February 25, 2011

Please Standy By...

Unfortunately, I have some family medical issues to deal with, so posting is suspended for the moment. I hope to return to Sensen No Sen in the relatively near future, but until then, please stand by.

February 19, 2011

Misunderstanding Both Economics and the Electorate

In a recent piece, Joe Bodell astutely points out that the source of our current economic woes is less a problem  of spending than one of revenue:
... The federal budget deficit is between a quarter and a third of the federal budget (over a trillion dollars against a budget of over three trillion). That means you could eliminate every single program other than the three identified above [Defense, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid] and still not close the federal budget hole.

Simply put, we have a revenue problem, not a spending problem.
A deficit simply means revenue falling short of spending. If a certain spending level is necessary thanks to priorities shared by everyone in a political system (anyone remember the Tea Party screaming that Medicare had to be protected from evul Obamacare?) then the other choice is to increase revenue.

Perhaps by allowing the Bush-era tax cuts (which didn't create a single net job over their lifespan) expire, and going back to 1990s era tax levels. In a rough economy we should definitely extend them temporarily for low- and middle-income earners, or perhaps phase out for those earners over time. But the rich could afford it before, and they can afford it now... Perhaps by continuing the drawdown in Iraq, finding a practical way out of the disaster in Afghanistan...
However, instead of focusing on programs that promote consumption - the spending of money, which is the mechanism by which demand manifests itself - and thus drive the economy, Washington is locked onto the wrong-headed notion that cutting spending will somehow encourage growth.  The always-excellent Dan Froomkin explains:
The laws of supply and demand haven't changed. Nothing has happened to suddenly put Keynesian economic theory in doubt. There is still an entirely plausible argument to be made that government spending cuts are absolutely the last thing this economy needs. So why has the conventional wisdom done a 180?

The answer is that politics has trumped economics.
"It's as if people suddenly forget the world is heliocentric," [
Popular Science deputy editor Luke] Mitchell wrote (referring to the fact that the earth revolves around the sun). "An entire concept, one taught in every introductory economics course, has simply disappeared from our discourse."

"The basic Keynesian position is actually one that is held pretty widely in the economics profession," said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. "Spending boosts the economy; that's not what we were arguing over, and it's not as if there's been any evidence going the other way."
"The uncontested premise at the moment is that the federal government's spending is 'unsustainable,'" said University of Texas professor James Galbraith, one of a handful of progressives still willing to shout Keynesian economics from the rooftops.

"A wave of programmed conformity has swept over the Washington community on this question," he told
The Huffington Post. "The substance of this issue has been placed on an index of forbidden thought. And anybody who expresses those thoughts is excommunicated.

"It's exactly the same phenomenon that led to the acceptance of the war in Iraq," Galbraith said. "Those who hold a different view are by definition ruled out of the discourse, and the fact that they are right will only be accepted later, when it no longer matters."
The cuts championed by Republicans in the House of Representatives are aimed squarely at pretty much anything but the "big three" programs Mr. Bodell points out.  In fact, not only are the anti-spending hawks locked firmly onto the wrong targets while refusing to acknowledge time-tested economic principles and the lessons of history, they are pointedly ignoring the economic stagnation currently taking place in Britain as a result of that country's own misguided austerity policies.  And if that weren't enough, the resurgent GOP appears more focused on social wedge issues than creating jobs.

Despite the prevailing narrative from the Tea-Party-besotted media, Americans consistently state that their number one concern is employment and the economy, not the deficit.  (In a recent CBS News Poll, for example, 48% of respondents stated that their number one priority is the economy and jobs; just seven percent listed the federal deficit as their primary concern.)  So what have congressional Republicans focused on?  Repealing President Obama's health care initiative; trying to kill President Obama's health care program by choking off its funding (a course of action most Americans have stated they do not want); declaring that if planned GOP cuts to government spending cost one million American jobs "so be it"; attempting to redefine rape to make it more difficult for women to get necessary abortions, and most recently, eliminating all funding for Title X, which gives grants to organizations providing community reproductive health care.

Title X grantees are among the most experienced providers of comprehensive reproductive health care where they operate. Title X-funded clinics provide family planning counseling; contraceptives; education; and HIV, cancer, and other preventive health screenings to both women and men who are otherwise unable to afford those basic services. Not only is Title X the only federal program devoted solely to providing family planning services nationwide, but it is the sole entry point for many low-income individuals into the health care system.  Planned Parenthood, perhaps the most well-known of all the Title X funding recipients, has been used by fully 20% of all women in America, at least one time in their lives.

