Archive for the ‘Politics’ category

Spread The News: The GOP Objectively Hates Veterans. Tell Every Vet (And Family) You Know

February 27, 2014

Once upon a time there was a bill in Congress.  It had a number: SB 1982.  It had a title: “Comprehensive Veterans Health and Benefits and Military Retirement Pay Restoration Act of 2014.”  It had a sponsor, Senator Bernard Sanders, I-VT, and 28 co-sponsors, all Democrats, from among the most conservative members of that caucus to some of the most liberal.

It does or would do things, supporting health care needs for veterans, including mental health and family/caregiver support for those aiding vets with mental health disorders, and health care related to sexual trauma.  It provides support for veterans seeking jobs and more.

It is, in other words, the kind of measure you support if you take seriously the easily-said words in praise of Americans who serve in our armed forces.

Which is why it’s important to tell every last veteran, family member of a vet, friend of a vet, dog or cat or sentient robot pet of a vet exactly why it failed to advance through the Senate today.  Here’s the roll call, but no peeking.  Guess what happened. No prizes; the question answers itself.

Rembrandt_-_Old_Soldier_-_WGA19196

I’ll tell ya:  the vote to suspend budgetary rules (the procedural step at hand) was 56 to 41 in favor.  In our dysfunctional Senate, that rump minority was sufficient to block further action on the bill.  Every Democrat voted in favor of proceeding.  One Two Republicans did: Senator Moran of Kansas and Senator Heller of Nevada.*  All 41 “nays” were Republican, including, of course, the loud crowd of war-first types as Lindsay Graham and John McCain — so often eager to send men and women in harms way, so strangely reluctant to pay the debts they thus incur.

Democrats:  better for the economy.  Better for kids.  And, as here we see, walking the walk for vets, while the Republicans hope that talking the talk as loudly as possible will obscure the damage they do.

Tell your families; tell anyone affected by this; tell them to pass it on….

Remember: Friends don’t let friends (and vets) vote Republican in 2014.

Last:  a side note. Soonergrunt and I had a brief exchange on this on Twitter.  He said this would only matter if the Democrats had the guts to pound the GOP on this from now to November.  I hope the folks in Congress do.  But we can spread the word ourselves, and should.

Image: Workshop of Rembrandt, Old Warrior, c. 1630

*I missed Senator Heller in my eyeballing of the roll call.  I regret the error.

Oh Yes, Please! Please, Please, Please!

January 4, 2013

Francisco_de_Zurbarán_053

Come on, Deval.  You know you want to:

Former Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), whose 32 year career in the House of Representatives came to an end yesterday, said Friday that he’s told Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) that he would welcome an interim appointment to the seat expected to be vacated by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA).

Frank said that the fiscal cliff deal that passed the House of Representatives earlier this week and set the stage for a return to the same legislative fight in a matter of months “means that February, March and April are going to be among the most important months” for the American economy….

“I’m not going to be coy. It’s not anything I’ve ever been good at,” Frank said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “I’ve told the governor that I would now like, frankly, to do that because I would like to be a part of that. It’s only a three-month period. I wouldn’t want to do anything more. I don’t want to run again.”

If this happens, it will be proof that the Flying Spagetti Monster is a kind and generous fiction.  I can’t believe I’ve been good enough to merit a benison* such as this.

*Yes, that does raise images of rack of benison, but this is a family show, so I’m not going there.¤

¤And yeah, I would pick your pocket.

Image: Francisco de Zurbarán, St. Francis in Meditation, 1635-1639.

I’m Still Loving The Smell Of Schadenfreude In The Morning: Geek Edition

November 8, 2012

A tale of two campaigns:

First, Obama, as reported in a fascinating and tantalizingly brief piece by Michael Scherer over at Time.com:

For all the praise Obama’s team won in 2008 for its high-tech wizardry, its success masked a huge weakness: too many databases. Back then, volunteers making phone calls through the Obama website were working off lists that differed from the lists used by callers in the campaign office. Get-out-the-vote lists were never reconciled with fundraising lists. It was like the FBI and the CIA before 9/11: the two camps never shared data. “We analyzed very early that the problem in Democratic politics was you had databases all over the place,” said one of the officials. “None of them talked to each other.” So over the first 18 months, the campaign started over, creating a single massive system that could merge the information collected from pollsters, fundraisers, field workers and consumer databases as well as social-media and mobile contacts with the main Democratic voter files in the swing states.

