOW, takes this book’s theme of wealth and banality in today’s Britain down a playful notch by the following (p.13): “It’s true that we [British] have stuck a lot of what we had on EBay, we’ve learned to tell each other that the state is a costly prosthetic device we should cast aside to walk in the hazardous spaces of the market.”

 

But this arch line has considerable truth to it, and it weaves nicely with the social and economic concerns of Picketty about the new Market realities and dark places, although Piketty, for the moment is steering clear of playful sarcasm that makes the best, and all too rare, writing of the Left: Marx, Frank, and I’ll think of someone else if you give me a few minutes, come to mind. He is focused in his introduction on the ‘big Historical Force’ of inequality and its social and economic tornado path (or in his better metaphor “Deep Structure”), rather than showing his hand with any clear political agenda. Stay tuned.

 

 

POLLING ON GOP LAWSUIT (IMPEACHMENT?) OF OBAMA

BOEHNER OBAMAPOLLS ON BOEHNER LAWSUITIMPEACH OBAMA POLLS

 

There are dozens of op-ed pieces, blogs, and related commentary out there on The Boehner lawsuit of the president, impeachment, Obama’s alleged reintroduction of the imperial presidency, his willful unilateral actions etc. To dip into paint-can’s and attempt to come up with something original or worth your time might well be a fool’s errand. There is already too much redundant “commentating” out there.

 

But what we can do, Must do, is make sense out of polls  that show that a substantial majority—say 65-70%– of the population oppose impeachment (yes it is a live issue) and a slightly smaller number 55-65% of people polled seem opposed to a lawsuit against the president. Whether or not these initiatives against the president are “frivolous” (Democrat line, and supportive moderate liberal commentators/politicians), we will ignore as well as the question of the validity of polls that may represent “venting” or something “remote, not to be taken too seriously”.  The conservative commentator/blogosphere and Fox News machine may well have created something out of nothing, or very little.

 

But these matters are not our concern. What we are fascinated by, especially in a blog that focuses on broad issues and longer term trends, and not short, gossipy, speculative “deadline fodder” is making sense out of why such a seemingly large minority of people favor either suing the president or impeaching him. For most Democrats and moderate independents, the fact that, say 35% of polled Americans seem to favor impeachment—i.e. slightly over 1 in 3—and perhaps 40% would seriously consider the Boehner House Lawsuit seems disconcerting and appalling, at least to people who know the meaning of the word, “bipartisan.” “What is there to sue or impeach the man For?” “Why would a House plagued by near subterranean favorability ratings (the president remains an Idol by comparison) wish to put aside pressing business simply to deliver another slap at the man they love to hate?”  Perhaps some residue from the throttling he delivered in the 2008 and 2012 elections?

The fact that his personal style, and perhaps personal attributes (like foreign birth—no, just kidding) and relative success on a number of issues—modest in some cases, but success—would attract detractors in this toxic, polarized climate (over-used but unavoidable adjectives) is really not so surprising. One lesson of Clinton’s impeachment (even with the acquittal that followed) and Bush II’s Non-impeachment—someone out there see if there were any polls done on the subject—underscores Not that the Democrats seem to produce more vulnerable chief executives, but rather that the Republicans, with the “out there” tea party faction, are simply much better at playing hard ball.

  • Or as the blue-state majorities might put it, they go at politics with some ground rules and propriety not seen much anymore in the other party. Both Romney and Obama in 2012 carried on necessarily aggressive campaigns, but with very different styles of aggressiveness. It would be more accurate to say that the “handlers’ and campaign machines of these competitors took characteristically different approaches.

Because this issue of rationale for impeachment or lawsuit cannot be done justice in one post, we turn to our bullet format to pose questions and introduce provocations:

  • Do we not need to see if evidence is available for any ongoing (if pro forma) polling data on the impeachment vulnerability of sitting presidents (particularly Bush and Obama, two presidents back to back involved in a certain amount of turmoil, economic or military upheaval, and most importantly, a core opposition who would opposed them on just about any conceivable issue, not excepting “walking on water”

 

  • My contention is key, not wholly original but I think provocative and in need of some evidence beyond reasoning: namely that the parties and their followings in what might be called the “post-Watergate, post-“Monica-gate” 1970s to 1990s” hardening of political differences and the politics of “gottcha,” there has been and will always be about 33% of the most partisan end of Either party willing to condemn virtually anything proposed by the “Opposite Party” and willing to look for ways to seek any means possible to weaken their leaders—presidents, key Congressionals, governors, senior strategists (e.g. Axelrods, Roves, etc.). As distasteful as some of Pres. Clinton’s personal escapades might have been to the public, turning them into impeachable offenses, or the “cover-ups” that will nearly always go with such shenanigans, there is little doubt that the antics of the opposition, from the first accusations in January, 1998, to the “necessity of Trial” in 1999 (complete with a chief justice presiding in Gilbert and Sullivan inspired robes) and there is little doubt that the impeachment process itself has been cheapened (although arguably, Clinton did hand his opponents the sword) and to some extent trivialized,

 

  • In spite of the rise of the independent voter, the orthodox, true-believer factions of the two parties (especially the most Republican or Democratic 25%, but also the predictable partisan “next 25% of the parties”)—largely deaf to appeals on the issues of the other side—just not As deaf—much in the manner of “party-liners” in preceding decades,
  • Translated into practical reality, we can expect, mostly but by no means exclusively on the Republican side (remember the “better hardballers”) that very roughly 66% of the voters who align with either party will reflexively oppose initiatives of The Opposite Party, and likely on substantive as well as purely electoral grounds (in other words the parties, again especially Republicans have become increasingly ideological since the 1980s as it might be argued that the Democrats were as ideological if not more so during the 1960s and 1970s)

 

  • These true believers will also be more susceptible to lockstep calls for “gottcha” actions against the other party, including distortion of positions, “jumping on accidental or ill advised gaffes” and running all the way to the extreme threat of impeachment, or stalking horse “sub-impeachment” stunts like the Boehner led lawsuit, BUT, in the present case of the lawsuit, 75% of Republicans polled are said to support it, and 57% to support impeachment; we emphasize again that these are not Yet terribly meaningful or necessarily valid figures, but they probably are not that far off

 

  • As a practical matter it is a blunt fact that Barack Obama is intensely disliked in the Republican Party, certainly politically, if not personally. When one hears that the base of that party is 57% for his impeachment and 75% for a lawsuit based on his excessive use of executive orders (read end-runs around the Republican House) it might cause consternation among Americans who do not support impeachment (65%) or the lawsuit (57% ); perhaps it might be better to say “are open to the idea of” either of these

