Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Whose recession?

Picturing the world if Hilary had been elected President instead of Barack Obama, or if John McCain had been elected running against Hilary, is always a fun and interesting game. But here we are, with the President we have. We've had a stimulus that was too small, a conservative, barely adequate health care/insurance reform package passed, and in the past twelve months a series of confrontations where Republicans got most of what they wanted in exchange for not making millions of Americans suffer more than they are.

You may disagree, but I think that among educated people paying attention, many if not most are turning to Paul Krugman for guidance, unless they are locked into a conservative view that only allows truth to come from the Wall Street Journal. But although there are many conservative pundits, as far as I know there is no particular conservative economic authority, no individual to rival the status of Krugman. It has been pointed out that almost (if not) all the high level economists who work for the President and the government sit on boards of banks and other financial institutions, and so have perhaps not pursued financial reform with the sort of zeal required by the current recession (see the movie "Inside Job").

So this is the stage we find ourselves on, with Krugman on one side advocating a stronger Keynesian approach, and Republican politicians and conservative pundits arguing for lower taxes (on the rich) and less regulation as a panacea on the other side. David Brooks fancies himself a smart pundit, trying to find truth by politely listening to liberals before dismissing their views. His column yesterday, titled "The Lost Decade", by it's very title evoked the notion of the Japanese economic crisis of the 1990's, which Paul Krugman has written about. Was Brooks going to suddenly start advocating further stimulus?

Well, no. Actually, Brooks raises the "false equivalency" specter, that neither conservatives with their cuts or deregulation nor liberals with their stimulus have the complete answer. He seems to argue that both approaches should be attempted, although in complaining about how the current jobs bill is too small, Brooks doesn't actually call for a larger one. Instead he pivots and calls for the full menu of Republican proposals.

All of which is no surprise. I don't believe Brooks has any advanced training in economics, I suspect he would call his approach "common sense" (i.e., unpolluted by academic tools of analysis using history and models). I What did surprise me, after I had read the whole thing, was that I realized David Brooks did not mention the unemployed or unemployment once, and used the phrase "job growth" only once, in his lead paragraph. In the paragraph where he describes the "currents" of this recession. Unemployment is conspicuous by its absence.

I remember that before the midterm elections, Republicans hammered the Democrats over unemployment. Since the midterms, Republicans have forgotten about the unemployed. Except last December, when they wanted to cut off unemployment benefits to millions of Americans with out a job since Bush was President.

Krugman here responds to Brooks (at least partially). Personally, my thoughts turn to Joseph Welch when he famously said to Joe McCarthy "Have you no sense of decency" (which I tend to remember as "have you no shame", but I suppose accuracy is better).

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Kelly's whine about scandals ...

So Jack Kelly starts this week's column with the suggestion that Barack Obama has had more scandals than any other President in our history ... one more than two, or ... three. He also suggests that the main stream media (other than Fox News, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Times, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin (and their ilk) and the various Breitbart sites) ignores Obama scandals. So I couldn't have seen seen stories on Solyndra or Gunwalker on Yahoo news or the New York Times.

But you know, no matter. I am not going to bother disputing Kelly's claims on Solyndra, LightSquared or GunWalker, in part because he doesn't bother to give us details on what actually happened (for example, why did Solyndra go bankrupt). What I find interesting is a) how Kelly looks at scandals and b) what Kelly doesn't include in his scandal list.

I have to say Kelly's concern for human life in his discussion of the GunWalker scandal is admirable (although I might admire it more if I didn't suspect that he is only concerned for American lives). But then I have to wonder, what does Kelly make of the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who died during the Iraqi occupation? Remember, no WMD's were found, there was no link to Al Qaeda until after the occupation started and the Bush administration lied to the American public (cynically playing on our reaction to 9/11) to build support for the war. But Kelly doesn't care about scandals (or dead people) unless a Democrat is involved.

And then there are things Kelly won't write about, such as the government imprisonment of Bradley Manning, the administration's determination to kill an American citizen without due process, the administration's refusal to look at the crimes of the last administration, the administration's persecution of whistle blowers, etc. If you doubt these things exist, take a look at what Glenn Greenwald writes. The problem is that Greenwald is a liberal journalist, therefore his concerns are simply not relevant to Jack Kelly. But that's OK, the reality that counts is the reality Jack Kelly sees.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

But does he understand GNP versus GDP?

Jack Kelly today takes on the President's jobs bill. Predictably he slams it, and I have to say he may be right about it's chances for passage (at least in the form Obama submitted it to Congress). Kelly both quotes negative comments from Blue Dog Democrats and harps on negative things about the President. And yes, many Democratic voters are disenchanted with the President, not to the degree that they would ever vote for one of the lunatic Republican candidates (or any of them), but to point where they might stay home in 2012.

