Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Michele Bachmann Announces Retirement, Liberal Blogosphere Goes Dark

Earlier today Bachmann admitted Iowa corn dogs played role in retirement decision.

In a shocking development no progressive blogger could have predicted, Minnesota congresswoman Michele Bachmann announced she would not seek reelection. She intends to serve out her term, which ends in 2014.

One after another, in a space of a few hours, liberal bloggers across the nation announced they'd be shuttering their websites, as most couldn't imagine life without Bachmann to kick around. Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo averred, "We've had a good ride, but frankly, with Michele gone, what's left to write about, John Boehner? Gimme a break!"

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos was one holdout, but even he wasn't sure what lay in the future. "I don't know, we're stunned here at DK. I've been talking to staffers, and we've decided not to close up shop until after an editorial staff meeting called for tomorrow. Still, I gotta be blunt: The wind's just sorta out of our sails."

Moulitsas seemed adrift, from this reporter's perspective.

Duncan Black, who blogs under the name of Atrios at Eschaton, a longtime opponent of wingnuts,saw it differently. "I'm hanging in there," the Philadelphia-based blogger insisted. "I've got the bike wars heating up in NYC, not to mention that there's still a Congress in DC that's pretty f**ked up!" He admitted, though, writing about a body that never did anything was wearing thin. "Still, something's bound to come up," Black offered before cracking up.

That's where matters stood until late this afternoon when a spokesman for Texas senator Ted Cruz issued a statement that read in part, "Senator Cruz has volunteered to continue providing a steady stream of dizzying, mindbendingly, fundamentally wrong, untrue, or completely unfounded statements, such that our nation will not suffer a 'Bachmann gap.' The senator promises our country can count on him to more than take up where Michele Bachmann left off."

With that, the series of disheartened lefty bloggers turned on a dime. "We are f'ing back!" declared TPM's Josh Marshall. Markos Moulitsas announced the editorial meeting called for tomorrow would be put off indefinitely. Eschaton's Duncan Black said simply, "What Ted Cruz said."

And bells rang out across the land.

"Only a man of Ted Cruz' stature could fill Bachmann's shoes," offered William Krystol.

Breeding the Nutrition Out of Our Food

Corn healthy for us? Yes, but the more color the better.

I've been worried about my diet and wondering if over the years we'd possibly damaged the nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables because of modern agricultural techniques. Of course, I should have worried more and wondered less -- and it might have helped if I'd have done the research sooner.

Now, I got lucky and a friend posted a link on facebook (thanks, Karen!) to this article in the New York Times. It turns out that we've been breeding the wholesomeness out of foods for centuries:
Were the people who foraged for these wild foods healthier than we are today? They did not live nearly as long as we do, but growing evidence suggests that they were much less likely to die from degenerative diseases, even the minority who lived 70 years and more. The primary cause of death for most adults, according to anthropologists, was injury and infections.
Each fruit and vegetable in our stores has a unique history of nutrient loss, I’ve discovered, but there are two common themes. Throughout the ages, our farming ancestors have chosen the least bitter plants to grow in their gardens. It is now known that many of the most beneficial phytonutrients have a bitter, sour or astringent taste. Second, early farmers favored plants that were relatively low in fiber and high in sugar, starch and oil. These energy-dense plants were pleasurable to eat and provided the calories needed to fuel a strenuous lifestyle. The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became, however, the less advantageous they were for our health.
So, while I, along with many others, have a deep-seated (almost wrote deep-seeded, but...) distaste for Monsanto and any outfit that thinks it can patent mutations, we unfortunately should reserve our contempt for the many agriculturalists through the ages who made our food taste better and become less nutritious.

Oh, and Barack Obama was on to something with his early, early "gaffe" concerning arugula. Apparently arugula is one of those bitter leafy vegetables that are, health-wise, much superior to, say, iceberg lettuce. Go figure.

(h/t Michelle Malkin) Oh, and Michelle, bite my arugula!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

To Do or Not to Do, That Is the Question...

When Boehner figures out how to actually do something -- wait, it's impossible.

So points out Charles P. Pierce in Esquire this morning:
I don't believe there ever has been a time like this in our history. We have had periods of severe political polarization before, but those were periods in which the government was polarized because of conflicting ideas of what the national government should do. Right now, we have a polarization based on the fact that an uncontrollable faction of one of our two political parties — a faction with its own sources of money and power that exist outside conventional political accountability — has decided that the only thing that the national government should do is nothing, a faction that is perfectly situated to make that at least part of a political reality, and a faction that is growing even faster out in the states than it is in Washington. What is leadership if there's more political profit in ignoring your leaders than in being led? Who, in that case, rules? The truly terrifying answer to that is that nobody does. Or, at least, nobody who is elected does.
(h/t Atrios)

Then Paul Krugman counters R&R -- for the umpteenth time -- by trying to figure out what they do recommend that Europe do, fer chrissake:
Their point is that Germany appears to be near full employment, so that fiscal expansion would be inflationary there. And they call for expansionary monetary policy instead.
OK, this baffles me, on two-and-a-half levels.
First, the half level: what, exactly, does it mean to call for expansionary monetary policy by the ECB? Like other major central banks, the ECB has near-zero policy rates, so we’re talking about some kind of unconventional monetary policy. Are we supposed to envision the ECB doing huge purchases of unconventional assets (over and above what it’s already doing in the form of lending to banks against sovereign debt and the promise of outright monetary transactions if necessary)? Alternatively, are we supposed to see a European version of Abenomics, with the ECB credibly committing to a higher inflation target? Both are strategies worth trying, but of uncertain effect — and both would surely be viewed as anathema by the Germans.
 Indeed. So we're back to doing nothing. Is this fiddling while Rome (and Athens, and Madrid, and Lisbon) burns? Maybe.

Darrell Issa has a plan: more non-scandals!

Yes, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-thepitsofhell) has a plan for real sustainable action: subpoena Secretary of State John Kerry for more documents on Benghazi:
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) issued a subpoena Tuesday in order to obtain documents related to talking points the administration used in the aftermath of the Benghazi, Libya attacks, which he writes the State Department has refused to provide upon his previous requests.
In his letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, Issa states that the "State Department has not lived up to the Administration’s broad and unambiguous promises of cooperation with Congress. Therefore, I am left with no alternative but to compel the State Department to produce relevant documents through a subpoena."
Some bright stars in the firmament might suspect that Darrell Issa thinks scowling is actually doing something, and I'm sure the dim bulbs in his caucus think it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if six months from now Benghazi will be remembered not as a scandal but as South American dance step or a muscle relaxant.

