mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Plutocrats And Prejudice”: The Base Isn’t Taking Guidance The Way It Used To

Every time you think that our political discourse can’t get any worse, it does. The Republican primary fight has devolved into a race to the bottom, achieving something you might have thought impossible: making George W. Bush look like a beacon of tolerance and statesmanship. But where is all the nastiness coming from?

Well, there’s debate about that — and it’s a debate that is at the heart of the Democratic contest.

Like many people, I’ve described the competition between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders as an argument between competing theories of change, which it is. But underlying that argument is a deeper dispute about what’s wrong with America, what brought us to the state we’re in.

To oversimplify a bit — but only, I think, a bit — the Sanders view is that money is the root of all evil. Or more specifically, the corrupting influence of big money, of the 1 percent and the corporate elite, is the overarching source of the political ugliness we see all around us.

The Clinton view, on the other hand, seems to be that money is the root of some evil, maybe a lot of evil, but it isn’t the whole story. Instead, racism, sexism and other forms of prejudice are powerful forces in their own right. This may not seem like a very big difference — both candidates oppose prejudice, both want to reduce economic inequality. But it matters for political strategy.

As you might guess, I’m on the many-evils side of this debate. Oligarchy is a very real issue, and I was writing about the damaging rise of the 1 percent back when many of today’s Sanders supporters were in elementary school. But it’s important to understand how America’s oligarchs got so powerful.

For they didn’t get there just by buying influence (which is not to deny that there’s a lot of influence-buying out there). Crucially, the rise of the American hard right was the rise of a coalition, an alliance between an elite seeking low taxes and deregulation and a base of voters motivated by fears of social change and, above all, by hostility toward you-know-who.

Yes, there was a concerted, successful effort by billionaires to push America to the right. That’s not conspiracy theorizing; it’s just history, documented at length in Jane Mayer’s eye-opening new book “Dark Money.” But that effort wouldn’t have gotten nearly as far as it has without the political aftermath of the Civil Rights Act, and the resulting flip of Southern white voters to the G.O.P.

Until recently you could argue that whatever the motivations of conservative voters, the oligarchs remained firmly in control. Racial dog whistles, demagogy on abortion and so on would be rolled out during election years, then put back into storage while the Republican Party focused on its real business of enabling shadow banking and cutting top tax rates.

But in this age of Trump, not so much. The 1 percent has no problems with immigration that brings in cheap labor; it doesn’t want a confrontation over Planned Parenthood; but the base isn’t taking guidance the way it used to.

In any case, however, the question for progressives is what all of this says about political strategy.

If the ugliness in American politics is all, or almost all, about the influence of big money, then working-class voters who support the right are victims of false consciousness. And it might — might — be possible for a candidate preaching economic populism to break through this false consciousness, thereby achieving a revolutionary restructuring of the political landscape, by making a sufficiently strong case that he’s on their side. Some activists go further and call on Democrats to stop talking about social issues other than income inequality, although Mr. Sanders hasn’t gone there.

On the other hand, if the divisions in American politics aren’t just about money, if they reflect deep-seated prejudices that progressives simply can’t appease, such visions of radical change are naïve. And I believe that they are.

That doesn’t say that movement toward progressive goals is impossible — America is becoming both more diverse and more tolerant over time. Look, for example, at how quickly opposition to gay marriage has gone from a reliable vote-getter for the right to a Republican liability.

But there’s still a lot of real prejudice out there, and probably enough so that political revolution from the left is off the table. Instead, it’s going to be a hard slog at best.

Is this an unacceptably downbeat vision? Not to my eyes. After all, one reason the right has gone so berserk is that the Obama years have in fact been marked by significant if incomplete progressive victories, on health policy, taxes, financial reform and the environment. And isn’t there something noble, even inspiring, about fighting the good fight, year after year, and gradually making things better?

