People Power: Occupy Wall Street Movement

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The Canadian Charger

2011-10-26T074901Z_1864182193_GM1E7AQ17ZP01_RTRMADP_3_USA-WALLSTREET

An “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrator chants during a demonstration in response to an early morning police raid which displaced Occupy Oakland’s tent city in Oakland, California October 25, 2011.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

In the United States – the world’s lone superpower and a beacon of hope for many the world over – 14 million people are officially unemployed and two million of those have given up looking for a job. And that’s the tip of the iceberg: half a million people are homeless; nearly 50 million people are without health insurance; and 46 million Americans live below the poverty rate, yet banks and large corporations received billion dollar bailouts from taxpayers’ hard-earned money and bank executives never stopped receiving million dollar bonuses, on top of their seven figure incomes.

In response, the Occupy Wall Street movement – in the midst of its fourth week – continues to escalate, protesting against corporate greed, government inefficiency and income inequality. Many people are debating what the real message of this movement is and, more importantly, what impact it will have on the country itself.

Writing in the New York Times recently, Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman said: “With unions and a growing number of Democrats now expressing at least qualified support for the protesters, Occupy Wall Street is starting to look like an important event that might even been seen eventually as a turning point.”

Of course, as with most controversial issues, the end of the political spectrum one is viewing the events from greatly influences one’s interpretation of said events. Speaking on the television show Cross Talk recently, radio talk show host and Tea Party organizer Tony Katz said that the Occupy Wall Street movement looked like a bunch of anarchists and he cautioned that the movement has the potential to turn violent.

Jason Del Gandio, assistant professor of rhetoric and public advocacy at Temple University, responded that the Occupy Wall Street movement is a nonviolent movement, expressing a deep desire for democracy that responds to the wants and needs of everyday people, not corporations.

Sensing the growing popularity of the movement, President Obama and his team are now saying that the demonstrators have a point; but with a team of Wall Street veterans as advisors, making all the important economic decisions that Obama lacks the expertise to make, the demonstrators consider Obama to be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Meanwhile, on Cross Talk, Kevin Zeese, a political activist and one of the organizers of www.October2011.org said he and many others in the Occupy Wall Street movement see the Obama White House as part of the crony, capitalist, corrupt economy which has resulted in 400 people having as much wealth as 154 million – not because they’re smarter or work harder but because they’re politically connected and essentially bribing through campaign donations.

“Our goal is to shift the power to the people and end the corporate rule. Corporate rule does affect the cost of college; corporate rule does put our students in the greatest debt they’ve ever been in. They’re coming into a job market that’s absolutely terrible. These kids are in the streets because they’re being treated poorly by this economy…The empire economy with 1100 military bases around the world is not good for the United States; it’s not good for our national security; it’s not good for our democracy; it’s not good for our economy. We need to remove the power of corporations.”

Similar to the G20 protests, where citizens were expressing legitimate concerns about government policies, a minority of protesters always engage in destructive – and at times unlawful – conduct; and unfortunately it’s these acts that tend to make the evening news, and become the focus of right wing commentators. Not surprisingly, this is what Tea Party organizer Mr. Katz sees when watching the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“If you take a look from the outside looking in, it looks like a bunch of people who don’t care about the land, who are willing to abuse businesses around them and defecate on police cars. That’s the evidence base. You’re not going to get the Tea Party to favor a concept where everyone gets paid for doing nothing. We don’t accept that. We believe in capitalism; we believe in the free market; we believe you should keep what you earn. Governments shouldn’t get what you earn and Wall Street shouldn’t get what you earn. You should keep what you earn.”

The mantra of a free market is constantly trotted out by the right, as they continuously demand that government get out of the way of business and let the market decide. However, the reality is often quite different: Columbia University professor and Nobel Prize winner Joseph Stiglitz pointed out in his book Free Fall, that over many years, governments have had to continuously bail out banks and large corporations when their bets went sour. And the current crisis is just a part of this continuum.

Mr. Del Gandio, and many others, can see this.

“Do we actually live in a free market society? Because the last time I looked it was the richest corporations and the richest banks on the face of the planet that were getting bailouts. So it’s communism for the rich and capitalism for the poor. We do not live in a free market society. That’s a myth. We’ve never lived in a free market society. It’s always privileged the rich,” Mr. Del Gandio said.

13-44

The Fatal Distraction

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

Friday brought two numbers that should have everyone in Washington saying, “My God, what have we done?”

