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I find it Imp – ossible to disagree with Krugman

Recently, I was pleased to note a disagreement between Paul Krugman and Dean Baker.  Finally, I hoped, a chance to prove I am not a knee jerk acolyte of Krugman.  Sadly I found I agreed with Krugman and not Baker (ouch).  But I didn’t give up hope,

until yesterday.

Surely, I can disagree with Krugman when he disagrees with my BFF Brad DeLong ?  Even Krugman was shocked by this event “Brad DeLong has a long meditation on policy that, surprisingly, includes some things I strongly disagree with.”

But wait, there’s more.  The main think Krugman disagrees with is the analogy between the convidence fairy and the “expectations imp” which is clearly a reference to the “expected inflation imp” whose naming Delong ascribed to uh Robert Waldmann.  She is an imp because I am, more less illiterate, and inflation imp was as alliterative as I could get.

DeLong has also written that he considers an earlier Krugman post to be a smack down of us on that topic.


So what does Krugman say about the analogy

But here’s where I think Brad is getting something wrong now: when he says that

“It is unfair for Keynesians to be making fun of the people who call for austerity by saying “confidence fairy” when they are making similar expectational-shift arguments themselves.”

He’s referring to calls for the Fed and other central banks to raise expectations of future inflation as a way to get some traction in a liquidity trap — which is certainly something I and others support. But there are two crucial differences between us and the expansionary austerity types.

First, our expectations argument is a hope; theirs is a plan. I want the Fed, the Bank of Japan, etc. to target higher inflation, in the hope that it might help, but it’s a hope, and meanwhile we need to fight demands for fiscal austerity and even push for stimulus. The expansionary austerity types, on the other hand, are (or were) actually counting on the supposed rise in confidence to avoid what would otherwise be nasty recessions, which have in fact materialized.

Which brings us to the second point: those of us hoping to summon the expectations imp want to do so with policies that are at worst harmless, such as expanding the monetary base under conditions where this has no direct inflationary impact. The austerians, on the other hand, have pushed directly destructive policies — fiscal contraction in depressed economies — in order to achieve their hoped-for shift in expectations.


Oh nooooooo, I agree with Krugman entirely.  I take some comfort in the fact that Brad DeLong does too.

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Why, Yes! Of Course! The Voters Will Vote to End Social Security, Medicare, Dodd-Frank and the EPA Because the IRS Improperly Hassled Political “Social Welfare” Organizations and the DOJ Issued Sweeping Subpoenas of AP Phone Lines!

Well, that didn’t take long, did it?

It began yesterday morning, with a Politico article by Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen, and an accompanying video by Allen, suggesting improper actions of the IRS resulting from its inability to adequately handle the tsunami of exempt-organizations applications, coupled with the DOJ’s overly aggressive use of its subpoena powers in trying to ferret out the source of a national-security leak to an AP reporter, might cause voters to conclude that what is needed is more Republicans in high office.

Apparently that would be because voters can’t distinguish between economic libertarianism and civil rights libertarianism of the First Amendment and Due Process variety.  And this must be so, because within just 24 hours after the Politico folks asserted it, there’s been another tsunami, this one in the form of a slew of mainstream pundits repeating the claim.  John Dickerson of Slate.  Reid Wilson of the National Journal.  To name two.*

Dickerson argues that the Obama administration “is doing a far better job making the case for conservatism than Mitt Romney, Mitch McConnell, or John Boehner ever did.” He says this is because “[s]howing is always better than telling, and when the government overreaches in so many ways it gives support to the conservative argument about the inherently rapacious nature of government.”

Yup.  I don’t know about you all, but the fact that the IRS mishandled some exempt-organizations applications in the wake of Citizens United, and that the Justice Department has been crazily overzealous in its handling of national security leakers, partly in order to hush the criticism from, um, conservatives that there has been insufficient investigation into the leaks, sure as heck makes me think Paul Krugman is spouting dangerous nonsense by arguing so forcefully for more fiscal stimulus, as opposed to ever more fiscal austerity. It’s not surprising that Boston Federal Reserve chief executive Eric Rosengren is pleading for a turn away from further budget cuts; he does, after all, work for the federal government in an unelected position, and so of course he wants the federal government to be ever more inherently rapacious.

No matter that the most inherently rapacious unelected federal officials sit on the federal bench, and in the name of conservatism pathologically gut Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.  And I won’t even mention the habeas corpus provision of the Constitution’s Article I, Section 9, Clause 2.  “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Or unless when the conservative Supreme Court majority privileges state courts’ rights over the Supremacy clause.  As it does regularly.

What we need to secure our individual civil rights is more Samuel Alitos and Antonin Scalias on the Supreme court and on the lower federal courts, in order to ensure the continuation and expansion of the inherently rapacious federal and state criminal and civil justice system against non-corporate persons. The voters surely will look at the dual scandals of this week and draw that conclusion. In addition to the obvious conclusion that financial-services regulation by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and other Dodd-Frank provisions should be gutted along with the social safety net, taxes should be lowered for the likes of the Romneys, and that we need to kill the EPA.

