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“The Obama Recovery”: You Shouldn’t Conclude That Hitting Yourself In The Head Is Smart Because It Feels So Good When You Stop

Suppose that for some reason you decided to start hitting yourself in the head, repeatedly, with a baseball bat. You’d feel pretty bad. Correspondingly, you’d probably feel a lot better if and when you finally stopped. What would that improvement in your condition tell you?

It certainly wouldn’t imply that hitting yourself in the head was a good idea. It would, however, be an indication that the pain you were experiencing wasn’t a reflection of anything fundamentally wrong with your health. Your head wasn’t hurting because you were sick; it was hurting because you kept hitting it with that baseball bat.

And now you understand the basics of what has been happening to several major economies, including the United States, over the past few years. In fact, you understand these basics better than many politicians and commentators.

Let’s start with a tale from overseas: austerity policy in Britain. As you may know, back in 2010 Britain’s newly installed Conservative government declared that a sharp reduction in budget deficits was needed to keep Britain from turning into Greece. Over the next two years growth in the British economy, which had been recovering fairly well from the financial crisis, more or less stalled. In 2013, however, growth picked up again — and the British government claimed vindication for its policies. Was this claim justified?

No, not at all. What actually happened was that the Tories stopped tightening the screws — they didn’t reverse the austerity that had already occurred, but they effectively put a hold on further cuts. So they stopped hitting Britain in the head with that baseball bat. And sure enough, the nation started feeling better.

To claim that this bounceback vindicated austerity is silly. As Simon Wren-Lewis of Oxford University likes to point out, if rapid growth after a gratuitous slump counts as success, the government should just close down half the economy for a year; the next year’s growth would be fantastic. Or as I’d put it, you shouldn’t conclude that hitting yourself in the head is smart because it feels so good when you stop. Unfortunately, the silliness of the claim hasn’t prevented its widespread acceptance by what Mr. Wren-Lewis calls “mediamacro.”

Meanwhile, back in America we haven’t had an official, declared policy of fiscal austerity — but we’ve nonetheless had plenty of austerity in practice, thanks to the federal sequester and sharp cuts by state and local governments. The good news is that we, too, seem to have stopped tightening the screws: Public spending isn’t surging, but at least it has stopped falling. And the economy is doing much better as a result. We are finally starting to see the kind of growth, in employment and G.D.P., that we should have been seeing all along — and the public’s mood is rapidly improving.

What’s the important lesson from this late Obama bounce? Mainly, I’d suggest, that everything you’ve heard about President Obama’s economic policies is wrong.

You know the spiel: that the U.S. economy is ailing because Obamacare is a job-killer and the president is a redistributionist, that Mr. Obama’s anti-business speeches (he hasn’t actually made any, but never mind) have hurt entrepreneurs’ feelings, inducing them to take their marbles and go home.

This story line never made much sense. The truth is that the private sector has done surprisingly well under Mr. Obama, adding 6.7 million jobs since he took office, compared with just 3.1 million at this point under President George W. Bush. Corporate profits have soared, as have stock prices. What held us back was unprecedented public-sector austerity: At this point in the Bush years, government employment was up by 1.2 million, but under Mr. Obama it’s down by 600,000. Sure enough, now that this de facto austerity is easing, the economy is perking up.

And what this bounce tells you is that the alleged faults of Obamanomics had nothing to do with the pain we were feeling. We weren’t hurting because we were sick; we were hurting because we kept hitting ourselves with that baseball bat, and we’re feeling a lot better now that we’ve stopped.

Will this improvement in our condition continue? Britain’s government has declared its intention to pick up the baseball bat again — to engage in further austerity, which does not bode well. But here the picture looks brighter. Households are in much better financial shape than they were a few years ago; there’s probably still a lot of pent-up demand, especially for housing. And falling oil prices will be good for most of the country, although some regions — especially Texas — may take a hit.