But that's okay because then it'll be time for -- drum roll! -- the debt ceiling!! And that's when the freaks in the clown car will really come flying out.

Oh boy. There's a new clown in town, and his game is to make doing something really, really hard.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Paul Krugman et al Support My View -- by Accident

Update. The point of this post and recent other ones is not simply to bash conservatives. It's to examine and then explain why they're bringing nothing to the table. Once that fact is clear, at least we know -- those of us who hope for progress in solving societal challenges -- what we're up against and in which direction solutions might lie.

Paul Krugman, Jonathan Chait, and Mike Konczal write various articles or posts today that support my previous post -- coincidentally, of course, because they don't know me (I did meet and spend a little time with Paul Krugman seven years ago, though he probably remembers me about as well as he does a C student, say, from seven years ago).

It is, though, heartening to see important figures centering in on a point I find important, which is that rhetoric is meaningless if there is no policy position, commitment, or implication for the real world, and if there is, then there's no value if that implication is largely negative, solving no problem whatsoever.

Krugman makes the point that faux-reformists among conservative pundits contribute nothing of actual substance:
So? You could, as I said, take the “liberal” position on each of these issues while still being conservative in the sense that you want a smaller government. But what the “reformish” conservatives Ryan Cooper lists do, in almost all cases, is either (a) to follow the party line on these issues or (b) to hint at some flexibility – and thereby cultivate an image of being open-minded — as long as the issues don’t get close to an actual policy decision, but to always find a way to support the Republican position whenever it actually matters.
But aren’t there people like Bruce Bartlett or Josh Barro who really do break with the party line on some or all of these issues? Yes, but they are then immediately branded as “no longer conservatives”, in a sort of inverted version of the none-dare-call-it-treason effect.
The point is that there remains essentially no room for independent thinking within the conservative movement.
Could you say the same thing about liberals? I don’t think so. A few decades ago, you might have been able to draw up a somewhat similar list for the other side, involving things like the superiority of tradeable emission permits to command-and-control pollution regulation, the general undesirability of rent control, the benefits of airline deregulation, the absence of a usable long-run tradeoff between unemployment and inflation (and hence the impossibility of setting a 4 percent target for unemployment). But many liberals eventually conceded the point in each of these cases (maybe even conceded too far in a couple), without being declared no longer liberal. The point is that being a good liberal doesn’t require that you believe, or pretend to believe, lots of things that almost certainly aren’t true; being a good conservative does.
What Krugman elucidates here is that rhetoric is regularly often just that, rhetoric, and it serves no purpose if it only hints at policy implications with the proviso that we're outa here if there's a chance at anything coming to fruition. An that leaves consevative pundits and politicians offering American society a rather thin gruel indeed. The opposite is true within liberal or Democratic circles because multiple differing solutions are offered with the intent of having the best one adopted. The left can disagree but yearn for, and given a chance actually pursue, a real solution.

Not so within today's conservative ranks.

Jonathan Chait, while discussing the real cross-over of Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro, makes a clear case for why conservatives and the current Republican Party are in no position to "reform" themselves and thus become relevant:
This is the threshold Barro crossed [when he went up against the Republican Party after Romney's defeat]. The trouble, he wrote on November 14, “is not simply that Republicans lack the imagination to come up with ideas to get higher wages, more jobs and affordable health care to the middle class. It is that there is no set of policies that is both acceptable to conservatives and likely to achieve these goals.” The GOP’s choice to advocate low taxes for the rich rather than fund any kind of scheme to provide health care for the uninsured was no mere oversight, but a conscious decision, he later wrote—one that inevitably followed from the party’s dogmatic attachment to market outcomes and the dictates of its donor base. “The pro–middle class conservative project,” he pronounced, “is doomed.”
Ouch. Bobby Jindal, Mario Rubio, and the pathetic Reince Priebus notwithsatnding, reform will not happen when the likes of Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, and Mike Lee are lurking around the Senate floor ready to throw bombs at anyone even hinting at compromise.

Mike Konczal's contribution on these points:
I’d emphasize one last thing about the policy of conservative reformers: in practice it will likely be more gestural than substantive. I don’t know enough to mediate the health care battles, but I do know financial reform pretty well. And as financial reform is often brought out as an example of new reformers at work, it’s interesting to watch the lack of attention reformers pay to the actual nuts and bolts of the process.
I don’t see reformers call for getting the head of the CFPB [Consumer Financial Protection Bureau] appointed. I don’t see them arguing that repealing FDIC’s new resolution authority powers should be taken out of the Ryan Budget. I don’t see them arguing that efforts to repeal derivatives regulations already are premature or bad policy. I don’t see them angry about the mess of the securitization servicing system, which is creating a nightmare of law-breaking in the housing market. I also don’t seem them arguing the opposite either.
It’s focused on “break up the banks!” Crucially, this gets its energy from the idea that We Should Do Something Big about financial reform, rather than how it plays into a larger set of regulations, laws, and markets. It’s to position the Republicans as Doing Something where the Democrats haven’t. It’s sadly less policy and more political strategizing.
Spot on. And if you want to see why nothing of substance resembling a solution is likely to emerge from Republican circles, cast your eye at this debacle:

Good luck finding consensus, Republicans.

Making Your Point Nastily May or May Not Be Effective, but...

My last post was entitled, in part, "Republicans Want the Poor to Die."

I've just read an interesting article describing tools for critical thinking ascribed to Daniel Dennett, several of which caused me to reflect on why I make assertions that, though I believe they're true, are often conveyed in a hostile or shocking way. Accusing Republicans of wanting poor people to die might be a bit provocative, I admit.

But there is a reason I've started talking about knowing people by their deeds rather than their rhetoric. It's for two reasons: one, words are often masks to hide motivation or intention, while deeds are real, observable events. It's hard to obscure the motivation for a deed. Rhetoric is almost designed for dissembling.

So, when Republicans say, in response to Obamacare that "We can't keep piling up deficit upon deficit as far as the eye can see," or "Trying to offer healthcare to every Tom, Dick, and Harry may be laudable, but if it's not sustainable, then it's a fool's errand," it's best to look beyond the rhetoric to the deed that the rhetoric is meant to inspire.

In the case of denying Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, whether simply to oppose anything Obama offers or because of some sincerely held belief that it's a budget buster, the best way to judge it is to understand its ramifications. If we conclude that doing so will deny the very poor from receiving any benefit from Obamacare -- and that this loss of potential medical services will result in bad health outcomes -- then the result is more poor people will die.

So it follows that the Republican position, as already forming in the several red states that oppose the Medicaid expansion, is that they prefer poor people die rather than work with the federal government to find ways of preventing these deaths.

