Obama and Krugman: What About Public Service Jobs?

Paul Krugman - CaricatureAfter reading “Obama Gets Obama Hope StickerReal,” Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s New York Times about President Obama’s “income inequality” speech, I went to the transcript with anticipation.

I was disappointed. The speech is narrow and superficial. It fails to affirm the most important way to increase economic opportunity and decrease inequality: tax the wealthy, decrease military spending, and send the money to local governments for public service jobs.

The needs are enormous. Child care, teachers’ aides, peer counselors for drug and alcohol rehab, nursing home aides, in-home caregiving, park and recreation staff, community center staff, cultural enrichment, paratransit drivers, and environmental cleanup are some of the more obvious example.

But when Obama cited positive programs implemented by Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Franklin Roosevelt, he failed to mention the New Deal’s Work Projects Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps that hired people for those kind of jobs.

This neglect is all the more striking because the American people strongly support such measures. In March 2013, Gallup reported that more than 70%, including a majority of Republicans, support “a federal jobs creation law that would spend government money for a program designed to create more than 1 million new jobs.”

Instead, Obama said he wants “to make sure that every striving, hardworking, optimistic kid in America has the same incredible chance that this country gave me” to climb the ladder of success. The title of the speech on the White House website, “Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility,” indicates that it’s not really about substantially reducing economic inequality or assuring everyone a living-wage job opportunity (which is achievable). Rather, it’s about assuring “that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead.” [emphasis added] Then, by rebuilding the middle class, “because of upward mobility, the guy on the factory floor could picture his kid running the company some day.”

Give me a break. Unemployed workers and the working poor need more than a dream for their children and “a chance” to get ahead.

Though Obama mentions how reducing taxes on the wealthy contributed to today’s inequality, he does not propose reversing those reductions. Again, strong majorities support such measures, but he fails to push for them.

Concerning the role of education in the reduction of poverty, Krugman states:

What struck me about this speech, however, was what he had to say about the sources of rising inequality. Much of our political and pundit class remains devoted to the notion that rising inequality, to the extent that it’s an issue at all, is all about workers lacking the right skills and education. But the president now seems to accept progressive arguments that education is at best one of a number of concerns…,

Krugman is correct about the exaggerated emphasis on education as a solution, but I read Obama’s speech differently than he does. I see far too much emphasis on education in that speech.

We need better education for many reasons, including the inherent value of learning. But the best way to enable people to lift themselves out of poverty is to offer them a living-wage job – now, not after they get “educated.”

If all of the unemployed were suddenly trained overnight by virtue of some miracle, most of them would still be unemployed. There are only a limited number of seats in the theater. And there are many more patrons outside wanting to get in.

Obama probably really believes in the Horatio Alger myth. Upward mobility seems to have worked for him. But many success stories forget one key fact: they were lucky.

We need to offer our people more than “a chance” to get lucky.

Urban Elitism and Rural Resentment

Urban_FarmFor some time, I’ve been intrigued by the hardening split in the United States between “liberal” cities and “conservative” rural regions. City dwellers tend to attribute these differences to country folk being ignorant and backward, trying to hold onto a way of life that is dying rather than accepting reality and getting with the modern, sophisticated vibe. But “Terror: The Hidden Source,” a review by Malise Ruthven of Akbar Ahmed’s book, The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, illuminates how this urban elitism is wrong and counter-productive. Observing dynamics in other countries can often help one better understand one’s own country.

As a Southern hillbilly, I’ve experienced bias directed against me because of my accent and my tendency to speak slowly. On the other hand, as a long-time resident of San Francisco, I’ve certainly often felt a sense of superiority due to my decision to live in Baghdad-by-the-Bay. I’ve looked down on Oakland and Alameda, actually loathed Los Angeles (after all, they dominate our Legislature and stole our water, just watch Chinatown), and have been mystified by why anyone would want to live in any of those God-forsaken places. But this provincialism is really just a modern form of tribalism.