One of these numbers was zero — the number of jobs created in August.

The other was two — the interest rate on 10-year U.S. bonds, almost as low as this rate has ever gone. Taken together, these numbers almost scream that the inside-the-Beltway crowd has been worrying about the wrong things, and inflicting grievous harm as a result.

Ever since the acute phase of the financial crisis ended, policy discussion in Washington has been dominated not by unemployment, but by the alleged dangers posed by budget deficits. Pundits and media organizations insisted that the biggest risk facing America was the threat that investors would pull the plug on U.S. debt. For example, in May 2009 The Wall Street Journal declared that the “bond vigilantes” were “returning with a vengeance,” telling readers that the Obama administration’s “epic spending spree” would send interest rates soaring.

The interest rate when that editorial was published was 3.7 percent. As of Friday, as I’ve already mentioned, it was only 2 percent.

I don’t mean to dismiss concerns about the long-run U.S. budget picture. If you look at fiscal prospects over, say, the next 20 years, they are indeed deeply worrying, largely because of rising health-care costs. But the experience of the past two years has overwhelmingly confirmed what some of us tried to argue from the beginning: The deficits we’re running right now — deficits we should be running, because deficit spending helps support a depressed economy — are no threat at all.

And by obsessing over a nonexistent threat, Washington has been making the real problem — mass unemployment, which is eating away at the foundations of our nation — much worse.

Although you’d never know it listening to the ranters, the past year has actually been a pretty good test of the theory that slashing government spending actually creates jobs. The deficit obsession has blocked a much-needed second round of federal stimulus, and with stimulus spending, such as it was, fading out, we’re experiencing de facto fiscal austerity. State and local governments, in particular, faced with the loss of federal aid, have been sharply cutting many programs and have been laying off a lot of workers, mostly schoolteachers.

And somehow the private sector hasn’t responded to these layoffs by rejoicing at the sight of a shrinking government and embarking on a hiring spree.

O.K., I know what the usual suspects will say — namely, that fears of regulation and higher taxes are holding businesses back. But this is just a right-wing fantasy. Multiple surveys have shown that lack of demand — a lack that is being exacerbated by government cutbacks — is the overwhelming problem businesses face, with regulation and taxes barely even in the picture.

For example, when McClatchy Newspapers recently canvassed a random selection of small-business owners to find out what was hurting them, not a single one complained about regulation of his or her industry, and few complained much about taxes. And did I mention that profits after taxes, as a share of national income, are at record levels?

So short-run deficits aren’t a problem; lack of demand is, and spending cuts are making things much worse. Maybe it’s time to change course?

Which brings me to President Obama’s planned speech on the economy.

I find it useful to think in terms of three questions: What should we be doing to create jobs? What will Republicans in Congress agree to?

And given that political reality, what should the president propose?

The answer to the first question is that we should have a lot of job-creating spending on the part of the federal government, largely in the form of much-needed spending to repair and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure. Oh, and we need more aid to state and local governments, so that they can stop laying off schoolteachers.

But what will Republicans agree to? That’s easy: nothing. They will oppose anything Mr. Obama proposes, even if it would clearly help the economy — or maybe I should say, especially if it would help the economy, since high unemployment helps them politically.

This reality makes the third question — what the president should propose — hard to answer, since nothing he proposes will actually happen anytime soon. So I’m personally prepared to cut Mr. Obama a lot of slack on the specifics of his proposal, as long as it’s big and bold. For what he mostly needs to do now is to change the conversation — to get Washington talking again about jobs and how the government can help create them.

For the sake of the nation, and especially for millions of unemployed Americans who see little prospect of finding another job, I hope he pulls it off.

13-37

Getting to Crazy

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

debtceilingThere aren’t many positive aspects to the looming possibility of a U.S. debt default. But there has been, I have to admit, an element of comic relief — of the black-humor variety — in the spectacle of so many people who have been in denial suddenly waking up and smelling the crazy.

A number of commentators seem shocked at how unreasonable Republicans are being. “Has the G.O.P. gone insane?” they ask.

Why, yes, it has. But this isn’t something that just happened, it’s the culmination of a process that has been going on for decades. Anyone surprised by the extremism and irresponsibility now on display either hasn’t been paying attention, or has been deliberately turning a blind eye.

And may I say to those suddenly agonizing over the mental health of one of our two major parties: People like you bear some responsibility for that party’s current state.

Let’s talk for a minute about what Republican leaders are rejecting.

