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Archive for September, 2011

Talk of the Social Contract Should Not Make Rightists Reach for Their Guns

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Daily Kos reports:

After a video of [Elizabeth] Warren talking about the deficit and the social contract went viral last week (see above), Rush Limbaugh, the Fiscal Times and Rich Lowrey all spent time attacking her. Now, Lowrey has decided to spend another column going after her, and places like the Daily Caller and Reason have piled on. There is also this gem from right-wing blog Wizbang:

The Wizbang text reads:

When I hear the word “contract” I [strike-through: reach for my revolver] think of two unique definitions — formally, a legally binding mutual agreement made between two or more parties, or idiomatically, an attempt to hire an assassin to kill one or more of your enemies.

As many readers will recognize,  the “reach for my revolver” line derives from Nazi sources. The phrase “Whenever I hear [the word] ‘culture’ . . . I remove the safety from my Browning!” is usually attributed to Gestapo founder Hermann Goering, though Wikiquote attributes the line to a play by Hanns Johst first performed in April 1933 in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

Is this really the impression Wizbang wants to convey? Should those who think the rich should pay their fair share of taxes fear a right-wing Gestapo? We do not fear.

Support Elizabeth Warren: Sign the Petition

Please join us in signing the Daily Kos/Credo petition thanking Elizabeth Warren for speaking the truth. It takes only 21 seconds. Encourage her to keep talking about the social contract, the ties that bind us in a good way. Thank you.

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The Social Contract, Explained by Elizabeth Warren,
Paul Krugman, and Robert Kuttner

Saturday, September 24th, 2011

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“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. . . . You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.”

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United We Stand, Divided We Fall

Elizabeth Warren, the consumer protection reformer and Harvard law professor who is now campaigning to represent Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate, has given one of the most direct and cogent explanations of the social contract we’ve ever heard. (It’s an idea that is not talked about often enough.) One way of describing the social contract, also known as the social compact, is of putting the Golden Rule into practice in society through the mechanisms of government for the benefit of all: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Share and share alike. It’s something children can understand, but not many bankers or senators.

Briefly, the idea of a social contract is of a mutually beneficial system that serves both the ordinary folk and the wealthy, and makes demands on all, a two-way street of reciprocal obligation and fulfillment. The closest the U.S. has ever come to enacting a social contract is through FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s Great Society. It is an ideal, never quite reached completely, but its essentials were in place not so long ago and could be restored by determined, sustained effort. Robert Kuttner has written about how during the boom decades after World War II a “managed, rather than laissez-faire, brand of capitalism . . . delivered broadly shared prosperity, as well as greater security for both the system and individuals” (The Squandering of America [2007], p. 6). More from Kuttner below.

Let’s go straight to Dr. Warren herself.

I hear all this, you know, “Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever.”—No!

There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.

You built a factory out there—good for you! But I want to be clear.

You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for.

You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.

You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for.

You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did.

Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea—God bless. Keep a big hunk of it.

But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.

Isn’t this more or less the idea behind “United we stand, divided we fall”?

As Steve Benen at Washington Monthly notes of Warren’s remarks, “First-time candidates don’t usually articulate a progressive economic message quite this well.”

We have written lately about how the Democrats seriously need to sharpen and toughen up their communication skills. We hereby nominate Elizabeth Warren as one of the chief instructors and exemplars at the Democrats’ School for the Mute. The school also needs a disciplinarian. The Democratic party cannot depend on the skills of Barack Obama alone—though he has lately been showing signs of improvement. Every senator, every representative who wears a D after his or her name should be in intensive training. Dr. Warren—whose talk about economic fairness prompted Jon Stewart to say, “I want to make out with you!”—is the Teacher of the Week. (Click here for her Huffington Post blog posts.)

 

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We were alerted to the good professor’s comments by Paul Krugman’s well-titled column “The Social Contract” (see below, after the jump, for a full version, highlighted and underlined as a convenience for our readers). After explaining why President Obama is right to assert that the wealthy should bear part of the burden of reducing the budget deficit, Krugman cites the “eloquent remarks” made this week by Elizabeth Warren, now on the campaign trail in Massachusetts, countering the assertion that the rich should get to keep all their wealth. It’s hardly “class warfare.” Summarizing Warren’s argument, Krugman writes:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody,” she declared, pointing out that the rich can only get rich thanks to the “social contract” that provides a decent, functioning society in which they can prosper.

