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“Corporations Are Artificial, Too”: Modern Corporate Capitalism Is Anything But Natural

One of the reasons it’s difficult for liberals to easily and effectively win arguments about economics with conservatives is that conservatives have a very simple mantra: let the natural forces of the market do their work. Government is seen as an interloper and distorter of Darwinian forces that would otherwise ultimately let all goods and services achieve their perfect prices with maximum efficiency.

There are a number of gigantic problems with that worldview, of course. The free market refuses to pay for a wide variety of crucial infrastructure items and investments in public health and safety; consumers are at an information and power disadvantage against unscrupulous companies; and human life and dignity are unacceptably cheap on the open market.

But there’s another key lie in the conservative “natural economy” story, which is that modern corporate capitalism is anything but natural. It’s an artificial system encoded arbitrarily into law and interpreted in a specific way that tends to give maximum advantage to executive and shareholders at the expense of society. Kent Greenfield examined right here at Washington Monthly one way in which that is true: the Dodge v. Ford case that explicitly denied corporations the right to engage in more socialistic practices and demanded that they only serve the bottom line for their shareholders. The corporate veil itself another artificial legal construct, as is the notion of corporate personhood.

Our society is built on rules and regulations, all of them socially and legally built out of artifice. That is just as equally true of business as it is of government.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 24, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Capitalism, Corporations, Free Markets | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Likud Lobby”: Let’s Stop Pretending Israel Isn’t A Partisan Issue

When House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address Congress without bothering to let the White House know, as is normal practice when dealing with foreign leaders, he no doubt thought he was getting a little sauce for the gander. You want to find ways to get Republicans mad, President Obama? Okay, how about if I invite the leader of one of our closest allies here to basically lobby against your position on Iran? How do you like that?

Boehner was right on that score: President Obama doesn’t like it very much. Neither did Nancy Pelosi, who blasted Boehner’s move this morning as “inappropriate,” adding: “It’s out of the ordinary that the Speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation.”

But maybe this skirmish over diplomatic protocol is a good thing for everyone. Maybe we can stop pretending that Americans and Israelis are nothing more than loving and committed allies offering unwavering support to one another, when the truth is that parties in both countries are active participants in each other’s partisan politics.

The current disagreement is about negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. There’s a bill in the Senate, sponsored by Republican Mark Kirk and Democrat Bob Menendez, to impose new sanctions on Iran if a deal isn’t struck by June 30. The administration says that passing such legislation now, while the negotiations are at a sensitive point, would guarantee failure: the Iranians would pull out, then ramp up their nuclear program.

Republicans, and some Democrats like Menendez, don’t think so. They seem to believe that the only thing that produces results is being “tough,” and that even in diplomacy there are no carrots, only sticks. This also happens to be the position of the Netanyahu administration, which supports the sanctions bill. But not all in the Israeli government agree. Josh Rogin and Eli Lake report that the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, has been telling both the Obama administration and whatever American senators will listen that “if legislation that imposed a trigger leading to future sanctions on Iran was signed into law, it would cause the talks to collapse.”

So the Republicans have asked Netanyahu to come join them in this debate, and he is more than willing. Which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. For years we’ve had one party (the Republicans) that is fervently committed to the right-wing Likud’s vision for Israel, and another party (the Democrats) that is much more committed to the Israeli Labor party’s vision. When each holds the White House, they put those beliefs into policy. But both will say only that we all have a bipartisan commitment to “support” the Jewish state, as though what “support” means is always simple and clear.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has done what he can to help Republicans. In 2012, his all-but-explicit advocacy for Mitt Romney ended up getting him in trouble back home. The current Israeli ambassador to the U.S. is American-born political operative Ron Dermer; as Josh Marshall says: “His relationship with Netanyahu has been compared to Karl Rove’s with George W. Bush. And a main reason for his being Ambassador is his ties to DC Republicans.”

And here’s a colorful illustration of the symbiotic relationship between the GOP and Netanyahu’s Likud. The Republican Party’s greatest patron is casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who spent somewhere between $100 and $150 million trying to unseat Barack Obama in 2012. And who is Benjamin Netanyahu’s greatest patron? None other than Sheldon Adelson, who a few years ago created a free daily newspaper, Israel Hayom, whose primary purpose is to blanket the country with news favorable to Netanyahu.