President Obama has made it clear that he’s willing to sign on to a deficit-reduction deal that consists overwhelmingly of spending cuts, and includes draconian cuts in key social programs, up to and including a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. These are extraordinary concessions. As The Times’s Nate Silver points out, the president has offered deals that are far to the right of what the average American voter prefers — in fact, if anything, they’re a bit to the right of what the average Republican voter prefers!

Yet Republicans are saying no. Indeed, they’re threatening to force a U.S. default, and create an economic crisis, unless they get a completely one-sided deal. And this was entirely predictable.

First of all, the modern G.O.P. fundamentally does not accept the legitimacy of a Democratic presidency — any Democratic presidency. We saw that under Bill Clinton, and we saw it again as soon as Mr. Obama took office.

As a result, Republicans are automatically against anything the president wants, even if they have supported similar proposals in the past. Mitt Romney’s health care plan became a tyrannical assault on American freedom when put in place by that man in the White House. And the same logic applies to the proposed debt deals.

Put it this way: If a Republican president had managed to extract the kind of concessions on Medicare and Social Security that Mr. Obama is offering, it would have been considered a conservative triumph. But when those concessions come attached to minor increases in revenue, and more important, when they come from a Democratic president, the proposals become unacceptable plans to tax the life out of the U.S. economy.

Beyond that, voodoo economics has taken over the G.O.P.

Supply-side voodoo — which claims that tax cuts pay for themselves and/or that any rise in taxes would lead to economic collapse — has been a powerful force within the G.O.P. ever since Ronald Reagan embraced the concept of the Laffer curve. But the voodoo used to be contained. Reagan himself enacted significant tax increases, offsetting to a considerable extent his initial cuts.

And even the administration of former President George W. Bush refrained from making extravagant claims about tax-cut magic, at least in part for fear that making such claims would raise questions about the administration’s seriousness.

Recently, however, all restraint has vanished — indeed, it has been driven out of the party. Last year Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, asserted that the Bush tax cuts actually increased revenue — a claim completely at odds with the evidence — and also declared that this was “the view of virtually every Republican on that subject.” And it’s true: even Mr. Romney, widely regarded as the most sensible of the contenders for the 2012 presidential nomination, has endorsed the view that tax cuts can actually reduce the deficit.

Which brings me to the culpability of those who are only now facing up to the G.O.P.’s craziness.

Here’s the point: those within the G.O.P. who had misgivings about the embrace of tax-cut fanaticism might have made a stronger stand if there had been any indication that such fanaticism came with a price, if outsiders had been willing to condemn those who took irresponsible positions.

But there has been no such price. Mr. Bush squandered the surplus of the late Clinton years, yet prominent pundits pretend that the two parties share equal blame for our debt problems. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, proposed a supposed deficit-reduction plan that included huge tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, then received an award for fiscal responsibility.

So there has been no pressure on the G.O.P. to show any kind of responsibility, or even rationality — and sure enough, it has gone off the deep end. If you’re surprised, that means that you were part of the problem.

13-30

Who’s Serious Now?

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

2011-04-05T160723Z_1858491697_GM1E74600HJ01_RTRMADP_3_USA-BUDGET

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a news conference held to unveil the House Republican budget blueprint in the Capitol in Washington April 5, 2011. The plan calls for sweeping changes to government health programs as it slashes taxes for corporations and individuals. 

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounds upset.

And you can see why: President Obama, to the great relief of progressives, has called his bluff.

Last week, Mr. Ryan unveiled his budget proposal, and the initial reaction of much of the punditocracy was best summed up (sarcastically) by the blogger John Cole: “The plan is bold! It is serious! It took courage! It re-frames the debate! The ball is in Obama’s court! Very wonky! It is a game-changer! Did I mention it is serious?”

Then people who actually understand budget numbers went to work, and it became clear that the proposal wasn’t serious at all. In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.

On Wednesday, as I said, the president called Mr. Ryan’s bluff: after offering a spirited (and reassuring) defense of social insurance, he declared, “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.” Actually, the Ryan plan calls for $2.9 trillion in tax cuts, but who’s counting?

And then Mr. Obama laid out a budget plan that really is serious.

The president’s proposal isn’t perfect, by a long shot. My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare he proposed are exactly the right way to go, he’s probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we’ll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want. But the vision was right, and the numbers were far more credible than anything in the Ryan sales pitch.

