Saturday, September 29, 2012

Paying income tax is an elite privilege?

Ravi Agarwal notes that only 1.7 percent of people in China and 2.8 percent in India make enough money to pay income tax.  That's about 1/3 of humanity living income tax-free.

In fact, "in much of the world – across Asia, Africa, and South America – it turns out that not paying income tax is not unusual; paying taxes is unusual."

So here's his big blasphemous idea that would probably get anybody killed for saying it at a Tea Party townhall meeting:

We tend to think of income tax as a burden. Perhaps we should see it as a privilege, a luxury to have an income level that makes us eligible to pay it. Look around the world and you’ll see that income tax payers are part of an elite club. More people want into this club than out.

By Ravi Agrawal
September 26, 2012 | CNN

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wisdom, not weakness

I hate to direct anybody to V.D. Hanson's stupid commentary on U.S. foreign policy, yet he represents the highest grade of right-wing garbage out there, so I might as well take him down.

It's hard to understand what he is criticizing Obama for, exactly.  For being too soft, certainly.  But on whom?  On Qaddafi?  Oops.  On Syria's Bashar Assad?  Well, they won't come out and say we should start a war with Syria, so what then?  Arm Assad's opponents?  Oops: blowback from angry students is one thing; blowback from armed militants is another.  So that leave us only with more finger-wagging in Assad's general direction.

Or is Obama being too soft on mobs of Arab street protesters?  If so, how could he "get tough" on them?  By bombing them?  By infiltrating them with our spies?  By arming police with tear gas and riot gear?  I'm sure that would calm them down; no blowback potential there, oops.  Then what should Obama do?  More finger-wagging again?

Or, take the recent brutal murder of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens in Libya.  Obama said he would track down the killers and bring them to justice, which sounds pretty tough to me.  (And this President actually tracks down killers.)  Hanson and others criticize Obama for an "absence of adequate military security" in Benghazi.  Fair enough.  But isn't that a technical, not a policy, issue?  The U.S. had no diplomatic presence in Libya for years, and so our embassy outposts there have not yet been well-developed.  Moreover, being a diplomat in a war-torn country is a dangerous job; that's what they signed up for. Just like serving in Afghanistan and Iraq is a dangerous job, to which 6,611 U.S. military fatalities there to-date somberly attest.  (V.D. Hanson can claim his share of intellectual credit for putting them there.)

Here's how Obama explained, before the UN on September 25, why he did what he did:

We intervened in Libya alongside a broad coalition and with the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, because we had the ability to stop the slaughter of innocents and because we believed that the aspirations of the people were more powerful than a tyrant. 

And as we meet here, we again declare that the regime of Bashar al-Assad must come to an end so that the suffering of the Syrian people can stop and a new dawn can begin. 

We have taken these positions because we believe that freedom and self-determination are not unique to one culture. 

These are not simply American values or Western values; they are universal values. 

American values?  That kind of talk drives blood-and-guts neocons like Hanson to tears.  Values never gave anybody a hard-on.  

This is all child's play relative to deadly-serious nuclear tensions between the U.S. and Iran, yet Hanson and the Right's criticism of Obama is pretty much the same: Obama is too soft.  OK, what should Obama do then?  Start a third preemptive war in 10 years that would suck in the entire Middle East and send the price of gas sky-high?  Don't like that, you say?  OK, what then?  Yet more finger-wagging?  Oops, it sounds like Obama just did that at the UN:  

Make no mistake:  A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.  It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy.  It risks triggering a nuclear arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. 

The simple truth is that Hanson and his fellow disgraced neocons have no new ideas, they blew their load in Iraq, and now they long for the good ole' days when our President was a gullible gorilla who liked to grunt and beat his chest, and who would ape whatever they whispered in his ear.  The days when a few craven and dependent dictators like Qaddafi and Mubarak might pay attention.

You see, America's super-muscular military might is only effective against regimes, not against oppressed people who have nothing to lose, and already live in privation and terror. U.S. military power cannot secure their health, their dignity, or a job.  Therefore, neocons like Hanson want America to maintain friendly but autocratic foreign regimes.  Without regimes to threaten or pay off, Hanson and Co. have nothing to offer. 

