Saturday, November 27, 2010

Mitchell Bard: Why Sarah Palin's North Korea Flub Matters

Mitchell Bard: Why Sarah Palin's North Korea Flub Matters: "

Sarah Palin provided prime material for news outlets and comedy programs when she said on Glenn Beck's radio show Wednesday:

'But obviously, we've got to stand with our North Korean allies.'
If she hasn't already, I'm sure Palin will say that the 'elitist,' 'lamestream' media is doing her wrong, and that she is once again a victim of 'gotcha journalism.' And Palin's small but passionate group of supporters will undoubtedly argue that Palin made an honest slip of the tongue, something that could happen to any of us. Her supporters are right. Saying 'North' instead of 'South' is something that any of us could easily do.
But here's the thing: Any of us did not stand up two years ago and claim we were qualified to fill a job that is a heartbeat away from the American presidency. We haven't written books, made speeches, endorsed candidates and spoken to the (mostly right-wing) media as if we were policy experts. And we haven't been scouting office space in Iowa for a 2012 presidential run.In short, more should be expected of Sarah Palin than any of us, based on how she has portrayed herself, and how she is treated by the media.

The real story, though, isn't that Palin said 'North' instead of 'South.' Let's be honest: Vice President Joe Biden could have just as easily blown a line like that.

No, the real story is that Palin was discussing a complex, precarious, highly dangerous issue as if she were an expert, even though she clearly isn't.
Does anyone outside of Palin's relatively small group of smitten followers honestly believe that she is competent to act as an expert on Korean policy? That she knows the intricacies and risks of engaging with the North Koreans? That she understands the possible leadership struggle going on there? Do you think she has the first clue about the history of Korea over the last century? Do you think she's ever heard of Syngman Rhee, the Bodo League massacre, the Battle of Inchon, or National Security Council Report 68, or that she knows about the decades of Japanese rule in Korea? Do you think she's ever read about the role the propaganda efforts of the post-Stalin Soviet government played in the eventual armistice that ended the fighting?

Doubtful, at best.

Now, do you doubt for a second that Joe Biden could reel off a dissertation-level analysis of these issues from the top of his head?
That's the real story about the Palin flub about North Korea that the media isn't covering. It's not that she misspoke, but that anyone cared what she had to say on the issue in the first place.

Sarah Palin, with her reliance on spouting talking points, simplistic approach to issues and complete lack of experience beyond a half term as governor of a state the size of Columbus, Ohio, is not competent to be discussing North Korea. (

Columbus, Ohio's population is bigger than Alaska's, 769,360 to 698,743.) And shame on any media outlet that treats her opinions as if they're worth anything.

The real damning Palin quote in the Beck interview is the one in which she worries if 'the White House is gonna come out with a strong enough policy to sanction what it is that North Korea's gonna do.' Putting aside her usual butchering of the English language, she takes a complicated problem facing the United States (and the world) and reduces it to a talking-point political attack on the president. Her comment reveals that she has no understanding that we are dealing with a North Korean leadership that may not be rational and may even be self-destructive. And one with the firepower to kill legions of South Korean civilians. To her simplistic, politics-driven approach, it's only about how the Democratic president isn't tough enough. (As an aside, she is talking about a president who has increased troops in Afghanistan, stepped up drone attacks on the enemy, and taken out more Taliban and al Qaeda leaders than George W. Bush ever did, but I digress... )
She recklessly portrays the North Korea crisis as one that is simple and only requires American strength, when, in reality, it is a difficult-to-solve issue fraught with danger. It is complicated and nuanced, and one wrong move could lead to an attack on Seoul.

I wonder if Palin would be so cavalier in her approach if North Korea's missiles could reach Anchorage, Dallas or some other city in Real America?
And this person wants to be president? It's a joke.