This column follows several days after President Obama, in remarks in the Rose Garden (Sept. 19) on Economic Growth and Deficit Reduction, asserted with welcome clarity, “Either we ask the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share in taxes, or we’re going to have to ask seniors to pay more for Medicare. We can’t afford to do both. . . . This is not class warfare. It’s math.”

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A Cure for “The Silence of the Dems”

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

What kind of future can there be for a political party that defers all its speaking roles to a conflict-averse President who does not want to be too closely identified with his party? And what future for that party’s legacy of “social contract” programs—and the people who need them?

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“For too long, Democrats, Liberals, and Progressives have acted as if government programs being funded by tax dollars are either settled issues (in the case of SS, Medicare, etc) or can speak for their value themselves (NEA, Amtrak, Post Office, etc). None of those things are true.

“All the Democratic, Liberal, and Progressive analysts are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering why Perry is actually gaining support by saying things like [‘Social Security is a Ponzi scheme’].” —Pat Armstrong, aka Cousin Pat from Georgia

[ Note: The following was posted late on 9/10 as “Rx for ‘The Silence of the Dems’ ” but is being re-posted for better visibility now that 9/11’s all-eclipsing 10th anniversary has passed. ]

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A Fix for the Deficit That Worries Us Most

Over the weekend, our friend Cousin Pat from Georgia (below), the Station Manager of Hurricane Radio, wrote some compelling comments in reply to “Pass This Jobs Bill” that should be taken to heart by as many readers as possible—particularly those of the liberal, progressive, Democratic stripe. Particularly the donkeys in the Democratic party machinery, who, like their G.O.P. counterparts, never listen to anyone under them. And so we’re bringing the discussion up from the basement of that post’s comments section to the front page here, which as you already know ranks somewhere between the New York Times and The Onion in influence on the thinkers and powers that be. Seriously, though, we wish the lion-hearted geniuses at the Democratic National Committee and on the committee to re-elect the president would tune in 24/7 to Hurricane Radio.

Pat, who describes himself as “a pragmatic, just-left-of-true-center Democratic voter,” debuted at Levees Not War last October when we posted a lengthy excerptfrom his hot, lucid rant titled “Why the GOP Is Going to Win in November.” Unfortunately, he was absolutely correct. Sadly, every word still rings true. See for yourself.

In reply to our account of President Obama’s “assertive, even imperative” address to the joint session of Congress Thursday night, Pat wrote:

I was wondering who that guy was giving the speech. 

What makes me angry is that, had this type of language been used in the first go-round, and these types of policies been more highlighted in the first stimulus, he may have gotten more with less drain on his political capital. 

Even with this new language and policy, he’s facing an uphill battle because the last stimulus was a modest policy win coupled with an absolute political disaster. 

But you know what they say about the best time to plant a tree.

We have complained before about “the Silence of the Dems” and said so again toward the end of “Pass This”: “The Democratic party has a serious communications deficit and had better start training its members in sharp, focused, disciplined public speaking.”

In reply to Pat we wrote:

[Obama] and his party need to emphasize repeatedly as one of their Top 3 Messages that government / public agencies serve many vital, necessary functions (safety inspections, air traffic safety, postal service, Social Security & Medicare, education, transportation, etc.), and in these essential ways “your tax dollars” are not being misspent. But many of us citizens all across the spectrum dislike gov’t in part because we feel we’re not getting much return on the taxes we pay—so much of the application of tax $ goes overseas. And because one party in particular constantly rails against the very idea of government. This may not have been your point, exactly, but do you agree? ¶ On another point, when is the best time to plant a tree?

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We’re Not Forgetting

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

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Except for posting this brief comment, we are among the millions of New Yorkers who are doing anything but “commemorating” the 10th anniversary. We are not reading the magazines’ special commemorative editions or watching the solemn and reverent broadcasts brought to you by our sponsors of the corporate media. We live in New York City—we don’t need to be reminded. It’s with us every day, in every heavily armed National Guardsman at Penn Station, every fire station you pass by, etc., just as you can still hear Hurricane Katrina howling through New Orleans, not only on the anniversary of Aug. 29, 2005.

