I just saw Ann Wagner, U.S. representative for Missouri’s 2nd congressional district on TV. First, she correctly pointed out “We can get more revenue is by growing the economy.” This isn’t a rare thing for a Republican to say, but it is correct. If you grow the economy, then more people will pay in taxes, and less will be unemployed and/or using government spending programs. That’s simply what happens when an economy grows (the opposite is also what happens when an economy shrinks). What she said next, though, is where a lot of Republicans get things wrong. Sometimes they get it wrong because they simply do not understand economics, but I think most of them just hope you don’t understand economics either. She continued with, “and the only way to do that is by reining in our spending.” I wanted to slam my head into the table when she said it. It’s utterly idiotic, and completely counter productive.
As I pointed out in my last post, which mainly dealt with government jobs, when you cut spending you cut someone else’s income. When the government cuts, they’re cutting directly into the profits of the private sector. The right does a lot of talk about how we should not become Greece, or not become Europe, but whenever they trot out this little line like Ann did, they are effectively telling us that we should in fact become Greece or Europe. Our media is not doing a good enough job at all in pointing out this hypocrisy. You see, when the recession hit, Europe did precisely what the Republicans are calling for. They enacted spending cuts, while the US as of now largely did not. While we didn’t spend enough to get us out of the recession quickly, we haven’t fallen into the same trap that Europe has. In 2011 alone, “Greece’s austerity package amounted to 11.1 percent of GDP. Spain’s was 3.1 percent. Great Britain’s was 2 percent. Italy’s was 1.8 percent.”
So what happened in Europe? For one, the recession deepened. “The euro zone’s fourth-largest economy, [Spain] which is grappling with the collapse of a decadelong housing boom, fell into its second recession in three years toward the end of 2011.” Spanish unemployment is 26%, and reaches as high as 55% for those under 25 years old. Greece is also struggling with 26% unemployment. The Eurozone as a whole has a 11.8% unemployment rate as of November 2012. Things have become so bad, some in Europe are being forced to pick through the garbages in order to eat.
The IMF also “found that budget cutbacks are much more damaging to economies recovering from recession than has been previously believed. The reason is that with interest rates stuck near zero, there is no room to lower them when fiscal policy is tightened, and thus no way to offset the pain of budget cutbacks.” It also said that these sorts of spending cuts in depressed economies act to deflate confidence, and that’s precisely because they can quickly decelerate economic growth or even at times turn it into an economic decline.
“If I have it this bad, why shouldn’t they?” You’d think words like this only came from annoying toddlers, but I hear it all the time here, usually speaking about teachers, but more broadly it’s about all government employees. I had a discussion the other day with someone that claimed government employees never got hit by the recession. Not only that, but he argued that it’d be good if they did get hit even more. This isn’t the first person I’ve met with that sort of mindset, nor will it be the last.
First, this factually wrong, because pay raises were stopped and harsh budget cuts were enacted in state and local governments throughout the US. Many workers were laid off, and hiring was frozen, leaving those lucky enough to have a job to pull things together and perhaps do the work of more than one person. The LA Times points to a report by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, “which calculates that while private-sector employment is down 3.1% from its peak in January 2008 and on the rebound, state and local government employment is down 3.4% from its peak in August 2008 and continuing to slide.” In addition to this, because of the commitment the public sector has to equal opportunity and affirmative action, the recession in the public sector is hitting women and African Americans the hardest.
It’s not only wrong, though. It’s dangerous, and there’s a great phrase for it. That phrase is crab mentality, and it refers to a scenario of crabs in a bucket. Individually they could escape, but they end up pulling each other back down. In the end none of them escape. This collective antagonism kills any chance that any will survive. It’s a very similar thing here, especially when you’re talking about a recession. Conventional wisdom is that during a recession the government will need to spend a bit more in order to jump start things and get the economy back on its feet. Conventional wisdom also says during this time, through no real fault of their own, many more people will need government programs. That’s just factually what a recession does, and that’s just factually how one gets out of a recession. Like the crabs, stuck in their bucket, though, we end up either not helping each other upward or even not letting our fellow humans climb. Like the crabs we end up pulling others downward.
