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Boundless Stupidity July 8, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Obama may be the first President in history to face three simultaneous disasters: the economic crisis that may plunge us into a depression, ecological disasters, in the short run caused by the BP oil spill and in the long run by climate change, and the perpetual wars in the Middle East that waste our human and financial resources.

The most immediate threat to our welfare is the call for governments to reduce budget deficits during a time of sluggish growth, extremely high unemployment, and moribund housing and financial markets. Budget deficits are bad if they cause investors to demand higher interest rates or they cause inflation to increase substantially. But there is utterly no evidence that interest rates are increasing—interest on government bonds is at record lows. And no inflation is in sight. In fact some economists are predicting deflation, which will be devastating to the economy and is more likely if governments stop spending. Calls to reduce budget deficits are nothing but right-wing ideological claptrap.

The effects of the oil spill will be felt for decades on the Gulf coast and will be followed by the gradual collapse of our ecosystems around the world as the effects of climate change accelerate causing massive economic and social dislocation. Meanwhile we dump billions of dollars into wars without purpose and with no end in sight.

Jonathan Taplin recently posted a summary of how we got into this mess that is spot on:

…since Ronald Reagan, a conservative mentality has gripped our country that rejected Nixon’s embrace of environmentalism and ignored the laws liberal Republicans had helped pass to protect the planet. Since Reagan a Neo-conservative foreign policy elite has rejected the warnings of Dwight Eisenhower and built a war machine unprecedented in world history and projected American power throughout the Arabian Gulf region at a cost of $1 trillion per year. And finally a conservative group of economists (The Chicago School) has empowered a group of Bond Traders (the Vigilantes) into threatening our government (and others around the world) to slash spending at the very moment our economy is poised to plunge into a depression.

The Bond Vigilantes Taplin is referring to are global investors (the people who caused the financial mess) who now claim that unless governments reign in their spending they will stop buying government bonds. As the record low interests show, this is bunk. Investors seem to like U.S. bonds just fine. But it is influential bunk—the public as well as the business community have bought into the idea that government spending is inherently bad. If we act on their recommendations it will send the U.S. economy over a cliff.

As Taplin notes: “And ironically, when you look at the chart above, it’s so clear what caused the deficit—the Bush tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Here is the chart Taplin refers to:

bush-policies-deficits-june-2010-e1277787005635

The share of the deficit caused by Obama’s attempts to stimulate the economy are miniscule when compared to Bush era military spending and tax cuts.

This has to be the biggest con in human history. Conservative policies nearly destroyed this country and the public blames Obama while clamoring for—more conservative policies. The utter stupidity of the American public is boundless.

We deserve what we get.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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Blaming Bush May 25, 2010

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The mainstream media is at it again, publicizing Republican talking points like good foot soldiers in the tea party revolution.

Politico ran this headline yesterday:  “Obama campaigns against Bush — again.”

President Barack Obama is trying to ride the wave of anti-incumbency by taking on an unpopular politician steeped in the partisan ways of Washington.

It doesn’t matter that George W. Bush left office 16 months ago.

The White House’s mid-term election strategy is becoming clear — pit the Democrats of 2010 against the Republicans circa 2006, 2008 and 2009, including Bush.

It’s a lot to ask an angry, finicky electorate to sort out. And even if Obama can rightfully make the case that the economy took a turn for the worse under Bush’s watch, he’s already made it — in 2008 and repeatedly in 2009.

It’s not clear that voters still want to hear it.

In fact, Obama has largely refrained from directly criticizing Bush, and that reticence has helped the public forget about that singularly mendacious and incompetent Administration.

But more importantly, the Bush Administration really is responsible for the financial collapse, excessive debt, and the lack of regulation that produced the Gulf Oil spill. The conservative American public dislikes being reminded of these facts but that doesn’t make them any less facts.

None of the problems we face have their origins in the Obama Administration. But apparently the press is more interested in stoking the public’s anti-government mood than in telling the truth.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

The Press Will Rot Your Brain April 18, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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In a recent Facebook message, Sarah Palin manipulated one of Obama’s quotes at the nuclear weapons summit in a way designed to to make him look anti-American.

Here is the Palin message:

Mr. President, is a strong America a problem?

