Nel's New Day

July 31, 2017

The Shrinking Republican Brain

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 9:51 PM
Tags: ,

In the mid-twentieth century, Republicans represented the elite and intelligentsia. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was a rational person who managed to provide the United States with the interstate. With the onset of actor Ronald Reagan, the GOP joined the evangelicals for power and lost its smarts—and its ability to lead. In his column, Paul Krugman asks, “Who ate Republicans brains?” and covers the changes in the past half century. 

When the tweeter-in-chief castigated Senate Republicans as “total quitters” for failing to repeal the Affordable Care Act, he couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, they showed zombie-like relentlessness in their determination to take health care away from millions of Americans, shambling forward despite devastating analyses by the Congressional Budget Office, denunciations of their plans by every major medical group, and overwhelming public disapproval.

Put it this way: Senator Lindsey Graham was entirely correct when he described the final effort at repeal as “terrible policy and horrible politics,” a “disaster” and a “fraud.” He voted for it anyway — and so did 48 of his colleagues.

So where did this zombie horde come from? Who ate Republicans’ brains?

As many people have pointed out, when it came to health care Republicans were basically caught in their own web of lies. They fought against the idea of universal coverage, then denounced the Affordable Care Act for failing to cover enough people; they made “skin in the game,” i.e., high out-of-pocket costs, the centerpiece of their health care ideology, then denounced the act for high deductibles. When they finally got their chance at repeal, the contrast between what they had promised and their actual proposals produced widespread and justified public revulsion.

But the stark dishonesty of the Republican jihad against Obamacare itself demands an explanation. For it went well beyond normal political spin: for seven years a whole party kept insisting that black was white and up was down.

And that kind of behavior doesn’t come out of nowhere. The Republican health care debacle was the culmination of a process of intellectual and moral deterioration that began four decades ago, at the very dawn of modern movement conservatism — that is, during the very era anti-Trump conservatives now point to as the golden age of conservative thought.

A key moment came in the 1970s, when Irving Kristol, the godfather of neoconservatism, embraced supply-side economics — the claim, refuted by all available evidence and experience, that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting economic growth. Writing years later, he actually boasted about valuing political expediency over intellectual integrity: “I was not certain of its economic merits but quickly saw its political possibilities.” In another essay, he cheerfully conceded to having had a “cavalier attitude toward the budget deficit,” because it was all about creating a Republican majority — so “political effectiveness was the priority, not the accounting deficiencies of government.”

Every weekday, get thought-provoking commentary from Op-Ed columnists, the Times editorial board and contributing writers from around the world.

The problem is that once you accept the principle that it’s O.K. to lie if it helps you win elections, it gets ever harder to limit the extent of the lying — or even to remember what it’s like to seek the truth.

The right’s intellectual and moral collapse didn’t happen all at once. For a while, conservatives still tried to grapple with real problems. In 1989, for example, The Heritage Foundation offered a health care plan strongly resembling Obamacare. That same year, George H. W. Bush proposed a cap-and-trade system to control acid rain, a proposal that eventually became law.

But looking back, it’s easy to see the rot spreading. Compared with Donald Trump, the elder Bush looks like a paragon — but his administration lied relentlessly about rising inequality. His son’s administration lied consistently about its tax cuts, pretending that they were targeted on the middle class, and — in case you’ve forgotten — took us to war on false pretenses.

And almost the entire G.O.P. either endorsed or refused to condemn the “death panels” slander against Obamacare.

Given this history, the Republican health care disaster was entirely predictable. You can’t expect good or even coherent policy proposals from a party that has spent decades embracing politically useful lies and denigrating expertise.

And let’s be clear: we’re talking about Republicans here, not the “political system.”

Democrats aren’t above cutting a few intellectual corners in pursuit of electoral advantage. But the Obama administration was, when all is said and done, remarkably clearheaded and honest about its policies. In particular, it was always clear what the A.C.A. was supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it — and it has, for the most part, worked as advertised.

Now what? Maybe, just maybe, Republicans will work with Democrats to make the health system work better — after all, polls suggest that voters will, rightly, blame them for any future problems. But it wouldn’t be easy for them to face reality even if their president wasn’t a bloviating bully.

And it’s hard to imagine anything good happening on other policy fronts, either. Republicans have spent decades losing their ability to think straight, and they’re not going to get it back anytime soon.

March 20, 2015

Krugman Comments on GOP Budget; Cotton Supports Netanyahu

Paul Krugman’s column on the GOP perfidy:

By now it’s a Republican Party tradition: Every year the party produces a budget that allegedly slashes deficits, but which turns out to contain a trillion-dollar “magic asterisk” — a line that promises huge spending cuts and/or revenue increases, but without explaining where the money is supposed to come from.

But the just-released budgets from the House and Senate majorities break new ground. Each contains not one but two trillion-dollar magic asterisks: one on spending, one on revenue. And that’s actually an understatement. If either budget were to become law, it would leave the federal government several trillion dollars deeper in debt than claimed, and that’s just in the first decade.

You might be tempted to shrug this off, since these budgets will not, in fact, become law. Or you might say that this is what all politicians do. But it isn’t. The modern G.O.P.’s raw fiscal dishonesty is something new in American politics. And that’s telling us something important about what has happened to half of our political spectrum.