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, January 29, 2016

January 30, 2016 Posted by | Election 2016, Plutocrats, Prejudice | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Every Group Has Its ‘Other'”: Here We Go Again, Trash-Talking The Working Class

Bear with me, please, as I start this column with a brief story about my two grandmothers who lived in trailer homes.

They lived in Ashtabula County, which is tucked into the northeast corner of Ohio, an hour east of Cleveland. If ever you’ve travelled a good distance along U.S. 90, you likely passed our county’s handful of exits on your way to somewhere else.

For all of my childhood, this was home, and I was seldom happier than when I had time alone with my maternal great-grandmother, Ada, who raised my mother from the age of 8. In the late ’60s, after her husband died, Ada sold her house and 20 acres to move into a trailer home a couple of miles down the road. It was closer to her church, her second home.

I spent weeks at a time in the summers with her, freed from the responsibilities of the oldest child always on duty. She taught me how to cook, garden and quilt. Every Sunday after church, rain or shine, we walked to the cemetery to tend my great-grandfather’s grave and say a prayer of gratitude for the time we’d had with him. We had our evening rituals, too. She believed a steaming cup of tea at sunset was a great way to settle the mind for the big thoughts that show up only under the night sky.

My maternal grandmother, Vivian, lost custody of my mother when she was 8 and spent the rest of her life trying to make it up to her and taking care of my uncle, who had a mental disability. His name was Francis, and she never spent a day away from him until he died from complications of diabetes in his late 50s.

Grandma Vivian was the first person I knew to buy an aluminum Christmas tree. What a sight for my siblings and me. My mother stood behind us and whispered orders to close our mouths and stop acting like we’d just seen a ghost.

This was the grandma with the trunk full of antique dresses and hats for us to play with whenever we visited. When my mother wasn’t around, Grandma often served me a cup of coffee loaded with milk and sugar — a grown-up reward for “being so responsible.” When her house in Ashtabula County became too run down to be safe, my grandmother closed it up and lived in a trailer on the back lot until Alzheimer’s robbed her of the ability to take care of herself.

I wanted you to know a little bit about my grandmothers so that you might better understand my outrage over a Cleveland Plain Dealer writer’s reaction to Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for president:

“Thanks to Trump, the entire Palin clan is now back in the spotlight they so crave. Come July, Republican National Convention organizers should house the whole dysfunctional family at a trailer park in Ashtabula.”

This is surely not the first time a pundit has cast the Palins as “trailer park folks” — which is code, of course, for “white trash.” We are hearing these phrases more frequently as pundits try to make sense of Donald Trump’s soaring poll numbers.

In her book “Framing Class: Media Representations of Wealth and Poverty in America,” sociologist Diana Kendall describes how in 2008 then-“Late Show” host David Letterman “maintained a night-after-night monologue about Sarah Palin and why she is white trash.” He was joined, she writes, by “print media, television and Web blogs … full of descriptions of Sarah Palin’s trailer park lifestyle.”

Much closer to home, since Donald Trump’s charade of a candidacy caught fire, I have heard many fellow liberals freely toss around the terms “white trash” and “trailer trash.” These are people who would never dream of telling a racist joke, but they think nothing of ridiculing those of lesser economic means.

Every group has its “other.” For too many white intellectuals, it’s the working class.

Neither of my grandmothers had much money, ever, but they contributed so much to the lives of the people they loved. They were both storytellers who helped me understand the long-ago sacrifices of people I would never know but who live on in the blue of my eyes and the ambitions of my heart. They are why I’ve devoted a number of columns and stories over the years to people who live in trailer parks.

Just this week, I was remembering Marjie Scuvotti, a 24-year-old mother of four. I interviewed her in 2002, on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. She talked to me in her home in a trailer park as she painted her 6-year-old son Issac’s face red, white and blue for a parade celebrating first responders.

“You’re my American-flag boy,” Marjie whispered in his ear. She couldn’t have been a prouder mother.

This campaign year has barely begun, and it promises to be a long one. Regardless of which partisan lens we look through, we will see some voters who confound us.

