Budget Deal: Norquist’s Nuts, And Other Core Principles Of Conservatism

The budget deal (deftly summarized here by Ezra Klein) announced on Tuesday by Rep. Paul Ryan and Sen. Patty Murray represents just how much of the playing field, in terms of fiscal policy, now belongs to drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub conservatives.

Oh, I understand that given the political realities of a divided Congress, given the economic need to restore at least some governing stability, that the deal is better than nothing. But so much of this un-grand bargain is tailored to sell to non- or semi-Tea Party Republicans in the House and Senate (the hard-core teapartiers will nevva evva buy into it, of course).

Take, for instance, the fact that the long-term unemployed are essentially told to go to hell, or to the soup line, whichever seems more appealing.  In just a few weeks, the benefits provided by the federal government to 1.3 million former workers will expire. These unfortunate folks are mostly the victims of the Great Bush Recession, an economic calamity so Great that now, more than four years after the thing supposedly ended, people are still suffering.

But helping to alleviate the suffering of these and other folks in need is not one of what House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan called the “core principles” of conservatives. That’s right, during the announcement of the deal on Tuesday, Ryan went out of his way to assure right-wingers that those principles have been preserved:

I expect we’re going to have a healthy vote in the House Republican Caucus. We are keeping our principles. The key here is nobody had to sacrifice their core principles. Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.

Now, think about that for a minute. Paul Ryan could have said that “jobs” was a core principle of conservatives. He could have said “health care” was a core principle. He could have said “national defense.” Hell, he could have told the truth and said that “keeping Grover Norquist’s nuts warm” was a core principle. But he didn’t. The first thing that popped into his pickled pumpkin was, “Our principles are don’t raise taxes, reduce the deficit.” That’s it. Now that Barack Obama is president, that’s all that matters to these guys. Long-term unemployed? F’em!

Meanwhile, our side, because the economy is still limping along in so many ways, because we believe in governing, felt we had to make a pact that included abandoning those who, for a variety of reasons, can’t find a decent job. But is this the best deal possible? Could Democrats have insisted on continuing long-term unemployment benefits and called the implied Republican bluff to once again shut down the government?

Of course they could have. But it’s just not in the nature of those who value government to risk wrecking it again and injuring even more people. Our side could have told Paul Ryan that unless he included an extension of unemployment benefits, there would be no deal. And, given the dynamics involved, Ryan would have, eventually, had to take it. Why? Because there is no way in hell that Republicans, basking in the media-aided glow of the failure of the ObamaCare roll out, want to shift journalists’ attention away from all the “I got screwed” ObamaCare news stories to “Republicans did it again” stories about the harmful effects of yet another closure of government.

Thus there is one important reason why Republicans would have given up more than they did in this deal and why they would not have shut down the government again: They believe with all their hearts that keeping the focus on ObamaCare is their path to power. They believe, as Jim DeMint famously said before the Affordable Care Act was even passed, that “this health care issue is D-Day for freedom in America,” and,

If we’re able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.

And, you see, breaking Obama, breaking his black and Democratic back, is what this is mostly about, what it has always been mostly about. They despise this man. They hate what they deliberately misapprehend as his radical politics. They’ve never wanted him to succeed, domestically or diplomatically. If Obama wants a health reform law inspired by Republicans, they want to break him and call him a socialist. If Obama wants a jobs bill, they demand a deficit-reduction bill. If Obama suggests war, they want peace.If Obama wants peace, they suggest war. It’s been that way from the beginning of his presidency.

Alas, this deal will pass. It will become reality. And Democrats say that they will try to pursue extending long-term jobless benefits via separate legislation. Good for them. But it is hard to see how that will happen, now that the pressure is off, now that Republicans don’t have to worry about the backlash of a government shut down, now that they can go, full pelt, into an all-out assault on ObamaCare in their quest to break the law’s champion.

Meanwhile, the Super Bowl of politics continues to be played on the right side of the field. Meanwhile, the peopleless principles of the Republican Party—no new revenues and slashing government—continue to dominate the game.

Meanwhile, many of the victims of the Great Bush Recession are on their own.