In other words, I feel my bluntness is upheld, despite violating Dennett's second law, "Respect your opponent." Rather, my argument is stronger because I get to the heart of my opponent's motivation. You are what you do, not what you say. Republicans say they want to save money. What they do kills people.

Let's use that filter when we listen to what they say and what actually happens when what they say takes the form of action.

Also, I can sound nasty because I hate feeling insincere. So, I might not win a public debate, but at least you know where I'm coming from. It helps to be right, but then again that doesn't always win friends or arguments. So, I'll keep working on it. But that won't stop me from being direct in making my policy positions clear or from being direct about the real-world ramifications of the other side's policy preferences.

New York Times: Republicans Want the Poor to Die

The very poor: You don't deserve medical care if you live in a red state.

It sounds astounding, when I say the Republican Party wants the poor to die, doesn't it? But an article in this morning's NYT points out the key ramification of states -- red states all -- that have refused to expand Medicaid to take advantage of Obamacare.

Republican governors and/or their Republican legislatures in about half the states, in an effort to thwart the Affordable Care Act, have refused to help their poorest citizens, even though the federal government will pay 100% of the Medicaid costs for the first three years and 90% after that.

The central cruelty of this refusal to roll out the ACA fully in these red states -- among them Texas, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida -- is that it's the poorest of the poor who are most affected:
Bee Moorhead, the executive director of Texas Impact, an interfaith group that favors the expansion of coverage, said: “A lot of people will come in, file applications and find they are not eligible for help because they are too poor. We’ll have to tell them, ‘If only you had a little more money, you could get insurance subsidies, but because you are so poor, you cannot get anything.’
“That’s an odd message, a very strange message. And if people are sick, they will be really upset.”
In Atlanta, Amanda Ptashkin, the director of outreach and advocacy at Georgians for a Healthy Future, a consumer group, said: “Hundreds of thousands of people with incomes below the poverty level would be eligible for Medicaid if the state decided to move forward with the expansion of Medicaid. As things now stand, they will not be eligible for anything. What do we do for them? What do we tell them?”
There it is. Medicaid expansion is the means Obamacare uses to reach the poorest of the poor, and by blocking Medicaid expansion, Republicans are assuring that the very poor will have no access to medical care.

What does that say about Republicans? Read the whole article. It's deeply disturbing.

Texas Governor Rick Perry: Don't look at me, I've got healthcare.

Update. On the other side of the ledger, blue-state California has already set up its healthcare exchange, and rates are coming in lower than expected. Scratch one Republican talking point. Check it out.

Update 2. Also worth reading is a Matthew Yglesias post in Slate that goes beyond the implications of the successful California roll out. He posits -- correctly, I hope -- that people are going to like Obamacare because, in spite of negative media coverage, it's going to be good for people, which will eventually trump Republican talking points and media's preference for "train wreck" narratives. Read it.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

When Logical Fallacies Get the Better of You

As I worked through my thoughts -- out loud on my blog, oops! -- on Obama's deeds and how I evaluated them, I made some value judgments, judgments I now, with hindsight (read more thought), regret.

It's all too easy to commit logical fallacies, unintended ones, when you go easy on yourself, especially if it's to prove a point you're predisposed to assert. The two that jumped out at me from yesterday's post on Barack Obama were my take on the legitimacy of drone strikes and the moral acceptability of one death-penalty application over another. It's not hard to notice that the two are somewhat bound together.

To establish the heart of the matter earlier rather than later: My justification of drone strikes was flawed, and my rationalization of approving of the execution of Timothy McVeigh was at the very least much too convenient. In other words, on second thought, I think I'm dead wrong.

In a perfect world, we wouldn't need drone strikes or executions. In a near-perfect world, drone strikes and death penalties would work. In a deeply flawed world, we do best to stay away from such judgments. That's why I'm a pacifist who opposes the death penalty.

That's the position I wish to affirm today.

In a sideways approval of Barack Obama's drone-strike approach to fighting terrorism I asserted that it was far superior to the realpolitik of Henry Kissinger's carpet bombing of Hanoi. But here's the logical fallacy: Rather than rounding up our enemies, Srbrenica-style, and mass-executing them, it's much better to place snipers on rooftops and clinically pick them off as the occasion arises.

Carpet bombing versus drone strikes: only a matter of degree.

Because I would like to eliminate the sources of terrorist threats and doing so is really, really hard -- or at least hard to broadly envisage -- I'd choose drones because, uh, drone attack and terrorists dead!

In this I'm certainly wrong, for which I apologize. The same goes for picking off evil Americans abroad because we can. The truth is that this method does include collateral damage -- a reality that Timothy McVeigh blithely dismissed when taking about dead children in the rubble of the Murrah building -- and likely stirs more adherents to terrorism while wrecking our international relations and thus harming our national security.

The whole process is a moral failure and needs a deeper look.

As for the death penalty and Timothy McVeigh, just because I, like so many others, wanted to see him rot in Hell -- and I don't even believe in Hell -- doesn't mean we advance the cause of justice. We demean it and ourselves in the process. Again, I apologize. I was swept away and not myself.

Back in 1970, I was picked out of the crowd of protestors at an anti-Vietnam rally at Santa Clara University -- one of seven so singled out -- and brought up on charges of disruption in front of a disciplinary board comprised of administrators, professors, and the odd student or three.

I had made my pacifist case rather well, I had thought, when the chair of the Engineering Department asked, "Do you feel you have the right to be a pacifist?" I replied, "Of course." To which he quickly countered, "Then don't you feel that others have the right to be non-pacifists?" I mumbled a feeble word or two in counterargument, then gave up.

As I left the hearing, I was flummoxed, and later, when I was found guilty and suspended from the university, I was not surprised.

A few years later, I related this event to friend, who turned out to be smarter than I. "There was a good answer, you know." What, I asked. He said, "You should have told the professor that he had invented a false duality: the choice is not between those who love war and those who love peace. The choice is only peace."

Therein lies my fallacy. The goal is peace. Morally, the goal can never be war.

That's a first principle simply stated. Life is never so simple, but that doesn't mean we should casually toss principles aside. We do so at our peril, morally and actually.

The greatest generation? Morally, the luckiest generation: Their war was just.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Obama Administration: Know Them by Their Deeds

Michele Bachmann: One of President Obama's many helpmates.
You haven't lived until you've heard her pronounce "Obamacare."

