Barack Bulworth

Last night I finally saw in graph form what the CBO came up with for its projected budget deficit for this year:

deficit 2013

As St. Rachel pointed out, this isn’t a good thing in an economy struggling to keep the recovery momentum, such as it is, going. This isn’t a good thing with so many unemployed folks out there. Nor is it a good thing with government jobs, jobs held by, say, teachers, disappearing as I write this.

But it is what Republicans, especially Tea Party phonies, have been squawking about since George Bush went on a spending spree Barack Obama became president.

And apparently no matter how far the damn deficit falls, they won’t stop squawking about it. Because, as we all know, their squawking has very little to do with government spending, but has to do with the Scary Negro, who they claim is spending it, and who they claim he is spending it on.

Remember the 2012 election charge, a charge that came from everywhere on the right, that O was trying to “buy” the election by spending a ton of money on the poor, minorities, and other natural Democratic constituencies? If so, he did a terrible job of spreading the cash around.

Maybe, just maybe, he won the election for other reasons.

And maybe, just maybe, O needs to take this chart and shove it down the throat of the next Republican who opens his or her mouth about “out of control” government spending. And then maybe he needs to rat out the Republicans—instead of eating and playing golf with them—to the American people about how phony their deficit hysteria was and still is, and explain that it is the Republican Party in Congress that is responsible for nothing, absolutely nothing, getting done to fix the country’s problems.

Finally, maybe O needs to go to many of the red states in the country and explain to the people there that the reason teachers and cops and firefighters are out of jobs, and the reason that unemployment is so high, is that their Republican governors and Republican legislators are starving the beast of their state governments, too.

And he should tell all the people everywhere that it is only the people who can put a stop to this madness.

Because no one thinks that anything positive, especially in terms of  the economic recovery, will get done while Republicans essentially control Congress. So, President Obama may as well go back to traveling around the country and, as The New York Times reported, possibly go “Bulworth.” What else can he do? How many dinners does he need to have, how many rounds of golf does he need to play with reactionaries, before he realizes that they will never allow him to actually govern the country?

For a fantasized version of what a Barack Bulworth would say, Ezra Klein wrote a great piece. Here is part of what President Bulworth had to say to a reporter who ask him yet another dumb question about whether the American people can “actually trust their government”:

BARACK BULWORTH: Look, the reason the American people can’t trust their government is here in Washington. Right now sequestration is cutting unemployment checks by 10 or 11 percent. Do you hear anyone talking about that? Or doing anything about it? No. You hear Republicans aides telling Politico, anonymously, that the speaker is quote “obsessed” with Benghazi. You know, I don’t think most of the Republicans screaming about Benghazi could find Libya on a map. I don’t think 10 of them knew our ambassador’s name. And, let me be clear, Speaker Boehner certainly wasn’t obsessed with giving us the money we asked for to keep the embassy’s safe.

But now he’s obsessed with Benghazi. And not even Benghazi. The Benghazi talking points. Are you kidding me? He’s not obsessed with global warming or unemployment or rebuilding our infrastructure.  And now that there’s conflict, all of you are obsessed with Benghazi talking points too, and meanwhile, we’re cutting the National Institutes of Health and we’re cutting too deep into the military and we’re making life harder for the unemployed and we’re doing nothing to keep this planet in good shape for our kids.

Look, this is why the American people can’t trust their government. Because this town is obsessed with conflict and political advantage and not with real problems. We worry about the wrong things so much that we don’t even have time to talk to the American people or each other about the right things. And that’s not the I.R.S.’s fault.

Who wouldn’t want to see that guy do a presser? It would scare the tan off John Boehner’s face, but, much more important, it would educate the people as to what the Republican Party is doing to the country.

Austerity Doctors Warn: If We Don’t Stop Spending We’ll Go Blind!

I have seen and heard countless Democrats, including President Obama, make the case that allowing sequestration to happen next week is bad for the country, from jeopardizing our military readiness to damaging our ability to conduct medical research.

However, none of the scary stories that Democrats tell reporters, who then tell the public, are working to change the minds of Republicans, many of whom have actually decided that sequestration is the best cure for what ails the country.

Haley Barbour, former governor of Mississippi and a man who once chaired the Republican National Committee, is one of those Republicans—let’s call them “austerity doctors”—who want to fix the patient by hurting the patient.

National Review.com reported yesterday:

...Haley Barbour says he expects the GOP to allow sequestration to occur, and that the party should see it as an important step toward fiscal responsibility. “I hope and believe that Republicans will allow the sequestration to go into effect, so that we can start down a path of trying to get control of spending and reduce the deficit,” Barbour explained on Fox Business Network’s Cavuto…

These austerity doctors are so worried about the deficit that they are willing to do almost anything to get Americans to stop what Republicans see as our bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars.

All of which reminds me of another doctor who tried to do what he thought was right by using rather strange techniques to get Americans to stop pleasuring themselves.

John Harvey Kellogg is most famous for co-inventing the breakfast cereal Corn Flakes in 1895. But he also had a medical degree and ran a sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, owned by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. And he also held what we regard today as bizarre opinions about, well, I’ll let Wikipedia say it:

He was an especially zealous campaigner against masturbation.

Self-pleasure, according to the theologically-minded doctor, was self-destructive:

Kellogg strongly warned against the habit in his own words, claiming of masturbation-related deaths “such a victim literally dies by his own hand,” among other condemnations. He felt that masturbation destroyed not only physical and mental health, but the moral health of individuals as well.

Dr. Kellogg thought that masturbation caused cancer, epilepsy, insanity, and, according to Wikipedia, “dimness of vision.” Yep. Keep it up and you’ll go blind.

Given the doctor’s views, something had to be done to fix things:

Kellogg worked on the rehabilitation of masturbators, often employing extreme measures, even mutilation, on both sexes. He was an advocate of circumcising young boys to curb masturbation and applying phenol (carbolic acid) to a young woman’s clitoris.

He also creatively applied “one or more silver sutures” to the penis in order to make erections “impossible,” therefore,

the slight irritation thus produced acts as a most powerful means of overcoming the disposition to resort to the practice.

This guy was serious:

He also recommended, to prevent children from this “solitary vice”, bandaging or tying their hands, covering their genitals with patented cages and electrical shock.

In his Ladies’ Guide in Health and Disease, for nymphomania, he recommended “Cool sitz baths; the cool enema; a spare diet; the application of blisters and other irritants to the sensitive parts of the sexual organs, the removal of the clitoris and nymphae…

In Teaching America About Sex: Marriage Guides and Sex Manuals from the Late Victorians to Dr. Ruth , the authors, M.E. Melody and Linda Peterson, try to explain Dr. Kellogg’s work:

Kellogg certainly was not deluded. Part of the American tradition includes a view of a righteous God who punishes moral transgressions. In Kellogg’s view, these transgressions are acts of treason against divine governance and, hence, call for decisive responses. Though his teaching about masturbation seems extreme, the act must be understood as rebellion against divine governance, an ostensibly minor event that can, if amplified, cause the destruction of nations.

Masturbation can cause “the destruction of nations”? I remind you that Speaker John Boehner told a gathering of religious broadcasters two years ago:

Yes, this debt is a mortal threat to our country.

If all this is a little too much for you, good. It’s too much for me too. I share with you Dr. Kellogg’s zeal against onanism because I see a similar zeal among Republicans regarding, as I said, what they see as our national bad habit of pleasuring ourselves with federal dollars. They want to stop it, and if it means using the fiscal equivalents of silver sutures and carbolic acid and cool enemas and a spare diet—the sequester—then so be it.