[photo: J. Scott Applewhite]

Government Jobs Are People Too

I know I posted a segment from The Rachel Maddow Show earlier today, but I just have to post the segment below because it is the best 8 1/2 minutes you will spend, in terms of hearing a rebuttal to what right-wingers claim both about the nature of government employment and the alleged radical nature of President Obama and his administration.

Before you watch the segment, here is a graphic St. Rachel uses to make the point that what was standard practice in fighting recessions in the past has been turned on its head during the Obama presidency. The graph plots the change in government employment during the 1981 recession when Reagan was president, the 1990 recession when George H.W. Bush was president, the 2001 recession when George W. Bush was president, and the Great Recession when the Scary Negro socialist/communist was president:

government employment and recession

As you can clearly see, Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II did not seek to shrink government, and government employment, when the economy slowed down. That would have been stupid. And neither did President Obama initially seek to eliminate government jobs. Part of his stimulus plan put in place early in 2009 was designed to help states keep teachers, cops, firemen, and other government workers on the job. But that stimulus, much maligned by Republicans as a “failure,” is long gone. And nothing like it is coming back.

Here is the St. Rachel segment, which you should commit to memory, especially those of you who have hard-headed conservatives in your midst:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

“We Shall Go Up Or Down Together”

President Obama’s inspirational speech in Kansas, at the place where Teddy Roosevelt talked of a “square deal” and a “New Nationalism,” was essentially about fairness, about what kind of country the people will have:

…what’s at stake is whether this will be a country where working people can earn enough to raise a family, build a modest savings, own a home, secure their retirement.

Is that too much to ask?  Is it too much to ask that those fortunate folks, who are enjoying enormous wealth because of what America is, invest in the scaffolding that holds up the working people who actually made America what it is?  That scaffolding enables those who work hard to move up so they can earn enough to raise that family, build that modest savings, own that home, and secure that retirement.

But the poles and planks that comprise that scaffolding need attention. Some of the scaffolding is in danger of falling down. Indeed, some of it has been purposely dismantled:

Now, just as there was in Teddy Roosevelt’s time, there is a certain crowd in Washington who, for the last few decades, have said, let’s respond to this economic challenge with the same old tune. “The market will take care of everything,” they tell us. If we just cut more regulations and cut more taxes — especially for the wealthy — our economy will grow stronger. Sure, they say, there will be winners and losers. But if the winners do really well, then jobs and prosperity will eventually trickle down to everybody else. And, they argue, even if prosperity doesn’t trickle down, well, that’s the price of liberty.

Well, we know as Mr. Obama said, that the theory behind trickle-down economics “doesn’t work,” and “has never worked.” We have tried it and it has failed our people, at least most of our people:

We simply cannot return to this brand of “you’re on your own” economics if we’re serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country. We know that it doesn’t result in a strong economy. It results in an economy that invests too little in its people and in its future. We know it doesn’t result in a prosperity that trickles down. It results in a prosperity that’s enjoyed by fewer and fewer of our citizens.

Mr. Obama had his statistics to back him up; I have endlessly posted on this blog such statistics. But working Americans don’t need to see those numbers to know that the scaffolding on which they do their work no longer provides the security and mobility enjoyed by post-war workers.  Unions, which helped make the middle class, are diminished, and what is left of them is under constant attack. Wages and benefits are thus falling for those who actually have jobs.

American workers also know there is a growing inequality, “a level that we haven’t seen since the Great Depression,” as the President said. They are “rightly suspicious that the system in Washington is rigged against them, that our elected representatives aren’t looking out for the interests of most Americans.” The promise of a middle class life to those who work hard is becoming an endlessly deferred dream for too many:

It’s heartbreaking enough that there are millions of working families in this country who are now forced to take their children to food banks for a decent meal. But the idea that those children might not have a chance to climb out of that situation and back into the middle class, no matter how hard they work? That’s inexcusable. It is wrong. It flies in the face of everything that we stand for.

What we stand for is, of course, always subject to change. The building of our “more perfect union” is not inevitable. It can be stopped, it can be altered, it can be redesigned.  The Great Recession has given us a chance to rethink just what a more perfect union means, what it will mean for the future, and by what means we will build it.

If it gets built.