 

  • Although the lawsuit, rather exotic, seems more focused and to have aroused more genuine curiosity than impeachment, we want to turn again to the implications of 33% of Americans potentially favoring removal of the president; his perceived ideology and allegedly democratic-socialist or just socialist proclivities may have earned him this seemingly alarming statistic (later we will take up more specifically, possible motives for a president who has not even approached the high crimes and misdemeanors threshold for impeachment, not moral turpitude, nor scandal

 

  • The gap between the national aversion to impeachment (65%) reflected in the CNN poll and the Republication opposition to it (42%) may partially be explained by the fact that the latest Gallup poll (Jan. 2014) of national party affiliation showed the Republicans to have sunk to 25%, the Democrats to 31% and “Independents” dramatically up to 42%

 

  • The bottom line concluding this part of our argument is that Pres. Obama’s agenda (a bit to the left of Clinton’s), has created an “impeachment-open” opposition on 33%; assuming that the overwhelming number of those is the 33% are Republican, and that the Republicans make up 35% of the electorate, it is possible to surmise that 8% of those open to impeachment are independents or very odd Democrats (Dixiecrats, anybody?); although the number is unsettling (especially the 57% of Republicans who claim to support removal) it should be remembered that in a polity where recent elections presidential elections popular votes have been won by very narrow margins (Gore .5% 2000, Bush 2% 2004), or moderate ones (Obama 7.3% 2008, Obama 4.0% 2012), a 35% endorsement of impeachment would not seem threatening; in electoral public opinion, a presidential popular vote of 55% or more is deemed a landslide; on issue voting a 20% spread (60-40) is widely considered commanding, a 65% spread (technically 67%) on the impeachment issue not threatening, but disconcerting… if it were not for the take no prisoners Tea Party faction of the Republican Party, and the exceptionally virulent Republican dislike of Obama’s politics, Democrats might well be concerned, Clinton had 67% approval when the Lewinsky scandal erupted and he was in fact impeached, although his favorability on the issue dropped, it did not “go negative,” and in fact, loosely connected, the Democrats made modest gains in the 2000 congressional elections, 4 Senate seats and 3 House Seats

 

  • Epilogue- The object of the preceding has been to put into perspective a seemingly odd and unsettling margin of support for impeachment in a one snapshot polling for a president who has not come close to historical standards for impeachment… besides the “not of this world” nature of some of the Tea Party faction, we will move to a consideration of the role of money in undermining some of the support for “Obamacare” (see our latest installment) and the general spinelessness of some parts of the media (no, not Fox News) in either stressing Obama mistakes or (more to the point) ignoring or “low-balling” his genuine accomplishments.

Blog Post “Infrastructure: No Excuses, the Time Has Come, Everybody Wins”

INFRASTRUCTURE ROAD CRACKSSUNKEN HIGHWAYUS INSFRASTRUCTURE SPENDINGUS BRIDGES

 

An email from my Congressman, Sean Patrick Maloney, 18 District, (Dem.), NY reminded me of a topic we’ve touched on but really is an 800,000 lb. gorilla in the country’s room: INFRASTRUCTURE. Maloney was more focused on NY State infrastructure, but I know his concerns, and this blogs, go far beyond that.

 

Many of the nation’s roads, bridges, highways, power grids, airports are sub-par, although there is huge variation from state to state and within states. Ironically it is a topic that Republicans and Democrats can agree on from many, but not all, points of the compass. It has been said, by a wide range of commentators:

  • That the state of the nation’s infrastructure ranges from “Not Number One” to (inexcusably) Third World.

 

  • A CNBC report (21 Nov 2013) cited “…$6 trillion in investment [that] the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) says is needed by 2020”

 

  • This might seem an expensive tab indeed for a country more or less coming out of 2 (approx.. 1 trillion each) wars and with a large deficit ($17.6 trillion as of late July 2014), though not to tackle the problem might entail even greater costs and certainly different kinds of cost; like so much else in life, the problem as been talked about, but not much done, for years (Climate change, anyone?, Poverty and Income Inequality?)

 

  • It has been argued that the private sector, largely (no Civilian Conservation Corps or PWA on This horizon), would have the upgrades and new projects subcontracted to IT, therefore manufacturing would be expandable, as well as other economic subsectors; debates tend to center around “government spending” generally, and “how to spend infrastructure dollars specifically”—so of course the brightest solution is to spend only a fraction of the amount needed, and this often for pork- barrel spending in districts with powerful congresspersons

 

  • A 2012 study by an economics team at William and Mary: Chen, Freiling and Robinson, is typical. They conclude among other things: 1. every dollar spent on infrastructure returns 2 dollars to the economy, 2. over a 20 year period, each dollar sent in year one on infrastructure returns an average of $3.21 to the economy and 3. $1 spent generates $1.35 in federal taxes and an additional 70 cents in state taxes

 

The United States of America: Is US infrastructure in a worse condition than other industrialized nations?

   Here is a report card summary from the respected Brookings Senior Fellow and Director of that Institution’s Metro Infrastructure Initiative, Robert Puentes, as featured in QUORA, 2/12/14:

U.S. compared with other industrialized countries:
Roads:  Worse.
More pot-holes, less investment since 1960s in new interstates, crumbling bridges). Most foreigners are astonished that a country that relies on roads so much has so poor quality.

Cell-service.  Comparable.
Historically was much worse (big gaps in coverage, slower adoption of digital, slower adoption of 3G) but is accelerating with far faster adoption of LTE.
In urban areas probably now ahead of Europe, but still behind developed Asia. In suburban & rural areas still behind but catching up fast.

Trains. Worse.
Only a few areas have decent public transport, minimal high-speed service.

Electrical grid. Worse.
USA is almost the only developed country to have had major blackouts (thanks Enron).

Environmental health. Comparable to other industrialized countries. Clean drinking water, sewage etc. are almost universal.

Broadband. Worse.
Slower, more expensive, lower penetration.

