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August 6, 2011

steve benen on deficits

Steve Benen's timeline of political action on the national debt is instructive.  Nothing in there is appropriate for a pullquote, but it does tell the predictable story of Republican intransigence on anything resembling responsibility concerning the debt.  For example, you remember that in 1998 the budget was balanced, and that by the time of the 2000 election we were running surpluses?  Those were the days.

The question that is tangential to this is that of equivalency: how often do you see a mainstream report that says that someone is to blame, that does not report that, "One side says this," and, "The other side says this."  There is no equivalency on this issue.  (And I am not a hardcore, died-in-the-wool Democrat, though I agree with them frequently.)

For the past thirty years, the Republicans, when in leadership positions, have shown absolutely no fiscal responsibility, no matter how much they may have convinced everyone that they have.

(Also there was that downgrade thing?  This applies to that, as well.)

Posted by mrbrent at 2:25 PM

August 5, 2011

kevin depew on our current, unnamed depression

Here's a very reader-friendly take on the unfolding market crash (which has me seriously flashing on December, 2008) from Kevin Depew.  It's gloomy!  But Kevin is a man whose opinions I trust to be as close to objectively true as opinions can be.  :
Yes, it's here. Welcome to the Depression. No, don't drop whatever it is you're doing. Don't get up. It's not going anywhere. It will wait. It's just going to sit over here in the corner and read a magazine while you do whatever it is you need to do.

Probably no surprise to anyone, but still, ka-yikes.

Kevin embarks on an examination of news coverage of the original, Great Depression, and Kevin finds that in the height of the bad old days, the media was just as lite and diverting as the media that we're used to.

But here's the good news:

Now, there are two ways to look at [our prospects]. One is to despair over our misfortune at finding ourselves in the wrong place at the right time, taken along for a ride on this wave past the cresting point, and the other is to consider what adventures await on the other side. I'm in the second camp because I am an optimistic person by nature, or at least a defensive pessimist, and also because I understand that despite it all, we will continue to live our lives, raise children the best we can and find ways to make the best of whatever situation we are in.

That gives me comfort, and I do not feel apologetic for that.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:17 PM

who works for who?

This is important, and will take a little time.

First, read this post from Heidi Moore.  Heidi is a financial reporter, currently with the radio program Martketplace, and I like her.  The post is titled I Know You Don't Want To Hear This, and it's Heidi speaking to us, her audience, about looming austerity and how it's going to be bad.  It's about more than that, duh; in fact it's packed.  Here, try this:

That’s why austerity sucks - it’s not just belt tightening. It’s not just spending less. It’s the breaking of social contracts. It’s taking away what people thought they were promised. It’s having money taken out of your paycheck for 40 years and still having to scrape by because time has passed, the government authorized expenditures it couldn’t really afford, and your potential retirement money subsidized that.

The implication being that, according to Heidi's understanding vis a vis the people she talks to, cuts in social programs will be required by whatever it is we mean when we talk about Wall Street.  Heidi also feels that perhaps citizens could be more active in the political process.  Again, read it — it's a couple parts apology and a couple parts to the ramparts.

Then go read this response from Peter Sheik.  It's not an entirely happy response:

But, “They” won’t take this situation seriously until we start cutting entitlements? WE can’t take any of this seriously while top tax rates languish at the lowest levels ever and powerful entities continue to avoid paying any taxes at all. WE are not apathetic, we are virtually helpless, suspended in propagandic goo, while the decider-class enacts policies that ensure their continued fortune. WE could really use some allies in the media, instead we get insults hurled at us for not being thankful enough for the A+ job that Marketplace has done at “telling both sides”.

To be honest, I'm down with both sentiments, but the point that Peter makes is a really good one.  I think that Heidi is right in her reading of the mood of "the Street", and she is entitled to her frustration in the disconnect that folk have between financial/political news and, say, TMZ.  But at the same time, the narrative of business news (yes, including Marketplace) is just that — a narrative, built by the consensus of the elite, trying hard not to look like an oligarchy in broad daylight.

The assertion that the Street demands entitlement cuts is maybe indicative of a little blind spot, inasmuch as who works for who?  Is business a construct of the activities of all the little people in concert, or is it actually something that suffers the little people as an afterthought?  And would not raising taxes (or even restoring them to maybe Ronald Reagan levels?) also be a viable way of closing deficits?  Or taxing hedge fund managers?

I'm grateful to Heidi for her efforts, but at the same time, I'd like to see the issue of who demands who, as to us and Wall Street, be discussed more openly.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM

August 4, 2011

which is sillier: faa or anti-contraception?

I'm having a hard time deciding which is the sillier position: furloughing 4,000 FAA employees and suspending FAA construction projects over another bit of GOP hostage-taking, or arguing against health insurance covering birth control with some insane reductive nonsensical misdirected logic?

It's a fair question, because the two examples are not similar to each other — one is borne of the legislative playground tactics of the House of Representatives of the 112th Congress, and the other is normal GOP social conservative rhetoric, if not a little sillier than usual.  Also, the FAA issue is a little bit confusing, as the GOP are refusing to renew funding not only because Delta Airlines wants a unionizing rule watered down, but also because the House GOP insists on cutting funding to the districts of certain Democratic senators.  So the Republicans have managed to be corrupt and petty all in one fell swoop.

