Sunday, July 31, 2011

Teabaggers Want Chaos

As I write this, politicians and ideologues alike are working, with various degrees of sincerity, to come to an agreement on a budget and a possible balanced budget amendment, all the while under threat from a small minority of Representatives, voted into office by a small minority of voters, to not raise the federal debt ceiling and bring a level of chaos and pain upon the country that even most Republicans agree would be disastrous.

There are several scenarios in all of this; One is that Republicans exact a huge price in the way of spending cuts, no new taxes, and the debt ceiling is raised. Republican threats to sabotage the economy work. Said economy likely sputters just in time for election season. Republicans, knowing that Americans have short memories, will blame Dems and Obama in particular.

The second scenario is that Republicans exact a huge price in the way of spending cuts, no new taxes, but the debt ceiling is raised only temporarily. Economy sputters because of reduced government spending, which even worries the Chamber of Commerce (but not the Club for Growth), and Republicans not only blame the Dems and Obama in the upcoming elections, they get to sabotage the economy again by threatening to oppose further debt ceiling hikes, unless, you guessed it, further spending cuts. They may insist on repeal of last year's health care reform.

A third scenario is just as repulsive but a bit trickier for Republicans. Not all of them want to just threaten the economy; it's not just a negotiating style with some of them. Republican members of Congress are on record as saying they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling even with spending cuts. And that is because they want to induce chaos. Forcing the federal government to default will, they say, create enough dispair that they can then force through a balanced budget amendment. (Not sure how that could work? Read Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine).

The intransigence of the Teabagger wing of the Republican Party, where most of the hard-line "let the government default" members are, has created governing challenges for the more establishment members of the Party. It is they, not the Dems, who are giving John Boehner gray hair.

It has become obvious that the Teabaggers are no longer playing by the script Republican operatives set for them. Wall Street financed the Teabagger movement specifically as a way to keep Democrats in check. Fact is, Wall Street loves government, as long as it gets what it wants from it; lax regulatory enforcement, if not outright deregulation, lucrative government contracts, preferential tax rates, and no meaningful reforms or investigations. Republicans are especially willing to let the Wall Street Casino continue.

But Wall Street has seriously underestimated the anti-government lunacy of Teabaggers. Most Republicans, the ones promoting Wall Street's interests, have never been especially interested in the deficit.They certainly did not care during the Bush era. Recall Dick Cheney's claim that Reagan proved "deficits don't matter." If Republicans had been interested in the budget deficit, they would not have pushed for a continuation of Bush's tax giveaway to the wealthy. They went back to harping about the deficit just as soon as the two-year tax extension was in place. Even now, virtually no Congressional Republican will agree to any tax increases on the wealthy whatsoever. Their priorities are low taxes and other privileges for the wealthy and for corporate America, reduced social spending on the poor, and high spending on defense. Reducing the deficit is further down their priority pole. 

But not, of course, for the true believing Teabaggers. My own take on this is that enough Teabaggers will very reluctantly agree to a deal that gets them most of what they want; they will have to give up on the chaos-through-default option for now. Boehner et. al. will have to remind them to the very end that destroying the country is not a vote-getting strategy. Nor will they get a balanced budget amendment. That will piss off the Teabaggers big time, and you can bet they will be back with it next year.

Democrats, on the other hand, should not agree to any of this madness. They have yet to appreciate that most Americans support them on this. 

President Obama should invoke the 14th amendment. But he won't.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Voter Suppression Heading Your Way

On Sunday, July 24 I wrote about voter suppression, specifically as it relates to denial of voting rights for ex-felons. I also said that I would revisit the numerous state bills currently under consideration that are intended to make it harder to vote. 

Unfortunately they are not hard to find. One excellent summary comes from Sarah Jaffe who captures the intent of these state bills in her article, 11 States Trying Really Hard to Keep Poor, Black, and Student Voters From Voting. Her list is as follows: Kansas, Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Texas, Maine, and Rhode Island

First, Jaffe cautions, this list is far from complete; it is only the 11 worst offenders in an even longer list. Second, these states are fairly or deeply red. No surprise, except for Rhode Island. Jaffe provides some background on how that came about.

