Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Moderate GOPers Are the Problem

Charlie Dent (R-PA) (Lehigh Valley Live) - part of the problem

Peter King (R-NY) (Huffington Post) - part of the problem

For all the Tea Partiers who have been complaining about RINOs the last several years, I have to admit I agree with them that the alleged "moderate" GOPers are part of the problem, but obviously not for the same reasons. And I don't just mean the alleged moderates in Congress. I'm also talking the moderate GOP voters.

Jonathan Chait wrote about a potential plan for moderates to depose John Boehner as Speaker of the House and create a real governing coalition between Democrats and moderate Republicans. Chait nails the problem with moderates in this passage:
Say you live in Pennsylvania and your representative is Charlie Dent. Representative Dent is fighting hard against the leadership to prevent a shutdown. If you’re following him in the news, you can read the hometown newspaper’s report explaining Charlie Dent’s opposition to his party’s tactics. But Charlie Dent is the one who is giving power to the very right-wing fanatics he is decrying, by supplying the decisive votes to the Republican majority. If you want to stop Ted Cruz from paralyzing the government, you need to vote against Charlie Dent. That is confusing.
The problem is this assumes "moderates" like Dent and Peter King aren't just posturing for the media to seem moderate to continue being re-elected in their more moderate districts, while continuing to vote with the most radical members of their party 95% of the time. So as Chait wrote if you are a moderate Republican who isn't happy with how Ted Cruz is operating, unfortunately for you the answer in 2014 is to vote Democratic, not to send a moderate Republican back to Congress. I think some Republican voters think and vote this way splitting their tickets in Presidential elections (possibly being horrified by the positions their eventual Presidential nominee is forced to take in order to win the primaries), but not in Congressional elections. And that needs to change.

You see daily polls showing that 50+ % of registered Republicans agree with the Democratic Party's position on several key issues. Whether it be immigration reform, a balanced deficit-reduction plan, background checks on guns, etc. So what does it say about a party that it is so unresponsive to the majority of their base? Issues that get 50+% Republican voter support sometimes result in zero Republican votes in Congress. Issues that get 75-80% Republican voter support may end up forcing the hand of a handful of Republicans, as you saw with the Manchin-Toomey background checks bill, but not enough to pass even with 90+% support nationwide.

As long as the moderates keep giving the GOP candidate their votes, they are enabling the radical nutty wing of the party. I understand you may be a Northeastern moderate Republican who is pro-choice and in favor of same-sex marriage (or at least indifferent enough on those issues that they aren't decisive when it comes to casting your vote). And you vote Republican usually because you want your taxes lower, you don't like the welfare state all that much, and you'd prefer less regulations and "smaller government" (whatever that means at any given moment). But the thing is that even though you are voting for your moderate GOP Congressman, in doing so you are empowering the Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Louie Gohmert, Michelle Bachman wing of the party. They are the ones who hold the power in Congress and/or have the national talk-show celebrity status to drive the daily conversation. 

If you think those politicians are bad for your party in the long run and that wing of the party embarrasses you as a card-carrying Republican, then you need to think long and hard about what your vote means when you vote locally. I'm not saying you should vote for a Democrat whom you disagree with on most issues. But chances are if you are in a Republican-leaning district, the Democrat opposing your Republican incumbent is going to be a moderate to center-right Democrat, if he/she has any hope of winning. The Democratic candidate will vote much more moderately than whatever Republican you elect. 

But yet the majority of the base continues to vote for people who then don't represent their views. And the alleged moderate politicians continue to go along with the most radical elements of their party, out of fear that the radical voters will outnumber the moderates in primaries. So if moderate Republican voters really want to exert some political power, their best option is to vote for Democrats, at least right now. And then eventually (maybe) Republican politicians will moderate and begin adopting some of those positions to truly represent the will of the electorate.

