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“Republicans Are Plotting Economic Disaster For 2016: The American People Will Be The Collateral Damage

Since George W. Bush’s presidency, Republican economic ideas have become drastically more conservative. Instead of massive tax cuts for the rich coupled with a general tolerance of the rest of government (or even new welfare programs), the party is now committed to much larger tax cuts coupled with eye-watering cuts to government.

Every Republican presidential candidate proposes staggering tax cuts heavily weighted toward the rich. Donald Trump would give the top one-thousandth of taxpayers $1.3 million apiece per year, while Ted Cruz would give them an even $2 million. Trump does favor preserving the welfare state, but he is a marked outsider in this respect. The entire rest of the party is committed to gigantic cuts to welfare, as shown by the budget formulated by House Republicans. Their most recent plan would slash $5.3 trillion in spending over a decade, 69 percent of which would come from programs for the needy.

The party’s intellectual apparatus (distinct from the Trumpist insurgency) has more-or-less fully regressed to an economic libertarianism straight out of the 1920s. They view basically all government programs outside of the military and the courts as illegitimate, to be slashed or eliminated wherever possible. The only problem with this is that when you try it, the results are immediate disaster.

Republicans haven’t been able to fully implement their plan of tax and service cuts on the federal level, but they have tried it in a few places on the state level. Louisiana under Gov. Bobby Jindal has had it the worst. Jindal’s massive cuts to education and services were not nearly enough to cover his gigantic tax cuts, and draining every rainy day fund in the state only delayed the day of reckoning. Eventually the results were so disastrous that the unthinkable happened — a Democrat replaced Jindal. Now Gov. John Bel Edwards is scrambling to deal with the most extreme budgetary emergency of any state government in decades, working feverishly just to keep the state from literal financial collapse.

Kansas is also suffering from Republican quack economics. Gov. Sam Brownback (who barely scraped through re-election in 2014 and now sits at a 21-percent approval rating) tried the same tricks as Jindal, though to a somewhat lesser degree, and the results were similar: a huge budget deficit with none of the promised explosive growth or job gains. Now Kansas conservatives are running into problems with the state’s Supreme Court, which found legal problems with the distribution of education cuts. Their solution: Attack the justices politically, by drawing up a new impeachment law and trying to get them thrown out in an upcoming confirmation election.

It’s the same story in Wisconsin with both deficits and lousy economic performance. Gov. Scott Walker’s major innovation has been an effort to basically destroy the Wisconsin state university system with drastic cuts and the abolishment of tenure, which is already leading to serious problems at the flagship school in Madison.

However, it could have been worse for all these states. The federal government, with its grants, its spending on social programs, and its employment of in-state government workers and contractors, provides a buffer of spending state governments cannot cut. For example, Louisiana gets over 40 percent of its state budget from the feds, as well as $5,917 per person in social spending, $3.5 billion in federal contracts, and $5.3 billion in compensation paid to almost 68,000 federal workers (as of the most recent data). That’s $48 billion in income against $39 billion paid in federal taxes (other states don’t make out so well).

This means that the results would be far more disastrous should Republicans get to implement their ideas on a federal level. Great chunks of the federal programs — food stamps, federal health programs, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and so on — that have provided inadequate but vital economic stabilization would be cut or eliminated altogether.

The results would be just as what happened on the state level, only worse.

It took many years for Republicans to talk themselves out of the fact that Herbert Hoover’s presidency was a disastrous failure, but with the exception of Trump, Hooverism is where they stand. It’s an ideology that can gain wide popularity only insofar as it is not actually tried on a wide scale. It turns out that a vision of government that was already outdated a century ago (when farmers were over a quarter of the workforce) is not very well-suited to a modern economy. It’s just too bad the American people might have to be the collateral damage in re-learning that lesson.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, The Week, April 4, 2016

April 6, 2016 Posted by | Economic Policy, Republicans, Spending Cuts, Tax Cuts | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Allowing Ideology To Overcome Common Sense”: Conservative Policies Just Don’t Work: Immigration Edition

I’ve frequently used the devastating failure of Sam Brownback’s conservative economic experiment in Kansas to show that conservative policies aren’t just morally and ethically wrong, but also simply dysfunctional and counterproductive at a basic utilitarian level. Most educated people understand this about supply-side economic policy by now.