Asked this week about his faltering efforts to advance the Middle East peace process, President Obama did something remarkable. In front of some 47 foreign leaders and hundreds of reporters from all over the world, President Obama said that “whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower.”

Whether we like it or not? Most Americans do like it.

But here is what the President actually said:

But what we can make sure of is, is that we are constantly present, constantly engaged, and setting out very clearly to both sides our belief that not only is it in the interests of each party to resolve these conflicts but it’s also in the interest of the United States. It is a vital national security interest of the United States to reduce these conflicts because whether we like it or not, we remain a dominant military superpower, and when conflicts break out, one way or another we get pulled into them. And that ends up costing us significantly in terms of both blood and treasure.

A straightforward reading of Obama’s words suggests that “whether we like it or not” refers to the prospect of getting pulled into conflicts that cost American lives. He is not addressing the question of whether we should remain a superpower but whether we should devote resources to resolving conflicts.

The fact that Palin is either stupid or dishonest is no longer worthy of a blog post—we know she is both.

But what is disturbing is that the Associated Press has a story on Sarah Palin’s criticism of Obama’s remarks about America’s superpower status without mentioning it is an utter fabrication.

Here’s the AP’s lede:

Sarah Palin criticized President Barack Obama on Saturday for saying America is a military superpower “whether we like it or not,” saying she was taken aback by his comment.

It is a given that politicians will distort the messages of their opponents. It should not be a given that the press refuses to point out their dishonesty.

All of our institutions are under threat, but none has fallen farther and faster than mainstream media. No one has any reason to get their news from them.

 book-section-book-cover2  Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

No More Mister Nice Guy March 10, 2010

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President Obama’s speech last week marked a significant departure from his approach to governance during his first year in office.

In his speech today in the White House East Room, President Obama clearly indicated that he is going to press for a comprehensive, and not a piecemeal or “skinny,” health care reform bill. He also made it abundantly clear that he will accept, if necessary, a party-line simple majority vote in the House and the Senate in order to get the bill through. Reconciliation here we come.

During his campaign and throughout year one, Obama promised to “change the way Washington works” and emphasized bipartisanship, especially during the debate over health care reform. Apparently, he believed that if he just tried hard enough to get Republicans on board, some of them would work with him to solve our problems.

But no more. As John Judis writes:

But it is now evident that Obama’s approach was what he understood about American politics—it was the guiding light gleaned from his years as an Illinois state senator—and he planned to apply it to Congress. And it was, of course, nonsense. Republicans were able to use Obama’s naiveté about their motives to undermine his initiatives. As Noam Scheiber explains in his profile of Rahm Emanuel, the principal obstacle to getting health care reform through Congress last year was Obama’s dogged insistence last summer that Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus continue to plug away at nailing down a bipartisan agreement. What Obama got was not an amicable agreement but a summer of discontent, highlighted by Senator Charles Grassley’s  denunciation of Democratic “death panels” and by the emergence of the Tea Party movement.

But it’s not an easy job being president. It took Bill Clinton most of his first term to figure out how to do domestic and foreign policy. Like Clinton, Obama has stumbled, but his slip-ups have been more dramatic because, with the economy cratering and two wars raging, the stakes have been higher from the first.

However, in Obama’s speech today, and in his artful performance at the health care summit last week, he showed that he has learned something from his first year in office. Obama is now using the rhetoric of bipartisanship as Schmitt and other liberals thought he was doing in 2008: He is using it to paint Republicans as intransigent. He clearly no longer believes that a bipartisan agreement on health care is possible.

The challenges are still daunting:

How to frame government initiatives in a way that acknowledges but also overcomes American anti-statism has been, and remains, a major political challenge for Democrats. But in beginning to draw clear distinctions between the Democratic and Republican approaches, Obama has taken the first important step toward meeting that challenge.

It will be difficult to succeed in a country that is reflexively anti-government. Judis is guardedly optimistic.

I am a bit less so.

It may be that American voters are so profoundly delusional that there is little Obama (or anyone else) can do to rescue us from the ignorant tirades of tea partiers, global warming denialists, and free market fanatics.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

2009: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly December 30, 2009

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2009 began with great promise: the exit of the criminal gang that had been running Washington for 8 years, and the emergence of a new administration full of hope and committed to tackling the substantial problems we face as a nation.

That promise has been in part fulfilled.

