Archive for the ‘The USA today.’ Category

The corruption of America’s political system – Lawrence Lessig.

April 8, 2013

In this TED* talk legal activist Lawrence Lessig says that before Americans can bring about change on any of the thousands of issues that matter to them, they must change a central corruption at the root of the American political system — that politicians must raise vast amounts of money in order to have a chance in the general election. This makes them prone to the influence of a very small percentage of the population.

After watching it, John Naughton has this to say;

Great, impassioned, supremely lucid lecture. His book — Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress – and a Plan to Stop It is terrific also.

*TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences — the TED Conference on the West Coast each spring, and the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh UK each summer — TED includes the award-winning TED Talks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.


A Fair Day’s Pay (for a fair day’s work.) in the USA

March 20, 2013

This seems very long ago and far away:

A Fair Day’s Pay for a Fair Day’s Work

Franklin D. Roosevelt

May 24, 1937

….  Our nation so richly endowed with natural resources and with a capable and industrious population should be able to devise ways and means of insuring to all our able-bodied working men and women a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.  A self-supporting and self-respecting democracy can plead no justification for the existence of child labor, no economic reason for chiseling workers’ wages or stretching workers’ hours.

 Enlightened business is learning that competition ought not to cause bad social consequences, which inevitably react upon the profits of business itself.  All but the hopelessly reactionary will agree that to conserve our primary resources of man power, government must have some control over maximum hours, minimum wages, the evil of child labor and the exploitation of unorganized labor………[link]

… In his recent  State of the Union  address, President Obama called on Congress to increase the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 an hour and to link the future increases to inflation. He noted that  a family with two children that works full time and takes home the current minimum wage is still living  below the poverty line. He insisted that  “in the wealthiest nation on Earth, no one who works full-time should have to live in poverty.” Higher wages, the president said, “could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank; rent or eviction; scraping by or finally getting ahead.” And for businesses across the country, it would mean “customers with more money in their pockets,” which translates into the simple fact that “our economy is stronger when we reward an honest day’s work with honest wages.”

As if to prove that not a lot  has been learned in 66  years that has elapsed , Obama’s call for an these increases  has elicited a somewhat similar response from conservative Republicans as FDR’s did, with House Speaker John Boehner saying that an increase is “a job killer,” and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan calling it “inflationary” and “counter-productive.” Some Republican leaders, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, have even gone so far as to advocate doing away with minimum wage/maximum hours laws altogether, a move that would no doubt be applauded by Rush Limbaugh .

The National Federation of Independent Business, with a membership of 350,000, calls  the minimum wage as “more like maximum insanity.”

All the opposition ignore the fact that study after study have shown the raising the minimum wage has been good for both the economy and business overall.  This is because every raise increases the purchasing power of the American consumer. Conservatives are so wedded to their belief that the state should not interfere in the workplace in any way that they refuse see the benefits. Andrew S. Ross, in recent  article for the The San Francisco Chronicle,  pointed out that 19 states an the District of Columbia were all  already paying above the current $7.25 and that none appeared to be going out  of business.

 Business in San Francisco doesn’t appear to be suffering from the fact the city has the highest minimum wage – $10.55 – in the nation.

“You can’t continue to build an economy on the backs of low-paid workers,”said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, who introduced the Fair Minimum Wage Act of 2013  earlier this month. Roughly half of Republicans — and 71 percent of Americans overall — support rise  $9 per hour, according to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today. This suggests that maybe in 66 years  some lessons have been learned after all.

Across the Great Divide – The United States Congress today.

February 9, 2013

In a chapter 6, entitled The Sources of Polarization, of his book Dangerous Convictions: What’s Really Wrong With the U.S. Congress” , (part of which is reprinted in Salon) Tom_Allen, a former Democratic congressman from Maine and current president and CEO of the American Association of Publishers, describes a dozen years in Congress left him “alarmed and frustrated by the inability of Republicans and Democrats to comprehend each other well enough to work together on our country’s major challenges.”  He makes a case that what’s really wrong with Congress is that Republicans and Democrats now hold worldviews that leave the two parties unable to understand how the other thinks about what people should do on their own and what should be done collectively.

 Whatever the socio-economic factors that feed our discontent, our system of government was designed by James Madison and the founders to foster sustained deliberation by representatives of the people who would be committed to acting in the “permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Too often, the Congress in which I served responded to the short-term interests of particular industries and groups. The Senate, once recognized as the “world’s greatest deliberative body,” hardly warrants that title today.