 

So, about those budgets: both claim drastic reductions in federal spending. Some of those spending reductions are specified: There would be savage cuts in food stamps, similarly savage cuts in Medicaid over and above reversing the recent expansion, and an end to Obamacare’s health insurance subsidies. Rough estimates suggest that either plan would roughly double the number of Americans without health insurance. But both also claim more than a trillion dollars in further cuts to mandatory spending, which would almost surely have to come out of Medicare or Social Security. What form would these further cuts take? We get no hint.

 

Meanwhile, both budgets call for repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the taxes that pay for the insurance subsidies. That’s $1 trillion of revenue. Yet both claim to have no effect on tax receipts; somehow, the federal government is supposed to make up for the lost Obamacare revenue. How, exactly? We are, again, given no hint.

 

And there’s more: The budgets also claim large reductions in spending on other programs. How would these be achieved? You know the answer.

 

It’s very important to realize that this isn’t normal political behavior. The George W. Bush administration was no slouch when it came to deceptive presentation of tax plans, but it was never this blatant. And the Obama administration has been remarkably scrupulous in its fiscal pronouncements.

 

O.K., I can already hear the snickering, but it’s the simple truth. Remember all the ridicule heaped on the spending projections in the Affordable Care Act? Actual spending is coming in well below expectations, and the Congressional Budget Office has marked its forecast for the next decade down by 20 percent. Remember the jeering when President Obama declared that he would cut the deficit in half by the end of his first term? Well, a sluggish economy delayed things, but only by a year. The deficit in calendar 2013 was less than half its 2009 level, and it has continued to fall.

 

So, no, outrageous fiscal mendacity is neither historically normal nor bipartisan. It’s a modern Republican thing. And the question we should ask is why.

 

One answer you sometimes hear is that what Republicans really believe is that tax cuts for the rich would generate a huge boom and a surge in revenue, but they’re afraid that the public won’t find such claims credible. So magic asterisks are really stand-ins for their belief in the magic of supply-side economics, a belief that remains intact even though proponents in that doctrine have been wrong about everything for decades.

 

But I’m partial to a more cynical explanation. Think about what these budgets would do if you ignore the mysterious trillions in unspecified spending cuts and revenue enhancements. What you’re left with is huge transfers of income from the poor and the working class, who would see severe benefit cuts, to the rich, who would see big tax cuts. And the simplest way to understand these budgets is surely to suppose that they are intended to do what they would, in fact, actually do: make the rich richer and ordinary families poorer.

 

But this is, of course, not a policy direction the public would support if it were clearly explained. So the budgets must be sold as courageous efforts to eliminate deficits and pay down debt — which means that they must include trillions in imaginary, unexplained savings.

 

Does this mean that all those politicians declaiming about the evils of budget deficits and their determination to end the scourge of debt were never sincere? Yes, it does.

 

Look, I know that it’s hard to keep up the outrage after so many years of fiscal fraudulence. But please try. We’re looking at an enormous, destructive con job, and you should be very, very angry.

 

[Another commentary on Tom Cotton’s perfidy: The senator responsible for leading 47 percent of the Senate to destroy President Obama’s negotiations with Iran to get keep the country from building nuclear weapons is now concerned about the U.S. State Department’s cautious approach toward Netanyahu’s opposition to a two-state solution with Palestine. After the spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters that “we’re currently evaluating our approach,” Cotton came out swinging:

 

“While Prime Minister Netanyahu won a decisive victory, he still has just started assembling a governing majority coalition. These kinds of quotes from Israel’s most important ally could very well startle some of the smaller parties and their leaders with whom Prime Minister Netanyahu is currently in negotiations. This raises the question, of course, if the administration intends to undermine Prime Minister Netanyahu’s efforts to assemble a coalition by suggesting a change to our longstanding policy of supporting Israel’s position with the United Nations.”

 

Cotton, the man who undermined his own president through his letter to Iran and his support of Netanyahu’s coming to lobby for war on Iran is worried about undermining? The senator long ago declared that his letter ‘s purpose was to target international diplomacy, undermine American foreign policy, and disrupt officials during their ongoing negotiations.

In return, Cotton worries that the term “evaluating our approach” will “startle” officials abroad who are “currently in negotiations.” On the Senate floor, Cotton added, “I fear mutual respect is of little concern to this administration. The president and all those senior officials around him should carefully consider the diplomatic and security consequences of their words.” We can only assume that Cotton is trying to match the high level of hypocrisy that Netanyahu has established this past week.]

December 30, 2014

Predictions for 2014 Fall Flat

Filed under: Legislation — trp2011 @ 7:38 PM
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A favorite end-of-the-year activity, especially from conservatives, is predicting doom and gloom for the coming year. Here are three failed predictions for 2014, recorded by Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman:

Ebola: The “outbreak” of the dread disease affected fewer than a half-dozen people in the United States, and only one died. There may have been fewer problems if Texas had been more concerned about health issues instead of sending away a person who evidenced Ebola.

