Posts tagged ‘Fareed Zakaria’

Democratic Strategic Vision – Lack Thereof and the Big Tent

I would write this morning about the Village Idiot in Chief and his trashing of the office of the Presidency, his disregard and lack of respect for the rule of law, his nationalistic racism, his trashing of the media and the free press, calling again for the imprisonment of a political rival (lock her up), his blatant obstruction of justice, his destruction of State, EPA, FDA, Education, and his continuous lying from the podium. His last communication director ought to be a wakeup call for how he is making the United States a mockery. But to tell you the truth, most of the above is being well covered by the media.

Those horrible leaks are what are keeping us informed voters. Of course the Republican Party is still in denial. I heard one respected Republican tell us he could not imagine Trump firing Sessions now. I can. Oh and the same one argued that this bunch is not his Republican Party. Sadly it is everyone else's and if you call yourself a Republican and vote that way, you enabled what we are living through. But I digress.

This morning Fareed Zachary on CNN Global GPS show opined that the Democrats were making the same mistake they made many years ago by not listening to pro-life voices and not being a big enough tent:

In 1992, the Democratic Party faced a challenge on the issue of abortion. Pennsylvania’s governor, Robert Casey, a Democrat dedicated to the working class, asked to speak at the national convention in New York City. He wanted to propose a pro-life plank for the party platform, mostly as a way of affirming his Catholic beliefs.

He fully understood that the motion would be voted down, but the Democratic Party refused to permit him even to air his views, so great was his heresy. “That sent a strong signal to working-class Catholic and evangelical voters that if they did not fall into line on this one issue they were no longer welcome in the party,” writes Mark Lilla in “The Once and Future Liberal,” his brief but brilliant book that comes out later this month.

I wonder if today the Democrats are making the same mistake on immigration. To be clear, I think the bill that the Republicans rolled out this week is bad public policy and mean-spirited symbolism. But that’s beside the point. Lilla acknowledges that he is a pro-choice absolutist on abortion, but he argues that a national party must build a big tent that accommodates people who dissent from the main party line on a few issues.

I would make two observations here. First the two issues are nowhere near the same, abortion and immigration. Secondly, exactly what is the Democratic position on immigration other than being against Trump, his wall, and the latest abomination Fareed cites above? Let's take them one at a time.

In the pro-life question, note that in the language of the two sides is the real truth of what is really going on. Pro-life is not pro-life. They are anti-abortion. If they were pro-life and just wanted to argue for you to keep an unwanted child however begot, they already have that right. But that is not what they want. They want to use government to outlaw abortions and force government into private discussions with your doctor, your husband, your control of your own body. They want to take away the right to choose.

Pro-choice is pro choice. They are not as the Pro-life side depicts them, pro-abortion. They are not even suggesting that abortion is a good thing. They simply don't want government to decide for you, and force you to have an abortion. In fact all they want is that you can have that choice and that you can control your own body (within already well defined limits).

So what Fareed thinks is a great mistake, not allowing the gentleman to propose a pro-life plank and thus sending "working-class Catholic and evangelical voters" on their way, was really a decision about the very basic beliefs of Democrats, that people should have free choice to decide for themselves that most basic and personal decision. Would you allow a communist to argue for a communistic platform for a bigger tent? This is not some policy that may or may not work, this is about a basic value of who we are as Democrats.

Using government to force people to make decisions because others have religious convictions is not only against the Constitution, but everything Democrats stand for. And Fareed thinks we should open our arms to them? If we do, I don't know who we are anymore, and I strongly believe that people are voting against us just for that reason. Instead of pandering to those who believe things that are antithetical to basic Democratic beliefs, maybe we should focus on getting those who did not vote last time back out to the polls.

Now on immigration, I have no idea what the Democratic position is. That is the major problem with Democrats right now whether it is healthcare, tax reform, or in this case immigration, what is the party platform? So I am waiting to understand what our Immigration absolutism is.  What is the basis from which Democrats could negotiate with Republicans? I have no idea and what we are left with is either "Republican ideas suck", or a piecemeal approach by individuals within the party (herding cats). That is why Republicans win with the weak-minded. They are firm in what they want whether it is good policy or not.

For immigration policy, unlike the abortion issue which is driven by religious belief*, it needs to be driven by science and data. What works best for our country. This is not some he said/she said argument. We have the facts. Republicans are running on emotion. They think we need less because they are blaming everything on immigrants. It is not based on fact, but anecdotes. There is no question that there are strong feelings about this, but the policy has to based not on fear, but on what works.

Economists are telling us that broad immigration really helps our economy. Do we need to be more selective? Maybe, but it needs to be thought out. Some would argue that allowing in more educated and trained immigrants actually allows corporations to drive down wages. Keeping out the lower economic classes and uneducated immigrants could hurt other sectors of our economy like agriculture and cuts off a path to the American dream for those who want to come here and work hard. The Republican's stand on amnesty is cruel and inhuman, based on racism and fear. We should negotiate that? Should we have a big tent for bigots?

My point is simply that Democrats can be a big tent on immigration within limits. Clearly we can argue within the party about how to control immigration to protect jobs, while at the same time providing for a growing economy. That is way different that an argument about using the government to take away a basic human right, the right to chose and I wonder why Fareed used this example.