The new megafile didn’t just tell the campaign how to find voters and get their attention; it also allowed the number crunchers to run tests predicting which types of people would be persuaded by certain kinds of appeals. Call lists in field offices, for instance, didn’t just list names and numbers; they also ranked names in order of their persuadability, with the campaign’s most important priorities first. About 75% of the determining factors were basics like age, sex, race, neighborhood and voting record. Consumer data about voters helped round out the picture. “We could [predict] people who were going to give online. We could model people who were going to give through mail. We could model volunteers,” said one of the senior advisers about the predictive profiles built by the data. “In the end, modeling became something way bigger for us in ’12 than in ’08 because it made our time more efficient.”….

The magic tricks that opened wallets were then repurposed to turn out votes. The analytics team used four streams of polling data to build a detailed picture of voters in key states. In the past month, said one official, the analytics team had polling data from about 29,000 people in Ohio alone — a whopping sample that composed nearly half of 1% of all voters there — allowing for deep dives into exactly where each demographic and regional group was trending at any given moment. This was a huge advantage: when polls started to slip after the first debate, they could check to see which voters were changing sides and which were not….

“We ran the election 66,000 times every night,” said a senior official, describing the computer simulations the campaign ran to figure out Obama’s odds of winning each swing state. “And every morning we got the spit-out — here are your chances of winning these states. And that is how we allocated resources.”

…The numbers also led the campaign to escort their man down roads not usually taken in the late stages of a presidential campaign. In August, Obama decided to answer questions on the social news website Reddit, which many of the President’s senior aides did not know about. “Why did we put Barack Obama on Reddit?” an official asked rhetorically. “Because a whole bunch of our turnout targets were on Reddit.”

And now the Romney approach, from reporting at Politico:

A much-touted mobile app used by Romney campaign poll watchers to track voters faced hiccups across the country Tuesday that left one prominent conservative Romney critic declaring it on Twitter “nothing short of a failure.”The system, known as the ORCA Project, was intended to give the Republican challenger’s team real-time information so campaign workers could call, text or visit people who hadn’t yet voted in attempts to corral them before polls closed.

Yet dozens of Romney poll workers across the country took to Twitter throughout the day to gripe that they were unable to log in, lost data they had inputted or found it moving slower than they needed to keep up with poll traffic.

Jeffrey Cook, a Romney poll worker from Fort Dodge, Iowa, gave up after eight hours of being unable to log in and tried to provide his data over the phone after the campaign sent out information about a telephone helpline….

“This looks like hundreds and hundreds of people,” said Akbar, whose popular Twitter handle @ali became a central repository for ORCA complaints. “Something’s going wrong. More people are experiencing problems than are saying it’s working.”

That’s damning for a feature of Romney’s digital campaign that was expected to be a blockbuster. Earlier this month, in fact, Romney deputy political director Dan Centinello was quoted by the Huffington Post as saying of ORCA, “There’s nothing that the Obama data team, there’s nothing that the Obama campaign, there’s nothing that President [Barack] Obama himself can do to even come close to what we are putting together here.”

The Obama campaign has a similar app, Mobile Pollwatcher, which had no reported problems on Tuesday

Ahhhh. This isn’t getting old, is it.

One more thing.  As ever, it’s never their fault.  Conservatism cannot fail. It can only be failed — or betrayed:

In the heat of the election, some pro-Romney tweeters blamed the press for suggestions that ORCA wasn’t working quite right.“Media stories reporting ORCA efforts shut down by hackers are false,” wrote Tommy Duggan, publisher of The Valley Patriot newspaper in Massachusetts. “We just got first-hand confirm[ation] that system worked brilliantly.”

As we might say in the framing familiar to this blog:  Continue acquiring intimate knowledge of Colonel Sander’s best friend.
Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Blue Train (The Viaduct in Arles), 1888.
Hendrik Gerritsz. Pot, Flora’s mallewagen. (Allegory of the Tulip Mania.) 1640.

Do You Feel Lucky (Enough To Mess With A Nun)? Well, Do Ya’ Punk?

September 6, 2012

Before we get all whipped up into that necessary frenzy that will carry us across the finish line 60 days hence…here’s a look back at what was to me the most moving speech from last night that wasn’t by an ex-President:

Oh! Does she bring it — joyfully and hard — to the very core or the matter.

You can’t lead a good life, you can’t lead a good society, if you live only for yourself.  She quoted Matthew 24:40 — “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me…”* and while the committedly Jewish atheist in my might counter with the more direct Hillel aphorism,** if I were Paul Ryan, and if I had that last residue of conscience left in me, I would be quaking in my boots just now.  Sister Simone ripped away the cloak of sanctity with which the GOP has shrouded so much of its viciousness over the last years — the venom directed at GLBT folk, the terror in the face of women claiming agency, the desperate drive to dismember any claims on either self-interest or conscience that the poor may have on the society as a whole.