I go after conservative malfeasance with a relish. I can't help it because I see it as quite damaging to our country. That genre of conservatism I least tolerate is libertarianism, which I find antisocial in the extreme. C'mon people, be part of the community, participate with a sense that we do things, valuable things, better together than apart. Hence my admiration for good governance.

The Obama administration has been a conundrum, with a reasonable Keynesian disposition when it comes to fostering economic growth, although Obama's Keynesianism is counterbalanced by his preference to shower banks with helicopter money drops rather than the citizenry, but that's partly because of the leash (yes, leash) a recalcitrant Congress has restrained him with. What are you gonna do? Lean on the Fed, that's what. I believe QE 1, 2, 3 have helped. We're still breathing.

Obamacare might not be perfect, but it goes a long way toward fixing the healthcare mess. No wonder conservatives hate it: It benefits the Great Unwashed, while benefiting insurance companies, as well. Why didn't conservatives think of that? Oh wait, they did.

Another quasi-deed by which we can know Barack Obama is his penchant for softball negotiating, as in campaigning for weeks for his specific objective, then going to Capitol Hill and caving in ten minutes. A quick example was how easily he caved in raising the level of Bush tax-cut increases from $250k to 400k. He didn't need to do that but he did. It's a small thing, but Barack Obama's track record with Congress is peppered with these little defeats. So that's one way we know the man.

So, Joe, I told him I was with him all the way. Then,
Barack said, "Great, I'll go get us some pizza," and
before he came back I'd cut his tax demand in half.
And he said, "I'm fine with that." Can you believe it?!

Another is by his drone program. Oddly I'm a bit hawkish on this one, possibly because I'm naive and optimistic, but here's the main reason why: I prefer quick and dirty drone strikes -- if they hit their intended target with the smallest collateral damage -- to large military operations like, say, the Battle of the Bulge or the Battle for Stalingrad. Capiche?

We're talking asymmetric war here. There are no front lines, only locales where conspirators hang out, hatch plans, and send suicide bombers forth. These places are often in Nofuckinwhereistan or Vellyvelllyfarabad, difficult to reach with a conventional force. No, I don't mind that we cut off the head of the spiders behind enemy lines while risking zero American lives.

I agree this feels too antiseptic, but they do want to blow us up.

Yes, there is collateral damage, but much less than the carpet bombing of Hanoi, don't you think?

The other controversy stemming from drone attacks has been the taking out of Americans on foreign soil -- clearly working for the other side -- from on high. I'm sorry, it just doesn't bother me. They're clearly traitors and in enemy combatant roles. Okay, there's the lack of due process, but let's face it, if a non-citizen was helping to engineer an attack against Americans, in the absence of an opportunity to stop the attack without violence, use the violence! If the bad actor is an American who changed sides, take him out. I won't mourn him.

It's hard not to want to drone attack the likes of Muhammad Atta.

These thoughts don't make me happy, and yes they are inconsistent with my otherwise pacifist disposition, but if we can kill a Muhammad Atta before he can help kill 3,000 Americans on one bleak morning, then give me a gun and I'd pop a cap in him myself. Give me a drone, so much the better. Rather not do it, but what American, what human, for that matter, wouldn't, short of Gandhi?

Timothy McVeigh: I'm against the death penalty,
yet I'd gladly have pulled the switch.

I felt this way about Timothy McVeigh, the only executed American I wouldn't have lit a candle for, as opposed to capital punishment as I am. Maybe he was the exception that proves the rule. He blew up a daycare center!

If a line is being crossed that Barack Obama should never have stepped over, it's in his Justice Department's decision to go after reporters to stop classified leaks. I believe that the First Amendment is the linchpin of the whole Bill of Rights because if you can't know what you're government is doing, how do you defend against the loss of all the other rights? It's difficult.

Bradley Manning is the opposite of a criminal, who'll likely never see the light of day again.

The secret seizing of AP reporters' phone records is problematic, but so far hasn't been shown to be going after a reporter with criminal charges, like the DOJ did when they threatened Jay Rosen of Fox News with a charge of co-conspirator. For doing his time-honored job? Please. It's a bridge too far and strikes at the core of our system of democracy. It's wrong, pure and simple, and worth fighting for, more than for gun rights, or religious freedom, or access to due process. Press freedoms are indeed the linchpin for the rest.

Barack Obama reminds us that he supports a 2009 media shield law recently reintroduced. Those who have looked at it aren't so sanguine that it actually strengthens press rights. Yet, if the excuse in the AP case or the Rosen case is that the approach is legal, then let's make it illegal. Let the law and the Constitution work for democracy and not for a surrender to a police state. Congress could and should act. Now.

This is not Barack Obama at his best and threatens his legacy as much as any other set of actions.

Hey, Obama, Gitmo, just close it.

Come on Obama, Biden, Shumer, Levin, Leahy, you liberal lions of the Congress, protect the press. End the Guantanamo nightmare. And by these acts we shall know you. Otherwise, open another wing at the George W. Bush library. You'll fit in just fine, just fine.

Update. I didn't intend this post to be an indictment of the weaknesses and low points of Barack Obama's presidency -- or a chance to speak to the few hawkish sentiments I, ostensibly a pacifist, share. But Obama has his failures, and I for one -- as anyone -- am a work in progress in these trying times.

Update 2. A clarification: I was fiercely anti-Vietnam -- though my suffering was limited to being thrown out of college for protesting on campus (I later went back and finished) -- and just as fiercely opposed to Iraq. I did favor a police action in Afghanistan to rout the Taliban, clean up al-Qaeda, round up bin-Laden and friends, and get the hell out. Staying 11 years is insane and made things immeasurably worse. Our follies -- and few successes -- in Pakistan for the most part stem from our failure to finish the job in Afghanistan. We'll pay a price, perhaps for decades. Along with Abu Graib, Guantanamo, yes, our drone attacks, Iraq, and the bungled Afghanistan campaign, the meddling in Pakistan will cause us sustained grief moving forward.

It's like failing to deal with gun control. It means decades more of megadeath because, uh, freedom.

On a related topic, belief systems, except for those of the Gandhis and Kings of the world, are never simple. If the Newtown shooter had lived, I wouldn't want to seek the death penalty. I feel the same for the Tucson and Aurora killers. They're nuts, just as the Olso killer is. We might not like it, but we don't kill the mentally ill. McVeigh, I'm sorry, was another case. Not crazy but pure evil. Won't miss him.

Still, such judgments are problematic. Sometimes I wish there were a god, with lightning bolts and all. Life would, I would hope, become simpler and, I would imagine, more peaceful.

