Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mississippi mud pie: Haley's Lil' White Lie...

"Where I come from the White Citizens Council were town leaders."
Ezra Klein notes Mississippi Governor Haley Barbor claiming he'd “dug out of a $720 million budget hole in two years without raising anybody’s taxes."
Klein: The problem? Barbour had raised a couple of taxes. But give him his credit: He hadn’t raised income taxes. Rather, he’d raised cigarette taxes and taxes on facilities for the mentally disabled — taxes, in other words, that fall fairly regressively.
Turns out he’s working in a time-honored tradition in the South.

The Gap

Image courtesy of Super Yachts, Lustre Ltd.

25% of home-owners are "under water."
As has been noted with a certain sense of alarm by those among us who believe that a rising economic tide should "lift all boats" rather than just luxury yachts, the income gap between the middle class and even "upper-" and "upper-upper-" middle class as well as lower income folks,  and the economic elite has become much greater over the last 30 years.    

Between 1980 and 2005, more than 80% of the increase in total incomes went to the top 1%.  

Eighty per-cent of the growth in incomes went to one per-cent - a fact that is in my view stunning and at least part of the reason we're in such precarious economic straits.  When wealth doesn't "trickle down," everything from our tax policies to our political discourse gets skewed by the resulting imbalance of economic power and the country suffers.  (Authentic conservatives, incidentally, should take note of this and be as alarmed as liberals or "progressives", because radical increases in economic inequality totally undermine the social cohesion, stable communities and family life, and moderation in our political system that traditionally draws folks to the  "conservative" promise - as distinct from the radicalism of free-market ideologues and right-wing extremists or self-serving agendas of the economic elite that "normal" conservatives often find themselves in bed with.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Institutional inflation-mongering: bogus hysterics in service of special interests & the economic elite

                                   David Leonhardt @ NYTimes' Biz Day writes: 
(Y)ou might think Fed officials would now be doing everything possible to ensure a solid recovery. But they’re not. 
Once again, many of them are worried that the Fed is doing too much. And once again, the odds are rising that it’s doing too little. 

Founders' feud

"My country is the world, my religion is to do good."

Given the Tea Partiers' feverish hijacking of American history, with their largely ignorant "WWTJD?" dogmatics ("What would Thomas Jefferson do?") offered as a simple-minded panacea to current problems, it's useful to look back at the complex and flawed human beings who occupied the "origins" piece of our complicated and often painful history. 

For example, "founding fathers" John Adams and Thomas Paine hated each other. Adams called Paine's clarion 1776 manifesto "Common Sense," an "ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass."  Paine's opinion of Adam's tenure in the White House?  "Some people talk of impeaching John Adams, but I am for softer measures. I would keep him to make fun of."

Historian William Hogeland has a fascinating essay (posted at Naked Capitalism & New Deal 2.0) on the roots of this mutual antipathy, entitled "How Thomas Paine and John Adams Clashed Over Income Inequality." He brings Paine, in particular, into clearer focus and in regard to one of our very real and pressing current problems that has not been solved in the ensuing 200-plus years - a problem that, in truth, is getting much worse.

Some excerpts from Hogeland's piece that are especially interesting:
The Paine-Adams antipathy wasn’t just personal. Its sources lay in the founding generation’s deep political divisions over economic equality...

Part 4 of "Common Sense" primer on the deficit hype is up at Winning Progressive

This piece focuses on the attacks on Social Security and the real need to control rapidly rising health care costs as a piece of our overall spending, whether the government is providing insurance via Medicare or not.  Thanks to the folks at Winning Progressive for spreading the word!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

"Shoeless Joe" Stiglitz vs. the Alan Simpson & Erskine Bowles Deficit Reduction Proposal

“Macroeconomic policy can never be devoid of politics..."
Joe Stiglitz is a Nobel-Prize winning economist, currently professor at Columbia University, who chaired Bill Clinton's Council of Economic Advisors from 1995-97 and was Chief Economist at the World Bank.  He won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2001 for his work on "market imperfections." He's long been a critic of free market theorists - who he regards as market "fundamentalists" - and has written extensively on the destabilizing effects of economic globalization.

Stiglitz plays in powerful circles, but he's not a "team player."  He left the Clinton administration after losing an ongoing duel with Larry Summers. In an American Prospect profile ten years or so ago, entitled "Shoeless Joe" and highlighting the often-disheveled professor's unorthodoxy, Jonathan Chait quoted Stiglitz' take on his stint as CEA chief:   
"When I was in the lawyer- and politician-dominated White House environment, I often felt that I had arrived in another world," he recounted. "I had expected lower standards of evidence for assertions than would be expected in a professional article, but I had not expected that the evidence offered would be, in so many instances, so irrelevant, and that so many vacuous sentences, sentences whose meaning and import simply baffled me, would be uttered."
Stiglitz' intellectual credibility and experience combined with his tendency to tell unwelcome truths in high places is why he's such a valuable voice. What this little panegyric is getting to is a broadside that Stiglitz has just fired contrary to other former presidential CEA chairs who had banded together in a joint "letter" to promote the much-touted opinions of Deficit Commission co-chairs Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson - pushing an agenda of "compromise" cutbacks to reduce budget deficits long-term. 

"Social Security is a milk cow with 310 million tits!"
Commission co-chair Alan Simpson, you might recall, is the terminally grouchy public scold who makes cracks like, "Social Security was never a retirement" and "it was a good idea when it started, but may no longer be so" - that is when he's not babbling about "the green weenie","sparrow belch" or how "a lot of blood, hair, and eyeballs have to lay on the floor before we (the Simpson-Bowles commission) finish." (Simpson's lips are so loose and he's so dyspeptic there's a website.) Why President Obama chose  - along with "corporate Democrat," former Clinton staffer and investment banker Bowles - this disgruntled old coot to head a key commission looking at the future of Social Security, among other major long-term budget issues, is one I'll never understand.

But back to Joe Stiglitz.  Arguably he's no more the diplomat than Simpson, but his tongue is connected to his brain, not his spleen.  Stiglitz calls the Simpson-Bowles proposals a "near suicide pact" and "a set of unprincipled political compromises that would lead to a weaker America — with slower growth and a more divided society."

Strong stuff. And the substance of Joe Stiglitz' "counter-letter" to his fellow former CEA chairs regarding the deficit commission is compelling:

Monday, March 28, 2011

Terrible Democratic strategy on the budget...

Think Progress reports - a "Tea Partyized" GOP win is likely in current budget "negotiations":
Unfortunately the administration backed away from its budget even before the negotiations started, and the Tea Party is calling the shots in the House. So instead of negotiation between the president’s original level and House leadership’s original level, we’re stuck negotiating between the Tea Party’s $100 billion, and the new status quo’s $50 billion. That means the likely compromise is right where the House Republican leadership always wanted it: around $74 billion.
That’s not much of a compromise if we end up with what the House Republican leadership wanted in the first place.
The full "Think Progress" analysis is HERE.  "The Tea Party is calling the shots in the House" - OMFG! But bending to the crazies seems to be working for the GOP, which is getting it's original offer as the "compromise" with weakened Democrats. This apparent failure is the fruit of the mid-term debacle, of Democratic timidity and - among the base that worked hard for Obama - of our having let the Tea Party activists take center stage at the grass-roots and in the media circus after our guy won the Presidency.      (via Ezra Klein, Wonkbook)

Update: Steve Benen has more on this at Political Animal, HERE.  Up-update: Can GOP over-reach give the Dems leverage?  Brian Beutler, HERE at TPM, has the latest on the potential for a government shutdown.

The unbearable hypocrisy of being a GOP "deficit hawk"

Exhibit A:
Sen. Richard Shelby, Republican, Alabama

At left we have Sen. Shelby expressing his concern over mounting deficits, by pointing his finger at the year before they began growing out of control - 1980. 1980 was, of course, the year the great anti-government fiscal conservative Ronald Reagan was elected President - and proceeded to initiate the Gospel of Tax Cuts, a scheme hatched by the economic elites and which got the federal  deficit ball rolling big-time. 

Thank you Senator Shelby, for reminding us of "the good old days" before the GOP's "Starve the Beast!" strategy to break government took hold.

Currently Shelby - when he's not attacking consumer advocate Elizabeth Warren or fighting regulation of the banking industry - is railing against the dangers of the deficit with public statements such as this:
“Washington must put its fiscal house in order. American taxpayers are rightly infuriated by the federal government’s disregard for the same economic principles that govern every household and business budget.”  
Aside from the nonsensical simplification that the federal government should adhere to identical budgeting principles as "every household," at least let's acknowledge that's a clearly expressed point of view.

But behind the hot air, we find "fiscal conservative" Shelby inserting the pork-barrel “Shelby provision” into the 2010 budget extension.  The "Shelby provision" forces NASA to spend $1.4 million daily on the Constellation moon program, which it already canceled and doesn’t even want:

3rd part of "Common Sense" Guide to the Great Deficit Debate at "Winning Progressive"

 Winning Progressive has the third segment of our "Common Sense" deficit primer up today.  This segment focuses on the drastic growth in income inequality over the last 30 years.  Thanks to WP for spreading the word!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

How did GE pull it off ? - "Some people rob you with a six-gun..."

"...some people rob you with a fountain pen"

And some people rob you with lobbyists re-writing the tax laws.

It's been reported widely - including here - that General Electric paid zero taxes on over $14 billion in profits for 2010. What's gotten a bit less attention is the part of the story where GE not only doesn't pay any taxes, but got a "tax benefit" of $3.2 billion - which presumably means that Uncle Sam owes GE a multi-billion dollar credit against future taxes (assuming the sharks at GE ever are liable for any.)

As the New York Times story explains in painful and anger-inducing detail, GE is typical of large corporations - although obviously more skilled than many - in employing a small army of well-funded lobbyists to work Washington for tax breaks, loopholes, "incentives", "credits", etc. - ad nauseum.

This is the background to what are called "tax expenditures" - i.e. money that the US Treasury forgoes on taxable income and corporate profits because of various "work-arounds" as fine print  written into the tax code.  It is a huge issue for corporations like GE, but it's an imbalance in our tax system that comes into play with taxation on wealthy individuals as well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More fiscal conservatives like these, pleeeze...

In economic jargon this is called, "DUH!!!"

If there's one fact folks need to understand in the current "deficit debate," it's that the GOP doesn't care about the deficits. They care about cutting taxes...primarily for the very wealthy - no matter what the cost or the impact on the country or on responsible government.

That's the bottom line of these alleged "conservatives" of the GOP. Their obsessive clinging to a "policy" of tax-cuts-over-everything became obvious during the GOP temper tantrum over letting the Bush tax cuts expire for the top 1% - the super-wealthy folks whose incomes have grown exponentially over the past thirty years, at a rate about 15 times more than the majority in the lower & middle income groups have seen.

Congs. Heckle & Jekyll

So, if the allegedly "conservative" GOP has devolved into a bunch of shills for cutting taxes on the economic elite and on corporations (or in many cases, simply giving a platform to nut-jobs and demagogues who can't even do the math but are feeding on cultural & racial resentments), what does real "fiscal conservatism" look like?  

Well, one might begin with a report just out from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. They've got some rational approaches to keeping deficits under control over the long term. They've also got some good charts!  Nothing like a chart to make this stuff (stuff that, frankly - were it not so critical to decent public policy - bores me to tears) comprehensible and easy to grasp without wading through a sea of numbers. 

Let's start with the chart above at the top right (Fig2.)  It's pretty obvious.  Bottom line, according to the CBPP report, "letting all the Bush tax cuts likely to be the only way to stabilize the debt as a share of the economy over the coming decade without draconian cuts that would cause serious damage..."

Senator Sanders, Proudly Inependent-VT

Uh...yeah. But try telling that to these "conservative" clowns in Congress. Apparently the only "fiscal conservatives" to be found in the Beltway these days are among the liberals and moderates of the Democratic Party.  For that matter the "real-live-socialist" in the Senate, Bernie Sanders from Vermont, is a more authentic fiscal conservative than that Ayn Rand acolyte, Cong. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, or the Minnesota Tea Partier Michelle Bachmann (who apparently gives voice in Congress to the unfortunate folks who forgot to take their medication) because he's not selling the fiscal patent medicine of tax-cuts while yammering incoherently about  "budget balancing."

The CBPP has more, which I'll excerpt - along with their great charts:

Friday, March 25, 2011

McCarthy's Ghost

The Madison Wisconsin Capital Times reports that the state GOP is going after U of Wisc. history professor William Cronon - who has been critical of Republican Gov. Walker's attacks on public employees and unions - requesting that his emails be made public in an attempt to pin some sort of violation of university policy on him.  Prof. Cronon was featured on "The Titanic" on Tuesday, for his New York times op-ed on GOP radicalism.

He details the GOP's attack on him for his public statements  at his aptly named Scholar as Citizen blog:  A Tactic I Hope Republicans Will Rethink: Using the Open Records Law to Intimidate Critics.

UPDATE: Krugman has a good piece on this in today's Times (3/28.)

It's tax time - and the government owes General Electric $3.2 billion!

How's does this bit of news make you feel while you're poring over tax returns in preparation for April 15?  General Electric took home profits of $14.2 billion last year - $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.  So how much are they paying in taxes?  Nothing!

On top of that, GE is getting a tax credit of $3.2 billion from Uncle Sam.

But it's not just GE that has become expert in tax avoidance -  the corporate share of the nation’s federal tax revenues has declined from 30 percent in the mid-1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009.

The New York Times notes that "low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years...

How's that austerity strategy working out ? (Reprise)

Paul Krugman on "The Austerity Delusion" today at the NYT;
Just ask the Irish, whose government — having taken on an unsustainable debt burden by trying to bail out runaway banks — tried to reassure markets by imposing savage austerity measures on ordinary citizens. The same people urging spending cuts on America cheered. “Ireland offers an admirable lesson in fiscal responsibility,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, who said that the spending cuts had removed fears over Irish solvency and predicted rapid economic recovery. 
That was in June 2009. Since then, the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland’s unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent. 
And then there’s the British experience. Like America, Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback... British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Austerity trickles down...

State budget cuts are being passed off to local governments, which must further cut services or raise taxes.  According to the New York Times, "The state budget squeeze is fast becoming a city budget squeeze, as struggling states around the nation plan deep cuts in aid to cities and local governments that will almost certainly result in more service cuts, layoffs and local tax increases...Moody’s Investors Service, the ratings agency, said in a report last week that many states '' 'are increasingly pushing down their problems to their local governments.' The Moody’s report warned that this would be 'the toughest year for local governments since the economic downturn began.'”

One year after ACA's health insurance reform...

It's good for the country - CBPP reports HERE.

Republicans are still lying about it - CBPP reports HERE"Angry Black Lady" at Balloon Juice has more on GOP BS - HERE.

(Thanks to the Center on Budget & Policy Priorities for keeping us informed of the Affordable Care Act's benefits.)

Conservative government's austerity strategy in the UK: Surprise! It's not "Let's try it here!"

The GOP's agenda of spending cuts as the path to economic growth isn't just a dubious idea. It's a very bad reality that's not working and dragging the economy down in England, where the Conservative Party Cameron government enacted  a strategy of "austerity as the path to prosperity" last year.

As expected by most observers other than "true believers," British economic growth is in decline and tax revenues are less than anticipated, while inflation is up and their treasury has had to actually borrow more than Prime Minister Cameron's Conservatives projected.  So we can already see in the real world the "benefits" of slashing government spending - spending which in a deep recession is helping bolster an already weak economy. Not only are these "benefits" non-existent, an austerity agenda puts a drag on the economy and can actually increase budget deficits due to declining tax revenues as overall growth slows. Totally counterproductive!

"Common Sense" Guide to Deficit Debate...

Winning Progressive is running the second "chapter" of our "Common Sense" Guide to the Great Deficit Debate & the Future of Our Economy today.  Thanks to the great folks over there & continue to check out their site - they are "sending the message of strong and sensible progressive values to the American public."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Romer sounds the jobs alarm

 From Politico via Brad DeLong:
"Official" unemployment still at nearly 9%
President Obama’s former top economic advisor sharply criticized the federal government for failing to take more aggressive action against unemployment.

“I frankly don’t understand why policy makers aren’t more worried about the suffering of real families,” former Council of Economic Advisors Chair Christina Romer, who left the Administration last fall, said during a discussion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville Tuesday. “I think there are tools we have that we can use, and I think it’s shameful that we’re not using them.”

The cowardice and phony "conservatism" of the GOP

Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist who has had it with the phony "deficit hawks" of the GOP who believe that cutting taxes in the face of budget shortfalls is "fiscal conservatism" rather than fiscal (and ideological) profligacy,  reports that Republican leaders have predictably caved to the "Tax Cuts Uber Alles" extremists in positioning themselves for the budget fight:
Americans for Tax Reform president Grover Norquist has received assurances from Republican leaders in Congress that under no circumstances will they vote for any tax increase, either as part of deficit reduction or tax reform. Apparently, the only permissable deficit reduction is spending cuts and the only permissable tax reform is tax cuts.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elizabeth Warren, our "cop on the beat" - and the power of simple, clear rhetoric

Our new consumer regulatory chief Elizabeth Warren - actually she's setting up the agency and moving on because she'd likely have trouble getting confirmation as the new agency chief through GOP obstructionists - is one of the most effective and broadly popular people in the administration.  So she's being attacked relentlessly by the Wall Street Journal and Beltway neanderthals like Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Bankistan).  

As we quoted Paul Krugman the other day the "purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers...For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand…"

But Elizabeth Warren is no patsy for the people trying to take her down.  Dana Milbank made this clear in a Washington Post article on Professor Warren's grilling by Republicans in Congress:

What's the deal with GOP "deficit hawk" Paul Ryan?

Wisconsin Republican Cong. Paul Ryan makes a lot of noise about deficits.  Of course, his actual record is of voting to increase deficits with tax cuts and big ticket unfunded schemes like...uh...the war in Iraq and Bush 2's prescription drug bill that was deliberately unhinged from any additional revenue source.

Ryan is known for having his staff read Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, a sort of Bible for those obsessed with the notion that taxation - and especially progressive taxation - is inherently evil (literally "morally evil" & I'm not kidding) and that we should essentially eliminate the government.  The GOP congress has chosen Ryan as their Big Gun on the budget, so it's useful to remind folks of just what a fraud this fellow happens to be.  Steve Benen recently had a good background piece on Ryan as the face of the GOP cutback agenda, with lots of additional links if you want to dig deeper into the Ryan deep hole - HERE. 
Also, if you missed it, check out our previous posting of Jon Chait's piece on Ryan, HERE.

"Common Sense" Deficit Guide - Series at "Winning Progressive"

Winning Progressive - a site dedicated to "sending the message of strong and sensible progressive values to the American public" has launched a serialized version of our "Common Sense" Guide to the Great Deficit Debate & Future of Our Economy.  That's a great idea - giving readers an opportunity to absorb it in "chapters" rather than downloading the whole thing for one sitting.  Thanks to the Winning Progressives for their interest and making the message more accessible and available.  And check out their blog on a regular basis (it's linked at our "Double Espresso" blog-roll) for ongoing coverage of key progressive initiatives. They're doing a great job!

Commie attacks on GOP's cutbacks agenda

From a recent column by David Leonhardt, business & economics point-man for the NYT:
(T)he people who get paid to make economic predictions say that federal cutbacks would harm the economy this year and next. The research firm Macroeconomic Advisers estimates that the House Republicans' budget would raise the unemployment rate by 0.3 percentage points -- which means about 500,000 lost jobs -- by the end of next year.

Economists on Wall Street, which isn't exactly thrilled with the Obama administration, have made similar forecasts. Nigel Gault, chief United States economist at IHS Global Insight (formerly Wharton Econometric Forecasting), puts it this way: ''I wouldn't be cutting spending over the rest of the fiscal year, because the economy still needs support.'' 
Boehner's boys in Congress are unhinged from reality. They're pushing a cult of anti-government ideology over cautious, informed policy focused on "growing" jobs and getting the economy back on track.

The Radicalism of Today's Republicans

In today's NYT, William Cronon, a professor of history at University of Wisconsin-Madison, provides some historical perspective on the ideological extremism of today's "conservatives" and the destruction of the Republican Party as a responsible partner in our democracy, a moderating influence or even an authentic bastion of conservative principles:

Wisconsin’s Radical Break

NOW that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it’s worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context.

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Re: Conservative Economists Parroting Ridiculous "Dead Ideas" of Right-Wing Ideologues

One of the most impressive accomplishments of the modern right is its ability to generate plausible technical papers to justify conservative tropes that are basically ridiculous.

A Conservative Who Got Wisconsin's Governor Walker

This is an interesting anecdote, as presented by Thom Hartmann 
(Via a commenter at Crooks & Liars.) We can only hope that more of these
folks wake up and begin to understand their interests don't lie in bed with
the Koch brothers and the extreme ideologues who dominate the GOP. 

Will Democrats hold the line on Social Security?

It's not looking great at this point. This is a critical battle, but some Democrats appear willing to let the GOP hold Social Security hostage in budget negotiations, despite the fact that the issue has nothing to do with reducing current deficits.       From today's Wall Street Journal:
Democrats have broken ranks over a move to consider Social Security changes—including possibly raising the retirement age—to ensure its long-term fiscal health in combination with an effort to reach a deficit-reduction package.

The War on Elizabeth Warren

Krugman explains the attacks by the Wall Street Journal and Congressional Republicans on consumer advocate Warren:

(T)he real purpose of the attack on Ms. Warren was to ensure that neither she nor anyone with similar views ends up actually protecting consumers...For people like Ms. Warren — people who warned that we were heading for a debt crisis before it happened — threaten, by their very existence, attempts by conservatives to sustain their antiregulation dogma. Such people must therefore be demonized, using whatever tools are at hand.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

William Shakespeare - Henry VI, Act IV, Scene II : "First thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." *

Naked Capitalism on the "Implosion of Foreclosure Mills."
(*No offense intended.)

INSIDE JOB - A "Must See" now out on DVD

"An angry, well-argued documentary about how the American financial industry set out deliberately to defraud the ordinary American investor."  -  Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

"Indignation is often the most self-deluding of emotions; this movie has the rare gifts of lucid passion and informed rage."  -  David Denby, New Yorker

"By the end Mr. Ferguson has summoned the scourging moral force of a pulpit-shaking sermon. That he delivers it with rigor, restraint and good humor makes his case all the more devastating."  -  A.O. Scott, NY Times

This Academy Award-winning documentary on the roots and consequences of the '08 financial meltdown is now available on DVD, if you missed it in the theaters.  Absolutely essential information and quite entertaining - "Netflix" it or check it out at Amazon (link).

"Governing with the GOP is like rooming with a meth addict" - Bill Maher rants

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Tea Party Values

From Jon Chait at New Republic:
(T)he evidence that Tea Party activists want to cut spending -- at least actual spending programs -- is sparse. Polls show that Tea Party supporters overwhelmingly oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. The main thrust of Tea Party opinion is not the belief that Obama has spent too much money, but the belief that Obama has spent too much money on people unlike them:

The smear campaign against Elizabeth Warren

Rortybomb has a good rundown on the attacks against Elizabeth Warren, who is in charge of setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  Prof. Warren, an expert on financial fraud against consumers, is one of the finest public servants President Obama has appointed. So, of course, The Wall Street Journal and Republican pols are trying to take her down and to defund her agency. Read about it HERE.
Update: More on the shots against Prof. Warren HERE,from Joe Nocera at NYT.

So...uh...what do teachers make ?

"The Most Aggressive Defense of Teachers You'll Hear!"

Friday, March 18, 2011

Tax breaks vs. slashed safety nets - "The InfoGrafik"

Center for American Progress:  House leaders are unfortunately restricting their proposed budget cuts for the remainder of fiscal year 2011 to nonsecurity discretionary spending in an attempt to tame a $1.3 trillion deficit. This approach is especially shortsighted since the Federal Treasury loses twice as much revenue due to tax breaks than Congress appropriates on all nonsecurity discretionary spending.
The chart below compares the 10 safety-net programs slated for deep cuts with the cost of the tax breaks that should also be considered for reduction or elimination to bring the budget into balance. The column on the left is a list of safety-net programs that have already been targets of the House leadership’s budget ax. The column on the right is the cost to specified tax breaks...

Surrendering the narrative

Krugman has a good column today on the apparent unwillingness of the White House and the Congressional Democrats to forcefully challenge the GOP's politics of "belt-tightening," and - amidst still staggeringly high, long-term unemployment numbers - to put creating jobs front and center of their agenda.  HERE.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The GOP gets serious about the budget...

Via Talking Points Memo

The "Logical Argument" Fallacy...

 Mark Thoma @ Economist's View:
 I think we make a mistake by talking about (Beltway budget battles) as though the goal of Republicans is actually deficit reduction. It's not, the goal is a reduction in the size of government and once you understand that, it's clear why Republicans will not support tax increases of any kind. 

They'd rather cut taxes now (and argue it's about jobs or long-run growth rather than ideology), and increase the deficit even more because they still believe the beast can be starved...Logic about the best way to close the deficit won't win this argument because it has little to do with the deficit itself.

Weird Politics

A new WaPo/ABC poll cited today by Ezra Klein demonstrates the weirdness of our politics: Republicans are great at stirring up anxiety and unfounded fears but terrible at following through on policy - because so much of the fine print of their ideologically-driven agenda won't fly with many of the same voters who elect them:

The Case of the $160,000 City Bus Driver...

...turns out to be a case of political desperation by a Wisconsin Republican facing recall in the wake of his attacks on public employees. Here & here - as explained by Greg Sargent/Plumline.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wisconsin Cong. Paul Ryan, Taxophobia & Ayn Rand

Jonathan Chait in Democracy:
Not long ago, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan—who enjoys unparalleled prestige on budget issues among conservatives of all stripes—railed against the deficit and was asked about the massive cost of extending tax cuts. He replied, “Keeping tax rates where they are, and preventing them from going up, is not spending, because that is people’s money in the first place.” What on earth could this mean? Here is the answer. Ryan has declared his deep intellectual debt to Ayn Rand (the obsessively anti-government author of Atlas Shrugged -ed.) He required all his staffers to read her work. When he responds to a question rooted in simple accounting with a moral claim (“people’s money in the first place”), he is saying that the arithmetic of revenue, outlays, and deficits does not matter to him. None of the pecuniary issues that he claims to care about so deeply ultimately matter. He is fighting a class war, which he views as a war for freedom itself. 
Rand’s passion and hate flowered in a postwar world in which the working classes were slowly drawing closer with the upper classes. The great irony of the recent triumph of her vision on the right is that it takes place in conditions just the opposite. The poor and working classes have languished for decades, while the rich pull in unimaginable sums. This is the atmosphere that has paradoxically given rise to the right’s fervid class warfare...

A "Common Sense" Guide to the Great Deficit Debate

No matter how much liberals may poke fun at them, Tea Party partisans can claim victory in fundamentally altering the country's dialogue...Thanks to the Tea Party, we are now told that all our problems will be solved by cutting government programs...Does anyone really think that cutting such programs will create jobs or help Americans get ahead? But give the Tea Party guys credit: They have seized the political and media agenda...

E.J. Dionne Jr. Washington Post: 2-21-2011

In the wake of a deep financial crisis and continuing high unemployment, we are confronted with a contentious, often angry argument over our future as a nation: 

- How best to expand economic productivity and resources, and to “grow” jobs?    
- What programs and social policies do we value as citizens?  
- What public goods will we invest in? 
- How do we pay for government at a scale that we can agree we need? 

These vital concerns are increasingly reduced - problematically - to the sole issue of deficit spending.

Unions in Wisconsin - Down But Not Out!

"Working America, an advocacy organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO that provides an outlet for non-union members to support the labor movement, has signed up approximately 20,000 new members (in Wisconsin) since Feb. 15," reports Amanda Terkel.

Is help finally on the way for folks whose homes are "underwater" ?

Huffington Post:
The Obama administration is seeking to force the nation's five largest mortgage firms to reduce monthly payments for as many as three million distressed homeowners in as little as six months as part of an agreement to settle accusations of improper foreclosures and violations of consumer protection laws...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Tax Loopholes, credits, write-offs - an elephant in the room

Jamelle Bouie at The American Prospect:
The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a nifty chart showing the huge impact of tax expenditures -- credits, loop holes, write-offs, etc. -- on the federal budget. Short story: In terms of overall spending, tax expenditures dwarf virtually everything else, including major entitlement programs:

The Sad But True Story of Wages in America

Economic Policy Institute has it, HERE.

"Where Are The Jobs?"

Media Matters has a very useful, fact-filled, extensive report on "The GOP's Two-Year Campaign Against Job Creation and Economic Growth," documenting the retrograde agenda and nihilism at the center of the Republican strategy to...uh...I don't know...Destroy America?    HERE

Winners (?) and Losers in Madison

Natasha Vargas Cooper, reporting from Madison, in The Atlantic:
"In Wisconsin, despite the biggest protests Madison has seen since the Vietnam War, there is no way getting around the basic fact: The public sector unions lost their toughest fight yet. They may have resisted mightily and sparked a national movement in opposition to Gov. Scott Walker's budget repair bill, which stripped them of most collective bargaining rights, but he was able to sign it into law Friday afternoon, nonetheless. The damage is done...
"Republican National Committee Chair Reince Priebus, the former leader of the Wisconsin GOP, proclaimed Walker's victory a win for the party as a whole. But what happened in Wisconsin wasn't that simple -- for Walker, the GOP or the unions."      
Read her full accounting of the current situation HERE.  It's not an optimistic gloss on the rebirth of Democratic activism, which is why it's a "must read" moving forward.

Leftwinger ruthlessly attacks the Boehner Budget

As noted in today's WaPo op-ed  by modishly progressive, Upper West Side elitist, heiress & editor of The Nation, Katrina Van den Heuvel:
Goldman Sachs projected this month that the deep cuts in domestic programs in the 2010 budget passed by the House could cut our growth rate in half. John McCain's former economic adviser, Mark Zandi, projected a loss of 700,000 jobs.
When will these commies stop picking on poor John Boehner, an honest working man from Ohio, who only wants what's best for America?

At the edges of the horror...

The tragedy - or multiple tragic disasters - unfolding in Japan are, to someone watching from afar,  shocking and beyond comprehension in real human terms.  Today I will be sure to "do something" for disaster relief, relative pittance as that may be, because the need is overwhelming (including my own, to step even a bit out of the spectator stance.)  So I feel awkward posting anything tangentially related to these horrible events here, at least in the context of the issues that focus the blog.  (As he awkwardly proceeds...)

Monday, March 14, 2011

Philosophy break...

"Kurt Vonnegut and novelist Joseph Heller...are enjoying a party hosted by a billionaire hedge fund manager. Vonnegut points out that their wealthy host had made more money in one day than Heller ever made from his novel Catch-22. Heller responds: ‘Yes, but I have something he will never have: enough.’”
Via Baseline Scenario.

Brad DeLong on "Defict Hawk Pretenders"

A couple of weeks old, but still well worth the read:  HERE.

We're not "broke" - redux

E.J. Dionne:
“We’re broke, broke going on bankrupt,” (claims the GOP's Beltway Boss John) Boehner...
Bloomberg News looked at Boehner’s statement and declared simply: “It’s wrong.”

"Some people rob you with a six-gun..."

"Some rob you with a fountain pen."

 Krugman on the banksters, HERE.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What Wisconsin is really about...Part deux

Eric Alterman @ The NationThe political power of public unions, not their pensions, is the point. Speaking at the recent Conservative Political Action Committee convention, Scott Hagerstrom of (Koch-funded) Americans for Prosperity explained, “We fight these battles on taxes and regulation, but really what we would like to see is to take the unions out at the knees so they don’t have the resources to fight these battles.”

Fat Cat Teachers...

Contextual notes on the pressing demand for "Shared Sacrifice" from our economic elites:
In 1970, in New York City, a newly minted teacher at a public school earned about $2,000 less in salary than a starting lawyer at a prominent law firm. These days the lawyer takes home, including bonus, $115,000 more than the teacher ...   
Via Nicholas Kristof @ NYT.

Why "austerity" as response to deep recession is a dumb idea

An oldie but goodie from "Naked Capitalism" - kind of wonkish, but if you are digging into the "deficit hysteria" in context of a deep downturn, lingering high unemployment and GOP social nihilism driving much of the "conventional wisdom", it's worth wading through.  Here.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Our Contemporary GOP: Insufferably Stupid or Aggressively Evil?

According to a column in Kaiser Health News, Republican staffers jeered at any and all proposals to use Medicare and Medicaid funds better. Spending money on prevention was no more than a “slush fund.” Research on innovation was “an oxymoron.” And there was no reason to pay for “so-called effectiveness research.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Wisconsin Democrats can teach Washington Democrats

E.J. Dionne on the wind blowing from the MidWest...
Consider the contrast between two groups of Democrats, in Wisconsin and in the nation's capital.
Washington Democrats, including President Obama, have allowed conservative Republicans to dominate the budget debate so far. As long as the argument is over who will cut more from federal spending, conservatives win. Voters may think the GOP is going too far, but when it comes to dollar amounts, they know Republicans will always cut more.

In Wisconsin, by contrast, 14 Democrats in the state Senate defined the political argument on their own terms - and they are winning it.

PBS Newshour on widening income inequality

Watch the full episode. See more PBS NewsHour.
Thanks to Ted Leyhe for emailing this link.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

State public employee pay and pensions are, on average, pretty modest.

In a Washington Post article documenting some outrageous abuses of the public employee pension system - the most egregious anecdote of which has been fixed and is no longer possible - a more significant fact is all but buried:  The average member in California of the largest public employee union, AFSCME,  "earns less than $45,000 a year and receives an annual pension of roughly $19,000." This reality flies in the face of the current demonization of public employees and attempts to destroy their collective bargaining rights by GOP Governors and their national party apparatchiks.

We're not "broke" - Index of investor confidence in the US Treasury

Krugman: Investors, putting real money on the line, are willing to lend funds to the Feds long-term at an inflation-adjusted interest rate of only 1 percent. There is nothing in the markets or the cash flow requiring immediate austerity. Yes, there is a long-run problem* — but this requires long-run solutions.    (Go HERE for the 10-year index of interest rates on US Treasury securities - currently 1%, and about 3% at the height of the recession.)

*On both the federal and private market horizons, the "long-run problem" is primarily rising health care costs that drastically exceed & outpace every other industrialized country that has a modern, high-quality health care system AND universal coverage. Just saying...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Starving the Moral Beast!

Modeled Behavior ignores Polite Company and says something that needs to be said:
If we want to build a model of what the government spends money on we would be best to start this way: ask people what social obligations do they believe “society” has...Sum the cost of those programs. That will be government spending.
Contrary to Jonah Goldberg and others who see Canada and the United States as examples of two clashing ideologies, they are actually examples of two different ethic distributions.  The United States is not Canada because there is ethnic strife between Southern Blacks and Southern Whites. That strife reduces the sense of moral obligation on the part of the white majority and so reduces government spending. 
 Complete commentary - "Starving the Moral Beast," HERE.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Christy Whitman starved the New Jersey "beast" & teachers are supposed to pay the price...

The Washington Post, September 5, 1994:
The first thing Christine Todd Whitman did upon taking office as governor of New Jersey in January was to cut the state's income tax. Then in July, as she signed into law her first state budget, the Republican cut taxes again while simultaneously closing the huge deficit left by her predecessor.
This is what her supporters call the Whitman miracle, the fiscal accomplishment that has sent her stock soaring among New Jersey's voters and transformed her on the national scene from a political unknown into one of the Republican Party's newest stars.

But the key to the Whitman miracle lies neither in her political philosophy nor in her spending cuts, but rather in the fine print of her budget. Contained there is a series of arcane fiscal changes that some experts say amount to this: Christine Todd Whitman has balanced New Jersey's books and paid for her tax cut by quietly diverting more than $1 billion from the state's pension fund.
Whitman calls what she did a "reform" of the pension system that puts it on a more "sound actuarial footing." Others are less charitable. The one thing that even the actuarial consultants hired by the Whitman administration agree on, however, is that the chief effect of the changes will be to shift billions of dollars in pension obligations onto New Jersey taxpayers 15 to 20 years from now.
Well,  as Media Matters reminds us, it's been "15 to 20 years" and the blame is all on teachers and other state workers' negotiated pensions.  Has current NJ GOPer Guv Chris Christie lashed out at his predecessor, that other Christy, who set this wreck in motion - as he has at various alleged malefactors?  No - not a peep.  GOP "starve the beast" dogmas and a total lack of fiscal or moral responsibility for "Tax Cuts Uber Alles" ideology are in full effect among these craven "conservative" culprits.  Totally disgusting and utterly predictable...

Thanks to Media Matters for bringing some history to bear on present predicaments - they have the full story HERE.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

State employee pensions are NOT the problem...

Eric Alterman:
(S)tatistics demonstrate the speciousness of the conservative case for states facing budget crises to default on their public pension obligations. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report recently demonstrating that, in fact, they have “adequate tools and means to meet their obligations.” To the degree that some states appear to be in real trouble, explains a June report by two Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco analysts, this is the result of a “profound macroeconomic shock” rather than pension obligations... Yet snowjobs like those promoted by Murdoch, Gingrich and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are painting a bull’s-eye on the back of public unions.
Update: Mark Thoma has more on this at "Economist's View"

Daily Show on "shared sacrifice..."

What Wisconsin is really about...

Kevin Drum @ Mother Jones explains in his "must read" article:

IN 2008, A LIBERAL Democrat was elected president. Landslide votes gave Democrats huge congressional majorities. Eight years of war and scandal and George W. Bush had stigmatized the Republican Party almost beyond redemption. A global financial crisis had discredited the disciples of free-market fundamentalism, and Americans were ready for serious change.

Or so it seemed. But two years later, Wall Street is back to earning record profits, and conservatives are triumphant. To understand why this happened, it's not enough to examine polls and tea parties and the makeup of Barack Obama's economic team. You have to understand how we fell so short, and what we rightfully should have expected from Obama's election. And you have to understand two crucial things about American politics.
The first is this: Income inequality has grown dramatically since the mid-'70s—far more in the US than in most advanced countries—and the gap is only partly related to college grads outperforming high-school grads. Rather, the bulk of our growing inequality has been a product of skyrocketing incomes among the richest 1 percent and—even more dramatically—among the top 0.1 percent. It has, in other words, been CEOs and Wall Street traders at the very tippy-top who are hoovering up vast sums of money from everyone, even those who by ordinary standards are pretty well off.
Second, American politicians don't care much about voters with moderate incomes...
Read his entire piece, "Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About," HERE.

Krugman on "How to Kill a Recovery"

"(D)o you remember the lavish praise heaped on Britain’s conservative government, which announced harsh austerity measures after it took office last May? How’s that going? Well, business confidence did not, in fact, rise when the plan was announced; it plunged, and has yet to recover. And recent surveys suggest that confidence has fallen even further among both businesses and consumers, indicating, as one report put it, that the private sector is 'unprepared to fill the hole left by public sector cuts.' ” 

Read the whole piece here.