To hell with climate change!  Pun intended.  And let hungry children and seniors eat cake and pay for their own healthcare!  After all, the IRS mishandled the post-Citizens United influx of exempt-organizations applications. So what we need is more Citizens United.  The court opinion; not actual citizens united.

Greg Sargent says of Wilson’s article in the National Journal that he “makes the case that 2014 will look more like 2006” than 1998, when the public was so disgusted with Republican scandal-mongering and the Clinton impeachment thing that Democrats routed Republicans in that year’s midterm election even though it was the sixth year of the Clinton presidency, thus countering historical trends.  Wilson argues the case, but unsuccessfully.  “The beginning of Bush’s second term bears the most resemblance to the current predicament in which Obama finds himself,” Wilson says.  “ The war in Iraq had grown unpopular during 2005, and the government’s bungling of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina gave voters the sense that Washington was inept.”

Yes, it gave voters the sense that the Bush administration was inept.  The concern was that FEMA did not do enough for Katrina victims, precisely because conservatism is against having the government provide assistance to people in need.  The Bush administration got us into a war in Iraq under false pretenses, precisely because that was what conservatives wanted, and then bungled the war itself.

And curiously absent from Wilson’s analysis is that Bush spent the first year of his second term campaigning to privatize Social Security.  Does Wilson think that the public changed its mind about the wisdom of privatizing Social Security, or, for that matter, privatizing or ending the social safety net–or FEMA!–by November 2006?   Does Dickerson?  Really?  What about Allen?  (Okay, maybe Allen does.)

A surprisingly common characteristic of current political punditry is the presumption that what matters to voters is policy semantics rather than actual policy.  And the more generic, sweeping, and ill-defined, the better.  Actual policy and specifics of ideology don’t matter.  What matters is such generic phrases as “big government,” “small government,” and “conservative,” however unrelated to one big/small-government issue another big/small-government issue is.

Another problem with mainstream pundits is their mindless custom of incessant analogy based upon some tenuous or tangential common fact between the earlier and the current or future situation.  I realize that it is their job to say something about big political stories, and that, at least for most of them, they don’t have the option of adhering to the wise adage of not saying anything at all if you don’t have anything worth saying.  But this nonsense becomes viral.  Really quickly.  As though it’s actual wisdom rather than the simplistic, formulaic vapidity that it is.

The danger right now is that Democratic politicians will cower in the face of it.  Politically sensitive IRS error and DOJ subpoena overreach = we should lower taxes on the wealthy and gut the social safety net and environmental and financial regulatory authority; that’s an odd mathematical equation.  Except maybe in Washington, a town not known for Einstein protégés.

Wilson, in his National Journal article, acknowledges that “[t]he mishandling of Hurricane Katrina and the various troubles Obama is answering for now are completely different types of scandals.”  He just doesn’t think the voting public will recognize the difference.  He thinks that the “message” the IRS and DOJ matters “send to voters about the aptitude of governing is remarkably similar” to the Bush administration’s mishandling of Katrina and Iraq.  “Once voters lost confidence in Bush’s ability to manage government, the Republican brand began to suffer…If voters begin to believe that Obama is similarly ill-equipped to govern, it will be the Democrats in Congress who bear the brunt of the political punishment.”

Unless, of course, the voters conclude that what happened to those applicant nonprofit organizations in the hands of the IRS–that they were temporarily denied tax-exempt status and asked to identify their donors, and that the DOJ issued sweeping subpoenas for the AP’s phone records in a national-security-leak investigation–really does not actually mean that we should privatize Social Security and Medicare. That is, that they conclude that those former things don’t just naturally lead to the latter ones, even though these political analysts think they do.  That they conclude that linking the two is bizarre and outright crazy.  Which is a real possibility, since it is.


*CORRECTION: This post initially and incorrectly included Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post among the political analysts who are making this argument.  Actually, Tumulty’s piece says that others–specifically, Republicans–are pushing this claim.  Also, this post has been edited slightly for clarity after its initial posting. 5/16 at 9:20 p.m.



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National Journal Editorial Director* Ron Fournier Missed Eighth-Grade Civics Class the Day They Discussed the Separation-of-Powers Thing. He Should Now Get a Tutor.

It’s hard to know who will end up taking the biggest political hit if the latest Washington-induced crisis moves from theoretical to real — but the answer may well lie in which side can get the public to buy into its finger-pointing at the other side.
That’s why the excuses matter: Polls show Obama has the upper hand now over unpopular lawmakers, but much can change if sequestration upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services.