The more difficult truth is that there is nothing "weak" about America's reading the writing on the wall and adjusting.  Sooner or later, Qaddafi and Mubarak were going down.  Sooner or later, Assad will too.  Yes, these Devils We Knew provided some comfort and stability to us in a region we don't understand and don't really care to.  But as these devils come under attack by their own oppressed people, it would be stupid and pointless -- and contrary to our stated values -- for us to stand alone against a tide of self-determination.  Obama should be applauded for not standing behind dictators who were about to fall, vainly propping them up a bit longer.  That was not weakness on his part, it was wisdom.

Finally, the most difficult truth for some Americans is that we cannot direct world events like pieces on a chess board, especially and increasingly not by military means.  We can't (and don't want to, I hope) stop some moron for posting an amateurish film on YouTube; just like we can't stop street protests in more than 20 countries as a result of it.  We shouldn't try.  And we shouldn't wring our hands over our "powerlessness."  Only when all people enjoy liberty will the real work of U.S. diplomacy begin: then they, not their oppressors, will decide whether they stand with the United States.  Meanwhile, we must have faith that our cherished values will prevail, and speak with confidence and consistency about them to the ignorant and the skeptical.  The alternative has been tried... and failed.

By Victor Davis Hanson
September 25, 2012 | National Review

If Bain was the Harvester, then Romney was...the Grim Reaper?

The last sentence is the best: 

Romney mentioned that it would routinely take up to eight years to turn around a firm—though he now slams the president for failing to revive the entire US economy in half that time.

That mask was made from magic underwear - Yikes!

This clip shows the young CEO focusing on businesses as targets for his investors, not as job creators or community stakeholders.

By David Corn
September 27, 2012 | Mother Jones

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Romney's 'mind-bending flip-flop' on ERs and health care

Just in case you missed it, here's another epic flip-flop from "Mr. Substance," Mitt Romney.

By David A. Graham
September 25, 2012 | National Journal

Lowry: No longer a referendum on Obama

So here's the editor of the conservative National Review acknowledging what most people (but not all) have known for a while now: Romney's going to have to run as himself, not as Not Obama.  Here's how Rich Lowry put it:

Mitt Romney has to win a choice election.  If you had to pinpoint the exact moment when Romney’s strategy to make the election largely a referendum on President Barack Obama collapsed, about 10:56 p.m. EST on Wednesday, Sept. 5 would be as good a guess as any. That’s when, roughly 20 minutes into his sprawling oration at the Democratic convention in Charlotte, N.C., former President Bill Clinton said that no president — not even the 42nd — could have done a better job fixing the economy than Obama, given the problems the incumbent inherited.

[...]  There’s been nothing to match it for the Republicans, which is one reason that Romney is now tied with Obama on the economy in many recent polls. Election Day is nearly six weeks away and there’s still a sense that the Romney campaign has not yet — although it is moving this way — fully begun to make its case on substance.

The problem is that Romney doesn't have much substance.  His ideas conspicuously lack specifics so as to avoid scrutiny or criticism.  (Seriously, go to the Issues section of his campaign website, if you don't believe me.)  Nevertheless, Lowry thinks Romney's got reams of data in his CEO's brain that he hasn't shared with us yet: 

[N]o miraculous intervention from the outside is going to save Romney. It all comes down to him. Romney is not a natural ideologue, nor — obviously — a natural backslapper. But he is a data-obsessed salesman. He should be pitching his program with all the zeal and airtight attention to detail of a presentation for a Bain Capital business deal.

Oh my, I truly hope Romney takes Lowry's advice.  I'll be looking forward to this: finally, a debate on ideas.  I'm really, really curious to learn how Romney plans to return $15.5 trillion in lost wealth, get back 8.8 million lost jobs, and pull 24 percent of all U.S. homeowners out from $690 billion in underwater mortgages -- all a result of Dubya's Great Recession.  This is not to mention how Romney plans to deflate the $1 trillion student loan bubble that is just waiting to pop and ruin 22 million young Americans' futures... assuming a) Romney knows about it, and b) he gives a care.  And then there are those pesky 50 million Americans without health insurance who Romney thinks already do have medical care... in emergency rooms.  