But that's just purely venal.  Take a look at this quote from Rep. Steve King on his argument why birth control should not be covered by insurance:

And they've called it preventative medicine. Preventative medicine. Well if you applied that preventative medicine universally what you end up with is, you've prevented a generation. Preventing babies from being born is not medicine.

That's just malicious sophistry.  You as a normal citizen might scratch your head at why this conservative dude is coming down heavy against the pill, but do keep in mind that there is such a thing as the anti-contraception movement, and King is one of them.

So while making people work without pay in the middle of a recession to keep our airports safe is one thing, comparing contraception to "preventing babies from being born" takes the prize.  I hope for Rep. King's sake that he has never jerked off, because that would be an awful lot of babies not born.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:04 AM

August 3, 2011

it's just a bad news week

During the build-up of the debt ceiling stalemate, there were whispers from the smart people, speaking in hushed tones, that the hubbub was entirely misdirected, that, yes, the economy was in need of some attention, but not the budget deficit part of the economy.  That the malaise incumbent upon the dragging Great Recession was actually a dangerous thing, that could tip over into fullblown super terrible thing for everyone.

These were just whispers, mind you, because everyone was fascinated/horrified by what total political gridlock actually looks like, and accordingly felt compelled, when speaking, to only speak of debt ceilings.  In fact, it almost seemed that both the Republicans and the Democrats agreed that the debt ceiling was the loomingest threat before us.

Now, the day after the president signed into law the trillions-cutting debt ceiling austerity bill, some news:

(Reuters) - In a matter of days, investor relief that the United States avoided default has been replaced by fears Europe's debt crisis is deepening and the world's biggest economy may be slipping back into recession.

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said in a Reuters column there is a one in three chance of a U.S. recession. According to number crunching by Goldman Sachs, history suggests the economy is perilously close to tipping over the edge.

There is no Schadenfreude in this news!  Only terrible, terrible irony.

But yes, growth (and amongst us little people, let's think of that as jobs for our friends, and maybe even a little prosperity after time) are dragging exactly like it was before we started yammering about the stupid debt ceiling, and austerity, be it in social services or in the military, is not going to help at all.

And it only took twenty-four hours for this to become so glaringly obvious that wire services picked up on it.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:09 AM

brent cox in saveur

Hello.  I am officially published in the current issue of Saveur magazine, which is as fine an upscale food and lifestyle publication as you will come across.

The piece is on speidies, which are (not to spoil anything) skewers of marinated meat that are indigenous to Binghamton, NY, and the surrounding area.

I worked on the recipe as well, though I must say that I disagree with one element that made the final edit: they should be marinated for as long as possible, like days not hours.  But otherwise, everyone agrees that SPIEDIES ARE DELICIOUS.

(And Sharkey's, in Binghamton?  Seriously go there.)

Posted by mrbrent at 9:56 AM

August 2, 2011

the house tea party

As sick as we all are of the debt ceiling whatever-it's-called, which will hopefully become moot in an hour and a half, here's a brief thought on the Tea Party:

Much analysis has been devoted to who the winners and losers of this event are.  No, not the citizenry, silly, but between the political parties and their factions.  And a consensus has arisen that the Tea Party caucus of the House Republicans gained the most, as they strapped a bomb to themselves and got their two hundred grand and four parachutes.

But I think that a clarification needs to be made: the so-called Tea Party caucus, while clearly coasting into winning elections with the support of the various Tea Party organizations with their varying degrees of grass-rooted-ness, exists entirely outside of the context of the shrill entitled white people that kicked off the Tea Party movement by out-lunging elected officials at town hall meetings two years ago.  Closing the deficit is not the top priority to the actual humans that comprise the Tea Party.  Arguably, the top priority is impeaching President Obama improving the economy, or at least the personal economy of the Tea Partiers.

The rigid libertarian demands of the Tea Party caucus, however, is not so much the product of a bottom-up movement, but rather the product of the ideological demands of the thinktanks and seed financiers of the Tea Party movement.  (Yes, the Koch Brothers again, and their fellow travelers.)

I'm not sure how important this distinction is, or to whom.  Hopefully, the disconnect will evince itself down the road, maybe in an election.  But I do think that it would only be fair to no longer use the word grassroots when talking about the House freshmen, just as it would be fair to wonder how they can co-exist with the rest of the Republican Party.

Am I implying that I feel like I almost agree with John Boehner on some points?  Maybe not yes, but definitely more than ever.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:18 AM

August 1, 2011

this sucks

Well, it's Monday morning, and I very deliberately avoided watching any Internet or reading any television all yesterday because the writing was on the wall w/r/t the outcome of the debt ceiling negotiations (if it's fair to call them that), and I for one day I did not want to add a big existential state of the nation angst to all the other angsts that I had penciled in.

And here we are, and it's a pretty fucking shitty deal — you may think that the Tea Party is cheered, having successfully demonstrated the political power of one insane person with a loaded weapon, but look over to the University of Chicago economics department, where there will be much cake and soda pop consumed today.  And tomorrow, they get back to the hard hard work of having to explain in four years how cutting government spending didn't somehow fix the economy.  (Hint: it will be the fault of John Maynard Keynes.)

As usual, Paul Krugman summed it up best:

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Granted, this has not passed both houses of Congress yet, and there's still all kinds of time for the Tea Party freshmen to demand even more concessions.  But I feel it's going to be a heavy metal kind of day.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:33 AM