Freedom-Fighter Facts

In case you missed it, the IRS reported that 1,470 of the richest Americans, those for whom the Republican Party exists, paid no taxes in 2009.

None.

Now, it’s all perfectly legal, of course, thanks to our tax code, which allows numerous deductions—some genuinely meant to encourage good behavior—such that at the end of the year, the tax rate for such folks was zero.

Unknown to most Americans is the sad fact that most non-rich folks pay a much larger share of their income in taxes than the top 400 income earners, a fact contrary to the talking points routinely spouted on TV and radio by conservative know-nothings or conservatives who know better but choose to hide the truth.  They would have you believe that half the country is on the dole, paying no taxes, while those poor rich guys shoulder the burden of the New Deal and the Great Society.

But facts aren’t just stubborn things, they are freedom-fighters that, if let loose to fight, can vanquish conservative and Republican propagandists, whose propaganda is designed to keep the rich rich and the rest of us the rest of us.

The facts from the annual IRS report about the 400 highest income taxpayers, as David Cay Johnston pointed out a few months ago, were once “labeled a state secret,” and thanks to Mr. Obama that keep-them-in-the-dark policy was “overturned almost instantly after his inauguration.”

Meanwhile, as Johnston also points out:

Since 1980, when President Reagan won election promising prosperity through tax cuts, the average income of the vast majority — the bottom 90 percent of Americans — has increased a meager $303, or 1 percent. Put another way, for each dollar people in the vast majority made in 1980, in 2008 their income was up to $1.01.

Those at the top did better. The top 1 percent’s average income more than doubled to $1.1 million, according to an analysis of tax data by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez. The really rich, the top 10th of 1 percent, each enjoyed almost $4 in 2008 for each dollar in 1980.

The top 300,000 Americans now enjoy almost as much income as the bottom 150 million, the data show.

Far from playing nice with Republicans, which is a foolish-advice meme developing now in response to the debt downgrade by S&P,  Democrats should use these and other freedom-fighter facts to drive trickle-down Republicans out of office, and then something will get done about the economy and jobs and the deficit.

As history has demonstrated, low-taxing the rich does not make the world safe for job creation, but it does contribute mightily to the debt problem.

London Riots: “A Rage Against Exclusion From Consumerist Fulfillment”?

Taking a break from our own national troubles, I saw a disturbing video on the British daily The Guardian website purported to be shot during the ongoing London riots (more on the video later), which have now spread to other cities in Great Britain. 

The riots, initially triggered by a police shooting last week of a black man and suspected gangster from Tottenham named Mark Duggan—circumstances still under investigation—are also fueled by what some are callinga rage against exclusion from consumerist fulfillment.” 

Tottenham is an ethnically diverse area of north London, troubled by gangs and guns, and, of course, what always seems to accompany gangs and guns: poverty.

According to David Lammy, Member of Parliament from Tottenham,

Tottenham already has the highest unemployment rate in London and the 8th highest in the UK.

Of the jobs that we have, most are dependent on public funding.

There was not a single word today on how the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives plan to tackle the jobs crisis that is currently occurring in Haringey.

Cutting 500,000 public sector jobs is grossly irresponsible.

These unpalatable and unnecessary cuts will be disastrous for our community. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives risk throwing us back to the 1980s, when the frustration and anger that flowed from squandered talent and relentless poverty led to social unrest.

Mr. Lammy said those things in October of 2010.

Today, the riots continue, obviously no longer only related to the original outrage over the death of Mark Duggan, but connected with a general feeling of economic deprivation that seems to have no end, at least for some members of society.

A left-of-center columnist for The Guardian, Nina Power (“There is a context to London’s riots that can’t be ignored“), thinks she can pinpoint the cause of the troubles in the UK:

Since the [governing] coalition came to power just over a year ago, the country has seen multiple student protests, occupations of dozens of universities, several strikes, a half-a-million-strong trade union march and now unrest on the streets of the capital… Each of these events was sparked by a different cause, yet all take place against a backdrop of brutal cuts and enforced austerity measures.

