Tag Archives: economy

Fear and Loathing in Washington D.C.

Washington DC Capitol - HDR

“President Obama will negotiate with the Syrian butcher Assad and erase his red line, will capitulate to Vladimir Putin, and he will negotiate with the happy face of the killer regime in Iran, President Rouhani, but not with Republicans over issues all presidents have always negotiated over.”

That quote – from American conservative radio host/shame-free liar and propagandist Hugh Hewitt – encapsulates how far the U.S. has to go to overcome the most embarrassing and pathetic government shutdown in the history of the country. Not every conservative in the United States is as crazy or deluded as Hewitt, but enough are to where an angry, xenophobic, racially charged minority, belonging to one faction in one house of government, has been able to manufacture a government shutdown threatening to destroy the US and global economy unless the party opposite capitulates to their bidding.

The truth is, no American president has ever “negotiated” repealing a duly enacted law [the Affordable Care Act] whilst being blackmailed with the destruction of his government, or indeed with the destruction of the global economy. But this line of baseless rhetoric has become the new mantra of the Republican Party and their apologists: repeat the lie until enough Americans have been coerced that they [Republicans] are not singularly to blame for the disastrous impasses the country continuously finds itself in (e.g. sequestration, shutdown, debt ceiling, etc.). This isn’t just a minority problem – it’s a party problem. The American Tea Party may be [entirely] comprised of callous fools and disgraceful opportunists, but we’re mostly here because “moderate” Republicans have consistently folded to these vandals rather than stand up to them.

It’s important not to forget that Republicans manufactured the U.S. government shutdown for one reason and one reason only: to stop poorer Americans from getting health insurance funded by cuts to Medicare and the taxing of the richest Americans. Let’s also keep in mind that Congress itself passed the healthcare law in 2010; the Supreme Court then affirmed its constitutionality through its landmark ruling earlier this year; and the majority of Americans want it – as proven when they re-elected the President who signed it.

In a few weeks (or sooner), the shutdown/default crisis will long be over and maybe even forgotten. The federal deficit will in all likelihood continue to fall, and growth will probably resume. But the long-term inadequacies of the U.S. political system will continue to be exploited by the Republican Party, creating a sort of dystopic future for American politics. The American people put pretty much all of the blame of the shutdown/default crisis on the shoulders of Republicans, but conservatives can still expect to hold enough seats in the House come the 2014 midterm elections (mainly because of the way district lines are drawn. Republicans were lucky enough to have had a huge win at the state level in 2010, which coincided with post-census redistricting or gerrymandering). Democrats may very well win the White House again in 2016 with Hillary Clinton or Papa Joey B, but the Congress will probably remain the same, meaning we’ll see more shutdowns/threats of defaults before it’s all said and done.

I’ve been able to gauge the puzzled, incredulous looks of my international friends at the LSE – many of whom come from democratic countries – when they hear that an extremist minority party caused the “most powerful” democracy in the world to close up shop. I tell them that American politics, as constructed by James Madison (“father” of the Constitution), was designed with stagnation, derision, and polarization in mind. But the country’s founders couldn’t foresee something as inane as the Tea Party (and warned against political party’s altogether); they couldn’t possibly expect the damning practice of gerrymandering districts or the influence of special interest groups both in elections and public policy.

Mostly, I’ve had to tell my foreign friends that what they’re currently seeing and reading about is not at all what American politics was meant to be. But they better start getting used to it, because it’s here to stay.

Photo: Nicolas Raymond

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These Quotes Should Really Worry You About The Debt Ceiling

House Speaker John Boehner

Let’s start with this doozy from freshman GOP Rep. Ted Yoho over the weekend: “I think we need to have that moment where we realize [we’re] going broke. If the debt ceiling isn’t raised, that will sure as heck be a moment. I think, personally, it would bring stability to the world markets.

Oh good, now we have a Congressman who actually believes that breaching the debt ceiling will bring “stability to world markets”. Because nothing says stability and confidence quite like defaulting on one’s debts and obligations.

These next two quotes can work in tandem, but only because they come from mutually exclusive positions:

House Speaker John Boehner on [not] raising the debt ceiling: “We are not going to pass a ‘clean’ debt-limit increase.”

And from the White House we have Treasury Secretary Jack Lew: “[Republicans] need to open the government. They need to fund our ability to pay our bills. And then we’re open to negotiation.”

So we have The White House refusing to sign anything but a clean increase in the debt-ceiling, and Boehner signalling his party’s intent to refuse to pass a clean increase in the debt-ceiling.