Meanwhile, economist Paul Krugman—who has been under fire from the austerity doctors on TV and radio and in print—has exactly the right take on the sequestration mess:

The right policy would be to forget about the whole thing. America doesn’t face a deficit crisis, nor will it face such a crisis anytime soon. Meanwhile, we have a weak economy that is recovering far too slowly from the recession that began in 2007. And, as Janet Yellen, the vice chairwoman of the Federal Reserve, recently emphasized, one main reason for the sluggish recovery is that government spending has been far weaker in this business cycle than in the past. We should be spending more, not less, until we’re close to full employment; the sequester is exactly what the doctor didn’t order.

The Future Isn’t Free

David Leonhardt, Washington bureau chief for The New York Times, has published an extended essay on Kindle, Here’s The Deal.

The deal, says Leonhardt, is that Americans want more government than they are willing to pay for and he presented some ways to fix the resulting long-term debt problems (you’ll have to cough up $1.99 to find out what they are, though).

Now, Leonhardt, who is a mathematician by training, has won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary, so who am I to say that his notion that Americans don’t want to pay for all the government they desire is, well, sort of obvious. But it is.

Since the time of Ronald Reagan and the advent of voodoo economics, Americans have become accustomed to having big-government benefits and paying for them with small-government taxes, which, of course, means deficits, deficits, deficits.

The Democrats temporarily restrained the voodoo-practicing Republican witch doctors in 1993, with the Deficit Reduction Act, which raised taxes and contributed to subsequent surpluses. But the voodoo came back when George W. Bush, who was designated president by Republicans on the Supreme Court late in 2000, went on a tax-cutting and spending binge.

And these days the voodoo, though not quite as prevalent as before, is still with us, as Democrats are willing to raise taxes only on the wealthy, which is a noble deed indeed (since they have plenty more to give), but, given political reality, it is just not plausible those taxes can be raised enough to significantly narrow the budget gap without more and deeper budget cuts.

Leonhardt, in his little Kindle ebook, wrote:

Obama’s stance that taxes should rise only on incomes above $250,000 is almost certainly not sustainable in the long run.

He points out that in 2012, federal revenue—including all forms of taxation—represented only 15.8% of GDP, compared to 20.6% in 2000, when the budget was in surplus. (According to the Heritage Foundation, total federal spending for 2012 was 22.9%, so do the math and the problem becomes clear.)

And Leonhardt writes:

…most Americans have paid far less in total taxes in recent years than they would have paid 30 years ago had they been earning the same inflation-adjusted income. For instance, a household making $52,000, which was roughly the median income in 2010, paid 27.7 percent of its income in taxes on average that year…In 1980, a family with the equivalent income would have paid a total rate of 30.5%.

Additionally, the author reminds us that,

By any measure, taxes are lower in this country than in most other rich countries. Here, tax revenue of all forms—federal, state and local—equals about 25 percent of GDP. In Austria, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway and Sweden, the level is at least 40 percent…It is 36 percent in Germany, 35 percent in Britain, 31 percent in Canada and 30 percent in Switzerland.

Remember all that when you hear a conservative talk about how overtaxed we are as Americans.

Look, I’m not one of those folks you see on TV all the time who irritatingly blathers on about how we are on our way to becoming Greece or advances austerity as a cure for our budgetary problems. And I definitely think more revenue is needed from rich. (Leonardt: “The amount of each dollar that the affluent pay in taxes has actually fallen in recent decades.”)

My only point here is that some time in the future—after the economy has shaken off all the effects of the Great Recession—all Americans who earn a middle class and above income in this country need to face the fact that they are getting way more government than their tax dollars are paying for. No one, not even the most wild-eyed liberal economist, believes that we can continue on the path we are on forever.

When Democrats signed off on a fiscal-cliff-averting budget deal with Republicans at the beginning of this year, a deal that made permanent most of the Bush tax cuts, I was critical of it and ended my criticism with this:

...let us hope that what Democrats have done—setting in stone tax cuts that have partly contributed to our fiscal problems—will not someday hinder them as they attempt to protect vital government programs from those who mean to drag the country back into the 18th century.

Democrats can’t protect those programs just with taxes on the wealthy, although obviously more needs to be done to reduce what Leonhardt calls the,

thicket of deductions, credits and loopholes that lead people to change their behavior and waste time trying to avoid too large a tax bill.

Leaders on our side need to be ready to tell the people, even middle class people, that if they want a 21st-century American civilization that still attracts the best and the brightest in the world, they need to be willing to pay for it or it will go away.

What You May Not Know About The Debt But Should

“Can we now start talking about unemployment?”

—Paul Krugman

for almost four years now, we have argued back and forth on this blog about deficits and debts and jobs.

My position, and one that seems stunningly obvious to me, has always been that jobs and the economic recovery deserve precedence over debt reduction, even though long-term debt is a problem that has to be addressed.

For those of you who don’t follow Brad DeLong, the professor of economics from Berkeley, you are missing something valuable in the debate you see on television or read in the paper every day, almost all of that debate focused solely on deficit reduction. (Go here and read DeLong’s bona fides, if you think he’s just another liberal economist.)

Sunday, DeLong posted a blog entry with the title,

NO, WE DON’T REALLY NEED ANY MORE DEFICIT REDUCTION UNTIL 2020

He borrowed from Paul Krugman, who borrowed from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (peer review?), this graph:

deficit reduction and stabilization

[Note: BCA is the Budget Control Act of 2011 (that "settled" the first debt-ceiling fight and which brought us the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of 2012) and ATRA is the American Taxpayer Relief Act, signed on January 2 of this year (the fiscal-cliff "settlement").]

Here is Krugman’s description of the graph:

The vertical axis measures the projected ratio of federal debt to GDP. The blue line at the top represents the projected path of that ratio as of early 2011 — that is, before recent agreements on spending cuts and tax increases. This projection showed a rising path for debt as far as the eye could see.

And just about all budget discussion in Washington and the news media is laid out as if that were still the case. But a lot has happened since then. The orange line shows the effects of those spending cuts and tax hikes: As long as the economy recovers, which is an assumption built into all these projections, the debt ratio will more or less stabilize soon.*

Krugman makes the point that,

for the next decade, the debt outlook actually doesn’t look all that bad.

True, there are projected problems further down the road, mainly because of the continuing effects of an aging population. But it still comes as something of a shock to realize that at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

We know that most Beltway journalists have bought into the hype over deficits and debts, since that is just about all that Republicans want to talk about now that they aren’t in the White’s House. But the focus of congressional and presidential efforts in the short term should be on keeping the economy stimulated enough to really catch fire.

Brad DeLong offers this stinging rebuke of the President:

In focusing in 2013 on further deficit-reduction deals rather than on policies to boost employment growth and infrastructure investment, President Obama is making yet another hideous economic policy mistake.

Now, to be fair to Mr. Obama, he can’t entirely control the debate. He has constantly talked about the dangers of deep cuts in government spending and the need to keep the economic recovery going.

But he faces stiff opposition in Congress from austerity-drunk Republican teapartiers who are aided and abetted by an establishment press, a press that pushes on the public the weird idea that we are going to bleed to death if we don’t slit our throats now.

You figure it out. I can’t.

In the mean time, we need to stop worrying about the damn deficit for a while and start worrying, even exclusively worrying, about jobs and economic growth.

_______________________

* For budget geeks: About that red line on the graph above, the one that shows deficits leveling out as a percentage of the economy, that was the point of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities original piece, which explained it this way:

Achieving $1.4 trillion in additional deficit savings would stabilize the debt at about 73 percent of GDP by 2018.  Some analysts prefer a lower debt ratio, such as 60 percent of GDP, a goal that the European Union and the International Monetary Fund adopted some years ago.  No economic evidence supports this — or any other — specific target, however, and IMF staff have made clear that the 60 percent criterion is an arbitrary one.  In addition, even if such a target were the best one before the recent severe economic downturn pushed up debt substantially in most advanced countries, it would not necessarily be an appropriate target for debt over the next ten years, given the severity of the downturn and continued economic weakness.  The critical goal now is to stabilize the debt in the coming decade.