He is really arguing the FDR liberalism of fairness for everyone against the special interest politics that we see (a black agenda, a white middle class agenda, a well-educated innovator agenda) from Democrats today (identity liberalism). And he is right here and suggests that we as Democrats see the fear that those who went right on immigration feel and welcome them into the tent. And here is where I have a really big problem. What does that mean? That we play Republican fear tactics or does it mean we recognize the problem but use data and science to craft effective policy?

Fareed tells us:

Democrats should find a middle path on immigration. They can battle President Trump’s drastic solutions but still speak in the language of national unity and identity. The country’s motto, after all, is “out of many, one” — not the other way around.

I don't think so. Middle ground can only be found where there is a real and rational difference of opinion. Policy should be based on facts, history, science, and data. If the facts, history, science, and data tell us the other side wants to do something bad for the country based upon ideology and fear, why should we as Democrats find a middle ground to have a bigger tent? We should fight for what we know is right, again not based on ideology, but by that fact and data thing. We should only make compromises when the facts are not clear and we are really arguing ideology instead of efficacy.  Otherwise just who the hell are we?

*Actually our policy on abortion is based upon science, when is life considered viable, does the fetus feel pain, etc. The fact that that has been contested does not mean their are differing opinions based on fact. It means that one side will make up science to agree with their ideological beliefs, but the overwhelming data still supports the laws we have. If and when that changes, we would be happy to discuss.

Root Causes

I heard two things yesterday that made me stop and think and react viscerally.  Now I will tell you that that is not a good way to understand things because it involves feelings and how you want to feel, not what is.  But both have me thinking which is a good thing.  Your basic precepts should get challenged once in a while and the act of defending them sometimes broadens your understanding.

The first was watching Fareed Zakaria on CNN’s GPS.  Fareed always starts his show with his weekly insights and he gave us this:

This period, from the 1970s to today, also coincided with a slowdown in economic growth across the Western world. And in the past two decades, there has been an increasing sense that economic policy cannot do much to fundamentally reverse this slowdown. Voters have noticed that, whether it’s tax cuts, reforms or stimulus plans, public policy seems less powerful in the face of larger forces. As economics declined as the central force defining politics, its place was taken by a grab bag of issues that could be described as “culture.” It began, as Inglehart and Norris note, with young people in the 1960s embracing a post-materialist politics — self-expression, gender, race, environmentalism. This trend then generated a backlash from older voters, particularly men, seeking to reaffirm the values they grew up with. The key to Trump’s success in the Republican primaries was to realize that while the conservative establishment preached the gospel of free trade, low taxes, deregulation and entitlement reform, conservative voters were moved by very different appeals — on immigration, security and identity.

This is the new landscape of politics, and it explains why partisanship is so high, rhetoric so shrill and compromise seemingly impossible. You could split the difference on economics — money, after all, can always be divided. But how do you compromise on the core issue of identity? Each side today holds deeply to a vision of America and believes genuinely that what its opponents want is not just misguided but, well, deplorable.”

He is arguing that this election is about identity and culture, not economics.  I think he is fundamentally wrong.  It is not the “you could split the difference on economics”, but that we have pursued an economic policy that has totally failed in the modern world.  Everyone seems to be forgetting Thomas Pikerty, the French Economist who argued that as capital flows to the wealthy, a natural outcome of capitalism as we know it, economic inequality grows until the economy no longer functions for most of us (and revolution happens).  Culture becomes, in my mind, a real issue when you are trying to explain away economic inequality without really looking at the economic system we have created that creates all the unhappiness and insecurity.

The system we have created is fundamentally unfair.  When you really think about it, Republicans are right about accountability and self-discipline.  What they get fundamentally wrong is that it is not a level playing field so neither accountability or self-discipline will help you if you can’t get to the first rung on the ladder.  One of the false arguments created about Democrats is that they blame everything on the system, not the individual.  Modern Progressives see cultural flaws just like Republicans do, but they also see where the system is rigged against many of those who are in this system, and want to fix that.  Republicans resist any change to that system.  What has really happened is that the flow down of Republicans never created a world where if you chose, you could move up in the system.

The other thing I heard was a friend discussing reading the book that explains the Trump support in the hinterlands, Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance.  He describes his upbringing in a poor rural environment, the dysfunction there, but his view is clouded by his own success.  He focuses on the culture that he attributes to a welfare system that allows a culture of dependency.  It is now all the rage to understand how people could see Donald Trump as their savior.  I would argue that while there are great insights into that culture, there is no rational way to explain someone supporting Donald Trump.  But as Fareed did, you shift to the culture thing, the feeling thing, and then you get a Donald Trump supporter.

“Now, along comes Mr. Vance, offering a compassionate, discerning sociological analysis of the white underclass that has helped drive the politics of rebellion, particularly the ascent of Donald J. Trump. Combining thoughtful inquiry with firsthand experience, Mr. Vance has inadvertently provided a civilized reference guide for an uncivilized election, and he’s done so in a vocabulary intelligible to both Democrats and Republicans…In Mr. Vance’s estimation, the answer is: a lot. Economic insecurity, he’s convinced, accounts for only a small part of his community’s problems; the much larger issue is hillbilly culture itself. Though proud of it in many ways, he’s also convinced that it “increasingly encourages social decay instead of counteracting it.”

And then comes the assumed narrative from the NYT: 

The difference is that President Obama believes poverty, though it may have a cultural component, is largely a structural problem, one the government can play a large role in fixing. Mr. Vance, a conservative, takes a far dimmer view.

