Dean Baker

Will the Media Let Ron Paul Question U.S. Foreign Policy?

Will the news media let Ron Paul raise serious questions about U.S. foreign policy? It's a crucial test case not only of the prospects that the media will serve the interests of the 99% rather than the 1%, but of the prospects for a foreign military and economic policy that reflects the values and interests of the 99%, rather than those of the 1%.

Economist and media critic Dean Baker recently posed this question in a forum at Politico. Politico's David Mark convened the forum under the headline, "Can Ron Paul Take a Punch?"

 

Now that Rep. Ron Paul is a top-tier candidate in Iowa rivals are likely to gang up. They may target the Texan's associations with unsavory characters, or a sometimes less-than-pure libertarian stance on congressional earmarks. Middle East politics could also complicate Paul's presidential bid - he once likened Israel's defensive blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza to "a concentration camp."

Can Ron Paul take a punch?

Dean Baker responded:

 

The better question is whether the media will allow Paul to raise serious questions about the nature of this country's foreign policy. I recall watching one of the Republican presidential debates in 2008 where the moderator asked whether the president could unilaterally take military action against Iran.

 

Mayor Giuliani answered first and gave a characteristic Giuliani answer to the effect of the president can do whatever he wants. Gov. Romney then gave a conditional this and that answer, and then said that if the question was one of constitutional authority, you would have to call in the lawyers.

A "Pledge of Resistance" to Defend Social Security (and Defund the Empire)

For the third time in the last 20 years, establishment voices, with high-profile slots in traditional media, are trying to convince the public to accept cuts to Social Security by endlessly claiming such cuts are necessary without giving coherent evidence to justify the claim. Twice, under President Clinton and the second President Bush, these voices were defeated. But they didn't give up. And now they are in striking distance of their goal: the fact that Republicans have taken over the House, combined with the fact that the President appointed a deficit reduction commission which nearly recommended a cut in Social Security benefits, and might well have done so if Rep. Schakowsky hadn't worked to undermine the co-chairs' plan, means that one can't be complacent; some reports have suggested that the President may indicate support for cuts to Social Security in his State of the Union speech. Of the two principal Washington political actors who will shape the outcome - the Republican leadership and the President's team - one is a determined adversary of the public interest, the other a very uncertain ally. The most successful anti-poverty program in U.S. history is again in grave danger.

Twenty years ago, Social Security was called the "third rail" of U.S. politics. Touch it, you die. But it turned out that was not true. The Establishment greedheads were not, in fact, afraid to try to mess with this wildly popular program. Maybe Wall Street political power is the third rail.

In these two decades, Social Security hasn't been the third rail. Instead, it's been the Grey Goose of folk song legend. The knife couldn't cut him and the fork couldn't stick him. Try as they might, they couldn't kill him. Can the Grey Goose survive the next assault?

Dean Baker on Broder's call for Iran war to boost economy

Dean Baker responds to Washington Post columnist David Broder's op-ed calling for a drive towards military confrontation with Iran as a way to boost the economy:

David Broder Calls for War With Iran to Boost the Economy

The Washington Post Wants Your Social Security to Pay for the War

For the Washington Post, there's no such thing as a war that America can't afford.

In an editorial today, the Washington Post takes President Obama to task for being concerned about the cost of the war in Afghanistan and the fact that it conflicts with domestic priorities. That the Washington Post, a knee-jerk supporter of war for empire, would slam President Obama for this is the opposite of surprising. Nonetheless, what the Washington Post actually said in its editorial is still breathtaking:

 

Mr. Obama repeatedly cites the cost of the war and the need to shift resources to domestic priorities -- though spending on Afghanistan is well below 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

We have been led to believe that official Washington is seized with urgency about long-term projections of U.S. budget deficits. Yet here is the Washington Post, downplaying the cost of the war in Afghanistan on the grounds that it is "well below 1 percent" of U.S. GDP.

Logically, there are two possibilities.

One possibility is that the Washington Post is saying that in the future, we can ignore any government expenditure or savings that amounts to less than 1% of U.S. GDP as being too small to bother about.

The other possibility is that according to the Washington Post there are two standards for judging costs. One standard is for war, in which an expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is too small to bother about. The other standard is for domestic spending that benefits the majority of Americans, in which a reduction of government expenditure of less than 1% of GDP is something that should be seriously considered.

Senator Kennedy's Most Important Vote

As Senator Ted Kennedy has been eulogized in recent days, almost all of the discussion of his "legacy" has focused on domestic issues. Only a few have noted what Senator Kennedy himself said was the most important vote he ever cast in the U.S. Senate: his vote against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Economist Dean Baker, asked by the Beltway newspaper The Hill to comment on "the most significant aspect of Senator Kennedy's legacy," wrote:

I'll just agree with Senator Kennedy on this one. He said that his vote against the Iraq War was the most important vote that he cast the whole time he was in the Senate.

At a time when most of the political establishment, and certainly most of the media establishment, was cowed by an administration yelling about the threat of terrorism, Senator Kennedy stood back and looked at the evidence in a serious manner.
[...]
This was a display of courage and sound judgment at a time when these character traits were virtually absent from the halls of power in official Washington.

Democratic politicians are often praised by establishment pundits for showing "leadership" if they stand on the side of powerful against the interests of those they were elected to represent. But most people would see Senator Kennedy's vote against the war as a better example of "leadership": standing up for the people you were elected to represent, in the face of significant pressure to do otherwise. It's not surprising that the same media institutions which failed to challenge the Bush Administration's "faith-based" case for the war in Iraq would pass over this opportunity to remind everyone that they failed to show the same leadership as Senator Kennedy did when the nation needed it most.