PERCEPTIONS OF OBAMA CARE [sic] OR AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE SUCCESS

OBAMA AS YOUR DOCTOROBAMA CARESOBAMACARE HITLEROBAMACARE OBAMA pictures not intended to be “appropriate” but to show a sample what Google Images yields when Obama care typed in

Paul Krugman pointed out—in the NY Times and referenced in a Salon.com article, what the administration has been saying and what many of has have suspected: Affordable Healthcare is working better than many suspected, though the evening is young, and better than the media have credited it for. His explanation for the media lack of interest—that they live in circles with no health insurance problems, falls short of the mark. That may be true, but the media snoozing goes much deeper. Let’s take a look:

 

1. The media today: newspaper chains, TV and radio network and TV cable news shows are the prime offenders, with internet websites and hardbound books showing a little more variety and interest in “Obamacare’s achievements” (of course there are plenty of websites and books that are critical of the President’s Health plan

 

2. Many newspapers are fighting for their lives, and they and the news shows are dependent upon advertising, upon maximizing readership and listenership—stands to reason that with the avalanche of money and a history of conservative aversion to socialized medicine, the those outlets must tread lightly—and also reflect at least Somewhat the 40% of their readers who may be hardcore conservatives and who have bought the pitch that Affordable healthcare is going to be a bad deal

 

2. The media move to the right—Mother Jones,The Nation, MSNBC are not typical—going back to Reagan has send out long and hearty green tendrils of “fair and balanced”—usually meaning balancing a hard right conservative against a milder left of center writer or talking head… this is not just about healthcare, although Krugman is certainly right about the NEWS not noticing the Obama Plan’s “failure to fail”

 

3. It is also about the muffled treatment of immigration reform, education, climate change and fuel, bank regulation, income inequality, the amnesia about taxation to pay for government services, race and “postracialism”, defense spending and, to a lesser extent, much misguided wasting of blood and treasure of the 21st C. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 

4. The canary in the mineshaft for this blogger is the news coverage and commentary on Public Radio (NPR), which has become blander and more centrist even as it has moved out of dependence on government funding; it may be the one set of news broadcasts (All Things Considered, etc.) where the listeners are to the left of the commentators.

 

The substance of Krugman’s other arguments: e.g., that many of the dire risk prediction have not come to pass; that, it’s a remarkable thing — an immense policy success is improving the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s largely slipping under the radar, will have to be taken up in later blog-posts. The New Republic is an example of a magazine—and one hardly in the cheering gallery for Obama on a regular basis—had a piece in April that indicated: “We are impressed”… , it’s a remarkable thing — an immense policy success is improving the lives of millions of Americans, but it’s largely slipping under the radar. http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117454/obamacare-enrollment-gives-democrats-space-promote-popular-agenda .  This article also deals with the impact of the Plan’s successes for Democrat election prospects this fall, although that part seems more problematic now in mid -July..

A less favorable picture of the Obama law’s practical success can be found at the American Enterprise Institute’s website, July 7th. . http://www.aei-ideas.org/2014/07/what-we-learned-about-obamacare-july-1-7-2014/ . In fact, we may have to adjust our characterization of the internet (specifically google-search) media coverage as offering relatively more choices and less influence by any one interest or interest group. “It all depends on what search words you type in”, but Obama Care Report Card July 1914, Affordable Healthcare Assessed, Obamacare Assessed and several similar keywords yielded a Negative view of the law and its implementation to date at a ratio of about 8 to 1 over Positive ones. It would seem that Talk Radio is not the only “open forum” dominated by conservative opinion leaders. For comfort, progressives/ Obama supporters might turn to Business Insider http://www.businessinsider.com/study-obamacare-reduces-uninsured-rate-2014-7

or Rick Unger in, of all place FORBES online at http://www.forbes.com/sites/rickungar/2011/05/23/more-solid-proof-that-obamacare-is-working/2/ .

 

London Review of Books on “Obama’s World” VOL. 36 NO. 13, June 25, 2014

OBAMA'S WORLD OBAMA AGING IN OFFICE    

Editors note: Here is a long and wide-ranging perspective on how the U.S. President came to his present place in political history, from a highly regarded Yale professor of English. We take the unusual step of reprinting it in full for your comments. And later–ours. The author of the piece is DAVID BROMWICH.

 The first year and a half of Barack Obama’s second term has been preternaturally unlucky. The stymied enrolments for his healthcare plan, the multiple errors of computer co-ordination that forced people to wait days or weeks in front of blank screens, marred the new faith in government the plan had been intended to affirm. Just when, around the end of April, the trouble seemed to be halfway resolved, with millions finally insured and several deadlines put off, there emerged stories of faked records of treatment and months-long waiting lists at Veterans Hospitals. It was another failure of managerial competence, in another branch of government to which Obama had professed the warmest commitment. And there has been nothing resembling a success in foreign policy to offset the embarrassments at home. The United States, which always needs to be doing something, was in no position to do much about the Russian annexation of Crimea or the conflict in Ukraine.

A common feature in all these events was that Obama himself seemed far from the scene. He was looking on, we were made to think, with concern and understanding. But in matters like these, one could easily feel that a conspicuous sign of a ‘hands-on’ president was needed. Apparently Obama was startled by the bad rollout of healthcare – shocked and dismayed like all Americans. But shouldn’t he have known more about it than most Americans? Again, the Veterans Affairs scandal was something he learned about when he read the papers, but why only then? His show of injured trust and surprise had been received more charitably on the still obscure earlier occasion when four Americans were killed in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. He was notified at the time, but he was in the middle of campaigning and left the crisis to the State Department. Absent and accounted for. Yet there has been, all along, an airy and unnerving quality about these absences. Obama launched the bombing of Libya in March 2011, having previously signalled that he intended no such action, in an emergency speech during a state visit to Brazil.

The second term had begun on a quite different note, with a spontaneous initiative which sprang from Obama’s voluntary presence at a scene he could have avoided. After the mass killing of schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, he vowed to pass a stringent new measure to strengthen gun control. For anyone who has been watching him, it was the most deeply felt moment of his presidency, and the largest risk he had taken on any issue. The time to publicise the outlines of such a bill was during those December days when the grief of the parents overwhelmed the country. Obama’s solution was characteristic. He announced that Joe Biden would explore the legislative possibilities and report back in a month. As the weeks passed, various weapons bans were drawn up and canvassed in public, but the National Rifle Association had been given time to rally and the moment passed. Much the same happened with the pledge in January 2009 to close Guantánamo. Obama left the room and asked his advisers to call him when they had solved it. A prudential pause was lengthened and became so clearly a sign of unconcern that the issue lost all urgency.

