Has the real meaning of America been lost?

Opinion By Robert Reich, San Francisco Examiner, February 24, 2018 https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/reich/article/Has-the-real-meaning-of-America-been-lost-12628521.php

When Donald Trump and his followers refer to “America,” what do they mean?

Some see a country of white, English-speaking Christians.

Others want a land inhabited by self-seeking individuals free to accumulate as much money and power as possible, who pay taxes only to protect their assets from criminals and foreign aggressors. Others think mainly about flags, national anthems, pledges of allegiance, military parades and secure borders.

Trump encourages a combination of all three — tribalism, libertarianism and loyalty.

But the core of our national identity has not been any of this. It has been found in the ideals we share — political equality, equal opportunity, freedom of speech and of the press, a dedication to open inquiry and truth, and to democracy and the rule of law.

We are not a race. We are not a creed. We are a conviction — that all people are created equal, that people should be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin, and that government should be of the people, by the people and for the people.

Political scientist Carl Friedrich, comparing Americans to Gallic people, noted that “to be an American is an ideal, while to be a Frenchman is a fact.”

That idealism led Abraham Lincoln to proclaim that America might yet be the “last best hope” for humankind. It prompted Emma Lazarus, some two decades later, to welcome to America the world’s “tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

It inspired the poems of Walt Whitman and Langston Hughes, and the songs of Woody Guthrie. All turned their love for America into demands that we live up to our ideals.

“This land is your land, this land is my land,” sang Guthrie.

Pleaded Hughes:

That idealism sought to preserve and protect our democracy — not inundate it with big money, or allow one party or candidate to suppress votes from rivals, or permit a foreign power to intrude on our elections.

It spawned a patriotism that once required all of us take on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going — paying taxes in full rather than seeking loopholes or squirreling money away in foreign tax shelters, and serving in the armed forces or volunteering in our communities rather than relying on others to do the work.

These ideals compelled us to join together for the common good — not pander to bigotry or divisiveness, or fuel racist or religious or ethnic divisions.

The idea of a common good was once widely understood and accepted in America. After all, the U.S. Constitution was designed for “We the people” seeking to “promote the general welfare” — not for “me the narcissist seeking as much wealth and power as possible.”

Yet the common good seems to have disappeared. The phrase is rarely uttered today, not even by commencement speakers or politicians.

There’s growing evidence of its loss — in CEOs who gouge their customers and loot their corporations; Wall Street bankers who defraud their investors; athletes involved in doping scandals; doctors who do unnecessary procedures to collect fatter fees; and film producers and publicists who choose not to see that a powerful movie mogul they depend on is sexually harassing and abusing women.

We see its loss in politicians who take donations from wealthy donors and corporations and then enact laws their patrons want, or shutter the government when they don’t get the partisan results they seek.

And in a president of the United States who has repeatedly lied about important issues, refuses to put his financial holdings into a blind trust and personally profits from his office, and foments racial and ethnic conflict.

This unbridled selfishness, this contempt for the public, this win-at-any-cost mentality, is eroding America.

Without binding notions about right and wrong, only the most unscrupulous get ahead. When it’s all about winning, only the most unprincipled succeed. This is not a society. It’s not even a civilization, because there’s no civility at its core.

If we’re losing our national identity it’s not because we now come in more colors, practice more religions and speak more languages than we once did.

It is because we are forgetting the real meaning of America — the ideals on which our nation was built. We are losing our sense of the common good.

© 2018 Robert Reich

Robert Reich, a former U.S. secretary of labor, is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

Moral movement against guns is gaining steam now

By Robert Reich, San Francisco Chronicle, February 28, 2018

Excerpt… most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks, and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police. Preventing gun violence is coming to be seen less as an issue of “gun rights” and more about public morality… The moral void of Trump has been a catastrophe for America in many ways, but it’s contributing to a backlash against the systemic abuses of power on which so much of the violence in American life is founded… If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.

Make no mistake. This is all about power — a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.

A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action.

It is being led by people whose moral authority cannot be denied: students whose friends have been murdered, women who have been abused, the parents and partners of black men who have been slain.

It is already having a profound impact on America.

Full text – sfchronicle.com

For years, big corporations had welcomed the opportunity to accumulate more customers by giving discounts to NRA members. Yet in the aftermath of the shootings in Parkland, Florida, and the activism of high school students, corporations are bailing out of their deals with the NRA.

