Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Attack on California's grid shows lack of 'homeland security'

I've been saying for years that terrorism in the U.S. is too easy, hence all these screenings at airports, cyber security, NSA spying and fighting the terrorists "over there" are big distractions.

You don't buy a fancy home security system and then leave your front door unlocked and the windows open.    

Partly, the lack of focus on physical security of our key infrastructure such as electrical grid, ports and bridges is that the problem is very big and yet not at all sexy; and partly because simply physical security like sheet metal screens doesn't lend itself to outsourcing to the big military-industrial contractors that charge $ billions for expensive technological solutions.  

BY Shane Harris
December 27, 2013 | Foreign Policy 

Isaac Asimov's 1964 predictions about 2014

Just for fun at the end of 2013, here is a look back at 1964, when one of my all-time favorite sci-fi writers Isaac Asimov speculated what the world would be like in 2014. He got some things right -- like solar power stations and online education -- and some wrong -- like moon colonies and moving sidewalks in cities.

Notably, he very nearly guessed the U.S. population -- 350 million -- and the Earth's population -- 6.5 billion instead of the actual 7.1 billion!

By Isaac Asimov
August 16, 1964 | New York Times

Media ignored Iceland's people's revolution

(HT: Valery).  This summary of the little-known peaceful revolution in Iceland is must-read material for anybody fed up with bailed-out Wall Street banks behaving badly, and the rich corporations and wealthy donors that own our media and buy our politicians.

This gives us hope that People Power can prevail, if we are united, determined and won't take "No" for an answer!

By Joe Martino
January 11, 2013 | Collective Evolution

MB360: U.S. income divide is a yawning chasm

Here MB360 reminds us how the U.S. middle class has disappeared in our new Gilded Age of wealth inequality, where the top 10 Percent own 75 percent of all wealth [emphasis mine]:

Since the 1950s the trend has only moved in one direction.  People often talk about top tax brackets and how high income taxes are but if you look at the above chart, the average tax rate for those in the top 1 percent is 23.5 percent.  How is that when the top tax bracket is 39.6 percent?  First, many people have better methods of tax avoidance: IRAs, 401ks, dividend income, real estate deductions, etc.  Since the bulk of wealth is in the hands of the top 10 percent, this group is already lowering their tax burden via these deductions and beneficial tax structures.  Since the typical American is living paycheck to paycheck with little saved for retirement these tax reducers don’t really help.  Besides, their income tax burden share is minimal.  However, their other tax burdens are large as a proportion to their income.  This is usually ignored when people talk about how little the working class pay in this country as they try to scapegoat the disappearing middle class.

More to the point, the middle class by definition should be well, the middle.  In this case, being middle class is a household making $35,000 or more.  We often hear about $250,000 being middle class by the media but by the IRS tax data, this is closer to being in the top 2 percent of AGI.  Not exactly middle class when 98 percent are below you.  Even if we look at the bottom 75 percent, the cutoff here is $70,492; certainly a far away cry from $250,000.  Or even the top 5 percent starting point of $167,728.

Remember the 2012 presidential campaign when Romney said, amazingly, that the middle class was any household making "$200,000 to $250,000 and less"?  And less, indeed. The media didn't put his absurd comment in context, although the IRS income data was right there for them to see -- probably because the Obama campaign's definition of middle class was basically the same. 

Folks, U.S. economic inequality is still the elephant in the room; it was the most under-reported story of 2013.

Happy New Year!  Let's hope it's a more equitable one.

Posted by mybudget360 | December 31, 2013

Saturday, December 28, 2013

GDP, full-time jobs up despite Obamacare

Gee, whaddya know? Obamacare's employer mandate hasn't cratered growth or employment as predicted by naysayers. Somehow, the U.S. economy grew by 4.1 percent in the third quarter of 2013. Writes business professor Anthony Orlando [emphasis mine]:

For one thing, the cost of Obamacare has been greatly exaggerated. The law states companies with more than 50 workers must offer health insurance to their full-time employees or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee. That may sound like a lot, but it's a heck of a lot less than most companies are already paying for health insurance, which costs an average of $15,073 per worker.