Sequestration: Excuses, excuses, excuses, Darren Samuelsohn and Scott Wong, Politico, yesterday

I agree.  If the sequester upends the country’s economic recovery and Americans lose their jobs and access to popular government services because of its deep cuts in federal spending, the public  may well rage against Obama for refusing to accede to the Republicans’ demand that federal spending be cut much more dramatically (except for the Defense Department’s spending, which would not be cut at all)–therefore costing at least as many Americans their jobs and further denying access to those popular government services and to additional ones.  They may well be livid with Obama that he wanted to lessen the number of job losses and the loss of access to popular government services by claiming more tax revenues from wealthy individuals and corporations.  

Especially since about three-fourths of the public supports Obama’s proposed route.  The public may be marching in the streets, demanding impeachment.   And demanding further deep spending cuts in order to cut more jobs and popular services, and lower taxes on the wealthy and on corporations. At least if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services.

It isn’t a certainty that they will, though, even if they’re really, really angry about the job losses, the damage to the economy, and the loss of popular government services. Which is why the Politico piece says only that it’s hard to tell whether or not they will.  Such things just can’t be predicted with reasonable accuracy.

One thing John Boehner is right about: The public does understand–his word, not mine–that tax increases are off the table, because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

They also understand exactly why further tax revenue from the very wealthy is off the table. And they know that it’s not actually because the Republicans agreed to $600 billion in tax increases on people with very high incomes as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal seven weeks ago.  

The Politico piece, which I’m betting was not the idea of the two reporters but was instead an assignment handed to them, along with an opening script, by top management there–it is not a reporting piece at all–is an interesting variation on the highly-in-vogue-this-season pseudo-journalism pox-on-both-their-houses sequestration/fiscal-cliff/debt-ceiling/shut-down-the-government routine.  It passes for journalism.  But it is not journalism.  It is propaganda.  

The Politico piece subtlely varies the usual technique. Instead of saying, as most of the genre’s pieces do, that these crises really are the fault of both sides–equally, of course–this article says the public probably can’t distinguish between suddenly and dramatically cutting federal spending, causing substantial job losses and gutting popular government services, and cutting federal spending less and more slowly and helping to reduce the budget deficit by raising more tax revenue from the wealthy individuals and corporations.  

But most members of this Lewis-Carroll-as-journalists crowd do the straight from of it.  In fact, a few of them seem more like the Mad Hatter than like the Mad Hatter’s creator.  Ron Fournier appears to be among them.

For those of you who don’t know, and there probably are few of you who don’t, Ron Fournier is a Republican-leaning, somewhat controversial Washington political journalist who a few years ago was himself major news in journalism circles when he was appointed the Associated Press’s acting Washington bureau chief.  (Until I read his Wikipedia page a few minutes ago, I wasn’t aware that it was intended as just a temporary appointment.)  The Wikipedia paragraph about this explains the controversy:

In May 2008, Fournier was named the acting Washington bureau chief, replacing his “mentor” Sandy Johnson. Since taking over the position, Fournier has led a dramatic shift in the AP’s policy, moving it away from the neutral and objective tone it had become known for and toward a more opinionated style that would make judgments when conflicting opinions were presented in a story.

The judgments Fournier favored were ones that the Republican Party favored as well, if I remember right.  It wasn’t a hit with Fournier’s AP colleagues, nor apparently with many of the AP’s news media clients.  So he left the AP to become editor at the venerable National Journal, which, for those of you who don’t know, and there probably are a few of you who don’t, is a (mainly) print journal that at least in recent years quietly leans Republican but that clothes itself as neutral.  

Sort of like Politico.  Except that, unlike Politico, no one outside Washington reads it and no one outside Washington cares about it.  Which is understandable, since no one outside Washington has ever heard of it. (Except me, but I do qualify as someone who doesn’t read it and someone who doesn’t care about it.)

Anyway, Greg Sargent, who is inside Washington and who does read the National Journal, writes this morning:

To summarize, Fournier and Pfeiffer argued over who is to blame for the sequester. Pfeiffer criticized David Brooks’ “pox on both houses” column this morning and noted that only one side (the GOP) is not willing to compromise to avoid the sequester. Fournier, who also tweeted a link to Brooks’ column, replied with several tweets arguing that it’s on the President to secure compromise from the opposition, such as this one: “only one side is president. Both sides should be ashamed.”

This echoes Fournier’s recent column arguing that while Republicans have adopted a fundamentally uncompromising position (which to Fournier’s credit he’s been willing to acknowledge), “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure.” Brooks’s column, meanwhile, argues that both sides are to blame, because Obama doesn’t have a plan to avert the sequester (which is false). So, some questions for the “blame it on both sides” crowd:

1) Let’s grant Fournier’s premise that a president should do all he can to secure cooperation from the other side. What more, if anything, could Obama actually do to win cooperation from today’s Republican Party on averting the sequester, short of giving in to the GOP demand that we replace it only with spending cuts? Republicans say no compromise to avert the sequester is acceptable. That’s not an exaggeration: It’s the party’s explicit, publicly stated position. What more specifically could Obama do to change this? If the answer is “nothing,” then why are both sides equally to blame?