The Republican party used to always be considered the "daddy party", while the Democrats were the "mommy party."  But as we've seen the last several years the Republican party has been governing like an abusive dead-beat daddy party. And perhaps moderate GOP voters should consider putting mommy back in charge of the household until daddy goes through counseling and rehab.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Happy Father's Day

My one and only child will soon turn nine, so this is my ninth Fathers' Day as an actual father and caretaker of another human being. And on this and on Mothers' Day, we as a society rightfully honor the parents and grandparents who have reared offspring in this crazy, mixed-up world. 

So fine, for the 9th year in a row, I'll enjoy my day, take my bow as being "World's Greatest Dad" (sorry Izzy Mandelbaum), consume my medium-rare steak dinner, and watch the final day of the U.S. Open. But really no bows are necessary. And as Chris Rock noted, certainly no cookie rewards are warranted for literally doing the least you could ask of a human being who brings children into the world.

See, in spite of the thousands of parenting advice books and blogs devoted to documenting every mundane and insignificant part of raising kids, being a half-decent parent is basically the easiest job in the world. Sure, Drew Magary wrote a great book and some humorous Dadspin posts on the subject of the trials of parenting. And being a "perfect" parent is certainly probably impossible. That's the point. But being a good parent basically just means you have to love your kids unconditionally and try as hard as you can. The End.

There are no perfect parents and no singly perfect parenting style, and there doesn't have to be. The beauty is your kid will likely still turn out just fine even if you are a far-from-perfect parent. Granted, our lack of government funding for programs to ease the costs and burdens of working parents, sometimes make it more challenging, but it's still a relatively easy job. And it actually gets easier once they get old enough to communicate clearly on their own. The importance of being a good parent in no way increases the degree of difficulty. It may put more pressure on you, especially later in your child's life, to keep them on the righteous path, but I don't think it makes the job any harder. 

Now the outrageously rising costs of child care and education are a completely different animal, but that's a different topic for a different day. Yes, earning and/or saving enough money to provide your child with the very best chance of success as an adult is very challenging and seemingly becoming less attainable for the average family every single year. But as long as you the build foundation with your child, he or she will still be fine, doing whatever it is they end up doing. And the foundation is the easy part. Being a passably good parent just requires love, empathy, minor sacrifices, and occasionally your undivided attention. And the more you give them, the more you will get back (whether you like or not :-) ).

Happy Fathers' Day!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Big Brother and the Data Holding Company


I just can't for the life of me work up any shock or outrage over the latest disclosures over PRISM and the NSA. I think we all had a reason to assume that this was being done since shortly after 9/11. And actually this 2006 report in USAToday pretty much confirmed it already. Obviously, the scope of the program has grown since then. But I have a problem with the government collecting more information to help "connect the dots." As Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to former C.I.A. director Leon Panetta put it. "If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack." Or perhaps a whole barn full of haystacks.

There is always some potential for lower-level abuse in any data-mining endeavor or at any large government agency or corporation, for that matter. We've just spent four weeks talking about lower-rung employees at the IRS giving a little more attention to conservative-sounding political groups seeking tax-exempt status. And similarly your credit card number may get poached when you purchase things on-line. Several times a year a bank or another company ends up having to apologize for a security breach that results in thousands of credit card numbers being publicized. It's the electronic, on-demand world we live in and most people just shrug and assume the risks with everyone else.

But just as you wouldn't close down banks, the internet, or any government agency because of some minor abuses or privacy violations, neither should you shutdown the N.S.A. programs over the "potential" for abuse.

So it's extremely important that there be dogged oversight and transparency to provide some public assurance. Will Saletan of Slate made some great points in regards to this earlier in the week. However, since the information is classified, the public will have no choice but to trust that Congress will provide the necessary oversight. And that is hopefully what the Edward Snowden revelations facilitate.