When people are frustrated with their own lives they have a tendency to lash out at others. This translates to a feeling that government employees should be cut down even more. Let’s go over exactly why such a reaction would be terrible. Right now we’re not in the midst of a recession, but our unemployment still sits at 7.9%, and a lot of people are wondering exactly why we can’t lower that. Well, if you look at this chart you can see at least one reason:
And here’s what the Economic Policy Institute says about that graphic:
How many more jobs would we have if the public sector hadn’t been shedding jobs for the last three years? The simplest answer is that the public sector has shed 627,000 jobs since June 2009. However, this raw job-loss figure understates the drag of public-sector employment relative to how the economy functions normally.
Over this same period, the overall population grew by 6.9 million. In June 2009 there were 7.3 public-sector workers for every 100 people in the U.S.; to keep that ratio constant given population growth, the public sector should have added roughly 505,000 jobs in the last three years. This means that, relative to a much more economically relevant trend, the public sector is now down more than 1.1 million jobs. And even against this more-realistic trend, these public-sector losses are dominated by austerity at the state and local level, with federal employment contributing only around 6 percent of this entire gap.
His assessment is that if public employment mirrored the growth under Bush that by the time he wrote this (April 25, 2012) we’d have 1.3 million more government workers, and our unemployment rate would be less than 7 percent. That’s a almost a full point lower than it is now, and he wrote this a year ago!
In Wisconsin this fight against public workers came down to a fight about collective bargaining. Despite the fact that there’s really no correlation between collective bargaining and state budget deficits, that right just had to go.
Here’s what The New Republic says about the rollback in rights:
What proponents of the rollback in public-sector bargaining rights are unable to explain is how taking rights away from some American workers will improve the lot of others. How will denying collective bargaining rights for teachers, social workers, or parks employees in Wisconsin create good jobs in the private sector? How will taking away the rights of prison guards to bargain collectively in Ohio keep manufacturing jobs in the United States? How will reducing the pensions promised to government workers (often in return for their agreement to forego salary increases) create retirement security for private sector workers whose paltry 401Ks are unable to support them? How will holding down public-sector pay stop the erosion of the American middle-class—of which public-sector workers constitute a significant proportion?
What proponents of cutting government employment are unable to explain is how taking away jobs and cutting pay will help improve the lot of others. How will it helps a small business owner to have one more potential customer lose his job? How will it help him to have another potential customer get a cut in pay? What needs to be explained to everyone who proposes something like this is the interconnectedness of our entire economy. We are not islands with no relation to each other. Your spending is my potential profit. A cut in your pay is a cut in my potential profit. If that teacher you’re so jealous of gets her job cut, then that means every business she shops at gets their business cut. It’s all connected.
A solid example of this is found in the numbers released last week that show the US economy shrunk by .1 percent late last year. The reason for this? Government spending cuts. A lot cheered because those are spending cuts in our bloated defense budget, and I’d likely agree, but we shouldn’t cheer about an all around cut at this point. Cuts should still be made up elsewhere with spending, so that someone can at least chase that profit and we can all experience more hiring and more growth. Every cut we make at this point represents a cut to someone’s income or job somewhere.
Krugman goes further in blaming that shrinkage on the shrinking government sector. He says that “transfer payments like Medicare and Social Security are rising (although unemployment benefits are falling), but government purchases of stuff — mostly at the state and local level, where the stuff in question includes hiring schoolteachers — has been in fairly rapid decline.”
What this shrinkage translates to is, according to him, a possible 1.5 percentage point higher unemployment than what we should have right now.
We’ve hit a historic decline in our government at one of the absolute worst times to do it.
John T. Harvey does a good job of pointing out exactly why the private sector needs the government to spend. He points out that the real drivers of economic growth are in Investment and Government Spending. Since WWII, government spending has been an affective counterbalance to business cycle falls in investment. When a recession hits, government spending, without any sort of legislation attached, goes up simply because of less tax receipts and more people qualifying for things like unemployment. It’s this spending that makes these recessions less severe and damaging to the country overall, and it’s at least partially why we didn’t experience another Great Depression.
So, we really should not give in to fear and spite. I realize that a lot of people now are working themselves to the bones, perhaps with two or three jobs, and not seeing much in the way of raises. Seeing someone else doing ok can be hard, but we must not let that mean we should take it from them. That hurts us all in the long run. It’s like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Pulling down your fellow humans as they try and escape from the bucket into the middle class during this recession does nothing but doom us all to continuing stagnation. Instead of looking to one another to see what we should cut down at this time, we in the private sector should really be looking to one another and seeing how we can come together to demand better. After all, the “U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, more than under any president since World War II.” The money is there. We just have to demand it. And then things will grow, because we all have more to spend.