Palin's 'North'-for-'South' flub matters, but not because she misspoke. It matters because we, as a country, are acting as if she is some kind of policy expert, when, in reality, she is simple-minded and ignorant. She can say the wrong name, just like us. But just like most of us, she has no business acting like she understands the North Korea crisis in the first place.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ira Glasser: Calling the Republican Bluff

Ira Glasser: Calling the Republican Bluff: "

The Republicans have increased their power by advocating for lowering the deficit, lowering taxes and, ostensibly, increasing jobs. But there is no way they can deliver all three. They can't even deliver two of the three. Here's why:

1. Lowering taxes will increase the deficit. There is no way around this. Nonetheless, Obama and the Republicans agree, and Obama has consistently proposed since before he was elected, that the tax cuts due to expire on Dec. 31 should be extended for all families earning less than $250,000 annually. That means nearly all of us, 98 percent actually. But Obama wants to let the tax cuts expire for those families earning more than $250,000. The Republicans do not. If these tax cuts for the wealthy are extended, it will increase the deficit by an estimated $680 billion over the next ten years,. The Republicans want this not because it will repair the economy or create jobs for the middle class or relieve suffering; they want this because they are the party that stands for funneling more and more money to the wealthy at the expense of ordinary people. And although they claim to want to cut the deficit, they favor growing the deficit by this $680 billion gift to the already rich.

Since 1979, when Ronald Reagan was elected, there has been a steady and enormous shift of the share of national income from the middle class to the very rich -- the top 1 percent. Today, that income inequality is more skewed than it has been since the gilded age of the 1920s, before the Great Depression. And as pre-tax incomes of the very wealthy have soared, so their effective tax rates have dropped more than the tax rates on the middle class. These changes have not been due to the invisible hand of the so-called free market, but to explicit government policies since 1980. Extending the Bush tax cuts that would otherwise expire on Dec. 31 to the wealthiest class would only continue that trend.

Aside from the injustice of this approach -- why would middle-class voters support a policy that shifted more of their tax-dollars to the very rich? -- this policy, if enacted, would substantially increase the deficit the Republicans say they want to reduce!

2. If Republican tax policies will enrich the rich and increase the deficit, how then do the Republicans propose to cut this larger deficit? They say they will do it by reduced government spending. But they never say precisely what government spending they propose to reduce, and by what amounts exactly. This is because they can't.

Approximately 85 percent of the entire federal budget goes for mandatory programs or the military. There isn't enough discretionary fat in the budget, outside of these programs, to make a substantial dent in the deficit.
Four categories of government expenditures account for the great majority of federal spending: interest on what we owe, which is to say, interest on the deficit; the military; Social Security; and Medicare. The deficit -- which has now reached about $1.3 trillion and which will go higher if the Republicans continue tax cuts for the rich -- cannot significantly be reduced without substantial cuts in one or more of these four categories. And there's the rub.

We obviously can't significantly reduce the interest we are paying on the deficit until the deficit is substantially reduced, so that's out for now. As for discretionary programs, as far as I am aware, no Republican favors substantial cuts in military expenditures, and not many Democrats do either. So that leaves Social Security and Medicare. Do you want these programs destroyed (trimming won't be enough)? I didn't think so. The last time George W. Bush proposed eliminating Social Security prospectively and replacing it with private investment accounts, which would be a bonanza for investment banks while endangering the security of the elderly retired, he got walloped by the public's reaction and withdrew his proposal. Certainly, the 23 percent of the electorate who are over 65, many of whom voted Republican in the last election, did not think they were voting to cut Social Security, or for that matter Medicare, which pays for most of their medical expenses. So most Republicans today will tell you if you ask them that they are against major cuts in Social Security and Medicare.

But without such major cuts, the deficit cannot substantially be reduced without increasing taxes, at least on the very wealthy. And Republicans don't want to increase taxes, especially not for the very wealthy; to the contrary, they want to decrease such taxes, thus creating even more wealth inequality, and growing the deficit!

So their platform proposals make no sense; they cannot work, and they won't be implemented. Republican campaign promises, taken together, will turn out to be so much snake-oil.

3. And then there's the matter of jobs, and the 15 million people out of work, nearly 10 percent of the workforce. That is the most crucial economic problem facing us, and it was voter anger over that issue, more than anything else, that fueled the recent electoral 'throw the bums out' dynamic. The president and the Democrats in general offered no coherent vision, program or remedy to address this problem; the Republicans did, but their vision is fraudulent, as will become increasingly apparent.

