Thursday, March 31, 2011

Obsessed With Debt


We have heard enough- far more than enough- of "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it really make a sound? It is trite, tiresome, and silly. Or maybe not so silly. In his opinion piece on the national debt which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on March 30, Senator Marco Rubio obscenely remarked

We're therefore at a defining moment in American history. In a few weeks, we will once again reach our legal limit for borrowing, the so-called debt ceiling. The president and others want to raise this limit. They say it is the mature, responsible thing to do.

In fact, it's nothing more than putting off the tough decisions until after the next election. We cannot afford to continue waiting. This may be our last chance to force Washington to tackle the central economic issue of our time.


Leave aside the reality that the GOP effort to cut spending in the current budget little concerns the long-term debt, mostly targeting the deficit. And that a few months ago, the GOP, with its co-conspirator in the White House, did all it could to explode the deficit and the debt with a huge across-the-board tax cut. Rubio's right shoulder, presumably, aches as he strains to pat himself on the back for not "putting off the tough decisions until after the next election" as he votes for tax cuts for the wealthy benefactors which bankrolled his election. No, the obscenity lies in the assertion that the debt is "the central economic issue of our time."

This must have escaped the attention of Vice President Cheney, who once argued "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." To be fair, though, both Cheney and Rubio have failed to notice what is happening to the American middle class in part because of the policies the Florida Republican has embraced.

If Rubio had been paying attention, he would know:

a) As the graph below from The New York Times (CBO and Census Bureau statistics) indicates, from 1979 to 2005 income of the top .01% of earners increased 384% while it rose only 20% for the median quintile. It should be no surprise that tax rates for the latter group dropped 4.4% while they plummeted 11.4% for the highest income group.






b) For almost the same period (1979-2007), average after-tax incomes for the top 1 percent rose by 281 percent after adjusting for inflation — an increase in income of $973,100 per household — compared to increases of 25 percent ($11,200 per household) for the middle fifth of households and 16 percent ($2,400 per household) for the bottom fifth (chart and explanation, verbatim, for the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities);




As can be seen from the pie chart below (from a 2010 Economic Policy Institute analysis of CBO average federal tax rates and income), a full 38.7% of the income growth went to the top 1% while only 36.3% went to the bottom 90%.



Thomas Piketty and Emanuel Saez, with 55.6% to the top 1% and only 15.9% to the bottom 90%, in their 2009 analysis found the growth even more unbalanced:



c) Surprise! The result would be, as the pie chart (from G. William Domhoff, who credits for the information economist Edward N. Wolff of New York University in 2010)below indicates, that in 2007 the top 1% held 35% of the net worth, with 43% of the financial wealth, of the nation; for the bottom 80%, the figures were 15% and 7%, respectively. Since that time, the gap between the wealthy and other individuals has widened, with the top 5%, owning 62% of the wealth in 2007, owning 65% in 2009. As of 2010, Politifact confirms, the poorest 60% of U.S. households have a lower total net worth than the Forbes 400.





d) As the graph from Piketty and Saez (from IRS data) indicates, the share of the total of pre-tax income going to the top 1% in 2006 was 20%, the highest since it was 21%, in 1928. You may remember 1928- the year before the Great Depression.






Rubio, calling the debt the "central economic issue of our time," probably figures if the tree falls and no one is around to hear it, it hasn't really fallen. But consider that the current distribution of wealth is not only inequitable and unstable for a society, but that Americans would prefer it otherwise. As the chart from tax reporter David Cay Johnston (for which he credits (Norton & Ariel, 2010) shows, the top 10% holds 84% of all wealth in the U.S.A. Given an opportunity to choose among three (not labeled) charts- the U.S.A.'s actual wealth distribution, the estimated wealth distribution, and that in Sweden, Americans chose the latter. We believe the top 10% should possess 32%, a far cry from 84%, of wealth.




Fortunately, we have only Rubio and his Republicans to blame for this sorry state of affairs. Well, no. In January, President Obama appointed Jeffrey Immelt to his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. Immelt knows about competing from his post as CEO of General Electric, which The New York Times recently noted has

reported worldwide profits of $14.2 billion, and said $5.1 billion of the total came from its operations in the United States.

Its American tax bill? None. In fact, G.E. claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.

That may be hard to fathom for the millions of American business owners and households now preparing their own returns, but low taxes are nothing new for G.E. The company has been cutting the percentage of its American profits paid to the Internal Revenue Service for years, resulting in a far lower rate than at most multinational companies.

Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.


Immelt has been handsomely rewarded, being granted earlier this month a $4 million bonus and $7.4 million in stock awards. And G.E, flush off paying no federal taxes and actually claiming a tax benefit, sees its chief executive officer filling a role which may prove beneficial to his company.

This would be the same President whom some Republicans have found advantageous to intimidate by calling a "socialist." No surprise that the GOP muted its criticism of Obama for having appointed Immelt, nor for placing him on a committee replacing the more progressive Economic Recovery Advisory Board and the inestimable Paul Volcker.

You may not have realized, unlike a President whose focus has turned from the economic slump to the deficit and a Florida Senator obsessed with the debt, that the nation's economy has completely rebounded. But while we limp toward what increasingly looks like a sluggish recovery, the gradual chasm between the very wealthy and the rest of Americans widens.




Budget Maneuvering


ABC News has reported, and Vice President Biden has confirmed, that a budget deal, providing $33 billion in spending cuts from this year's budget, has been reached. This would represent 3% of discretionary spending, less than 1% reduction in spending, and less than 2% of the deficit. The agreement, moreover, is only tentative, because it does not include either a determination as to what policy riders will be attached nor where the decreases will be made.

Tuesday, the Associated Press reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had

challenged Boehner. "Republicans need to decide which is worse: angering their tea party base, or shutting down the government and threatening our fragile economy even more."

Harry seems to mean well but.... could he be any more naive? The GOP never intended to shut down the government. In late October, Politico had reported

House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said a Republican House won’t shut down the government even if Congress and President Barack Obama can’t agree on a budget.
“I don’t think this country is desirous of seeing a government that is shut down,” he told reporters on a conference call. “People want to see a government that does what people expect it to do, which is to limit it in scope and reduce spending,” he said.

“It is my hope that the president lives up to his commitment when he says he’s interested in cutting spending,” he said. “The people expect leadership that will deliver results. People want to see results. They want to get back to work. And hopefully we can work to that end together,” he said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Wednesday Republicans would “not compromise on our principles” with President Obama. But he’s also thrown cold water on the idea of freezing government operations, which happened in 1995 after a Republican Congress couldn’t agree with President Bill Clinton on a budget.

Some Republicans blame the shutdown for Clinton's reelection.


But the notion that Republicans would be chastened by the fear that they would be "threatening our fragile economy even more" is really quite quaint. Late last month we learned

House Republicans’ $61 billion budget-cutting plan would cost 700,000 jobs, according to a report likely to inflame the debate over the U.S. government deficit.

The measure would reduce real economic growth this year by 0.5 percentage points and by 0.2 percentage points next year, resulting in 700,000 fewer jobs by the end of 2012, said Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody’s Analytics. He said budget- cutters should wait until the U.S. economy is stronger, saying Republicans “would be taking an unnecessary chance with the recovery.”