Okay, look.  The president can be appropriately analogized to the CEO of the executive branch of the federal government.  It’s not a perfect analogy; obviously, there are laws that limit the president’s control over the executive branch–the Federalist Society’s silly Reagan-era “unitary executive” theory of law (don’t ask) to the contrary, notwithstanding.  But it’s a useful analogy nonetheless.  

But unless you recognize that Congress is not the president’s subordinate, whose membership he can hire and fire, and that federal fiscal policy is not established by fiat of top management, or unless you realize this but aren’t astute enough to understand that these are, to use a favorite word of lawyers, “material” differences between corporate CEOs and the president of the United States, you do know that it is deeply stupid to say that “in any enterprise, the chief executive is ultimately accountable for success and failure,” and not realize that some enterprises actually don’t have a chief executive and that the federal government is among those enterprises that do not.

I guess this is confusing, because, after all, the president is the chief of the executive branch of the federal government.  You have to know that this particular enterprise has three separate branches that, as per the Constitution, operate independent of one another, in order to understand the difference between being the chief of the executive branch and being the chief executive.  And Fournier apparently does not.

Greg Sargent, Paul Krugman, The New Yorker’s Jonathan Chait, Slate’s Matthew Yglesias, and a few other political writers have been sounding sirens of alarm and utter dismay at this increasingly dangerous and perverted juggernaut by so many self-styled neutral mainstream political journalists, including two days ago a Washington Post editorial writer, to engage in a campaign of deceit and propaganda in reporting on these sequential Republican-orchestrated federal fiscal crises.  

In my opinion, the very best of the deconstruction-of-the-pretzel-positions pieces–and one of the most piercing and quietly eloquent political opinion pieces I’ve ever read–is this one, from Wednesday, by Chait, which Yglesias linked to on Wednesday and which Sargent links to today. Yglesias’s excellent posts are here and here.

I think we’re about to reach an epiphany point, at which enough important journalists become genuinely scared of what is by now creepily similar to a government-controlled mainstream press in totalitarian countries that this will cease.  No, not by the stupid Ron Fournier or by the silly, robotic David Brooks.  But maybe at least by the Washington Post’s editorial writers and by reporters who certainly need their current jobs but who also are young enough to need reputations as credible and intelligent journalists, going forward.

And once that happens, maybe mainstream journalism will have a similar epiphany about the austerity juggernaut. Or, as Ezra Klein points out, mainstream journalism’s really weird role in it.

As for Fournier, according to Wikipedia, he’s won several prestigious journalism awards. But never one for commentary. Maybe this year.

*Originally, this post said Fournier was the National Journal’s title was editor.

POSTSCRIPT: I hadn’t seen this post of Paul Krugman’s from yesterday until just now. Talk about cutting to–cutting into, really–the heart of something slimy yet seemingly ever-evading analysis and puncture!

Enough. Enough. Time now to end it. Psychiatrists are standing by to offer withdrawal counseling.

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Marco Rubio Needs to Travel More. Seriously. [Updated and lightly edited.]

Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They’re workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They’re immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.
— Marco Rubio, last night.

I lifted that quote from a Politico article by Jonathan Martin that went on to say that Rubio left school with more than $100,000 in student-loan debt, which he finished paying off only a few months ago. Presumably, those loans were government-sponsored.  Although maybe at the age of 18, he had some collateral to offer the bank.

Rubio’s parents, like so many of his working-class neighbors now, emigrated from Cuba before 2001, when the first of the two sets of Bush tax cuts were passed.  Apparently, he hasn’t checked the federal income tax rates on individuals and corporations when his parents and his neighbors came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy.  Because, best as I can tell, that comment about immigrants from countries where the government dominated the economy was intended as a warning about Obama’s and the congressional Democrats’ plans to have the government dominate the economy.  

So I’d like some specifics.  What policies and programs, current and proposed, does he have in mind?  Exactly?  Maybe next time he’s interviewed by some high-profile journalist, he’ll be asked that.  And maybe he’ll answer.  But I doubt it.

Anyway, for now, I’m left to speculate that he means raising tax rates to Clinton-era tax levels for people with non-investment incomes above $250,000 a year, and on corporations, and on investment income.  He also might mean Obamacare, but that’s questionable unless he thinks that only people who qualify for Medicare get cancer or other serious illnesses, because he also said this last night:

[Medicare] provided my father the care he needed to battle cancer and ultimately die with dignity.  And it pays for the care my mother receives now.

But the title of this post suggests that Rubio travel more.  Both within this country and outside of it. First he should visit communities where immigrants from, say, Pakistan and Central America live.  People who came here to escape poverty but whose homeland governments did not, and do not, dominate the economy.*  

Then, if he has a passport, he might consider traveling outside the United States.  Maybe to Canada, or Germany, or Sweden, or Holland, or Australia.  Or France. Or, for that matter, Singapore.  Or Taiwan.  Or he could save the plane fare and just use the Internet to check the rates of poverty in those countries, the tax rates there, the social safety nets there, the education systems there, the healthcare systems there.

I didn’t watch the Rubio Show last night, so I missed the reaching-for-a-water-bottle-but-wishing-it-were-a-Vodka-bottle-instead moment.  I wish I’d watched, but I didn’t.  So I’m relying on tidbits reported by others.  And Paul Krugman provides one that, unlike the quotes above, have not garnered much attention.  It’s this:

This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true. In fact, a major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies.

Krugman points out that numerous studies, as well as observation by, say, ordinary folks, dispel that claim. Specifically, Krugman writes:

OK, leave on one side the caricature of Obama, with the usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does); there we go with the “Barney Frank did it” story. Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made, had nothing to do with it — it was all the Community Reinvestment Act, Fannie, and Freddie.
Look, this is one of the most thoroughly researched topics out there, and every piece of the government-did-it thesis has been refuted; see Mike Konczal for a summary. No, the CRA wasn’t responsible for the epidemic of bad lending; no, Fannie and Freddie didn’t cause the housing bubble; no, the “high-risk” loans of the GSEs weren’t remotely as risky as subprime.

So I guess I was wrong when I said above that Rubio must have had only tax rates and Obamacare in mind.  He apparently also had finance-industry regulation in mind, too. And on this he was specific.

But on this too, I suggest some overseas travel–either physically, or virtually, on the Internet. He’d learn that Spain, Ireland and Iceland must have had a Fannie Mae and a Freddie Mac. Not to mention a Barney Frank. Because those countries’ current and recent fiscal and economic woes were caused entirely by a housing bubbles virtually identical to, or worse than, ours, spurred by Deregulation, the explosive growth of virtually unregulated shadow banking, lax lending standards by loan originators who sold their loans off as soon as they were made.

Then Rubio might consider returning to Canada and Germany, physically or virtually, and checking out why those countries had little or no such bubble.  And before he leaves, or after he returns, he should travel to Texas.  Yes, Texas, of all states.  It had almost no housing bubble.  Something to do with government involvement in the economy, i.e., legislation regulating the mortgage industry, post-savings-and-loan debacle, circa 1989.  State government, in this case.

What is the national debt of Canada and Germany?  And the poverty levels and standards of living in those countries?  

The Politico article, by the way, is called “Marco Rubio as the anti-Romney.”  The title of Krugman’s post indicates disagreement with that assessment. It’s called “Marco Rubio Has Learned Nothing.”  

But a majority of Americans, I think, have.  They’ve learned that you can’t judge a book by it’s jacket cover. And that ideology can’t substitute for fact.

UPDATE:  Oh, dear. As I said, I didn’t watch Rubio last night.  I also haven’t read a transcript of his speech.  And I didn’t know until just now, when I read Jazzbumpa’s post below, that Rubio said that proposals to deal with climate change, including trying to slow its progression, are attempts to have the government “control the weather.”

Um.  Yeah.  That’s the idea.  


Why do I think Chris Christie is the happiest person in America today?

UPDATE II: I’m getting the strong feeling that there are a lot of people who are downright dumbfounded by that speech last night–that this guy who’s being touted as the Republican savior went on national television and established himself as stunningly stupid.

We’re going to elect a global warming denier as president in 2016?  We’re going to elect as president someone who is unaware of such things as financial derivatives, and the role they played in the financial meltdown?  We’re going to elect as president someone who seems not to know that student loans and Medicare are government programs–or at least what it means that they are?  We’re going to elect as president someone who thinks Clinton-era tax rates are a government-dominated economy?

I’ll certainly agree that he’s no Romney.  Romney isn’t stupid, by any stretch.  He just pretended to be.  With Rubio, it’s apparently no act.

*Paragraph edited for clarity. 2/14. (I figured that since this post is getting a decent number of “hits” and Google+ links, it should be edited so that typos and such are corrected.)

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Paul Krugman Steps on Marco Rubio’s Parade. And Kills My Entertainment.

Just a quick observation: for the past couple of days I’ve been seeing in a lot of places, including comments on this blog, the assertion that federal spending has risen 37 percent under Obama — that specific number. Does anyone know where it’s coming from?

Because if I look at the actual data, I see federal spending rising from $3.475 trillion in fourth-quarter 2008 to $3.917 trillion in fourth-quarter 2012 — a rise of 12.7 percent.

Obviously this is coming from somewhere, and being broadcast by Rush or somebody. But it’s still kind of amazing how a totally wrong number can become part of what everyone on the right just knows to be true.