Wisconsin, home of the great progressive, Bob La Follette, continues to disappoint. Despite a long blue tradition, Republicans in the state legislature keep pushing an anti-middle class agenda. 

Now, despite the strong and encouraging push-back from unions, teachers, and working families, and despite his own dismal approval ratings, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is aggressively pursuing the only tactic that can work; make it harder for your enemies to vote you out of office. Read Meredith Clark's analysis on this at Seven Ways Scott Walker and the GOP are Still Trying to Screw Wisconsin's Poor, Working Class, and Just About Everyone Else. 

Wisconsin has just passed a voter ID law. Most of us in the middle class might not object to laws requiring a photo ID in order to vote. We do not appreciate how and why such laws can be relatively onerous and expensive for society's poor, elderly, handicapped or otherwise marginalized. Americans have a hard time turning out to vote under the best of circumstances, which is why Wisconsin's restrictive voting law matters, and why Republicans push for such legislation in the first place; they know exactly what the impact will be. 

So now, just to show us what a mean-spirited prick he really is, Governor Walker is working on a plan to shut down multiple DMV offices around the state. Not only does this come right after requiring voters to get official state ID's if they want to vote, it appears the closures are concentrated in Democratic strongholds.

What kind of Kafkaesque crap is that?     
I hope they recall his sorry ass.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Voter Disenfranchisement

Readers know I despise any and all acts of voter suppression. Numerous states now have bills under consideration that will make it more difficult, in one small way or another, for certain people to vote. And I guess it is just a coincidence that these bills will dispropotionately affect the poor, blacks, Hispanics, and most coincidentally of all, Democratics. If anyone knows of an example where the prime sponsor of any bill in any state that makes it more difficult for anyone to vote, and that sponsor is not a Republican, I would love to hear it. As for those bills, I will revisit them as events develop.

A subset of voter suppression is voter disenfranchisement, primarily through loss of voting rights due to a felony conviction. Mind you, this is not for felons actually in prison (many states deny prisoners the right to vote while incarcerated), but for those who have done their time and paid the price. It includes even those who have completed parole. And in case you were wondering, voter disenfranchisement was part and parcel of Jim Crow.

While voter disenfranchisement was quite prevalent in the past, only two states now impose permanent disenfranchisement for felons, Kentucky and Virginia. In 2007, Florida restored the voting rights of ex-felons. Alright, I am seeing some improvement.  However, those who think this is now a minor problem are first reminded that thousands of ex-felons in Florida were denied the right to vote in the 2000 and 2004 Presidential election. 

Spencer Overton, in his book, Stealing Democracy: the New Politics of Voter Suppression (2006), captures the basic rationale for voter disenfranchisement: ex-felons are disproportionately black, brown, poor and undereducated. And roughly 70% vote Democrat. As Overton relates (p.58),
"As frank as I can be, said Alabama Republican Party Chairman Marty Conners in 2003, we're opposed [to restoring voting rights after completion of sentence] because felons don't tend to vote Republican."
Overton notes how Republican Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, has opposed voting rights restoration in Kentucky. In 1984 he would have likely lost his Senate race without the help of disenfranchisement. In 1998, Kentucky's other Senator, Jim Bunning barely won reelection, winning by only 6,766 votes. At the time, there were 94,584 disenfranchised ex-felons in Kentucky.

Bunning's successor, hard-line ideologue Rand Paul won a very close race in 2010, narrowly defeating his Democratic opponent in one of America's reddest states. I do not have any conclusive figures relating to the possible effect of voter disenfranchisement on the outcome of that race. There is good reason to think it played a decisive role. Some data can be found here. A good starting point on the subject and how the law has changed in recent years can be found at the Prison Policy Initiative.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Social Security Works

I have posted a few times about Social Security and the surreal atmosphere in Washington, fomented primarily by Republicans, that wants you to think SS is not working, is nearly insolvent, and must be privatized because it is a drag on the federal budget.

