May Democracy Work for Greece

SyrizaGreece has had its election, and the left-wing Syriza won. In fact, it came just two votes short of an outright majority. This is huge news. And good news. Unless you are the European equivalent of a Villager. In that case, Syriza is just a bunch of “far-left radicals” who won by being “committed to ending years of austerity.” You know: that’s the austerity that has worked so well for Greece and the rest of Europe.

I think that the Very Serious People of Europe who are so upset that Syriza won should hope that the coalition succeeds. Because if the people are failed by Syriza — which has shown itself to be quite reasonable — then the people will turn to a fascist party. The establishment is so used to being able to dictate terms that they are going to be angry about any government that actually stands up for the best interests of its people. The problem is not Syriza but rather these Serious People who think that austerity is just about to work and it only needs another year or two or three or a decade or two. They are the ones who need to change what they think and start looking out for the best interests of the EU as a whole and not the people at the very top of the food chain.

To get an idea of just how bad things have been in Greece, consider the unemployment rate. In 2010, when the austerity demands first started, the unemployment rate was 12.5%. In 2013, after years of crushing austerity that was supposed to “fix” Greece, the unemployment rate was more than double: 27.3%. Last year, it is 25.8% — which I suppose is making the Very Serious People of Europe scream, “It’s working!” It isn’t. Yesterday, Paul Krugman put together a couple of graphs, The Greek Stand-By Arrangement. The stunning one shows Greek government spending (apart from debt maintenance). It has two lines. The blue one is what the power elite of Europe planned for Greece in 2010. But over time, the demands became much bigger. It is very much like bleeding a patient, and when she doesn’t get better, bleeding her some more. And if you think I’m comparing modern economic policy to witch-doctors of the past (and the present), you are right.

Greek Government Spending

Meanwhile, Greek GDP is 20% below the level it was at in 2010. And there is no indication that it is improving. It isn’t surprising that the people of Greece are angry. Any group of people is willing to put up with temporary pain in the name of improving things. The problem here is that the pain doesn’t seem to be temporary and it doesn’t seem to be improving anything. Krugman explained why this continued course of economic bleeding has gone on:

How did they get it so wrong? In the spring of 2010 both the ECB and the European Commission bought fully into expansionary austerity; slashing spending wasn’t going to hurt the Greek economy, because the confidence fairy would come to the rescue. The IMF never went all the way there, but it used an unrealistically low multiplier, which it arrived at by looking at historical examples of austerity while ignoring the difference in monetary conditions.

The idea of “expansionary austerity” is that cutting government spending during a recession wouldn’t hurt the economy, even though regular economics indicated that it would. But there was work by a couple of heterodox economists that showed that it would. The mechanism was as simple as it was unbelievable. By cutting government spending, the business community would see that Greece was getting serious. So the businesses would start investing and hiring and there would be a boom. It’s been almost five years and the boom has not come. But the Very Serious People of Europe don’t believe that. Just another course of bleeding and the Greek economy will be saved!

Krugman summed up the current outrageous situation, “The thing is, we now have essentially the same people who so totally misjudged the impacts of austerity lecturing the Greeks on the need to be realistic.” There’s that tired old saying that politicians love to quote about the definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result. But it would be wrong to apply that to the power elite of Europe. Because oppressing the Greek people with austerity is working great for the power elite of Europe. Hopefully democracy will work in Greece and Syriza will be able to serve the people and not the Very Serious People of Europe.

The Bad Side of Obama’s SOTU Address

Barack ObamaObama’s failure to reconcile words to deeds detracts mightily from the grab bag of ideas he offers under the catchy title “middle class economics.” As noted, these policies could really improve people’s lives. But while he’s out thumping for them, he’s in hot pursuit of what he hopes will be his last coup, approval of the Trans Pacific Trade Partnership. It’s such a popular idea he chose not to breathe its name in his speech. What he did say was worth sampling if only to savor its cleverness: “China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. We should write those rules… That’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.”

He doesn’t want another free trade fiasco like that awful NAFTA, just “trade promotion authority to protect American workers.” Surely we can all be for that.

Nearly all left-leaning Democrats oppose the TPTP: Paul Krugman, Joe Stiglitz, Bob Reich, Elizabeth Warren. One can’t imagine Obama changing his mind on it any more than one imagines him asking any of them to help craft his new populist agenda. As he likes to reassure his donors, “I’m a market kind of guy,” meaning he comes as close as a Democrat can to being a market ideologue. And yes, there is such a thing.

