A good article in The Guardian featuring a collection of photographs by photo-journalist Homa Kahleeli documenting the lives of Bangladeshi garment factory workers. The article reports on deadly accidents that have recently happened in the garment industry there, especially last week’s factory collapse which reportedly killed 327 people. But the photos by Kahleeli are more powerful than words…and all of them against unbridled capitalism.
Two articles appeared recently in the Washington Post that deserve rebuttals as to their slanted positions on certain issues. The first is an op-ed by Robert J. Samuelson titled “The End of Entitlement”. He argues we have reached a point where we are no longer entitled to the things in life we previously believed we deserved if we worked hard for them, such as a peace of mind about job security and retirement. He sums the idea up in one sentence:
We’re not entitled to many things: not to a dynamic economy; not to secure jobs; not to homeownership; not to ever-more protective government; not to fixed tax burdens; not to a college education.
It’s not that he is wrong about this current reality of life. It’s that his attempt at trying to decipher why this is the now case is weak and misleading.
He gives four points that we assumed would work but failed us. The first:
economists knew enough to moderate the business cycle, guaranteeing jobs for most people who wanted them…The Great Recession revealed the limits of economic management. (Emphasis added.)
This is an incredibly misleading statement. If the Great Recession revealed anything it was that there was (and is) far too little oversight of the financial sector and, when it is allowed to run wild and commit fraud without consequences to the people committing the crimes, most of us get hurt in the end. This isn’t to suggest a communistic approach to the economy but a check and balance on the financial sector’s power (similar to our system of government’s checks on each branch) is clearly what was missing in the housing sector and the derivatives market and what got us to where we are now.
And before anyone tries to make the case Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were government-run programs that were policing the industry, they were not. Here’s how you figure that out. If it has a person called its CEO, kind of like Freddie and Fannie, it’s not government run. Period. They made their decisions without enough oversight and they screwed us in the interest of making a short term profit with painful long term consequences, just like other corporations.
His second point is that the “safety net” provided by large corporations has “shrunk” and does not provide what they once promised. One of the factors he strangely blames considering his first point: “deregulation”. In other words, economists failed at “managing” the economy but the economy failed because of deregulation. Samuelson counters himself here and apparently doesn’t notice it. If deregulation occurs at a level where it becomes problematic, then economists and the government are not actually “managing” anything. They are just observing what is happening without intervening where needed, which is what caused the crash.
His third point is that productivity gains did not translate into expected tax receipts and greater income inequality has compounded the problem of paying for government programs. This ignores two important factors causing this outcome. One, that the attack by the right on workers rights and unions has led to lower wage growth and more money going to the top earners, which is not in any way regulated but could be as Europe is doing. Two, that tax cuts, such as the Bush era cuts that went heavily to the top earners who are earning more of the money, have made tax revenues lower than previously expected when these programs were created. In other words, it was a boosting of right wing economic legislation that made this problem what it is now.
His last point is that broken families and children raised by single parents have helped take away the idea of entitlement. This idea is so ludicrous it’s hardly worth addressing. In other words, his argument is that a child in a household with two parents that fight all the time (or worse) and no longer want to be together is healthier for the child. Argue away on that point. Also, this ignores the fact stagnant wages have led to more hours worked for less pay which will have an obvious effect on the parent rearing the child, whether single or not.
The other article in the Post was a piece by Zachary Goldfarb about “liberals” (as if the government is filled with them) now dealing with the fact the defense cuts they called for are hurting the economy. The article focuses on military spending and is presented as if there is virtually no other alternative in how the government could use its funds. This suggests liberals only want cuts in defense spending and do not want the money diverted to shore up or improve other programs, such as Social Security or education.
He does spend some time on the idea money could go toward other expenditures. 2 whole paragraphs…out of 27. If this article was even a remote presentation of more liberal beliefs about where the government could spend its money, it would give far more time to this aspect and show how the defense budget dwarfs other areas that could produce jobs and help the economy like infrastructure and education. Pointing out that the federal defense budget is roughly $850 billion while federal education spending is just below $100 billion would be a start.
In the lead-up to this week’s opening of the George W. Bush library, a jaw-dropping poll number was given on CNN’s site:
Eight in ten Republicans now say that Bush’s eight years in office were a success.
After some smelling salts and looking more closely at their data, I realized part of the problem of this poll was no option of a middle choice between “success” and “failure”, for example “mixed” or “somewhat successful”. People were forced to back their party’s guy and we get this result.
But the stat still seems pretty high for the disaster that was the Bush administration. Point being if that was a “success”, then let’s do a little comparison between 43 and 44 and see who we should consider the bigger success.
When Bush was inaugurated in January 2001: 4.2%. When he left office in January 2009: 7.8%. Overall change: 3.6% increase in unemployment. “Success!”
When Obama was inaugurated in January 2009: 7.8%. Latest numbers for March 2013: 7.6%. Overall change: .2% decrease. Bigger “success!”
Response to Devastating Hurricane
Public approval of Bush handling Hurricane Katrina in the days after impact: 43% approve and 54% disapprove. “Success!”
Public approval of Obama handling Hurricane Sandy: 68% approve and 15% disapprove. Bigger “success!”
Bush taking us into a war most Americans now consider a “mistake” and doing it with clearly faulty info while not focusing resources on a pursuit of the man responsible for the 9/11 attacks. “Success!”
Obama getting us out of the “mistake” and putting the emphasis of security forces back on those guilty of killing so many then giving the order to take out Bin Laden. Bigger “success!”
Before I get into these numbers, I’d like to clarify something. Many conservatives argue the 2009 numbers are Obama’s and not in any way the actions of Bush. There is an easy solution to this debate, however: ask conservatives who they thought was responsible for the 2001 budget prior to Obama becoming president.