Yeah, I want to see numbers, charts, graphs... everything you'd expect from a "data-obsessed salesman."  Let's see what an impressive, experienced "pitchman" Romney really is.  

By Rich Lowry
September 26, 2012 | Politico

U.S. of Moochers: 96% get federal benefits!

96 percent!?  That's twice as bad as Mitt thought!  Egad, we're all "victims" dependent on Big Government!  

If you include all federal benefits that go to specific households, from Social Security to even tax expenditures like the mortgage-interest deduction, then survey data from 2008 reveals that 96 percent of Americans have received assistance from the federal government at some point in their life:

[...] Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.  On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives.

Fortunately for the GOP, most of us don't know we're recipients though, so we can vote against those "moochers" and "leeches" (against ourselves) with a clear conscience and plenty of righteous anger.  Ignorance is bliss!

By Brad Plumer
September 26, 2012 | Washington Post

You might be a racist if...

America is still a racist country and these stories prove it.  I receive the e-mail forwards from Republicans to prove it, too.  

I can turn against Republicans' their complaints about how moderate Muslims (if there are any, they scoff) don't stand up and denounce intolerance and extremism among their fellow Muslims.  Well, Republicans don't call out the racists in their own Party.  They are silent about it.

By Cord Jefferson
September 26, 2012 | Gawker

In an Associated Press article from earlier this month, national affairs writer Jesse Washington posed the question, "Does racial bias fuel Obama foes?" "The question of whether race fuels opposition to President Barack Obama has become one of the most divisive topics of the election," Washington continued. "It is sowing anger and frustration among conservatives who are labeled racist simply for opposing Obama's policies and liberals who see no other explanation for such deep dislike of the president."

It's impossible to believe that race is fueling every so-called "Obama foe," some of whom are black themselves, and many of whom certainly just don't like the president's policies, regardless of his race. Even some people who vociferously dislike Mitt Romney are finding themselves unable to cast a ballot for Obama because of all the innocent blood drawn under his command. That said, if conservatives are finding themselves angered over the accusations that there are in their ranks a number of outspoken racists, perhaps they should direct that anger toward the outspoken racists in their ranks.

Here is an abridged list of some of the most prominent racist attacks on Obama in the last year (several have come in the last few weeks). Note that these are just the ones the press found out about, and then ask yourself: "Might race be fueling some of the opposition to President Obama?"

1. Using a terrible Clint Eastwood bit as a launching pad, "chair lynchings" have become a minor trend. Chastised for the racial connotations of stringing up a black man's effigy in his front yard, one Texas man replied, "I don't really give a damn whether it disturbs you or not," Johnson reportedly told Haenschen. "You can take [your concerns] and go straight to hell and take Obama with you. I don't give a shit."

2. A Texas woman woke up last week to find that the Obama sign in her front yard had been made to look like this:

I think the person who vandalized this sign might be fueled by racial bias.  [And this dumb racist can't even spell "Christian" correctly, Jesus. - J]

3. Also last week, but far away from Texas, in the quaint New York hamlet of East Hampton, 63-year-old Lawrence Nickel was arrested and charged with a four-month anti-Obama graffiti spree. Amongst the elderly man's other tags was this one, scrawled on a bench: "Obama is a lying nigger."

4. This week the Virginia GOP had to ask its Mecklenburg County affiliate to remove from its Facebook page pictures of President Obama depicted as a thug, a caveman, and a witch doctor.

5. Earlier this month, civil rights groups said they planned to demonstrate a Marietta, Georgia, bar whose sign read, "I heard the White House smelled like collard greens and fried chicken." Earlier, in the same state, another bar owner came under fire for putting this on his sign: "I do not support the nigger in the White House." Both bars' owners are perhaps racist.

6. In March, a woman named Paula Smith came up with this punny anti-Obama bumper sticker, which seems to me to be tinged by racial bias:

ht racist bumper sticker jef 120316 wblog Dont Re Nig in 2012: Maker of Racist Anti Obama Sticker Shuts Down Site

7. In December, a right-wing candidate who'd lost a bid for city council in Carson, California, tweeted of Obama, "Assassinate the fuckin nigger and his monkey children." Not sure, but maybe that's racist?