Market ideologues aren’t the sort to throw bombs or ruin dinner parties but they’re ideologues nonetheless. Their solution for every problem known to mankind is to adopt “market principles.” Their influence on Obama’s generation of Democratic elites has been profound. It’s why so many of them apply market theory to issues to which it is ill-suited, such as carbon reduction, health care and public education.

Obama doesn’t get that free trade can be as good as he says for business and still be a terrible deal for workers. He doesn’t get that markets by their nature do a great job of creating wealth and a poor one of distributing it; that absent a strong government to encode and enforce a social contract there is no middle class; that pitting our workers against those lacking such support will eventually impoverish them. It’s why he opposed raising the minimum wage when he had the votes to do it in his first term. It’s why he bailed out banks but not homeowners, and abandoned the public option.

—Bill Curry
Let’s Not Morph Obama Into Elizabeth Warren Quite Yet

American Double Standard Regarding Democracy

King AbdullahThere is this constant question about American foreign policy. Why is it that some countries are our allies when they are so horrible? Of course, the claim is always that we support “democracy” and “the rule of law” and “respect for human rights.” But that doesn’t seem to ever be the case. For example, I think that the United Kingdom is a democracy that supports the rule of law and respects human rights. But I don’t think that’s the reason that the UK is our ally. I think we decide whether to have an ally and only afterward do we apply those nice sounding labels on them.

More often, these labels are not used in the affirmative. We don’t generally say that we have an ally because of these things. Instead, we claim that a country is our enemy because they are not a democracy or whatever. And that fact came very much to the fore recently when King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia died. He was a horrible man — a despot. This is a man who was fine with beheading another for the “crime” of witchcraft. A real class act from a real classy country. But who needs class and, you know, the Enlightenment, when you have huge oil reserves and the biggest military in the world willing to do anything for you?

Hugo ChávezLast Friday, Glenn Greenwald put together a great compare and contrast, Obama’s Reaction to the Deaths of King Abdullah and Hugo Chávez. As readers of this site know, I’m fairly fond of Chávez. It wasn’t that he was an especially great leader. But he distinguished himself in that he wasn’t totally corrupt and he actually tried to make the resources of his nation work for the good of the people. (Imagine iff a US president did that!) And that puts him well ahead of most leaders. That, of course, also put him at odds with the US government. If Chávez had been willing to make deals with US interests that made him and his friends rich at the expense of his people, the US government (and its lapdog media) would have been fine with him — regardless of what else he did.

How do I know? Well, just look at Abdullah. For a good rundown of what a great guy he was, check out Murtaza Hussain’s obituary, Saudi Arabia’s Tyrant King Misremembered as Man of Peace. He was a vile man who not only supported just about every horrible thing the US does, but also did a lot of his own war-making. Check out this example of his commitment to peace and democracy:

In Bahrain, Saudi forces intervened to crush a popular uprising which had threatened the rule of the ruling al-Khalifa monarchy, while in Syria Saudi-backed factions have helped turn what was once a popular democratic uprising into a bloody, intractable proxy war between regional rivals which is now a main driver of extremism in the Middle East.

But really, you don’t need to look any further than the 9/11 hijackers. Of the 19 men, 15 were from Saudi Arabia. Osama bin Laden himself was from Saudi Arabia. Any normal country would have to answer for that. If those 15 had instead been from Venezuela, we would have invaded the country. As it was, we helped stage a coup in 2002. It appears that to the US government, “democracy” is just another word for “countries that do as they’re told.” What’s even more frustrating is that the US media were universal in their condemnation of Chávez when he mocked Bush at the United Nations. No mention was ever made of the coup, of course, because that would have been unfair to Bush.

When Chávez died, this was the official response, which is as close to “good riddance” as these things ever get:

At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez’s passing, the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interests in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the United States remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights.

Translation: unless you idiots in Venezuela elect a pro-corporate government, you won’t have a government committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. It’s really that simple. Meanwhile, Obama had “deep respect” for Abdullah. Most of the statement is about all the great work that he did for peace and the education of his people. No mention is made of the Saudi Arabian government being committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. That’s because it isn’t.

But it doesn’t matter. All this disingenuous nonsense means is that any country that plays nice with the US, allowing our corporations and military access, is fine. And if it doesn’t, then it is terrible. And expect the US to do everything it can to destroy that country. Because it isn’t okay to have oil reserves used to help the poor. There are needy corporations here in America!