But our President has faith:

…we have grown and we’ve changed in many ways since Roosevelt’s time. The world is faster and the playing field is larger and the challenges are more complex. But what hasn’t changed—what  can never change—are the values that got us this far. We still have a stake in each other’s success. We still believe that this should be a place where you can make it if you try. And we still believe, in the words of the man who called for a New Nationalism all those years ago, “The fundamental rule of our national life,” he said, “the rule which underlies all others — is that, on the whole, and in the long run, we shall go up or down together.” And I believe America is on the way up.

Let us all hope he is right. Better still, let us all fight to make sure he is.

Welcome To The Future

Globe blogger Jim Wheeler commented here the other day on the subject of jobs and offered a thousand-years-hence scenario in which,

Robots and other automated machines would do all the grunt work, including farming. Energy needs would be supplied by a combination of solar, nuclear, geothermal and tidal, all sustainable. A tiny percentage of humans would maintain the machines. The environment would be controlled with recycling. So, what would people do?

Jim gave good reasons “why such a society would be sustainable,” and it started me thinking about the future and how our capitalist system might function in Jim’s far-off world.  Just what would people do?

Then I realized that such a society is not as distant as a thousand years; indeed, we can see its outlines today.

In the New York Times on Sunday, I found this:

It took extensive government action to prevent another Great Depression, while the enormous rewards received by bankers at the heart of the meltdown have led many to ask whether unfettered capitalism produced an equitable distribution of wealth. We clearly need a new, alternative vision of capitalism.

The Times article was written by Roger E. Backhouse and Bradley W. Bateman, economists and authors of a new book on John Maynard Keynes.  They ended with this:

Perhaps the protesters occupying Wall Street are not so misguided after all. The questions they raise — how do we deal with the local costs of global downturns? Is it fair that those who suffer the most from such downturns have their safety net cut, while those who generate the volatility are bailed out by the government? — are the same ones that a big-picture economic vision should address. If economists want to help create a better world, they first have to ask, and try to answer, the hard questions that can shape a new vision of capitalism’s potential.

Just what that new vision of capitalism’s potential will look like is part of what Americans may be contemplating as the 2012 election nears. Because things don’t appear to be returning to the old paradigm anytime soon, if at all.

An editorial in Monday’s New York Times began with some somber news:

The way the job market is going, it will never be robust enough to bring down the unemployment rate, now at 9 percent, or 13.9 million people. Monthly job growth has slowed to an average of just 90,000 new jobs a month over the past six months, a pace at which growth in the working-age population will always exceed the number of new jobs being created.

That eerily echoes an argument found in Jeremy Rifkin’s 1995 book, The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era.  Here is a Wikipedia description of the argument in the book:

In 1995, Rifkin contended that worldwide unemployment would increase as information technology eliminates tens of millions of jobs in the manufacturing, agricultural and service sectors. He traced the devastating impact of automation on blue-collar, retail and wholesale employees. While a small elite of corporate managers and knowledge workers reap the benefits of the high-tech world economy, the American middle class continues to shrink and the workplace becomes ever more stressful.

Is this the so-called “new normal”? Certainly there are many economists who don’t completely buy this argument, who believe that what we are going through now is just a normal economic cycle, albeit a terribly severe one.

I hope they’re right.

Others believe that globalism is to blame in one way or another. Still others hold that the pace of technological improvement and educational attainment has actually (and necessarily) slowed, resulting in a slower-growing economy.

But Adam Davidson, writing in Sunday’s New York Times, seems to have a point:

The economy that emerges from this recession is going to be different. Without the distortion of a credit bubble, it is clear that far too many Americans don’t know how to do anything that the world is willing to pay them a living wage for. No economic theory offers them easy salvation.


An interesting segment on Morning Joe on Monday morning featured Erik Brynjolfsson, co-author of an e-book titled, Race Against the Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy.

In that book, the authors note something staggering:

Economist Laura D’Andrea Tyson calculated that even if job creation doubled, to the 208,000 jobs per month experienced throughout 2005, it would take until 2023 to close the gap opened by the recession.