She continued:

As Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett point out in The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone, phenomena usually described as “social problems” (crime, ill-health, imprisonment rates, mental illness) are far more common in unequal societies than ones with better economic distribution and less gap between the richest and the poorest. Decades of individualism, competition and state-encouraged selfishness – combined with a systematic crushing of unions and the ever-increasing criminalisation of dissent – have made Britain one of the most unequal countries in the developed world.

Some of us here in America have warned that if we don’t do something about the unequal distribution of income here at home, we may not be all that far off from displays of outrage, hopefully not in the form of riots, but displays of democratic outrage that may culminate in a complete transformation of our economic system.

In short, if you like capitalism and want to keep it, you need to pay attention to the burgeoning income and wealth disparity in the United States.

That having been said, about that video:  If it is what it is alleged to be, it is disturbing not because it features some grisly violence, but because it features a casual disregard not only for humanity, but for civilization.

And despite left-wingers like Nina Power legitimately arguing for an understanding of the context for criminal behavior, it is hard to understand those who have little to no regard for the rights of others, especially in a society as civilized—and amenable to democratic change—as the United Kingdom. 

Here is the short video, and I am one liberal who wouldn’t mind if they round up and lock up the perpetrators of this crime and throw away the key.  Such people don’t belong on the streets with the civilized:

Slough Of Despond?

“This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.”

—John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress

Standard & Poor’s mathematically-challenged downgrade of our nation’s credit worthiness may prove to be about as relevant in the scheme of things as Texas governor Rick Perry’s GOP Jesus event on Saturday.

That is, the warnings implicit in both episodes may ultimately fall on deaf ears.

S&P and the speakers at the GOP Jesus event believe America’s sins are great, and we are in need of some kind of miracle in order to regain our standing—with potential bondholders and with the Almighty. 

S&P, trying to recover from its unseemly and sinful past as a sub-prime mortgage pimp, essentially offered the following as its rationale for the downgrade*:

…we have changed our view of the difficulties in bridging the gulf between the political parties over fiscal policy… 

The political brinksmanship of recent months highlights what we see as America’s governance and policymaking becoming less stable, less effective, and less predictable than what we previously believed. The statutory debt ceiling and the threat of default have become political bargaining chips in the debate over fiscal policy.     

Of course, the ratings agency, polite to a fault, failed to mention that the brinksmanship was caused by Tea Party Republicans who were willing—and according to Mitch McConnell, remain willing—to cause economic misery in order to preserve the purity of their budget-cutting, no-tax religion.

Instead, S&P’s ratings-repentance report contented itself with presenting the same old moral uniformity, by implying that both parties are equally to blame for the debt-ceiling mess. 

That kind of moral equivalence was also on display in Houston on Saturday, as evidenced by the words of God-is-calling-me-to-be-more-than Governor Rick Perry, who, given Republican primary politics, didn’t hurt himself at all by uttering such slough-stuff as this:

Father, our heart breaks for America. We see discord at home. We see fear in the marketplace. We see anger in the halls of government. And as a nation we have forgotten Who made us, Who protects us, Who blesses us, and for that we cry out for Your forgiveness.

You see?  It’s everyone’s fault.  “As a nation we” need God’s forgiveness to free ourselves from The Slough of Despond.

Meanwhile, the real culprits, Tea Party Republicans dedicated to undoing almost 80 years of American social-policy-Jesus-would-love, escape condemnation in all the moral confusion, in which the hostage-takers and the hostages, the heartbreakers and the heartbroken, are all equally to blame for the troubles in our national dysfunctional family.

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* Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Ratings, the other two sub-prime mortgage pimps that comprise the Big Three credit rating agencies, had decidedly different outlooks, especially Fitch: “…commensurate with its ‘AAA’ rating, the risk of sovereign default remains extremely low.”

The Sadistic Spiral

The media in America has a bigger responsibility than it’s exercising today. The media has got to begin to not give equal time or equal balance to an absolutely absurd notion just because somebody asserts it or simply because somebody says something, which everybody knows is not factual. It doesn’t deserve the same credit as a legitimate idea about what you do.  And the problem is everything is put in this tit-for-tat, equal battle and America is losing any sense of what’s real, of who’s accountable, of who is not accountable, of who’s real, who isn’t, of who’s serious, who isn’t.

—John Kerry, on Morning Joe, August 5, 2011

Some of us have been arguing for some time now that concern over the long-term national debt, while appropriate, is out of sequence.  First things must come first.

