Sunday, February 2, 2014

Capitalism Offers No Guarantee of a Middle Class

Reuters global editor at large Chrystia Freeland wrote in a 2011 column, Capitalism is Failing the Middle Class, what many of us have been complaining about for years, but what may finally be sinking in to skulls of the policy wonks that have influence with the movers and shakers of global capitalism. She sited two studies, one written by Michael Spence, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, and the other David Auter, published by the Brookings Institution. Both papers warn of the long term national consequences of lower wages and fewer job opportunities caused by shipping jobs overseas. From Chrystia Freeland:
Globalization and the technology revolution are increasing productivity and prosperity. But those rewards are unevenly shared – they are going to the people at the top in the United States, and enriching emerging economies over all. But the American middle class is losing out.
To Americans in the middle, it may seem surprising that it takes a Nobel laureate and sheaves of economic data to reach this unremarkable conclusion. But the analysis and its impeccable provenance matter, because this basic truth about how the world economy is working today is being ignored by most of the politicians in the United States and denied by many of its leading business people.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that capitalism by itself is no guarantee of the kind of large, prosperous middle class that used to define Americans as a land of opportunity. Businesses in this world can find poor grunts to work long days under terrible conditions for enough food to keep from starving. Businesses should remember that working customers will spend more if they're paid more.

Do people work for the economy or does the economy work for people?

The middle class was brought to us by those who fought for a combination of government policies and labor contracts: compulsory education and the schools that needed to be built, the Land Grant College Act, child labor laws, the minimum wage, workers compensation, social security, unemployment benefits, Medicare, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the eight-hour day, weekends, collective bargaining, anti-discrimination laws that were all passed despite fierce opposition from conservatives and corporations.

And they’re still at it.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Beirut to Benghazi: Scarborough's Selective Memory

Before going off to work in the morning, I often watch Morning Joe, hosted by Joe Scarborough. Joe, a former Republican congressman from Florida, is cool. He plays guitar and had a band when he was younger, he taught high school for awhile, he's got some wit and spontaneity. He can "dance."

The best part about his show is, although Joe's a conservative, he brings in guests with other points of view, including some left-of-center voices such as Eugene Robinson and Howard Dean. The show "airs" on MSNBC from 6-9AM weekdays.

Last Friday (24 January 2014) Joe and his guests were discussing President Obama's apparent unwillingness or inability to go out schmoozing with other politicians in the Washington social scene. Joe seemed quite convinced this was the problem with Obama. If he could just go out after work and yuck it up with conservative senators and representatives, he could get a lot more of his agenda passed.

His guests pushed back: it won't work, there's more partisanship, positions have hardened, compromise is a "dirty word," times have changed, it's a different world.

This is not an exact quote but Joe's response was something like "No, No! It's not a different world!....It was just as bad back when I was in!"  He was a bit loud and his guests didn't interrupt as he made his impassioned plea.

I wish Joe would have used some examples, instead of just his passion, to convince us that the political discourse is no more partisan now, than it was in, say, 1983. He could have compared Benghazi with Beirut. I wish he could have described how Democrat presidential hopefuls leaped at the opportunity to blame President Reagan for not preventing the bombing of the Marine barracks that killed 241 Americans. But, he couldn't. Because none did.

Reagan had been warned ahead of time of the vulnerability of the Marines' situation. His Secretary of Defense, Weinberger, said this:
"They had no mission but to sit at the airport, which is just like sitting in a bull's-eye," Weinberger said. "I begged the president at least to pull them back and put them back on their transports as a more defensible position."
Joe might have described how  Congressional investigations were launched by Democrats to get to the bottom of the Marine barracks attacks, just like Republicans held committee hearings on Benghazi.  But he couldn't. Because there weren't any.

Reagan appointed a military commission to investigate the bombing and the final report blamed a faceless "military chain of command."  Reagan, the "Teflon" president, was home free.

Contrast that with the Senate  and House investigations of the Benghazi attack, an issue Scarborough and other Republicans continue to raise with the hope of discrediting Obama and Hillary Clinton, or countering any alleged wrongdoing by Republicans. 

Back to the "Obama's not a schmoozer, therefore he's not a successful President" criticism. Seems to me, what Joe is really saying is,  Republicans don't read, they need their vanities stroked, are impervious to reason, and only got into politics with hopes of going to Washington to party in the White House.

Guess we can't expect them to remember much.

Further reading from Pew Research:
Partisan Polarization Surges in Bush, Obama Years