Where Do “Facts” Come From?, Paul Krugman, New York Times, today

Damn.  Now Marco Rubio will have to scratch that line from his response to the State of the Union address tonight.  Depriving those of us who enjoy political comedy of the fun of watching Rubio explain this fact during the next couple of days, after the CEO of Chrysler Corp. makes a public statement that federal spending has risen 12.7 percent, not 37 percent, since the fourth quarter of 2008.  And that Chrysler has absolutely no plans whatsoever to close the Ohio Jeep plant that it just spent more than $1 million expanding in order to hire 1,200 new workers, and ship those jobs to China.

You shouldn’t have let that cat out of the bag today, Prof. Krugman!

Sheeesh.  You’d almost think the Republicans hired me as their statistician/mathematician. Hmm.  Maybe I’ll apply to Fox News for consulting work.  My math abilities are every bit as good as those of the person who did the math on that statistic.  Trust me.

Okay, okay. I don’t actually know that Rubio planned to include this hot statistic in his response tonight.  It’s just my speculation.

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The People-as-Props That Obama SHOULD Use During His Speech Tomorrow Night: John Boehner and Joe Barton. And They’re Already Invited!

House GOP has voted to replace the president’s sequester twice. Here’s why, courtesy @whitehouse: #obamaquester

— Twitter, h/t Politico, Boehner’s office dubs it “Obamaquester,” Feb. 8

Oh, dear.  I guess this is going to be a regular thing.  A few days earlier, our dignified House Speaker created the twitter hashtag #spendingstheproblem. Which it certainly is when you deliberately dramatically reduce revenues by drastically cutting taxes, especially on the wealthy and on corporations, and wage two wars, significantly increase expenditures on homeland security, and expand the Medicare program to include prescription drugs.  

And which it surely is when those tax cuts are called, obviously tongue-in-cheek, temporary and are enacted only a decade before the huge baby-boomer generation begins to retire and to qualify for Medicare, and then are in fact mostly not allowed to expire because some of the folks who brought you the tax cuts in the first place, and who think spendingstheproblem, keep blocking attempts to raise revenues even by closing egregious loopholes that benefit only the wealthy.  

Something about the Democrats having to take those tax cuts from their cold dead hands, I guess.  Which if the sequester actually does occur, the Democrats will have little trouble doing, because the Repubs’ political hands will be very cold and very dead.  

The Republicans delude themselves into thinking otherwise, based upon the presumption that the public doesn’t even yet grasp that spendingistheproblem only when you reduce tax rates to historically low levels and allow mega-loopholes through which hedge fund managers and Mitt Romney fly their private or chartered jets through on their way from one of their several homes to another one.  The public, though, does grasp that, and showed it last November 6.  And in the late December polls during the “fiscal cliff” crisis.  And in the polls last month during the debt-ceiling crisis.  

Yet if the Boehner’s Tweet is any indication, he still thinks that all the Repubs have to do is vote to replace the president’s sequester.  And they’ve done that.  Twice.  

No matter what they voted to replace the sequester with.  Nope.  What matters is that they voted to replace the sequester, and that they did so twice.  And that the sequester is “the president’s.”  And that in fact it’s not even a sequester; it’s Obamaquester.  The substance of what they want to enact won’t matter to the public.  All that will matter to the public is that the House Republicans voted to replace the sequester with something and that therefore the Senate Dems and Obama are obligated to adopt it.  That’s because the Republicans won the election last November–er, because there’s now a cutesy, juvenile twitter hashtag out there saying that the sequester is Obamaquester.  First things first, you know.

The Speaker, as Paul Krugman pointed out on Thursday and again on Friday, suffers not just from short-term memory problems but also from long-term memory problems. Boehner said last week that the budget deficit has continued to increase throughout his 22-year tenure in Congress. Which, of course, is why in 2001 and again in 2003, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accellerated rather than wound down, and after we began to spend considerably more on homeland security in the wake of 9/11, and after Medicare was expanded to include prescription drug coverage, he joined nearly all his Republican colleagues to vote for the drastic tax cuts, most of it benefiting the wealthy and large corporations.  

I guess that’s because #spendingstheproblem even when the budget deficit has recently been eliminated with the help of tax rate increases mostly on upper-income folks. And even when the huge baby boomer generation is beginning to retire.  

Longtime House member Joe Barton (R-Texas), who apparently doesn’t favor a strategy of posting juvenile twitter posts, does nonetheless agree with Boehner that we should simply allow the sequester to take effect unless the Senate Dems and Obama agree to rubberstamp the House Repubs’ offered substitute for the sequester.  The one they passed.  Twice.  He explained to Politico why he favors the sequester, despite pleas from constitutions who will be furloughed as a result:

I’m a lot more concerned about trillion-dollar deficits every year stretching to infinity. That’s obviously a more indirect issue to somebody who’s about to lose their job or has lost their job, and I respect that 100 percent.