Completely detached from immediate economic reality, the Johnny One-Note Tea Party in Congress has crippled government with a singular concentration on reducing government spending while ignoring our scrawny economy, which even with today’s better-than-expected jobs report, is perilously underperforming.

The priority right now should be fueling the economy with more not less government spending.  While in this environment that may sound crazy, it’s time for leadership—and it appears it will all have to come from Democrats—to make the case.

It is a simple matter of sputtering demand:

♦ Consumers are holding back their spending (demand) either out of fear of losing their jobs and/or in order to pay down debt.

♦ And without the prospect of increased demand, businesses are reluctant to put to work the some $2 trillion in cash they have stored away, cash that in normal times would be put into additional hiring and increases in wages, which would itself bring additional demand.

So, consumers are holding back until business picks up and business is holding back until consumer demand picks up. This sadistic spiral will more or less continue in the short-term unless government bridges the demand gap up until the economy is fully on the road to recovery. 

And as many learned people have pointed out, getting this feeble economy going again is the best available way we have to make an impact on the long-term deficit.

The problem is that the right-wing has demonized the last effort to stimulate the economy, which turned out to be too small. The recession was much worse than anyone knew at the time, as last week’s yearly revision of economic data by the Commerce Department made clear:

WASHINGTON — The 2007-2009 recession, already in the record books as the worst in the 66 years since the end of World War II, was even worse than previously thought.

From the start of the recession at the end of 2007 to the end in June of 2009, the U.S. economy shrank 5.1 percent. That is 1 percentage point worse than the previous estimate that the recession reduced total output during that period by 4.1 percent.

And here was the reason for the initial underestimate:

The government attributed the bigger declines in output in part to weaker consumer spending and business investment than previously estimated.

Sound familiar?

The report also revised the growth rates for 2010:

The revisions showed that growth in 2010 was a bit stronger than previously estimated. They put growth for all of 2010 at 3 percent, up from a previous estimate that the economy grew 2.9 percent last year.

What made the difference in 2010?  How about the effects of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the stimulus package passed in February of 2009?

The truth, as should be clear to all clear-thinkers, is that the 2009 stimulus was effective in terms of stopping the job bleeding, but not big enough to push the economy beyond 3 percent growth, which would start to bring the unemployment numbers down.  And as the stimulus has wound down, so has economic growth, which today is less than half of what it was last year.

Mr. Obama needs to step up and clearly and forcefully explain to the American people just what happened (“I underestimated the depths of the problem”) and what needs to be done (“A concentrated effort to create jobs”).  He has lately been caught up in the debt hysteria to the detriment of economic growth and he needs to dramatically change the national conversation. 

And if the Republicans in Congress won’t go along with him, he needs to shout from every podium in the country that they are the problem, the obstacle to economic growth and job creation.

This morning on Morning Joe, Senator John Kerry firmly insisted that “this is a moment for leadership.” He said things that needed to be said and said them exactly how they should be said, including a shot at a complicit news media, that presents what’s going on as an “equal battle” of ideas. I urge everyone to listen to the following segment, which also includes the incomparable Ezra Klein:


They’re Just Sayin’

Here is a sample of recent right-wing quotes in the news:

As the stock market falls, starting just before and continuing after the Republican-created debt-ceiling crisis ended, we all should remember this:

John Boehner, from CBS News:

When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.

Since the market has dropped 10.7 % in ten days, Mr. Boehner is claiming 98% of the drop as his very own.  How nice of him.

____________________________________

If anyone thought the Republican plan to kill Medicare was dead, think again:

Eric Cantor, from The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) on Wednesday suggested that Republicans will continue a push to overhaul programs such as Medicare, saying in an interview that “promises have been made that frankly are not going to be kept for many” and that younger Americans will have to adjust.

“What we have to be, I think, focused on is truth in budgeting here,” Cantor told The Wall Street Journal’s Opinion Journal. He said “the better way” for Americans is to “get the fiscal house in order” and “come to grips with the fact that promises have been made that frankly are not going to be kept for many.”

As many have pointed out, Mr. Cantor has absolutely no trouble keeping his promises to Grover Norquist and the moneyed class, no matter the cost to the country.