Best part?  When she reminded Paul Ryan that the bishops…the bishops! and not “merely” some nuns!…had condemned his budget as immoral.  1A:  stating proudly that her version of a pro-life commitment extend to those who are in fact living among us.

A truly great speech, and one is rocking me into the right mood for what’s to come.

*I grabbed the King James version, which is not what I think she quoted last night.  But I do love the music.

**”If I am not for myself, who will be for me?  If I am only for myself, who am I?  If not now, when?”

How To Botch A Job Interview

August 31, 2012

I didn’t watch the RNC.  Not a minute.

Wait!  To avoid a Kessler spanking, I should admit that when I turned the TV on Wednesday night looking for a west coast ball game, I found the cable set to one of the network stations.  So there was that glimpse of the convention floor — maybe a few seconds while fumbled for the mute button, and a few more while I tried to punch in the channel I wanted.  There’s that…

But, after I got back from the dinner welcoming our new victims graduate students to campus last night, I had a great time following the comment threads around the web on the trainwreck of Romney’s big night.  And as the hilarity over the Eastwood fiasco played out — a little sadly for me, because he’s done some great work on both sides of the camera — and as the clock relentlessly ticked on and as Rubio made it at least 3 if not more in the list of prime time speakers beginning now in their primary campaigns for 2016 and then as Romney finally tumbled onto stage with only 20 minutes or so left in prime time, and bumbled through much of that precious time before apparently finding his rhythm a bit after at least a chunk of his audience had been switched to local news, or the last beer, or bed — and then to face that fact that when all was said and done on this evening that was supposed to build a bond between the last three true swing voters in the United States and the remarkably sophisticated simulacrum of a human being operating under the code name Willard Mitt Romney, the only thing anyone actually remembered was a kind of recognizable weird old guy channeling the signals picked up by the filling in tooth 31 to drive his argument with an empty chair…

…as all that took place, I thought, W. Mitt Romney has just crashed the last remaining claim he has to the notion that he could do the presidency, even should he (FSM forbid!) manage to occupy it.

Consider:  when one runs for President there are only a few things over which the nominee has true total control.  Really there are only two:  the choice of a running mate, and the production of the wholly staged kabuki of the nominating convention.  The Ryan selection was botched, just from a technical point of view – a Friday evening news dump, the awkward pas de deux in which Romney and Ryan both tried to assert that the Ryan plan wasn’t really the Romney one and so on.  Leave aside the merits or not of Ryan as a running mate, just the way that the choice oozed out into public discussion was weak.

And now this.  The convention was rough from the start — and while you surely can’t blame the Romneybots for Hurricane Isaac, Chris Christie’s giant raspberry, spraying Jersey bluster all over Ann Romney’s red dress was not exactly what the Cyborg/Grannie Starver ticket had in mind.  Then you get to the mostly forgettable second day, made extraordinary by Paul Ryan’s delivery of a speech that was, in the end, an indigestible bolus of falsehood .  As someone pointed out at a link I’ve now lost, you’d think a properly run convention would have given Ryan sufficient guidance to make the lies just a little less obvious — just enough to provide cover to the both-sides-do-it/boys-will-be-boys school of coverage.  But noooo…with the result that what was supposed to be a day of media praise for Ryan’s extraordinary powers of intellect and his courageous embrace of hard truths…and of anticipation of the launch of the Romnoid’s Human Emulation software update…became instead a chorus of disdain — one that even reached the Fox News website!

Amazingly, all that pales before the my-eyes-deceive-me spectacle of Clint Eastwood trading implied obscenties with an empty chair…dragged out so long that the nominee himself was forced into that one true sin of convention production values:  crossing over out of prime time into the local news slot.

Holy Rotini, FSM! that’s just elementary.  Incredibly bad planning.  Grotesque management.  A failure not of ideas or character or of policy analysis or even emotional persuasion…but of the pure, basic demand that someone who wants to run something should, you know, actually do so.

And that for me is the lasting message of this convention.  Mitt Romney presents himself as the controlling intelligence whose experience as a top manager prepares him to run a more effective government than that of slacker/community organizer/government hack/oh, by the way – President Obama.