Lazy Journalism

Nothing angers me more than lazy journalists, like the kind I heard on MSNBC’s Morning Joe this morning discussing the state of our national politics.

The easiest thing in the world is to say about what is happening what Mike Barnicle said this morning:

There’s no certainty in this country as to what’s gonna happen to my children. We are now living in a country, where—because of the way this campaign is being waged on both sides—where too many people no longer can afford to dream, and that’s a huge hole in the American fabric. A huge hole.

The huge hole, of course, is in Barnicle’s careless, almost comatose, analysis. If he built his journalistic career on such sloppy, inattentive thinking he has been one lucky guy.

The uncertainty in the country belongs squarely on the Republican Party, whose leaders from the beginning of Obama’s term decided that the best political course for them to follow was to create as much uncertainty and cultural angst as possible. There is simply no disputing that.

And the Romney presidential campaign is following that myopic political script written after the 2008 election by trying to capitalize on the almost complete Republican obstruction of the Democrat’s attempt to fix the massive economic problems left to them by years of governance according to Republican Party principles.

On that note, today’s Joplin Globe editorial played the same kind of game that Mike Barnicle was playing on television this morning. Oh, the piece, titled, “Stop pointing fingers,” started out just fine:

In 2001, the Congressional Budget Office predicted that the federal government would collect surplus funds in the amount of $5.6 trillion during the period 2002 through 2011.

Instead, we incurred a deficit of $6.1 trillion resulting in a gross loss in federal revenues during that period of time in the amount of $11.7 trillion. The question, of course, is why such a miscalculation occurred.

Well, that is certainly one question. But another one would be, who was responsible for the reversal from surpluses to deficits? Huh?

On the way to answering its question, the Globe cited some studies by the CBO, the Committee for a Responsible Federal Government, and the Pew Fiscal Analysis Initiative, all of which came up “with the same answers”:

 • The overall weakened economy was the primary cause. Growth for the entire period was predicted to be 3 percent. But from 2002 through 2007, growth was only 2.6 percent. Then during the period 2008 through 2011, growth was only an average of 0.2 percent. This overall lower-than-expected growth caused a 27 percent drop in federal revenue expectations during those years.

• The second highest cause was a 13 percent drop in federal revenues caused by enactment and continuation of all the Bush-era tax cuts, amounting to a 13 percent drop in federal revenues. Other smaller contributors were the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, increases in discretionary spending, defense spending increases not related to wars, the Obama stimulus, and the 2010 tax cuts.

Now, a fair-minded person, upon discovering that the Republican Party was in charge of both houses of Congress and the White House during most of the time the country’s economy was in decline and collapsing and when the path toward massive deficits was first being cleared of surplus brush, would naturally blame the Republicans for most of the mess. Right?

Except that the Joplin Globe editorialist, shielding Republicans from the blame they deserve, had a better idea:

It seems rather naive to be arguing about which party alone caused today’s American economic problems. Again, they both did so big time by cutting federal revenues as shown above, yet continuing to spend at historically high levels.

“Both sides” are apparently equally responsible, it turns out, despite the facts cited in the piece and despite what is plainly clear to anyone paying attention.

All of this, from Mike Barnicle’s dumb statements this morning to the Joplin Globe’s dumb editorial conclusion, serves the right-wing reactionary Republican Party very well, as it requires very little thought to simply assert that both parties are equally guilty, that both parties are equally to blame for the mess we’re in, and therefore the economic philosophy that brought us to our knees can be tried again.

Obama: A Little League Socialist

Here was the headline on HuffPo on Wednesday afternoon:

Jay Carney: Don’t ‘Buy Into The B.S.’ From GOP About Obama’s Spending Record

That story began:

WASHINGTON — White House Press Secretary Jay Carney had some advice for reporters on Wednesday when it comes to covering President Barack Obama’s record on spending: “Don’t buy into the B.S.” 

And then there was this headline from ABC News on Wednesday evening:

President Obama Denounces Republican ‘Wild Debts’: I’m Not an Over-Spender

Obama was quoted in the story:

I’m running to pay down our debt in a way that’s balanced and responsible. After inheriting a $1 trillion deficit, I signed $2 trillion of spending cuts into law. My opponent won’t admit it, but it’s starting to appear in places, like real liberal outlets, like the Wall Street Journal: Since I’ve been president, federal spending has risen at the lowest pace  in nearly 60 years. Think about that.

What was all the fuss about? What was Obama referencing? It was the following, from The Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch early Wednesday morning:

Obama spending binge never happened

Commentary: Government outlays rising at slowest pace since 1950s

Here’s how the story began:

As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

Now, we have discussed all this several times, but here is yet another graph from the WSJ piece to refresh your memory:

As you can plainly see, Obama is in the Little League of federal spending growth (and, by the way, so was Bill Clinton; the Big Leaguers, Reagan and both Bushes should all be in the spending Hall of Fame).

Let’s face it, being a Little League spender ain’t good for a President who is night and day labeled by right-wingers as at least a socialist, if not a secret Communist who will, if given a second term, unleash his diabolical European fury on the country.

Joe Scarborough blathered on this morning about how “government keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger” and referenced “the explosive size of government.”

Well, if that is true—and don’t forget that federal revenues as a percentage of our GDP in the Obama years is lower than any time since 1950 and state and local revenues have been fairly consistent since 1990—it is not Barack Obama who has made it so.

He is simply the dubious beneficiary of policies the basis of which relied on voodoo economics: cut taxes and, voilà, the economy and government revenues will grow, grow, grow enough to pay for two protracted wars, a brand new—ever growing—Homeland Security bureaucracy, a new prescription drug entitlement program, as well as the rest of what government does.

Let’s quickly look at federal spending since 2002, also from the WSJ article:

Clearly those blue lines were dictated by the red lines that came before and not some devilish creation of that wicked, big-spending socialist in the White’s House.

So, as Jay Carney said, don’t “buy into the B.S.” because, as the President said himself:

If Obama Is A Big-Government Socialist, What’s That Make Ronald Reagan?

I saw this interesting graphic on MSNBC (adapted from a Talking Points Memo piece), which should, but won’t, shut up all the talk about the socialist in the White’s House.

In terms of net change in government spending, Obama isn’t in the same league with either Bush or Ronaldus Magnus:

“Budget Honesty”

We have tilled this ground plenty of times on this blog, but it bears occasional re-tilling, as Republicans plant weeds of deception, and especially now that President Obama has released his budget for fiscal year 2013, which Republicans have already attacked as “Debt on Arrival.”

I will post yet again the now-famous chart demonstrating what is driving our ongoing deficits and thus our national debt over the near and mid-term:

This image needs no explanation from me. It’s pretty clear that past policy decisions have ongoing consequences, no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

But I will point out, via Steve Benen and Brian Beutler, an important feature of Obama’s 2013 budget that will likely get overlooked. Benen explains:

Deficit: Obama would use higher taxes on the wealthy, and fewer tax subsidies for oil companies, to help bring down the deficit. Overall, the White House plan would reduce the deficit by about $4 trillion over the next decade, though the White House plan prioritizes economic growth in the short term, and leaves debt reduction for another day.

* Striking a chord for budget honesty: If the White House were more inclined to rely on gimmicks, the deficit figures would look a lot better. Whereas Bush/Cheney consistently chose to ignore the cost of wars, the Medicare “doc fix,” and AMT costs to make it appear they were keeping deficits down, Obama’s team is playing it straight. This matters: “If the Obama White House had budgeted for 2013 and beyond the way Mr. Bush had, its deficit forecast for 2022 would have been $167 billion, or 0.7 percent of the economy. Instead, because White House budget writers are adjusting for such costs, the deficit is forecast to be 2.8 percent of the economy that year, $704 billion.”

That last quote is from the very last paragraph in a New York Times article (“Republicans See Broken Promises and Gimmicks in Obama Budget“) noting the extensive, if false, charges by Republicans against Mr. Obama’s budget.  Now, if the Times was truly a guardian of liberal orthodoxy, perhaps the above paragraph would have at the beginning of such an article, not the end.

Let’s look at part of that quote again:

If the Obama White House had budgeted for 2013 and beyond the way Mr. Bush had, its deficit forecast for 2022 would have been $167 billion, or 0.7 percent of the economy. 

That piece of information should be a starting point for any discussion about Mr. Obama’s budget or about deficit spending comparisons between Bush and Obama, but unfortunately it won’t.

In any case, Mr. Obama’s budget is in line with his mostly centrist philosophy, generally supported by the American people, of requiring those who have benefited most (including rich-beyond-imagination oil companies) to chip in a little more to help pay for needed investments in things like infrastructure and education and job-training and a viable safety net, as well as helping cut the deficit.

While the American people will have the last word, Mr. Obama’s budget philosophy will contrast sharply with that of Republicans, who have fought and will continue to fight with Talibanic fervor to protect the wealthiest Americans from even the slightest increase in taxes, while proposing devastating cuts to social programs that will make life harder for many Americans who already are fighting to overcome past Republican policy decisions.

A Tale Of Two Styles

Over the past couple of days, two people I highly respect, Barack Obama and Paul Krugman,  have succinctly and accurately laid out some rather simple solutions to our long-term debt problems. 

First the President:

When it comes to getting a sustainable debt level, if we went back to the rates that existed when Bill Clinton was President and we made some modest adjustments to Medicare that preserved the integrity of the system, our long-term debt and deficit problems would go away. And most people here wouldn’t notice those changes.

Here’s Krugman:

The truth is that as far as the straight economics goes, America’s long-run fiscal problems shouldn’t be all that hard to fix. It’s true that an aging population and rising health care costs will, under current policies, push spending up faster than tax receipts. But the United States has far higher health costs than any other advanced country, and very low taxes by international standards. If we could move even part way toward international norms on both these fronts, our budget problems would be solved.

Very similar, no?

But let’s look at how both men explain why those solutions won’t immediately be forthcoming.  First the President:

But we’ve become so dug in when it comes to sort of ideological purity that we’re not willing to make modest adjustments like that.

Get it? “We’ve become so dug in…” We. We. The implication is that both sides are dug in and thus equally to blame. And keep in mind that Mr. Obama’s remarks came at a DNC event!  If he can’t clearly name names there, where can he?

Now, Krugman’s view:

So why can’t we do that? Because we have a powerful political movement in this country that screamed “death panels” in the face of modest efforts to use Medicare funds more effectively, and preferred to risk financial catastrophe rather than agree to even a penny in additional revenues.

The real question facing America, even in purely fiscal terms, isn’t whether we’ll trim a trillion here or a trillion there from deficits. It is whether the extremists now blocking any kind of responsible policy can be defeated and marginalized.

There is no doubt who Mr. Krugman believes is responsible for the failure to solve the long-term problem.  There isn’t any “we” to blame.

As I said, I respect both men a great deal.  But until Mr. Obama starts talking like Paul Krugman—no matter what the pundits may say—a majority of the American people may take the “we” seriously in Mr. Obama’s analysis and conclude he is part of the problem.

Claire McCaskill: “This Fight Has Not Been About Nothing”

Missouri’s Senator Claire McCaskill, nobody’s liberal Democrat, appeared on Meet the Press this morning with South Dakota Republican Senator John Thune and she said this about the debt-ceiling brawl:

Here’s the bottom line: This fight has not been about nothing. This hasn’t just been political theater. There’s a philosophical difference here on the hill between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, and it’s pretty simple: They have voted to keep giving taxpayer checks to big oil while they voted to convert the Medicare system to vouchers. Now, that doesn’t compute for us. How can you be more willing to push money—public money—to the most profitable corporations in the history of the world at the same time you’re willing to have smaller Medicare?

So, that’s really the fight here.

Yes, that’s the fight, as both sides acknowledge, including Senator Thune, a right-winger who represents 814,180 folks or 1/379 of the U.S. population. He has the power of, say, New York’s Charles Schumer, who represents more than 19 million folks or 1/16  of the population. (Missouri’s population is 1/51 of the total, so Claire McCaskill represents more than seven times the people as John Thune, but has no larger voice in our political system.)

Senator Thune was asked this question by David Gregory this morning:

GREGORY: Senator Thune, as  a Republican here, somebody who’s reportedly in play, what has to be in this agreement to get you to “yes”?

THUNE: Well, I think a couple of things, David. First, no taxes.

No taxes.”  No taxes first, and really, no taxes second, third, and on to infinity.  

Republican irresponsibility, as the debt-ceiling debacle demonstrates, knows no bounds.

Obama’s Choice

“This is no way to run the greatest country on Earth.  It’s a dangerous game that we’ve never played before, and we can’t afford to play it now.  Not when the jobs and livelihoods of so many families are at stake.  We can’t allow the American people to become collateral damage to Washington’s political warfare.”

—Barack Obama, July 25, 2011

 

Mr. Obama is frustratingly rational.

What frustrates is his ongoing assumption that he is dealing with people who will respond to reasonable arguments like, say, when he quoted Jefferson last night:

“Every man cannot have his way in all things — without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals, but not a society.”

Thomas Jefferson never met Grover Norquist.

Or John Boehner.

Last night, during this moment of national import, the Speaker of the House took the opportunity to trash the President and tell monstrous lies, beginning with this one:

Millions are looking for work, have been for some time, and the spending binge going on in Washington is a big part of the reason why.

Who would write such a shockingly dishonest sentence, let alone stand before America as a leader of a once-great political party and utter it?

John Boehner.

He has now officially become the leader of the extremists in the GOP, those unreasonable souls whom George Will, Tea Party intellectual, praised this way in today’s Joplin Globe:

Their inflexibility astonishes and scandalizes Washington because it reflects the rarity of serene fidelity to campaign promises.

Leaving aside the false suggestion that the debt ceiling formed any part of the campaign in 2010, consider the fact that Will is praising inflexibility when the only way our country can be governed is by flexibility, by compromise. There is no other way to govern 300 million people.

Mr. Will can extol teapartiers’ “serene fidelity”—I’m sure all extremists possess it—but many of us see people who not only won’t bend in the slightest to the will of the other side, they won’t even bend to the will of the country, whose people want—by a substantial majority—a compromise that includes revenue increases.

Tea Party zealots, as President Obama surely realizes by now, are giddy over the idea that they have a rather dear hostage tied up in their ideological basement: The economic health of the United States and by extension the working class and the most vulnerable of Americans.

And what all of us need to remember is that these zealots, far from any known region of rationality, are willing to shoot that hostage right between the eyes and proudly and defiantly walk into the 2012 elections with blood spatters on their hands.

Boehner fibbed too when he said about the Cut, Cap, and Balance Act that it was passed “with bipartisan support,” knowing that only five Democrats supported it. As I have previously suggested, it is nearly twice as accurate to characterize it as having bipartisan opposition, since nine Republicans sensibly voted against it.  But such dishonesty is trivial compared to the deceit involved in the conservative insistence that the budget can be balanced without additional revenues.

The Speaker also said this:

I want you to know I made a sincere effort to work with the president to identify a path forward that would implement the principles of Cut, Cap, & Balance in a manner that could secure bipartisan support and be signed into law. I gave it my all.

His all?  No one, including the Speaker himself, believed that that extremist piece of legislation—its radical “principles” dreamed up just a few months ago by inflexible ideologues—ever had a chance to get through the Senate, let alone get to the President, since it would have ripped gaping holes in America’s social safety net.

And dubious is Mr. Boehner’s suggestion that the latest scheme he and Eric Cantor have dreamed up—the two-step approach designed as a political instrument to bludgeon the President in six months with the same kind of foamy-mouth zealotry we have seen the last six months—”can and will pass the Senate.”

Hell, he’s not even sure he can get most of the foamy-mouth zealots in his own caucus to vote for it. 

In any case, President Obama’s address last night was obviously a way of urging the people most affected by a debt default—the hostages—to get involved in the process and try to talk the hostage-takers into releasing them.

Unfortunately, that won’t happen.

The hammer is cocked.  In their zealotry, the perpetrators of this crime believe that pulling the trigger may be the only way of getting the larger job done: a revolutionary retreat into pre-New Deal America, where the moneyed class will enjoy the bounty while the rest of us eat their scraps.

As for President Obama, he will have to decide whether he will play it safe and pay the ransom to political fanatics in Congress or be the champion of the following point of view, which he described last night:

Most Americans, regardless of political party, don’t understand how we can ask a senior citizen to pay more for her Medicare before we ask a corporate jet owner or the oil companies to give up tax breaks that other companies don’t get.  How can we ask a student to pay more for college before we ask hedge fund managers to stop paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries?  How can we slash funding for education and clean energy before we ask people like me to give up tax breaks we don’t need and didn’t ask for?  

That’s not right.  It’s not fair. 

No, it’s not right and it’s not fair, Mr. Obama. So how can you put your name on it?

 

“Bipartisan” Opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill Doesn’t Faze Boehner

Possibly just to demonstrate how unserious he is, John Boehner issued this tweet today:

Bipartisan plan? I heard Kevin McCarthy, House GOP Majority Whip, say essentially the same thing this morning to NBC’s Chuck Todd, and I’ve heard many Republicans refer to the legislation as “bipartisan.”  Since I’ve already written negatively about the the budget-slashing, New Deal-killing bill known here as Cut, Cap and Kill, let’s look at the claim that the bill that passed the House was bipartisan.

H.R. 2560, The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act of 2011, passed the House on July 19 by a vote of 234 to 190, with a not-so-staggering 5 Democrats voting with the Ayes.  And I must point out that one of those Democrats—David Boren of neighboring Oklahoma—is no more a Democrat than Ozark Billy Long, with whom he shares a similar voting record in the House. But I’ll be generous and throw in Boren as a Democrat, which means that 98% of the Ayes were official Republicans.

Now, there are 193 Democrats in the House and the five who voted with the GOP represents 2.5% of the caucus.  That means that 97.5% of Democrats voted against the constitutional monstrosity.

But I want to make a larger point about this bipartisan nonsense.  Using the standards of John Boehner and the House Republicans, the opposition to the Cut, Cap, and Balance bill was decidedly more bipartisan than the support for it.  There were nine—count ‘em—nine Republicans (3.7% of their caucus) who voted against the bill.

So, we can say that the bipartisan opposition to Cut, Cap, and Kill was nearly twice as strong as the so-called bipartisan support for it.

Tweet that, Mr. Boehner.

A Radically Simple Solution

If you missed today’s Obama presser, here is all you really need to know about what he said: 

We’re not Greece; we’re not Portugal…It turns out we don’t have to do anything radical to solve this problem.

We don’t need to “gut” social programs or stop investing in our country’s future, Obama said, what we need is,

modest adjustments to get our house in order.

Those modest adjustments, of course, must be put in place soon and must stay in place over time, but Obama—seemingly the only non-radical in Washington—calmly and rationally told the American people that, “We don’t need a Constitutional Amendment to do our jobs,” but only a commitment to do what Obama says “80% of the American people” want done: fix the debt problem with a balanced approach—a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases.

In a weird sort of way, it really is that easy.  The truth is that we don’t need to do anything radical because the solution is radically simple: cut spending and raise taxes.

If only the radicals would shut up and govern.

Divided Loyalties

Ninety-seven percent of House Republicans and all but seven Republicans in the Senate have essentially taken two oaths, which I present below in both chronological order of execution and in order of primacy:

1.  To support and defend Grover Norquist in his effort to reduce government sufficiently so that he can “drown it in the bathtub.”

2.  To “support and defend the Constitution,” which includes the pledge to “faithfully discharge the duties of the office” on which they enter.

It is increasingly clear that Republicans, at least in the House, are not willing to discharge the duties of their office, faithfully or otherwise, but are willing to flush the country down the toilet in a spasm of misplaced loyalty to a life-long, wealthy right-wing activist, who stupidly said in 2009:

When I became 21, I decided that nobody learned anything about politics after the age of 21.

That’s the mental state of a man who is the most powerful Republican in the country.

Norquist’s ongoing claim to fame is his Americans for Tax Reform, which self-claims that it “was founded in 1985…at the request of President Reagan,” and which is responsible for the worst American domestic mischief of the past 30 years, outside of the 9/11 attacks.*

Here is the mission statement of this quasi-religious group:

Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) opposes all tax increases as a matter of principle.

We believe in a system in which taxes are simpler, flatter, more visible, and lower than they are today.  The government’s power to control one’s life derives from its power to tax.  We believe that power should be minimized.

Now the sentiments expressed in that mission statement are supposedly the same sentiments that voters held as they swept into power the Norquistas in the Tea Party movement who now control the Republican Party.

Or are they the same sentiments?

Nate Silver, now with The New York Times, analyzed just-released Gallup poll data and came up with the following, in terms of people’s preferences for the proper mix of taxes and budget cuts as part of the deal to reduce the deficit: 

Silver also noted, incredibly, that “there is a larger ideological gap between House Republicans and Republican voters than there is between Republican voters and Democratic ones.”  He illustrated that ideological gap this way:

As you can see, House Republicans, with their anti-tax oath, have positioned themselves on the extreme, right where Grover Norquist, himself an extremist, wants them.

Unfortunately for Democrats, as Silver points out,

the mix of spending cuts and tax increases that Mr. Obama is offering is quite close to, or perhaps even a little to the right of, what the average Republican voter wants, let alone the average American.

And still that’s not good enough.

Mr. Obama has reportedly offered, under one ($2 trillion) scenario, a mix of 83% spending cuts to 17% tax increases.  The other scenario ($4 trillion)involves somewhere between 75 and 80% spending cuts.

Hopefully, this exceedingly generous and base-vexing offer is far as Obama will go.  But it appears fairly obvious that unless he is prepared to meet Republicans on the extreme, nothing he offers will cause House Republicans to get up off their collective knees, bent in loyalty to an anti-government fanatic, and fulfil their oath to do the right thing for their country.

_______________________________

* Interestingly, Norquist, who is married to a Muslim, has been viciously attacked by conservatives like Frank Gaffney and Pamela Geller and David Horowitz for his supposed connection to unseemly Muslim leaders, possibly including the Muslim Brotherhood. Don’t you just love these crazy folks?  Never mind that Norquist was in fact associated with a true criminal, former lobbyist and convicted felon Jack Abramoff, something that doesn’t seem to bother right-wingers.

Is This Crisis Going To Waste?

Jim Wheeler, Globe blogger and frequent commenter here, wrote a piece (Into The Abyss) in which he severely criticized Republicans and mildly rebuked Democrats for their failure to use “a threatened national default” as motivation to tackle entitlement reform.

In other words, Mr. Wheeler doesn’t want this crisis to go to waste.

Here is my reply:

Jim,

I’m glad you singled out the President as the only “adult” in this mess.

Mr. Obama said on Monday,

Now is the time to do it.  If not now, when? 

He also made to liberals what I consider to be a powerful argument in favor of entitlement reform:

…if you’re a progressive who cares about the integrity of Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid, and believes that it is part of what makes our country great that we look after our seniors and we look after the most vulnerable, then we have an obligation to make sure that we make those changes that are required to make it sustainable over the long term.

So the argument I’m making to my party is…if you care about those things, then you’ve got to be interested in figuring out how do we pay for that in a responsible way.

The problem with all that is that those on our side who respect Obama and Obama’s argument, don’t believe he is dealing with honest brokers on the other side.

