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2 September 2011

Recommended Labor Day weekend reading

Go to the Labor Day picnics, but stay away from the suds and the jibber-jabber. Instead, grab your Kindle, laptop, or a book, find a quiet park bench, and labor at further informing yourself. Here are some good reads:

On the blogs:

Inside the Bad Idea Factory, on Montana Cowgirl.

The bad ideas and nutty legislation proposed in the Montana legislature certainly did not come from Montana constituents, and did not even (always) originate in the muddled minds of TEA Party Republicans. Instead, many of the bad bills came from an out-of-state hard right strategy group known as the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC

Feeble President, Feeble Plans, by Robert Kuttner.

But this president doesn’t do moxie. And his advisers don’t recommend it—because he has weeded out political counselors who advocate tough, principled partisanship in the face of Republican extremist obstruction.

The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive, by Dean Baker.

Progressives need a fundamentally new approach to politics. They have been losing not just because conservatives have so much more money and power, but also because they have accepted the conservatives’ framing of political debates. They have accepted a framing where conservatives want market outcomes whereas liberals want the government to intervene to bring about outcomes that they consider fair. [You can read the rest in his book, The End of Loser Liberalism, available as a free download under a Creative Commons license.]

The Impact of the Recovery Act, in a Few Easy Charts, by Jared Bernstein.

Republicans constantly ply the talking point “discredited stimulus” in the interest of blocking any similar ideas, like some of those I expect to hear come out of the President’s jobs package. But the evidence shows otherwise. The evidence shows the stimulus (and other stimulative measures, including those of the Fed) worked, but ended too soon, before the private sector was ready to walk on its own. The evidence shows we need to do more of these sorts of policy interventions.

Stop Panicking About Our Long-Term Deficit Problem. We Don’t Have One. by James K. Galbraith.

The perverse character of the debt deal will now force the Pentagon into the fray on behalf of cutbacks in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. This is true even though the Pentagon sequesters that would occur if Congress does not pass the recommendations of the new “supercommittee” are arguably phony. It seems obvious that both the Republicans and the White House understood this dynamic very well, which is why the defense-spending-cut rabbit came out of the debt-deal hat at the last minute. As usual, the progressives who momentarily thought this was a win for Democrats were duped.

So what is to be done? This is not a moment to describe policies that would, for example, create jobs, build infrastructure, or deal with energy or climate change. Nothing like that can happen now until ideas change. And the first change must be to challenge and reject all the nonsense about long-term budget deficits, national bankruptcy or insolvency, and even “fiscal responsibility” that we are hearing. The entire object of this propaganda campaign is to cripple government—including regulation and the courts—and to roll back Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. The defense of those successful, effective—and yes, sustainable—programs just became far more difficult, and perhaps impossible. But it needs to be carried on to the last ditch.

Now read ever one of his essays posted on

On the bookshelf:

Maynard’s Revenge, by Lance Taylor.

Keynes had it right — to prime the economic pump you must have faith in government spending. The proof was in the effect of the spending required to win World War II. The memories of most current politicians have a disgustingly loose grasp on those facts, but since most of my readers are not that worried about winning elections, they can afford to become reliably informed — and might even enjoy it.

Invisible Hands, by Kim Phillips-Fein.

Starting in the mid-1930s, a handful of prominent American businessmen forged alliances with the aim of rescuing America—and their profit margins—from socialism and the “nanny state.” Long before the “culture wars” usually associated with the rise of conservative politics, these driven individuals funded think tanks, fought labor unions, and formed organizations to market their views. These nearly unknown, larger-than-life, and sometimes eccentric personalities—such as GE’s zealous, silver-tongued Lemuel Ricketts Boulware and the self-described “revolutionary” Jasper Crane of DuPont—make for a fascinating, behind-the-scenes view of American history.

The winner of a prestigious academic award for her original research on this book, Kim Phillips-Fein is already being heralded as an important new young American historian. Her meticulous research and narrative gifts reveal the dramatic story of a pragmatic, step-by-step, check-by-check campaign to promote an ideological revolution—one that ultimately helped propel conservative ideas to electoral triumph.

Rick Perry and His Eggheads, by Sasha Issenberg. A Kindle e-book, new, and for less than a greenback.

There isn’t a long list of smart things done by Rick Perry, but letting Yale social science researchers investigate the effectiveness of various campaign tactics belongs at the top. His eggheads actually ran valid experiments to test the comparative effectiveness of various campaign techniques. The results are just as applicable to progressive campaigns as they are to repeal the New Deal campaigns.

The Predator State, by James K. Galbraith.

It should be obvious by now, Galbraith says, the Bush Republicans have no plan for a healthy economy, an economy that would benefit the middle class and the poor in addition to the wealthy. They lack reasonable alternatives to the national oil addiction, to global warming, to resuscitating the city of New Orleans, to providing medical insurance for those who suffer, to reviving the importance of the dollar in the world economy.

Neither enlightened Republicans nor Democrats can improve much on the current stalemates, though, until they redefine the terms of the debate, he says, because the generally accepted terms are bankrupt: “Monetarism led to financial crisis. Supply-side tax cuts have no detectable effect on work effort or savings or investment. Financial deregulation, from the savings and loan debacle to the subprime mortgage fiasco, leads to criminal misdirection.” Steve Weinberg.

When the Nazis came to Skokie, by Phillippa Strum.

If you’re worried that April Gaede’s little band of white supremacists pose an existential threat to Kalispell, a thesis advanced, it seems to me, whenever the human rights community needs to scare some money out of easily scared people, this is the book to read.