Jesus may have had a good message, but, clearly, he didn't save us.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Conservatives: You Know Them by Their Deeds, Part 2

Devastation in Oklahoma

First, a heartfelt hope that Oklahomans in Moore, OK, rebuild their lives as quickly as possible. It won't be easy.

Now, when I heard the news of the devastating twister and saw the reports of the damage, it wasn't long before I wondered how the mostly conservative congressional membership from Oklahoma would react to the disaster.

Christian Senator Inhofe: Sandy victims, suck it. OK tornado victims, I'm with you on this one.

Oklahoma Senators Jim Inhofe and Tom Colburn fought fiercely against the aid for Hurricane Sandy victims out east. What would they do now that it's their own backyard? We got an early answer in the Huffington Post this morning:
Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn, both Republicans, are fiscal hawks who have repeatedly voted against funding disaster aid for other parts of the country. They also have opposed increased funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which administers federal disaster relief.
Late last year, Inhofe and Coburn both backed a plan to slash disaster relief to victims of Hurricane Sandy. In a December press release, Coburn complained that the Sandy Relief bill contained "wasteful spending," and identified a series of items he objected to, including "$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies."
Coburn spokesman John Hart on Monday evening confirmed that the senator will seek to ensure that any additional funding for tornado disaster relief in Oklahoma be offset by cuts to federal spending elsewhere in the budget. "That's always been his position [to offset disaster aid]," Hart said. "He supported offsets to the bill funding the OKC bombing recovery effort." Those offsets were achieved in 1995 by tapping federal funds that had not yet been appropriated.
In 2011, both senators opposed legislation that would have granted necessary funding for FEMA when the agency was set to run out of money. Sending the funds to FEMA would have been "unconscionable," Coburn said at the time.

Christian Senator Doctor Tom Colburn: We need money so you cough it up.

So, that's part of the record. Oklahoma senators oppose disaster relief as a function of government. Or do they? From the same article:
 And despite their voting record on disaster aid for other states, both Coburn and Inhofe appear to sing a different tune when it comes to such funding for Oklahoma.
In January of 2007, Coburn urged federal officials to speed disaster relief aid after the state faced a major ice storm.
A year later, in 2008, Inhofe lauded the fact that emergency relief from the Department of Housing and Urban Development would be given to 24 Oklahoma counties. "The impact of severe weather has been truly devastating to many Oklahoma communities across the state. I am pleased that the people whose lives have been affected by disastrous weather are getting much-needed federal assistance," he said at the time.
The cost of the recovery effort for this week's tornadoes is likely to be high. After a spate of tornadoes in the state in 1999, Oklahomans requested and received $67.8 million in federal relief funds.
Different time, different tune. What will the conservatives do now that the disaster is in the "real America" rather than the liberal Northeast? Stay tuned. It won't be pretty.

But understand this: When Tom Colburn says that Oklahoma aid must be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget, what he is really saying is our relief must be your suffering. That's the current conservative position on everything.

That's very Christian of you, Mr. Colburn. Nice moral compass you got there.

People beginning to weigh in on this one: Atrios, Daily Kos, TPM. From what I gather so far, Sen. Inhofe is not insisting on offsets. Maybe he's not crazy, at least on this one. But he is crazy.

Sandy victims: not as worthy as those in the Heartland?
Update. Christian Senator Doctor Tom Colburn has his fee-fees hurt because criticism. Aaaaah... We wonder if he'll spearhead a GOP movement to slash Oklahoma disaster spending, as is his wont. Get the popcorn, this is going to be good.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Conservatives: You Know Them by Their Deeds

Tea Party Caucus: Pledging allegiance to what?

Clarification: As you read below, please know that I'm not attacking all conservatives. Many have something of value to say. I'm only making an observation of conservatives with power, not ordinary, earnest citizens. Okay?

Listening to conservatives, whether pundits or politicians, can be a rather annoying experience. They are, in general, a distemperate group, prone to both hyperbole and, at best, disengenuousness, so getting to the nub of their intent or motivation is difficult. They don't say what they mean, and just as clearly, they rarely mean what they say.

An example: "Obamacare is a job killer, and I can't support it." WTF does that mean? Actually, nothing. It's meaningless except, of course, for its dog whistle effect. The average Tea Party Republican, even if they have no actual idea of what's in Obamacare, will respond, "Fuck yeah, it's a job killer!" Mission accomplished.

Tea Party patriots: What do they want from their government? Oh yeah, wars and gun rights.

Michael Kinsley, ostensibly at least moderately liberal, had a recent article in the New Republic -- he's back as a senior editor -- in which he sided somewhat with the economic austerians in as much as the point of the austerity was to inflict pain for past sins, to, as Hoover was pressed to do in reaction to the Great Depression, simply let it run its course, to "clean out the rottenness."
[...] I don’t think suffering is good, but I do believe that we have to pay a price for past sins, and the longer we put it off, the higher the price will be. And future sufferers are not necessarily different people than the past and present sinners. That’s too easy. Sure let’s raise taxes on the rich. But that’s not going to solve the problem. The problem is the great, deluded middle class—subsidized by government and coddled by politicians. In other words, they are you and me. If you make less than $250,000 a year, Obama has assured us, you are officially entitled to feel put-upon and resentful. And to be immune from further imposition.
Austerians don’t get off on other people’s suffering. They, for the most part, honestly believe that theirs is the quickest way through the suffering. They may be right or they may be wrong. When Krugman says he’s only worried about “premature” fiscal discipline, it becomes largely a question of emphasis anyway. But the austerians deserve credit: They at least are talking about the spinach, while the Krugmanites are only talking about dessert.
Good grief. Who's paying the price, bankers and Wall St. CEOs, or middle-class schlubs thrown out of their homes, and out of work, in many cases, for the rest of their working lives? It won't be the banks, or Wall St., or Michael Kinsley, for that matter.

The banks nowadays wrongly foreclose, get fined,
and then start the cycle all over again. Feel the burn!

Some folks in the liberal blogosphere reacted by broadly condemning the Kinsley piece, as did nearly all those who commented on the article. Kinsley came off as mean-spirited, dense, and decidedly illiberal. A vast consensus declared him, in fact, dead wrong, to which I agree. I found the piece blood-vessel-poppingly bad, and not just because he attacked my dude Paul Krugman.

Paul Krugman: cantankerous old man with 1,021,126 Twitter followers.