The authors contend:

The root of our problems is not that we’re in a Great Recession, or a Great Stagnation, but rather that we are in the early throes of a Great Restructuring. Our technologies are racing ahead but many of our skills and organizations are lagging behind. […] When discussing jobs and unemployment, there has been a great deal of attention paid to issues like weak demand, outsourcing, and labor mobility but relatively little attention given to technology’s role.

On Morning Joe, Brynjolfsson said,

We have plenty of political problems, but what we talk about in this book is something deeper and more fundamental and scarier in a lot of ways, which is some big changes that are happening in the economy.

He said we are now more productive than at any time in our history and followed with this:

…productivity is “more output per worker”; now, the way that’s supposed to work is we all keep working. we all have more material things, more things we can use. But the way it’s worked in practice in the past decade  has been that we’ve had fewer workers to produce the same amount of output…we right now have passed the output of pre-recession USA but we have 14 million people unemployed and that’s a good microcosm of the problem.

More output with fewer workers. Impressive, unless  you happen to be job-hunting.

Jonathan Capehart then asked him,

Are we in a new reality? Something post September 15, 2008? What do you do with these 14 million people who don’t have jobs? How are people who have exhausted their unemployment benefits and going through all sorts of economic calamities—what do they do? Where can they go?

 He responded:

…the basic problem is that technology has accelerated and is advancing much more rapidly than our ability to keep up with it. And as a consequence, the skills in the American labor force are not keeping up…

In the book, the authors put it this way:

At least since the followers of Ned Ludd smashed mechanized looms in 1811, workers have worried about automation destroying jobs. Economists have reassured them that new jobs would be created even as old ones were eliminated. For over 200 years, the economists were right. Despite massive automation of millions of jobs, more Americans had jobs at the end of each decade up through the end of the 20th century. However, this empirical fact conceals a dirty secret. There is no economic law that says that everyone, or even most people, automatically benefit from technological progress.

Now, although this analysis sounds fairly dismal, Brynjolfsson and his co-author are optimistic about our ability to adjust to the technological progress that is undoubtedly affecting our economy in both positive and negative ways.

They provide several recommendations for making those adjustments (to get them all you’ll have to download the e-book here or here, which is only $3.99), some which will irritate liberals, some conservatives, but all should be examined closely. It has become painfully clear that conservative prescriptions for addressing the slow economic recovery—beyond even the Republican sabotage of Democratic efforts—have failed us at least these last ten years and will fail us again.

But some liberals just may need to reexamine a few of their prescriptions, too. The authors write:

When significant numbers of people see their standards of living fall despite an ever-growing economic pie, it threatens the social contract of the economy and even the social fabric of society. One instinctual response is to simply redistribute income to those who have been hurt. While redistribution ameliorates the material costs of inequality, and that’s not a bad thing, it doesn’t address the root of the problems our economy is facing. By itself, redistribution does nothing to make unemployed workers productive again.

One of the categories of solutions offered—indeed, it is the first one on the list—by Brynjolfsson and his co-author Andrew McAfee involves education, calling for higher teachers’ pay and an end to tenure, while describing teachers in terms not often used:

Teachers are some of America’s most important wealth creators.  Increasing the quantity and quality of skilled labor provides a double win by boosting economic growth and reducing income inequality.

When is the last time you heard teachers described as “wealth creators“?

President Obama and most Democrats understand that redistribution of income is not enough to fix what is wrong, and in fact Mr. Obama has promoted ways to use competition to enhance education reform (“Race to the top“).

The President said last month that “education is an essential part” of his “economic agenda.”  He made that statement as he submitted his jobs bill to Congress, which he said would have “put tens of thousands of teachers back to work across the country” and would have modernized “at least 35,000 schools.”

However, Republicans, fighting both the last economic war and the next political one, killed his jobs bill and thousands of teachers’ jobs and school modernization along with it.

As I said, voters going to the polls next year may consider which political candidates have a “new vision of capitalism’s potential” that can best serve us in the future.

But first they should consider which candidates are trying to do something about our problems now, and which candidates are obsessed with wounding a president, even if it means crippling the economy.