The Obama Administration prevented a depression, put an end to the arrogant posturing and jingoism that threatened our our global standing and moral authority in the world, and is on the brink of passing health care reform, which despite its flaws, is the most important addition to our safety net in nearly 50 years. Furthermore, the Administration has made countless regulatory decisions on the environment, banking, and judicial reform that, while falling far short of what is needed, have brought the idea of competent governance back to Washington.

By any measure, this was a good year for progressive politics.

Of course, the new administration took over in the midst of a deep economic recession and the threatened collapse of the global financial system. Although, the collapse was averted due, in part, to the Obama administration’s timely and forceful actions, unemployment skyrocketed, trillions of dollars of wealth vanished eviscerating the life savings of many ordinary Americans, and we held our nose while Wall St. bankers were rewarded for their incompetence and greed.

The economic prospects of Americans have taken a severe body blow, especially in California, where the Yacht Party continues to plunder our human resources, presiding over the collapse of the educational system that is the lifeblood of any modern society.

By any measure this was a bad year for the American Dream, which one year of progressive politics cannot restore.

As for the ugly, well, nothing is uglier than the rampant cynicism that grips large swaths of the American public, exacerbated by the ignorant know-nothings who call themselves “conservatives” and the impatient utopians on the left.

On the right, the inmates now run the asylum. The Republican Party is the party of “birthers” raging hysterically about “death panels” and “enemies lists” and spouting wild-eyed nonsense about ACORN and Obama’s re-education camps. It is a party in which the leadership honestly thinks a spending freeze is the solution to our economic crisis, compares Obama to the leaders of Nazi Germany, and openly threatens to encourage states to nullify Federal laws or secede from the union.

On the left, fuming perfectionists threaten never to vote again because of some compromise of principle perpetrated by the allegedly weak-willed Obama. Their belief in the magical powers of the President would be touching in a six year old, but is mere hypocrisy for someone claiming to be part of the reality-based community.

The world is a saner and safer place today than it was a year ago. We should be thankful for that while mindful of the real misery wrought by decades of conservative ideology.

 book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Professor in Chief December 8, 2009

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I can’t imagine George W. Bush giving an explanation like this.

Via Brad Delong, this is an excerpt from the Q and A with President Obama after the recent jobs summit:

ROBERT KUTTNER: You know, most of the things that have been proposed today cost money, and there is this concern about the federal deficit. I hope that your administration will recognize, as I know you will, that it’s possible, first of all, to reduce the deficit over time and sometimes in the short run realize that you need to increase the deficit. And I hope the concern about the deficit in the long run doesn’t crowd out the need for additional spending in the short run. And I also think that some of these programs that increase jobs and increase GDP are probably the fastest way to get the economy back on a track that will reduce the deficit over time. It’s certainly a better way to reduce the deficit than putting ourselves into a — into a debtor’s prison and assume we can deflate our way to recovery.

BARACK OBAMA: Well, I think this is an important point. You know, we’ve been talking a lot about specific initiatives. There is a macroeconomic element to this whole thing. And so let me just amplify what was just said.

We have a structural deficit that is real and growing, apart from the financial crisis. We inherited it. We’re spending about 23 percent of GDP and we take in 18 percent of GDP and that gap is growing because health care costs, Medicare and Medicaid in particular, are growing. And we’ve got to do something about that.

You then layer on top of that the huge loss of tax revenue as a consequence of the financial crisis and the greater demands for unemployment insurance and so forth. That’s another layer. Probably the smallest layer is actually what we did in terms of the Recovery Act. I mean, I think there’s a misperception out there that somehow the Recovery Act caused these deficits.

No, I mean, we had — we’ve got a 9-point-something trillion- dollar deficit, maybe a trillion dollars of it can be attributed to both the Recovery Act as well as the cleanup work that we had to do in terms of the banks. In turns out actually TARP, as wildly unpopular as it has been, has been much cheaper than any of us anticipated.

So that’s not what’s contributing to the deficit. We’ve got a long- term structural deficit that is primarily being driven by health care costs, and our long-term entitlement programs. All right? So that’s the baseline.

Now, if we can’t grow our economy, then it is going to be that much harder for us to reduce the deficit. The single most important thing we could do right now for deficit reduction is to spark strong economic growth, which means that people who’ve got jobs are paying taxes and businesses that are making profits have taxes — are paying taxes. That’s the most important thing we can do.