Mitch McConnell has expressed several times his real priority, which is to oust Obama from office. John Boehner is too weak to make a deal, and Eric Cantor is after Boehner’s job and thus is motivated to thwart any genuine efforts on Boehner’s part to do the right thing.

That is why Obama’s position is a hard sell to liberals. We can’t fathom getting a “balanced” deal from the other side. We think Obama will have to cut way too deep and otherwise give away too much of what we value just to get Republicans to raise the debt limit. It’s last year’s hostage situation all over again, with more at stake this time.

And that is why I resent the use of defaulting on our debts as leverage to make a deal of this magnitude.  It’s not honest, as McConnell’s recent move revealed. Obama has made an unbelievably large offer that would cause him great difficulty among those who trust and support him, if Republicans chose to accept it.  But because Obama made the offer, because it came from his tainted lips, it is unacceptable. Republicans essentially want the cuts without giving anything in return.

Finally, if we believe in democracy, then we ought to let the people decide such large matters through elections. As I have argued before, both parties should cast the 2012 elections as a referendum on what kind of country voters want to live in.

Here are the choices on the domestic spending side:

Smaller government and lower taxes: Which means reduced Social Security and Medicare benefits and a rather severe reduction in Medicaid, reduced funding for education and infrastructure, etc.  Paul Ryan’s dissolution of the Medicare program for those under 55 is just one example of what the country would look like, if people choose this option.

Larger government with higher taxes: Which means making investments in education and infrastructure, etc., and tweaking Medicaid and Social Security to ensure their solvency. That leaves the real driver of long-term deficits and debt: Medicare. How do we fix it under this choice?  Well, more on that later, but suffice it for now to say this: Cost shifting of the kind Paul Ryan outlined is unacceptable; so, too, is perpetual tax increases, which could not keep up with the escalating costs.  Democrats will have to propose a fix along the lines of what Kevin Drum outlined:

We need something…that genuinely has an effect on healthcare costs. Something that reduces the amount we pay doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies. Something that provides incentives for difficult end-of-life decisions. Something that makes credible tradeoffs between the cost of new treatments and the likely benefits. And something that gives taxpayers and patients alike a reason to care about all this. 

I’m in tune with your desire to do something about entitlements, Jim, but I’m skeptical of using the threat to ruin our credit (which would increase our debt problems through the increased cost of borrowing) and reversing our barely-discernible economic recovery as the way a democratic nation solves its problems.

A Modest Proposal

Most people don’t realize it yet, but if there is no deal to raise the debt ceiling by August 2, a massive shift of political power from the legislative branch to the executive branch will take place.

If Republicans fail to act responsibly and agree to increase the debt limit, they will in effect give President Obama and the Treasury Secretary, Tim Geithner, the authority to pay the nation’s bills with limited income.  Thus, Geithner and Obama will be forced to choose which bills get paid and which won’t. (Geithner’s already doing this now.)

Reportedly, after August 2  the Treasury Department will be about $120 billion short of paying our bills each month, if the debt ceiling is not raised.

Given that reality, here is a proposal (not  original) for how to operate in a post-August 2, no-deal environment. Call it political triage:

♦ Immediately gather a list of the reddest Republican counties in the United States, according to the 2010 “tea party” elections.

♦ Prepare to withhold all federal payments to those Republican-red counties, including Social Security and Medicare benefits to the residents of those counties.

♦ Then, should Republicans refuse to raise the debt ceiling, first pay all interest due to bondholders, then begin withholding federal funds to those red counties in descending order of redness until enough money is saved to prevent further borrowing.

There. That should do it.

I feel better already.

 

Punt, And Let The People Decide

“Eric Cantor did most of the talking.”

— Sen. Dick Durbin on Sunday’s 75-minute debt ceiling talks

Now that we have had today’s dueling press conferences, just before Obama and the Republicans gather once again to hear GOP leaders explain why they will not act responsibly on the debt ceiling issue, it’s time to understand exactly what is going on here.

♦ Republicans, long on talk about doing a big deal to meet head-on a big, falling-off-a-cliff debt crisis, are slinking back toward the smaller $2 trillion deal.  Obama favors doing “something big,” although it appears he can’t convince Republicans to follow him. Thus, the $4 trillion deal is likely history.

♦ John Boehner is perhaps the weakest Speaker of the House in history.  In fact, he’s not actually Speaker.  That job is now in the hands of Eric Cantor, who though he doesn’t have the title, does have a horde of wild teapartiers behind him who trust him to remain irresponsible by insisting that tax increases remain off the table. 

♦ Obama, a shaky negotiator, essentially ceded so much early ground to the Republicans, that instead of taking the deal of a political lifetime, GOP leadership senses that they can get Obama to blink at the last minute and they can get it all.  Let’s hope he has an ace up his sleeve that would explain his willingness to give Republicans nearly everything they want in exchange for, for, for….well, we’ll see.

♦ The Fourteenth Amendment escape hatch appears to be locked from the inside.  Last week, Tim Geithner reportedly told budget negotiators that the administration cannot constitutionally continue to keep the debt train going past the debt ceiling limit.  Thus, on the other side of the August 2 deadline awaits default and the economic naughtiness that goes with it.

♦ Republicans insist that it’s not wise to raise taxes on “job creators,” which is the way party spokesman refer to those with great wealth who have done very well through this otherwise anemic recovery.  Now, it’s not true, of course, that those alleged job creators will stop creating jobs if they get a tax hike. If it were true, we would right now have a thousand jobs for every applicant because taxes are at an all-time low. If there were an indisputable causal relationship between low taxes on the wealthy and overall employment, then it would also be hard to explain the boom during the late 1990s, when tax rates were higher on everyone.

♦ And besides that, as Obama made clear today, any tax increase would not take effect until 2013 and beyond.

♦ If Republicans do come to their senses and accept the deal of a lifetime, it will be difficult for Obama and the Democrats to sell it to the faithful, including me.  Mr. Obama used this phrase today:

We have agreed to a series of spending cuts that will make the government leaner, meaner…

I think most Democrats would agree that a government shaped by conservative recalcitrance would, indeed, be “meaner.” 

Aware of the difficulty of persuading people like me that he is right, Obama said this:

And so, yeah, we’re going to have a sales job; this is not pleasant.  It is hard to persuade people to do hard stuff that entails trimming benefits and increasing revenues.  But the reason we’ve got a problem right now is people keep on avoiding hard things, and I think now is the time for us to go ahead and take it on.

Okay. I can be persuaded.  If “trimming benefits” indeed means trimming and not scalping, and if “increasing revenues” means, among other things, eventually raising taxes on the wealthy to Clinton-era levels, then I am in. As the president said,

We have a system of government in which everybody has got to give a little bit.  

Yes. That is our system.  Or at least that was our system until it was hijacked by a band of teapartying brothers whose scorched earth economic policy allows no room for compromise, for giving even “a little bit.”

Look, President Obama is obviously trying to do the responsible thing for the American people, in terms of keeping Republicans from completely tanking the economy.  His presser today demonstrated that beyond question.  He is driving a clunker in these negotiations, thanks to the American people who put the Tea Party in charge of Washington. 

His main problem is that he is the executive in charge of the government and he has the most visible responsibility to make sure the full faith and credit of the United States remains intact, a responsibility he obviously takes very seriously.

I, as only one liberal, hope that he has the guts to say no to a bad deal, to a deal that only furthers the irresponsibility of the Republicans.  I have previously argued that the best deal to be made at this time is something that will get us through the 2012 elections.

Let’s punt it to the American people.

Then, both sides can present their plans and, with so much at stake, the American electorate can decide what kind of country they want to live in.

Good Conservative Commentary As Easy As 1-2-3

Good things come in threes, the superstitious often aver.  On two of the Sunday morning shows, I heard two different conservative pundits—George F. Will and David Brooks—say sensible things, in threes.  And after I throw in a little William F. Buckley, this will mark the first time in the history of this blog that I have favorably quoted three conservatives.

From ABC’s This Week, I want to bring attention to this brief exchange between two regular panelists, Martha Raddatz and Will, during the program’s segment discussing President Obama’s speech last Wednesday on the planned withdrawal of 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year:

MARTHA RADDATZ: I think the president has never wanted a full counterinsurgency. The president has never even mentioned counterinsurgency in December 2009 and he certainly didn’t mention it the other night.

I always had the impression that David Petraeus and Stan McChrystal before him were fighting a war based on counterinsurgency, but the president was never committed to that…

GEORGE WILL: Obviously Pakistan is key. If Afghanistan were next to Denmark, we wouldn’t be there, we wouldn’t be worrying about it the way we do, because it is next to Pakistan, a nuclear power.

I think Martha has got it exactly right, which is the commander in chief and his commander in the field are fighting different projects.

David Petraeus is the author, literal, of the book on counterinsurgency. Counterinsurgency is nation building. The United States army — army has been engaged in 16,000 economic projects over there.

There are three problems with nation building. It’s expensive and we’re short of money. It takes time and we’re short of patience. And, three, we don’t know how to it. It’s like orchid building, nations are not built like tinker toys.

I think Raddatz and Will are pretty close to the mark, although calling them “different projects” is going too far.  But Petraeus and Obama are not exactly on the same page with the counterinsurgency stuff, as I suggested last week

And Will’s triplet formulation and criticism of the counterinsurgency strategy is right on:

1. It’s expensive and we’re short of money.

2. It takes time and we’re short of patience.

3. We don’t know how to do it.

I will insert here a quote from another conservative voice, William F. Buckley, related to the nation-building idea:

One should not tire of repeating the fatalistic but wise maxim of Senator Fulbright, that the United States government has no proper quarrel with any nation no matter how obnoxious its domestic policies, so long as it does not seek to export them. As much was said by President John Quincy Adams when he stressed that Americans were friends of liberty everywhere, but custodians only of their own.

I also want to point out another triplet advanced on Sunday by yet another conservative, David Brooks.  On NBC’s Meet the Press, this brief exchange took place:

DAVID GREGORY:  …I spoke to a CEO this week who said, “Yeah, you go around the world, in Asia and Europe, there’s this sense that Pax Americana is over.” But even in a more positive way, David, that American influence is waning because our politics is not up to the task of some of the challenges we face.

DAVID BROOKS:  Yeah.  We’ve got a government problem.  We don’t have a country problem.  We still have an entrepreneurial country.  We’ll still have the only country in the world, only big country, where people can come in from all over the world and magnify their talents.  But we have a government problem. 

We have to do three things.  We have to be fiscally sustainable, we have to do it in a way that increases growth, and we have to do it in a way that reduces inequality.  Those are three things that are in tension with each other.  So if any of us who watch Washington think that our political system is capable of doing two–three things in tension with each other all at once?  It means borrowing from column A, column B, I haven’t seen that level of borrowing.

Again, the triplet that Brooks advanced is sound:

1. We have to be fiscally sustainable.

2. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that increases growth.

3. We have to be fiscally sustainable in a way that reduces inequality.

While I tend to share Brooks’ pessimism about the ability of contemporary politics to achieve those three things, my admittedly liberal analysis leads me to believe that Democrats and Republicans all agree on the first two points, but the truth is that Republicans don’t give a damn about the third point: whether any fiscal solution involves the reduction of inequalities.

And that’s why they are willing to play chicken with the economy.

Freedom Works’ Crib Notes

While the national media foolishly and sadly follow Sarah Palin around the country, serious Tea Party people—Palin is not seriously thinking about running for president—are focusing on the battle ahead.

Dick Armey, former House Majority Leader and now Pooh-Bah of Freedom Works, has graciously supplied freshman House Republicans with a few simple points to make about the party’s plan to hold the debt ceiling hostage in exchange for some ideological candy and about the party’s plot to murder Medicare in its sleep.

Debt Ceiling:Key point: the world does not end if the debt ceiling is not raised. Treasury Secretary Geitner [sic] is not likely to default on our loans. Spending cuts will become a priority before default.”

Translation: We don’t have to worry about any fallout from our irresponsible behavior.  Geithner will either have to do our bidding or we will blame him for any trouble!  It’s that simple fellow Republicans!

Medicare Caper:Get out there and talk to people. Hold town halls at senior centers and other areas where the population is especially concerned about their benefits being cut. Take the lessons of ’94 and ’95 and get out there and explain to people that their immediate benefits will not be affected.”

Translation: Go tell the old folks who love their Medicare, and who vote in droves, that they have nothing to fear.  We’re not going to murder their Medicare, only their children’s and grandchildren’s Medicare. What old-timer wouldn’t buy into that plan?  No harm, no foul. The geezers get to keep (most) of their current bennies, while the younger folks will both pay for those bennies and cough up more scrilla for cost increases in their own health care coverage resulting from our stingy “new” plan.  Let’s hope the voters don’t figure out the unfairness of that part of our electoral scheme.

The Myth Of Doing Nothing: “We need to dispel the myth that if we leave Medicare alone it will stay the same. It won’t…Democrats do not have a plan of their own. Hold up a blank piece of paper as a powerful image of their do-nothing approach. Stick to your message.”

Translation: As long as Democrats are just trying to keep us from killing Medicare, we can win the message battle by simply saying our plan to kill it is the only one out there.

Dave Ramsey: “I’m Doubt Free!!!!!!”

Dave Ramsey is famous for telling people to get out of debt and live like paupers until they do. Of course, if everyone followed his advice, our economy would look quite different today.  But never mind that.

Ramsey should know something about the subject of debt since he had to file bankruptcy in the late 1980s due to creditors demanding that he pay them back a lot of money he owed them. 

So, how did he become so famous, and so rich, today?  Why, naturally he started counseling folks on how not to end up in bankruptcy like he did, that’s how.  And he wrote books.  And he started a radio show, which is on hundreds of stations around the country.  People call him up and sometimes scream, “I’m debt free!!!!!!

As far as that goes, more power to him.  Everyone should profit from their mistakes in life, as far as I’m concerned.  I wish I could figure out a Ramsey-esque way to handsomely profit from years of slurping up conservative nonsense, but nothing comes readily to mind.

Anyway, along with Ramsey’s mostly common-sense advice, he often mixes in a little Christianity and a lot of dead-certain right-wing political philosophy.

His financial advice column in today’s Joplin Globe was no exception:

Dear Dave,

I recently lost my job due to layoffs. I’m luckier than most, because I’m debt-free except for my house, and I have three months of expenses saved. I’ll also receive a severance package from my former employer, and my wife still has her job. I’m struggling with whether or not to file for unemployment compensation. Do you think it’s morally okay to do this?

Brent

Now, I’ve always been curious as to why folks like “Brent” would write a complete stranger and ask him for moral advice.  I find that a little weird.  It seems to me that if you’re morally confused or conflicted about something, you might want to talk to someone close to you, who knows you and your situation a little better than a guy sitting behind a microphone, or who might be hunched over a keyboard in his dark basement clad in Scooby-Doo skivvies with a bag of cheese puffs pecking out Iron Age wisdom with carrot-colored fingers.

In any case, here is part of Ramsey’s reply:

Dear Brent,

I don’t have a problem, morally or otherwise, with accepting something I’ve already paid for. The Social Security system in this country is a complete and abysmal mathematical failure. It’s proof that socialism doesn’t work. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to take my money out. The government took it from me in the first place!

You will note that poor Brent did not ask for a lecture on the evils of Social Security or socialism, nor did he ask for commentary on government “taking” taxes like a common thief.  He simply wanted to know if it were moral, given Brent’s obvious sympathy with Ramsey’s Christian world view, to apply for an unemployment check.

