Saturday, July 30, 2011

Spending or revenue?

So not only do I read Jack Kelly and watch Meet the Press, I also like Bill Maher's Real Time on HBO on Fridays. On the most recent episode, Maher's discussion panel had the co-founder of FreedonWorks, Matt Kibbe (FreedomWorks is Dick Armey's astroturf (as opposed to grass roots) organization that helps/funds the Tea Party). It also had Margaret (I believe) Hoover, grand daughter of Herbert and employee at the Hoover Institute (in other words, a Republican) and also Elliot Spitzer (no introduction needed). The Hoover woman harped and interrupted about government spending (in response to Maher's initial comment about the debt ceiling). Maher responded that the stimulus is only 4% or 7% of our current debt and Spitzer tried to get her (or anyone) to admit our situation is Bush's fault. Then later Spitzer suggested that instead of a spending problem, we have a revenue problem. The economy has not rebounded from the contraction during the financial crisis at the end of the Bush administration, so tax receipts are down. This shut up the Hoover woman, but it is not as though she walked back her claims about a spending problem. By the way, Krugman talked about revenue here.

Which brings us to Jack Kelly's latest column. He regales us with the story of the Gordian knot, which is a perfectly fine little story. He also complains that in a recent poll a majority of Americans think things will get worse next year. Kelly doesn't say anything about whether that poll or any other recent poll says who Americans think can handle our problems (Democrats including Obama come off badly, but inevitably Republicans come off worse).

In any event Kelly goes on to choose 1960 as his point of comparison (fifty years ago, admitted a nice round number) and makes negative comparisons in terms of spending, debt and regulations. Of course, Eisenhower had really wanted a balanced budget, and we were yet to get concerned about having clean air and water (anyone remember Pittsburgh in the sixties, or the burning Cuyahoga?). So, in the immediate actual context of the events of 1960, in the previous eight years the government had been trying to create an optimal financial situation. Interestingly, that was not enough to get Richard Nixon elected, instead the American public elected a Democrat.

But the important point, I think, is that always the strength of the American economy is the product of the actions of the most recent administration, at least in the early years of a new administration.

But past the lack of validity of Kelly's comparison between 1960 and 2011 is that he is mis-characterizing our problems, just like the Hoover woman did on the Maher show. Again, our problem is not spending but revenue. Of course, revenue is a tricky thing in a recession. But at least we could look at the high end of the Bush tax cuts before we ct aid to the poor, infirm, unemployed and elderly. And let's keep in mind that those low tax rates (really low marginal tax rates), the zero percent tax collected from corporations and the subsidies to oil companies (and no doubt others) are not helping our revenue picture. These are the places we should look, not at agencies, spending or any of the rest.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The problem is spinning ....

In regards to (the economist) Jack Kelly's column today, the Washington Post's Matt Miller has an intelligent comment on the credit agencies threatening the US with downgrade if it does not reduce its debt.It's worth emphasizing his point that if the credit agencies had done their job in, say, 2005, that we might not have had the financial meltdown, which was the reason for the stimulus, etc, etc.

As for Mr Kelly's assertion that President Obama had not released details of his debt cutting plans, the NYTimes discusses how a) these plans were still in ongoing discussion with Speaker Boehner (until Boehner walked out) and b) that Boehner did not want details to get out, so he would not have to face another rebellion of the freshmen Congresspersons in his party.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Observations on the debt crisis

I like to watch "Meet the Press" Sunday mornings. It keeps me out of church (whatever church I might go to), perhaps endangering my immortal soul, but sometimes I learn an interesting thing or two.

A couple of weeks ago Tim Pawlenty was on MTP, obviously to sell himself as a Presidential candidate. His take on the debt crisis was interesting, to say the least. He literally boasted about a time he allowed the Minnesota government to shut down during a budget impasse. He emphasized and repeated that the shutdown caused no harm, and suggested the same would hold true for the federal government.

