On debt and deficits


The costs of two presidencies, juxtaposedJames Fallows of The Atlantic calls it, “The Chart That Should Accompany All Discussions of the Debt Ceiling“:

It’s based on data from the Congressional Budget Office and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Its significance is not partisan (who’s “to blame” for the deficit) but intellectual. It demonstrates the utter incoherence of being very concerned about a structural federal deficit but ruling out of consideration the policy that was largest single contributor to that deficit, namely the Bush-era tax cuts.

An additional significance of the chart: it identifies policy changes, the things over which Congress and Administration have some control, as opposed to largely external shocks — like the repercussions of the 9/11 attacks or the deep worldwide recession following the 2008 financial crisis. Those external events make a big difference in the deficit, and they are the major reason why deficits have increased faster in absolute terms during Obama’s first two years than during the last two under Bush. (In a recession, tax revenues plunge, and government spending goes up – partly because of automatic programs like unemployment insurance, and partly in a deliberate attempt to keep the recession from getting worse.) If you want, you could even put the spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in this category: those were policy choices, but right or wrong they came in response to an external shock.

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Park 51, 9/11, and other notes


Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe (Boston.com), August 25, 2010Let us start with this:

Not all opponents of the Ground Zero mosque are motivated by anti-Islamic prejudice, to be sure. But relatives of 9/11 victims who object still are confusing Islam with terrorism.

They’d like the mosque to move somewhere else — but how far away from Ground Zero is acceptable? If two blocks is too close, would four be better?
Logically, if the mosque is meant as an exercise in “triumphalism,” it ought not be allowed in New York City at all.

The fact is that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg had it exactly right when he said, “Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and Americans.

“We would betray our values — and play into our enemies’ hands — if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave in to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that.”

And President Barack Obama had it right (the first time) when he said that America’s bedrock dedication to religious freedom “includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan.”
It’s a shame that Republican howls caused him to backtrack on the statement. And it’s a shame so many Republicans have forgotten the distinction between Islam and extremism so clearly delineated by Bush.

Would you believe that’s Mort Kondracke?

Well … okay, why not?

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Gutter politics


w/apologies to Jimmy MarguliesThe back story: RNC Chairman Michael Steele criticized President Obama for engaging a land war in Afghanistan. (Where is Wallace Shawn when you need him?) The DNC, through spokesman Brad Woodhouse, responded with a press release saying that “Steele bets against our troops, roots for failure”.

Thus prefaced, read on. Glenn Greenwald explains:

As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent writes, and I couldn’t agree more: “this is Karl Rove’s playbook. I don’t care how often Republicans do it — this blog is not on board with this kind of thing from either party.” Indeed, at The Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol revealingly echoed the DNC, demanding that Steele resign for his “affront” to the soliders. Ironically, there was just a vote on war funding last night in the House, and numerous Democrats — 93 of them on a mild anti-war measure and 22 on a stronger one — voted to end the war in Afghanistan, many arguing exactly what Steele just said about the futility of the war. Do the DNC’s Rovian insults mean that these anti-war Democrats are also guilty of wanting to “walk away from the fight against Al Qaeda,” “undermin[ing] the morale of our troops,” and “betting against our troops and rooting for failure in Afghanistan”?

Replicating the worst of the GOP rhetoric is unfortunately not limited to the DNC. Over on the front page of Daily Kos, Barbara Morrill ends her post about Steele’s comments this way: “What the family and friends of those who died or those who are still fighting there today think is, of course, another story.” A couple of months ago, Jonathan Alter and Keith Olbermann both suggested that criticisms of Obama weaken the U.S. and thus help Al Qaeda. Last October, both the DNC and some progressive groups accused Steele respectively of “siding with the terrorists” and being “downright unpatriotic” because he questioned whether Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize was merited.

I understand and even accept the need to use the other side’s rhetoric against them, though once you start doing that, you forever forfeit the ability to complain when it’s used against you. More to the point: the 2006 and 2008 elections proved that this “against-the-Troops/cut-and-run” rhetoric is now as ineffective as it is ugly. That’s why the GOP lost so overwhelmingly in those elections while relying on those smears; why would the DNC want to copy such ineffective tactics?