Mocking them will never bring us closer to understanding them, but it will surely reveal us, and we will not benefit from the exposure.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Professional-in-Residence at Kent State University’s School of journalism; Featured Post, The National Memo, January 28, 2016

January 29, 2016 Posted by | America, Poverty, Working Class | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Elections Have Consequences”: Don’t Let Anyone Tell You Otherwise

You have to be seriously geeky to get excited when the Internal Revenue Service releases a new batch of statistics. Well, I’m a big geek; like quite a few other people who work on policy issues, I was eagerly awaiting the I.R.S.’s tax tables for 2013, which were released last week.

And what these tables show is that elections really do have consequences.

You might think that this is obvious. But on the left, in particular, there are some people who, disappointed by the limits of what President Obama has accomplished, minimize the differences between the parties. Whoever the next president is, they assert — or at least, whoever it is if it’s not Bernie Sanders — things will remain pretty much the same, with the wealthy continuing to dominate the scene. And it’s true that if you were expecting Mr. Obama to preside over a complete transformation of America’s political and economic scene, what he’s actually achieved can seem like a big letdown.

But the truth is that Mr. Obama’s election in 2008 and re-election in 2012 had some real, quantifiable consequences. Which brings me to those I.R.S. tables.

For one of the important consequences of the 2012 election was that Mr. Obama was able to go through with a significant rise in taxes on high incomes. Partly this was achieved by allowing the upper end of the Bush tax cuts to expire; there were also new taxes on high incomes passed along with the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

If Mitt Romney had won, we can be sure that Republicans would have found a way to prevent these tax hikes. And we can now see what happened because he didn’t. According to the new tables, the average income tax rate for 99 percent of Americans barely changed from 2012 to 2013, but the tax rate for the top 1 percent rose by more than four percentage points. The tax rise was even bigger for very high incomes: 6.5 percentage points for the top 0.01 percent.

These numbers aren’t enough to give us a full picture of taxes at the top, which requires taking account of other taxes, especially taxes on corporate profits that indirectly affect the income of stockholders. But the available numbers are consistent with Congressional Budget Office projections of the effects of the 2013 tax increases — projections which said that the effective federal tax rate on the 1 percent would rise roughly back to its pre-Reagan level. No, really: for top incomes, Mr. Obama has effectively rolled back not just the Bush tax cuts but Ronald Reagan’s as well.

The point, of course, was not to punish the rich but to raise money for progressive priorities, and while the 2013 tax hike wasn’t gigantic, it was significant. Those higher rates on the 1 percent correspond to about $70 billion a year in revenue. This happens to be in the same ballpark as both food stamps and budget office estimates of this year’s net outlays on Obamacare. So we’re not talking about something trivial.

Speaking of Obamacare, that’s another thing Republicans would surely have killed if 2012 had gone the other way. Instead, the program went into effect at the beginning of 2014. And the effect on health care has been huge: according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of uninsured Americans fell 17 million between 2012 and the first half of 2015, with further declines most likely ahead.

So the 2012 election had major consequences. America would look very different today if it had gone the other way.

Now, to be fair, some widely predicted consequences of Mr. Obama’s re-election — predicted by his opponents — didn’t happen. Gasoline prices didn’t soar. Stocks didn’t plunge. The economy didn’t collapse — in fact, the U.S. economy has now added more than twice as many private-sector jobs under Mr. Obama as it did over the same period of the George W. Bush administration, and the unemployment rate is a full point lower than the rate Mr. Romney promised to achieve by the end of 2016.

In other words, the 2012 election didn’t just allow progressives to achieve some important goals. It also gave them an opportunity to show that achieving these goals is feasible. No, asking the rich to pay somewhat more in taxes while helping the less fortunate won’t destroy the economy.

So now we’re heading for another presidential election. And once again the stakes are high. Whoever the Republicans nominate will be committed to destroying Obamacare and slashing taxes on the wealthy — in fact, the current G.O.P. tax-cut plans make the Bush cuts look puny. Whoever the Democrats nominate will, first and foremost, be committed to defending the achievements of the past seven years.