That’s not how things are viewed nowadays.

Democrats see Republicans as inattentive to evidence and expertise, unconcerned about Americans struggling to get by and reflexively opposed to government action to deal with our collective challenges. On the other hand, Republicans see Democrats as the party of a government that routinely infringes on personal freedom, as creators of a “culture of dependency” among people who should stand on their own and as promoters of change from traditional values that will leave us weaker than before.

These different perspectives drive congressional debates far more than the immediate subject before the House on any given day. Above all, the abiding clash between the view of government as a vehicle for the common good and the view of government as an obstacle to progress and personal freedom sits close to the center of our ideological gridlock. That’s why I believe that Congress is best characterized as a forum for interest-group politics overlaid by worldview politics, and it’s the latter struggle that contributes more to the dysfunctional nature of the institution.

His explanation of how these deeply rooted sources of political polarization came into being, and are being nurtured, is both illuminating and dispiriting. It’s dispiriting because, given that he that “people are increasingly sorting themselves into the party that fits their worldview and less to the party that seeks to protect their economic interests”, he must know that any project designed escape the grip of the forces that bringing this about is almost certainly doomed.

Dealing with the “malefactors of great wealth” in the USA today

February 4, 2013
This originally appeared on Robert Reich’s blog and was published by Salon on February the 4th.

Exactly a century ago, on February 3, 1913, the 16th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, authorizing a federal income tax. Congress turned it into a graduated tax, based on “capacity to pay.”

It was among the signal victories of the progressive movement — the first constitutional amendment in 40 years (the first 10 had been included in the Bill of Rights, the 11th and 12th in 1789 and 1804, and three others in consequence of the Civil War), reflecting a great political transformation in America.

The 1880s and 1890s had been the Gilded Age, the time of robber barons, when a small number controlled almost all the nation’s wealth as well as our democracy, when poverty had risen to record levels, and when it looked as though the country was destined to become a moneyed aristocracy.

But almost without warning, progressives reversed the tide. Teddy Roosevelt became president in 1901, pledging to break up the giant trusts and end the reign of the “malefactors of great wealth.” Laws were enacted protecting the public from impure foods and drugs, and from corrupt legislators.

By 1909 Democrats and progressive Republicans had swept many state elections, subsequently establishing the 40-hour work week and other reforms that would later be the foundation stones for the New Deal. Woodrow Wilson won the 1912 presidential election.

A progressive backlash against concentrated wealth and power occurred a century ago in America. In the 1880s and 1890s such a movement seemed improbable if not impossible. Only idealists and dreamers thought the nation had the political will to reform itself, let alone enact a constitutional amendment of such importance — analogous, today, to an amendment reversing “Citizens United v. FEC” and limiting the flow of big money into politics. 

But it did happen. And it will happen again.

You have to have to wonder whether this time around there are even any idealists and dreamers around.

Robert Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written 13 books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at More Robert Reich.

Show the NRA: This is what real patriotism looks like.

February 3, 2013


The spiteful vote in the US.

November 4, 2010

Katha Pollitt’s verdict on the results of the midterm US elections which appears in today’s issue of The Guardian is brief and to the point.

Katha Pollitt: ‘Voters have shot themselves in the foot’

 Americans angry that the Obama administration bailed out Wall Street have voted for Republicans who will privilege high finance and big business even more. Americans outraged that the Democrats did not cure double-digit unemployment flocked to politicians who think the unemployed don’t want to work. Young people, who won expanded access to higher education and healthcare under the Obama administration, stayed home. I know it marks me as an elitist to suggest that American voters are less than wise or well-informed, but yesterday’s results really do seem to me like a textbook case of shooting oneself in the foot. If they really think the Republicans will help them they are in for a big surprise. On the other hand, if they voted Republican out of ideology then they will get exactly what they paid for: a crueller, more selfish, and more unfair America in which they themselves will be poorer, sicker and more alone – except possibly in their heads.

• Katha Pollitt is a columnist for the Nation

I’d like to suggest that voters in the UK may have done something akin to this when they went to the polls last time. For once, I really cannot say “only in America.”

Healthcare – victory for America’s soul?

March 24, 2010

In a New York Times News Service essay, published by The Guardian yesterday, Paul Krugman was fulsome in welcoming Sunday’s healthcare vote:

 It seems the Democrats have done it. The Senate version of health reform will become law, with an improved version coming through reconciliation. This is, of course, a political victory for Obama, and a triumph for Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker. But it is also a victory for America’s soul. In the end, a vicious, unprincipled fear offensive failed to block reform. This time, fear struck out.

In the main part of his essay, he argues that Obama’s appeal before the vote was the right one.  It may not have been the clincher, but it neatly set our reasons for voting.

“Every once in a while a moment comes where you have a chance to vindicate all those best hopes that you had about yourself, about this country, where you have a chance to make good on those promises that you made … And this is the time to make true on that promise. We are not bound to win, but we are bound to be true. We are not bound to succeed, but we are bound to let whatever light we have shine.”

The opposition – mostly GOPers – could never put together anything like a convincing argument a against the proposals.

….here’s what Newt Gingrich – the Republican former speaker of the House and a man celebrated by many in his party as an intellectual leader – had to say: if Democrats pass health reform, “they will have destroyed their party much as Lyndon Johnson shattered the Democratic party for 40 years” by passing civil rights legislation.

I want you to consider the contrast: on one side, [Obhama’s] closing argument was an appeal to our better angels, urging politicians to do what is right, even if it hurts their careers; on the other side, callous cynicism. Think about what it means to condemn health reform by comparing it to the Civil Rights Act. Who in modern America would say that Lyndon B Johnson did the wrong thing by pushing for racial equality? (Actually, we know who: the people at the Tea Party protest who hurled racial epithets at Democratic members of Congress on the eve of the vote.)

It is a pity that Krugman’s argument was subsequently damaged by the revelation that the Washington Post  had written that Gingrich’s was talking about Johnson’s civil rights programme  rather than to Johnson’s Great Society policies. Still, it remains true that many of the arguments against the healthcare plan were in many ways no better than the one Krugman wrongly attributed to Gingrich.

Cheney’s mouthpiece.

January 6, 2010

For a good part of  the last year, constitutional law and civil rights litigator and Contributing writer to Salon, Glenn Greenwald, has heavily criticised The Politco, the American political journalism organisation that distributes its content through television, the internet, newspaper, and radio,  for its handling Dick Cheney stories

His criticism is in summary: 

 Throughout the year, Politico has repeatedly published as “news articles” comments from Dick Cheney, which its “reporters”  faithfully write down and print with virtually no challenge, skepticism or contradiction .  So extreme has this behavior become that even Beltway TV personalities such as Chris Matthews are beginning to mock it. This afternoon, Greg Sargent asked Editor-in-Chief John Harris to defend his magazine’s conduct, and Harris replied by claiming, in essence, that Cheney’s comments are “newsworthy” and that it’s Politico‘s job to “get newsworthy people to say interesting things.”………

In a coda to today’s comments, he says:

I’m not a big fan of “we-are-doomed” symbolism.  But for those looking for end-of-the-decade signs of our impending collapse, it would be hard to do better than pointing to the appointment of the Executive Editor of Politico — of Politico — to the Pulitzer Committee.

We are doomed indeed.

Why Obama has got bogged down.

December 15, 2009

If anyone wonders why it is taking Obama so long to get his various programmes implemented, then these two items which John Naughton has usefully linked under a single heading (America’s broken political system) should prove a big help.

In his NYT column today, Paul Krugman remembers that when he started writing for the public prints he entertained the idea that serious people in public life were prepared to have their views changed by reasoned argument. The current US Congress has cured him of that illustion:

Talk to conservatives about the financial crisis and you enter an alternative, bizarro universe in which government bureaucrats, not greedy bankers, caused the meltdown. It’s a universe in which government-sponsored lending agencies triggered the crisis, even though private lenders actually made the vast majority of subprime loans. It’s a universe in which regulators coerced bankers into making loans to unqualified borrowers, even though only one of the top 25 subprime lenders was subject to the regulations in question.

Oh, and conservatives simply ignore the catastrophe in commercial real estate: in their universe the only bad loans were those made to poor people and members of minority groups, because bad loans to developers of shopping malls and office towers don’t fit the narrative.

In part, the prevalence of this narrative reflects the principle enunciated by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” As Democrats have pointed out, three days before the House vote on banking reform Republican leaders met with more than 100 financial-industry lobbyists to coordinate strategies. But it also reflects the extent to which the modern Republican Party is committed to a bankrupt ideology, one that won’t let it face up to the reality of what happened to the U.S. economy.

