Thursday, April 30, 2015

Am I Too Negative on Facebook? Oops, My Bad!

I often read my Facebook friends' posts, finding a great satisfaction that people I've known over the years reveal in their postings political and social views very much in tune with mine.

As for my own views, based on the "likes" and comments I receive when I share my blog posts, I notice what draws approval and what, usually through lack of reaction, doesn't interest them. I have a friend or two that decidedly do not share my positions on, say, politics. war, foreign policy, whatever. One friend posts his opinion and I'll often demur in a response comment, which is fine. When we run into each other around town, we're quite amiable with each other. Politics truly doesn't have to interfere with friendship.

But after reading this very interesting and thought-provoking article in Slate about how your social media presence offers to the world a window into who you are -- or how you're perceived to be -- I became worried that I might, because of my often heated views on the politics of the right, be appearing considerably grumpy, if not worse.

I am a happy guy with a pretty fulfilling life, despite how much Ted Cruz drives me up a wall, but you might not get that after reading one of my pieces. I use my blog to ruminate on things that a humanist like myself might find important in life. Beyond being an atheist, I find religion often to be a negative force in this world. For brevity, let me say that my views on religion are nuanced, but I can see how I may appear negative on the subject.

I make an effort to express positive policy outlooks, but all too often it's easier to say "Paul Ryan sucks!" than to explain in detail where our differences lie.

So let me apologize if anyone finds me to have a nasty disposition. It goes with the territory when one believes that the lives of our citizens could be improved by adopting policies that run counter to a certain, shall we say conservative, mainstream that is still all too dominant in our public sphere.

I think they're the bad guys, but hating on them doesn't make me look good. But there you are.

Read the Slate article if you haven't already. I was fascinated with the idea that courts might use social-media "faces" as evidence against you in a civil case. If we hide our unhappy lives from others, we might inadvertently misrepresent ourselves. We can't then say, "But Your Honor, I'm so much more miserable than that!" Your Facebook face is the face you've presented to the world, and you just might have to live with it.

Again, sorry, I'm a happy guy. Just keep Rand Paul away from me.

Just thinking about these people and the wars they started
can ruin my whole day on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Policy Perspective: The GOP Likes Predatory Lending to Troops?

Yes, yes they do. Predatory lending should be banned -- and post offices should offer basic banking so the poor and minority have banking services that don't bleed them dry. But that would deny people the "freedom" to get screwed.

Here's the GOP policy choice in the matter:
WASHINGTON -- House Republicans are pushing legislation to block predatory lending protections for American soldiers, under pressure from the banking lobby.
GOP lawmakers tucked the deregulation item into the National Defense Authorization Act -- a major bill setting the military's funding, along with a number of other controversial terms on Guantanamo Bay and other issues. If the banking item is enacted, it would impose a one-year delay on new Department of Defense rules meant to shield military families from abusive terms on payday loans and other forms of high-interest credit. The bill is being considered Wednesday before the House Armed Services Committee.
Hiding distasteful riders in bills is the way the GOP rolls. Hopefully, they'll change their minds simply by being outed. Or maybe the Senate will stuff the move. In any event, this is yet another window into the policy choices Republicans make.


Obama on Baltimore: We Like Him When We Need Him

I find it funny -- or tragic -- that Barack Obama has been addressing systemic problems about race, war, justice, and, yes, guns, since before he was elected. It's rather odd when someone says "On Baltimore, we finally have the president we need."

No, since Baltimore we have the president we need on Baltimore. And by the reaction of some in the press, he once again delivered in the ways we have come to expect during times of trouble and turbulence.

Case in point is the Daily Beast article in praise of his Baltimore remarks, all the more remarkable because they were delivered impromptu at a news conference:
Addressing Baltimore’s systemic poverty and lack of opportunity, Obama suddenly was the president we’ve needed all along.
Suddenly, President Obama did not need an anger translator.
Suddenly, he seemed exactly himself, power speaking truth.
The best public 15 minutes of his presidency came on Tuesday in response to a question about Baltimore at a joint press conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“In those environments, if we think that we’re just gonna send the police to do the dirty work of containing the problems that arise there, without as a nation and as a society saying what can we do to change those communities, to help lift up those communities and give those kids opportunity, then we’re not gonna solve this problem,” he said as he stood in the sunshine in the Rose Garden 43 miles from the epicenter of the previous night’s riot.
He went on, “And we’ll go through the same cycles of periodic conflicts between the police and communities and the occasional riots in the streets. And everybody will feign concern until it goes away and then we go about our business as usual.”
Read the rest of this excellent article by Michael Daly on Obama's remarks. But don't be confused by the "president we've needed all along." Obama has been there in so many ways that we've needed for so long -- and in a few ways we wish he hadn't -- that we forget the gift he's been, on balance, to this nation.

No, he's not perfect. FDR could be a power-mad prick, and Lincoln could dissemble with the best of them, it appears. But I'll take this Barack Obama any day over the pricks and dissemblers that are the Republican leaders of our day. They bring nothing, nothing. It's why Clinton is trashing them in the polls and likely will trash them in November, 2016.

I leave you with Obama's remarks, and Hillary's, too.

Sorry I can't edit a line break between videos. Weird code. And here's the complete text of Clinton's speech.

How the Bulls**t War Against Hillary Works

Who should get the Three Pinocchios, WaPo or the Clinton Foundation?

More details are now out about the Clinton Foundation's connection to a Canadian charity that works close enough with Bill Clinton to have his imprimatur on it, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, and they are spurring another round of gotcha ruminations full of caveats and hedges. The hedges don't stop the Washington Post Fact Checker for throwing Three Pinocchios Hillary's way.

Here's the deal: The Clinton Foundation took contributions from CGEP, then didn't disclose the 1,100-some donors to CGEP (the vast majority of which are one-time donors attending a charity event), claiming now that Canadian law precludes releasing the donor's names, though the CGEP donations are common knowledge (yes, the G in CGEP is for Frank Giustra, who has broad interests in mining, including, yes, uranium).

Fact Checker looks at this and sees that federal Canadian law probably doesn't ban donor disclosure in the absence of commercial motives to do so, such as selling email lists. Then Fact Checker notes that British Columbian law may protect donor IDs. Here is the key statement:
British Columbia’s privacy law is stricter than the federal law, though substantially similar. It requires organizations to get donor permission when they collect, use or disclose their personal information. The province does not have a public database that shows which charities are subject to this law, and its spokeswoman could not immediately confirm whether CGEPartnership was subject to provincial law. This law does not apply to federally-regulated organizations already governed by PEPIDA.
It is not entirely clear which law applies to CGEPartnership. [...]
The Clinton Foundation said “all charities are prohibited from disclosing individual donors without prior permission from each donor” under Canadian law. It is unclear whether the foundation is referring to federal or provincial law. If it is the later, the statement would be accurate.
Got that? It's not clear which law applies, the one that permits but doesn't require disclosure or the one that may in fact prohibit disclosure. That doesn't stop Fact Checker from tossing Three Pinocchios -- the second-highest liar rating -- at Hillary.

