Category Archives: Politics

Wisconsin as a Frontier of School Privatization: Will Anyone Notice the Looting?

I never dreamed that a class I took in college, The Politics of Popular Education, which covered the nineteenth century in France and England, would prove to be germane in America. I didn’t have any particular interest in the topic; the reason for selecting the course was that the more serious students picked their classes based on the caliber of the instructor, and this professor, Kate Auspitz, got particularly high marks. The course framed both the policy fights and the broader debate over public education in terms of class, regional, and ideological interests.

The participants in these struggles were acutely aware that the struggle over schooling was to influence the future of society: what sort of citizens would these institutions help create?

As the post below on the march of school privatization in Wisconsin demonstrates, those concerns are remarkably absent from current debates. The training of children is simply another looting opportunity, like privatizing parking meters and roads.

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Jonathan Gruber, ObamaCare, and “Stupid Voters”: It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Shill

It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it! –Upton Sinclair Schadenfreude is a dish best served, and MIT Professor and Larry Summers student Jonathan Gruber, who played a key (though conflicted) role in legislating both ObamaCare and ObamaCare’s precursor, RomneyCare, certainly had it coming. […]

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What Makes Japan Bother With the TransPacific Partnership?

Yves here. We’ve been giving regular updates, with the considerable help of our man in Japan Clive, on how the the prospects for Japan signing up for the TransPacific Partnership look extremely slim. Mind you, “extremely slim” is not impossible, but the reason we deem the probability to be that low is that the Administration appears unwilling to bargain at all, let alone offer Japan some critical and large concessions that it requires to sign up. And since Japan is a linchpin to the entire deal, if Japan is a no-go, you can kiss the TransPacific Partnership goodbye.

These TransPacific Partnership discussions have also given yours truly, and even more so our real expert Clive, the opportunity to do some cross-cultural translating, which I personally enjoy. The Japanese are a sufficiently alien culture that you are forced to suspend or retrain your assumptions about how things work. So to watch the US Trade Representative, which along with the State Department, ought to be a US agency particularly attuned to how Japan needs special handling, instead do the equivalent of repeatedly step on a rake and get smacked in the face, is entertaining in a perverse way. How can they NOT know that what they are doing is counterproductive? And how can they NOT course correct when it should be obvious that what they are doing isn’t working?

However, even though, as we have discussed, the USTR has acted in a way almost guaranteed to offend the Japanese, the government has reasons for being cool on the TransPacific Partnership yet having to feign otherwise. And they aren’t terribly mysterious either, even though they do vary with US baseline assumptions.

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Michael Mann Interview: Very Little “Burnable Carbon” In Our “Budget”; Emissions Ramp-down Must Start Now

One of my hats is as a climate interpreter to the interested lay person. I have something of a science background and can read the papers “in the original.” Another hat is as an occasional interviewer for Virtually Speaking. This month the two hats merged on the same head, and I got to interview the “Hockey Stick graph” climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann.

For this interview I focused on the basics:

Can humans burn more carbon, create more emissions, and still stay below the IPCC’s “safe” +2°C warming target?

Is the IPCC’s +2°C warming target truly “safe” at all?

We’re already experiencing warming of about +1°C above the pre-industrial level. Even if we stop now, how much more is “in the pipeline,” guaranteed and unavoidable?

How do we defeat the Big Money ogre that stands in our way?

And my personal favorite:

Will the answer to global warming come from the “free market”?

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Michael Hudson: Putin’s Pivot to Asia

Yves here. Understandably, US reporting on the just-finished APEC summit focused on Obama’s objectives and supposed achievements. Russia has historically not been a major force in the region and thus received less coverage here. It was therefore surprising to see our man in Japan Clive tell us that Japanese media coverage of Putin at APEC was on a par with the column-inches given to Obama.

On Real News Network, Michael Hudson describes how Putin is shifting Russia’s export focus and economic alliances towards Asia, particularly China. Putin did better at the APEC summit than most Western sources acknowledge, and that could have longer-term ramifications for the US.

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Corporate Profit Margins vs. Wages in One Disturbing Chart

Yves here. This brief post by Doug Short is even more important than it appears to be. We had an outburst of neoliberal orthodoxy in comments yesterday on a post that discussed how wealth of most households had fallen since 1987. Some readers assigned blame for stagnant average worker wages (which was a big contributor to the lack of growth in household wealth) to immigrants, particularly Mexicans and H1-B visa workers.

The Doug Short chart below looks at corporate profit share versus labor share. This pinpoints the degree to which wage stagnation is the result of corporate managers and executives succeeding in cutting the pie to favor themselves (executive pay has become increasingly linked to stock prices, and relentless focus on short-term earnings, as well as stock buybacks, do wonders for earnings per share).

