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“Who Wants A Depression?”: The Rich Believe That What’s Good For Them Is Good For America

One unhappy lesson we’ve learned in recent years is that economics is a far more political subject than we liked to imagine. Well, duh, you may say. But, before the financial crisis, many economists — even, to some extent, yours truly — believed that there was a fairly broad professional consensus on some important issues.

This was especially true of monetary policy. It’s not that many years since the administration of George W. Bush declared that one lesson from the 2001 recession and the recovery that followed was that “aggressive monetary policy can make a recession shorter and milder.” Surely, then, we’d have a bipartisan consensus in favor of even more aggressive monetary policy to fight the far worse slump of 2007 to 2009. Right?

Well, no. I’ve written a number of times about the phenomenon of “sadomonetarism,” the constant demand that the Federal Reserve and other central banks stop trying to boost employment and raise interest rates instead, regardless of circumstances. I’ve suggested that the persistence of this phenomenon has a lot to do with ideology, which, in turn, has a lot to do with class interests. And I still think that’s true.

But I now think that class interests also operate through a cruder, more direct channel. Quite simply, easy-money policies, while they may help the economy as a whole, are directly detrimental to people who get a lot of their income from bonds and other interest-paying assets — and this mainly means the very wealthy, in particular the top 0.01 percent.

The story so far: For more than five years, the Fed has faced harsh criticism from a coalition of economists, pundits, politicians and financial-industry moguls warning that it is “debasing the dollar” and setting the stage for runaway inflation. You might have thought that the continuing failure of the predicted inflation to materialize would cause at least a few second thoughts, but you’d be wrong. Some of the critics have come up with new rationales for unchanging policy demands — it’s about inflation! no, it’s about financial stability! — but most have simply continued to repeat the same warnings.

Who are these always-wrong, never-in-doubt critics? With no exceptions I can think of, they come from the right side of the political spectrum. But why should right-wing sentiments go hand in hand with inflation paranoia? One answer is that using monetary policy to fight slumps is a form of government activism. And conservatives don’t want to legitimize the notion that government action can ever have positive effects, because once you start down that path you might end up endorsing things like government-guaranteed health insurance.

But there’s also a much more direct reason for those defending the interests of the wealthy to complain about easy money: The wealthy derive an important part of their income from interest on bonds, and low-rate policies have greatly reduced this income.

Complaints about low interest rates are usually framed in terms of the harm being done to retired Americans living on the interest from their CDs. But the interest receipts of older Americans go mainly to a small and relatively affluent minority. In 2012, the average older American with interest income received more than $3,000, but half the group received $255 or less. The really big losers from low interest rates are the truly wealthy — not even the 1 percent, but the 0.1 percent or even the 0.01 percent. Back in 2007, before the slump, the average member of the 0.01 percent received $3 million (in 2012 dollars) in interest. By 2011, that had fallen to $1.3 million — a loss equivalent to almost 9 percent of the group’s 2007 income.

That’s a lot, and it surely explains a lot of the hysteria over Fed policy. The rich are even more likely than most people to believe that what’s good for them is good for America — and their wealth and the influence it buys ensure that there are always plenty of supposed experts eager to find justifications for this attitude. Hence sadomonetarism.

Which brings me back to the politicization of economics.

Before the financial crisis, many central bankers and economists were, it’s now clear, living in a fantasy world, imagining themselves to be technocrats insulated from the political fray. After all, their job was to steer the economy between the shoals of inflation and depression, and who could object to that?

It turns out, however, that using monetary policy to fight depression, while in the interest of the vast majority of Americans, isn’t in the interest of a small, wealthy minority. And, as a result, monetary policy is as bound up in class and ideological conflict as tax policy.

The truth is that in a society as unequal and polarized as ours has become, almost everything is political. Get used to it.


By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 10, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Economic Recovery, Economy, Monetary Policy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The Hill On Which He’ll Die”: John Boehner’s Lawsuit Is A Political Dud

On Thursday evening, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) finally revealed the details of his long-awaited plan to sue President Barack Obama, and they come as something of a surprise. In essence, the Speaker is asking the House to sue the president for not implementing Obamacare quickly enough.

“Today we’re releasing a draft resolution that will authorize the House to file suit over the way President Obama unilaterally changed the employer mandate,” Boehner said in a statement. “In 2013, the president changed the health care law without a vote of Congress, effectively creating his own law by literally waiving the employer mandate and the penalties for failing to comply with it. That’s not the way our system of government was designed to work. No president should have the power to make laws on his or her own.”

Legally, Boehner’s plan is on shaky ground. While the House has never institutionally sued a president for not enforcing the law, several individual members of Congress have tried, and almost all of their cases were dismissed for lack of standing. Even if a court agrees to hear the case, it’s not at all clear that President Obama broke the law by delaying the implementation of the employer mandate, giving employers with more than 50 full-time employees an extra year to offer their workers health insurance. And even if the House wins its suit, its prize would likely be the immediate implementation of a policy which Republicans claim to hate.