The most surprising revelation for me from this entire story is that so many (roughly 500K) contractors have security clearances to access top secret information. Now of course there's access and there's "access", but still even if the real number is 100K, it's a little worrisome. Our government contracting out over 30% of this type of work is another issue for another day. Do we really want so many civilian contractors working with such sensitive data? In this instance it's about time to revisit the old Republican canard about the private sector always being better, more efficient, etc, than the public sector. That may not be the case when it comes to defense and intelligence. And when the private companies have mostly sweet no-bid deals with the government, then it leads to the same inefficiency we harp on about Big Government.

I'm generally pretty liberal on most issues. Crime (both the prevention of and prosecution of) and counter-terrorism are areas where I'm pretty authoritarian. I don't really support Stop-and-Frisk because it has proven to be ineffective. But if it worked, I'd be on board. Perhaps, due to living in several different neighborhoods in a big city like Philadelphia with more than its share of violent crime, these issues are never just abstract philosophical civil liberties debates for me. It's a real thing I need to think about literally every time I walk down a city street. People who grew up in similar environs have much more practical, real-world takes on gun-control as well. It's tough selling the libertarian "virtues" of less gun regulation and drug decriminalization in neighborhoods like, say, North Philly, which have been ravaged by guns and drugs, as opposed to, say, rural enclaves in central PA.

So my perspective on this issue is that crime or fear of crime eventually curtails liberty. So a reasonable sacrifice of a little privacy to help reduce or prevent crime and terrorism is the foundation that allows us to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Michael Grunwald sums up this point of view in Time more eloquently here.

Most of the extreme slippery-slope arguments against any law tend to be presented in absence of more legitimate points that address here-and-now particulars. "This may make sense now or may prevent x, but in 40 years y could happen!" should not be taken seriously as an argument. The same lazy argument could be used against any law that's on the books.

The government won't be taking your guns if background-check laws are enacted. And the government will not be viewing your cell phone call logs unless you call someone, who called someone, who called someone, who called a suspected terrorist at some point in the last five years. It's a high-tech version of police detectives dropping by your house to "ask you a few questions" about a particular case if they believed you might be tangentially connected to one of the suspects.

Rightly or wrongly, the executive branch and the intelligence agencies are held accountable for any potential terrorist attack. The natural human response then is for people in those positions to do everything legally and technologically possible to prevent terrorist attacks. And the same "cover your ass" incentives line up politically for those people to keep their jobs, as it should be in a responsive, functioning democracy. It would be unrealistic for us to expect our leaders to not use every technological advantage at their disposal to prevent crime/terrorism and keep tabs on our enemies. The surveillance state will continue to get bigger, not smaller. This is the path our country has been on since the beginning of the Cold War and there's no turning back.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

BREAKING: People Like Pizza #NYTimesTrendStory

People engaging in a new trend: eating pizza (NY Times)