Others went further, Atrios among them, in asserting Kinsley was nothing short of sadistic. Atrios linked to Lawyers, Guns, and Money, which essentially agreed with him, and employed a good analogy. I found one of LG&M's commenters, looking at conservative motives, to be right on the money:
Austerians, Neocons, Drug Warriors, and other establishment conservatives all embrace a morality play view in which sinners have to suffer. But it’s a mistake to focus too much on the “morality play” aspect. They want to see suffering, full stop. They create the morality play as a weak pretext to justify their sadism.
You know people by their fruits. Conservatives pursue policies that cause widespread death, suffering, greater inequality, and lower economic and technological growth (sometimes even loss of economic wealth). Instead of assuming that they want more economic growth but are mistaken about how to achieve it, it seems more likely that they want these results. Anyone who is still conservative after the Bush II years must, on some level, just like suffering for its own sake.
I believe this to be true. But not everyone is ready to banish conservatives to the political gulag. Noah Smith, popular econ blogger just had a post in which he defends the integrity of (some) austerians:
What unites all these and other "austerians"? There are several possibilities. One is that austerity is a good idea, and that these smart people recognize that it is a good idea. Another is that these are political conservatives who are worried that countercyclical macroeconomic policy will redistribute income and regulatory privilege away from themselves or their favored social groups. A third is that the psychological impulse toward austerity - tighten your belt in bad times! - is simply very very strong among all humans. And a fourth possibility, favored by Paul Krugman, is the idea that austerity is perceived as morally virtuous.

I want to suggest a fifth possibility. I conjecture that "austerians" are concerned that anti-recessionary macro policy will allow a country to "muddle through" a crisis without improving its institutions. In other words, they fear that a successful stimulus would be wasting a good crisis.
I usually agree with Noah on most things -- that is, when I understand him! --but not here. What they want to accomplish during this crisis is not to improve institutions but to destroy them, at least if they're government institutions, and most especially if they're government institutions like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, which help people avoid suffering.

Mitt Romney: Almost half the country voted for this dude, and few of them actually liked him.

One final consideration here is that suggestion posited by Timothy Noah yesterday in his New York Times op-ed, "The 1 Percent Are Only Half the Problem." Noah, whom I liked back in his early Slate years -- coincidentally edited at the time by Michael Kinsley, whom I also liked at the time -- maintains that income inequality is bad for our society but is only half the story:
This dismal litany invites the conclusion that if we would just put a tight enough choke chain on the 1 percent, then we’d solve the problem of income inequality. But alas, that isn’t true, because it wouldn’t address the other half of the story: the rise of the educated class.
Since 1979 the income gap between people with college or graduate degrees and people whose education ended in high school has grown. Broadly speaking, this is a gap between working-class families in the middle 20 percent (with incomes roughly between $39,000 and $62,000) and affluent-to-rich families (say, the top 10 percent, with incomes exceeding $111,000). This skills-based gap is the inequality most Americans see in their everyday lives.
Conservatives don’t typically like to talk about income inequality. It stirs up uncomfortable questions about economic fairness. (That’s why as a candidate Mitt Romney told a TV interviewer that inequality was best discussed in “quiet rooms.”) On those rare occasions when conservatives do bring it up, it’s the skills-based gap that usually draws their attention, because it offers an opportunity to criticize our government-run system of public education and especially teachers’ unions.
Liberals resist talking about the skills-based gap because they don’t want to tell the working classes that they’re losing ground because they didn’t study hard enough. Liberals prefer to focus on the 1 percent-based gap. Conceiving of inequality as something caused by the very richest people has obvious political appeal, especially since (by definition) nearly all of us belong to the 99 percent. [...]
Both halves of the inequality story should command our attention, because both represent a dramatic reversal of economic trends that prevailed in the United States for most of the 20th century. From the 1930s through the 1970s the 1 percent saw its share of national income decline, while the “college premium” either fell or followed no clear up-or-down pattern over time.
At least some of the tools to restore these more egalitarian trends shouldn’t be divisive ideologically. Liberals and conservatives both recognize the benefits of preschool education, which President Obama has proposed making universally available. I’ve never met an affluent 4-year-old who wasn’t enrolled in preschool, but nationwide about one-third of kids that age aren’t.
 I appreciated Noah's efforts but found a lot to not like in his thesis:
  • The problem isn't the "rise of the educated class." The problem is the sinking of the middle class that, one, are losing access to a college education (for the poor it's even worse), two, are losing high-skill manufacturing jobs that didn't require a higher education, and, three, are watching labor unions shrink to the point of having no say in dividing the fruits of capital and labor. Capital gets the fruits, and labor gets the pits.
  • This is why income inequality has expanded: Capital gets the increased profits and gains from the funny-money world of finance, and labor gets a decreasingly smaller piece of the pie as wages slide and slide.
  • The notion that liberals and conservatives -- ostensibly to attack the income-inequality problem -- could agree on early childhood education for the reasons Noah claims is hairbrained at best. Conservatives are more than happy that the elites can afford the best preschools for their broods. They would be apoplectic if taxpayer money were used to pay for the children of the Great Unwashed.
And that gets to my point: We may not understand conservatives when they speak and dissemble, but we do know them by their deeds. Imagine, if you will, a bill introduced in Congress that establishes access to universal preschool. What are the chances it would survive a Republican filibuster in the Senate? Slim. What are the chances, should it clear the Senate, that it would pass in the House? Absolutely none. Why? Conservatives would kill it.

Preschool's a no-brainer, but not if this dude gets the credit.

You know I'm right on this. And, if it's generally, broadly, almost universally established that early childhood education is essential to the development of the child and thus our future workforce, and yet the conservatives would kill it -- in the richest nation on Earth -- then by their deeds we shall know them and they are corrupt to the core and completely disinterested in helping society, unless it is their constituency, the upper crust.

And that's a tragedy and a clear indictment of the conservative side of our body politic.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Just See This, I Mean, Just See This

Via Atrios:

Watch all of it. We're dumb. He's not.

Okay. What I mean is that he kicks my tribe's ass. So, I'm a fan.

Oh, and it goes back aways:

Didn't mean to get too deep. Yes I did.

Update. I was very surprised at the hostility -- mild though it was in the old Meet the Press format -- toward Dr. King's civil disobedience, as if his tactics were illegitimate because he broke the law. My, how his image has been burnished since then. And yet think how that same hostility showed up during the Occupy movement:

UC Davis, 2011

Remind you of anything?

Birmingham, Alabama, 1963

Yep. We've come a long way. Or...have we?