Economy: Conservatives predicted disaster because of what they call socialism. They have been predicting that President Obama is killing the market economy, but the stock market keeps going up as the gas prices go down. Plus the economy grew five percent in the last quarter. Forget the argument from conservatives that the stock market is benefitting only the wealthy—although most of it recognize this as the truth. It’s the conservatives who believe in “trickle-down” economy. If the rising stock market benefits the rich, then everyone should be wealthy. This is another of their predictions that doesn’t work.

Insurance: Conservatives keep saying that more people will lose insurance than those who gain it because of the Affordable Care Act. The number of people in the nation without insurance fell by about 10 million. The same conservatives claimed that this reform would break the budget. Premiums are far less than predicted by a nonpartisan group, overall health spending has the lowest increase in decades, and cost-control measures are doing well. A year ago, the media was obsessed with technological problems in the website; now there is no reference to the people who have insurance.

More failed predictions:

Marriage equality: The number of states with legalized same-sex marriage has more than doubled to 36, and the divorce rate for heterosexual people hasn’t skyrocketed.

Marijuana: Despite legalization in two state and decriminalization in several others, the drug cartels haven’t taken over. Instead, they’re losing billions in profits and power.

Russia: Conservatives kept saying that the weakness of President Obama made him a failure as a leader and Vladimir Putin’s strength made him highly successful. Instead, Russia has a massive recession and is forced to strong-arm corporations to use their almost useless rubles instead of the strengthening dollar.

Pat Robertson, wealthy televangelist, annually broadcasts his predictions for the upcoming year on his 700 Club. Last year, he started his video by saying, “Check it out when the year’s over. Was I right or wrong.” You decide; the year has only a few days left. Here is what God told him a year ago about the year 2014:

The world is going to be chaos: Chaos would be more aptly described as 2008 when the U.S. economy went into free fall and created a global financial crisis.

“This year we’re not going to have a unified world”: That’s an easy one to agree with because there is never a unified world. 

“There’s going to be some kind of credit crisis, and I think China is going to lead the way.” No credit crisis to the United States—at least more than usual. Russia may have one, but it hasn’t created a problem for the United States government.

“The Iranians will have a nuclear device before the end of the year”: Didn’t happen.

“Republicans will win control of the Congress, but they will not have a veto proof majority”: He got that right, but every other media outlet had the same message from God.

The president is going to be discredited and withdraw to Hawaii: The president’s rating keeps going up—from 42.6 percent at the beginning of the year to 47 percent now—and he’s on a roll to make executive orders while Congress dithers. The only withdrawing he’s done is his usual winter holiday vacation in Hawaii which conservatives—as usual—decry.

“It’ll be the greatest year in the history of the church”: Robertson predicted miracles and healings that “will be unbelievable, all around the world”: Haven’t heard of any.

 “Islam is going to be in retreat”: At this time, ISIL is forging ahead, and Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Protestant and Catholic church membership shrank to new lows in 2014.

Robertson has had many failed prophecies in the past: start of World War III (1981); Jay Rockefeller elected as president in 1996 (1991); hurricanes ravaging the U.S. coasts (2006); successful conclusion to the Iraq war and troops leaving the country (2007); massive terrorist attacks on the nation that decimate cities and kills millions (2007); and major economic crash (2012).

In the election of 2014, more people voted for Republicans at the same time that they supported positions that these same Republicans oppose. The coming year will show an interesting clash between voters’ wishes and their representatives:

Marriage Equality:  Twenty states legalized marriage equality compared with only eight in 2013. As of Monday, 36 states, hopefully including Florida, will provide marriage for same-sex couples. Support for same-sex marriage is over 55 percent, a 15-point increase in only five years. Around the world, twenty countries also have legalized marriage equality.

same sex marriage

Minimum Wage: Twenty-one states will boost the incomes of 4.4 million minimum-wage earners at the beginning of January 2015. For the first time, 29 states plus the District of Columbia, will have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum of $7.25, with Washington topping them out at $9.47. Four of these states approved the increase through ballot measures.

Marijuana Legalization: Three states passed medical marijuana laws this year, and two states legalized marijuana for adults to be regulated like alcohol. Only Florida lost its statewide marijuana measure, this one for medical marijuana, thanks to opposition from the millions of dollars from billionaire Shel Adelson. Even so, over half the voters supported medical marijuana: the measure received 58 percent of the vote but needed 60 percent to pass.

Climate Change: People from more than 1,000 organizations walked in the People’s Climate March in New York, including trade unions, schools, and faith-based, social justice, student, and public health groups, among others.

Cuba: Normalizing relations with Cuba could lead to a dramatic shift in Florida politics as the younger Cuban vote is turning Democratic.

Racial Justice: The public awareness of blacks being killed by an increased militarized police force can lead to reform in this area.

Areas to Watch: Money in politics, violence against women, student loan debt, inequality, the environment, women’s issues, and labor issues.

Change for the better—that may happen in 2015.

October 14, 2013

Day Fourteen of the GOP Government Shutdown: GOP Value System

Since the beginning of the shutdown, the GOP conservatives have been obsessed with national parks and monuments.