We understand that in this administration. That’s not always the dialogue that’s going on out there in public and we’re going to have to do a better job of educating the public on that.

The last thing we would want to do in the midst of what is a weak recovery is us to essentially take more money out of the system either by raising taxes or by drastically slashing spending. And frankly, because state and local governments generally don’t have the capacity to engage in deficit spending, some of that obligation falls on the federal government.

Having said that, what is also true is that unless businesses and global capital markets have some sense that we’ve got a plan, medium and long term, to get the deficit down, it’s hard for us to be credible, and that also could be counterproductive. So we’ve got about as difficult a economic play as is possible, which is to press the accelerator in terms of job growth, but then know when to apply the brakes in the out-years and do that credibly. And you know, we are trying to strike that balance, but we’re going to need help from all of you who oftentimes are more credible than politicians in delivering that message.

Because we want to leverage whatever public dollars are spent, and we are under no illusion that somehow the federal government can spend its way out of this recession. But it is absolutely true that any of the ideas that have been — been mentioned here are still going to require some public dollars, and those are actually good investments to make right now.

I am not an economist but I feel like I know more about economics after reading this. What a difference an election makes.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Use It or Lose It March 13, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Political Philosophy.
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The meme of the week is that Obama is trying to do too much. Health care, stem-cell research, economic stimulus, financial system rescue, Afghanistan—too many issues to manage simultaneously.

William Galston agrees, writing in the New Republic:

The core issue is the clarity and self-discipline needed to maintain control of the agenda. Consider the judgment that Erwin C. Hargrove, a respected scholar of the presidency, rendered after Reagan’s first hundred days: “Reagan has demonstrated in a way that Jimmy Carter never did, that he understands how to be President. He knows that a President can deal with only a relatively small number of issues at a time.”

Galston goes on to also praise FDR for his focus and restraint early in his administration.

But I think Galston’s advice misses the mark. Building a lasting legacy of liberal reform requires that Obama get people to do lots of things, and nothing motivates like inspiration. Obama’s asset is his ability to inspire. He ought to make use of that wave of enthusiasm while it lasts because it won’t last forever. The “fierce urgency of now” is fleeting.

Galston’s reference to Reagan is appropriate but in a way Galston does not appreciate. Reagan’s rhetoric was virulently conservative but his actions and policies often were not. He increased the size of government, increased government spending, and increased taxes while negotiating with the USSR over the objections of most of his supporters. Although he enjoyed the support of religious conservatives, he seldom did much about their values agenda.

It has been widely noted that although Republicans have talked a good game when it comes to a radical right-wing agenda, they seldom deliver, especially when it comes to the so called “values issues”. (See Tom Franks, What’s the Matter with Kansas for a discussion.)

Perhaps that is because when Reagan had the opportunity—widespread support and a demoralized opposition—he failed to seize it, and Republicans have been playing catch-up on their values agenda ever since.

The idea that Obama is moving too fast is largely a complaint coming from the right. Although I admire Galston, as a political philosopher, for  his willingness to break with liberal orthodoxy, he sometimes gives too much credence to conservative talking points.

There is much wrong with this country and much of it is systematically related. It would be a shame to squander an opportunity to provide a systematic solution.

Its the Morality Stupid March 12, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Ethics.
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The Bush Administration’s 8-year ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research was finally overturned by Obama on Monday.

Stem-cell research has the potential to cure a variety of diseases including, especially Alzheimer’s Disease. We do not yet know whether stem-cell research will pan out, but if it does, countless lives will be saved and much suffering avoided.

But if this research is successful, we will have wasted 8 years. As Juan Cole argues, in that case, George Bush will have been responsible for the death and/or suffering of millions.

In fact, by 2010 there will be nearly 500,000 new cases a year, and in the foreseeable future there will be a million new cases a year. That is, if Bush delayed the research 8 years, and if a cure really does come from that quarter, Bush will have condemned at least 4 million persons to the debilitating disease.

There is no good argument for the claim that life begins at conception or that embryos are persons. Even if one’s sympathies or intuitions lead one to care for embryos, there is no excuse for ignoring the fate of millions of genuine persons. The people who supported this ban are incapable of moral judgment.