These contentions are all demonstrably false. (My previous posts on SS are here.) Now I see the AARP Bulletin for June, 2011 (print edition) has an article by James Roosevelt, Jr., the grandson of our greatest President, entitled Social Security's Enduring Truths (p. 32).

Roosevelt notes that detractors have been lying about SS since its inception. Alf Landon, the Republican nominee in 1936, called Social Security "a hoax." The Republican platform for that year called SS "unworkable."

"...Social Security has not only been the most effective government program, it has been the most responsible government program. It does not and cannot borrow money to finance its operations. There is no deficit financing. Social Security is the epitome of Yankee frugality. It could not be better managed. The administrative cost is .09 percent. It returns more than 99 cents to beneficiaries on every dollar collected. I dare you to find a private retirement  plan that can claim that."

Well said. Now see the video below where Congressman Dennis Kucinich makes essentially the same argument.

The real tragedy in this, and a terrible indication of what is wrong with modern public discourse, is that these facts matter not a whit to conservative ideologues. They are not interested in what works. They hate government, especially successful programs that contradict their dangerous obsession with privatization. Social Security works well. It is the centerpiece of the New Deal and helped to create the middle class. Conservatives cannot accept that, they cannot dispute the facts, so they have to lie about it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Economic Stupidity at Work

Teabaggers in Congress are hard at work saving you money:
WASHINGTON -- If you think Congress doesn't understand the economy now, wait till you see what a key House panel wants to do to the people who help figure it out.

Lawmakers are taking on the budget for the Census Bureau, pushing cuts that could leave economists and businesses in the dark about key economic information even as they are trying to map a path through a treacherous, uncertain economy.

The House Appropriations Committee is set to put the final touches on a funding bill Wednesday that proposes to slash the government's data collection arm by 25 percent -- a cut that economists and statistics experts say could end up costing taxpayers and businesses billions.

"It's essentially turning out the lights as economic policymakers are trying to do their work," said Andrew Reamer, a George Washington University professor who focuses on economics and U.S. competitiveness.

The bill is the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations measure for 2012, and the cuts in question target the Commerce Department's Census Bureau -- recently one of the bogeymen of the right. The cuts would take effect in October, leaving the bureau little time even to plan to mitigate the impacts.

And those impacts would be many. The Census Bureau declined to comment, but a member of Congress was willing to pass along the agency's estimate of what the cuts could mean.

"It would have major, permanent impacts on the nation's economic and demographic statistics," the bureau said, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), a member and past chair of the House Joint Economic Committee.

"It leaves me rather speechless, actually," said Maurine Haver, the head of the National Association of Business Economists' statistics committee. "I just don't understand it."

Experts on the Census said there are several programs the bureau runs that could be affected by the proposed cuts. One is the $124 million Economic Census, which serves as the benchmark for the nation's fiscal reports, including evaluations of the Gross Domestic Product, jobs data and economic activity across industries.

"The Economic Census is the foundation for the country's most important measures of our economy," Maloney said. "A cut to the Census Bureau of this magnitude will undermine the confidence in our fundamental economic statistics, like the GDP..."
Read the entire article here.

One wonders what the strategy is, if any. All indications are that businesses are significant users of census data. Republicans usually want to undercut the weakest and most vulnerable in society, not business. One could argue that teabagger members of the House are so determined to cut spending, and show their constituents what a fine job they're doing, that they will attack whatever low-hanging fruit they can find. Many freshmen Republicans, the ones put into office by teabaggers, don't actually believe in government anyway.

The cynic in me says conservatives politicians want to hide America's deteriorating socio-economic demographic data from voters, the public, and the world, not unlike the way other countries do it, such as China. Researchers can bang Republicans over the head with empirical reality, sometimes known as facts, but it's harder if you can deny them some of that data in the first place. It is no coincidence that conservatives are the most vociferous opponents of the Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, have you seen the new Fox News Logo?