The New York Times reports today on the new "NY Times Trend story" that the old, young, rich and somewhat less-rich denizens of New York, all apparently like pizza:
Who says pizza delivery is just for dorm rooms and children’s birthday parties?
Actually, nobody has ever said that. At least not anyone who wasn't a pretentious douchebag. And actually if pizza delivery was just for dorm rooms and birthday parties, I'm pretty sure Domino's, Pizza Hut, and Papa John's would all be bankrupt.
Their contents were devoured by both the young, relaxed crowd in denim jackets and beanies celebrating Antonio Campos’s “Simon Killer” at the Jane Hotel, and by the guests in suits and cocktail dresses feting Danny Boyle’s “Trance” at a private triplex penthouse on Greenwich Street.         
I know, I know, pizza may be fine for the working class slobs and unwashed masses, but at an after-party? In Manhattan? With other Manhattan socialites in suits and dresses? Surely, you jest.
“I may need to rethink the food we have on offer,” Mr. Saffir wrote in an e-mail. “Pizza is way more fun.”        
Wait, don't tell me they may start serving food that actual human beings eat at these events. Pretty soon you won't have to eat a meal before you go and then politely eat a few bites of hors d'oeuvres that you don't really like and pretend you are full.
Some are also dialing Domino’s, Ray’s and their ilk for private dinner parties.
And people are actually eating pizza in their domiciles because it's easy to serve AND it tastes good?  Next thing you know they'll be wearing t-shirts unironically because they are comfortable.
“It was pizza and Champagne,” Ms. Heller said. “Because it’s something that everybody eats, unless you’re allergic to cheese or something.”
Awww, pizza and champagne. That's so adorable. At least you served it with champagne. Have to keep some part of the meal high-brow!
 “No one wants to — actually, any chic type — go to a pizza parlor and sit and eat greasy pizza,” he said. But not everything about the pizza-party atmosphere translates to Upper East Side and SoHo dining rooms.
This is the scene in every romantic comedy where an upper-class socialite like Cameron Diaz or Kate Hudson or whoever is the flavor of the minute shows they can be "fun" by engaging in some blue-collar activity like eating pizza in a greasy pizza parlor, while possibly washing it down with some peasant beverage like beer. Don't ruin the vibe!
“The one thing that’s awkward is that they had cloth napkins,” Mr. Davis said. “You can’t blot your pizza, which I like to do to get the grease off, with someone’s cloth napkin with an embroidered flower on it.”         
I can't tell you how many times I was about to have a slice of pizza and was forced to decide whether or not to dab the the grease with an embroidered cloth napkin. I mean it's either that or I use the sleeve of $100 bills in my wallet, right? Whaddya gonna do?
CanapĂ© fatigue notwithstanding, in some buttoned-up circles, like those represented by Jonathan Marder, a publicist whose firm handles several of the highest-profile events on the philanthropic calendar, the haute pizza party remains unthinkable. 
“Pizza parties?” Mr. Marder wrote in an e-mail. “Fabulous for people smoking pot, but that’s not our crowd.”        
Ah yes, pizza is fabulous for stoners but the people in his crowd are strict alcoholics and coke addicts. 

The only thing that surprises me about this piece is that there are no Girls references. Hmmm, I have an idea for a new NY Times Trend piece centering on NY Times Trend pieces which surprisingly don't reference the show Girls at all. All the kids are doing it these days!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Why I No Longer Support Entitlement Reform

(Washington Post)

I've long favored an approach to long-term deficit reduction similar to what President Obama has proposed: a mixture of entitlement reforms, revenue increases (ideally through reforming the tax code), and phased-in spending cuts. Of course the devil is in the details and I'd leave it to the wonkiest of wonks to determine what reforms, cuts, and revenue increases will give us the biggest bang for the buck - keeping the effective subsidies and tax breaks and eliminating the pointless giveaways to corporations. But as long as the eventual agreement was in that framework, I'd probably support it.

I'm not exactly sold on the President's negotiation skills, but nevertheless his proposal is basically a flavor of the Simpson-Bowles proposal that all of the Very Serious People in Washington claim to support. This is the sort of compromise that a sane, functional center-left party and a sane, functional center-right party would eventually agree to.

OK, you can stop laughing now since what we have is a sane, functional center-left party negotiating with an insane, dysfunctional far-right party. The Republican party will not agree to any deal that increases tax revenues. And I'm not sure they even want to really cut entitlements given the graying of their base.

It's a problem when 70% of the budget is being spent on health care for old and poor people, retirement benefits for old people, and the military. It doesn't leave a lot of room to do anything else we desperately need to do. But it's pointless for the Democrats to try to reach a balanced agreement at this point because in the long-run they will just be digging their own graves.

Let's consider the likely effects of a "balanced deal":

1. The President would get some good short-term coverage by the VSPs over the "grand bargain."

2. The President and the Dems would then propose to use some of the new savings and revenues to make investments in the economy. Republicans would likely not agree to pass any of these proposals. They will want to use all of that to reduce the deficit so they can do #4 eventually. If amazingly the GOP did agree to this new spending, it would be ultimately be cut as part of a deal in #4. Then Dems will have gotten nothing in the long-term for the entitlement cuts other than a short-term pat on the back from the VSPs who are always wrong.