It began with Rep. Randy  Neugebauer (R-TX) publicly scolding a park ranger at the World War II Memorial because she was following the law. “The Park Service should be ashamed of themselves,” Neugenbauer said to the ranger. She replied it was a difficult task, but “I’m not ashamed.” He retorted, “You should be.” Since then, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) have filed an ethics charge against Neugebauer for attempting to “coerce” the ranger to allow access to the memorial, that he violated a House rule requiring members to behave in “a manner that reflects the creditably on the House.”

Even yesterday, protesters are illegally forcing their way into areas that the shutdown has closed. Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Mike Lee (R-UT) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) led a crowd that removed barricades at the World War II memorial and chanted “tear down these walls.” Cruz said that President Obama is using military veterans as “pawns” in the shutdown argument.

These protesters, including the one carrying the Confederate flag, are most likely the same people who write letters to the editor and contact their legislators to keep the undocumented immigrants from “breaking the laws” by entering the country.

Senior House Natural Resources Committee Republicans sent a letter to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis ordering him to “not destroy documents related to the decision this week to restrict public access” to open-air memorials and monuments in the Washington area. Those documents are actually the House votes that closed the government. As Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) pointed out:

“These same veterans that they’re pretending to help today at the WWII memorial, you know, they’re going to have access to their disability pensions is going to be limited after Oct. 15. There’s going to be cuts in prosthetic research for veterans. The National Cemetery Administration is not going to be able to lay our heroes to rest at the same rate that they were. And Michele Bachmann who was there today at the World War II Memorial actually said, ‘The shutdown is exactly what we wanted. We got what we wanted.’ A good day for the tea party is when government is having a bad day.”

Arizona’s obsession with national parks was evident when one of the state “lawmakers” referred the president as “De Fuhrer” [sic] on a Facebook post, in the mistaken belief that it was he, and not her U.S. representatives, who closed down the national parks. Arizona State Rep. Brenda Barton (R) called on rogue “Constitutional Sheriffs” to arrest park service rangers for doing their jobs and urged people to ask their local sheriffs to revoke arrest powers to federal agents within their counties. When questioned about her terminology, she said she was keeping to her Adolf Hitler analogy:

 “It’s not just the death camps. [Hitler] started in the communities, with national health care and gun control. You better read your history. Germany started with national health care and gun control before any of that other stuff happened. And Hitler was elected by a majority of people.”

Arizona has now sunk even lower, if possible.  Gov. Jan Brewer is using state funds to open the Grand Canyon, yet Arizona was the only state in the nation that stopped issuing welfare checks after the federal shutdown. The $651,000 from state taxpayers will keep the park running for only a week, and there’s no guarantee that the state will be reimbursed. The federal government will reimburse the state for welfare checks if the shutdown ends.

In Arizona, 5,200 families receive an average of $207 a week from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, less money than keeping the Grand Canyon open. After protests regarding the withholding of welfare checks, Brewer reversed the halt, claiming that “just” 3,200 families failed to receive checks for October.

In its decision to use money from the rainy-day fund of $450,000,000, state senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor (D-Phoenix) explained why the state needs to re-open the Grand Canyon: “The rainy-day fund is for emergencies, and this is an emergency. This is beyond hurting the families. … Families are relying upon this.” Arizona government has determined that families relying on Grand Canyon businesses are of more value than those forced to live below poverty level, often because of rapacious corporate wages.

Brewer has been clear that the state will continue to pay for the Grand Canyon if the shutdown has not ended in five days. TANF and other critical federal programs may not be as fortunate.

During the shutdown, conservatives find national parks important, but several of them have wanted to sell them. Rep. Cliff Steans (R-FL) told a town hall meeting that the country needs to “actually sell off some of our national parks.” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) proposed selling off 3.3 million acres of public lands last fall, and former Rep. Richard Pombo suggested selling national parks to mining companies in 2005. U.S. parks created $31 billion and 258,000 jobs in 2010 while providing recreation for everyone, not just the wealthy elite—or the mining companies. Mitt Romney said that he doesn’t know “what the purpose is” of public lands, Rick Santorum said that public lands should go “back to the hands” of the private sector, and Ron Paul advocated for public lands to be turned over to the states.

People in the United States are going jobless because of the government shutdown, and some GOP Congressional members suffered a backlash from their defiant attitude toward continuing to receive salaries. Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) said, “The thing of it is, I need my paycheck. That is the bottom line.”

Rep. Lee Terry (R-NE) joined Ellmers in her sentiment. “Whatever gets them good press,” Terry said of members giving up their salary. “That’s all that it’s going to be. God bless them. But you know what? I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

In acts of embarrassment, both Ellmers and Terry joined over 100 over members of Congress who refused to take their salaries until the end of the shutdown. Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) did offer financial advice for furloughed workers:

“If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck. Financial Institutions [sic] often offer short-term loans and other resources. Don’t wait until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options.”

This from a man who has helped shut down the government.

Senate leaders Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said this afternoon that they made progress toward opening the government and stopping the U.S. from defaulting on its debts. The House, however, will have to accept any Senate decision to stop the disasters, and that cannot happen unless Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) permits a vote in the House. Yet House members may still be as confused as Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R-IN):

“We’re not going to be disrespected… We have to get something out of this. And I don’t know what that even is.”