So I’m fairly optimistic about 2015, and probably beyond, as long as we avoid any more self-inflicted damage. Let’s just leave that baseball bat lying on the ground, O.K.?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, December 28, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Policy, Politicians | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Peacock Festival”: The Perilous Base-Courting Phase Of The 2016 Primaries Begins

Now that Christmas has triumphed yet again in the War on Christmas, taking place as scheduled, we can turn our attention to the presidential primaries. After all, the Iowa caucuses are only 401 days away. For quite a while yet, the candidates are going to spend their time figuring out how to bring base voters over to their side (and you should probably steel yourself for 500 or so repetitions of “It’s all about that base, ’bout that base” jokes from pundits showing they’re down with what the kids are into these days).

Here’s Anne Gearan in today’s Post:

Hillary Rodham Clinton, the Democratic front-runner for president, is working hard to shore up support among liberals in hopes of tamping down a serious challenge from the left in the battle for the 2016 nomination.

Clinton has aligned herself firmly with President Obama since the November midterms on a range of liberal-friendly issues, including immigration, climate change and opening diplomatic relations with Cuba. In an impassioned human rights speech this month, she also condemned the CIA’s use of harsh interrogation tactics and decried cases of apparent police brutality against minorities.

The recent statements suggest a concerted effort by Clinton to appeal to the Democratic Party’s most activist, liberal voters, who have often eyed her with suspicion and who would be crucial to her securing the party’s nomination.

But the positions also tie her ever more tightly to a president who remains broadly unpopular, providing new lines of attack for the many Republicans jostling to oppose her if she runs.

And here’s a story from Mark Preston of CNN:

The first votes of the 2016 campaign won’t be cast for another year but there’s already a race well underway: The Christian primary.

Republicans are actively courting white evangelical and born again Christian voters, knowing they will be crucial in early-voting states such as Iowa and South Carolina.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is urging people to join him next month in Baton Rouge for a day of fasting, repentance and prayer focused on the future of the United States.

On the same day, another gathering will take place in Des Moines, where at least five potential GOP presidential candidates will address Iowa voters on “core principles” that include “social conservatism.”

Later in the story, Preston notes that if Christian conservatives fail to unite behind a single candidate, their power will be diluted and a more “centrist” candidate could get the nomination. Which is both true and false. That could be the series of events, but we shouldn’t be too quick to assign causality (and there are no “centrist” GOP candidates, only some with weightier résumés who the establishment thinks have a better chance of winning; the ideological differences between them are somewhere between tiny and nonexistent). The truth is that the party’s born-again/evangelical base almost never unites behind a single candidate. The only time it has happened in recent decades was in 2000, when George W. Bush easily beat a weak field of opponents.

But there’s no doubt that the courting of the base will indeed occupy much of the candidates’ time. One common but oversimplified narrative has it that they have to do so in order to win the nomination, but it will cost them in the general election. The truth, however, is that this is a much greater danger for the Republicans than the Democrats.

To see why, look at what Clinton is up to. She’s coming out strongly in support of some moves the Obama administration has made recently and talking more about things such as inequality. That will warm liberal Democrats’ hearts, but will it actually hurt her in the general election? It’s unlikely, because her position on all these issues is widely popular. Are voters going to punish her for advocating an end to the Cuba embargo, which 68 percent of Americans believe should happen? Or a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, which is supported by about the same number? Or some set of populist economic policies, when around two-thirds of Americans say government policies favor the wealthy? Some issues, such as police practices, may not be so clear-cut, but on the whole the things Clinton is saying now are unlikely to turn up in attack ads in October 2016.

The story isn’t quite the same on the Republican side. Christian conservatives actually have relatively few policy demands, and most of them are already covered by what any Republican president would do anyway (such as appoint justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade). What they do demand is a demonstration of affinity and loyalty. They want to know that a candidate loves them and will be there for them throughout his time in the White House.

The danger for Republican candidates is that in the process of showing love to the base, they alienate other Americans. There’s no reason a candidate couldn’t do the former without doing the latter, if he exercised enough care. One area where it may be impossible is same-sex marriage, where the more conservative evangelical voters are still firmly opposed (though those attitudes are slowly changing), while most Americans are in favor. But what those voters mostly want is to be convinced that the candidate is one of them: that he sees the world the same way they do, loves what they love and hates what they hate. In theory, even an allegedly “centrist” candidate can accomplish that. But so often in the process of this courting, they end up looking like either panderers or extremists; that’s what happened to John McCain and Mitt Romney.

