Did you know the U.S. government has a legal duty to work toward full employment? Neither did I.
How did we get into this mess and how do we get out? Those are big questions for a man who is only partially caffeinated. But here are some thoughts:
–Politics and politicians matter: If you elect people who believe the government does not work, that government is always the problem, never part of the solution, they will work tirelessly to make their beliefs come true. A 45% decline in confidence in gov’t is a badge of honor to them, corroborating their ideology.
–The “America in Decline” theme doesn’t resonate with me, but we’re going through as wrenching a period as I can remember. Much of the recent damage is self-inflicted but over the longer term, as negative trends—income stagnation, inequality, weak job growth–took hold, policy makers have mostly watched from the sidelines mumbling about self-correcting markets and market forces and market blah-blah-blah.
–Dealing with the structural, i.e., longer term, problems like inequality, globalization, the quality of jobs, retirement security, and sustainable health care is truly challenging. There are often no known or obvious answers. You have to try different ideas, like research on cost effectiveness in health care, pro-manufacturing policy re globalization, better labor standards (e.g., higher minimum wages) and education policy to push back on income inequality and wealth immobility.
But solutions for the cyclical downturn in which we’re currently and intractably enmeshed in are known, obvious, and becoming more so every day. Paul Krugman not only writes about them tirelessly, but he and a few others, myself included, have pretty much been describing how things are going to unfold if we keep getting this wrong (economy stuck in neutral, high joblessness, little job growth, low interest rates, weak core inflation, too little investment). That should be a very convincing sign that we are right.
Obviously, there’s a lot of noise pushing the other way, but it’s no wonder that “confidence in government is crushed” when policy makers fail to pursue known solutions at best and aggressively push the other way, toward recession-prolonging austerity, at worst.
Psychologist and social scientist Dacher Keltner says the rich really are different, and not in a good way: Their life experience makes them less empathetic, less altruistic, and generally more selfish.
In fact, he says, the philosophical battle over economics, taxes, debt ceilings and defaults that are now roiling the stock market is partly rooted in an upper class “ideology of self-interest.”
“We have now done 12 separate studies measuring empathy in every way imaginable, social behavior in every way, and some work on compassion and it’s the same story,” he said. “Lower class people just show more empathy, more prosocial behavior, more compassion, no matter how you look at it.”
Imagine, something that might actually work!
I know what tender feelings our elected officials have, but there’s no friendly way to point out that someone is a coward — and yes, that’s what Sen. Claire McCaskill is. Rather than make the case for the many, many unemployed people of her district, rather than rub the Republicans’ noses in the fact that they have all the money in the world for tax cuts but none for the single most useful stimulus available, Claire simply throws up her hands and says, “But the Republicans won’t let us!”
What kind of Democrat isn’t even going to try to help her constituents unless the Republicans first give her permission? Is this a game of Mother May I? And is this what passes for leadership in the political class?
I have one thing to say to Sen. McCaskill: Shame on you.
During a Tuesday visit to a factory in St. Charles, Mo., Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill said she opposed extending federal unemployment benefits.”I’m not for extending the unemployment benefits any further,” McCaskill said in response to a question from local TV station KMOV before saying she would support a continued payroll tax cut.It’s not clear from McCaskill’s statement whether she is opposed to giving the unemployed additional weeks of benefits or if she opposes renewing the existing extra weeks of aid.
Members of Congress have frequently been confused on unemployment legislation. McCaskill’s office did not immediately respond to a request for clarification.[
UPDATE: McCaskill's office says additional context omitted from KMOV's report would show that she was responding to a question about giving the unemployed extra weeks of benefits. Her office said she supports preserving the existing extended benefits.
"Claire continues to fully support unemployment benefits for people who have lost their jobs by no fault of their own as a result of the struggling economy. This includes up to 99 weeks of unemployment benefits. Unfortunately, expanding benefits beyond 99 weeks -- as some suggest -- is unaffordable and unrealistic because of staunch opposition in the House."]