Typical bullshit that won't hold up under examination. Plus, it's the usual not-much-there-there that enters the realm of meaninglessness.

Am I being a little kind to Hillary here? Yes, I am. Is WaPo being needlessly unkind to Hillary on an arcane point about transparency? You betcha, and it's unendingly boring. But it needs to be called out.

The Obama Effect: A Staggeringly High Rate of Cultural and Political Change

Barack Obama has triumphed not just by surviving but by thriving
against an opposition driven by hate and racism. Oh, and a dislike
of his economic and foreign policy ideas, as well.

Barack Obama has not won all his battles, not by a long shot. But where he has been successful is in the ways our society has changed so far during his tenure, often against long odds that it could happen at all. He has played a a vital role in helping to engineer it.

His very blackness has been a particular driver. As the first African-American president, he owned his special role as an outsider. Sure, he played the inside game with Wall Street, but like Bill Clinton before him, he picked his battles wisely. Busting Wall Street's chops was a non-starter. Wall Street, for one thing, is stronger and more dangerous than the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell wanted Obama to be a one-term president. McConnell couldn't deliver. Wall Street could but chose not to.

As an outsider, one with more than modest gifts of rhetoric and imagination, Barack Obama could help usher in change that colorless, less imaginative people might not be able to. George W. Bush could be brash -- and dangerous -- as a freewheeling decider with a penchant for invading countries. But change at home? Wasn't up to it, beyond making government less capable after rounds of tax cuts.

What Barack Obama could do, and did, was to lead our nation through periods of self-reflection. He was in part responsible for the new looks we gave to systemic problems. GLBT concerns were not going to be addressed under a George W. Bush climate. It could under an Obama. So, too, with the changes the country is undergoing with its examination of policing. Blacks are done with how they've been policed and incarcerated literally to death since basically back to the close of the Civil War. Progressive, self-aware whites are ready to help them.

We don't yet know what will come of some of this self-reflection. Obama was able to do little to stem the gun insanity this country seems intent on enduring. In fact, gun control or the lack thereof is a singular triumph of the right during the time of Obama. Fear of the BLACK triggered a rush to arm, primarily by rural and southern whites. No triumph for Barack there. The policing crisis may recede without real change. But I don't feel that. I feel, across the country, an anger, even among whites, that we've lost control of our justice system. When 12-year-olds are shot dead after less than two seconds of consideration -- for waving a toy gun -- something is terribly broken.

Don't forget the ongoing curtailment of property confiscation by law enforcement. Chalk up another one. Add to that the move away from criminalizing marijuana. I can see that movement beginning to dismantle the war-on-drugs infrastructure, which will chip away at our absurd incarceration rate. While we're talking about changing policing styles, add the abandonment of stop-and-frisk as well as the whole "broken windows" zero tolerance game. We need real community policing in this country. Boy, does Baltimore need it right now.

Women are winning rights -- and better pay, albeit slowly -- in this environment. Republicans have fought hard to keep women and their bodies under the control of father-knows-best paternalistic authoritarianism, but there are new cracks in that wall, as well.

Bill Clinton approached his presidency in very much the same way. Within days of his inauguration, he was set to welcome gays in the military. One of his own party, Georgian senator Sam Nunn, put the kibosh on that one. Maybe the country wasn't ready until 2009, but a less gifted leader than Obama might not have shepherded the radical changes through.

One critical feature of note: I suspect I'm not the first to figure this out -- though I've yet to hear anyone else suggest it -- but one thing has been obvious about Barack Obama. He's been the Jackie Robinson of presidents. He instinctively knew he'd get nowhere as the angry black man. His grace under fire during his presidency has been quite nearly heroic. In that, he'll leave a lasting mark as one whose dignity was more powerful that the opprobrium he was forced to endure.

We also shouldn't forget that, even with his drone strikes and failed ventures in Libya and elsewhere, he has essentially tried to reign in America's penchant for warmongering. We don't know yet how his foreign policy ventures will turn out, but he'll be remembered as a man of peace, not of war. And that's a start I hope succeeding presidents will continue.

All that and I didn't even mention Obamacare. It wasn't enough, but it was something, and probably all we could hope for in the environment he was working in.

I'd mention the steadily improving economy, but that signified no particular cultural shift, in spite of its being something that burnishes his legacy.

Here's to change, and more of it. We do have Barack Obama, in part, to thank for it.

Note. There's a lot that appears unchanged. The tea party, for example, looks very much like a cultural consolidation around a conservative ideology, one that will be difficult to dislodge. But I see a silver lining. I see it as the continual marginalization of a continually shrinking tribe of white evangelicals, mostly in the South -- with their frightened, white senior citizens in tow -- who have found themselves boxed in and increasingly irrelevant. If that happened on Obama's watch, too, then we have him to thank for that likely enduring political shift.

The Swift-Boating of Hillary Clinton: The Anatomy of a Non-Scandal, Infinity Edition

What a real scandal looks like: Cheney's Halliburton and its subsidiaries
profited greatly from the Iraq War. Where was the Republican outrage?

Does Hillary Clinton look good when set next to the piles of cash that goes through a charitable foundation on the best of days? Of course not. Greater charities -- remember the United Way or Komen for the Cure? -- have collapsed under the abuse that can simmer around actions with the apparently best intentions. So giving Hillary a complete pass is hard to do and shouldn't be done.

But -- and this is a fundamental but -- the scandal du jour that the Clinton Foundation has morphed into has a terrific amount of no-there-there, something even its promoters spend quite a bit of time admitting.

Take the classic case of WaPo pundit and former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson and his piece, typically titled "The Heavy Baggage Hillary Clinton Brings." After all the sturm und drang, Gerson gets to the part of the article all articles about Hillary contain:
The Clintons, no doubt, are confident of their own virtue in this matter. No quid pro quo has been demonstrated. I am equally confident that donors thought they were gaining access and a vague sort of influence during a high-stakes, politically sensitive business takeover.
Once again, there is probably not enough here to derail the Clinton presidential freight train. But the timing and content of this controversy are damaging. Democrats are beginning to recognize that the first few weeks of the Clinton candidacy have been a disaster, opening up several lines of Republican attack. [...]
What classic hedges did Gerson put in that you see in so many articles about Hillary "scandals?" The lines "No quid pro quo has been demonstrated" and "there is probably not enough here" are in all but the most scurrilous attack pieces. Gerson, after all, prides himself on being reasonable, hence the qualifiers.