Rep. Morgan Griffith (R-VA) said today that the House should be prepared to reject any agreement from the Senate. The classic House position comes from Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX): “We don’t have to fund laws we didn’t pass.” There goes just about every law in the history of the United States because this House has done almost nothing except rename post offices.

While Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) may oppose a debt limit deal, he says that defaulting on the nation’s debt would be “an impeachable offense by the president.” GOP logic: we won’t let you pay the bills and then we’ll impeach you if you don’t.”

Paul Krugman’s description of the Tea Party:

“So you have this neighbor who has been making your life hell. First he tied you up with a spurious lawsuit; you’re both suffering from huge legal bills. Then he threatened bodily harm to your family. Now, however, he says he’s willing to compromise: He’ll call off the lawsuit, which is to his advantage as well as yours. But in return you must give him your car. Oh, and he’ll stop threatening your family — but only for a week, after which the threats will resume.

“Not much of an offer, is it? But here’s the kicker: Your neighbor’s relatives, who have been egging him on, are furious that he didn’t also demand that you kill your dog.”

That’s the U.S. House of Representatives.

Meanwhile four of the five new Nobel-prize winners working for the government are furloughed while members of Congress are still being paid. Taxpayers are still paying for the lawmakers’ gym. Rep. Don Young (R-AK) said, “This job is very stressful and if you don’t have a place to vent, you are going to go crazy.” (It may not have provided that assistance to all members of the Congress.) A week ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that the Senate’s gym was becoming “rank.” Yesterday he said that he wouldn’t vote for any agreement that compromises John Boehner’s (R-OH) leadership. That gym is going to get a lot more rank.

GOP values: I’ve got mine; too bad for you.

May 4, 2013

GOP Austerity Plan a Hoax

Since the GOP Tea Party took over Congress over two years ago, they’ve been screaming—sometimes literally—about the importance of spending cuts and tax cuts: in one word, austerity. I’m convinced that they know less about economics than I do—and I know almost nothing. But they have held up the golden words of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, two Harvard economists who wrote “Growth in the Time of Debt.” The message of this paper is that economic growth slows dramatically the very instant that a country’s gross debt to GDP ratio crosses 90 percent. How can we doubt people with their credentials! Journalists and policy-makers jumped on the bandwagon driven by deficit hawks.

Economists, on the other hand, thought that the research was shoddy and the conclusions absurd. Thomas Ferguson and Robert Johnson wrote in “A World Upside Down? Deficit Fantasies in the Great Recession” that too little data had skewed R&R’s conclusions after they eliminated over a century of British data when British debt loads exploded but economic growth raced forward. Marshall Auerback criticized the relevance of the cases that they had used. But major media such as the Washington Post didn’t listen, and conservative consensus was that the United States could move its economy forward by cutting jobs, stripping away vital public services, and letting the infrastructure crumble.

R&R’s entire cover has been blown by a 28-year-old graduate student at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Thomas Herndon, a 28-year-old graduate student, when he tried to replicate the Reinhart-Rogoff results as part of a class exercise. It didn’t work so he asked R&R for their data spreadsheet. In it, Herndon found disastrous problems, which he passed by his professors, Michael Ash and Robert Pollin, mistakes such as selective exclusion of years of high debt and average growth, a problematic method of weighing countries, and, worst of all, a coding error in the Excel spreadsheet that excludes high-debt and average-growth countries. Mother Jones dubbed it “the Excel Error Heard Round the World.”

With the two professors, Herndon wrote:

“A coding error in the RR working spreadsheet entirely excludes five countries, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, and Denmark, from the analysis. [Reinhart-Rogoff] averaged cells in lines 30 to 44 instead of lines 30 to 49…This spreadsheet error…is responsible for a -0.3 percentage-point error in RR’s published average real GDP growth in the highest public debt/GDP category.”

Fixing these mistakes results in an anti-austerity rationale: countries can cross artificial debt-to-GDP “threshold” and grow. The new paper from the two professors and the graduate student, “Does High Public Debt Consistently Stifle Economic Growth? A Critique of Reinhart and Rogoff,” shows:

“When properly calculated, the average real GDP growth rate for countries carrying a public-debt-to-GDP ratio of over 90 percent is actually 2.2 percent, not -0:1 percent as published in Reinhart and Rogoff. That is, contrary to RR, average GDP growth at public debt/GDP ratios over 90 percent is not dramatically different than when debt/GDP ratios are lower.”

The entire foundation for the disastrous global push for austerity and debt reductions in the 21st century was based on bad data and a spreadsheet mistake. R&R’s premise was the basis of Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) draconian Path to Prosperity budget, for GOP rejection of further stimulus, and the Fix the Debt crowd’s frenzied calls for urgent action. Even President Obama joined up with his “chained CPI” for federal programs.  In Europe, R&R’s work justified austerity policies that pushed the unemployment rate over 10 percent for the euro zone as a whole and above 20 percent in Greece and Spain. This mistake had “enormous consequences” for real people, wrote economist Dean Baker in “How Much Unemployment Did Reinhart and Rogoff’s Arithmetic Mistake Cause?”