Whether you agree with Mr. Vance or not, you must admire him for his head-on confrontation with a taboo subject. And he frames his critique generously, stipulating that it isn’t laziness that’s destroying hillbilly culture but what the psychologist Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness” — the fatalistic belief, born of too much adversity, that nothing can be done to change your lot.

Of course both are true and the narrative is a false one about Democrats who do not believe in accountability and self-discipline. But what is driving Democrats is the fact that in order to give people a ladder where the first step isn’t 10′ up in the air, we have to have an economy that provides good jobs for those willing to take them, and a government system that invests in people who want to be invested in so they can climb that ladder.  Today we have Republicans living in fantasy believing it exists, and the reality we see all around us that it is really rigged for those who have.

Finally, on the Donald thing, there is no understanding it.  If as Mr. Vance argues, “There was something almost spiritual,” he writes, “about the cynicism of the community at large.” His friends and relations are convinced that the media lies. That politicians lie. That the military, an institution they revere, is fighting two fruitless wars. Universities feel “rigged” and inaccessible; job prospects are slim. For what purpose do you live under such circumstances? When the stanchions of your life have sunk into the muck? Fine, wallow in your ignorance, but thinking a man who pathologically lies, has not plans to fix anything, and basically is  proposing the same economic themes that Republicans have pushed for years is going to fix anything is madness.

Understanding their ignorance may help to more successfully deal with it in the future, but to excuse it in selecting Donald Trump is a trip to enabling land.  Hillary is not the best candidate, but who said the best candidate (in the true political sense of the word) could be a successful leader?  We have problems and she has detailed plans to address them.  Donald is a snake oil salesman with no realistic plans to do anything.  Culture or economy, either does not present a rational explanation of why you would pick this man to pick up your garbage.  All I got out of these arguments is that the human animal is a lot less civilized and rational than I had ever believed.  Thinking success and leadership is exemplified by how much money you can bilk out of the system really does represent a culture of ignorance we should want nothing to do with.

Afghanistan Troop Increase

Well, it is not really an increase, just a slow down in the withdrawal.  So what do I think?  I have two thoughts here.  One is on the present state of the Middle East, and the other, on what we really need to do to fight Islamic terrorism.  First things first.

In the Middle East you have really three military options.  The first is to go back in there and get all those scum.  That did not work so well in Iraq and it is not working well in Afghanistan.  Sure we can go in and secure the country, but then what?  As soon as we leave it starts again and the governments over there have proved anything but capable or even tolerate enough to allow some kind of power sharing.  The other extreme is just to get the hell out.  We gave them their best chance paid for by our treasury and blood, now, as long as they don’t present a threat to America, just get out.

Trouble is we did that in Libya and look what happen.  Syria was another power vacuum and it may remake all European politics with the refugees.  The question is who fills the power vacuum and what does that do to the whole stability of the Middle East, which in turn does present a threat to America.  There is the other issue that if we go in there full-bore, we stay there, and we become the problem.  If we get out, they are the problem, but they still blame us.  It is a tough question, with tough answers.

The third option is what I believe President Obama is trying to achieve.  Stabilize the region so there is no explosion, and hope that down the road, they will finally figure it out.  That still means our blood and our treasury for people who will hate us anyway, but maybe no vacuum for an ISIS to fill, and it is a lot less blood and treasury than going back in there full-bore. I have one other problem, in that I cannot really support negotiations with the Taliban or anyone in Iraq if minority rights, including those for women, are not protected.  That kind of limits who you can work with in Muslim countries.

So it is a hard decision, guessing at the outcome and I am torn with the slow down, and the total withdrawal.  I think President Obama is doing the more humane thing for most of the people over there, but at what endless cost?  Maybe it is the only option and we have to look back at Bush, Cheney, and the mob that got us into this endless war.

Okay, the second part of this was done by my friend (he wouldn’t know me if he ran smack into me, but I love his mind and the way he thinks about things) Fareed Zakaria.  He did a whole show on why they hate us.  It was delightful.  I will give you the bulleted summary:

  • Is it about the religion itself?  Yes and No.  As one Muslim scholar tells us, it is violent, but so is the Bible
  • But we are being attacked by Muslims.  Yes but the religion itself preaches tolerance she tell us.  When asked if she is cherry picking the Koran, she says of course she is, and so are the violent ones.*
  • So what is it about Muslims that makes them hate us in the name of their religion (note the FOX news/Donald Trump lie is they all do.  Experts estimate that there is between 100,000-200,000 who really would act out their hate.  That’s out of billions)
  • And here comes the answer…Saudi Arabia with its support and export of Wahhabism and the failure of  some Muslim men and women to assimilate into modern society (deadenders)

In a nutshell we have a small nucleus of Muslims who are totally disenfranchised as the modern world descends on them, either in Europe as outcasts, or in their own countries as their societies did not or could not provide rising living standards and wages of the Western World.  So the deadenders are looking for a way to lash out. They are angry, failed people with no hope.  Easy pickings for the preachers of violent jihadism.  Okay, but what about Saudi Arabia, our good friends?