Let Us Remember These Attacks Could Have Been Blocked

While we remember the dead, and those who died bravely trying to save lives, while our sincere condolences go out to their families, the children who never knew their daddy who died that day—

While we are never forgetting let us also recall that for eight months in early 2001 Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice blew off counter-terrorism adviser Richard A. Clarke’s repeated requests for meetings to brief them on the threat of Al Qaeda; and that Bush was specifically warned in an Aug. 6, 2001, CIA briefing titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” but remained on vacation till Sept. 4 and never did call Clarke. And we will never forget watching the towers burning—we could see the smoke from an elevated subway track in Queens a few miles away—and then on a TV in our office in midtown Manhattan watching the towers burning, hearing about another plane striking the Pentagon, and looking out the window and wondering, “Where is the f—in’ goddamn air force?!”

The first plane to hit the World Trade Center was American flight 11 out of Boston. It took off at 7:45 a.m. After 8:13 there was no more pilot contact with air traffic control. Around 8:20, two flight attendants called American’s headquarters to report a hijacking. Under normal conditions that plane would have been stopped, shot down if necessary. But NORAD and the FAA claimed NORAD wasn’t contacted until 8:40. Even then, the first fighter jets weren’t scrambled until 8:52. American flight 11 hit the north tower at 8:48—thirty-five minutes after Boston lost contact. McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey is only 70 miles from Manhattan—an F-15 at top speed could have been there in three minutes—but instead the order went to Otis AFB in Cape Cod. Cape Cod? It would have been strange enough for the system to fail for Flight 11, but the same thing happened with all four hijacked flights: FAA is tardy in telling NORAD, then NORAD is slow to order up fighter jets from unnecessarily distant bases, then the fighters don’t arrive till after the damage is done. For Washington, the obvious base is Andrews, 10 miles away, but instead the jets were ordered from Langley AFB, 130 miles from Washington, after the Pentagon was hit. (The USAF was budgeted $85 billion for fiscal year 2001.)

While human beings, many of them with their clothes on fire, were jumping out of the burning towers and splattering like eggs on the concrete plaza a quarter mile down, the commander in chief was in Sarasota, Florida, sitting virtually paralyzed as a class of second-graders read a story about a pet goat. Four different accounts attest that he had been notified about the attacks in New York before he entered the classroom for the photo-op.

(Imagine the reaction if any of this happened with the current president, or any Democrat, in the White House.)

This is not the part they want us to remember today. Sorry. This is what we remember and always will, just as we’ll never forget the entire city abandoned by that same administration (with the president this time on a five-week vacation), children and elderly and all ages in between suffocating and dehydrating in the Superdome and outside the Convention Center for days after Hurricane Katrina and on rooftops all around the sweltering city of New Orleans in late August and early September 2005.

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And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.   —Revelation 21:4

et absterget Deus omnem lacrimam ab oculis eorum . . . 

Il essuiera toute larme de leurs yeux . . . 

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See also:

Is Katrina More Significant Than September 11? Thoughts on Two American Traumas (Sept. 11, 2010)

Anti-Islamic Furor Helps al Qaeda, Endangers America: On the proposed Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan (Aug. 23, 2010)

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Top photo from WTC observation deck by Nathan Benn, Feb. 18, 1988; bottom photo of New Orleans resident Angela Perkins outside the New Orleans Convention Center, Sept. 1, 2005, by Melissa Phillip/AP Photo.

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“Pass This Jobs Bill”

Thursday, September 8th, 2011

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“I am sending this Congress a plan that you should pass right away. It’s called the American Jobs Act. There should be nothing controversial about this piece of legislation. Everything in here is the kind of proposal that’s been supported by both Democrats and Republicans—including many who sit here tonight. . . .”

“This is the American Jobs Act. It will lead to new jobs for construction workers, for teachers, for veterans, for first responders, young people and the long-term unemployed. It will provide tax credits to companies that hire new workers, tax relief to small business owners, and tax cuts for the middle class. And here’s the other thing I want the American people to know: The American Jobs Act will not add to the deficit. It will be paid for.”

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President Challenges Congress to Act as if It’s Functional

President Obama did the right thing—about two years late—in asking for an address before a joint session of Congress. For only the second time in his presidency in a speech other than a State of the Union address (the other occasion was in September 2009 when he launched a big push for health care reform), the president pitched to the nation a plan costing just under $450 billion designed to avert a second recession and attack an unemployment crisis and economic stagnation that require action now. Economists say it could add almost 2 million jobs. Paul Krugman says, “significantly bolder and better than I expected.” Even conservative NYT columnist David Brooks says the plan has potential and is worth pursuing.

