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“Bizarre Looking-Glass Ideology”: Deficit Scolds Are The Most Crazed Ideologues In America

A new Congressional Budget Office report shows that the projected increase in the national debt has slowed dramatically. Good news for deficit scolds, right? Not for Ron Fournier, who still thinks the nation is on its last legs:

Only in Washington, the place where you land when you fall through the looking glass, could this be hailed as good news… Our deficit levels (annual totals of red ink) are stalled at breathtakingly high levels — and are projected to soar again in a few years… Scary news, right? Not according to many media outlets and a cynical leadership class in Washington. Some news organizations focused on the sugar-high of good news — the (temporary) dip in deficits.

Think of a reporter covering a shooting. The police tell him the victim is dying of blood loss. Is the headline “Shooting Victim Expected to Die” or “Blood Flow Slows for Shooting Victim”? [National Journal]

Fournier’s economic analysis, if it may be so dignified with the phrase, is comprehensively wretched. As I’ve argued, the real problem with the deficit is that it’s coming down way too fast. Premature austerity has crippled the economic recovery and kept millions out of work. The biggest economic problem facing the nation is unemployment, which outweighs the stupid deficit by Graham’s Number levels of importance.

But the main problem is that his scold case is weak even on its own terms. Fournier understands neither what is driving the increase in the national debt nor why that might be a problem — all of which betrays a bizarre ideology that holds that pain must be inflicted before any gains can be made.

The huge increase in the annual deficit in 2008-09 was driven by two things: first, the economic collapse, which caused revenues to fall and spending to increase as people drew on safety net programs like unemployment insurance. Second, the Recovery Act, aka the stimulus, which provided a one-time surge of spending to restore aggregate demand and get people back to work. Though the stimulus was not nearly large enough to fill the hole in demand, this is what macroeconomic policy is supposed to do in a recession (a fact that Republicans were happy to accept when they were in power).

The long-term debt and deficit projections, on the other hand, are entirely about health-care spending. As Peter Fisher once said, the government is basically an insurance company with an army, and for many years the price of health care increased much faster than the rate of economic growth. This made government spending on health care (mostly Medicare and Medicaid) consume an ever-greater portion of the federal budget. Past CBO projections just assumed this trend would continue, which accounts for past reports predicting that the national debt would eventually eat the whole budget.

What this means is that Fournier’s preferred solution for dealing with this trend — higher taxes, fewer entitlements — is completely pointless. We have to fix the problem of rising prices, otherwise eventually a single tablet of aspirin will consume the entire federal budget. And the price problem is driven by awful policy design, not excessive generosity. America manages the rare trick of having very patchy and stingy social insurance that is simultaneously incredibly expensive. We spend more government money per person than Canada does — and the Canadians have universal single-payer coverage.

Fewer entitlements or higher taxes will get you a few years of breathing room before price increases eat up all the savings — and the whole point of Fournier’s column is that a couple decades of breathing room is still grounds for hair-on-fire panic.

Luckily, since the passage of ObamaCare, price increases have indeed slowed dramatically. That, plus a new projection that interest rates will stay low for a long time, accounts for the new CBO analysis showing slower debt growth. Just why this is happening is a matter of some dispute; I suspect it is partly the result of several programs in ObamaCare designed to bring prices down, and partly that health-care prices are already so high they’re running into resource constraints.

I think the fact that Fournier is patently uninterested in any of these things, and favors a policy that would accomplish nothing whatsoever on the deficit by his own standards, reveals that the pro-austerity school of punditry isn’t about the deficit at all. Instead, he says that his entitlement-cutting agenda is “going to happen sooner or later, painfully or more painfully.” As with David Gregory, the pain is the operative concept. The centrist definition of responsible politics holds that the American people must suffer a little more to keep the nation healthy. It’s only the “hateful partisans” who are keeping the wise, reasonable moderates from making those tough bipartisan compromises to slash social insurance and inflict pain.

But make no mistake: This has nothing to do with economics, and everything to do with the bizarre looking-glass ideology of “serious people” in Washington, D.C.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Deficits, Economy, Ideology | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Coming Up Short”: Rubio Tries And Fails To Thread Culture-War Needle

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has been quite candid on most of the hot-button social issues of the day, and despite national ambitions, the Florida Republican has positioned himself well to the right of the American mainstream on issues like contraception, reproductive rights, and marriage equality.

But the senator nevertheless believes he has a strong case to make when it comes to the culture war, and yesterday he delivered a big speech his staff billed as an address on “the breakdown of the American family and the erosion of fundamental values that has followed.” The remarks, which can be read in their entirety here or watched online here, covered a fair amount of ground, though as Benjy Sarlin explained, there was a special emphasis on gay rights.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio acknowledged Wednesday that American history was “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians.” But in a speech at Catholic University in Washington, Rubio drew the line sharply at marriage equality and accused supporters of same sex unions of “intolerance.”

“I promise you even before this speech is over I’ll be attacked as a hater or a bigot or someone who is anti-gay,” Rubio said. “This intolerance in the name of tolerance is hypocrisy. Support for the definition of marriage as one man and one woman is not anti-gay, it is pro-traditional marriage.”

Rhetoric like this is familiar – the right has long believed it’s unfair for the left to be intolerant of intolerance. Despite its repetition, though, the argument always seems to come up short.

Consider the underlying point Rubio is trying to make. On the one hand, he and his allies intend to keep fighting, hoping to use the power of the state to deny equal rights and basic human dignity to Americans based on sexual orientation. On the other hand, Rubio and his allies would appreciate it if no one said mean things about them while they push these policies.

I’m afraid the public discourse doesn’t quite work this way. No one is suggesting Rubio must abandon his opposition to civil rights for LGBT Americans, but if he wants to avoid criticism while pushing public policies that create second-class citizens, he appears to have chosen the wrong line of work.

That said, let’s not overlook the part of the speech in which Rubio also tried to position himself as a critic of anti-gay discrimination.

“We should acknowledge that our history is marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians. There was once a time when the federal government not only banned the hiring of gay employees, it required private contractors to identify and fire them. Some laws prohibited gays from being served in bars and restaurants. And many cities carried out law enforcement efforts targeting gay Americans.

“Fortunately, we have come a long way since then.”

Yes, that is fortunate. But under existing federal law, American employers, right now, can legally fire gay employees – or even employees they think might be gay – regardless of their on-the-job performance.

Our history is, in fact, “marred by discrimination against gays and lesbians,” but that discrimination can still happen under existing law – and though he didn’t mention it yesterday, as far as Marco Rubio is concerned, federal anti-discrimination laws should not be changed. Indeed, when the Senate rather easily passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act last fall, only 30 senators voted against it, and Rubio was one of them.

The far-right senator, in other words, is trying but failing to thread a culture-war needle. Rubio wants to block consenting adults who fall in love from getting married, but he doesn’t want to be accused of intolerance. The Republican senator wants to decry employment discrimination against LGBT Americans, but he doesn’t want to take action to prevent the discrimination he claims not to like.

As culture-war visions go, this one needs some work.

 

By: Steven Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Discrimination, LGBT, Marco Rubio | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“When Will You Stop Beating Your Ally?”: Ted Cruz On Protecting And Promoting Israel’s Tourism Industry

I really thought the peculiar use of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a political weapon against Barack Obama had reached its point of diminishing returns back in the 2012 presidential cycle, when the entire field (with the exception, obviously, of Ron Paul) competed to express how abjectly each as president would defer to Israel’s wishes in using American resources and commitments, in sharp contrast to the faithless Muslim-lover in the White House. I mean, seriously, wouldn’t the tribunes of American Exceptionalism eventually see something wrong with their political representatives demanding that the U.S. outsource its foreign policy to another country?

Leave it to Ted Cruz to take it all to another level, accusing the administration of telling the FAA to ban flights into Tel Aviv as part of a pro-Hamas conspiracy:

“Given that some 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel over the last six weeks, many of them at Tel Aviv, it seems curious to choose yesterday at noon to announce a flight ban, especially as the Obama Administration had to be aware of the punitive nature of this action.

“Tourism is an $11 billion industry for Israel, which is in the middle of a summer high season already seriously diminished by the conflict initiated by Hamas. Group tours have been cancelling at a 30% rate. This FAA flight ban may well represent a crippling blow to a key economic sector through both security concerns and worries that additional bans will down more flights and strand more passengers. It hardly matters if or when the ban is lifted. At this point, the damage may already be done….

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a veiled threat last February when he encouraged boycotts of Israel [sic] and said that absent serious Israeli concessions at the negotiating table, Israel’s economic prosperity was ‘not sustainable’ and ‘illusory.’ Secretary Kerry unfortunately reprised this theme just this April, when he threatened that Israel risked becoming an ‘apartheid state’ if Israel did not submit to his chosen solution to the Israel-Palestinian crisis.

“Taken in the context of Secretary Kerry’s comments, yesterday’s action by the FAA raises some serious questions.

So apparently the United States has an obligation, at the potential expense of the safety of its own citizens, to promote the security claims of another country in order to protect said country’s tourism industry. Anything less than that is to side with Israel’s enemies, whose bloody hands Obama is already shaking by continuing humanitarian assistance to Gaza.

How much further can Republicans move the goal posts here? Should we become more militantly pro-Israel than the Israelis themselves?

I know this is a sweet spot for conservatives because it pleases a certain type of evangelical Christian activist and projects bloody-minded “strength” without risking a commitment of U.S. troops, since the Israelis really can take care of themselves from a military point of view. And the Palestinians, of course, are the overseas equivalent of those people here, somehow still held to be responsible for 9/11. But if there is a Republican president any time soon, the GOP isn’t doing him or her any favors by mortgaging half its foreign policy to the interests of a single foreign state, however admirable.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Israel, Palestine, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“A Matter Of Human Conscience”: The Backlash To The Backlash On Border Children

Perhaps not since that fleeting moment of national unity in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy nearly 13 years ago have so many diverse faith traditions, from Catholic bishops to Quakers, from evangelical Christians to liberal Jews, come together with such genuine fervor on any public issue.

The “backlash to the backlash” on the U.S. border crisis has now begun.

Tens of thousands of unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America have recently slipped into the United States seeking refuge in a horrific storm. This many young kids don’t leave home on a long, desperate, parentless journey for no reason. Many are escaping gang brutality, instigated partly by hard-core drug lords, who’ve left U.S. prisons and returned home to stir up more trouble and intimidation.

It’s difficult to imagine what these children anticipated upon entering the United States. Almost no new arrival is ever really prepared for the whirlwind and sheer crassness of American culture.

But they can’t have been expecting the visceral vitriol that greeted some of these young refugees. The boiling-over rage that coarses through so much of our debate on public issues abruptly confronted these frightened children — unsophisticated strangers in a strange land. Anti-immigration activists angrily opposed even establishing shelters for vulnerable kids far from home.

There was an apparent inability to distinguish legitimate public discourse over immigration policy (long ginned up on all sides for political gain) from an actual humanitarian crisis involving children draped under Red Cross blankets, right here, right now. Emma Lazarus’ torch seemed to be temporarily extinguished.

But a different view was expressed last week by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who got audibly choked up delivering a public announcement that his state would shelter hundreds of children while they’re being processed. A military base on Cape Cod is one venue being considered.

A state homeland security official later said he anticipated the children would be between six- and 17-years-old staying an average of 35 days. Most would likely be released to relatives in the United States, he explained, while others would eventually face deportation.

Said Governor Patrick: “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself.” And this was from a publicly secular governor, hardly known for wearing his private beliefs on his sleeve. For Deval Patrick, nearing the end of his eight years in office, it appears to be simply a matter of human conscience. “It bears remembering they’re children and they’re alone.”

Yet his proposal has met with a roar of protest from some quarters — including residents of towns neighboring the base, who attended a meeting of Bourne, Massachusetts local officials this week. One woman, living in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, held a banner that read: “Send them back. They broke the law.”

At Patrick’s public statement, he was flanked by Boston-area clergy. The faith community nationwide, which should be the natural habitat for discussion of basic decency and human compassion, is now speaking up with remarkable unity over how the United States should handle the refugee crisis.

Last week, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan wrote: “I watched with shame as an angry mob in southern California surrounded buses filled with frightened, hungry, homeless immigrants, shaking fists, and shouting for them to “get out!'”

As reported yesterday in The New York Times: “‘We’re talking about whether we’re going to stand at the border and tell children who are fleeing a burning building to go back inside,’ said Rabbi Asher Knight of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, who said leaders of more than 100 faith organizations in his city had met last week to discuss how to help.”

Believers as diverse as Unitarians and Lutherans are coming together on this moral question. “The anger directed toward vulnerable children is deplorable and disgusting,” said Russell Moore, an official of the Southern Baptist Convention, who this week accompanied fellow churchmen to visit refugee centers in Texas.

“The first thing is to make sure we understand these are not issues, these are persons. These children are made in the image of God, and we ought to respond to them with compassion, not with fear.”

 

By: David Freudberg, The Huffington Post Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Faith, Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Killing Experiments”: It’s Time For A Nationwide Moratorium On The Death Penalty

We still don’t know where the drugs came from.

We know they used midazolam and hydromorphone. We know the combination was experimental. And now we know that instead of working, the drugs took nearly two hours to kill Joseph Wood, as he snorted and gasped for air 660 times.

Within a couple hours of Mr. Wood’s death, the state of Arizona started damage control. Last night, Governor Jan Brewer called for an investigation into why the execution had taken so long, but she also released a statement saying: “by eyewitness and medical accounts he did not suffer.”

That’s not what the reporters who were in the room have written. “It was very disturbing to watch… liked a fish on shore gulping for air,” Troy Haydentold The Arizona Republic.

One hour and 57 minutes is horrifically long, even when compared to the recent botched execution of Clayton Lockett, who writhed in pain for 45 minutes while the state of Oklahoma struggled to kill him in May.

It’s time to ask the question: How is it possible that, in 2014, state after state is utterly failing at lethal injection? How can it be, given modern medicine, that it could take hours instead of minutes for states to kill someone?

The answer is that the death penalty simply has no place in this country. As method after method of state-sponsored killing has been deemed barbaric and archaic, states are left scrambling to invent new ways to execute.

Lethal injection started as a seemingly more humane alternative to the gas chamber, the electric chair, and firing squads. But as companies both in the U.S. and in Europe have refused to let the drugs they produce be used in executions, lethal injection has become what is essentially medical experimentation, with novel drugs and doses leading to botched execution after botched execution.

Lethal injection is not modern medicine. Executioners do not have proper training, leading to some prisoners being conscious but paralyzed as they slowly asphyxiate. States are fumbling to find drugs, concocting different combinations every time. In the case of Mr. Wood’s execution, the state used a two-drug combination that had been used only once before, when the state of Ohio took 25 minutes to kill Dennis McGuire.

And these killing experiments are being carried out in secrecy. The hours before Mr. Woods was strapped to the gurney were a frenzied attempt to figure out where the drugs came from before they could be shot into his vein. We still don’t know.

The greater problem underlying the horrific executions we have recently seen is not lethal injection or a matter of simply getting the drugs right. The execution of the innocent, the shameful role of race, mentally ill defendants, poor defense lawyering, and prosecutors who hide the truth — these are the problems that make the death penalty completely inappropriate in the modern world. Yet we continue to slowly pick off killing methods that are simply too barbaric to condone, but the truth is that there is no way for states — for our government — to kill someone that is in line with the type of country we want to be.

Today, my heart is with Jeanne Brown and all of those who loved Debra Dietz. My thoughts are with the executioners who will have to live with the horrific botch they carried out yesterday. This entire story is a tragic one, and it should push us to admit that the path to justice simply cannot include more gruesome violence.

It’s time for a nationwide moratorium on the death penalty.

 

Brian Stull, Senior staff attorney with the ACLU Capital Punishment Project; The Huffington Post Blog, July 24, 2014

July 25, 2014 Posted by | Death Penalty, Executions, Lethal Injections | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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