As we’ve seen with the corporate firings of sleazebag movie moguls and predatory television personalities, nothing concentrates the minds of CEOs like a moral protest that’s gaining traction.

Since Donald Trump became president, the NRA has behaved like a subsidiary of the alt-right. At last month’s Conservative Political Action Conference, NRA President Wayne LaPierre cloaked his pro-gun address in paranoia about a “tidal wave” of “European-style socialists bearing down upon us,” telling his audience “you should be frightened.”

Most Americans know this kind of talk is bonkers. Not incidentally, most Americans also want gun controls. Ninety-seven percent support universal background checks, and 70 percent favor registering all guns with the police.

Preventing gun violence is coming to be seen less as an issue of “gun rights” and more about public morality. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” President Obama asked in 2012 after 20 first-graders were massacred at the Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Obama got nowhere, of course, but now change seems to be in the air. Why? I think Trump deserves some credit.

Trump’s response to the slayings in Parkland has been to urge schools to arm teachers. It’s a proposal that’s not only wrongheaded — more than 30 studies have shown that additional guns increase gun violence and homicides — but profoundly immoral.

If the only way to control gun violence is for all Americans to arm themselves, we would all be living in a Darwinist hell.

The moral void of Trump has been a catastrophe for America in many ways, but it’s contributing to a backlash against the systemic abuses of power on which so much of the violence in American life is founded.

The Parkland students are insisting that adults stand up to the immorality of the NRA. Corporations are responding. So are politicians. “We get out there and make sure everybody knows how much money their politician took from the NRA,” said David Hogg, one of the students.

Similarly, the #MeToo movement is insisting that America wake up to the immoral behavior of powerful predatory men.

More by Robert Reich

Has the real meaning of America been lost?

Harvey Weinstein and his ilk aren’t killers, but they are accused of assaulting or even raping women whose careers depended on them. For years, these women didn’t dare raise their voices. They were told this was the way the system worked, much as we’ve been told for years that there’s no way to take on the NRA.

Would the #MeToo movement have erupted without the abuser-in-chief in the Oval Office? Maybe. But Trump’s personal history — 19 women have accused him of sexual misconduct — has helped fuel it.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement predated Trump, but our racist-in-chief, who attacks black athletes for protesting police violence, has given it new meaning and urgency as well.

The NRA’s position that everyone should carry a gun contrasts with the reality that a black man brandishing one is likely to be shot and killed by the police.

The cumulative and growing force of these three intertwined movements comes from a basic premise of our civic life together, which Trump’s moral obtuseness has brought into sharp focus.

In order to survive, people need several things — food, water, a roof over our heads. But the most basic of all is safety. That’s why governments were created in the first place.

If Americans can’t be secure from someone packing an assault rifle, or from the predatory behavior of powerful men, or from the police, we do not live in a functioning society.

Make no mistake. This is all about power — a powerful political lobby that has bullied America for too long, powerful men who haven’t been held accountable for their behavior, police who for too long have been unconstrained.

A moral movement is growing against the violence perpetrated by all of them, making it necessary for both government and business to take action.

It is being led by people whose moral authority cannot be denied: students whose friends have been murdered, women who have been abused, the parents and partners of black men who have been slain.

It is already having a profound impact on America.

© 2018 By Robert Reich

Robert Reich, a former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley. To comment, submit your letter to the editor at SFChronicle.com/letters.

The fight we are engaged in is a fight for democracy against authoritarianism

by Robert Reich, Facebook, 2/23/17
Let me state this as clearly as I can: The fight we are engaged in is not Democrats versus Republicans. It’s not big government versus small government. It’s not traditional Left versus traditional Right. The more this fight is viewed in partisan terms, the less power and legitimacy it has. The fight we are engaged in is a fight for democracy against authoritarianism, for inclusion against exclusion, for tolerance against hate, for a fair economy against one rigged by and for those with great power and wealth. We must fight this and win this together — Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. This is the only way we can reclaim our democracy, our economy, and our fundamental values.

What’s Really Tearing America Apart

by Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog posted on Alternet.org  March 25, 2014 

Excerpt

We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The the same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics. Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most. But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century…Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

Full text

We are witnessing a reversion to tribalism around the world, away from nation states. The the same pattern can be seen even in America – especially in American politics.

Before the rise of the nation-state, between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries, the world was mostly tribal. Tribes were united by language, religion, blood, and belief. They feared other tribes and often warred against them. Kings and emperors imposed temporary truces, at most.