It has long been true that the debate about what Israel should do — with regard to the Palestinians or anything else — is infinitely more varied and robust in Israel itself than here in the United States, where the only allowable public position for a politician to take is that we support whatever the Israeli government wants to do. This unanimity is maintained by a variety of forces, most notably the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which calls itself “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby,” but in practice has for decades been not the Israel lobby but the Likud lobby, representing one particular faction in Israeli politics.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the leader of his country, but he’s also the leader of that faction, and at the moment he’s in the midst of an election campaign (one the Obama administration would be all too happy to see him lose). If Congressional Republicans want him to come be a spokesperson for the Republican position in the debate over Iran, that’s fine. But we should use the occasion to allow ourselves a little honestly. Yes, the United States and Israel are close allies whose core interests are aligned. But in neither country is there agreement about how to serve those interests. There’s no such thing as a “pro-Israel” position on this issue, because Israelis themselves have a profound dispute about it, just as there’s no such thing as one “pro-America” position on anything we argue about.

So we can call this speech what it is: an effort by one conservative politician to help a bunch of other conservative politicians achieve their preferred policy. Maybe afterward, John Boehner can return the favor and cut some ads advocating Netanyahu’s reelection. Though I’m not sure how well that would go over in Israel.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 22, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“That ‘My Private Choice’ Thing”: What Kind Of Parent Wants To Protect Their Kid From Vaccines But Not Disney?

I went to Disneyland once. I didn’t like it. I like it even less now that 70 people, including five employees, have been infected in their measles outbreak.

I didn’t like Disneyland because I don’t like rides, but also because I don’t like fantasy of any kind – especially the fantasy that a bunch of adults waving and sweating under 800 pound carcinogenic masks only to go home with barely enough money to buy the gas it took them to get to work and maybe three gallons of Sunny Delight counts as a “magic kingdom”.

But I really don’t like the fantasy in which vaccinating your children is a private choice that you get to make for yourself and your family.

Here’s the big news flash for people who don’t vaccinate their kids: you don’t live on an island in the middle of the woods in the middle of whatever century Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in which, if you wanted pork chops, you had to fatten the hog first. Having a cartoon drawing of your family on the back window of your Honda Element doesn’t make you and them the only people in the world. Look around you. Those things with the heads and the arms and the legs are other human beings.

Some of the people around you have legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated – like they have HIV, or they recently had chemo, or they’re just old. And some of them have been vaccinated and may get sick anyway. (I hesitate to mention that because you’ll probably pretend that’s “proof” that vaccines don’t work, and they do work. The whole “vaccines working” thing is proven by the fact that in in 1953, the year the polio vaccine was developed, 35,000 Americans got polio. By 1961, there were only 161 polio cases. Saying vaccines don’t work is like dropping a casserole on the kitchen floor and throwing up your hands and saying “See, cooking doesn’t work!”.)

Also: you see those tiny little things that some of those people are carrying around? Those are what we call Other People’s Infants. (I know you know what Your Infant looks like because you have a picture of it on the same phone you use to read stupid crap written by absolute morons like Jennie McCarthy and Melanie Phillips while taking up a space in the Whole Foods parking lot.) Anyway, infants also can’t get vaccinated. This means that, if your children aren’t vaccinated, they could infect an infant (not your infant though, of course! Your infant is safe in your phone!) and it could die, and it would be your fault.

I have said this many times to people – “an infant could die, and it would be your fault” – and they look at me like I just told them it’s raining. And then they go back to the “my private choice” thing, and I am left chilled to the bone with the knowledge that whatever kind of anti-vaxxer freak they are – whether they’re the hippie “I think bone broth cures everything” kind or the urban “I’m so hypereducated that I’ve lost touch with reality” kind – they really just don’t care that their actions might hurt other people.