_______________________________________

If anyone thought the Republican strategy to stick a gun to the temple of the economy and threaten to pull the trigger was a one-time deal, think again:

Mitch McConnell, from Think Progress:

It set the template for the future. In the future…no president — in the near future, maybe in the distant future — is going to be able to get the debt ceiling increased without a re-ignition of the same discussion of how do we cut spending and get America headed in the right direction. I expect the next president, whoever that is, is going to be asking us to raise the debt ceiling again in 2013, so we’ll be doing it all over.

_______________________________________

If anyone thought the head of the public relations department of the Republican Party has lost his racist charm, think again:

Rush Limbaugh, from his radio show, discussing the stock market drop:

People are losing their life savings.  This is not new.  This has been going on ever since Obama was immaculated… He’s not even halfway done killing the economy.  I don’t want to think about what this country will look like when he’s all the way there.  This guy obviously has a new role model, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe.  The next thing to look out for is for Obama to take the farms.  Well, that’s what Mugabe did.  He took the white people’s farms, the only place that had any money.

For the record, Robert Mugabe was ranked Number 1 on Parade’s The World’s 10 Worst Dictators.

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Rush Limbaugh bonus quote:

CALLER: Thank you, Rush. As a Tea Party conservative, I’ve noticed how the names we’ve been called are getting worse and worse, and I think it’s time we turn the table, and the “tax-and-spend liberal” no longer really meets the requirement because they’re taxing me. They’re gonna tax my daughters, they’re gonna tax my yet unborn grandchildren. They’re going after their birthday money, they’re going after their piggy banks, they’re going after them. They’re financial pedophiles.

RUSH: They are!

CALLER: That’s what we’re talking about: Financial pedophiles.

RUSH: “Financial pedophiles,” addicts, criminals, sticking us up. I like it. Exactly right. These people are sick. They are sick.

Here’s Some Tough Love For Mr. Obama

The most conservative member of the House of Representatives—a teapartier’s teapartier—is a congressman from Colorado, Doug Lamborn.

Mr. Lamborn, showing little respect for the President of the United States, referred to Mr. Obama as a “tar baby.”  Here is the context:

Even if some people say, ‘Well the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that,’ they will hold the President responsible. Now, I don’t even want to have to be associated with him. It’s like touching a tar baby and you get it, you’re stuck, and you’re a part of the problem now and you can’t get away. I don’t want that to happen to us, but if it does or not, he’ll still get, properly so, the blame because his policies for four years will have failed the American people.

Now, Mr. Lamborn has apologized for the tar baby remark and is counting on the President to accept his apology, “because he is a man of character.”

Okay.  But what about the real point of Mr. Lamborn’s comments?  Read them again, forgetting the tar baby nonsense: The people will hold the President responsible for the economy so, “I don’t even want to have to be associated with him.” Obama will get “the blame.”

You see?  That has been the strategy of Republicans since November of 2008.  Mr. Lamborn said, “Some people say, ‘Well, the Republicans should have done this or they should have done that,’ but “they will hold the President responsible.”

Republicans, as Mr. Lamborn and Mitch McConnell have been slyly honest enough to admit, have no intention of helping the President solve our nation’s problems.  Far above anything else, they want to hinder and defeat him. Since Barack Obama was elected, Republicans in Congress have treated the matter like it were a heavyweight fight, pummeling him round after round, while the economy languishes.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, has only occasionally thrown back punches, mostly hoping against hope that his rope-a-dope strategy of “compromise” and collegiality would mean a victory for the American people.

It hasn’t worked.

These are extraordinary times in our country, and we need leaders to match.  Mr. Obama has to realize that the Republicans in Congress, despite his pleas, have made governing the country next to impossible and see their vow of obstinance as part of a strategy to win the next election, which is only a part of their greater fight to transform the country into a reactionary Tea Party utopia.  We are already in the late rounds of that fight and the Republicans are winning.

The President needs to stop leading with his bipartisan chin.  He’s getting the hell knocked out of him, and by extension, the rest of the non-moneyed class. He needs to understand that he will get no cooperation from the other side.

Thus, he needs to do more than just get himself reelected by courting independents with talk of compromise and collegiality with Republicans, which isn’t working.  He also needs to fight hard for a Democratic Congress, or else nothing of substance will get done. He may win the 2012 election round but the fight with Republicans will continue.