In the end, base voters in both parties want to be won over. They don’t want to go into the general election having to support a candidate they can’t stand. They may approach the courtship looking reluctant, but they’re still hoping that there will be a marriage at the end of it. And they don’t need to be convinced that their nominee is the best candidate they could ever hope for — they just want to decide that he or she is good enough. If the candidate loses, they may say afterward, “Well I never liked him anyway.” But in the meantime, getting enough of their votes in the primaries doesn’t depend on being the most religious (for the Republicans) or the most populist (for the Democrats). The question is what you do to make yourself good enough.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, December 26, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Base Voters, Election 2016, Presidential Primaries | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Bushleaguer”: You Can Expect A Jeb Bush Presidency To Be A Lot Like His Brother’s On Climate Change, Only Worse

Evidently, Jeb Bush is no longer on speaking terms with his father and brother.

The former Florida governor and (God help us) would-be GOP presidential candidate still insists that there’s room for skepticism on the issue of climate change. As Grist’s Ben Adler observes:

…Bush [simply] doesn’t believe in [human-caused] climate change! In a 2011 interview with Fox News, Bush said, ‘It is not unanimous among scientists that [climate change] is disproportionately manmade. … What I think on the left I get a little tired of is the sanctimonious idea that somehow ‘science’ has decided all this so therefore you can’t have a view.’

…[Y]ou could expect a Jeb Bush presidency to be a lot like his brother’s on climate change, only worse. Bush is even starting out this campaign to the right of where Mitt Romney was on climate science at this point in the last cycle. In 2011, Romney was chastised by the right-wing media for accepting climate science, even though he didn’t propose to do anything about the problem. Rush Limbaugh said that stance meant ‘bye-bye nomination,’ but Romney still won it, in part by later disavowing climate science.

History shows us three things about Jeb Bush: He is no moderate, he is not too moderate to win the nomination, and the Republican primaries will drag him further rightward.

Neither George H. W. Bush nor George W. Bush governed as climate hawks during their administrations; the former had a radical climate-change denier, John Sununu, as his chief of staff for the first three years of his administration, while the latter infamously censored and edited climate science reports to appease the fossil fuel industry (the late whistleblower Rick Piltz exposed Bush’s machinations in 2005). Still, Bush 41 and Bush 43 at least publicly acknowledged that human-caused climate change was real and a potential problem.

By denying human-caused climate change, Jeb Bush is, in essence, calling his father and brother liars. Is this really the sort of message he wants to send to the public?

Jeb Bush insists that he is a pro-lifer; this is supposedly why he stuck his nose into the Terri Schiavo case years ago. However, his continued refusal to recognize the reality and risk of climate change—which will take lives if carbon pollution is not addressed—exposes him as a complete fraud and someone unworthy of even being a presidential candidate, much less President. I know she’s not perfect, but if a denialist demagogue like Jeb is her opponent on November 8, 2016, then I’m absolutely ready for Hillary.

 

By: D. R. Tucker, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 28, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, GOP Presidential Candidates, Jeb Bush | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Poorly Financed Causes Of Little People”: In Black Lives Matter Protest, Corporate Rights Trump Free Speech

Minnesotans protesting police violence and institutional racism could face “staggering” fees and criminal charges for a protest at Mall of America, with the City of Bloomington announcing plans to force organizers to pay for the mall’s lost revenue during the exercise of their free speech rights, highlighting important questions about free speech in an era of privatized public spaces.

“Youth leaders of color [are] under attack,” Black Lives Matter-Minnesota said in a statement. “It’s clear that the Bloomington City government, at the behest of one of the largest centers of commerce in the country, hopes to set a precedent that will stifle dissent and instill fear into young people of color and allies who refuse to watch their brothers and sisters get gunned down in the streets with no consequences.”

Around 3,000 people flooded the mall on Saturday, December 20, to sing carols and chants following police killings of unarmed African-American men like Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Dontre Hamilton. The protests were peaceful, and some mall workers stepped outside of their businesses and raised their hands in support. Police closed around 80 stores during the two-and-a-half hour protests, and locked down several mall entrances.

Days after the action, Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson announced that she will not only seek criminal trespass and unlawful assembly charges against the protesters, but will also seek to have them pay for the mall’s lost revenue and overtime for police officers–a cost that she says will be “staggering.”

Can the Mall of America prohibit the exercise of free speech and assembly on its premises? And can it pick-and-choose who it allows to assemble? Last year, for example, the Mall allowed around 7,000 people to gather in the same rotunda to honor a young white man who died of cancer.

The First Amendment protects against government suppression of speech, but not private responses to the exercise of free speech and expression. And the Mall of America is considered private property, despite receiving hundreds of millions in public subsidies since it was built, including an additional $250 million approved last year.

For decades, courts have struggled with how to protect free speech in public forums that have grown increasingly privatized.

Mall “Born of a Union with Government,” but Not a Public Space 

In many communities, town squares and downtown business districts have largely been replaced by privately-owned shopping malls, particularly in suburban areas. In Bloomington, Minnesota, for example, there is no public space that offers the same level of visibility as a protest at the Mall of America–which is why protesters chose the location on December 20.

Even traditional public spaces like parks are increasingly owned by private entities, most famously in New York’s Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street was born, and where Occupiers faced eviction after the park’s owners changed the rules.

Mall of America’s status as a public space under the Minnesota state constitution was challenged in the 1990s by anti-fur activists who wanted to protest outside Macy’s. A Minnesota trial court initially found that, thanks to the Mall’s substantial public subsidies, the Mall of America was “born of a union with government” and could only impose reasonable time, place, and manner restrictions on protest.

The Minnesota Supreme Court, though, reversed the lower court in 1998 and declared that the state constitution’s protection of free speech “does not apply to a privately owned shopping center such as the Mall of America, although developed in part with public financing.”

Suburban Malls as Public Spaces? 

Initially, however, the U.S. Supreme Court viewed privately-owned suburban shopping malls through the same lens as the public town squares they were replacing.

In 1968, in an opinion authored by Justice Thurgood Marshall, the Court held that suburban shopping malls were serving the same public function as a town square, and therefore should be subject to similar constitutional constraints.

“The shopping center premises are open to the public to the same extent that as the commercial center of a normal town,” Marshall wrote in the case, which involved the Logan Valley Mall in Pennsylvania. “So far as can be determined, the main distinction in practice between use by the public of the Logan Valley Mall and of any other business district … would be that those members of the general public who sought to use the mall premises in a manner contrary to the wishes of the [owners] could be prevented from so doing.”

Subsequent decisions, however, chipped away at that “public function” doctrine, most notably in a 1972 decision authored by Justice Louis Powell.

Powell, a former corporate lawyer who had authored the Powell Memo for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce the previous year, declared in the Lloyd Corp. v. Tanner decision that a mall does not “lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for designated purposes.”

A new opening for states to protect free speech in shopping malls emerged in the 1980 Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robbins decision. In that case, the Court opened the door to states finding that their own constitutions protect free speech in shopping malls or other privately-owned public spaces. The California constitution’s broader free speech protections, for example, allow for protests and leafletting in that state’s malls.

Minnesota’s Supreme Court, though, came to a different outcome in that 1998 case involving the fur protesters. The state constitution, the justices declared, does not bar Mall of America’s owners from limiting the exercise of free speech on mall property, or choosing to allow some forms of speech but not others.

“The Poorly Financed Causes of Little People” Yield to Corporate Rights

In recent years, the First Amendment has undergone a revolution in the U.S. Supreme Court–in cases like Citizens United, Hobby Lobby, and McCutcheon–but largely in favor of expanding the “free speech rights” of corporations and the wealthy few, rather than protecting what Justice Hugo Black described in 1945 as “the poorly financed causes of little people.” When average Americans raise their voices in protest, they can still be muffled by corporate interests.

