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“An Inane Idea”: With A Trillion Dollar Coin, President Obama Can Fight Dumb With Silly

A trillion dollar platinum coin? Really? Has our politics really reached a point where such an obviously inane idea is gaining traction? Well, yes. When your capitol has become Clowntown, U.S.A., you sometimes need to fight bad ideas with silly ones.

The idea, if you haven’t heard, is for President Obama to defuse the forthcoming debt ceiling crisis Republicans are busily manufacturing by directing the Treasury to mint a platinum coin worth $1 trillion. With an extra trillion on the books, the debt ceiling would no longer be an issue. While the Federal Reserve ordinarily is in charge of printing money, there’s a law on the books allowing the Treasury secretary to produce platinum coinage of whatever value s/he sees fit.

Sure, the purpose of the law was to permit the Treasury to issue commemorative coins. But so what? The purpose of the debt ceiling wasn’t to give one party the leverage for a global, economic hostage crisis. Were the debt ceiling not raised, the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein writes, “the damage to the economy would be tremendous, and it would occur at every level, from individuals looking for a loan to buy a house to hedge funders trying to play the markets.” His full article on what happens if we breach the debt ceiling is worth a read.

So when one political party is acting like a political version of a James Bond villain (“Give in to my demands or I will wreck the world economy!”) maybe the answer is for the president to channel his inner Dr. Evil (“One trillion dollars.”)

Again, it all sounds silly but some very serious folks are lining up behind it, including the New York Times’s Paul Krugman, who has a Nobel Prize lying around his office. New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler is also a fan. And despite some suggestions that none of this is legal because it’s not what the law was intended for, Philip Diehl, a former director of the Mint, told Klein that it’s perfectly legal.

So is it a silly idea? Yes. But Republican extremists have brought us into an age of political asymmetrical warfare, passing off crazy, dangerous ideas as serious. Why should the president unilaterally disarm on that front?


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 9, 2013

January 10, 2013 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, Politics | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

First Secession, Now Contempt: An Ugly Start To Rick Perry’s Campaign

“If This guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas.”

Thus spoke Republican Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, referring to Ben Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. You might chalk the remark up to a weak attempt at humor —if you watch the video, you’ll hear a few nervous laughs from the small crowd — but then Mr. Perry went on in an even less appropriate vein.

“Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, or treasonous, in my opinion,” Mr. Perry said.

“To play politics”? Mr. Bernanke was appointed chairman of the Fed by a Republican president, George W. Bush. He was reappointed by a Democratic president, Barack Obama, in an acknowledgment of how indispensable he had become in a time of crisis. In fall 2008, when global finances threatened to spin out of control, Mr. Bernanke responded with a steeliness that may have saved the country from disaster far worse than the severe downturn it has experienced.

That’s our view; it’s the view, we’d wager, of most economists. Mr. Bernanke’s actions had the support of both Mr. Bush and then-candidate Obama, of Republican Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and future Democratic Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner. And in the years since, Mr. Bernanke and his team have done as much as the Fed should do to get the economy moving again.

Now, if Mr. Perry disagrees, that’s fine. The actions of the Fed leading up to, during and after the crisis will be studied and critiqued for decades. Maybe Mr. Perry could have done better; we’ll be interested to hear about his economic program in the days to come.

But there has never been a whisper, let alone any evidence, that Mr. Bernanke’s actions have been motivated by anything but patriotism and determination to see the U.S. economy regain its footing. There was never a whisper, let alone any evidence, that the Republican-appointed Fed chairman sought to help Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and there is no reason to believe he is playing politics now.

If Mr. Perry has evidence to the contrary, he should present it. If not, he should apologize.

But questioning his opponents’ good faith seems to be part of Mr. Perry’s early playbook. He already has disparaged Mr. Obama for not serving in the military, something that Mr. McCain — with far greater claim on the nation’s gratitude for his military service than Mr. Perry has — never stooped to. And when asked whether Mr. Obama loves his country, Mr. Perry responded, “I dunno, you need to ask him. . . . You’re a good reporter, go ask him.”

When we asked the campaign about these remarks, a spokesman e-mailed, “The Governor never said the President does not love his country.” As to his remarks concerning Mr. Bernanke, “The Governor was expressing his frustration with the current economic situation and the out of control spending that persists in Washington.” But frustration does not excuse accusing people of treason if you don’t like their policies.

In the days after the Jan. 8 shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 others just outside Tucson, there was widespread revulsion at the nastiness of much political rhetoric and widespread commitment to argue about issues without questioning opponents’ motivations or character. Mr. Perry’s presidential campaign, not yet a week old, suggests he didn’t get the message. We hope he begins to make his case in a way that will reflect better on his own character.

By: Editorial Board Opinion, The Washington Post, August 16, 2011

August 17, 2011 Posted by | Conservatives, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, GOP, Government, Governors, Ideologues, Ideology, Politics, President Obama, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Standard And Poor’s Goes Tea Party

Big headlines for a Friday night: “U.S. Loses Top Credit Rating!” Yes, as most now know, Standard & Poor’s went ahead with its warnings of the past weeks and downgraded the sovereign debt of the United States government from its pristine triple-A to a still stellar but one notch less so AA+. And after a miserable week in global equity markets that was almost as ugly as it gets, a week that began with the conclusion of a universally reviled debt-ceiling deal, the late-night downgrade was the fitting end.

The symbolism is undeniable. This is the first downgrade in history, as commentators rushed to remind us. But of course, that history goes back only to the late 1930s, when the ratings agencies began to hold sway. And S&P is the only one of the major three—Fitch, Moody’s, and S&P—to downgrade. So this was big bad news, a bad coda to a bad week, but only as news and not as a trenchant analysis of the creditworthiness of the United States or its ability to meet its debt obligations going forward.

Let’s be clear: Congress and the White House did not cover themselves with glory during the debt debate throughout July. The United States has a stalled economy and a large amount of debt. But on so many levels, this downgrade is absurd.

First there is the question of math. When S&P informed the White House of its intention to downgrade on Friday afternoon, the Treasury Department took issue with S&P’s math and claimed that their assessment of the trends of the U.S. debt burden and its ratio to GDP was off by trillions of dollars. No matter. After a brief review, the wizards at S&P went ahead and removed an A.

A news ticker reads “Standard & Poor’s downgrades US credit rating from AAA to AA+” in Times Square on August 5, 2011 in New York City., Andrew Burton / Getty Images

Second, what’s with the fetish for a so-called proper ratio of debt-to-GDP. Academic economists have done no favors here. Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff have become the go-to economists for their work showing how countries that reach a 90% ratio slide into recession and see slowing growth well before. The U.S. current level according to S&P is 74% and will rise to 85% by 2021. The explanation of the downgrade closely tracks this academic logic.

I have no criticism of an academic theory about how nations function economically. But when debatable theories become the underpinnings of decisions by unelected individuals who run organizations with significant sway (sway ceded to them by governments throughout the 20th century), then we have a problem. We have a problem when that argument gives short shrift to the debt-servicing burden. The current interest rate that the U.S. government pays to service its massive debts is hovering around 2.5%, which makes interest payments as a percentage of GDP as low as they have been since the mid-1970s.

Servicing the debt does not enter into the analysis, yet that and current interest rates make all the difference. Dismissing that counterargument, warning that rates will of course rise (yet even if they double, that will still leave the U.S. more than able to meet its obligations), and drawing on theories about the “right” level of debt puts S&P in a strange bedfellow alliance with the Tea Party.

The people who run the ratings agencies are welcome to their analysis, as is the Tea Party. But if Rogoff and Reinhart or the Tea Party announced that they were downgrading U.S. sovereign debt, they would be laughed for their audacity. Yet when it is one of the anointed ratings agencies, there is this sudden need to genuflect.

This is largely because covenant after covenant in both SEC rulings and institutional money management (pensions especially) dictate that many types of capital can only be invested in credit-worthy instruments as determined by Moody’s, S&P and Fitch. The downgrade doesn’t remotely begin to threaten the “investment grade” status of U.S. debt, and there is little reason to suspect that borrowing costs will go up as a result. Still, the reason we are in this situation of having to genuflect to S&P is because an entire structure of credit and investments, and the issuance and purchase of bonds above all, has been built on the shaky and questionable foundation of the ratings agencies.

The worst part of the downgrade is this: S&P spent considerable time in the body of their explanation about debt and GDP and growth. But they didn’t lead with that. That wasn’t the kicker. No, this was: “the downgrade reflects our view that the effectiveness, stability, and predictability of American policymaking and political institutions have weakened at a time of ongoing fiscal and economic challenges.” The company assailed the Washington culture of “brinkmanship” so in display during the debt ceiling fiasco, and used that as the primary reason to take us down a notch.

Excuse me, but since when is a pristine political process a key ingredient to good credit? Are we supposed to have civil politics in order to maintain the rating? Are we supposed to have some mythic Scandinavian concord? Washington has usually been a mess, and arguably more now than ever. Nonetheless, the great distortion of the debt-ceiling imbroglio was that failure to do a deal would have led to a default. It would have led to a partial and then increasing complete shut down of the government, which would have soon enough forced a resolution. At no point would there have been insufficient tax revenue to meet the $20 billion of so in monthly interest payments on the debt, unless the crisis had gone on for months and months, which barring collective national psychosis simply could not have happened.