R&R also have close ties to Wall Street billionaire Pete Peterson, who has worked on cuts in Social Security and Medicare for decades. Almost every think tank and non-profit that works on deficit- and debt-related issues have been bankrolled by Peterson, including the Peterson Institute for International Economics where Reinhart is a Senior Fellow. Her husband, Vincent Reinhart, does similar work for the American Enterprise Institute, also bankrolled by Peterson. Rogoff is listed on the Advisory Board of the Peterson Institute.

The new R&R book using the same flawed data that Herndon discovered, A Decade of Debt, is bankrolled by Peterson.

As usual when academics are caught in a mistake, R&R tried to dig themselves out of the hole but just went farther in:

“Nowhere did we assert that 90 percent was a magic threshold that transforms outcomes, as conservative politicians have suggested. […] Our view has always been that causality runs in both directions, and that there is no rule that applies across all times and places…. Our consistent advice has been to avoid withdrawing fiscal stimulus too quickly, a position identical to that of most mainstream economists.”

R&R aren’t alone in trying to lie their way out of an awkward, world-destroying mistake. Alberto F. Alesina and Silvia Ardagna tried to show that spending cuts are actually “expansionary” because all these draconian cuts are automatically followed by economic growth. Basically, the International Monetary Fund discovered that A&A were cooking the books by the way through extraneous effects in its statistical techniques. As Paul Krugman wrote, A&A didn’t crash and burn like R&R, but they did became gradually discredited.

Now some of the big players are opposing austerity: the manager of PIMCO, the largest bond-buying firm in the world; top figures at Blackrock, one of the most influential investment banks in the world; the President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso; and Martin Wolf, world-renowned finance commentator for the Financial Times. Those who want more information on why austerity doesn’t work might want to read Mark Blyth’s new book, Austerity: History of a Dangerous Idea, a collection of austerity disasters during the 20th century.

Why do conservatives want austerity? Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner, theorizes that it’s a moral tale of punishing excess. People who live beyond their means must pay the price. Unfortunately, “living beyond our means” means all the costs from George W. Bush’s preemptive wars and tax cuts for the wealthy.

Conservatives refuse to understand that the country’s current problems come from too little spending; they want the redemption of suffering. But their mandate for suffering all goes to the poor and middle class through cuts on health care and Social Security, which they call “entitlements,” despite the fact that the poor and middle class fund these programs.

Economic science, according to conservatives, evolves from what the top 1 percent wants. Right now the they think that the economic recession serves them well. The stock market has shot to the top during the push toward austerity, and the wealthy have acquired all the net worth during the past few years.

Between 2009 and 2011, the richest 8 million families, the top 7 percent, saw their average wealth rise from $1.7 million to $2.5 million each. The bottom 93%, 111 million families, each lost an average of $6,000. Therefore, the top 7 percent gained $5.6 trillion in net worth, an increase of 28 percent, while the rest of the people in the nation went down by 4 percent.

No wonder the wealthy don’t want anything to change, despite dire predictions for the country’s economy. They’re just fine right now. They fail to understand that their wealth depends on the spending of the rest of the people, spending that they cannot do if the economic inequality continues.

February 15, 2013

Rubio, Paul Offer No Specifics

The first televised response, or rebuttal, to the president’s State of the Union address was delivered almost 50 years ago by Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-IL) and Rep. Gerald Ford (R-MI) to the speech given by President Lyndon Johnson. This year two freshmen senators, Marco Rubio (FL) and Rand Paul (KY) gave differing GOP positions after President Obama’s SOTU. It was evident that neither one had heard the president’s speech; it was more of the standard narrow small-government, make-the-poor-pay conservative position.

Unfortunately for Rubio, he drew great attention from comedians and progressive programs about his sweating, face-wiping, saliva-cleaning, and bottle-swigging behavior. Until this year, Bobby Jindal and Michele Bachmann had provided the low bar for achievement in the SOTU response endeavor. From now on, the image of Rubio leaning over to pick up his bottle of water and then taking a drink in the middle of a sentence will predominate the 2013 SOTU rebuttal images.

Paul Krugman, however, provided perhaps the most scathing response to Rubio’s speech, writing “that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain.” Krugman defines zombie ideas as those that have “been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead–but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.” He cites one of the most popular of these zombies as the frequent GOP statement that tax cuts for the wealthy help the country’s economy. As almost everyone knows, deregulated financial markets led to the need for large government bailouts to keep banks from failing. Yet Rubio, in all his ignorance, claimed last Tuesday night that “a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.”

Another zombie is that deficit spending destroys jobs: Rubio wants a “balanced budget,” even in a recession. But, as Krugman points out, the economy was depressed because businesses wouldn’t invest. Rubio said, “Every dollar our government borrows is money that isn’t being invested to create jobs. And the uncertainty created by the debt is one reason why many businesses aren’t hiring.” Businesses don’t hire because people don’t have money to spend. Bush’s economy clung to life partly because of the 800,000 public jobs that he created during his two terms, about the same number of jobs lost since President Obama took office because of the cuts in government spending.

In complaining about excessive government spending, Rubio failed to admit that the deficit is shrinking faster than at any time since the end of World War II; the country actually had a $3 billion surplus in January.

budget deficit Friday

Part of that is came from the $2.5 reduction that President Obama and the Democrats in Congress already approved. And this isn’t good news: such a rapid decrease in the deficit will likely result in an economic recession, damaging everything from education to food safety to medical research.