Last night in Chicago, at a Democratic National Committee event, the President, a heavyweight campaigner, said some of the right things, but he also said things like this:

The good news is that after this week we have made a legitimate down payment on deficit reduction in a way that’s actually responsible, that is not going to dismantle our social safety net, isn’t going to prevent us from making the key investments we need to win the future.

Good news? There was no good news in the fiasco that just ended, and opinion polls reflect that.  The President paid the other side’s ransom and the economy was saved this time from a disaster. Good news? Mr. Obama should stop talking this way because it is not fooling anyone, especially independent voters who he is trying to woo.

He continued:

But it also sets the stage for what is going to be a singular debate over the next year and a half, and that is two alternative visions about where the country needs to go. 

I give the other side credit.  They are single-minded in their focus, in wanting to cut programs and shrink government.

He’s right, of course, about the alternative visions.  But giving the “other side credit” is part of what’s wrong with Mr. Obama’s approach in the late rounds of this fight.  The other side was willing to shoot the economy in the head—much as it is now doing with FAA funding—and to give them credit for such behavior is a little like giving The D.C. Sniper credit for a steady hand.  It is misplaced and out of tune with the moment.

He needs to start, loudly and incessantly, calling Republicans out for what they have done and were willing to do to the average American.  He needs to start naming names.

Fight! Mr. Obama.  With both hands.  With both feet. With both sides of your considerable brain.

And if you get knocked out of the ring in 2012, so be it.  You can proudly exit the arena, covered in sweat and blood, through the front door.

[Lamborn photo from Denver Post/Hyoung Chang]

Don’t Let ‘em Forget

As I have argued since the beginning of this blog, the cut-taxes-and-grow nonsense told by conservatives armed with laissez-faire logic has no support in the laboratory that has been our national experience since the end of WWII.

The most recent evidence, of course, happened during the Bush II years, when marginal tax rates were irresponsibly cut and job growth turned out to be nonexistent, a sad fact we should all be acquainted with now, since unemployment remains stubbornly high. 

Beginning early in 2008 and up until Bush left office in January of 2009, the economy lost 4.5 million jobs.  In the months following the inauguration of Mr. Obama, jobs continued to hemorrhage—credit them also to the Great Bush Recession—and the total job loss climbed to around 9 million.  Here’s the famous graph again that chronicles the damage: 

Bush and Republicans cut the rates that had been raised as a result of the 1993 Deficit Reduction Act under Bill Clinton and the Democrats, possibly the last piece of responsible tax legislation that will ever pass in my lifetime.  Those “high” and “punishing” rates on “job creators“—which Republicans at the time predicted would stifle economic growth—managed to coexist with an economy that created somewhere around 22 million jobs.

That is just recent history.  The Center for American Progress (Rich People’s Taxes Have Little to Do with Job Creation“) put together a more comprehensive look at the relationship between the highest marginal tax rate and unemployment:

 

There are lots of factors that contribute to a thriving economy and certainly one of them is the tax system.  But given the history of the issue, conservatives should be called out every time they use their “we can’t raise taxes on the job creators” mantra. 

Enough is enough.

There Are No Libertarians In Fiscal Foxholes

Post-tornado Joplin is awash in socialism, and the embrace of socialism is bipartisan.

Consider the following, from Joplin Globe reporter Susan Redden’s column on Monday:

Also last week, 7th District U.S. Rep. Billy Long joined with U.S. Sens. Claire McCaskill and Roy Blunt of Missouri in sending a letter to the Federal Emergency Management Agency asking the Obama administration to fulfill Joplin’s request for a two-week extension of a 90-10 percent cost share for the city’s expedited debris removal effort.

Consider this from an editorial in the right-of-center Joplin Globe on Tuesday:

Gov. Jay Nixon’s announcement Monday that Missouri will pick up the bill for Joplin’s and Duquesne’s part of the debris cleanup was both welcome—and unexpected.

It will mean millions of dollars in savings for Joplin. While a tax dollar is a tax dollar—and one that we all pay in the end—in this case we’ll be getting help from all Missourians.

