A dozen Labor Days — and three presidential elections — ago, the world was in the thrall of American-style capitalism. Not only had it vanquished communism, but it was widening its lead over Japan Inc. and European-style socialism.So what happened three elections ago to give capitalism indigestion? Well, first it involved kicking democracy in the balls and shoving in Mr. CEO President who delivered a near perfect checklist of conservative ideology. Lower taxes on the rich? Done. Capital gains tax cuts? Even done-er. Knock down regulations put in place to save capitalism the last time it went into an autocannibalistic fit? The done-est. Be free, little market capitalism, be free! Oh, and conservative bonus points for starting two massive "we'll show you who's boss" star-spangled wars. So what did we get from this conservative wet dream?
Today, that economic hegemony seems a distant memory. We have watched the bursting of two giant financial bubbles, wiping out the paper wealth many of us thought we had in our homes and retirement accounts. We have suffered through two long recessions and a lost decade of income growth for the average family. We continue to rack up large trade and budget deficits. Virtually all of the country’s economic growth and productivity gains have been captured by the top 10 percent of households, while moving up the economic ladder has become more difficult. And other countries are beginning to turn to China, Germany, Sweden and even Israel for lessons in how to organize their capitalist economies.Um. Yeah. And before anyone strikes up the "but Bush ran up huge debts, so he wasn't a real conservative" band, note that everything, everything, Bush did was strictly from the conservative handbook, the one that promised if we did all these things, the nation would grow so quickly that we could strike the word "debt" from the dictionary. Looking through the current crop of economic authors, Pearlstein finds several prescriptions for what's ailing capitalism.
Although the Republican spin machine reflexively took entrepreneurial umbrage at Obama’s notion that it takes a village to create a successful company, each of the books reviewed here essentially embraces the idea. A pure market economy is an ideological fantasy; even the freest markets operate in a framework of laws, infrastructure, institutions and informal norms of behavior in which government is heavily implicated. Our challenge is in getting that framework right.Of course, if you look hard enough, you can still find the intellectual underpinnings for more conservatism. Such as
Edward Conard, who makes the intriguing argument that there never was a credit bubble or a housing bubble, that large and persistent trade deficits are a sign of economic strength, that booms and busts are a good thing, and that what we really need is more income inequality, not less.Well, at least we can be sure that no one this crazy will be taken seriously. Right?
It is unlikely that anyone would be giving Conard’s fantasies a moment’s thought but for the fact that he was a Romney collaborator at Bain Capital in the 1990s and that he set up a front company last year to give $1 million to a super PAC supporting Romney. In “Unintended Consequences,” Conard contends that the past decade and a half was a golden era for American capitalism. ... The only way to recapture that golden era of high growth, low unemployment and booming stock markets, Conard suggests, is to eliminate all taxes on the very rich so they can make even more investments in new ideas and innovative new companies.Are we very sure that conservatism isn't a plot by the American Psychological Association to drum up business? It makes more sense than Conard's "economics."
Meanwhile, there was something that happened this week. Something I can't quite remember. Wasn't there some kind of party? I kind of remember some old guy, rambling incoherently. His name was Mike, no Mitt, no Clint, no... Hmm. Anyway.
David Maraniss gives Republicans a little heads-up. A second term President Obama is likely to deliver what Republicans fear most.
For all of his other characteristics — his unease about schmoozing, his writer’s sensibility as a participant observer, what some misinterpret as aloofness — the essence of Obama as a candidate is that of a confident jock... He thrives on competition and does not shrink from it. ...Returning the president to office will begin to heal the divided nation and restore faith in government. And really, that is why Republicans are quaking.
But if he wins a second term, the Obama I expect to emerge will more closely follow the lines of his 2004 speech. The right wing has made a cottage industry out of portraying him as a shape-shifter, trained by socialists, whose true leftist ideology will come out in a second term. His history points in the opposite direction. As a young man negotiating the shoals of race in America, as president of the Harvard Law Review, as a lecturer in constitutional law at the University of Chicago and as a state senator in Springfield, his instincts were to search for common ground. It has proved harder in the White House than anywhere he had been before, and there is no guarantee it would be any easier during a second term. But that is where he sees greatness, and that is what will drive him.
The Miami Herald has some advice for the President going into the home stretch.
By all means, Mr. Obama should defend his record. There’s nothing wrong with bragging about getting bin Laden. It ain’t bragging if it’s true. He inherited a recession deeper than any since the Great Depression, and by any measure the economy is stronger today than it was in 2008, when 4.4 million jobs were lost during President Bush’s last year in office, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And, yes, his task has been made immeasureably harder by the unprecedented level of obstruction from congressional Republicans, whose leader in the Senate said his priority was to ensure Mr. Obama did not get a second term.Even big supporters, say like guys who just this week kicked in more cash and who got up at 4AM to read opinion pages, would still like to get an fresh clarion call to national purpose.
But there has to be more to a presidential campaign than blaming the other guys for everything. Americans are looking for someone who can inspire a sense of purpose and optimism, precisely what Mr. Obama did last time around but has failed to deliver lately.
Americans don’t need to be told over and over who’s to blame for the nation’s political paralysis. They get it. That’s why Congress’ popularity ratings are so low. But Mr. Obama has not done a good job of communicating what he would do differently in a second term to make sure that the next four years are not like the last four. That’s what skeptical voters want to hear.
Maureen Dowd remembers that thing I forgot already.
The stage show looked like America, but the convention hall did not. The crowd seemed like the sanctuary of a minority — economically wounded capitalists in shades from eggshell to ecru, cheering the man from Bain and trying to fathom why they’re not running the country anymore. The speakers ranted about an America in decline, but the audience reflected a party in decline.Nicholas Kristof looks at some of the beachheads the GOP has already secured in the war on women.
If an American woman in uniform is raped and becomes pregnant, Congress bars Tricare military insurance from paying for an abortion.Ross Douthat is increasingly just hard to read.
If an American woman in the Peace Corps becomes pregnant, Congress bars coverage of an abortion — and there is no explicit exception even if she is raped or her life is in danger.
When teenagers in places like Darfur, Congo or Somalia survive gang rapes, aid organizations cannot use American funds to provide an abortion.
But if Romney does win, his studied vagueness and generic Republican rhetoric may leave him with much more room to maneuver in office than either the left or right currently expects.See, just because Romney has been giving into the crazies on his own party, bows to the slightest pressure, and has generally been a reliable weathervane for two decades, you have no idea what Romney will do if he's elected and he doesn't have to answer to anyone. And that's... a good thing?
On the left, it’s an article of faith that the Republican nominee is effectively a hostage to the most ideological elements in his party, and that he’ll be forced to march in lock step with them even if his own instincts suggest a different path.
Among conservatives, the choice of Paul Ryan persuaded many Romney doubters that the candidate has definitively embraced the Congressional Republican agenda as his own.
Both assumptions may be wrong. Of course a President Romney would have to operate within the broad framework of conservatism. But the left probably understates how much power he would have to shape and even redefine that framework, and how invested his fellow Republican officeholders (as opposed to movement activists) would be in making his first term a success.
David Rothkopf notes that it's not just Bush policies coming back, it's the whole fun-loving Bush team.
The rehabilitation of Rice is just part of a broader restoration of the Bush brand and of those who worked with our 43rd president. Fewer than four years after George W. Bush left office, his team members are back in high places...So it appears that Romney doesn't just want to repeat the lower taxes on the rich formula from the Bush years, he also intends to challenge for the record on how many times National Guard troops can be deployed overseas.
Particularly striking is the degree to which Bush 43 foreign policy players have assumed leading roles in shaping policy for Romney. John Bolton, Bush’s U.N. ambassador and an especially combative member of the neoconservative contingent so closely linked with that administration, has been part of Romney’s inner circle throughout the year.
Cofer Black, a former top executive at the Bush-era security contractor once called Blackwater, is a top adviser to Romney on intelligence issues, shaping his views on subjects such as interrogations of terrorism suspects. And Dan Senor, who was a top official in the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq in the year after the invasion, is now at the right hand of vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan.
Weird things we do, may be related.
In Curious Behavior, neuroscientist Robert Provine discusses common yet seemingly strange actions, such as crying, tickling and yawning - subjects often overlooked by science. Beyond explaining how each of these actions work anatomically, Provine explores their functions, similarities and whether they might be linked by some higher, social purpose.What I want to know is why when I sneeze in public, I get a "bless you," but when I cough, I get scowled at. Seems just unfair. Anti-cough bigotry!
But I suppose there are worse things.
The most fascinating chapters involve descriptions of what happens when these behaviours become extreme. Take the 1962 outbreak of contagious laughter in Tanganyika, now Tanzania, which affected around a thousand people over several years. Then there is the story of a woman with an itch so severe she scratched through to her brain in her sleep.Remind me to wear a football helmet to bed.