Friday, August 6, 2010

On Being Shrill and Rude

Ezra Klein: The political logic of job losses

Matt Yglesias puts a finer point on the political history behind, and electoral implications of, today's jobs report:

The losses came from the public sector. And they were foreseeable. And they were foreseen by the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate and the majority of House members and a majority of Senators. And the President of the United States and the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the Majority Leader of the United States Senate and the majority of House members and a majority of Senators voted for bills that would have prevented that. But because in the Senate a minority of members can get their way, action wasn’t taken. Consequently, we have a horrible jobs number. Which would be bad enough, but the way the American political system works, the minority party that prevented the majority from addressing the crisis will accrue massive political benefits as a result of the collapse.

Conservatives won’t admit it today, but what we’re looking at is a major breakdown of the logic of the American political system.

Kay (BJ): Elizabeth Warren Is (Still) Not Shrill
Before Elizabeth Warren was a potential nominee to run the new Bureau of Consumer Financial Protection, she once wore a lesser-known hat: blogger. The Harvard Law School professor was one of the founding writers of CreditSlips, a blog that’s “a discussion on credit, finance and bankruptcy.” Her posts ended shortly after she headed to Washington in the fall of 2008 to head the Congressional Oversight Panel, monitoring TARP. Law and bankruptcy scholars, as well as lay consumer finance junkies make up the blog’s core audience, which serves as a digital water cooler for Warren and her colleagues.

The contributors lean decidedly pro-consumer, which is refreshing. They somehow missed the national directive that said every advocate has a duty to make the other side’s argument. They must believe (sensibly) that lenders have millions of dollars in advertising and an army of lobbyists to “tell their side of the story”.


DougJ: Rude boy

Krugman attacks Paul Ryan’s “roadmap” quite savagely here. Krugman is the only major pundit I enjoy reading—because he enjoys being a rude asshole when rude assholery is called for, as it so often is.

This brings me to another question I have for Erik: why are the vast majority of writers for official publications (such as True/Slant) so excessively polite to one another? Why is everything “I have great respect for Jeff Golberg” and “Megan makes a great point here” and “Matt Steinglass makes a good point about Noah Millman’s rejoinder to Jim Manzi”? Why isn’t there more of “so-and-so said something really stupid, here’s why it’s stupid, and sadly this kind of stupidity is all too typical of this writer”?

For example, I read Megan McArdle every day and her posts are often—I won’t say invariably—filled with the worst sort of silliness, e.g. “all that carbon used to be in the atmosphere so how could it be bad to put back in the atmosphere”, “my calculator doesn’t go into the billions”, etc. Why do all you official publication types insist on taking her seriously?

That’s just one example. I can think of many others. Why the big, clubby, collegial atmosphere? It’s worse than the faculty club.

Krugman: The Flimflam Man

One depressing aspect of American politics is the susceptibility of the political and media establishment to charlatans. You might have thought, given past experience, that D.C. insiders would be on their guard against conservatives with grandiose plans. But no: as long as someone on the right claims to have bold new proposals, he’s hailed as an innovative thinker. And nobody checks his arithmetic.

Which brings me to the innovative thinker du jour: Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

Mr. Ryan has become the Republican Party’s poster child for new ideas thanks to his “Roadmap for America’s Future,” a plan for a major overhaul of federal spending and taxes. News media coverage has been overwhelmingly favorable; on Monday, The Washington Post put a glowing profile of Mr. Ryan on its front page, portraying him as the G.O.P.’s fiscal conscience. He’s often described with phrases like “intellectually audacious.”

But it’s the audacity of dopes. Mr. Ryan isn’t offering fresh food for thought; he’s serving up leftovers from the 1990s, drenched in flimflam sauce.

Mr. Ryan’s plan calls for steep cuts in both spending and taxes. He’d have you believe that the combined effect would be much lower budget deficits, and, according to that Washington Post report, he speaks about deficits “in apocalyptic terms.” And The Post also tells us that his plan would, indeed, sharply reduce the flow of red ink: “The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan would cut the budget deficit in half by 2020.”

