Sunday, May 5. 2013
Didn't squirrel away any links last week, but came up with a few
Ed Kilgore: America Haters: A recent
poll found that 29% of Americans agree with the statement, "In the next
few years, an armed revolution might be necessary in order to protect out
liberties." The poll also found that 25 percent of voters "believe the
American public is being lied to about the Sandy Hook elementary school
shooting 'in order to advance a political agenda.'" The NRA had a convention
last week where the incoming president called for a "culture war" but at
least they stopped short of adopting a new slogan like, "Guns: they're
not just for self-defense any more."
Why is revolutionary rhetoric becoming so routine these days? Some of it
stems from the kind of "constitutional conservatism" that raises every
political or policy dispute to a question of basic patriotism or even
obedience to Almighty God. But a big part of it can also be attributed
to cynical opportunists who manipulate those fearful (usually without
much cause) of tyranny for their own very conventional ends -- usually
power and money.
Wherever you think it's coming from, it needs to stop, and if it
can't stop, it must be made disreputable as part of ordinary partisan
At a minimum, those who toy with the idea of overthrowing our government
to stop Obamacare or prevent gun regulation need to stand up to the charge
that they hate America. It will make them crazy to hear it, but it's the
This puts several observations together. One is that nearly everything
conservatives put forward these days is objectively damaging to the lives
and welfare of large segments of the American public. Austerity is a good
example: it directly hurts everyone the government had previously attempted
to help, plus it drags down the economy weakening the labor market -- i.e.,
the job security and prospects of everyone who works for a living. Another
observation is that many of the people who support conservatives clearly
do hate large segments of the American people. Add those up and you have
to wonder whether conservative policies aren't just foolishly misguided
but deliberately malevolent. And since then intend to hurt some Americans,
how many targets does it take to add up to hating America?
Robert Kuttner: Austerity Never Works: Deficit Hawks Are Amoral -- and
Wrong: An excerpt from his new book, Debtor's Prison: The Politics
of Austerity Versus Possibility (Knopf):
In today's economy, which is dominated by high finance, small debtors
and small creditors are on the same side of a larger class divide. The
economic prospects of working families are sandbagged by the mortgage
debt overhang. Meanwhile, retirees can't get decent returns on their
investments because central banks have cut interest rates to historic
lows to prevent the crisis from deepening. Yet the paydays of hedge
fund managers and of executives of large banks that only yesterday
were given debt relief by the government are bigger than ever. And
corporate executives and their private equity affiliates can shed
debts using the bankruptcy code and then sail merrily on.
Exaggerated worries about public debt are a staple of conservative
rhetoric in good times and bad. Many misguided critics preached austerity
even during the Great Depression. As banks, factories and farms were
failing in a cumulative economic collapse, Andrew Mellon, one of
America's richest men and Treasury secretary from 1921 to 1932,
famously advised President Hoover to "liquidate labor, liquidate
stocks, liquidate farmers, liquidate real estate . . .
it will purge the rottenness out of the system. High costs of living
and high living will come down. People will work harder, live a more
moral life." The sentiments, which today sound ludicrous against the
history of the Depression, are not so different from those being
solemnly expressed by the U.S. austerity lobby or the German Bundesbank.
[ . . . ]
The combination of these two trends -- declining real wages and
inflated asset prices -- led the American middle class to use debt as
a substitute for income. People lacked adequate earnings but felt
wealthier. A generation of Americans grew accustomed to borrowing
against their homes to finance consumption, and banks were more than
happy to be their enablers. In my generation, second mortgages were
considered highly risky for homeowners. The financial industry
rebranded them as home equity loans, and they became ubiquitous.
Third mortgages, even riskier, were marketed as "home equity lines
State legislatures, meanwhile, paid for tax cuts by reducing
funding for public universities. To make up the difference, they
raised tuition. Federal policy increasingly substituted loans for
grants. In 1980, federal Pell grants covered 77 percent of the cost
of attending a public university. By 2012, this was down to 36
percent. Nominally public state universities are now only 20 percent
funded by legislatures, and their tuition has trebled since 1989.
By the end of 2011, the average student debt was $25,250. In mid-2012,
total outstanding student loan debt passed a trillion dollars, leaving
recent graduates weighed down with debt before their economic lives
even began. This borrowing is anything but frivolous. Students without
affluent parents have little alternative to these debts if they want
college degrees. But as monthly payments crowd out other consumer
spending, the macroeconomic effect is to add one more drag to the
Had Congress faced the consequences head-on, it is hard to imagine
a deliberate policy decision to sandbag the life prospects of the next
generation. But this is what legislators at both the federal and state
levels, in effect, did by stealth. They cut taxes on well-off Americans
and increased student debts of the non-wealthy young to make up the
difference. The real debt crisis is precisely the opposite of the one
in the dominant narrative: efficient public investments were cut,
imposing inefficient private debts on those who could least afford
to carry them.
The 1929 and 2008 crashes are more similar than most people recognize:
if you look at charts of economic output, they start at almost the same
trajectory and spread equally fast throughout the world. The difference
is that the latter crash was arrested in early 2009, the result of three
things: a much larger public sector which was (at least initially) free
from the crash mentality; automatic stabilizers like unemployment
insurance and welfare; and extraordinary government intervention to
prop up failing banks. Perversely, since so much of the recovery was
pushed through the banking system, the rich were the first satisfied
by the recovery, and they celebrated by engineering an economic pogrom
against the middle class: they used the crisis to depress the labor
market, and they lobbied for more austere government to cut services
and put further pressure on wages. Consequently, the human costs of
the current recession rival the 1930s -- the big stories of the last
few weeks concern the number of long-term unemployed and the stigma
against them, and a sudden increase in the suicide rate of Boomers --
but there is scarcely any viable political effort to help out. To me,
the most striking difference between Obama and FDR was that the latter
was pre-occupied with keeping both wages and prices up, whereas Obama
doesn't seem to grasp that there is even an issue here.
Jordan Smith: The Real Reason Not to Intervene in Syria: Well,
one real reason:
More generally, a significant body of international-relations scholarship
suggests that not only can outside intervention in humanitarian emergencies
in places like Rwanda not ameliorate the situation -- it can actually make
things worse. Even simply dispensing aid can prolong suffering, in what the
former Doctors Without Borders leader Fiona Terry calls "the paradox of
Why are humanitarian interventions so difficult? Kuperman theorizes that
when rebels are assisted by outside forces, they are unintentionally
encouraged to become more reckless in fighting a regime or provoking it,
resist negotiations, and expand their ambitions. Intervention can thereby
produce a perverse situation of prolonging a conflict that results in more
deaths. He calls this the "moral hazard of humanitarian intervention."
Even the expectation or the mistaken belief of outside support can
encourage rebels to continue fighting or resist settlements.
Another real reason is that military interventions in other countries
is a bad habit that the United States sorely needs to break. The reason
is not just because it doesn't work out very well -- Afghanistan and Iraq
are recent examples, but you can go back to 1898 and find more examples
in Cuba and the Philippines, and most of the cases in between (especially
including CIA operations) are more/less as unambiguous. But even if we
(or, say, a more appropriate body, like the UN) could push a button and
magically bring the conflict to a close, ask yourself what that solution
would look like. It wouldn't be to tilt the arms balance so the rebels
could take over, since doing that would only create a new regime at war
attempting to suppress yet another segment of the Syrian public. No, such
a solution would be to arrange a ceasefire, an amnesty, and a democratic
path forward with sufficient minority protections. I don't know whether
Obama has tried to do that, but many decades of hostilities between the
US and Syria have resulted in the US having very little leverage there.
(Egypt, for instance, was a different case: the US had a longterm military
alliance there which helped to ease Mubarak from office.) Maybe Russia,
China, and Iran could have more influence on the Assad regime, but the
US doesn't have a lot of influence with them either.
Smith goes on to write:
The humanitarian impulse is a noble one, spurred by good intentions.
But good intentions, even if they don't pave the road to hell, can
sometimes take us a good way there.
I would caution, though, that not every "humanitarian impulse" is
a noble one. Individuals, perhaps, but nations rarely practice foreign
policy to attain nobility. They usually have some sort of interest or
agenda, and one should be especially suspicious of a nation that claims
to be the advocate and defender of free markets, since the only acts
expected in the market are ones that advance self-interests.
Ben White: Sidelining Palestinians in Israel Will Doom Prospects for
Peace: Headline's a bit off as there are no "prospects for peace,"
but the real point to draw here is that the longer Israel's occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza continues, the more the brutality Israelis --
both the IDF and settlers often acting on their own -- is reflected
back on the second-class citizens of Israel.
In mid-April, the United States state department published its annual
human rights review -- and the country report for Israel makes for
interesting reading. An ally praised in public as the embodiment of
liberal democratic values in a "tough neighbourhood" is described as
practising "institutional discrimination" against its own Palestinian
citizens (the so-called Israeli Arabs).
Even in a far-from-comprehensive summary of Israel's systematic
racism, the report notes discrimination in the education system, the
land regime and housing, and the legal restrictions on a Palestinian
from the West Bank or Gaza living with his or her spouse in Israel.
[ . . . ]
But it is not just discrimination and segregation that raise concerns.
There are those in Israel who would like to be rid of Palestinian citizens
altogether -- and see an opportunity to do so in the context of the "peace
Responding to recent protests by Palestinian citizens to mark their
expulsion in 1948, the former foreign minister and current chair of the
Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee, Avigdor Lieberman, called
the Nakba commemoration events proof that "any arrangement with the
Palestinians must include Israeli Arabs as well".