It’s the next generation that he’s concerned about, he said.  Which is why he refuses to consider raising taxes on this generation of wealthy taxpayers and corporations by closing loopholes through which hedge fund managers and cutely offshore-based-for-tax-purposes American corporations fly their Learjets.

Politico’s Glenn Thrush reports this morning that Obama plans to be forceful tomorrow night in explaining his economic-policy position and in refuting the Republicans’.  But, as Greg Sargent says today, Obama’s preference for pussyfooting, generic, brief catchphrases, such as “self-inflicted wounds” and “We can’t cut our way to prosperity,” need actual several-sentence explanations.  They’re worthless unless they’re spelled out, with actual clarity and specificity.

But here’s something else–something absolutely critical–that Obama needs to make clear.  To make clear.  That the Republicans have settled on a strategy of pretending that additional tax revenue doesn’t decrease the budget deficit, and of pushing that strategy via the tactic of simply making repeated public comments that ignore that additional tax revenue does exactly that.  Thus, #spendingstheproblem, the sequester is #obamaquester, and neither the Clinton presidency nor the G.W. Bush presidency happened.

Both Boehner and Barton will be in the audience tomorrow night.  They won’t be sitting next or right in back of Michelle, special guests of the president.  But they’ll be there.  And Obama should address them by name, in a comment along the lines of:

Rep. Barton, you’ve said you’re a lot more concerned about trillion-dollar deficits every year stretching to infinity than you are about the jobs of the National Weather Service employees and air traffic controllers and food safety inspectors who live in your district.  And you’re a lot more concerned about keeping income tax rates at 15% for hedge fund managers, and about keeping the corporate offshoring tax advantages intact, than you are about trillion-dollar deficits every year stretching to infinity.  Even though, in light of the fiscal-cliff compromise that the Democrats forced at the beginning of the year, and the economic recovery that will continue if you and your colleagues stop the sequential Russian roulette and start taking your oath of office at least a little bit seriously, infinity could turn out to be not that far away after all.

Of course, the president could instead create a hashtag on twitter.  My suggestion: #pleasegrowupspeakerboehner.

Or maybe he should just sit tight. Doesn’t the tornado season begin in Texas right about the time that the sequester does?  And in Ohio soon after?

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Stories That Will Continue to Get Far Too Little Attention As Long As Obama Allows Them To. [Appended]

* Don’t forget about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau: Paul Krugman has the goods on a story that’s getting far too little attention: In filibustering Richard Cordray, Obama’s choice to head the consumer protection bureau, and demanding major changes to the agency, Republicans are trying to transform it into something that’s essentially unable to carry out its mission.
How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. […] Just four years after runaway bankers brought the world economy to its knees, Senate Republicans are using every means at their disposal, violating all the usual norms of politics in the process, in an attempt to give the bankers a chance to do it all over again.

Krugman notes that Cordray has drawn praise even from the bankers, which I’ve seen elsewhere, too. So: Do the financial institutions even favor what the GOP is up to here?

Worth some more reporting, I’d say.

— Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

One of the most dismaying and frustrating of Obama’s first-term communication failures was, for me, his utter absence of any real attempt to apprise the public of the existence of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, what its mandate is, and that (and how) the congressional Republicans have concertedly tried to undermine it, via Senate filibuster of any nominee–not just, first Elizabeth Warren, and then Richard Cordray, but, by their own admission, any nominee–to head this bureau, and by attempts to fail to appropriate operating funds for it.

Eight days from now, in his State of the Union address, Obama will have a terrific opportunity to educate the public about all this.  All this.  By which I mean: Not just a clause or a sentence near the end of the speech, alluding to it in listing this, that, and the other thing, but instead an actual explanation of it and of the undermining of it by the Repubs. Near the opening of the speech, before viewers click to whatever because they, like me, want to avoid gagging at the extremely tired James Baker’s great-idea-for-staging-at-Reagan’s-State-of-the-Union-addresses-and-used-by-every-president-sinnce-then real-Americans-as-props thing. (Talking about a program to help oil-company workers? Cue two oil-company workers flanking the First Lady, sitting in the first row. You know what I’m talking about.  Ad nauseum.)  

But since the invites of real Americans surely have already been sent out, and there’s no stopping that juggernaut anyway, however more eyes it causes to roll each year, I suggest the addition of some real Americans who already have benefited from the Bureau’s actions.  

I also, by the way, suggest the addition of a real American or two who, because of the provision in Dodd-Frank–or maybe it was a separate statute, all its own, effective in August 2011 but enacted in 2010 by a Dem-controlled Senate and Dem-controlled House; I’m not sure–that ended what millions of Americans fondly came to call the $400 Starbucks/McDonalds/Dunkin’Donuts coffee/sandwich/dessert, the result of inadvertent, momentary checking-account overdrafts when the mortgage payment, the doctor’s co-pay, and payment for the brake job the SUV all just by chance happened to post to your checking account moments before you swiped that ATM/credit/debit card at the Starbuck, McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts.  I’ll nominate myself for an invite on that one, even though I’ve never actually owned an SUV and don’t like them much.  