[Image via Burnt Orange Report]

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Pitts: Obama can't fight or even acknowledge racist hatred

These days I don't have much sympathy for President Obama, but Pitts is right: on the basic charge against his very IDENTITY, Obama cannot fight back, and it must drive him nuts:  

So this is the paradigm of our age - self delusion on the one hand, a guy trying to govern on the other, while hemmed in by race, defined in crude, stereotypical imagery, yet unable to fight it, talk about it, or even admit he sees it, for fear of compromising his effectiveness, being dismissed as, God forbid - "an angry black man."

If Obama even for a second started to complain about the obvious and pervasive racism pitted against him on the Right, he would immediately make the whole race an issue of race.  And he's just not wired or inclined, politically, to open that front or wage that battle.  It's a losing battle anyway.  The Right would only say he's making excuses.  So he must remain silent about the (Republican) elephant in the room.  If you think he's not aware of it then you're kidding yourself.  He knows the score and must bite his tongue.  Post-racial country, my ass.  

What's worse, this racist sentiment emblazoned on his car, or the fact that he has no fear that somebody will seriously damage his automobile once they see it? Anybody who puts this kind of sticker on his car must feel pretty confident there are a lot more people out there like himself. Whereas in certain places in America, just having a pro-Obama bumper sticker could earn you an angry honk, a shaken fist, or a parking lot confrontation. It happened in 2008, I know it.

By Leonard Pitts Jr.
September 23, 2012 | Miami Herald

Jon Stewart: How in the world is Obama ahead?

It ain't because he's suddenly smarter, funnier or better looking.

Barack Obama is the luckiest dude on the planet because the guy he's running against appears to be getting dumber the closer it gets to the election.
September 25, 2012 | The Daily Show

On Romney's big foreign aid speech

Romney: "If you teach a man to catch a fish this big..."

Mitt Romney's "big foreign aid speech" in New York yesterday took a lot of U.S. rightwing ideological claptrap and imposed it on nations, and a group of aid professionals, that he obviously doesn't understand.

Take, for example, Romney's work requirement to receive U.S. foreign aid, as if developing countries were filled with lazy welfare recipients sitting on their couches, (or their dirt floors as they case may be), waiting for the U.S. to feed them:

Work. That must be at the heart of our effort to help people build economies that can create jobs for people, young and old alike. Work builds self-esteem. It transforms minds from fantasy and fanaticism to reality and grounding. Work will not long tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government of the product of hard-working men and women.

How insulting and stupid!  We're talking about nations where "Work or Starve" isn't the Tea Party's campaign slogan, it's their everyday reality. These people need Romney's lectures on the importance of hard work like they need to learn the importance of food.  Neither do they need his hollow injunctions to overthrow their corrupt leaders: easy for you to say from New York, Mitt!  

(UPDATE: A friend of mine said I was taking Romney's words out of context; he was just emphasizing job creation. Maybe so. But the context of his speech in the campaign was what mattered. Development professionals know that the U.S. Government's economic growth programs have emphasized job creation -- often with hard-number job targets -- for decades now.  But average U.S. voters may not.  Hence, Romney's speech gave the false impression that foreign assistance is broken and needs a "new Sheriff in town" to fix it. Thus my criticism of his stating the obvious as if it was something novel is entirely valid.)

In fact, Romney openly regrets the Arab Spring, when people in the Middle East and North Africa proved they would no longer "tolerate corruption nor quietly endure the brazen theft by government."  So, oppressed people of the world, you should realize that Romney's injunction to throw off your yoke of tyranny comes with an asterisk, if you're Muslim.

Next, Romney repeated the commonly-held but wrong view that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are the answer to every nation's economic prayers:

We will focus our efforts on small and medium-size businesses. Microfinance has been an effective tool at promoting enterprise and prosperity, but we must expand support to small and medium-size businesses that are too large for microfinance, but too small for traditional banks.

Indeed, in the U.S. and abroad, more and better jobs are created by larger companies, not small (and especially informal) businesses.  And microfinance has a mixed record of success at best, placing many in the developing world in a cycle of dependency on usurious short-term loans to survive and operate their micro-enterprises.  Yet it is a matter of faith on the Left and Right that small business creates all the jobs and wealth.  What the developing world could really use is Big Corporations, er, Big People, investing their big money and offering locals high-paying jobs and innovative technologies. It's too bad that Romney didn't offer any bright ideas from his big business experience on how to accomplish that. (His plans would probably involve massive U.S. layoffs and offshore banks.)

