Power Elite and Fascists Share Goals

Paul KrugmanPaul Krugman wrote a brief but insightful article this week, VSPs and the FN. That’s FN as in Front National, or as we say here in America, the National Front. You know: the French fascist party that won the first round of the French regional elections, and is set to pick up two regions in the final vote this weekend. What Krugman has been trying to work out is why it is that people turn to right wing extremism after financial crises, generally, and our current economic situation specifically. His answer is basically, “It’s the Very Serious People, stupid!”

Krugman wrote, “If things keep going badly, this authority based on the presumption of expertise erodes, and politicians who offer more visceral answers gain support.” That’s especially true in Europe, for two reasons. One is that in Europe, there is a greater focus on the technocratic aspects of governing. The other is that, generally speaking, these technocrats have performed even worse than ours here in the US have. For example, the European Central Bank raised interest rates during the very trough of this recession. So on the political front, if mild mannered François Hollande goes along and does all the things the technocrats say, and things don’t get better, why not give the fire breathing Marine Le Pen a shot?

Dean BakerLet’s bring this back to the US. The Federal Reserve is going to meet next week. And they will almost certainly raise interest rates. But as I’ve been writing, there is no reason to do so. Let’s start with the easy part: unemployment (U3) is 5.0%, but we got down to 3.9% in 2000, and there was not much of any inflation. The employment to population ration for prime age (25-54) workers is still a couple of percentage points below its level before the crisis. And there is a lot more data. In fact, there is really nothing that indicates the Fed should raise rates — just data to justify it.

Dean Baker provided even more data in this regard, It Doesn’t Seem Hard to Get Good Help: the JOLTS Data. JOLTS stands for “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey.” It tells us how many job openings there are, and the number has been more or less flat since the first half of this year. Another thing is the “quits rate.” This is the percentage of people who voluntarily quit their jobs. It is an indication of how weak the job market is. So if a lot of people are quitting their jobs, it indicates that they have confidence that they can find another job. Right now, it is less than 2%. This is roughly what it was during the trough of the first George W Bush recession. As Baker concluded, “The current reading looks much more like a recession than a strong labor market.”

But this is what we expect, right? The power elite continue on, doing things that don’t help the country. As I’ve noted many times, they do just so happen to help their own class. So maybe they aren’t incompetent; maybe they are just evil. Regardless, they look incompetent. The power elite have managed, with one two-year exception, to keep wages of the working class stagnant for almost 40 years. Combine that with media hysteria over terrorism, and you have a recipe for major fascist inroads into our political system.

But will the power elite change? Of course not. They don’t have anything to fear from a Ted Cruz administration. He might make life harder on the elderly. He might starve huge numbers of children. But if anything, he’ll cut the taxes of the power elite. It’s almost like they’re in it together.

Trump, Clinton, and the ISIS Freak Out

Donald TrumpGlenn Greenwald wrote an important reminder for all of us, Donald Trump’s “Ban Muslims” Proposal Is Wildly Dangerous but Not Far Outside the US Mainstream. This should not come as a shock to anyone. Everywhere in Republican presidential field you see this kind of thing. I was shocked when Jeb Bush suggested that we only allow Christian refugees into the country. And that is part of a widely held view among Republicans that America is a Christian nation — an idea that is so far removed from reality to be offensive.

I understand that people are freaked out. But I don’t exactly “get” it. A couple of Muslims killed a bunch of people and now much of the nation is on tilt. Suddenly, “Something must be done!” If 2 December 2015 was like most days, there were about 30 other gun murders in the nation. Bad things happen. People murder. Hillary ClintonWhen a Latino murders someone, do we start talking limiting immigration? No. But when it comes to Muslims, hatred and fear is quite socially acceptable. And so talking nonsense about making major changes to the country to combat what is a minor issue at this point makes no sense.

Clearly, mass shootings generally are an important issue. I would like to see something done to stop them. But I don’t know of any mainstream politician who is talking about anything that would actually do much. However, there is nothing even approaching the kind of carnage that the UK saw during The Troubles. Of course, we know that the Republicans are crazy. The problem is that it isn’t just them.

I wanted to offer up a very disturbing contrast that Greenwald presented. (He got it from Trevor Timm.) Back on Monday, Trump was talking to a group of his blackshirts. And he had this to say:

We’re losing a lot of people because of the internet. We have to see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that internet up in some ways. Somebody will say, “Oh freedom of speech, freedom of speech.” These are foolish people.

Yes, these are foolish people. They are so in the tradition of the founding of this country onward. Very foolish! I understand that the murder of 14 people is tragic. But it is hardly the clash of civilizations. It does not suggest that we change our way of life and start shutting down parts of the internet. This is what the Chinese government and other autocracies do. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” The truth is, it isn’t even about what they deserve; they won’t get the safety that is supposed to come with the loss of liberty.

But last week, Hillary Clinton talked about the same thing. And here’s what she said:

Self-radicalization that leads to attacks, like what we think happened in San Bernardino, we’re going to have to ask our tech companies… to help us on this. And this is complicated, you’re gonna hear all of the usual complaints, you know, freedom of speech, etc.

So other than the fact that she has some clue the issue might be “complicated” because, you know, the Constitution and all, how is that different from what Trump said?

In the “war on terror,” the US seems very much like a meth addict complaining that she isn’t getting any sleep. Implied in both Trump and Clinton’s comments is this idea, “We keep killing Muslims, and yet more just keep coming.” Maybe our strategy is wrong. Maybe rather than adding the destruction of the First Amendment to our weapons, we could do something that might work. Then again, what do I know? Maybe that meth addict just needs a strong cup of coffee in order to get a good night’s sleep.

Anniversary Post: State of Mississippi

Mississippi FlagOn this day in 1817, Mississippi became the 20th state in the union. And it’s pretty much stayed there. Oh, I know I should be nice. But I went to college with a guy from Alabama who told me the great pride of his state was that they could always count on Mississippi to be the 50th worst state in whatever was in question. The point was that Alabama was 49th. But that is probably being too harsh to Alabama. Not so much Mississippi.

Of course, there is an area where both states excel: in the amount of money they get from the federal government compared to how much they send. It changes year by year and analysis by analysis. But it’s always more or less the same: Mississippi gets roughly $3 for $1 it sends. In a lot of states, this is an indication of an old population (Social Security). But Mississippi is one of the younger states. It’s just that Mississippi is really poor.

So why is Mississippi a red state? Well, it isn’t because the poor are conservative. I guess it is because the poor don’t vote in high numbers. And knowing Mississippi, it probably isn’t really easy to vote in the state. But whatever. It does seem like it ought to be blue state, given it is almost 40% African American. Maybe liberals need to return another time and help the poor register and vote. There is little doubt the same stuff that was happening before is happening now, just in a less violent way.

Finally, I just want to mention that flag. Not only does it have the abhorrent Confederate battle flag in it, the thing is just poorly designed. I’m none too happy with the American flag. But the Mississippi flag makes our nation’s flag look like fine art. Why is it that bigotry so often comes with a total lack of taste?