No, that doesn’t involve something that changed the state of the union this past year.  But it’s long past time for our Dem politicians to start pointing out things of exactly this sort, and to ask what exactly the congressional Republicans have done along those lines since Jan. 2011. And to start educating the public about what the specifics of what they’ve done to undermine protections against financial-industry abuse, whether legal or illegal.

Stories that will continue to get far too little attention as long as Obama allows them to. Or until maybe Prof. Krugman becomes President Krugman–which sounds like a plan, to me!

UPDATE: Oh, dear.  Turns out that Mitt Romney isn’t the only one who wasn’t familiar with the pre-Aug. 2011 $400 McDonald’s sandwich paid for (many times over) with ATM card payment charges (a.k.a., multiple overdraft fees within a period of 30 seconds.)  Regular reader coberly wasn’t either.  So he and I just exchanged the following comments in the Comments thread:



You did not exactly take advantage of your own opportunity to explain the Starbucks $400 dessert, but I can guess.

Back when it might have been a problem for me, I kept track of the checks I wrote and did not write them for any more than I had in the bank. I think this prevented even “inadvertent” overdrafts.


Ah. Actually, I just threw that in there to be funny.  Or to try to be. (It’s not really a funny subject, so maybe I shouldn’t have tried.)  But unless you keep a lot of cash in your checking account or tie it automatically to a savings account, or were extremely careful to keep track of your checking account–and a lot of people have more than one checking account–you would, before that law came into effect in 2011, have to keep enough money in your account to include an  overdraft fee of $36 (or whatever) each for a single inadvertent overdraft, or you would find yourself charged repeated overdraft fees in a single day for every charge that came in until you realized you were overdrawn.  

The new law applies only to debit/credit card/ATM transactions, not to actual checks, so you still have to be careful about checks, especially since you can’t be sure when they’ll be cashed.

It also helps if you can add and subtract, I’ve learned the hard way.  One of my tax-law profs. used to say that his wife was always the one to actually do their income tax returns. The guy was friggin’ brilliant in discussing legal theory and tax strategy–best as I could tell, anyway–but swore that he couldn’t do actual math, or even competently use a calculator, worth a damn.  Makes me feel better when I recall that. (Calculators sorta throw me off, too, since I can’t figure out what all those funny-looking math symbols are.  Like the + and – signs.)

Back in the pre-Dodd-Frank days, there were looooads of stories on the web and elsewhere about this kind of thing.  So I assumed everyone was familiar with the issue.  Not so, though. So I thought I’d add this explanation.

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Joe Scarborough on the Deficit

Pro Growth Liberal at Econospeak also takes Joe Scarborough to task on Krugman and Keynes:

Joe Scarborough on the Deficit

After his interview with Paul Krugman this morning Joe Scarborough wrote:

Mr. Krugman’s view is that Americans would be better off if its government ran deeper deficits and ignored its longterm debt.
To suggest that Keynesians like Paul Krugman ignore the long-term government budget constraint is either dishonest or shows that Mr. Scarborough does not understand what we are saying. Which is why Mr. Scarborough should check out this list of commentary on the current economics and fiscal situation compiled by Joe Weisenthal.

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Paul Krugman, Angry Bear, and Jazzbumpa

Update: Noahpinion takes on the same in How to win arguments by pretending to be stupid.  The comments section offers other points of view.

Ron T. aka Jazzbumpa received an unusual thank you from Paul Krugman for this post on a Mish Shedlock post about debating PK.

Krugman recommended Beverly Mann  on January 15th this year as part of a  recommended reading post.

Other Angry Bear contributors gaining mention and recommendation by name in the recent past that immediately come to mind are Mike Kimel and Bruce Webb.

Despicable Me – Paul Krugman

Funny: Angry Bear finds some of the usual suspects explaining How to Debate Paul Krugman, and the answer appears to be this: invent a straw man who bears no resemblance at all to the economist/columnist of the same name, and ridicule that imaginary person. I have to say, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I could play the role of History’s Greatest Monster to so many people. Thank you for the honor!

Aside from the silliness of the exercise, this little exchange is another illustration of a point I’ve noticed before: the way hard-right commentators assume that the other side must be their mirror image. They insist that no government intervention is ever justified; so liberals must support any and all government interventions. They want smaller government, as a principle; liberals must want bigger government, never mind what for. They believe that deficits and printing money are always evil; liberals must be for deficits and money-printing under all circumstances.

An hour spent browsing this blog would quickly refute all of this, together with the bizarre charge that I never look at evidence; you may not agree with my conclusions, but I sure do post a lot of numbers. But obviously looking at what I actually write would just be too painful.

Anyway, thanks guys, you made my day.

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