The bottom line is that presidential elections matter, a lot, even if the people on the ballot aren’t as fiery as you might like. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist; Opinion Pages, The Conscience of a Liberal, The New York Times, January 4, 2015

January 5, 2016 Posted by | Economic Policy, IRS Tax Tables, Obamacare, Tax Revenue, Taxes on the Wealthy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Angriest And Least Moral”: Republicans Going For Broke On The Angry 20-30%

Texas governor Greg Abbott had choice words for President Obama and his plan to use executive power to expand gun safety laws:

“Obama wants to impose more gun control. My response? COME & TAKE IT.”

Grover Norquist went farther, comparing Obama to Darth Vader. So what is the President planning to do, exactly, that makes him some combination of Persian Emperor and Sith Lord? Mostly, expand background checks and clarify a federal rule or two:

The Post said Obama would use executive authority in several areas, including expanding background-check requirements for buyers who purchase weapons from high-volume dealers…

Thousands of guns are sold yearly by dealers who fall between licensed dealers and occasional sellers who do not need a license. Clarification could define which sellers need to meet rules and do background checks. Alcorn said.

It’s worth remembering in this context that a full 88% of Americans support stronger background checks for gun purchases–including 79% of Republicans. This is not a contentious issue except to a very small percentage of Americans who consider owning unchecked and unregulated arsenals a sacred right (while insisting that access to healthcare is not.)

But this isn’t unusual. Seventy percent of Americans support comprehensive immigration reform, for example. That’s not particularly contentious, either, except to America’s most bigoted elements.

63% of Americans support raising taxes on the rich and on large corporations to reduce income inequality. Only 31% oppose, with the rest uncertain. Again, this isn’t a terribly problematic issue in a normal democracy where supermajorities rule the day.

Republicans, however, are increasingly trapping themselves into a strategy that doubles down on the angriest and least moral 20-30% of the population. They do have the advantage of knowing that demographic votes more reliably and consistently than the other 70-80% of the public. It’s true that many of these voters, especially the ones with the deadly arsenals, are incredibly passionate about their views and will not only vote but work hard to encourage others to vote their way as well.

But it’s also true that this particular demographic is declining in number. And in the long run a political party cannot succeed by continuing to court an ever slimmer set of out-of-touch voters, particularly in a high-turnout election.

Nothing in this analysis is new, of course. But it’s worth noting that this year is different in the degree to which the GOP has placed its bet on the rump 20-30%, the virulence with which it is doing so in its rhetoric, the obvious disadvantages it is working with in polling not just on the issues but also with candidate head-to-head matchups, and the rapid decline of the very voter base on which it is depending.

Yes, the GOP will probably do quite well in the House for the next few years. Yes, it will continue to control large numbers of mostly rural and Southern states.

But electoral gravity cannot be defied forever. Tipping points turn into breaking points. And it’s going to be very ugly when the worst fifth of America’s population realizes that it really isn’t the silent majority anymore, and just how few friends it has left.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 3, 2015

January 4, 2016 Posted by | Greg Abbott, Gun Control, Gun Dealers | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Pretty Good Year In A Pretty Bad Century”: A High Point In A Century Marred By The Disastrous Bush Presidency

Imagine the 21st century as a Broadway show. We’re not talking “Hamilton” material. Actually, it’s pretty much a flop. If it were a Broadway show, it would have closed by now.

A year-end 2015 album picture, taken in Paris, showing solemn world leaders gathered to march in mournful defiance of the Islamic state group’s November terrorist attack arrested my attention. There was Germany’s Angela Merkel. There was France’s Francois Hollande. And even Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu. But not the American president, Barack Obama. And that seemed strange.

Whatever. But the picture wept. The Islamic State group was our own scary gift to the world, after all, wrapped up during our long war in Iraq; and the tag definitely has George W. Bush’s name on it. Obama has yet to fully face this unforeseen consequence of war, bound to shadow his last year in office. To his credit, he recognizes the futility of going to war once again.

So let’s skip the year in review and go straight to the century in review. It’s a good time to look back over our collective shoulder.

A full 15 years have ended in a pretty pass. At home, we are a nation more roiled by race and police brutality than ever since the 1960s civil rights movement, even with a black president. Income inequality is a plague on our houses. And we are seriously looking at an abrasive reality show host as our next Republican presidential nominee. I mean seriously, folks. Some pundits who urged us onto the Iraq War blithely assert Donald Trump will never win the primary. I don’t put my faith in those wise men. I foresee leading Democratic contender Hillary Clinton facing Trump in the general election.

We’ve seen roughly half and half in Republican and Democratic control this century. Eight years of George W. Bush as president – defined by Sept. 11 and a couple wars – followed by seven years of Barack Obama – defined by picking up the pieces and trying to make peace. A huge economic downturn was also passed along directly from Bush to Obama. The euphoria at Obama’s inauguration lasted about a day in the frigid winter air.

Obama surely deserved better than what he got, but presidents don’t pick their predecessors. Bush had staked all on avenging the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and invested in becoming a “war president.” A Special Forces lightning-like attack on Osama bin Laden, the mastermind, would have been the wiser course of action, as commander-in-chief Obama showed much later. For on 9/11, there was no army against us, just 19 hijackers: Fifteen men from Saudi Arabia, zero from Iraq.

Bush’s slothful insult toward a storied city felled by a hurricane – tipping Air Force One’s wings over New Orleans in 2005 – was the tipping point of his presidency. Suddenly, the dots of his incompetence connected and his approval rating, too, was felled and never got back up again.

Everything that came out of the Bush years – false premises for declaring war, looting antiquities, the Patriot Act, torture, Guantanamo, mass surveillance on citizens, thousands of military and civilian casualties – tarnishes what we are supposed to stand for. In the end, the Islamic State group is the last cosmic slice of “just desserts” for an absolutely meaningless war. Few who thanked soldiers for their service in airports could fully embrace or explain what it was for. Next time, people, get a draft. It’s much harder to go to war with a draft.

As the new century dawned, the omens were plainly ominous. Bush’s victory over Al Gore in late 2000 called into question whether a Supreme Court 5-4 decision is a fair election. It was hard to tell from the timid press coverage, but Gore clearly won the popular vote. Just think how different the last 15 years would have been if the outcome had gone the other way. The peace and prosperity of the Bill Clinton years seem like a dream.

Obama has done much repair work, especially on the economy and foreign policy. In fact, between the Iran deal and the recent Paris Agreement on global warming, the seventh has been his best year in office. In fact, 2015 has been the best year since this century began. But he’s not the best morale-booster. That’s just not his way.

In singing “Amazing Grace” solo at the funeral service of nine murdered black church parishioners in Charleston, South Carolina, the president showed amazing grace that moved the nation. For that June day, he became consoler-in-chief. Whether he’ll reach out to the American people to conduct heartfelt dialogues on race in 2016, somehow I doubt it, unless another catalyst arises. An eloquent writer on race in his memoir, Obama seldom put it on the front burner in the White House. But with or without him, it’s a burning subject.

2016, here we come into the maelstrom, a divided country swept by cross-currents. With Clinton in the election cycle, gender may soon join race as a force awakening in the national conversation. Iowa and New Hampshire voters, as usual, will be treated like they know so much. Both are overwhelmingly white states with rural swaths. They do not speak for flash points of violence and pain: Ferguson, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; Baltimore, Maryland; nor Charleston, South Carolina.

But we can take heart: 2015 was a pretty good year in a pretty bad century, so far.

 

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 29, 2015

December 31, 2015 Posted by | 2015, 21st Century, Bush-Cheney Administration | , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

%d bloggers like this: