Paul Krugman Reveals the Outrageous Con Job Behind the Savage GOP Budget

Source: AlterNet

Author: Paul Krugman, Janet Allon

Emphasis Mine

It can be tough, Paul Krugman allows in Friday’s column, to keep up the level of outrage at Republican lawmakers who do not seem to be in any way bound to the rules of honor or honesty in their budget proposal. Like, not at all.

“Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits,” Krugman opens, “but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar ‘magic asterisk’ — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

“But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spendingone on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.”

How bad is it? It is beyond horrendous. It may be tempting to ignore these budget proposals, or convince one’s self that such budgets never become law, but the fact is, as Krugman points out, the “modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics.” Some of the proposals are well known: drastic cuts in food stamps, Medicaid and a disastrous end to Obamacare health insurance subsidies, both of which amount to a deliberate plan to roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. Other cuts would have to come from Social Security and Medicare, though the Republican authors do not come right out and admit that. It almost goes without saying that the budgets call for a repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which includes the taxes that pay for it, or, Krugman estimates, $1 trillion in revenue, with absolutely no hint on how to make up for that. “It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior,” Krugman writes. “The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.”

What’s really going on? The charitable explanation is that the Republicans honestly believe the demonstrably false horseshit that tax cuts for the rich help anybody but the rich, and somehow magically create revenue for the government. (Yeah, makes no sense.) Krugman, of course, does not buy it. And it makes him very, very angry, as it should make all of us.

I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.


The U.S. in the Middle East: A Remarkably Rich Menu of Foreign-Policy Failures

Source: PortSide

Author: Charles Freeman

Emphasis Mine

I want to speak with you today about the Middle East. This is the region where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It is also the part of the world where we have been most compellingly reminded that some struggles cannot be won, but there are no struggles that cannot be lost.

It is often said that human beings learn little useful from success but can learn a great deal from defeat. If so, the Middle East now offers a remarkably rich menu of foreign-policy failures for Americans to study.

• Our four-decade-long diplomatic effort to bring peace to the Holy Land sputtered to an ignominious conclusion a year ago.

Our unconditional political, economic, and military backing of Israel has earned us the enmity of Israel’s enemies even as it has enabled egregiously contemptuous expressions of ingratitude and disrespect for us from Israel itself.

• Our attempts to contain the Iranian revolution have instead empowered it.

Our military campaigns to pacify the region have destabilized it, dismantled its states, and ignited ferocious wars of religion among its peoples.

• Our efforts to democratize Arab societies have helped to produce anarchy, terrorism, dictatorship, or an indecisive juxtaposition of all three.

In Iraq, Libya, and Syria we have shown that war does not decide who’s right so much as determine who’s left.

• Our campaign against terrorism with global reach has multiplied our enemies and continuously expanded their areas of operation.

• Our opposition to nuclear proliferation did not prevent Israel from clandestinely developing nuclear weapons and related delivery systems and may not preclude Iran and others from following suit.

• At the global level, our policies in the Middle East have damaged our prestige, weakened our alliances, and gained us a reputation for militaristic fecklessness in the conduct of our foreign affairs. They have also distracted us from challenges elsewhere of equal or greater importance to our national interests.

That’s quite a record.

One can only measure success or failure by reference to what one is trying to achieve. So, in practice, what have U.S. objectives been? Are these objectives still valid? If we’ve failed to advance them, what went wrong? What must we do now to have a better chance of success?

Our objectives in the Middle East have not changed much over the course of the past half century or more. We have sought to

1. Gain acceptance and security for a Jewish homeland from the other states and peoples of the region;
2. Ensure the uninterrupted availability of the region’s energy supplies to sustain global and U.S. security and prosperity;
3. Preserve our ability to transit the region so as to be able to project power around the world;
4. Prevent the rise of a regional hegemon or the deployment of weapons of mass destruction that might threaten any or all of these first three objectives;
5. Maximize profitable commerce; and
6. Promote stability while enhancing respect for human rights and progress toward constitutional democracy.

Let’s briefly review what’s happened with respect to each of these objectives. I will not mince words.

Israel has come to enjoy military supremacy but it remains excluded from most participation in its region’s political, economic, and cultural life. In the 67 years since the Jewish state was proclaimed, Israel has not made a single friend in the Middle East, where it continues to be regarded as an illegitimate legacy of Western imperialism engaged in racist removal of the indigenous population. International support for Israel is down to the United States and a few of the former colonial powers that originally imposed the Zionist project on the Arabs under Sykes-Picot and the related Balfour Declaration. The two-state solution has expired as a physical or political possibility. There is no longer any peace process to distract global attention from Israel’s maltreatment of its captive Arab populations.

After years of deference to American diplomacy, the Palestinians are about to challenge the legality of Israel’s cruelties to them in the International Criminal Court and other venues in which Americans have no veto, are not present, or cannot protect the Jewish state from the consequences of its own behavior as we have always been able to do in the past. Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza are fueling a drive to boycott its products, disinvest in its companies, and sanction its political and cultural elite. These trends are the very opposite of what the United States has attempted to achieve for Israel.

In a stunning demonstration of his country’s most famous renewable resource — chutzpah — Israel’s Prime Minister chose this very moment to make America the main issue in his reelection campaign while simultaneously transforming Israel into a partisan issue in the United States. This is the very opposite of a sound survival strategy for Israel. Uncertainties about their country’s future are leading many Israelis to emigrate, not just to America but to Europe. This should disturb not just Israelis but Americans, if only because of the enormous investment we have made in attempts to gain a secure place for Israel in its region and the world. The Palestinians have been silent about Mr. Netanyahu’s recent political maneuvers. Evidently, they recall Napoleon’s adage that one should never interrupt an enemy when he is making a mistake.

This brings me to an awkward but transcendently important issue. Israel was established as a haven from anti-Semitism — Jew hatred — in Europe, a disease of nationalism and Christian culture that culminated in the Holocaust. Israel’s creation was a relief for European Jews but a disaster for the Arabs of Palestine, who were either ethnically cleansed by European Jewish settlers or subjugated, or both.  But the birth of Israel also proved tragic for Jews throughout the Middle East — the Mizrahim.

In a nasty irony, the implementation of Zionism in the Holy Land led to the introduction of European-style anti-Semitism — including its classic Christian libels on Jews — to the region, dividing Arab Jews from their Muslim neighbors as never before and compelling them to join European Jews in taking refuge in Israel amidst outrage over the dispossession of Palestinians from their homeland. Now, in a further irony, Israel’s pogroms and other injustices to the Muslim and Christian Arabs over whom it rules are leading not just to a rebirth of anti-Semitism in Europe but to its globalization.

The late King `Abdullah of Saudi Arabia engineered a reversal of decades of Arab rejectionism at Beirut in 2002. He brought all Arab countries and later all 57 Muslim countries to agree to normalize relations with Israel if it did a deal — any deal — with the Palestinians that the latter could accept. Israel spurned the offer. Its working assumption seems to be that it does not need peace with its neighbors as long as it can bomb and strafe them. Proceeding on this basis is not just a bad bet, it is one that is dividing Israel from the world, including Jews outside Israel. This does not look like a story with a happy ending.

It’s hard to avoid the thought that Zionism is turning out to be bad for the Jews. If so, given the American investment in it, it will also have turned out to be bad for America. The political costs to America of support for Israel are steadily rising. We must find a way to divert Israel from the largely self-engineered isolation into which it is driving itself, while repairing our own increasing international ostracism on issues related to Israel.

Let me turn, very briefly, to the second U.S. objective in the region, security of access to energy supplies. Triumphalist nonsense about North American energy independence has just suffered a major comeuppance, as Saudi Arabia has shown its capacity to let oversupply rip, bankrupting or sidelining frackers and forcing mass layoffs in our previously booming oil and gas industry. The Middle East, where two-thirds of global fossil fuel reserves are located, still matters.

The question, therefore, is not whether untrammeled access to the energy resources of the Persian Gulf is essential to global prosperity. It is. Rather, it is whether the United States should or even could indefinitely bear the sole burden of ensuring access to Gulf energy resources on our own. Should we seek to share responsibility for assuring energy security with Europe and countries like China, India, Japan, and Korea that are far more dependent on Middle East oil than we are? Current U.S. policy assumes that “no” is the answer. Watch that space!

The third U.S. objective, sustaining freedom of transit through the region, is more subtle still. Tens of thousands of U.S. military flights transit Saudi and Egyptian airspace annually en route between Europe and Asia. Flight clearance is a fundamental privilege of sovereignty. It is done  in the region on an incredibly labor-intensive ad hoc basis. There are no agreements obligating countries there to grant it. The prevailing overflight regime reflects relationships with the countries of the region that are now fraying. Transit is not currently in jeopardy but it cannot be counted upon. Every once in a while, to remind us of this reality, the Saudis refuse permission for overflight. These refusals remind us of the importance to our position as a world power of cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the other countries of the Red Sea-Persian Gulf area.

Our fourth objective has been preventing the rise of a serious threat to Israel, energy flows, or freedom of navigation through the region’s air and sea space.

First: a little history.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and regional allies like Egypt and Syria seemed to pose such a threat. The United States balanced it with our own security partnerships. In 1964, we dropped our arms embargo on Israel. Nine years later, in 1973, we delivered massive military assistance to Israel to enable it to avoid defeat in war with Egypt and Syria. We have since become committed to sustaining Israel’s military supremacy in the region. To keep Egypt at peace with Israel, since 1979 we have provided it with generous subsidies. In 1994, we added Jordan to this equation.

After the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, we first bolstered Saudi Arabia as a counter to the Islamic Republic of Iran and then helped Iraq avoid defeat in its eight-year war with Iran. In 1990, when Saddam Hussein’s Iraq annexed Kuwait and threatened to dominate the region and hence global oil prices, we and the Saudis organized coalitions including Egypt, Pakistan, and Syria to dislodge Iraq from Kuwait, reduce its power to levels that Iran could balance, and thus end the threat it posed to the Gulf Arab states. So far so good.

But in 1993, the Clinton Administration abruptly abandoned the effort to use Iraq to balance Iran. Instead, it proclaimed a policy of “dual containment,” under which Washington undertook unilaterally to balance both Baghdad and Tehran simultaneously. This made sense in terms of our interest in protecting Israel from either Iraq or Iran, but it placed the primary burden of defending Persian Gulf energy resources on the United States rather than on the Gulf Arabs or the international community. It secured a place for U.S. forces astride the routes between Asia and Europe. But it also required the creation of a long-term U.S. military presence in the Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom was strapped for cash but we wanted  it to pay for our presence and, amidst popular resentment, it did. The stationing of U.S. troops on soil considered by many Muslims to be sacred and off-limits to unbelievers was a political irritant that helped stimulate the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

A fully justified and brilliantly executed U.S. punitive raid on al Qaeda and its Taliban hosts in Afghanistan somehow morphed into a military campaign to pacify Afghanistan and save it from militant Islam. Most Muslims, like the rest of the world, stood with Americans on 9/11. We have long since squandered that support. Over time, we began to kill Muslims we suspected of opposing us with drones — remote-controlled robots that rain death from the sky, killing militants along with their families, friends, and coreligionists as well as innocent bystanders.  The practical effect of this is that we kill one (possible) terrorist and get ten free.

Meanwhile, our invasion of Iraq in 2003 accomplished none of its declared objectives but ended domestic tranquility in that country and resulted in a huge number of Arab deaths. No country, other than Israel, had urged us to attack Iraq. No weapons of mass destruction were found there. We were not welcomed as liberators. We staged elections but did not transform the country into a democracy. Iraq neither embraced Israel nor became our ally. In 2011, at Iraqi insistence, we withdrew, leaving behind a divided, shattered, and embittered country. We not only failed to impress the world with our power, as the proponents of the war hoped we would, we demonstrated our limitations. We showed that our military can defeat armies and militias but that it cannot bend foreign societies to our will, pacify their populations, or refute their ideas.

The net effect of our invasion and occupation of Iraq was to install a pro-Iranian Shiite-majority government in Baghdad that tyrannized Iraq’s Sunni minority. Thus, we at once added Iraq to the list of Iran’s client states and incubated a new crop of anti-American terrorists.

Earlier, we had driven Iran’s enemies from power in Afghanistan. In 2006, Israel’s aerial maiming of Lebanon elevated the Iranian-supported Shiite Hezbollah to the commanding heights of Lebanese politics. We did not respond to efforts by Damascus to dilute its dependence on Iran by establishing a more cooperative relationship with us.

In sum, we carelessly sponsored the rise of the very sort of anti-Israel and anti-Gulf Arab alliance our policies were aimed at precluding. We handed Iran dominant influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria. The Arab uprisings of 2011 added Bahrain to the list of places where Iran can exploit Shiite grievances. Now pro-Iranian Houthi tribesmen have seized control of much of Yemen. The Gulf Arabs see Iran encircling them.

The Saudis and others in the Gulf remember the days when the United States saw the Shah’s Iran as the regional gendarme. Their fears that those days might come again are far-fetched but understandable, given all that has happened. As a result of U.S. bungling in Iraq and elsewhere Iran has, after all, greatly expanded its reach in the region. Gulf Arab apprehension about the proposed agreement to cap and constrain Iran’s nuclear programs is less about a military threat from Iranian nuclear weapons than about the possibility that we and other members of the U.N. Security Council will effectively acknowledge, if not endorse, Iran’s new proto-hegemony in the region.

America is at war with the renegade Islamist insurgency that calls itself “the Islamic State.” (I see no reason to dignify it with that title and, like most people in the region, I prefer to call it by its pretentious Arabic acronym, “Daesh.”) For many reasons, the Gulf Arabs doubt our reliability. Iraq has emerged as the most effective regional opponent of Daesh. The Gulf Arabs fear that we Americans may be driven to make common cause with Iran to combat Daesh.

Despite Mr. Netanyahu’s recent public hysteria about Iran and his efforts to demonize it, Israel has traditionally seen Iran’s rivalry with the Arabs as a strategic asset. It had a very cooperative relationship with the Shah. Neither Israelis nor Arabs have forgotten the strategic logic that produced Israel’s entente with Iran. Israel is very much on Daesh’s list of targets, as is Iran.

For now, however, Israel’s main concern is the possible loss of its nuclear monopoly in the Middle East. Many years ago, Israel actually did what it now accuses Iran of planning to do. It clandestinely developed nuclear weapons while denying to us and others that it was doing so. Unlike Iran, Israel has not adhered to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or subjected its nuclear facilities to international inspection. It has expressed no interest in proposals for a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. It sees its ability to bring on nuclear Armageddon as the ultimate guarantee of its existence.

Unlike Israel, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and seems prepared to settle for more conventional means of ensuring its security. Despite all the pain our sanctions have inflicted and whether the current nuclear negotiations with it succeed or fail, Iran seems destined to exercise strategic suzerainty in a major part of the Middle East

Like the Israelis, the Saudis do not trust Iran to halt at nuclear latency if there is a deal with it by the United States and its Security Council partners. But unlike the Israeli prime minister, Riyadh judges that, if the negotiations with Iran fail to produce an agreement, this will precipitate an Iranian decision actually to build a nuclear deterrent. An agreement would confer added prestige on Iran.  That’s bad. A nuclear deterrent would give Iran added freedom from U.S. or other coercion. That’s worse.

The Saudis have little confidence in U.S. protection, given America’s inadvertent  empowerment of Iran and incubation of Daesh, as well as the erratic behavior of the United States during the Arab uprisings that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. They now seem to be building a coalition to counter Iran and contain Daesh, with or without the United States.

In recent weeks, King Salman has met in rapid succession with King Abdullah II of Jordan, Prime Minister Sharif of Pakistan, President Al-Sisi of Egypt, and President Erdoğan of Turkey. After initially seeing Daesh as a useful opponent of Iran’s allies in Damascus and Baghdad, the Saudis have concluded that it is a menace that they must confront. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan is Daesh’s next intended battleground. It is also the Saudi gateway to Syria, in whose affairs Turkey is also a key player. The threat to Jordan is such that Amman  may now finally be regaining the regional backing it lost when it sided with Saddam Hussein in 1990.

Egypt and Turkey have been at odds over the Muslim Brotherhood and related issues. Egypt fears the Brotherhood, while Turkey sees it as a democratic Islamist movement that is not only legitimate but a potential pan-Arab antidote to Daesh. King Salman has begun an effort to persuade the Egyptians and Turks  to reconcile and resolve their differences. This will not be easy but, given the stakes for his Kingdom, Salman is likely to persist.

King Salman’s interest in convening the recent flurry of dialogue was, however, far from limited to Daesh and matters of religious interpretation. His main concern was undoubtedly how to balance and contain Iran.  There is a potential division of labor between the countries with which he met. Pakistan could extend nuclear deterrence to the Gulf Arabs. Egypt could provide the military mass and manpower the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs lack. Turkey’s powerful army could flank Syria and Iran to the north.

All three of these countries have significant armaments industries. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs are the world’s largest importers of armaments. There are real synergies to be gained by cooperation among the parties who have just gathered in Riyadh. The fact that these are being explored signals momentous change.

In 2006, then Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice infamously proclaimed the birth of a “new Middle East.” A new order in the Middle East is now belatedly coming into being. But it is not the one Secretary Rice envisaged. The influence of the United States and the prospects for the peaceful integration of Israel into the region have both been adversely affected by the events of the past fifteen years.

To many, Israel now seems to have acquired the obnoxious habit of biting the American hand that has fed it for so long. The Palestinians have despaired of American support for their self-determination. They are reaching out to the international community in ways that deliberately bypass the United States. Random acts of violence herald mayhem in the Holy Land.

Daesh has proclaimed the objective of erasing the Sykes-Picot borders and the states within them. It has already expunged the border between Iraq and Syria. It is at work in Lebanon and has set its sights on Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.

Lebanon, under Saudi influence, has turned to France rather than America for support. Hezbollah has intervened militarily in Iraq and Syria, both of whose governments are close to Iran. Egypt and Turkey have distanced themselves from the United States as well as from each other. Russia is back as a regional actor and arms supplier.

The Gulf Arabs, Egypt, and Turkey now separately intervene in Libya, Syria, and Iraq without reference to American policy or views. Iran is the dominant influence in Iraq, Syria, parts of Lebanon, and now Yemen. It has boots on the ground in Iraq.

And now Saudi Arabia seems to be organizing a coalition that will manage its own nuclear deterrence and military balancing of Iran.

To describe this as out of control is hardly adequate. What are we to do about it?

Perhaps we should start by recalling the first law of holes — “when stuck in one, stop digging.” It appears that “don’t just sit there, bomb something” isn’t much of a strategy. When he was asked last summer what our strategy for dealing with Daesh was, President Obama replied, “We don’t yet have one.” He was widely derided for that. He should have been praised for making the novel suggestion that before Washington acts, it should first think through what it hopes to accomplish and how best to do it. Sunzi once observed that “tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” America’s noisy but strategy-free approach to the Middle East has proven him right.

Again the starting point must be what we are trying to accomplish. Strategy is “the discipline of achieving desired ends through the most efficient use of available means” [John Lewis Gaddis].Our desired ends with respect to the Middle East are not in doubt. They have been and remain to gain an accepted and therefore secure place for Israel there; to keep the region’s oil and gas coming at reasonable prices; to be able to pass through the area at will; to head off challenges to these interests; to do profitable business in the markets of the Middle East; and to promote stability amidst the expansion of liberty in its countries. Judging by results, we have been doing a lot wrong.

Two related problems in our overall approach need correction. They are “enablement” and the creation of “moral hazard.” Both are fall-out from  relationships of codependency.

Enablement occurs when one party to a relationship indulges or supports and thereby enables another party’s dysfunctional behavior. A familiar example from ordinary life is giving money to a drunk or a drug addict or ignoring, explaining away, or defending their subsequent self-destructive behavior.  Moral hazard is the condition that obtains when one party is emboldened to take risks it would not otherwise take because it knows another party will shoulder the consequences and bear the costs of failure.

The U.S.-Israel relationship has evolved to exemplify codependency. It now embodies both enablement and moral hazard. U.S. support for Israel is unconditional.  Israel has therefore had no need to cultivate relations with others in the Middle East, to declare its borders, or to choose peace over continued expansion into formerly Arab lands. Confidence in U.S. backing enables Israel to do whatever it likes to the Palestinians and its neighbors without having to worry about the consequences.

Israel is now a rich country, but the United States continues to subsidize it with cash transfers and other fiscal privileges. The Jewish state is the most powerful country in the Middle East. It can launch attacks on its neighbors, confident that it will be resupplied by the United States. Its use of U.S. weapons in ways that violate both U.S. and international law goes unrebuked. 41 American vetoes in the United Nations Security Council have exempted Israel from censure and international law. We enable it to defy the expressed will of the international community, including, ironically, our own.

We Americans are facilitating Israel’s indulgence in denial and avoidance of the choices it must make if it is not to jeopardize its long-term existence as a state in the Middle East. The biggest contribution we could now make to Israel’s longevity would be to ration our support for it, so as to cause it to rethink and reform its often self-destructive behavior. Such peace as Israel now enjoys with Egypt, Jordan, and the Palestinians is the direct result of tough love of this kind by earlier American administrations. We Americans cannot save Israel from itself, but we can avoid killing it with uncritical kindness. We should support Israel when it makes sense to do so and it needs our support on specific issues, but not otherwise. Israel is placing itself and American interests in jeopardy. We need to discuss how to reverse this dynamic.

Moral hazard has also been a major problem in our relationship with our Arab partners. Why should they play an active role in countering the threat to them they perceive from Iran, if they can get America to do this for them? Similarly, why should any Muslim country rearrange its priorities to deal with Muslim renegades like Daesh when it can count on America to act for it? If America thinks it must lead, why not let it do so? But responsible foreign and defense policies begin with self-help, not outsourcing of military risks.

The United States has the power-projection and war-fighting capabilities to back a Saudi-led coalition effort against Daesh. The Saudis have the religious and political credibility, leadership credentials, and diplomatic connections to organize such an effort. We do not.

Since this century began, America has administered multiple disappointments to its allies and friends in the Middle East, while empowering their and our adversaries. Unlike the Gulf Arabs, Egypt, and Turkey, Washington does not have diplomatic relations with Tehran. Given our non-Muslim identity, solidarity with Israel, and recent history in the Fertile Crescent, the United States cannot hope to unite the region’s Muslims against Daesh.  Daesh is an insurgency that claims to exemplify Islam as well as a governing structure and an armed force. A coalition led by inhibited foreign forces, built on papered-over differences, and embodying hedged commitments will not defeat such an insurgency with or without boots on the ground.

There is an ineluctable requirement for Muslim leadership and strategic vision from within the region. Without it, the existing political geography of the Arab world — not just the map drawn by Sykes-Picot — faces progressive erosion and ultimate collapse. States will be pulled down, to be succeeded by warlords, as is already happening in Iraq and Syria. Degenerate and perverted forms of Islam will threaten prevailing Sunni and Shi`a religious dispensations, as Daesh now does. If indeed Saudi Arabia is finally prepared to organize a regional coalition to enable it to deal directly with these issues, we should welcome this and give it our backing, while seeking to assure that it does not damage Israel’s security, impede our transit through the region, or otherwise harm our interests.

I come at last to our objectives of promoting trade and liberal values.

The need for considered judgment and restraint extends to refraining from expansive rhetoric about our values or attempting to compel others to conform to them. In practice, we have insisted on democratization only in countries we have invaded or that were otherwise falling apart, as Egypt was during the first of the two “non-coups” it suffered. When elections have yielded governments whose policies we oppose, we have not hesitated to conspire with their opponents to overthrow them. But the results of our efforts to coerce political change in the Middle East are not just failures but catastrophic failures. Our policies have nowhere produced democracy. They have instead contrived the destabilization of societies, the kindling of religious warfare, and the installation of dictatorships contemptuous of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities.

Frankly, we have done a lot better at selling things, including armaments, to the region than we have at transplanting the ideals of the Atlantic Enlightenment there. The region’s autocrats cooperate with us to secure our protection, and they get it. When they are nonetheless overthrown, the result is not democracy or the rule of law but socio-political collapse and the emergence of  a Hobbesian state of nature in which religious and ethnic communities, families, and individuals are able to feel safe only when they are armed and have the drop on each other. Where we have engineered or attempted to engineer regime change, violent politics, partition, and ethno-religious cleansing have everywhere succeeded unjust but tranquil order. One result of our bungled interventions in Iraq and Syria is the rise of Daesh. This is yet another illustration that, in our efforts to do good in the Middle East, we have violated the principle that one should first do no harm.

Americans used to believe that we could best lead by example. We and those in the Middle East seeking nonviolent change would all be better off if America returned to that tradition and forswore ideologically motivated hectoring and intervention. No one willingly follows a wagging finger. Despite our unparalleled ability to use force against foreigners, the best way to inspire them to emulate us remains showing them that we have our act together. At the moment, we do not.

In the end, to cure the dysfunction in our policies toward the Middle East, it comes down to this. We must cure the dysfunction and venality of our politics. If we cannot, we have no business trying to use an 8,000-mile-long screwdriver to fix things one-third of the way around the world. That doesn’t work well under the best of circumstances. But when the country wielding the screwdriver has very little idea what it’s doing, it really screws things up.

[Charles Freeman, Jr., served in the United States Foreign Service, the State and Defense Departments in many different capacities over the course of 30 years. Most notably, he worked as the main interpreter for Richard Nixon during his 1972 China visit and served as the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992, during the Persian Gulf War. In February 2009, unnamed sources leaked that Freeman was Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair’s choice to chair the National Intelligence Council in the Obama Administration. After hostile criticism from prominent supporters of Israeli policy, he withdrew his name from consideration, charging he had been the victim of a concerted campaign by what he called “the Israel lobby”.]




Why No One Can End Reagan’s “Dead Wrong” Voodoo Economics

Source: AlterNet from Salon

Author: Paul Rosenberg

Emphasis Mine

Venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, a highly visible champion of Seattle’s $15/hour minimum wage, wrote a piece in the Atlantic last month pushing on another front in the war against toxic income inequality. “Stock Buybacks Are Killing the American Economy,” he warned, and getting rid of them would be a tremendous boon to the economy.

This latest front rebukes those who say that raising the minimum wage does little to address what ails the American middle class. First, it underscores the obvious: that battling against decades of bad economic policy must necessarily be a multi-pronged affair, with no single action able to solve everything at once. But second, it starkly highlights how much of the problem can be traced to a single source—the profoundly misguided notion that giving even more money to rich people would produce prosperity for all. Instead, the exact opposite has happened. That’s why the attack on stock buybacks is an even more profound attack on economics as usual, even if it, too, only represents one facet of what has to be a multi-faceted approach. Corporate profits have doubled since the post-World War II boom years, from an average of 6 percent of GDP to more than 12 percent today, Hanauer pointed out, and yet “job growth remains anemic, wages are flat, and our nation can no longer seem to afford even its most basic needs.” Stock buybacks—which (as explained here) were virtually forbidden from 1934 through 1982—are a key reason why our economy is so cash-starved when it comes to wealth-producing investments:

Over the past decade, the companies that make up the S&P 500 have spent an astounding 54 percent of profits on stock buybacks. Last year alone, U.S. corporations spent about $700 billion, or roughly 4 percent of GDP, to prop up their share prices by repurchasing their own stock….

It is mathematically impossible to make the public- and private-sector investments necessary to sustain America’s global economic competitiveness while flushing away 4 percent of GDP year after year.

Hence, Hanauer argued, it’s time to end stock buybacks—they are crippling our ability to grow our economy robustly. Along the way, Hanauer also sharply criticized what he called “the 40-year obsession with ‘shareholder value maximization’” [SVM] as the narrow-minded definition of corporate purpose, which has been used to justify, rationalize and obfuscate the buyback explosion, and other ills of corporate misgovernance that have become commonplace in the post-1980 era.

Hanauer has plenty of company raising this argument and his critique of SVM, from UMass economist William Lazonick writing in the Harvard Business Review (“Profits Without Prosperity”) to a book by Cornell Law School’s Lynn Stout (“The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations, and the Public,” author’s overview here),  to the white paper Hanauer himself cited, titled “The World’s Dumbest Idea,” by GMO asset allocation manager James Montier, to a 2014 report from the Aspen Institute, cited by Steve Denning of Forbes, noting it “showed that thought leaders were coming to the same conclusion [questioning SVM]. In a cross-section of business leaders, including both executives and academics, a majority, particularly corporate executives, agreed that the primary purpose of the corporation is not to maximize shareholder value, but rather ‘to serve customers’ interests.’”

With all this criticism out there—from corporate governance obersevers and participants in alike—and the strength of the supporting data, it seemed a bit strange to see a March 2 Wonkblog post by Max Ehrenfreund jarringly titled “The fringe economic theory that might get traction in the 2016 campaign,” particularly since the post itself treated both Stout and Hanauer quite seriously.  “In what universe is this argument ‘fringe’?” Lawyers Guns and Money blogger Robert Farely tweeted, retweeted by UC Berkeley economist Brad DeLong. The title was even stranger in light of a September 2013 Wonkblog post by Steven Pearlstein, straigthforwardedly titled “How the cult of shareholder value wrecked American business.”

But it’s certainly true that you can’t reliably tell fringe from mainstream in economics anymore, especially if you’re trying to track ideas through shifting reference frames. Defaulting on the debt in order to be “fiscally conservative,” anyone?  That fringe-of-the-fringe-of-the-fringe idea very nearly became reality and still might, do so again later this year.

More fundamental, it seemed to me, was the underlying ongoing battle over how economic arguments and analysis are framed, and why that matters—a battle much broader and longer than the 2016 campaign. So I contacted Hanauer, and asked about how he had framed his his article—which in turn was a critique of how Obama had framed his comments on income inequality in his State of the Union speech. At the beginning of his article, Hanauer wrote that Obama “missed the opportunity to draw an important connection between rising income inequality and stagnant economic growth.”  So I asked him what that connection was, why is it so important, and what could be done about it.  In his view, Obama saw extreme inequality as wrong in moral terms, which resonates well with his base, but failed to grasp that it was wrong economically as well, which could resonate much more broadly.

“The problem I highlighted was that President Obama didn’t offer an alternative theory of growth,” Hanaauer said. “He could have, but he didn’t. He’s given six state of the unions, talked a little bit about inequality, he’s made some moral arguments about how it’s bad, he has not once offered an alternative explanation for how an economy like ours grows. And and so if you’re not willing to litigate the methods of growth, then you’re ceding that to the other side.”

It’s not just Obama, in Hanauer’s view. “This is what progressives have done for generations, is that we ceded to the other side that the rich are job creators; we ceded to the other side that less regulation equals more growth; we ceded to the other side that if wages go up, then employment goal go down. And then we wonder and complain about the policies that flow naturally and logically from that set of baseline assumptions. That’s the problem,” he said—a failure to contest the basic framework of economic thought. Hanauer has challenged that framework, with what he calls “middle-out economics”, which was the subject of the summer 2013 issue of Democracy.

He made the same point again, about the failure to contest fundamentals, with a slightly different emphasis and explanation. “The problem with our politics is President Obama and the people who surround him, don’t represent an alternative to trickle down economics, they are trickle-down-lite,” Hanauer told me. “They’re sort of kinder-and-gentler trickle-down economics. They can talk a little bit about the importance of the middle class, but, in my opinion, they haven’t quite seen clearly that they’ve gotten cause-and-effect reversed. They still think that a thriving middle class is an effect of growth, a consequence of growth, and the truth is in a technological, modern economy, a thriving middle class is the cause of growth…. The middle class creates rich people, not the other way around.”  This used to be well-understood by everyone. During America’s long post-World War II boom, the incomes of all levels growing approximately equally—though slightly slower at the very top. “That’s how you sustain virtuous cycle of increasing returns which capitalism can be. Capitalism can be constructed in a way so that everyone does better all the time. It’s a beautiful thing,” Hanauer said. “But if the power dynamics change in really extreme ways, as they have in the last 30 years, and all of the value of enterprise is sucked out by a few owners and the senior managers, then you basically killed the goose that layed the golden egg.” That’s what stock buybacks are all about.

In the article he talked about the doubling of corporate profits from 6 percent of GDP traditionally to 12 percent of GDP today. But now he added another wrinkle: this happened “at the exact same time as labor as a percent of GDP has fallen 6 percent, 53 to 46 or something like that. So, it’s $1 trillion. That extra trillion dollars isn’t profit because it has to be, or should be, or needs to be. It’s profit because powerful people like me prefer it to be. That trillion dollars can go to wages, it could go to discounts to consumers, it could be used to finance the construction of whatever you think of.” Instead, most of it’s going into stock buybacks, “$700 billion a year, 54 percent of profits, 4 percent of GDP,” Hanauer repeated.”It’s just sort of a nefarious and non-transparent way for very rich people to make themselves richer, at the expense of everybody else.”

But stock buybacks make perfect sense in the framework of trickle-down economics, so Hanauer took a moment to describe that logic:

Neoclassical economics and the trickle down policy framework that we have derived from it argues that there is a trade-off between fairness and growth. The general idea of trickle down economics is that the richer the rich get and the less constrained they are, less burdened in regulations, the more jobs they create, the better off everyone will be. It’s the concentrated accumulation of capital which is the principal driver of market capitalism.. So, rising economic inequality isn’t a bug, it’s a feature of the trickle down economics. It’s how you know things are getting better, right? Because the richer the rich get, the more jobs they create. This is a general principle of the thing.

There’s only one problem: It’s “dead wrong,” Hanauer said flatly. And it’s based on the wrong sort of mathematics—like using addition to try to multiply and divide. “The economy isn’t this linear equilibrium system, it’s a complex, nonlinear, nonequilibrium systems, and is best understood not mechanistic terms, but eco-systemically.” Nonlinear, nonequilibrium mathematics is a good deal more difficult and complex than the math used by neoclassical economists. But the qualitative picture it paints is not that hard to grasp, as Hanauer explained it:

Once you see it eco-systemically, what you can see quite clearly is that arguing, for instance, that if wages go up employment will go down would be like arguing that if plants grow animals will shrink, right? Literally, that’s silly.

On the contrary, businesses essentially eat the wages of workers, right? They subsist on the wages of workers, and so obviously, to a reasonable degree, the more wages rise, the more businesses—again, pressing the metaphor—have to eat. And that’s why the fundamental law of capitalism is that if workers have more money businesses have more customers, and need more workers.

With that in mind, the folly of trickle-down economics comes sharply into focus, as Hanauer highlighted next:

What’s very clear, is that when you concentrate income in fewer and fewer hands, you’re essentially killing that feedback loop. You create a vicious cycle. The typical worker to maintain their share of income over the last 30 years, as you well know, the median wage wouldn’t be $50,000 it would be something like $75,000. If that was true,, think about how many more cars who be purchased every year in this country. There are 3 percent of Americans who own exactly the car that they want, but the other 97 percent would like a new one!

In short, Hanauer summed up, in a technological capitalist economy, growth “isn’t a consequence of concentrating capital in the hands of a few people, and hoping it will trickle down,” rather it’s “a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and entrepreneurship and demand.” And that, in turn made Hanauer’s criticism of Obama’s missed opportunity crystal clear:

When you see it that way, when you explain where growth comes from, in a realistic way, then you can see that inequality isn’t just unfair, it’s actually terrible for the economy and for business. And that’s the opportunity that Pres. Obama missed. Because he is surrounded by trickle-down thinkers who still sort of secretly believe that if we just made rich people richer, that would be fine.And this explains for instance, why it took the Obama administration six years to even notice that they had the ability, for instance, to increase the overtime threshold. Inquiring minds want to know, why it took them six years. And, by the way, that somebody else had to point it out.

This also explains Obama’s timidity regarding in the minimum wage, Hanauer said:

This explains why President Obama, in his last State of the Union, thought a $9 minimum wage would be a big step in the right direction, and that’s because, again if you’re captured by this trickle down view, the only reason you increase wages for poor people is because you feel sorry for them, as a matter of social justice. But once you realize that trickle down economics isn’t true and that middle out economics is true, raising wages for low-wage workers is the quickest and fastest way to drive business activity. That’s why we [in Seattle] ended up at $15.

The problem with Obama’s thinking is not so much Obama himself, but the whole entourage of policy people surrounding him. “Trust me, these guys all got PhD’s in economics in the same places, they all learn the same crappy neoclassical ideas, they are captured by them, and they can’t get out of their own way,” Hanauer said. “And I think that’s the big problem. They don’t know how to make this argument because they are so wedded to these old stale ideas. Even if they say they’re not. But they are!”

There are rays of hope, however. The Wonkblog “fringe theory” story also cited a recent “Report of the Commission on Inclusive Prosperity,” sponsored by Center for American Progress [CAP] and co-chaired by former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, long a poster boy for that sort of thinking who has apparently begun to change his tune. The very notion of “inclusive prosperity” indicates a more hopeful policy direction, and the report itself recognizes the need for actions on multiple fronts, including stock buybacks. Overall, Hanuer said he’d give the report “a B or a B+, because it’s pointed in the right direction…. I don’t think there’s a policy in it I would change, I just think there’s a way to more forcefully articulate for people how you grow a modern economy, that is much less a moral argument, and much more a practical, growth-based argument.”

Although not involved with the report, Hanauer is part of the conversation informing it. “I”m deeply involved in CAP,” he said. “There’s a middle-out economic center at CAP, and the inclusion argument is something we’ve been driving.” But he keeps coming back to talking about growth the way you’d expect a venture capitalist might.  “Growth, in technological capitalist economies, is a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and increasing amounts of demand. And the mechanism that drives that feedback loop is inclusion. Inclusive economic policies are the thing that create growth. The more people who are included as innovators and entreprenuers, and the more people who are included as robust consumers, the better the thing goes.”

The task ahead is a daunting one, Hanauer admits. “There’s a huge amount of economic nonsense that needs to be cleared away,” he said. For example, “You have a Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner, who can get up until the crowd and say, ‘You know, if you raise the price of employment, guess what happens, you get less of it.’ And most people in this country nod in agreement, right? Idiotic! It’s just not true. And until political leaders are willing to face him down and face that idea down, and point out the obvious, which is that it’s the opposite is true, essentially, that when the workers earn more money businesses have more customers, you’re in this trap, you’re just in this trap.”

One could cite this as a classic example of hegemony—the expression of a dominant ideology in drag as common sense, facilitated by a vast array of different institutional forces. The great irony is that while the concept of hegemony, and hegemonic warfare to challenge the existing hegemonic order, was developed by a famous leftist, the Italian Marxist Antonoio Gramsci, the practice of hegemonic warfare in America over the past half century or more has been almost exclusively seen on the right.

Centrist or center-left think tanks, for example, are largely focused on analysing problems and proposing “politically viable” solutions, primarily by integrating findings generated by academics. But rightwing think tanks use a completely different model. Their purpose is not to try to solve existing problems, but to continually shift the framework of acceptable solutions ever farther to the right. They aim to change the very definition of what counts as “politically viable”, whether it actually solves anything or not. Advocacy, messaging, media outreach and political collaboration are the core activities of think tanks using this model, problem-solving plays virtually no role at all.  If something doesn’t work, simply suggest something else, even farther to the right than what’s already failed. Failure can actually be more valuable than success—it can accelerate the process of moving the conversation ever farther to the right.

This model was most clearly articulated on the state level, starting at the Mackinac Center in Michegan, where the model of the “Overton Window” was developed as a way to think very specifically about shifting the framework of acceptable ideas continually farther to the right. But the same sort of calibrated, ideologically premeditated thinking can be found throughout the rightwing foundation and think-tank world, while it remains extremely rare on the center-left.  A big-picture view of how this has unfolded in the realm of economics can be found in Kim Phillips-Fein’s bookInvisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan.”

This history has also undoubtedly played an important role in shaping how most Americans—academics, politicians, journalists, everyday people—think and talk about economics without even realizing it, the subject of implicit cognition dissected by cognitive linguist Anat Shenker-Osorio in her book, “Don’t Buy It: The Trouble With Talking Nonsense About the Economy” (my review here). Shenker-Osorio found that conservatives share a much more coherent, broadly shared—if questionable—view of what the economy is and what it’s for than progressives do, reflected in part by the sorts of metaphors used when talking economics. As I wrote in my review, “Conservative models tell us that the economy is autonomous (most typically, a self-regulating body) and morally demanding – a view encapsulated in an episode of ‘South Park’ [‘Margaritaville’],” in which the market is portrayed as an angry god, an example cited prominently in the book.  These shared implicit models in turn profoundly influence what may seem like “common sense,” while no single progressive model has nearly as much salience.

All this history and social science helps explain why the complete failure of trickle-down economics over the past 35 years—culminating with the financial crisis and the Great Recessiondid not result in any sort of systemic rethinking from the left, but rather unleashed an profound resurgence of even more ancient, previously discredited ideas from the right, most notably the cult of austerity, which is still strangling  governments and economies around the world.

Still, the power of a single good real-world example remains extremely potent, which may explain why Hanauer loves to talk about what’s happening in Seattle, where he lives:

Washington state has the highest wage of any state in the nation. If Speaker Boehner was right, we would be sliding into the ocean. And yet, Seattle is the fastest-growing big city in the country. Washington state has the highest small business rate of small business job growth in the country. And this is because workers here earn enough money so that they can afford to shop at stores. It’s positive feedback loop.

In fact, Hanauer points out, part of their strength has been doing the most for those who are otherwise helped the least—tipped workers:

In Washington State, tipped workers, who make up a big proportion of the low-wage workforce, earn $9.47 plus tips. So that’s I think it’s like 440 percent more than the federal tipped minimum of $2.13 plus tips. That’s not 4% more, that’s not 40% more, it’s 440% more. So, if the trickle-down economic idea was true, that these sort of his extravagant wages would destroy businesses, restaurants and so on…. And yet, there is no more faster growing city in the country than Seattle, and there isn’t a restaurant industry is going crazier than Seattle. It’s not. It’s booming. You can’t get a table. And here’s why, because, when restaurant workers earn enough so that even they can afford to eat in restaurants, it turns out that’s good for the restaurant business, despite what the Restaurant Association may tell you.

Hanauer is extremely good at what he does, which is communicate ideas, a vision. But the history Phillips-Fein unearths in “Invisible Hands” strongly indicates that communication alone is not enough, any more than ideas in ivory tower isolation are. Institutions must be built to sustain, enhance and shape future communications. As I put to Hanauer, “It seems to me that that’s what happened on the other side, they have this theory of trickle-down economics, which is not really good for most people; it’s bad for them. And yet they built a political machine that engages them, swallows them up, even. So what I’m asking is what we do to build the political machine that works on behalf of what works.”

Rather than answering directly, Hanauer doubled down on his message. “You have to be able to define, in concrete terms, what your alternative theory of growth is. I submit to you – and I know this sounds self-aggrandizing – but no one on our side, can explain to you as succinctly and clearly where growth actually comes from than me and my gang. When I say growth in technological capitalist economies is a consequence of the feedback loop between increasing amounts of innovation and demand, that’s a theory of growth. So, you find me a Democratic leader whose said anything like that, find one, you’ll find lots of complaints, you’ll find lots of great attacks. So, our theory of the case is that until we can get people to recognize how these technological economies actually grow, and unite people around an alternative to the trickle-down economics idea, until you do that, you cannot build the machine. Once you do that, then the machine part’s easy.”

Of course Hanauer’s right to say that complaints far outnumber alternative solutions. That’s a balance that needs to shift dramatically, and Hanauer is leading the charge. But despite his acumen and his eloquence, there is no magical one-size-fits-all way of communicating ideas and insights, no matter how true or beneficial they may be. The right has long realized this, and organized itself accordingly. And the landscape of unconscious assumptions, models and metaphors strongly favors them as well. Hanauer may well have the message we need, and he’s brilliantly highlighted what’s been lacking in even Obama’s most progressive moments more clearly than anyone else. But the medium in which that message can spread to everyone—that’s a whole other can of worms that’s still crying out to be explored. Now that Hanauer has articulated that message so clearly, the time is ripe for others to step forward and take on that work as well.


Paul H. Rosenberg is senior editor at Random Lengths News, a biweekly serving the Los Angeles harbor area. He runs the site Merge Left, a community of progressive thinkers free to submit their own content.



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Welcome to Global Warming’s Terrifying New Era


Author: Eric Holthaus

Emphasis Mine

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announcedthat Earth’s global temperature for February was among the hottest ever measured. So far, 2015 is tracking above record-warm 2014—which, when combined with the newly resurgent El Niño, means we’re on pace for another hottest year in history.

In addition to the just-completed warmest winter on record globally (despite the brutal cold and record snow in the eastern U.S.), new data on Thursday from the National Snow and Ice Data Center show that this year’s peak Arctic sea ice reached its lowest ever maximum extent, thanks to “an unusual configuration of the jet stream” that greatly warmed the Pacific Ocean near Alaska.

But here’s the most upsetting news. It’s been exactly 30 years since the last time the world was briefly cooler than its 20th-century average. Every single month since February 1985 has been hotter than the long-term average—that’s 360 consecutive months.

More than just being a round number, the 30-year streak has deeper significance. In climatology, a continuous 30-year stretch of data is traditionally what’s used to define what’s “normal” for a given location. In a very real way, we can now say that for our given location—the planet Earth—global warming is now “normal.” Forget debating—our climate has officially changed.

This 30-year streak should change the way we think and talk about this issue. We’ve entered a new era in which global warming is a defining characteristic and a fundamental driver of what it means to be an inhabitant of planet Earth. We should treat it that way. For those who care about the climate, that may mean de-emphasizing statistics and science and beginning to talk more confidently about the moral implications of continuing on our current path.

Since disasters disproportionately impact the poor, climate change is increasingly an important economic and social justice issue. The pope will visit the United States later this year as part of a broader campaign by the Vatican to directly influence the outcome of this year’s global climate negotiations in Paris—recent polling data show his message may be resonating, especially with political conservatives and nonscience types. Two-thirds of Americans now believe that world leaders are morally obligated to take steps to reduce carbon.

Scientists and journalists have debated the connection between extreme weather and global warming for years, but what’s happening now is different. Since weather impacts virtually every facet of our lives (at least in a small way), and since climate change is affecting weather at every point in the globe every day (at least in a small way), that makes it at the same time incredibly difficult to study and incredibly important. Formal attribution studies that attempt to scientifically tease out whether global warming “caused” individual events are shortsighted and miss the point. It’s time for a change in tack. The better question to ask is: How do we as a civilization collectively tackle the weather extremes we already face?

In the aftermath of the nearly unprecedented power and destructive force of Cyclone Pam’s landfall in the remote Pacific island nation of Vanuatu—where survivors were forced to drink saltwater—emerges perhaps the best recent example I’ve seen of a government acknowledging this changed climate in a scientifically sound way:

Cyclone Pam is a consequence of climate change since all weather is affected by the planet’s now considerably warmer climate. The spate of extreme storms over the past decade—of which Pam is the latest—is entirely consistent in science with the hottest ever decade on record.

The statement was from the government of the Philippines, the previous country to suffer a direct strike by a Category 5 cyclone—Haiyan in 2013. As chair of the Climate Vulnerable Forum negotiating bloc, the Philippines also called for a strengthening of ambition in the run-up to this year’s global climate agreement in Paris.

The cost of disasters of all types is rising around the globe as population and wealth increase and storms become more fierce. This week in Japan, 187 countries agreed on a comprehensive plan to reduce loss of life from disasters as well as their financial impact. However, the disaster deal is nonbinding and won’t provide support to the most vulnerable countries.

Combining weather statistics and photos of devastated tropical islands with discussions of political and economic winners and losers is increasingly necessary as climate change enters a new era. We’re no longer describing the problem. We’re telling the story of how humanity reacts to this new normal.

As the Guardian’s Alan Rusbridger, in an editorial kickoff of his newspaper’s newly heightened focus on climate, said, “the mainstream argument has moved on.” What’s coming next isn’t certain, but it’s likely to be much more visceral and real than steadily upward sloping lines on a graph.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.


CONFIRMED: New Study Proves That Fox News Makes You Stupid

Source: DailyKos

Author: KingOneEye

Emphasis Mine

Yet another study has been released that proves that watching Fox News is detrimental to your intelligence. World Public Opinion, a project managed by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, conducted a survey of American voters that shows that Fox News viewers are significantly more misinformed than consumers of news from other sources. What’s more, the study shows that greater exposure to Fox News increases misinformation. So the more you watch, the less you know.

Or to be precise, the more you think you know that is actually false.

This study corroborates a previous PIPA study that focused on the Iraq war with similar results. And there was an NBC/Wall Street Journal poll that demonstrated the break with reality on the part of Fox viewers with regard to health care. The body of evidence that Fox News is nothing but a propaganda machine dedicated to lies is growing by the day.

In eight of the nine questions below, Fox News placed first in the percentage of those who were misinformed (they placed second in the question on TARP). That’s a pretty high batting average for journalistic fraud. Here is a list of what Fox News viewers believe that just aint so:

  • 91% believe that the stimulus legislation lost jobs.
  • 72% believe that the health reform law will increase the deficit.
  • 72% believe that the economy is getting worse.
  • 60% believe that climate change is not occurring.
  • 49% believe that income taxes have gone up.
  • 63% believe that the stimulus legislation did not include any tax cuts.
  • 56% believe that Obama initiated the GM/Chrysler bailout.
  • 38% believe that most Republicans opposed TARP.
  • 63% believe that Obama was not born in the US (or that it is unclear).

The conclusion is inescapable. Fox News is deliberately misinforming their viewers and they are doing it for a reason. Every issue above is one in which the Republican Party had a vested interest. They benefited from the ignorance that Fox News helped to proliferate. The results were apparent in the election last month as voters based their decisions on demonstrably false information fed to them by Fox News.

By the way, the rest of the media was not blameless. CNN and the broadcast network news operations fared only slightly better in many cases. Even MSNBC, which had the best record of accurately informing viewers, has a ways to go before they can brag about it.

The conclusions in this study need to be disseminated as broadly as possible. Fox’s competitors need to report these results and produce ad campaigns featuring them. Newspapers and magazines need to publish the study across the country. This is big news and it is critical that the nation be advised that a major news enterprise is poisoning their minds.

This is not an isolated review of Fox’s performance. It has been corroborated time and time again. The fact that Fox News is so blatantly dishonest, and the effects of that dishonesty have become ingrained in an electorate that has been been purposefully deceived, needs to be made known to every American. Our democracy cannot function if voters are making choices based on lies. We have the evidence that Fox is tilting the scales and we must now make certain that they do not get away with it.




Paul Krugman on Why Ayn Rand’s Economic Disciples Are Dead Wrong About the Dollar

Source: AlterNet

Author: Paul Krugman

Emphasis Mine

Reality keeps intruding on the fevered Ayn Randian dreams of the Republican Party and other conservative critics of the Federal Reserve. Far from debasing the dollar, as the hysterics keep warning, the Fed’s moves to help the economy by easing money now appear to have resulted in a stronger dollar.

That’s great news, right?

Well, not exactly, according to Paul Krugman in Friday’s column:

Actually, the strong dollar is bad for America. In an immediate sense, it will weaken our long-delayed economic recovery by widening the trade deficit. In a deeper sense, the message from the dollar’s surge is that we’re less insulated than many thought from problems overseas. In particular, you should think of the strong dollar/weak euro combination as the way Europe exports its troubles to the rest of the world, America very much included.

Undeniably, the U.S. economy is seeing some growth lately, although there are also still signs of weakness. Employment may be rising fast, but wages are not. According to Krugman, America is offering historially low returns to investors with even long-term bonds paying only a bit more than 2 percent interest.