RIP DC Scandals

I haven't been blogging of late because the news out of Washington was so dyspeptic that I couldn't form a coherent thought that didn't involve Darrell Issa and a string of expletives. This morning things changed as I caught a WaPo blog post from rational human being Ezra Klein called "The scandals are falling apart." Whew.
The crucial ingredient for a scandal is the prospect of high-level White House involvement and wide political repercussions. Government wrongdoing is boring. Scandals can bring down presidents, decide elections and revive down-and-out political parties. Scandals can dominate American politics for months at a time.
On Tuesday, it looked like we had three possible political scandals brewing. Two days later, with much more evidence available, it doesn’t look like any of them will pan out. There’ll be more hearings, and more bad press for the Obama administration, and more demands for documents. But — and this is a key qualification — absent more revelations, the scandals that could reach high don’t seem to include any real wrongdoing, whereas the ones that include real wrongdoing don’t reach high enough.
Ezra then goes about explaining why there is no there there -- albeit it tentatively -- and that the scandals will likely fade into oblivion. Let's hope so. Thanks Ezra!

This also assumes that the Republican Party is willing to abandon the stupid, and that may not be a good bet to take. Oh well.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Viewing the 2nd Amendment from a Free-Market Perspective

Free and unfettered markets: That's the ticket!

I think I'm onto something here.

Here are my premises:
  • Politics and economics are often interchangeable, in the sense that the economic ramifications of a public policy usually trumps other considerations. The obvious exception might be moral values. Yes, religion sometimes mucks things up, but even still it helps to follow the money.
  • A principal public-policy divide that defines Liberal/Conservative, Democratic/Republican, Left-Wing/Right-Wing is free markets versus regulated markets. In this analysis I lump the libertarians in with the conservatives (libertarians are conservatives who smoke pot and go to Rush concerts) (just kidding) (maybe not!).
  • We can analyze the 2nd Amendment debate as a free market versus regulated market divide.
  • An important caveat: In my opinion, free markets are beloved (by those who love them) primarily because, unregulated, they open up opportunities for conning, scamming, grifting, and otherwise scooping up wads of cash you don't readily obtain the old-fashioned way (earning it).
Here are, in the gun-policy debate, my conclusions:
  • Powerful forces want a lot of markets to be free, including the market for guns.
  • A free market for guns is supported primarily by the NRA, with help from other gun lobbying groups, and, I suspect, the various chambers of commerce.
  • The fight against any and all gun regulations are centered on how many guns and how many varieties of guns -- along with accessories and ammunition -- can be sold or otherwise traded.
  • Any gun control regulation is seen as an encumbrance to more gun-related commerce.
  • Any "freedom" argument, or "fight tyranny" argument, or "they're coming for our guns" argument, or "guns make us safe" argument, or any other such argument are actually offered as obfuscation. The true driver in the gun debate is money, money, money. Using politics, religion, hysteria, cultural symbols, historical contexts -- while sometimes reflecting something akin to core values that do influence and motivate gun buyers -- are just techniques, tried and true, for marketing gun products.
  • The thousands of citizens of all ages who are killed and injured annually by guns are considered, in the free-market context, collateral damage or, perhaps, an externality. Gun merchandisers and those they draw into their market don't think of reducing this gun violence as one of their core values.
  • To subjugate these core values, a doublethink is employed: We need guns because of gun violence.
Liberal progressives easily find themselves on the other side of the argument because:
  • They believe in regulated markets, and they believe the gun market in the U.S. is yet another example of a market failure.
  • They don't wish to employ a doublethink: they believe we need to strictly regulate guns to stem gun violence.
  • Limitations on gun ownership, gun marketing, gun design, etc. are necessary to stem the chronic violence and death surrounding gun ownership.
  • Gun-control advocates are up against a marketing problem: Selling "My first rifle!" is easy; selling "You'll never have a rifle!" is hard. Selling "I'm fucking Rambo!" is easy in our culture; selling "You won't need a gun if nobody had one" is impossible. Even "Just the one will be fine, thanks," won't do and never will.
If you believe free markets are rational and efficient, then you believe that the gun market, unencumbered, will sort itself out. Of course, this shows no signs of happening.

If you believe that free markets are often irrational and inefficient, then you'll be looking at the gun deaths and accidents as unconscionable market failures. And I'm with you.

Also, if people like Wayne Lapierre, David Keene, Ted Nugent, Alex Jones, and Jim Porter strike you as con men who would sell you antifreeze as cough medicine, you're on to something. They're not gun "advocates," they're salesmen, and they love them some free markets. This might not directly apply to Ted Nugent, but then I don't know exactly what applies to Ted Nugent. But he is selling something, and for whatever reason, guns help.

Guns, guitars, Ted Nugent, and the American flag. Yeah,
that sounds about right. Unless, of course, you're sane.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Susan G. Komen for the Bucks: A Grifter's Tale

Nancy Brinker: Grifter for the Cure
Nancy Brinker founded Susan G. Komen for the Cure in honor of her sister who died of breast cancer, in and of itself a fine tribute. Its fundraising technique has centered around 5k runs and fitness walks.

Then, in 2012, Brinker decided to get political with the "non-profit," hiring an ultra-conservative vice president -- Karen Handel, who resigned in the middle of the firestorm -- and cutting off Planned Parenthood from future funding, a step Brinker hastily undid as protests spread, contributors dried up, and race participants fled in droves.

Mary Elizabeth Williams of Salon tells it:
Turns out that in 2011, it spent just 15 percent of its donations on research — nearly half of what it did just a few years prior. And, significantly, its founder, Nancy Brinker, the woman whose vow to the sister she lost to cancer has served as the organization’s poignant, relatable narrative, stepped down as its CEO. In August, Brinker announced she was taking on a new role, as chairwoman of the executive committee. (She is, however, still listed as its CEO and founder on the Komen site. Komen says it’s still looking for her replacement.) In short, the whole series of fiascoes was so appalling that Deanna Zandt, author of “Share This! How You Will Change the World With Social Networking,” called the Komen fiasco a teachable “example of what not to do.”
Yet after more than a year of bad publicity and declining participation, Brinker herself seems to be doing just fine. As Cheryl Hall pointed out this weekend in the Dallas Morning News, Brinker made “$684,717 in fiscal 2012, a 64 percent jump from her $417,000 salary from April 2010 to March 2011.” That’s a whole lot of green for all that pink. Hall notes that’s about twice what the organization’s chief financial officer, Mark Nadolny, or former president Liz Thompson were making. And as Peggy Orenstein points out on her blog Monday, it’s considerably more than the average nonprofit CEO salary of $132,739.
Nancy Brinker once had a great narrative, and as far as anyone knows it was sincere. Now, though, she, like many others, has turned her operation into a scam and herself into a grifter. When she got a taste of the high life, she wanted more. Breast cancer research, not so much.

The narrative now should be run, don't walk, away from Nancy Brinker. Komen must now take the cure and stop the con.

