Out of Touch with Middle-Class America

I find it disturbing that there has been so much commotion about comedian Stephen Colbert’s testimony to Congress on the plight of migrant farm workers and the topic of illegal immigration.

The latest line of criticism from the mainstream media – and no, it’s not from FOX News – is Jonah Goldberg’s column entitled “Stephen Colbert makes a mockery of immigration debate.”

Goldberg begins, in his super-serious way, by saying, “The comedian’s appearance before Congress was an excruciatingly inappropriate spectacle.”

And continues: “The real upshot of Colbert’s shtick is that he’s mocking people who disagree with him — or with the left-wing base of the Democratic Party — on the complicated issue of immigration.”

Let me first begin by critiquing Goldberg and every other major news “journalist” for giving so much attention to this testimony.  You have just unwittingly disproved your own point by giving this testimony more attention through criticizing Colbert than you would have if Colbert was never invited in the first place. Read more of this post

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It’s Witch-Hunt Season – Paul Krugman, NYTimes.com

It’s Witch-Hunt Season – NYTimes.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman

This Op-Ed article by Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman sums up the current Republican/Tea Party hysteria quite well.  I suggest it to everyone – especially given the sudden rise of irresponsible right-wing extremism. Read more of this post

Economic Policy Wars by Ryan Rhoades

So let me get this straight.

We are in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  The national unemployment rate stands at 9.5%, is at least 10% in 128 metropolitan areas and over 15% in twelve of the largest urban areas.  The ratio of unemployed persons to job openings stood at 5.4 to 1 in January, slightly lower than in December, when the ratio was six-to-one1.

Teachers, police officers and other service workers are getting laid off, taking pay cuts or getting furloughed.  Since August of 2008, over 180,000 local government jobs have been lost.   Estimated projections show that local public-sector job losses are only going to increase through 2012 due to budget cuts2.

With all this happening now, some politicians, news commentators and pundits are preaching fiscal austerity – suddenly concerned about the deficit and our national debt.

I say suddenly because many of the same people calling for reducing the national deficit by cutting programs and gutting state budgets were suspiciously silent during Bush’s rampage on the economy.  For instance, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that , “just two policies dating from the Bush Administration — tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — accounted for over $500 billion of the deficit in 2009 and will account for almost $7 trillion in deficits in 2009 through 2019, including the associated debt-service costs”3.

These critics – mostly Republicans but more specifically fiscal conservatives supportive of ‘Reaganomic’ policies – are intent on cutting government spending while also calling for the renewal of Bush’s tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.  Bush’s tax cuts are set to expire this year.  In 2008 alone, the tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% totaled $79.5 billion4.  That’s enough money to hire well over 2 million workers for one year on a modest $35,000 salary.  Such a jobs creation program reminiscent of the New Deal is clearly more important than extending tax cuts for the superrich. Read more of this post

BP’s tree fell on my lawn – Roger Ebert’s Journal

Roger Ebert Blvd.

The following article is by famous writer, critic and teacher Roger Ebert.  Aside from being the first movie critic to win the Pulitzer Prize, Ebert was also recognized as the Webby Awards Person of the Year as well as a respectable Best Blog award.  Although I do not agree with all of Ebert’s film reviews, I believe he is still the best critic out there.  Ebert draws from his ability to make connections between great cinema and deeper societal issues on his website.  I think his social commentary and political insights engage and challenge the reader to think critically – as opposed to most mainstream media outlets that have successfully narrowed the political debate between Republican and Democratic ideology (a small spectrum that does not legitimately represent public opinion).

Please read the following article and continue to keep up with the ever-engaging Roger Ebert’s Journal!

By Roger Ebert on July 25, 2010 8:17 PM

via BP’s tree fell on my lawn – Roger Ebert’s Journal.

Help me out here. There’s something I’ve been spending a couple of months trying to get my head around. Why does BP enjoy such a peculiar immunity after having apparently been culpable in the Gulf oil spill? What is the nature of its invisible protective shield?

All I know is what you know. Like most other ordinary citizens, I try to keep up the best that I can with the news. I am not, as they say, walking in the corridors of power.