Additionally,

Goldman Sachs said the House budget plan would shave between 1.5 and 2 percentage points off economic growth during the second and third quarters of this year.

Friends don't let friends push reductions in government spending during economic slumps exacerbated by the reluctance of consumers and the private sector to spend money. Some money has to be injected into the system, and government is the third spoke in that trio.

That did not deter the GOP, which will pursue policy objectives with the riders. The AP reported, credibly, "opposition remains strong to GOP attempts to defund or otherwise hamper implementation of the year-old health care law." There is little that Barack Obama will not negotiate away other than his family and his signature accomplishment, health care (or at least the latter). Everything else is on the table as this President avoids at nearly all costs calling the GOP's bluff and incurring the discomfort of defending Democratic values.



Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Support For Tea Party Declines; Rush In Denial


Wednesday, Rush Limbaugh offered a vigorous defense of the "Tea Party," commenting that CNN has found

"47% of all Americans have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party." To me that means a majority has a favorable view, and she goes on to editorialize to why: "Maybe it's because of how a couple Tea Party-backed governors are trying to balance their budgets..." Ahhhh, yes. Well, Ms. Costello and the rest of you, let's just wait 'til November 2012, shall we? You want to find out what the American people are really thinking? There are stories in the stack today: The Tea Party, have they gone away? The Tea Party, have they faded away? Tea Party, did they think it was over in November? The Tea Party hasn't gone anywhere. The Tea Party is out there as passionate as ever; the Tea Party is out there growing. It's almost kinda good that the left might think the Tea Party has peaked and is on its way down.

"47% of all Americans have an unfavorable view of the Tea Party." To me that means a majority has a favorable view. Someone ought to introduce Rush to the concept of undecided or "don't know." In this case, it was 14% with "no opinion" and 7% never heard of 'em. That leaves the 47% with an unfavorable view and 32% with a favorable view of the "Tea Party."

That 32% is what Mr. Limbaugh refers to as a majority. As with so many of Rush's allegations which contrast with objective reality, it is difficult to determine if it is dishonesty or extraordinary ignorance. However, understanding that avoidance of detail is often necessary to maintain a conservative worldview, Limbaugh may never have seen the actual breakdown of attitudes toward the tea party. But it is inconceivable, learning that 47% have an unfavorable view, that he would conclude that a majority have a favorable view. The most generous assumption would be 50% (plus 1) of the respondents with a favorable view, which would leave a mere 3% uncertain. This is nearly inconceivable and the conclusion that Rush Limbaugh lied is virtually unavoidable.

The poll, though, should be of only limited comfort to liberals and/or Democrats. As budget negotiations indicate, the views of the corporate interests behind the various tea party organizations still hold sway in Washington.



Bad Cop, Awful Cop


The Republicans are coming after America's great intergenerational social contract. And except for Mitch McConnell, they're getting a little closer to admitting it. Committing himself while uncommitted, the Senate Minority Leader has said (on what may have been separate occasions)

Something must be done. And now is the time to do it. Republicans are ready and willing. Where is the president? Suddenly, at the moment when we can actually do something about this, he's silent....

I applaud all of the discussions that are going on in the House and the Senate by well-meaning members," McConnell said....But without presidential leadership, nothing will happen. We will not get a result.


Others, though, are at least a little more explicit. Kentucky's Rand Paul, pointing to his awesome political courage, says "Most young people acknowledge that it's broken — it's broken so badly that the only way we fix it and the only way it can continue is we have to look at the eligibility. But so many people have said, 'Oh, we can't talk about entitlement; you'll be unelected; you'll be unelectable if you talk entitlement reform.'" Richard Shelby of Alabama claims "Social Security is now at the tipping point, the first step of a long, slow march to insolvency if we don't do something about it."


Tea party fave Marco Rubio of Florida threatens

I will vote to defeat an increase in the debt limit unless it is the last one we ever authorize and is accompanied by a plan for fundamental tax reform, an overhaul of our regulatory structure, a cut to discretionary spending, a balanced-budget amendment, and reforms to save Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid....

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor admits, incoherently,

50% of beneficiaries under the Social Security program use those moneys as their sole source of income. So we’ve got to protect today’s seniors. But for the rest of us? Listen, we’re going to have to come to grips with the fact that these programs cannot exist if we want America to be what we want America to be.

Oklahoma's Tom Coburn adds

The fact is ... $2.8 trillion was stolen from Social Security," Coburn said. "The money was spent. It's broke. And we're going to have to fund $2.8 trillion over the next 20 years just to make the payments that we've got. I would think most people would think we ought to fix that.

Translation: we conservatives stole from Social Security, a lifeline for poor and middle class elderly Americans, in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. So now we have to cut Social Security. It is, as a Jewish mathematician might put, chutzpah to the nth power. Or, as Hillbilly explains it

Let's say you go to work and your boss picks up a baseball bat, beats one of your fellow employees unconscious and then fires the employee for being unconscious on the job.

Minority Leader McConnell has two powerful allies, one on his right and one on his left. These young (or, in the case of Coburn, not-young) bucks, he can tell President Obama, "are demanding I do something drastic; I'd like to be reasonable, but what can I do?" And the opposition party is doing its best to help him, if the Wall Street Journal can be believed:

The White House and Democratic lawmakers, with less than two weeks left to avoid a government shutdown, are assembling a proposal for roughly $20 billion in additional spending cuts that could soon be offered to Republicans, according to people close to the budget talks.

That would come on top of $10 billion in cuts that Congress has already enacted and would represent a deeper reduction than the Obama administration and Senate Democrats had offered previously in negotiations. But it isn't clear that would be enough to satisfy Republicans, who initially sought $61 billion in spending cuts and face pressure from tea-party activists not to compromise.


Steve Benen, referring to the GOP's original proposal of a $30 billion cut, argues

And yet, here we are in late March, and now Democrats are prepared to accept the exact same number used by Republican leaders, and it seems likely GOP lawmakers still won't think this is good enough. Indeed, rank-and-file Republicans balked at their own leadership's plan when $30 billion in cuts were put on the table, and it stands to reason the caucus won't be any more impressed now that a similar offer is presented by Dems.

But putting aside whether this is likely to work, the lesson I'd like Democrats to take from this is simple: you're not good at negotiating. Republicans approved a ridiculous proposal, pushing the extreme in one direction, knowing that negotiations would ensue. One need not be a game theorist to know those talks would go better if Dems had pushed in the opposite direction.

That way, when the two sides tried to meet "in the middle," that middle would be in a more favorable location.

But, no. The discussion boiled down to one side that wanted to cut a little, and one side that wanted to cut a lot.


Clearly, the GOP would like some of that decrease to be in what they are slick enough to refer to as "entitlements"- Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. Fortunately, an election is approaching and a cut in Social Security or even Medicare may not be tenable. Unfortunately, the numbers point to a Repub takeover of the Senate in 2012/2013 to work with a re-elected Democratic President who urges "tackling entitlements" (and yearns to be "transformative") or, worse yet, a GOP president.





Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wrongheaded Reform In Florida


The Los Angeles Times, part of the mythical liberal media, chose the headline "In Florida, teacher pay now tied to performance." Reporter Leslie Potal's description, however, belies the headline:

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has signed a far-reaching teacher merit-pay bill that will overhaul how teachers across the state will be evaluated and paid.