The thing that I don’t get about this whole Disneyland thing is this: who even are these people? In order to not vaccinate, you have to be someone who fundamentally distrusts The System, who thinks that the Government and the Scientists and Big Ag are all in collusion with Big Vaccine to plunder your children’s well-being. You’d think these parents would be kind of worried about a huge, terrifying company that mostly traffics in antiquated gender roles and the plastic that gets wrapped around them. I just don’t understand how there exists a person who says to herself, “My child’s blood is going to be as pure as the driven snow to the detriment of basic public health standards and all that modernity holds dear”, and a minute later is like, “Let’s go all the way with this Frozen thing and let’s go to the Mothership to do it”. If you’re going to be an iconoclast, at least make it make sense. It’s bad enough to put the public health at risk; now you also have to hurt everyone’s brain while we try to figure out what kind of crazy you are?

No matter how many times you sing “Let It Go” alone in the car, it won’t change the fact that being anti-vaccine is sad and fundamentally violent. Yes, violent: it’s one group of people causing physical harm to others. If you’re that antisocial, that divorced from reality, and that incapable of understanding that there are other humans in the world, just stay home. The lines are shorter, and it’s a lot safer for the rest of us.

 

By: Sarah Miller, The Guardian, January 23, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Public Health, Science, Vaccines | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are Things You Simply Don’t Do”: Boehner Willing To Partner With A Foreign Government To Undermine American Foreign Policy

On the record, President Obama and his team have said very little about congressional Republicans partnering with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to derail international nuclear talks with Iran. Administration officials said the president will not meet with Netanyahu during his March trip, but that’s only to prevent the appearance of interference with the Israeli election to be held two weeks later.

Behind the scenes, however, it seems the White House isn’t pleased.

“Senior American official” as quoted by Haaretz: “We thought we’ve seen everything. But Bibi managed to surprise even us. There are things you simply don’t do. He spat in our face publicly and that’s no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price.”

Josh Marshall added that even American Jewish groups “who seldom allow any daylight between themselves and the Israeli government appear shocked by Netanyahu’s move and are having difficulty defending it.”

There are things you simply don’t do.

I’ve been thinking about why this story strikes me as so important, and I realize that on the surface, it may not seem shocking to everyone. Republicans oppose the diplomacy with Iran; Netanyahu opposes the diplomacy with Iran. Perhaps their partnership was predictable?

Sure, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) ignored U.S. protocol by circumventing the administration and reaching out to a foreign leader on his own, but given the degree to which Republicans have abandoned traditional norms in the Obama era, maybe this isn’t that startling, either.

The problem, however, which I fear has been largely overlooked, is that it’s genuinely dangerous for the federal government to try to operate this way.

I’m reminded of an incident from August, near the height of the crisis involving Central American children reaching the U.S. border, when Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) traveled to Guatemala. While there, the senator met with leading Guatemalan officials, including their president, and told them that the problem was Obama’s problem, not theirs.

In other words, an American senator visited with foreign leaders on foreign soil, denounced the American president, and undermined American foreign policy. During the Bush/Cheney era, Republicans used to characterize such moves as borderline treasonous.

Five months later, the GOP en masse is working to cut off American-led international talks at the knees.

The point, of course, is that in the Obama era, Republicans have no use for the maxim about politics stopping “at the water’s edge.” For many GOP lawmakers, there is no American foreign policy – there’s the president’s foreign policy and there’s a Republican foreign policy. If the latter is at odds with the former, GOP officials are comfortable taking deliberate steps to undermine the White House.

There is no real precedent for this in the American tradition. The U.S. system just isn’t supposed to work this way – because it can’t. Max Fisher’s take on this rings true:

To be very clear, this is not just a breach of protocol: it’s a very real problem for American foreign policy. The Supreme Court has codified into law the idea that only the president is allowed to make foreign policy, and not Congress, because if there are two branches of government setting foreign policy then America effectively has two foreign policies.

The idea is that the US government needs to be a single unified entity on the world stage in order to conduct effective foreign policy. Letting the president and Congress independently set their own foreign policies would lead to chaos. It would be extremely confusing for foreign leaders, and foreign publics, who don’t always understand how domestic American politics work, and could very easily misread which of the two branches is actually setting the agenda.