Gay Marriage has come a long way over the past years. It seemed the 2012 election especially spelled the turning of the tide toward equality for same-sex couples. The past had been shaky for voting in gay marriage, but finally it won in 3 states, Maine, Maryland and Washington state. Minnesota voters also weighed in by defeating a possible “traditional” marriage amendment. In addition to all that, we elected our first openly gay U.S. senator, Tammy Baldwin.
Factually, the best is yet to come. History seems to be on the side of same-sex marriage. It’s just a matter of time. Advocates have been wondering, though, whether that time would come much sooner than anyone had predicted. Back in December the Supreme Court decided it would take up two separate cases on the matter. One is on California’s Prop 8, which could either accept or reject a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. The other is on the Defense of Marriage Act, the law signed by Bill Clinton that says no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state, and for federal benefit purposes same-sex marriage is not recognized.
People are wondering whether Chief Justice Roberts will be primarily concerned with his legacy or what one normally thinks of as conservative principles. What makes speculation on this so interesting is that he actually did pro bono work on a landmark gay rights case. That might not mean anything, though. He could have just been representing his clients to the best of his ability. We don’t really know. There’s also a lot of wiggle room to decide. It could push same-sex marriage as a right throughout the country, or rule much more narrowly for California.
The arguments the lawyers defending DOMA and Prop 8 came out last week, and the justification feels especially bizarre. Here’s what Paul D. Clement, lawyer for the House Republicans wrote:
“[Traditional Marriage Laws] reflect a unique social difficulty with opposite-sex couples that is not present with same-sex couples — namely, the undeniable and distinct tendency of opposite-sex relationships to produce unplanned and unintended pregnancies. Unintended children produced by opposite-sex relationships and raised out-of-wedlock would pose a burden on society.”
That’s right, the argument is no longer that same-sex marriage is immoral. It’s not that same-sex marriage would be a menace on our society or a slippery slope to “man on dog,” or marrying a table or a clock. No, now it has nothing to do with the apparent ridiculousness to conservatives of same-sex people being able to fall in love. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the myth that children are better with opposite-sex couples than same-sex ones, something which has been disproven. Now the argument is that opposite-sex coupling is actually inherently so dangerous to society as a whole that we need to incentivize them to bond more permanently. We can’t trust them to figure things out themselves. The idea is, apparently, that same-sex couples have to plan to have a child, and thus they don’t need marriage. Shall we call this the shotgun traditional marriage defense?
It’s time for another Saturday Morning Cartoon! This week, Ramirez drew this brilliant cartoon criticizing Hillary Clinton for her wording during the Benghazi testimony the other day. The names on the gravestones are, of course, those killed in Benghazi, and he’s trying his hardest to imply that she’s saying their lives don’t matter. She’s dismissing them as she sits atop their dead bodies. Not only that, though, but the bottom line implies that it was directly responsible for their death, that their lives could have been saved if there had not been confusion over what happened.
Instead, if you just see or hear the full context of that quote, it brings things into a completely different light. “We were misled that there were supposedly protests and something sprang out of that, an assault sprang out of that” Ron Johnson (a man who didn’t even go to the Benghazi briefing) had accused her at the hearing, “and that was easily ascertained that that was not the fact.”
This was her full response to that:
With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans. Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night decided they’d go kill some Americans? What difference, at this point, does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, senator. (Video 2 on this page)
As you can see, she very much believes that those four dead Americans matter. You can hear her voice crack as she speaks of their funerals and talking with their families. They do matter to her, and the heart of the real fight right now, for her, is making sure that it doesn’t happen again.
The U.S. military is now ending its ban on women in combat positions. Did you have to read that sentence again? I still do, and I just typed it …and heard it on NPR this morning, and I heard it on the television last night. I still feel like it’s not something I should be hearing in 2013. No, I’m not talking about the lifting the ban part, I’m talking about the ban to begin with. It’s been nearly 100 years since we gave women the right to vote (and I’m hoping it was equally bizarre to at least some people back then that they didn’t have that right before 1920), and just now can women die fighting for that right, at least officially and directly.
Women have already been dying and getting severely injured in wars for years now. Tammy Duckworth, a disabled veteran currently serving in the House is great proof of that, and proof what kind of a hero a woman can be. The helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq. Tammy was in the air, though, and a lot of the ban was on ground troops. Still, that proves that devotion and strength of character of women aren’t in question, nor should they ever have been. After all, there are plenty of women buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Even on the ground, though women have been in the line of danger for quite some time. As CNN points out, too, “More than 800 women were wounded [in Iraq and Afghanistan], and at least 130 have died.” War now is quite unlike war in centuries or even decades past. There isn’t really a defined front line anymore. Developing new strategies to fit into this truth is part of our struggle in Afghanistan and Iraq. It’s also part of the struggle to figure out what our policies and strategies should be in the continuing ‘War on Terror.’ Like it or not, we don’t fight just one clearly defined enemy in a clearly defined space anymore. Our enemies are vast and spread out. As such, women in military roles are already basically in combat roles. As Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars points out, “The current DOD policy is to not assign women to combat units, yet irregular warfare, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, places those in combat support or combat-service support units in just as much risk as the infantry.” In Afghanistan women are also used as outreach to locals. At any point an assignment like that can already morph into a combat mission.
This week, Mitch McConnell declared the “era of liberalism is back” in response to President Obama’s Inaugural Speech on Monday. Conservatives in the media and online have gone ballistic over the speech; one that they claim is overly partisan and mixed with a highly liberal agenda. But is this actually true?
Well, Obama’s speech didn’t talk much about the fiscal issues of the day and really seemed to focus on a much more social agenda. These issues seemed to be focused on the rights of gays, climate change, immigration, and even a small nod to guns control. And you know what? Mitch McConnell and the Republicans are right to say that this was a very liberal speech.
Last week, when President Obama made his sweeping gun control proposals, one of the items mentioned was a request for Congress to fund research to determine the “effects violent video games have on young minds.” This comes after Vice President Biden met with figureheads of the video game industry before making his proposals to the President. In December, Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia proposed a piece of legislation that would request the National Academy of Sciences do just that.
Many in the gaming community are not happy about this. Across various gaming message boards, people equate the violence in a first-person shooter to having as much in common with gun violence as Hot Wheels have with automobile accidents. Some have stated that just by meeting with the Vice President, the industry is admitting that it’s part of the problem.
(Start scene of non-erotic political fan fiction.)
It was 11 pm. The dead heat of the night consumed the air. Cheri Honkala paced nervously back and forth across the room. Dozens of hurried aides worked diligently around her. They answered phone calls, popped tums, and occasionally stole a glance at the disheveled Honkala. These twenty something youngsters might witness history but they had to keep their mind busy, or get crushed by the wrath of the Honk, a nickname first given to Honkala by her defeated opponents. During the madness a white haired lady occupied the organic cotton couch near the fluorescent HD TV. She sipped an organic home brew of green tea as she flipped channels between NPR and C-SPAN. At the same time her eyes gazed at an Al Jazeera stream on her MacBook while she gripped her iPhone, as to not miss any important text vibrations. Yet through this haze of electronic acrobatics, the lady gave off an aura of tranquility. It annoyed the Honk.
(I don’t know if they really call her the Honk.)
“Stein why are you so calm!” Honkala bellowed at her running mate.
The petite woman offered her some tea. “Please Cheri, call me by my first name.”
Honkala sighed, “Jill I don’t want your damn tea. How can you be so calm during this dead heat? It’s literally a virtual dead heat!”
Jill nodded and sipped some tea. “Right you are my friend. It is a dead heat.”
Gallup put out a poll today saying that 75% of adults would vote for Congressional term limits.
The numbers show this isn’t a partisan issue, either. 82% of Republicans would vote for term limits, as would 65% of Democrats, and 79% of independents. It’s also not an age issue, either. Across all age groups this number sits in the mid-70s. It’s a virtual dead heat. Seriously.
This sort of thing might immediately strike fear into the hearts of any democrat, liberal, progressive, or whatever you’d like to call yourself on the left. The immediate perception is that this would give an advantage to Republicans because of their recent tea party success. First, I’ll give you some relief and let you know that only 19 of the 87 GOP freshman from the 2010 election joined the Tea Party caucus. Don’t get me wrong, 19 is nothing to sneeze at, especially when you’re talking tea partiers, but it’s not the end of the world. Or is it?