Graphic Angst

A graph lover at heart, I culled some graphs from MSNBC to help explain (once again) the social angst around the country, including part of the angst at the heart of the Occupy Wall Street movement (other than the direct outrage over what the banksters have done), which surprisingly has now visited Pittsburg, Kansas, a mere 30 miles from Joplin:

Notice how the trend line for the top 1% begins to rise during the Reagan 1980s, but really takes off after the 1993 tax increases under Clinton. What does that say about the relationship of taxes with the so-called “job creators”?

Now let’s look at median incomes since the year 2000:

As you can see, median income declined during the recession in the early 2000s and then came back somewhat during the subsequent recovery, but then fell precipitously during the Great Recession.  And there is no sign that it will return to its pre-Great Recession level, not to mention the level before the recession of 2001.

But what about the upper income groups?  Let’s look at the top 10% of income earners since WWI: 

As you can see, the top 10% is doing pretty well. They account for 50% of all national income.  Again, notice that from post WWII through the late 1970s, the percentage of their income hovered around 35% of the total. Then during the age of Reagan they began to earn a larger share of the income, even under those so-called punitive tax rates passed in 1993, which Republicans repealed under Bush.

Let’s turn to the crème de la crème of income earners, the top .01%:

This group comprises about 15,000 people, according to Steve Rattner, who presented this graph on Morning Joe.  Rattner mentioned that the decline in 2008—from over 6% of total income to just over 5%—was due to the collapse in the stock market and has likely resumed its upward climb.  But think about it: 15,000 Americans earn between 5 and 6% of all income in a country of 309,000,000 folks.

Finally, what really explains the widespread angst across the land is found in another graph presented by Steve Rattner on Morning Joe:

Unemployment lasting a couple of months is one thing. Being out of a job for nearly a year is another.  And among young folks, the percentage of 16-to-24-year-olds who are working (45%) is at “the lowest level since the Labor Department began tracking the data in 1948,” the National Journal reported in July.

Put all of this together and you have Occupy Wall Street.  And you have members of one political party in Washington that, rather than address the angst in the country by working with the President to create jobs, are working among themselves to make sure Mr. Obama loses his.

Fussy Facts

I don’t much care for Paul Greenberg’s opinions, as regular readers of this blog know.  It’s not that he is a horrible writer or undeserving of his Pulitzer Prize. He’s a very fine writer and Columbia University is free to pass out Pulitzers to whomever it wants, especially to one who apparently was willing in the 1960s to defend civil rights in a most uncivil part of the country, the South.

There’ s just something about his tone, call it Arkansas Delta arrogance, a peculiar mix of experience-over-ideas conservatism and Southern sensibility and the kind of condescending charm that a man at war with the modern world passes off as genteel sophistication.

At least that’s how his prose rubs me.

In any case, Greenberg was at it again this morning in the Joplin Globe. After three nice introductory paragraphs about the upcoming campaign season, the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette wrote:

Some candidates eventually prove great presidents — a Lincoln or Franklin D. Roosevelt– and win eternal honor, or at least deserve to. Others are more like Jimmy Carter and the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Now, let’s take a minute to consider those two sentences, which discredit two alive-and-well Democratic presidents and praise a long-dead one.

First the dead one: FDR is one of those Democratic presidents that even some Republican-minded folks occasionally like to praise.  Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of Tea Party Republicans only because they are ignorant of his many compromises as our president, particularly admired Roosevelt’s leadership:

His strong, gentle, confident voice resonated across the nation with an eloquence that brought comfort and resilience to a nation caught up in a storm and reassured us that we could lick any problem. I will never forget him for that.

Or consider Reagan’s calling Roosevelt, “an American giant, a leader who shaped, inspired, and led our people through perilous times.”

Ah, that must be what Mr. Greenberg means by praising the man who gave us America’s social safety net: Roosevelt was an American giant and inspirational leader. 

Okay. But I’ve never met a conservative Republican who had a good word to say about what Roosevelt’s domestic policies actually accomplished.  In fact, the entire modern conservative movement materialized in opposition to the New Deal and morphed into its current unseemly fanaticism while the New Deal was giving birth to its first child, the Great Society.

So, it’s hard for me, a non-Pulitzer winner, to understand what Greenberg can possibly mean by including Roosevelt in his list of “great presidents,” but I am sure he has his reasons.