More than a year later and the shame continues.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Misunderstanding Keynes, Famous Economist Edition

John Maynard Keynes
This is also another edition of Ferguson v. KrugTron, albeit indirect in two ways. First, the most recent clash was not a case of either Niall Ferguson or Paul Krugman (KrugTron's human form) attacking each other, and, second, John Maynard Keynes was again the foil, or in Ferguson's case the petard upon which he hoisted himself.

The linchpin is Keynes' famous quote, "In the long run we are all dead," which on the face of it is witty in and of itself. I've always taken it to mean that at some point long-range planning has to include the eventuality that in the long run, WE ARE ALL DEAD, which, hopefully, would lead at least some of us to engage in short- to medium-term actions.

Niall Ferguson
That's only if you take the quote out of context and simply make a stab at what Keynes was trying to say. Niall Ferguson went further, and that's where he got into some trouble. Daniel Politi in Slate:
Ferguson was speaking at an investment conference in California on Thursday when he was asked about Keynes' famous observation that “in the long run we are all dead.” Ferguson disagrees with that idea because “in the long run our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are alive, and will have to deal with the consequences of our economic actions,” he said in his statement. But during the presentation, he went further.
Financial Advisor’s Tom Kostigen paraphrased Ferguson’s reply at the conference:
Ferguson asked the audience how many children Keynes had.  He explained that Keynes had none because he was a homosexual and was married to a ballerina, with whom he likely talked of "poetry" rather than procreated. The audience went quiet at the remark. Some attendees later said they found the remarks offensive.
Ferguson then went on to say that “it's only logical that Keynes would take this selfish world view because he was an ‘effete’ member of society,” according to Kostigen’s account.
Paul Krugman
Enter Paul Krugman, who flagged Ferguson's gaffe in his blog post, "The Gods Themselves Contend in Vain." Look to the "Please tell me this report is false" link for the news of Ferguson's off-putting remarks. Then Krugman links to Ferguson's almost immediate, unqualified apology.

Krugman, being the teacher that he is, the next day took the opportunity to remind people that the full text of the famous Keynes quote shows that he meant to make a completely different point. First, the quote in context:
But this long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.
Keynes was chiding his own profession to actually say something, build a model that calls for solving current problems and not simply slip away by saying "tax cuts will trickle down and save us all" or "fiscal consolidation will eventually solve all our growth problems." Sez the professor:
As I’ve written before, Keynes’s point here is that economic models are incomplete, suspect, and not much use if they can’t explain what happens year to year, but can only tell you where things will supposedly end up after a lot of time has passed. It’s an appeal for better analysis, not for ignoring the future; and anyone who tries to make it into some kind of moral indictment of Keynesian thought has forfeited any right to be taken seriously.
[...] And look, this isn’t hard. The overwhelming fact about our current situation is that conventional monetary policy is played out, with short-run interest rates at zero. This means that there is no easy way to offset the contractionary effects of fiscal austerity (maybe there are exotic ways to do something, but they’re tricky and unproved). And this in turn means that austerity right now is a terrible idea: any fiscal savings come at the expense of reduced output and higher unemployment. Indeed, even the fiscal savings are likely to be small and maybe even nonexistent: lower output and employment reduces revenues, and may inflict long-run economic damage that actually worsens the long-run fiscal position.
I'm not an economist or a mathematician, but it's not hard for me to see that cutting spending in a recession reduces government revenues because my spending is your income and vice versa, as Krugman often points out. If my spending goes down, your income goes down, and GDP suffers, tax receipts shrink, etc.

On the other hand, I see how spending of any kind during a downturn, whether private or not, drives up GDP and tax receipts, etc. Now, I can also see how, without gargantuan multipliers debt will grow long-term and eventually surpass the added tax receipts. Government spending is often efficient but not that efficient.

The point, in the end, is that the fiscal hawks want to stop spending now, now, now and thus inflict pain now, now, now. Yet, if we spend now -- on infrastructure, education, research, yada yada yada -- the pain is softened. We are left, of course, to find long-term ways of paying down the increased debt, and we have an obligation to do so before we are all dead.

I think that's at least an approximation of Keynes, and I believe in it. It suits me better than, say, kicking the poor and elderly early and often because oh my god Greece!

KrugTron the Magnificent: Right once again.

A Useless Trope: Taxpayers Know How to Spend Their Money Better Than the Government!

Uh, no they don't.

If you give tax revenues back to tax payers, chances are they won't save it for retirement. There is an exception: rich people. If you cut taxes for the rich, they invest it (which amounts to saving for retirement), unless, of course, they say, "Now I can buy that obscenely large yacht I've been dreaming of!" And as for the poor, any tax break they receive they turn into home meals and a few at Burger King, soft drinks, beer, cigarettes, rent, utilities, school supplies, and maybe some new clothes from Wal-mart. Then they're broke again, of course.

And the middle class? Yes, a few folks throw a few hundred bucks into savings, but generally they pay down debt, which actually amounts to alleviating the burden of previous spending they shouldn't have engaged in in the first place. But then, if you just lost a job, maybe the only way to take care of your family is to put it on a high-interest credit card. Some of us "uniquely American" people don't have it easy.

None of this behavior on any level is bad for the overall economy: GDP will get a modest bump from this economic activity, though as private spending crowds out government spending, the whole exercise settles in as a wash.

So what's the problem, and what's the origin of the trope? The trope was generated by "fiscal conservatives" who want to make the point that taxes are "stolen" from citizens who can use their money very wisely, thank you very much.

The problem is that these tax savings are not used for fixing our roads, hiring more cops in distressed neighborhoods, medical research, maintaining our emergency services, building airports or ports, fighting wars (necessary or not), building schools and expanding school programs, cleaning up aging forests to prevent catastrophic fires, or job training. The list is endless of the things government does that private citizens don't. And when we don't do it, our society slowly crumbles.

The point is that there are tasks best left to government because government is good at doing things that average -- or above average -- citizens can't do by themselves. When was the last time you heard a school teacher say, "I just got a tax cut. I'm buying new fire hoses for Engine #6 down the street."

Government, though you'll rarely hear conservatives or libertarians saying it, is actually the people banding together to do things they can't do individually. And taxes are the individual contributions the people agree to make to pay for these necessary projects individuals can't do.

So, please, knock it off with this stupid expression. It's absolutely meaningless. Instead, turn it around. What is it that the government knows best how to spend our tax money on? Then, after giving it a lot of thought, vote for the politicians that seem to know what to spend our money on and hold them accountable.

Why? Because we need this stuff done. We can't do it, so get people into government who will.