The fact of the matter is that city slickers are not as smart as they think they are and country bumpkins are not the idiots purported to be by sophisticated urbanites. People who don’t live in cities have good reason for their decision. Urban-based political activists had best understand and respect those decisions, rather than assuming that their primary task is to “educate” the unenlightened.

Ruthen’s review of tribal passions in the Muslim world reflects a similar dynamic. Ruthen writes:

As an anthropologist with deep knowledge and direct experience of tribal systems, Akbar Ahmed demonstrates in The Thistle and the Drone how … in regions, distant from urban centers … clans resist the writ of government while also engaging with it. He points to their “love of freedom” to act without external constraints…,

The fundamental error, according to Ahmed, is that US leaders believe they are facing a threat from enemies whose motivation is primarily ideological.

…the terrorist activities associated with al-Qaeda and its affiliates are actively engaging the responses of tribal peoples … whose cultures are facing destruction from the forces of modern society….

The clans tended to quarrel among themselves when not coalescing in the face of outsiders….

In short, says Ahmed, while Western countries were appeasing the Saudis in order to secure their oil supplies, the Saudis were systematically destroying the Yemeni-Asiri culture.

Ahmed sees “resentment against the Saudi centers of power” as a “constant undercurrent ….”

…tribal leaders are torn between collaboration and resistance.

…tribes … feel themselves threatened.

Resentful at the flaunting of Saudi wealth, in contrast to their own loss of dignity and status, they were ripe for the anti-American messages….

His theme is not some vaguely defined “clash of civilizations” but rather the clash between metropolitan centers and rural peripheries that is internal to all modern civilizations—whether these be Islamic, Western, Russian, or Chinese….

…tribal systems are coming under attack everywhere from the forces of the modernizing state.

he finds that

every aspect of life—religious… and political leadership, customs, and codes—is in danger of being turned upside down. The particles that formed the kaleidoscope of history and remained stationary for so long have now been shaken about in bewildering patterns, with no telling when and how they will settle into some recognizable forms.

…the values of honor and revenge inherent in the tribal systems contribute to jihadist extremism, …by ignoring this all-important factor the US has been courting disaster….

The use of this tactic [suicide bombers], in violation of Koranic strictures against suicide, is suggestive both of a progressive brutalization and the process of globalization,…

Ahmed’s belief … is that tribal peoples must be negotiated with, rather than cowed into submission….

In confronting the details documented in Ahmed’s book, it is difficult to avoid his pessimistic conclusion:

Hearing the voices of people from the periphery, one gets the impression of utterly normal and decent human beings bearing witness to the slow but inexorable destruction of their communities….

How urban political leaders in the United States might “negotiate with” people who live outside our urban centers is an intriguing question. I know no blueprint. But as Harry Boyte argues in “Populism and John Dewey” and I argue in “Building Compassionate Populism,” we should not only talk economics. We also need to appreciate culture.

Given deep-seated urban arrogance, it’s interesting that many environmentalists and anti-globalization activists are now promoting “localism.” It turns out that many of us are realizing that city life is not all that it’s been made out to be. A starting point for moving forward is to better understand the positive cultural values that have been affirmed by rural communities.

Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ (plus more)

cashregister-thumb-640xauto-9805Report: Half of U.S. Families Live on the Edge of ‘Economic Chaos’ 
by Imara Jones

Half of all families in the United States are poor, near poor or face economic insecurity where “one major setback in income could push them into poverty.” That’s the shocking conclusion of a report released today by The Hamilton Project.


Is Pope Francis Leaving Vatican At Night To Minister To Homeless?

…A knowledgable source in Rome told The Huffington Post that “Swiss guards confirmed that the pope has ventured out at night, dressed as a regular priest, to meet with homeless men and women.”


Is Wall Street Too Giddy?
The stock market reaches record highs as incomes stagnate. Tech companies with no revenue are valued in the billions of dollars. More analysts are seeing something unpleasantly familiar.

Are we in a stock market bubble that could soon burst?