It’s also, of course, true of social policy. We know that sexual repression, abstinence education and social stigma is the surest way to increase unintended pregnancy, STD transmission and infidelity. We know that you can’t actually “pray the gay away” even if you wanted to.

And it’s true of immigration policy, that very hot topic at present. Dave Weigel at the Washington Post reminds us of the utter failure of Trump-style immigration policy, in the very state where Trump decided to host his stadium rally:

Alabama, which hosted the largest rally of Trump’s presidential campaign Friday night, had been a test kitchen for Trump-style crackdowns on undocumented workers — and it had not gone well.

In 2011, a new Republican legislature and governor enacted HB 56, the Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act. Chief sponsor Micky Hammon warned the undocumented population that he would “make it difficult for them to live here, so they will deport themselves.” Renting a house or giving a job to an “illegal” became a crime. Police were empowered to demand proof of citizenship from anyone who looked as if he or she might lack it. School administrators were instructed to do the same to children.

The backlash was massive — a legal assault that chipped away at the law, and a political campaign that made Republicans own its consequences. Business groups blamed the tough measures for scaring away capital and for an exodus of workers that hurt the state’s agriculture industry. After Mitt Romney lost the 2012 presidential election, strategists in his own party blamed his support for the Alabama attrition policy. Those critics included Donald Trump.

It wasn’t just a political failure and black eye for the state. It was also a direct policy failure. As in other states that tried similar experiments, the agriculture sector suffered greatly as workers driven away by hostile policies were not easily replaced.

Asked about the law, Alabama voters rarely say that it worked. Large farms spent millions training new workers. The Byrds conceded that the agriculture sector suffered after some immigrants fled the state. “Most of them left and didn’t come back,” said Terry Darring-Rogers, who works at a Mobile law firm specializing in immigration.

But many Republicans have already forgotten that lesson, allowing their ideology to overwhelm their common sense in the belief that it wasn’t state conservative policy that failed, but the federal government’s interference that stymied it:

To Republicans, the lesson of HB 56 was no longer that it failed. The lesson was that it had not been permitted to work, stymied by the Obama administration. That theory took shape in the displays in some Robertsdale stores, where a sign declaring compliance with E-Verify was posted above an even larger ad from the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department.

Some people will never learn, no matter how much self-inflicted failure they endure. When Josh Duggar and countless similar self-righteous conservatives are exposed as cheating molesters, it doesn’t cause conservatives to question whether their belief system might be causing those problems. They just double down. When abstinence education causes more teen pregnancy than responsible sex education, conservatives double down on the slut shaming. When tax cuts on the rich and wage cuts to government workers lead to economic recession, Republicans don’t question their core economic beliefs; they just claim they weren’t allowed to go far enough.

In a way, modern conservatives are similar to the Communists of old. No matter how obvious the ideology’s failure, the response is always that the policies were not enacted in a strong and pure enough manner.

That inability to come to grips with failure and adjust course, and that insistence on doubling down in the face of adverse results, is part of why many consider modern conservatism to be an almost cultic movement. Its adherents long since stopped caring about the evidence or empirical results. It’s all about who can prove truest to the faith, and maximally annoy and rebel against the evil liberal heathens. Policies and results are really beside the point.

 

By: David Atkins, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 23, 2015

August 24, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, Ideology, Immigration | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Voodoo, Jeb! Style”: Mr. Bush Imagines That He Is Privy To Secrets That Have Evaded Everyone Else

On Monday Jeb Bush — or I guess that’s Jeb!, since he seems to have decided to replace his family name with a punctuation mark — finally made his campaign for the White House official, and gave us a first view of his policy goals. First, he says that if elected he would double America’s rate of economic growth to 4 percent. Second, he would make it possible for every American to lose as much weight as he or she wants, without any need for dieting or exercise.

