Category Archives: framing

Fish Barriers

Republicans are demonizing Obama’s stimulus bill because it’s wasteful.  Yes, they say, we need the government to stimulate the economy, but this bill is just pork, not stimulus. To take one random example of this commentary, here’s  the Buffalo News:

How many new economy-stimulating jobs will be created immediately, if at all, by the tacked-on $650 million for new digital TV conversion coupons? Or the $1 billion to get ready for the 2010 Census, which would have to be done anyway? Or the $726 million for after-school snack programs, the $1 billion or so for climate research, $20 million to remove fish barriers at dams or $20 million to rehabilitate off-road ATV trails?

Now, to be fair, the writer of this piece is questioning how many jobs will be created by the spending bill immediately.  And the speed of the spending is a legitimate issue, but the real complaint here isn’t  that the spending isn’t quick enough, it’s that the spending is frivolous.  Fish barrier removal?  ATV trail rehab?   The implication is that we might as well be paying people to dig holes and fill them back up.

So, is it?  Let’s turn to the google.  It turns out that here in the Northwest there are lots of barriers to fish migration, mainly resulting from highway construction decades ago when people weren’t thinking much about the impact on fish.  With dwindling wild fish runs, it makes sense to rectify this situation.  Maybe that shouldn’t be a priority.  I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion.  But my point is GOPers who are criticizing it as frivolous don’t know enough about it to have an opinion either.  In fact they seem to know even less than I do, since at least I googled it for five minutes.

The reality is that virtually every economist on the planet says the economy is in a serious downward spiral that can only be broken by government spending.  So, if the GOP wants to propose OTHER SPENDING, I say let’s have a discussion. They want to spend more on Star Wars or the Great Mexican Fence?  Let’s discuss.  Just demogoguing the proposed spending isn’t very helpful.

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Filed under economics, framing

Zombie Republicans

According to Republicans  the stimulus bill that just passed the House is nothing more than a monstrous pork fest for Democratic pet causes.  It has nothing to do with addressing our economic crisis.    Among the spending projects that Republicans object to:

  • Amtrak– $1 billion
  • Child care centers — $2 billion
  • National Endowment for the Arts — $50 million
  • global warming research — $400 million
  • new cars for the government — $600 million
  • fixing up the Smithsonian — $150 million
  • $81 billion for Medicaid
  • $20 billion for food stamps
  • $20 billion for fish barriers
  • $87 million for an ice-breaker ship

This is of course business as usual.  The GOP objects to spending on social programs, mass-transit, the arts.  This isn’t news.  What IS NEWS (and maybe the GOP leaders missed this), the economy is heading into the tank.  According to the CBO if nothing is done unemployment will reach 9 percent this year, and economic output will fall below it’s potential by $1 trillion.  This is a serious problem but it could be at least partially alleviated by government spending.  That’s what this about, not pork.

Since the basic problem seems to be getting ignored here, let’s try to bring it back in focus.  The economy is falling off a cliff, but the problem isn’t lack of a willing and skilled workforce, or lack of  investment in factories, building, roads, and docks.  We have the people and the wealth and the know-how to create far more goods and services than we are likely to create over the next few years.   But somehow the supply and demand don’t meet.   How does that happen?  It happens because people suddenly stopped spending money and suddenly started hording cash.

This is all understandable—given the loss of wealth from the  bursting the housing and stock market bubbles; not to mention the general uncertainty.  The problem is that the desire to hold cash can translate into a deadly feedback loop for the economy.  What was a simple desire for security ends up forcing banks to call in loans to generate the cash people want to hold.  That puts businesses out of business.  Banks also have to sell assets to raise cash; that depresses asset prices; further worsening the banks situation. Since people are not spending, other businesses see demand for their goods drop; they lay off workers; demand drops even more; they lay off more workers.  Pretty soon we are in deep do-do.

One way to break this cycle is to flood the market with cash.  The Fed effectively says, “hey, if people want cash, lets just print money and give it to them”.  That way banks don’t have to start calling loans and putting businesses out of business.  Once the panic passes and people stop holding so much cash, the Fed effectively takes the cash back out of the economy.