But you know, the more I read, the more I imagine those corridors smelling like those disinfectant cakes you see at the bottoms of urinals. Read more of this post

ZCommunications | We’re In A One-and-a-half Dip Recession by Robert Reich | ZNet Article

ZCommunications | We’re In A One-and-a-half Dip Recession by Robert Reich | ZNet Article.

We’re not in a double-dip recession yet. We’re in a one and a half dip recession.

Consumer confidence is down. Retail sales are down. Home sales are down. Permits for single-family starts are down. The average work week is down. The only things not down are inventories – unsold stuff is piling up in warehouses and inventories of unsold homes are rising – and defaults on loans.

The 1.5 dip recession should be causing alarm bells to ring all over official Washington. It should cause deficit hawks to stop squawking about future debt, blue-dog Democrats to stop acting like Republicans, and mainstream Democrats to get some backbone.

The 1.5 dip recession should cause the President to demand a large-scale national jobs program including a new WPA that gets millions of Americans back to work even if government has to pay their wages directly.

Included would be zero-interest loans to strapped states and locales, so they didn’t have to cut vital services and raise taxes. They could repay when the economy picked up and revenues came in. The national jobs program would also include a one-year payroll tax holiday on the first $20,000 of income.

The President should stop talking and acting on anything else – not the deficit, not energy, not the environment, not immigration, not implementing the health care law, not education. He should make the whole upcoming mid-term election a national referendum on putting Americans back to work, and his jobs bill.

Are you for it or against it?

But none of this is happening. The hawks and blue dogs are still commanding the attention. Herbert Hoover’s ghost seems to have captured the nation’s capital. We’re back to 1932 (or 1937) and the prevailing sentiment is government can’t and mustn’t do anything but aim to reduce the deficit, even though the economy is going down.

It looks like there’ll be an extension of unemployment benefits. (If it weren’t for the human suffering involved, I wish the Republicans had been forced to filibuster that bill all summer and show the nation just how much they care about people without jobs.) But the fiscal stimulus resulting from this will be tiny. Jobless benefits are humane but they alone don’t get jobs back.

And what about the Fed? It’s the last game in town. The 1.5 dip recession should cause Ben Bernanke to revert to buying mortgage-backed securities, buying Treasury bills, buying anything that will get more money into circulation.

But the Fed chair continues to talk about pulling money out of the system and raising short-term rates as the economy improves. During Wednesday’s appearance before Congress he made it clear monetary policy won’t be loosened; it just won’t be tightened for a while. And he reiterated that deficits were “unsustainable.”

He admitted unemployment would probably remain high for a long time, and the likelihood of growth was “weighted to the downside,” which in Fed-Speak means we’re still in trouble. And he said the Fed still has the tools to do what’s needed if the economy needs more help.

But would he use the tools now? No. “We need to look at them carefully to make sure we’re comfortable with any steps that we take.” This is like the captain of the Titanic looking carefully at his lifeboats to make sure he’s comfortable with using them as the ship starts sinking.

Pew Research Center – The Great Recession

This report shows the effects of the Great Recession as presented by the Pew Research Center.

This link will open in a new browser window.

How the Great Recession Has Changed Life in America

The War – A Trillion Can Be Cheap – NYTimes.com

The War – A Trillion Can Be Cheap – NYTimes.com.

By Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times: Published July 24, 2010.

Click on the above link to open the story in a new browser window.

WASHINGTON — Like everything else, war is a lot more expensive than it used to be.

The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost Americans a staggering $1 trillion to date, second only in inflation-adjusted dollars to the $4 trillion price tag for World War II, when the United States put 16 million men and women into uniform and fought on three continents.

Sticker shock is the inevitable first reaction to the latest statistics on the costs of all major United States wars since the American Revolution, compiled by the Congressional Research Service and released late last month, and the figures promise to play into intensifying political and economic pressures to restrain the Pentagon budget.

Still, 21st-century technology is an obvious explanation for why two relatively small (although long) wars in developing societies like Iraq and Afghanistan are so expensive. As Stephen Daggett, a specialist in defense policy and budgets, writes in the Congressional Research Service report, in the Revolutionary War “the most sophisticated weaponry was a 36-gun frigate that is hardly comparable to a modern $3.5 billion destroyer.”