But in the past three hundred years the idea of nationhood took root in most of the world. Members of tribes started to become citizens, viewing themselves as a single people with patriotic sentiments and duties toward their homeland. Although nationalism never fully supplanted tribalism in some former colonial territories, the transition from tribe to nation was mostly completed by the mid twentieth century.

Over the last several decades, though, technology has whittled away the underpinnings of the nation state. National economies have become so intertwined that economic security depends less on national armies than on financial transactions around the world. Global corporations play nations off against each other to get the best deals on taxes and regulations.

News and images move so easily across borders that attitudes and aspirations are no longer especially national. Cyber-weapons, no longer the exclusive province of national governments, can originate in a hacker’s garage.

Nations are becoming less relevant in a world where everyone and everything is interconnected. The connections that matter most are again becoming more personal. Religious beliefs and affiliations, the nuances of one’s own language and culture, the daily realities of class, and the extensions of one’s family and its values – all are providing people with ever greater senses of identity.

The nation state, meanwhile, is coming apart. A single Europe – which seemed within reach a few years ago – is now succumbing to the centrifugal forces of its different languages and cultures. The Soviet Union is gone, replaced by nations split along tribal lines. Vladimir Putin can’t easily annex the whole of Ukraine, only the Russian-speaking part. The Balkans have been Balkanized.

Separatist movements have broken out all over — Czechs separating from Slovaks; Kurds wanting to separate from Iraq, Syria, and Turkey; even the Scots seeking separation from England.

The turmoil now consuming much of the Middle East stems less from democratic movements trying to topple dictatorships than from ancient tribal conflicts between the two major denominations of Isam – Sunni and Shia.

And what about America? The world’s “melting pot” is changing color. Between the 2000 and 2010 census the share of the U.S. population calling itself white dropped [2] from 69 to 64 percent, and more than half of the nation’s population growth came from Hispanics.

It’s also becoming more divided by economic class. Increasingly, the rich seem to inhabit a different country than the rest.

But America’s new tribalism can be seen most distinctly in its politics. Nowadays the members of one tribe (calling themselves liberals, progressives, and Democrats) hold sharply different views and values than the members of the other (conservatives, Tea Partiers, and Republicans).

Each tribe has contrasting ideas about rights and freedoms (for liberals, reproductive rights and equal marriage rights; for conservatives, the right to own a gun and do what you want with your property).

Each has its own totems (social insurance versus smaller government) and taboos (cutting entitlements or raising taxes). Each, its own demons (the Tea Party and Ted Cruz; the Affordable Care Act and Barack Obama); its own version of truth (one believes in climate change and evolution; the other doesn’t); and its own media that confirm its beliefs.

The tribes even look different. One is becoming blacker, browner, and more feminine. The other, whiter and more male. (Only 2 percent [3] of Mitt Romney’s voters were African-American, for example.)

Each tribe is headed by rival warlords whose fighting has almost brought the national government in Washington to a halt. Increasingly, the two tribes live separately in their own regions – blue or red state, coastal or mid-section, urban or rural – with state or local governments reflecting their contrasting values.

I’m not making a claim of moral equivalence. Personally, I think the Republican right has gone off the deep end, and if polls [4] are to be believed a majority of Americans agree with me.

But the fact is, the two tribes are pulling America apart, often putting tribal goals over the national interest – which is not that different from what’s happening in the rest of the world.

 

See more stories tagged with:

tribalism [5]


Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/tea-party-and-right/whats-really-tearing-america-apart

Links:
[1] http://www.alternet.org/authors/robert-reich-0
[2] https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=3&ved=0CDMQFjAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.census.gov%2Fprod%2F2010pubs%2Fp25-1138.pdf&ei=OG8vU_7zK8PwoASys4HIAw&usg=AFQjCNEQDDtbUzGmSzSuLhE4P9bKvTPJ8A&bvm=bv.62922401,d.cGU&cad=rjt
[3] http://www.cnn.com/election/2012/results/race/president#exit-polls
[4] http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2012/12/20/cnn-poll-are-gop-policies-too-extreme/?cid=sf_twitter
[5] http://www.alternet.org/tags/tribalism
[6] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

Restore the Basic Bargain

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog, November 29, 2011

Excerpt

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages…

The basic bargain is over…

New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay is now down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting wage and salary data in 1929.

Meanwhile, corporate profits now constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929.

