Dialing up the crazy

A friend put the following graphic on his Facebook page.

Reality impaired, as expected

There’s as much nonsense there as might be expected considering the source.  But it’s worth looking at a few things point by point to better understand how the Tea Party views itself, as well as their misunderstanding both of the Occupy movement, as well as economics and government in general.

Let’s start with the first line.  It says, “Government collusion with special interests is an OUTRAGE!”  Screaming capitals in the original.  This is nonsense.  In the vernacular “special interest” means “any group to which I do not personally belong.”  Americans have the right to assemble, the right to speak, and the right to petition their government.  If a group of people with a common interest choose to pool their resources to advocate more effectively they are within their rights to do so.

We run into trouble in two places.  1) transparency.  If you lobby in the public arena you should expect your involvement to be public knowledge.  Unfortunately federal disclosure laws have been neutered recently though many states still have fairly rigorous requirements.  2) Limitations on direct contributions.  The infamous Citizens United case against contribution limits has blown the doors off the bank and the money will be rolling in, often without adequate disclosure. I agree it’s a bad thing but Tea Party antipathy is puzzling – their buddies Thomas and Scalia delivered precisely what the Tea Party’s corporate patrons have been seeking.   Unfortunately it will probably take a constitutional amendment to fix this given the state of affairs.

Next line, “Government shouldn’t give special treatment to favored business.”  Well, it’s a catchy line but I don’t see any reason to believe either the right or the left actually believes this.  Neither side governs that way, American business is always protected and always favored.

Then, we find “The Bailouts were WRONG,” again with screaming caps.  There is much to be criticized in how governments the world over have responded to the financial crisis.  But if government intervention was wrong, does that mean allowing the unnecessary collapse of the world economy was right?  This is the same logic by which children are left to die of cancer rather than seeking medical treatment, and is not to be taken seriously.  The problem is not that government acted, but that it didn’t tie enough strings.  We STILL have financial organizations which are too big to fail.  We have yet to see any prosecutions for the outright fraud that dominated the financial sector for years.  THAT is why people are upset.

Now we have finished where these particular Tea Party types think the causes are in agreement.  First line of divergence is Break vs. Fix the system.  Again they err, both believe the system is broken.  Where they disagree is on the nature of the problem and the solutions.

Now on bailouts, supposedly the left says “we should be bailed out too” while the tea party says nobody should be bailed out.  The point Occupy makes here is the inherent unfairness in government focus – directly at Wall Street rather than Main Street and with policies that encourage concentration of wealth rather than growth of the middle class.  Meanwhile the Tea Party types want the government to keep their damned socialist hands off their medicare.

Get money out of politics vs. getting politics out of money.  Idiocy on the face of it of course.  Government policy affects business in so many was, you simply can’t get “politics” out of it.  You can, and should, protect the middle class from the plutocracy.

Then we come to the old canard about “other people’s money” vs. “keep my own money”.  Civilization comes at a cost and nobody does it completely on their own.  The line above then refers to spending money we don’t have.  For both we really can’t improve on Elizabeth Warren’s infamous viral video on the social contract, and on the cost of doing things the Republican way.

The next comparison is increase government power over the economy vs. reduce government power over the free market.  For starters, the economy and the free market are not the same thing, and many of the problems we have faced from the financial meltdown to the BP disaster in the Gulf to tainted food killing people comes about from too LITTLE obersight of the market, not too much.

Another stereotypical contrast is “tax the evil fat cats” vs. Taxed Enough Already.  This falls apart when reviewed in the context of reality.  You have as many if not more wealthy liberals and the problem is income inequality and the decline of the middle class, not that wealth is inherently evil.  As long as the radical right misunderstands this distinction they will continue to miss the point completely.  As for taxed enough, taxes are at their lowest rates in fifty years, we’ve run up trillions in debt demanding services yet refusing to pay for them, and we now suffer the consequences.  Our infrastructure is decaying.  Our schools are crowded and underfunded.  Some cities are failing to replaced burnt out street lamps and some counties are tearing up paved roads, making them back to dirt and gravel, due to budget constraints.  We used to be a nation that did things.  We built the Interstate highway system. We built Hoover Dam.  We went to the moon.  Nothing like that is remotely possible in today’s political climate, and it’s a shame.

The capstone is “replace” vs. “restore” the Constitution.  Restoring the Constitution is precisely what the Occupy crowd has in mind, and the tea party pretensions to “own” the Constitution or have magical dispensation toward its understanding is little more than hubris padded by asshattery.  It’s well documented that when it comes to the Constitution, they simply are poorly informed.  Sadly, they don’t know history either.

All in all, a poorly thought out piece of propaganda, certain to please the intended audience but doing little to contribute to the discussion or to educate.


Into the abyss

And so the shutdown begins.  The GOP controlling the Minnesota legislature has demanded complete capitulation to their agenda and if they don’t get it they’re perfectly willing to drive off the cliff.  This should be viewed as educational given current goings on in Washington DC as things portend badly both for the ongoing debt limit discussions, and the next budgetary cycle in general.