"You've got 5.7 million firms in the U.S.," says health economist Mark Duggan. "Only 210,000 have more than 50 employees. So 96 percent of firms aren't affected. Then if you look among those firms with 50 or more employees, something on the order of 95 percent offer health insurance."

When you add it all up, the "employer mandate" probably affects less than 1 percent of the workforce.

Definitely not enough to make a dent in the economy.

So it shouldn't come as a surprise there is no evidence Obamacare is turning us into a "part-time" economy. Since President Obama signed the law, the economy has added millions of full-time jobs, while part-time jobs have actually declined. A lower percentage of workers are part-time than they were under President Reagan in the 1980s.

It's a similar situation with the individual mandate. If you recall, the maximum number of potential Obamacare "victims" -- those paying paying higher prices for lesser coverage -- is 2.4 million people, but most likely much fewer. That's less than 1 percent of the U.S. population.

The upshot: those most irate about the employer and individual mandates are journalists, politicians, pundits and cranks who themselves aren't affected by it. Their apparent concern for the plight of others is almost... liberal.

By Anthony W. Orlando
December 27, 2013 |  South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Friday, December 27, 2013

Is it good the Saudis are mad at Obama?

I meant to post this earlier. But it's not too late because we're still seeing op-eds such as this one on Fox: "Saudis lament, 'we have been stabbed in the back by Obama'".

Just like Christianity is pretty diverse, so is Islam. Most people know there are Shiites (such as in Iran, Lebanon and Syria) and Sunnis (most everywhere else). There are further branches of each of those sects. Perhaps it's a crude analogy, but let's call Wahhabism, a branch of Sunni Islam, the Southern Baptist Church of Islam. 

And Saudi Arabia is the home and sponsor of Wahhabism. It sends billions of petro-dollars around the globe to preach this ultra-conservative brand of Islam in Islamic countries that is entirely compatible with Ismalist and terrorist ideology. And it is engaged in a religious conflict with Iran, the #1 sponsor of Shiite Muslims. As Zakaria points out, Saudi Arabia has a sizable Shiite majority located in oil-rich areas that it wants to keep down.  

Risibly, Saudi Arabia, an absolutist monarchy, calls itself the #1 Arab ally of the United States, which is supposedly engaged in a global war on Islamic terrorism.

See the disconnect?  

So kudos to Fareed Zakaria for calling a spade a spade. And if the Saudis are indeed upset with President Obama, then... maybe he's onto something.

By Fareed Zakaria
November 11, 2013 | TIME

Reverse eminent domain keeping Americans in their homes

This is something to keep an eye on. What is meant by reverse eminent domain? Basically, it's when a city makes a market-value offer on a "toxic" home loan and reissues the debt to the current homeowner at a lower rate of interest.

In 2005, Dubya's Supreme Court gave localities the right to invoke eminent domain -- and evict landowners -- solely for the purpose of local economic development, for example, to let a private developer build a strip mall. Facing a conservative uproar, Dubya limited the SCOTUS ruling with an executive order in 2006. Nevertheless, depending on state law, that SC ruling can be turned against Wall Street banks that are holding millions of underwater and delinquent homes hostage.

Leopold reminds us that there are still 10.8 million U.S. homes underwater, with a total negative equity of $805 billion. This mortgage debt crushes consumer demand, drains tax dollars from cities and states, and holds down a more robust economic recovery. It's in everybody's interest, but especially municipalities', to do something about it.

By Les Leopold
December 15, 2013 | AlterNet

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Tea Parties can't win, but won't disappear

As I've said before, the Tea Party should always be referred to in the plural -- the Tea Parties -- because there is no overarching organization, plan or leadership to this loose confederation of like-minded older white people. Tea Party researcher Theda Skocpol elaborates [emphasis mine]:

Even though there is no one center of Tea Party authority -- indeed, in some ways because there is no one organized center -- the entire gaggle of grassroots and elite organizations amounts to a pincer operation that wields money and primary votes to exert powerful pressure on Republican officeholders and candidates. Tea Party influence does not depend on general popularity at all. Even as most Americans have figured out that they do not like the Tea Party or its methods, Tea Party clout has grown in Washington and state capitals. 