Obama is adept at conveying benevolent feelings that his listeners want to share, feelings that could lead to benevolent actions. He has seemed in his element in the several grief-counselling speeches given in the wake of mass killings, not only in Newtown but in Aurora, at Fort Hood, in Tucson, in Boston after the marathon bombing; and in his meetings with bereft homeowners and local officials who were granted disaster funds in the aftermath of recent hurricanes. This president delivers compassion with a kind face and from a decorous and understated height. And that seems to be the role he prefers to play in the world too. It was doubtless the posture from which he would have liked to address the Arab Spring, and for that matter the civil war in Syria, if only Assad had obeyed when Obama said he must go. Obama has a larger-spirited wish to help people than any of his predecessors since Jimmy Carter; though caution bordering on timidity has kept him from speaking with Carter even once in the last five years. Obama roots for the good cause but often ends up endorsing the acceptable evil on which the political class or the satisfied classes in society have agreed. He watches the world as its most important spectator.

Yet he shuns the company of other politicians – a trait now generally familiar and wondered at. A leading Democrat in the Senate, when asked how often he had spoken to Obama in the past year, answered that they had spoken once. The same senator declined to be named because that degree of intimacy would arouse the jealousy of his peers. Obama’s lack of concern with the daily business of politics – the bargaining and immersion in other people’s interests, the often merely formal but necessary exchange of views – has done much to blunt his sensibility to changes in public sentiment. Conflict-averse as he is, he never sees a fight coming until it is on him and almost out of control. The Tea Party got its start in spring 2009, with a rant at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange by the former hedge fund manager Rick Santelli, who asked why good Americans should pay for the losers whom the financial collapse had sunk with unpayable mortgages. Santelli promised to deliver a new insurgent group in the coming weeks, modelled on the Boston Tea Party. It was a clever speech, but morally ugly on the face of it, and could have been parried. Obama noticed the Tea Party more than a year later. By then, it was well organised and in a position to hand him the midterm congressional defeat of 2010 from which his administration has never really recovered.

Why these recurring shocks? Obama entered the presidency never having run anything. He appointed several qualified-looking but (as they turned out) inept officials with none of the relevant management skills. Steven Chu, the secretary of energy in Obama’s first term, was the winner of a Nobel Prize in physics, but he promulgated without complaint the ‘all of the above’ energy policy, which included, with ecumenical indifference, nuclear power, deep-sea drilling, Arctic drilling, and fracking. Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, had been governor of Kansas and a loyal supporter of Obama, but was quite untested as a large-scale administrator before she was handed the gigantic apparatus of the Affordable Care Act. The same was true of Eric Shinseki, the general famous for telling the truth about the number of troops that would be needed to secure Iraq. Shinseki was misplaced as chief VA administrator and sacked a few weeks after Sebelius.

Disengagement has become the polite word for Obama’s grip on his own policies. Absent and not accounted for was the general view of him as the crisis in Ukraine built up in January and February. The overthrow of Yanukovich and seizure of power by a provisional government in Kiev had been anticipated and indeed encouraged by the European and Eurasian desk of the State Department. The assistant secretary in charge there is Victoria Nuland, a neoconservative who made a highly successful transition in 2009 from Dick Cheney’s staff to Hillary Clinton’s. Nuland is married to the co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, Robert Kagan, one of the leading promoters of the Iraq war. We may never know what Obama thought Nuland was up to when she flew in to the Maidan to pass out cookies to the protesters in Russia’s backyard. But the message has got around by now that Obama doesn’t particularly want to know things. On Ukraine, he seemed far out on the margins of the action, and possibly not aware of the implications of the State Department’s investment in civil society and democracy promotion in Ukraine: a subsidy of more than $5 billion since 1991, as Nuland revealed at the National Press Club on 13 December – a tremendous sum by USAID standards. Obama ceded control of America’s public stance to his secretary of state, John Kerry. The result with Ukraine in 2014, as with Syria in 2013, was to render a critical situation more confused, and bristling with opportunities for hostility between the US and Russia. Eventually, in late March, Obama gave a speech to the EU in Brussels that dressed up the debacle as policy.

His obliviousness to the Cheney weeds in his policy garden is characteristic and revealing. As Barton Gellman revealed in Angler, still the best book about Cheney, the vice president in 2001 was given a free hand to sow the departments and agencies of government with first and second-echelon workers who were fanatically loyal to him. Many of those people are still around; Obama made no effort to scour his government of their influence. Disgust with Bush and Cheney, even in the Republican Party, was general in early 2009 and it gave real leverage to a new president. But the idea of a return to the rule of law has not prospered under Obama; the phrase itself has scarcely been heard. We have seen not one significant prosecution of a Wall Street criminal and not one legal action against a lawyer who justified torture or an officer who ordered torture or an agent who committed it. Where Cheney and Bush are felt to have instigated crimes, Obama is seen to have countenanced or condoned them.

His relaxed way with the Constitution has finally put him on the wrong side of his most faithful allies even among centrist Democrats. The White House is now involved in a wrangle with the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, who is almost routinely a defender of the interests of police and intelligence services against suspects and citizens. The CIA’s refusal, over months of delay, to approve the release of a Senate committee report on its actions since 2001 has prompted Feinstein at last to question the role of the White House in suppressing the report. She interpreted Obama’s elaborate show of impartiality as one more extension of executive privilege against the branch of government that is responsible for oversight.

Executive action was once again Obama’s preference in arranging the return on 31 May of Bowe Bergdahl, the American prisoner in Afghanistan, in exchange for five Taliban prisoners in Guantánamo. On 2 June, the Environmental Protection Agency, with Obama’s explicit backing, announced rigorous new carbon limits calculated to shorten the life of coal-fired power plants. These two actions, one in domestic, the other in foreign affairs, are the boldest Obama has taken in five years; but both were presented as executive decisions, owing nothing to consultNNation with lawmakers. Election-wary Democrats who were not consulted have been reluctant to defend the prisoner exchange, while Democrats from coal-mining states such as West Virginia and Kentucky are actively denouncing the carbon limits. Obama’s determination to do things however he can in his last years in office, and act alone when he cannot act with Congress, has now committed him in ways that allow no exit. These are decisions which cannot by their nature be walked back. If the Republican Party hadn’t squandered an impeachment a little too recently on Bill Clinton, they would probably answer the drumbeat of their rank and file and impeach Barack Obama.

*

The Tea Party has the reputation of being the home of American libertarians: defenders of the separation of powers and the Bill of Rights, especially the first, second, fourth and fifth amendments to the Constitution, which assure respectively the freedom of speech, the press, religious practice and peaceable assembly; the right to bear arms; the right of citizens to be secure against unwarranted searches and seizures; and the right not to be charged with a capital crime, or convicted or punished, without due process of law. But the Tea Party encompasses believers of at least two sorts in addition to the ‘rights’ libertarians: fanatical defenders of private property and earnings (no matter how acquired) as a good on a par with life and limb; and haters of government action and government itself, except in the cause of imprisoning criminals and waging war on enemies of the state. So far, only one credible non-Tea Party candidate seems prepared to run for the presidency in 2016. This is Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, younger brother of George W. and, according to their father, the more sensitive of the two.