Last weekend Jim DeMint, Republican Senator from South Carolina, was one of the guests. He took the line Democrats have been repeating about credit rating agencies (Moody's, etc) downgrading the credit rating of the US, and gave it an interesting spin. DeMint claimed that Moody's actually will downgrade our credit rating if the government does not cut spending (according to how the Republicans want it cut) with no tax increases. In other words, Moody's is saying (according to Jim DeMint) that unless the Democrats give exactly what Republicans want, the world will punish us.

It's not just that Republicans are engaging in mental gymnastics to find ways to talk themselves into believing a default would not hurt us, it's as though they are competing to see who can come up with the most elaborate (not to say far fetched) spin on reality.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

How well are the States doing?

I'm not sure if Jack Kelly understands the complexity of the situation he is writing about this week. Early in his column he writes "With Washington gridlocked, much of the action on the fiscal crisis has moved to the states." So many conservatives, including commenters on local blogs, keep blathering about how the stimulus failed. Paul Krugman lets us know how much of that stimulus in fact was tax cuts and aid to states to keep them going (although Obama foolishly steered those tax cuts to lower income people, who of course do nothing more than spend money instead of buying the more sensible Wall Street stocks). Krugman said back in 2009 that the stimulus was not only too small, but had too little in the way of direct spending ("shovel ready projects") and too much in those tax cuts and aid to the states. Although both those components helped, direct spending would have helped more.

But we all know that that the stimulus was supposed to be temporary, and so now the aid to the states is running out. What Kelly suggests is related to Washington gridlock is in fact the planned end of the temporary stimulus. I suppose you could say that gridlock is involved in the current fiscal problems the states are having. Republican intransigence in the healthcare debate, financial reform and in general in the Senate has slowed down the process of repairing the economy the Bush administration left us with, although Obama was at least able to wrangle enough out of the Republican two year old's masquerading as Congressmen to save us from a complete depression. So without the gridlock caused by the Republicans, the State's would probably not be ending public education, Medicaid and food assistance for the poor.

Well, maybe not ending quite yet, but I do think the actions of these states with Republican governors will make nigh impossible for new people to get into food and health aid programs, will bring many people closer to hunger, will hurt the education of poor kids in public schools and college. Am I right, or is Kelly's implication that the Republican governor's actions are just dandy actually true? Newspapers report here, here, here and here. Of course, the media I am quoting includes a Mother Jones piece, and anyway we know the "lame stream media" is not connected to reality as Jack Kelly understands it.

You decide.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Whose unemployment ...

While reading a post on Paul Krugman’s blog, a thought (not strictly about his topic) suddenly struck me. You may remember conservatives not wanting to extend unemployment benefits because they claimed that people on unemployment do not look for jobs, instead they sit around and watch TV and drink beer until a week before their unemployment runs out, then they look. Many liberals, particularly anyone who has looked for a job (like myself), spoke up to point out how terrifying being unemployed is, and how hard we actually worked while unemployed to look for a job (six hours a day was what I heard recommended).

The thought that just occurred to me is – what if the converse is true right now? What if companies are not hiring because they know that workers have unemployment insurance (who may own houses and in any event have little reason to travel when there no job boom anywhere in the US). Companies and corporations may well figure that because there is unemployment insurance, voters will think that the unemployed are just fine. US businesses may be willing to gamble and see if Barack Obama is kicked out, replaced by a sympathetic Republican. Besides, companies are posting record profits by terrorizing their remaining workers with the prospect of losing their jobs.

This possibility makes even more sense if you think about the shape of unemployment these days. It is the people who did not better, and frequently worse, than finishing high school who have the 20% unemployment numbers. The people who got the college degree are only facing a 4.5% unemployment rate, the ones with a graduate degree seeing a 4% unemployment rate. So the people who look more like corporate officers who are having the easier time right now.

There has been lots of speculation (, about why Republicans are refusing to allow any tax cuts in the debt ceiling deal. I believe Democrats are not happy that Obama put Medicare and Social Security on the table, but Obama was sort of saved when the Republicans refused to trade dismantling part of the safety net for any tax cuts at all. But I have to say I have no idea what is going to happen with the debt ceiling.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Kelly's expose of what the lamestream media won't cover (sort of)

I can't link to this week's Jack Kelly column, because first the PG website wasn't working, and right now it is down for maintenance.

