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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National disaster

Just a little sad humor for those still looking with hopeful eyes to November and January:

Hold on, America. We’re almost there. And I hope we’ve learned our lesson this time.

What? One can dream, right?

(Thanks of course to the good folks at The Onion, and a tip of the hat to Kelly O. at Slog.)

The Bush success

There is something to be said for the obvious, although we can be sure there is somewhere an economist, politician, or pundit willing to explain why the prescription suggested by Michael T. Klare, writing for the Toronto Star would not be a particularly effective palliative for the spiraling costs of oil:

… the Bush administration’s greatest contribution to rising oil prices is its steady stream of threats to attack Iran, if it does not back down on the nuclear issue. The Iranians have made it plain that they would retaliate by attempting to block the flow of Gulf oil and otherwise cause turmoil in the energy market. Most analysts assume, therefore, that an encounter will produce a global oil shortage and prices well over $200 per barrel. It is not surprising, then, that every threat by Bush/Cheney (or their counterparts in Israel) has triggered a sharp rise in prices. This is where speculators enter the picture. Believing that a U.S.-Iranian clash is at least 50 per cent likely, some investors are buying futures in oil at $140, $150 or more per barrel, thinking they’ll make a killing if there’s an attack and prices zoom past $200.

It follows, then, that while the hike in prices is due largely to ever-increasing demand chasing insufficiently expanding supply, the Bush administration’s energy policies have greatly intensified the problem. By seeking to preserve an oil-based energy system at any cost, and by adding to the “fear factor” in international speculation through its bungled invasion of Iraq and bellicose statements on Iran, it has made a bad problem much worse ….

…. And if this administration truly wanted to spare Americans further pain at the pump, there is one thing it could do that would have an immediate effect: declare that military force is not an acceptable option in the struggle with Iran. Such a declaration would take the wind out of the sails of speculators and set the course for a drop in prices.

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Empowering the monkey-man

We know that the American political arena is a difficult one. And while shutting off microphones in an attempt to silence opposition is not a tactic confined merely to the FOX News crowd, what is the Beltway equivalent of covering one’s ears, shutting the eyes tightly, and singing “La-la-la-la-la-la-la-la Mary had a little lamb little lamb little lamb!”

Welcome to the Bush White House. (What? Like you didn’t see that one coming?)

The White House in December refused to accept the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that greenhouse gases are pollutants that must be controlled, telling agency officials that an e-mail message containing the document would not be opened, senior E.P.A. officials said last week.

The document, which ended up in e-mail limbo, without official status, was the E.P.A.’s answer to a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required it to determine whether greenhouse gases represent a danger to health or the environment, the officials said.

This week, more than six months later, the E.P.A. is set to respond to that order by releasing a watered-down version of the original proposal that offers no conclusion. Instead, the document reviews the legal and economic issues presented by declaring greenhouse gases a pollutant.

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An open letter to Mr. Tim Rutten

Mr. Rutten:

Your June 18, 2008 opinion column, published by the Los Angeles Times, is untenable. Your attempt to reduce Bush administration collusion to license the torture of terrorism suspects to mere politics is a disservice to the people of the United States of America, and an insult to our neighbors around the world.

While indeed these are difficult times marked by sharp political disagreements, the pretense that bad-faith legal advice customized to warrant blatant disregard for the law, the United States Constitution, and the international agreements to which our nation has signed its commitment and prestige is mere political maneuvering does not simply verge on the outrageous, but rather punches through that border and demands a wholesale transcension of the very concept of rule of law.
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Rowson: “I’m still going to miss the dumb son of a bitch”

British editorial cartoonist Martin Rowson (The Guardian) reflects on the Bush era:

In 2004 the re-election of George Bush filled almost every atom of my being with dismay, despair, fear, loathing and disgust, at what this implied about the future of America and the world. I say almost every atom, because deep down in my reptile brain, the cartoonist in me knew that four years of Dubya could never be enough.

This highlights several of the fundamental contradictions contained within satirists. Obviously, if our satire worked and all those creeps we lampoon just stopped, the world would be a perfect place, we’d have nothing left to satirise and I’d be painting kittens in teacups, probably on velvet. But worse than that, quite often cartoonists get caught in a kind of satirical Stockholm syndrome, where we come to love the things we seek to destroy. In other words, Bush was just a joy to draw.

Infuriatingly, Steve Bell established the Bush-as-chimp shtick before any of the rest of us, and it’s considered bad form to nick other cartoonist’s tricks. Even so, Bush still offered more than any caricaturist could dream possible: there’s the eyebrows writhing round his crinkled forehead like demented chinchillas, and beneath them eyes so close together they seem in constant danger of fusing into cyclopism; then there’s the mouth, offering either a dumb, Mad magazine shit-eating grin or elongating into a truly simian pant hoot as he tried to articulate human speech. Add to that his pointy ears and flattened, beaky nose, and even if he’d been a Nobel Peace laureate of impeccable liberal credentials, we’d still have loved drawing and stretching every single feature.

Martin Rowson on Bush, Iraq, and five years of war.
Rowson acknowledges that there is not much Bush can do about his appearance, that he received much criticism via email from the President’s supporters, and even suggests that such direct lampooning “was more than justified by the way he behaved”. And there is a certain merit to this argument. After all, there is a vicious streak in American political tradition, and the British are known to often be raucous about their own affairs. At home in the States, “peanut farmer” is a disparaging term, and while there is a certain distaste about noting Reagan’s senility, he was followed by the shrimp vs. the wimp, Bubba, and the chimp. All in good fun, so to speak.

The challenge facing political cartoonists in this sense seems a difficult one. I’m brought to mind of an old Doonesbury strip, an episode from the travails of the Doctor Whoopee enterprise when recounting the world’s miseries with AIDS and other diseases: Things are looking good? Afraid so. On a Monday before a fateful Tuesday in November, 2004, Daily Show host Jon Stewart pleaded with viewers to make his job more difficult. Certainly, then, we can understand when Rowson writes, “But either way, while honing up on McCain and Obama, in preparation for the delivery of fresh meat, I’m still going to miss the dumb son of a bitch.”