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“Too Much Capital In Too Few Hands”: Populist Backlash Will Keep Increasing As Inequality Continues To Rise

Listen to a typical center-left Democrat, and you’ll hear rosy things about the economy. GDP growth is solid, unemployment is low, and even wages are starting to rise. The Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party generally will be touting these achievements even as they focus on issues of structural racism and sexism while offering government support in areas like childcare.

But there’s a big problem: overall, inequality is still rising at an astonishing rate to unprecedented levels:

Financial inequality became even wider in the United States last year, with average income for the top 1% of households surging 7.7% to $1.36 million.

Income for the richest sliver rose twice as fast as it did for the remaining 99% of households, according to an updated analysis of tax data by Emmanuel Saez, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s true that the 99% is doing better than it has since the 1990s, but the gains are relatively modest. Furthermore, basic cost of living has gone way up, particularly in the areas of tuition and housing. Housing in particular is a major problem driven by inequality itself: with accumulation of capital comes the need for places to store it, and real estate is a popular piggybank for wealthy investors. This in turn drives up the cost of housing, making it more difficult to afford housing in the urban areas where most jobs are located.

The bigger problem is that America already tried the 1990s approach to prosperity, assuming that rising inequality isn’t a problem as long as everyone is doing OK. What does it matter if the rich are getting much much richer, if the fortunes of the poor and the middle class are also improving even if at a slower rate?

The answer is that it’s unsustainable in both the short and long term. Over the long term high rates of inequality shrink the middle class and increase political instability. In the short term, too much capital in too few hands leads to speculative bubbles, that in turn lead to big recessions. Recessions tend to wipe out the wealth of the middle class in a much more devastating way than that of the wealthy who have more ways to protect their money. More importantly, the wealthy recover their position much more quickly as asset values balloon back, but the jobs that sustain the middle class and the poor return more slowly–often at permanently lower wage levels when adjusted for inflation.

Automation and globalization are likely to inexorably drive the trend toward rampant inequality, exacerbated by tax policy designed to protect the wealthy and overgrown financial sector. Merely tackling structural racist and sexist inequalities will do good in their own ways for women and minorities, but they will do little to address the overall problem. Targeted government programs to help citizens with childcare and other needs will help somewhat but won’t do much to fix what’s fundamentally wrong.

Only much more aggressive policies that give workers a greater say in how companies are run to “pre-distribute” wealth, as well as much more progressive graduated tax policies that distribute uneven gains more equitably, will ultimately tilt the balance back toward the middle class where it belongs. Until then, expect to see increasingly virulent strains of populist backlash from both the right and the left until something changes. Incrementalism may be all that is possible politically, but it’s not an answer for the problems that beset us and give rise to anxious backlash. As long as inequality rises, Donald Trump, Brexit and ISIS will be just the beginning of the world’s back-to-basics nativist woes.

People don’t just want the 99% to do better. As the 1% continues to outpace everyone else, a great many people in America and the world actively want the 1% to do worse. And it’s hard to blame them for that sentiment.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, July 4, 2016

July 6, 2016 Posted by | Economic Inequality, Middle East, Populism, The 1% | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“In The Land Of His Imagination”: Even Donald Trump’s Most Presidential Speech Was A Bizarre, Lie-Riddled Fantasy

On Wednesday, Donald Trump gave one of the most presidential speeches he’s ever delivered — which is to say, a speech that was written out beforehand and which he read off a teleprompter, without his usual digressions into his spectacular performance in the polls and the scum-sucking lowlifes who have filed lawsuits against him (or are judges in those lawsuits). But just when you think Trump is going to put together a logical and persuasive case on something — in this speech, the all-encompassing villainy of Hillary Clinton was the topic — he dashes off into the land of his imagination, spinning out a weird series of easily debunked lies and bizarre fantasies.

This pattern repeated itself over and over in Trump’s speech (you can read the prepared text here; there were some off-the-cuff embellishments, but not too many). He would start with a reasonable critique: for instance, that Clinton supported NAFTA, which cost Americans jobs. But then he would take that critique to an absurd place: “Hillary Clinton gave China millions of our best jobs, and effectively let China completely rebuild itself. In return, Hillary Clinton got rich!”

After trade, Trump moved on to Benghazi, of course. Setting a serious tone, Trump said, “She started the war that put [Ambassador Chris Stevens] in Libya, denied him the security he asked for, then left him there to die.” Trump continued with this fanciful exploration of the full breadth and depth of Clinton’s power, which apparently existed on a scale that would make kings and presidents seem like tiny bugs the titanic Hillary could brush off her shoulder:

In just four years, Secretary Clinton managed to almost single-handedly destabilize the entire Middle East.