The law creates an evaluation system that relies heavily on student test score data to judge teacher quality. For new teachers, it also creates a performance-based pay system and ends tenure-like job protections.

Florida's merit-pay push is part of a national effort to improve education by tying teachers' pay to their overall effectiveness.


"Teacher pay now tied to performance" implies, obviously, that a teacher's pay will be tied to his/her performance. It is, though, nothing of the sort. Blogger Susie Madrak explains she once was in sales and

One of the first questions before taking a business development job always was, are my incentives based on things outside my control? I learned early on not to even consider working in a place where my commission was contingent on whether or not the salesperson closed the deal. "If you developed a good lead, the deal should close," one sales manager argued with me. Uh uh. Sales people screw up the close all the time, thus blowing up my commission. So that was a major issue.

But the new evaluation system "relies heavily on student test score data to judge teacher quality." The employee will be held accountable not for his/her performance, but for that of the students. And not even on the students' performance but on test scores.

How did that work out in Washington, D.C.? When Michelle Rhee took over as schools chancellor, she took a special interest in the Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus. She boasted that implementation of her reforms took a school in which in 2006 only 10% of the students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in a standardized math test required by No Child Left Behind to one in which 58% achieved that level two years later. Noyes became one of 264 public schools nationwide honored as a National Blue Ribbon School. But a USA Today investigation has found

In 2007-08, six classrooms out of the eight taking tests at Noyes were flagged by McGraw-Hill because of high wrong-to-right erasure rates. The pattern was repeated in the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when 80% of Noyes classrooms were flagged by McGraw-Hill.

On the 2009 reading test, for example, seventh-graders in one Noyes classroom averaged 12.7 wrong-to-right erasures per student on answer sheets; the average for seventh-graders in all D.C. schools on that test was less than 1. The odds are better for winning the Powerball grand prize than having that many erasures by chance, according to statisticians consulted by USA TODAY.


Investigations of possible cheating thus far have been cursory and nothing has been proven. But it does go to (Donald T.) Campbell's Law:

The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.

Rhee, whose reputation soared with the test scores, apparently understands Campbell's Law well, for she "bestowed more than $1.5 million in bonuses on principals, teachers and support staff on the basis of big jumps in 2007 and 2008 test scores." Three other schools won awards, at which "85% or more of classrooms were identified as having high erasure rates in 2008."

Presumably, teacher performance like that will in the future merit sizeable bonuses from the Department of Education in Florida, which will put on principals (who will pass it on to teachers) inordinate pressure to boost student test scores, somehow. As a former District of Columbia principal asks rhetorically "What do you do when your chancellor asks, 'How many points can you guarantee this year?' How is a principal supposed to do that?"




Monday, March 28, 2011

Teflon Rhee

Fraud (noun):

a: a person who is not what he or she pretends to be (Merriam-Webster);
b: Michelle Rhee (not Merriam-Webster)



When then-District of Columbia Chancellor of Schools Michelle Rhee closed schools and fired teachers, it was inevitable that she would become the toast of Washington for what was widely, euphemistically, touted as "reform." It was nearly as predictable that she would appear on the cover of Time Magazine and on the Oprah Winfrey Show and draw praise from Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

And oh, the Today Show. Bob Somerby caught the propaganda piece of propaganda from NBC correspondent/news host Savannah Guthrie and Jenna Bush Hager (Somerby's critique is well worth the read.):

GUTHRIE (3/17/11): This morning on “Education Nation Today,” saving America's schools.
Michelle Rhee captured headlines as the chancellor of schools in Washington, DC, making sweeping changes and some enemies along the way. Rhee lost her job, but not her passion for education reform. “Today” contributing correspondent Jenna Bush Hager, a teacher herself, caught up with Michelle Rhee recently.

Jenna, good morning!

HAGER: Good morning. That's right. Michelle Rhee is truly a maverick in education reform. She's controversial and a courageous change-maker. And these days, as budget cuts mean teacher layoffs, Rhee is leading the fight for a quality education for every child.
Michelle Rhee may have lost her job, but she gained a mission. She continues her life's passion to fix America's broken schools with a new lobbyist group, Students First.....

HAGER: Rhee's reforms are part of a recent documentary, “Waiting for Superman.” But her firebrand approach also inspired relentless criticism and protests in Washington. (Speaking to Rhee) While you were chancellor, the union and others who protested you, calling you names such as "hatchet lady”- How could you keep a thick skin during all of that?

RHEE: For me, what was going through my mind was, You know what? You can call me whatever names you want, you can yell at me as loud as you want to, under my watch I am not going to continue to allow the absolute dysfunction.


Who is this Michelle Rhee and why does she hold this spell over the nation's movers and shakers? Bob Somerby reports a portion of the profile of Rhee in 2008 by Evan Thomas of Newsweek:

THOMAS (9/1/08): Over the next two years, working with another teacher, she took a group of 70 kids who had been scoring "at almost rock bottom on standardized tests" to "absolutely at the top," she says. (Baltimore does not keep records by classroom, so NEWSWEEK was unable to confirm this assertion.) The key to success was, in her word, "sweat," on the part of the teacher and the students. "I wouldn't say I was a great teacher. I've seen great. I worked hard," says Rhee.

She had an epiphany of sorts. In the demoralized world of inner-city schools, it is easy to become resigned to poor results—and to blame the environment, not the schools themselves. Broken families, crime, drugs, all conspire against academic achievement. But Rhee discovered that teachers could make the critical difference. "It drives me nuts when people say that two thirds of a kid's academic achievement is based on their environment. That is B.S.," says Rhee. She points to her second graders in Baltimore whose scores rose from worst to best. "Those kids, where they lived didn't change. Their parents didn't change. Their diets didn't change. The violence in the community didn't change. The only thing that changed for those 70 kids was the adults who were in front of them every single day teaching them.”


And neither, as it turns out, did their academic achievement change much. The University of Maryland Baltimore County was commissioned by the Baltimore City School System to conduct a study of seven privatized elementary schools, one of which was Harlem Park Elementary, the school at which Rhee taught. On August 2, 1995, the day after the report was released, the Baltimore Sun's Jean Thompson reported of Tesseract, the name given the the schools by their corporate owner:

THOMPSON (8/2/95): Baltimore's privately managed public schools show little difference from comparable city-run schools on test results, attendance, parent involvement—or even cleanliness, an evaluation released yesterday found.

The report, prepared by the Center for Educational Research at University of Maryland Baltimore County, represents the first outside evaluation of the closely watched Education Alternatives Inc. experiment.

While reporting few positive results in achievement, the report said, "Change takes time and there has been an investment in the first three years that can be recouped by continuation."

[…]
In scholarly terms, the study lays out EAI's academic struggle: Only in the past year has the Minnesota-based management firm improved test scores to near the levels recorded at its schools before EAI assumed control in 1991.

Researchers said that with 11.2 percent more money, with new computers and with college-educated interns in its classrooms, the firm's schools don't do significantly better than seven comparable elementary schools run by the city.

"The evaluation team found Tesseract and comparison schools more alike than different," the study says.

It adds, "The promise that EAI could improve instruction without spending more than Baltimore City was spending on schools has been discredited."
Intensely watched nationally as the largest experiment in school privatization so far, the company's "Tesseract" program—the name comes from a children's book about time travel—has spent $106 million in public funds since 1992.


