Sunday, July 31, 2011

Missing Hyphens Are Bad News

No death "miracle" in Guyana airliner crash
--Reuters headline

In other words, reports of a miracle were erroneous...or were they?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Speech Obama Should Have Given in May

"Republicans are now saying they will not vote to raise the debt ceiling unless Congress and I agree to drastic cuts, including to Medicare. This is unconscionable and must stop.

"First of all, what does it mean to refuse to raise the debt ceiling? Does it mean we will spend less? No. What we spend is determined by what Congress appropriates. All it means is that when we get the bills, we won't have enough cash to pay them. It means that we will become, for the first time in our history, a nation of deadbeats.

"The consequences for our struggling economy are likely to be disastrous. It's not hard to imagine what the effect on our creditworthiness would be. People simply are not going to be willing to lend to us at the low rates we currently get.

"But the more serious point is what it would do to our standing in the world. We would be saying to everyone that we are a nation that doesn't keep its promises. We would be demonstrating to all, including ourselves, that our political system is completely dysfunctional.

"Everyone in Congress either understands this or is too uninformed to be in Congress. That's why we have never failed to raise the debt ceiling, including doing it seven times in the last administration. The debt is the responsibility of both parties--sixty percent of our current debt was incurred in the previous three Republican administrations.

"Now a small group of extremists have decided to use this means to blackmail the entire country. They say we must make drastic cuts to important programs, or they will, indeed, allow us to become a nation of deadbeats. It's not cutting up the credit card--it's using the credit card and then refusing to pay the bill.

"I understand that these people are motivated, at least in part, by concern about the deficit. I'm concerned about the deficit too, and it is urgent that we sit down together and discuss ways of closing it.

"But I will not be a party to any attempt to force down the throats of the American people cuts to crucial government services, including not only Medicare but air traffic control, food inspection, Pell grants, and many more, cuts that Americans don't want, by threatening to make us an object of pity and scorn for the rest of the world.

"The debt ceiling is one thing. The budget is another. Let's keep them separate."

The Speech Obama Should Give in July

"Looking at the mess in Washington today about raising the debt ceiling, people think, 'Can't those people in Washington do anything? What's wrong with our politicians?'

"It's understandable that people think this way. Understandable, but wrong.

"There are many things wrong with Washington, and many things that it doesn't do well. But this, working out a compromise on an issue, one that nobody loves but everybody can live with, is something it can do.

"I really prefer to avoid finger-pointing, but sometimes the truth has to be told. The current problems in Washington are not caused by Washington politicians. They're caused by a group of extremist Republicans who came to Washington determined not to do things Washington politicians do. First on the list of things they are determined not to do is compromise.

"They have convinced themselves that they were elected by people who want them to do anything, including harming the economy and damaging our international reputation, in order to get drastic cuts in essential government programs, including Medicare.

"Speaker Boehner may deny it, but he knows perfectly well that this whole crisis was created by his junior colleagues. And he knows that it could, and should, have been resolved a long time ago if his more senior colleagues had stood up to them.

"This is a democracy, and if that's what you wanted your representative to do, then by all means, vote for them again. If it's not, then vote for someone else."

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lazy Job-Creators

You've probably heard the Republicans say they don't want to raise taxes on the rich in a recession, because the rich are job-creators. You may even have caught Stephen Colbert showing the cover of a comic book: "Job Creatorie Job Creator, the Poor Little Job Creator Boy."

But what you probably haven't done (and why should you, when you've got me) is go to the Bureau of Labor Statistics and see  how these guys are doing. Are we getting our money's worth?

If you follow the link, you'll notice that job growth turned negative in 2008, so to be fair, let's just look at job creation before things really went to hell, from 2001 to 2007. And for reference, let's compare it to the period from 1961 to 1967.

                                                                           1961-1967              2001-2007

Top marginal tax rate (here):                 91%-70%               38.6%-35% 

Growth in private employment:               20%                           4%

The conclusion seems inescapable: job-creators have turned into a bunch of entitled slackers. Perhaps they need a crack of the whip to get them to pay attention.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

No More Mr. Nice Guy, Mr. Paul

Has anyone else noticed how Ron Paul seems to be getting a free pass from the media? Partly, of course, that's because no one gives him a snowball's chance in hell of being elected President. But journalists also seem to have bought into the image of him as a crusty old libertarian who sticks to his principles no matter how politically suicidal-- the unelectable straight shooter (check out this profile from NPR). And he's playing up this image-- in an interview with Judy Woodruff on PBS he just couldn't stop talking about how antiwar he is.

So here are some questions for a future interviewer:

Congressman Paul, you were reelected in 2010 as a Republican in Texas. As you know, the 2010 platform of the Texas Republican Party states:

We believe that the practice of homosexuality tears at the fabric of society, contributes to the breakdown of the family unit, and leads to the spread of dangerous, communicable diseases. Homosexual behavior is contrary to the fundamental, unchanging truths that have been ordained by God, recognized by our country’s founders, and shared by the majority of Texans....

We oppose the legalization of sodomy [i.e., Lawrence v. Texas, a 6-3 Supreme Court decision in 2003]. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy. 

Do you support these statements?

If so, how do you reconcile them with your libertarian beliefs? Do you believe that government regulation of private conduct is less onerous when done by a state government than when done by the Federal government? Do you think that states should have the right to regulate gun ownership, or just sexual conduct?

If not, did you have any qualms about running on this platform? How, if at all, did you make your opposition known?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Three Things About the Debt Ceiling You Probably Haven't Read

1. Bring back shame
Am I really hopelessly old-fashioned? I find the conversation about the debt ceiling very odd. There has been a lot of discussion about whether failing to raise it would really be catastrophic. (Almost certainly it would, but if you live in a fact-free zone like Michele Bachmann you can just ignore that.) But is no one interested in discussing the moral issue?

Suppose someone told  you, "I've been spending too much money, and I can't afford it, so I've decided to stop paying my bills. That includes the kid who just mowed my lawn. Oh, and it also includes that money I borrowed from you last week." What would your opinion be of someone like that? Not very high, I imagine.

That's what we'd be saying if we announce we're not raising the debt ceiling: not that we're going to reduce spending, just that we're going to stop paying our bills. The Tea Party was incensed about proposals to help people who were delinquent on their mortgages. Now Bachmann is suggesting that we become a nation of deadbeats.

This is a matter of, to use an old-fashioned term, our national honor. It is unfortunate for modern Democrats that they have never been comfortable using the language of morality and national honor, because it strikes me as a rhetorical approach that would leave the Republicans flummoxed.

And not only with regard to the debt ceiling. What about the national dishonor of the biggest economy in the world being a place where hundreds of thousands of people go bankrupt because of medical bills, that ranks worse than thirtieth among nations of the world in both life expectancy and infant survival, and 27th in students' proficiency in math? Politicians may be shameless, but are the rest of us?

2. Is this how Frankenstein felt?
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has sent a letter to Congress urging it to raise the debt ceiling "as expeditiously as possible." No mention in the letter of the fact that the Chamber is probably more responsible than any other single actor for the crisis. The Chamber spent unknown millions of dollars getting Republicans elected to Congress in 2010. Now it's trying to rein them in.

Not that it's showing much evidence of a sudden conversion. "The Chamber believes it is imperative that any path to deficit reduction focus on...cutting spending, especially mandatory spending, rather than shortsighted tax increases." Still, saying "focus on" rather than "only consist of" is moderation of a sort. Unfortunately, I don't see any sign that the new members of Congress understand who put them there.

3. Abandonment issues
Democrats in Congress have been loudly and vociferously opposed to making major cuts in Medicare and other entitlement programs. According to the newspapers, that's because doing so will deprive them of a good electoral issue: the House Republicans' quixotic attempt to turn Medicare into a voucher program that doesn't keep up with health-care cost inflation.

I believe this story as far as it goes, but I think it misses the real point. Which Republicans will be hurt by this issue, if it is an issue? Not so much new candidates running against Democratic incumbents in 2012. They didn't vote for the plan. But the Republicans currently in the House did.

In other words, House Democrats want to be in the majority again. And they perceive Obama as being willing to give up on the idea of a Democratic majority in order to position himself as a centrist for the Presidential election.

They may be right, and if so, it strikes me as foolish. Being President is a lot less fun when you have a highly unified, uncompromising opposition party in control of the House. See, for example, above.