Another way to break the cycle is for government to spend money “counter-cyclically”.  Some government programs do this automatically:  unemployment insurance, food stamps.  Government can also enact specific legislation to spend money to break the cycle.  The is what the current stimulus debate is about.

This is why calling the list above “nothing but pork spending” is ludicrous.  It’s spending; therefore it’s stimulus.  No doubt it’s not what Republicans would spend money on, but the concept here is SPENDING.  If the GOP wants to propose other spending, fine.  But the GOP is acting as if it 1985 and they are making huge political points by fighting against big goverment Democrats.  Wake up guys.  It’s 2009 and the economy is going off a cliff.

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Filed under brain dead media, economics, framing

Lists

Here is one of those lists that tells us more about the list maker than the listed.  Forbes puts forth their list of The 25 Most Influential Liberals In The U.S. Media and it includes a number of  people I recognize and admire:  Kevin Drum (23), Josh Marshall (8), Matthew Yglesias (16), Jon Stewart (5), Paul Krugman (1)—but realistically most of these people are quite moderate.  I don’t see any Dennis Kucinich backers on the list.

Then there are the people on the list that are actually conservative:  Andrew Sullivan, for example, who describes himself as conservative, is #19.  Fred Hiatt, editor of the WaPo editorial page who, Forbes says, “is pilloried by liberals” is a leading liberal at #3 because…. ummm… they don’t say.

As I say, most of the people on the list are pretty mainstream.  Even Krugman, who proudly calls himself a liberal, is a liberal in the old-school, FDR, capitalist mode.  So, if this is “the left” in America, then the center must be to the right somewhere… so I guess we must be a generally conservative country.

Of course, this is what Forbes, the listmaker, wants you to believe.

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Retro taxing

McCain on the campaign trail today:

Senator Obama is running to be Redistributionist in Chief. I’m running to be Commander in Chief. Senator Obama is running to spread the wealth. I’m running to create more wealth. Senator Obama is running to punish the successful. I’m running to make everyone successful.

McCain’s BIG CLOSING ARGUMENT is that Obama is a socialist because he plans to make the federal income tax more progressive.  Not as progressive as it was in the 50s and 60s, of course, but approximately as progressive as it was during the Clinton years.

The unstated premise of this argument is that any tax that takes more from one person than the next is thievery.  Hey, we are all citizens, right?  Why should one person pay more than another?

Yes, we are all citizens, but some of us have MORE ABILITY TO PAY.  I thought this dispute was resolved in 1913 when the US imposed an income tax for the first time after much political battling (it took a Constitutional amendment).  A century later the concept of progressive taxation is so accepted that even the FAIR TAX folks try to sell their plan because it’s a lot more progressive than you think.

Is McCain really this crazy and reactionary?  I doubt it.  But as the presidential candidate of the GOP in 2008 he represents a political movement that really is that crazy and reactionary.

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It’s the symbols, stupid

I think George Lakoff has this right:  “Democrats who simply belittle the Palin choice are courting disaster”, he says, because whatever her merits on the issues, she is a strong symbol of conservative values:

Conservative family values are strict and apply via metaphorical thought to the nation: good vs. evil, authority, the use of force, toughness and discipline, individual (versus social) responsibility, and tough love. Hence, social programs are immoral because they violate discipline and individual responsibility. Guns and the military show force and discipline. Man is above nature; hence no serious environmentalism. The market is the ultimate financial authority, requiring market discipline. In foreign policy, strength is use of the force. In fundamentalist religion, the Bible is the ultimate authority; hence no gay marriage. Such values are at the heart of radical conservatism. This is how John McCain was raised and how he plans to govern. And it is what he shares with Sarah Palin.

