Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

If I were writing that piece

Here is an interesting way to deal numbers, with the complete post to be read from the link:

Obama taxes us into recession  (Mish’s musings)

Withheld income and employment taxes have been running about 8.3% higher year over year, comparing the same 33 business days between Tuesday, January 8 and Monday, February 25.

Regardless, there is no doubt that the Obama Administration has taxed us into a recession. Congratulations.

Lifted from several e-mails in response to the link being sent:

Ken Houghton:    If I were writing that piece, it would be about how the cuts in taxes last year are the only thing that allowed people to pretend we were in a recovery, which has otherwise been jobless. (Check out YoY for 2009 to 2010 or 2010 to 2011.) Krugman is probably right not to dismiss out of hand the idea that you can sustain economic growth with a plutocracy, but it’s not at all an even odds bet.

Personal income was just released; down 3%.

The game with numbers was to treat the employer side of SocSec tax as if it would otherwise be circulating. It’s more accurate to think of that as I than C. (I would argue all of SocSec payments are I–a “forced savings” program, as it were–but that’s a sidebar.)

And we know that those monies were not being reinvested last year. (See Steve Roth’s post a couple of days ago.). Will be interesting if we see Excess Reserves start to fall when those tax payments all come due.

And a sad thank you, Mike. You and I may have improved our lot last year, but that was the exception, not the rule, and not without painful transition.

How we call extended joblessness and growth based on consuming savings a “recovery” befuddles me.

Dale Coberly: As I may have tediously tried to point out elsewhere, rescinding the tax holiday is not a tax raise.. it is the end of a government “stimulus” funded by borrowing, unnecessarily attached to the payroll tax for devious political purposes. the SS “tax” is always circulating… it goes to benefits to the otherwise poor elderly who spend it right away. unless you are going to fund those benefits by borrowing or taxing the rich, reducing the payroll tax would reduce “circulating” by the extent to which people “saved” that money for their eventual retirement… assuming they could find a way to “save” it, given the fact that no one is “investing.” i guess we could go back to gold coins buried in jars in the backyard. that should be good for the economy.

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A Reminder

by Mike Kimel

A Reminder

My wife was talking to a friend of hers who gets paid by the school district her son attends to bring the boy to school because, given where they live, it would be inconvenient to provide bus service to where they live. We worked out the numbers, and my best guess is that she’s paid about the average cost of of transporting a pupil to school. The family isn’t poor and the child isn’t disabled. I’m all in favor of giving everyone a fair chance in life, but let this be a reminder – sometimes when the far right is railing against something, they have a point.

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John Roberts’ Curious Voting-Statistics Sophism Misconstrues The Census Report’s Statistics by Failing to Consider Key Statistical Deviation Facts and Fails To Consider WHY Massachusetts Blacks Might Be Voting In Lower Percentages Than Mississippi Blacks Are, Even IF They Are. [UPDATED]

In a blog post titled “In Voting Rights Arguments, Chief Justice Misconstrued Census Data” on NPR’s website, veteran NPR Supreme Court correspondent Nina Totenberg deconstructs a sophism offered by John Roberts at the oral argument on Wednesday on the continued constitutionality of a key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which Congress has extended several times, the last time, overwhelmingly, in 2006.  Totenberg writes:

At the voting rights argument in the Supreme Court on Wednesday, Chief Justice John Roberts tore into Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, grilling him on his knowledge of voting statistics.
The point the chief justice was trying to make was that Massachusetts, which is not covered by the preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act, has a far worse record in black voter registration and turnout than Mississippi, which is covered by Section 5 of the act.

But a close look at census statistics indicates the chief justice was wrong, or at least that he did not look at the totality of the numbers.

Totenberg goes on to say that the statistics Roberts used were taken from a lower-court dissenting opinion, statistics that in turn were taken from a 2010 census report.  “But,” Totenberg says, “upon close examination, the numbers are less than reliable, according to the Census Bureau itself.”  She explains:

Here’s the deal. The Census Bureau does voting surveys to look at voting patterns nationwide, but the survey is based on a very small sample. Most recently, in 2010, the survey looked at 94,208 voters nationwide. Break that up into roughly proportional samples in each state, Census officials say, and it is really not possible to compare states because those with relatively low minority populations have a much higher margin of error.

