Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hey, Big Spender

Republicans have now accepted as an article of faith that President Obama is not merely a  "tax and spend liberal," but that his spending is reckless, unprecedented, and making things worst. That Republicans have actually convinced themselves that Obama is far left, radical, socialist, or even just liberal, says more about the cognitive filters many wear.

For the most part, Obama's critics on the right have got their arguments about federal spending almost completely backwards. And yes, Mitt Romney is leading the way.

First, here is Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post:
There are those who tell the truth. There are those who distort the truth. And then there’s Mitt Romney.

Every political campaign exaggerates and dissembles. This practice may not be admirable — it’s surely one reason so many Americans are disenchanted with politics — but it’s something we’ve all come to expect. Candidates claim the right to make any boast or accusation as long as there’s a kernel of veracity in there somewhere.

Even by this lax standard, Romney too often fails. Not to put too fine a point on it, he lies. Quite a bit.
“Since President Obama assumed office three years ago, federal spending has accelerated at a pace without precedent in recent history,” Romney claims on his campaign Web site. This is utterly false. The truth is that spending has slowed markedly under Obama.
An analysis published last week by MarketWatch, a financial news Web site owned by Dow Jones & Co., compared the yearly growth of federal spending under presidents going back to Ronald Reagan. Citing figures from the Office of Management and Budget and the Congressional Budget Office, MarketWatch concluded that “there has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.”
Quite the contrary: Spending has increased at a yearly rate of only 1.4 percent during Obama’s tenure, even if you include some stimulus spending (in the 2009 fiscal year) that technically should be attributed to President George W. Bush. This is by far the smallest — I repeat, smallest — increase in spending of any recent president. (The Washington Post’s Fact Checker concluded the spending increase figure should have been 3.3 percent.)

Here is how summarizes their findings:
Is President Obama’s spending an “inferno,” as Mitt Romney claims, or a binge that “never happened” as an analysis touted by the White House concluded? We judge that both of those claims are wrong on the facts. 
The truth is that the nearly 18 percent spike in spending in fiscal 2009 — for which the president is sometimes blamed entirely — was mostly due to appropriations and policies that were already in place when Obama took office. 
That includes spending for the bank bailout legislation approved by President Bush. Annual increases in amounts actually spent since fiscal 2009 have been relatively modest. In fact, spending for the first seven months of the current fiscal year is running slightly below the same period last year, and below projections.

Finally, Rex Nutting of the Wall Street Journal's Marketwatch, acknowledges that:
Of all the falsehoods told about President Barack Obama, the biggest whopper is the one about his reckless spending spree.

As would-be president Mitt Romney tells it: “I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno.”

Almost everyone believes that Obama has presided over a massive increase in federal spending, an “inferno” of spending that threatens our jobs, our businesses and our children’s future. Even Democrats seem to think it’s true.

But it didn’t happen. Although there was a big stimulus bill under Obama, federal spending is rising at the slowest pace since Dwight Eisenhower brought the Korean War to an end in the 1950s.

Even hapless Herbert Hoover managed to increase spending more than Obama has.

Here are the facts, according to the official government statistics:

• In the 2009 fiscal year — the last of George W. Bush’s presidency — federal spending rose by 17.9% from $2.98 trillion to $3.52 trillion. Check the official numbers at the Office of Management and Budget.

• In fiscal 2010 — the first budget under Obama — spending fell 1.8% to $3.46 trillion.

• In fiscal 2011, spending rose 4.3% to $3.60 trillion.

• In fiscal 2012, spending is set to rise 0.7% to $3.63 trillion, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of the budget that was agreed to last August.

• Finally in fiscal 2013 — the final budget of Obama’s term — spending is scheduled to fall 1.3% to $3.58 trillion. Read the CBO’s latest budget outlook.

Over Obama’s four budget years, federal spending is on track to rise from $3.52 trillion to $3.58 trillion, an annualized increase of just 0.4%.

There has been no huge increase in spending under the current president, despite what you hear.
Facts don't seem to carry the weight they used to. Teabaggers will keep howling about how Obama is killing us with spending and debt, all part of his socialist takeover of America, you see. They demanded tax cuts from Bush, and now bitch that those same tax cuts have blown a hole in the federal budget. They have never read a formal paper on what Keynesian spending really means, and they don't understand why, for example, Europe's current austerity measures are counterproductive.