The irony is that Fox viewers are far less likely to understand the joke precisely because they watch Fox News.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Republican Statesman

Eric Cantor, mealy-mouthed little shit. I am glad the media is finally on to this guy.

Good one, Luckovich!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Willful Ignorance

OK, this is not new, but it serves as a reminder of how nutty some in Washington have become. Back in late March all 47 Republicans introduced a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget with spending capped at 18% of GDP.

I can hear it now: "What's wrong with that? 'bout time we get spending under control." People who ask that are either achingly naive about economics, the federal budget, and how government works, or they are teabaggers.  Lots of overlap there. And if you are wondering why there is no discussion on how to reel in our monstrous defense budget to, you know, cut wasteful spending, that's because there isn't any.

I will have to pick at the balanced budget fallacy a few snippets at a time. For now it is worth noting that none of the budgets Ronald Reagan or Bush the Lesser submitted were balanced. And Republicans, including the current leaders, were more than happy to raise the debt ceiling as needed when their man was in the White House. Here are some specifics:

June 2002: Congress approves a $450 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $6.4 trillion. McConnell, Boehner, and Cantor vote “yea”, Kyl votes “nay.”
May 2003: Congress approves a $900 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $7.384 trillion. All four approve.
November 2004: Congress approves an $800 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $8.1 trillion. All four approve.
March 2006: Congress approves a $781 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $8.965 trillion. All four approve.
September 2007: Congress approves an $850 billion increase, raising the debt limit to $9.815 trillion. All four approve.
More on raising the debt ceiling at Think Progress. More on the nutty idea about a balanced budget amendment here and here.

Meanwhile, j4kesutter has his own way of addressing teabagger wisdom in letter to the illiterate. Not sure what you mean, j4kesutter. Tell us how you really feel.

On an entirely different note, Hawaii has a web site up that allows you to explore the joyful possibilities of carving up the state's voting districts at this reapportionment map.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Guilty Party

Like Maher says, "it is pathetically clear who is killing the middle class..."

The part I don't get? Apparently it is supposed to be obvious to us all that Casey Anthony got away with murder. Don't ask me. I refuse to get drawn into any TV program designed to distract us from the issues that matter. Or one hosted by Nancy Grace.

How about putting the bankers on trial? You know, equal justice? Upholding the law?

I'll watch that one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Wage Suppression Revisited

On March 23, 2011 I posted an article on the results of wage suppression. In it I reviewed academic studies demonstrating the growing gap between productivity growth, which has been substantial, and wage growth, which has been nil. This gap is recent, the direct result of conservative policies favoring corporations. I followed up on April 20, 2011 with another article on why the rich vote Republican. Again, we see clear evidence of a middle class becoming undone by conservative policies.

Below is another depressing snippet of data. It may be hard to see, but it shows an index of labor's share of income (2005=100). There is a fairly steady drift downward starting around 1980, a short-lived upward trend in Clinton's second term, and a significant deterioration throughout Bush the Lesser's eight years. The trend continues in the Obama years. Some discussion and a bigger example of the chart can be found here.

To put this data in very stark terms, go have a look at Overworked America, 12 charts that will make your blood boil.There is a lot there, but one fact underscores what I have been trying to say about wage suppression in the US: wages generally followed productivity increases for most of the 20th century, at least after the New Deal. As productivity increased, so did wages. That is no longer the case, as I show above. If labor had received commensurate wages, average income would not be around $50,000, but $92,000.

Think about that for a moment. Our recession began and continues because our economy heavily depends on consumer spending. If you ever wonder why spending is flat, it is because wages are too.  Where have the productivity gains gone? The 42 grand per worker? To corporate America and the investor class.

Despite this, Republicans never miss a chance to make you think unions are to blame for America's economic illness. It takes a lot of gall to make such demonstrably false statements.

Yet millions of Americans believe them.  And that takes a lot of ignorance.