And the hissy fit — I mean, criticism — the Obama plan provoked from Mr. Ryan was deeply revealing, as the man who proposes using budget deficits as an excuse to cut taxes on the rich accused the president of being “partisan.” Mr. Ryan also accused the president of being “dramatically inaccurate” — this from someone whose plan included a $200 billion error in its calculation of interest costs and appears to have made an even bigger error on Medicaid costs. He didn’t say what the inaccuracies were.

And now for something completely wonkish: Can we talk, briefly, about politicians talking about drugs?

For the contrast between Mr. Ryan last week and Mr. Obama on Wednesday wasn’t just about visions of society. There was also a difference in visions of how the world works. And nowhere was that clearer than in the issue of how Medicare should pay for drugs.

Mr. Obama declared, “We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan held up the existing Medicare drug benefit — a program run through private insurance companies, under legislation that specifically prohibits Medicare from using its bargaining power — as an example of the efficiencies that could be gained from privatizing the whole system.

Mr. Obama has it right. Medicare Part D has been less expensive than expected, at least so far, but that’s because overall prescription drug spending has fallen short of expectations, largely thanks to a dearth of new drugs and the growing use of generics. The right way to assess Part D is by comparing it with programs where the government is allowed to use its purchasing power. And such comparisons suggest that if there’s any magic in privatization, it’s the magical way it makes drug companies richer and taxpayers poorer. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays about 40 percent less for drugs than the private plans in Part D.

Did I mention that Medicare Advantage, which closely resembles the privatized system that Republicans want to impose on all seniors, currently costs taxpayers 12 percent more per recipient than traditional Medicare?

But back to the president’s speech. His plan isn’t about to become law; neither is Mr. Ryan’s. And given the hysterical Republican reaction, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll see negotiations trying to narrow the difference. That’s a good thing because Mr. Obama’s plan already relies more on spending cuts than it should, and moving it significantly in the G.O.P.’s direction would produce something unworkable and unacceptable.

What happened over the past two weeks, then, was more about staking out positions than about enacting policies. On one side you had a combination of mean-spiritedness and fantasy; on the other you had a reaffirmation of American compassion and community, coupled with fairly realistic numbers. Which would you choose?

13-17

The Big Hate

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s — a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.

Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to “segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration” and label them as terrorists.

But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.

There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn’t say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.

Now, for the most part, the likes of Fox News and the R.N.C. haven’t directly incited violence, despite Bill O’Reilly’s declarations that “some” called Dr. Tiller “Tiller the Baby Killer,” that he had “blood on his hands,” and that he was a “guy operating a death mill.” But they have gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric, just as they did the last time a Democrat held the White House.

And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.

Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News’s new star, Glenn Beck. Here we have a network where, like it or not, millions of Americans get their news — and it gives daily airtime to a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration’s “totalitarian” agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).

But let’s not neglect the print news media. In the Bush years, The Washington Times became an important media player because it was widely regarded as the Bush administration’s house organ. Earlier this week, the newspaper saw fit to run an opinion piece declaring that President Obama “not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” and that in any case he has “aligned himself” with the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

And then there’s Rush Limbaugh. His rants today aren’t very different from his rants in 1993. But he occupies a different position in the scheme of things. Remember, during the Bush years Mr. Limbaugh became very much a political insider. Indeed, according to a recent Gallup survey, 10 percent of Republicans now consider him the “main person who speaks for the Republican Party today,” putting him in a three-way tie with Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich. So when Mr. Limbaugh peddles conspiracy theories — suggesting, for example, that fears over swine flu were being hyped “to get people to respond to government orders” — that’s a case of the conservative media establishment joining hands with the lunatic fringe.

It s not surprising, then, that politicians are doing the same thing. The R.N.C. says that “the Democratic Party is dedicated to restructuring American society along socialist ideals.” And when Jon Voight, the actor, told the audience at a Republican fund-raiser this week that the president is a “false prophet” and that “we and we alone are the right frame of mind to free this nation from this Obama oppression,” Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, thanked him, saying that he “really enjoyed” the remarks.

Credit where credit is due. Some figures in the conservative media have refused to go along with the big hate — people like Fox’s Shepard Smith and Catherine Herridge, who debunked the attacks on that Homeland Security report two months ago. But this doesn’t change the broad picture, which is that supposedly respectable news organizations and political figures are giving aid and comfort to dangerous extremism.

What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s — that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, “the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years.”

And that’s a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.

11-26