Why This Election Was Important

Monday, November 12th, 2012

(By Mark Bridger, cross-posted at ThatMansScope)

There are may signs that the American economy is improving — albeit slowly and fitfully. Many things can go wrong, including serious and expensive consequences of climate change and serious and expensive consequences of Congress’s inability to come to terms on financial policy in the face of the vast tax increases and spending cuts due at the end of the year. I think that some sort of compromise will probably be made, though it will likely be distasteful. In any case, in several years it is likely that unemployment will be down and GDP and the stock market will be much higher.

Had Obama lost this election, the credit for whatever upturn may occur would have gone to Romney, the Republicans, and their crazy theory of trickle-down (ugh!) economics. This would enable the Party for The Rich (PTR, formerly GOP) to claim credit, as so often happens, for policy decisions made previously by others (e.g. Obama’s “stimulus” package and the withdrawal from two wars). This in turn could easily have led to 8 or more years of conservative policies under several Republican administrations — postponing the politically progressive effects of the changing demographics for perhaps another generation.

In addition, there is a real chance that Obama has learned enough about the PTR to understand that “bipartisanship” is a meaningless term these days, and compromise by Democrats has meant, too often, capitulation to off-the-wall Republican reactionaries. We have paid a price for Obama’s on-the-job training, and it would have been a pity to lose that investment.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I like to picture Obama proposing serious recovery programs — including transfer of federal funds from the military into “clean energy” and infrastructure. I’d like to imagine him accompanying each of these proposals with news conferences and public addresses explaining and advocating for them (something he barely did for health care), while asking people to pay attention to the responses they get from the Republicans. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each time the PTR tries to sabotage his program he calls them out loudly and publicly on it? That’s what a real activist President — like FDR — would do.

Obama strikes back: Remember when Mitch McConnell said that the priority of the Republican party would be to ensure that Obama is a one term President? (If you don’t, here is the video.) I hope Obama can skillfully rub his nose in that; also, dump on the cowardly John Boehner and the vile Eric Cantor. These three guys need to be surgically neutralized and ridiculed. Maybe Obama and the Democrats can get some of their “Hollywood friends” to write the lines: subtle, humorous, devastating. Oh, and while we’re at it, what about some further examination of the record of that hood Darrell Issa? For more details, see the New Yorker article on Issa.

And then there’s the Supreme Court: need I say more?

Finally, for today: Can we at last put Sheldon Adelson behind bars? He spent maybe $100 million supporting various Republican candidates for President — first Gingrich, then Santorum, and finally Romney — in the hope that electing one of them would save him and his casinos from further investigation into violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act — see this Times piece for more info — or Google it.

Whew: nice that the right person won the Presidential election a few days ago!

Will Obama Ride 7.8% Jobless Rate to Reelection?

Friday, October 5th, 2012


By Josh Marks

The Denver debate should be a distant memory after today’s jobs report that the unemployment rate fell to 7.8 percent. That is the jobless rate when Obama took office in January 2009 when he inherited the worst economic disaster since the Great Depression. Seven sounds a lot better than eight and much, much better than the peak of 10 percent in October 2009. Significantly, in the mind of the American public, 7.8 percent sounds closer to the 7.2 percent unemployment figure that Ronald Reagan rode to reelection in 1984.

What Obama has achieved trumps Reagan because he inherited a global economic meltdown not seen since 1930. And Reagan wasn’t up against a hostile Republican Congress hellbent on his destruction. Despite all Obama was up against, he managed to pass Keynesian stimulus in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that was actually bigger than FDR’s New Deal. The unemployment rate could have been even lower had it not been for right-wing state governors implementing draconian public sector cuts and austerity-obsessed, obstructionist congressional Republicans blocking the American Jobs Act.

But despite an entire political party putting rigid ideology above the good of the country and global events out his control, President Obama has America headed in the right direction in terms of jobs and the economy. He must be reelected to finish the job and keep America moving forward.

Republicans keep falsely claiming that Obama is bringing European-style socialism to America, but it is the Republicans who want to bring Europe’s disastrous austerity measures to our shores.

And how is austerity working across the Atlantic?

Eurozone unemployment is at a record high with almost 18.2 million people out of work and an unemployment rate of 11.4 percent. Austerity measures are slowing down economic growth in Europe. The unemployment rates in Spain and Greece are both 25 percent as both countries have instituted massive spending cuts that has prolonged the pain. This is what Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and the Republican Party would like to bring to the United States.

With Romney’s first term consumed with rolling back all the progress Obama and the Democrats have made — the Recovery Act, health care reform, Wall Street reform and more — and Ryan working with Republicans in Congress to make his anti-government budget fantasy a reality, America could see the unemployment rate start to increase again as European-style austerity measures take effect.