No doubt, Ramsey gave Brent the assurance he was probably looking for, despite his internal conflict.  Brent knew that his personal right-wing quasi-biblical philosophy obligated him to reject taking “something for nothing,” and getting unemployment benefits seems like getting something for nothing.  But Dave made it okay for him to indulge, just this one time at least.*

But I have the response that Ramsey, if he followed the logic of his worldview, should have given Brent:

Dear Brent,

What kind of deadbeat are you?  You sound like an Obama supporter to me. No wonder your boss cut you loose.  You should just be grateful that your kind and godly employer gave you a parting gift and not participate in that socialistic unemployment compensation scheme.  That’s for losers.

And by the way, that’s what’s wrong with this country.  People like you who want to live at other people’s expense. Why don’t you go find a job?  And don’t tell me there aren’t any jobs out there.  Go down to McDonald’s and ask them if you can clean their toilets for three bucks and hour.  That’s better than sitting around on your liberal keister soaking up funds you don’t deserve.  How long do you think the producers of this world are going to keep taking care of lazy people like you?

God bless,

—Dave

____________________________

* Oddly, the Dave Ramseys of the world, who presumably believe in the sacrificial efforts of Jesus to save the world, have no problem with taking salavation–which they didn’t earn themselves–from the Savior.

When Will Democrats Learn?

Sam Stein reported this today:

There is increasing concern among Democratic officials both on and off the Hill that Republicans will draw out negotiations over raising the nation’s debt ceiling in an effort to institute one of several blunter deficit-reduction measures.

In recent days, chatter among operatives and Hill aides has centered on one specific addition the GOP is pushing in exchange for signing off on a debt limit increase. A cap on overall government spending — bringing it to 20.6 percent of GDP over the course of ten years — has been sharply criticized as too crude and potentially damaging for a fragile economy.

Stein says that this so-called “CAP Act” has bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. Missouri’s own Claire McCaskill is a co-sponsor in the Senate, and Stein mentioned that McCaskill’s office did not indicate whether the CAP Act should be attached to any deficit ceiling vote.

It should not be.

Here’s my point: Whether the spending cap idea is good or bad, it’s preposterous that Democrats should negotiate over the idea while Republicans are holding hostage a raise in the debt ceiling next month. 

Something so serious should not be negotiated at the point of a gun. But Republicans have achieved so much by holding a gun to the heads of ordinary Americans, they naturally want to continue with that strategy.

But this time they would be holding a gun to the heads of Wall Street banksters and Democrats need to understand that Republicans will not pull the trigger because of that.  Therefore they should not make any kind of deal over the debt ceiling that would lock in a cap on government spending or anything else of consequence.  Those kinds of ideas belong in the 2012 budget debate, not in a debate about the full faith and credit of our federal government.

The truth is that no matter what teapartiers in the House demand, Boehner, if he wants to act responsibly, needs only a handful of Republicans to pass an increase in the debt ceiling.  There are plenty of Democrats in the House to get a relatively clean bill passed.

If Boehner cannot get a handful of Republicans, then America should know that Republicans are willing to risk a financial calamity in service to their extremist ideology.

In the Senate, it’s fairly obvious now that no Republican senator is willing to filibuster the debt ceiling bill, therefore only 50 votes are needed to pass a relatively clean one. 

Given these realities, Democrats need to stiffen their spine and tell Republicans that they will not be rolled again.  Sending signals like those Sam Stein reported is not a good strategy.

When will they ever learn?

Don’t Touch Our Government Spending! Says The Joplin Globe

The Joplin Globe has long been one of the state’s most conservative newspapers.  But sometimes it suffers from a sort of political schizophrenia.

This week was a perfect example.

Today the editorialist lamented Obama’s big budget numbers, arguing:

To keep on spending some $3.5, $3.6 or $3.7 trillion a year does not come close to limiting that government. Everyone wants to “share the wealth” in good times. We wonder who will agree to “share the pain” in times of need, locally and nationally.

We wonder who will agree to share the pain“?  Remember that. Although these are times in which government stimulus is needed to keep the anemic recovery going, the Globe speaks of sharing the pain of big budget cuts, even the local pain of budget cuts. 

Yet on Sunday, the Globe editorialist wrote:

Typically we believe that less government is more. But, in the case of airport subsidies, we need to apply some common sense.

Uh-oh.  By “common sense” the Globe means, “we think your airport subsidy should be cut, but we want the Joplin airport subsidy to continue.”  But, but, but…what about the pain? “We wonder who will agree to share the pain?” Remember?

Or take Monday’s editorial, in which the Globe (rightly) lectured Missouri Republicans on why it was simply unacceptable to return $189 million dollars of federal money, which didn’t arrive in time to stop most school districts from cutting jobs.  Keep the money! said the Globe, ending with this:

We hope Missouri’s Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly remember that they were elected to represent Missourians, not the entire country. We need them to do what’s best for the Show-Me State, not try to address national political talking points.

Do what’s best for the Show-Me State“?  But, but, but…what about the pain? “We wonder who will agree to share the pain?” Remember?

It’s only Wednesday, so stay tuned for more suggestions the Globe has for “sharing the pain” while simultaneously arguing, “Do what’s best for the Show-Me State” and the local Joplin economy.

It’s a good thing other cities and states don’t feel that way or we would have a massive public debt.

Right?

Republicans Say They Will Kill The Hostages

Head hostage taker, Mitch McConnell, warned any would-be rescuers that if they tried any funny business, he would kill the hostages with tax hikes:

From Roll Call:

The Kentucky Republican’s comments came in a statement shortly after the Senate agreed to move toward final passage of the tax measure, which would extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years and unemployment benefits for 13 months. McConnell struck the deal with the White House last week.

“We now urge the House leadership to bring this bipartisan agreement to a vote without political games or partisan changes designed only to block this bill’s passage in the House. If the House Democratic Leadership decides to make partisan changes, they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st,” McConnell said in the statement.

Nothing—absolutely nothing—could be clearer:  The Republicans are ruthless bastards, when it comes to protecting their moneyed constituents.

 And they don’t give a damn about anyone else.

Meanwhile, Mitch McConnell has a special message for 99% of the American people.  See if you can guess what it is:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Magic Kingdom Of Conservatism

You’re sailing softly through the sun in a broken Stone Age dawn. You fly so high, I get a strange magic.

Oh, what a strange magic.

—Jeff Lynne, Electric Light Orchestra

Bill Maher made an interesting observation about the difference between conservatives here in America and those across the Atlantic in the land of our Founder’s fathers:

…they just had an election two weeks ago and, power changed hands — but the party that lost is working WITH the part that won — they are not accusing them of being Bolshevik Zulus out to destroy the Magna Carta. Because the English are grown ups, including their conservatives who enjoy a wonderful luxury that conservatives on this side of the pond do not. They’re allowed to be sane. They don’t have to pander to creationists and anti-intellectuals. Only in this dumb country do liberals and conservatives argue over things like “evolution” and “climate change” and whether “sick people should be left to die in the street.”

Maher also pointed out that conservatives in America “tend to believe in magical ideas“:

America is never wrong; you can defeat terrorism militarily; and lower taxes will somehow fix the deficit. And I’m not even mentioning the stuff about how Jesus used to fly around on a pterodactyl and just hated it when homos ate wedding cake.

Now, no matter what you think about Maher’s brand of humor, there is something odd about the current iteration of conservative philosophy, as expressed by right-wing media and echoed by Republican politicians all across the country.

It does sort of have a strange magical quality to it. 

We can wave our tax-cutting wand, and jobs will come back, the deficit will diminish, and our debt will soon disappear.  

We can talk mean and nasty to the rest of the world, and then we can pull a rabbit of peace out of a hat.

We can build a magic wall, and our immigration problems will vanish.

We can elect Tea Party sorcerers to the Congress, and they will restore Lady Liberty—who Obama has cut in half—to her original state.

Oh, what a strange magic.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 637 other followers

%d bloggers like this: