Monthly Archives: July 2014

Oligarchs

Here’s an email I just sent the Public Editor of the NY Times.

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To the Public Editor

The Upshot: The Richest Man and His Mansion
July 31, 2014
Web

This article discusses a number of wealthy American owners in the context of the history of a mansion. Only the current owner, a Russian, is characterized as an oligarch. To my knowledge the Times restricts this term to Russians. Why? Doesn’t Bill Gates qualify?

Frank D. Benedict
Madison, NJ
fdb@aya.yale.edu
973-377-3970

 

On Israel

The violence in Israel has led to a number of op-eds in the last few days, including ones by David Brooks and Roger Cohen in the NY Times.  I found a long review in the NY Review of Books especially interesting. By Jonathan Freedland, it discusses the plight of “the Liberal Zionists  in the toxic environment that characterizes much, if not most, debate on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.” Much of the discussion revolves around the Israeli writer Ari Shavit. It’s good background.

The End of the Cringe

That’s the title Paul Krugman gave his blog today.  I really liked it and I’ve quoted it below. We all love to hear what we want to hear.

Doug Sosnik has an interesting piece in Politico on how “the left” is taking over the Democratic Party. Of course, what he calls “left” would be centrist, maybe even right of center, in most other Western democracies; and I think it’s still true that today’s progressive icons — say, Elizabeth Warren — are to the right of where old-line liberals like Teddy Kennedy were.

But Sosnik is right that there has been a pretty big change in the way things feel. Here’s how I’d put it: Democrats have lost their post-Reagan cringe. (Emphasis added)

For a long time, it wasn’t just Republicans who believed that history was on their side; a lot of Democrats seemed to feel the same. There was an old cartoon from the 80s showing Democrats laying out their new platform — tax cuts for the rich, benefit cuts for the poor, and strong defense. When asked how this differed from the Republicans, the answer was “Compassion: we care about the victims of our policies.”

But things have changed, for the reasons Sosnik describes and more. Democrats have, after all, won the popular presidential vote in five of the past six elections. Despite all the craziness and challenges, they have made big progress on their generations-long quest for universal health insurance. They have a network of think tanks that is a lot less lavishly funded than the right-wing apparatus, but intellectually runs rings around its opponents.

And as Sosnik says more or less clearly, the craziness of the right in some ways empowers the moderate left. Time was when “centrist” Democrats would in effect urge appeasement: don’t talk about inequality or say nasty things about privatization, or the right will get mad. But now it’s clear that no matter what you do, short of destroying the entire legacy of the New Deal, the mere fact of being a Democrat will bring accusations that you’re an atheist Islamic communist. So why not stand up for some liberal principles?

A Republican wave election this year — not just a narrow win in the Senate with a very favorable map, but a drastic shift of the map — could bring back the cringe, I guess. But that’s looking less likely with each passing week, and in 2016 the map will favor Democrats.

How it all turns out is anyone’s guess — maybe we eventually see a California scenario on a national basis, with the growing diversity of the electorate and the evident madness of the right delivering an overwhelming Democratic majority; maybe we see some exogenous event tip the balance back to the GOP despite what looks like a trend the other way. But what I don’t think we’ll see, even if there’s a Clinton in the White House, is another Clinton era in which liberalism is afraid to take a stand.

The Great Divide

For some time the Opinionater blogs in the NY Times Opinion Section has hosted a series of articles on inequality. It has been moderated by Joseph Stieglitz, Nobel Laureate economist on the faculty of Columbia University. Unfortunately his last contribution ended with the statement that this was the last article in the Great Divide.

So this may be the last contribution from this wise man about our most serious domestic problem. In it he addresses the question: Is inequality at the level we now experience it an inevitable consequence of capitalism? His conclusion: No, it is a political choice.