The Tea Parties have a certain clout because they don't want government to do anything at all, therefore they don't need to compromise. It's easier to destroy than create; likewise it's easier to obstruct than to govern. Since TP'ers believe governing is a "necessary evil," for them the less the better. It's very hard to defeat such nihilism that really wants nothing but to throw a monkey wrench into Big Government's gears. At the national level, they use the filibuster, committee hearings, judicial appointments, the debt ceiling and other parliamentary tactics to distract and obstruct our government from doing anything. Indeed, this Congress has been the most do-nothing in history.

It's also hard to compromise with TP'ers who are fundamentally dishonest about their true aims, and hypocritical to boot. Skocpol studied the TP movement and came to this conclusion:

Fiscal conservatism is often said to be the top grassroots Tea Party priority, but ... I did not find this to be true. Crackdowns on immigrants, fierce opposition to Democrats, and cuts in spending for the young were the overriding priorities we heard from volunteer Tea Partiers, who are often, themselves, collecting costly Social Security, Medicare, and veterans' benefits to which they feel fully entitled as Americans who have “paid their dues” in lifetimes of hard work.

Bottom line: electorally, the Tea Parties will never win. That is, they can't do any better than the old GOP. They can simply replace "RINOs" and moderate Republicans in safely Republican districts with their far-right TP candidates. In competitive races, the nutty TP candidate usually loses to a Democrat.

By Theda Skocpol
December 26, 2013 | The Atlantic

Sunday, December 22, 2013

America's 'age of unprecedented austerity'

You won't hear this from the mainstream media!

The greatest trick austerians ever pulled was convincing people that it was stimulus that had failed.

And the greatest trick the Koch brothers ever pulled was convincing Tea Party Republicans that deficits are a cause, not an effect.

By Matthew O'Brien
December 20, 2013 | The Atlantic

We're living in an age of unprecedented austerity.

Now, that sounds impossible to conservatives who know, just know, that government has exploded under Obama's socialist watch. And that we have trillion dollar deficits—dun, dun, dun—as far as the eye can see. But I have some good news for them (though not the economy). They're wrong. Government employment has actually fallen under Obama, and the deficit is falling fast too

As Ben Bernanke put it, "people don't appreciate how tight fiscal policy has been." And how much that's knee-capped the economy. Take jobs. Bernanke points out that total public sector employment—local, state, and federal—has fallen by over 600,000 during the recovery alone. As point of comparison, it rose by 400,000 during the previous one.

But even this million person job swing doesn't tell us how historic austerity has been this time. You have to look at the chart below to see that. It shows government job growth during every recovery on record, going back to 1945. This is the least there's ever been.

How is it possible that government added more jobs after World War II demobilization than now? Or after the 1980 recession, which was followed by another recession a year later? Well, it's what Paul Krugman calls the 50 Herbert Hoovers effect. See, state governments are required to (mostly) run balanced budgets, even during a recession. That's usually not too much of a problem as long as the slump is quick or shallow.

But the Great Recession was neither. The crisis hit and tax revenue disappeared—and didn't come back. Now, the federal government did use the stimulus to fill some of these state budget holes, which is why public sector employment didn't fall much in the first year of the recovery. But then the stimulus money ran out—really, it did—and states were left on their own. Like Hoover in the 1930s, they tried to balance their books amidst a depressed economy. And like Hoover in the 1930s, it didn't work out too well. They went on a cops-and-teachers firing spree the likes of which we've never seen before. And one that was the difference between unemployment being 6 instead of 7 percent today.

The greatest trick austerians ever pulled was convincing people that it was stimulus that had failed.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

If Israel wants security, it must give up the bomb

I'm not naive. Iran at least wants to retain the option to produce a nuclear weapon, even if they agree to put their nuclear program on hold. And why wouldn't they? Pakistan and North Korea get special treatment thanks to their nuclear weapons. Economically poor Russia got to join the G-8 (before known as the G-7) because of its nukes. And let's not forget that Iran's biggest rival Israel maintains the only nuke arsenal in the Mideast. Strangely, Israel's nuclear capability is an official "open secret" not only in Israel but in the EU and U.S.

Author of Israel's Occupation Neve Gordon points out that way back in 1974, Iran proposed making the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. But that didn't suit Israel or the U.S., so the idea went nowhere. 

