Archive for August, 2010

Peacemaker Deficit

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

Toss all the bums out.

This is the simple solution for a government that doesn’t appear to be working.  This solution, though, is based on the assumption that those elected to take their place will do a better job.

My view is that the ideological divide that we see preventing progress in our government accurately represents the deep divisions in the voting population.

When the tea partiers, for example, say toss out all incumbents, they aren’t expecting them to be replaced by new liberal Democrats.  What they are really saying is replace them all with people who support the Tea Party agenda.  Republicans are definitely saying toss out all of the Democrats so that the Republicans can regain control.  Democrats counter that suggestion by asking if voters really want reward Republican obstructionism by returning them to power.

So the “toss the bums out” chant isn’t really what it seems.  It is just a simple expression of hope that things would run better if everyone were in the same page.

It’s probably true, but in simplest terms, that’s not going to happen.

Government has been less effective because it has become more representative.  It has become more representative because it has become more ideological.  As it becomes more ideological, it becomes less open to compromise.  As it becomes less open to compromise, it becomes less effective. 

As government becomes less effective, it seems to fan the flames of polarization.  Everyone is looking for someone else to blame.  The easiest and most obvious target is anyone who has an opposing philosophy.  The self-righteous blame sinners.  The sinners claim they are not guilty.  The not-guilty have to prove that they are innocent.  The innocent get punished.  The unfairly punished cry for help.  The self-righteous ignore cries for help because they feel punishment is the best method to teach people to make better choices.  The media mobsters gleefully stir the pot and are rewarded handsomely for their rabble rousing. 

As the ideological differences increase, the fabric of our democracy begins to fray.  We become more interested in our own ideals than the welfare of our neighbors.  We lose the common decency that is the hallmark of our towns and cities.  We justify our hard-heartedness by pointing out the shortcomings of those we disagree with.  We trust only the like-minded.  We value those that we agree with and discount those that disagree with us.  We reward demagoguery and punish the peacemakers.

This is not new news.

This has been happening since humans discovered there was strength in numbers.

Jesus recognized the problem and gave us direction on how to overcome it in His Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Matt 5:9    

As is usually the case, the way to change the world is to change yourself.  As we can all attest, this is much easier said than done.

Show Me the Money

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

The current conservative narrative is that the budget deficit is the result of irresponsible spending by the Obama administration. The primary message of the Republican Party for November is that they are the responsible party and will return fiscal discipline to the federal government.

There is a bit of truth in that claim. They ARE responsible. When you look at the numbers in detail, you can allocate virtually the entire deficit for the next ten years to three causes, the economic downturn, the Bush tax cuts, and spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here are the facts on the ground today.

The deficit for FY 2009 was $1.4T. That represents almost 10% of GDP. This is the largest percentage since WWII. Barring changes in current policies, that will likely continue for 2010 and remain in the $1T range for the next decade. So the current administration IS responsible for engineering an economic recovery AND reducing the debt. I’ve already posted in some detail what those plans are and how they appear to be having the desired effect.

The important question for the November election is whether the Obama administration is also responsible for the CURRENT size of the deficit.

Here are a few more facts.

By the time President Obama formally took office in January of 2009; Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, AIG, and Lehman Bros. already collapsed. The National Bureau of Economic Research confirmed that the recession started in December 2007. Before President Obama proposed any spending, the CBO forecast a 2009 deficit north of $1T.

In response the economic downturn, the Bush administration passed the TARP bill which together with the aid provided to Fannie and Freddie added $245B to the 2009 deficit. It also saved the world-wide financial system from meltdown.

The Obama administration passed the ARRA bill and other smaller stimulus measures which saved the domestic auto industry and by recent CBO reports added between 2M and 3M jobs. The cost of that is somewhere around $1.1T in deficit spending over the next ten years including debt service.

So now let’s compare those numbers to the other factors that I mentioned.