Politically, Boehner’s plan seems destined to fall flat. It promises to undermine Republicans’ own talking points, while potentially pushing the far right even further towards open revolt against his authority.

When Speaker Boehner announced his intention to sue the president, he laid out a broad range of areas in which President Obama had supposedly acted illegally.

“On one matter after another during his presidency, President Obama has circumvented the Congress through executive action, creating his own laws and excusing himself from executing statutes he is sworn to enforce – at times even boasting about his willingness to do it, as if daring the America people to stop him,” Boehner wrote. “On matters ranging from health care and energy to foreign policy and education, President Obama has repeatedly run an end-around on the American people and their elected legislators, straining the boundaries of the solemn oath he took on Inauguration Day.”

But when it came time to pick an executive action for the lawsuit, he settled on one that Republicans themselves supported. House Republicans wanted to delay the employer mandate, and they voted to do so in July 2013. And when President Obama delayed it unilaterally, Republicans didn’t complain that he abused his power. Instead, they urged him to do it again.

“Is it fair for the president of the United States to give American businesses an exemption from his health care law’s mandate without giving the same exemption to the rest of America? Hell no, it’s not fair,” Boehner said at the time. “We should be thinking about giving the rest of America the same exemption that Obama last week gave businesses.”

Now House Republicans must explain why, one year ago, they were encouraging the president to “run an end-around” on them.

They also must explain what happened to all of the other examples of President Obama’s iron-fisted tyranny. As The New Republic’s Brian Beutler points out, Republicans — led by Boehner — have literally spent years accusing President Obama of recklessly breaking the law when it suits his needs. The fact that the employer-mandate delay from one year ago is the only example that they could come up with badly undermines that talking point.

Finally, by picking the employer mandate as the hill on which he’ll die, Boehner may have created an even greater political problem for himself. The Speaker’s decision to sue the president has been widely interpreted as a tactic to placate right-wing Republicans who would rather see Boehner attempt to impeach Obama. Whether he’s successful remains to be seen. Boehner’s lawsuit plan has certainly not changed the minds of those Republicans who have already called for Obama to be removed from office, and it seems very plausible that it won’t leave the congressmen who have accused Obama of breaking the law in other areas — such as immigration reform — satisfied. If one of them chooses to ignore Boehner’s wishes and introduces a resolution of impeachment, it would create a crisis for Boehner’s leadership — and end the Republican Party’s hopes of keeping its base under control through the midterms.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, July 11,2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pro-Punishment”: Right-To-Lifers Are Hypocrites — And Here’s Why

A caveat: I don’t include nuns in this formulation, simply because “right-to-life” has come to mean the anti-abortion movement exclusively. Nuns have the ethical and spiritual integrity to be consistent in their belief that all life (as they define it) is sacred. In fact, that consistency is what illuminates the hypocrisy of the anti-choice movement.

Right-to-lifers (unlike many nuns) do not hold candlelight vigils outside prisons when a death row inmate is about to be executed. No buffer zone needs to be established, corrections officials don’t have to worry about their personal addresses being posted, or their facilities being bombed. Wardens are not shot by those who insist “Thou Shall Not Kill” is a commandment that must be respected no matter what the circumstances. In fact, these Biblicists are just as informed by the Hammurabi code: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” They adhere to the notion that the “right” to life can be revoked; it is conditional on one’s actions.

This tacit admission that life is not universally deserved is a crucial crack in their stance against abortion. They don’t decry our military engaging in “just” war, in the execution of murderers and terrorists. Ironically for the Tea Party libertarians among them, they don’t even object to the right of the state to determine whether some citizens should forfeit their lives for some crimes. But they object to the right of a woman to decide for herself whether her fetus, or even a fertilized egg not yet attached to the uterine wall, should be carried to term. In their thinking, fetuses have done nothing to “deserve” their fate.

You can’t, on the one hand, claim that all life is sacred, and then remain silent when men and women — some later determined to be innocent — are executed. That silence is a concession to the principle that the right to life is conditional. One can see this psychology of “deservedness” in the present humanitarian crisis on the border. The angry anti-immigrant placard-wavers are overwhelmingly rightwing, of the very same ilk that decries abortion. The right-to-lifers ringing abortion clinics have not abandoned their posts to run to the border in defense of real woman and children. For “they” do not “deserve” a chance at life in the United States, free from the violence and deprivation they are fleeing. They are “illegal.” They “bring disease” (an absurd charge that has become ubiquitous.) By extension, those yearning masses puff up the inner contention of the flag-waving nationalists that being born here is some sort of accomplishment instead of an accident of birth. As if learning English as a toddler was an extraordinary feat of patriotism: Congratulations, your racism comes without an accent!

If we concede that some life is deserved and some not — after all, very few liberals cried at the death of Osama Bin Laden — then we can confront the thorny question of whether some fetuses somehow deserve to live while others do not. I would reframe the issue as whether every child deserves to be wanted, to be welcomed without resentment, to have a mother who doesn’t consider her offspring a burden. How many millions have to grow up in poverty, fill our foster care systems, endure sexual, physical and emotional abuse, end up in prison or even on death row for the right-to-lifers to acknowledge that life without sufficient love or resources breeds despair without hope?

Let me state, for those who are prone to confuse “unwanted” with “unplanned,” that I fully support the decision of all women who may have conceived accidentally to bring the birth to term — whether she brings up the child herself or chooses to provide a loving family with an adoptive gift. Pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion. The irony, of course, is that those who support a woman’s right to choose are also the most fervently pro-access-to-contraception while the right-to-lifers are the most hostile to it, as evidenced in the recent Hobby Lobby decision. This has always made no sense. Those who oppose abortion should be the most passionate in making it as rare as possible.

The truth is that it is not the right of the fetus to life that really drives them. It is their belief that woman who have sex for pleasure should bear the “consequences” of their decision. The hostility is tangible — I have the hate-tweets to prove it. For men, not so much. Hobby Lobby had no objection to reimbursing Viagra and Cialis, made no stipulation that it be made available for married men only. The sole purpose of these two drugs is to facilitate sexual pleasure in the male. For those men who wish to procreate, an additional benefit is the ejaculation only an erection allows. I have heard of no right-to-life organization offering to pay for paternity suits to force men to bear the consequences of not using contraception. Practically speaking, a man who doesn’t want to take responsibility for a child he has sired rarely has to.

Many of course, do the “right” thing. And therein, I suspect, lies the true source of the hostility toward woman who wish to have sex without risking having a baby. Shotgun weddings are practically an institution in the states where the fever against reproductive rights runs hottest. How many unhappy marriages have resulted from a hormonal impulse between teenagers? How many unions of obligation have turned into nightmares of incompatibility, ending in divorce, custody battles or worse? How many husbands and wives caught for life in unplanned parenthood would do it all again if they could relieve the moment they chose passion over purity?

They aren’t pro-life, they are pro-punishment. Murderers must be executed, the undocumented must be deported, and women who dare to control their destiny as they themselves did not cannot be allowed to get away with it.


By: Mark Olmsted, The Huffington Post Blog, July 11, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Reproductive Rights, Right To Life | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“For The Eighth Time”: Benghazi Conspiracy Theory Collapses, Again

For years, conspiracy-minded Republicans have insisted that someone in the Obama administration — usually, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — issued a “stand-down order” to the U.S. military on the night of the 2012 attack at the U.S. mission in Benghazi, preventing a Special Operations team from intervening and saving the lives of the four Americans who died in the assault.

According to newly released testimony, they are flat-out wrong.

As the Associated Press reported on Friday, transcripts of hours of testimony from nine military officers were made public this week, completely disproving the conspiracy theory:

The “stand-down” theory centers on a Special Operations team — a detachment leader, a medic, a communications expert and a weapons operator with his foot in a cast – that was stopped from flying from Tripoli to Benghazi after the attacks of Sept. 11-12, 2012, had ended. Instead, it was instructed to help protect and care for those being evacuated from Benghazi and from the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli.

The senior military officer who issued the instruction to “remain in place” and the detachment leader who received it said it was the right decision and has been widely mischaracterized. The order was to remain in Tripoli and protect some three-dozen embassy personnel rather than fly to Benghazi some 600 miles away after all Americans there would have been evacuated. And the medic is credited with saving the life of an evacuee from the attacks.

The report goes on to note that “despite lingering public confusion over many events that night, the testimony shows military leaders largely in agreement over how they responded to the attacks.”

This is not the first time the “stand-down order” myth has been debunked; Lt. Colonel S.E. Gibson and General Martin Dempsey had already told Congress as much. But the report’s timing could prove particularly problematic for the congressional Republicans who have repeatedly pushed the myth.

It arrives as the House Select Committee tasked with probing the attack for the eighth time is “ramping up” its investigation. And as the National Journal’s Lucia Graves points out, the panel happens to be filled with Republicans who have eagerly pushed the conspiracy.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), the committee chairman, suggested that the Benghazi attack “kinda undercuts” the principle that “we’re not gonna send anybody into harm’s way under our flag without adequate protection, and if they get in trouble we are gonna go get ‘em. We’re gonna save ‘em. Or at least we’re gonna make a heck of an effort to do it.”

Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) has said that the military “had the opportunity” to take action, but didn’t.

Rep. Jim Jordan wondered, “Why weren’t we running to the sound of the guns?”

Well, now their questions have been answered — again — yet the panel is still planning to spend up to $3.3 million to relitigate them. And the task of explaining why they need to spend more than the yearly budget of the House Veterans Affairs Committee or the House Ethics Committee to keep asking questions that have already been answered just got a lot harder.


By: Henry Decker, The National Memo, July 11, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | Benghazi, Conspiracy Theories | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Coward Of The House”: John Boehner’s Pathetic Lawsuit Reveals His Weakness

Never underestimate the cynicism of House Speaker John Boehner. The day after he told reporters he opposed the impeachment of President Obama, he announced plans to go ahead with an unprecedented lawsuit, on grounds so puny as to be laughable. The speaker will sue the president, he says, for postponing the imposition of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate for a year and waiving the fine it imposed.

So: after all of Boehner’s huffing and puffing about the president’s lawlessness, after an op-ed that claimed Obama had abused his power on “a range of issues, including his health care law, energy regulations, foreign policy and education,” he wants to sue him for not implementing a minor ACA provision Republicans are known to oppose, within a law they want to repeal entirely? And as NBC’s First Read notes, Boehner didn’t advocate suing President Bush in 2006 when he waived penalties for low-income seniors who missed the deadline to sign up for new Medicare prescription benefits.

Clearly Boehner’s silly lawsuit is a sop to his party’s right-wing base. But he’s throwing table scraps while the wing nuts want red meat. The GOP establishment, such as it is, has apparently decided impeachment is a bad political detour for the party. Yet few of the conservative voices now speaking out against impeaching the president have the courage to say: “It’s because he hasn’t done anything that would be grounds for impeachment.” Instead, they focus on the terrible politics for their party in a midterm election year when they’re expected to do well.

Boehner merely said “I disagree” when asked about Sarah Palin’s Facebook rant demanding that the House GOP impeach Obama – and then he fleshed out his alternative legal plan. The man who gave us Sarah Palin, Sen. John McCain, said Thursday: “There are not the votes here in the United States Senate to impeach the president of the United States and I think that we should focus our attention on winning elections.”

A Wall Street Journal anti-impeachment editorial did acknowledge, though almost in an aside, that “while Mr. Obama’s abuses of executive power are serious, they don’t rise to that level.” But the bulk of “The Impeachment Delusion” was spent on the bad politics of such a move, calling it “inherently a political process that at the current moment would backfire on Republicans,” given they have a decent chance of retaking the Senate.

Meanwhile, the WSJ is hyping Boehner’s lawsuit as essential to rein in Obama’s wanton use of “imperial powers.” The worshipful editorial, with the unintentionally hilarious headline “Boehner stands up,” opened “All due credit to John Boehner.”

That ought to win over the party’s right wing base. Then again, probably not.

The wimpiness of the GOP establishment just furthers the sense of the party’s implacable Obama haters that they have a claim against this illegitimate president, but the leadership is just too spineless and craven to drive him out of the White House. If he’s using “imperial powers,” as the Journal says, and he’s “changing and creating his own laws, and excusing himself from enforcing statutes he is sworn to uphold,” as Boehner claims, the House has a remedy, and it’s impeachment.

Establishment Republicans are praising Boehner’s lawsuit for finding a novel way to solve the problem that’s stymied all other congressional attempts to sue the president: their utter lack of standing to bring such a suit, given that they can’t show they’ve been harmed by the action at issue. Backed by right wing scholars David Rivkin and Elizabeth Foley, the speaker will make the case that since it’s not possible for any private individual to show harm in the case of the employer mandate, the courts should let Congress step in.

Few legal experts outside the confines of conservativism are convinced.

“I see this every day now, being covered as if it’s real, as if it’s somehow not a joke,” Yale law professor Akhil Reed Amar told “But can they name a single successful lawsuit in American history that is of close precedent to what they are proposing?” Amar doesn’t know of one. “At a certain point, I get to call Birther-ism. I get to call bullshit.”

I’ve been thinking about Birtherism a bit here, too. On the one hand, it’s great that Boehner quickly scotched Palin’s talk of impeachment. On the other, it would have been nice had he, and the rest of the party leadership, done the same when Birtherism, and talk of the president as Kenyan Muslim Kenyan usurper, broke out on the right wing fringe in 2009.

But Boehner refused to stand up to his party’s Birthers and Obama-is-a-Muslim loons. “It’s not my job to tell the American people what to think,” he said on NBC’s “Meet The Press” shortly after being elected speaker in 2011. Yet now he thinks it’s his job to tell the American people to think that the president is abusing his powers. Boehner’s stunt is impeachment-lite, or impeachment for cowards. Instead of quelling the fire burning in the party base, it is likely to stoke it.


By: Joan Walsh, Editor at Large, Salon, July 11, 2014

July 12, 2014 Posted by | House Republicans, Impeachment, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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