Compounded by the fact that Rep. Yoho is not the only member of his party to actually believe that defaulting on the debt-ceiling is a good thing — and good for the economy!! — and you start to wonder if these people can figure this out in the next 10 days. Probably not.

Photo: Medill DC

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Poll: Obama’s Economic Approval Rating Is … Bad.

Mirroring the drop in his overall approval rating, Gallup finds that only 35% of Americans approve of how the president is handling the economy:

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One would except such low numbers during an economic recession or debt-ceiling fight, but the U.S. economy is actually growing again — though not as fast as we would have liked thanks to Republican led sequestration — and the state of the U.S. economy is miles better than anything we’re seeing in Europe right now, or any other developed country for that matter. But i’m not so idealistic to think that many Americans consider those things when they offer their thoughts on the economy. The public’s approval rating of Washington’s leaders is at an all-time low (less than 10%); it’s not surprising then that Obama, as the head of the Washington leadership, would be considered under the same level of disapproval. It’s undeserved, mind you, but that’s probably the reason for the low percentage nonetheless. As long as Republicans run the House, blocking every single piece of positive, pragmatic legislation, while also allowing the country to face a sequester that hampered growth and ballooned the deficit, Obama will never be able to execute his economic policy.

And look, as cretinous as the Republican platform sounds, they’re really just doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s obstructionism on crack, yeah, but the opposition party is supposed to be obstructionist. Do enough damage to the economy so Obama gets the blame; make sure people know that it’s because he can’t bridge the partisan divide; gerrymander the living hell out of white districts to make sure you dominate the white vote; and assure 2016 voters that psuedo-conservative economics is the way of the future.

But the U.S. economy is growing (slowly); the deficit is falling faster than we imagined; unemployment is … well … shitty, but getting better; and future prospects are looking good, assuming we don’t go backwards — or don’t go Republican.

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The Economy Of Low Expectations

From the Los Angeles Times:

A private report Wednesday from payroll firm Automatic Data Processing Inc. showed the private sector created 200,000 jobs in July, the most since December.

The federal government’s employment report for July, to be released Friday, is expected to show a gain of 185,000 net new jobs in non-farm payrolls last month.

With the unemployment rate forecast to tick down to 7.5%, enough positive data is piling up to allow Fed officials to decide next month to begin reducing the central bank’s monthly purchases of $85 billion in bonds.

The good news is that the unemployment rate is decreasing; the bad news is that it’s decreasing because people are leaving the workforce — not because people are getting jobs. This Center on Budget and Policy Priorities chart tells the story:

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On the left we see the yellow line showing the official unemployment rate since 08′. In 5 years, it’s dropped from 10 percent to under 8. So, yay. But on the right we have the more important red line showing the actual employment rate — or more simply, the percentage of people with jobs. That line has barely moved.

What it tells us is that the unemployment rate is down because people have left the unemployed ranks — not because they’ve gotten jobs, but because they left the workforce altogether. Some of that is the natural consequence of an aging population, but a lot of it is the basic truth that the economy is a heck of a lot worse than the unemployment rate suggests.

And the news out of Commerce yesterday did little to make me feel better about it:

The Commerce Department reported Wednesday that the economy expanded at a 1.7% annual rate in the second quarter, exceeding analyst expectations of about 1% growth.

Although still weak, the pace of growth from April through June showed that the economy is weathering this year’s tax increases and federal spending cuts.

The 1.7% growth rate was a significant improvement over the 1.1% rate in the first quarter, which was revised down from an earlier 1.8% estimate.

So, I guess if you keep your expectations to a bare minimum, we’re making progress. Look, the economy would be faring much better — theoretically — if sequestration didn’t take place (call your local Republican legislator and thank them), but it’s still a terrible mess. The sooner we realize that a lower unemployment rate doesn’t mean we’re out of the boondocks, the better.

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Quote for the Day: “Can Republicans Be Economic Populists?”

Ronald Reagan (Home Is Where The Story Begins) Tampico, IL

“The Republican postelection ideological repositioning project has chugged along fitfully and without satisfaction until just recently, when a solution struck with the blinding force of revelation. The concept is to define the Republican Party as the populist opposition to the Obama administration. Obama, goes this line of reasoning, is not the advocate of the people he puts himself forward as but the defender of bien-pensant elites. Republicans are — or should be — the party of stripping the elites of their government favors.”

