Friday, August 05, 2011
Thursday, August 04, 2011
TEL AVIV, Israel -- While the world has been focused on the anti-government movements that sprang up during the Arab Spring, the largest protests in Israeli history have been sweeping the country for the past two months, threatening to destabilize the government with calls for extensive change.
The protests began with a Facebook petition over the cost of cottage cheese. They now include a litany of demands, including a return to the days when the government took a more active role in subsidizing costs. Protesters also want changes in the tax system, more subsidized government housing and more spending on health and education.
Last weekend, more than 150,000 people participated in a nationwide march to protest high housing costs. The organizers are calling for another march this weekend and promising an even larger turnout.
Israeli officials admit surprise at the strength and staying power of the protesters, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded this week by canceling a scheduled increase in the price of gasoline that was to have gone into effect Tuesday.
That's not popcorn popping, that's the sound of the heads of neo-conservatives and right wing Zionist bloggers like Pam Atlass exploding.
In a time of austerity measures in America and much of Europe, tiny Israel is deciding, yes, we the people need more.
In fairness, Israel is a nation built on socialist values. As a small island of Judaism in a larger hostile environment, people who are crammed together learn the importance of looking out for one another.
Here in America, we could have adopted the same basic moral values, but chose instead to live with the romantic illusion of "rugged individualism."
Bollocks, as the British would say. "No man is an island," as John Donne put it. Opportunity in America is defined as the culmination of the tribe fostering the one. No one gets rich in this nation on his own, and our tax codes and social constructs ought to recognize this. For behind every rich person in this nation lies an entire community and network of people who work to support his or her opportunities.
And since greed drives the acquisition of wealth, you can guaran-damn-tee he or she ain't rewarding those folks adequately.
America stopped being about "fairness" a long time ago. It stopped being about opportunity more recently, but still, the barriers to entry in any market are in direct violation of the basic principles of laissez faire economics put down by Adam Smith (who believed in soaking the rich, by the way.)
That kind of rugged individualism, where a person through the sweat of his own brow and the dirt under his fingernails, could carve out a modest life for himself that allowed him to be free of working as an indentured servant on someone else's farm, that kind of rugged individualism one can admire. But it's not the rugged individualism people think of today.
It's not the rugged individualism of free enterprise and competition. Now, markets close to competition. Companies will patent everything in sight, including your own DNA, to claim rights to them. Try "going Galt" when you leave your DNA everywhere.
Today, if you don't wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, you're a rugged individualist. An idiot, but an RI nonetheless. Note that you're middle class enough to *afford* the motorcycle in the first place. You were not someone's slave who suddenly freed himself through dint of hard work and savings.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
Tuesday, August 02, 2011
OUR nation isn’t facing just a debt crisis; it’s facing a democracy crisis. For weeks, the federal government has been hurtling toward two unsavory options: a crippling default brought on by Congressional gridlock, or — as key Democrats have advocated — a unilateral increase in the debt ceiling by an unchecked president. Even if the last-minute deal announced on Sunday night holds together, it’s become clear that the balance at the heart of the Constitution is under threat.
The debate has threatened to play out as a destructive but all too familiar two-step, revealing how dysfunctional the relationship between Congress and the president has become.
The article talks about how Presidents have decided to exercise power unilaterally, like Obama's Libyan adventures (although the practice goes back decades to Reagan and even Nixon,) while the Congress has been unable to rally itself to challenge the President's usurpation of power. Either the Congress is divided (like now) or reinforces the person holding the Oval Office (as under Bush the Younger.)
This is what the punditry tells us we want, over and over again: divided government. Given what we've experienced for over three decades now (absent the six years of Bush the Younger) is this really what we want? An ineffectual Congress hamstrung by the tyranny of the minority and a Presidency who usurps power like a king?
Mind you, none of this is partisan: Republicans and Democrats have been to blame in BOTH branches. Clinton was forced to legislate by executive order, much as Obama is. Both Bushes declared wars without making a firm case to the American people as to the need for them (this wasn't dominoes toppling or any such credible threat.) Reagan tossed American troops around like candy and American armaments to enemies.
In Congress, John Boener can't even get a centerpiece of legislation passed trying to keep the party's dog-and-pony show from tearing each other up. When Pelosi was in charge, she had to placate Blue Dog Democrats, rather than muscle them into line.
Hell, about the only thing any Congress since 1990 has been able to agree upon is that Bill Clinton needed to be impeached and a bunch of Asian desert bombed!
This has effective emasculated an entire branch of government. Power seeks a vaccuum. It's almost understandable that the President would unilaterally legislate.
Plus, members of Congress don't have to take a stand on anything controversial. Take the EPA actions earlier this year to regulate greenhouse gases. Now, long time readers of this blog know there are few people more concerned with global climate change than me. Maybe Al Gore. So while I don't have a problem with Obama taking the bull by the fumes...so to speak...I worry about the fact that Congress didn't vote on this.
Note: it wasn't voted down. The bill stalled before a vote could be taken. It's probably still in the hamper, waiting to be aired out. Look at what this saves Republicans from, say, Montana, where people believe climate change is real and a problem. The party would insist they vote against the EPA actions. Their constituencies would say "We need a better Congresscritter." No responsibility, yet they can parade around touting how angry they are that they didn't get their say.
The more a controversial issue remains undecided, and the more critical that issue becomes, the less likely it is Congress will ever actually take action. And the more likely it is they will cede that issue to the Executive branch. Fine for a liberal like me when a semi-liberal like Obama is in charge, but what happens when another Dumbya hits the Oval Office? One a little more clever?
Congress will still feel this is expedient.
But it is unhealthy. It is unhealthy for an economy, it is unhealthy for a Constitution and it is deep unhealthy for a society and its people.
Monday, August 01, 2011
A deal to raise the federal debt ceiling is in the works. If it goes through, many commentators will declare that disaster was avoided. But they will be wrong.
For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.
Where I disagree with Krugman is in the details. This package has to be reviewed this fall. On the same date that the Bush tax cuts (extended two winters ago) expire. That will immediately raise revenues, and lower the deficit tremendously. In this, it seems, Obama gets to keep his campaign promise (two years too late, of course) of eviscerating those horrid cuts.
Disaster avoided? Maybe. Maybe not. Certainly Krugman is right to point out that the last thing we need right now is spending cuts (unless they're carefully targeted, like farm subsidies for corporate farmers) and the long term effects to the economy could be irreparable if Obama is unable to persuade Congress (absent Boener, of course) that the tax cuts must die.
The inference from reading the reactions of various House leaders indicates to me that the crux of this deal with Obama is the death of the Bush cuts. Yes, he gives up stuff first, and so there's no promises or guarantees that he is ultimately successful in his pursuit of this goal.
On the other hand, it sure looks like the political kabuki I've been talking about has taken form.