The number of black citizens eligible to vote in Massachusetts is 236,000, while it is 721,000 in Mississippi, more than three times that number. Therefore, according to Census officials, when looking at the estimated turnout rate in Massachusetts, the voting percentage for African-Americans at first blush is estimated at 39.3 percent. But the margin of error is 11.5 percentage points, meaning that the black voter turnout actually could be as high as 50.8 percent (or, conversely, as low as 27.8 percent). 

Now, look at Mississippi, where black turnout is listed at 48.7 percent. But because of the large size of the African-American population that was sampled, the margin of error is only 5.4 percentage points.

That means that factoring in the margin of error, the black turnout rate in Mississippi could be as high as 54.1 percent, or as low as 43.3 percent.

So, if you factor in the margins of error at their extremes — with Mississippi at the low end and Massachusetts at the high end — Mississippi could have had a black voter turnout rate that was 7.5 percentage points lower than Massachusetts.

Bottom line, as Census officials told me, these numbers are simply not reliable for state-by-state comparisons because of the high margins of error in some states.

Yep, John Roberts, it turns out, is no statistician.  But neither is he, well, a social scientist. Or even a moderately sharp observer of politics.  At least, not of Massachusetts politics. Where, y’know, Democrats usually win with lopsided victories in, say, House races in predominantly black Congressional and state-legislative districts; where the outcome of the state’s electoral college presence in presidential elections has not been in doubt for decades; and where neither Ted Kennedy’s nor John Kerry’s reelection was even remotely in doubt since, I guess, the 1994 Ted Kennedy/Mitt Romney campaign. Totenberg’s report makes clear that voting in the hotly-contested statewide race to replace Kennedy, who died in office–a special election in late 2009–was not part of the census report, which measures voting only in national elections.  

So, might not the question of what’s at stake in a particular election matter, even when you’re a Supreme Court justice who’s spent decades wanting to see the Voting Rights Act’s demise and will not be fussy about the grounds you state for your decision?  I mean, just to make it look sorta rational?

Most of the media attention concerning that oral argument focused on what were truly shocking comments by Scalia in which he said both that voting rights are a racial entitlement and, equally stunningly, although gaining less attention, that the motive of members of Congress in voting to “perpetuate” that “racial entitlement” in extending the Voting Rights Act–political reasons, he said–is appropriate reason for the Supreme Court to refuse to give the usual “deference” (here, legalese for benefit of the doubt) to Congress’s legislative decision after weighing extensive evidence, even if the motive was itself not unconstitutional.  

This latter–that the motive of members of Congress, which in this case no one claims was an unconstitutional motive (e.g., a racist motive or a religious-discrimination motive)–purports to give the Court the constitutional authority to reject Congress’s legislative choices–is so obviously bizarre and dangerous that, in this case, it likely won’t garner agreement by any other justice. But that oral argument was the second time in less than a year that Scalia offered this argument, and the first time he did so, he was joined by three other justices.

The case in which this occurred was the ACA (Obamacare) case.  In his dissenting opinion, he claimed that because a majority of the Court was voting to strike down as unconstitutional one section of the statute–the section concerning the consequences to states of refusing to agree to accept the expansion of Medicaid–the Court must strike down the rest of the statute, not because a majority thought the rest of the statute also was unconstitutional (a majority did not), but because a few members of Congress who voted for the statute might not have voted for the statute if that Medicaid-expansion part was not part of it.  The ACA passed the Senate with no votes to spare, see, so, well, I mean, who’s to say that without the Medicaid-expansion part, the statute would have passed at all?!

Rest assured, though, that this, like sooooo many other movement-conservative gimmicks, would be entirely discretionary with the justices, or lower-court judges, case by case.  A budget bill that conservatives favor, and that’s enacted in a close vote, would not be strikeable in its entirely even if it contained some part that a majority of the Court thinks is unconstitutional.  But a budget bill that disfavored by conservatives, and enacted in a close vote, might be strikeable in its entirety if one part is deemed unconstitutional, since ya never know whether it was that log-rolling of the sort that Scalia, Kennedy, Alito and Thomas objected to in the ACA, and that involved the unconstitutional provision, that enabled the passage of the budget bill.

This, by the way, apparently was the bridge-too-far that began Roberts on the road to a change of heart, and change of vote, on the constitutionality of the individual-mandate provision. Reportedly, it really offended and scared him.  But it got the votes of four of the nine justices.