The GOP that wants a “balanced budget” voted for big government with deficit-financed Bush’s tax cuts, Bush’s wars, Bush’s Medicare expansion, and Bush’s Wall Street bailout with no regard for the “mountains of debt heaped on our children and grandchildren.” Bush’s first budget began with a federal debt of $5.7 trillion. His last budget ended with a federal debt of $12.9 trillion. Obama is now sitting on a debt of $16.1 trillion. Senator Rubio’s math fails him.

Rubio’s treatment of the sequester matched other post-truth positions. He repeated the GOP myth that the dramatic government cuts to take place in 13 days (while Congress has declared a ten-day recess) is entirely the responsibility of President Obama. Yet it was the GOP House, supported by math whiz-kid Paul Ryan (R-WI) that passed the sequester. After the vote, House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) chortled that Republicans got 98 percent of what they wanted.

Even a GOP representative recognized the falsehood of Rubio’s statement. Justin Amash (R-MI called the GOP attempt to blame the president for the sequester “disingenuous.” He said, “The debt ceiling deal in 2011 was agreed to by Republicans and Democrats, and regardless of who came up with the sequester, they all voted for it. So, you can’t vote for something and, with a straight face, go blame the other guy for its existence in law.”

Rubio voted against the sequester, but 28 of his GOP senate colleagues voted in favor of it. In the House, which passed the sequester by 268 to 161, two-thirds of the Republicans voted in favor while one-half of the Democrats opposed it.  Doug Elmendorf, CBO director, told the House Budget Committee that automatic sequestration cuts will cost the American economy 750,000 jobs just this year.

Republicans claim that they have a plan and the opposition has provided none. It’s actually the reverse. Both Senate Dems and the president have a sequester alternative, but they include tax increases on the wealthy instead on the poor and middle-class populations. The House action that Paul Ryan (R-WI) has talked about happened six months ago—in the last Congress. Nothing has been done in the 113rd Congress.

In his formal Republican response, Rubio criticized Obama for proposing tax increases: “The tax increases and the deficit spending you propose will hurt middle class families,” Rubio said. “It will cost them their raises. It will cost them their benefits. It may even cost some of them their jobs. And it will hurt seniors because it does nothing to save Medicare and Social Security. So, Mr. President, I don’t oppose your plans because I want to protect the rich. I oppose your plans because I want to protect my neighbors.”

He described his neighbors as immigrants, working people, and middle class. Yet Rubio’s house is for sale at $675,000. Huffington Post has a very nice slide show of Rubio’s “working-class” home.

rubio house

During his call for smaller government, Rubio  explained that he was able to attend college because of a government loan, and his mother needed her Medicare.

Rubio thinks that minimum wages won’t work, that we just need “good-paying” jobs.  Yet the current minimum wage is worth almost 20 percent less than it did almost a half century ago, showing that just believing in “good-paying” jobs doesn’t work.

minimum-wage

Not having heard the president’s SOTU, Rubio complained that the president failed to present specifics. It was Rubio, however, who talked in generalities. Typical of GOP speeches, he called for spending cuts but couldn’t name anything he wanted to cut. He suggested changes in Medicare but vowed that none of the changes would hurt seniors. He claimed that the president wanted to increase the deficit. He pushed the policy of turning safety net programs over to states when he represents one of the most corrupt state governments in the nation.

Rubio even stated that combating the climate crisis means asking government to “control the weather.” The GOP refuses to accept that people influence climate change, but the chart showing the number of anomalies during the past half century should frighten anyone.

climate anomoliesRubio also neglected a number of subjects that the president addressed, for example, the need to repair the infrastructure would include the interstate highway system, initiated by Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, that allowed the nation, and particularly Florida, to become a success story in growth of population and economic opportunity. Politicians like Rubio who call for much smaller government ignore the fact that government supports them, in Rubio’s case for most of his working life.

In his Tea Party response, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) used the same zombie ideas, accusing the president of over-spending and over-taxation. He used Ronald Reagan’s claim that “government is the problem,” the same President Reagan who increased government spending, raised taxes seven years of his two terms, and almost tripled the national debt.

Paul said that everyone in the United States is “guaranteed a chance to succeed based not on who your parents were but on your own initiative and desire to work.” Paul’s father was a doctor in the U.S. Air Force and National Guard because he became an obstetrician and then served in the U.S. government for 24 years. He, too, is convinced that the job market will flourish as soon as the government gives another big tax cut to corporations.

Paul shared the spending blame between both major political parties, further promoting the division between mainstream GOP and Tea Party members. Rubio’s party wants the sequester to take effect to destroy the president whereas Paul wants to get rid of most defense spending and foreign aid.

Like Rubio, however, Paul had no specifics. And like Rubio, Paul voted against the Violence against Women Act that would help women subjected to domestic abuse and sexual assault. There seems to be no end to the “war on women.”

