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WHY THE DEMOCRATS LOST: Because they cannot win unless they explain Keynesian economics and inform the public of the dramatic reduction in federal spending and federal employment since 2010—and the consequences of it. Obama will not (or, intellectually, cannot) do that. So others must.

Yesterday, I wrote here in response to a statement by Greg Sargent that “McConnell’s only way to re-litigate Obama’s policies will remain budgetary guerrilla warfare that will only work if Obama allows it to work, which he won’t, which he won’t.”:

McConnell’s only way to re-litigate Obama’s policies will remain budgetary guerrilla warfare that will only work if Obama allows it to work.  Which, if past is prologue, he will.  And with Obama, past is always prologue

Obama spent the first three years of his presidency, and, intensely, 2011, waving the budgetary white flag so desperately that it was only the farthest-right contingent of House members that prevented significant changes to Social Security, Medicare and other major safety-net programs.  The House contingent that blocked the deal did so because it didn’t go far enough, in their opinion.  But it went very far.

What I remember most strikingly from that period, and what Sargent apparently has forgotten, is Obama’s angry public response to the death of this Republican-dream legislation. Always one to invoke some stunningly stupid family-is-like-government analogy, however clearly the analogy adopts the Republicans’ factually erroneous and very harmful policy mantras (“Families are tightening their belts, so the government should tighten its belt, too.”), Obama said he was willing to give the Republicans 90% of what they wanted if they would give him 10% of what he wanted, because that’s his arrangement with Michelle.*

His party controlled the executive branch and one-half of the legislative branch.  But he was willing to give the one-half of the legislative branch controlled by the Republicans 90% of what they wanted.  If only they would stop looking that gift horse in the mouth.

Biden said yesterday that “we’re willing to compromise.”  Read: “We’re willing to cave.”  And the Dems’ standard-bearer-apparent—who’s aggressively blocking anyone else from running for the presidential nomination—couldn’t explain Keynesian economics, or cite healthcare coverage or healthcare-cost-reduction specifics, to save her life, yet she’s what will pass for the Dems’ fallback voice.

I titled my post: “Greg Sargent confuses Obama with Elizabeth Warren.  Or with Harry Reid. While Obama confuses the congressional Republicans with Michelle.”  The post garnered a comment from reader Axt this afternoon saying:

In this I firmly believe the GOP whacko birds will save Obama from himself.

Basically they’ll require full repeal of Obamacare as part of any deal, and that is the one place where Obama will hold firm.

My lengthy reply to him or her merits a full post of its own, I think.  I wrote:

Axt113, I wish you were right, but you’re not. McConnell has made clear time and again in the last few months that it will all be done through the budget process.

Of course, Obama COULD—theoretically—give a short primetime TV address once Koch-McConnell Industries starts doing this, explaining what exactly they’re doing, what the intent is, and what the effect is. He COULD, theoretically, even mention how many Kentuckians will lose their healthcare insurance if McConnell gets his way.

Just as he COULD, theoretically, during the last several budget confrontations, and even during this year’s congressional campaigns, given a short primetime TV address, using charts, and telling the public that the budget deficit has declined by more than half in the last four years; that the federal workforce has declined dramatically because of that; that the budgets for key federal agencies such as the NIH and the National Weather Service have been gutted, as has federal financial assistance to state and local governments, causing dramatic reductions in employment by state and local governments (including for teachers and firefighters).

But just as he hasn’t done these things before, he won’t do it going forward. He doesn’t feel comfortable speaking into a camera from his office in the White House and doesn’t feel comfortable explaining things to the public, see. Which I guess is why he didn’t do either of those things regarding Ebola and the travel-ban issue.

We’re in a perfect storm, here, and have been for the last nearly-six years. There no longer are any cultural barriers to brazen misstatements of fact about government policies, statistics, affects, so the Republican media machine inundates the public with false facts. And the only person who could actually penetrate and counter this false-propaganda fest by gaining nationwide attention for the refutations, using statistics and other facts, and the economic effects of these statistics (i.e., Keynesian economics), refuses to do that. And in any event probably couldn’t do it coherently, to save his live. Or to save anyone else’s (political) life.

I’ve known, and right now know, a small number of people who seem very bright and are highly educated (graduate degrees of one sort or another), and yet whose thought process is so “off”, so utterly weird, so illogical, that eventually I realize that there’s no actual way to communicate normally with the person, and no reason to expect that the person will ever have a normal recognition and understanding of normal things. I don’t know Obama personally, but I put him in that category.