Bear in mind we are talking about a very large swath of voters, a majority some might say, who have a terrible time thinking through the most elementary, face-palm-in-disbelief moments imaginable. You know the types; the ones that cannot find Iraq, New Zealand, or Austria on a map; or the embarrassing number who think the sun revolves around the earth, or believe their pastor when he says evolution has been discredited.

Yeah, those people. They are easy targets for simplistic sloganeering. And Romney knows it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The American Dream

This is a TED video worth watching. For those who think that talk of the increasingly hideous inequality in the America is just the politics of envy, class warfare, or some other ignorant talking point, you will notice some inescapable details; facts, empiricism, and methodology. You will also be at pains to explain why you think the USA is number one, as so many mindlessly believe.

Bear in mind while you watch this video that Mitt Romney's two favorite campaign promises are to provide even greater tax cuts to the rich, and to overturn Obamacare. And he has repeatedly made clear that he would not do anything to rein in the Wall Street banks. If you think those are good ideas, you are likely to learn something from this.

For more information on the speaker, Richard Wilkinson, and what his research so compelling demonstrates, visit The Equality Trust.
 “If Americans want to live the American dream, they should go to Denmark.”

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


You've got to hand it to Republican Party operatives. After more than 30 years of constant effort, conservatives within the party, media, the judiciary, and in the corporate world, have managed to turn upside down much of what the public thought it knew about government, unions, taxes, and even teachers.

I make a distinction between Republicans and conservatives that some may see as unnecessary; are not Republicans and conservatives synonymous? Pretty much, at least in 2012, but it would be difficult to overstate just how far to the right the Republican Party has lurched; a process that began, to the dismay of millions of moderate and liberal Republicans, with the nomination of Barry Goldwater in 1964. The cleansing process picked up rapidly in the 1980s and 1990s, with numerous watershed moments, such as the arrival of Newt Gingrich and the politics of destruction. As testimony to Republicans' new approach to governing, many will recall that the Party was able to keep Whitewater in public view, with the help of a stupidly compliant press, for literally years on end, only to have the process finally wind down having demonstrated no presidential malfeasance.

From the judicial standpoint, it was a waste of time and taxpayers' money. But upholding the law had nothing to do with it. The objective was to vilify a Democratic President, obstruct his agenda and ability to govern, and convince the public that conservatives stood on principles. The never-ending rush to spin the story helped feed the narrative that liberals are not to be trusted. Even today people will refer to Whitewater as a scandal, forgetting that there was no wrongdoing, despite years of investigation. It was only a scandal because the Republican hierarchy kept claiming it was. And many will be surprised when reminded that the 12 years of Reagan and Bush saw a dramatically greater number of actual convictions, not accusations, than in the eight years of Clinton. If the reality goes against what you had heard and "just assumed," it is because Republicans worked hard to make it so, for they have shown a superior ability to get their ideas into the media and into people's heads. They dominate most narratives because they understand how to make their messages simple and emotional. What sounds implausible or even ridiculous at first becomes accepted as truth if repeated enough. All propagandists understand this. This why Republicans have said for decades they, against all evidence, are the party of personal responsibility, fiscal prudence, and limited government. Voters who don't study the facts have come to accept this narrative.

And now we see Republican spin taken to new heights, creating a parallel world of logic and reason. They have managed what should have been impossible in a sane world of evidence, facts, and reason; divert enough of the electorate's, and the media's, attention away from the Wall Street banks and turn the middle class against itself. Significant numbers of Americans now think that public workers earn too much, are lazy and irresponsible, and are a drain on our fragile economy.Too many show an infantile understanding of economics by buying into Republican rhetoric that teachers' salaries are too high, so we must rein in those destructive teachers' unions. "Never mind that stuff you hear about Wall Street. Those guys deserve every penny they got, and besides, look at all the jobs they create."

The truly reprehensible thing about Mitt Romney is that he personally promotes these ideas and never once has acknowledged that the Bush tax cuts, which he wants to deepen, have been a prime contributor to the federal deficit. Everything the man says indicates he will be for the one percent and will penalize the working class, and yet he is running as a viable candidate.

