Barbara Buono

Barbara BuonoI’ve been none too happy with Chris Christie’s approval rating in New Jersey. The truth is that he’s been an awful governor. I can’t believe that the residents of the state have forgotten all about his crony capitalism and grandstanding against the president (Remember the tunnel he killed?!) and are just focusing on how he acted like any other governor during a catastrophe. But I’ve been hoping that it is all temporary—that in an actual campaign, his positives would be moved downward as people were reminded of the kind of governor he’s generally been.

My prayers have been answered to a small extent in Barbara Buono. She is the Democrat who is running against Christie in 2013. She seems like a very seasoned politician for a state legislator. (She makes Rubio look like the child he is!) I feel pretty certain that she will at least run a decent race. And who knows, maybe she can get the state of New Jersey to see that a couple of months of walking in the rain doesn’t make up for three years of bellicose incompetence. Plus: Christie could have a heart attack.

Here is Buono on The Last Word:

Lynn Margulis and Hugo Chavez

Hugo ChavezUnder normal circumstances, I would tell you that 5 March is the date my younger sister was born. And that’s kind of interesting, when you consider what a druid kind of earth mother she is. You see, on this day back in 1938, Lynn Margulis was born. She did some of the most important early work on the Gaia Hypothesis—the idea that the earth itself is a living system. Many years ago, when I was in graduate school, I saw her talk at a very intimate brunch. We were all eating our Eggs Benedict and she was telling us about bacteria. Actually, she was talking about how hard it is to distinguish between plant, animal, bacteria. Personally, I wish I were a plant; people always expect me to move a lot; I’d rather just sit here.

Anyway, Kim and Lynn were born today. And the world is a better place for it. But the world is also a worse place today because Hugo Chavez died. Only plutocrats could think that the man was not good for Venezuela. I understand that the upper classes are mad at him because he cut into their wealth. I understand that the oil companies (and thus the United States government) are mad at him because he nationalized the country’s oil reserves. But why are most of the media (and thus the people) so against him? There is no doubt in my mind that there was more democracy in Venezuela under Chavez than there is in America under Obama.

But I don’t feel up to a whole war about this right now. Let me just reprint what I wrote last October when Chavez shocked the mainstream media by winning re-election:

Maybe it’s just because I’m some godless socialist, but I think Hugo Chavez has been pretty good for Venezuela. There is no subject on which the mainstream media are more clearly biased. I get the impression we’re supposed to think that Chavez is some evil despot like Saddam Hussein or Charles Taylor. But to me, he seems like a democratic socialist.

I was most struck by this when Chavez tried to get a constitutional amendment to eliminate the presidential term limit. The US media reported that the amendment was to make him “president for life.” Amazing. But then, when the amendment failed by a really small number of votes, Chavez was asked if he would contest the results. He replied that he wouldn’t because he didn’t want the constitution amended unless the country was really behind it. How did the media respond? He must have some evil socialist plot!

Contrast this to President Bush, who at that time had the 50% plus one vote strategy—the idea being that the narrowest of margins gave him a mandate to screw roughly half the nation. In this case, who seems like the statesman: Bush or Chavez? I realize that Bush doesn’t set the bar very high. But Bush is always treated with respect by the mainstream media. The same cannot be said about Chavez.

I suspect that in the obituaries that are coming, Chavez will get a tad more respect than he has. We’ll see things like, “Chavez was very popular among the poor, but many people didn’t like him.” In fact, my colleague at The Reaction, Michael Stickings wrote what I thought was an unfortunately one-sided obit, Hugo Chavez Is Dead. Long Live Something Other Than Hugo Chavez’s Tyranny. I’ve been well aware of Michael’s position on Chavez for a long time. But tyranny? Really?! That’s unfortunate. But you can expect to see a lot more of it. Whitewashing a dead man’s career is something we only do for conservatives.

Update (5 March 2013 8:10 pm)

The argument I’ve tried to make to Michael (Who is very open minded and has a great eye for new talent…) is that a certain level of authoritarianism is to be expected. I think we see more of this from Obama—we just see it in different (very American) ways. One of Chavez’s stated motivations was that the United States government was out to get him. Well, they were. I don’t accept Nicolas Maduro’s claim that the United States poisoned Chavez. But I don’t doubt that they would have if they could have.

Here is former Washington Post foreign editor Scott Wilson talking about United States involvement in the coup against Chavez. It is interesting, as Dan Beeton of CEPR points out, “This information has however never been reported this fully in the pages of the Washington Post itself.”

Northern Europe Must Help Too

Lael BrainardMatt Yglesias reported this morning on Undersecretary of Treasury Lael Brainard speaking to the National Association of Business Economists. She was talking about how to get southern Europe (Greece, Italy, and so on) out of their depressions. She said, “Not only do deficit countries have important responsibilities in this regard, so do large surplus economies.” Let me explain what she means by this.

The southern countries are now suffering because when the Euro became one, lots of money flowed into these countries in the form of investment from richer countries up north. This had the effect of raising wages in the south. But when the 2008 crisis hit, all this money stopped flowing in. And because their wages were now too high, their exports were uncompetitive. As a result, these poor countries are net importers of goods. In order to get their economies rolling again, they need to become net exporters.