Gerson also links to an article that he claims "would have placed the Rosatom uranium power play in the outbox labeled 'stinks to high heaven'." Fine. But was was the context of the deal, after all is said and done?
The national security issue at stake in the Uranium One deal was not primarily about nuclear weapons proliferation; the United States and Russia had for years cooperated on that front, with Russia sending enriched fuel from decommissioned warheads to be used in American nuclear power plants in return for raw uranium.
So the US and the Russkies have been making nice with uranium, even weapons-grade uranium, for years. That's some serious context.

Gerson rightly points out that the "reset" with Russia looks like a failure in hindsight, but it also demonstrates that during a time of rapprochement with Putin, a typical make-nice deal would look, in the rear-view mirror, a little shady after relations had fallen apart because of the Ukrainian and Crimean affairs. But that's a different kettle of fish.

Again, remember the context. Newly elected president Barack Obama was trying resets all over the place, what with the Russian reset and the Cairo speech, among others. Obama has been busy with these resets, which include Cuba and Iran, which may in fact be major game changers when viewed as legacy items. Success is not assured, but these are real accomplishments-in-waiting. Why are the Republicans so against them? We know why.

So, Hillary's foundation that she shares with Bill gets entangled in an international deal that six federal agencies and the Canadian government signed off on. Big whoop. Oh Noes!!

We're going to get pretty tired of these retread scandals. At least I am already. And you should be, too. The Clinton "narrative" that "stinks to high heaven" is being written by beltway fiction writers. And it's pretty boring, tepid stuff. Stop already.

Is she tough enough? After all she's been through, oh yeah. Whitewater off a duck's back.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Same-Sex Marriage Will Likely Prevail at SCOTUS. What Happened 149 Years Ago Made All the Difference.

Rep. John Bingham, the "Madison" of the 14th Amendment.

I've always felt that the 14th Amendment was as important as any piece of the Constitution and would be the key to the Supreme Court making same-sex marriage legal and apply in all 50 states. What I didn't know was how close we came as a country to not having the key clause in the 14th Amendment that has made it the powerful force it's been through the ages of jurisprudence.

John Bingham was the hero, and Slate tells the story well here. Read it and celebrate. And, hopefully, get ready to celebrate its application in Obergefell v. Hodges.

The GOP's Designated Hillary Hit-Woman

Carly Fiorina: Happy to do to Hillary what the boys shouldn't? She relishes it.

I wondered if the male GOP field might suffer if they were too nasty to Hillary Clinton over the coming months, with constant pounding and pounding. Bullying a lady, anyone?

Carly Fiorina has answered the call: She'd be thrilled to do it for the team, regardless that her less-than-sterling record in business and politics makes her a loooooooooongshot even for VP (but then the GOP nominated Sarah Palin, so...).

In case you're wondering why Fiorina is running -- beyond the usual hubris -- a paragraph in the WaPo article tips her hand.
Fiorina is expected to announce her underdog candidacy May 4, the day before the release of her latest book, “Rising to the Challenge: My Leadership Journey.” (Her 2006 memoir was titled “Tough Choices.” Last year, Clinton released her memoir “Hard Choices.”)
Weird. A marginal candidate for prez last go-round was Herman Cain, who, it was discovered, was also pushing a book. Hardly original, Carly. God forbid anyone should attack you. Oops, too late. Mika's on the job:

Ouch. Hope nobody finds Carly's demon sheep ad from 2010. Oops, I went and did it.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

To Be Republican Means to Be Christian

To be American means to be straight and Christian. The rest of you? Good luck.

The GOP 2016 field, nine strong at this point, went to the Faith & Freedom Coalition in Iowa to declare their bonafides, which for the GOP means the candidates must be Christian, anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, and so completely for freedom, unless it was freedom to be pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, or pro-some-other religion. How very American!

Admittedly, we've (apparently) never had a non-Christian Democratic president either, but the stranglehold on Christiany things by teh GOP is pretty strong. And Jindal, Rubio, Paul, Perry, Cruz, Santorum, Huckabee, Walker, and Fiorina are now like so Christiany and Spiritual.

Why Jeb Bush chose to pass on this Iowan Christian lovefest beats me. Must have be doing God's work by fundraising his ass off somewhere, though a spox he sent made it clear Jeb supports "traditional" marriage.

The thing I'm praying for is that the clarifying process of the GOP going through the necessary paces to secure the nomination will taint them all. Bush seems to think he can slither past the required declarations. We'll see.

Bobby Jindal gets my vote for the most obsequious comment:
“It's like the Bible was written just for me. The words were jumping off the page.”
Oh, Bobby, Rick Santorum's got nothing on you!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Policy Perspective: The Democrats' Achilles' Heel? We Wanna Tax, We Wanna Spend.

Policy differences: Democrats would raise taxes to spend on helping the poor.

I remember a strange argument that I had with my conservative brother -- both my brothers are Rush Limbaugh Republicans, ain't that weird? -- in which he claimed that, as a Democrat, all I wanted to do was tax and spend. I said it wasn't a given. I wasn't against taxing and not spending.

We went on to something else, and then five minutes later, my brother blurted out, "That's ridiculous! You do want to tax AND spend!" He said this in utter disgust.

That was an argument ender if I ever encountered one. But my brother is right on one account: Although we Dems could tax and reduce the deficit if it were possible and/or necessary to do so, our inclination is to indeed spend. Taxing the wealthy who can afford it and transferring those dollars to the needy is our idea of the right thing to do.

Spending it on infrastructure, education, job training, and research is also appealing. It's what we do, there's no denying it.

If I have a point in bringing this up, it's that we not only shouldn't deny it, we should own it, and so should every smart Democrat running for office. Don't pussyfoot around. We want to spend money to help our country, and we're especially happy when we can get the rich to give us that money.

After all, the rich got rich from the infrastructure, education, job training, and research that created the foundation of their success. There are rare exceptions, but by and large, the rich need the rest of us to make them rich.

I'm happy to be a tax-and-spender. Proud to be one. It's no problem. It's only an Achilles' Heel if we try to run from it.

Krugman: 2016 Is the Election of the Living Dead

Carly Fiorina throws her hat in the ring.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the zombie apocalypse that is the Republican 2016 presidential primary.

...Leading me to wonder what part of the emerging GOP party platform is based on reality, and to wonder how many citizens will be successfully hoodwinked into buying it. It's a scary thought, as in President Walker, President Rubio, or even President Bush (Didn't we already have one, or two?).

Screaming "death to the zombies" seems counter-factual. Aren't they already dead? In the Tea Party, apparently not.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Policy Perspective: Which Party Went as Far as It Could to Block Gay Rights?

Yes, this is the civil-rights breakthrough of our time. Next, women...