So it’s up to the Democrats — and more specifically, since the House has passed its bill, it’s up to “centrist” Democrats in the Senate. Are they willing to learn something from the disaster that has overtaken the U.S. economy, and get behind financial reform?

Which neatly brings us to Michael Tomasky’s sobering column about how dysfunctional Congress has become.

Watching American politics through British eyes, you must be utterly mystified as to why Barack Obama hasn’t gotten this healthcare bill passed yet. Many Americans are too. The instinctive reflex is to blame Obama. He must be doing something wrong. Maybe he is doing a thing or two wrong. But the main thing is that America’s political system is broken.

How did this happen? Two main factors made it so. The first is the super-majority requirement to end debate in the Senate. The second is the near-unanimous obstinacy of the Republican opposition. They have made important legislative work all but impossible.

The super-majority requirement – 60 votes, or three-fifths of the Senate, to end debate and move to a vote on final passage – has been around since the 19th century. But it’s only in the last 10 to 15 years that it has been invoked routinely. Back in Lyndon Johnson’s day – a meaningful comparison since American liberals are always wondering why Obama can’t be “tough” like Johnson – the requirement was reserved for only the most hot-button issues (usually having to do with race). Everything else needed only 51 votes to pass, a regular majority.

Both parties have contributed to this problem. But guess which has contributed more? In 2007, when they became the minority party for the first time in five years, the Republicans invoked the super-majority measure 60 times, an all-time record for a single year.

And Obama’s problems are not limited to Republicans, of course. Think of it this way: in a 100-seat body, getting 51 votes is hard but not impossible. But getting those 57th, 58th, 59th and 60th votes to end debate … Well, the situation gives those senators incredible bargaining power. They can basically dictate terms in exchange for their votes. Which is exactly what senators Ben Nelson (Democrat of Nebraska), Joe Lieberman (independent of Connecticut), Olympia Snowe (Republican of Maine) and others have been doing publicly for weeks. A sharp friend has mordantly taken to referring to them as “President Nelson”, “President Lieberman” and “President Snowe” in emails. My friend is not exaggerating. With regard to the final content of the Senate bill, each has more power than Obama.

And the result: a huge, rich, smart nation that can’t fix even its most pressing problems. Or, in Tomasky’s words, “a distended nightmarish version of what the founders wanted. We’ve got a Congress that can not only stand up to the executive branch but can (at least on domestic matters) dictate terms to it. And we have a minority that has the power to stop the majority from doing much of anything”.

And the depressing thing is that there’s nothing Obama can do about it.

Republican’s spite…

October 6, 2009

In a recent article for The New York Times article, reprinted in today’s edition of the Guardian the Nobel Prizewinning economist Paul Krugman agues that the “guiding principle of one of our nation’s two great political parties” – the Republican party –  “is spite, pure and simple”.

 There was what President Obama likes to call a teachable moment last week, when the International Olympic Committee rejected Chicago’s bid to be host of the 2016 summer games.

“Cheers erupted” at the headquarters of the conservative Weekly Standard, according to a blogpost by a member of the magazine’s staff, with the headline “Obama loses! Obama loses!”. Rush Limbaugh declared himself “gleeful”. “World Rejects Obama,” gloated the Drudge Report. And so on……………..

If Republicans think something might be good for the president, they’re against it whether or not it’s good for America.

To be sure, while celebrating America’s rebuff by the Olympic committee was puerile, it didn’t do any real harm. But the same principle of spite has determined Republican positions on more serious matters, with potentially serious consequences in particular, in the debate over healthcare reform.

Now, it’s understandable that many Republicans oppose Democratic plans to extend insurance coverage just as most Democrats opposed President Bush’s attempt to convert social security into a sort of giant 401(k). The two parties do, after all, have different philosophies about the appropriate role of government.

But the tactics of the two parties have been different. In 2005, when Democrats campaigned against social security privatisation, their arguments were consistent with their underlying ideology: they argued that replacing guaranteed benefits with private accounts would expose retirees to too much risk.

The Republican campaign against healthcare reform, by contrast, has shown no such consistency. For the main line of attack is the claim based mainly on lies about death panels and so on that reform will undermine Medicare. And this line of attack is utterly at odds both with the party’s traditions and with what conservatives claim to believe…………………

It’s difficult to read much more of this without asking onself whether or not there can be grown-up political debate in a country like this.