Archive for October, 2012

Blame

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Elections are supposed to mean something.  They should decide important issues like the balance between collectivism and individualism.  Not this one.  This one is just about power and it appears that it is going to be decided on two issues that have little to do with the big issues that this country faces.

Republicans want you to blame Obama for a slow economic recovery.

Democrats want you to punish Romney for promises that fail the “math” test.

Both are right.

The recession was worse and the recovery slower than the administration predicted.

Romney’s tax plan fails to achieve his revenue-neutral target according to latest independent Tax Policy Center analysis.  His Medicare reform also doesn’t “add up”.

Both campaigns have also been beating up the truth and not telling the whole story.

Republicans wrongly claim Obama increased the deficit and doubled the debt.  The deficit is the yearly difference between spending and income.  It has gone down 14% from 1.4T in 2009 to 1.2T in 2012.  The debt has gone up because of yearly deficits, but only 70% and the rate of growth as percentage of GDP (standard measurement) has gone down because the economy has recovered and the deficit decreased.  It is simple math.

While debt remains an important issue, austerity during time of slow economic growth increases the chances of economic recession as we’ve seen in Europe.  Getting the economy going again has to be our top priority.  Dramatic reductions in the size of government at all levels over the past two years is what has slowed this recovery.  A prudent mix of short term government growth programs while interest rates and inflation are both very low makes sense as long as we have structural changes to manage our long term debt problems.

Democrats wrongly claim their plans will solve the long-term debt problem without entitlement reform.

Republicans promise Obamacare repeal but have failed to propose a credible alternative.

Both wrongly claim that only their ideas will create jobs.

The truth is that the economy is recovering on its own.  Moody’s Analytics predicts 12M new jobs over next four years regardless of who is president.

The real problem in this election is us.

We’ve allowed ideology to trump logic and fact.   For example, how does a revenue-neutral tax change stimulate anything?  Or how does deficit-busting war spending become deficit-neutral domestic investment?

The failure to hold our candidates accountable in meaningful ways is the result of partisan media.  They have figured out how to profit by creating dissention and hatred. They cripple democracy by assassinating truth and demonizing compromise.  Democracy works best when there is room to create a middle way where both sides get a little and give a little.  That isn’t possible in today’s political climate.  Those who even entertain the possibility of compromise for the greater good are ostracized and run out of office by the partisans in their party.  What you are left with is hard-line ideologues who view compromise as tantamount to treason.  Indiana Republican Senatorial candidate Richard Murdoch summarized that point of view.

⁠”I certainly think bipartisanship ought to consist of Democrats coming to the Republican point of view,” Mourdock declared. “If we [win the House, Senate, and White House], bipartisanship means they have to come our way, and if we’re successful in getting the numbers, we’ll work towards that.

The logic is that there is some great moral victory out there for one side or the other to win.  If they win, they get to impose their will on the other side.

The reality is that the country is fairly evenly split between two ideologies.  There is no opportunity for a great decisive victory and our political system, as we’ve seen over the past four years, provides the minority party plenty of opportunity to gum up the works and limit the ability for the majority to do what it wants.  Politicians also have long memories.  Those that find themselves abused as a minority know that at some point they are going to be back in the majority and will gleefully turn the tables on their abusers.

As a result, we get “lesser evil” elections like this one rather than real choices about the greater good.   Neither candidate can win with just the votes of their party.  They have to temper their message in an effort to attract the votes of the few remaining undecided in the middle.  Nobody ends up with the choice that they would prefer and elections get decided on small issues rather than big ones.

You want someone to blame?  Go look in the mirror.

Empty Suit

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Romney’s latest foreign policy pronouncements continue his pattern of criticism without substance and position without difference.

Romney’s positions mirror Obama’s.  He did offer to “lead from the front”.  What that appears to mean is more military spending.  He promises to “roll back President Obama’s deep and arbitrary cuts to our national defense”.  The only cuts that fit that description are part of the sequestration “poison pill”.  That was the ransom Republicans got in return for raising the debt ceiling.  The President is using this “poison pill” exactly in the way that it was designed, to force both sides to come up with something better.  He is holding the defense department hostage in EXACTLY the same way that Tea Party House Republicans held the financial standing of the whole country hostage – but Republicans don’t like it when  the weapon they created is used on them.  So we have this fiction that the President wants to cut defense and weaken the country.  If Romney wants to sell that fiction, doesn’t he at least owe the country some explanation for where the money is going to come to make up the difference in the debt deal?