Her invasion of Libya handed the country over to the ISIS barbarians.

Thanks to Hillary Clinton, Iran is now the dominant Islamic power in the Middle East, and on the road to nuclear weapons.

Hillary Clinton’s support for violent regime change in Syria has thrown the country into one of the bloodiest civil wars anyone has ever seen — while giving ISIS a launching pad for terrorism against the West.

She helped force out a friendly regime in Egypt and replace it with the radical Muslim Brotherhood. The Egyptian military has retaken control, but Clinton has opened the Pandora’s box of radical Islam. [Donald Trump]

Let’s recap. You may have thought there was a revolution in Libya to overthrow longtime despot Moammar Gadhafi, a revolution that accomplished its initial goal with some help from the United States. This apparently is not correct; it turns out that what actually happened was that Hillary Clinton invaded Libya. Iran’s influence in the region? All because Hillary Clinton wanted it that way. Syria’s civil war? Started by Hillary Clinton. All those people you saw protesting Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Cairo’s Tahrir Square? Sent there by Hillary Clinton, I suppose, who then engineered the ensuing election to make sure the Muslim Brotherhood won. Radical Islam? Non-existent before Hillary Clinton came along (but don’t tell al Qaeda).

I won’t bother to go through the long list of lies Trump told through the rest of his speech (that he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning, that there’s no system to vet refugees, etc.) But whenever Trump began a legitimate critique of Clinton, it would inevitably go off the rails. It’s fine to criticize her use of private email at the State Department, which was a mistake. But Trump says that in the personal emails her attorneys segregated from those to be sent to the State Department and which were then deleted, there were terrifying secrets. “While we may not know what is in those deleted emails, our enemies probably do. So they probably now have a blackmail file over someone who wants to be president of the United States. This fact alone disqualifies her from the presidency. We can’t hand over our government to someone whose deepest, darkest secrets may be in the hands of our enemies.”

I suppose if you use “probably” as a modifier you can say whatever you want, like “Donald Trump probably keeps his hair soft and manageable by shampooing in the blood of kittens.” Do we know that, or have any concrete evidence that it might be true? No. But it probably is, right?

I have no doubt that Trump’s most ardent fans eat stuff like this up. When he calls Clinton “the most corrupt person ever to seek the presidency,” they cheer in agreement. But Trump’s task isn’t to delight his supporters, it’s to win over people who aren’t already in his camp. But only someone who is already a Trump voter could be persuaded by that kind of ridiculous hyperbole.

And that’s what Trump is like when he’s being presidential.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, June 23, 2016

June 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Middle East | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Foreign-Policy Party No More”: On Foreign Policy, The GOP’s Candidates For President Are Either Ignorant Or Insane

Fairly early on in this week’s Republican presidential debate, Ted Cruz was reminded about his recent quote in which he vowed to “carpet bomb ISIS into oblivion,” testing whether “sand can glow in the dark.” Asked whether he’s prepared to decimate a populated city like Raqqa, informally known as the ISIS capital in Syria, the Texas senator hedged.

“You would carpet bomb where ISIS is, not a city, but the location of the troops,” Cruz said, adding, “[T]he object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.”

This plainly didn’t make any sense. It’s as if Cruz referenced carpet bombing – indiscriminate bombing of large areas, without regard for collateral damage – without having any idea what it means. To hear the Texas Republican tell it, there’s such a thing as precision, “directed” carpet bombing, which is a contradiction in terms.

The gibberish, however, was par for the course. Writing in the Washington Post, Dan Drezner, a center-right scholar, said yesterday, “When it comes to foreign policy, the GOP’s candidates for president in 2016 are either ignorant or insane.”

The overwhelming bulk of what the GOP candidates had to say last night was pure, unadulterated horses***. […]

When I came of political age, the Republican Party had a surfeit of smart, tough-minded foreign policy folk: Brent Scowcroft, Robert Gates, James Baker, Bob Zoellick, Richard Haass, and Lawrence Eagleburger. I pity these people having to listen to what was said on the GOP main stage last night.

Keep in mind, this isn’t so much about subjective questions. Knowing what we know now, was the invasion of Iraq in 2003 a good idea or a bad idea? Marco Rubio says it was a good idea; most people who’ve been conscious for the last 12 years say the opposite; and it can be a topic of spirited conversation.