This time around, though–in the Voting Rights Act case–Scalia’s apparently trying only to use this motive-matters argument to strike down a key section of the Act, not the whole thing. Which makes sense, since log-rolling wasn’t the reason for the 2006 reenactment of the law, and, as I said, the law was reenacted by overwhelming votes in each house; 98-0 in the Senate. But luckily for Scalia and friends, among them Roberts this time, there is that census report.  

And Nate Silver hasn’t been asked to analyze it. And he probably won’t be.

UPDATE: OH. WOW.  Politico reported last night, in an article titled Massachusetts official slams chief justice’s comments on Voting Rights Act:

The problem, Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin says, is that the data does not back up Roberts’s claim.

“It’s just disturbing that the chief justice of the United States would spew this kind of misinformation,” Galvin told POLITICO.

Galvin’s office assumes that Roberts was going off U.S. Census Bureau data, which is one of the only national datasets on voter turnout by race, but they say the 2010 numbers don’t support what Roberts is saying.

“He’s wrong, and in fact what’s truly disturbing is not just the doctrinaire way he presented by the assertion, but when we went searching for an data that could substantiate what he was saying, the only thing we could find was a census survey pulled from 2010 … which speaks of noncitizen blacks,” Galvin said. “We have an immigrant population of black folks and many other folks. Mississippi has no noncitizen blacks, so to reach his conclusion, you have to rely on clearly flawed information.”

The 2010 tables show that Massachusetts does have a high discrepancy between turnout of white and black voters, but is in line with several other states, including Minnesota, Kansas and Washington, which actually has a wider ratio. The states are also similar on registration numbers. Additionally, the margin of error on each of these states’ data is over 10 percentage points, and many states on the list had populations of blacks so small, data wasn’t even available.
“We reached out to academics at many institutions … and they could find no record either, they were puzzled by [Roberts’s] reference,” Galvin said.

So Roberts was gamed by an incompetent or intellectually dishonest lower-court judge, from whose dissenting opinion Roberts took the bait, the hook, the line–and the sinker. It’s fairly commonplace for lower-court judges to misstate or omit key evidence.  Sometimes, it’s because the law clerk they’ve assigned to do their work for them doesn’t bother to actually nail down or verify facts put into briefs, and sometimes it’s just that they know how they want to rule, and just cherry-pick truncated statements of fact to support their chosen conclusion.  And sometimes–and believe me; this is true–they just fabricate a fact out of nowhere.

But, really–the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court using a statistic on voting that includes non-citizens as eligible to vote, because he just lifted a surprising statistic from a lower-court judge’s dissenting opinion, without first looking into its plausibility, much less its actual accuracy?

What’s next? The chief justice relying unquestioningly on a Bob Woodward report?

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Krugman and deficits

So, what people like me have been calling for is a temporarily relaxed attitude toward deficits as long as the economy remains depressed and monetary policy is up against the zero lower bound. What does that have to do with the 1970s?
2013 0227krug 2Well, here’s a chart on the ratio of debt to gross domestic product. So, as you can see, during the 1970s the United States had deficit spending that ran up the national debt, until Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and restored fiscal soundness. Oh, wait: it’s actually the opposite.
The truth is that whatever you might say about economic policy in the 1970s, it had nothing to do with Keynesian fiscal policy — and it did not involve increasing debt. People on the right tend to use “Keynesian” to mean “liberal stuff I don’t like,” but aside from that definition, the 1970s tell us nothing about the issues we’re discussing right now.

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John Boehner Lists Our Presidential Thieves–And Ronald Reagan Is Among Them!

“The revenue issue is now closed,” Mr. Boehner said Thursday, before the House left town for the weekend without acting on the cuts and a Senate attempt to avert them died. Mr. Boehner said the dispute with Democrats amounted to a question of “how much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government.”

“I’m for no more,” he said.

Boehner Halts Talks on Cuts, and House G.O.P. Cheers, Ashley Parker, New York Times, today

So Ronald Reagan was a thief.  Who knew?  

And so, it’s now clear, was every president beginning with Abraham Lincoln. Until George W. Bush, that is.  Teddy Roosevelt? Yup. Calvin Coolidge? Uh-huh. Harry Truman? I guess that’s what they meant by “hell” that he was giving ’em. They each stole from the American people via income taxes to fund the federal government. 