This is not to say that he doesn’t deserve great credit for some of what he’s done as president—especially his decision in early 2009, against the political advice of some of his aides, to ask Congress to pursue healthcare insurance reform.

But his bizarre, hands-off, delegation of the policy design to Congress—and his stupefying failure, throughout, to refute the false statements of fact about the eventual law and to make one infamous one himself (“If you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan,” which is true for most but not all), rather than explaining the actual policy, and that virtually identical or more comprehensive policies will be available, and why—is emblematic of so much that is very wrong with his presidency.

They are, specifically: His extreme lack of mental agility—an inability to recognize when something, including false facts being propagated, needs to be addressed, needs to be dealt with; his extreme delegation to Congress of complex and very important legislation that should be designed at the outset by the White House; and, most of all, his failure to do what is necessary to educate the public about absolutely critical facts that the public clearly is unaware of and facts about which holds outright-false beliefs.

Rand Paul was quoted last night saying that the reason for the election results was “the incompetence of big government.”  Because, you see, small government could stop Ebola in its tracks, halt the advance of ISIS, and enable everyone to have access to good healthcare without having to develop an extremely complicated web sign-up.  It also could forecast, monitor and warn the public about weather, accurately, using infallible by very cheap technology and warn the public.  It could develop an Ebola vaccine, run a wildly popular national pension system for pretty much everyone, and provide competent healthcare access to elderly retirees.

Last weekend, I wrote in a post here:

Yup.  Wouldn’t wanna distract from the “personhood” issue by setting the record straight on trivia such as that the federal deficit actually has fallen by more than 50 percent since President Obama took office.  And by mentioning such dramatic budgetary facts as those cited in the op-ed about the National Weather Service and those discussed recently by NIH director Dr. Francis Collins.  Or by noting the drastic cuts in infrastructure upkeep and in financial assistance to state and local governments.  And you certainly wouldn’t wanna point out the direct effects of these cuts.

Bridge collapses, potholed highways, the sudden inability of the National Weather Service to warn of a hurricane’s path, a massive snowstorm, or tornadoes pale in comparison to a “personhood” constitutional amendment that would have less chance of actual passage by Congress and ratification by the necessary number of states than a polar bear will have of survival in Alaska in a few years. So do advances in medicine, warnings of tornadoes and major storm paths, and bringing down what are now spiraling state university and college costs and student loan interest rates.

The New York Times op-ed I linked to, “Our Failing Weather Infrastructure,” by Kathryn Miles, author of a book called ““Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy,” begins by detailing several recent severe failures of technological failures of the National Weather Service. Miles says these breakdowns are not a new problem, and explains:

For years, congressional allocations to the National Weather Service have all but flatlined. Meanwhile, the cost of storm recovery has skyrocketed. In the 20 years leading up to Hurricane Sandy in 2012, the United States suffered 133 weather disasters that exceeded $1 billion in damages, for a total of over $875 billion. Sandy, the second­costliest hurricane in the nation’s history, came with a price tag of anestimated $65 billion.

In the months after Sandy, the Department of Commerce issued a service assessment report, which evaluated the National Weather Service’s response to the storm. Its authors discovered understaffed forecasting offices, a shortage of products that convey storm threats to the general public and a real need for more staff training. These findings echoed a similar report issued after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, which charged that gaps in technology, service and training had complicated forecasters’ ability to do their jobs.

But rather than address these shortages, in 2013 the National Weather Service was forced to put in place a hiring freeze and cut off funding for forecaster training and equipment maintenance, part of an 8.3 percent budget cut that came in the wake of the federal government’s budget sequestration. The National Weather Service now employs 288 fewer forecasters and technicians than it did when Sandy struck.

A report issued earlier this year by the union representing National Weather Service employees estimates that there are more than 500 job vacancies within the agency, 396 of which are considered “emergency essential” — forecasters and technicians who are on the front line of storm prediction and the issuance of watches, warnings and advisories.

For years, the National Hurricane Center has been stymied by what the Sandy assessment report called “a severe staffing shortage” in its technology and science branch, which is responsible for everything from software development to communicating watches and warnings. Thanks to budget constraints, the center employs just one full­time storm surge specialist, despite the fact that storm surge consistently kills more people than wind and is much harder to predict.

Meanwhile, existing forecasters are forced to cope with limitations that make their jobs difficult: radar that crashes, broken wind­detection devices, failing satellites and budget constraints that prevent them from utilizing tools like weather balloons.

Meteorologists at all levels of the National Weather Service are exceedingly talented, hardworking scientists. They can do far more than their jobs currently allow, including issuing seven­day storm forecasts and using global information systems to create surge maps that would assist emergency managers in evacuations. But, as one senior administrator at the National Hurricane Center told me, “we can barely keep the trains running.”

One commenter wrote in the comments to the op-ed something like: “More money! Look, if they need more money to operate they should get it.  But first they should prove that they’re competent.”

Undoubtedly, that commenter also thinks hospitals should demonstrate their competence at surgical operations and at running x-ray labs before they’re paid enough to buy the equipment and hire staff.  We do need to reduce healthcare costs, after all.  I hope this guy uses one of those hospitals next time he needs major medical treatment.  There will be one less winger to vote in the following election.

This is so stunningly stupid.  But it also is the result of decades of anti-government propaganda based upon clichés repeated and repeated and repeated, and nothing pushing back on it.

Unless the Democrats, en masse, do a complete sweep of their party’s consultants and operatives, and unless they nominate for president someone who never bought into the sales pitch of those people, the party will lose next time.  And the time after that.  And the time after that.

The Democrats cannot win unless they explain Keynesian economics and inform the public of the dramatic reduction in federal spending and federal employment since 2010—and the consequences of it.  Obama will not (or, intellectually, cannot) do that, so others must.

So, Dems: First kill all the consultants.  Then kill all the politicians who follow the consultants’ advice.


*ADDENDUM: Obama seems to actually think in these silly analogies to families/sports/other-things-that-trivialize-complex-facts-and-situations.  Last summer when ISIS broke through to the American consciousness after American journalist James Foley was appaulingly killed and the killing was videotaped, it was reported that last winter when a reporter asked him about ISIS’s recent advances, he said it was just the JVT to al Qaeda.  The reporter pointed out that the JVT had just invaded and conquered Falujah.

Which isn’t to say that this country should re-enter Iraq.  But it is to say that Obama apparently settles on an analogy and that’s the end of it—including deciding to borrow the “families” analogy from the other side that undermines what had been, and should be, his own position.  After all, it’s a family analogy! Or a sports analogy! Or a cat-jumps-through-a-hoop analogy!  The public will identify with it!

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Paul Krugman is wrong; Obama DOES need to discuss Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address. Here’s why.

Paul Krugman is my hero.  I credit him–him alone, really–with ending, finally, the Peterson Foundation’s capture of almost all of the mainstream news media as their PR outfit.  Just as I credit Occupy Wall Street, also alone, with finally ending the decades-long political prohibition of class warfare by any group but the hedge fund/CEO crowd. Krugman, unlike other liberal economists, thanks to his New York Times column and blog, is not relegated by the news and political worlds to tree-falling-in-a-forest status.  His writings penetrate the barriers–consciousness–that no other liberal economist can.  And he has, single-handledly, removed from the big-name propogandists the freedom to sell their snake oil, unrebutted in any broadly-read forum, as news and fact-based commentary. Krugman bats down this stuff, daily.

The economic/fiscal right is similar to the conservative-legal-movement right, best as I can tell, in its perversion– its Orwellian redefinition–of common language terms and its out-of-the-blue proclamations of false fact. In law, it is words, phrases and concepts such as freedom, liberty, viewpoint coercion, matters of public concern, First Amendment rights to free speech and free association and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, that are now regularly removed from their ordinary meaning to strip or fabricate constitutional rights, depending upon which outcome advances what is at bottom the Reagan-era-right’s legislative agenda.  There is, it is by now clear, no redefinition or fabrication of fact too shamelessly politically opportunistic, or too whiplash-inducing in light of their own recent aggressive rulings to the contrary, that four or five justices won’t adopt, and certainly no limit to the bald silliness that their legal-movement apparatus won’t offer with a straight face.

Freedom means imprisonment.  Or, more precisely, it means being denied access to the federal habeas corpus process after conviction of felonies and sentenced to a long prison term, however rampant the violations of federal constitutional rights, as long as the conviction was in state court, because states, or more accurately, state judicial branches are sovereigns whose dignity must not be offended by the shackles of having to comply with the Constitution’s dictates and prohibitions.  Yes, and work will make you free, as long as the work occurs inside a concentration camp, within a sovereign state.  Or at least it will if you’re a public-sector employee in a unionized job and you are ideologically opposed to big government but not so strongly against it that you will quit your job and ask that your position not be filled upon your departure.  Or if you’re a physician who accepts Medicare patients.  But not if you’re a prosecutor whose discovered bald misconduct on the part of the part of the police in a prosecution, and your own office looks the other way and you complain, since the phrase “big government” does not include within its meaning police misconduct and therefore is not a matter of public concern.