This didn't inspire Rhee to object to the "outstanding success" claimed for her on the website of District of Columbia mayor Fenty nor of the nonprofit, the New Teacher Project, she headed. Nor was she deterred from telling The Washington Times' Harry Jaffe, in yet another adoring profile

The experience I had in Baltimore was I went into one of the poorest, most segregated communities in Baltimore. I taught at a school with 100 percent African-American kids, most all of them on free and reduced lunch. I was in the neighborhood where they later filmed The Wire....

In my second year of teaching, we took them from the bottom to the top on academics, and what I learned from that experience was these kids were getting screwed because people wanted to blame their low achievement levels on the single-parent households and on the poverty in the community. In that two-year period, none of those things changed. Their parents didn’t change.... (only) What we were doing with them in school.


The acclaim kept on coming, though, as Jack Gellum and Marisol Bello report today in USA Today

In just two years, Crosby S. Noyes Education Campus went from a school deemed in need of improvement to a place that the District of Columbia Public Schools called one of its "shining stars."

Standardized test scores improved dramatically. In 2006, only 10% of Noyes' students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in math on the standardized tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Two years later, 58% achieved that level. The school showed similar gains in reading.

Because of the remarkable turnaround, the U.S. Department of Education named the school in northeast Washington a National Blue Ribbon School. Noyes was one of 264 public schools nationwide given that award in 2009.

Michelle Rhee, then chancellor of D.C. schools, took a special interest in Noyes. She touted the school, which now serves preschoolers through eighth-graders, as an example of how the sweeping changes she championed could transform even the lowest-performing Washington schools. Twice in three years, she rewarded Noyes' staff for boosting scores: In 2008 and again in 2010, each teacher won an $8,000 bonus, and the principal won $10,000.


But they note

A closer look at Noyes, however, raises questions about its test scores from 2006 to 2010. Its proficiency rates rose at a much faster rate than the average for D.C. schools. Then, in 2010, when scores dipped for most of the district's elementary schools, Noyes' proficiency rates fell further than average.

A USA TODAY investigation, based on documents and data secured under D.C.'s Freedom of Information Act, found that for the past three school years most of Noyes' classrooms had extraordinarily high numbers of erasures on standardized tests. The consistent pattern was that wrong answers were erased and changed to right ones.


Additionally

Among the 96 schools that were then flagged for wrong-to-right erasures were eight of the 10 campuses where Rhee handed out so-called TEAM awards "to recognize, reward and retain high-performing educators and support staff," as the district's website says. Noyes was one of these.

Rhee didn't erase anything on her own- managers know not to do the dirty work themselves but to put subtle pressure on their subordinates to do what they want done. Rhee was no exception:

From the start, Rhee emphasized a need to raise scores, restore calm to chaotic schools and close those with lagging scores and small enrollments. She paid bonuses to principals and teachers who produced big gains on scores. She let go dozens of principals and fired at least 600 teachers. Others retired or quit.

Turnover was brisk. Richard Whitmire, author of The Bee Eater, a biography of Rhee, reported that Rhee hired 1,918 teachers during her three years in office –– about 45%of those on the payroll last October. Only 2,318 current teachers had been hired before Rhee took charge.

The pressure on principals was unrelenting, says Aona Jefferson, a former D.C. principal who is now president of the Council of School Officers, representing principals and other administrators. Every year, Jefferson says, Rhee met with each principal and asked what kind of test score gains he would post in the coming school year. Jefferson says principals told her that Rhee expected them to increase scores by 10 percentile points or more every year. "What do you do when your chancellor asks, 'How many points can you guarantee this year?' " Jefferson says. "How is a principal supposed to do that?"


But the paeans to Rhee, a star of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," continue unabated. She now heads a new nonprofit, StudentsFirst, and tours the country advising such anti-worker governors as Ohio's Kasich and Florida's Scott.

Eventually, this empty suit will lose steam. But the ideas she pushes, including evaluation of teachers by student test scores and privatization of public education, will find a new spokesperson and the schoolchildren will continue to be the pawns in their political power play.






Saturday, March 26, 2011

So Simple


Sean Hannity on Tuesday discussed President Obama's Libyan policy with a representative duo, Dana Perino and Stuart Varney, of confused conservatism. (It's a good thing he didn't ask Perino about Cuba.) The two guests remarked:

PERINO: Well, let's just say. That the left hand ought to notify the right hand as to what is going on because Secretary Clinton today was quoted saying that she has word that he's trying to leave. President Obama said he has word that he's going to go.

VARNEY: Give me some clarity of vision, please.

PERINO: Well, it is not my responsibility to give them clarity.


The Secretary of State says Khaddafy (or Gaddafi, or whatever) is trying to leave; the President says he's going to leave.

Exactly what clarity of vision is Perino/Varney referring to? There is some distance, admittedly, between "trying to" and "going to;" just as there is between between Brownsville, Texas and Mexico or ideologically between Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty.

Make that a confused trio. Two nights later, host Hannity would remark

How dangerous is this that the Obama doctrine that is emerging at all this is that, well, there's a need for humanitarian assistance. We are going to send our military and we'll going to do it with a coalition. And by the way, they may not be under the command and control of our own president. And we don't have any stated goal going in. What is this mean? Where do we go next, China, Russia, you know, Iran? Where are we going to go if that is the standard that Obama set up?

The only similarity between China or Russia and Iran, Egypt or Libya is that none of the nations boasts an American-style democratic republic. China and Russia are huge countries. They are are major powers which have developed nuclear weapons; Iran would like to. The first two are, respectively, Communist and formerly Communist. Alone among the three, Iran is dominated by Islam. And on and on.

Pretty obvious to most people, but not to Hannity, who evidently believes that intervention in Libya mandates intervention in China, Russia, and Iran. Or perhaps he would like us to believe that he believes that.

Even Yemen, currently undergoing extensive democratic protests, is different than Libya, with a government that is pro-American and approximates an approximation of a democratic republic. If only U.S. policy toward Libya could be replicated in Yemen, Egypt, or Syria- it would be so much simpler. But this is not the world of 1911 (central America), 1941 (Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan) or even 1961 (Soviet Russia), but of numerous terrorist organizations, sometimes cooperating and sometimes competing with each other and with the nation-states presenting their own unique challenges.

This does not make the Obama Administration's response toward Libya, Egypt, Afghanistan, Iraq, or mainland China the right (or wrong) one. But the world is not allowing us the luxury of implementing a "one size fits all" approach. At least President Obama's policy, which defies easy categorization as a "Doctrine," reflects an understanding that the globe has changed since the one Sean Hannity wishes still existed.




Austerity Repackaged


Leave it to a Fox News analyst Stuart Varney (video, from Crooks and Liars, below) to say with words and facial expression what so many Republican politicians would state but for fear of political repercussion.

With Governor Snyder's signature Michigan, with an unemployment rate well above the national average, will become, according to Fox News' Megyn Kelly in the piece with Varney, one of the first states since the 1950s to offer state-paid unemployment benefits for fewer than 26 weeks. In this portion of the transcript, Varney cites the motive of austerity:

Michigan is going to twenty weeks and I gotta tell you, Florida is considering moving it down to twelve weeks. That would be a big crack in the established standard. It's all a response to the fact that you can't afford it. These state funded .. in that state, all of them have run out of money.

But successfully summoning considerable courage, Varney responds another question from Kelly by happily declaring

This is austerity. This is in cuts and services and benefits across the board. It's happening in state after state after state. Austerity is beginning to hit home now. The real story is how will the voters respond to this? We don't know this, but austerity is here. It bites, it hurts and it's happening now.



It bites, it hurts and it's happening now. Exclaiming with a genuine and unmistakable smile, Varney is free to exult what politicos cannot. The company line (GOP, Blue Dog Democrats, mainstream media)- that gee, we wish we didn't have to do it, but we're just so doggone broke- makes little more sense. Paul Krugman explained this week

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we’re constantly told that if we don’t slash spending immediately we’ll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we’re told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

How’s that story working out so far?

Self-styled deficit hawks have been crying wolf over U.S. interest rates more or less continuously since the financial crisis began to ease, taking every uptick in rates as a sign that markets were turning on America. But the truth is that rates have fluctuated, not with debt fears, but with rising and falling hope for economic recovery. And with full recovery still seeming very distant, rates are lower now than they were two years ago.

But couldn’t America still end up like Greece? Yes, of course. If investors decide that we’re a banana republic whose politicians can’t or won’t come to grips with long-term problems, they will indeed stop buying our debt. But that’s not a prospect that hinges, one way or another, on whether we punish ourselves with short-run spending cuts.

Just ask the Irish, whose government — having taken on an unsustainable debt burden by trying to bail out runaway banks — tried to reassure markets by imposing savage austerity measures on ordinary citizens. The same people urging spending cuts on America cheered. “Ireland offers an admirable lesson in fiscal responsibility,” declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, who said that the spending cuts had removed fears over Irish solvency and predicted rapid economic recovery.
That was in June 2009. Since then, the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland’s unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent.

And then there’s the British experience. Like America, Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government’s pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.
But she hasn’t: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.


It's not working in Ireland, it's not working in Great Britain, and there never has been much reason to believe it would work in the U.S.A. And in the federal government and in most states- as in Michigan, where the tax on large businesses has been cut- it has little to do with austerity. But the line "it's going to be painful but you deserve it" would have been, in conservative nomenclature, so politically incorrect.










Friday, March 25, 2011

Fast And Loose On Libya


There is educated uncertainty, and there is opinionated ignorance.

The first is exemplified by Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor to former President Carter, who on Thursday on Morning Joe expressed legitimate ambivalence:

But I have to tell you frankly . . . I cannot think of another instance in recent times in which I myself was so uncertain in thinking about the problem, about how we should act. Because there are so many downsides and so many uncertainties.

“But in the end, I concluded that, if we didn’t act it would be worse,” Brzezinski said, adding that he has some misgivings about the way it is being handled.


With Rush Limbaugh, it started out much the same. On Friday, the 18th, suggesting a parallel between the situations in Egypt and Libya, he observed

What if it is the Muslim Brotherhood? What if it is a bunch of people trying to overthrow so-called peaceful to the United States regimes and establish this so-called caliphate? I don't know. It's tricky. It's really tricky. And when you have people in a regime like ours that just knee-jerk react in support of any minority simply because they're a minority that can be scary.

Sure, Rush's racial animosity was in play. No one has suggested that only a minority of the Egyptian population opposed President Hosni Mubarak but Limbaugh couldn't resist the temptation to identify President Obama with minorities. If racial pimping weren't such a lucrative enterprise for Rush, one would almost think it second nature.

But after the rightist had conceded that the situation in North Africa has been "tricky," he went downhill from there, displaying all the slimy instincts we've come to expect of him. Echoing the least sophisticated objections of the left to U.S. military action, on Tuesday the 22nd (a guest host sat in on Monday) Limbaugh bellowed

But no, we're in Libya. You talk about protecting innocence civilians, how about Zimbabwe and Mugabe? Or North Korea, for crying out loud? If we're looking at where civilians are mistreated and we want to go places to protect them, there are a lot of places that have more of them than in Libya.

Because, presumably, we must implement the same policy in every country in a region because circumstances are identical everywhere. Compound thoughlessness, add false equivalence mixed with a dark view of America, and you have Limbaugh immediately adding

For that matter, folks, we have more innocent civilians under attack in Arizona than are under attack in Libya. And Barack Hussein Obama has been talked into going into Libya by three women while filing suit against another woman, the governor of Arizona." Thoughtless and cruel, comparing thousands of deaths by oppressed people living under a despot to the residents of one of the United States of America.

On Wednesday, Limbaugh's ever-present loathing of poor people re-emerged as he (yet again) equated Barack Obama's foreign policy with a volunteer-driven anti-hunger program: "the old human rights of Jimmy Carter resurfacing here. Meals on Wheels!" A bombing campaign and Meals on Wheels: a perfect parallel.

But he wouldn't be done until he could attack Barack Obama's manhood simultaneously with a sexist slap at women:

This is what happened. She doesn't like that the template for the story is that it was the women who nagged him to attack Libya until he gave in, or only the women of Obamaland have any gonads. "Um, hello: Hillary Clinton pushed for intervention in Libya not because she's female, but because, cautious as she may be, she also is among the more historically hawkish members of the administration." It had nothing to do with the fact that she's female. It's just that she's a hawk. How about the fact that her president wasn't doing anything? How about the fact that there was dithering going on here? Again, as somebody here who's disengaged. This isn't what he signed up for. He signed up for getting even with the United States. He signed up with reordering and transforming the US. He signed up take us down. He didn't sign up to make us act like a superpower. He didn't sign up for this. He didn't sign up for this kind of distraction. So the babes had to get in gear.

Reluctant to be typecast as merely racist, sexist, or hostile to struggling Americans, on Thursday Rush decided

You know, Democrat presidents don't like using the US military. If the truth be known, liberals actually are happier when the US military loses. Liberals don't want military success. They don't think the world should be shaped that way. Of course, ours is a world governed by the aggressive use of force. Liberals hate that. To them, this is a world governed by the aggressive use of speeches. You know, all the speeches in the world didn't stop Khadafy from deciding he wanted to become illegitimate.

President Obama has joined the NATO offensive against the Libyan government and has been attacked relentlessly by Rush Limbaugh. Nevertheless, unable, unwilling, or lacking a coherent argument to criticize this decision, Rush declares "liberals don't like using the military" (or) "military success" (and believe) "this is a world governed by the aggressive use of speeches." Let's go over this again: President Obama commits air power against the Khadafy regime and has not yet given an address extensively explaining his rationale and objectives. Rush Limbaugh suggests Obama doesn't like using the military, wants the military to fail, and thinks he can overturn regimes with speeches. And no one in the traditional media asks the Republican leader: what in creation are you talking about?

The brilliance in Rush Limbaugh's approach, however, is not limited to his success at avoiding scrutiny by the mainstream media. It is that (on an issue on which conservatives, like liberals, are divided) he has ridiculed President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton incessantly- and done so without once revealing whether he supports American military action in Libya. Doing so while maintaining the allegiance of his audience and credibility from the traditional media is a triumph of epic proportion.



Thursday, March 24, 2011

When You Lie With Dogs


Media Matters reports sometime in the spring of 2009 Schaeffer Cox founded the pro-gun rights Second Amendment Task Force and wrote a "Letter of Declaration" which read

Let it be known that we, the people of Alaska, stand in recognition of the true principle that whenever a government abandons the purpose for which we have created it and even becomes hostile towards that which it was once a defender of, it is no longer a fit steward of the political power that is inherent in the people and lent to this government with strict conditions. These conditions are clearly defined in the United States Constitution and understood by the common man.

Furthermore, to the extent that our government violates these conditions, they nullify their own authority, at which point it is our right and duty, not as subjects but as sovereign Americans, to entrust this power to new stewards who will not depart from the laws we have given them.

This being the case, let it be known that should our government seek to further tax, restrict or register firearms or otherwise impose on the right that shall not be infringed, thus impairing our ability to exercise the God-given right to self-defense which precedes all human legislation and is superior to it, that the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to us shall seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness.

The following day, the group met at a Denny's restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska and in June a video (below) of the event, which Cox claims was attended by 150 people, appeared online. It includes footage of Alaska's sole U.S. Representative, Don Young, signing the Declaration, which Young communications director Meredith Kenney states actually occurred at an open-carry rally held that spring in Fairbanks. (The video shows footage of Young and Cox standing alongside each other, apparently at a restaurant.)

Kenny maintained Young he has always been a vocal and staunch defender of the Second Amendment, though she apparently did not explain why her boss believes "the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government" if Washington enacts gun control legislation.

A member of Congress advocates overthrowing the United States government if it implements policies he disagrees with. As Digby has said in other contexts, "what could possibly go wrong?"

Glad you asked. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has reported that on March 16

Schaeffer Cox was contacted by officers while monitoring the scene of a police search at an Eighth Avenue house at about 8 p.m. The 26-year-old carpenter and business owner is part of a “Liberty Bell” network that sends out mass notifications when someone believes their rights are being violated. The owner of the home had contacted him to complain that police were making an unauthorized search of her property.

While Cox was standing outside the home taking notes, police say he failed to tell them he was carrying a concealed .38-caliber pistol. He was arrested on a charge of fifth-degree weapons misconduct, a misdemeanor.

Sgt. Gary Yamamoto said Alaska statute requires that people immediately tell law enforcement officials about the presence of a concealed weapon after being contacted.

“We want everyone to be safe when we’re dealing with people,” he said.

It’s the second arrest this month for Cox, who was charged with felony assault on March 2, a week after Alaska State Troopers accused him of choking his wife during a trip to Anchorage. Cox, who didn’t have a previous criminal record, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment on March 5 and received a suspended sentence.

Don Young and Schaeffer Cox, two would-be recruits in Sharron Angle's Second Amendment Remedies Militia.







When You Lie With Dogs


Media Matters reports sometime in the spring of 2009 Schaeffer Cox founded the pro-gun rights Second Amendment Task Force and wrote a "Letter of Declaration" which read

Let it be known that we, the people of Alaska, stand in recognition of the true principle that whenever a government abandons the purpose for which we have created it and even becomes hostile towards that which it was once a defender of, it is no longer a fit steward of the political power that is inherent in the people and lent to this government with strict conditions. These conditions are clearly defined in the United States Constitution and understood by the common man.

Furthermore, to the extent that our government violates these conditions, they nullify their own authority, at which point it is our right and duty, not as subjects but as sovereign Americans, to entrust this power to new stewards who will not depart from the laws we have given them.

This being the case, let it be known that should our government seek to further tax, restrict or register firearms or otherwise impose on the right that shall not be infringed, thus impairing our ability to exercise the God-given right to self-defense which precedes all human legislation and is superior to it, that the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to us shall seem most likely to effect our safety and happiness.

The following day, the group met at a Denny's restaurant in Fairbanks, Alaska and in June a video (below) of the event, which Cox claims was attended by 150 people, appeared online. It includes footage of Alaska's sole U.S. Representative, Don Young, signing the Declaration, which Young communications director Meredith Kenney states actually occurred at an open-carry rally held that spring in Fairbanks. (The video shows footage of Young and Cox standing alongside each other, apparently at a restaurant.)

Kenny maintained Young he has always been a vocal and staunch defender of the Second Amendment, though she apparently did not explain why her boss believes "the duty of us good and faithful people will not be to obey them but to alter or abolish them and institute new government" if Washington enacts gun control legislation.

A member of Congress advocates overthrowing the United States government if it implements policies he disagrees with. As Digby has said in other contexts, "what could possibly go wrong?"

Glad you asked. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner has reported that on March 16

Schaeffer Cox was contacted by officers while monitoring the scene of a police search at an Eighth Avenue house at about 8 p.m. The 26-year-old carpenter and business owner is part of a “Liberty Bell” network that sends out mass notifications when someone believes their rights are being violated. The owner of the home had contacted him to complain that police were making an unauthorized search of her property.

While Cox was standing outside the home taking notes, police say he failed to tell them he was carrying a concealed .38-caliber pistol. He was arrested on a charge of fifth-degree weapons misconduct, a misdemeanor.

Sgt. Gary Yamamoto said Alaska statute requires that people immediately tell law enforcement officials about the presence of a concealed weapon after being contacted.

“We want everyone to be safe when we’re dealing with people,” he said.

It’s the second arrest this month for Cox, who was charged with felony assault on March 2, a week after Alaska State Troopers accused him of choking his wife during a trip to Anchorage. Cox, who didn’t have a previous criminal record, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor reckless endangerment on March 5 and received a suspended sentence.

Don Young and Schaeffer Cox, two would-be recruits in Sharron Angle's Second Amendment Remedies Militia.







Patronizing Women


The creativity of the anti-abortion rights movement is being stretched with restrictive bills promoted in Idaho, Kansas, Alabama, and Ohio.

A common theme, meanwhile, runs through anti-choice proposals in three other states, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Arizona. In Michigan, House Bill 4433 (text, in PDF, here), paternalisticly claiming for the state "an interest in protecting women" (in protecting women, not citizens or the public), mandates "performance of a diagnostic ultrasound examination of the fetus at least two hours before an abortion is performed." Oklahoma has enacted a law which, as in Michigan, mandates the doctor to present the ultrasound and the pregnant woman "to listen to a detailed description of the fetus within an hour of the procedure," even if the abortion resulted from rape or incest.

Arizona, home to the Private Prison Operators Employment Act, would not be upstaged. The East Valley Tribune reports

State senators voted to make race- and gender-based abortions illegal, but not before adding provisions which could send doctors and others involved in these acts to prison.

Monday's 21-5 vote came amid charges and counter-charges about whether girls and blacks are being targeted in the womb. Lawmakers from each side cited figures designed to back their contentions.

The only clear thing is that the bill, which already has been approved in similar fashion by the House, is likely headed to the governor's desk, possibly by the end of the month. And Jan Brewer has signed every measure restricting abortion that has been sent to her.

HB 2443 does more than make criminals out of doctors who terminate a pregnancy knowing the woman's reason is to select the race or gender of the child. It also imposes criminal penalties on anyone who solicits or accepts funds to finance abortions based on race or sex.

Violators would face a presumptive prison term of 3.5 years.

That latter provision is aimed at Planned Parenthood.


Well, of course it is, because there is no better way to reduce abortions than to reduce access to birth control information, as well as to other health services for women. Manipulating statistics of blacks obtaining abortions, Republican State Senator Dan Shooter (thankfully, not from Tucson) contended "No one should be subjected to abortion because they're the wrong sex or race." Women and minorities, apparently, are unable to make their own decisions.

The actions in Michigan, Oklahoma, and Arizona have one thing in common: that paternalistic attitude toward women, the notion that they cannot make decisions themselves. The subtext is, as Dahlia Lithwick described in Supreme Court Justice Kennedy's reasoning in Gonzales v. Carhart (2007), that "if pregnant women only knew how abhorrent the procedure was, they'd always opt to avoid it."

But in Arizona at least, another factor is at play. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker exempted police and firefighters from his anti-middle class union legislation at least in part because he recognized that cracking down on the people who fight crime and fires is highly politically incorrect. In the same vein, clamping down on women who have abortions, charging them for first-degree murder for soliciting the destruction of their baby, just wouldn't fly. It would be even more politically incorrect as the right, which loves denigrating the phrase itself (often ridiculing it as "p.c."), undoubtedly understands. Conservatives (as well as liberals) would find odious placing on trial for a capital offense pregnant women, whom they care so, so very much about. Instead, they hew to the paternalistic approach, refusing to hold "the fair sex" to the value they often extol: responsibility for one's own action.

Anti-abortion rights activists, justifiably fearing a precipitous drop in support for their cause if they dropped their intellectual inconsistency, are loath to face this contradiction. Ban abortion- or threaten to prosecute the professionals who perform it- because it is killing, thereby rendering it murder. Then exempt from prosecution the individual who seeks, pays for, and agrees to participate in, that murder. Cynicism would suggest that, on some level, the opponents of abortion are not convinced abortion is the taking of life. But if Occam's Law/Law of Parsimony applies, it likely is something more simple: cowardice.





Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Not Necessary


Citing a disturbing analysis by the Congressional Budget Office concluding that now through 2021 national debt will never fall below 4% of gross domestic product, The New Republic's William Galston finds

Whatever one may think about the size, timing, and appropriateness of short-term budget cuts, the CBO report adds precision to the common view that our long-term fiscal course is unsustainable.

Galston, understandably, laments the stance of the public revealed in the latest Pew Research survey, in which "lowering domestic spending" is favored by more than 2 to 1- while pluralites oppose cuts in defense/military spending (narrowly), changes to Social Security/Medicare (overwhelmingly), and raising taxes (slightly more overwhelmingly). Galston argues "the only way to change these public attitudes is to level with the people about our fiscal situation and educate them about the true choices we face." Echoing the sentiments of 62 U.S. Senators, he contends "this task is essential and long overdue," disturbed that it appears "former professor Obama isn’t willing to take the lead."

Don't be. This is a sucker's bet. We've all been through this before. The GOP increases spending while reducing income taxes (why not? no one has to pay for it!) during a Repub presidency, expecting a Democratic president to do the responsible thing, talk about our children's future, and decide to cut the deficit.

That can, of course, be done in either of two ways: reduce spending or increase taxes. Given that any suggestion that an income tax increase, even- nay, especially- on the wealthy prompts innumerable Republicans to stomp their feet, throw a temper tantrum, and swear to Grover Norquist they never, ever will vote for a tax increase, there is only one option available. And given that a Democratic president knows that if he cuts defense spending, he'll be accused of all manner of endangering the American republic, aiding the enemy, and possibly violating the Constitution, we know where the ax is expected to fall.

Taxes are down with and, the CBO has reported, in January 2011 “revenues would be just under 15 percent of GDP; levels that low have not been seen since 1950." (The average for the past 40 years has been 18%.) Corporate tax revenues, as the graph below, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities indicates, are at near historically low levels. And the highest marginal tax rates are significantly lower than during most of the 1990s, during the longest period of sustained economic growth in U.S. history.




























And as the graph below indicates, tax rates for the wealthy have dropped more than for the middle class while incomes have stagnated for the middle class, which has declined in numbers and importance.


























So Barack Obama, as only a Democratic President would, is urged to be the adult in the room, to explain to the American people the long-term (by far the greater) danger of increasing debt. Meanwhile, Representative Dave Camp of Michigan- seriously- has proposed to cut the top corporate and income tax rate from 35% to 25%. No, really. No need to mention his party affiliation- only Democrats are expected to be responsible.

Please, no more teachable moments for President Obama, or any more opportunities for him to push "winning the future." Support for sound policy, including this legislative proposal from U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, would be far more helpful.





Not Necessary


Citing a disturbing analysis by the Congressional Budget Office concluding that now through 2021 national debt will never fall below 4% of gross domestic product, The New Republic's William Galston finds

Whatever one may think about the size, timing, and appropriateness of short-term budget cuts, the CBO report adds precision to the common view that our long-term fiscal course is unsustainable.

Galston, understandably, laments the stance of the public revealed in the latest Pew Research survey, in which "lowering domestic spending" is favored by more than 2 to 1- while pluralites oppose cuts in defense/military spending (narrowly), changes to Social Security/Medicare (overwhelmingly), and raising taxes (slightly more overwhelmingly). Galston argues "the only way to change these public attitudes is to level with the people about our fiscal situation and educate them about the true choices we face." Echoing the sentiments of 62 U.S. Senators, he contends "this task is essential and long overdue," disturbed that it appears "former professor Obama isn’t willing to take the lead."

Don't be. This is a sucker's bet. We've all been through this before. The GOP increases spending while reducing income taxes (why not? no one has to pay for it!) during a Repub presidency, expecting a Democratic president to do the responsible thing, talk about our children's future, and decide to cut the deficit.

That can, of course, be done in either of two ways: reduce spending or increase taxes. Given that any suggestion that an income tax increase, even- nay, especially- on the wealthy prompts innumerable Republicans to stomp their feet, throw a temper tantrum, and swear to Grover Norquist they never, ever will vote for a tax increase, there is only one option available. And given that a Democratic president knows that if he cuts defense spending, he'll be accused of all manner of endangering the American republic, aiding the enemy, and possibly violating the Constitution, we know where the ax is expected to fall.

Taxes are down with and, the CBO has reported, in January 2011 “revenues would be just under 15 percent of GDP; levels that low have not been seen since 1950." (The average for the past 40 years has been 18%.) Corporate tax revenues, as the graph below, from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities indicates, are at near historically low levels. And the highest marginal tax rates are significantly lower than during the 1990s, during the longest period of sustained economic growth in U.S. history.




























And as the graph below indicates, tax rates for the wealthy have dropped more than for the middle class while incomes have stagnated for the middle class, which has declined in numbers and importance.


























So Barack Obama, as only a Democratic President would, is urged to be the adult in the room, to explain to the American people the long-term (by far the greater) danger of increasing debt. Meanwhile, Representative Dave Camp of Michigan- seriously- has proposed to cut the top corporate and income tax rate from 35% to 25%. No, really. No need to mention his party affiliation- only Democrats are expected to be responsible.

Please, no more teachable moments for President Obama, or any more opportunities for him to push "winning the future." Support for sound policy, including this legislative proposal from U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky, would be far more helpful.





Sunday, March 20, 2011

Serious, Unserious, Or Whatever


John Dickerson isn't serious.

However, such criticism wouldn't be taken as an insult by the columnist for Slate, who on March 18 wrote

Washington is obsessed with measuring seriousness. President Obama's televised discussion of his NCAA bracket proved he isn't a serious leader. House conservatives said GOP leaders weren't serious enough about cutting the deficit. Senate Republicans leveled that charge against their Democratic counterparts.

This call for seriousness is often itself not a serious charge. What most of the criticisms actually mean is "My opponent doesn't believe something I'd like him to."


So true, so true, and in support of his thesis, Dickerson invokes unnamed campaign managers for Repub presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Haley Barbour, each of whom has told him that his/her candidate embodies the seriousness the American people are looking for.

But then Dickerson derails, speaking in far more positive terms of the man designated by the media as The Most Serious Man In Washington:

That's the test that House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan uses. He worries that the focus of Tea Party activists and many House freshmen on immediate spending reductions obscures that test. "They literally think you can just balance" the budget by cutting "waste, fraud and abuse, foreign, aid and NPR," he said in an interview last week with the Associated Press. "And it doesn't work like that."

Ryan is about to take a huge gamble on seriousness.


Ryan, you see, doesn't claim seriousness; he takes a gamble on it, walking the walk rather than talking the talk.

Except he doesn't. Paul Krugman last August unmasked Ryan's fraudulent Roadmap for America's Future, finding

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has, however, stepped into the breach. Its numbers indicate that the Ryan plan would reduce revenue by almost $4 trillion over the next decade. If you add these revenue losses to the numbers The Post cites, you get a much larger deficit in 2020, roughly $1.3 trillion.

And that’s about the same as the budget office’s estimate of the 2020 deficit under the Obama administration’s plans. That is, Mr. Ryan may speak about the deficit in apocalyptic terms, but even if you believe that his proposed spending cuts are feasible — which you shouldn’t — the Roadmap wouldn’t reduce the deficit. All it would do is cut benefits for the middle class while slashing taxes on the rich.

And I do mean slash. The Tax Policy Center finds that the Ryan plan would cut taxes on the richest 1 percent of the population in half, giving them 117 percent of the plan’s total tax cuts. That’s not a misprint. Even as it slashed taxes at the top, the plan would raise taxes for 95 percent of the population.
Finally, let’s talk about those spending cuts. In its first decade, most of the alleged savings in the Ryan plan come from assuming zero dollar growth in domestic discretionary spending, which includes everything from energy policy to education to the court system. This would amount to a 25 percent cut once you adjust for inflation and population growth. How would such a severe cut be achieved? What specific programs would be slashed? Mr. Ryan doesn’t say.

After 2020, the main alleged saving would come from sharp cuts in Medicare, achieved by dismantling Medicare as we know it, and instead giving seniors vouchers and telling them to buy their own insurance. Does this sound familiar? It should. It’s the same plan Newt Gingrich tried to sell in 1995.

And we already know, from experience with the Medicare Advantage program, that a voucher system would have higher, not lower, costs than our current system. The only way the Ryan plan could save money would be by making those vouchers too small to pay for adequate coverage. Wealthy older Americans would be able to supplement their vouchers, and get the care they need; everyone else would be out in the cold.


Today, Krugman writes that The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, the Comeback America Initiative and the Concord Coalition (leading advocates of Seriousness) last Wednesday gave to Ryan its "FI$CY" because (or perhaps) because his

contribution to reducing the deficit is that he, well, talks a lot about the need to reduce the deficit; never mind that his actual proposals are a mixture of magic asterisks and concrete actions that would actually make the deficit bigger.

Dickerson's motive, though, is not to elevate Ryan to the level of Seriousness without burdening him with the label. He contends

When a candidate has no easy way to overcome an obstacle to his campaign, he will seek to diminish it by pointing to something else. This is a time-honored technique, though its most notable recent use has been by Democratic presidential candidates in 2000 and 2004. Both Al Gore's and John Kerry's campaigns argued that Americans would overlook their shortcomings because they wanted a "serious" candidate.

Taking pot shots at Al Gore apparently has not completely ceased. It has been a popular media parlor game the past dozen years as Bob Somerby (who, helpfully, periodically returns to this subject) summarized for us on 12/3/02:

Many familiar spin-points in Campaign 2000 came straight from the RNC. The points were then bruited all over the press. This conduct is especially strange, of course, when the spin-points are totally bogus.

The fancy hotel? It came to you came straight from the RNC. To revisit the press corps’ gong-show performance, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/8/02 and 8/9/02.

Gore really brought us Willie Horton? Utterly, grindingly, howlingly false—and brought to you straight from the RNC. The point was recited all over the press. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 11/1/02 and 11/4/02.

First Love Story, now Love Canal? Bonus points for a Lou Dobbs moment!! Ceci Connolly seems to have cut-and-pasted this bit of spin straight from an RNC press release. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 8/2/02.

And how about that “farm chores” hoax? That began at the RNC, too. Gore was trashed as a liar for months—although the Washington press corps was full of reporters who knew that his statement was perfectly accurate. For some strange reason, nobody spoke. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/29/99, 6/30/99, and 8/30/99. By the way, the RNC even faxed out a doctored quote in order to sell its “farm chores” twaddle. No one in the press corps tattled. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/26/00.

Slamming the guy who presciently supported Gulf War I, opposed Gulf War II, and warned us about environmental degradation before it was fashionable, while it was fashionable, and since it has gone out of fashion, is fair game, though unjustified. It is curious, though, Dickerson follows his criticism of the prior two Democratic presidential nominees by concluding, far more generously,

This theory also requires that people see President Obama as unserious. Cool, detached, and cerebral, maybe. But one ill-timed televised discussion of his NCAA bracket isn't likely to make voters take seriously the idea that he's not, well, serious.

Barack Obama is thoughtful, cerebral, and serious. But Dickerson's defense of Obama in light of his knock on Gore (and Kerry) bears a similarity to the treatment of one of those Democrats by Chris Matthews, of whom Somerby recently noted

For two solid years, when Welch was the boss, he was savage and profoundly dishonest in his attacks against Candidate Gore.

As you may recall, Candidate Gore (“a man-like object”) didn’t “have his gender straight.” Matthews was endlessly troubled by “this protean new person, this new man-woman, whatever the hell he’s trying to become.” The most remarkable insults rained down for two years, and then well beyond. (Weeks after 9/11: “He doesn’t look like one of us,” Matthews told Don Imus. “He doesn’t seem very American, even.”)


Now Matthews is, fortuitously, himself far more generous toward a fellow who, some say, "doesn't look like one of us" and whom many Republicans believe "doesn't seem very American, even." Somerby notes "today, of course, Matthews hates all that talk about people who don’t seem very American—as he always should have."

Perhaps for John Dickerson, too, it all comes down to being, and having, "cool." Paul Ryan, in his own wonkish (albeit superficial) way, may have it, as does Barack Obama. Unfortunately, the last two Democratic presidential nominees weren't, and didn't, and for Dickerson and some of his colleagues, that has made all the difference.



Played For Fools

Early on Tuesday the Boston Globe's Annie Linskey revealed that the President's staff has become so adept at replicati...