Meanwhile the Tea Party aspirants are a peculiar array that reflects the still uncertain character of the party. Marco Rubio, the handsome junior senator from Florida, has an effortless flow of speech, fast, glib and shallow, and might possibly be equipped to recapture the Hispanic vote which the Republicans need if they are to survive. Rubio was caught in a patent falsehood a few months ago, having postdated his parents’ flight from Cuba to make them look like refugees from Castro and Communism, but he was soon forgiven: in the Southern states generally, the anti-Castro mania has outlasted its motive, and in such a cause fiction and fact will inevitably be mingled. Ted Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School, presents himself as another adoptive and grateful American of Cuban descent (though born in Canada). He bears an uncanny physical resemblance to Joe McCarthy – a clean-shaven, teetotal McCarthy, without the jowl and the after-hours squint. Cruz talks smoothly and skilfully, always in a tone of accusation: a manner that one might suppose had passed with the death of McCarthy, but nationalist rage and resentment have a melody that lingers on.

‘The undisputed party leader’ in Texas (according to the Dallas Morning News), Senator Cruz has pledged to carry into national politics the 2014 platform of the Texas Republicans. The elements of the platform include: sealing off the border with Mexico and prohibiting amnesty for illegal immigrants; permitting owners of businesses to refuse service to persons they find offensive on moral or religious grounds; abolition of property taxes; abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency; repeal of the minimum wage; termination of affirmative action; endorsement of ‘reparative therapy’ to convert homosexuals to heterosexual practice; and repeal of the state lottery. Any hope of tempering the rigours of such a programme by the national Republican establishment was considerably weakened on 10 June, when a Tea Party insurgent defeated Eric Cantor, the majority leader in Congress, in the Republican primary in Cantor’s Virginia district. Cantor had seemed to define the outermost limit of Republican intransigence during the debt-ceiling negotiations of 2011, and he held the status of Benjamin Netanyahu’s virtual representative in the US. The man who beat him on a shoestring budget, Dave Brat, is a professor of economics, a denouncer of crony capitalism, and an immigration alarmist. ‘The guy,’ the blogger who signs himself Pangloss wrote in sheer wonder, ‘found room to the right of Cantor.’

 

Rand Paul, the son of the libertarian Ron Paul, remains alongside Cruz a contender for Tea Party support in 2016. He is among the most interesting of contemporary politicians, and also the most troubling in his inconsistency. Paul’s speech against the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA, which became a 13-hour filibuster against the president’s right to order drone strikes, was a singular event of 2013, yet it has turned out to be a prelude without a sequel. More prudential displays of ambition by Paul, such as his equivocal postponement of judgment on climate change, his trip to Israel (with the usual ritual obeisance), his gimmicky solution to Ukraine (give it to the Russians, cut off all relations and let it bankrupt them), have suggested nothing like the single-mindedness of his father. Nevertheless it will be interesting to see how much of Ron Paul’s libertarianism, shared by no other politician of national standing, might come to be represented in some way by Rand.

 

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On 21 May he delivered an extraordinary speech against the nomination of David Barron to the federal appeals court; and he did so on the grounds that Barron, author of the secret document rationalising the president’s drone assassination of Americans, manifestly held beliefs about executive power that were in themselves disqualifying. Paul read from the writings of journalists hardly identified with the American right, such as Glenn Greenwald and Conor Friedersdorf; and he made the substance of his criticism the all-importance of trial by jury and the legal standard requiring proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt:

 

In these memos [written for the president by Barron] there’s a different standard … The standard is that an assassination is justified when ‘an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.’ So we’re not talking about beyond a reasonable doubt any more. That standard’s gone. We’re talking about an informed, unnamed high-level official in secret deciding that an imminent attack is going to occur.

 

The interesting thing about an imminent attack is we really don’t go by the plain wording of what you might think would be ‘imminent’ any more … You wonder about a definition of imminence that no longer includes the word immediate … The president believes, with regard to privacy in the fourth amendment, and with regard to killing American citizens in the fifth amendment, that if he has some lawyers review this process, that that is due process. This is appalling, because this has nothing to do with due process … You cannot have due process by a secret, internal process within the executive branch … Next time they kill an American, it will be done in secret, by the executive branch, because that’s the new norm.

 

You are voting for someone who has made this the historic precedent for how we will kill Americans overseas. In secret – by one branch of the government – without [legal] representation – based upon an accusation. We’ve gone from you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt to an accusation being enough for an execution. I’m horrified that this is where we are… . We need to ask ourselves: how precious is the concept of presumption of innocence?

 

In the second term of the Obama presidency, it was left to a Republican to speak these words on civil liberties – though he stood alone in his party. By contrast, the Harvard law professor who wrote the memorandum justifying the assassination of Americans was looked on kindly by the liberal establishment because he had a good position on gay marriage. The Democrats hold the majority in the Senate and Barron’s ascent to the judgeship has now been approved.

 

The anomaly of Paul’s speech in dissent and the Democratic vote for the drone lawyer points to a deeper puzzle. A perilous and unspoken accord in American politics has grown up while no one was looking, which unites the liberal left and the authoritarian right. They agree in their unquestioning support of a government without checks or oversight; and it is the Obama presidency that has cemented the agreement. The state apparatus which supports wars and the weapons industry for Republicans yields welfare and expanded entitlements for Democrats. The Democrats take to the wars indifferently but are willing to accept them for what they get in return. The Republicans hate the entitlements and all that goes by the name of welfare, but they cannot escape the charge of hypocrisy when they vote for ever-enlarging military entitlements.

 

At the end of May, Obama added two and a half years to his promised deadline for removing American troops from Afghanistan. December 2016 now marks the date for final withdrawal. Two days later, he hosted a ‘Concussion Summit’ at the White House on the effects of head injuries on small children – just the sort of thing Republicans single out for mockery because it seems beneath the dignity of the presidency. Obama chose the day between those two events to deliver a West Point commencement address, which was advertised by his handlers as the main formulation of the Obama doctrine in foreign policy. The speech faithfully represents the have-it-both-ways tendency of the president, even as it ratifies the bargain on state power that is the overriding force in American politics. He asserted that the United States would engage in more military actions than ever before, but with far fewer American deaths. We would look to the well-being of our own country first, without forgetting the need to defend something broader and harder to set a limit to: our ‘core interests’ and our ‘way of life’.