The tax cuts and war spending accounted for a third ($500B) of the deficit in 2009 and are responsible for $7T of the deficit over the next ten years. This figure does not include the impact from the prescription drug benefit added to Medicare in 2003 because it isn’t clear yet what the impact will be. It could add as much as another $880B. This spending easily dwarfs the onetime costs of both the stimulus and financial rescue bills. That’s because these Bush policies impact the budget every year.

deficit graph

If you subtract the costs of the recession and Bush administration policies (war, tax cuts, and Medicare expansion), the current Obama administration policies produce a balanced budget over the next ten years. Doesn’t sound like the same guy that they describe daily on Fox News.

In practical terms; we don’t have a balanced budget. We have to accept that the wars, tax cuts, and Medicaid expansion are current realities. We also have to evaluate the Obama administration’s plans to reduce the deficit going forward, rather than just blame it on past irresponsibility. The CBPP analysis projects deficit reductions in the 2011-2020 period of $1.3T. Clearly more is needed, but when you add it all up, the Obama administration IS acting in a fiscally responsible manner on the spending that it can control AND has already taken steps to rein in the ballooning deficit policies that they inherited.

It is an unfortunate fact in today’s political climate that a number of voters will simply reject these facts because they call into question a whole set of characterizations that they have already accepted about this President and his administration.

A More Perfect Union

Friday, August 20th, 2010

America is an odd place full of contradictions, imperfections, high ideals, and low morals.

We’ve got Tea Partiers who want to return us to strict constitutional rule, but are unwilling to embrace the parts of the document which they disagree with. Like the parts which provide citizenship to every person born here or guarantee the freedom of Muslims to practice their religion. They claim that they want to keep government out of the lives of citizens, but then they rise up in arms when a particular group of citizens wants to build a place of worship.

What is even more disturbing is a Pew research poll which shows that the number of people who believe that President Obama is a Muslim is going up. This is an internet hoax of the worst sort. It is completely without basis in fact. It persists like so many other urban myths only because some people want to believe it.

All I can wonder is why?

Clearly the bias against Muslims is related to the violent actions of a small group of radicals. But there is something more fundamental going on here. It is the dirty little secret of our “free” society. We are not content to co-exist. We need an enemy to validate our own sense of superiority. There has always been a conservative segment of our society who was eager to restrict the basic rights that we claim to hold dear in an effort to “protect” the rest of us from whomever the current perceived enemy may be.

John Adams passed the Alien and Sedition act because he feared the influence France had on Catholics. We called the American Indians savages and waged a successful genocidal war against them. Jim Crow laws were passed and the KKK formed because of southern fears of an African American backlash to slavery. We put Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII because we doubted their loyalty to the United States. During the Fifties, we imprisoned and deported those that we feared were communist sympathizers.

Now the worst thing you can be is a Muslim because Muslims are different and dangerous. So those who have been influenced by the drumbeat of right wingnut conspiracy theories about the President have begun to associate him with being a “secret” Muslim.

Muslims who have lived peacefully in this country for generations are suddenly suspect. Congregations who have been building mosques in this country since 1915 suddenly discover that they are no longer welcome.

Trudy Rubin of the Philadelphia Inquirer wonders “whether Americans still have the self-confidence to stand up for our Constitution’s principles – or whether we’ve become so fearful that we’re eager to junk them.”

Richard Cohen of the Washington Post confronts the notion that recent polls show a majority of American oppose construction of NYC mosque, “So what? Would they have liked Lincoln to have deferred to popular sentiment in the South regarding slavery? Would they have liked Truman to have polled the Army about desegregation?”

He goes on to say, “Minority rights are embedded in our Constitution. It was the perceived lack of them that caused the states to seek some immediate amendments, what we now call the Bill of Rights.”’

This particular sort of popular bigotry is exactly why the founding fathers built these sorts of protections into the fabric of our government.

But more importantly, Jesus also knew that the self-righteousness could justify virtually any cruelty and violence in the supposed service of God. So he gave us very clear instructions on what he expects from us,

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Matt 5:43-48

Toxic Waste

Monday, August 9th, 2010

Democrats introduced a $7.4B bill to provide care for the first responders who have fallen ill because of their exposure to toxic chemicals at the World Trade Center site.