Have you seen a pattern, that over time issues come to a boil, hit critical mass, and, boom, America is ready for a change? With acceptance of LGBT Americans, our country hesitated, hesitated, backtracked, and reconsidered the issue as headwinds swirled and opposition to it built -- and then collapsed.

What drove it? I'm straight, so my view is essentially as an outsider, but from what I saw the generation of millennials just said it was no big deal. Then the boomers, still part of the gay-sex-is-icky generation, thought, "Why?" Then they shrugged and concluded, "I don't know."

And, boom, opposition melted away. Except among the Republican conservative base, which is still large enough to cause mischief. Witness the little volcanoes of resistance as red state after red state tried to whip up a religious basis for discriminating against gays. It hasn't so far worked, which is another of those small tsunamis of cultural shift I didn't expect. I thought red states will be red states, but no, the business community rose up and said you can't do this. It's bad for business.


But my point about policy and party still stands. Bobby Jindal -- governor of Louisiana and unannounced charter-member of the 2016 GOP clown-car brigade -- now vows not to cave like the rest of the sissy GOP governors. He'll sign the Louisiana bill to discriminate against gays, godammit. For religious reasons of course. From TPM:
"If we, as conservatives, are to succeed in advancing the cause of freedom and free enterprise, the business community must stand shoulder to shoulder with those fighting for religious liberty," Jindal said. "The left-wing ideologues who oppose religious freedom are the same ones who seek to tax and regulate businesses out of existence. The same people who think that profit making is vulgar believe that religiosity is folly. The fight against this misguided, government-dictating ideology is one fight, not two. Conservative leaders cannot sit idly by and allow large corporations to rip our coalition in half."
Whether you agree with Jindal or not, no clearer statement has been made of how conservatives view this issue. They believe that citizens should have the right -- they believe founded in religious principle -- to discriminate against LGBT people.

If that's how you feel, vote for Republicans. They won't win, but they'll be up to mischief for a while more. Otherwise, vote for Democrats. I do for this reason, among others.

Bonus news today: ABC/WaPo have a poll out showing 61% of Americans now support same-sex marriage. The 35% who don't, by and large, are somewhere in that GOP base we call the tea party. You can take that to the bank.

I have a gay friend who's clearly a fiscal conservative, and I had the distinct feeling he'd like to support the GOP because of this. I don't know how he votes. But I would counsel him to vote Democratic and pressure his Dems to be more fiscally frugal. I suspect that's probably how members of his broader community handle political choices.

A final thought here: Our LGBT community has long been separate from the rest of us (surprisingly more integrated than many of us knew!), but those days are fleeting. We are us, all together. Don't you feel better? I do.

If Jindal and his Republican Neanderthals don't, fuck 'em. And don't vote for them.

Bobby's Alamo is the religious right to discriminate? That's so yesterday.

Bonus Update. David Cameron, in the middle of a fierce election in the UK, said he could not be turned in his support for LGBT rights, and he's the leader of the Conservative Party! Much in the opposite direction, Rand Paul has declared that he doesn't believe in gay rights. Ah, the inartful dodger...

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Why We Can't Put Dzokhar Tsarnaev to Death

He was barely a child when he did this horrible deed. Once he was picked up, his maturing stopped. He has matured enough since then that his go-to move is giving the finger.

Yeah, he should be put to death. Any rational society with an evidence-based inclination would agree.

Thanks, LBJ, for (Sort of) Ruining Healthcare for the Rest of Us

Voter disconnect: Yes, Medicare is government-operated healthcare.

Lyndon Johnson is to be praised for taking his ability to work with Congress and guiding through bills like the one that established Medicare before Democrats lost the South for good.

It's only speculation, of course, that Johnson could have succeeded in passing universal single-payer for all. But deciding not to and settling for protecting seniors -- the single most impoverished group at the time -- had the effect of locking in Medicare and locking out single-payer for the rest of us.

It's also likely that he couldn't have foreseen some of the cultural and economic changes, like the loss of defined-benefit pensions, that would add to the stress of growing old in America.

But these changes came, and here we are. Now, the single block with the greatest need for healthcare has it -- seniors -- and they quite naturally fear that giving the same benefits to younger people will come at their expense. Whether that's true or not, there are reasons to believe it. From a Thomas B. Edsall op-ed:
[...] The combination of longer lives and unreliable pension benefits increases retirees’ dependence “on transfers from the working population for living expenses, including large consumption of medical care,” Eggleston and Fuchs note.
Adding to the financial pressures on the elderly, Munnell et al. found that in the 27 years from 1983 to 2010, health care costs under Medicare Part B rose from 6.8 percent of the average 1983 Social Security benefit to 17.0 percent of the 2010 benefit. The decline in interest rates since 2008 has reduced the rate of return on retirement savings, another factor leading to anxiety among seniors.
The Kaiser Family Foundation has data (see chart 2) that shows how even with Medicare, out-of-pocket health costs are larger for over-65 households – both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income – than for younger households.
In other words, the data suggest that the elderly are right to be worried.
Here's how I think it scans: The elderly won't support expanding healthcare to the young for fear of reducing their own benefits. This may also apply to expanding Social Security. And the young won't support -- or pay for -- expanding healthcare for themselves because they think they're healthy and don't need it. As for Social Security, enough young people doubt they'll ever see it, so why should they support expanding it?

Now, I'm not saying Obamacare won't win over the nation -- even its seniors -- eventually. The latest tracking poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation shows Obamacare finally achieving a plurality of positive support. But I fear that it'll be a cold day in hell before enough support -- from voters, like seniors, who can influence politicians -- to morph into the single-payer kind of government program favored by the rest of the civilized world.

LBJ pulled the trigger. I'm glad he did, but I'm afraid it hasn't accrued to our advantage.

The I've-got-mine-you-can't-take-it generation?

Mind you, I'm on Medicare and am happy with it. I just want everyone to have it, too.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

What Animates Our Policy Debate: How About the Apocalypse?

Michele Bachmann: Gone girl. Really, really gone.

Yes, it was fun when Michele Bachmann was actually in Congress and said the kinds of things she used to say. And I'm sure you're wondering why I bring her up in a policy debate, one that I hope to carry on through the entire 2016 (endless) election cycle.

Why Bachmann? It's because she makes a strong case for party-line voting. Decide the party of the crazy and then don't vote for any of them. First, let's establish Michele Bachmann's Republican bonafides. She was elected, then reelected three times, to Congress with an R-Minn. after her name. What did she represent? This:
“Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon," [Bachmann] said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"
Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving mankind into "the midnight hour."
"We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said, urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."
"Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."
"These are wonderful times," she concluded.
Bachmann made similar remarks on Markell's show last week.
“We have very little time, in my opinion, left before the second return of Christ. That’s good news."
Now, when you try to decide which party you should support based on its policies, based on its philosophic and religious underpinnings, do you want to support the party where Michele Bachmann and Sarah Palin found a happy home or the party where Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren (and Oprah Winfrey, for that matter) feel comfortable. Just saying.