Fast forward 40 years and it would seem stupid of Iran not to pursue nuclear weapons, not only to maintain some military parity with rival Israel, but to forestall any U.S.-backed invasion, a la Iraq.  

Neve argues it's not too late to ask Israel to disarm if Iran will do the same. Surely this would elicit catcalls from conservatives and AIPAC types, but think about it: what's so crazy about the idea of mutual disarmament?    

And there are precedents: South Africa gave up its nuclear weapons in the early 1990s post-apartheid; and newly independent Ukraine gave up its massive Soviet nuclear stockpile in 1991.

By Neve Gordon
December 13, 2013 | Al Jazeera

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Sandy Hook anniversary and America's gun sickness

Whenever FOX needs somebody to say why gun control is bad, they call on John Lott.

Here Lott is gloating that stricter gun control hasn't come to pass one year since the Newtown massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary where 26 people were shot and killed, including 20 children ages 6-7, most of them left beyond recognition even by their parentsHere is the website created by the 26 families in their memory.

As I've described before in meticulous detail, when it comes to gun violence, Lott bends and twists the truth. For instance this: "But gun control advocates aren’t giving up. They are patient, and they have money."

They are spending more money lately, but gun control advocates are still being outspent 13 to 1 by gun rights groups.

Sure, Lott can gloat about even more lax gun control laws passed since Sandy Hook in Red States such as Utah, Virginia, Kentucky, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Louisiana, Arkansas, South Dakota and Kansas, while only a few states such as New York and Delaware passed even more strict gun control laws. 

But he can't simply lie that a clear majority of Americans opposes gun control. Over the past 10 years, the share of Americans favoring stricter gun laws has fluctuated between 44 and 60 percent, with the most recent Gallup figure at 49 percent in favor, 37 percent for the status quo, and 13 percent for even less strict gun laws.  

So, about half of Americans have a sickness that's killing all of us, and they need an intervention. Indeed, since 9/11, about 364,000 Americans were killed by firearms. That's more Americans than died in combat in the Civil War. 

The truth is though, fewer and fewer Americans are choosing to own guns. So how are gun makers' profits at an all-time high since Sandy Hook? Easy. They use the NRA to scare fewer people into buying more and more guns to "defend" themselves against tyrannical Big Government and hordes of non-existent criminals (usually in the guise of minorities). 

It's a sickening paradox, but gun rampages like Sandy Hook are good for gun makers, because as soon as politicians make a peep about sensible measures afterwards like universal background checks, the NRA's fear machine cranks into high gear -- "They're coming to take your guns away!" -- Red States make pre-emptive attacks on existing gun laws, and sales to gun nuts go through the roof again.

By John Lott
December 13, 2013 | FoxNews

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Rand Paul, GOP endorse 'Work or Starve' economics

Yep, as any FOX host or talk radio jock will tell you, the real problem holding back America's economy is lazy welfare moochers. 

(That's what they say on Wednesdays. On Mondays it's job-killing regulations; on Tuesdays it's the Affordable Care Act; Thursdays it's too-high corporate taxes; and on Friday it's "general uncertainty." On weekends they relax and blame everything on Obama.)

Seriously though, as Ruth Marcus points out below, "Of 4.1 million in the ranks of the long-term unemployed, only 1.3 million are still receiving the unemployment checks that Paul asserts are holding them back." 

[Insert nail in coffin]. 

By Ruth Marcus
December 11, 2013 | Washington Post

The year’s not over, but it’s not too early to declare the hands-down winner of this year’s Scrooge award: Sen. Rand Paul.

The Kentucky Republican wants to cut off people’s unemployment benefits — not to save taxpayers’ money from being frittered away by loafers unwilling to haul themselves out of their comfy hammocks to look for work. No, Sen. Scrooge wants to cut them out of solicitude for the long-term unemployed.

Because, as the kindly doctor explained (correctly) on “Fox News Sunday,” it is clear that the longer people are unemployed the more difficulty they have finding work. Ergo, says Paul, the obvious solution: Limit the length of unemployment benefits — even if no jobs are available.

“I do support unemployment benefits for the 26 weeks that they’re paid for. If you extend it beyond that, you do a disservice to these workers,” Paul said. “When you allow people to be on unemployment insurance for 99 weeks, you’re causing them to become part of this perpetual unemployed group in our economy.”