There are two ways to create lots of jobs:

a) The private sector -- privately-owned companies -- can spend more to expand their businesses, which would require more employees. In order to do this, they need either to spend the cash they have (many companies have accumulated very large cash reserves) or borrow it to finance expansion. But right now, and for the foreseeable future, businesses that have a lot of cash are hoarding it because the economic climate remains uncertain, or using it to buy back their own stock, thus driving up the price of their shares. And they either won't borrow more money for the same reason, or can't because banks and other lenders are reluctant to extend credit, even after being bailed out to do so. Banks are once again paying huge bonuses to themselves, but they're not extending huge amounts of credit.

In New York City, to cite only one example, the new construction industry is at a standstill, and likely to remain so for some time, because builders cannot borrow enough to build, and cannot in any case justify the high expense of building by the fading prospect of high returns in a depressed economy. (If more luxury residential and office towers are built, who exactly will occupy them?)

So the likelihood that the private sector will, anytime soon, spend enough to expand the number of jobs sufficiently to put a major dent in the unemployment rate is vanishingly small. When a newly-elected senator like Rand Paul of Kentucky proposes to let the private sector solve the unemployment problem, he is smoking from the same pipe Herbert Hoover smoked in 1930. He does not know what he is talking about. What he is proposing can't happen, and it won't happen. (Of course, many who share Rand Paul's belief will tell you, if they are honest, that if the Great Recession gets bad enough, that is, if unemployment persists and gets worse, and everything becomes cheap enough, then at some point the private sector will swoop in and re-enter the job-creation market. But even if that is possible, it would require the worsening of the unemployment depression plaguing America, considerably and for a long time. Republicans subscribing to this view may be willing to have middle-class Americans endure such suffering, but I doubt that most such Americans share that willingness.)

b) So if the private sector can't or won't expand anytime soon and create lots of new jobs, the only alternative for spending to expand the number of jobs is the public sector, which is to say the government, state and federal. Certainly, there is much important, even crucial work to be done: new and repaired bridges, tunnels and roads; an efficient, high-speed railway system; new construction to repair and replace ancient water pipe and sewage systems, many of which are crumbling and on the precipice of disaster -- in a word, infrastructure, public infrastructure, like the Interstate Highway system President Eisenhower initiated in the fifties. This is work that needs to be done, and would put substantial numbers of people to work, providing lots of new jobs.

But these are precisely the kinds of expenditures that state governments cannot afford, and where they have started them, they are canceling them. For example, the new Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, not once but twice has now canceled the planned railway tunnel beneath the Hudson River connecting New York and New Jersey. States everywhere are cutting their budgets, further reducing employment, not expanding it. And most of the new Republican governors just elected have resolved to continue such austerity. So if the private sector isn't doing it, and state governments can't do it, who can create a sufficient number of new jobs? There is only one alternative left: the federal government.
At a time like this, the federal government must be the job-creator of last resort, as it was between 1932-45, because there is no other alternative to continued and persistent high unemployment, and the misery it causes so many of us.

There are two ways to pay for this: by higher taxes or by increased borrowing (from China and others willing to buy our Treasury bonds). Increased borrowing will, for awhile, increase our national deficit. But higher taxes right now (except for the very wealthy, who could easily absorb higher taxes, and should) will crush middle-class people who are already suffering from high unemployment, housing foreclosures and the like. So there is no way out of our dilemma except to have the federal government fund enormous public works and other programs that will require a massive number of new jobs. But that solution runs right up against the mistaken consensus that reducing the deficit should be a high, if not the highest, priority. If that continues to be a priority, unemployment will rise even more. There is no way around this choice. Either the deficit grows or unemployment grows. For those without jobs, the choice should be clear. The federal government must, in the short term, increase the deficit by massive job-creating public works expenditures, partially off-setting those expenditures by restoring the traditional taxes on the wealthy by letting the Bush tax cuts for them expire as planned on Dec. 31, while extending the tax cuts for 98 percent of individuals and families.

But would such expenditures actually create lots of jobs and significantly reduce unemployment? Yes, if the expenditures are large and ambitious enough. People will argue that the prior 'stimulus' program failed. But the reason it failed to make a noticeable dent in the unemployment rate (although it did keep joblessness from going even higher) is not that the idea was wrong, but that it wasn't large enough, especially since its gains were largely offset by expenditure cutbacks at the state level. If we mean to get out of this fix, and end the suffering of the middle class, much larger expenditures by the federal government to create jobs will be required.