It's unfair to blame the Republican Party for Sarah Palin,
unless it was that whole vice-presidential candidate thing.

"Missing" Black Men in America? Yes, and It's a Tragedy

Insult to injury: Black men are safer in prison than on the street.

Sometimes a report is released that defies imagination. The worst thing about the report in the New York Times this morning may be how unsurprising it is, despite how heart-wrenching it is.
They [black men] are missing, largely because of early deaths or because they are behind bars. Remarkably, black women who are 25 to 54 and not in jail outnumber black men in that category by 1.5 million, according to an Upshot analysis. For every 100 black women in this age group living outside of jail, there are only 83 black men. Among whites, the equivalent number is 99, nearly parity.
African-American men have long been more likely to be locked up and more likely to die young, but the scale of the combined toll is nonetheless jarring. It is a measure of the deep disparities that continue to afflict black men — disparities being debated after a recent spate of killings by the police — and the gender gap is itself a further cause of social ills, leaving many communities without enough men to be fathers and husbands.
Perhaps the starkest description of the situation is this: More than one out of every six black men who today should be between 25 and 54 years old have disappeared from daily life.
 A snapshot in time that shows that 17% of black men have been disappeared from the population compared to 1% of white men is jarring, scandalous.

Benghazi is a scandal? Complete bullshit. This is scandalous. Of course, because we're not racist here in America, we don't have to -- and mostly won't -- do anything about it.

One city among the worst in America for this "missing" effect? Feguson, MO, which now has at least one more missing, Michael Brown. It doesn't matter whether his hands were up before he was shot. What matters is he lived in a world where he was likely to be disappeared. And he was.

Policy note. If you think that Democrats are more likely to do something about this -- however slight the difference -- than Republicans are, then this is a reason to support the Democrats. Just saying.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Maureen Dowd's Got Nuthin'

Yet on and on she goes at Hillary:
Let's hope that the hokey Chipotle Granny will give way to the cool Tumblr Chick in time to teach her Republican rivals -- who are coming after her with every condescending, misogynist, distorted thing they've got -- that bitch is still the new black.
WTF, Dowd, WTF.

You got nuthin' left. Get out of here.

The femipundits have got it out for the woman candidate. Fucked up.

Pick Your Party, Then Pick Your Candidate, and the Policy Will Fall in Line

White, (mostly) male, Republican, and super into oil. Who would have guessed?
I wonder if they want to end Obamacare, cut food stamps, increase defense spending.

Ryan Cooper of The Week wrote a simple but astute article today, pointing out that our political parties are so polarized now that we don't need to examine individuals much anymore to assess their policy positions:
They explain this [polarization] as partly a function of "negative partisanship," or sheer mutual hatred between America's political tribes. That reality is increasingly undeniable, no matter what the president would have you believe.
For the voting public, this is actually something of a blessing. There is no longer much need to litigate political histories to discern which way an individual candidate will lean. Instead, simply judge the party as a whole, and pick the one which most closely represents your own beliefs and preferences. Hillary Clinton, as a Democrat, would almost certainly do mainstream Democratic Party stuff as president: moderate tax increases on the rich, education reform, patching up ObamaCare, and so on.
That is not to say that personality makes no difference whatsoever, just that the parties are exerting an increasingly strong gravitational effect on their candidates. As Greg Sargent reports, we already see this happening to Clinton on gay marriage and immigration.
I've been making this point off and on lately. What this comes down to is how determinative this is on policy. Do you like an expanded safety net? Vote for Hillary Clinton. Do you hate unions? Vote for Scott Walker. Would you like to get Big Money out of politics? Vote for Hillary. Do you want to rob pension funds -- because you hate unions -- in order to fill a budget hole after you cut taxes too much? Vote for Chris Christie. (Though it amazes me that politicians act like Christie and people say they don't like what he does, but then they vote for him anyway, because "he's an asshole, but he's my asshole." Makes perverted sense, I admit.)

I could go on and on. There used to be a bunch of Blue Dog Democrats that could be counted on to vote yes on the Keystone XL pipeline, but they've mostly been picked off by tea-party Republicans, and there used to be moderate Republicans, but they've been picked off by, er, tea-party Republicans. No wonder we're so polarized: Going your own way on issues is punished harshly.

Fun foto: Are these Republican leaders? Yes! From the PA Senate.
Are you for opening up Obamacare to a public option? Are you praying that the Supreme Court doesn't lose its collective mind and gut Obamacare with another ruling against the law? Are you in favor of expanding Medicaid in your state using federal dollars made available for free to do so? Are you hoping that we shore up Social Security and even expand its scope and guarantee it'll be available for years to come? Do you like the Medicare system and hope that it will be expanded to include many more Americans, like those for 55 to 64, for example? Do you wish the minimum wage would go to $15, or that unions would make a comeback? Then vote for Democratic candidates, including Hillary.

You can bet the opposite is true. Do you oppose gay marriage? Jeb Bush is your guy (so are the rest of the GOP pack). Do you want to trash Obamacare and maybe not even start over? Do you want to drill, baby, drill because you don't think human-caused climate change is real? Would you like to cut taxes and pay for it by trimming entitlements, food stamps, unemployment insurance, welfare and so on? Do you think the poor are just lazy and should just act responsible and everything would be all right? Vote for your favorite GOP candidate. They'll be right with you there, pal.

So, where does that leave us? It leaves us to watch the news and take in all the political horse-race factoids, and talk endlessly about personalities, and on and on. But let's not kid ourselves: We already know what the parties believe and have pretty much sorted ourselves out. There are the for-Hillaries and the not-for-Hillaries. If you're not-for-Hillary, choose your Republican poison.

Fun fact: Apparently, the Koch Brothers already have, and it's Scott Walker. Run, Scott, run! This will do more to discourage dark money and encourage campaign-finance reform than any other single action. The Kochs may self-deport themselves from campaign spending after blowing a billion on Scott Walker's loss to Hillary. It'll be so disheartening. I can't wait.

I wonder if this is the Republican or Democratic Caucus in the Wisconsin Assembly?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Paul Krugman Proves His Points

Krugman's got reason to be smug. He's right again.

Yes, I'm a fan of Paul Krugman and not simply because he's a liberal, a great writer, and an obviously seasoned teacher. Okay, that's mostly why I like him.

But it's also because he's so often demonstrably right about things. And here with his latest on two economic principles, crowding out and the paradox of thrift, he uses IMF data very convincingly.

The notion of crowding out is a favorite of the right because it's an argument against fiscal stimulus. The right claims that fiscal stimulus is a wash because government spending will simply "crowd out" a similar amount of private spending.