All of which leads us back to this week. The United States and our allies have reached a delicate stage of diplomacy on a key issue, but as far as congressional Republicans are concerned, the United States isn’t really at the negotiating table at all – the Obama administration is. GOP lawmakers not only disapprove of the process, and they not only have no qualms about trying to sabotage the international talks, they’re even willing to partner with a foreign government to undermine American foreign policy.

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, I honestly don’t think this has ever happened before, at least not in our country. In effect, Boehner has invited Netanyahu to play the legislative branch of the U.S. government against the executive branch of the U.S. government, and the Israeli prime minister is happy to accept that invitation.

Cynicism about our politics is easy, but this isn’t just the latest outrage of the week. We’re talking about the ability of the United States to conduct foreign policy.

There are things you simply don’t do – and right now, Republicans are doing them.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, Israel, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“GOP Thinks The 47 Percent Aren’t Trying Hard Enough”: News Flash, Middle-Class Rowboats Are Taking On Water

Remember the “47 percent”?

During his 2012 campaign for the presidency, Mitt Romney was caught on tape describing nearly half the country in disparaging terms, labeling them moochers who want handouts. They are voters “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it,” he said.

Romney’s remarks — and he stood by them immediately after his election defeat — didn’t just damage him; they also sullied the entire Republican Party, reinforcing its image as the lapdog of the very rich. Even now, as some of its strategists push hard for the GOP to reach out to ordinary working folks, its congressional leaders continue to protect the 1 percent.

If President Obama has no hope for passage of his ambitious program of “middle-class economics,” as he called it during last week’s State of the Union speech, at least he has a plan. His proposals for free community college, increasing the minimum wage and providing tax cuts to families in the middle of the economic spectrum have the advantage of recognizing the reality of income inequality.

So far, his GOP critics continue to resist that reality, sticking to the old Reagan-era bromide that a “rising tide lifts all boats.” Perhaps that’s true, but those middle-class rowboats are taking on water even as the rich float along comfortably in their yachts.

The growing gap between the haves and the have-nots is one of the most critical issues of our time, a dispiriting trend that has struck most Western economies. Because of complex forces, especially globalization and technology, the incomes of ordinary workers are falling further and further behind, even as the rich get, well, richer.

That’s not the fault of Democrats or Republicans, Libertarians or Socialists. Nor did this growing inequality start with the Great Recession. It started way back in the 1970s, as the factories that had powered the middle class started to shut down. American steel mills closed; textile mills went away; automotive plants moved out. The trends have simply accelerated since then, as robots power assembly lines and low-wage workers in places like Bangladesh sew garments once made in Maine and North Carolina.

Even now, in a resurgent economy, many families haven’t regained their footing. Their savings accounts have evaporated. They can’t replace the house they lost to foreclosure. They work two or three part-time jobs without benefits. And even those with full-time jobs aren’t living it up. According to The New York Times, the median weekly wage for full-time workers at the end of 2014 was $796, below the levels in 2009, when the expansion began.

Those workers are hardly moochers. They are struggling to find their way in a world where their skills have less value. They need help from a government that knows its role is to lend a hand, to steady the ladder, to help them find a toehold.

Even Romney, who is making noises about running again, has finally gotten the message. He has at least called for an increase in the minimum wage.

But most Republicans can’t get over the notion that those who haven’t made it simply aren’t trying hard enough, that if you’re stuck on the economic margins, it’s your own fault. Their allegiance to the very rich — people like the billionaire Koch brothers — overrides any concern for the vast middle.

Take their insistence on resisting tax increases for the 1 percent — a plan proposed by Obama to pay for tax cuts for the middle and working classes. Republicans claim any tax hikes would kill the recovery. But that’s not so. George W. Bush’s tax cuts led to no new job growth, while Bill Clinton, who raised taxes, presided over a period of widespread prosperity.

So what do Republicans propose? So far, they’ve pushed building the Keystone pipeline, which would create about 42,000 jobs over a period of two years, but only about 35 permanent jobs. And, of course, the GOP still wants to kill Obamacare, a strategy that would create zero jobs.

That’s not much better than dismissing the 47 percent.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, The National Memo, January 24, 2015

January 25, 2015 Posted by | Economic Policy, GOP, Middle Class | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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