A second look at the numbers shows another story underneath. In 2008, the peak year so far of war spending for Iraq and Afghanistan, the costs amounted to only 1.2 percent of America’s gross domestic product. During the peak year of spending on World War II, 1945, the costs came to nearly 36 percent of G.D.P.

The reason is the immense growth, and seemingly limitless credit, of the United States economy over the last 65 years, as compared to the sacrifice and unity required to wring $4 trillion from a much smaller economy to wage the earlier war. To some historians, the difference is troubling.

“The army is at war, but the country is not,” said David M. Kennedy, the Stanford University historian. “We have managed to create and field an armed force that can engage in very, very lethal warfare without the society in whose name it fights breaking a sweat.” The result, he said, is “a moral hazard for the political leadership to resort to force in the knowledge that civil society will not be deeply disturbed.”

A corollary is that taxes have not been raised to pay for Iraq and Afghanistan — the first time that has happened in an American war since the Revolution, when there was not yet a country to impose them. Rightly or wrongly, that has further cut American civilians off from the two wars on the opposite side of the world.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, “Americans were called upon by their leaders to pay higher taxes during a war, and grumbling or not grumbling, they did it,” said Robert D. Hormats, the under secretary of state for economic, energy and agricultural affairs and the author of “The Price of Liberty: Paying for America’s Wars.”

In terms of costs per warrior, the current wars appear to be the most expensive ever, according to Todd Harrison, a senior fellow for defense budget studies at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. Working independently of the Pentagon and of the Congressional study, and using computations based on the number of troops committed to the actual conduct of war at any one time, he estimates that the annual cost today is $1.1 million per man or woman in uniform in Afghanistan versus an adjusted $67,000 per year for troops in World War II and $132,000 in Vietnam.

Although technology is the driving factor, along with the logistical expense of moving equipment over the treacherous and landlocked Afghan terrain, costs per soldier have also risen because of the price of maintaining a better-trained and higher-paid force. “We’re not just pulling random guys off the street and sending them off to war like we did in the past,” Mr. Harrison said.

A last story in the numbers: A quick calculation shows that the United States has been at war for 47 of its 230 years, or 20 percent of its history. Put another way, Americans have been at war one year out of every five.

“You know, it’s a surprise to me that it’s that high,” said Mr. Daggett, who has focused on the cost, not length, of wars. “You think of war as not being the usual state.”

Pentagon Papers Reporter: What the WikiLeaks War Logs Tell Us

As reported on ProPublica by Marian Wang July 26, 2010

Americans who—like me—weren’t alive when the Pentagon Papers story was first leaked to The New York Times are likely still familiar with the end conclusion: The American people found out what a disaster the Vietnam War had been. And in a landmark case for press freedom, when the federal government tried to stop the Times and the Post from publishing that confidential record of the war and the lead-up to it, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of the press, in favor of “no prior restraint” or censorship from the government.

But some of the details may be hazy, and especially as so many have begun comparing the revelations in the Afghanistan War Logs—released by WikiLeaks and reported out by The New York Times, the Guardian, and Der Speigel—it’s worth revisiting some of that history to better inform our perspective on the present.

So I rang up Neil Sheehan, the former New York Times reporter to whom the Pentagon Papers were first leaked by military analyst and whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg in 1971—stories for which the Times later won the Pulitzer Prize. (Ellsberg, it is worth noting, has also chimed in on the latest leaks. He told The Wall Street Journal that he felt an affinity for the leaker in this case.)

Sheehan proceeded to share—in the brief time we were able to speak—what the Pentagon Papers told us about Vietnam, and what the latest leaks say about Afghanistan. Here’s what he had to say, edited slightly for clarity:

On the War Logs vs. Pentagon Papers comparison:

The Pentagon Papers dealt with more years. From 1944—World War II—through 1968. You had a vast time span. It was an archive of much of the war itself. It was for most of the war and covered the French-IndoChina war. The Pentagon Paper’s revelations were of the highest level of decision-making. Decision-making by the president, the secretary of state., secretaries of defense, heads of the CIA, commanding generals. The highest level—and those were the most exciting revelations—the extent to which the government had deliberately deceived the American public about events in Vietnam or deluded themselves.