That’s all fine, and these countries have suffered badly and have given it the old college try. But a country can’t become a net exporter if all other countries are also net exporters. The problem is that the countries in the north have not enacted policies to help. Germany, for example, is still a net exporter. They are a rich country. They should enact policies that will increase imports. But they have resisted this.

And this is all so very German of them. They seem to think that the economic problems in southern Europe are all those countries’ problems. I don’t know, I guess they think that Italy forced those German bankers to lend them money. Regardless, there were two parts of the problem and as Brainard points out: there are two parts of the solution. Germany standing around telling Italy it’s all wrong doesn’t solve anything. Except to make Germans feel superior. And we’ve had more than enough of that export.

There is No Long Term Budget Problem

Alan BlinderAlan Blinder is a economics and public affairs professor at Princeton. Recently, he got placed in the middle of the argument between Paul Krugman and Joe Scarborough when Scarborough claimed that Blinder was on his side. Blinder didn’t like that much. Yesterday, he wrote a short article in Politico, Morning Joe’s Accuracy Deficit. He says that he and Krugman only disagree about some very minor details.

Blinder claims there are three issues regarding the budget. In the short term, we are already doing too much deficit reduction. In the medium term (10 years), we have already done about what we should do. And in the long term, things are going to be very bad indeed. He is right about all this. The problem is that, like most people (including Krugman at times), when it comes to the long term, he is being deceptive.

In his new book, After the Music Stopped, Blinder claims:

The government can cover no more than a small fraction of the projected deficits by raising taxes. Sorry, Democrats, but the Republicans are right on this one. Americans are used to federal taxes running about 18.5 percent of GDP; they will not allow them to rise to 32 percent of GDP. Never mind that a number of European countries do so; we won’t.

The problem is not that these numbers are wrong. The problem is that if we don’t get our healthcare system under control, funding Medicare will be the least of our problems. Rising healthcare costs will eventually destroy our whole economy if we don’t do something to rein in costs.

There is no reason to talk about long term budget deficits when the problem is long term healthcare costs. All the solutions to this long term budget problem revolve around providing less healthcare. But even doing that will not save the government if healthcare costs keep increasing much faster than inflation. What Blinder ought to say is that we don’t need to think about the budget deficit at all. We need to think about healthcare costs. This is not a government issue, it is an everyone issue.

Michelle Obama and Downton Abbey

Michelle ObamaI just watched the third season of Downton Abbey. It is rather good, and I will have more to say about it from an entertainment angle. But first, there is a political matter that I need to get off my chest.

I imagine Michelle Obama watching Downton Abbey and feeling very superior that she would never destroy someone’s entire life for being gay or for having once been a prostitute. Meanwhile, her husband continues to allow cannabis users to have their entire lives destroyed by being labeled felons. This is the President of the United States who was paid millions of dollars to publicly admit that he repeatedly violated federal and state law by using cannabis and cocaine.

(I know: I have been very hard on the president recently. But I have come to believe that we are allowing the conservatives to win when we don’t hold liberals accountable. Take for example the Sequester. By defending Obama’s “balanced” approach, we yield all the liberal ground. Suddenly, there is no fight between left and right; there is a fight between center and right. And this only allows the conservatives to move the debate ever further to the right. We have reached a point now where Obama’s “balanced” approach—the supposed liberal position—is more conservative than anything supported by Eisenhower, Nixon, or Ford.)

This is the exasperating thing about Downton Abbey. It allows people of today to look down on people of a hundred years ago. Yet people today have prejudices that are every bit as pernicious; they simply have different prejudices.

I assure you of this: in 100 years, people will look back on us with horror that we threw junkies into jail for decades (when we didn’t just let them die from dirty needles and tainted drugs). And they will look very far down on a president and first lady who watched millions of young people’s lives destroyed while they patted themselves on the back for their liberal attitudes. Oh my! How very forward thinking the president was in coming out in favor of marriage equality in 2012! What cutting edge liberal thinking! Please. Let’s be clear: if it were 1952, Obama would (Regrettably, mind you!) be in favor of castrating Alan Turing.

Watching Downton Abbey breaks my heart for the society we live in today. But I fear my reaction is rare. Most people watch it and think, “How far we’ve come!” Unfortunately, that’s just not true. At the time portrayed when the series started, there was relatively little stigma and almost no law regarding drug use. So in some ways we have moved forward but in others we have moved backwards. All that has changed is who we oppress in the name of “community standards.” We have swapped homosexuals for drug users. We haven’t done a damned thing for prostitutes. And of course the poor matter as little as ever.

I would like to to think that watching Downton Abbey has made Michelle Obama bug her husband to stand up for liberal values and make a stand against the oppression of the weak. But I suspect it just makes her feel good that her husband is finally doing something about a terrible social injustice in England 100 years ago.

But maybe I’m looking at this all wrong. At least Obama isn’t dropping bombs on the poor. At least not in this country. At least not yet.

Afterword

As regular reads know: I am entirely behind the gay rights movement. What’s more: I know its history and I know that the LGBT community is oppressed to this day. But today in the United States, the oppression of drug users and prostitutes (often the very same people) is much worse than it is for the LGBT community. What’s more: this isn’t an “either or” situation. There is no reason we can’t deal with all these issues. And it is unconscionable to pretend that these issues don’t exist—that we are throwing drug users in jail for long periods of time for their own good.