Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Pay's The Thing

From Politico:

One-fourth of the highest-paid CEOs in the United States made more money last year than their companies paid in taxes, according to a report on Wednesday.

For the 25 CEOs whose earnings exceeded their company’s federal income tax, pay averaged $16.7 million, a study by the left-leaning think tank the Institute for Policy Studies founds. The report also revealed that many of the firms spent far more on lobbying than on taxes.
The report revealed eBay paid CEO John Donahoe $12.4 million — but reported a $131 million refund on its 2010 federal income taxes. And at General Electric, where CEO Jeff Immelt raked in $15.2 million, the company received a $3.3 billion refund and dropped $41.8 million on lobbying and political campaigns. And at Boeing, CEO Jim McNerney takes home $13.8 million, while the company paid $13 million in taxes and spent $20.8 million on lobbying in 2010.
On average, S&P 500 CEOs make $10.8 million.

Taxes should not conficscate wealth, not should they favor one group over another. With that in mind, and the state of the labor market at present, it's reasonable to ask that the tax code be made more fair so that a few people don't have enormous wealth and a huge majority suffer or teeter on the brink of disaster.

Both Republicans and Democrats have passed legislation that favors the wealthy and treats certain types of income and gains more favorably than others. The carried interest rule for hedge fund operators, for example, treats their gains at the capital gains rate, 20%, as opposed to the income tax rate, which is in the high 30's.

So what to do? That question, more likely, will be answered from the grass roots of society on up rather than from the top down. And it could get ugly. If the economy enters another recession or the employment situation becomes even more dire, we could see social unrest. I hope not. But clearly, this is the crux of the problem and we will only solve it when the gap between wealthy and not-so-wealthy is narrowed. Congress could do it as part of the deficit reduction plan, but the Republicans will not raise revenue and the Democrats will not reform entitlements, so perhaps the automatic elements of the debt deal will do it for us.

I am cautiously hopeful that our elected officals will do the right thing, but contact them to give them a push.


Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Go Big or Go Home

President Obama will be unveiling his latest jobs plan next week and the debate within the White House is what kind of plan he should propose.

Political Wire summarizes the debate from MSNBC: "The downside to going big: The American public (especially independents) is no longer in favor of stimulating the economy by spending more money, but they do want some REAL solution to this wheezing economy. The downside to going small: Obama has racked up plenty of tactical legislative accomplishments, but he hasn't gotten credit for them."

There's also a fuller description on Politico.
My view is that the President has to go with a big plan and defend it passionately against what are sure to be withering Republican attacks. He has to almost ignore what the polling says because if he continues down the middle of the road he'll be hit by traffic from both sides. This might be his last chance to convince the American people that he actually has a plan to help the economy beyond small fixes such as continuing the payroll tax cut, which, by the way, Republicans seem to be against, and programs that allow businesses tax breaks when they hire new workers.
A big plan will shift the debate on Obama's terms and will go a long way towards addressing the feeling that the president is somehow not a leader. The Republican presidential candidates are locked into their ideology and will only propose budget cuts, which many people might support in the abstract, but will oppose if it means going without vital government services and programs.
History is generally on the side of the bold. It's time for President Obama to use the bully pulpit and the powers of his office to come forward with a bold plan.

No Power? No Problem.

If, like me, you are without power two days after Hurricane Irene traversed your corner of the country, the article bleow from Politico has to make you feel all warm and fuzzy.

Budget Politics Cloud Hurricane Aid

Essentially, the anti-spending Republicans want to balance federal aid to states that were devastated by the storm with budget cuts elsewhere. From the article:

As flood waters gush through Brattleboro, Vt., roads in coastal North Carolina have crumbled and thousands of homes from Virginia to Connecticut remain without power, House Republicans say the money will be there, but they’ll still look to cut somewhere else if there’s a large request for federal aid.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s team (R-Va.) insists that “if emergency funding is requested, surely the House will respond appropriately at that time so that needed emergency funding is made available.”
But on Fox News earlier Monday, Cantor said, “There’s a federal role, yes we’re going to find the money, we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so.”