Given the wide-reach of needed services provided by organizations like Planned Parenthood, as well as the effectiveness and long-term fiscal benefits of preventitive care, why was Speaker of the House John Boehner pushing for $450 in federal funding to build an un-needed military jet engine in his own district, while leading the GOP's efforts to shut down Title X, a program whose closure would eliminate just $327 million?  It's very simple, really, and it has nothing to do with saving money.  Despite the fact that existing law already prevents federal funds from being used for abortions, as Republican Representative John Culberson of Texas explains:
All Planned Parenthood has to do is say they're going to stop performing abortions. And yet they won't do it.
That's not the voice of limited government; that's just more of The Same Old Pandering, Hypocrisy and Legislated Morality that has been the trademark of the modern GOP for the last couple of decades, and it's the surest sign yet that Republicans have seriously misunderstood the reasons for their victory at the polls in 2010.

Congresswoman Jackie Speier took to the floor of the House during the debat over funding for Title X, and used a very personal story to put the battle over Title X in perspective:

February 12, 2011

Leadership by Fantasy

Last Sunday would have been President Ronald Reagan's 100th birthday, were he still alive, and the political world has been abuzz with praise and blindered hagiographies of America's 40th chief executive.  This year's meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) boasted an elaborate memorial cake,  there is a year-long celebration of the "Ronald Reagan Centennial," and proclaiming The Gipper to be one's favorite president has become table stakes for anyone looking to advance within the Republican Party.

In examining the historical record, however, it is abudantly clear that Ronald Reagan's status among the denizens of the policital right has become mythical in not just the figurative sense of the word, but the literal.  Today's conservatives justify all manner of policies and positions by invoking the name of Ronald Reagan, but these justifications - whether with regard to taxes, immigration, terrorism, the expansion of government, public spending, free trade, or even abortion rights - are almost completely untenable when compared to Mr. Reagan's actual deeds.

In fact, it is fair to say that the man who brought movement conservatism into the mainstream would be on the outside of the GOP looking in were he active in politics today.  Sound absurd?  It's not, and John Perr over at Perrspectives has done a very thorough job of desconstructing the Reagan Myth, using extensive citations around ten significant elements of Mr. Reagan's legacy that today, would have him tagged as RINO Reagan ("RINO" is an acronym: Republican In Name Only):
  1. Reagan tripled the national debt
  2. Reagan raised taxes 11 times
  3. Reagan expanded the size of government
  4. Reagan supported the "socialist" Earned Income Tax Credit
  5. Reagan negotiated with terrorists in Tehran
  6. Reagan sought to eliminate nuclear weapons
  7. Reagan gave amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants
  8. Reagan approved protectionist trade barriers
  9. Reagan signed abortion rights law in California
  10. Reagan eventually debunked AIDS myths Republicans continued to perpetuate
In reality, federal taxes today under President Barack Obama are lower than they were under our 40th president, and Ronald Reagan represents not the cornerstone of conservatism the modern right wing would have us believe, but rather, a marker denoting the beginning of a long - and ongoing - slide into an increasing extremism that is almost completely disassociated from the actions, beliefs and policies of Mr. Reagan himself.

It is a measure of how skewed to the right American politics has become that Mr. Obama is, in many ways, as - or more - conservative than Ronald Reagan, yet is derided as a "socialist."  It is a measure of how ignorant our discourse has become that stating that fact - and it is a fact, as illustrated above - publicy is almost certain to result in ridicule.  And it is a measure of how deeply hypocritical the current crop of Republican leaders is that they lionize a man who, were he alive and on the political stage today, they would clearly smear with every ounce of venom they use to denigrate the Democrat who currently occupies the White House.

In a perfect example of what I describe above, liberal blogger Mike Stark recently called in to conservative drug addict and Third World sex tourist Rush Limbaugh's radio show to ask just why Republicans are so enamored of Ronald Reagan, given the man's actual record.  As you can hear in the audio clip below, Mr. Limbaugh is caught completely flat-footed, and resorts to professing ignorance about Mr. Reagan's tax policies while declaring that GOP love for The Gipper is just something no one else can understand.

February 4, 2011

A Brief Pause for Some Even-Handed Ribbing

It's been crazy-busy for the past several days, and I have had little time to put effort into a worthwhile post. So, having established my excuse for not getting something substantive composed, I give you a couple of quality cartoons, one new and one over 20 years old, that both amuse me greatly. They've been sitting in a file folder on my desktop, waiting for me to work them into a post somehow, and by default, I guess this is it.

This one's for the conservatives out there, a classic from Berke Breathed's amazing Bloom County:

The second is for the progressives, and while it is much more recent, I have no idea who put it together:

Hopefully, next week will allow me to return to actual posting, as opposed to cutting and-pasting other people's work. Until then, take care!