Oh well! There you go! Wouldn’t want to upset anybody…
Further extensions of unemployment insurance for the long-term jobless will need all the congressional support they can get. The federal benefits, which can last up to 73 weeks for workers who exhaust the standard 26 weeks of state benefits, are scheduled to expire at the beginning of 2012. Republicans oppose keeping the benefits because of their significant cost to the government — as much as $60 billion a year.
I mean, you wouldn’t want anyone to do anything like add up the costs of the war and Republican tax cuts and compare it to the actual human suffering of your constituents. Because that would be rude, and we wouldn’t want to upset the comity of the Senate. Brave Lady Claire!
Appearing yesterday on MSNB’s Dylan Ratigan show, The Nation’s Ari Melber reminds us how Republican obstructionism has crippled administration appointments — and suggests what Obama and Harry Reid should do:
ARI MELBER: Most of you know Congress just left for vacation. Normally when Congress is on recess, the president can make recess appointments to advance nominees that have been obstructed, but it turns out Congress is not really on recess. Republicans are holding symbolic sessions during their entire vacation in order to prevent recess appointments. This is just the latest ploy in a long obstruction campaign by the GOP.
Since Obama came into office, Republicans have blocked an unprecedented number of nominees from ever getting a vote. Take judicial nominees. Republicans have blocked almost half of the nominees for judicial nominations, the worst obstruction rate in U.S. history. ANd The targets aren’t random, either. GOP obstruction has hindered female and minority nominees the most.
Here’s a disturbing statistic from the People for the American Way, and I’m quoting now: “Every district court nominee with unanimous opposition from the Senate Judiciary committee Republicans has been a woman or a person of color.” You know, people forget that Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan was first nominated to an appeals court back in the day by President Clinton, but Republicans wouldn’t allow her a vote on that nomination. Then, when President Obama nominated her to be the third woman to ever serve on our high court, the same Republicans complained she didn’t have the experience as a judge — even though they were the ones who kept her off the bench.
And meanwhile, nominees for jobs shaping economic policy – obviously the No. 1 issue in this country – have been totally shut down. Obama nominated Nobel economist Peter Diamond to the Federal Reserve Board over a year ago. Republicans filibustered, he was renominated two more times, and he ultimately withdrew in disgust.
The top spot at the famous Consumer Protection Bureau remains empty. Republicans even brazenly blocked votes on nominees for the Board of Protection commissioner at the Homeland Security department and the head of Industry and Security at the Commerce department. Both of those posts were finally filled through recess appointments last year, but it’s only gotten worse.
This week, White House officials openly said they need Tim Geithner to extend his term as Treasury Secretary, in part because Republicans would filibuster a vote on his replacement.
Look, you don’t fight unemployment by trying to shut down one of the most important jobs on the president’s economic team. The solution is pretty simple — Senator Reid and President Obama should call the Senate back in session now, in this hot August summer. They should refuse to adjourn until there are votes on all these nominees. They can use quorum calls, break the silent filibuster that most Americans don’t even know is happening, and they can keep every member working seven days a week and refuse to adjourn unless it’s for a real old-school recess – you know, when recess appointments are on the table.
Just imagine the president speaking to the nation about making government work again instead of just pleading for compromise with his tormentors. Imagine him seizing the initiative on a concrete action plan, and imagine him making a case for an American government based on the people who want to serve our government, to run our schools, protect our borders and put our people back to work. It says a lot about this Congress that they found a way to hinder government and recovery even while they’re on vacation. Well look, let’s bring these guys back to Washington.
MATT MILLER: Ari Melber, great point. And also, what it does is echo the fact for those who say there’s an equivalence between Republican and Democratic responsibility aren’t looking hard enough at what the GOP is doing to block progress in a number of these areas. We’ll have to pick that conversation up another time. Ari, terrific rant.