 

By: Brendan Fischer, The Center For Media And Democracy, December 26, 2014

December 29, 2014 Posted by | Corporations, Free Speech, Mall of America | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Because The NRA Tells Them To”: Republicans Are Blocking Ratification of Even the Most Reasonable International Treaties

The world got a present on Christmas Eve, when an international treaty to limit the sale of weapons to warlords and terrorists went into effect. The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) aims to limit the number of civilians slaughtered around the world by requiring any country that sells weapons to establish the same kind of export criteria that the U.S. and other Western democracies have in place. It has been signed by 130 countries and ratified by 60, ten more than it needed to become effective. When the U.N. General Assembly put it to a vote last year, only three countries opposed the treaty outright: North Korea, Syria, and Iran.

While the Obama administration has signed the treaty, there is no chance it will get the 67 votes needed for Senate ratification. In October 2013, 50 senators sent the president a letter expressing their opposition to the ATT. They included every Republican except Mark Kirk, and five Democrats—Joe Manchin, Mark Pryor, Mark Begich, Mary Landieu and Kay Hagen. (Manchin was the only one of the Democrats who was not up for reelection last month, and all four that were lost.) So the Republicans stand together with the Axis of Evil 2.0 because the National Rifle Association opposes the treaty. The NRA sees it as a potential threat to gun ownership because it does not explicitly provide a guarantee of the “American people’s rights under the Second Amendment.”

In the Senate’s first two centuries, it approved more than 1,500 treaties. It rejected only 21; another 85 were withdrawn because the Senate did not take action on them. A treaty that is not approved, rejected, or withdrawn remains in limbo. At present, there are 36 treaties awaiting action by the Senate, dealing with everything from the protection of albatrosses to the testing of nuclear weapons.

While protecting waterfowl might seem like something reasonable people could agree upon, apparently no issue is too small for the foes of the imaginary threat of a world government. There are more serious questions not being addressed, however, including:

—The United States has six tax treaties with over 60 countries to prevent double-taxation and make tax evasion more difficult. Republicans have prevented approval of the six, costing the country billions in lost revenue each year.

—Drafted over thirty years ago, the Law of the Sea Treaty is designed to bring some order to the world’s oceans and lessen the chances for conflict in places like the South China Sea. Ratified by 162 countries and supported by the oil and gas industry, the Pentagon, environmentalists, and past presidents from both parties, it was opposed by Republicans because “no international organization owns the seas.”

—The Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities would apply the standards found in American law to other countries. It is supported by veterans’ groups and corporate interests and has been ratified by 141 countries. Home-schoolers and right-to-life groups opposed it, however, believing false claims that it would interfere with their children’s education and increase access to abortion. When it came to a vote two years ago, 38 Republican senators voted nay.

—The Convention on the Rights of the Child, one of the most popular and respected human rights treaties in history, was negotiated during the Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations with major American input. The United States may soon be the only country among the 193 members of the U.N. that has failed to ratify it. Opponents argue it would hurt traditional families and the rights of parents.

One of the most frequent criticisms of any treaty is that it undermines American sovereignty. But that is the price of international cooperation. Any relationship, whether between two people or among two hundred countries, requires some limits on what one party can do. Globalization has made such cooperation even more imperative; it is impossible for one nation to deal unilaterally with today’s gravest problems. Even the world’s only superpower cannot ignore that fact.

The term “American exceptionalism” never appeared in any party platform until the election in 2012. It made its debut in the Republican platform that year as an 8,000-word section, devoted to the concept that America holds a unique place and role in human history. If the GOP continues to let paranoia prevent this country’s leadership, or even participation, in addressing the challenges created by an ever-more globalized world, that role in history will be short.

 

By: Dennis Jett, Professor of International Affairs, Penn State University; The New Republic, December 26, 2014

 

December 29, 2014 Posted by | International Treaties, National Rifle Association, Senate | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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