Thus, it is disappointing that Obama’s remarks announcing the removal of the ban, as well as the executive order he signed, made no mention of the moral consequences. He argued that the ban was a rejection of the “promise of science” and that his administration would “make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology,” as if the only issue was whether the research was worth supporting with federal dollars or not. (See Yuval Levin in the Washington Post for a similar point.)

I have no idea why Obama chose to leave out any discussion of the moral issue. But the tendency to push ethical matters under the rug, and talk instead about science or the economy,  is a liberal “tic” that has done great harm to liberalism. It sends the message that liberals don’t care about ethical matters, and it has, over the years, allowed the right wing to claim the mantle of “values voters”.

This decision to overturn the ban was ideological and profoundly moral and we ought not run away from that fact. Ignoring the ethical dimension doesn’t fool the people who supported the ban, and it leaves the impression that our ethical position is weak when it is, in fact, anything but weak.

If the opposition doesn’t have a leg to stand on, why give them a stool?

Go Galt, Go! March 10, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.
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In response to Obama’s tax and budget policies the economic royalists are threatening to go on strike. Angry conservatives of every stripe are taking to the streets brandishing their—well, copies of Atlas Shrugged?

At about 1100 pages of turgid prose I suppose you could use the book as a weapon, or a narcotic.

Via the Washington Independent:

“Just this weekend,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.) on Wednesday in an interview with TWI, “I had a guy come up to me in my district and tell me that he was losing his interest in the business he’d run for years because the president wanted to punish him for his success. I think people are reading ‘Atlas Shrugged’ again because they’re trying to understand what happens to people of accomplishment, and people of talent and energy, when a government turns against them. That’s what appears to be happening right now.”

What exactly is Obama’s crime? An proposed increase in marginal tax rates of 5% for people making over 250,000.

Forbes Magazine estimates that for a family of 4 earning $300,000 per year they will pay $1100 more in taxes.

So what are these insurrectionists calling for? The plot of Rand’s fantasy involves a United States run by government bureaucrats who penalize and demonize entrepreneurial innovators. Fed up with being governed by people they hold in contempt, the creative people led by the moral hero John Galt flee to a mountain enclave where they watch society crumble because the engine of capitalism is on strike.

Today’s conservatives are threatening to “go Galt”, to withhold their talents and efforts because we lazy, simpleminded commoners, under the sway of the “communist” Obama, don’t appreciate what they’ve done for us. Without their leadership, society will collapse, at which point I guess we’re supposed to come begging for all those Wall St. wankers and their lawyers to reclaim their perch as America’s finest. (For a defense of this silliness see this piece in the National Review.)

After recovering from your astonishment at how juvenile this is, it is worth considering the multiple ironies connected to this story.

One irony is that the “John Galts” of the real world were producing nothing but financial flimflam—they are what Rand called the “moochers and looters”, corporate welfare queens for which Rand had nothing but contempt. Wall St. may have been, in the distant past, the engine of capitalism but in recent years it was nothing but a casino. Credit default swaps were simply a mechanism for high rollers to bet huge sums on assets of unknowable value—imaginary profits based on imaginary wealth. They created no jobs, no new products, no new technologies.

The greater irony is that these people can’t add. They claim to be willing to forgo a salary, at a minimum, 5 times greater than that of the average American to avoid paying 5% additional tax on income over $250,000 per year. That is just plain stupid.

It is stunning how disconnected these people are from reality. Rand defended a view she called “objectivism”—the pursuit of objective truth is the highest human calling and our judgment ought always to be governed by facts. Here are a few facts that these contemporary “Galts” ought to consider.

John Cole posted this graph recently.

 

graph

 

The column on the far-right is Obama’s proposed marginal top-rate. It is lower than Reagan’s in his first term, lower than Nixon’s and Eisenhower’s, and lower than FDR’s when we exited the Great Depression. It is right where it was under Clinton, a period of almost unmatched prosperity.

But all of this gives me great hope, and I want to encourage their efforts. For every nitwit who decides to withdraw from society, there are thousands waiting to take her position—sounds like a solution to our unemployment problem.

And I have a recommendation for a place they can go, a place that operates on pure Randian principles—no taxes, no government regulations, no gun control.

Its called Somalia.

Go Galt Go! (Via Crooked Timber)