And one of those reasons must be to contrast the mythical and historically sainted FDR with two of Mr. Greenberg’s favorite demon-Presidents, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.

Carter’s name seems to pop up whenever Greenberg needs to stick a Pulitzer-blessed screwdriver in the eye of Mr. Obama, like last summer, when he wrote:

Surely it’s just my fallible memory, but I can’t recall a presidential address that has fallen as flat as Barack Obama’s last week, at least not since Jimmy Carter gave his (in)famous malaise speech back in the dismal summer of 1979.

Never mind that Greenberg, like all Republicans sympathizers, has it all wrong about Carter’s so-called “malaise speech.” (You can read why here or read the speech yourself here.)

Sure enough, Greenberg once again wielded his Obama-hater weapon, Mr. Carter’s presidency, along with the former president’s sidekick, Mr. Malaise:

The stubborn unemployment rate that refuses to subside, a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing, a Great Recession that won’t go away. No wonder there’s a sense of that old devil Malaise in the air. Again the word stagflation is heard in the land, and some of the leftier economists say a little inflation (which has a way of becoming a lot) would be a fine thing. As in the Carter years? Please.

The not-so-subtle implication here is that unemployment, the national debt, and the Great Recession are Mr. Obama’s doing. Never mind the facts; Mr. Greenberg has a job to do.

Now, this is going to be the strategy to attack Mr. Obama, as we move toward November of 2012.  Just yesterday, Jeb Bush, who received praise for telling GOP presidential candidates to stop “ascribing bad motives” to Obama, nevertheless ascribed bad policies to him:

He’s made a situation that was bad worse. He’s deserving of criticism for that.

But facts are not just stubborn things, they are eternal obstacles to the kind of revisionist nonsense that Mr. Greenberg and Mr. Bush are trying to peddle.

Rather than going from bad to worse, things have gone from worse to, well, not-as-bad.

Jobs were bleeding from the Bush-sized wound in the economy (Greenberg’s “Great Recession that won’t go away”) at an alarming rate when Mr. Obama assumed office.  And it took some time to stop the bleeding and close the wound. But it did stop and the wound is healing, albeit agonizingly slow. 

And what healing is happening has come despite fierce opposition from Republican lawmakers, who have en masse not only refused to help Democrats restore the economy to normalcy, but have steadfastly obstructed any efforts to do so.

And Mr. Greenberg’s “alarming to crushing” national debt is also an inheritance from Mr. Bush and years of Republican governmental malfeasance, based on unfettered free-market theology, which Greenberg enthusiastically endorsed in 2006. 

The recession is responsible for much of the ongoing yearly deficits, but particular and deliberate policies of the previous administration—those famous Bush tax cuts and wars—are also to blame for the shortfall and for the accumulation of massive debt.

Greenberg the war hawk was also an enthusiastic believer at the time in the power of the Bush tax cuts to heal the economy, all without ever mentioning the resulting deficits and debt.  In fact, I searched in vain for a bad Greenbergian word about deficits and debt under the Reagan and Bush administrations.

Even though now, in the Age of Obama, Greenberg clearly sees and writes about “a national debt that grows from alarming to crushing,”  he apparently didn’t see it as either alarming or crushing when policies that caused most of it were being debated and adopted by his fellow conservatives.

Thankfully, The New York Times, put it in a form that even a conservative columnist with a self-described disdain for the theoretical can understand:

So, Mr. Greenberg and other like-minded Obama-haters can take their shots at the current president via comparisons with Jimmy Carter and FDR, but some of us still have a working-relationship with the evidence, with those obstinate, unyielding, and fussy facts.

Are The Rich Taxed Enough?

Anson Burlingame, a right-of-center Joplin Globe blogger and debt-fretter, responded to a piece I wrote yesterday and asked me to consider a 2007 American Enterprise Institute article on taxes, written by Stephen Moore. It was titled, “Guess Who Really Pays the Taxes,” and was essentially a typical conservative pleading that the rich are paying more than their fair share.

In this political climate, it is important for everyone to consider the issue of taxes, so I did. Here is my response:



I ignored the fact that the article was written by Stephen Moore, a shill for supply-side economics who once wrote a book called, “Bullish on Bush: How George Bush’s Ownership Society Will Make America Stronger.”  That was in 2004, of course, shortly before the Great Recession foreclosed on Bush’s ownership society and made a lot of Republicans homeless.