But can we afford to increase the national deficit even more? Yes, we've done it before and we can do it again. Even in the midst of the Depression that had not yet ended, when we felt that our survival was at stake after Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, we did not hesitate to increase the deficit very substantially in order to respond. In fact, WWII increased the national deficit, as a percentage of Gross National Product, by way more than it is today. But without that increased deficit, without the federal expenditures we incurred to finance the war effort, we could not have survived. And that huge deficit also put millions to work, effectively ending the Great Depression. Even after the war, the deficit was increased to fund the G.I. Bill, housing subsidies, the Marshall Plan and the Interstate Highway system. Most of that huge deficit was erased by economic growth during the period of prosperity that began in 1946. The short term but huge increase in the national deficit turned out to be precisely the stimulus the economy needed.

Today, we do not face the same kind of war for survival that we faced after Pearl Harbor. But we do face a war for survival of our way of life, a fight to maintain the promise of America for the middle class, and to assure the prospect of a better life for our children and grandchildren. That fight must be funded with the same resolve that allowed us to fund WW II, and, yes, by the same faith in the promise and resilience of America, and our ability to rebuild our country with paying jobs for people who need them.
It will not happen if we follow the Republican pipe-dream of enriching the rich, cutting federal and state expenditures, reducing the deficit and letting more and more Americans suffer joblessness while they wait for the banks and the captains of industry to get back into the job market -- after the rest of us have suffered enough to make it profitable for them.

Given what the Republicans say they want to do, they have no capacity to lead us out of this dilemma, no matter how many elections they win with their campaigns of disinformation. President Obama should not be reaching out to them, he should be charting a different path and articulating a different vision. If he will not lead us along a different path at this critical moment, and the Republicans can't, then who will?


Robert Reich: Obama's First Stand

Robert Reich: Obama's First Stand: "

The president says a Republican proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts to everyone for two years is a 'basis for conversation.' I hope this doesn't mean another Obama cave-in.

Yes, the president needs to acknowledge the Republican sweep on Election Day. But he can do that by offering his own version of a compromise that's both economically sensible and politically smart. Instead of limiting the extension to $250,000 of income (the bottom 98 percent of Americans), he should offer to extend it to all incomes under $500,000 (essentially the bottom 99 percent), for two years.

The economics are clear:

First, the top 1 percent spends a much smaller proportion of their income than everyone else, so there's very little economic stimulus at these lofty heights. On the other hand, giving the top 1 percent a two-year extension would cost the Treasury $130 billion over two years, thereby blowing a giant hole in efforts to get the deficit under control. Alternatively, $130 billion would be enough to rehire every teacher, firefighter, and police officer laid off over the last two years and save the jobs of all of them now on the chopping block. Not only are these people critical to our security and the future of our children but, unlike the top 1 percent, they could be expected to spend all of their earnings and thereby stimulate the economy.

Conservative supply-siders who argue the top 1 percent will stop working as hard if they have to return to the 39 percent marginal rate of the Clinton years must be smoking something (probably an expensive grade).

Their incomes of the top are already soaring (Wall Street is reading a 5% boost in bonuses, executive salaries and perks are back on the trajectory they were on before the collapse, and the stock market is booming), so it's hard to argue much hardship. Besides, only earnings over $500,000 would be affected because -- remember -- we're talking about the marginal tax rate. In addition, the Clinton years weren't exactly bad years, economically, for the top 1 percent.

Finally, the Bush tax cuts didn't trickle down anyway. To the contrary, between 2001 and 2007, the median wage dropped. And Bush's record on jobs was pitiful.
The politics are even clearer. Over the next two years, Obama must clarify for the nation whose side he's on and whose side his Republican opponents are on. What better issue to begin with than this one?
The top 1 percent now takes in almost a quarter of all national income (up from 9 percent in the late 1970s), and its political power is evident in everything from hedge-fund and private-equity fund managers who can treat their incomes as capital gains (subject to a 15 percent tax) to multi-million dollar home interest deductions on executive mansions.

If the President can't or won't take a stand now -- when he still has a chance to prevail in the upcoming lame-duck Congress -- when will he ever?

Robert Reich is the author of Aftershock: The Next Economy and America's Future, now in bookstores. This post originally appeared at