August 28, 2012

Republicans Live in Alternate Universe

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 10:34 PM
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A little over one hour drive from the GOP convention in Tampa is the fantasy land of Disney World. But the Republicans don’t need to go that far to find their own personal fantasies. Looking at Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) perspective of how raped women can’t get pregnant, it seems that the conservatives are concentrating on seventeenth-century superstition. But Republicans beliefs go far deeper into a magical world than that.

Republicans have this fantasy that reducing the deficit will happen if government doesn’t raise revenue or cut spending. Yes, they plan to cut spending for the safety net, but they will replace all that with adding to the defense budget and raising tax cuts for the wealthy. They have this fantasy that lower taxes for the wealthy will bring jobs—even if this hasn’t happened for the past decade when they did it.

Ronald Reagan believed that he could get more revenue by bringing in less. At least, he believed it until he found out it didn’t work and raised taxes 11 times. Some people say more. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), VP wannabe, still believes that less revenue means more money.

Republicans have this fantasy that the United States can have two wars and not have to pay for them. They think that they can pay for prescriptions for older people and not have to pay for them. They think that they can give the Pentagon more money and not have to pay for it.

Republicans have this fantasy that modeling the country after a business that guts business and sends jobs overseas will create more jobs. They think that we can have the best health care in the world without the Affordable Care Act by just saying that we have the best health care in the world. Even if the United Nations rates the United States health care as 37th in the world.

Republicans have this fantasy that there won’t be climate change if they say there isn’t any climate change. As George W. Bush said, “What’s wrong with a little heat?” Of course, he said that before last year saw the worst drought and the worst fires in history in Texas.

Other Republican fantasies include creating “clean coal” by putting the word “clean” before “coal” and assuming that all the fruit and vegetables will magically get picked even if there are no migrant workers.

Fantasies have to come from some place. As Paul Krugman pointed out, Ryan gets many of his monetary philosophies from Francisco d’Anconia. Not everyone recognizes the name because he is a fictional character in Atlas Shrugged. As John Galt’s sidekick, d’Anconia believes in the return to the gold standard, including gold coins, and rejects the concept of paper money. Ryan wants to turn back time two centuries to the early 1800s. A Republican president, Richard Nixon, took the United States off the gold standard over 40 years ago.

Even conservative David Brooks claims that Ryan lives in a “political fantasy.” When Ryan was on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, they developed a plan that would have simplified the tax code, lowered rates, and capped the size of government, brought the federal debt down from 73 percent to 67 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Because the plan didn’t address Medicare, Ryan walked out and refused to participate. The commission collapsed.

As Brooks said, “Ryan’s fantasy … is the fantasy that the other party will not exist.” According to Brooks, this fantasy has permeated the GOP this year, that the Republican politicians have not given one speech that “grapples with the real world—that we live in a highly polarized, evenly divided nation and the next president is going to have to try to pass laws in that context.” When Ryan voted against the Simpson-Bowles Plan, “he missed the chance to do something good for the country.”

Beyond the lies that the Republicans tell, they have other fantasies. They maintain that President Obama will take away all the guns because he hasn’t said anything about taking away guns. They believe that there is a plot to build a highway from Canada to Mexico in order to create these countries with the United States in a combined state, the North American Union.

Republicans have this fantasy that the founding fathers created this country as a Christian nation despite the documentation that they didn’t. They believe that a man like Nathan Bedford Forrest is a hero, a slave-trader who killed surrendered African-Americans when he was a Civil War General. One of his supporters, Todd Kiscaden, said, “I recommend this man to model his life after… He always led from the front.  He did what he said he was going to do.  He took care of his people, and his people included both races.”

One of Rush Limbaugh’s fantasies was that the president had the National Hurricane Center change the path of the storm so that he could send FEMA to Tampa and make the GOP convention look like a disaster area. More than that, Limbaugh thought that the president used the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program (HAARP), an ionospheric research program jointly funded by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy, the University of Alaska, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, to guide the hurricane.

The Republicans have a fantasy that they can convince women to vote for them because they will be economically better than with a Democratic leadership. Conservatives brush away the erosion of women’s rights as a “side issue.” Republicans also have a fantasy that they can woo minority voters by driving immigrants out of the country.

Republicans have a fantasy that the nation is better off with far fewer teachers and firefighters and law enforcement people. They believe that voting is a privilege, not a right. They think that fertilized eggs deserve all the rights of human beings but that LGBT people don’t deserve the same rights. And they believe that businesses, even the ones with federal assistance, succeeded with no outside help.

Republicans—especially the presidential candidates—have the fantasy that God has specially selected each one of them to rule the United States of America.

As Jonathan Schell said in The Nation, “Republicans have exhibited a strong desire to take up residence in an imaginary world, an alternate reality—one in which global warming is found to be a fraud perpetrated by the world’s top scientists, Obama turns out to have been born in Kenya and is a Muslim (and a socialist), budgets can be slashed without social pain, firing government employees reduces unemployment, tax cuts for the wealthy replenish government coffers, and so forth.”

Totalitarian regimes show that this fantasy goes well together with the will to power that the Republicans have shown in their single-minded determination to unseat President Obama. As one of George W. Bush’s advisers said to Bush at the height of the Iraq War, “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.” The best way to get support for propaganda is to erase any reality that disagrees with it.

AGR Daily News Service

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