06 August 2011

The Debt Ceiling Deal and Progressives

The debt ceiling deal has rightfully been criticized by progressive commentators.  One problem with the deal is its content: its deep cuts in spending on health care and other valuable domestic programs; its lack of additional revenues through progressive taxation; and finally, its movement away from providing a Keynesian stimulus, even as the Great Recession (or "Lesser Depression") continues.  A second major problem with the deal is that it so greatly rewards, and thereby encourages, the "extortion politics" of Republican leaders who, throughout the negotiations, based their positions on delusional--even idiotic--claims (tax cuts always increase tax revenues, to cite just one example).

Yet, while progressive commentators did a good job pointing out these serious failings in the deal Obama accepted, it concerns me that, in many cases, they encouraged Obama and the Democrats to resuscitate a model, or policy bundle, that is itself a deeply scary one--albeit scary in a different way.  

This "Democratic status quo," let us call it, does include higher spending on health care and education and other public goods; and it does provide more revenues through progressive taxation.  This much is good.  However, it also includes fantastically high expenditures on the U.S. military. 

Yet, while progressive commentators (Paul Krugman, for example) attacked Obama for conceding to the Republicans on tax revenues and domestic spending, they generally did not criticize Obama for accepting the status quo on military spending.  It is as if, since McGovern's defeat in 1972 (the last time a Democratic nominee had the political courage to propose serious cuts in U.S. military spending), even many progressives (and certainly, "mainstream progressives") have come to accept that the U.S. military needs to be as fantastically large as it is--even though this both precludes greater investment in public goods and, again and again, undermines global social justice and peace.

What is striking, in this regard, is that this linkage of (a) higher tax revenues and higher spending on domestic programs with (b) U.S. militarism is present in the very way Obama structured the debt ceiling deal.  As the final deal is structured, in the second (and much larger) phase of deficit reduction, unless the Republicans compromise (is this an oxymoron?) and accept an overall debt reduction package that has Democratic support, there will be quite large automatic cuts in the budgets for both domestic programs and the U.S. military.  The Obama strategy is, quite simply, to force Republicans to compromise and accept increases in tax revenues (and thereby provide some increase in resources for domestic spending) by means of this threat to the military budget.  

If this strategy works, then the Democrats are again accepting an oversized U.S. military as the political price that must be paid to get Republicans to raise revenues and not cut domestic programs so very, very much.  This is, of course, exactly the implicit deal, or policy bundle, that has been in place since the beginning of the Cold War (specifically, from the Korean War forward)--and which the Republicans have, since Reagan, been working to replace, by drastic reductions in resources for domestic spending.  But again, while the Republican alternative is awful, so too, in its own way, is the "Democratic status quo."

Given this, if there is any opportunity or potential for a progressive future embedded in the debt ceiling deal, as negotiated by Obama, it lies in the fact that this deal makes visible and public the received linkage between (a) excessive military spending and (b) progressive taxation and domestic programs.  And moving forward, progressives should be advocating as much for the deep cuts in military spending that have been placed on the table, as for  higher spending on domestic programs and increased revenues through progressive taxation.


[In a second post on the debt ceiling deal--coming in a few days; this is, after all, a slow blog--I'll turn to a different blindspot in progressive critiques of the deal, one that concerns the uncritical and unnuanced embracing of "economic growth" as what we should be aiming for, as an antidote to the Great Recession.]

Seen on the Interstate, between Claremont and Los Angeles

I am always curious about large industrial objects travelling on the same road as cars; what makes it impossible for me not to look is the public visibility of something that, for most of us, is otherwise unseen and even a tad esoteric.  This big pipe was seen in July.

That we could get photos had everything to do with the recent ubiquity of "cameras"; these were taken by a "phone."

The shot below was taken a few weeks later, in August; we had trouble identifying the object; we considered an aircraft wing (there were two of them, carried separately on their own trucks) and a propeller for a wind turbine.  As the object moved on its truck-bed, it seemed too flimsy or too flexible for the former--but what do I really know about aircraft wings?

Oh, the photos were taken by my son (Nathaniel Shrage); I was driving.

01 August 2011

"Captain America": the anti-"Strangelove"

So it’s the early 1940s, and the United States is entering WWII to fight evil; and there’s this would-be heroic guy, but he happens to be physically weak.  So instead of being a hero on the frontlines, he keeps being refused entry into the army.  But then he gets super powers! And he’s called "Captain America"!

But what makes it really o.k. that he has superpowers—what makes it really o.k. that America is a superpower—is that unlike Evil Others, Captain America is good and caring and all that.  Oh, and the Evil Others (aka, the Bad Guys), they have been desperately plotting to obtain superpowers, while Captain America just did the right thing, even when he was weak, and he got his superpowers without asking.

It’s all there in this movie, called Captain America.

Which means we should ask, just what is this movie’s relation to, or stance on, the myth of America as the exceptional hero/nation that can safely possess the powers of the universe?  Does the movie advocate this myth, in the manner of earnest propaganda?  Nope.  Does it, instead, critique or ironize this myth?  Also, nope.  What it does do is something else again: it gives us this myth as buffo entertainment.  And it gives it to us as absolutely not anything we should ever think about seriously.

But of course, this myth is not something we should be entertained by; and it is, instead, something we should think about seriously.

Put simply, then, if Strangelove is biting political satire about the United States as a superpower, then Captain America is Strangelove’s antithesis.  

Indeed, one will recall that the plot of Strangelove is brought to an end by Major T.J. "King" Kong crashing to earth to insure that his weapon hits its intended Soviet target—whereas, by contrast, the plot of Captain America is brought to an end by our hero crashing to earth to insure that the Evil One's weapon is steered away from its intended American target.  It is almost too literally an inversion of Strangelove. 

And without question, being the antithesis of Strangelove is a terrible thing for a movie to be.