Remember, Romney isn’t running on his record in Massachusetts because it (a) largely sucked and (b) because the point at which it didn’t — with the passage of Romneycare — is the one that he just doesn’t seem to recall.  He isn’t running on Bain directly, because that record has messy details in it that accompany exercises in vampire capitalism.  He can’t do much with the Olympics because, you know, he didn’t build that.  So all that’s left is this general claim that he’s got the leader stuff down, that he can run things, that he’s a deciderer, and what he decides goes, and goes right.

And now this convention.

Seriously:  you can’t put on a three hour television show, you can’t run the country.  It’s as simple as that.

Images: Vincent van Gogh, Van Gogh’s Chair, 1888.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Apotheosis of the Spanish Royal Family, 1762-1766

Required Reading, MLK Day edition

January 16, 2012

I’m ashamed to say, that until Charlie Pierce in his own, powerful essay on MLK day pointed me to it, I had never actually read Lyndon B. Johnson’s speech to Congress urging — almost ordering — the legislators before him to pass the Voting Rights Act.

Here’s a sample:

But even if we pass this bill, the battle will not be over. What happened in Selma is part of a far larger movement which reaches into every section and State of America. It is the effort of American Negroes to secure for themselves the full blessings of American life.

Their cause must be our cause too. Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice.

And we shall overcome.

As a man whose roots go deeply into Southern soil I know how agonizing racial feelings are. I know how difficult it is to reshape the attitudes and the structure of our society.

But a century has passed, more than a hundred years, since the Negro was freed. And he is not fully free tonight.

It was more than a hundred years ago that Abraham Lincoln, a great President of another party, signed the Emancipation Proclamation, but emancipation is a proclamation and not a fact.

A century has passed, more than a hundred years, since equality was promised. And yet the Negro is not equal.

A century has passed since the day of promise. And the promise is unkept.

The time of justice has now come. I tell you that I believe sincerely that no force can hold it back. It is right in the eyes of man and God that it should come. And when it does, I think that day will brighten the lives of every American.

For Negroes are not the only victims. How many white children have gone uneducated, how many white families have lived in stark poverty, how many white lives have been scarred by fear, because we have wasted our energy and our substance to maintain the barriers of hatred and terror?

So I say to all of you here, and to all in the Nation tonight, that those who appeal to you to hold on to the past do so at the cost of denying you your future.

This great, rich, restless country can offer opportunity and education and hope to all: black and white, North and South, sharecropper and city dweller. These are the enemies: poverty, ignorance, disease. They are the enemies and not our fellow man, not our neighbor. And these enemies too, poverty, disease and ignorance, we shall overcome.

Pierce calls this “the greatest speech an American president has delivered in my lifetime.”

Mine too.

Read it.

One last thought: One strand I draw from Johnson’s speech is that it is possible to have a politics that transcends the mere purchase and sale of interest; one in which words have both power and integrity.

I want that politics back.

Image:  Lyndon Baines Johnson with Martin Luther King on August 6, 1965, at the signing of the Voting Rights Act.

Who’s Taxing Whom

July 19, 2011

Fair warning: what follows is a bit of a rant and contains nothing particularly new.  But the fiscal follies of our overlords are unhinging me, and as misery loves company, I hope to share my derangement.

———–

I’ve been a little obsessed with light bulbs lately, as regular readers know.  I  continue to be dumbfounded at the depth, passion, and naked-mole-rat-stupidity of the GOP drive to ensure Americans waste money on illumination.  Following a thought from one commenter, I’m bracing for the claim that bans on whaling are really an unconscionable assault on the liberty of the people to light their homes with oil lanterns.

But as I thought about the implications of the Republican House caucus’ relentless drive to undermine America’s energy security, I started to fixate on a penetrating glimpse of the obvious:  the entire GOP approach to the federal government’s fiscal policy is a vast tax hike on most Americans.

That the GOPsters approach to policy will raise the cost of living in America is, I think obvious by this point:  when you privatize public goods, by and large those goods cost more for the individual user to access.  (There is a lot of detail obscured by that blanket statement, and certainly some instances where it might be otherwise, but the health care system (about which more below) is a familiar example of the basic problem, and there are many more.)

Republicans would say, I think, that cost isn’t the issue.  Government shouldn’t pay for much that it does now and that individuals can make better choices about priorities and so on.  They’d add that government musn’t pay for that which it can’t; that, to use a cliche repeated over and over again, that the government must behave like any household would, and not spend money it doesn’t have.

That last is nonsense, of course.  I’m actually working on a next book that tells a grand story of fraud and deceit at the birth of the idea of government debt — and that tale turns on the ways that governments aren’t like households or small businesses.

For now, though, the point is that if you take the Republicans false metaphor at face value, then you see that despite the brave promises of “no new taxes,” the practical, household consequences of their actions add up to a huge stealth tax increase that differentially falls on to working people, the middle class, and the poor.

And yes, as noted above, I know I’m restating the obvious, but bear with me.  Let’s  take my lighting fixation for a spin.  Recall that the energy efficiency standards that so offend the current Republican caucus* are predicted to save each American household $50 a year.

Now back to that bill-paying session over the kitchen table Republicans are so wont to imagine.  Maybe liberty is beyond price.  Whatever it’s called though, this extra hit of four or five bucks a month would feel exactly the same as if the GOP had voted a $50/home surcharge on each of us to subsidize light bulb makers or power generators:   We wouldn’t have that money no more, and it’s by GOP choice that this increase in our burdens would such cash out of our pockets.

A latte a month may in fact be a worthy price to keep the dead hand of statism from our necks.  But what about cost of aging?  Remember the Paul Ryan plan that virtually the entire GOP congressional caucus has endorsed.  That scheme switches the cost of medical care for the elderly to those old, ill people and their families.  Now we’re not talking cups of coffee any more, mere Franklins a year; rather, we’re in the realm of beaucoup  Benjamins.

Again this is surely familiar to all here, but just as a reminder, the gap between the vouchers Ryan’s plan provides and the projected actual cost of senior’s health care is about $12,500,  according to a CBO analysis, $6,000 more than the out-of-pocket charges to be borne were Medicare left unchanged.

And is there any choice here, really, for any household that loves its grandparents (or just folks of an age that in my case is coming up rather sooner than seems plausible)?

No there is not.  We could enact the old Jewish mother light bulb joke,** but our only real options were the GOPsters to achieve their long-cherished goal of killing Medicare is to pay the freight or die faster.

Death and taxes — there’s a reason the two are such close kin, after all.

Old news, get over it — I get it.

But the point I want to make, the meme, to use a word I mistrust, or a shove to the Overton window, is that all this talk of the holding the line against taxes and so on is bullsh*t when we’re working at the level of that holy kitchen table.  There, the only thing that matters at the level of individual Americans’ bank accounts is that GOP policies raise the cost of being an American in ways that are indistinguishable from brutal, huge tax increases.

If politics is perception then it’s important to do what the Bush clan was brilliant at — take your opponents’ seeming strength and hang an anvil around its neck.  And here, as we see every day (and many posts here remind us), the GOPsters using the power of government to impose huge new costs on us all that we have in practical terms no way to avoid.  The resulting drain of our dollars is not a tax in law, of course, but the resulting holes in my wallet feel exactly the same as if it were.  And, of course, the bitter last jest is that under the Republican approach, we pay more to get less.

So I’d like to see every Democrat running, and the chattering classes as well, all raging about the GOP stealth tax on the American way of life.  I’d like to see the ads that make that connection with couples in their kitchens talking about this GOP tax assault, how cleverly it’s been disguised, how hard it bites.  I’d like to see sneering and rage and bitter remorse at the thought that any all-American family of voters was taken in by all that no-tax deceit.  I want to make it impossible for any GOP thug to hide behind Grover’s tissue of a pledge when next the polls open.

No new taxes?  Hell and death (and taxes)!  No GOPster should be allowed to say that unchallenged.

*Recall also that the standards were approved with bipartisan support in 2007 (including sponsorship by GOPster Fred Upton, currently  chairman of the  House Energy and Commerce Committee, who now fights the good fight against light bulb efficiency), and signed into law by that notorious state-socialist, George W. Bush.

**Q:  How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb?

A:  “None!  I’ll just sit here in the dark.”

Images:  Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, 1885

Rembrandt van Rijn, Portrait of an Old Jew, 1654

 

None Dare Call It Treason…

June 6, 2011

But, at least as I read it, that’s what the Republican party — and by that I mean, actual office holders and acknowledged leaders, not yahoos conspiring on some mountaintop — are edging ever closer to these days.

Evidence for such a serious charge?  Just the latest comes from an event Mistermix annotated earlier this morning:  the murder of Peter Diamond’s nomination to serve as a governor of the Federal Reserve.

A little backstory:  Peter Diamond is a member of the Economics Department at MIT (and hence, one of my colleagues).*  He is the author, co-author or editor of twelve books, and his CV lists 143 published papers.  He is perhaps best known recently for his work on social insurance and Social Security in particular, but his interests have ranged very widely indeed, to include among much else foundational research on what happens when buyers and sellers in a market have to look for each other, the problem of “search markets.”  Think, e.g., the problem that  employers and job seekers face to find specific matches in order for the job hunter to sell his or her labor to an employer-buyer.

That’s work that was just honored with the 2010 Nobel Prize for Economics.** [For more details, see the paper to be found at the "advanced information" tab here.]

Now every Nobel comes with a story, and I heard a couple of them at various celebrations I attended to honor Diamond.  One nice touch came at the economics department party for the prize, where department grad students and colleagues wore replica Peter Diamond Red Sox jerseys, in recognition of perhaps his most treasured honor, throwing the first pitch at a regular season game at Fenway a year or so ago.  Nobels are nice and all, but in the Athens of America, the Sox rule.

Then there was the one Diamond himself told at another reception this spring, which suggested the potential for trouble when an anonymous Swedish-accented female voice sounds at one’s home number at 0-dark-hundred, asking for the man of the house, then en route from an overseas trip — and refuses to say what it’s about to his just-awakened partner.  Hmmm.  But that’s the rule:  the laureate gets told first, no ifs/ands/buts.

But the most telling anecdote came from the current head of the MIT economics department, Ricardo Caballero, who told of contacting his immediate predecessor as head, James Poterba, who promptly handed over the brief he had prepared years earlier listing what to do when the call came from Stockholm with Peter Diamond’s name attached.  Which is to say — Diamond has long been recognized as a giant in the field.  The MIT department along with much of the profession had for a while seen the ultimate award of a Nobel as a matter less of “if” than “when.”

The signal importance of Diamond in our current predicament is that he is two creatures at once:  A mathematician by early training, he does a lot of what many academic economists do: prove theorems within models in an attempt to capture essential features of experience within the rigor of mathematical analysis.  At the same time, he is a committed observer and parser of the real world, with a direct focus on critical current policy issues.  In his own words [see entry 4: "My Research Strategy]:

I found I liked doing policy.  And I found that looking at policy questions fueled identification of good theory questions to model and analyze.  As a public finance economist, I was naturally interested in policy (rather than becoming a public finance economist because I was so interested in policy), although that has reversed.  And as a theorist more interested in constructing models to analyze questions than to getting new results in existing models, my taste ran to simplifications that seemed to preserve the important properties and so provide plausibly robust policy insights, an approach that fit with finding questions from involvement in policy discussions.

Hence work on Social Security, on pension systems around the world and so on.

So, just to recap the game so far:  we have in Peter Diamond someone recognized by everyone qualified to do so as one of the pre-eminent economists writing today. His work addresses major issues at the level of both theory and policy/application.  His questions include several that are pressing right now, notably employment and the understanding of essential social insurance programs.

And yet, because of the actions of one or a small minority of United Senators, supported by a unified Republican Senate caucus, the citizens of the United States of America will not secure the benefits of Peter Diamond’s knowledge and intellectual skills at a time when almost one in ten job-seekers are out of work, and our pension and health care systems face the prospect (threat) of enormous and individual-life-changing transformation.

So, why do Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama and the entire slate of the GOP Senators so hate the rest of us ?

Well, that would be (according to Shelby) because Diamond is unqualified to be a Fed governor.  This despite the overwhelming testimony of his profession.

But wait!  There’s an “argument” (sic) Shelby attaches to his presumptively stupid argument that a Nobel laureate economist can’t handle a Fed post.  Shelby’s rationalization?…

…Diamond, it seems, lacks specific expertise in monetary policy, the proper responsibility of the Fed.  Mistermix’s post details the duplicity of this claim:  at the time of Diamond’s nomination, three of the five sitting governors were not monetary specialists.  We’re back to the old trick of inventing criteria as needed to cover blatant political manouvering.

And anyway, Shelby’s just wrong (surprise! Dog bites man!), as Diamond himself made embarrassingly clear in a New York Times op-ed published today:

Last October, I won the Nobel Prize in economics for my work on unemployment and the labor market. But I am unqualified to serve on the board of the Federal Reserve — at least according to the Republican senators who have blocked my nomination. How can this be?

The easy answer is to point to shortcomings in our confirmation process and to partisan polarization in Washington. The more troubling answer, though, points to a fundamental misunderstanding: a failure to recognize that analysis of unemployment is crucial to conducting monetary policy….

…understanding the labor market — and the process by which workers and jobs come together and separate — is critical to devising an effective monetary policy. The financial crisis has led to continuing high unemployment. The Fed has to properly assess the nature of that unemployment to be able to lower it as much as possible while avoiding inflation. If much of the unemployment is related to the business cycle — caused by a lack of adequate demand — the Fed can act to reduce it without touching off inflation. If instead the unemployment is primarily structural — caused by mismatches between the skills that companies need and the skills that workers have — aggressive Fed action to reduce it could be misguided.

In my Nobel acceptance speech in December, I discussed in detail the patterns of hiring in the American economy, and concluded that structural unemployment and issues of mismatch were not important in the slow recovery we have been experiencing, and thus not a reason to stop an accommodative monetary policy — a policy of keeping short-term interest rates exceptionally low and buying Treasury securities to keep long-term rates down. Analysis of the labor market is in fact central to monetary policy.

Seems like this guy might be useful, just about now, doesn’t it?

Diamond’s most important point was not that Shelby’s malign influence is evidence of a poisoned political process, (though it is) nor even that the point of monetary policy is to influence things like the labor market (which it is, and is what makes direct knowledge of such spheres kind of important).  Rather, Shelby and the Republican Party are actually playing a much more dangerous game, one much more hostile to the interests of the United States and its citizens than any mere power squabble.   Here’s how Diamond wraps up his piece:

To the public, the Washington debate is often about more versus less — in both spending and regulation. There is too little public awareness of the real consequences of some of these decisions. In reality, we need more spending on some programs and less spending on others, and we need more good regulations and fewer bad ones.

Analytical expertise is needed to accomplish this, to make government more effective and efficient. Skilled analytical thinking should not be drowned out by mistaken, ideologically driven views that more is always better or less is always better.

And this is where Shelby’s — and the Republican Party’s — become guilty of what some may think is too strong a charge.

We face real, enormous problems.  Yet the Republican party has decided that its return to power by any means is more important than the interests of the United States. Why else block an obviously overqualified person to help set monetary policy, except for the fear that his policy ideas might work?  How else to describe — other than the pursuit of party advantage over Country First — the increasingly vocal murmurings that the GOP should push the US into default in order to so damage the American (and world!) economy that even as weak a candidate as any in the current GOP pool could defeat President Obama in 2012?

And so on — readers of this blog can continue the litany as needed.

Rush Limbaugh laid this out back in 2009 of course:  it was better then and it’s still the preferred option, from his point of view and from that of the Republican Party as a whole, that President Obama fail and the US suffer.  Heaven forfend that this administration to succeed and for GOP governance to be thus revealed as the disaster it is.

Oh — and one more thing.  As Diamond writes in the passage quoted above, blocking his nomination has the effect of making it more and more difficult to bring  “skilled analytical thinking” to bear on great public problems.

This despite the fact that deriding the possibility of competence as a tool of governance is both a disaster in the short term (near 10 percent unemployment, remember) and utterly corrosive of US power and influence looking to longer horizons.  If we barricade the government against even the possibility of having to act on the best disinterested advice we can get…what do you think will happen over time?  Nothing good…

I suppose there are some out there (a quotidian gossip, perhaps) who might find the use of words like “treason” to be, well, uncivil in this context.

But how else do you describe actions that harm Americans now and are likely to weaken the US relative to competitors and potential adversaries over the years and decades?  And when those deeds are in the service not only of trying to defeat a sitting President, but to deny that President the levers of government within the term for which he was duly elected?  I don’t know words strong enough to excoriate such Benedict Arnolds.

This is your modern Republican Party.  It is, IMHO, beyond salvation.  We do need an opposition, but this one does not retain any claim to the traditional epithet, “loyal.”  Time to start over.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*I’ve met Diamond at a couple of large events.  I don’t know him though and have never had a real conversation with him — and I’ve never discussed with him or any other MIT economist what the hell was going on with his Fed nomination.  What follows is thus all mine; don’t blame him.

**Strictly speaking, the Sveriges Rijksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Honor of Alfred Nobel…but most everyone still calls it simply a Nobel Prize. #vampirepedantcrucifixfootnote

Images:  Max Liebermann, Women in a Canning Factory, 1879.

Agostino Carracci, Arrigo el peludo, Pedro el loco y el enano Amon (Hairy Arrigo, Crazy Peter, and the dwarf Amon), before 1602.

Time to Go Viral: Mark Twain Was Right/Eight False “Facts” On Which To Fight This Election

October 24, 2010

Via Digby, I came across Dave Johnson’s essential piece, “Eight False Things  The Public “Knows” Prior to Election Day.”

Here’s the link, and here’s the core of the post:

1) President Obama tripled the deficit.
Reality: Bush’s last budget had a $1.416 trillion deficit. Obama’s first budgetreduced that to $1.29 trillion.

2) President Obama raised taxes, which hurt the economy.
Reality: Obama cut taxes. 40% of the “stimulus” was wasted on tax cuts which only create debt, which is why it was so much less effective than it could have been.

3) President Obama bailed out the banks.
Reality: While many people conflate the “stimulus” with the bank bailouts, the bank bailouts were requested by President Bush and his Treasury Secretary, former Goldman Sachs CEO Henry Paulson. (Paulson also wanted the bailouts to be “non-reviewable by any court or any agency.”) The bailouts passed and began before the 2008 election of President Obama.

4) The stimulus didn’t work.
Reality: The stimulus worked, but was not enough. In fact, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the stimulus raised employment by between 1.4 million and 3.3 million jobs.

5) Businesses will hire if they get tax cuts.
Reality: A business hires the right number of employees to meet demand. Having extra cash does not cause a business to hire, but a business that has a demand for what it does will find the money to hire. Businesses want customers, not tax cuts.

6) Health care reform costs $1 trillion.
Reality: The health care reform reduces government deficits by $138 billion.

7) Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, is “going broke,” people live longer, fewer workers per retiree, etc.
Reality: Social Security has run a surplus since it began, has a trust fund in the trillions, is completely sound for at least 25 more years and cannot legally borrow so cannot contribute to the deficit (compare that to the military budget!) Life expectancy is only longer because fewer babies die; people who reach 65 live about the same number of years as they used to.

8) Government spending takes money out of the economy.
Reality: Government is We, the People and the money it spends is on We, the People. Many people do not know that it is government that builds the roads, airports, ports, courts, schools and other things that are the soil in which business thrives. Many people think that all government spending is on “welfare” and “foreign aid” when that is only a small part of the government’s budget.

This stuff really matters.

Yes it does.  I stole as much as I did of Johnson’s work because it matters so very much.  Go to his place to read the whole thing.  Then steal it too.  Let’s make this thing go as viral as we can in the nine days we have left.  I’m just sick of this election turning on lies; I’m sick of our country being bought and sold on the cheap.  Time to hit the bad guys every way we can — the high road, with facts like these…and Aqua Buddha too, over and over again….

So:  I’m going to twitter this, I’m going to stick the reference in every open thread of the blogs I visit that I can, and I urge those of you with the stomach for the comment threads on the other side of the fence to post it there too.  Post it in comment threads at MSM newspapers, at the CNN sites and so on.  Maybe we can get someone who hasn’t quite lost their mind to the other side to read it, and vote accordingly.

BTW:  for those who aren’t up on your Mark Twain aphorisms/cliches, the reference in the title is to this quote:

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble.  It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

That quote alone would make him the patron saint of much of what this blog is about — so in homage, this image:

Just a bit of homage, ya know.  Not bad for a man of 48.  I should look so good….

Image:  Mark Twain shirtless, c. 1883.

Isn’t This The Kind of Thing You’d Want In Writing?

October 22, 2010

So now, via The Raw Story, we learn that the Republican Christine O’Donnell, running for the Senate seat in Delaware has admitted to a clear violation of campaign finance laws by using campaign funds to pay part of her rent.  Her excuse?  She got permission:

Her attorney maintains someone with the Federal Election Commission approved the arrangement, although the commission’s rules say candidates can’t use campaign money for their mortgage or rent “even if part of the residence is being used by the campaign.”

I mean really. This goes beyond criminal (though it passes through that territory); beyond pathetic (though O’Donnell has staked a pretty damn good claim there) and on into full bore comedy.  “Someone” from the FEC approved the arrangement.

“Someone?”  “Someone!”  You mean the non-witch impersonating me (and you, and you, and you…) actually had a break lucid enough to think that she ought to get clearance before embezzling that last dime — and didn’t get someone to send her … hell, not even a note on letterhead, say, but an email.   A text? Semaphore?  Anything.

Oh my.

Long ago the great San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen faced deadline on a slow day, and pumped out a dozen or so wonderful ways to say someone lacked that little something upstairs.  You know the sort: “The elevator doesn’t stop on her top floor;” or “a brick or two shy of a load.”  But for all the filler, Caen still came up with one I hadn’t heard before, that I’ve never forgotten, and that seems to describe Candidate O’Donnell precisely:

The wheel is spinning, but man, oh, man:  that hamster’s dead.

 

Image: Walter Heubach, “Hamster,” before 1923.


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