No, really. It’s come to this. Read the whole thing. Or, if you really can’t be bothered, and absolutely need the capsule, here you go:

When the DNC, a front page Daily Kos writer and Bill Kristol all join together to smear someone with common language for opposing a war, it’s clear that something toxic is taking place. By all means, the ludicrous hypocrisy and illogic of Steele’s attempt to place all blame on the Democrats for this war should be screamed from the mountaintops . . . but equating war opposition with disrespect to the Troops or cowardice is destructive and stupid no matter who is doing it.

Yes, ’tis true that Michael Steele is exactly the sort of disgrace who can only ever speak truth as a clodhopping political ruse, but there is no reason for respectable society to dwell in the gutter with him.

(Image credit: Apologies to Jimmy Margulies.)

Scenes: Battle Damage Assessment


File under, “Ouch”. And then visit Milt Priggee:

Milt Priggee via Cagle

If the above makes no sense, just skip it. There is no law that says everything must make sense to you.

Or go read “Waterloo“, by former American Enterprise Institute fellow David Frum.

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A few words, in lieu of a thousand


A picture need ony speak a few words. Then again, I’m still not sure what it says:

The poster reads, "Warning! PLO agent in the White House!"

The poster the young boy is looking at reads, “Warning! PLO agent in the White House!

From Giles Whittell‘s report for The Times:

Two separate meetings between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, failed today to produce so much as an official photograph as a deep chill settled over US-Israeli relations and secrecy shrouded any efforts to repair them.

The Israeli Prime Minister was due to fly home from Washington after three days marked by fierce Israeli defiance on the issue of settlements and an extraordinary silence maintained by both sides after his three-and-a-half hour visit to the White House.

The meeting was overshadowed by Israeli approval for 20 new apartments being built for Jews in Arab east Jerusalem — a move denounced by one senior US official as “exactly what we expect Prime Minister Netanyahu to get control of”.

White House staff denied Mr Netanyahu the usual photo opportunities afforded a visiting leader, issued only the vaguest summary of their talks — let alone a joint statement — and reversed a decision to release an official photo of their meetings.

Quite a quote, indeed


Mr Fish, March 15, 2010One Eitan Cabel, described as a left-wing Israeli politician:

“Netanyahu decided to spit into Obama’s eye, this time from up close. He and his pyromaniac ministers insist on setting the Middle East ablaze.”

Yeah, that’s from my little Quote of the Day sidebar widget thingy. “So They Say”. You can actually get an RSS feed on what Time thinks is a newsworthy quote, which isn’t a surprise, since that’s how it shows up down there. But, still, think about that. A quote of the day. Someone actually has to pick it, you know. And we’re, somehow, amused. At any rate, it’s worth noting when they actually do come up with a spectacular quote.

Or something. I mean, what am I supposed to say? “Ooh, sounds … inflammatory ….”

Er … um … right.

Notes On the Health Care Battle: Dust and Smoke


Only vague first impressions; it’s difficult to get any real perspective while so much dust and smoke hangs in the air after the conflagration.

Paul Krugman, before the vote:

Adam Zyglis via CagleSo what’s the reality of the proposed reform? Compared with the Platonic ideal of reform, Obamacare comes up short. If the votes were there, I would much prefer to see Medicare for all.

For a real piece of passable legislation, however, it looks very good. It wouldn’t transform our health care system; in fact, Americans whose jobs come with health coverage would see little effect. But it would make a huge difference to the less fortunate among us, even as it would do more to control costs than anything we’ve done before.

This is a reasonable, responsible plan. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Republican David Frum on the political fallout:

At the beginning of this process we made a strategic decision: unlike, say, Democrats in 2001 when President Bush proposed his first tax cut, we would make no deal with the administration. No negotiations, no compromise, nothing. We were going for all the marbles. This would be Obama’s Waterloo – just as healthcare was Clinton’s in 1994.

Only, the hardliners overlooked a few key facts: Obama was elected with 53% of the vote, not Clinton’s 42%. The liberal block within the Democratic congressional caucus is bigger and stronger than it was in 1993-94. And of course the Democrats also remember their history, and also remember the consequences of their 1994 failure.