The paradox of thrift is counter-intuitive at first but a no-brainer once you look at it. In an economic downturn we all want to cut back on spending and put aside as much as we can afford for that rainy day we're currently experiencing. The public is deleveraging, or getting out of debt. If too many people do it at once it adds to the problem. As Paul says, my spending is your income and vice versa. If I stop spending, you stop earning. The economy contracts even further, and our ability to continue to save evaporates. Nobody is spending, demand falls, jobs are lost, including maybe ours. Saving is bad. Now we're unemployed and can't save anymore anyway.

So the cure is the disease, and we're screwing ourselves. Hard to break out of a recession that way. The right, once again, likes to say that an economy is like a household and when you're in trouble, stop spending. Deficits will crush you!

That may be true for households, which can suffer tremendously if people overspend their budgets by going into debt. Cars get repossessed and homes get foreclosed on. 2008 anyone?

But the herd acting across an economy will sink itself by overcutting spending. That's the paradox of thrift. It's real and can be devastating. A modest downturn can because a depression if too much money is pulled out of the economy.

Keynesian economics advises the government to take up the slack by increasing spending during downturns, in part to counter the paradox of thrift.

The right says NO! Austerity! Crowding out! But they're wrong, and Krugman's got the goods on that.

Stephen King Weighs In on GOP Field

I get the idea he doesn't like these people.

Hillary Clinton: Let the Trashing Begin

They're going to beat on me constantly anyway, might as well enjoy it!

Add to what we've been witnessing for years now with Barack Obama, let's christen the latest mental illness: Hillary Clinton Derangement Syndrome. It'll be fast and furious from now until who knows?

Maureen Dowd has been at it for as long as anyone remembers. Just one link to her for old times' sake. Mo, you'd think you didn't like Hillary or something.

Ruth Marcus, WaPo's "liberal" woman's voice, decided to bring out the snark as soon as Hillary announced. What, her campaign rollout video didn't contain an endless list of platform particulars? How rude, Hillary, how rude! Boy, you'd think maybe the political media had it out for our poor girl.

Well, then, NY Times had better get its panties in a bunch and let a liberal woman get her snark on with a funnybones attack by Gail Collins. Are you Ready for Hillary? The political media sure is.

Collins' column referenced Hillary's new love for the "everyday American." (How dare you go populist in an income-inequality election, Hillary?) So NY Times Frank Bruni can't resist Thoroughly Thrashing Hillary about those two words, before sort of admitting by the end that it's not a crazy approach.

Now the GOP clown car pulled up in New Hampshire before she could get there, and predictably the whole cast of Republican Irregulars took aim at Hillary instead of each other. What a bizarre unexpected twist! But then they'll have plenty of time to destroy each other in the weeks and months ahead.

With all this Hillary bashing and trashing, you'd think the GOP field is making progress against Clinton. You'd be wrong. The GOPers have a problem that can't be transcended by attacking a woman, one that's beating the whole field at this point.

Bonus fun video: Carly Fiorina -- the only woman "running" among GOPers -- doesn't fare well attacking Hillary. Oh snap! Woman-on-Woman crime might not be the way forward for the Republicans. Just let the boys -- and the Beltway press -- do it.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

David Brooks Is a "Good" Conservative. What Does That Mean?

Our Mr. Brooks wants to erase the "self-esteem" generation.
They're not as good as they think they are, apparently.

Among my liberal friends and family, David Brooks is the good, or rational, conservative pundit, the one they like to read. Further, they respect his views on the PBS News Hour, even if they don't agree with him the vast majority of the time.

This, of course, infuriates me, just as my view of Brooks infuriates -- or maybe just confuses? -- my liberal friends and family. Why so much anger toward Brooks, they ask.

I answer: Because he is such a sophist, using coy and softened rhetoric to support the same old white male conservative doctrine to a tee. The only difference between him and say, Peggy Noonan, is he dispenses with the smarmy faux-folksiness in favor of saccharine psychobabble.

But it's still psychobabble, which my friends and family absorb almost uncritically. Or they often do. That's why I work to discredit him. It's not that hard.

Fr'instance, Brooks just wrote a column about cultural shifts. Seems everyone is wrong to blame the hippie 60s. No, the big shift in culture was just after World War II, after all the war and Great Depression stuff. It was time to bust out. It was time for Mad Men and martinis. It wasn't the hippies after all, with their drugs and bra burning. It was curvy Marilyn, red lipstick, T-Birds, and a home in the suburbs. Who knew?

David Brooks! But uh-oh, wait just a minute, Brooks tells us. It was wrong, wrong I tell you, to think we're good and deserve a break:
In short, American popular culture pivoted. Once the dominant view was that the self is to be distrusted but external institutions are to be trusted. Then the dominant view was that the self is to be trusted and external constraints are to be distrusted.
This more positive view of human nature produced some very good social benefits. For centuries people in certain groups in society had been taught to think too poorly of themselves. Many feminists and civil rights activists seized on these messages to help formerly oppressed groups to believe in themselves, to raise their sights and aspirations.
But I would say that we have overshot the mark. We now live in a world in which commencement speakers tell students to trust themselves, listen to themselves, follow their passions, to glorify the Golden Figure inside. We now live in a culture of the Big Me, a culture of meritocracy where we promote ourselves and a social media culture where we broadcast highlight reels of our lives. What’s lost is the more balanced view, that we are splendidly endowed but also broken. And without that view, the whole logic of character-building falls apart. You build your career by building on your strengths, but you improve your character by trying to address your weaknesses.
So perhaps the culture needs a rebalance. The romantic culture of self-glorification has to be balanced with an older philosophic tradition, based on the realistic acknowledgment that we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up. That great tradition and body of wisdom was accidentally tossed aside in the late 1940s. It’s worth reviving and modernizing it.
Let's get this straight. Brooks says "we are all made of crooked timber and that we need help to cope with our own tendency to screw things up." Then we tossed away this "body of wisdom" of how bad we are. That's where we screwed up!

Now, people who bother to follow what David Brooks has to say -- okay, I'm one of them -- will recognize that, yes, this is another political column devoid of discussion of policy, mostly because the tea partiers ruined policy for sane commentators, so Brooks has waxed philosophic. Fine, I get that.

But what this most recent blather is about is Original Sin. And Nurturant Parents are no good because Original Sin, crooked timber, and also because self-esteem blows. So what we need is to go back to the Strict Father Model because, yep, turns out Original Sin. And spare the rod, spoil the child.

Just another conservative walk in the park, Brooks. You're not fooling anybody. Except maybe my liberal friends who think you're rational. Maybe you are rational, but you're about as intellectually evolved as Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

To learn more without dirtying yourself with backwoods moralism, read anything by George Lakoff.