But Moore did endear himself to Obama-hating conservatives when he published his 2009 epic, “How Barack Obama is Bankrupting the U.S. Economy,” a mere nine months after the dangerous socialist became president. Before the ink had barely dried on Obama’s first economic initiatives, Moore pronounced “Obamanomics” a failure.

So, you can see why I had to get past the author of the piece in order to consider the argument, but I managed to continue.

Before I get to the heart of it, I want you to notice something Moore admitted that confirms what I wrote in Freedom Fighter Facts. He wrote:

Since 1980, the share of income earned by the richest 1 percent has more than doubled, from 9 percent to 19 percent. The share of the income going to the poorest income quintile has declined. Income disparities, in absolute dollars, have grown substantially.

Now, that’s not a wild-eyed liberal blogger saying that, my friend, but a silly supply-side ideologue who supported the post-1980 mischief that has caused those income disparities.

I also want you to notice something that may have slipped by you:

On the other hand, for the top 1 percent of earners, progressivity has declined from a ratio of 2.2 in 1980 to 1.9 in 2004.

That also confirms what I wrote.

Now, to the point of the article you cite. Moore does some clever hiding of the truth in his article, but I think you can see it. In #2 he says,

The wealthiest 1 percent of the population earn 19 per­cent of the income but pay 37 percent of the income tax. The top 10 percent pay 68 percent of the tab. Meanwhile, the bottom 50 percent—those below the median income level—now earn 13 percent of the income but pay just 3 percent of the taxes. These are proportions of the income tax alone and don’t include payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare.

The bottom 50% pay 3% of INCOME TAXES on 13% of the total income. He admits he is only talking about income tax. Okay? But what about all those other taxes? (And not just Social Security and Medicare, but state taxes, gas taxes, and sales taxes? By the way, as David Cay Johnston points out, there is only one state in the country in which the poor don’t have a greater state and local tax burden than the top 1%. In some states it is twice as much.)

You will notice that Moore does address “other taxes,” but only payroll taxes. Sales taxes (non-rich folks spend nearly all their money, which spending is taxed at the same rate as the rich, who spend a lot less in terms of percentage of income) and state and local taxes (highly regressive) are left out. So, let’s put them in. When we do, we find this (from Citizens for Tax Justice; I highlighted in red what you need to see):

In 2010, the top 1% of total income was 20.3% and their share of total taxes was 21.5%. Now, perhaps you can see that the argument that the rich are paying more than their fair share is preposterous.

The chart also shows that, yes, federal tax rates are modestly progressive, but state and local taxes are regressive. The point is, Anson, that everyone is paying taxes and the overall tax burden is barely progressive. Because of the wide income disparity, we need to make it more progressive, if we have any hope of balancing things going forward. As a deficit hawk, I would think you would support that idea.


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.

Tea Party Tongues

The jobs numbers are out for June and it is becoming clear that the Tea Party has paralyzed not only the government, but it has gone a long way toward freezing in place a weak recovery.

Oh, I know the right-wing is proud of its achievements.  After all, they have managed to bring Democrats to the budget-cutting table; they have all politicians now talking in Tea Party tongues; they have managed to change the debate from what to do about the struggling economy and jobs to how much to cut entitlement programs and other staples in the Democratic Party and American diet, like, say, education.

They have done a lot those teapartiers. But they certainly can be most proud of contributing significantly to stagnating economic growth and keeping unemployment high—both of which just happen to be politically deadly for Barack Obama in 2012—and they show little sign of relenting.

Their continued opposition to government stimulus—in any form—and their continued insistence that we can cut our way to prosperity, including cutting taxes even further than the government-starving ratios in place now, is the most significant contributing factor in our inability to escape the black hole of the Great Recession.

The unemployment rate has now crept up to 9.2% and job growth has been essentially flat the last two months.  But the worst of the news is summarized in this sentence from CNN:

So far, the nation has only gained back about a fifth of the 8.8 million jobs lost during the recession.