Palin is the mom in the strict father family, upholding conservative values. Palin is tough: she shoots, skins, and eats caribou. She is disciplined: raising five kids with a major career. She lives her values: she has a Downs-syndrome baby that she refused to abort. She has the image of the ideal conservative mom: pretty, perky, feminine, Bible-toting, and fitting into the ideal conservative family. And she fits the stereotype of America as small-town America. It is Reagan’s morning-in-America image. Where Obama thought of capturing the West, she is running for Sweetheart of the West.

And Palin, a member of Feminism For Life, is at the heart of the conservative feminist movement, which Ronee Schreiber has written about in her recent book, Righting Feminism. It is a powerful and growing movement that Democrats have barely paid attention to.

At the same time, Palin is masterful at the Republican game of taking the Democrats’ language and reframing it-putting conservative frames to progressive words: Reform, prosperity, peace. She is also masterful at using the progressive narratives: she’s from the working class, working her way up from hockey mom and the PTA to Mayor, Governor, and VP candidate. Her husband is a union member. She can say to the conservative populists that she is one of them — all the things that Obama and Biden have been saying. Bottom-up, not top-down.

Yes, the McCain-Palin ticket is weak on the major realities. But it is strong on the symbolic dimension of politics that Republicans are so good at marketing. Just arguing the realities, the issues, the hard truths should be enough in times this bad, but the political mind and its response to symbolism cannot be ignored. The initial Democratic response to Palin — the response based on realities alone — indicates that many Democrats have not learned the lessons of the Reagan and Bush years.

Hollywood could not have created a better symbol for “social conservatives” than Palin.  The perception that she is being attacked by liberals adds to her symbolic value.

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Filed under elections 08, framing

It’s the worldview, stupid

Biden, Kerry, and Bill all delivered good speeches last night, finally taking it to McCain and the GOP. It’s interesting how almost everyone seems to say something on the order of “I like John McCain”—before dismantling him and his many flip-flops.  Unfortunately, as Amy Sullivan notes, the attacks seem to stop there before asking the all-important question why:

Democrats might find it would be more effective if they explained why they’re so disappointed with their friend John McCain. How did this great guy they admire so much became a candidate whose positions appall them? It wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t like he had a personality transplant. And the answer would seem to fit perfectly into a powerful Democratic narrative. John McCain changed because that’s what he had to do to win the Republican nomination. That’s what the reigning conservative ideology and interests demanded of him.

That’s what Kevin Drum hopes Obama does tonight:

…he needs to make people understand that all the stuff they don’t like about the past eight years isn’t just the fault of one guy’s idiosyncrasies, it’s the fault of an entire worldview. And if you elect McCain, you’re electing that worldview too.

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Filed under framing, obama, radical right

Yes we can (dig out of this quagmire)

Frank Rich says Obama should discard his “Change We Can Believe In” campaign storyline.  “It’s the strategy that vanquished Hillary Clinton”, he says, “but it must be rebooted to take out John McCain.”  In its place he suggests Obama adopt the storyline of “we can dig out of this quagmire”.

Poetic, it’s not; but I think Rich is on the right track.  The story Americans want and need to hear is not, as McCain would have it, one of eternal conflicts abroad.  It is, as Rich says

“…an inspiring tale of serious economic, educational, energy and health-care mobilization at home. We don’t have the time or resources to go off on more quixotic military missions or to indulge in culture wars. (In China, they’re too busy exploiting scientific advances for competitive advantage to reopen settled debates about Darwin.) Americans must band together for change before the new century leaves us completely behind.”

One clarification.  It’s not that we don’t have a lot of time and resources.  It’s that we don’t have enough time and resources to simultaneously fight a rearguard battle

The modern GOP

The Modern GOP

against the forces of reaction in the modern conservative movement and compete in the new era.  Does anyone think conservatives are moving us forward by talking obsessively about abortion and questioning evolution and advocating tax cuts (for the wealthy) anymore?  Did it ever?

It might be time for Obama to drop the “change we can believe in” rhetoric, but I think it’s time to ramp-up the “yes we can” rhetoric.  GOP reactionaries have been a dead-weight drag on the American enterprise for too damn long.

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Filed under elections 08, framing, obama