Maybe I'm wrong about Brooks. Maybe he doesn't believe in Original Sin
and how we're ruining our awesomeous by not enough beatings by Dad.
Maybe he just thinks don't eat so many Fritos or drink so much Coke.

Note. I often include a comment or two from Brooks' peanut gallery. Here's one from a Meredith:
Another column in a long line, scolding us for our bad characters, ignoring the real problems embedded in our politics which are sold off to the highest bidder. That kind of character flaw Brooks ignores. It really is quite amusing by now.
The character that needs scolding is that of the Republican party radicals you promote, excuse and rationalize. You never seem to see any faults with their narcissism, their addiction to power, their exploitation of others, lack of principals or morality, their contempt for democracy, and ignoring of their own country's welfare. Or am I too harsh, David? You inspire me.

The Aim of Politics Is Policy, Brownback Edition

Brownback to the poors: Let 'em eat cake, if they can find it.

Sam Brownback and the Kansas legislature may not understand that they're becoming the poster child(ren) of heartless, brainless actual Republican policy.
Brownback did it.
Not satisfied with cratering his state's economy, cutting education budgets and rescinding long-established job protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender workers, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday signed a punitive, intrusive and counterproductive measure placing wholly unnecessary restrictions on how Kansas relief recipients can spend their benefits.
It also places a $25 daily limit on ATM withdrawals using the debit cards issued to recipients under the state/federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program, which is what's left of America's welfare program. That renders the cards useless for major spending, such as paying the rent, but it does mean that users will pile up ATM fees at $1 per withdrawal, plus bank fees.
In other words, the Kansas Legislature and Gov. Brownback think it's scandalous that the state's poor would use TANF funds at a swimming pool, but it's OK with them if their funds are shamelessly drained by banks. There's also no ban on the poor buying guns.
We get lost in the details of the political back-and-forth in the Republican hinterland, but let's all remember that this is how they roll, in GOP-controlled states, from Kansas to Tennessee to Indiana to Wisconsin to Ohio and so on. These are real bills, and they add up to real policy as preferred by the Republicans.

Remember, the GOP-controlled House of Representatives just voted on and passed a bill repealing the estate tax that only applies to those with estates of $5 million for individuals and $10 million for mom and dad. They also eliminated the capital gains tax on inherited investments. Boy, that's some family-friendly policy, considering it applies to only the richest .2% of Americans.

Meanwhile, the poors had better not try to swim to cool off in the hot Kansas summer. That's a no-no.

Remember this when you try to choose between Hillary and anyone in the Republican field. Hillary's policy choices might not inspire an increase in dumpster diving.

Friday, April 17, 2015

White Men Can't Jump, but They Sure Can Run

Let's face it, Marco Rubio is white. You know, like white.

Okay, maybe Bobby Jindal will run and add some darkness to the GOP field for 2016. And Ben Carson acts like a candidate, but he's not announced yet. So there's hope for a black Republican candidate not as crazy as Herman 9-9-9 Cain. Wait, somebody is actually crazier. Run, Ben, Run!

But for now it's a white, white world 'o' men out there in Republican Land, while it's pretty womany over in the state of Democratic Feminazism, what with Hillary and everything.

Apropos of all this is a Charles Blow column in the NY Times decrying the crying eyes of white bloviaters, like Wayne LaPierre and Bill "truth is truthy, right?" O'Reilly. Obama wants to turn America all Black Muslim, and if Hillary gets her way, she'll take all the guns away from the conservative white guys (who actually have most of the guns). Oh Noes! And maybe white women will want all the rights of white guys. Double Oh Noes! And somebody might take away the right of white policemen to shoot black men at will. Triple Oh Noes! I don't even know what the horror quotient is for allowing black women the rights of white men.

But all funny business aside, we're going to spend the next 18 months examining the worst instincts of the white male psyche. After all, that's at the core of the Republican heart. And who, pray tell, is threatening that?


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

McDonald's and Walmart's Low-Wage Free Ride (at Taxpayers' Expense)

Pay up, Walmart...

I've been waiting for years for the media to make this connection, that taxpayers pick up the tab -- in food stamps and other welfare benefits low-paid workers get -- for McDonald's, Walmart and other minimum-wage outfits. Finally, WaPo publishes the truth.

Not that much will happen, but the cat's outa the bag.

Why Is Chris Christie Going All In on Entitlement Reform?

Getting a little desperate for attention? Join the club.

Why did Chris Christie jump the shark with his raise-SS-age-to-69 and means-test-the-shit-out-of-it? Because he 1) wanted to burnish his bonafides as a conservative, and 2) has to acknowledge that he's so second-tier only hair-on-fire ideas will ignite any interest in him.

Well, you went and did it, Chris. You have served your brothers in madness well in one regard: You've set the bar of yes-we-can-still-trash-entitlements rather high. What's Ted Cruz going to do, go for age 70 for Social Security and privatize Medicare? Cruz is already on-board for W.'s Social-Security privitization scheme.

Unsurprisingly, the Wall St. Journal likes Christie's boldness.

But the Big Wiff here for Christie is that entitlement reform will be kicked off the table if the Democrats -- the whole party of 'em -- decide to run on expanding Social Security as the default party position. If the Dems add strengthening Medicare to their position, what happens to the GOP advantage among the Geritol set? It evaporates, unless they can conjure a Fox-News engineered "OMG the Dems want to slash entitlements!!" meme. It's worked before.

If Democrats, including Hillary, stay strong on entitlements, it'll set up the Republican field to be the Grinch That Stole Our Retirement. Good luck with that, GOPers.

Christie just out-foxed himself and may box in the GOP field. How to you go right of Christie on entitlements? You don't, unless you want your ass handed to you by the AARP legions.

Bonus fun: Watch LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik take apart some Megan McAdle nonsense on SS.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Clown Car Rundown, Person the Eighth: Marco Rubio Is the Nicest Guy to Never Be President

Don't give me that look. You'll never be president. But you knew that.

Of course I don't know who I writing to at any given moment. But tell me, do you think Rubio's da bomb? Huh?


Here, let Jamelle Bouie tell you.

I could tell you. He's viewed suspiciously by his own party. Next case.

Update. Five-Thirty-Eight likes him better than Slate or I do. Hmm.

Hillary's Running. But It's the Party, Stupid.

I'm for Hillary because I want Democratic Party positions, period.

Paul Krugman is right. The body politic is so polarized, we know who we're voting for and why.

Read Krugman. He's nailed it.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

King to Garner to Scott: The Arc of History Is Too Damn Long

Rodney King at the hands of LAPD. Would have shot him today?

The MLK quote about the arc of justice history being long but bending toward justice is unsatisfactory in so many ways, not the least of which are the continuing list of black men and boys who have to die along its length.