 

The invisible epigraph for Obama’s address might have come from Madeleine Albright, the secretary of state in Bill Clinton’s second administration. ‘If we have to use force,’ Albright said, ‘it is because we are America; we are the indispensable nation. We stand tall and we see further than other countries into the future.’ Very much in that spirit, Obama told the graduating West Point cadets that the US must lead the world even though it cannot police the world. For that, an international consensus is necessary in order to enforce ‘international norms’. This last phrase has become an important piece of intellectual furniture for Obama: international norms split the difference between international law, which the US reserves the right to violate, and the new ‘world order’ of which the US was the maker and must remain the guardian.

 

Chicago University Press

We have pulled out of Iraq, Obama said, and are ‘winding down our war in Afghanistan’; al-Qaida’s leadership in border regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan ‘has been decimated, and Osama bin Laden is no more’. Accordingly, ‘the question we face … the question each of you will face, is not whether America will lead but how we will lead.’ But why must the United States continue uniquely to lead and enforce? Because ‘if we don’t, no one else will.’ So far, the deference to Albright’s national boast had been preserved, and it clearly left an opening for the doctrine of humanitarian war espoused by Samantha Power – a successor of Albright’s as UN ambassador who has become Obama’s steadiest consultant on the wisdom of foreign engagements. Power helped him to rewrite his second book and may have helped to draft the West Point speech itself. In deference to this way of thinking, which mixes persuasion, force and emergency rescue, ‘US military action’, he went on to say, ‘cannot be the only – or even primary – component of our leadership in every instance.’ The preferred mode of address to international problems that ‘tear at the conscience’ will be multilateral. The US, however, will use force unilaterally ‘when our core interests demand it; when our people are threatened; when our livelihoods are at stake; when the security of our allies is in danger.’

 

Every key word in that last passage is ambiguous. And the sentence as a whole invites interested construal by those who look for ambiguities to carve an opportunity for force. Even the phrase our people – does that include camp followers and spies? Special forces operating illegally? But the most shifting word of all is the all-purpose excuse for action, security. There follows a sentence that is echt Obama: ‘International opinion matters, but America should never ask permission to protect our people, our homeland or our way of life.’ In short, we try to respect international opinion, by getting it to go along with us, but ultimately we do as we please: enforcement of international norms by violence is not a crime on a par with a war of aggression, no matter what international opinion may say. The president and the secretary of state have called for $5 billion from Congress to support ‘a new counterterrorism partnerships fund’ which will ‘facilitate partner countries on the front lines’. Five billion dollars echoes the amount cited by Nuland for Ukraine, and it calls to mind the curious fact that violent as well as non-violent foreign assistance now often comes from the State Department rather than Defense. Syria will be the first theatre of action for those funds; the partners are to be Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. ‘I believe in American exceptionalism,’ Obama said in conclusion, ‘with every fibre of my being.’ This formulation has lately become the measure of allegiance, hand on heart, expected from every American leader, and Obama spoke the words with the necessary throb and unction. Still, he added that the US should be willing to work with Nato, the UN, the World Bank and the IMF. The international organisations and financial institutions were grouped together without distinction.

 

*

 

What can be the reason for Obama’s decision to ‘partner’ in counterterrorist training and the supply of weapons to protract the civil war in Syria? This would scarcely seem to be in his interest if he wants a settlement with Iran to round off his record in foreign affairs. And yet Obama has a propensity, which no walk of reason could justify, to pledge to do a thing that looks strong, then call it off, then halfway do it anyway. Syria in the summer and autumn of 2013 was the most damaging instance of this to occur in open view. From threat to hesitation, to declaring an attack, to postponing the attack, to aborting the attack because a solution was offered from outside that didn’t require the use of force: the giddy succession of warlike postures entertained and abandoned last year is now to be followed by the subsidising of a proxy war after all.

 

The worst American mistake of the past decade was to speak of a war on terror rather than a co-operative international police operation. Obama does not like to say ‘war on terror’ but he speaks constantly in terms of war-readiness and war capacity, and lets Americans take for granted that we will have to be involved in more than one war at a time for longer than a generation. It is instructive that Dick Cheney, in 2002 and 2003, alluded repeatedly by name to the possible ‘criminal’ or ‘police’ description of a hypothetical policy of defence, and heaped contempt on it. He knew that if it ever caught hold of common sense, the panic that his own policy required would be starved of fuel. The fact is that ever since 2002, with the exception of the early months in Afghanistan and Iraq, the US has been fighting against insurgencies. The enemies are rebels opposing governments we want to keep in place, in Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Somalia and now in Libya too. The adepts of humanitarian war – Hillary Clinton and Samantha Power above all – in their push for the Libya war stretched the target and confused the aim by making the US equally the opponent of a sovereign government, and by claiming the prerogative of siding against a government and publicising its crimes while ignoring the crimes of the rebels. They soon extended the same rationale to Syria. The details might displease Cheney, but the result is much on his lines. The new Obama partnering in counterterrorism will mean there is nothing odd about fighting a dozen little wars at the same moment all around the world.

 

The next election is already being handicapped by the press. It is widely assumed – almost, indeed, accepted – that the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton. She was a dutiful secretary of state under Obama. She never spoke flashy, quotable and negligent words that could upstage and embarrass the president, as her successor, John Kerry, has done again and again. At the same time, Clinton made Afghanistan a harder and longer trial for Obama by siding with the generals, and she dug a deep ditch for him, and for the country, by pressing for the overthrow of Gaddafi. Mrs Clinton is busy now positioning herself to the right of Obama. This suits her sense of the mainstream consensus, just as it did in 2008. In recent weeks, she has avowed her longtime preference for arming rebel forces in Syria, has compared Putin to Hitler, and has suggested that her view of Iran is more jaundiced than Obama’s: no decent bargain should be expected from the negotiations over uranium processing. It is a craven and cynical approach; who can say that it will not succeed? Iraq – a war that both Hillary Clinton and John Kerry voted to authorise – was a catastrophe that might have jerked us awake; but since American troops have departed, we hold ourselves answerable for none of the subsequent violence there. Even so Obama responded to the June rebellion in the Sunni Triangle by deploying 275 marines to help defend the US embassy in Baghdad. As an afterthought, under pressure, he added three hundred military ‘advisers’; and he has said he may order airstrikes and drone killings. Neoconservatives are on the march again in the op-ed pages. The Republican Party and some Democrats are saying the US should do more, though they don’t know exactly what. To judge by the chaos in the region and the confusion of the American political class, whose most ambitious members continue to outbid one another in delusion and posturing, there will have to be further echoes of the disasters of Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan before the US is forced to think again.