They came at the end of a long war that divided this country more than any war since the Civil War. This is coming during a war that’s an unpopular war, but the revelations aren’t at that level. As far as I can make out, the Wikileaks logs cover a number of years. But it’s nitty-gritty stuff. Low-level stuff.

It doesn’t mean it’s not very revelatory. It is. It shows the extent to which the Bush Administration abandoned the war in Afghanistan and what repercussions that has had. These young men and women were treated in a shabby fashion. They weren’t given the support they should’ve been given. They didn’t expect to get that support until Obama came in, and it takes time for that shift to happen.

On what the Afghanistan war logs have added to what we know:

They show how difficult the war in Afghanistan is. It’s a very complicated situation. You’ve got a government in Kabul which is corrupt and untrustworthy. You’ve got Pakistani allies which are not necessarily always your allies. You’ve got a Taliban movement which is resurgent, but also isn’t unified. It has its own factions, but it’s a resilient movement .

The WikiLeak revelations are very valuable, I think. They show how hard it is going to be to reach the objective the U.S. wants to reach, which is basically pacifying the country. Coming up with a sort of agreement which will pacify the country and end the insurgency. It shows how difficult it is to deal with your own allies.

It gives you a good insight into the war, the kind of war Americans are faced with. It shows the extent to which the Bush Administration neglected Afghanistan and wasted resources in Iraq on a war that wasn’t necessary, and ignored a war that was necessary in Afghanistan. The situation has worsened markedly as a result of that neglect.

On the criticism by some who point out that the latest leaks don’t bring to light much new information:

They may not contain a lot of new information, but they get public attention. That’s important, that the American public understand what’s going on. I’m not saying it’s necessary that they quit Afghanistan, but that the public understands the price being paid.

One value from these logs is it shows things are much more difficult on the ground than what you get from high-level briefings where they talk about counterinsurgency and use all these terms. When you get down to nitty-gritty here, these guys are trying to deal with a village that’s divided against itself. You don’t know who to trust, because people in the village don’t know who to trust.

On whether it should come as a surprise that the official picture is rosier than reality:

That’s almost always the case. There’s a lot of pressure to succeed on senior people. They put that on the people below them. It’s self-generated. The army term is ‘can-do spirit.’ There’s the can-do spirit. No general wants to admit he can’t accomplish something, so you’re bound to get a rosier picture.

On how having the documents makes the realities of war more tangible:

In a very important way, these records make the war more tangible. There’s something tangible now. People can understand that.

The New York Times has a picture of the Taliban in a Ford truck given to the Afghan Army by the United States. That happened in Vietnam. We armed the Viet Cong guerrillas. When I first went to Vietnam, a Viet Cong battalion would be lucky to have one machine gun. Within one year, you had two or three per battalion—one per company at least. Their firepower increased enormously. That was from us.

There’s a problem in fighting an insurgency and that is that when you pour resources into a country like that, into a society that has conflict within itself, the side with the most motivation tends to obtain those resources one way or another.

On other differences people should keep in mind:

The American Army in this war is totally different than army in Vietnam. The American army in Afghanistan is an army of volunteers. They’re young men and women who’ve signed up for the military because they think they’ll survive, they’ll be able to get a college education, or they really wanted to be a soldier or marine.

That wasn’t true in Vietnam. They were drafted or volunteers, and even the volunteers figured they’d eventually get drafted and thought, ‘I should just get it over with.’ They weren’t really volunteers. When they saw how senseless the war was, many of them turned against it.

None of that seems to exist in Afghanistan. The Army and the Marines don’t seem to lack for volunteers. Young men and women are signing up knowing what they’re facing. They accept the danger. They sign up thinking they’ll live through it.

The US Army was destroyed in Vietnam. 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. That’s a hell of a lot of people. I don’t know the exact figure in Afghanistan, but it’s nowhere near that.

Note: The Associated Press tallies 1785 deaths of U.S. and allied troops in Afghanistan since 2001, through June 2010. That number, of course, doesn’t include the hundreds of contractors—not to mention Afghan civilians—who have also died in the Afghan war.

In Disclosing Secret Documents, WikiLeaks Seeks ‘Transparency’ – NYTimes.com

In Disclosing Secret Documents, WikiLeaks Seeks ‘Transparency’ – NYTimes.com.

Click on link to open the report in a new browser window.