(…)

“If you define privilege as “privilege meted out by government,” then, ergo, the Democratic Party is the party of privilege — the court party, the elites. There is certainly room to flay the GOP for its deviations — its farm bills, its business tax breaks — while ignoring both the main sources of economic and social privilege in America and disposition of the two parties toward it. But the right-wing populist analysis is still a magic trick, a way of transmuting the party that taxes the rich to provide health insurance to the sick and poor into the party of the rich and powerful. Far from the basis for a realistic program for the Republican Party, it’s merely a form of self-deception.”

Jonathan Chait, Can Republicans Be Economic Populists?

(photo by Wayne Wilkinson)

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Obamacare Works Very Well When State Officials Want It To

Obamacare on the steps of the Supreme Court

The emerging pattern is simple: states that aren’t soliciting bids for next year’s healthcare exchanges will have higher premiums than states that do. Via Steve Benen:

In recent weeks, there’s been a proxy war of sorts when it comes to the projected rates on health care premiums. A “blue” state like New York will announce great news, which leads a “red” state like Indiana to announce poor news. Democratic officials in California say residents are going to going to have more money in their pockets thanks to the Affordable Care Act, to which Republican officials in Ohio say the opposite.

The pattern isn’t exactly subtle: if you live in a state where officials want “Obamacare” to work, the law looks great. If you live in a state where officials are actively trying to undermine the law, regardless of what it does to you, your premiums, and your family’s access to quality and affordable care, then — you guessed it — the news isn’t as encouraging.

That said, the emerging pattern nevertheless suggests folks in states like Maryland, New York, California, and other bluer-than-blue states are going to be immediately happier with the results of the federal health care law because they’re living in states where officials actually want the system to work effectively.

My question is, what happens in those red states when residents start looking across borders and they wonder to themselves, “Why aren’t my benefits as great as theirs?” In theory, this should prompt those folks to start asking their state officials to do more of what works.

All signs point to the pattern continuing, but it’ll be interesting to see what the final numbers look like. If the law is effective, I can’t see how this ends any other way than the whole country benefitting from lower healthcare costs, despite the best efforts of Republican politicians and their super-lobby of healthcare insurance corporations. Red-state constituents will eventually see that their blue-state counterparts are paying less, and will demand the same.

(photo by flickr user Will O’Neill)

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Why Minimum Wage Should Be $21.72 An Hour

Workers Day of Action (7/24/2012)

Nick Hanauer educates:

…If the minimum wage had simply tracked U.S. productivity gains since 1968, it would be $21.72 an hour — three times what it is now.

The larger point of his article is to argue for an increase of the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, in order to solve for the vicious cycle of our burgeoning wealth gap where falling demand will eventually take everyone down:
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The U.S Federal Government Is Making You Fat

good news to fat american sex tourists: you can still get your fill of burgers, fries, and frozen pizzas

Written by Cato:

Why are Americans so fat?

The answer might be simpler than you think.

Despite decades of fighting obesity with programs and literature like Food Pyramid or MyPlate — aimed at helping individuals understand their nutritional requirements — Americans continue to struggle with obesity. According to Scientific American, the US government undercuts its own efforts to fight the health problems stemming from obesity.
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1.2 billion are stuck in the dark

Brad Plumer has the report:

The U.N. has set a big, ambitious goal of making sure everyone in the world has access to electricity by 2030. And how’s that going? Not so well.

That’s one upshot of a new progress report coordinated by the International Energy Agency and the World Bank, which notes that 1.2 billion people around the world are still stuck in the dark. And it’s unlikely that this number will shrink down to zero in the next two decades, the report notes, without a lot more money and effort.

The Economist has a handy chart showing regional access to energy, to put this in perspective:

Basically, population growth has far outpaced the rate of growth in electrification, leaving the IEA and World Bank to admit that the UN won’t be able to meet its 2030 goal if the current trend continues. Worse still is that the report also finds that, “business as usual would leave 12 percent and 31 percent of the world’s population in 2030 without electricity and modern cooking solutions, respectively.”

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Republican intransigence the biggest threat to Obamacare

#protectthelawRally in support of ACA in front of SCOTUS (cc photo by LaDawna Howard)

The key to any good and lasting public policy is knowing what works, and what doesn’t, and implementing new strategies and reforms to account for what doesn’t, while simultaneously expanding what does. That’s how complex laws work in this country, from the alteration of Social Security in 1939 to reforms made on Medicare in the years following its being signed into law, complex policies need a fair bit of trial and error, and time, to work effectively.