In keeping with President Obama’s pledge to pay for new expenditures with either spending cuts or new revenue, Democrats proposed closing a tax loophole that multinational companies have been using to avoid paying US taxes.

The Republicans didn’t want to be on record voting for what they viewed as tax increase so they threatened to add amendments to the bill that would be embarrassing for Democrats to vote down. One example would be an amendment excluding illegal immigrants from the aid. The list of first responders covered by this bill has been public for almost nine years and there is no evidence that any of the names on that list are in this country illegally. What is not in dispute is most all of the names on the list are ill and many are seriously ill.

Rather than deal with a whole series of these “poison pill” amendments, Democrats used a process that sped up the vote, prevented amendments, but required a two-thirds vote. That also upset Republicans even though they also used this procedure frequently when they were in the majority.

The vote failed largely along party lines (255-159).

Democrats have offered to put the bill up for a simple vote if Republicans would agree not to propose any “toxic” amendments. So far there has been no response from Republicans.

At the end of the day, this is our fault.

We not only tolerate this sort of behavior, we encourage it. It is our version of Roman blood sport with Fox News keeping score. We created this toxic environment because we failed to hold our elected representatives accountable for putting the interests of party above the interests of people. We also turn a blind eye to those who are making fortunes off encouraging ongoing conflict. Rush, for example, thought it was a laugh riot.

It’s a sad day to be an American.

Out of a Job Yet?

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Keep voting Republican

There is a strange amnesia that seems to affect voters during midterm elections.

There is no doubt that we have problems, but we also have a government that has been hamstrung by partisan politics of the worst sort. Republicans are hoping that voters will have such a sort memory that they will forget what got us in this mess to begin with and gladly hand the keys back to the same folks who drove us into the ditch the last time they were behind the wheel.

The last Republican administration failed to create one net private sector job (worst performance on record), turned a surplus into the largest federal deficit in history, started two wars, tortured, illegally wiretapped, and widened the “wealth” gap to pre-Great Depression levels.

Since then:

Republicans opposed funds to clean up their financial mess then blamed Democrats for not cleaning it up fast enough. A study by Moody’s and Princeton economists, on the other hand, determined that quick decisive actions taken by the Obama administration prevented worldwide depression, 25% unemployment, deflation, and significant loss of personal wealth.

“The great recession gave way to recovery as quickly as it did largely because of the unprecedented responses by monetary and fiscal policymakers.”

Republicans opposed loans to the domestic auto industry preferring to “let them burn” along with their 3M workers. Then they complained that the government recovery plan treated dealers and their employees too harshly. A year later, the loans are getting paid back, the big three are all profitable, and manufacturing is leading the job recovery. GM is planning the largest IPO in history which should allow the government to sell our 60% share of GM at a profit. So much for socialism killing capitalism.

Republicans opposed extensions of unemployment insurance even though economists say this is the single most effective stimulus tool. Republicans were willing to punish the unemployed when there is only one job for every five out of work.

Republicans opposed healthcare reform even though the CBO said it would reduce the federal deficit by $138B and Medicare trustees said it added 12 years to the fund’s viability.

Republicans opposed a financial reform package preferring to allow Wall Street to continue to operate in the same loosely regulated environment which caused the financial meltdown.

Republicans opposed a package to help states retain teachers, police, and firefighter jobs. At the state level they opposed taxes and cut budgets which forced teacher, police, and firefighter layoffs.

They opposed the provisions which subsidized the healthcare costs of small business. They also oppose a bill to help small business gain access to the capital needed to hire new employees.

They chanted “drill baby drill” and when that caused the largest environmental disaster in our history, criticized the administration for not cleaning it up fast enough. Then they criticized the moratorium on future drilling until it can be proven safe because it will impact employment. That’s particularly ironic since it was their regime of lax regulation that led to the spill which caused the destruction of tourism, fishing, and oil exploration in the gulf.

They do support giving more tax breaks to the wealthy. Those who believe the fantasy that this has any relationship to job creation deserve their place in the unemployment line.

The rest of us will hopefully continue to hold Republicans accountable for their failures.