Saudi made a huge mistake when there was an uprising back in the early 80’s and decided to work with Wahhabism Muslims and allow them to export their brand of Islam that hates all things modern and preaches intolerance and violence. Basically Wahhabism sifted the Koran for everything hateful and made it their belief system.  Ignore all the rest.  And import it they did.  Fareed connected all the all the places where violent radical Islam exists, and showed that the predominant teaching is Wahhabism, funded and supported by the Saudis.  Even the wife of the nut job in San Bernardino was brought up in Wahhabi Islam and her husband visited Saudi Arabia for what exactly?

So there you have it.  And if we really want to fight it, we have to attack its ideas, and quite frankly only Muslims can do that.  So far they have not except for a brave few.  The real fight will be in working with Muslims to modernize their beliefs that allow for the globalization they live in, and to try to find the disenfranchised and work with them to bring them back from the brink.  Here is a good article about the development of Wahhabism.  From my point of view all religious belief is nonsense, but even I have to live in reality and religion is here to stay.  If we could just see religion as a philosophical construct that does not depend on faith, but logic, so that it could be informed by reality.  Oh well.

*As an Atheist I find it refreshing that someone admits to finding in their faith what they are looking for and ignoring the rest.  If you understand that, then the whole literal interpretation of any Holy book is exposed for the nonsense it is.

Connecting the Dots

Fareed Zakaria on CNN was having a panel discussion about Brexit (two against, one for) and he was interviewing Zanny Minton Beddoes who is the Editor-in-Chief of the Economist (and quite British) and this is what followed:

Fareed: Zanny is there a solution to that issue (free movement of people in the European Union) because at the heart of the Common market as you point out is the free movement of people.  There are hundreds of thousands of East Europeans living and working in London and paying taxes.  Is there a way to get the benefits of economic globalization without this free movement of people?

Zanny:  Well I think there is going to be a conversation within this country and Europe about what limits you might put on the free movement of people or how you can have the principle like perhaps to prevent the really extreme surges, but I think it is important to think about this is people, a lot of people as you said in your introduction, who are voting against this.  It is not that they don’t care about economics, they just don’t feel that they benefited from the economic boom.  

They have had a very very tough time in the past few years since the financial crisis.  Their living standards have gone down and I think in many ways this is much as it is in America, a protest of anger against stagnant living standards and the feeling that those metropolitan elites in London, you know, the establishment, don’t understand what life is like in the rest of Britain and I think this begs the question, of what, for those of us who believe in globalization, who believe in the benefits of liberalism and nationalism, what, what can we do to shore up support for that, and I think demands a kind of progressive agenda that ensures that enough of those people see gains that they are willing to retain some openness, and I think it is incumbent on everybody who wants to get those gains to come up with a much better response.  

In this country remember we have had years of austerity, and the reason people were cross, it is not that some people were xenophobic, but a lot of people who voted to leave were not at all xenophobic, but they’re worried about how to get a doctor’s appointment, overcrowded school rooms, rising house prices, very real problems and challenges they face, that are frankly the result of insufficient investment in the UK, and in some sense the result of austerity politics.

Okay let me unpack this because there is a ton in there for us to pay attention to.  While xenophobia was a driving force, the real root cause was economic dissatisfaction throughout the country.  If you were college educated, you were mostly for staying in.  If you weren’t you wanted to leave.  That tells a fairly definitive story about who the economy is working for.  Now there are two things here, income inequality and austerity.  Let’s start with austerity.

The Brits and the conservative government of Prime Minister David Cameron pursued austerity as an answer to their economic woes and as Paul Krugman and the rest of Europe has shown us, austerity does not help the economy in a recession, it just makes it worse.  The data is massive.  Austerity in an already depressed economy simply contracts the economy more. No, it does not create confidence, it bankrupts the little people. Cameron is like many in the Republican Party, believes austerity is a prudent economic step to stay within budget, when facts, data, and history tells us it just further contracts the economy and makes it worse in a recession.

Second, Cameron promised a vote on membership in the EU back in 2013 as a promise to those in his own party who were pushing for Brexit as a ploy to stay in power and get re-elected.  So I guess we have two things going on here,  Not learning the lesson of austerity politics, and unwise political pandering for short-term gains.  See any parallels in this country?

Now comes the second lesson, economic inequality.  None of people outside the metropolitan areas were sharing in the recovery.  Again, sound familiar?  As economic inequality grew, flow down  (rich get richer but invest their new money in jobs and industries that benefit us all) did not exist.  So what Zanny is arguing is very simple.  If economic globalization and its benefits are going to be pursued, we have to find ways to make sure that everyone benefits.  Oh, and dare I say it, she recommends progressive policies to do just that.  The free movement of people, capital, and enterprise has been a boon, but for only a select few, and we have to restructure the system to make sure everyone is included.

The Brits voted to withdraw from the Global Economy.  The less connected we are, the more likely we will come into conflict, fighting for limit resources and gain, and we reinvent pre-WWII Europe.  The Right is on the rise and xenophobia is being stoked.  But immigration is the scape goat.  The British economy has actually benefited from immigration.  It is not the cause of their economic problems, that would be economic inequality and the impacts of austerity on the Middle Class.