But let's be clear, Jack Kelly is no economist, and does not understand economics. His flat statement that the first stimulus failed betrays his lack of knowledge, and more importantly, once again misleads his readers. The first stimulus certainly did not do what any reasonable person would have wanted, but never the less it did keep the economy from dropping like a stone into a depression. No deflation, no 33% unemployment.

The current jobs bill still has more tax cuts than I would like. I mean, it is fine for me to have a few more dollars in my pay check, and I hope the increased spending will have a stimulative effect. And keeping or rehiring laid off teachers and other state and local employees will help communities. But better in my opinion would be to hire people to work on bridges and roads. Unfortunately not only would Republicans scream that Obama is only helping his union cronies and spending money recklessly, they would also play the race card, and claim that Obama is helping African Americans over whites (because it is the fault of African Americans without a high school degree that they are out of work in such high numbers, although we are also spending too much on inner city schools).

Yeah, the President has not been doing a great job, according to progressives. But that doesn't mean conservatives are doing better. In fact, Republicans/conservatives/Tea Party types have offered no jobs plan of their own, no economic program. But they howl with rage when progressives suggest that means they embrace George W Bush's economic program (such as it was, giving tax breaks to the wealthy, transferring wealth upwards). Actually, though they claim otherwise, increased income inequity is exactly what they have been advocating for the last year or so (or resumed advocating).

It is a dismal sort of prospect, a President who is maybe going too far to counter the claims of Republicans of his racism and socialism, and an opposition party that is actively trying to make the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Too few Democrats and no Republicans are trying to actually fix the problems of the economy, and help the poor. Jack Kelly is definitely not in that number. I have to question how much he actually loves America.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jack Kelly yesterday...

My brother was in town this past weekend, so I didn't have as much time to post (these things happen). It's funny, my 40th birthday was close to, but after, 9/11/01. My (now-ex) wife had a surprise birthday party for me, and invited my brother. Now, I will say that if it had been me, I would not have hesitated to fly then, but, you know, he went ahead and flew up here and I was impressed.

I was always annoyed by the statement that 9/11 changed everything. But only a moron would suggest that 9/11 was not a very important event. After all, religious extremists in the Middle East were willing to kill themselves to kill thousands of Americans, in America. Clearly if aL Qaeda had attacked a chemical plant in the US, they might have killed thousands or perhaps ten of thousands of Americans. I think it was very appropriate for the PG to dedicate almost all of yesterday's paper to 9/11.

One glaring exception, you guessed it, was Jack Kelly's column, "Sad times for unions". He starts with an extended whine about how mean Hoffa junior was he said (use the ballot box) to take out Republicans in a speech on labor day. Kelly's hurt feelings are particularly ironic considering how often he has said that the liberal media has mus-charecterized Republicans and Tea Party types. That drifted into gloating about how little Obama has done for unions. I suppose we are not supposed to think about what role Republicans in policies Obama was not able to get passed (including a large enough stimulus to actually help the economy).

Kelly then quotes George Will, who points out that states that have removed automatic payments for public sector unions have seen a large drop in those union's membership. Now, I didn't research that, but it seems like George Will probably wouldn't make stuff up or misquote stuff. Anyway, it is not hard to imagine that state governments might well have taken advantage of the change in status for the unions to intimidate union members, or also possibly workers could simply prefer to keep the money for themselves (even thinking they would still be protected by and benefit from the union).

I was struck that Kelly chose to ignore the ten year anniversary of 9/11. But even more than that, it is as though, on this anniversary, Kelly is sending us a meta-message. Of course there is the usual message that union leaders are evil, but also there is this suggestion that public sector union members realize they are being paid too much, have too high of benefits and want to do their jobs for less. Those jobs, by the way, involve teaching our children (determining our future, except where they are hamstrung by school boards that don't want to teach science or literature, etc). Even more significant, some of the jobs are people who race to our rescue when we are hurt, who (hopefully) race to protect us when we are in danger or race into burning buildings we are running out of. Like the Twin Towers, where some firefighters did not come back out of.

Jack Kelly has thrown true heroes under the bus in the service of the Tea Party. Which actually means in the service of the super rich, who pull the puppet strings of the Tea Party.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

And Again ...

Yesterday I posted about the attack Jack Kelly mounted against unionized public school teachers in specific and government unionized employees in general. Today Kelly essentially tells us that the media is out to get Rick Perry, but his real message to his readers is to trust only "true" conservatives (as opposed to "East Coast Republicans" like journalists David Brooks and Peggy Noonan) or perhaps really only Kelly himself. Actually, between that claim of general media opposition and the title of today's column "Kicking Rick", Kelly raises the memory of another Republican, "Dick" Nixon. Kelly's assertions that Perry (and also Sarah Palin) are targets of the media, as well as being mis-charecterized and underestimated evoke nothing so much as Nixon's paranoid line about the east coast intellectual elite.