The latest data on corporate profits and wages show we haven’t learned the essential lesson of the two big economic crashes of the last seventy-five years: When the economy becomes too lopsided – disproportionately benefitting corporate owners and top executives rather than average workers – it tips over…

In other words, we’re in trouble because the basic bargain has been broken.

Corporations don’t need more money. They have so much money right now they don’t even know what to do with all of it…

Nor do the wealthiest Americans need more money. The top 1 percent is already taking in more than 20 percent of total income – the highest since the 1920s…

We’re in a vicious cycle. The only way out of it is to put more money into the pockets of average Americans. That means extending the payroll tax cut. And extending unemployment benefits…

A basic bargain was once at the heart of the American economy. It recognized that average workers are also consumers and that their paychecks keep the economy going.

We can’t have a healthy economy until that bargain is restored.

Full text

For most of the last century, the basic bargain at the heart of the American economy was that employers paid their workers enough to buy what American employers were selling.

That basic bargain created a virtuous cycle of higher living standards, more jobs, and better wages.

Back in 1914, Henry Ford announced he was paying workers on his Model T assembly line $5 a day – three times what the typical factory employee earned at the time. The Wall Street Journal termed his action “an economic crime.”

But Ford knew it was a cunning business move. The higher wage turned Ford’s auto workers into customers who could afford to buy Model Ts. In two years Ford’s profits more than doubled.

That was then. Now, Ford Motor Company is paying its new hires half what it paid new employees a few years ago.

The basic bargain is over – not only at Ford, but all over the American economy.

New data from the Commerce Department shows employee pay is now down to the smallest share of the economy since the government began collecting wage and salary data in 1929.

Meanwhile, corporate profits now constitute the largest share of the economy since 1929.

1929, by the way, was the year of the Great Crash that ushered in the Great Depression.

In the years leading up to the Great Crash, most employers forgot Henry Ford’s example. The wages of most American workers remained stagnant. The gains of economic growth went mainly into corporate profits and into the pockets of the very rich. American families maintained their standard of living by going deeper into debt. In 1929 the debt bubble popped.

Sound familiar? It should. The same thing happened in the years leading up to the crash of 2008.

The latest data on corporate profits and wages show we haven’t learned the essential lesson of the two big economic crashes of the last seventy-five years: When the economy becomes too lopsided – disproportionately benefitting corporate owners and top executives rather than average workers – it tips over.

In other words, we’re in trouble because the basic bargain has been broken.

Yet incredibly, some politicians think the best way to restart the nation’s job engine is to make corporations even more profitable and the rich even richer – reducing corporate taxes; cutting back on regulations protecting public health, worker safety, the environment, and small investors; and slashing taxes on the very rich.

These same politicians think average workers should have even less money in their pockets. They don’t want to extend the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefits. And they want to make it harder for workers to form unions.

These politicians have reality upside down.

Corporations don’t need more money. They have so much money right now they don’t even know what to do with all of it. They’re even buying back their own shares of stock. This is a bonanza for CEOs whose pay is tied to stock prices and it increases the wealth of other shareholders. But it doesn’t create a single new job and it doesn’t raise the wages of a single employee.

Nor do the wealthiest Americans need more money. The top 1 percent is already taking in more than 20 percent of total income – the highest since the 1920s.

American businesses, including small-business owners, have no incentive to create new jobs because consumers (whose spending accounts for about 70 percent of the American economy) aren’t spending enough. Consumers’ after-tax incomes dropped in the second and third quarters of the year, the first back-to-back drops since 2009.

The recent small pickup in consumer spending has come out of their savings. Obviously this can’t continue, and corporations know it. Consumer savings are already at their lowest level in four years.

Get it? Corporate profits are up right now largely because pay is down and companies aren’t hiring. But this is a losing game even for corporations over the long term. Without enough American consumers, their profitable days are numbered.

After all, there’s a limit to how much profit they can get out of cutting American payrolls or even selling abroad. European consumers are in no mood to buy. And most Asian economies, including China, are slowing.

We’re in a vicious cycle. The only way out of it is to put more money into the pockets of average Americans. That means extending the payroll tax cut. And extending unemployment benefits.

Don’t stop there. Create a WPA to get the long-term unemployed back to work. And a Civilian Conservation Corp to create jobs for young people.

Hire teachers for classrooms now overcrowded, and pay them enough to attract people who are talented as well as dedicated. Rebuild our pot-holed highways. Create a world-class infrastructure.

Pay for this by hiking taxes on millionaires.