But we can prevent this nightmare scenario by reelecting Barack Obama and VP Joe Biden and progressives and moderates at every level of government who will work with the president instead of obstructing and filibustering everything. That means electing progressives and moderates in Congress and at the state, city and local levels.

An unemployment rate of 7.8 percent is great news, especially so close to the election. Just to parse it down some more — 873,000 Americans reported having jobs and employers created 114,000 jobs in September. That means the number of unemployed Americans is at 12.1 million, the fewest since Obama took office.

It is up to us to make sure the unemployment rate continues to decrease under President Obama. We must work hard to push Obama over the top this November. Make phone calls. Knock on doors. Talk to your neighbors and friends. Put up a lawn sign. Slap a bumper sticker on the back of your car. But most importantly, register to vote and then VOTE!

Here is Obama talking about today’s great news at my alma mater — George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Weekend Reading List

Saturday, September 29th, 2012

For this weekend’s reading list we have articles on the Obama vs. Romney Supreme Court, True the Vote, rebuilding the middle class, guns and reducing crime in big cities, and dealing with climate change.

 

An Obama Supreme Court Versus a Romney High Court – a report evaluating the potential impacts of November’s Presidential election on the future of the Supreme Court and the critical economic and social issues that the Court will likely face over the next years and decades.

A Reading Guide to True the Vote - an overview and collection of articles about True the Vote, the right-wing, tea party aligned organization that is promising to have 1 million poll watchers interfering with people’s right to vote this November.

10 Ways to Rebuild the Middle Class For Hardworking Americans – a report on raising the minimum wage, protecting union rights, stopping wage theft, making workplaces family friendly, and other steps that are key to restoring the middle class in the US.

Our Romance With Guns – a review of three books discussing our nation’s obsessions with guns and and the strategies that cities have taken to reduce gun violence.

In a Climate-Crazed World, How Can We Plan for the Future? – an essay about the challenges of taking action today to address future problems, such as climate change, that have uncertain ramifications, timing, etc.

 

Paul “The Cowardly Lion” Ryan for Vice President???

Saturday, August 11th, 2012

Most major media outlets are at the time of this post reporting that Mitt Romney intends to select Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) as his running mate.   As such, now is a good time to take a look at Ryan’s cowardly record of proposing to abolish Medicare and raise taxes on the middle class, while providing more tax giveaways to the wealthy, all under the guise of being a fiscal conservative.

Any discussion of Paul Ryan and fiscal issues should start with the fact that he has zero credibility as a “deficit hawk.”  For example, Ryan supported every deficit-inducing Bush tax cut and tax cut extension, voted for the unfunded prescription drug expansion of Medicare and supported military ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan that weren’t paid for

Over the past few years, however, Ryan has tried to fabricate a record as a fiscal conservative by issuing a series of budget plans, including the 2010 Roadmap to America’s Future and the 2012 Path to Prosperity.  In reality, Paul Ryan’s proposals should be called the Path to Higher Deficits and a Weaker Middle Class.  For example, the folks at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained that Ryan’s 2010 budget proposal would:

* Raise taxes on three-quarters of Americans, including any family with an annual income between $20,000 and $200,000 by, among other things, replacing the corporate income tax with an 8.5% value added tax that would hit middle class families the hardest

* Provide massive tax giveaways to the wealthiest two percent through elimination of the estate tax and capital gains taxes, reduction of the top tax brackets, and repeal of the corporate income tax.  Households with annual incomes of more than $1 million would receive an average tax break of $502,000.

 * Abolish Medicare for people currently under 55 years of age, and replace it with an inadequate voucher that would shrink in comparison to expected health care cost increases for people to try to purchase insurance on the market.  A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that Ryan’s proposed elimination of Medicare would cost seniors between $7,000 and $13,000 per year while eliminating much of the cost savings achieved through the existing Medicare system.

* Cut Social Security benefits by 16% by 2050 and 28% by 2080, while blowing a $1.2 trillion hole in the Social Security Trust Fund in order to shift people to privatized accounts.

* Eliminate Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and replace them with a tax credit and a voucher that would be insufficient for many lower income folks to purchase insurance.

*  Lead to an increase in the national debt from its 2010 level of 60% of GDP to a peak of nearly 175% by 2050 and remain at 100% or more of  GDP through 2080.

Despite these facts, many in the media will almost certainly continue to pretend that Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are somehow “brave” and “serious.”  For people who claim that, we ask:

* What is brave and serious about a Republican using deficits that conservatives created to propose abolishing Medicare, and replacing it with a program that would cost more to implement while leaving most seniors without quality health care?