Next, Romney offered us this epiphany: free enterprise is good.  And he said it in such a way to imply that U.S. foreign aid to-date has been about throwing free food and stacks cash off the back of trucks:

A temporary aid package can jolt an economy.  It can fund some projects.  It can pay some bills.  It can employ some people some of the time.  But it can’t sustain an economy—not for long.  It can’t pull the whole cart—because at some point, the money runs out.  But an assistance program that helps unleash free enterprise creates enduring prosperity. 

Gee, really?  This is a variation on the "teach a man to fish" bromide.  First, most aid projects aren't nearly big enough to "jolt" an economy, much less "sustain" it, not for any period of time!  Second, we got Mitt's memo about 40 years ago. Seriously. The foreign aid straw man he is knocking down doesn't exist. Absolutely nobody in the foreign aid world thinks the opposite of what Romney said. Third, this is so silly and condescending to people who have been working on institutional, legislative and regulatory reform in developing nations to "unleash free enterprise" and "enduring prosperity."  Romney should shut up and listen to them!

Finally, we should admit that a lot of foreign aid is just a roundabout payout to U.S. industries.  For instance, U.S. military aid to Egypt (which is 5x greater than all other forms of aid) goes into the pockets of U.S. defense contractors, while it's arguable whether Egypt needs such a well-equipped army.  And food aid is purchased from U.S. farmers, whether or not it's the best way to fight hunger. Meanwhile, as a result of U.S. lobbying, since 1986 the Bumpers Amendment has forbidden U.S. foreign assistance from helping developing nations to increase agricultural commodities that might compete with U.S. crop exports, free enterprise be damned. This is not to mention long-standing "Buy America" clauses in U.S. foreign assistance contracts that make U.S. aid much more expensive to deliver. As a result of this and more, a certain degree of ineffectiveness is built into our foreign aid architecture by Congress.

Overall, Romney's tone was just wrong, and his content was either obvious or needlessly inflammatory. It is now apparent that, similar to Dubya, Romney sees a world of friendly vs. unfriendly nations; free vs. unfree markets; and corrupt vs. non-corrupt.  And based on those categorizations, Romney wants to decide who gets foreign aid assistance.  (N.B.: Dubya already tried this.)

Yes, there is a strong connection between those things and poverty.  That's why the U.S. has supported democracy, human rights and good governance for years now. The trouble is, in unfriendly, unfree and corrupt nations, everyday people aren't allowed to write the laws and make the rules.  Thus, by withholding our development assistance, including technical assistance (i.e. teaching them to fish), which is mostly what we provide nowadays, we would punish average citizens for their leaders' avarice and myopia.  That would not only be unfair to them, it'd be counter-productive to Romney's stated aims. 

Moreover, foreign assistance is often the only direct contact the U.S. Government has with people living in corrupt, unfree, and/or oppressive countries. If we revoke it then we have only finger-wagging and threats to communicate with them, which average people overseas probably won't even hear. Foreign assistance is not just about "effectiveness" in alleviating poverty; it is soft-power diplomacy to demonstrate our commitment to our cherished values.  

To his credit, Romney did note that the U.S. contributes about 25 percent of global foreign aid, and spends twice as much on foreign assistance as any other country. But he didn't mention that America also accounts for 41 percent of the world's military spending, or about 5 times as much as our nearest rival, China.  In budget terms, 1 percent goes to foreign aid vs. 20 percent to the U.S. military.  Is a 20:1 ratio of "guns to butter" in achieving U.S. foreign policy aims indeed out of whack, and in which direction?  Romney has gone on record to increase U.S. military spending; and it looks like foreign aid is under threat.  So clearly, Romney thinks that ratio should be even more disbalanced.    

Romney has made the choice pretty stark.  Now it's up to informed Americans to decide.

Taibbi: Romney SHOULD be getting creamed

I'm not superstitious about jinxes, but I guess I've seen too many movies where the guy who relaxed and turned his back on his opponent for premature gloating got a rude surprise.  