Okay to further connect the dots, Andrew Solomon, Professor of Clinical Psychology at Columbia University was also on Fareed talking about his wide ranging observations having traveled and written about the world.  It is a wonderful interview, but here is what he said on the collapse of Libya:

I made the mistake of thinking that if they got rid of that system (the Gadhafi Government in Libya) that was so awful, that something better would have to rise in its place, and what happen instead is that it went into a state of complete chaos, and even the patriotic Libyans I met when I was there have mostly tried to flee it if they possibly can.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that democracy and justice are the natural default states and if you move all the impediments to those qualities, that is what will rise up, and what I learned as a personal lesson in dealing with Libya having argued that we should support the attacks against Gadhafi is that the natural state to which people default is not democracy and is not order, but is a terrifying violate brutal chaos.

What does that say to Liberalism and Conservatives who think government should be emasculated?  Right now, the Brits think they want to withdraw from a European government so they can be more in control of their own fate.  But are they not unleashing the very forces of intolerance and selfishness that is the first sign of the breakdown of society?

Professor Solomon makes us stop and think what makes up democracy and how do we build and maintain it.  It doesn’t grow freely in “free” societies. Conservatives and Libertarians want to tear it down in the belief that the natural state will be full rights and freedom.  Brits want to reject the EU (and with some justification), but their solution is the same as the Libertarians and Conservatives, less government.  You might want to rethink that as your economy crumbles.  There are dots here to be connected as I am sure Fareed intended, but will we?

Oh, and one other thought:  I wonder if the writers of Mr. Robot have considered Professor Solomon’s observations as the hackers free us from our financial tyranny.  It is one thing to bring the system down, it is another to establish order and justice.

Does the Government Need a Key?

We are talking cyber security here.  There was a very interesting debate between Fareed Zakaria and Edward Snowden on this issue.  Now before I get into this, you need to understand that I am a big government guy.  Global warming, healthcare, transportation, infrastructure, education, these and many more are only going to be solved by big government.  So should big government have the key to our iPhones and anything else secured by encryption.  Okay, I am a big government guy who does not trust big government.  Power corrupts absolutely.  So I think almost everything they do should be transparent.   And of course we have gone the other way.

In my mind big government is not the problem, hiding behind big government is.  When big government can hide their actions, abuses abound.  On the surveillance thing, no they wouldn’t violate privacy except they did when they started monitoring a couple of celebrities cellphones.  It will always happen, so do we want to give them the keys to everything?

Fareed made a good argument that the government may overreact in the next terrorism attack and would we not want to put laws into place now that would limit and carefully control that access?  He used a nuclear incident as serious as Chernobyl caused by terrorists as an example of what could happen causing the government and the public to rush to overreact and unlock everything.  It is a good argument.

But I think Edward made the better one.  Once the cat is out of the bag, it isn’t just out for the government, but for everyone.  It puts encryption is general at risk and that includes access to internal systems like at a nuclear power plant or power grids.  Once you open Pandora’s door, it is open for everyone, good guys and bad.  Even our chief spy is not in favor of giving government access.  Then Edward quoted the FBI chief saying if they don’t get this, bad guys can just run wild.  Then he noted the quote was in 1994.

So yes, giving the government a key would help law enforcement agencies, but so would doing away with Miranda and not allowing bad guys Constitutional rights.  More effective law enforcement might not be worth the cost.  Encryption is what allows us to have so many systems safe from hackers.  Is it really worth the price to open up that door?

Obama

I quite frankly admire the man. I have also criticized him on many issues including his almost capitulation to Republican economics in the Grand Compromise that did not happen because Republicans pulled the plug, drones, secrecy, surveillance, prosecution of whistle blowers, his failure to go after Wall Street or Bush torturers, deportation of illegal immigrants, and his pivot from jobs to the debt. But there is another argument to be made and that was the one made by Fareed Zakaria in his column last week.  I have posted his entire piece because it shows that we should see the man in his entirety, not just through the windows we pick:

In an interview during the 2008 campaign, Barack Obama said that Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of the United States in a way that Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton did not. Clearly, Obama aspired to be a transformational president, like Reagan. At this point, it’s fair to say that he has succeeded. Look at what’s happened during his tenure to the country, his party and, most tellingly, his opposition.

The first line in Obama’s biography will have to do with who he is, the first African American president. But what he has done is also significant. In the wake of the financial collapse in 2008, Obama worked with the outgoing George W. Bush administration, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and members of both parties in Congress to respond forcefully on all fronts — fiscal, monetary, regulatory. The result is that the United States came out of the Great Recession in better shape than any other major economy.

Obama’s signal accomplishment is health care, where he was able to enact a law that has resulted in 90 percent of Americans having health insurance. Although the law has its problems, it achieves a goal first articulated by Theodore Roosevelt 100 years ago.

Then, there is the transformation of U.S. energy policy. The administration has made investments and given incentives to place the United States at the forefront of the emerging energy revolution. Just one example: Over Obama’s terms , solar costs have plummeted by 70 percent and solar generation is up 3,000 percent.

Finally, Obama has pursued a new foreign policy, informed by the lessons of the past two decades, that limits U.S. involvement in establishing political order in the Middle East, focusing instead on counterterrorism. This has freed the administration to pursue new approaches with countries such as Iran and Cuba and to direct attention and resources to the Asia-Pacific region, which in just a few years will be home to four of the world’s five largest economies.

Just as Reagan solidified the ideological position of the Republican Party — around free markets, free trade, an expansive foreign policy and an optimistic outlook — Obama has helped push the Democratic Party to be more willing to use government to achieve public purposes. And his party has responded.

In that 2008 campaign interview, Obama pointed out that Reagan had not changed the country single-handedly; he took advantage of a shift in the national mood. The same could be said about the United States today. Years of stagnant wages, rising inequality and the financial crisis have created a new political atmosphere, one that Obama has helped shape.

The biggest impact of his presidency, however, can be seen in his opposition, the Republican Party, which is in the midst of an ideological breakdown. Surveying this scene, conservative columnist Daniel Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal that Obama “is now close to destroying his political enemies — the Republican Party, the American conservative movement, and the public-policy legacy of Ronald Reagan.” Obama’s success in this regard, if it can be called that, is a passive one. He has let his opponents self-destruct and never overplayed his hand.

From the first month of Obama’s presidency, the GOP decided that he was a socialist radical who had to be opposed, no matter what. Obama did not take the bait, governing from the center-left. Consider his first administration, staffed by ultra-centrists Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers on economic policy; a former general, James Jones, as national security adviser; Hillary Clinton as secretary of state; and a stalwart Republican, Robert Gates, as his defense secretary.

It wasn’t just gestures. During budget negotiations, Obama made a concession on the reform of Social Security larger than any Democrat ever has, agreeing to reduce the automatic yearly increase of benefits, enraging the Democratic base. The Republicans turned him down, something they will surely regret, since it will likely never be offered again by Democrats (nor by Republicans, if Donald Trump wins).

Perhaps unable to paint him as a socialist, perhaps for other reasons, many Republicans’ rhetoric about Obama quickly became personal — with insinuations about his origins, race, religion, faith and loyalty to the country. Again, Obama never lashed out — demonstrating discipline even as his opposition grew wilder.

As Obama kept his cool, the Republican Party descended deeper into the politics of identity, flirting with racial, religious and ethnic grievances — and moving away from its core tenets of limited government, free markets and free trade. The result has been an ideological implosion, and it’s unclear what will emerge from the debris.

Obama has repeatedly maintained that one of his principles in foreign policy is, “Don’t do stupid [stuff].” It looks like it works in domestic politics as well.

So it is a mixed bag as is all of our lives and it is a tough job with almost impossible choices every day.  It is amazing that people can hate him, although I am sure a lot of it is racial.  When he had to make impossible choices or was put into impossible situations, he provided us a steady calm and respectful countenance that we should all aspire to.  Warts and all, we should be very grateful he was willing to take the job and do it as well as he did.

More Free Trade Agreements

I wrote a blog last week called, Free Trade Maybe, in which I argued that by standard measures of our economic system, they helped the economy, but when looking at how they impacted workers, if not a mixed bag they were just downright detrimental.  I argued that instead of the usual metrics we use, we have to look at how they impact economic inequality.  While we get products at a lower cost, we lose jobs in the process.  Well Jared Bernstein came to my rescue with a very good op-Ed this morning saying approximately the same thing (take that Paul Krugman and Fareed Zakaria!).  Here he makes similar arguments to mine except this is coming from an economist who might actually know something:

It is unquestionable that expanded trade has vastly increased the supply of goods and services and has thus contributed to lower costs for consumers. But basic trade theory connects prices to wages, and in the United States, globalization is widely accepted as a contributor to both wage stagnation and the growth in inequality. For example, the real wage for blue-collar manufacturing workers in the United States is essentially unchanged over the past 35 years, while productivity in the sector is up more than 200 percent.

We should no longer buy the statistically strained arguments about F.T.A.s (Free Trade Agreements) delivering growth and jobs. The evidence just isn’t there, a fact not lost on those campaigning for president.

Second, various countries with whom we compete have historically managed their currencies to gain a price advantage (i.e., they keep their currency low to boost their exports to us and suppress ours to them), and this has long been a source of our persistently large trade deficits.

Third, the F.T.A. process has been captured by investors and corporate interests. According to The Washington Post, 85 percent of the members of the outside committees advising the administration on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership were from private businesses and trade associations (the rest were from labor unions, NGOs, academics and other levels of government).

And then he makes the argument that her F.T.A.s could in fact be used to protect workers and limit currency manipulation.  It truly would be a new day if trade agreements did not look at maximizing corporate profits and looked at protecting good jobs and wages.  That is what Bernie is arguing Paul.  No he is not a demogue against F.T.A.s, he is arguing against agreements that hurt working people.  If we can just get that economic inequality thing into our formula of how we measure whether a particular policy helps or hurts our economy, well, it really would be a new day.

The Great Disconnect

I listened to Fareed Zakaria this morning on CNN’s GPS and he made a great point but missed the the big picture.  It is a great demonstration of what the establishment in the economy and finance totally misses about what is going on in this country.  It’s the story of two worlds and how the status quo is still not understanding the plight of the average worker or how the usual arguments about the economy don’t really reflect the health of a nation anymore.  I am using this example to make two points that I think are critical to understanding the real malaise in this country.  The first is that the Republicans have told us the economy is a mess.  That by all usual measures is a lie.  The second is that while all these usual measures are great, it is an improvement for a smaller and smaller group of people, and therein lies the real problem.

Okay, let’s look at Fareed’s comments.  First he makes the point that both Bernie and Trump claim the economy has failed.  Actually that is not quite correct.  Bernie is telling us that the economy has failed for the working class, and Trump is telling us what Fareed alleges, that the economy itself has failed. Then he uses the standard metrics we use to measure how our economy is performing to show that the economy has not failed at all. In fact it is doing better than any other in the world. Here is a summary of his points:

  • U.S. economy has created 14 million jobs since 2010 and unemployment is under 5%*
  •  The number of people filing jobless claims hit a 42-year low
  • The Dow Jones industrial average has more than doubled under Barack Obama
  • Housing and construction markets are strong, auto sales are booming, and even wages have begun to rise

He makes the point that our recovery, while slow, is much faster than the euro zones or Japan.  And he points out that while Republicans claim the Obama administration has strangled the economy with new regulations (Dodd-Frank), our top five investment banks took in more than twice as much money as their European counterparts.  So to make a long story short, by these metrics, the economy is doing great under Obama, and the Republicans are totally lying about this one.  On that count I agree.  But then he says the following:

The central dilemma for the United States is that the gains from growth, low inflation and technological productivity are spread broadly across the entire population. We all gain from lower-cost goods and extraordinary technology. But the costs — the jobs lost, the wages cut — are concentrated among a smaller group of people. It is the voices of these people, understandably angry, that we hear on the campaign trail these days.

In other words the support that Trump and Sanders are getting is for this disadvantaged “minority”.  Now counter that with what the Economic Policy Institute reported:

A new EPI report finds that while real (inflation-adjusted) wages increased across the board in 2015 due to a sharp dip in inflation, the gap between top earners and everyone else continued to grow. “Real wage growth in 2015 is welcome news, since it means workers’ standards of living increased. However, this comes with two large caveats,” said Elise Gould, the report’s author. “First, wage inequality showed no sign of slowing down last year. And, relying on falling inflation is an unwanted and unsustainable strategy for increasing living standards.”

In the real world people are getting by, but that is it.  All the growth is going to the 1% and we are facing major cost burdens in our future (education, healthcare, retirement).  So while all the people that Fareed talks to can tout a growing economy, it really isn’t growing for the majority and the reduced demand driven by this economic inequality will have far reaching impacts on our economy.  In the old economy all this growth would be reflected in flow down to the wage earners who would share in it, but it is barely felt as economic inequality grows and the wealthy are taking most of the share of the growth.

Then he notes, rightly, that all that austerity in Europe failed:  “Those countries that undertook substantial structural reforms, such as Greece and Portugal, have not been rewarded with economic growth. ‘Pro-market reforms have not corresponded with strong economic recovery,'”.  And at least he now recognizing that the problem is demand and he quotes Larry Summers on the need for large investments in our infrastructure in order for growth which both Sanders and Trump are pushing.  But he is still missing the mark when he conflates Sanders and Trump on this one.

Bernie gets the underlying problem, increasing economic inequality.  Fareed still hangs on to flow down in the since that we just need more growth without addressing the fundamental problem that most of that growth is going to a few.  He also misunderstands the two camps supporting Trump and Bernie.  Trump’s group wants their share at the expense of others.  Bernie’s wants to make the economy work for everyone.  They are universes apart.

Here is the major point that I don’t think Fareed, Paul Krugman, or most people get.  The usual metrics don’t apply anymore because flow down doesn’t work any more. It just reflects how the 1% are doing and that is their echo chamber. The new metric has to have a measure of how the lower 80% are sharing in any measured growth.  If we don’t address economic inequality, it is just going to get more pronounced (as EPI demonstrated) and the malaise in the working class will just increase. Oh, and Fareed, most of us are in the working class.

Oh, and Fareed said something else that shows he still does not get it:  “In the United States, the Federal Reserve has started to raise interest rates because it worries about growth producing inflation, while almost every other major central bank in the world is thinking of cutting retest try desperately to jump-start the economy.”  He had a guest on a couple of  weeks ago that explained to him why this was a giant mistake (the Federal Reserve raising interest rates) and I guess he missed the lesson.  There is no inflation and that is one of the problems.  If we had a little more, people would spend instead of holding on to money as another way to increase demand.  But still seeing a higher interest as the financial sector sees it, is an indication they still don’t understand today’s economy.

*Yes, unemployment by usual measures are down, but that is only a measure of people actively looking for work and millions have dropped out of the economy.  The real indicator is the sluggish growth of wages.  If there were demand, wages would rapidly grow to meet the need, but they are not.  And with depressed wages many can’t find a good job that pays well.

 

 

Conservatism is the Problem

I have argued that conservatism has morphed into a faith-based belief that cannot be rationally addressed.  We like to think about conservatism as pre-Newt Gingrich when conservatism was about moderation and protection against revolutionary changes that could have unintended consequence.  That conservatism does not exist any more.  Conservatism morphed into a rigid philosophy (flow down, all government is bad, cut taxes) that in fact is now being rejected by the Republican base because it has not worked for them.  But, this morning I wanted to maybe give you some of this from other voices or an example of the level of denial the Republican Establishment is in.

First Fareed Zakaria, who is appalled watching Donald Trump rise to the top of a very bad Republican ticket and knowing the parallels with Europe and Fascism, wrote this (Where were Republican Moderates 20 Years Ago):

Here is a much simpler explanation for Donald Trump: Republicans have fed the country ideas about decline, betrayal and treason. They have encouraged the forces of anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism. They have flirted with bigotry and racism. Trump merely chose to unashamedly embrace all of it, saying plainly what they were hinting at for years. In doing so, he hit a jackpot.

The problem is not that Republican leaders should have begun to condemn Trump last year. It is that they should have condemned the ideas and tactics that led to his rise when they began to flourish 20 years ago.