* What is brave and serious about a Republican proposing a deficit “reduction” plan that would eliminate the tax on wealthy estates and lower taxes on the wealthiest Americans, while raising taxes on the poor and working class?

* What is brave and serious about a Republican proposing a deficit “reduction” plan that puts almost all of the burden of spending cuts on the middle class, working class, and poor?

* What is brave and serious about a Republican proposing a deficit “reduction” plan that relies on cooking the books and using ridiculous assumptions?

The simple fact is that Paul Ryan’s budget proposals are cowardly, as they simply go along with the interests of the Republicans’ billionaire funders while ignoring the role that conservative economic policies played in creating the deficits, eviscerating middle class security, and undermining our economy.  And if Romney chooses Ryan as his running mate, Multiple Choice Mitt will simply be confirming that he prioritizes abolishing Medicare, privatizing Social Security, and providing billionaires with even more tax giveaways over any sort of serious effort to address the deficit in a balanced way.

If Ryan and Romney wanted to show they were “brave” and “serious” they would acknowledge that economic growth is the primary short term way to reduce the deficit, and that asking the wealthy to pay their fair share, cuts to military spending cuts and corporate subsidies, increased immigration, and the types of sensible efficiencies promoted by health care reform are what are necessary to achieving long term fiscal sanity. Unfortunately, Ryan and Romney are neither brave nor serious. Instead, they are just Cowardly Lions, but without a heart.

Why Not Expand the Federal Workforce? That’s What Reagan Did

Friday, July 6th, 2012

(By Fay Paxton, cross-posted at The Pragmatic Pundit)

After saying President Barack Obama does not care about the private sector, Mitt Romney insisted, “…..He [Obama] says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers…. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”  Is it me?  What are firemen, policemen and teachers?  Aliens?

After President Obama remarked that “the private sector is doing fine”, Romney, the media and pundits pounded the president for what was described as a remark that proved “he is out of touch”.  Republicans once again touted the success of President Reagan at turning around the recession during his presidency and his “small government” ideology. Reagan!  It’s always about Reagan!

There is no debate that during Reagan’s tenure unemployment reached a high of 10.8% in his first term, and by the time he ran for his second term it had been reduced by more than 3 points.  But how did he do it?  One way was by expanding the federal workforce.

Despite claims to the contrary, historically, Democratic presidents reduce the size of the federal government workforce and Republicans expand it.  The federal employment numbers, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the department charged with tracking the number of employees, the data shows the following:

Today, we have fewer nonmilitary employees under President Obama than we had 30 years ago.  The truth is, Reagan, the small government guru expanded government more than any modern-day President.  His was the largest non-military workforce in three decades.  In fact, the only president who had a workforce that surpassed Reagan’s was President Johnson’s.  Of course, Johnson presided over the nation during the Vietnam War, while Reagan was in office during peacetime.

If we combine the totals for all federal employees, including the military:

Reagan began office with a total of 4,982,000 employees and ended his term with 5,292,000 employees.  While President Obama took office with a federal employee roster of 4,430,000 employees.  At the end of 2010 President Obama’s federal workforce numbered  4,443,000; that’s 849,000 fewer employees than Reagan, the advocate of small government!

Add to this the fact that President Reagan governed during peacetime, while President Obama inherited two wars.

And like now, the share of total income that went to the highest-income households grew, while the share of total income of the lowest-income households fell.   The number of Americans below the poverty level increased from 29.3 million when he took office to 31.3 million in 1988 and for the first time since the Great Depression,  homelessness became a visible problem.

After the 2010 elections, the eleven states that went red and Texas were responsible for 70 percent of public sector job losses. Clearly, the losses were the result of deliberate decisions, because even in the face of tight budget constraints, many of these states cut taxes for corporations and top earners. It was part of a new agenda that came in with GOP/Tea Party legislators.  More importantly, states would not have found themselves in such a budgetary straightjacket had Republicans not insisted on trading $40 billion in state stabilization for tax cuts in order to support the Stimulus.

Spending to Stimulate the Economy

Ronald Reagan’s faithful followers claim he has used his skills as the Great Communicator to inaugurate a new era of liberty and free markets. Reagan himself said, “It is time to check and reverse the growth of government.”