Help from all Missourians.  Help from all Americans. Governments helping governments, as explained in this article in the Globe:

“We appreciate the assistance provided by the governor and the state in bearing this expense,” Joplin’s city manager, Mark Rohr, said Monday…”I have said in prior statements that we will need ongoing help from the state and federal governments to enable Joplin to fully recover from this devastation.”

David Weaver, mayor of Duquesne, said:

It’s a big relief for Duquesne. We were really struggling to determine how we were going to pay for that.

Yes, yes. Lots of folks are struggling here in Joplin and Duquesne, normally a place where anti-government libertarian sentiment runs strong—no, very strong, maddeningly strong.  But sometimes, when you’re trying to cleanup and rebuild after a devastating storm, whether it be an F-5+ tornado or a Great Recession, you need help, lots of it.

And government, socialistic government, is one place, thank God, to turn.

Snapshot, August 2, 2011

As we await the next conservative-contrived crisis to confront us, a crisis that will continue to enhance the right-wing’s efforts to diminish our national domestic ambitions, shrink our collective actions and demote the general welfare, here is a snapshot of America in August of 2011, a snapshot that still reflects the economic devastation wrought by the Great Recession and years of governmental neglect:

♦ GDP growth is anemic—annual rate growth of 1.3 percent in the second quarter of 2011.

♦ Americans continue to lose their homes in record numbers, some wrongfully, and many are underwater on their mortgages;  and those who own homes have seen their equity fall—according to the AP,  “the average homeowner now has 38 percent equity, down from 61 percent a decade ago.”

♦ Unemployment remains unacceptably high.  There are more than 14 million folks without jobs—nearly half of them without jobs for almost seven months or more.  And many people—almost nine million—are “involuntary part-time workers,” and an additional three million people are what the geeks call “marginally attached to the labor force.”  Many of them have given up looking for jobs.

♦ Young folks are trading sex for money to pay off their student loans.

♦ State governments, starved of cash and without the will to ask taxpayers to help, are furloughing and firing teachers and policemen and firemen, essential components of civilization.  They are cutting their judicial budgets and delaying justice to their citizens.

♦ Our nation’s infrastructure, another essential component of a civilized society, is, well, not worthy of our great country.  The American Society of Civil Engineers in 2009 estimated that $2.2 trillion was needed over five years to upgrade our infrastructure to “satisfactory.” 

♦ The anachronistic 18.4-cent federal tax on gasoline no longer pays for current highway spending.   

♦ According to the Department of Transportation, there are around 600,000 bridges in the U.S. and about 160,000 (27%) are either “structurally deficient” or “functionally obsolete.”  

♦ There are more than 85,000 dams—average age: 51—most of them under the jurisdiction of financially strapped state governments.  There are thousands of them “deemed unsafe or deficient” and states simply do not have the resources—some because of tax-cut fever—to properly monitor dam safety and enforcement. 

♦ Our airports are deteriorating—heck, part of the FAA has been shut down and is losing $200 million dollars a week in ticket taxes—which money is going into the coffers of the airlines—largely because Republicans hate unions. 

♦ And there’s this, from the ASCE: 

The nation’s drinking-water systems face staggering public investment needs over the next 20 years. 

The annual shortfall is $11 billion, the group says, and that amount “does not account for any growth in the demand for drinking water over the next 20 years.”  

♦ We remain dependent on dirty fossil fuels while green technology is ripe with both jobs and independence for the picking.  But there is little will, beyond President Obama’s vain attempts, to pick them. 

Perhaps this would be a good time to inject this: We are spending $10 billion or so every month in Afghanistan. 

Or this: Closing offshore tax havens would bring in an estimated $100 billion a year and help stop the job-leaks to foreign countries. Think about that.  We just had a fight over how much to cut the government over the next ten years, and, well, I’ll let Frank Knapp, president and CEO of the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, tell you about those tax havens:

This is one trillion dollars in revenue over the next ten years that is low hanging fruit for Congress and the President to pick for deficit reduction. That’s what we should be doing right now, not taking an ax to programs in the federal budget that strengthen our economy and help create jobs on Main Street.

How about this: Hedge fund and private equity managers only pay 15% on the enormous income they receive in the form of fund management fees they collect.  Millions of dollars in income taxed just like it were middle class income.  The Obama Administration claims that raising the rate hedge fund managers pay to the top rate of 35% would add $400 billion in revenue over the next ten years. 