Anyhow, Matt Taibbi's latest post seems pretty on-target.  Maybe it's just because the last few elections have been barn burners, but...

The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and tried just a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned all of us to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99-1 ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.

Premature reports of Occupy's death aside, they did successfully change the national conversation from debt reduction to the welfare of the 99 Percent. That was their genius. In that light, candidate Romney, who is a caricature of the One Percent, should be getting creamed:

He has a $250 million fortune, but he appears to pay well under half the maximum tax rate, thanks to those absurd semantic distinctions that even Ronald Reagan dismissed as meaningless and counterproductive. He has used offshore tax havens for himself and his wife, and his company, Bain Capital, has both eliminated jobs in the name of efficiency (often using these cuts to pay for payments to his own company) and moved American jobs overseas.

The point is, Mitt Romney's natural constituency should be about 1% of the population. If you restrict that pool to "likely voters," he might naturally appeal to 2%. Maybe 3%.  

If the clich├ęs are true and the presidential race always comes down to which candidate the American people "wants to have a beer with," how many Americans will choose to sit at the bar with the coiffed Wall Street multimillionaire who fires your sister, unapologetically pays half your tax rate, keeps his money stashed in Cayman Islands partnerships or Swiss accounts in his wife's name, cheerfully encourages finance-industry bailouts while bashing "entitlements" like Medicare, waves a pom-pom while your kids go fight and die in hell-holes like Afghanistan and Iraq and generally speaking has never even visited the country that most of the rest of us call the United States, except to make sure that it's paying its bills to him on time?

[...] The fact that Barack Obama needed a Himalayan mountain range of cash and some rather extreme last-minute incompetence on Romney's part to pull safely ahead in this race is what really speaks to the brokenness of this system.

Part of me is sorry we didn't get to witness a real campaign contest between President Obama and an unapologetically mean-spirited, in-your-face, screw-the-poor, angry-white-guy Republican like Newt Gingrich or Chris Christie.  Oh well, maybe next time... if the GOP hasn't completely cleaned house and started over in four years, that is.

By Matt Taibbi
September 25, 2012 | Rolling Stone

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Baker: Failing arithmetic on national debt

Baker is the first pundit I know of who has made this point:  

While our debt to GDP ratio is approaching levels not seen since the years immediately following World War II, there is another key ratio that has been going in the opposite direction. This is the ratio of interest payments to GDP. This fell to 1.3 percent of GDP in 2009, its lowest level since World War II. While it has risen slightly in the last couple of years, the ratio of interest payments to GDP is still near a post-war low.

This gives us yet another example how the U.S. Government is not like a household.  How many of us can pay a lower interest rate as our debts grow bigger?  You and I can't.  But the USG can and does.    

Baker goes on to illustrate how interest owed on the national debt is more important than the absolute dollar value of outstanding debt, or the debt-to-GDP ratio:

Suppose that we issue $4 trillion in 30 year bonds at or near the current interest rate of 2.75 percent. Let's imagine that in 3 years the economy has largely recovered and that long-term interest rates are back at a more normal level; let's say 6.0 percent for a 30-year bond.

In this case the bond price would fall by over 40 percent meaning, in principle, that it would be possible for the government to buy up the $4 trillion in debt that it issued in 2012 for just $2.4 trillion, instantly lowering our debt burden by $1.6 trillion, almost 10 percentage points of GDP. If we had been flirting with the magic 90 percent debt to GDP ratio before the bond purchase, we will have given ourselves a huge amount of leeway by buying up these bonds.

Of course, this would be silly. The interest burden of the debt would not have changed; the only thing that would have changed is the dollar value of the outstanding debt. Fans of the 90 percent debt-to-GDP twilight zone theory may think that the debt burden by itself could slow the economy, but in the real world this doesn't make any sense.

Let's recall that America's debt-to-GDP ratio was nearly 120 percent after WWII.  "Yeah, but that was WWII!" you might say, "And after the Great Depression! No comparison!"

Well, yeah, it's hard to compare a war that lasted four years with two simultaneous wars that have lasted about 10 years and counting.  Meanwhile, the Great Recession wiped out $15.5 trillion in U.S. wealth -- about equal, coincidentally, to one year of U.S. GDP, and our total federal debt.  