You see, the government was running growing surpluses for three years prior to the 2001 budget. Then things started to turn around. So, if we figure out who conservatives considered mostly responsible for the 2001 budget, then we know who gets most of the blame for 2009.
Let’s ask Bush’s OMB director, Joshua Bolten when he testified to Congress in 2004:
In the last budget year of the previous (Clinton) administration (2001)…With the adoption of President Bush’s first budget (2002).
Seems clear. How about right wing economic think tank the Cato Institute? When they were doing the numbers on the first three years of Bush’s budgets in this piece, they included the 2004 budget which means no 2001.
Any conservative budget hawks from Townhall want to add their knowledge? Seems so:
So the $133.29 billion deficit in the year ending September 2001 was Clinton’s.
Hard right think tank Heritage Foundation weighing in:
Even the most rabid leftist cannot blame George Bush for the 2001 recession. It was the Clinton recession.
(This is despite the fact the 2001 recession officially started in March 2001, two months into Bush’s term. By comparison, the Great Recession officially started in December of 2007, 14 months prior to Obama taking the oath.)
But the most rabid conservatives have no problem doing the same with Obama by blaming him for 2009. Rabidly, of course. The blame of Clinton was rather extensive as this piece from the Daily Kos shows. That being said, using the conservative perspective that 2001 was all Clinton’s fault prior to Obama’s election, we can safely assume all conservatives understand 2009 belongs to Bush, right guys? Let’s look at some numbers.
(Source here for the following.)
First fiscal year budget deficit Bush is responsible for (2002): $157 billion. Last year he was responsible for (2009): $1.4 trillion. Overall: $1.2 trillion increase in deficit. “Success!”
First fiscal year budget deficit Obama is responsible for (2010): $1.3 trillion. 2013 deficit projection: $972 billion. Overall: over $300 billion decrease in deficit. Bigger “success!”
(Source here for the following.)
Federal deficit as percent of GDP in Bush’s first year: 1.48%. Final year: 10.13%. Overall: an increase nearly seven times higher than first year. “Success!”
Obama’s first year: 8.92%. 2013 projection: 6%. Overall: a 30% decrease from year one. Bigger “success!”
The Dow (all retrieved from here) on Jan. 20, 2001, Bush’s first day in office: 10,587.59. Last day in office, Jan. 20, 2009: 7,949.09. Overall: 2638.5 drop in the Dow. “Success!”
The Dow when Obama was sworn in on Jan. 20, 2009: 7,949.09. As of yesterday, April 26, 2013: 14,712.55. Overall: 6,763.46 increase in the Dow. Bigger “success!”
If people are going to completely re-imagine history and call the presidency of George W. Bush a “success”, then they have to do one more thing when that is done. Admit the Obama presidency has been a far, far greater success in most of the ways we actually measure success when it comes to judging presidents.
Judging by the latest in this NYT report, Pres. Obama and his administration are just as confused about what to do in Syria as I am. And with every report it seems that something else is additionally complicating the situation further. So I am asking our loyal followers for their help.
As a comment to this post, please tell me what you think should or should not be done about the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war by the Assad regime.
A good feature in the NYT reports that all of the austerity measures undertaken by the European Union are starting to backfire in the face of pro-cuts politicians. The people are now too unhappy with all of the “fiscal consolidation” and elections are soon coming up for some important leaders, like Germany’s Angela Merkel. So now it looks like these important nations will be turning to stimulation, rather than consolidation, too fight high employment and general economic stagnation.
More and more people are seeing what should’ve been plainly obvious to everyone by now: sanctions on Iran have failed to bring a solution to the situation and a very different route is needed.
An article on the CSM’s site today shows the growing call from various groups studying the situation to change tactics and present more lucrative packages to Iran in exchange for more transparency in their nuclear program. In other words, it’s time to start offering to get rid of sanctions on Iran so they will be more open with their facilities.
One of the biggest problems pointed out in the article is that sanctions are what the U.S. ‘knows’ in terms of dealing with countries deemed adversaries and calling for more benevolent policies are politically difficult. No one wants to be the politician saying we need to offer real relief to Iran because opponents will use that against them even though it would likely bring about a successful end to the situation.
And Iran’s leadership can’t cave in to sanctions either or they look weak to their people. As pointed out in the piece:
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated in February that pressure and sanctions are akin to the US “pointing a gun at Iran and say[ing] either negotiate or we will shoot.” In March, Khamenei said, “if the Americans sincerely want” to resolve the nuclear issue “they should stop being hostile towards the Iranian nation in words and in action.”
So, we have reached this point where two bulls are running at each other and one has to give. And considering what has transpired, it would seem the U.S. is the one that has to bend.
Iran’s leader has called for a fatwa against making nuclear weapons. The U.S. has admitted it has no intelligence suggesting Iran is pursuing nuclear technology for weapons purposes. Iran also reduced its stockpile of material that could be converted into weapons recently showing it is moving in the direction apparently wanted by the rest of the world.
Iran has seemingly done what it needs to do in terms of showing the world it is ready for the sanctions to be lifted. Now is the time for the United States to do what more people are recognizing is the solution: offer real relief on the sanctions and treat Iran as their actions have shown they should be treated.
Even some from the usually hawkish right see this as the solution. From the piece:
“I think the answer is probably pretty simple. We’re going to have to sweeten the offer on sanctions relief,” former US assistant secretary of state under the George W. Bush administration and veteran troubleshooter James Dobbins said at the report launch. Sanctions should be suspended, not dropped, he said, until Iran also demonstrates it can hold to its side of any bargain.
The time for change has come. The question now is: has the will for change made its way to the top levels of the U.S. government yet?