‘TipsForJesus’ Is Leaving Thousands Of Dollars For Servers
By Mark Memmot

…TipsForJesus has been chronicling its good deeds on Instagram, saying its mission is “doing the Lords [sic] work, one tip at a time.” Gawker estimates about $54,000 has been handed out in the past several months.


Third Way’s Anti-Populist, Anti-Warren and Deceptive “Dead End”
By Richard Eskow

An almost palpable air of desperation clings to the anti-“populist,” anti-Elizabeth Warren editorial by Jonathan Cowan and Jim Kessler of the corporate-funded Third Way organization. If they’re worried, they’re right to worry. The world is changing.


Rumsfeld’s War and Its Consequences Now
By Mark Danner

A review of:

The Unknown Known
a film directed by Errol Morris

Known and Unknown: A Memoir
by Donald Rumsfeld
Sentinel, 815 pp., $36.00

By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld
by Bradley Graham
PublicAffairs, 803 pp., $18.95 (paper)


’Tis the Season to Be Food-Insecure

It is a strange and ironic truth that in the world’s richest democracy, many Americans are going to work in the morning, but they and their families are going to bed hungry at night.


Homage to the Idols of Idleness

…What could be gained from a single day set free from the clock’s tyranny, one spent wandering or daydreaming the hours away?


The Stem and the Flower

…How much emotional and psychic space should politics take up in a normal healthy brain?… politics should take up maybe a tenth corner of a good citizen’s mind. The rest should be philosophy, friendship, romance, family, culture and fun. I wish our talk-show culture reflected that balance, and that the emotional register around politics were more in keeping with its low but steady nature.


The Families We Invent

…As good as we humans are at division, we’re better still at connection.


The Pope and the Right

…This Catholic case for limited government, however, is not a case for the Ayn Randian temptation inherent to a capitalism-friendly politics. There is no Catholic warrant for valorizing entrepreneurs at the expense of ordinary workers, or for dismissing all regulation as unnecessary and all redistribution as immoral.

The Shocking War on Democracy

Anti-NSA rally in Washington DC

On November 28, the Guardian posted an alarming report titled “The War on Democracy” by Nafeez Ahmed concerning “how corporations and spy agencies use ‘security’ to defend profiteering and crush activism.”

When it comes to governmental repression against efforts to reform the status quo, I am not easily shocked. After all, I lived through Cointelpro, bogus conspiracy trials against demonstrators opposed to the Vietnam War, and Richard Nixon’s Huston Plan (modified but still substantially implemented). And I knew about the violent attacks on labor unions prior to the New Deal.

But Ahmed’s article, drawing on a report by the Center for Corporate Policy (CCP) in Washington DC titled Spooky Business: Corporate Espionage against Nonprofit Organizations, shocked me profoundly.

The CCP steering committee includes Sarah Anderson and John Cavanagh from the Institute for Policy Studies, Ilyse Hogue from MoveOn, and Robert Weissman, editor of the Multinational Monitor.

Ahmed reports that Spooky Business relies on “a wide range of public record evidence, including lawsuits and journalistic investigations.” And he concludes, “It paints a disturbing picture of a global corporate espionage program that is out of control, with possibly as much as one in four activists being private spies.”

According to the report:

A diverse array of nonprofits have been targeted by espionage, including environmental, anti-war, public interest, consumer, food safety, pesticide reform, nursing home reform, gun control, social justice, animal rights and arms control groups.… Many of the world’s largest corporations and their trade associations … have been linked to espionage or planned espionage against nonprofit organizations, activists and whistleblowers.

These efforts were not limited to intelligence gathering. Rather, they often involved active attempts to undermine the work of advocacy organizations.

Even worse, the FBI and the CIA assist these efforts. A September 2010 report from the Office of the Inspector General in the US Justice Department concluded that:

… the factual basis of opening some of the investigations of individuals affiliated with the groups was factually weak… In some cases, we also found that the FBI extended the duration of investigations involving advocacy groups or their members without adequate basis…. In some cases, the FBI classified some of its investigations relating to nonviolent civil disobedience under its ‘Acts of Terrorism’ classification.

The FBI’s involvement has been formalized through “InfraGard’,” a partnership between private industry, the FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security.

In addition, active-duty CIA agents sell their expertise to these private security operations. With this moonlighting assistance, corporations are now able to “replicate in miniature the services of a private CIA,” according to the report.

While recently researching the Kennedy assassination, I was worried that I was going off the deep end. But as I commented in “JFK and the CIA”:

Revelations about how the Surveillance State has recently taken unwarranted political actions against Occupy and certain Muslims heightens the need for a more transparent, accountable CIA. Their strange secrecy around the Kennedy assassination is another cause for concern. Even if Oswald was the sole shooter, we need to know more about the CIA’s relationship with Oswald.

Ahmed’s article about the Spooky Business report reinforces my concern. “Just because you’re not paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.”

JFK and the CIA


On November 30, JFKFacts.org, edited by Jefferson Morley, who is suing the CIA for the release of documents related to the Kennedy assassination, published a link to a long argument for the lone assassin theory in “Against Conspiracy.” Presumably Morley did so because he considers it a responsible case for that point of view. The article he referenced is “JFK Conspiracy Theories at 50: How the Skeptics Got It Wrong and Why It Matters,” by David Reitzes.

I read it and felt that he was convincing. Then I read a November 21 essay in the New Yorker, “A Word in Favor of J.F.K. Conspiracy Theories,” by John Cassidy, and I was persuaded that there are still important unanswered questions. Cassidy argues:

…I’m willing to swallow my skepticism and accept the official story: Oswald was the lone shooter. But why did he do it, and was he maybe put up to it?…. There is also the unresolved question of how the C.I.A. may have been connected to Oswald, or, at least, how closely it was tracking his movements…. The suspicion lingers that the Agency, for whatever reason, was monitoring Oswald more keenly than it has let on….

But here’s another question that has always refused to vacate my mind when I’ve been about to close the casebook. If Oswald acted alone, without any outside influence, how and why did Jack Ruby pump a .38 slug into his gut two days later in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters?… On the face of it, doesn’t it sound more likely that Ruby, a rakish gambler and strip-joint proprietor with longstanding ties to the criminal underworld, shot Oswald to keep him silent?…

It’s hard to see Ruby as the self-sacrificing or altruistic type…. If any outsider could slip through the security lines and get to the accused shooter, it was Ruby, and it’s hardly outlandish to assume that some of his shadier associates knew this.

On the morning of November 24, he somehow managed to be present, and armed with his pistol, at the very moment when Oswald was being walked to a car for transfer to a jailhouse. Mere coincidence?…

So, were both Oswald and Ruby acting alone, for reasons of their own? It’s perfectly possible. But the conspiracy theorists aren’t being completely off the wall in suggesting that this might not be the entire story…. The horrific and endlessly fascinating forty-eight hours that brought together Kennedy, Oswald, and Ruby bequeathed too many puzzling details, weird coincidences, and shady characters for the doubters to stay silent.

Revelations about how the Surveillance State has recently taken unwarranted political actions against Occupy and certain Muslims heightens the need for a more transparent, accountable CIA. Their strange secrecy around the Kennedy assassination is another cause for concern. Even if Oswald was the sole shooter, we need to know more about the CIA’s relationship with Oswald.


The Ways of Lust (plus more)

lustThe Ways of Lust

HOW does lust affect the way we think about people? …The real worry that people have with pornography — and with lust more generally — is that the targets of the arousal are seen as losing certain uniquely human traits. They are thought of as lower-status beings, stripped of dignity, more like animals than people….


The G.O.P.’s Racism Tweet

It took three-and-a-half hours for the Republican National Committee to amend a tweet.


The Minimum We Can Do

…individuals are often willing to sacrifice their own payoffs to punish those who are seen as acting unfairly…. Support for increasing the minimum wage stretches across the political spectrum.