I wish there were a Krugman-equivalent for legal issues.  Without one, these folks dramatically rewrite the Constitution and federal statutes, with rare exceptions entirely off the public’s radar screen.  But there’s not.

But I digress.  I come not just to praise Paul Krugman but also to refute him.  Well, actually to refute his argument today that it’s okay if Obama doesn’t address Keynesian economics in his State of the Union address next week, as long as he addresses, at length, issues of dramatically unequal income and wealth distribution and access to the means of economic mobility.  Krugman recognizes, of course, the relationship between the two, but concludes, citing FDR’s inability to do so in 1937, that the former is almost impossible to accomplish while the latter is easy to do because the public is now very aware of the basic facts and, by large majorities, concerned about it.

Krugman’s purpose is largely to dispute the claim by some liberals that a focus on inequality distracts from an argument for a jobs-creation agenda–that is, an argument for a new economic-stimulus fiscal policy.  He’s right that that is wrong; issues of inequality of income and wealth are anything but a distraction from the sluggish economy.  And, separately, they’re of essential concern.

But a threshold to progress on either of these fronts is victory in this year’s congressional and state-government elections. And therefore, a refutation of the Republican “Obama economy” mantra.

Two weeks ago, in a post I titled “Yes, Speaker Boehner, But WHOSE Policies of the Present Are to Blame?”, I expressed my deep desire to see Obama use his State of the Union Address to point out the dramatic decline in government employment at every level of government–federal, state, local–throughout his presidency, and to show, using charts, how that differs from every economic downturn since the early 1930s.  This is different than a Keynesian argument for economic stimulus. This is easy to explain–both the facts and the economic effects.  If a teacher, firefighter or police officer is laid off, he or she and his or family is spending far less money in the community and the larger economy.  And the layoff may mean the loss of the family’s home.  Federal funds to states and localities has been dramatically reduced since the Tea Party gained control of Congress–a majority in the House, a veto-by-filibuster in the Senate. Compare that to, say, the recession in the early 2000s.

It’s their fiscal policy–and their economy.  And by no means just because of a failure to enact further stimulus programs.  The public needs to be told–and shown–this.  I think it’s important not to conflate stimulus with dramatic reductions in spending. And, with all the respect that Krugman is due notwithstanding, I think that’s what he’s doing.

As for FDR, it seems to me likely that he reversed fiscal course in 1937 not because of public opinion poll results but instead because he, like the public, bought into deficit fears.  But the experience of the 1930s’ double-dip depression, along with the current experience here and in Europe, is not that hard to explain to the public.  FDR’s problem was that Keynesian economics was pretty new territory then, and he wasn’t clairvoyant.  He made the same mistake that Obama made.  He bought the wrong sales pitch.  Understandable in 1937, but not so much these days.

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Yes, Speaker Boehner, but WHOSE Fiscal Policies of the Present Are to Blame?

House Speaker John Boehner told a closed meeting of his colleagues that a Republican pollster found that for the first time, most Americans blame President Barack Obama for the economic troubles, not George W. Bush.

“Barack Obama came into office blaming George W. Bush for the state of the economy and the lack of job creation,” Boehner said, according to a source in the room. “For years, that pass-the-buck strategy worked. But at the end of last year, a turning point was reached. For the first time, a majority of Americans now say they believe the troubles in our economy are more the result of the policies of the present than the policies of the past.”

The poll, conducted by longtime Boehner ally David Winston, shows that in November 2013, 41 percent of those polled blame the economic woes on policies of the past while 49 percent blame policies of the present. After the 2012 election, 53 percent blamed past policies and 44 percent blamed today’s policies.

John Boehner: Poll finds Obama to blame, Jake Sherman, Politico, today

Each time I read about some Republican pol blaming referring to the high unemployment rate as “the Obama economy” as a way to obtain approval from the Tea Party to support an extension of unemployment compensation for the long-term unemployed (which I the last few weeks has happened repeatedly), I momentarily, but only momentarily, expect Obama to make a statement detailing the dramatic reductions in public-sector employment, virtually across the board: federal, state and local throughout the country.  In that brief moment of reflex, I expect him to point out that this is unprecedented since the Hoover administration and differs dramatically from what occurred during and immediately after recessions ever since.

I expect him, in other words, to educate the public about basic Keynesian economics.  And to point out that the economy we have is in fact the one chosen by the Republicans, not by the Democrats in Congress and not by him.