3. Republicans would then shamelessly rile up their base over "Obama's entitlement cuts", even though they were voted into law by many of their members, to win more seats in the 2014 midterms.

4. When Republicans eventually take back the White House they will enact a huge budget-busting tax cut again. That's what they always do. That's why the party exists at this point.

5. Then in a half-decade or decade later when Democrats are forced to clean up the budget mess yet again, Republicans will insist we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem, even though the only major thing that will have changed in the preceding years was a huge tax cut. The VSPs will not acknowledge that history and will still demand a balanced deal. So the Democrats will seek a balanced deal to reform entitlements again and cut more spending again, with some minor tax increases that will eventually be rolled back and then some.

..... Go back to Step 1, rinse, and repeat. This is like a negotiation with a savvy child over a toy or a dessert. Are Republicans still going to clean their room first when they know they will eventually get the toy or dessert anyway if they just hold their breath long enough?

And this cycle will seemingly continue forever thanks to gerrymandering, Democratic voters not turning out in big enough numbers for midterms, and ticket-splitters sending mixed signals. So other than for the good press over a "grand bargain", what exactly is in it for the Democrats to agree to a balanced deal right now?  Much like Obama's proposal to avoid the sequestration cuts, there seems to be way more for the Republicans to like in these deals than the Democrats, yet the Republicans are the ones most vociferously refusing to negotiate, with the sticking point being tax revenues.

If we need to cut entitlements now to avoid the big budget problems in 15-20 years which will need to be solved by.... (wait for it)... entitlement cuts, why not just wait 15-20 years and see how the budget looks at that time? Give ObamaCare a few decades to see if it can contain the rate at which health care spending is eating up the federal budget. If in 20 years, we really do have a serious debt problem, just enact the same entitlement cuts then. In the meantime, those proposing entitlement cuts seem like they have a solution that is a seeking a problem.

Republicans ideologically want to cut entitlements, but functionally have a difficult time doing so now without a lot of cover, since they are so dependent on older voters to win elections. Democrats are willing to give them that cover and they still won't take it. Also, putting off cutting entitlements until there is actually a real debt crisis would put everything on the table and would likely mean it will be easier to increase taxes as part of a deal at that time. For instance, helping to save Social Security by extending the payroll tax so it hits more of the income of richer people would probably poll at about 99% support if we reached a real crisis. Whereas now it's not even part of the discussion, which is a huge victory for Republicans.

So, for all these reasons I can no longer support entitlement reform, at least not right now. If someone can convince me that we will have both a sane center-left party and a sane center-right party negotiating in good faith to solve a genuine debt crisis that is in need of fixing immediately, I'll think about it. Good luck.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ObamaCare's Plan to Insure 30 Million More People Leads to 30 Million More People Being Insured

Here are a few of the headlines that caught my eye on the Yahoo! newsfeed this week:

The first article points out a glitch in the law that could affect two to four million people and whether or not they receive the proper tax credits to help pay for their insurance coverage. It's a legit hole that could easily be plugged if there was support in Congress to make government work better, rather than dismantle it.

The second article, however, seems to miss the overall point of the law. Let's face it, ObamaCare was a large bill, thousands of pages long, as Republicans were always eager to point out. Surely, you can pick out any one piece of the bill and say, this will hurt this business or that sector of the health care market. But when you take the bill in its entirety it's expected to be a net-good for almost everybody.

The bulk of the increase in claims costs will largely be passed on to the states who are implementing the expanded Medicaid coverage. And the Feds will be picking up 100% of those costs now and 90% in the future. The rest of the costs will effect those who get their insurance through the individual marketplace - self-employed people or very small businesses. Those who get insurance through their employer will not be affected by these changes.

With ObamaCare in general and on this issue specifically, my initial reaction usually is "compared to what?" If the baseline is millions of people have no health coverage and receive emergency room care for everything, then that currently is already driving up the costs of: health insurance, hospital reimbursements, tests and procedures, and the subsidies the government is providing for all of that. In the long term, after the initial increase in claims costs is absorbed, costs stabilize.

Focusing on something like increasing claims cost, which are due to more claims being filed because more people will have health coverage, while the costs of which are more than offset by reductions in costs elsewhere, misses the point. Covering more people is a feature of the law, not a bug. And if it was easy and inexpensive to extend coverage to the uninsured, it would have already been done years ago. The rise in claims costs was not unexpected and was already factored into the bill.

The key point here is that ObamaCare wasn't passed to ensure that the number of medical care claims were held steady. The main goals of ObamaCare were: 1)to help give thirty million-plus more people access to health coverage, 2)to end insurance company abuses by more tightly regulating the health insurance market, and 3)by doing those previous two things and by implementing hundreds more cost control mechanisms, to attempt to eventually bring down the growth in health care costs to a more manageable number going forward, so we can deal with our long-term debt problem. You can't accomplish those goals without some minor and somewhat major changes and reforms.

Update 03/28/13: Yahoo! News continues to troll ObamaCare.....

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Iraq War: Ten Years Later

 Flag-draped coffins in Dover, DE (New York Times)

Ten years ago this week, the war in Iraq was launched in spite of some of the largest worldwide protests in history. I don't really have any new insight into the still-baffling decision to go to war with such a high-risk/low-reward outcome. It was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Period.

Combat operations finally ended (for realsies) in 2010, seven-plus years after President Bush declared major combat operations over ("Mission Accomplished!"). Looking back, it's still hard to believe it was ever allowed to happen. But thanks to an aggressive public campaign by the Bush Administration, along with the combination of a compliant, enabling media (and the cheerleading Conservative media complex driving the news coverage) and an apathetic populace far removed from the the consequences of decisions about war these days, it ultimately was sold and carried out much more easily than it should have been.

Anyway, here are some numbers to consider (all figures based on latest data as of 2011-2012):

Total costs of the was as of 2013: $2.2T

Total future costs of the war (including estimated post-war costs for veterans' health care, benefits, and interest on the debt): $3T to $4T.

Total casualties:
- at least 4,487 US combat casualties
- at least 32,223 US soldiers seriously wounded
- at least 318 coalition forces casualties
- at least 1,487 contractor casualties

And per the IBC (Iraq Body Count project):
- approximately 110,000-120,000 Iraqi civilian casualties
- approximately 70,000-100,000 Iraqi combatant casualties
- at least 42,500 Iraqi civilian injuries

Other features of the war:
- No WMD were ever found
- strengthened Iran's position in the region
- caused more instability in the region
- took attention and resources away from the war in Afghanistan and the Pakistan border
- harmed America's reputation in the world and strained relationships with European allies.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Would Ray Lewis Have a Job on ESPN If....?

Former Ravens great, Ray Lewis (Larry French/Getty Images)

It was officially announced this week that Ray Lewis will be joining ESPN next season. As a football fan, I'm not sure how much football analysis Ray Lewis will add to a network that's already pretty light on actual analysis and more heavy on personalities. Lewis is certainly a personality and that's probably why he was hired. Love him or hate him, and there's few people in between, enough people will watch either way.

I have a rather complicated view of Ray Lewis. On one hand, as a football fan, I think he and Lawrence Taylor are the two best linebackers I've ever seen. And Lewis may be the last of a dying breed of every-down, inside/middle linebackers in an increasingly pass-first league. I enjoyed watching Lewis play for many years. And when it comes to what happened on January 31, 2000 in Atlanta, I do feel the truth is probably closest to the story Ray Lewis has told over the years.

But here's another thought on Ray Lewis. Could you imagine Ray Lewis having any chance of getting a very high-profile TV job on the nation's #1 sports network had he been charged with another major crime against anyone of any nature except the murder/manslaughter of two young black males? In any other scenario wouldn't some interest group be protesting the hiring? Even if you accept the scenario where Lewis was just present at the scene of the crime, helped his friends cover up the crime, and then obstructed the investigation, that is still a lot of baggage for any major network to take on, unless....

If the victims were white, would he be on TV? Maybe. But if his victims were white, there's probably a good chance he and his two friends would be in jail right now, based on the much higher arrest, prosecution, and conviction rates of black on white crime vs. black on black crime.

If he was involved in any sort of domestic violence toward a female, child, or pet, there's very little chance he'd be on TV.  If he had been involved in a sexual assault or a DUI that killed someone, there's little chance he'd be on TV.

Young black males are the most invisible demographic group to the rest of mainstream America. That's why it was such a notable positive development last year when the Trayvon Martin case received so much attention. The unemployment rate among young black males is a national embarrassment for our country, yet it is almost never discussed, as if it doesn't exist. It's a problem no one in power really has an incentive to solve because this demographic group is practically invisible. And when the media does shine a light on this invisible group it is usually in the context of athletics, entertainment, or crime.

Lewis should get credit for the positive impact he's made on people's lives since that night and for turning his own life around, but ultimately his turnaround and career trajectory since then can be attributed more to the demographics of the victims in the incident than anything else.

So as ESPN Magazine might put it, what if the victims in the incident were white?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Our House Burned Down, So Let's Worry About Our Electric Bill

Pundits love framing discussion about the deficit in the same terms as household budgets. And while I don't find that framing very useful and at times purposefully obtuse, here's my stab at it.

About four-and-a-half years ago your family's house was on fire. Your neighborhood fire department took the necessary steps to contain and eventually put out the fire. But your house suffered severe damages that were in need of repair. So you borrowed some money to make minimal repairs and got the house back to the point that you could sort of live in it again.

But it still needs a lot of work, including repairing a leaky roof. You have some debt, but it's manageable debt. In fact, the bank at the corner is still willing to lend you a lot of money and will do so at practically 0% interest because you are such a sure bet to repay it. So would you borrow some more money to finish fixing up the house now?  Or...would you spend 2-3 years singularly focused on reducing your electric bill and food expenses, and cutting junior's weekend art and music expenses, in hopes of slightly improving your debt holdings over the next 20 years?

And you'd be doing this because you are worried about how much debt you will have 15-20 years from now, even though the biggest driver of your debt happens to be your mortgage and education costs - neither of which are addressed in any of your household budget plans.

That in a nutshell is what has happened with the financial crisis/Great Recession and the ensuing fiscal debate that has been taking place in Washington the past 3 years. Our house was on fire (financial meltdown, over-leveraged household debt) and the fire is out and we still have a lot of work to do (economic growth, high unemployment). But we're focusing on debt instead and ignoring the biggest drivers of debt (health care costs, particularly Medicare).

This week both Paul Ryan and Senate Democrats both plan to release balanced budget plans, as if balancing the budget is an end unto itself. If balancing the budget in 10-20 years would lead to huge economic growth and job creation, it'd make more sense. But almost every economist predicts that any attempt at drastic spending reductions now would hurt economic growth and probably send us back into recession.

Here was Ben Bernanke a few weeks ago explaining Economics 101 to everyone else in Washington:

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Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Power of Inequality

Below is a graph I've seen previously and it was re-aired on The Rachel Maddow Show (embedded below) this week showing the difference between actual, estimated, and ideal wealth distribution.

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The lower two estimated and ideal bars were derived based on polling the American people on what they perceived wealth distribution was and what they would like it to be. All these numbers were as of 2010 (so it's likely gotten slightly more lopsided since then).

As you can see, the difference between what was estimated and the ideal is still pretty far apart. But if that was the actual, the problem of income inequality would be greatly diminished. The problem is the top bar is reality. The top 20% owns about 85% of the wealth and the top 40% owns about 95% of the wealth. The bottom 40% basically has no wealth. And this disparity grows every year.

This also highlights the real class warfare that has been occurring right in front of our eyes. Every time additional tax revenues are asked of the richest 5% or the largest corporations, they claim class warfare. But yet much of our politics of the last 40 years can be understood through the prism of dividing the bottom 80% of the wage earners into fighting over the remaining scraps. The middle class is pitted against the poor when it comes to paying taxes or receiving government benefits, while the top 1-5% just glide along above the fray.

Perhaps if Americans were reminded daily of what the actual wealth distribution is, they'd be more supportive of policies that were rooted in redistribution or at least in higher taxation on the wealthy and more investment in the programs that could help provide more opportunities for the bottom 60% to ascend into the top 20%.

Deficit reduction is often framed in moral terms about living within our means and leaving behind a debt-free nation to our grandchildren. If the numbers above don't stir up a moral crisis within you, then the deficit never should.

Update: Here's a great post on Mother Jones from two years ago if you would like to see more graphs on this topic.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It Takes a Sequestration of Billions to Hold the U.S. Back

If you've been following the story on the budget sequester cuts, you've probably heard about how most economists predict it will result in yet another self-inflicted wound to the economy. The following graph from the Bipartisan Policy Center sums up the projected effects of the sequester cuts:

The budget sequester: not simply just a public sector enemy...

Here's another graph from the Bipartisan Policy Center showing how little these sequester cuts will actually change our long-term budget picture.

Interestingly, some economic analysts like Matt Yglesias, have argued that liberals should learn to love the sequestration cuts because roughly 50% of the reductions are cuts to Defense:

The thinking is this frees up the budget in the future to address other liberal priorities. I'm a little skeptical of this reasoning, though, since Defense spending ultimately always seems to increase. But funding for programs like Head Start, et al, may not be re-appropriated, even during boom times. Again, the best solution is to do none of the cuts right now.

If the economy does stall badly or even slips back into recession it won't be due to unforeseen circumstances; it will be because of misguided policy choices. History will not be kind to the elected officials who decided, in spite of high long-term unemployment and borrowing costs near 0% (yes, American debt repayment is considered such a sure thing to the rest of the world that they are willing to lend us money at practically 0% interest), that long-term fiscal policy was more important than short-term economic growth and job creation.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Mission of Boehner

The ballad of Johnny Boehner (swampland.time.com)

People will blame Congressional Republicans much more than President Obama and Congressional Democrats by wide margins, according to recent polls, if the sequestration cuts take place and the economy lags.

In spite of a last minute attempt to re-brand these unpopular spending cuts as Obama's cuts (pictured above*), the public is not falling for it. The Republican party has spent four years preaching austerity. You can't suddenly reverse yourself and have any credibility on the issue. That was their brand and Speaker Boehner and the Tea Party was boasting about these budget cuts not too long ago. And at the time Boehner said he got 98% of what he wanted.

This is yet another reminder that the ideology the Republicans have espoused in recent years is incredibly unpopular outside the bubble. So Boehner and the GOP's goal now is to try to shift the blame to President Obama.

Good luck with that.

* Is this the first time a political re-branding campaign had the slogan represented by a Twitter hashtag?

I'm Back


Shortly after the election in November, I figured it was a good time to take a break from blogging and tweeting about politics for a little while.  I thought it'd be "a few weeks", but then in between Thanksgiving and the Christmas holiday, I had a bout with the flu. So between that, and a combination of an increased workload at my day job, the NFL playoffs (priorities!), and simply just not having anything witty to add to the daily political conversation has resulted in three months of inactivity.

Anyhow, I'm back again now. And I hope to post much more frequently. So please keep checking back from time to time and continue following me on Twitter. Thanks for reading.