But the budget office has done no such thing. At Mr. Ryan’s request, it produced an estimate of the budget effects of his proposed spending cuts — period. It didn’t address the revenue losses from his tax cuts.

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.

And that’s about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn’t — the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.

And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.

Finally, let’s talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn’t say.

After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the same plan Newt Gingrich tried to sell in 1995.

And we already know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage. Wealthy older Americans would be able to supplement their vouchers, and get the care they need; everyone else would be out in the cold.

In practice, that probably wouldn’t happen: older Americans would be outraged — and they vote. But this means that the supposed budget savings from the Ryan plan are a sham.

So why have so many in Washington, especially in the news media, been taken in by this flimflam? It’s not just inability to do the math, although that’s part of it. There’s also the unwillingness of self-styled centrists to face up to the realities of the modern Republican Party; they want to pretend, in the teeth of overwhelming evidence, that there are still people in the G.O.P. making sense. And last but not least, there’s deference to power — the G.O.P. is a resurgent political force, so one mustn’t point out that its intellectual heroes have no clothes.

But they don’t. The Ryan plan is a fraud that makes no useful contribution to the debate over America’s fiscal future.

John Cole: Something New and Original
Oh. Look. James Pethokoukis is making shit up again. Why people with track records like this are given any attention is beyond me.
Marshall: Requiem for the Crazy (tm)

For weeks the second and third place candidates for the Tennessee Republican gubernatorial nomination have been battling it out to see if they could say something crazy enough to take the lead away from Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam.

Rep. Zach Wamp threatened to have Tennessee secede from the United States over Health Care Reform unless voters force its repeal before 2012. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the 1st Amendment may not apply to Islam since its a cult and not a religion.

Tonight though the relatively moderate Haslam crushed Wamp and Ramsey, beating first runner up Wamp by 19 points.

Marshall: On a Mission from God

I'm not sure which is weirder.

That something like everybody in Nevada public life -- including a growing and reasonably substantial number of Republicans -- are coming out for Harry Reid and against Sharron Angle.

Or that Sharron Angle could very well still win in November.

Now Lois Tarkanian, wife of the former UNLV coach and mother of Danny Tarkanian, who Angle beat in the primary, is going to campaign tomorrow with Reid to "call out Sharron Angle's extreme and dangerous positions against Nevada's working families."

Kleefeld (TPM): GOP Rep. Inglis Tells CNN About Crazy Right-Wingers Who Ousted Him (VIDEO)

Rep. Bob Inglis (R-SC), who lost his primary on June 22 by a whopping 71%-29% margin, appeared on CNN this afternoon to further discuss the forces that took him out of office: Crazy right-wing conspiracy theories, and his inability and refusal to go along with it.

CNN host Rick Sanchez went over a recent piece on Inglis in Mother Jones, in which Inglis talked about the crazies that he would come across on the campaign trail.

Sanchez read from Inglis's recollection of a conversation with some voters: "'Bob, what don't you get? Barack Obama is a socialist, communist Marxist who wants to destroy the American economy so he can take over as dictator. Health care is part of that. And he wants to open up the Mexican border and turn [the US] into a Muslim nation.'"

Sanchez asked Inglis who these people were. And in response, Inglis conceded he might have done better politically had he humored them.

"That was several 80-year-old couples that were expressing their views. And you know, what I should have said was, 'Over my dead body that's gonna happen. I can guarantee it's not gonna happen,'" said Inglis. "That would have been the better answer, wouldn't it? Rather than the one I gave, which is, 'Well it's not quite that bad, let's keep it within the realm of facts.'"

Sanchez read from another excerpt: "'I sat down, and they said on the back of your Social Security card, there's a number. That number indicates the bank that bought you when you were born based on a projection of your life's earnings' -- I'm gonna try and not laugh here -- 'and you are collateral. We are all collateral for the banks. I have this look like, 'What the heck are you talking about?' I'm trying to hide that look and look clueless. I figured clueless was better than argumentative. So they said, 'You don't know this?! You are a member of Congress, and you don't know this?!'"

Inglis responded: "Well you know, I think that my colleague put it well to me last week. She said that her father used to tell her, 'Leaders can either lead -- or mislead.' And you know, if you're gonna lead, you need to lead with facts. And you need to help people the realities that we face."