Paul is wrong, by the way, about the 99 weeks — the longest combined state and federal benefits can now last is 73 weeks, and then only in three states where unemployment has hovered above 9 percent. Elsewhere, depending on the severity of unemployment, the maximum duration is between 40 and 63 weeks.

But Paul is more fundamentally wrong with his diagnosis that the best way to help this unfortunate group is to terminate their benefits. Talk about burning down the village in order to save it. Long-term unemployment benefits don’t cause long-term unemployment; they ameliorate it in hard economic times. (States generally cover benefits for the first 26 weeks, but during downturns the federal government has long stepped in to subsidize extended help.)

Yes, I know about moral hazard. In a well-functioning economy, overly generous unemployment benefits may dissuade people from taking new jobs. But this is not a well-functioning economy. Even with unemployment at a five-year low, nearly four of 10 jobless workers count as long-term unemployed, out of work for 27 weeks or longer. In October, there were nearly three people unemployed for every available job.

One relevant data point: When President Bush signed an extension of unemployment benefits in June 2008, the unemployment rate was 5.6 percent, the long-term unemployment rate was 1 percent and the average duration of unemployment was 17.1 weeks. Today those numbers are 7 percent unemployment, 2.6 percent long-term unemployedand 37.2 weeks in duration.

Another point: This could easily be you. According to a new report by the White House Council of Economic Advisers, 40 percent of the long-term unemployed had a household income, prior to job loss, between $30,000 and $75,000. One in five has a bachelor’s degree or higher. The more education you have, the less likely you are to fall into unemployment. But once you’re unemployed, your education offers no shield against joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed.

And about those overly generous benefits. They average $300 a week. Would that be enough to keep you on the unemployment rolls? Ironically, long-term benefits help keep people in the job market — looking for work is a condition of receiving help — rather than simply giving up. Cutting them off would likely cause the unemployment rate to fall, but only because they would be out of the workforce.

Another indication that correlation is not causality: Most of those in the ranks of the long-term unemployed have exhausted their benefits. Of 4.1 million in the ranks of the long-term unemployed, only 1.3 million are still receiving the unemployment checks that Paul asserts are holding them back.

Republicans cite two recent studies as proof that, as the House Ways and Means Committee put it, emergency benefits are “the cause of the painfully slow labor market recovery.” But the bulk of academic research suggests that extended benefits only slightly increase the length of time people are out of work, mostly because of flexibility to find a suitable job rather than grasping at the first offered.

As researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently concluded, “Our estimates suggest that extending unemployment insurance benefits in weak labor markets has virtually no effect on the rate of job finding.”

If Paul and fellow Republicans had their way, 1.3 million jobless would be cut off by year’s end, another 1.9 million in the first half of 2014. Two words suffice in response: Bah! Humbug!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Safety net reduces poverty - now more than ever

LBJ and every Democrat since then was right: the safety net works. We have reduced poverty.

The facts show that we are right and the critics are wrong. Liberals should never apologize for policies that have saved millions of lives. 

We liberals should be proud! 

By Zachary A. Goldfarb
December 10, 2013 | Washington Post

Big Government? Try smallest in half a century

I missed this story back in October but it's still relevant. For all you Big Gubument hatas out there, just FYI: U.S. federal employment is at a 47-year low. (Gee, I wonder why the Tea Parties haven't noticed? Maybe it's because all they care about is cutting their own income taxes and welfare for "moochers" and not about fiscal responsibility?)

I'll say it again, President Obama is a terrible failure as a closet socialist. For that, the GOTP should rejoice. But something makes me think they won't....

By Floyd Norris
October 22, 2013 | New York Times

It was the summer of 1966. Lyndon Johnson was in the White House and the Great Society was roaring. In August, the federal government had 2,721,000 employees.

Now it is the fall of 2013. There are complaints from Washington about a bloated federal government. Another Democrat, Barack Obama, is president.

In September, before the government shutdown, the government had 2,723,000 employees, according to the latest job report, on a seasonally adjusted basis. That is the lowest figure since 1966. Until now, the lowest figure for the current century had been 2,724,000 federal employees in October 2004, when George W. Bush was seeking a second term in the White House.