And Dubya's Great Recession cost us 8.8 million jobs (more than the previous four recessions combined); as a result, many of those jobless people have qualified for "income security" payments built into our system that didn't exist in the 1930s, such as unemployment insurance, disability pay, food stamps, housing assistance, etc. Income security outlays increased from $431 billion in 2008 to $533 billion in 2009 to $622 billion in 2010 to $597 billion in 2011.  Next, more people opted for early Social Security benefits, plus they got a 5.8 percent cost of living increase in 2009, and for the first time the program ran a deficit.  Social Security outlays jumped from $617 billion in 2008 to $683 billion in 2009 to $706 billion in 2010 to $731 billion in 2011.  And let's not forget national defense spending, which increased from $616 billion in 2008 to $661 billion in 2009 to $693 billion in 2010 to $705 billion in 2011.

Finally -- and this is the factor so many people, especially on the right, overlook -- decreased economic activity -- combined with an extension of Dubya's tax cuts -- led to lower income and corporate tax receipts (and FICA receipts): down $419 billion in 2009 and $360 billion in 2010, compared to 2008.  

Meanwhile, overall spending increased $535 billion in 2009 (most of it thanks to Dubya) and $475 billion in 2010, compared to 2008.  

(See all the OMB's historical spending and revenue data here.)

So there are objective reasons why our deficits and debt have climbed.  It's ludicrous to blame it all on $475 billion in stimulus spending.

Next, let's look at the GAO's historical picture of annual net interest paid on the federal debt as a percentage of annual federal spending.  In 2011, interest payments were 6.4 percent of federal outlays.  From Reagan thru Dubya, that figure never fell below 7 percent.  In the decadent '80s it never fell below 8.9 percent.  In the dot-com '90s it never fell below 13.5 percent.  

Sure, interest rates will eventually go up as the economy recovers.  But first it has to recover.  Economic recovery should be our top priority right now, not paying off our debt when we enjoy historically low interest rates and suffer historically high unemployment.  Debt reduction now, which would cut GDP and raise unemployment, is putting the cart before the horse.

Just trying to put things in perspective.  Not that my Tea Partying friends will care....

By Dean Baker
September 24, 2012 | Huffington Post

Engelhardt: Obama fears foreign surprise by Nov. 7

Tom Engelhardt doesn't give Obama any props for his foreign policy, which he characterizes as "managing the Bush legacy."  

With Obama recently gaining a lead in the polls over Romney, who seems determined to do in his own campaign, only a foreign surprise could seriously hurt Obama's re-election chances:

The Obama people are understandably focused on the election.  Being of a managerial frame of mind, their thoughts don’t tend to run to the long-term anyhow. I doubt they have, at this point, put a second’s consideration into what’s likely to happen, if they manage to keep everything under wraps, 44 days from now -- and beyond.  It’s not as if war with Iran, disaster in Afghanistan, chaos in the Middle East, a staggering Eurozone, a stumbling Chinese economy (in the midst of seaborne saber rattling), rising oil and food prices, climate change, and so much else won’t be as threatening then.  None of these are problems, however managed, that are going away anytime soon or are likely in the long run to prove particularly manageable from Washington.

The question for the rest of us is: What the hell happens next?   It’s one you better start thinking about because the Obama people, much as they want to rule the roost for four more years, don’t have a clue.

Forget Mitt Romney, Can the President Make It to November 7th? 
By Tom Engelhardt
September 23, 2012 | Tom Dispatch

An annual ritual: And the poorest states are...

So now is the time when I point out, again, how all the poorest U.S. states are in the South and vote Republican.  

Next comes the part where I remind you how 8 of the top 10 biggest welfare states -- those that take more from the federal budget than they pay in taxes -- vote Republican.

Then we argue about who is worse: those condescending, bi-coastal liberal elites who think they know what's best for everybody; or those hypocritical, poor reactionaries in Flyover Country who vote against their own economic interests.

Finally we agree to disagree and call a truce... until the next year's Census data comes out so we can do it all over again.

OK, let's get started!...