 

20 June 2014

 

 

They’re Mad As Hell

ANGRY MITCH MCCONNELLANGRY BARACK OBAMAANGRY JOHN BOEHNER

 

 

BLOG PIECE: JULY 11, 2014~

 

Progressive future usa has generally preferred to focus on the Big Issues and not get too involved with the day to day “drama” of partisan politics and the rarely achieved near perfection of split-government gridlock and gottcha that afflicts Washington today. And many of the state capitals.

 

Education debates, income/wealth inequality, austerity v. Keynesian spending, insane taxation premises, climate change, and more recently, foreign policy questions have been our normal fare. After all, the very first “launch piece” in this weblog stated that the longer term political trends between 1990 and 2050—trends in a progressive direction—were our “niche”. Many others are doing a variegated but generally fine and colorful job of massage the shorter news cycles. We are not talking about “short” today exactly. But it is important to understand the level of desperation of mainly Republican attacks—“lobbing shells”—that have in turn triggered both a hunkering down in the Obama White House and a vague dispiritedness magnified by much jabbering media. “Why isn’t “he” (POTUS) fighting back more?” or “he has nothing to lose by a populist unloading  on the Boehner’s, McConnell’s , and (the late) Eric Cantor’s.

Much electronic ink has been spilled on the “drunk punching” of the Tea Party, the (now) orthodox Reagan Republicans now in charge of Congress (or maybe Reagan would be considered a gregarious moderate now and Nixon positively left of center), and—to be “fair and balanced”—the seeming aloofness (a kind of passive aggressive punching) of the President and fiercer jabs by the Keith Olbermann’s, the Rachel Maddow’s, and further left, the fading but still fierce voice—very different—of Noam Chomsky. We might start here with a kind of bulleted chronology, not simply of folly and evasion of responsibility, but of the ‘normalization of polarization’ that is the province of true believers.

 

Contrary to popular and even “informed media” (say George Will or E.J. Dionne) assumptions that there is some electoral cynicism—playing to the constituency galleries—among conservative office holders—and Democrats—what strikes us is that the Pelosi’s and Reid’s and the Boehner’s and McConnell’s, really live in very different political thought worlds and as political full-timers, reflect beliefs and hostilities found in the public at large. Let’s start with Now and work back—with bullets and white space—and try with a combination of aphorisms and factoids to make sense of the “essence amidst the noise”:

 

  • Mid-2014- Speaker of the House John Boehner straight-facedly forges ahead with a House plan to “sue the president” for unauthorized tempering with the Affordable Health Care Act (esp. employer mandate) provisions without Congressional consent. Obama and supporters respond with terms like “frivolous”, “waste of time”, and “posturing”
  • January, 2014 and ensuing months- the president threatens unilateral executive action wherever possible if needed to break partisan gridlock and proceeds to use executive powers on immigration, environmental, prisoner exchange, health care and other issues

 

 

  • November 2010-Following the Republican takeover of the House of representatives in the 2010 elections, emboldened conservatives treat Obama to a series of “showdowns” over every conceivable issue opportunity: government shutdown in 2013, and near-shutdown in 2012; deficit reduction and taxation clashes, environmental and immigration battles, judicial and executive nominations, attempts to derail the unrolling of Affordable Health Care (Obamacare)

 

 

  • November, 2009 -Pres. Obama, Speaker Pelosi, Majority leader Reid pull out all the stops to get the affordable Health Care Act passed by a narrow margin, without any Republican support, and some arm twisting of more conservative Democrats—and the use of political pork…the theory was: This flawed but monumental and long overdue legislation was such an important omelet that it was necessary to break a few eggs (see http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/magazine/march_april_2012/features/obamas_         top_50_accomplishments035755.php?page=all from the Washington Monthly

* Much of the 2009-10 first two years of the Obama opening term was characterized by hard-fought narrowly won battles resulting in legislation on the near-$800 billion dollar fiscal stimulus, food safety legislation, resurrecting the U.S. auto industry, the “Lillie Ledbetter” pay equality and fairness act, and many other laws made possible by the Democratic Congress elected in 2008 and 2006; the price for this was to give Republicans, pushed by the Tea Party uprising, an increasing sense of a decisive picot to the left, or left center as characterized by Clinton (1990s), Carter (1970s), Kennedy-Johnson (1960s)

 

 

  • Simplifying the storyline it might be said that the Republicans bridled at “Obamanation,” in a way not unlike the Democrats’  reaction to the perceived unmitigated disaster of the Bush 43 years, which in turn were a Republican reaction to the politically cagey and amoral/immoral–as they saw it– reign of Bill Clinton, 1993-2001, which in turn was a reaction to Reagan-Bush 41- ism (1981-1993)The story does not end here however; it will be continued an more depth at this website, With a Difference, Soon, So Please Stand by!…

 

 

 

[fs1]

Why are we in Iraq training an army we’ve trained for 11 years?

OBAMA  CHAGRINNED IRAQI ARMYIRAQI ARMYOur colleague asks this important question. Here is Prof. Arthur Lerman’s letter to the editor, BERGEN RECORD, NJ:

From: Lerman, Arthur
Sent: 
Thursday, June 26, 2014 2:33 PM
To: 
LettersToTheEditor@northjersey.com
Subject: Your Views: Iraq Army Crumbling

To the Editor:

Regarding “For seasoned vets, a sense of sadness” (Opinion, June 23):

The writer, retired Army Major General, Robert H. Scales, finds that an important reason for the Iraqi “army…crumbling at first contact with Islamic State of Iraq and Syria fighters” is insufficient training.  In spite of a training program dating back to 2003, U.S. officers still need “at least five more years and 25,000 trainers.”

My question is, how come the opposing army is doing so well without the eleven years of training that the Iraqi forces have already had?

Arthur J. Lerman

256 Edgemont Terrace

Teaneck, New Jersey 07666-3404

——————————————————————————-

Shiels:

It is a valid point indeed. A great deal of money that could have been put to use in sorely needed areas  for US domestic needs has gone into the Iraqi conflict in general and the bolstering of the Iraqi army specifically. This alone merits all of the attention it is getting

Although the “ISIS” insurgent army is spreading out and hitting points that were supposed to be well protected by Iraqi forces taking quite a bit of territory, the best explanation I’ve heard for the underperformance of the Iraqis (and there are other but this seems to make some sense): for better or worse the Iraqi armies were trained for localized insurgencies and keeping areas secure in local areas. They have been well regarded in their work at that level.

