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

Ted Cruz says that if one of his daughters as a young adult joins the Navy and her boat strays into the territorial waters of an unfriendly country whose own Navy then holds the boat and crew, he would want the president to torpedo diplomatic discussions for their release by speaking belligerently about it on national television hours after the incident began.*

I can’t remember which network I watched the State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but one of the post-speech commentators was Hugh Hewitt, a winger talk radio host whom I had never heard of until he participated as a questioner in one of the earlier Republican debates this cycle. Hewitt began his commentary by saying that the speech seemed very off to him because, well, first and foremost, Obama had been silent about the 10 sailors being held by Iran on their boats in the Persian Gulf since that morning.  Hewitt was shocked.  And angry.

Which caused me to wonder whether it had occurred to him that, y’know, intense diplomatic discussion for the prompt release of the sailors might be underway.  Or whether it had occurred to him but that he thought the sailors’ quick release wasn’t as important as public, verbal belligerence toward an unfriendly country.

Not sure about that; I haven’t followed Hewitt’s post-release-of-the-sailors-the-next-morning comments on the matter.  And anyway, Hewitt isn’t running for president.  Or for anything, to my knowledge, other than a radio-ratings sweepstake victory.

Ted Cruz, of course, is running for president.  I watched the debate last night for about a half-minute.  Literally; about 30 seconds.  That was the half-minute or so after one of the hosts asked Cruz his first question, something about the economy, and Cruz was beginning his answer by saying that he would answer the question about the economy in a moment, but first wanted to express his outrage that Obama had not mentioned the sailors Iran was holding in Iranian territorial waters in the Persian Gulf right during the very hour when Obama was addressing the country on the state of the union.  This was nearly 48 hours after the sailors had been released after being held on their own ships for about 24 hours.

I read recently that Cruz has expressed regret that he did not serve in the military. But the fact is that he did not serve in the military.  If he wins his party’s nomination and begins campaigning at VFW halls and events, Clinton or Sanders, the Dem nominee, should mention when campaigning at veterans events and meeting halls that Cruz thinks that the wellbeing of military personnel is trivial as compared with political opportunism.  As president, Cruz would rather score political points with tough-on-Communism-er-Mullahism bellicosity than secure the quick release of military personnel held then-only- briefly by an unfriendly nation whose territorial waters or land the military personnel had accidentally breached.

And that he’s now made clear that if an unfriendly country’s Naval vessel strays into U.S. territorial waters, he as president would shrug and politely allow them to go on their way.

In a race in which the top two Republican contenders are so very casual about the wellbeing of deployed members of the military—when Trump called John McCain a loser because he had been captured by the enemy in Vietnam when his plane was shot down, he insulted not only McCain but also (just as examples, from WWII) soldiers captured in the Philippines who died during the Bataan Death March and those who survived it, the paratroopers killed or taken prisoner after being dropped behind enemy lines in preparation for the D-Day invasion or the invasion of Leyte Island or Luzon Island or earlier at Guadalcanal, the Marines who died on Iwo Jima, those killed or captured during the Battle of the Bulge, the bomber and torpedo pilots killed or captured after taking off from one of the four aircraft carriers during the Battle of Midway, the many killed when their submarine or ship was torpedoed in the Pacific, those killed or captured as they stormed the beaches at Normandy, those killed in North Africa under Patton’s command, and so many, many more—this is a party whose base apparently does not actually care very much after all about the welfare of deployed military personnel.

The base’s standard bearers, in any event, have other priorities: their own political ambition. Deployed members of the military, current or former, are just like everyone and everything else. They’re fair game as collateral damage in the service of others’ political career advancement.

In the space of about 30 seconds last night, I’d seen more than enough.


*Title edited for clarity. (Minor editing elsewhere, as well.) 1/15 at 7:53 p.m.

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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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This was the best State of the Union address in my memory.

I’m so surprised, and so happy.  There were three or four lines in there early on that I was so happy about, and just so surprised at, that they they brought tears to my eyes.  And that last few minutes of the speech–the part that segued from voting rights to gun violence issues and victims, and back again to voting rights–was just plain magnificent.  

And as someone who repeatedly mocked the people-as-props thing here on AB during the last week, I have to say that this time it was done really beautifully.  The story of the 15-year-old high school majorette who returned home to the south side of Chicago from performing with her team at the inauguration, only to be gunned down randomly in a park near her home, had really grabbed me emotionally when I first read about it, and her mother’s presence there tonight was incredibly effective in illustrating the essential point.  And the live video of the 101-year-old Miami lady who waited in line for hours to vote was a moment I’ll remember for a long time.  

This was a beautiful speech, beautifully delivered.  

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The National Review Invites Obama to Nip the Call-For-A-Balanced-Budget-Amendment Gimmickry In the Bud Tomorrow Night. Really.

The National Review scoops the Senate GOP’s next move, and note in particular the last paragraph:

Frustrated by the months of non-stop budget fights, Senate Republicans are set to mount a fiscal counteroffensive this week with the reintroduction of a balanced-budget amendment.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell and minority whip John Cornyn are leading the effort. They hope to unveil a bill by Thursday with unanimous Republican support. […]

House Republican aides say most conservatives in the lower chamber are going to support the Senate’s plan. Speeches and media appearances are being arranged for later this week. […]

According to a Senate GOP aide, the legislation would cap federal spending at 18 percent of GDP. It would also require a supermajority for tax hikes and debt-limit increases.

Okay, why would the National Review, or any high-profile non-mainstream source, put this out a day before the State of the Union address, if not to give Obama a chance to mention it, along with an accompanying explanation of how such an amendment would, say, cause recessions to spiral into depressions–during which time the availability of, say, unemployment compensation would decrease rather than increase, and emergency FEMA funds for, say, the destruction of South Carolina’s coastal region after a major hurricane would have to be offset by cuts in, say, veteran’s benefits or payments to active military personnel?

Any alternative theories about why the National Review did this today?  I can’t think of any.

If Obama doesn’t take this ball, this magnificent gift, and run with it tomorrow–if he doesn’t expose this crowd for the unremittingly sophomoric gimmick-a-day ignoramuses that they are–then I’m throwing up my hands.  

The National Review’s editors and staff must be starting to really fear the sequester.  And I’m not saying that facetiously. 

They also must actually recognize the likelihood that last November’s election results weren’t a fluke. A majority of the public even in some seemingly-safely gerrymandered Republican congressional districts and red states with Senate elections next year are not necessarily going to want to hand a box of matches to lunatics and mental adolescents, now that they’re learning that that’s what these people are.

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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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