Now, the federal government employs exactly 2 percent of the people with jobs in this country. In 1966, the figure was more than twice that, 4.3 percent.

All these figures, by the way, are for civilian jobs. Members of the armed forces are not counted. If they were included, the contrast would be even sharper. In 1966 the Vietnam War was going on, and around 2.6 million people were on active duty. This year the figure is around 1.4 million.

While the federal government continues to shrink — the September figure is down 3.1 percent from a year ago — state and local government jobs have begun to grow again, albeit slowly.

September is, of course, a month when teachers are back on the job, and it is useful to look at the unadjusted numbers each year to see how school employment is growing, or not. Over the past 12 months, the number of people working in state and local government education jobs rose 0.6 percent. The prior year, through September 2012, the figure was up 0.3 percent. That came after three consecutive years of declines.

Other state and local jobs are up 0.02 percent — 2,000 jobs — over the past 12 months. That is not much, but if revisions do not change it, a string of four consecutive annual declines will have been erased.

The following chart shows the percent changes in government jobs, from September to September, since 2007. The federal government figures exclude temporary jobs hired for the 2010 census.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Prager: Sad conservative parents REDUX

In a previous post, I took more time than necessary to destroy Dennis Prager's flawed conceit that somehow college -- not reason or life experience -- is what turns kids into liberals instead of conservatives (or more importantly, voting Democratic instead of Republican).

Note that words here matter. Are conservative parents sad because their young-adult kids decide to vote Democrat, or because they espouse certain beliefs like support for gays?  

In his follow-on column, Prager provides a lot of, er, helpful advice for conservative parents who want to successfully indoctrinate their kids.

The trouble is, a lot of this "character-building" stuff that Prager preaches is indeed apolitical. I mean, I'm a far-left liberal and I agree with a lot of it. It's stuff that I was taught. And I'll teach the same to my kids with no fear that it'll transform them into Tea Party Republican zombies.  

As I said before, one's values are not the same as voting habits.  Most Americans hold very similar values; but we express them differently in our politics.  

Finally, I could pick apart at least half of Prager's "traditional American values," for instance: "...that American military strength is the greatest contributor to world peace and stability, or ... American exceptionalism."

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson certainly never dreamed that America's military strength was going to ensure world peace and stability. Washington didn't even favor a standing army.  America's superpower status was born after WWII.  So we're talking about a "traditional" state of affairs that is only about 70 years old -- not even one-third of our nation's history.

And the term "American exceptionalism" was coined by... Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1929. And he didn't mean it as a compliment. 'Nuff said about that "traditional" value.

By Dennis Prager
November 12, 2013 | The Dennis Prager Show

Lower corporate tax rate doesn't create jobs

(HT: Peter).  Isn't it funny how all the axioms of Republican economics turn out to be shibboleths?  

Tax cuts on the rich?  Don't trickle down; increase inequality.

Deregulation?  Hurts real people; passes the $ bill onto all of us.

Austerity as a cure for recession?  Increases deficits, hurts job creation.

Work or starve?  ... Well, that one's in play right now. Personally, I think we're going to have more starving and less working, but time will tell. Time will tell. And then so will I, you can bet on it!

By Linda Beale
December 3, 2013  | A Taxing Matter

Debunking 'job-killing regulations'

A new study shows that, when it comes to the economy, the modern Republican party has one leg less to stand on. 

To wit, we have proof that "job-killing regulations" are just a myth propagated by companies and their lobbyists who want to pass on the real economic costs of their pollution, dangerous operations, and unfair business practices to society at large. 

Ironically, as this study debunking "job-killing regulations" is coming out, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (a glorified wing of the Republican Party) is pledging a "war" on "the vast regulatory state" and an "unprecedented flow of regulations" because, says the Chamber's President, "We must lift the veil of uncertainty hanging over every business and investor if we want to revive our economy."

Another leg of the GOP fell off long ago: tax cuts on the rich (aka trickle-down, voodoo economics and Reaganomics) have never proven effective in growing the economy, jobs and incomes, as even Pope Francis recently noted

So now that those two legs of the GOP's three-legged economic stool are gone, what's left? Cutting entitlements. That's right: "Work or Starve." (Official 2014 GOP campaign motto). Well, Republicans have gone ahead and cut food stamps and other forms of "welfare," and we'll have plenty of time to see how badly that works out for Americans and the economy before next November.  