By Michael B. Sauter, Samuel Weigley, Brian Zajac and Alexander E. M. Hess 
September 23, 2012 | Huffington Post

Zakaria: It's about them, not us

Concludes Zakaria:
There is a kind of bipartisan arrogance that is often at work in Washington, where both sides believe that everything happening in the world is a consequence of American power and policy. If only we had made a different speech or implemented a different policy, or sent out a different tweet. But the truth is, what is happening in the Arab world is not about us – it is really about them.

It's About Them, Not Us
By Fareed Zakaria
September 24, 2012 | CNN


Monday, September 24, 2012

MCPE: The poor pay more taxes

By Kenneth Thomas
September 23, 2012 | Middle Class Political Economist

Reply to R. on the Arab 'movie' protests

What does this have to do with Bush?  Seriously.

You have countries in the Arab Spring who said they'd had enough of their current leaders.  What's so scary about it from the neocon/Bushites point of view is that we didn't instigate it.  But in fact the neocons were hoping that democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan would lead to a new wave of democratization in the Arab world. Remember?

Well, here it is, just not as we anticipated, not for our reasons, not on our timetable. And these people are not dumb: they realize that the U.S. gave $ billions to their oppressor in Egypt for decades because he kept the peace with Israel.  They realize that the U.S. didn't give a shit about human rights in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere. They realize we were willing to tolerate their oppression for our own geopolitical aims.  

So now we expect them to see us as "allies" because we're all "democratic" brothers now. Not so fast.  In fact it's us that has to prove we give a shit about them and their democracy, and not vice-versa.  They've endured worse than we can ever impose on them.  They have no fear of U.S. power and we just have to get used to that; hence our threats, tantrums and condemnations don't mean shit to people who have endured torture and brutality for the past 2-3 decades.  

You want them all to put on their tri-cornered hats and start reading Jefferson and Hamilton and see us their allies?  Not so fast.  

Beyond that, they have no idea what "free speech" is about.  They all buy into Islam and Islamic rule.  They don't make the connection between tolerance for other religious beliefs and tolerance for other political beliefs, and the relation to their personal political liberty.  Why should they make that connection?  In many of these countries, religion was the only secret outlet they had to organize and express their discontent, allowed within certain boundaries by their oppressor.  They had no "civil society," as such.  If you know development like I do, then civil society is a prerequisite for a normally functioning democracy.  Elections are the veneer; human organization is the guts and the engine.  That was all killed and missing.  Religion was the only avenue of somewhat free expression in these countries.  And so through religion they have learned to express their political discontent.  Thus today the religious freaks have the bully pulpit, because everybody else was killed or jailed.  That's not going to change overnight.

We can't really begin to understand it; we can only admit that we we don't understand it.  We must keep the dialog open.  These people don't give two shits about our drones and our warships; they aren't afraid of anything because they have been through hell already.

These are the populations we're dealing with.  You can call them stupid or backward, but there are objective reasons for their attitudes.  To shake our finger at them and throw tantrums is useless at best, counter-productive at worst.  We need to start from zero with these people.  They are ignorant and brutalized populations with nothing but fundamentalist religious institutions allowed by their dead regimes through which to express their gripes.  They are about 400 years behind our political development.  We can't expect miracles from them.  Just like you wouldn't expect a torture victim with zero education to lead his country. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

American Dream v. American Lotto

I was waiting for the part when Robert Samuelson blamed the death of the American Dream on Obama.  Whew! -- he didn't.  Instead, he explains it was Bill Clinton's fault for perverting the Dream to:  Americans “who work hard and play by the rules shouldn’t be poor.”  

We knew it had to be one of them to blame.  (Beating up on Jimmy Carter is so '70s.)  Damn you, Slick Willy!

Seriously though, outside of pundits and politicians, most Americans have gotten the memo that the Dream is dead.  Maybe they have read how income mobility is greater in Canada and Europe, although I doubt it.  All they have to do is compare how they live now to how their parents or grandparents did. The Dream is now the Lottery: keep working, paying your taxes and buying those tickets, year in-year out, and maybe, just maybe, you'll get lucky, too.  

Is it any wonder that casinosonline poker and other forms of legalized gambling are making a huge comeback?  Everybody knows the game is rigged, the house always wins, and yet, and yet.... They prefer to hope against the odds.  

Today Ben Franklin would be scratching lotto cards.

By Robert J. Samuelson
September 24, 2012 | Washington Post