But since FDR was the one who initiated the stealing to pay for such specifics as Social Security, the Tennessee Valley Authority and other New Deal programs, we’ll start with him.  He also stole–a lot–from American people to pay for WWII.  

Dwight Eisenhower, JFK, LBJ, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and Jimmy Carter perpetuated this theft. Big time.  Of course, Nixon, who assured the country that he was not a crook, did turn out to be one after all, so in retrospect, his theft from the American people was just in character.  And we knew all along that Dwight Eisenhower was the perpetrator of the theft from Americans that established a Soviet-style interstate highway system–or so Florida Rep. John Mica, the last Congress’s chairman of the House Transportation Committee, would describe the socialist ownership of the interstate highways. (That is the way he described Amtrak. And he wasn’t talking about its slowness and disrepair.)*

That controversial statue of Eisenhower that’s planned for D.C. should be scratched, not because of its design, which his ancestors dislike, but because of his criminality.

LBJ, of course, stole a lot of money from American people in order to fund the Vietnam War, a theft that this country did pay a very high price for, although not in a lengthy prison sentence after indictment and conviction for grand larceny.  But if that weren’t bad enough–from a criminal-law standpoint, that is–he also stole lots of money to fund the student-loan program that helped so many baby boomers go to college and graduate school.  Some of them–the ones who became hedge fund managers, anyway–would now be in imminent danger of becoming crime victims themselves, rather than the beneficiaries of thefts past, but John  Boehner has infiltrated the den of thieves and had has called the FBI, which, luckily, still has some agents working full-time schedules, despite the sequester.

And we won’t even get into George H.W. Bush, who, as we all know, lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton partly because he had firmly and repeatedly promised during his first campaign to not steal more from the American people than was already being stolen, only to turn around and rob the American people blind. Luckily, he son was available eight years later to provide restitution, although his Department of Justice never did indict his father.  

And, speaking of Bill Clinton–well, they didn’t call him Slick Willie for nothing, did they?

But Reagan? Reagan?  Et tu?  Yup. I keep forgetting that tax rates were much higher during Reagan’s time as president then they are now, and that after lowering tax rates, he raised some.  He’s dead now, so he can’t be indicted.  And anyway, I think the statute of limitations has run. Which is too bad.

But Bill Clinton is very much alive, and active.  And since Obama seems unwilling to rebut Boehner’s and other Republicans’ intended inferential misrepresentation that Obama’s and the congressional Democrats’ tax-increase proposals, now and the ones enacted as part of the “fiscal cliff” resolution in early January, would tax Americans other than Americans who are quite wealthy, or who have income from capital gains or dividends and who still pay taxes for that income at lower rates than during the Reagan or the Clinton era, or who are corporate Americans.  

The Republicans expect that they will get a majority of Americans to believe falsely that the Dems are proposing to raise their taxes.  If Obama remains mute instead of correcting this misrepresentation, Clinton should step in and do that.  He should hang the taxes-as-stealing statement around John Boehner’s neck, and then tighten the noose by answering the question Boehner posed: How much more money do we want to steal from the American people to fund more government?  He then should answer the questions, from which American people, and for what? And he should be specific.

But he also should ask this: Since when is it theft of Americans to institute tax increases that a majority of Americans who voted in the recent election actually specifically voted for? And he should point out that what Boehner really thinks the crime is is that public prefers that the federal government continue to fund Medicare and other social safety-net programs, as well as myriad other services, agencies and perks of being an American; the National Institutes of Health, the National Parks Service, FEMA, and the EPA come quickly to mind, but of course there are many others.

As criminality goes, the aggressive attempts to undermine the very nature of democratic government, through an unremitting series of stunts and use of bizarre language and concerted campaigns of disinformation, strike me as more serious ones than the theft of wealthy Americans through tax increases that would remain substantially lower than they were during most of the 20th Century.  

But, by all means, Speaker Boehner, bring on the theft language, again and again.  Keep it up, all the way through the 2014 midterm elections. Please. But if you don’t feel like it, hopefully the Dem congressional candidates will pick up the slack and help you out with that, in their TV and Internet commercials.  

It should help them steal some elections.

*Parenthetical added after initial posting.

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