Shameless Republican Ad on 60 Minutes

60 MinutesI should have my head examined. Mental illness is the only explanation that I can think of for why I ever watch 60 Minutes — but most especially last night when the first segment was a Scott Pelley interview with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. Now I’ll admit, these two did a fine job of embarrassing themselves. But mostly, it just provided an opportunity for these two bozos to state their talking points without fear of harassment. And there were all kinds of things they had to say that are, at best, total distortions — the kind of things you normally have to be a committed Fox News viewer to see. And 60 Minutes, as usual, was there to comfort the comfortable.

The interview started with the two Republican leaders expressing their dismay that Obama didn’t come to the State of the Union address with cap in hand. McConnell noted that Obama seemed like he was campaigning for a third term. Later in the segment, Boehner bemoaned the fact that Obama offered no olive branch, “I can tell you, we’re interested in working with him!” I’m curious just what these guys think that Obama would have gotten by showing up as a naughty boy who’d been caught. Because we know what happened in 2011, after the Democrats lost the House, when Obama did reach out to the Republicans. We came incredibly close to breaching the Debt Ceiling and only avoided it with, by far, the worst policy of the Obama years: savage cuts to government spending.

Boehner did most of the talking. He seemed like he really needed a cigarette. And he pushed the Republicans’ newest lie: the Democrats are responsible for income inequality. This came after Pelley asked if Obama shouldn’t get credit for the improving economy. As far as I can tell, he shouldn’t get credit for the improving economy, but he should get credit for increasing inequality. He’s like the opposite of God: when something good happens, he gets no credit; when something bad happens, he gets all the blame.

So why is it that the rich keep getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer? Well, they weren’t willing to talk about how it was all due to the rich being over-taxed. But they did use the second standard Republican Economic Solution for Everything ™: regulation. But the only regulation that Boehner could think of was Obamacare. It, apparently, is the reason that the economy is getting more unequal. Or something.

There is a further discussion of Obamacare, which is part of the internet extras at the link above. Pelley actually pushed back against the Republican leaders — especially on the fact that they have no ideas for what they are going to replace it with. But eventually, Boehner was allowed to go on about what the Republicans want to do. Regular readers of this site should be able to list everything that Boehner said because it is the same list they always have, none of which lower healthcare costs: buy insurance across state lines (all insurers would run to the least regulated state and provide useless coverage) and tort reform (wouldn’t lower costs because doctors don’t actually over-treat because of insurance concerns). He didn’t mention high deductible plans, but maybe they just cut that. He did mention allowing small employers to group together. But Obamacare not only does that for small employers, but for everyone. And the Republicans hate it. At the beginning he mentioned “allowing states to create their own exchanges.” I assume this is just a new talking point to push King v Burwell.

The whole thing was totally disingenuous. At one point, Pelley did a lot of heavy lifting by allowing the two to dump all over Harry Reid for not allowing some of the crazy bills coming out of the House to have a vote in the Senate. This was somehow wrong, but the idea of sending a whole bunch of crazy bills to the president for his veto was just how the system works. Like I said, these two bozos dig their own graves just by talking. But most people don’t know much about this stuff. And instead of countering them as Mike Wallace would have done decades ago, 60 Minutes is just fine to let lies transmit to televisions all over the nation. Because who’s to say what is true? Certainly not Scott Pelley! He lives in a world full of fairies and elves, where you can have all the candy you want: the postmodern world where reality is whatever you say it is. Sadly, I don’t live in that world. If I did, 60 Minutes would have been canceled long ago, and the Republican leaders would have committed seppuku for the great shame they have brought to their families and their nation.

Jacqueline du Pré

Jacqueline du PréOn this day in 1945, the great cellist Jacqueline du Pré was born. In her lifetime, she was hugely popular. And as is usual with classical music stars, that also meant that she was just ridiculously good. There is quite a lot of her work online. You could do worse than spend the evening listening to her. From my standpoint, she was rather too interested in the Romantic period. Just the same, her intense style fits the period well.

She had a tragic life. She only performed up the age of 28 — and her last recording was at the age of 26. At that time, she started to lose sensitivity in her fingers. In 1973, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She lived another 14 years, but without being able to play. That’s not just publicly; she couldn’t play at all. That strikes me as a kind of hell on earth — to have such an intimate relationship with an instrument and yet be estranged from it. If there is a god, she is evil and certainly not worthy of worship.

Here is du Pré playing Brahms’ Cello Sonata Op 99 with her husband on piano. I had to put it together in a playlist, because there isn’t a single video. But it cuts at the right time. It is very good. You should listen to it:

Happy birthday Jacqueline du Pré!