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September 2, 2011

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Paul Krugman: Eric and Irene

Posted: 02 Sep 2011 12:33 AM PDT

Another sign that the GOP is willing to "flout all the usual conventions of fair play and, well, decency in order to get what they want":

Eric and Irene, by Paul Krugman, Commentary, NY Times: "Have you left no sense of decency?" That's the question Joseph Welch famously asked Joseph McCarthy, as the red-baiting demagogue tried to ruin yet another innocent citizen. And these days, it's the question I find myself wanting to ask Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who has done more than anyone else to make policy blackmail — using innocent Americans as hostages — standard operating procedure for the G.O.P.
A few weeks ago, Mr. Cantor was the hard man in the confrontation over the debt ceiling; he was willing to endanger America's financial credibility, putting our whole economy at risk, in order to extract budget concessions from President Obama. Now he's doing it again ... by insisting that any federal aid to the victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts in other spending. In effect, he is threatening to take Irene's victims hostage.
Mr. Cantor's critics have been quick to accuse him of hypocrisy, and with good reason. After all, he and his Republican colleagues showed no comparable interest in paying for the Bush administration's huge unfunded initiatives. In particular, they did nothing to offset the cost of the Iraq war, which now stands at $800 billion and counting.
And it turns out that in 2004, when his home state of Virginia was struck by Tropical Storm Gaston, Mr. Cantor voted against a bill that would have required the same pay-as-you-go rule that he now advocates.
But, as I see it, hypocrisy is a secondary issue here. The primary issue should be the extraordinary ... willingness to flout all the usual conventions of fair play and, well, decency in order to get what they want.
Not long ago, a political party seeking to change U.S. policy would try to achieve that goal by building popular support for its ideas, then implementing those ideas through legislation. That, after all, is how our political system was designed to work.
But today's G.O.P. has decided to bypass all that... Never mind getting enough votes to pass legislation; it gets what it wants by threatening to hurt America if its demands aren't met. ...
Now, Mr. Cantor may end up backing down on this one, if only because several of the hard-hit states have Republican governors, who want and need aid soon, without strings attached. But that won't put an end to the larger issue: What will happen to America now that people like Mr. Cantor are calling the shots for one of its two major political parties?
And, yes, I mean one of our parties. There are plenty of bad things to be said about the Democrats, who have their fair share of cynics and careerists. There may even be Democrats in Congress who would be as willing as Mr. Cantor to advance their goals through sabotage and blackmail (although I can't think of any). But, if they exist, they aren't in important leadership positions. Mr. Cantor is. And that should worry anyone who cares about our nation's future.

links for 2011-09-01

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 10:01 PM PDT

"White House Will Consider Any Online Petition That Gets 5,000 Signatures"

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 01:17 PM PDT

The White House has a new initiative:

"The idea behind 'We the People' – as the new program will be known – is that anyone with an idea or cause can go to the White House's website, and make a public pitch for support. If the idea gets 5,000 backers within 30 days, said White House spokeswoman Sandra Abrevaya, a 'working group of policy officials' will respond." You can check out the White House website here.

It won't get 5,000 comments, but I have a petition:

The administration should propose an aggressive job creation package as soon as possible, and apologize for not doing so sooner.

The White House website says:

Creating or signing a petition is just the first step. It's up to you to build support...

I was kind of hoping the administration would help to "build support" for a job creation package, that's been a problem all along. But I suppose I shouldn't expect things to change now.

Maybe Obama will surprise us when he gives his jobs speech later this week (if Boehner will let him talk), and unlike the last time maybe the administration will follow up and do what they can to build the support such a program would require -- given the size of the employment problem it's worth trying -- but I'm not expecting that to happen.

Stiglitz: The Price of 9/11

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 08:46 AM PDT

Joseph Stiglitz:

The Price of 9/11, by Joseph E. Stiglitz, Commentary, Project Syndicate: The September 11, 2001, terror attacks by Al Qaeda were meant to harm the United States, and they did, but in ways that Osama bin Laden probably never imagined. President George W. Bush's response to the attacks compromised America's basic principles, undermined its economy, and weakened its security. ...
The attack on Afghanistan that followed the 9/11 attacks was understandable, but the subsequent invasion of Iraq was entirely unconnected to Al Qaeda – as much as Bush tried to establish a link. That war of choice quickly became very expensive... Indeed, when Linda Bilmes and I calculated America's war costs three years ago, the conservative tally was $3-5 trillion. Since then, the costs have mounted further. ...
Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax "relief" for the wealthy. ...
Today, America is focused on unemployment and the deficit. Both threats to America's future can, in no small measure, be traced to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. ...[continue reading]...

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs?

Posted: 01 Sep 2011 07:29 AM PDT

Remember the White House Jobs Summit? It was in December, 2009:

White House Jobs Summit: Real Progress or PR Stunt?, ABC News: President Obama said today that he is not interested in "taking a wait-and-see approach" when it comes to job creation, as his administration faces unemployment numbers at their worst levels since 1983.
"What I'm interested in is taking action right now to help businesses create jobs right now, in the near term," the president said at the opening session of the White House jobs summit.
The summit, announced a week after the Bureau of Labor Statistics said unemployment reached 10.2 percent, is the administration's latest effort to do just that.
However, some critics dismiss it as little more than a publicity stunt.
Obama acknowledged the skepticism that the summit would produce tangible results, but said he was confident there would be some progress...

Obama was not interested in "taking a wait-and-see approach"? Here we are almost two years later and I would be hard-pressed to make a case that the summit marked the beginning of a serious attempt to create jobs. Apparently, being serious about job creation means that when poll numbers are down and a reelection can be seen in the distance, then it's time to pretend like you are doing something.

Robert Reich wonders how bold the plan will be:

Obama's Jobs Plan: Will He Offer Policy Miniatures or Give 'em Hell?, by Robert Reich: Next Wednesday President Obama will unveil his jobs plan.

He'll choose either Plan A or Plan B.

Plan A would be big enough to restart the economy (now barely growing) and reduce unemployment (which continues to grow). That means spending another trillion dollars over the next two years – rebuilding the nation's infrastructure, creating a new WPA and Civilian Conservation Corps, and lending money to cash-starved states and cities.

Republicans will oppose it, of course. They'll say the stimulus didn't work the first time (they're wrong – it saved 3 million jobs but it was way too small given the drop in consumer spending as well as budget cuts by states and cities), and we can't afford it (wrong again – the yield on 10-year Treasury bills is now 2 percent, meaning this is the best time to borrow. And if growth isn't restored soon, the debt/GDP ratio will balloon beyond belief). But their real hope is to keep the economy anemic through Election Day 2012 so voters will send Obama home.

That means the President would have to fight for it. He'd have to barnstorm the country, demanding Republican votes. He'd build his 2012 campaign around it, attacking the Republican "do nothing" Congress. He'd give 'em hell.

Plan B would be a bunch of policy miniatures that would have almost no effect on the economy or employment but would nonetheless be good things to do (extending the Social Security tax cut, extending unemployment benefits, reauthorizing the highway building trust fund, giving employers a tax incentive to hire the long-term unemployed, ratifying trade agreements).

Republicans will oppose it, of course. They'll say this is no time for new initiatives, that our biggest problem is the size of government, debt, and over-regulation. They've been saying almost exactly the same thing for eighty years.

The President would present each of his policy miniatures as a separate piece of legislation hoping to attract enough Republican votes to get something – anything – enacted and declare a victory. He'd then campaign as a leader who can "get things done," even though the economy is still a basket case.

Which will it be — Plan A or B? Early indications suggest Plan B. ...

Bad choice. ... The winner of the 2012 presidential election will be the person who comes off as the toughest fighter for average Americans.

Earth to Obama: Remember Harry (Give 'em Hell) Truman. Here's Truman's acceptance speech at the Philadelphia convention that nominated him prior to the 1948 election:

Senator Barkley and I will win this election and make those Republicans like it… We will do that because they are wrong and we are right… [T]he people know the Democratic Party is the people's party, and the Republican Party is the party of special interests and it always has been and always will be… The Republican Party… favors the privileged few and not the common, every-day man. Ever since its inception that Party has been under the control of special privilege, and they concretely proved it in the 80th Congress. They proved it by the things they did to the people and not for them. They proved it by the things they failed to do.

Give em hell, Barack.

I appreciate what he is saying, but the framing is about what's best for Obama rather than what's best for the unemployed. I'm sure the administration justifies its actions based upon the idea that getting reelected is the best thing for the unemployed. I'm sure they tell themselves that if Republicans take over in the next election, then it would be much worse for those in need of jobs. I'm guessing that underlies Reich's 'give em hell' advice as well. But at some point -- and it should have happened already -- the unemployed rather than Obama have to come first. And I think providing jobs and reducing the unemployment rate is the best strategy for reelection in any case.

Yes, there would have been political difficulties. But we don't know how things might have differed had Obama used the December, 2009 summit to mark the beginning of a focus on jobs, jobs, jobs and nothing else. If every speech, and every bit of effort had been devoted to job creation proposals instead of stupidly falling into the deficit reduction trap set by Republicans, we don't know how things would have differed. At the very least, workers would know without any doubt which side the administration was on. Right now, that isn't clear.

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