Or, to borrow Boehner’s phrasing, I expect him to explain that the troubles in our economy indeed are more the result of the policies of the present than the policies of the past.  And to explain exactly what those policies are, and who has insisted upon them.  The specifics of the sequester, for example, might be a good thing to include in an explain.  Should he provide one.

He won’t, of course. That would require him to deviate from equating family finances and government finances, and back several years ago some political advisor told him that all economics matters must be presented to the public as analogy to family economics, even when the analogy is baldly false and undermines your position.  And, Obama being Obama, he not only believed it but hasn’t since noticed the ill effects of this on fiscal policy and consequently the overall economy.

Obama has the opportunity to upend the Republican claim that this is “the Obama economy, by providing a clear, detailed statement of the actual facts–statistics, competing policy proposals, and actual economics–in his upcoming State of the Union address.  He won’t, though; that would require actual specifics placed into a coherent explanation, rather than a one-off sentence or two.  It might even require charts and graphs!

Charts, graphs, statistics, economics, and other facts are people, my president.  Just like corporations.  In exactly the same way that Romney actually meant that corporations are people, my friend.  But, no matter. He won’t employ them.

But the slack can be picked up, to some extent, at least, by Senate Dems.  Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Elizabeth Warren, Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, Chris Coons, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeff Merkley, Tom Udall.  And, yes, Harry Reid.  Please pick up Boehner’s gauntlet, senators. And soon.

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What Mindless Cliché-Driven Centrism From a High-Profile Pundit Looks Like, in Detail.

The State of the Union ritual is by now familiar to most Americans. President Obama leads the Democratic side of the chamber to a series of standing ovations for proposals that everybody knows won’t become law. Republicans show their seriousness of purpose by smirking or making stony faces — and by inviting as guests to the speech people such as rocker Ted Nugent, who has called the president a “piece of [excrement]” who should “suck on my machine gun.”

But this spectacle, unlike [Mardi Gras], is not all harmless fun. Obama made clear that he is not entertaining serious spending cuts or major entitlement reforms. Republicans, in their responses, repeated that they are not budging on taxes. The hard choices will have to wait for another day.

The standoff gives new meaning to Fat Tuesday: The nation’s finances are a mess, but — what the heck? — let’s have another round. No wonder a new Washington Post poll found that 56 percent of Americans have a dim view of the country’s political system.

Let the bleak times roll, Dana Milbank, Washington Post, today

Yup.  Fifty-six percent of Americans want another deep recession.  Now!  Our nation’s finances are a mess.  And they want to see them become messier!  And they want a few million hungry or homeless elderly. Not necessarily now.  But soon.

The luxury of being a Centrist, at least one of this particular and common variety, is that you can spout generic truisms without ever actually tying them to specifics.  Much less to basic economics principles. Milbank’s column is so replete with unsupported and in fact completely unexplained inferences–declaratory clauses and sentences each made in its own little vacuum but offered as though dependent upon one another–that Milbank’s heard somewhere, that I wondered as I read this thing whether he’d brought his MacBook Air to a Uline plant to watch the speech last night. I mean, how else to explain this?:

Early in his address, Obama pronounced himself “more than halfway towards the goal of $4 trillion in deficit reduction that economists say we need to stabilize our finances.” He blithely proclaimed that the rest of the job could be done by making “modest reforms” to Medicare and “getting rid of tax loopholes and deductions for the well-off.”

He didn’t mention that this would leave the country with a historically high debt level — and would be but a temporary fix before health-care costs explode in a decade. Departing from his prepared text, Obama challenged the idea that “deficit reduction is a big emergency, justifying making cuts in Social Security.”

Oh, horrors. After all, deficit reduction is a big emergency. And a historically high debt level–irrespective of the specifics, such as how high that debt level is relative to GDP–will crash the economy.  Just like the historically high debt levels did at the end of World War II.

“Washington’s version of Mardi Gras had begun early in the day, at the Capitol South Metro station, where members of a nonpartisan balanced-budget group, Bankrupting America, offered beads to passersby willing to ‘show us your cuts,’” Milbank writes. “By that standard, few necklaces would be distributed. Democrats and Republicans alike would sooner bare their private parts than come clean about what government programs they would cut.”  True enough.

But then, this:

Even [Paul] Ryan, who is drafting a budget that could slash domestic discretionary spending by 40 percent over a decade, doesn’t like to be specific.

Even Paul Ryan doesn’t like to be specific about cuts that would slash domestic spending by 40 percent over decade?  Even Paul Ryan?  You don’t say!

And then, of course:

And House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says, “It is almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem.”

