There was a bit of good news from Europe last week. Two of the nations that desperately need some respite from austerity essentially told German Chancellor Merkel to stuff it. France, under pressure from Germany and the European Union to meet the E.U.'s straightjacket requirement of deficits of no more than three percent of GDP (whether or not depression looms) informed the E.U. that they will not hit this target until 2017. The government of President Francois Hollande, under fire for failing to ignite a recovery, now plans economic stimulus measures -- and the target be damned. Under E.U. rules, France can be fined up to 0.2 percent of its GDP. The French seem to be saying, 'So sue us!'
The pile-on by Republicans and the media on his foreign policy challenges is excessive. I mean, what would you have him do that is more sensible than what he's doing? Let's take the big issues one at a time. Russia: There is simply no good course of action against Vladimir Putin's grab of Eastern Ukraine. This is a majority-Russian region, and Putin has been both ruthless and deft at using thuggish locals as cats' paws for an eventual takeover. Obama is pursuing economic sanctions and threatening more sanctions, despite being undercut by our European allies. The U.S. is pursuing Containment II to try to isolate Russia that is not all that dependent on global trade, and the original Containment took more than four decades. Maybe there will yet be some kind of de facto compromise, in which Eastern Ukraine becomes a Russian protectorate and Western Ukraine is able to become part of Europe.
It's clear that digital technology and smartphone apps have enabled new ways for vendors and buyers to do end runs around traditional notions of what is commerce and what is informal barter. Many people argue that these innovations both expand personal liberties and allow for more efficient use of resources. If two consenting adults want to put an economic value on an empty car or a vacant room, isn't that a net gain to both? Isn't this precisely what free markets do -- and why should government get involved at all? There are two problems, say critics. First, the whole history of capitalism is one of balancing the entrepreneurial impulse against hazards to consumers. The fact that some consumers may be innocent of the hazards is not a good reason to pretend they are not there.
For more than 30 years, the right has been throwing long passes. The Democrats, with some fine individual exceptions in the Senate and House, have been playing an incremental game, eking out gains of a few yards at a time and often being thrown for big losses. Guess which side has been winning. Four decades ago, supply side economics was a joke. The idea that cutting taxes on the very rich was the key to prosperity had been laughed out of the debate as 'trickle down economics.' Now low taxes on the rich -- even the dead rich -- are national policy. Forty years ago, Richard Nixon was fighting mostly on territory defined by Democrats. He had a universal health proposal somewhat to the left of the Affordable Care Act. Nixon was even for a guaranteed annual income, and that was before Watergate.
As readers of these posts will recall, I'm not the biggest fan of the Affordable Care Act. My view is that the legislative compromises needed to get the ACA through Congress made it an unwieldy mess; that the bungled roll-out was a logical outcome of its Rube Goldberg structure. The claims of the president's loyal supporters that all is being fixed and that the ACA will still be a net political winner by November sound like so much whistling past the graveyard. Nonetheless, the damage done by the ACA rubs off, not only on President Obama, but on the Democrats' chances of holding the Senate and on American progressivism as a whole. If Republicans take both Houses of Congress, Obama in his final two years will be the lamest of lame ducks.
Governor Jan Brewer's veto of a bill that would have allowed discrimination against gays on religious grounds is only the latest example of the tension between the corporate and fundamentalist right. She acted because business elites feared that the measure would be bad for the state's economy.The alliance between the fundamentalist far right and the business elite was always a bizarre marriage of convenience. The Wall Street gang tends to be relatively liberal on social and lifestyle issues, the very issues where the conservative base detests godless liberals. Many Tea Party Republicans, meanwhile, embody a kind of rightwing economic populism that doesn't have much use for investment bankers.