Tag Archives: Congress Watch

To stop endless war, raise taxes

BOOK REVIEW

Taxing Wars: The American Way of War Finance and the Decline of Democracy, Author: Sarah Kreps.

By Sarah Kreps – What explains the American tolerance for such open-ended, seemingly never-ending wars?

One view is that the light footprint of modern warfare — drones, small numbers of special forces, and cyber, as opposed to large deployments of troops — is a chief culprit. This approach to conflict removes a barrier to war because it does not inflict casualties on American troops that would draw attention to and drain support for the enterprise.

This is surely a contributing factor. But I argue that the most crucial difference between these wars and those of the past is how they have been financed.

Contemporary wars are all put on the nation’s credit card, and that eliminates a critical accountability link between the populace and the conduct of war.

But without war taxes, the country is left with mounting debt — and left, too, with wars without accountability. If the public fails to experience the “inconvenience” of taxes, paraphrasing Adam Smith, there is no incentive for voters to push for a course correction.

When no citizen feels a financial pinch during wartime, open-ended wars like those in Afghanistan and Iraq are likely to become the norm, not the exception. more>

Source: To stop endless war, raise taxes – Vox

Why The Only Answer Is To Break Up The Biggest Wall Street Banks

By Robert Reich – Glass-Steagall’s key principle was to keep risky assets away from insured deposits. It worked well for more than half century. Then Wall Street saw opportunities to make lots of money by betting on stocks, bonds, and derivatives (bets on bets) – and in 1999 persuaded Bill Clinton and a Republican congress to repeal it.

Nine years later, Wall Street had to be bailed out, and millions of Americans lost their savings, their jobs, and their homes.

Why didn’t America simply reinstate Glass-Steagall after the last financial crisis? Because too much money was at stake. Wall Street was intent on keeping the door open to making bets with commercial deposits. So instead of Glass-Steagall, we got the Volcker Rule – almost 300 pages of regulatory mumbo-jumbo, riddled with exemptions and loopholes.

Now those loopholes and exemptions are about to get even bigger, until they swallow up the Volcker Rule altogether. If the latest proposal goes through, we’ll be nearly back to where we were before the crash of 2008. more>

Declining Majority of Online Adults Say the Internet Has Been Good for Society

By Aaron Smith and Kenneth Olmstead – Americans tend to view the impact of the internet and other digital technologies on their own lives in largely positive ways, Pew Research Center surveys have shown over the years. A survey of U.S. adults conducted in January 2018 finds continuing evidence of this trend, with the vast majority of internet users (88%) saying the internet has, on balance, been a mostly good thing for them personally.

But even as they view the internet’s personal impact in a positive light, Americans have grown somewhat more ambivalent about the impact of digital connectivity on society as a whole. A sizable majority of online adults (70%) continue to believe the internet has been a good thing for society. Yet the share of online adults saying this has declined by a modest but still significant 6 percentage points since early 2014, when the Center first asked the question. more>

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Crisis Of Globalization: Restoring Social Investment Is Key

By Robert Kuttner – Why is democracy under siege throughout the West? How much of the story is cultural or racial, and how much is economic? And can the slide into authoritarianism be reversed? I think it can.

In the remarkable three decades after World War II, the economy delivered for ordinary people and there was broad support for democracy. That era was unique in two key respects.

First, the economy not only grew at record rates for peacetime, but it also became more equal. Second—and not coincidentally—this was a period when raw capitalism was tightly regulated, on both sides of the Atlantic, economically and politically.

Banking was very limited in what products it could offer, and at what prices. It was almost like a public utility. There were no exotic securities like credit derivatives to deliver exorbitant profits and put the whole economy at risk. Globally, there were fixed exchange rates and capital controls, so bankers could not make bets against currencies and entire economies.

Organized labor was empowered. Unions were accepted as legitimate social partners and had substantial influence. This was true in both Europe and America.

In the years since then, political and financial elites have redefined trade agreements to mean not just reciprocal cuts in tariffs but broader changes in global rules to make it easier for banks and corporations to evade national regulation.

Laissez-faire, discredited and marginalized after 1929, got another turn at bat(ting). Hyper-globalization was a key instrument. And that reversion had economic and ultimately political consequences. more>

Trump’s Assault on American Governance Just Crossed a Threshold

By John Cassidy – Since Donald Trump entered the White House, American democracy has sometimes been described as dangerously fragile, but that isn’t necessarily true. Having survived for two hundred and forty-two years, American democracy is more like a stoutly built ocean liner, with a maniac at the helm who seems intent on capsizing it. Every so often, he takes a violent tug at the tiller, causing the vessel to list alarmingly. So far, some members of the ship’s crew—judges, public servants, and the odd elected official—have managed to rush in, jag the tiller back, and keep the ship afloat. But, as the captain’s behavior grows more erratic, the danger facing the ship and its passengers increases.

All that concerns him is discrediting the Russia investigation and saving his own skin. To this end, he will do practically anything he can get away with. And, judging by the deathly silence from the Republican leadership over the past couple of days, he won’t receive any resistance from that quarter. To repeat, the danger is increasing. more>

How to Save the Human Race

BOOK REVIEW

World Population and Human Values: A New Reality, Authors: Jonas Salk and Jonathan Salk.