Pelosi’s formulation is just as reckless as the Republicans’ mantra: “We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.”

Of course. Which is why, pre-Bush-tax-cuts, and pre-Bush-unfunded-wars, we didn’t have a spending problem. Now we do, so let’s cut Social Security!  Canada, Germany, Australia and Holland must also have spending problems.  After all, they have extensive social safety-net programs, and high standards of living.

Milbank ends by saying, “In reality, we eventually need both spending cuts and tax increases — and lots of them. But sacrifice will have to wait. In Washington, they’re still partying like there’s no tomorrow.”

No, actually, the Democrats are partying like there is a tomorrow. There’s real, if unwitting, irony in the headline writer’s choice of a heading for Milbank’s column. Although–who knows?–maybe the headline writer actually is familiar with Keynesian economics.

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Yup, John Boehner and Paul Ryan Are Right: The economy contracted in the fourth quarter because #spendingstheproblem and Keynesian Economics Doesn’t Work.

Construction has been one of the more encouraging sectors, adding jobs each of the last four months. The hiring there was probably because of a combination of rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy, unseasonably warm weather that led to fewer work stoppages, and the nascent housing recovery, said Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomic Advisors.

Retailing, health care and the wholesale trade also added positions in January, while the government again shed jobs. Government payrolls have been shrinking most months over the last four years.

Job Growth Is Steady Amid Snags Holding Back Economy, Catherine Rampell, New York Times, today

Bring on the sequester, I say!  Let’s get that economy going again!

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Brian Williams Thinks Raising the Debt Ceiling Means Increasing BUDGET APPROPRIATIONS. O Peter Jennings, Walter Cronkite, and Edward R. Murrow, Where Art Thou? — [UPDATED]

I watched NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams last night.  Big Mistake.

Big mistake.

Because now I’m really confused.  I was pretty darn sure until then that “raising the debt ceiling” meant allowing the Treasury Department to pay financial obligations already incurred, such as interest on bonds, Medicare payments, and contract obligations, and to allow continued payments for ongoing financial obligations such as Social Security payments, Veterans’ benefits, and salary payments to federal employees, some of whose jobs are sort of important.  (Think: air traffic controllers.)  I had thought that because I had followed the recurring-crisis news reports about it since 2011, when the first of the crises began.  And because Obama had actually explained it in his Jan. 14 press conference.

But now, well, I think I might have misunderstood, because after Williams reported that the Senate yesterday had approved the House bill to “suspend” the debt ceiling through May 19, he added, shaking his head in disapproval, something like: “This is Washington’s version of kicking the can down the road.  Our debt is now more than a trillion dollars.”

I suggest that next time Williams is onboard one of NBC’s corporate jets, he might read, say, Paul Krugman’s column in today’s New York Times.  It doesn’t explain the difference between the debt ceiling statute and budget-appropriations statutes, so Williams will continue to conflate the two until he digs deeper and reads earlier Krugman columns or other mainstream-media articles that did that.  But it does (yet again)–to borrow a phrase from Paul Ryan in his Meet the Press interview aired last Sunday–debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics, and whether anti-Keynesian “austerity” measures reduce or instead increase national debt in real terms and, more important (although Williams apparently doesn’t know this), decrease or instead increase debt relative to GDP.

But if he is going to wait until he’s up there in the air in that Learjet to read the Krugman column, I hope the trip occurs before May 20.  


UPDATE: Additional recommended reading for Brian Williams: Joe Scarborough, Paul Krugman and the economist-pundit divide on debt and deficits, Neil Irwin, Washington Post, yesterday.

Scarborough, though, at least knows what the debt ceiling law is, and that it isn’t the same as budget-appropriations legislation.  He does, after all, work for MSNBC, not, say, NBC News.

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John Boehner Says Defense Spending Is the Problem with the Economy. Awesome. – [UPDATED]

Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports this morning that Republicans believe the GDP report showing the economy is shrinking gives them political “leverage” over Obama, since bad economic news is terrible for the President. But Thrush notes that this shouldn’t be the case, since the contraction was the result of spending cuts, which in theory should undermine the GOP argument that we should cut spending as deeply as possible:
The fact that the shock this time came from a plunge in defense/federal spending should, in theory, bolster Obama’s contention that budget-cutting and trimming entitlement spending is the worst thing for the economy right now. It should, in a more Spock-like world, be an argument against the sequester cuts and big changes to Medicare and Social Security.

Forget about that.

All nuance is lost in the howling gale of an economic “contraction” — and the advantage, at least in the current news cycle, shifts to a down-in-mouth GOP. It’s not likely to be a major shift in the dynamics of looming fiscal fights, but Republicans, in the words of one senior Hill staffer I spoke to this morning, “will take any leverage we can get.”

Thrush very well be right that people won’t take the right message from the contraction. But in a rational world, what should be glaringly obvious is that the belief that this gives the party “leverage” highlights how absurdly incoherent the GOP message about the economy has become. (Read Steve Benen for all the other problems here.)

The economic contraction was driven largely by a steep drop in defense spending. As Ezra Klein details, this shows that “government is hurting the recovery” by “spending and investing too little.” As Ezra notes, “government spending and investment have, at all levels, been contractionary since 2010.”

Yet Republicans are responding to the news of the economic contraction by suggesting invalidates their view that we need to further cut spending to help the economy. Hence their claimed “leverage” in the coming battle over the sequestered cuts, half of which is to defense spending. Republicans are actively using the sequester to force Dems to agree to avert it by offsetting it entirely with other deep cuts to social programs, and no new revenues from the wealthy. In response to the contraction, John Boehner tweeted out this hashtag:


In other words, the contraction confirms that we need more spending cuts.

We all agree that spending cuts hurt the economy. Right? Right., Greg Saregent, Washington Post, today

Okay, look.  If Obama doesn’t now, finally, explain Keynesian economics to the general public, using actual facts–such as the reason for the economic contraction–and point out that Boehner & Co. either are ignorant of the facts or are willing to deliberately misinform the public about such a critically important matter, then he should resign and let Joe Biden explain it as president.  

I mean it.

Obama did a stellar job a week before his inaugural address explaining the debt ceiling law and what “raising the debt ceiling” means–and that ti does not mean what the Republicans’ campaign of disinformation was saying it means.  He should do the same now, on this.  

Presumably, he’ll enlist as his chief speechwriter for his State of the Union address a speechwriter who understands how to easily explain Keynesian economics and the current “contraction” statistics.  But, just as with his inaugural address, he should not wait until that speech to expose the Republican game plan for what it is: a concerted campaign to misinform the public about critical facts, knowing that the public will not know the accurate specifics, and aware that–as Thrush says, outright–the mainstream press will not sufficiently (or at all) apprise the public of those fact.  

In other words: that Romneyism–the flagrant lying, con artistry, as the chief modus operandi–is now at the very heart of what the Republican Party is.

The public did catch on to Romney by the fall.  And, thanks largely to Obama’s statements at his press conference on Jan. 14 abou the debt ceiling, they caught on to that, as well.  And if Obama makes an effort to explain to the public basic Keynesian economics, and cites actual facts, actual statistics, about the fourth-quarter contraction, they’ll catch on this time, too.  And, maybe, finally, to the fact that the Republicans have decided upon a strategy of fraud in order to disassemble the social safety network, including Social Security and Medicare.  

In his State of the Union address, he’ll have an opportunity to finally educate the public about the actual causes of the Greek meltdown, of the actual effect of Tory austerity in Britain, of the actual cause of economic near-collapse in Spain, in Italy, in Ireland, in Iceland–and of the actual effect of the safety net in Germany, in Holland, and elsewhere.  And maybe he’ll even take that opportunity.  But the State of the Union address is two weeks away.  And in responding to Boehner’s tweet at #spendingistheproblem, there’s no time like the present.  Or at least like the next few days.  Just as with the fiscal cliff and the debt ceiling, the Republicans’ political leverage, whether real or fanciful, will turn out to be ephemeral.  

Unless Obama remains mute.

UPDATE: Wow.  Either Greg Sargent is channeling me, or I’m channeling him.  He posted this one minute after I posted my post on AB.

But as I say in my post, Obama shouldn’t wait the two weeks until the State of the Union address to begin making the point.  Just as he didn’t wait a week until his inaugural address to explain to the public what “raising the debt ceiling” actually means–thus pulling the rug out from under Repubs’ disinformation campaign telling the public that it means increasing spending appropriations.  

Sargent titles his post “Make strong case that spending cuts hurt economy, Mr. President!”  (Amen.)  He points out: that

Unfortunately, at times, Obama has diluted this message. During his 2010 State of the Union speech, for instance, the President proposed a temporary spending freeze, and said:

“Families across the country are tightening their belts and making tough decisions. The federal government should do the same.”

But I think it’s a mischaracterization to describe that as a dilution of the Keynesian message.  It’s actually an outright misrepresentation of economic fact; that’s why that statement has been so detrimental.  And, if necessary, Obama should expressly acknowledge that this was misleading about economic fact, and then explain exactly why.

