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The US and European economies need government spending to boost jobs, but sanity isn't winning in politics today
by Dean Baker
It appears that the Reinhart-Rogoff battles (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/apr/16/unemployment-reinhar...) over their faulty data about government debt have flamed out. Even the inventors of the 90% debt cliff are now anxious to portray themselves of cautious supporters of expansionary fiscal policy. This should mean that sober policy types everywhere can turn to the immediate problem of reducing unemployment with more expansionary fiscal policy.
Unfortunately, this does not appear likely to happen. Even though the case against fiscal policy has been blown to smithereens, there is little impulse in the United States or Europe to change course. The counter-argument appears to have two sides. First, growth has picked up so that we don't really need it. Second, we really wouldn't know what to spend money on in any case.
Neither of these arguments deserves to be taken seriously on its merits. But they nonetheless must be taken seriously because of the prominence of the people who say them.
by Bill Moyers and Michael Winship
If you want to see why the public approval rating of Congress is down in the sub-arctic range — an icy 15 percent by last count — all you have to do is take a quick look at how the House and Senate pay worship at the altar of corporations, banks and other special interests at the expense of public aspirations and need.
Traditionally, political scientists have taught their students that there are two schools of thought about how a legislator should get the job done. One is to vote yay or nay on a bill by following the will of his or her constituency, doing what they say they want. The other is to represent them as that legislator sees fit, acting in the best interest of the voters — whether they like it or not.
But our current Congress — as cranky and inert as an obnoxious old uncle who refuses to move from his easy chair — never went to either of those schools. Its members rarely have the voter in mind at all, unless, of course, that voter’s a cash-laden heavy hitter with the clout to keep an incumbent on the leash and comfortably in office.
by Richard Eskow
Corporate interests and their elected representatives have created a world of illusion in order to resist paying a decent wage to working Americans. They’d have us believe that minimum-wage workers are teens from ’50s TV sitcoms working down at the local malt shoppe.
It’s a retro-fantasy where corporate stinginess creates minority jobs, working parents can’t possibly be impoverished, and nobody gets hurt except kids who drive dad’s convertible and top up their allowances with a minimum-wage job slinging burgers.
But then, you probably need to resort to fantasy arguments when you’re arguing against a minimum-wage increase supported by nearly three-quarters of the voting public. That’s also why it’s important to demand that Congress allow an up-or-down vote on the Fair Minimum Wage Act, which would raise it to $10.10 and then index it to inflation.
Here’s the truth: Most minimum-wage workers are adults, the majority of them are women, and many are parents who are trying to raise their children on poverty wages.
Minimum wage workers are adults.
by Tori Field and Beverly Bell
Heather Retberg stood on the steps of the Blue Hill, Maine town hall surrounded by 200 people. “We are farmers,” she told the crowd, “who are supported by our friends and our neighbors who know us and trust us, and want to ensure that they maintain access to their chosen food supply.”
Blue Hill is one of a handful of small Maine towns that have been taking bold steps to protect their local food system. In 2011, they passed an ordinance exempting their local farmers and food producers from federal and state licensure requirements when these farmers sell directly to customers.
by Dean Baker
Did an Excel error cost you your job? This is what people around the world should be asking after researchers at the University of Massachusetts uncovered a serious calculation mistake (http://www.peri.umass.edu/236/hash/31e2ff374b6377b2ddec04deaa6388b1/publ...). The mistake was in an enormously influential paper by Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff, two prominent economists, which purports to show that high levels of government debt lead to slow economic growth.
This paper has been widely cited by political figures around the world who have been pushing the case for cutting back government spending and raising taxes. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan famously cited Reinhart and Rogoff when he laid out his budget earlier this year. So have many of the politicians now pushing for cuts in Social Security and Medicare.
Reinhart and Rogoff’s work has had an extraordinary impact for an academic paper. This is why the calculation error is so important. When the error is corrected, the relationship between debt levels and economic growth is far less clear.
by Norman Solomon
The story goes that some mice became very upset about the cat in the house and convened an emergency meeting. They finally came up with the idea of tying a bell around the cat’s neck, so the dangerous feline could no longer catch victims unawares. The plan gained a lot of enthusiastic praise, until one mouse piped up with a question that preceded a long silence: “Who’s going to bell the cat?”
In recent days, the big cat in the White House has provoked denunciations from groups that have rarely crossed him. They’re upset about his decision to push for cuts in Social Security benefits. “Progressive outrage has reached a boiling point,” the online juggernaut MoveOn declared a few days ago.
by Barbara Garson
If you had to date the Great Recession, you might say it started in September 2008 when Lehman Brothers vaporized over a weekend and a massive mortgage-based Ponzi scheme began to go down. By 2008, however, the majority of American workers had already endured a 40-year decline in wages, security, and hope -- a Long Recession of their own.
In the 1960s, I met a young man about to be discharged from the Army and then, by happenstance, caught up with him again in each of the next two decades. Though he died two months before the Lehman Brothers collapse, those brief encounters taught me how the Long Recession led directly to our Great Recession.
by Glenn Greenwald
by John Nichols and Robert McChesney
In a communications landscape where everything is up for grabs, the most powerful—and self-serving—players are grabbing for everything. And decisions that President Obama and his next appointee to chair the Federal Communications Commission will make in the coming months could well decide whether new media robber barons will dominate the local, state and national discourse.
Rupert Murdoch has renewed his push to have the FCC scrap its thirty-eight-year-old media cross-ownership rule, which bars him from buying up the daily newspaper, the largest television and radio stations, and the top digital news and entertainment sites in major American cities. Murdoch wants to rule the roost in Los Angeles, where he already owns TV stations and is salivating at the prospect of combining them with the Los Angeles Times, the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper, which the Tribune Company is putting up for sale.
by Rachel Weiner
The Associated Press has dropped the phrase “illegal immigrant” from its stylebook, a victory for immigrant advocates who argue that the term is biased against the people it describes.
“The Stylebook no longer sanctions the term ‘illegal immigrant’ or the use of ‘illegal’ to describe a person,” a blog post from AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll explains. “Instead, it tells users that ‘illegal’ should describe only an action, such as living in or immigrating to a country illegally.”
The move, Carroll writes, is part of a broader shift away from labeling people and towards labeling behavior — for example, referring to people “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of “schizophrenics.”
The AP has previously rejected the term “undocumented immigrants,” favored by some pro-reform activists, as inaccurate. Many people in the country illegally have documents, just not the right ones.