In “plainspoken, Trumanesque” language—no wonky terms or professorial manner tonight, not even the highfalutin word “infrastructure”—Obama pressed for a jobs and economic relief package with a memorable name, the American Jobs Act, that is 55% tax cuts, 31% infrastructure and local aid, and 14% unemployment insurance. (Detailed breakdown here.) He stressed the bipartisan origins of the proposals, and about a dozen times in 30 minutes he directed Congress to “pass this bill.” Obama was assertive, even imperative, yet his message was warmed by a progressive moral vision; if he keeps this up he just might win re-election.

What’s in the American Jobs Act?

Washington Post policy analyst Ezra Klein observes that “the plan, taken as a whole, attempts to include every single theory of how to address the jobs crisis. If you believe we need more direct spending, you’ve got the infrastructure component. More tax cuts? The plan has $250 billion in tax cuts. More help for the unemployed? Yep.”

Among the elements identified by Ezra that we find most appealing are:

•  “$35 billion in aid to states and cities to prevent teacher layoffs, and earmarks $25 billion for investments in school infrastructure.”

•  “$50 billion for investments in transportation infrastructure, $15 billion for investments in vacant or foreclosed properties, and $10 billion for an infrastructure bank.” (Why not the $50 billion for an infrastructure bank that Obama has proposed before?)

•  “$49 billion to extend expanded unemployment insurance benefits. $8 billion for a new tax credit to encourage businesses to hire the long-term unemployed, and $5 billion for a new program aimed at supporting part-time and summer jobs for youth and job training for the unemployed.”

The jobs act, crafted by the administration, not left to the tender mercies of congressional committees—is heavily weighted with originally Republican ideas that will make it politically harder for the G.O.P. to dismiss. They will invent reasons to reject it anyway, though House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did have the decency to release a statement that “The proposals the President outlined tonight merit consideration.” Maybe those golf games are paying off. Republicans do not want to allow this president any kind of accomplishment before November 2012, regardless of the deep and widespread suffering of millions of jobless, homeless, hopeless fellow citizens whose taxes pay the representatives’ salaries and health plans. (Note: The American Jobs Act “will not add to the deficit”: it will be paid for by cuts elsewhere. Even if it were not paid for, it would cost only about half of the projected $800 billion addition to the deficit incurred by extension of the Bush Tax cuts for million- and billionaires in Dec. 2010.)

“The people who sent us here—the people who hired us to work for them—they don’t have the luxury of waiting 14 months. Some of them are living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, even day to day. They need help, and they need it now.”

“Paycheck to paycheck”? Some 15 to 20 million would-be workers have no paycheck at all, not even unemployment benefits.

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Go Big, Obama: Give Us a 10-Year Jobs Plan

Monday, September 5th, 2011

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As Long as They’re Calling You a Socialist, Go All the Way

What does “Labor Day” mean to the 15+ million unemployed?

Below is our Happy Labor Day card to President Obama in advance of his address to the nation Thursday, Sept. 8, about proposals for alleviating the nation’s chronic unemployment crisis. The jobless rate is stuck at 9.1 percent, but it’s really over 16% counting the under-employed who find only part-time work or those who have given up looking. The unemployment rate is near 17% for African Americans and 18% among Americans under 24.

Barack Obama has been in office for 2 1/2 years. Republicans in Congress have blocked every effort to revive the economy, and anything that has passed they insist has failed (though they secretly like the stimulus). They figure more jobless = fewer votes for Obama and Democrats. Thus far, Obama has sought to “find common ground” with a party that blocks him at every turn. No matter what he proposes on Thursday, they will say America cannot afford it, that government is the problem, not the solution, and that only reducing “job-killing” regulations and taxes will kick-start job growth. Eight years of George W. Bush disproved that theory. Obama and Democrats—and we ordinary citizens who want the stalemate to end—must affirm that government can and must help create jobs because no one else will. U.S. corporations, enjoying record profits, are sitting on some $2 trillion in capital, reluctant to hire because of depressed consumer demand. Rational behavior.

We believe that in addition to a big, bold, WPA-style jobs program described below, the government should also extend federal unemployment benefits and the temporary payroll tax cut for employees beyond the end of 2011. Also, the highway trust fund should be reauthorized before it ends Sept. 30: that could prevent furloughs of current workers and create up to 120,000 jobs a year through 2014. See other proposals here and here. Some say the U.S. cannot “afford” government action. We say the U.S.—and the world—cannot afford our inaction.

The letter to the president follows after the jump.

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