Romney’s attempt to connect the recent anti-American violence to some fundamental weakness in American policy is naive and dangerous.  The Obama administration has quietly been getting the job done.  Somali piracy contained.  Yemen training bases destroyed.  Gaddafi was overthrown.  Iran isolated and sanctions causing domestic unrest.  Al Qaeda decimated.  New democracies and reforms are emerging.

Romney feels that rhetorical swagger and simple affirmations of American Exceptionalism will dissuade Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, frighten terrorists into submission, and create loyal peaceful Arab democracies.

Bush’s simple answer to a complex world was democracy.  He equated spreading democracy with spreading peace.  He then invaded Iraq to prove his point.  The result was an Iranian nuclear program and the worldwide spread of al Qaeda.

Simple answers don’t work because they almost always ignore unintended consequences.

Now democracy is finally blossoming in the Middle East and Romney says it’s dangerous.  Punish Egypt because they elected the Muslim Brotherhood.  Arm the Syrian rebels even though al Qaeda has deeply infiltrated them.   He did say that we should only give arms to those Syrian rebels that “share our values”.  I’m curious how he is going to sort them out, or prevent a “values” rebel from handing his US rocket launcher to his al Qaeda cousin.  We went down this road once already in Afghanistan where we ended up both training and arming bin Laden and the first generation of al Qaeda.  We should try not to repeat that mistake.

Romney didn’t even mention the two biggest problems in the Middle East- an unstable nuclear Pakistan and a post-withdrawl Afghanistan.

Foreign policy is complex and young democracies need our help to peacefully grow.  Democracy is messy and it doesn’t always go the way that you want it to.  Venezuela is a perfect example.  But if we believe what we say we believe, we have to hang in there and help when we have an opportunity.

Romney has not demonstrated that he has the patience or the depth of understanding to encourage the growth of democracy.

He is looking no further than the next month.  He desperately wants to win this election and will do anything and say anything that he thinks will help him do it.

Romney 2.0

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

A liberal, moderate, and conservative walked into bar; the bartender looked up and said, “Hello Mitt”.

This new Romney showed up at the debates.  Let’s see how he compares with the old one.

Taxes
Romney 1.0 promised to cut taxes 20% across the board in order to stimulate the economy.  Romney 2.0 said everyone’s tax bills wouldn’t change.  Rate changes will be balanced by deduction reductions.  No details yet.  When pressed on how he could keep all of these promises and also reduce the deficit, Romney 2.0 said that this revenue-neutral plan would spur economic growth just like his old plan, even though this new one is putting no more money in the hands of consumers or job creators.

Healthcare Reform
Both Romneys are going to repeal Obamacare, but Romney 2.0 claimed his plan covered popular things like pre-existing conditions.  After the debate, his campaign admitted his “plan” relied on every state passing their own version of Romneycare.

Deferred Action for Illegal Aliens
Romney 2.0 said he would support the President’s action.  The next day his campaign said the real plan was to end the program if elected and only honor those deferrals issued between now and then.

Regulation
Romney 2.0 provided a full throated endorsement of financial regulation including large parts of the Dodd Frank bill which Romney 1.0 promised to repeal.   No details on potential replacements.

Medicare
Romney 1.0 wanted to reform Medicare as part of a larger effort to reduce the deficit.  Romney 2.0 says that he plans to keep Medicare unchanged for anyone who wants to use it now and into the future.  In addition he will create an alternate voucher program in hopes that everyone will move from the guaranteed program to the program where they have to take some of the risk regarding the cost of their care once they are retired.  He hasn’t provided any details on how running two competing healthcare plans will be cheaper than running one.

 47%
Romney 1.0 claimed that Obama’s policies have created a pervasive culture of dependency and entitlement that threatens the very fabric of democracy.  Romney 2.0 apologized, “I said something that’s just completely wrong.”

Truth in Advertising
Romney’s pollster said “We are not going to let our campaign be dictated by fact-checkers”.  Romney 2.0 claimed that when “any time there’s anything that’s been amiss (in our advertising), we correct it or remove it.”  When asked for examples, his campaign couldn’t produce any.

Perhaps there isn’t as much difference between Romney 1.0 and Romney 2.0 after all.