When it comes to currency markets, however, we are looking very strong in comparison to everyone else, especially Europe where the threat of deflation looms and many bonds are offering negative interest rates. Krugman:

This remarkable situation makes even those low, low U.S. returns look attractive by comparison. So capital is heading our way, driving the euro down and the dollar up.

Who wins from this market move? Europe: a weaker euro makes European industry more competitive against rivals, boosting both exports and firms that compete with imports, and the effect is to mitigate the euroslump. Who loses? We do, as our industry loses competitiveness, not just in European markets, but in countries where our exports compete with theirs. America has been experiencing a modest manufacturing revival in recent years, but that revival will be cut short if the dollar stays this high for long.

In effect, then, Europe is managing to export some of its stagnation to the rest of us. We’re not talking about a nefarious plot, about so-called currency wars; it’s just the way things work in a global economy with highly mobile capital and market-determined exchange rates. And the effects may be quite large. If markets believe that Europe’s weakness will last a long time, we would expect the euro to fall and the dollar to rise enough to eliminate much if not most of the difference in interest rates, which would mean severely crimping U.S. growth.

Krugman hates to be a Cassandra, but finds all of this especially worrying when you consider that our policy makers are not fully understanding the implications of the rising dollar. Even the Fed might be clueless. “Oh, and one more thing,” he adds. “A lot of businesses around the world have borrowed heavily in dollars, which means that a rising dollar may create a whole new set of debt crises. Just what the global economy needed.”

So Europe’s troubles, and the euro itself, is also our problem, even if it becomes a little cheaper for Americans to visit Europe for the moment. That’s the way it is in our interconnected world. But, Krugman warns the Fed:  “Don’t raise rates until you see the whites of inflation’s eyes!”



How to Become a Conservative in Four Embarrassing Steps

Source: Alternet

Author: Paul Buchheit

Emphasis Mine

Not that we’d want to. But many Americans, perplexingly, have taken that path in the last ten years, as 27 percent of those polled now consider themselves ‘mostly’ or ‘consistently’ conservative, up from 18 percent in 2004. (Conservatives were at 30 percent in 1994. Liberals increased from 21 to over 30 percent in the 1990s and have remained approximately the same since then.)

The language of true conservatives often turns to denial, dismissal, and/or belligerence, without verifiable facts of any substance. There is also evidence for delusional thinking and a lack of empathy. Here are four ways to be just like them. 1. Ignore Facts

Research shows that conservatives tend to modify facts to accommodate their beliefs and convictions, while liberals are more willing to deal with the complexity of multiple sources of information that help determine the true facts.

In simpler terms, numerous studies (hereherehere, and here) conclude that conservatives are not very smart.

Perhaps the best example of fact-aversion is climate change. Incredibly, even though 97 percentof climate scientists agree that climate warming is very likely due to human activities, 66 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in global warming.

It’s even more incredible that the Chair of the Committee on the Environment, James Inhofe, brought a snowball to the Senate floor to back up his earlier suggestion that manmade global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Tea Party and the Right

How to Become a Conservative in Four Embarrassing Steps

Not that we’d want to. But many Americans, perplexingly, have taken that path in the last ten years.

Photo Credit: Alexeysun/

Not that we’d want to. But many Americans, perplexingly, have taken that path in the last ten years, as 27 percent of those polled now consider themselves ‘mostly’ or ‘consistently’ conservative, up from 18 percent in 2004. (Conservatives were at 30 percent in 1994. Liberals increased from 21 to over 30 percent in the 1990s and have remained approximately the same since then.)

The language of true conservatives often turns to denial, dismissal, and/or belligerence, without verifiable facts of any substance. There is also evidence for delusional thinking and a lack of empathy. Here are four ways to be just like them. 

1. Ignore Facts 

Research shows that conservatives tend to modify facts to accommodate their beliefs and convictions, while liberals are more willing to deal with the complexity of multiple sources of information that help determine the true facts.

In simpler terms, numerous studies (hereherehere, and here) conclude that conservatives are not very smart. 

Perhaps the best example of fact-aversion is climate change. Incredibly, even though 97 percentof climate scientists agree that climate warming is very likely due to human activities, 66 percent of Republicans say they do not believe in global warming.

It’s even more incredible that the Chair of the Committee on the Environment, James Inhofe, brought a snowball to the Senate floor to back up his earlier suggestion that manmade global warming is “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” 

If there is even a chance that humans are damaging the environment, a thinking person would consider the potential effect on his or her children and grandchildren. But the exact opposite has happened. Half of all carbon emissions have been dumped into the air in approximately the last 25 years. Even the Pentagon, much trusted by right-wingers, has warned that “the danger from climate change is real, urgent, and severe.”

2. Make Up Your Own Facts 

This is the opposite of ignoring facts, for in this case conservatives are inventing new ones. A prime example is the stubborn belief in supply-side, trickle-down economics, and in the supposed power of the free market, as summarized by Milton Friedman when he said, “The free market system distributes the fruits of economic progress among all people.”

The “Laffer Curve,” named after economist Arthur Laffer, hypothesizes that tax rate increases will eventually reach a point of diminishing returns for tax revenue. Conservatives have contorted this economic theory into the ‘fact’ that all tax reductions are beneficial.

But there are numerous reputable economists, research groups, and tax analysts who have concluded that the maximum U.S. tax rate can and should be about twice its current level. 

Adherence to supply-side beliefs may help to justify 35 years of trickle-down persistence in the minds of the people getting rich. As conservative analyst Michael Barone once said, “Markets work. But sometimes they take time.” 100 years, perhaps?

3. Display No Empathy for Others 

Conservatives tend to blame poor people for their own misfortunes. Like when John Boehner voiced his perception of people without jobs: “This idea that has been born…I really don’t have to work; I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.”  Almost all healthy adult Americans, of course, want to work. But in 2011 Senate Republicans killed a proposed $447 billion jobs bill that would have added about two million jobs to the economy. Members of Congress filibustered Nancy Pelosi’s “Prevention of Outsourcing Act,” even as two million jobs were being outsourced, and they temporarily blocked the “Small Business Jobs Act.” In April, 2013 only one member of Congress bothered to show up for a hearing on unemployment.

When asked what he would do to bring jobs to Kentucky, Mitch McConnell responded, “That is not my job. It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet.”

It gets worse beyond our own borders, where American neoconservatism leads to behavior that is shockingly devoid of empathy. A 13-year-old Yemeni boy told The Guardian about the drones buzzing incessantly overhead: “I see them every day and we are scared of them…day and night…we even dream of them in our sleep.”  That boy was killed by a drone in early 2015.

4. Shout Down Your Opponents 

If nothing else works, belligerence will. Many of the top right-wingers use this strategy. John McCain told Code Pink protestors to “Get out of here, you low-life scum.” Michael Moore has reportedly received death threats from both Glenn Beck and Clint EastwoodBill O’Reilly bashed Mother Jones chief David Corn as a “liar” and an “irresponsible guttersnipe,” and then assailed New York Times’ Emily Steel in an interview about the Falklands controversy: “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.”

The bully tactics are especially frightening at the global level. “All of Russia,” notes Paul Craig Roberts, “is distressed that Washington has destroyed the trust that had been created during the Reagan-Gorbachev era.” And as noted by The Nation, “There’s the perception across the Global South that, while the United States remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.” Toward China, that is, as their New Silk Road opens doors of cooperation from the far east all the way to Europe.

Our conservative-controlled nation’s self-serving belief in “exceptionalism” is taking us further and further from the rest of the world. And closer to a world of trouble for our children. 

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites, and, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at





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