This is just one snapshot, taken on the day we are watching one of the most embarrassing political episodes in modern American times come to an end. 

And after this episode ends, our members of Congress will take a long vacation, scattering far and wide across a much diminished and, if Republicans have their way, a diminishing America.

Spare-A-Dime Shift?

They used to tell me I was building a dream, and so I followed the mob,
When there was earth to plow, or guns to bear, I was always there right on the job.
They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?

Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?  Harburg and Gorney, 1931

I heard Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee, say last night that because of the Republican victory in the contrived crisis over the debt ceiling, which was initially led by Tea Party types but consummated by the GOP establishment, there has been a “paradigm shift” in American politics.

I thought about that.  A paradigm shift is essentially a revolution in thinking, or “a radical change in underlying beliefs or theory.”  And what follows the change in underlying beliefs is a change in subsequent actions.

In the case of American politics, it can only mean a dramatic change in assumptions about how America should be governed, what kind of society should result from that governance, and who should be the governors.

Two popular versions of one of the great songs of the Great Depression, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? by Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallee, were released in 1932, just before the election of Franklin Roosevelt, whose ascent to the White House certainly represented a paradigm shift in American politics.

That song, as Wikipedia summarizes it,

asks why the men who built the nation – built the railroads, built the skyscrapers – who fought in the war (World War I), who tilled the earth, who did what their nation asked of them should, now that the work is done and their labor no longer necessary, find themselves abandoned, in bread lines.

Roosevelt’s answer, of course, was that such men should not find themselves abandoned. Thus, the New Deal began in 1933 with the lofty goals of helping the poor and those without jobs, fixing the broken economy, and reforming the financial system that had let so many Americans down.

If those lofty goals sound familiar to post-2008 crash ears, what doesn’t jibe with history, as we battle the continuing economic slump, is the response from today’s Republican Party, which essentially distills to,

No, brother, we can’t spare a dime.

In that sense, Mr. Steele is right. There has been a revolution in the character of today’s Republican Party, a collection of extremists that the putative Father of the teapartiers, Ronald Reagan, wouldn’t even recognize.

But have the wider assumptions about American governance that have prevailed since 1933 suddenly disappeared?  Has there been a mainstream paradigm shift?

No.

There has been, since the election of President Reagan in 1980, certain abstract and ambiguous ideas buzzing about the American electorate that government has grown “too big” and taxes are “too high.” 

But a noisy schizophrenia has always accompanied those comfortingly vague ideas: A swath of Americans hold that they want smaller government and lower taxes but they don’t want to cut down the pillars of the New Deal or its child, the Great Society.

Poll after poll demonstrate that Americans refuse to part with cherished programs, no matter what their abstract ideas about the size of government may be.  A CNN/ORC poll recently asked Americans if they would favor or oppose the following as a way to reduce the deficit:

                                 Favor cutting              Oppose cutting

Social Security:             16                           84 (81% of Republicans)

Medicare:                      12                           87 (85% of Republicans)

Medicaid:                       22                           77 (64% of Republicans)

Given numbers like these, the uninitiated might ask: How have budget-cutting and New Deal-threatening Republicans managed to be so successful?

Generalities.  They speak in generalities about the size of government and high taxes and the strange liberal man in the White’s House that wants to steal your freedom and take all your money and give it to the undeserving.

That’s how they do it.

But hopefully—now that President Obama and the Democrats perhaps finally understand the nature of the Tea Party beast they are confronting—they will use the tactics and budget votes of Republicans against them.  Tactics and votes that seriously threaten to kill the New Deal—which, if successful, would be a real paradigm shift.

The Bland Bargain

As this debt-ceiling fiasco reaches its apex, it has become clear that The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden has, hopefully only temporarily, disappeared from the scene. 

In his place is a man who, well, bragged on Sunday night that one result of the bipartisan debt-ceiling agreement would be,

the lowest level of annual domestic spending since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

It was once inconceivable for some of us to imagine that Obama, or any Democratic president, would utter such a statement, especially in its present context:  Tea Party arsonists, matches in hand, are about to set our economic house on fire and have even threatened to slash the tires on the fire trucks, unless the zealots get what they demand.