O.K., he didn’t actually make that second promise. But he might as well have. It would have been just as realistic as promising 4 percent growth, and considerably less irresponsible.

I’ll get to Jeb!onomics in a minute, but first let me tell you about a dirty little secret of economics — namely, that we don’t know very much about how to raise the long-run rate of economic growth. Economists do know how to promote recovery from temporary slumps, even if politicians usually refuse to take their advice. But once the economy is near full employment, further growth depends on raising output per worker. And while there are things that might help make that happen, the truth is that nobody knows how to conjure up rapid productivity gains.

Why, then, would Mr. Bush imagine that he is privy to secrets that have evaded everyone else?

One answer, which is actually kind of funny, is that he believes that the growth in Florida’s economy during his time as governor offers a role model for the nation as a whole. Why is that funny? Because everyone except Mr. Bush knows that, during those years, Florida was booming thanks to the mother of all housing bubbles. When the bubble burst, the state plunged into a deep slump, much worse than that in the nation as a whole. Taking the boom and the slump together, Florida’s longer-term economic performance has, if anything, been slightly worse than the national average.

The key to Mr. Bush’s record of success, then, was good political timing: He managed to leave office before the unsustainable nature of the boom he now invokes became obvious.

But Mr. Bush’s economic promises reflect more than self-aggrandizement. They also reflect his party’s habit of boasting about its ability to deliver rapid economic growth, even though there’s no evidence at all to justify such boasts. It’s as if a bunch of relatively short men made a regular practice of swaggering around, telling everyone they see that they’re 6 feet 2 inches tall.

To be more specific, the next time you encounter some conservative going on about growth, you might want to bring up the following list of names and numbers: Bill Clinton, 3.7; Ronald Reagan, 3.4; Barack Obama, 2.1; George H.W. Bush, 2.0; George W. Bush, 1.6. Yes, that’s the last five presidents — and the average rate of growth of the U.S. economy during their time in office (so far, in Mr. Obama’s case). Obviously, the raw numbers don’t tell the whole story, but surely there’s nothing in that list to suggest that conservatives possess some kind of miracle cure for economic sluggishness. And, as many have pointed out, if Jeb! knows the secret to 4 percent growth, why didn’t he tell his father and brother?

Or consider the experience of Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through radical tax cuts that were supposed to drive rapid economic growth. “We’ll see how it works. We’ll have a real live experiment,” he declared. And the results of the experiment are now in: The promised boom never arrived, big deficits did, and, despite savage cuts to schools and other public services, Kansas eventually had to raise taxes again (with the pain concentrated on lower-income residents).

Why, then, all the boasting about growth? The short answer, surely, is that it’s mainly about finding ways to sell tax cuts for the wealthy. Such cuts are unpopular in and of themselves, and even more so if, like the Kansas tax cuts for businesses and the affluent, they must be paid for with higher taxes on working families and/or cuts in popular government programs. Yet low taxes on the rich are an overriding policy priority on the right — and promises of growth miracles let conservatives claim that everyone will benefit from trickle-down, and maybe even that tax cuts will pay for themselves.

There is, of course, a term for basing a national program on this kind of self-serving (and plutocrat-serving) wishful thinking. Way back in 1980, George H.W. Bush, running against Reagan for the presidential nomination, famously called it “voodoo economic policy.” And while Reaganolatry is now obligatory in the G.O.P., the truth is that he was right.

So what does it say about the state of the party that Mr. Bush’s son — often portrayed as the moderate, reasonable member of the family — has chosen to make himself a high priest of voodoo economics? Nothing good.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, June 19, 2015

June 21, 2015 Posted by | Economic Growth, Economic Recovery, Jeb Bush | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Retention Voting System”: A Judicial Election Threatened North Carolina Republicans’ Agenda. So They Canceled The Election

Until recently, North Carolina Republicans had a problem. Some of their biggest legislative achievements of the past few years, including a restrictive voter ID law and weakened environmental regulations, were heading for review before the state Supreme Court. Right now, conservative justices hold a tenuous 4-3 majority on that court. But one of the conservative justices was up for re-election in 2016—before several of these matters would reach the court—and he was not guaranteed to win. This meant the Republicans’ policy agenda was at risk.

So the Republican-controlled state legislature decided to change the rules of the game. On a party-line vote, the state Senate and House this month passed a bill that does away with that justice’s upcoming election and effectively ensures that conservative justices will retain their majority on the state’s highest court for years to come. Last week, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed the measure into law.

Justices in North Carolina face re-election every eight years. Under the new law, after winning his or her first election, a state Supreme Court justice can now opt for an up-or-down retention vote without facing a challenger. In other states with retention votes, justices rarely lose. With this new measure, if a North Carolina justice fails to reach 50 percent in the retention vote, the governor will appoint a replacement for a two-year term before an open election is held to fill the seat.

So Justice Robert Edmunds Jr., the conservative justice whose term runs out next year, can now opt for a retention vote and not worry about an opponent. If he comes up short, McCrory will appoint a two-year replacement, presumably another conservative who is sympathetic to the GOP laws recently implemented.

Democrats in the state called the new law an “obvious” attempt to help one justice keep his seat. Republicans claim they merely want to help stanch the increasing flow of money into judicial elections—a nationwide trend that has many advocates worried about the impartiality of state judges. People are tired “of seeing millions of dollars spent electing a member of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals,” one of the bill’s Republican sponsors told the Raleigh-based News & Observer.

But Republicans actually helped open the door to more money in judicial elections that they now say they want to close. In 2013, GOP state legislators repealed a public financing system that Democrats had put in place for state Supreme Court and appellate court candidates. Under the public financing system, judicial candidates didn’t have to appeal to donors who might have an interest in the outcome of cases, though this didn’t inoculate judicial elections from the nationwide spike in outside spending that followed the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

“The same Republican majority that repealed judicial public financing in 2013 is unhappy with the election in 2014 [in which three Democrats won Supreme Court races] and then turns around and rigs judicial races in North Carolina under the guise that they are trying to get rid of big money in judicial elections,” says Melissa Price Kromm, director of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition, a group that advocates public financing in state elections. “It is a partisan, political power grab.”

The Republican move to end public financing and implement the new retention-vote system is “a disturbing trend,” says Bob Phillips, the executive director of the North Carolina chapter of Common Cause, a nonpartisan good-government group. “We don’t want to see the highest court in our state gamed by whatever party holds power in the legislature.”

There’s no indication this new system will keep money out of North Carolina’s judicial elections, says Billy Corriher, an expert in money in state courts at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. “In other states where this kind of system is used, judges still have to raise a ton of campaign cash,” he says.

North Carolina isn’t the first state where Republicans have sought to protect their agenda by making changes to the state’s top court. In Kansas, where the state Supreme Court could upset a series of draconian tax cuts championed by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, conservative lawmakers have put forward a number of proposals that would effectively pack the state Supreme Court with sympathetic conservative justices. As part of this ongoing power struggle, Republicans made funding for the entire court system contingent on a favorable ruling from the courts on a law passed last year that weakened the state Supreme Court’s authority.

The next few years will be busy ones for North Carolina’s Supreme Court. In April, the US Supreme Court threw out a ruling by North Carolina’s top court upholding Republican-drawn congressional and state legislative districts, ordering the state Supreme Court to re-examine the case with special consideration for whether Republicans relied too heavily on race in drawing the new maps. Civil rights groups had challenged the maps on the grounds that they deliberately diluted the African American vote in the state.

In 2010, Republicans took control of North Carolina’s legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. In 2012, they won the governorship, too, and set about to reform just about every area of public policy. They slashed tax rates, cut teacher pay, gutted environmental regulations, restricted abortion access, weakened gun safety laws, and even passed an anti-Shariah law for good measure. Challenges to some of their initiatives—rules easing fracking restrictions, a highly restrictive voter ID law, the redrawn district map, and a school voucher program—are working their way through state courts. Ultimately, the state’s top court—now with a guaranteed GOP-friendly majority for the next three years—could have the final say on these controversial measures.

 

By: Pema Levy, Bill Moyers Blog, Moyers and Company, June 18, 2015

 

 

 

June 21, 2015 Posted by | Judicial Elections, North Carolina Legislature, Pat McCrory | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Self-Professed Christians”: First Quote Jesus; Then Punish The Poor

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker.” — Proverbs 14:31

It’s not my habit to start a column with a quotation from the Bible, but this one’s loaded with self-professed Christians, so why not?

In the mid-1990s, during my time as a metro reporter and feature writer for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, I started writing stories about people who lived in poverty.

I learned early to avoid certain words and descriptions that ignited the ire of certain readers who would rather shame fellow Americans for their dire circumstances than consider why so many of them live in poverty. And often just blocks away from our front doors.

As a columnist, I still sometimes fall back on those rules:

Unless crucial to the story, don’t refer to the flat-screen television in the living room or the car in the driveway, no matter how many miles are on it. A depressing number of people will want to know why a poor person needs a TV or an independent mode of transportation.

Avoid mentioning a tattoo unless it’s central to the narrative. Even then, brace yourself for the onslaught of angry readers demanding to know whether taxpayer money paid for that ink.

And just skip the part about the gold cross dangling around the neck of the grieving mother. I admit this is born of self-preservation. The number of people who are more interested in how she got her jewelry than how her son died will eat at your soul.

So here we are, facing another round of legislative attempts to humiliate poor people who can’t fight back. Lots of headlines but little noise from most of us. I’m not the cynic who thinks everybody’s heart has shriveled to stone. I do, however, worry that our exhaustion is fueling these heartless victories.

In Missouri, the pending House Bill 813 stipulates, “A recipient of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits shall not use such benefits to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.”

This bill was introduced by state Rep. Rick Brattin, who identifies himself and his family on his website as “devoted Christians.”

In Wisconsin, a new bill would dictate that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits could not be used to buy crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other variety of shellfish.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Baptist preacher’s son who insists his marching orders come from God, wants to take it further: Anyone who applies for unemployment, food stamps or another assistance program would have to prove his or her sobriety.

“This is not a punitive measure. This is about getting people ready for work,” he said. “I’m not making it harder to get government assistance. I’m making it easier to get a job.”

In Kansas, we have Gov. Sam Brownback, who last year said, “Our dependence is not on big government, but it’s on a big God, who loves us and lives within us.”

Brownback just signed a bill into law that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility or sexually oriented retail business.”

You might wonder whether there was any evidence of such widespread spending, but that would mean you’re in search of facts and you’re definitely not going to fit in with this crowd.

State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, also the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when explaining his opposition to helping the poor, told the Topeka Capital-Journal last month: “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended. This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

Democratic state Sen. David Haley’s response: “This is a troubling elitism here that this body is embracing during what, for many of us, is Holy Week. We really have to look in the mirror. We can’t say something on Wednesday and shift gears on Sunday and think somebody isn’t paying attention.”

As the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin once put it, “it is ironic to think of the number of people in this country who pray for the poor and needy on Sunday and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about them.”

“Ironic” isn’t the word that immediately comes to my mind, but what do I know? I’m just a Christian-in-training, not one of those experts willing to insult our Maker.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Essayist for Parade Magazine: The National Memo, May 22, 2015

May 22, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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