Yesterday the Monica Davey wrote in the New York Times about how Minnesota may be ungovernable.   University of Minnesota political scientist Lawrence Jacobs is quoted:

It’s a very sad day for Minnesota.  It’s a state that had a well-earned reputation for being well governed where, at the end of the day, politics were done in a fair and efficient manner. And it’s now on the cusp of ungovernability. There’s a new ethic here that compromise is weakness.

Well….let’s be clear about a few things.  The GOP has not come to govern, they have come to burn down the house. With billions of dollars separating the legislature from the governor in final budgetary negotiations, they offer $200 million in adjustments as a compromise while demanding it be deducted elsewhere, and pretend they have given up the keys to the ranch.  Meanwhile Governor Dayton has reduced his budgetary request by over $2 billion and wisely refuses to go any lower.

MNPublius has a good graphic which shows what’s really going in with the respective negotiating positions and how much each side in the debate has offered.  The Minnesota GOP refuses to allow even the smallest tax increase even upon those making over $1 million a year – despite the fact that the wealthiest pay a significantly smaller share of their income in state taxes than do the poor and middle class.

Republicans refuse to negotiate in good faithAs it became apparent a compromise would not be reached the “cone of silence” over negotiations collapsed and the details of competing offers are not pretty.  The Star Tribune reports part of the GOP offerings included over $700 million in deferred payments to Minnesota school districts – this on top of the roughly $1.5 billion in “deferred” payments we know the schools will never see, and issuing “tobacco bonds”, adding to the state’s debt without clear benefit as with infrastructure, etc.

Talks also broke down because of Republican insistence on inserting policy provisions – voter ID requirements, abortion restrictions, etc. – into what should be clean budgetary bills.

Presidential wannabe Tim “hard times in the land of” Pawlenty presided over Minnesota’s desperate race to the bottom.  He kicked the can down the road time and time again, unwilling to demonstrate the leadership and political courage necessary to undo the damage he initiated as majority leader in the Minnesota House.  Minnesota used to be a national leader in health, education, job creation, innovation – now we’re middle of the pack, and only because the GOP hasn’t turned us into Mississippi.  Yet.  But they’re still trying.

Kudos to Governor Mark Dayton, who’s turning out to be a lot stronger and smarter than any of us anticipated, on standing firm and protecting Minnesota’s heritage of effective, responsible government.

The state government is now running with a skeleton crew – just a few essential services such as prisons and the state patrol are operating.  It will be interesting to see how long this lasts, but let there be no confusion.  Negotiation and compromise takes two parties EQUALLY willing to participate.  Thus far the GOP proposals have been a joke.  They must do better.  Minnesota demands no less.


Framing the debate

This, which has gone viral on Facebook, about covers it:

A public union employee, a tea party activist and a CEO are sitting at a table with a plate of a dozen cookies in the middle of it. The CEO takes 11 of the cookies, turns to the tea partier and says, “Watch out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie.”

What’s in a name?

Depression, recession, it’s all the same isn’t it?

Positive gross domestic product readings and other mildly hopeful signs are masking an ugly truth: The US economy is in a 1930s-style Depression, Gluskin Sheff economist David Rosenberg said Tuesday.

Well, of course it’s NOT all the same, but perhaps realization that this isn’t just another recession might light a fire under some in Washington?

The stimulus worked

Another update from the CBO, showing yet again, that the stimulus, albeit too small, worked.

President Obama’s much-maligned economic stimulus package added as many as 3.3 million jobs to the economy during the second quarter of this year, and may have prevented the nation from lapsing back into recession, according to a report released Tuesday by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.

In its latest quarterly assessment of the act, the CBO said the stimulus lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.7 and 1.8 percentage points during the quarter ending in June and increased the number of people employed by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million. The higher figure would come close to making good on Obama’s pledge that the act would save or create as many as 3.5 million jobs by the end of this year.

It could have been worse

Much, much worse.  Follow the link to the charts.  Without the stimulus things would have gotten even nastier, and the data justifies the notion that the stimulus should have been larger.

The electorate, of course, rewards actual conditions, not conditions relative to a hypothetical scenario in which ameliorative policies weren’t adopted. But it’s evidence that there’s no actionable coherence clause in American politics that critics of the stimulus can argue against the effort on the grounds that joblessness is too high. If you think joblessness is too high and something should be done to lower it, then you think we should have more stimulus, not less.


Why the selectivity?

Nate Silver asks why we tolerate the inefficiency in health care that would be banished in any other industry.

We wouldn’t tolerate $7 trillion sort of inefficiency and loss if resulted from a tax increase or proposed business regulation. Wouldn’t Grover Norquist and his gang be screaming tirelessly, perhaps with cause? Yet as a nation we sit back passively and allow our capitalist economy to be hobbled by solvable problems with the most important infrastructural input of all: the labors of the American workforce. What’s amazing is that American workers today work longer hours and are more productive than earlier generations of workers–despite our health problems.

When the government does or doesn’t do something that is bad for American capitalism, relevant business interests step to the fore to correct the problem. “The business of America is business,” is the famous misquote from Ronald Reagan’s favorite president, Cal Coolidge. So why hasn’t corporate America stepped forward–long before Barack Obama even arrived on the national scene–to complain about the business inefficiencies of an unhealthy citizenry?