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Paul Ryan Says Taxes Should Be Raised to Pre-Bush-Tax-Cut Levels. But the Republicans Will Opt Instead For the “Sequester.” Unless, Of Course, the Koch Brothers Intervene.

There were three big political stories that came out of David Gregory’s fabulously interesting interview of Paul Ryan aired last Sunday on Meet the Press.  One was that Ryan said:

Well, we can debate the efficacy of Keynesian economics or not. And I don’t obviously believe– I think the debt is pretty clear it doesn’t work.

Another was that he said that if Bill Clinton were president, we would have solved the budget-deficit problem, a statement that he presumably bases on the fact that when Bill Clinton was president, he solved the budget-deficit problem.

The third headline-grabber from that interview was that the Republicans will allow the “sequester” to take effect, presumably because they think it’s pretty clear that Keynesian economics doesn’t work, and because Bill Clinton is not longer president.  If Bill Clinton were president, the Republicans would allow him to raise tax rates to the level he did in 2001, this time without having to have the vice president cast the 51st vote in the Senate for the tax increase, and with enough Republican votes in the House to allow a vote on the tax increase.  

In other words, if Bill Clinton were president, Ryan and his compadres would not keep refusing to allow the Bush tax cuts on annual incomes of less than $450,000, and tax cuts on corporations, capital gains, and dividends, to expire.  But because Obama, rather than Clinton, is president, they won’t. They should be allowed to expire, Ryan says.  But they won’t be allowed to expire, because Obama is president.

Instead, the Republicans will opt to test out the the efficacy of Keynesian economics, or not–depending, probably, on whether the Koch Brothers pick up the phone and disabuse Ryan of his belief that Keynesian economics doesn’t work.  Before Wall Street does.  

Here’s what I obviously don’t believe: That if Ryan actually obviously doesn’t believe–thinks the debt is pretty clear it doesn’t work–he has even basic knowledge of past and current economic fact.

I’ll take his word for it that he was being truthful about his belief. But I sort of expect that the Koch brothers and others will educate him and other congressional Republicans who hold that belief, very soon.

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Chuck Hagel Is a Threat to America’s National Security! And to the Koch Brothers’ Financial Interests.

The American Future Fund is an Iowa based 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization affiliated with the Center to Protect Patient Rights, which in turn has reported ties to billionaires Charles G. Koch andDavid H. Koch.

American Future Fund was founded by individuals who worked for Mitt Romney‘s 2008 bid for the Republican U.S. Presidential nomination. Nick Ryan, an adviser to Republican US Representative Jim Nussle, founded the organization in 2007, with Nicole Schlinger, a GOP leader in Iowa, as its president. Its current president is Iowa Republican state Sen. Sandra Greiner.

The fund “advocates conservative and free-market principles” and energy positions that include support for drilling offshore and in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.


In 2010 the American Future Fund reported over 9 million dollars of independent campaign expenditures to the FEC, and 100% of its expenditures benefited Republicans.

In 2012 the organization funded ads supporting Mitt Romney‘s bid for the U.S. presidency. In the same year, it also funded ads attacking Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and in support of California’s Proposition 32, which would prevent unions from collecting political contributions as paycheck deductions.

The organization does not disclose the names of those who have provided its funding.

Add to the Activities list an anti-Chuck Hagel TV ad.

Okay. So I happened to catch a segment on CNBC just now (don’t ask; catching segments on CNBC is not quite part of my normal daily routine) that ended with an ad blasting Hagel for … um … a whole lot of stuff geared toward making people think he would have lots of conflicts of interest if confirmed as Secretary of Defense, even if he sells all those financial interests in defense contractor companies that the ad says he has, and in that company that invests in Iran, and stops flying on corporate jets.

At the end of the ad, the viewer is told that it’s sponsored by The American Future Fund.  Which I couldn’t identify from memory, since the names of these organizations all sound alike.  And are all very interested in America’s future.  

But, having seen the ad, I now knew that Hagel would be a very dangerous guy to have as Defense Secretary.  I just didn’t know who exactly he posed a danger to.  But thanks to Wikipedia, I know now.

Sounds to me like Paul Ryan should have consulted the Koch brothers before he declared on Meet the Press last weekend that Keynesian economics has proved to be a failure.  If you get my drift. Those oil and gas subsidies and defense contracts that the Koch businesses receive are important to our national defense … and to the economy.*

*Edited for clarity after initial posting.

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