It might be fair to say that the thing most Americans associate with Rick Perry is his statement (threat) that if Ben Bernanke "printed more money before the election", and that if Bernanke happened to visit Texas "we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas". CNN Money suggests that Perry was talking about quantitative easing, and I suppose I have to agree or Kelly would say I have some sort of anti-Perry agenda. Kelly himself quotes a former Republican Texas communications director Bryan Preston "While what Perry said struck some as over the top, it focused all the GOP primary attention on him and pulled the media into covering him, immediately". Again, in Kelly's new media regime I suppose we are supposed to appreciate all the media attention (because we love Perry so much) but we are also supposed to understand the actually sophisticated economic message in Perry's suggestion that the Fed prints money (what does the Treasury department do again?). This was the same sort of thing conservatives tried to say about Sarah Palin in 2008. Actually, what mattered in the 2008 election was the debates between Obama and McCain, where Obama looked better because McCain looked pretty nuts. Palin was no more than a sideshow that made the Republican party look bad.

Perry obviously does have some popularity with at least a part of the Republican base. But I wonder how independents would look at Perry's some extreme rhetoric if Perry did get the nomination. If Perry uses such extreme language in a debate with Obama, it is possible that we will see a repeat of 2008.

I thought that Kelly's closing shot that Perry has a decisive leadership style compared to Obama "the Last Responder" was particularly in bad taste. First of all Kelly ducks responsibility for the "Last Responder" comment by attributing it to a newspaper. And second, considering the assault Kelly is mounting on unionized government employees, which would include real first responders, maybe Kelly should stay away from lines about any kind of responder.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Kelly's particular game ...

I had wanted to respond to Jack Kelly's column last Sunday, although with one thing and another I have been rather busy this week. But it has been on my mind. One thing I have found in looking at Jack Kelly's particular style of writing is that while he doesn't necessarily out and out lie, he certainly twists and/or cheery picks facts, omits other important information, and repeats other peoples lies (thus giving him an out). I didn't do a whole lot of research, looking at Kelly's education column, though. I read (or probably re-read) the Paul Krugman column he cites, and glanced a bit at the NAEP, which was not particularly illuminating.

But I don't really think I need much research to address Kelly's arguments, simple logic will do. For example, the Krugman column said simply that Texas schools have this high drop out rate (43 out of 50). Kelly does not dispute this point, rather he
gives us cherry picked numbers: "According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, fourth- and eighth-graders in Texas score substantially better in reading and math than do their counterparts in Chicago. The high school graduation rate in Texas (73 percent) is much better than Chicago's (56 percent)." Kelly also says that 3 of the top ten high schools in the country are in Texas (according to Newsweek).

Now consider a comparison between, say, the Mt Lebanon and the City of Pittsburgh school districts. Mt Lebanon might have a lower tax rate, but higher revenue stream because the home values are so much higher. Mt Lebanon teachers might be unionized or not, might or might not be higher paid. But Pittsburgh school teachers might be assigned to some literally dangerous schools to teach in, something Mt Lebanon teachers likely would not face. And Mt Lebanon students likely do better on average and at the margins than Pittsburgh students do.

That Texas as a whole would do better than the City of Chicago should not be a surprise. The City would have large numbers of ghetto students, and the best students of an ethnicity in the City limits might well go to private schools. A whole state includes wealthy communities that would pull the averages upward. Kelly is comparing one apple (and a pretty beat up one at that) to the average of a whole apple tree.

Kelly also quotes David Burge, whom I know nothing about. The best I can say is he appears to be contemptuous of Paul Krugman (rather like Jack Kelly). Maybe the stats he quotes about Texas versus Wisconsin are accurate, possibly even relevant. But since Burge is also quoting someone else's work, I will take it all with a grain of salt.

But, as it happens, it may not matter. Kelly's main idea is that unionized teachers don't want to teach. I don't see where Burge or Kelly has made that case, comparing particular states to each other, or to particular cities. Kelly ends with this paragraph: "The unionization, centralization and politicization of education may have been the biggest mistake we've made in the last half-century. We should take control of schools away from unions and Washington bureaucrats, and restore it to parents and local governments." Actually, as far as centralization is concerned, what he describes does not exist now. The fact the Texas can be compared to Wisconsin or Chicago proves it. States and local governments already control education. The politicization part is no more the fault of Wisconsin or Washington, DC than it is of Austin, Texas (or Kansas, for that matter). Deciding to over-rule accepted science happens at the local or state level.

As for unionization, well, how much should the people who educate our kids, who basically determine a fair bit of the future of our nation, be paid? For that matter, how much should cops, firefighters or paramedics, the people who run into places we run out of, who help us when things are dark and terrible, get paid?

According to Jack Kelly, apparently not much.