A basic bargain was once at the heart of the American economy. It recognized that average workers are also consumers and that their paychecks keep the economy going.

We can’t have a healthy economy until that bargain is restored.

——————————————————————————–

Robert Reich is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including “The Work of Nations,” “Locked in the Cabinet,” “Supercapitalism” and his latest book, “AFTERSHOCK: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” His ‘Marketplace’ commentaries can be found on publicradio.com and iTunes.

http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/279-82/8644-restore-the-basic-bargain

The Sequester and the Tea Party Plot

by  Robert Reich, Huffington Post,  03/01/2013

Excerpt

Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.

Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.

Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallelsWhat they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist…They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.

Nor do they seem to mind the higher unemployment their strategy will almost certainly bring about….

A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government — blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.

They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot…Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.

And he seems to accept that the budget deficit is the largest economic problem facing the nation, when in reality the largest problem is continuing high unemployment (some 20 million Americans unemployed or under-employed), declining real wages, and widening inequality. Deficit reduction now or in the near-term will only make these worse.

the President … should stop talking about the budget deficit and start talking about jobs and wages, and widening inequality – as he did in the campaign. And he should give up all hope of making a deal with the Tea Partiers who now run the Republican Party.

Instead, the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.

Full text

Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.

Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government.

Finally, imagine they not only paralyze the government but are on the verge of dismantling pieces of it.

Far-fetched? Perhaps. But take a look at what’s been happening in Washington and many state capitals since Tea Party fanatics gained effective control of the Republican Party, and you’d be forgiven if you see parallels.

Tea Party Republicans are crowing about the “sequestration” cuts beginning today (Friday). “This will be the first significant tea party victory in that we got what we set out to do in changing Washington,” says Rep. Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), a Tea Partier who was first elected in 2010.

Sequestration is only the start. What they set out to do was not simply change Washington but eviscerate the U.S. government — “drown it in the bathtub,” in the words of their guru Grover Norquist – slashing Social Security and Medicare, ending worker protections we’ve had since the 1930s, eroding civil rights and voting rights, terminating programs that have helped the poor for generations, and making it impossible for the government to invest in our future.

Sequestration grew out of a strategy hatched soon after they took over the House in 2011, to achieve their goals by holding hostage the full faith and credit of the United States — notwithstanding the Constitution’s instruction that the public debt of the United States “not be questioned.”

To avoid default on the public debt, the White House and House Republicans agreed to harsh and arbitrary “sequestered” spending cuts if they couldn’t come up with a more reasonable deal in the interim. But the Tea Partiers had no intention of agreeing to anything more reasonable. They knew the only way to dismember the federal government was through large spending cuts without tax increases.

Nor do they seem to mind the higher unemployment their strategy will almost certainly bring about. Sequestration combined with January’s fiscal cliff deal is expected to slow economic growth by 1.5 percentage points this year – dangerous for an economy now crawling at about 2 percent. It will be even worse if the Tea Partiers refuse to extend the government’s spending authority, which expires March 27.

A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government — blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.

They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot.

What is the President’s response? He still wants a so-called “grand bargain” of “balanced” spending cuts (including cuts in the projected growth of Social Security and Medicare) combined with tax increases on the wealthy. So far, though, he has agreed to a gross imbalance — $1.5 trillion in cuts to Republicans’ $600 billion in tax increases on the rich.

The President apparently believes Republicans are serious about deficit reduction, when in fact the Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.

And he seems to accept that the budget deficit is the largest economic problem facing the nation, when in reality the largest problem is continuing high unemployment (some 20 million Americans unemployed or under-employed), declining real wages, and widening inequality. Deficit reduction now or in the near-term will only make these worse.

Besides, the deficit is now down to about 5 percent of GDP — where it was when Bill Clinton took office. It is projected to mushroom in later years mainly because healthcare costs are expected to rise faster than the economy is expected to grow, and the American population is aging. These trends have little or nothing to do with government programs. In fact, Medicare is far more efficient than private health insurance.

I suggest the President forget about a “grand bargain.” In fact, he should stop talking about the budget deficit and start talking about jobs and wages, and widening inequality – as he did in the campaign. And he should give up all hope of making a deal with the Tea Partiers who now run the Republican Party.

Instead, the President should let the public see the Tea Partiers for who they are — a small, radical minority intent on dismantling the government of the United States. As long as they are allowed to dictate the terms of public debate they will continue to hold the rest of us hostage to their extremism.

ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest is an e-book, “Beyond Outrage,” now available in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/sequestration-tea-party_b_2788453.html?utm_hp_ref=daily-brief?utm_source=DailyBrief&utm_campaign=030113&utm_medium=email&utm_content=BlogEntry&utm_term=Daily%20Brief

The Sick Social Darwinism Driving Modern Republicans by Robert Reich

Robert Reich’s Blog, Posted on Alternet.org, December 6, 2011

What kind of society, exactly, do modern Republicans want? I’ve been listening to Republican candidates in an effort to discern an overall philosophy, a broadly-shared vision, an ideal picture of America.

They say they want a smaller government but that can’t be it. Most seek a larger national defense and more muscular homeland security. Almost all want to widen the government’s powers of search and surveillance inside the United States – eradicating possible terrorists, expunging undocumented immigrants, “securing” the nation’s borders. They want stiffer criminal sentences, including broader application of the death penalty. Many also want government to intrude on the most intimate aspects of private life.

They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve.

They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.

It was an era when the nation was mesmerized by the doctrine of free enterprise, but few Americans actually enjoyed much freedom. Robber barons like the financier Jay Gould, the railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, and the oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, controlled much of American industry; the gap between rich and poor had turned into a chasm; urban slums festered; women couldn’t vote and black Americans were subject to Jim Crow; and the lackeys of rich literally deposited sacks of money on desks of pliant legislators.

Most tellingly, it was a time when the ideas of William Graham Sumner, a professor of political and social science at Yale, dominated American social thought. Sumner brought Charles Darwin to America and twisted him into a theory to fit the times.

Few Americans living today have read any of Sumner’s writings but they had an electrifying effect on America during the last three decades of the 19th century.

To Sumner and his followers, life was a competitive struggle in which only the fittest could survive – and through this struggle societies became stronger over time. A correlate of this principle was that government should do little or nothing to help those in need because that would interfere with natural selection.

Listen to today’s Republican debates and you hear a continuous regurgitation of Sumner. “Civilization has a simple choice,” Sumner wrote in the 1880s. It’s either “liberty, inequality, survival of the fittest,” or “not-liberty, equality, survival of the unfittest. The former carries society forward and favors all its best members; the latter carries society downwards and favors all its worst members.”

Sound familiar?

Newt Gingrich not only echoes Sumner’s thoughts but mimics Sumner’s reputed arrogance. Gingrich says we must reward “entrepreneurs” (by which he means anyone who has made a pile of money) and warns us not to “coddle” people in need. He opposes extending unemployment insurance because, he says, ”I’m opposed to giving people money for doing nothing.”

Sumner, likewise, warned against handouts to people he termed “negligent, shiftless, inefficient, silly, and imprudent.”

Mitt Romney doesn’t want the government to do much of anything about unemployment. And he’s dead set against raising taxes on millionaires, relying on the standard Republican rationale millionaires create jobs.

Here’s Sumner, more than a century ago: “Millionaires are the product of natural selection, acting on the whole body of men to pick out those who can meet the requirement of certain work to be done… It is because they are thus selected that wealth aggregates under their hands – both their own and that intrusted to them … They may fairly be regarded as the naturally selected agents of society.” Although they live in luxury, “the bargain is a good one for society.”

Other Republican hopefuls also fit Sumner’s mold. Ron Paul, who favors repeal of Obama’s healthcare plan, was asked at a Republican debate in September what medical response he’d recommend if a young man who had decided not to buy health insurance were to go into a coma. Paul’s response: “That’s what freedom is all about: taking your own risks.” The Republican crowd cheered.

In other words, if the young man died for lack of health insurance, he was responsible. Survival of the fittest.

Social Darwinism offered a moral justification for the wild inequities and social cruelties of the late nineteenth century. It allowed John D. Rockefeller, for example, to claim the fortune he accumulated through his giant Standard Oil Trust was “merely a survival of the fittest.” It was, he insisted “the working out of a law of nature and of God.”

Social Darwinism also undermined all efforts at the time to build a nation of broadly-based prosperity and rescue our democracy from the tight grip of a very few at the top. It was used by the privileged and powerful to convince everyone else that government shouldn’t do much of anything.

Not until the twentieth century did America reject Social Darwinism. We created the large middle class that became the core of our economy and democracy. We built safety nets to catch Americans who fell downward through no fault of their own. We designed regulations to protect against the inevitable excesses of free-market greed. We taxed the rich and invested in public goods – public schools, public universities, public transportation, public parks, public health – that made us all better off.