I would argue that ideology as a faith drove them to it.  Winning became paramount because the other side is just plain wrong (infallible faith) and the ends justify the means.  In effect they jettisoned what the Constitution is based upon, rational argument, debate, and compromise.  All that was important was winning because they have the only right answer.  Jihad anyone?

But it gets richer.  After Fareed opined this, he had two guests on to discuss this, a conservative, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Bret Stephens, and Paul Krugman*.  It was painful to watch because Mr. Stephens interrupted and controlled the conversation.  See the problem from Mr. Stephen’s point of view is Obama’s lack luster economic performance giving rise to populism, and that Trump does not represent real conservatism. And of course Not acknowledging their own guilt in pushing candidates or looking the other way when these kinds of racist (birther anyone?) attacks were made by their favored conservatives (Remember even Mitt went for the birther vote).

Now what is funny about this is that it tells you everything you need to know about conservatives.  They are in denial and in a defensive crouch.  First, no acceptance of how Bush crashed the economy, or that conservatives have blocked everything the President has tried to do to stimulate it.  In fact this is all Obama’s fault.  Do we see a theme here?  But the best is yet to come.

“Trump is not a real conservative.”  Of course he is not because for most of the base conservatism has failed to help them.  We have the largest economic inequality in the history of the nation and this is primarily due to conservative economic ideas in action. The base understands that real conservatives are into flow down (supply side economics), small government, less regulation, which helps corporations and the rich, but not them.  So while they still buy into the racism and blame they have been fed (“anti-intellectualism, obstructionism and populism”), they want someone who is free from establishment conservatism if it helps them.

Conservatism is crumbling because it does not work for the average American.  The Republican party is in chaos because they cannot come to grips with this failure or adjust their ideology to take in reality.  But to stay in power they have created a base who has rejected reality and embraced racism, xenophobia, and hatred of government to distract them from rational thought.  Now that base is rejecting them because conservatism hasn’t worked for them and this releases a very powerful, irrational, and negative force in American Democracy.  Yet they are in denial about it all.  But not to worry.  If Trump doesn’t win the nomination, they have Ted Cruz the other “true” conservative.  Just amazing.

*Fareed kept Paul on to talk about what to do to get the economy going and it is basically what we all know.  Austerity does not work, we need to be spending now on public works and creating demand in our economy.  All things these conservatives would fight and even the Donald is for.  Interesting isn’t it?

Fareed, the Center, And not Getting It

Here is the thrust of Fareed Zakaria on the need to get back to the  political middle:

Across Europe, governments that occupy the center ground find themselves struggling against energized ideological movements from right and left. Centrists are under siege in the United States as well. Hillary Clinton faces the most serious left-wing challenge to a mainstream Democrat in decades. On the Republican side, the moderates have mostly collapsed.

…Why are centrists so vulnerable? The reality is that these moderate politicians have actually performed well in recent decades. Look at the challenges they have faced: the end of the Cold War, the integration of Eastern Europe, wars in the Balkans, the rise of economic competitors, the Asian economic crisis, 9/11, the global financial crisis. Western governments have steered their countries through these difficult times with skill while maintaining peace, growing economies and adapting to a new technological age.

The problem is that although they may be competent, centrists are dull, practical types. And there is always a search for romance in politics. Even amid centrist success, there are still enough problems to galvanize the romantics who believe the answer is a revolution. For Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), it is a revolution from the left; for Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), it is one from the right; and Donald Trump almost magically mixes and matches the furies of both ends of the spectrum.

…But what is happening is political paralysis. The radicals and romantics might not have the power to overturn the centrist consensus, but they can place it under relentless pressure. Cameron will spend the next months consumed with opposing the forces of the “Brexit.” In the United States, the country and its political leaders have spent months debating fantasies. Meanwhile, there is no discussion of the important issues and the actual, plausible policy options to deal with them — regarding the global economic slowdown, massive infrastructure deficits, growing inequality and climate change, among others.

Oh come on Fareed.  The problem has nothing to do with dull, practical types and Bernie Sander’s is not just the opposite side of the coin from Ted Cruz.  First of all,  I understand your argument about moderation has served us well in the past, but we are not there any more.  And for most of us, things don’t look too hunky dory today with wage stagnation and ever-increasing economic and political inequality.  The economy and political middle you want to restore doesn’t exist anymore and we really do have to worry about deflation and depression.  So how do you restore an economy that no longer works for the middle class worker?

Let’s see, Ted wants a very revolutionary exclusive conservative America where religion counts for everything and espouses  extreme economic policies that have failed.  Bernie wants to help people get an education and medical care that most other countries provide and he is the extreme left?  What Fareed really fails to see is how far the “middle” has moved to the right and the struggle to find a middle just pulls us further right.  And he also fails to recognize that it takes two sides to make a middle and the right has no intention of compromising with anything.  Hillary is the reasonable middle and it has failed us with Barack.

We are never going to have that discussion of important issues because the right has already closed the door to that discussion.  They live in an alternate reality. It is not fantasy to envision a better tomorrow that other countries have, but it is fantasy to think there will ever be meaningful discussions with the Republican Party of today or that there is a middle they will accept. Wake up Fareed.  The world where the middle had a voice has been overcome by the inequality in incomes and political power and it is only the revolutionary who are going to restore it.