A coordinated and widespread insurgency such as the current one, with considerable outside aid, is something more strategic, than tactical, and seems to have flummoxed the Iraqi forces by the suddenness and vigor of the uprising. The Iraqi forces did well at the company and brigade level after the U.S. withdrawal (and before), these actions focused of local policing.

We will keep track as the Obama administration goes forth with its plan for advisors and some equipment. An more analysis of how the formidable ISIS grew under the radar of US and Iraqi intelligence will be forthcoming. This is as much a failure of intelligence as it is one of the army itself.

NEW DIRECTIONS FOR PROGRESSIVE FUTURE USA

yogi-berra-quotes-13MOSESGLOBEArguably one of the greatest American philosophers of the 20th Century, Yogi Berra, is credited with saying: “when you come to a for in the road take it!”     Well, we are doing just that. To date we have been concerned with forces leading to increasingly more progressive politics, albeit in fits and starts, during the period 1990-2040, but especially beginning in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama. Our pieces have stressed that with Affordable Health Care, initiatives on the environment, the Depression-dodging stimulus package, and many  incremental steps the country has moved slowly back toward the center. But in the short term, we are not so sure. And as Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman have pointed out in domestic and foreign policy, the “slouching toward progressive rationality,” and difficulties of the Obama administration are not primarily of Obama’s making.

So here is the fork this blog is taking: 1. We want to become more involved in discussing foreign policy questions, really as much a part of a progressive agenda as domestic policy; we will have pieces on current and future dilemmas by Shiels and Lerman, 2. We want to open up a debate about how progressives should proceed in the next five years. It is clear that there is unprecedented polarization and deadlock, likely to continue until 2016. So We, The Blog, have the same choices that progressive “real world” strategists do: 1. shall we turn to a more wrathful, (read honest), fusillade against the reactionary, obstructionist forces of the Boehner/McConnell Congress and its Tea Party “Observers.”? or

2. should we stick with the thesis that incremental, dogged, centrist change– the style seemingly favored by Obama and the Clintons, will inch us forward, while the country tires of the unrelenting negativity of the Republican Congress. Republican, perhaps, only until 2016. The senate of course is technically Democratic and with luck may remain so. But with the lavish use of the filibuster, it is effectively neutralized even if it is lucky enough to hold on through the next election cycle. A mantra increasingly gaining traction among commentators is: 2014 will be a bad year for the Democrats, 2016 will be a Horrible year for the Republicans. More on this to come!

 

So What’s Wrong With Inequality?: the Case for Elites

Image Image

 

 

Image            Image

 

 

This website has from the outset seemed dedicated to the proposition that after a conservative interregnum of almost 50 years (1980-2008) the country was returning and would Inevitably return to a more Progressive-New Deal- Great Society mentality, updated for the decades 2 through 5 of the Twenty First Century. And this is certainly true.

 

But we will be less interesting, and just one of dozens of blogging talk-athons about the evils of socio-economic inequality and the selfishness of the rich, if all we did was present thought-clips promoting progressive ideas and agendas. Progressives cannot prevail, their progress will be sluggish—mark or words—if we cannot get inside the heads of the following: conservative Republicans (are their any other kind), Tea Party “Republicans,” Independents wary of too much Obama and Clinton (Hillary And Bill) kinds of changes, and last—but not least—the great 40-50% of adults who do Not regularly vote.

So we offer the following “contrarian” thought bullets using the voice of someone who is making a good case for “enlightened” or realistic elites—elites of wealth and accomplishment and the desire that government and academia not try to tamper with this existing order:

 

  • Item- Historically, from Egyptian, Mesopotamian and early Chinese times, an elite class has governed: this has been the natural order of things; they have held a vastly disproportionate share of their societies’ wealth, they were true one per-centers in every sense of the word

 

  • This elite class has been responsible for much of what we study in history: the building of great temples and public buildings, the forging of ever larger states and empires, the development of agriculture, irrigation, ever larger urban areas, learning and especially writing, making their territories safe for the religions and social practices of their choice…i.e. Pyramids, jungle and desert Temples, fortified towns, cathedrals and castles, great chateaux and manor houses: all of these are elite, one percent undertakings and accomplishments
  • Eventually something that would be called universities and physical infrastructure: roads, bridges, harbors, and facilities to foster trade and exploration would be promoted by this elite class, as would, of course, the arts of warfare: defensive and offensive
  • Many of the wealthiest “elite” Americans, and more so than Europeans or other population “zones—are only a few generations, perhaps only one—away from humble, even poor origins. Yet the Henry Fords and Andrew Carnegies, with no silver spoon-feeding, built great industrial empires and spread wealth and ingenuity+- around in different but impressive ways
  • It can be argued that to a degree outstanding talent and drive have fueled social mobility in America, the “Horatio Alger” phenomenon, though it is more accurate to say that these exceptional cases nourish a kind of cultural narrative that Americans seem to Need to believe in because there are many outstanding examples, and also many examples in which poverty, race, gender, and importantly bad luck or timing Prevented or impeded social mobility in spite of themselves
  • There is a plausible argument that concentrations of capital, from the Pyramids to cathedrals to railroads to Silicon Valley have made possible critical masses of construction, urbanization, exploration, invention and technology, economies of scale – to offer a somewhat random sample of wealth generated social “goods;” and of course it can be argued in all of these cases that the wealth concentrations have been abused, wasteful in many conspicuous consumption (read T. Veblen) cases
  • The flaws in the Iron Law of Oligarchy (Michels) and the tendency of wealth—not always fairly earned—to perpetuate itself, will be teased out in future posts, but we emphasize that the wealthy, the Social Darwinist’s, the “aristocrats or plutocrats” depending on your point of view have some compelling points to make, and these points must be taken seriously… Marx himself stood in awe of  “just pre-Gilded Age capitalism” as the most powerful social force of history to that time (the 1840’s to 1870’s) and then went on to critique it in devastating fashion, focusing partly on the cost to the working classes, who did not rise up—at least in the way he predicted… So we end with recognition of the considerable accomplishments of elites and then capitalist elites, and we will want to fast forward to the 21st Century and examine both the rationale for concentrations of wealth, for “neo-laissez faire”, and the considerable costs to the poor and middle classes and the unique Dysfunctions of many forms of inequality

ALSO SEE “THE RICH SHALL INHERIT THE EARTH” Atlantic Monthly, June 2014

p 36    ATLANTIC HOW THE RICH SHALL