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The Greater Middle East as an American Garrison: 35 Years of Building Military Bases and Sowing Disaster

Yves here. In a bit of synchronicity, Lambert and I were discussing how bad America is at running an empire. Iraq by any standards was not doing all that well under Saddam Hussein. Growth was lousy due to Western sanctions, and he was thuggish in his methods of maintaining control. Yet he ran a secular government and hostilities between Shia and Sunni were a non-issue. After our invasion, hospitals were basically looted. Electricity barely worked in Baghdad, and wasn’t working all that well long after the US occupied Iraq. Any member of the professional classes that could leave the country did (this was well reported in Australia in 2003 and 2004). So we broke a country…as a demonstration project? For what end? The US also made a botch of the fall of the USSR, with our neoliberal reforms facilitating a plutocratic land-grab in Russia by well-placed insiders, with key Western aides participating in the plunder. OIFVet points out that, contrary to Western ideology, the lives of ordinary Bulgarians was better under the old USSR (Russia is now showing net gains; I’m told Moscow now looks to be on a par with Berlin).

The British took their imperial project far more seriously than we have ours. A big reason that they were more successful is that they built infrastructure, in the form of putting in place a British bureaucracy run by civil servants. And producing those civil servants was the top priority of the education system. C. Northcote Parkinson reports that the top Cambridge and Oxford graduates went to India. The next rank were civil servants in the UK. The ones at the bottom of the heap went into business.

Now there is a lot not to like about a British-style bureaucracy; they are stereotypically rigid and procedure-driven. The Australian Taxation Office is hugely taxpayer-unfriendly if you are a business, compared to the IRS (for instance, when I was there, you needed a receipt for every expense, and not just a credit card receipt. If you had a charge from a newsstand, they wanted to see that it really was a business periodical and not, say porn).

But the rigidity meant it was less easily corrupted, and that no one would question that the government was the paramount authority (a notion that most US regulators seem to have forgotten). Admittedly, with the rise of neoliberalism, no one seems to care about governing well any more, so there hasn’t been much thinking on how to run government in the 20th and 21st century that isn’t really about private sector profiteering.

This article looks at a symptom of the US’ misguided thinking about our imperial project: that of the role of our military bases. It isn’t much discussed in polite company, for instance, that the Saudis had repeatedly asked us to remove our base there because it was causing a lot of discord. We had ignored their request. It took 9/11 to get us to depart.

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Xi Upstages Obama, Puts Another Nail in TransPacific Partnership Coffin

In the wake of the Republican trouncing of the feckless Democrats in the midterm elections, there’s been an upsurge of calls of alarm on both the right and the left that the Administration and its big business allies in both parties will try to push the toxic trade deal known as the TransPacific Partnership through. That is in part due to Administration messaging that the talks are gaining momentum, as Obama asserted a mere two days ago. But not only do the negotiations appear to be going nowhere, but the Administration appears to be losing clout in the region as China is playing a considerably shrewder trade and investment game.

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State Street, Governor Elect Rauner Both Implicated in Pay-to-Play Scandals

The more rocks you turn over in public pension land, the more creepy crawlies you find. No wonder private equity has such a secrecy fetish. The most obvious, and most offensive to the public, are so-called pay-to-play scandals, in which public officials who are in a position to influence how funds are invested, take campaign funding from individuals or firms who are currently managing government funds or in short order get a mandate.

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Joe Firestone: Elizabeth Warren – Better, But Not There Yet

Yves here. As Elizabeth Warren inches to the left on overall economic policy, one wonders if she’s actually shifting her views or responding to Hillary Clinton trying to rebrand herself as a populist. In fairness to Warren, it’s difficult not to be deeply inculcated in flawed economic thinking and thus hostage to false ideas like “We depend on China and Japan to finance our federal spending.” I look at my pre-crisis coverage and am embarrassed to see that sort of idea treated as obviously true. But if nothing else, the shift in Warren’s stance may be a sign that the Overton window is moving a smidge away from the right. After all, a big reason the Republicans so badly trounced the Dems in the midterms wasn’t just Democratic party fecklessness, but also that the Republicans kept their Tea Party extremists well out of the limelight and toned down the anti-women, anti-gay (and outside the border states) the anti-immigrant rhetoric. That actually amounts to a shift to the center, even if more for show than for real.

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Russia to Launch New Payments System to Circumvent SWIFT Network

Many observers have become unduly excited about what they depict as efforts to break the dollar hegeomony, such as the joint effort by the so-called BRICS nations to form a development bank. While having a suite of internationals funding entities, particularly ones focused on activities that in theory increase the collective benefits of relying on a reserve currency, are seen to be important, it does not follow that launching useful new funding institutions will break dollar dominance. As much as US abuse of its position as issuer of the reserve currency is correctly resented, there isn’t a competitor waiting in the wings. The Eurozone has blown it with its failure to clean up even sicker banks than the US has, and by compounding a bad situation with its adherence to destructive austerity policies. China clearly has the potential to displace the US longer-term, but it is unwilling to run the requisite trade deficits, since that means exporting demand and hence jobs. And no country had made the transition from being a major exporter to being consumer-driven smoothly; a crisis or protracted malaise would also delay China displacing the US as currency top dog.

But not being able to get rid of the dollar any time soon does not mean that countries that the US is trying to punish by using its influence over international payments system won’t find nearer-term escape routes.

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