Methinks by then the GOP will be sitting on the floor.

(Now to get a bit wonkish. The true cost of regulations may be hard to calculate; nevertheless, we can compare the U.S. to other countries. After all, everything is relative and businesses can't re-locate to Mars. The World Bank's annual Doing Business survey compares countries on a range of indicators, like ease of starting a business and ease of paying taxes. In 2013, even in the dark depths of the Obama Regime, the U.S. ranks 4th in the world out of 189 countries. As in past years, we are topped only by tiny islands Singapore, Hong Kong and New Zealand. So the United States is still the place to do business, with the best climate for investment and the biggest consumer market in the world. Anybody who says otherwise is a crank or a charlatan.)

UPDATE (06.12.2013): Right on cue, our fair & balanced friends at FOX gave us this big headline: "Regulation Nation: Gov't regs estimated to pound private sector with $1.8 T in costs." On FOX's home page they rounded that estimate, courtesy of the right-wing Competitive Enterprise Institute, up to $2 trillion. (What's $200 billion nowadays anyway? Just rounding.)  FOX doesn't offer any dissenting opinions on that estimate, or even information how it was derived; it's just presented as fact. Nor does FOX mention that CEI is a libertarian think tank that has defended Big Tobacco, opposed fuel efficiency standards, and disputed global warming science. It's all in day's work shilling for corporate interests.

By Sean McElwee
December 2, 2013 | Salon 

It’s one of the oldest right-wing claims: “Excessive” regulation will harm job creators and kill the economy. But is it based on sound economics?

One new study, which examines this particular argument, finds it absurd on its face. Taylor Lincoln, who authored the report for Public Citizen, tells Salon the goal was to “point out hypocrisy and contradictions and the chasms between rhetoric and reality.” To that end, the report cites one Heritage Foundation study which asserted that a more efficient regulatory system could create 9.6 million jobs. The problem, as Washington Post columnist Steven Pearlstein noted: “there are only 7 million unemployed Americans.”

Heritage isn’t the only one making this argument. A Phoenix Foundation study claimed that, “a 5 percent reduction in the federal regulatory budget would yield 5.9 million new jobs over five years.” But the Public Citizen report points out that this leads to a ludicrous conclusion: “a 16 percent decrease (a figure the authors chose to parallel the amount by which they say federal spending had exceeded revenue since 2000) would result in the creation of 18.8 million new jobs over five years. In contrast, there are only about 11.3 million unemployed Americans.”

Dr. Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas professor who has studied regulation for decades, finds the right-wing argument wanting. As to whether cutting regulation could increase economic growth, he tells Salon, “it’s a silly argument. The impact of regulation, particularly in this era when it’s so darn hard to write a regulation, is nothing compared to what the Fed does each meeting.” His most recent book, Freedom to Harm, details how a decade-long assault on regulation threatens workers and the environment.

In fact, the OMB estimates that regulations provide huge economic benefits. They find that major regulations benefit the economy between $193 billion and $800 billion a year at a cost of $57 to $84 billion. McGarity confirms this, telling Salon, “The thing that is most troubling to me is, when the right-wing think-tanks or the government estimates the cost of regulation, they never go back and see how much it did cost. The few retrospective studies that have been done have shown uniformly that the cost estimates have been higher, much higher than the actual cost of the regulation. The reason is that once the regulations are in place companies are able to adapt to them very quickly.”

The irony is that Republicans always hail the ability of businesses to innovate and adapt, but their anti-regulatory stance is premised on the idea the businesses cannot adapt to new regulation.

Both McGarity and Lincoln noted that Nixon, Ford and H.W. Bush were all very pro-regulation. McGarity tells Salon that “there used to be strong environmentally conscious Republicans in the House and Senate, [but] you can’t point to one Republican now who is a strong environmental advocate.” Lincoln says the anti-regulatory impulse is tied to the economy. When the economy is strong, businesses quickly adapt to regulation, but in hard times, regulation appears as a scapegoat for the weak economy. Both feared that the Republican party is now ruled largely by business interests unconcerned with the common good.