And it appears they will get much of what they want, if enough of them put down the matches and the gasoline and decide to take the deal.  The main thing, for them and all Republicans, is that there will be no definite revenue increases, which would have served to make swallowing the definite domestic cuts a little easier for Democrats.

The post-bin Laden Obama mischaracterized, no doubt for pre-consummation consumption, the nature of the situation when he said in his Sunday statement,

… it will allow us to avoid default and end the crisis that Washington imposed on the rest of America. 

Washington” imposed the crisis?  Are Republcans and Democrats—Washington—both to blame? Did Democrats threaten to start a fire that would see our economic house possibly burn to the ground?  No, of course not, and Mr. Obama knows that. He’s pointed out the true culprits many times before, the arsonists on the hard, hard Right, aided and abetted by the wobbly-kneed John Boehner and the coldly-calculating political opportunist Mitch McConnell. 

Mr. Obama obviously believes he cannot name names right now, before the thing is done, but it would have been better to say nothing at all about who imposed the crisis, if he didn’t feel free to put the blame where it belongs.  There is enough public moral confusion about this issue without the President adding to it.

He also said this:

It ensures also that we will not face this same kind of crisis again in six months, or eight months, or 12 months.  And it will begin to lift the cloud of debt and the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over our economy.  

Well, it may not be exactly the “same kind of crisis,” but Americans will be hard-pressed to see the difference between this fiasco and the upcoming fight over the federal budget, with what will inevitably be threats of yet another government shutdown coming from Tea Party Republicans—uh, I meant, Washington. 

And that means the cloud of uncertainty will still hang over our economy and our people.

Look, I understand why Mr. Obama made this deal at this stage in the game. He feels a personal responsibility as President for the people whose economic house Republicans are so willing to burn down.  I get that, even as some on the left are calling him bad names and ridiculously claiming they will not vote for him again.

And I know why he resisted the odd constitutional options he had and the crazy talk about creating $1 trillion coins and other fantasies.  If you think this frustrating foozle has been destabilizing, imagine if Obama did what some angry liberals have been urging him to do and simply went over the heads of the Congress in order to raise the debt limit. 

In an instant, Republicans would plunge the country into a protracted constitutional crisis and the Tea Party placard-painting business—”IMPEECH THE KENYUN DIKTATER!—would be the hot buy until next November.

The problem is that Mr. Obama made a crucial decision earlier this year to move off his sensible position that using the rather habitual process of raising the debt ceiling was not the proper vehicle to achieve deficit reduction.  He wanted, and should have continued to demand, a clean debt-ceiling bill.

Perhaps he thought his past vote in the Senate not to raise it would cripple his attempt to take a principled stand on a clean bill. Or, perhaps he genuinely saw what Republicans were doing as a way of forcing them to accept some revenue increases, which was a serious misread of the zealotry that poisons the Republican Party these days.

Who knows. We’ll have to wait for the post-Administration book.

For whatever reason, Mr. Obama decided to play the politics on Republican turf and they took full advantage of the home field.  They perceived his strange strategy as a weakness and it empowered them.  His decision to play their debt-ceiling game made them stronger.

As the more ideologically-crazed Republicans appeared absolutely willing to push the country into default, Mr. Obama retreated on the one thing—tax increases—that most of us had every reason to believe was essential to any deal he would eventually make.

And now if a goodly number of Republicans support the deal, perhaps half of each caucus, then the pressure is on Democrats to take the deal, too, or risk having the disaster blamed on them.

There was a time, before the decision to meet Republicans half past halfway, when many of us were urging the President to go ahead and have his Armageddon with Republicans now rather than later: No coupling of the debt ceiling with deficit reduction. Absent that, the alternative was to stand firm on the basic principle of fairness, which requires a balanced approach—budget cuts and up-front revenue increases—to address the debt problem.

Many of us believe he could have won that fight, at least in the eyes of the American people. And if Republicans would have gone ahead with their burn-it-down scheme, then they would have sealed their political fate for a generation, and perhaps The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden would have been able to send bin Laden-like Tea Party Republicans to their proper home in the depths of a political Arabian Sea.

As it stands now, they live to plot more threats.

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