By Gabrielle Levy – Until only recently, the whole of human history has been marked by population growth, first gradual and then, in the past two hundred years, a sudden explosion. But in the last decades of the 20th century, population growth began to slow, and eventually, it will plateau or even decline.

The moment at which growth goes from accelerating to decelerating, according to a theory posited by Dr. Salk is called an inflection point – and would be filled with turmoil and conflict, but also opportunity.

Salk characterizes the time before the inflection point as Epoch A, and in that period, people were focused on their own betterment and achievement as necessary to capitalize on the potential for great growth. But going forward, after the inflection point in Epoch B, people will need to be more collaborative and sustainability-oriented. This plays out now in issues like climate change, where the world must work together to combat the issue.

The book has a particular kind of resonance and a particular kind of relevance at this moment in time, because we’re really seeing the pull between two differing value systems, and making decisions as a species about how we’re going to deal with the future. It’s always been a meaningful book, but I think it’s particularly poignant at this moment in time. more>

We Don’t Have Elections

BOOK REVIEW

Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection, Autor: Jacob Silverman.

How tech companies merge with the nation-state
By Jacob Silverman – It should shock no one if Facebook emerges from its latest privacy imbroglio with a meager fine and a promise to do better—even as our elected leaders, whose lack of knowledge of Facebook’s workings reflected their advanced age, tut-tutted that this time Facebook has to do better.

The canon of American regulatory practices tends toward the ceremonial, with extreme deference shown toward corporations that may one day hire former regulators. Senator Lindsey Graham even invited Zuckerberg to submit possible regulations—an example of regulatory capture so blatant that “corruption” doesn’t even seem like the proper word.

Playing along, Zuckerberg expressed an openness to regulation, though he asked for a light touch, which, barring another data spillage, he should expect.

Beyond a few mild critiques, Congress’s overriding opinion of Zuck seems to be that he was a classic American success story, and perhaps—in his cunning acquisition of ungodly riches on the backs of others’ labor—he is.

To better understand Silicon Valley’s politics, we might return to the nation-state metaphor and consider technology companies as recently ascendant great powers. Endowed with impressive resources, making themselves known in assorted global capitals, their CEOs are greeted in the manner of heads of state. Their vast offshore cash reserves resemble sovereign wealth funds, whose investments have the power to shape politics. more>

It’s Time to Protect Identity Like We Protect Critical Infrastructure

By Andre Durand – With the past year’s record-breaking wave of breaches, it is now safe to believe that most Americans have had their personal identity information exposed—and analysis of the Hudson Bay breach has confirmed this knowledge is now being traded in dark markets.

The long-term ramifications are going to have an impact on every public and private sector organization that utilizes our identity to conduct business and to provide access to critical systems, which will create disruption in our day-to-day activities and even to our way of life.

Because business and government institutions that handle personal information are vital to our society, it’s time to designate “identity” as a new segment in the nation’s critical infrastructure, a set of 16 sectors the Homeland Security Department deems essential to the nation’s well-being.

The entire identity chain must be strengthened to prevent these criminal activities. Birth certificates, which can be used to open bank accounts, are still administered by hospitals that are ill-equipped to manage security. Our government devotes huge resources to ensuring that currency can’t be counterfeited, yet it pays scant attention to documents that can be used to obtain multiple forms of ID. Every physical document we use to prove our identity should be made far harder to duplicate.

We can then move onto our digital systems. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

Why policy makers should nudge more
By Alex Verkhivker – When policy makers around the world want to influence their constituents’ behavior, they have a few options. They can offer a carrot, such as a tax incentive, stipend, or other reward. They can use the legislative stick by passing a mandate or a ban.

But research suggests they should turn more often to a third tool, a “nudge,” which in many cases is the most cost-effective option.

Nudging is the word used in behavioral science for structuring policies and programs in ways that encourage, but don’t compel, particular choices. For instance, requiring people to opt out of rather than into a program, such as a retirement savings plan, might nudge them toward participating. So might reducing the paperwork necessary to enroll. more>

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From a nation at risk to a democracy at risk: Educating students for democratic renewal

BOOK REVIEW

How Democracies Die, Authors: Madeleine Albright, Ronald Inglehart, Steve Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt.

By Fernando Reimers – Public schools were invented to prepare people for self-governance, and to work with others towards the improvement of their communities and for the betterment of society. These were the arguments Horace Mann used, in the 1830s, when he led a successful advocacy campaign to launch public education in Massachusetts. Since then, schools in America have in many ways provided students the capacities necessary to engage civically, to collaborate with others, across lines of difference, in making society better.

As American democracy has evolved, so have the ways in which schools embrace their civic mission. For much of their history, our public schools did not hold women and men to similar expectations, nor did they adequately educate African Americans and other ethnic minorities. It was only when social movements, such as the women’s movement and the civil rights movement, broadened our collective understanding of who should be included in the opportunity to participate in this democratic experiment of self-rule, that schools, in turn, broadened their focus to prepare women and minorities for civic engagement and leadership.

The global democratic setback is the most severe since the end of World War II.

It is time to replace the powerful compact and narrative that A Nation At Risk provided to guide our schools three decades ago, with a more capacious vision for how our schools can help our students stand up for a democracy that is very much at risk. more>