I am particularly amused by the "if" above, as, surely, the states will request massive amounts of aid in the days and weeks ahead. The problem is, where are the cuts going to come from? Here in New Jersey, Governor Christie famously canceled a rail tunnel project that would alleviate train delays and provide thousands of jobs in a dire economy. His reason was that the budget was so tight, the state couldn't afford it. Where, then, is there going to be money to pay for hurricane relief without the federal government's help? We will absolutely need aid and so will all of the states from North Carolina to the Canadian border (hmmm...can we use Canadian dollars?).

In the end, it will be good old fashioned politics that will win the day. As the article stses:

These spending principles are certain to run into political reality, as Irene could test the political viability of Republican orthodoxy as lawmakers try to weigh the emotional reaction to American communities in need while trying to stay true to their conservative fiscal ideals.
On top of that, the two senators from Missouri are moving to protect their turf, insisting that tornado ravaged Joplin — which is still awaiting federal aid — shouldn’t be bumped down the disaster list because of the urgency of Irene.

Woe unto the local politician that votes against any help for their constituents, or cuts a program that people need to pay for it. Theory might be wonderful for someone like Eric Cantor, but really, all I want is my power back on, and I don't want to ask someone from Missouri to go without in order to do it.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ron Paul Protects Your Right to Hurricane Damage

In an interview on MSNBC, Republican Presidential candidate Ron Paul said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is a great contributor to the federal deficit and that we don't need its help with Hurricane Irene. Says he:

"We should be like 1900; we should be like 1940, 1950, 1960," Paul said. "I live on the Gulf Coast; we deal with hurricanes all the time. Galveston is in my district."

Well Ron, I live on the east coast (in 2011, by the by) where we have a few more people than Galveston (about 40 million more according to a, well, conservative estimate) and we don't have to contend with hurricanes or earthquakes on a regular basis, so any help we can get from FEMA would be appreciated.

And in case you haven't noticed, Ron, New Jersey, along with most other states along the non-Galveston axis, have severe budget problems that would preclude it from providing the kind of help that might be necessary, given that this hurricane could cause catastrophic damage. I appreciate your wanting me to have the freedom to my wreckage and ruin, though.

This is Exhibit A in the case against the anti-government radicals who believe that the states should pay for services they can't afford. It's also a strong argument against a balanced budget amendment because vital agencies like FEMA must be available, but President Paul would sign it out of existence. Then what? Do states tell their citizens they're on their own? Do they say that we can't keep shelters open because there's no money? Does Ron Paul think there's a capitalistic option? What private business would get into the business of giving money to help people who've lost their possessions? Where's the profit?

The main question with Ron Paul is, "What other great ideas do you have?"

Just What We Need: Lower Wages

and more protection for corporations.

That's the view of this blog's darling, Michele Bachmann (I love Michele Bachmann, by the way) according to this article on Politico.

The Minnesota congresswoman told supporters at a packed sandwich shop that the corporate income tax needs to be reduced because companies are moving to other countries to save money. She was later asked by a reporter whether changes to the minimum wage should also be considered to balance the cost of labor here and overseas.
"I'm not married to anything. I'm not saying that's where I'm going to go," she said.
She did say she wants to look at all aspects of doing business, from regulations to tax codes, and will consider anything that will help create jobs. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
I'm not completely sure how lowering a minimum wage that, if adjusted for actual purchasing power, should be about 3 dollars higher, helps the average worker. It certainly helps businesses who want to save money and that seems to be all that Bachmann, Perry and Romney care about. They have criticized Obama, and rightly so, for not having a credible jobs program but each have pledged not to vote for or propose anything that will stimulate the economy. All they have left is lower wages, more meager benefits that will cost middle class more and tax cuts for the very wealthy.

At the end of the article, Bachmann forgets where she is. Confusion seems to be her stock in trade.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Uh Oh, Ohio

Just when you thought it was only Democrats who have lost popularity in the past 8 months, a new poll from Ohio shows that House Speaker John Boehner's approval rating in his home state has dropped to 34% with 47% disapproving of his job performance.

From the article:

The most recent deal Boehner cut with President Barack Obama also was unpopular in the poll. Forty-five percent of Ohioans said they thought the debt-ceiling deal was a bad thing for the economy, while just 27 percent considered it good. Eighty-two percent indicated that they don’t think the deal will solve the nation’s massive deficit problem. 

But the bigger trouble for Boehner might be for his claim to the speaker’s gavel itself: Less than a year after Republicans snatched five seats from Democratic House members to help flip the majority, PPP found 42 percent of those polled would vote for a Democrat, while 37 percent would vote for a Republican.
Boehner was supposed to be the new power broker in Washington, but his inability to control the Tea Party caucus and the last minute hissy fit that caused him to snub the president's phone calls during debt negotiations did nothing to mark him as a master politician. Ohio has done better (Robert Taft in the 1940s and 50s) and worse (Warren Harding anyone?) over the years.

The next few months will be crucial for Boehner as the Congressional Super committee will be making its budgetary recommendation in November, and it will probably identify revenue increases as part of its report. Does Boehner have the gumption to stick to the no tax pledge? Stay tuned.

Mitt Goes to the Dark Side

It's begun.

No, not preparations for Hurricane Irene. What's begun is Mitt Romney's descent into the madness of radical Tea Party Republicanism.

In a Reuters article, Romney says would not put limits on emissions, the now not-necessarily-Republican-front-runner is quoted as saying,

"Do I think the world's getting hotter? Yeah, I don't know that but I think that it is," he said. "I don't know if it's mostly caused by humans." 

"What I'm not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don't know the answer to."

He went on to say, 

"I do not believe in cap and trade and I do not believe in putting a carbon cap" on polluting industries, Romney said.

The problem here is that pre-Tea Mitt used to more reasonable. The article says,

"In June, a day after launching his second bid for the White House, Romney caused a stir by saying he thought humans had contributed to climate change to some extent.

At that time he made a call for a reduction of "emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that might be significant contributors" to climate change -- a suggestion that was not made on Wednesday."

So what's happened in these short 3 months? 
Rick Perry. 
Michele Bachmann
The influence of people who don't understand what a scientific theory is, and whose religious beliefs deny science and the fossil record.

I've always thought that Mitt Romney was a moderate Republican who did an effective job as Governor of Massachusetts and who was running on a pro-business, less socially conservative platform. Rick Perry has altered that universe by saying the most outrageous, at times illegal and unconstitutional, utterances ever perpetrated in a presidential campaign (and that takes talent). Romney has to run hard to the right just to get some media attention.

Are most American voters swayed by these conservative principles? We'll find out.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

'No regrets' About Waterboarding Suspects

From this small article on Yahoo!News: Former Vice President Dick Cheney has no regrets.

You'd think he'd have some regrets about having to torture people, no?

Were all of the people who were waterboarded guilty of terrorist plots?

If not, perhaps a little regret over treating innocent people in barbaric ways?

I sometimes regret the manner in which I've taught a concept, especially if a student doesn't understand it.

But the former VP issuing orders that make people scream in pain or feel like they're going to drown?

No problem.

The Economy Blame Game

From the article, Poll: 51% still blame Bush for economy: 

While Republicans have pushed to cast the sputtering economy as Obama's fault, Americans place their blame elsewhere. Fifty-one percent say that George W. Bush is most to blame for the down economy, while 31 percent say it's Obama.
Any gloating Democrats need to be very careful, though, as the other findings are not good news for Obama, or the country. The post goes on to say:
With the economy struggling, Obama continues to get low marks for his handling of it. Sixty-three percent of Americans say they disapprove of his handling of the economy, including 48 percent say they “strongly” disapprove. Just 36 percent say they approve of his handling of the economy, the lowest it’s ever been in this poll.
Even in the depths of one of the worst political summers ever, 47% of those polled say that Obama deserves a second term  and 51% say that Obama is a strong leader (down from 65% after the killing of Osama bin Laden. Essentially, there are no great numbers here for Obama, but he needs to seize the narrative in the fall if he is to make any headway against what is sure to be a withering Republican attack on his policies.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ahhh, Nature! News From Other Species

If you thought yesterday's earthquake was frightening, here is more from the natural world.

1. “The eggs could be killed before they hatch, maybe with electricity, or suction.”

2. In an alpha male moment, he walks to the side and pounds, ferociously, frighteningly, against the wall, a reminder of who is in charge.

3. Together, they attack wood pilings; the gribbles, which are tiny crustaceans, chew from the outside, while shipworms, larger mollusks, bore tunnels within.

No, these excerpts do not come from:
1. An anti-abortion leaflet
2. Rick Perry's appearance at a Texas Tea Party fundraiser
3. The latest children's book for fragile psyches.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Batting .333 Might be Great in Baseball...

but would you trust a witness with your freedom who could be wrong one-third of the time?

The Chris Christie Miracle

Or, How A Potential Presidential Contender Could Not Get Reelected In His Own State.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Opens

The newest addition to the National Mall in Washington DC opened today, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. The memorial will be dedicated officially on Sunday, August 28, which is the 48th anniversary of the March on Washingon and King's "I Have A Dream" speech.

Here is an article with a slide show and video.

Tell Your Polls to Chill

Numbers don't lie, but sometimes they tell small fibs that gain attention because, well, it's August and people at the beach need something to talk about.

So what's the latest chatter?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rick Perry Rips Up The Constitution

One of the major tenets of the Tea Party is that the U.S. Constitution was written by sober minded conservative religious folk who wanted small government and low taxes. The Founders also created a system whereby no branch of government would get more powerful than the other two.

Evidently, that's not good enough for Rick Perry.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Gadhafi's Rule Is Over

If news reports coming out of Tripoli are true, then the brutal, murderous reign of Moammar Gadhafi is over in Libya. This will be terrific news for both the Libyan people and the world if confirmed. Gadhafi has ruled Libya for 42 years and is one of the world's worst dictator outlaws.

Even more important, though, is that his fall is one of the greatest victories of the revolts across the Arab world which have already claimed rulers in Tunisia and Egypt. It's no wonder that Syrian President Bashir al-Assad is warning the West to stay away from his country. Last week President Obama called for Assad to step down and the results in Libya could embolden the Syrian opposition to continue its fight. We'll also hear more about whether Obama's decision to support the Libyan rebels with NATO air attacks was ultimately justified.

The history of this struggle remains to be written, but the overthrow of Gadhafi is especially memorable for me because he was responsible for planning the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 259 people on the plane and 11 people on the ground in Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. Included in that total were 35 students from my alma mater, Syracuse University. As a community, we have never forgotten this dastardly act.

It's a good day for freedom, but now comes the difficult job of rebuilding a nation.

Sunday Funnies

You won't need me to parse these items. Read, relax and enjoy your day, with thanks to The Political Carnival.

100 Things You Can Say To Irritate A Republican

 If You Hate Taxes, Here are 102 Things NOT to Do

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Russia--Twenty Years Later

A Russian women who remembers the events of 1991 has this to share on the 20th anniversary (August 19th) of an attempted coup against Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev:

“I felt more comfortable in the U.S.S.R.,” she said. “You always had a piece of bread. You always had work. Yes, sure, you can go overseas now, but you have to have money for that and you have to go into debt. Now, if you don’t have money you can’t do anything.” 


A recent poll by the Levada Center, a respected polling agency, found that 20 percent of Russians share her wish for a return of the Soviet Union, a number that has bobbed up and down between 16 percent and 27 percent over the past eight years. 


Are Tax Rates Fair?

In the article Questioning the Dogma of Tax Rates, James B. Stewart comments on Warren Buffett's assertion last week that wealthy people (Buffett wealthy, not regular people wealthy) should pay more in taxes.

Among Stewart's more interesting comments:

Unless Congress is willing to say baldly that hedge fund and private equity managers are a special class who deserve to pay higher taxes — a potentially dangerous effort to use the tax code to punish a group of people who are in disfavor largely because they make a lot of money — policy makers are going to have to confront a much broader and potentially far more explosive question: why are all capital gains, not just carried interest, treated more favorably than ordinary income?

He makes the case that capital gains should be taxed at the higher ordinary income rates, a position that conservatives treat as heresy. Here's a point that Republicans need to remember:

The most prominently successful advocate of a drastically simplified tax code that treated ordinary income and capital gains the same was Ronald Reagan, who made it a centerpiece of his successful 1986 tax reform proposal. (The lower rate reappeared as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997, championed by Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, and signed by Democratic President Bill Clinton.) 

Perhaps the sliding stock market and the risk of another recession will goad Congress into a grand compromise. Don't hold your breath, though.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Polling for President: A First Read

I am going to wait until September to offer a more expansive, detailed analysis of the latest polling, but for those of you who are interested, take a look at this rundown from The Daily Kos.

It's based on this article from Gallup, the polling firm.

If you really want to play along, go to and construct your own electoral college map. You can click on the individual states to turn them red (for Republican), blue (for Democrat) or leave them tan if you don't want to guess.

My map is here.

If for whatever reason you forgot or never learned how we elect our president, I'll be playing history teacher for the next 14 months and will explain it to you. And I'll answer questions. But for now, enjoy the rest of the summer.

Beans, Tofu and Garlic

On Jeopardy, the question would be, "What are the essential ingredients for a successful marriage?"

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Clear Skies Ahead

The next target for the radical right is the environment, as these three items show.

Here is Bachmann in a CNN Money article  promising $2 dollar gas if she's elected. Friends, if we have gas prices that low it means one of three things:
1. Something awful happened to the economy
2. We've rented out space in every national park to drill for oil, or
3. The oil producing countries (especially our buddies in Venezuela) decided that they don't like money.
Which do you think is more likely under a Republican president?

Next up is Rick Perry, who is quoted by the LA Times as saying that, "We are seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."

He goes on to say, "I don't think, from my perspective, that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on what is still a scientific theory that hasn't been proven, and from my perspective is more and more being put into question."

Two things stand out from these quotes: Rick Perry does not know what a scientific theory really is, and his sentence construction is sounding more and more like Sarah Palin every day.

And finally, from today's New York Times, come this front page article that details all of the Republican presidential candidates' positions on the Environmental Protection Agency. Their solutions range from shutting it down (Bachmann) to imposing a moratorium on enforcing regulations (Perry) to weakening its court ordered mandate to regulate carbon monoxide (Romney). Are some EPA regulations onerous to business? You bet. But these candidates would open the floodgates to chopping up the agency into tiny bits and throwing it on the scrap heap.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

30 Grams

I'll start with an two easy questions.

Which food has more sugar in it?
A. Dannon Low Fat Plain Yogurt (6 oz.)
B. Yoplait No Fat Blueberry Yogurt (6 oz.)

Which food has more sugar in it?
A. Post Raisin Bran (the one without extra sugar on the raisins)
B. Kellogg's Raisin Bran (the one with the sugar on the raisins)

No peeking.

My Sentiments Exactly

My humble opinion, as I have often stated, is that if the Republicans nominate a hard right conservative like Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann in 2012, then they will be making the same mistake the Democrats did with George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984.

Here's an article that supports this idea, at least for the time being:

Crashing the Tea Party

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Warren E. Buffett Is An Idiot

He must be, because the Republican response to his call for higher taxes on the wealthy reduces him to a know-nothing Midwestern rube. Here is one of the most fantastically wealthy, pragmatic, conservative, sensible business people on the planet, but when he challenges the Tea Party orthodoxy (a redundancy,  I know) he might as well be an ice cube sales rep in Anchorage.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

No New Tax Revenue, But Please Let Me Ruin My Life

According to an article in today's New York Times, the District of Columbia and numerous states want to legalize Internet gambling as a way of raising funds. The article is here.

Essentially, we're going to rely on legalizing an addictive vice to make up for our lack of political will and intelligence. While we're at it, let's repeal the ban on cigarette and hard liquor ads on television as a way to encourage people to smoke, and drink more and pay more sin taxes. Then let's repeal the new health care law so that sick people can't get affordable (or any) care, which will mean higher premiums for people who have insurance. Finally, allow drilling in national parks so we have more oil and gas to buy and fill up the coffers by paying gas taxes.

But whatever we do, let's not raise revenue from the wealthy individuals and corporations who stand to gain from political gridlock and inaction.

Hey, I know, this would be a great platform for a political party that wanted to pander to the American people!

Oh wait, that party already exists.

I Love Republicans

In case you had something much better to do yesterday than follow politics, the results of the Ames (Iowa) Straw Poll of Republican presidential candidates had Representative Michele Bachmann winning and Representative Ron Paul coming in a close second. It's something for both of them to crow about, but it doesn't mean much in terms of the larger race for the nomination. What it shows is that the radical conservatives have a lock on the Republican party and they will drag it over a cliff in 2012.

Remember that Bachmann said in the Republican debate last Thursday that she would not raise the debt ceiling, thus ensuring that the United States would default on its debt, and that she wouldn't support a debt deal that would cut $10 but raise $1 in taxes.

Think about that.

Here's a candidate for our nation's highest office and she wouldn't give the economy a chance. Forget Wall Street and Main Street and just let ideology and God tell you what to do. She would cut, cut, cut and cut some more with no sense that people rely on government programs. But further, business rely on government spending. Remember that federal spending for research and development made the computer revolution possible and that consumer protection laws have forced businesses into producing safer products, resulting in more profits and economic growth. And speaking of growth, rejecting a deal that's even tilted 10 to 1 in favor of cuts is not good enough for any of the Republican candidates. Bachmann and the other Republicans want that kind of governmental oversight and help to end.

Also on Saturday, Texas Governor Rick Perry announced his candidacy for President and said, “I’ll work every day to try to make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in your life as I can.” Good--let's let the states outlaw abortion, gut equal protection laws and make sure that the gay community gets ostracized at every turn.

He also called Social Security "a Ponzi scheme," which presumably means that it's illegal. Last year Perry offered secession as a choice for any state that didn't want to obey the new health care law.

These candidates are dangerous and they are espousing destructive ideas that would rip the fabric of American life. Yet, they are winning elections.

Ya gotta love them.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Corporations Are People

Mitt Romney in Iowa defending corporations as "people."

The problem here is not just that Romney said this, but that he's on sound legal footing. According to the SCOTUS Blog, in 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruling in the case, Citizen's United v. Federal Election Commission essentially said that:

Political spending is a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and the government may not keep corporations or unions from spending money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections. While corporations or unions may not give money directly to campaigns, they may seek to persuade the voting public through other means, including ads, especially where these ads were not broadcast.

So, corporations have the same rights as people when it comes to free speech. This is why we will be inundated by corporate and union advertisements this coming election season.

Mitt Romney is correct here. But that's exactly the problem.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gay Marriage

Gay marriage has been legal in New York State for more than two weeks, and guess what's happened?


We can't blame gay marriage for the wild gyrations in the stock market.
We can't blame gay marriage for the financial problems in Europe.
We certainly can't blame gay marriage for the conservative aversion to higher taxes.
We can't say that gay marriage was the reason for owners and players settling the NFL lockout.
We can't blame gay marriage for the hot weather across the nation's midsection.

It's still illegal for you to marry your sister, your dog or, certain parts of Utah excluded, more than one female who might or might not be older than 12..

Contrary to the fear mongering on the right, my heterosexual marriage (and those of my friends) is not under assault or being demeaned because gays can marry. We can demean our own marriages, thank you very much.

It's not normal to hate others or do them physical harm because of who they love.
It's not normal to pay fealty to the U.S. Constitution, but want to deny citizen's rights that other people can freely exercise.
It's certainly not normal for people who want to be president to automatically exclude others based on their own religious beliefs.

In short, gay marriage will become a cultural norm because it's, well, normal to be able to marry the person you love, and it's normal to want to avail yourself of the various rights and protections that marriage can provide.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The World

The problems, my friends, are not being caused by too much government, but by governments doing too little in an inefficient way (see: England, Japan). They are caught, especially here in the United States, between forces that understand the role that government needs to play when things get bad, and groups that want to starve government of its ability to perform effectively. We have agencies that could alleviate some of the suffering in this country, but they have been systematically denied funds and leadership by an ideology that says government is the problem. We are now seeing this repeated throughout the world.

It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. And it is ruining lives.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Let's Make A (Bad) Deal

At this point, the only thing we can say for certain is that the debt ceiling will be raised because Congress and the President do not want to be blamed for a calamitous economic meltdown.

That being said, the deal that emerged on the debt is a bad one for a number of reasons.

1. Economic conservatives have made the point that government should not raise taxes in a recession. What sense does it make, then, to cut spending for programs that people need? This is exactly the time when people need government to come to their aid, yet conservatives are ready to sacrifice those less fortunate or who have fallen on hard times with the utter nonsense that we must make cuts without worrying about the consequences. Look for big entitlement cuts in November.

2. At a time when the economy needs large doses of money to circulate in order for a recovery to take place, Congress and the President are focusing on a deal that will take money out of circulation by cutting government spending and refusing to raise revenues from the wealthiest 1% of Americans. This is a classic "not learning from the past" moment, on the part of the Democrats especially, for ignoring the budget cuts in 1936 that led to a recession in 1937.

3. The deal ignores what should be the government's number one priority: Creating jobs. If anything, the government should be spending even more in stimulus for construction, public works and infrastructure jobs. That spending will result in more employment, which will result in more people paying taxes and making purchases, which will allow reluctant companies to begin ramping up production and hiring more workers.

From 2009 through late this winter, the economy was improving, though at a slow rate. Why? Stimulus money. The latest figures on economic growth are anemic. Why? No more stimulus money. Add in the number of public workers who have either lost their jobs or have been forced to take wage and benefit cuts and you have a recipe for disaster. How do more layoffs and pain help the economy? They don't

4. The Balanced Budget Amendment is a sham and a complete waste of time.

Congress will vote on it, but it will never garner the two-thirds vote necessary for sending the amendment to the states, and that's a good thing, mainly because there are enough inept state legislators who will vote for it. So why is this amendment so bad? It will hamstring the economy and government and prevent it from responding to crises and emergencies (Katrina, Missouri River floods, environmental and/or pollution problems, economic downturns--like that will ever happen) in a timely way.

The analogy the amendment's supporters use is of a household that must live within its means. This is a ludicrous lie. If people had to live within their means, banks and credit card companies would not exist in their current form and only about nine people in the country could afford to own a house. When people need money for emergencies they can borrow it or, heaven forbid, get extra revenue by getting a second job or selling something. Will the free market tide people over when circumstance undermines their plans? Will the nice private insurance company pay your medical bills in an emergency? Of course not. Government needs the flexibility to respond.

5. The deal sets up a government committee to suggest further cuts and, perhaps, changes in the tax code. Tea Partiers are deathly afraid that this committee will suggest tax hikes and cuts to the military. That's all you need to know about how serious the conservatives are to really compromise. They want it their way or no way at all.

This deal, and the negotiations process that led to it, shows that the radical Republicans will forsake any offer, even President Obama's, which was more conservative than what the Tea Party wanted, because they cannot stand to see a Democratic president get any credit. They are against any government spending that might actually help the middle and working classes and are for proposals that will protect the wealthy.

President Obama has also damaged himself by adopting the Republican's agenda and not protecting the larger constituency that elected him.

Most polls show that the American people want a balanced approach to this problem. But that won't stop the Tea Party from dragging us down before things can get better.