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“Hatred, The New Republican Exceptionalism”: The GOP Just Screwed Ukraine Out Of Billions To Hurt Obama

You know those people who carry on all the time about how the United States looks weak to the world, and how we have to do everything we possibly can to help poor Ukraine stand up to the evil Vladimir Putin? Well, guess what they just did? They just made the United States look weak to the world—and they actually just reduced (yes, reduced) the amount of global aid that can flow to Ukraine to help it stand up to the evil Vladimir Putin.

The deal was this: The Obama administration’s aid package to Ukraine placed before the Senate included some long-sought International Monetary Fund reforms. These reforms, which the administration agreed to in 2010 with the leading nations of Europe, and which those nations have already signed off on, would have helped Ukraine get more money from the IMF after this quick tranche from the United States ran dry. It’s complicated, but in essence, the reforms shifted money from one narrow spending category to a broader one that could be tapped by countries for projects like building and sustaining democracy, of which Ukraine is in rather desperate need. So while there wasn’t a specific dollar figure on the table, the IMF reforms could potentially, a Senate Democratic aide explained to me, have led to several billion more in aid to the country.

What’s to object to? To Republicans, this: The reforms include an increase in the U.S. contribution quota to the IMF of $63 billion. They would also give more voice to emerging nations. Now, these two measures are offset by the facts that 1) the overall U.S. expenditure on the IMF wouldn’t go up, because the U.S. would be allowed to decrease other commitments by a like amount, and 2) the U.S. would still have enough voting shares at IMF meetings to retain the veto power it has currently.

But those points don’t matter on the right, of course. Over there, it all spells a diminution of American power, the hated global governance, like Pat Buchanan’s old warnings about sending our boys out to global hotspots donning light-blue (i.e. United Nations) helmets. John McCain and Bob Corker, to their credit, supported the aid with the IMF reform tacked on. But most Republicans didn’t, and even though the full package easily passed a procedural vote, Democrats were getting the strong sense that an aid deal with the IMF stuff included wasn’t going to make it.

And so, it emerged this week that the Obama administration and Senate Democrats apparently backed off their demand for the Ukraine aid bill on Capitol Hill to include the reforms. On Monday, John Kerry visited Congress and threw in the towel. Better to have whatever we can get now than fight over this and delay matters. Or worse, lose altogether, because there was no chance that the House would ever have passed the IMF-laden version.

Let’s take stock of this. The Crimea/Ukraine crisis broke. Republicans immediately were all over Obama for being weak. The whole thing was his fault. We are all Ukrainians now. We had to stand with Ukraine to send a strong message to the malefactor Putin.

So what happens when the bill reaches them? The Obama administration tries to live up to an agreement it made—with our friends, our closest allies—four years ago at an opportune moment to press the issue, thinking that the idea that the reform would be of use to Ukraine might help matters. But as with everything, opposition to Obama is more important than anything else. If he’s for it, they’re against it. If Ukraine gets less money because of that, well, tough cheese for them.

And so it happens that the people who caterwaul about America being weak in the world become the very people who make it weaker. What does the world think as it watches this? Maybe some think merely that Obama is weak. But I’d wager most don’t. I’d wager most Europeans and others reach the right and reasonable conclusion: That American partisan dysfunction, driven far more by Republicans than by Democrats, now weakens not just our ability to carry out domestic politics but our foreign-policy aims as well.

Nothing like this has happened in decades. Yes Democrats—and several moderate Republicans, let’s remember, like John Sherman Cooper and Jacob Javits—blocked funding for the Vietnam War. But at least they were acting in accord with their long-stated principles and goal of ending that war. Today, Republicans are opposing their own stated principle of helping Ukraine as much as possible. Sen. Ted Cruz even went so far as to say that the proposed IMF reforms weakened the U.S. and strengthened Russia (I asked his spokesman to explain why this was so, and he wrote me back but never delivered an answer). In fact, Russia, Reuters has reported, is on record urging the IMF to adopt the reforms without U.S. support, and small wonder: Doing so would mean the end of the U.S. veto. So the Obama administration position of buying into the reforms is clearly something Russia doesn’t want to see.

Except for the very early days of the Cold War, politics never really quite stopped at the water’s edge. But politics did soften at the water’s edge. Not anymore. The Republicans are dug in, and as a result they are causing the very decline in standing and prestige that they are blaming on Obama. This jumps the shark from hurting the president to hurting the country. Hope they’re proud.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 26, 2014

March 26, 2014 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The New Tribalism”: Not That Different From What’s Happening In The Rest Of The World

We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.

Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.

But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.

Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.

News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.

Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.

Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.

The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.

And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.

It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.

But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).

Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)

Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.

I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.

But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.

 

By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, March 23, 2014

March 24, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Timidity Trap”: The Best Lack All Conviction, While The Worst Are Full Of Passionate Intensity

There don’t seem to be any major economic crises underway right this moment, and policy makers in many places are patting themselves on the back. In Europe, for example, they’re crowing about Spain’s recovery: the country seems set to grow at least twice as fast this year as previously forecast.

Unfortunately, that means growth of 1 percent, versus 0.5 percent, in a deeply depressed economy with 55 percent youth unemployment. The fact that this can be considered good news just goes to show how accustomed we’ve grown to terrible economic conditions. We’re doing worse than anyone could have imagined a few years ago, yet people seem increasingly to be accepting this miserable situation as the new normal.

How did this happen? There were multiple reasons, of course. But I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, in part because I’ve been asked to discuss a new assessment of Japan’s efforts to break out of its deflation trap. And I’d argue that an important source of failure was what I’ve taken to calling the timidity trap — the consistent tendency of policy makers who have the right ideas in principle to go for half-measures in practice, and the way this timidity ends up backfiring, politically and even economically.

In other words, Yeats had it right: the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

About the worst: If you’ve been following economic debates these past few years, you know that both America and Europe have powerful pain caucuses — influential groups fiercely opposed to any policy that might put the unemployed back to work. There are some important differences between the U.S. and European pain caucuses, but both now have truly impressive track records of being always wrong, never in doubt.

Thus, in America, we have a faction both on Wall Street and in Congress that has spent five years and more issuing lurid warnings about runaway inflation and soaring interest rates. You might think that the failure of any of these dire predictions to come true would inspire some second thoughts, but, after all these years, the same people are still being invited to testify, and are still saying the same things.

Meanwhile, in Europe, four years have passed since the Continent turned to harsh austerity programs. The architects of these programs told us not to worry about adverse impacts on jobs and growth — the economic effects would be positive, because austerity would inspire confidence. Needless to say, the confidence fairy never appeared, and the economic and social price has been immense. But no matter: all the serious people say that the beatings must continue until morale improves.

So what has been the response of the good guys?

For there are good guys out there, people who haven’t bought into the notion that nothing can or should be done about mass unemployment. The Obama administration’s heart — or, at any rate, its economic model — is in the right place. The Federal Reserve has pushed back against the springtime-for-Weimar, inflation-is-coming crowd. The International Monetary Fund has put out research debunking claims that austerity is painless. But these good guys never seem willing to go all-in on their beliefs.

The classic example is the Obama stimulus, which was obviously underpowered given the economy’s dire straits. That’s not 20/20 hindsight. Some of us warned right from the beginning that the plan would be inadequate — and that because it was being oversold, the persistence of high unemployment would end up discrediting the whole idea of stimulus in the public mind. And so it proved.

What’s not as well known is that the Fed has, in its own way, done the same thing. From the start, monetary officials ruled out the kinds of monetary policies most likely to work — in particular, anything that might signal a willingness to tolerate somewhat higher inflation, at least temporarily. As a result, the policies they have followed have fallen short of hopes, and ended up leaving the impression that nothing much can be done.

And the same may be true even in Japan — the case that motivated this article. Japan has made a radical break with past policies, finally adopting the kind of aggressive monetary stimulus Western economists have been urging for 15 years and more. Yet there’s still a diffidence about the whole business, a tendency to set things like inflation targets lower than the situation really demands. And this increases the risk that Japan will fail to achieve “liftoff” — that the boost it gets from the new policies won’t be enough to really break free from deflation.

You might ask why the good guys have been so timid, the bad guys so self-confident. I suspect that the answer has a lot to do with class interests. But that will have to be a subject for another column.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 20, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Global Economy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Liberty, Equality, Efficiency”: What’s Good For The “One-Percent” Isn’t Good For America

Most people, if pressed on the subject, would probably agree that extreme income inequality is a bad thing, although a fair number of conservatives believe that the whole subject of income distribution should be banned from public discourse. (Rick Santorum, the former senator and presidential candidate, wants to ban the term “middle class,” which he says is “class-envy, leftist language.” Who knew?) But what can be done about it?

The standard answer in American politics is, “Not much.” Almost 40 years ago Arthur Okun, chief economic adviser to President Lyndon Johnson, published a classic book titled “Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff,” arguing that redistributing income from the rich to the poor takes a toll on economic growth. Okun’s book set the terms for almost all the debate that followed: liberals might argue that the efficiency costs of redistribution were small, while conservatives argued that they were large, but everybody knew that doing anything to reduce inequality would have at least some negative impact on G.D.P.

But it appears that what everyone knew isn’t true. Taking action to reduce the extreme inequality of 21st-century America would probably increase, not reduce, economic growth.

Let’s start with the evidence.

It’s widely known that income inequality varies a great deal among advanced countries. In particular, disposable income in the United States and Britain is much more unequally distributed than it is in France, Germany or Scandinavia. It’s less well known that this difference is primarily the result of government policies. Data assembled by the Luxembourg Income Study (with which I will be associated starting this summer) show that primary income — income from wages, salaries, assets, and so on — is very unequally distributed in almost all countries. But taxes and transfers (aid in cash or kind) reduce this underlying inequality to varying degrees: some but not a lot in America, much more in many other countries.

So does reducing inequality through redistribution hurt economic growth? Not according to two landmark studies by economists at the International Monetary Fund, which is hardly a leftist organization. The first study looked at the historical relationship between inequality and growth, and found that nations with relatively low income inequality do better at achieving sustained economic growth as opposed to occasional “spurts.” The second, released last month, looked directly at the effect of income redistribution, and found that “redistribution appears generally benign in terms of its impact on growth.”

In short, Okun’s big trade-off doesn’t seem to be a trade-off at all. Nobody is proposing that we try to be Cuba, but moving American policies part of the way toward European norms would probably increase, not reduce, economic efficiency.

At this point someone is sure to say, “But doesn’t the crisis in Europe show the destructive effects of the welfare state?” No, it doesn’t. Europe is paying a heavy price for creating monetary union without political union. But within the euro area, countries doing a lot of redistribution have, if anything, weathered the crisis better than those that do less.

But how can the effects of redistribution on growth be benign? Doesn’t generous aid to the poor reduce their incentive to work? Don’t taxes on the rich reduce their incentive to get even richer? Yes and yes — but incentives aren’t the only things that matter. Resources matter too — and in a highly unequal society, many people don’t have them.

Think, in particular, about the ever-popular slogan that we should seek equality of opportunity, not equality of outcomes. That may sound good to people with no idea what life is like for tens of millions of Americans; but for those with any reality sense, it’s a cruel joke. Almost 40 percent of American children live in poverty or near-poverty. Do you really think they have the same access to education and jobs as the children of the affluent?

In fact, low-income children are much less likely to complete college than their affluent counterparts, with the gap widening rapidly. And this isn’t just bad for those unlucky enough to be born to the wrong parents; it represents a huge and growing waste of human potential — a waste that surely acts as a powerful if invisible drag on economic growth.

Now, I don’t want to claim that addressing income inequality would help everyone. The very affluent would lose more from higher taxes than they gained from better economic growth. But it’s pretty clear that taking on inequality would be good, not just for the poor, but for the middle class (sorry, Senator Santorum).

In short, what’s good for the 1 percent isn’t good for America. And we don’t have to keep living in a new Gilded Age if we don’t want to.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, March 9, 2014

March 10, 2014 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Income Gap | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Hawks Do Love Those Hitler-Era Talking Points”: Take John McCain’s Russia Advice And You Might Get Another Cold War

I’m not sure what we should do about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. I am, however, dead sure about what we shouldnt do. Please, Washington—don’t listen to John McCain!

The leader of the capital’s bombs-away caucus spoke exclusively over the weekend to the Beast’s Josh Rogin, who nailed the scoop. It was a relief to see McCain acknowledging that there is no plausible military option. So that’s progress. But the steps McCain advises are certain to heighten tensions and probably start a new Cold War, which is surely what the thuggish Putin wants. It’s most definitely not what the United States should want, at exactly the time when, as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has proposed, we should be reducing the size of our military and the reach of our global commitments.

McCain floated three notions: tougher sanctions against Russia and its higher-ranking officials; NATO membership for Georgia; expanded and sped-up missile defense systems in Europe. The first is unobjectionable. The world has to do something here, and sanctions are that something. If we can’t prevent Putin from engaging in this kind of aggression—and face it, we can’t—we can at least do what we can to harm his economy and limit the foreign travel of his high government officials.

But Georgia in NATO and missile defense? McCain and other hawkish types (including, very distressingly, Joe Biden back in 2008) have been banging that gong for years now. Calls for Georgian entry into NATO go back to the mid-2000s, when “Rose Revolution” president Mikheil Saakashvili made it a top priority. It was a horrible idea then—expanding a military alliance right up to the doorstep of a certain country, all but surrounding it, is bound to be seen in that country, and not unreasonably, as a provocative act. It’s even worse when that country happens to have 8,500 nuclear weapons.

And don’t forget NATO’s famous Article 5: an attack on any NATO country will be taken as an attack on all. What would the implications of that commitment have been in 2008, during the Russo-Georgian war in Ossetia? It’s true that Georgia moved first in that conflict, but pretexts for such action are absurdly easy to establish. Would the United States and the other NATO countries have been forced into war against Russia in 2008 if Georgia had been a NATO member then? It’s not at all an idle question, and it’s one well worth keeping in mind now.

As for missile defense, the United States is already scheduled to install missile interceptors in Poland in 2018, which is mistake enough. But at least Obama has drawn back here from stronger commitments to Poland (a charter member of the coalition of the willing, remember?) made by the Bush administration. The Bush commitment was for interceptors of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Obama scaled that back to interceptors of intermediate-range missiles. There will now be pressure from McCain and others to go back to Bush’s plan, and to get them there faster than 2018, which is the Obama timetable.

I’m hardly an expert on the different types of missile interceptors, so if the question is which one to deploy, I readily confess I’m not your man. But I have a better question: What in blazes does Poland have to do with this anyway? Is Putin set to invade Poland—a member of the European Union and of NATO? Is this 1939? The hawks do love those Hitler-era talking points. Yes, certain parallels can be drawn between what Putin is doing here and what Hitler did in the Sudetenland. But do we really think he wants to drag all of Europe into a war, wipe Germany off the map, put Russia’s and Europe’s gay population in concentration camps? Putin is a hideous person, but a latter-day Hitler he is probably not, and even if he did want to do those things, trillions of dollars in trade are at stake for him in his relations with Europe in a way that wasn’t at all true in the 1930s.

In fact, yesterday Putin accepted Angela Merkel’s mediation offer for a contact group to discuss the crisis, suggesting perhaps that his aims here, however repugnant, may fall short of world domination

We have to express our disapproval, and we should impose sanctions. Beyond that, there just isn’t much we can do, and there isn’t much we should do. Timothy Snyder, a leading expert on the region, writes in The New Republic that the EU should undertake a series of moves designed in effect to banish Russia’s upper classes from European banks and cities and private schools and resort playgrounds, which might well get the attention of the only people (Putin-approved kleptocrats) who can possibly influence Putin’s behavior.

And as for McCain and his Cold War caucus: McCain wants the United States to do the things he wants it to do so that the United States remains the world’s only true hegemonic power. For almost all of John McCain’s sentient life, we had a bipolar world, and then, after 1991, a unipolar world. The McCains of America think the bipolar world was a freak accident of history and the unipolar world is the default way things ought to be.

But the unipolar era of U.S. dominance is—increasingly, was—itself a product of particular historical forces, and those forces are changing rapidly. We’re returning to a multipolar world in which there will be other powers that can operate more or less on the United States’ level. Far from resisting this we should welcome it. I’m not a liberal isolationist, and certainly no pacifist either. Although it’s not possible to quantify—it’s like trying to measure how much rain didn’t fall—I think there’s no doubt that our global military presence has prevented more problems than it has created, and we shouldn’t pull too far back. But we should start sharing that burden with other nations and multilateral organizations more than we have.

And most of all, recreating a bipolar world of U.S.-Russia conflict is at the very bottom of our global “to do” list. We don’t have to like Putin or what he’s doing here, but let’s not pretend that who controls the Crimea is a question of first-rank global importance, and let’s not play into Putin’s grubby hands. Demagogues only gain power when they can whip their people into a frenzy about an outside enemy. Obama must not help him, and must’nt let himself get cowed by a hectoring neocon right into saying things he shouldn’t say.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, March 3, 2014

March 5, 2014 Posted by | John McCain, Russia, Ukraine | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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