This time, when we went for all the marbles, we ended with none.

Kirk Walters via CagleCould a deal have been reached? Who knows? But we do know that the gap between this plan and traditional Republican ideas is not very big. The Obama plan has a broad family resemblance to Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts plan. It builds on ideas developed at the Heritage Foundation in the early 1990s that formed the basis for Republican counter-proposals to Clintoncare in 1993-1994.

Barack Obama badly wanted Republican votes for his plan. Could we have leveraged his desire to align the plan more closely with conservative views? To finance it without redistributive taxes on productive enterprise – without weighing so heavily on small business – without expanding Medicaid? Too late now. They are all the law.

No illusions please: This bill will not be repealed. Even if Republicans scored a 1994 style landslide in November, how many votes could we muster to re-open the “doughnut hole” and charge seniors more for prescription drugs? How many votes to re-allow insurers to rescind policies when they discover a pre-existing condition? How many votes to banish 25 year olds from their parents’ insurance coverage? And even if the votes were there – would President Obama sign such a repeal?

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The obvious answer that nobody likes


Well, Glenn, now that you mention it—

Can anyone reconcile Obama’s homage to “our legal traditions” and his professed faith in jury trials in the New York federal courts with the reality of what his administration is doing: i.e., denying trials to a large number of detainees, either by putting them before military commissions or simply indefinitely imprisoning them without any process at all?

—actually, yes, I can.

  1. Suspect is actually guilty.
  2. Evidence of guilt is too “classified”.
  3. Evidence of guilt is theoretic.
  4. Suspect cannot be reasonably convicted by any functional standard.
  5. Obama is an elected politician.

Do we really need it spelled out like that? Look, for whatever reasons—blame Bush if you want—President Obama finds himself in a position where (A) he’s not going to win bringing some guilty people to trial; and (B) as an elected politician, the one thing he apparently cannot do in such a circumstance is the right thing. The American people simply won’t stand for it.

Now, look. I’m glad we’ve got people like Greenwald doing what they do so well. But nobody’s perfect, and on this occasion it might be useful to admit that not everything in this nation is the fault of the government or press. Some of it is actually our fault. Voters, taxpayers, consumers, citizens—whatever word sounds most noble and heroic to your ears. I don’t care which; we’re all damned.

We keep electing these people. The American voter is neurosis in motion. We’re sick of incumbents who take their office for granted, yet we freak out if a candidate doesn’t have enough experience as a politician. We are upset with politicians who are out of touch with Americans, yet we demand higher standards for them. Now, let’s be clear on that one: Lie to us and you can start a war. But don’t you dare cheat on your wife.

Or, as Bill Maher put it, free beer and vagina trees.

So I’ll say it clearly for Mr. Greenwald and anyone else asking the obvious questions: This is what we wanted. Maybe not you and me individually, but Americans. This is what we voted for. What we failed to protest against. Hell, conservatives can find eighty-three random reasons to mobilize against a black man in the White House but we on the left couldn’t manage to find our voices against war and torture. Sure we had one or two politicians (McDermott, Kucinich), and the news media certainly didn’t like our kind, but we also spent the Bush administration being lazy, not going to jail, not holding mass demonstrations, not getting higher than Jesus and celebrating the American promise.

I get it, Mr. Greenwald. Many people out there do. But we cannot continue to rail against the political and private institutions that promote such injustice without ever looking to the people who empower them and asking what the hell is up.

And I recognize that it is unpopular in this country to acknowledge the things we do wrong. It’s a death knell for the politician, a blackball for the press. Yet we continue to reward liars and thieves with our votes.

Some days we even admit it to ourselves: This is the best we have; better to sound off in support than have no voice at all.

But for those things that make this nation so special and important, that fuel our leadership of the world? It’s all the same. If it’s bad for business, it’s bad for America. And that means truth, justice, and the “American way” are nothing more than inconvenient myths that people—Americans—are just about done with.

Do we play along? Fill up the Molotovs and fight? Maybe we should simply shut up and pretend this is still—or ever was—the land of the free and the home of the brave?