This week he covered an emerging story about an ATF program that monitored guns moving to Mexico. I don't know much about the story, but after reading Kelly's column, I feel like I know less. His disjointed grammar and vague sentences and paragraphs remind me nothing so much of that original Tea Party leader (and Kelly favorite) Sarah Palin. Maybe Kelly has decided to write specifically for his Tea Party readers, in a disjointed, incoherent dialect that only they understand (does he bully the PG's editors?). I would respond to the story itself, except I can't follow it. I will say that a google search revealed that the story is being covered by Fox News and several conservative print media journals, contradicting Kelly's claim that the media isn't covering this story. But it is more fun for Kelly to further the Tea Party's conspiracy theories about the media, that a vast left-wing conspiracy.

Kelly and the rest of the conservative media themselves ignore that Glenn Greenwald has been covering the Obama administration's war on whistle blowers, as well as other Obama misdeeds. But Greenwald also defends the actions of Julian Assange and Bradley Manning. Presumably Kelly would find Manning and Greenwald himself particularly unpleasant since both men are gay (although to be fair, I can't recall Kelly saying anything about homosexuality, the only evidence I know is that Kelly never quotes Greenwald).

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Kelly returns to Sarah Palin.

Apparently we have found solutions for the debt ceiling, our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya and unemployment in America, all (arguably) national security issues, since the PG's "national security" columnist wrote a second column on Sarah Palin in the span of three weeks. Kelly once again complains (literally whines) about media coverage of Palin. The thing is, though, that it is not like the media is being inaccurate when a clip is played of Sarah Palin. If somehow she is reading something her speechwriters wrote that is blatantly wrong, then she needs to fire her speechwriters (and hire the person who ghostwrites her Facebook posts).

Actually, my experience with Palin has been that the more I listen, the worse she sounds. For example, the speech she gave when she resigned as governor is filled with incoherent soundbites, but I would say the cumulative effect (sum of the parts) is even worse than each part taken separately. And again, she is person who said these things, no one in the media put words in her mouth. If asking "what magazines and/or newspapers do you read?" is a gotchya question, then it is a good thing for Palin that she bypasses the media and goes straight to Twitter or Facebook or whatever. Except that she used the phrase "blood libel" in a clip released after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, essentially taunting Jews in America and implying that the media is inextricably connected with Judaism.

Thinking about Palin's treatment in the media, if Jack Kelly thinks that reporters should behave differently about Palin, ignore seemingly incoherent quotes and instead mindlessly repeat her campaigns talking points praising her abilities, what about the targets of Fox News and other conservative "news" outlets? What about the "Swift Boating" of John Kerry? Should the news outlets showed that Swift Boat thingie commercial have investigated and explained the commercial. Should they have simply described the clip as false, drawn conclusions for us? And what about Jeremiah Wright, was the context of his remarks explained every time the "God Damn America" clip was shown, or explained even once (well, yeah, probably once or twice)?

It sounds good to say your candidate is the underdog, maligned by a vast conspiracy of elitist snobs arrayed against her. In fact, the Tea Party declaration of independence says they reject "self-styled “educated classes” and so-called “experts”" (specifically in the context of "socialist schemes" proliferated to cause dependence of Tea Party people on the State). Republicans, conservatives and Tea Party types wrap themselves in the flag and claim to be true Americans and patriots. Really, though, conservatives are no different than their liberal counterparts. Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and Anthony Weiner along with many others also claim to be patriots, but have had both political and personal failings. The difference between flawed liberals and flawed conservative in my opinion is that at least the liberals try to hep poorer people while conservatives almost always try to do more for the rich. But certainly neither party is free of these sorts of flawed politicians; neither "Republican" nor "Democrat" is a label that guarantees also sort of moral purity.