In short, we rejected the notion that each of us is on his or her own in a competitive contest for survival.

But make no mistake: If one of the current crop of Republican hopefuls becomes president, and if regressive Republicans take over the House or Senate, or both, Social Darwinism is back.
Robert B. Reich has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He also served on President Obama’s transition advisory board. His latest book is Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future. His homepage is www.robertreich.org.

© 2011 Robert Reich’s Blog All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/153289/

The Rise of the Regressive Right and the Reawakening of America by Robert Reich

robertreich.org, October 16, 2011

Excerpt

A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.
We are going to battle once again.
Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together…Regressives take the opposite positions.
…today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards…
The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.
This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court…
Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward….regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform. Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.

Full text

A fundamental war has been waged in this nation since its founding, between progressive forces pushing us forward and regressive forces pulling us backward.

We are going to battle once again.
Progressives believe in openness, equal opportunity, and tolerance. Progressives assume we’re all in it together: We all benefit from public investments in schools and health care and infrastructure. And we all do better with strong safety nets, reasonable constraints on Wall Street and big business, and a truly progressive tax system. Progressives worry when the rich and privileged become powerful enough to undermine democracy.

Regressives take the opposite positions.

Eric Cantor, Paul Ryan, Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and the other tribunes of today’s Republican right aren’t really conservatives. Their goal isn’t to conserve what we have. It’s to take us backwards.

They’d like to return to the 1920s — before Social Security, unemployment insurance, labor laws, the minimum wage, Medicare and Medicaid, worker safety laws, the Environmental Protection Act, the Glass-Steagall Act, the Securities and Exchange Act, and the Voting Rights Act.

In the 1920s Wall Street was unfettered, the rich grew far richer and everyone else went deep into debt, and the nation closed its doors to immigrants.

Rather than conserve the economy, these regressives want to resurrect the classical economics of the 1920s — the view that economic downturns are best addressed by doing nothing until the “rot” is purged out of the system (as Andrew Mellon, Herbert Hoover’s Treasury Secretary, so decorously put it).

In truth, if they had their way we’d be back in the late nineteenth century — before the federal income tax, antitrust laws, the pure food and drug act, and the Federal Reserve. A time when robber barons — railroad, financial, and oil titans — ran the country. A time of wrenching squalor for the many and mind-numbing wealth for the few.

Listen carefully to today’s Republican right and you hear the same Social Darwinism Americans were fed more than a century ago to justify the brazen inequality of the Gilded Age:  Survival of the fittest. Don’t help the poor or unemployed or anyone who’s fallen on bad times, they say, because this only encourages laziness. America will be strong only if we reward the rich and punish the needy.

The regressive right has slowly consolidated power over the last three decades as income and wealth have concentrated at the top. In the late 1970s the richest 1 percent of Americans received 9 percent of total income and held 18 percent of the nation’s wealth; by 2007, they had more than 23 percent of total income and 35 percent of America’s wealth. CEOs of the 1970s were paid 40 times the average worker’s wage; now CEOs receive 300 times the typical workers’ wage.

This concentration of income and wealth has generated the political heft to deregulate Wall Street and halve top tax rates. It has bankrolled the so-called Tea Party movement, and captured the House of Representatives and many state governments. Through a sequence of presidential appointments it has also overtaken the Supreme Court.

Scalia, Alito, Thomas, and Roberts (and, all too often, Kennedy) claim they’re conservative jurists. But they’re judicial activists bent on overturning seventy-five years of jurisprudence by resurrecting states’ rights, treating the 2nd Amendment as if America still relied on  local militias, narrowing the Commerce Clause, and calling money speech and corporations people.

Yet the great arc of American history reveals an unmistakable pattern. Whenever privilege and power conspire to pull us backward, the nation eventually rallies and moves forward. Sometimes it takes an economic shock like the bursting of a giant speculative bubble; sometimes we just reach a tipping point where the frustrations of average Americans turn into action.

Look at the Progressive reforms between 1900 and 1916; the New Deal of the 1930s; the Civil Rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s; the widening opportunities for women, minorities, people with disabilities, and gays; and the environmental reforms of the 1970s. 

In each of these eras, regressive forces reignited the progressive ideals on which America is built. The result was fundamental reform.