Eric Garner was selling loose cigarettes. A short while later he was dead.

No one was charged in the case of Eric Garner, in spite of the illegal choke hold, the lack of any attempt to save his life, or the complete lack of necessity for arresting him in such a manner.

No video, no arrested cop? You bet your life.

The crime in these cases, aside from being black, is the lack of respecting authority. He had it coming. Why did he resist arrest? If he wasn't guilty, why did he run?

Charles Pierce sums it up well.

I hope we're witnessing the beginning of a sea change, but for now, for black Americans, the arc of justice is too damn long. And for America, it's beyond embarrassing. It's cause for utter condemnation. As a country we should be deeply ashamed, and galvanized for change.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Clown Car Rundown, Person the Seventh: Rand Paul Has a Past. Does He Have a Future as President?

Bye, Rand. We hardly knew ye.

Dismissing Rand Paul as a serious presidential candidate the day he announces seems silly, so I thought I'd wait a couple of days. Okay, it's time: He'll never be president.

When you yell at Savannah Guthrie and others during your campaign rollout week for mentioning all your flip-flops, you point to two problems. One, you're a bit of a hot head, and, two, you've got a lot in your past to dodge. Your Etch-A-Sketch moment is from the git-go, and that's a bad default position to be in.

Here's a quick primer on Rand Paul's tinfoil past from TPM, and it can't be erased in the Internet Age. Josh Marshall lays it out:
Rand Paul, like Ted Cruz, will never be president. It is highly, highly unlikely either will be nominated. No, I will not say this about each candidate who announces. But it is notable that these two - who are essentially media creations - are the first two in. The alleged coalition Paul is striving to create is deeply improbable, if not downright impossible. But quite apart from that, and many other profound liabilities, there's just one that will inevitably sink him: a long, long history of conspiracy theories which are uniformly whacky and often veer into the rantings of the militia, white supremacist and neo-confederate right. [...]
Josh goes on to tell about just one speech Rand gave in support of his father in 2008, featuring the NAFTA superhighway and the Amero, a new and dangerous currency. What's worse for Rand is there's a video.

Check it out. Good luck, Rand, getting past your past.

As Josh points out, every GOP candidate isn't going to get laughed off as a nut. I agree. But with their recent reputation for clown-car-ishness, the Republicans should wish they had a way to stop so many people from announcing. But then, welcome to the Tea-Party Age. When your base requires you to be wingnutty, you might have to go wingnutty. And it might not help that you actually have been wingnutty for quite a while.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Krugman on DeLong: The Government Is Good at Some Things, So It Should Do Them.

Paul Krugman
I've long admired Brad DeLong, economics professor at Cal Berkeley, for both his approach to his craft and his head-on, no-prisoners criticism of those with whom he disagrees, especially with the policy implications of such beliefs. In this he is very much like Paul Krugman. If I don't look to DeLong's blog often enough, I can rely on Krugman to give me a heads up, as he did today. DeLong offers a draft of his ideas on the size of government and the proper level of public debt to support that government. Unsurprisingly, as the good liberal he is, he wants to grow the government in the 21st century and grow the public debt to sustainable levels in line with the size and role of government he envisions in the young century.

Here's Krugman's analysis:
What Brad argues are two propositions that run very much counter to the prevailing wisdom, especially among Very Serious People. First, he argues that we should not only expect but want government to be substantially bigger in the future than it was in the past. Second, he suggests that public debt levels have historically been too low, not too high...
So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking, is surely that government should do those things it does better than the private sector. But what are these things?
The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public goods — goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the private sector won’t provide them. National defense, weather satellites, disease control, etc.. And in the 19th century that was arguably what governments mainly did.
Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more — education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that’s not really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health. Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of these goods, hence bigger government.
Brad DeLong
Right on point. during the last thirty-five years, since Ronald Reagan flagged the government as the problem rather than the solution, there's been -- except on defense -- a general movement on the right to degrade government until, as antitaxer Grover Norquist famously said, we could "drown it in the bathtub."

Of course, when there's a Katrina, that's different. When there's a 9/11, that's different, all of a sudden first responders become our heroes. Those, er, first responders are government workers. All of a sudden we like them, we demand them.

But on so many fronts -- even first response --  government continues to degrade, and there's a cost to that. What government did well -- mandating retirement preparation, for example -- now the government is stymied by Very Serious People in the center, and low-tax denizens on the right, who argue that individuals sink or swim based on their own skills or dumb luck. But that's not enough by any measure. Left to themselves, people make a myriad of bad choices.
Now, the fact is that people make decisions like [education, retirement planning, healthcare insurance, saving for the future] badly. Bad choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary, self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just don’t handle the very long run well — call it hyperbolic discounting, call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.
When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if people mess up on such decisions, it’s their own fault. But the usual argument for free markets is that they lead to good results — not that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these areas has led to pretty good results — mandatory K-12 education, Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well as more secure.
That's a major point and one that bears repeating: You can believe in free markets all you want, but if a market fails, like the 401(k) retirement system or the healthcare market in general, then we have to abandon that market. Healthcare isn't workable in a free marketplace. We don't "consume" healthcare in the sense that some of us drive Ford Focuses and some of us prefer BMWs. When you're sick, you want a Cadillac surgeon, not a ten-year old Vespa. No one says, "I want to live, but my choices to consume healthcare are limited, so, hell, it's my funeral!" Living or dying based on dumb luck or bad choices shouldn't be the default system in a society that can provide healthcare to all.

There is no successful market for that, and people have shown that free-to-make-all-your-decisions-individually-oh-well-I-screwed-up-ha-ha-c'est-la-vie doesn't have to be the way we roll when government has a role in serving the public good so that such pitfalls are minimized. (And that's good for productivity and hence business!)

If business kills the pensions of yesteryear and the 401(k) fails to deliver -- and people are shown to vastly undersave for their retirements -- the cure is for government to step in and fix it, like expanding Social Security, not cutting it. That leads to more consumption and, yes, it's good for business!

Policies of the past thirty-five years -- not all administrations! -- haven't, on balance, done enough to prevent income inequality and bubble economics. In fact, major players like Larry Summers warn that we're in for secular stagnation, a long, dark winter of economic doldrums. It might even be the default position moving forward. Demand-side growth can't happen if you suppress wages enough and undercut the "good" government spending, the good government roles. And the crazy thing is that we can afford to do more. Deficits are dropping and debt levels are, as well.

Conservative heads might explode at this, but there you are. And as I'm fond of saying, it's the family values, stupid. Undercut the least of us, and the best of us will fall eventually. Castles made of sand, anyone?

The Walmart way: People on food stamps served by workers on food
stamps, while six Walton heirs have a greater combined wealth than
that of 100,000,000 Americans. That's not sustainable, and it's not right.