Here’s how the Reagan administration performed:

* The budget for the Department of Education, which candidate Reagan promised to abolish along with the Department of Energy, more than doubled.
* Social Security spending rose from $179 billion in 1981 to $269 billion in 1986.
* The price of farm programs went from $21.4 billion in 1981 to $51.4 billion in 1987, a 140% increase; this doesn’t count his $4 billion “drought-relief” measure.
* Medicare spending in 1981 was $43.5 billion; in 1987 it hit $80 billion.
* Federal entitlements cost $197.1 billion in 1981 and $477 billion in 1987.

Reagan tripled the Gross Federal Debt, from $900 billion to $2.7 trillion. It took 31 years to accomplish the first postwar debt tripling, yet Reagan did it in eight.

To be honest, the real problem is those who idolize an “imaginary” Reagan and insist on a portrayal that barely existed; focusing on what he believed and said rather than what he actually did.  They do so, not just for the Reagan legacy, but to enhance political leverage.  The sadness is that honesty about his true performance need not diminish his memory.  And that’s my issue more than anything else.  Like with absolutely everything….Republicans lie!

An accurate depiction of Reagan would portray a president, whether out of wisdom or acquiescence,  grew the size of government, bailed-out Social Security and Banks and raised the debt limit 17 times.  Yet, when he realized the huge tax-cuts he had promoted were harmful to the economy, he reversed himself and in the end,  expressed regret that he had turned the country from a creditor nation to a debtor nation.  He knew how to compromise.  The Conservatives actually learned nothing from Reagan.

 

Will Voters Punish Republicans for Punishing the American People?

Thursday, July 5th, 2012

By Josh Marks

Republicans are the problem. That is the conclusion of the excellent new tome “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism” by congressional scholars Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein. Mann is a liberal from the Brookings Institution and Ornstein is a conservative from the American Enterprise Institute, so they can hardly be accused of a partisan agenda.

“It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” labels today’s GOP as an “insurgent outlier” in American politics that “contributes disproportionately to its dysfunction.” The Republican leadership made it clear from day one President Obama took office that their mission was to make sure he spends only one term in the White House. Then in 2010, the House of Representatives was overtaken by right-wing extremists with a take-no-prisoners approach to (un)governing.

Anti-government Republicans have a strategy to “starve the beast” with damaging cuts to the public sector so the federal government has a difficult time of doing their job. They want the American people to lose faith in Washington institutions and it appears to be working given the low approval ratings of Congress. The mainstream media contributes to the anti-Washington sentiment by trying to be “fair and balanced” and blaming both sides for the dysfunction rather than squarely aiming at the Republicans for their relentless filibustering obstructionism.

So it is quite clear that for the past nearly two years, Republicans in Congress have put President Obama, congressional Democrats and by extension the American people through hell by refusing to even consider legislation that would put people back to work. Teaching and national service positions remain unfilled. Construction workers sit at home while infrastructure projects are idle. Global warming continues on a dangerous course while many Republicans refuse to even acknowledge the reality of man-made climate change let alone attempt legislation to tackle the problem.

But will the average voter punish the Republicans for punishing them? Historically, when times are tough there is the urge to “throw the bums out of office.” Mann and Orenstein provide a dire warning if we want to find our way out of the current dysfunction. First they  warn that “voters often treat elections as referendums on the performance of the party of government,” meaning that this gives Republicans an incentive to obstruct President Obama’s agenda because they cynically plan on the American people blaming Obama for the economy.

There is also the danger that swing voters who don’t pay close attention to the everyday workings of Congress and how the Republicans have made every little decision into an epic battle, will “simply bet that times will improve with different leaders.” This is what happened in 2010. The economy was (unrealistically) not improving fast enough so many voters chose Tea Party Republicans hoping something, anything different would make things better. Instead it made things worse.

Thankfully, the book is not all doom and gloom. Mann and Orenstein are actually optimistic that today’s deeply dysfunctional political situation will change. They go over specific proposals such as expanding the vote (and fighting Republican-led efforts to restrict the vote), modernizing voter registration, moving election day from Tuesday to the weekend so it is easier to get to the polls, and following the Australian system by making attendance at the polls mandatory.

There are many other excellent ideas, such as restoring majority rule in Congress and limiting filibusters, but the most immediate change needs to be made within the Republican Party and by the American voter. The authors argue that change must come from within the GOP. The hard swing to the right must be countered by an uprising from pragmatic moderates and centrists who used to have more of a say in the Republican Party but now look in horror at the uncompromising extremists who have taken over the GOP.

The longer term fix is a transition to a Westminster-style parliamentary system that “provides a much cleaner form of democratic accountability than the American system.” More importantly in the short term regarding this November’s election, the authors provide the following recommendation to voters:

“Punish a party for ideological extremism by voting against it. (Today, that means the GOP.) It is a surefire way to bring the party back into the political mainstream.”