When a center-right observer like Drezner talks about Republican presidential candidates being “either ignorant or insane,” he’s not referring to debatable judgment calls. He’s referring to an entire field of GOP candidates who at times seemed lost as to what foreign policies actually are.

Slate’s Fred Kaplan noted the debate was “devoted to national security and terrorism, about which most of the nine major candidates proved they knew nothing, a fact that some tried to conceal by making stuff up.”

How did the party that used to dominate on foreign policy fall to such cringe-worthy depths?

Part of the problem is likely the result of the demise of the Republican Party’s elder statesmen. In the not-too-distant past, the GOP was guided on foreign policy by responsible, learned hands – experienced officials like Dick Lugar, John Warner, and Brent Scowcroft – who approached international affairs with degree of maturity. Those Republicans now tend to agree with President Obama.

Which leads to another potential explanation: the more Obama represents some kind of “sensible center” on matters of foreign policy, the more his radicalized Republican critics feel the need to move even further to the right.

I also wouldn’t discount the role of post-policy thinking of the broader debate: the national GOP candidates are speaking to (and for) a party that has no patience for substantive details, historical lessons, nuance, or diplomacy. Heck, we’re talking about a party that has convinced itself that the key to defeating terrorists is literally using the phrase “radical Islam,” as if the words have magical national-security implications. That’s ridiculous, of course, but it’s emblematic of a party that approaches foreign policy itself with all the maturity of a Saturday-morning cartoon.

Finally, some context is probably in order. At the end of the Bush/Cheney era, the GOP’s entire approach to international affairs was discredited and in tatters. It needed to be rebuilt, reconsidered, and molded anew into something coherent. That never happened – the intra-party debate never really occurred, except to the extent that Republicans agreed that Obama is always wrong, even when he’s right, and those who agree with him must always be rejected, even when they’re Republicans in good standing.

Taken together, there’s something genuinely pathetic about the Republican Party’s once-great credibility on these issues. As Rachel put it on the show last night, “We really need two parties who are good at this issue in order to have good policy on this issue. We need good debate because this stuff is hard and our best decisions will come out of good, robust debate. Can the Republican Party hold up its end of the debate?”

It’s hard to be optimistic, isn’t it?

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, December 17, 2015

December 21, 2015 Posted by | Foreign Policy, GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Forever Active Or Proxy Warfare”: Republican Lies And Distortions About The Middle East

One of the reasons it is difficult to comment on the actual content of what the Republican presidential candidates said last night is that so much of it was simply untrue. By the time you are done fact-checking, there isn’t much there there.

The debate produced a lot of material for the fact-checkers to work with. But most troubling, given the topic they were focused on, was the complete lack of understanding and/or truthfulness about what is actually going on in the Middle East. A perfect example of that was the claim from Ted Cruz that the Obama administration “toppled former President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.” One can only assume that Cruz is ignorant of the whole “Arab Spring” rebellions of 2010/11 and the fact that it was the people of Egypt who forced him to step down.

For a more comprehensive review, Ishaan Tharoor has written: The Middle East dreamed up at the Republican debate doesn’t really exist. He begins by talking about Cruz’s proposal to “carpet bomb” ISIS.

Cruz’s emphasis is on tough, withering, relentless action, but you can’t bomb the Islamic State to smithereens without contemplating an enormous civilian death toll. That places Cruz in the same camp as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has for years now been bombing civilian areas in his own nation’s cities with barrel bombs and other crude, indiscriminate forms of munitions…

Cruz and, to varying extents, other candidates onstage appeared to view the Middle East as a kind of set for “American Sniper” — a woebegone place of dusty towns crawling with bad guy extremists and not much else.

It wouldn’t be the first time a Republican confused the real world with the movie version.

Tharoor goes on to talk about Carson’s proposal to move Syrian refugees to the Hasakah governorate in northeast Syria, which “is still a theater of war and the site of bitter clashes between Kurdish militias and the Islamic State,” as well as the complex realities of working with various Kurdish parties and militias. But then he got to what I noticed in the proposals we heard last night from Kasich, Rubio and Christie.

But none of this was being deliberated in Las Vegas, of course.

Instead, there was a vague embrace of Sunni Arab elites — namely the ruling royals of countries like Jordan and Saudi Arabia — and a parallel demonization of Iran, a regional bogeyman on the other side of a sectarian divide with the Saudis.