Perhaps this is what’s beginning to happen again across America.
http://robertreich.org/post/11511074902

The Wall Street Scandal of All Scandals by Robert Reich

 Robert Reich’s Blog | News Analysis, July 9, 2012, published by Truthout.org

Just when you thought Wall Street couldn’t sink any lower – when its myriad abuses of public trust have already spread a miasma of cynicism over the entire economic system, giving birth to Tea Partiers and Occupiers and all manner of conspiracy theories; when its excesses have already wrought havoc with the lives of millions of Americans, causing taxpayers to shell out billions (of which only a portion has been repaid) even as its top executives are back to making more money than ever; when its vast political power (via campaign contributions) has already eviscerated much of the Dodd-Frank law that was supposed to rein it in, including the so-called “Volker” Rule that was sold as a milder version of the old Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment from commercial banking – yes, just when you thought the Street had hit bottom, an even deeper level of public-be-damned greed and corruption is revealed.

Sit down and hold on to your chair.

What’s the most basic service banks provide? Borrow money and lend it out. You put your savings in a bank to hold in trust, and the bank agrees to pay you interest on it. Or you borrow money from the bank and you agree to pay the bank interest.

How is this interest rate determined? We trust that the banking system is setting today’s rate based on its best guess about the future worth of the money. And we assume that guess is based, in turn, on the cumulative market predictions of countless lenders and borrowers all over the world about the future supply and demand for the dough.

But suppose our assumption is wrong. Suppose the bankers are manipulating the interest rate so they can place bets with the money you lend or repay them – bets that will pay off big for them because they have inside information on what the market is really predicting, which they’re not sharing with you.

That would be a mammoth violation of public trust. And it would amount to a rip-off of almost cosmic proportion – trillions of dollars that you and I and other average people would otherwise have received or saved on our lending and borrowing that have been going instead to the bankers. It would make the other abuses of trust we’ve witnessed look like child’s play by comparison.

Sad to say, there’s reason to believe this has been going on, or something very much like it. This is what the emerging scandal over “Libor” (short for “London interbank offered rate”) is all about.

Libor is the benchmark for trillions of dollars of loans worldwide – mortgage loans, small-business loans, personal loans. It’s compiled by averaging the rates at which the major banks say they borrow.

So far, the scandal has been limited to Barclay’s, a big London-based bank that just paid $453 million to U.S. and British bank regulators, whose top executives have been forced to resign, and whose traders’ emails give a chilling picture of how easily they got their colleagues to rig interest rates in order to make big bucks. (Robert Diamond, Jr., the former Barclay CEO who was forced to resign, said the emails made him “physically ill” – perhaps because they so patently reveal the corruption.)

But Wall Street has almost surely been involved in the same practice, including the usual suspects — JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, and Bank of America – because every major bank participates in setting the Libor rate, and Barclay’s couldn’t have rigged it without their witting involvement.

In fact, Barclay’s defense has been that every major bank was fixing Libor in the same way, and for the same reason. And Barclays is “cooperating” (i.e., giving damning evidence about other big banks) with the Justice Department and other regulators in order to avoid steeper penalties or criminal prosecutions, so the fireworks have just begun.

There are really two different Libor scandals. One has to do with a period just before the financial crisis, around 2007, when Barclays and other banks submitted fake Libor rates lower than the banks’ actual borrowing costs in order to disguise how much trouble they were in. This was bad enough. Had the world known then, action might have been taken earlier to diminish the impact of the near financial meltdown of 2008.

But the other scandal is even worse. It involves a more general practice, starting around 2005 and continuing until – who knows? it might still be going on — to rig the Libor in whatever way necessary to assure the banks’ bets on derivatives would be profitable.

This is insider trading on a gigantic scale. It makes the bankers winners and the rest of us – whose money they’ve used for to make their bets – losers and chumps.

What to do about it, other than hope the Justice Department and other regulators impose stiff fines and even criminal penalties, and hold executives responsible?

When it comes to Wall Street and the financial sector in general, most of us suffer outrage fatigue combined with an overwhelming cynicism that nothing will ever be done to stop these abuses because the Street is too powerful. But that fatigue and cynicism are self-fulfilling; nothing will be done if we succumb to them.

The alternative is to be unflagging and unflinching in our demand that Glass-Steagall be reinstituted and the biggest banks be broken up. The question is whether the unfolding Libor scandal will provide enough ammunition and energy to finally get the job done.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license.

http://truth-out.org/news/item/10222-the-wall-street-scandal-of-all-scandals

Robert B. Reich, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause.

His widely-read blog can be found at www.robertreich.org.