And as we just saw in Wisconsin, there are plenty of voters who are fine with Scott Walker's effort to strip away the hard-fought gains by teachers and other public workers. Many now instinctively believe that there is such a thing in America as "big labor," and that cutting back salaries and benefits of teachers, librarians, firefighters, cops, and others, will somehow drive the economy forward, that and more tax cuts for the wealthy. Republicans have apparently convinced more than a few that teachers are now fat cats. The Wall Street bankers that drove the economy into recession have almost entirely avoided legal scrutiny. Forgotten is their unforgivable act of paying mammoth executive compensation with the very tax dollars meant to stabilize the catastrophic mess they created. No accountability, no significant judicial proceedings, and the few penalties levied have been easily paid and treated as nothing more than the cost of doing business.

The banks got away with it while attention has been diverted to where Republicans want it. They, including Mitt Romney himself, have convinced many that pushing back against the oligarchy is class warfare, but endless bitching about teachers and other members of the middle class, with an eye to stripping their rights and reducing their pay, is productive policy. And they have roughly half of that middle class believing it.

That is quite an accomplishment.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Labor Just Needs to be Flexible

US corporations pay some of the highest dividends in the capitalist world. That sounds pretty good; corporations sharing their profits, giving back to their communities, right? I mean, all those orphans and grandmothers cashing in those fat dividend checks.

There are two problems with this. The first is that dividends mostly don't go back to the communities where the profits were made, they tend to consolidate wealth for the one percent. The vast majority of dividends actually paid go to America's wealthiest. Those individuals mostly live somewhere else, i.e., profits are made in middle class communities--think Walmart, Starbucks, or your local utility--and then end up as dividends for the investor class concentrated in  relatively few neighborhoods; the Hamptons, Beverly Hills, Zurich.

And then they pay 15% tax on it, tops. This, of course, is what Warren Buffet means when he says his secretary pays a higher tax rate than he does.The result is that corporate dividends are yet another way to ensure a steady stream of cash away from the middle class and to the investor class. That's true in a demographic sense, but also geographically; money, and the control of that money, shifts away from communities that need it the most. When some of it does come back, it is on the investor class's terms.

The middle class, in turn, is subjected to endless scolding. How many times have we heard that labor needs to be flexible? What with all the foreign competition, working families cannot expect wage increases; "times are tough," and we all must "tighten our belts" and other nonsense. These assertions are made in the face of record profits, record executive compensation, and continuing tax breaks for both the companies and those that run them.

It's always about how labor must be flexible. Don't be a sap, be flexible and go where the jobs are. And retrain yourself along the way. See? It's easy. Now run along and show me that work ethic that compels you to tolerate the crap I heap on you.

The reality is that an increasing number of Americans are expected to become nomadic laborers. Don't settle down and establish roots. Corporate America paid politicians good money for the right to close down factories with minimal cost to them even if it means massive layoffs for employees. But you can just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get another job, one in the next county, 50 miles away, and lower pay. Night shift only. And you'll be on probationary status as a newbie. Too bad about that commute; the extra gas money comes out of your pocket. Your seniority at the old job? Get real, you're starting all over again. At the bottom, with few benefits. And your lunch hour is now half an hour. Don't like it? There are 200 other applicants behind you. We hire those who don't complain.

Perhaps you have to move across country. That's where the work is, so pack up. And pull your kids out of the only school they have known. It was a pretty good school, too. Kind of ironic, because that's the reason you moved into the neighborhood in the first place. And settled down, so you, your spouse, and the kids could contribute and be part of the community. The company health plan was pretty decent. You put up with a lot because you didn't want to forfeit it.

No matter now; say goodbye to it, and to the neighbors you won't see again. Your spouse will also have to abandon that part-time job. That's gotta hurt; (s)he won't likely find a better job where you're headed.  But if (s)he does, it's almost guaranteed to be at low pay and no benefits, just like nearly all part-time jobs in the US.

You'll just have to tighten your belts some more. Too bad about jerking your kids out in the middle of the school year. Just tell them that labor flexibility is the new American Dream.