But few items have been as controversial, misunderstood, and as politicized than the Affordable Care Act, which is why it’s not so surprising to read today’s story in the New York Times where Jonathan Weisman and Robert Pear report how Republicans plan to block any effort to alter and improve the law going forward:

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The Weekly Roundup

24 | May | 2013

The Unblinking EyeThe Unblinking Eye: Taken at the October 24th, 2012 campaign event of Governor Mitt Romney at Reno, Nevada (cc photo by Darron Bergenheier)

Friday on Left and Center, Publius shared some background to the new Wikileaks documentary, discussed how California gave Obamacare some really, really good news, argued that the Republican Party can no longer honestly call itself a party of conservatism, mitigated a debate between Andrew Sullivan and Glenn Greenwald on whether or not the London beheading of a British soldier could be categorized as terrorism, and had a good laugh at a photographer’s hilarious depiction of toy storm troopers.

23 | May | 2013

Obama at the John S. Knight CenterObama at the John S. Knight Center (cc photo by Beth Rankin)

Thursday on Left and Center, Publius unearthed the government’s war on whistleblowers, considered a damning opinion by Martin Wolf on austerity, saw Mnemosyne weigh the efficacy of corporate self-regulation, relayed President Obama’s speech on the future of the war on terror, and shared a wonderful photograph of Wadi Rum – Jordan.
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When conservatism left the Republican party

The Unblinking EyeThe Unblinking Eye: Taken at the October 24th, 2012 campaign event of Governor Mitt Romney at Reno, Nevada (cc photo by Darron Bergenheier)

Jonathan Chait does a really fantastic profile of 28 year-old Bloomberg columnist Josh Barro, who he labels as the “loneliest Republican”. What’s been a startling and troubling political trend these last few years has been how the Republican party has openly and damningly retreated from pretty much every single policy ground they once stood on. Parties evolve and ideologies adapt, but that’s not necessarily what’s happened to the so-called “conservative” party. Leaving aside the “why this happened?” for another time, the truth of the matter is that if you’re a policy wonk, and hold yourself to be a conservative – assuming you’re honest with yourself – you don’t really have a political home anymore.
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Ben Bernanke blames Congress for economic stagnation, to their faces.

BernankeBen Bernanke (cc photo by Medill DC)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s message to lawmakers today – in what was his first testimony in front of Congress in three months – was simple: if you lot weren’t involved, we’d be golden.

He didn’t actually say that – since it’d be political suicide and besides that, Bernanke is a polite guy – but that’s the basic premise of his opening remarks. His statement goes on to point out how while state and local government have adapted well to fiscal measures aimed at expanding growth, “fiscal policy at the federal level has become significantly more restrictive.” He goes on to list exactly how Congress has negatively impacted the economy:

“In particular, the expiration of the payroll tax cut, the enactment of tax increases, the effects of the budget caps on discretionary spending, the onset of sequestration, and the declines in defense spending for overseas military operations are expected, collectively, to exert a substantial drag on the economy this year.”

Translation: please get out of the way.

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The Daily Roundup

Retrieving Dropped SuppliesCredit: NASA/Kathryn Hansen

Today on Left and Center, Publius scoffed at Rumsfeld’s attempt to appear as anything other than a war criminal/scumbag, directed attention to the increasingly interesting presidential election in Iran, considered the weight behind Harry Reid’s plan to tackle filibuster reform in July, pondered whether we should exonerate the government’s subpoena of AP phone records given new information, argued that there is no climate change debate while questioning whether religion is to blame for scientific opposition, had a laugh with Ricky Gervais’ new sitcom Derek, unwound to a beautiful video of Iceland, and shared a wonderful photo of the Aletsch Glacier in Switzerland.

Happy Friday!

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Why the 37th attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act matters

The esteemed House of Representatives is set to try – for a 37th time – to repeal the Affordable Care Act, more affectionately known as Obamacare. After say, the 30th attempt, it becomes easy to write off these quixotic efforts as pure spectacle aimed at bringing a smile to otherwise joyless members of the far-right coalition. Republicans can go home and tell their peoples that did everything within their power to repeal the Stalinist attempt to force everyone to have affordable medicine. But there’s a point to all these attempts to repeal ACA: they fundamentally change both the way Americans perceive the measure, and how the law works.

Perhaps motivated by the many attempts to repeal this widely contetious bill, the Kaiser Family Foundation polled Americans last month to ascertain public knowledge regarding whether or not the bill is still in effect. Considering most Americans can’t name their state’s Senators, It’s not all that surprising that twelve percent of the public think that Congress successfully repealed Obamacare. Twenty-three percent didn’t feel up to answering the question.

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