And while Tea Party Republicans in Congress have spent a good deal of time fretting over Planned Parenthood and National Public Radio and other non-jobs concerns, they have managed to do what many of them said they wanted to do when they ran for office. From Bloomberg:

Employment in government continued to trend down over the month (-39,000). Federal employment declined by 14,000 in June. Employment in both state government and local government continued to trend down over the month and has been falling since the second half of 2008.

Yep, they can be proud of this accomplishment, as thousands upon thousands of teachers and other “government” workers join the millions of other victims of the kind of Republican economics that ruled the day not so long ago and a kind of economics that will—if Mr. Obama is defeated in 2012 because of the bad jobs numbers this year—rule our tomorrow.

“Happy Days” Is Here Again

In many ways, Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Republican Conference, is the prototypical contemporary conservative Republican: anti-choice, anti-stem cell research, anti-gay marriage, and so on. For my money, Hensarling, a rising star in the GOP, is the favorite to replace retiring Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison in 2012. 

Congressman Hensarling was mentored in politics by none other than ex-Senator Phil Gramm, responsible for much economic mischief during the Reagan years. Gramm was also co-chair of John McCain’s failed 2008 presidential campaign, and just before the economy collapsed that year, he famously said:

Thank God the economy is not as bad as you read in the newspaper every day.

Apparently God wasn’t tuned into Republican prayers at the time, thus the Great Recession.

In any case, Jeb Hensarling’s mentor said that America had become “a nation of whiners” and that we were merely in a “mental recession,” not a real one.  As Phil Gramm’s state director in the late 1980s, this is where Jeb Hensarling learned to talk Republican nonsense.

Which leads me to what Hensarling said on Morning Joe this morning:

Let’s remember, again, that the main drivers of this national debt are three large entitlement programs, programs that have been of great comfort and assistance to my parents and grandparents, but are morphing into cruel Ponzi schemes for my nine-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son.

You see how this works, right?  When Hensarling’s grandparents and parents were enjoying the benefits of our social safety net, entitlement programs weren’t Ponzi schemes, but sources of “comfort and assistance.” 

Today, though, those same entitlement programs are turning into “fraudulent investment operations“—the definition of a Ponzi scheme—because the Hensarling family—beneficiaries of years of socialistic welfare programs—receive their comfort and assistance at considerable cost to current taxpayers.  So, logic would dictate that the Hensarlings give up a little of that comfort and assistance, right?


Paul Ryan’s cynical budget plan—which Jeb Hensarling enthusiastically supports—doesn’t ask much of those 55 and over but asks a lot of younger folks.  Grandfathering in grandfathers and grandmothers is really a case of Republicans protecting those who are now comfortable, thanks to Social Security and Medicare, and who tend to vote for Republicans because they are so comfortable.

Hensarling suggests that his children will not get a good deal under the current system.  But the truth is that under the Ryan-Republican budget plan, the kiddies will really get the shaft. 

Those younger than 55 will be asked to continue to subsidize the older, more comfortable Hensarlings of the world—whose trillions of dollars worth of medical benefits will continue throughout their ever increasing life spans—while the youngsters will be lucky to get enough money under Ryan’s plan to pay for band-aids and aspirin, should they make it to a likely-increasing retirement age. 

That’s a pretty good deal for older Hensarlings, but not a good deal for the younger ones.  And since older folks vote in bigger numbers than younger ones, Republicans are hoping their own scheme—call it a “Fonzie” scheme—will work.

In case you are not an aficionado of the old 1970s Happy Days show, in a three-part episode, Arthur “Fonzie” Fonzarelli, clad in trunks and leather jacket, jumped over a shark to prove how brave he was. The idiom “jump the shark” originated with this less-than-sterling example of 70s television. 

Wikipedia explains the connection to today’s Republican politics:

The usage of “jump the shark” has subsequently broadened beyond television, indicating the moment in its evolution, characterized by absurdity, when a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery.

If that doesn’t define the Republican Party today, nothing does.

It might be helpful here to mention that the sensible, wholesome Richie Cunningham tried to tell the Fonz that jumping over the shark was stupid, to which the Fonz replied:

Stupid, yes. Also dumb. But it is something I’ve gotta do.

Exactamundo, GOP!

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