In light of the latest discouraging jobs report -- the third consecutive month in which the job totals were disappointing -- there's an obvious course ahead. Heidi Shierholz, an economist from the Economic Policy Institute, said, "The economic case for more government action to create jobs is about as clear as they come."

Right. It's painfully obvious. The problem is staring us right in the face. And yet, nothing will happen because our political system is such a mess.

Significant action in the Senate is obviously out of the question, since the chamber is largely paralyzed. But the House has its own problem -- panicky Democrats who are afraid to do the right thing. Politico reports that some of these hand-wringing Dems might even be afraid to help save school teachers' jobs next week.

When the House returns next week to rubber-stamp the Senate's $26 billion state-aid package, Democrats will take a political crapshoot.

Even though party leaders expect that approval will be a slam-dunk, some early responses from rank-and-file Democrats have raised red flags about the optics of returning to a special session to vote on more spending -- even if it's framed as saving teachers' jobs.

The risk for Democrats as they seek to bolster their flagging election prospects is that some of their vulnerable members will feel like they have to walk the plank, yet again, on a politically unpopular economic-stimulus agenda, while reminding voters of their failure to handle routine budget work this year.

This really is crazy. With the economy sputtering, here's a bill that will help prevent tens of thousands of layoffs, including school teachers and firefighters. It's paid for, and won't add a dime to the deficit. It enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate, and even Ben Nelson voted for it.

But for some panicky House Dems, saving jobs means spending money, and "spending = bad." Why? Because Republicans say so.

This need not be complicated. These frightened Democrats think spending is unpopular? Here's something that's more unpopular -- unemployment and an economy moving in the wrong direction. Republicans have these Dems so rattled, they're afraid of the disease and the cure.

Passing the state-aid bill should be the easiest of no-brainers, but the fact that even this is problematic makes ambitious policymaking impossible. Ideally, right now, Democrats should be preparing a massive jobs bill, without any concern at all for the deficit. When asked if they consider job growth more important than the deficit, Dems should be bold about it: "You're damn right we do."

None of this will happen; economic conditions will drag Democrats down further; and Republicans who are hopelessly backwards about the basics will be rewarded for their dangerous ignorance.


President Obama has spent a fair amount of time the last couple of weeks talking up the rejuvenation of the American auto industry. There's obviously some political elements to the effort -- the White House wants to emphasize good economic news where it can be found, and more importantly, it wants to remind the public that at a moment of crisis last year, Obama was right about the industry rescue and Republicans were wrong.

With that in mind, the president visited a Ford plant in Illinois yesterday, and continued to tout the success story. A Democratic official alerted me to an inexplicable reaction from House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.).

"So as President Obama prepares to take another victory lap, who exactly is President Obama celebrating with?" asked a statement issued by the office of Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip.

I don't know, Eric, shouldn't you be celebrating with him?

Look, I know it's an election season, and I know Eric Cantor isn't the sharpest crayon in the box. But the easiest, most basic form of patriotism is taking at least some pleasure when good things happen to your country.

In this case, thanks to the Obama administration, the industry has added 55,000 jobs -- the best growth in the industry in over a decade. All three American automakers are operating at a profit for the first time since 2004.

Sure, Republicans don't want to talk about this -- in part because good news interferes with their election strategy, and in part because this progress wouldn't have happened if they were in charge last year. Indeed, if we'd listened to Cantor and his cohorts, the American auto industry would be left in shambles, hundreds of thousands of jobs would be lost, and the backbone of American manufacturing would have been broken. At a moment of crisis, Republicans had it backwards.

But that's no excuse for Cantor's petty partisanship. Who is President Obama celebrating with? The workers who have jobs that would have been lost, the plants that are humming that would have been shut down, the regional economies that couldn't have sustained another hit, and the entire industry that would have very likely collapsed were it not for Obama's intervention.

The question isn't why the president is celebrating good news; the question is why Eric Cantor chooses not to.

Republicans rooting for American failure is unseemly. I'd hoped Cantor & Co. realized that by now.

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