But it’s not just right-wing think tanks and demagogues claiming that cutting regulation will somehow magically create jobs. The Economist claimed this year: “But red tape in America is no laughing matter. The problem is not the rules that are self-evidently absurd. It is the ones that sound reasonable on their own but impose a huge burden collectively.” The article concludes that regulation may “crush the life out of America’s economy.”

In the New York Times earlier this month, Tyler Cowen wrote:

We don’t really know the total regulatory burden in our economy today, in part because there are too many rules and side effects to add up all the costs. Nonetheless, we are continually increasing the obstacles to doing business. America has lost the robust productivity growth of much of the postwar era, and the share of start-ups in the economy has been falling each decade since the 1980s. Although overregulation is hardly the only culprit, it is very likely contributing to the problem.

When arguing to gut America’s regulatory regime, one doesn’t need data or statistics, just a general feeling that regulation is probably harming economic growth.

Opponents of regulation often suggest that regulations create uncertainty and therefore stymie growth, but in truth they do the opposite. To understand why, imagine a world without regulation, one in which railroad track gauges are divergent, food and drugs are released without trials and buildings are built on a whim.  Americans who visit countries with a weak governance are often surprised to find that the stairs aren’t of equal height. By establishing a minimum standard for environmental degradation, customer safety and worker treatment, regulation can change entire industries.

The auto industry is a quintessential example. Today’s advertisements focus on fuel efficiency and safety, and we take air bags and seat belts for granted, but cars were once death traps. Lincoln explains, “Their market research showed that adding seat belts didn’t help and they’re not seeing profit it it, they’re not seeing dollar signs.” All of that began to change with Ralph Nader’s famous “Unsafe at Any Speed.” Customers didn’t know that cars could be safer and more fuel-efficient until the government began enforcing the regulations. Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

Consumers are naturally conservative and they are heavily influenced by advertising. George McGovern, echoing the arguments of J. K. Galbraith, said that advertising can “brainwash the consumer” because “no one was ever born with the taste for huge automobiles.” Companies were stuck on producing slick fancy cars, not safe cars. Regulation upended the industry and entirely changed the way that customers and society viewed the car: not a luxury toy, but a utilitarian mode of transportation. This changed the way customers thought about safety and companies thought about advertising.

The report shows how regulations we now take for granted — catalytic converters, unleaded gasoline, fuel efficiency standards, worker safety protection, minimum wages, environmental protections — were once denounced by industry shills as “job killing” or “economy strangling.” Industry experts predicted that worker safety regulations would destroy jobs and tank industries. The day before the bills would pass they would shout Cassandra-like warnings and hold up Mayan calendars. But the next day the air was cleaner, workers were safer and the economy chugged along.

Even Tom Donohue, the President of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, is forced to concede, “I think we need a strong public sector. We have about a $1.7 trillion a year regulatory bill. Seventy-five, 80 percent of that is very useful. You’ve got to have air traffic control. You’ve got to have food safety.”

Today, the same absurd claims once raised about now banal regulations are being tossed about again. Already industry experts have predicted 12.9 million job losses from Dodd-Frank, the Affordable Care Act and Obama’s GHG regulation proposals. Lincoln’s goal is simple: “We are trying to lay down a record of what they’re saying now, because they are going to be wrong again.”

Post-Benghazi, GOP hurts Libyan diplomacy

This is basically what I said earlier: U.S. diplomats understand that they must sometimes work in dangerous places, and they're willing to take some risks to do their jobs:

Thousands of U.S. diplomats do their jobs every day, conscious of the dangers they face but accepting of the risks that come with the job. Excessive security that interferes with their jobs doesn't serve our interests abroad or make us safer at home. The politicians who play political football with Benghazi should be ashamed of themselves.

In other words, our foreign service officers can't do public diplomacy when they are ridiculously outnumbered by armed guards, or holed up in a fortress embassy.  

FSOs also receive extra compensation (danger pay) for working in posts like Libya. 

(Mieczyslaw Boduszynski was a Foreign Service officer with the State Department from 2004 to 2013.)

By Mieczyslaw P. Boduszynski 
December 3, 2013 | Los Angeles Times