The truth is that the neocons in the Republican Party want the United States to take sides in the centuries-old battle between the Shia and the Sunnis in the Middle East. Specifically, they want us to take the side of the Sunni majorities in countries like Saudi Arabia against the Shiites in Iran. That means aligning with the country whose oil wealth has been used to support groups like al Qaeda and ISIS. Here is how Kasich put it last night:

Assad is aligned with Iran and Russia. The one thing we want to prevent is we want to prevent Iran being able to extend a Shia crescent all across the Middle East. Assad has got to go…

I don’t want to be policeman of the world. But we can’t back off of this. And let me tell you, at the end, the Saudis have agreed to put together a coalition inside of Syria to stabilize that country.

He must go. It will be a blow to Iran and Russia.

In the Republican mind, we have friends and we have enemies. Saudi Arabia – which has one of the worst human rights records in the world – is a “friend.” Russia and Iran are “enemies.”

That is exactly why Republicans are so vehemently opposed the the deal that was recently negotiated with Iran to stop their development of nuclear weapons. As President Obama told David Remnick prior to the conclusion of those negotiations, it sets the stage for a potential geopolitical realignment in the Middle East.

Ultimately, he envisages a new geopolitical equilibrium, one less turbulent than the current landscape of civil war, terror, and sectarian battle. “It would be profoundly in the interest of citizens throughout the region if Sunnis and Shias weren’t intent on killing each other,” he told me. “And although it would not solve the entire problem, if we were able to get Iran to operate in a responsible fashion—not funding terrorist organizations, not trying to stir up sectarian discontent in other countries, and not developing a nuclear weapon—you could see an equilibrium developing between Sunni, or predominantly Sunni, Gulf states and Iran in which there’s competition, perhaps suspicion, but not an active or proxy warfare.

For all their bluster about the President being weak and ineffective, this is the real reason Republicans oppose his strategy in the Middle East. They can’t conceptualize peace in the Middle East short of a military solution that provides a win for our friends and defeat of our enemies. In other words…forever active or proxy warfare.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, December 15, 2015

December 20, 2015 Posted by | GOP Presidential Candidates, Middle East, Terrorism | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Michael Gerson Is An Idiot”: Former Bush Speechwriter Attacks Obama As Vicious Peacemonger

Last week, at a press conference in Turkey, a reporter asked President Obama to respond to the charge that “your reluctance to enter another Middle East war, and your preference of diplomacy over using the military makes the United States weaker and emboldens our enemies.” Obama began with a specific defense of his policies, and eventually added a general defense of his reluctance to send in large numbers of ground troops. “But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough,” insisted Obama, “And maybe part of the reason is because every few months I go to Walter Reed, and I see a 25-year-old kid who’s paralyzed or has lost his limbs, and some of those are people I’ve ordered into battle. And so I can’t afford to play some of the political games that others may.”

Washington Post columnist and former Bush administration speechwriter Michael Gerson is scandalized at the president’s rhetoric. “It is almost beyond belief: A commander in chief, in a time of national testing, deploying limbless soldiers as a rhetorical trump card against his political opponents … ” he complained. “The United States has a president whose wartime leadership is apparently inspired not by Winston Churchill or Franklin Roosevelt but by Rachel Maddow. His military strategy in Iraq and Syria may be questionable, but Obama is the Eisenhower of political polarization, the Napoleon of the partisan low blow.”

For the sake of argument, let us grant Gerson’s implicit premise that the president’s rhetoric, rather than his policies, is the primary subject — a premise that no doubt appeals to the wordsmith who wrote eloquent justification on behalf of the most disastrous foreign-policy regime in American history. Focus on Gerson’s premise that there is something especially — indeed, world-historically — gross about Obama citing injured soldiers as an argument against committing soldiers to battle. What are we to make of arguments like this one, by George W. Bush, in favor of war with Iraq?

Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security, and for the people of Iraq. …

On Saddam Hussein’s orders, opponents have been decapitated, wives and mothers of political opponents have been systematically raped as a method of intimidation, and political prisoners have been forced to watch their own children being tortured.

Again, set aside the fact that Bush was utterly wrong in his case that neither human rights nor regional security could possibly get worse in the case of an invasion. What he believed (no doubt in earnest) was that his opponent’s policies would allow the continuation of the genuine horrors of Saddam-era Iraq. It’s beyond the pale to invoke the specter of a wheelchair-bound soldier to make the case against a ground invasion, but completely fair to saddle your opponents with decapitation, mass rape, and child torture?

 

By: Jonathan Chait, The Daily Intelligencer, November 20, 2015

November 30, 2015 Posted by | Iraq War, Michael Gerson, Middle East | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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