So S&P doesn’t feel comfortable that the American political process is conducive to dealing with long-term debt issues and so issued a downgrade. Yet S&P is a ratings agency, not a political arbiter. Olympic judges rule on athletic aptitude, not the politics of the athletes (usually). There is not a scintilla of evidence that the political process has yet impeded the ability of the United States to meet its debt obligations, even with the debt ceiling brinkmanship. The political process may indeed be contributing to the morass of the American economy, but the larger causes are the challenges of emerging economic centers and changing patterns of global commerce. Those are long-term issues that have little bearing on current ability to manage debts.

Finally, as a symbol that the United States is sliding off the rails, the downgrade is potent. It’s hard to argue with the reality that America is in a challenging moment that looks and feels a lot like decline. Whether that proves false and a new dawn awaits, we’ll find out soon enough. But the actions of S&P are part of problem and not just an independent verification that one exists.

These agencies have been elevated to heights that should not ascend; they have been chronically wrong and late in the past; and their rationale for a downgrade sounds more like a prim distaste for a dysfunctional political process that a reasoned assessment of the ability of the United States to discharge its obligations. No defense can be offered of our current political system or near-term economic prospects. But S&P—already on overreach as “neutral” judge of American creditworthiness—has no special standing to rule on the political system, and using that as a cudgel to prove their own power is a destructive act.


By: Zachary Karabell, The Daily Beast, August 6, 2011

August 7, 2011 Posted by | Congress, Conservatives, Consumers, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Politics, Republicans, Right Wing, Teaparty | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

GOP’s Debt Ceiling Fight Is About Bringing Down Obama

Impeach  him.

Not the president. Barack Obama is holding a huge  global and domestic crisis in his hand. To use a Washington metaphor,  he’s dangerously close to being left “holding the bag” on the  Treasury debt ceiling limit. He keeps talking sweet reason about  the art of compromise to Republicans in Congress—not a language they speak.   Obama played golf with the House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican who  drones on about “small business” every chance he gets. Obama is  not getting traction or making friends with Boehner because he does  not grasp the conversation about the debt limit is not about the debt limit. It’s about taking his presidency down—this week—even if it hurts the  United States of America, which it will. A small price to pay for this  tea-drinking crowd of 87 GOP House freshmen which turned the chamber upside  down six months ago.

“This is no way to run the greatest country on  earth,” Obama  declared in a belated speech, sounding a call to arms around  the  country, last night. That in itself says so much—he’s right, but  he’s  the man who’s elected by the people—not John Boehner who was elected by a  small-town  slice of Ohio—to run the country! Everything was  calculated to leave  Obama in the lurch—by Boehner, House Majority  Leader Eric Cantor of the old  Confederate capital, Richmond, Va. and at  least one other mastermind. The  conspiracy has succeeded flawlessly so  far. They separated Obama from his  own party in Congress; in his  dealings with only Republicans he went way  beyond Bill Clinton’s  “triangulation” strategy. Obama made  allies feel like they were shut  out of the deal-making room when he  offered concessions that cut at the  heart of the Democratic Party‘s proud  history on social programs dating  to the New Deal.

The GOP—and I mean the George W. Bush years and the  current crop  of Senate Republicans, too—has a new deal for you, too. It’s  called  the New Steal. It goes like this: we’ll take all the peace and   prosperity of the Clinton tax code years up until 2000 and then squander  it on  a couple unwinnable wars of choice—and by the way, make rich  people pay less  into the Treasury than they did during those golden  years. They might start one  of those illusory “small businesses.”

The reason President Clinton was acquitted at his  impeachment trial  in the Senate for a fling with Monica Lewinsky was because he  built  bonds of loyalty, teamwork and camaraderie with Democrats in both houses   of Congress. Not one of them came forward on the floor to speak  against him,  except pious Sen. Joe Lieberman, who suggested a censure. He  was utterly alone in  his opportunistic little ploy. Clinton’s true  friends all stood by him in the  Senate—because he was their  president.

Obama, a bit of a loner, needs more bosom buddies  among lawmakers.  In a crisis, you find out who your friends are. The one  who could have  steered him straight, sailing into the wind, was the late great   senator, Edward M. Kennedy. When Kennedy got his Irish up and roared on   the floor, he scared the forest. Obama does not scare the Republican  jungle.

Let’s impeach Rush Limbaugh as the master of public  dis-coarse. He’s  the real reason we have so many angry white men in office who  are  plotting against the president. He’s writing the back-story of this   debt drama, consulting closely with House Republican leaders step by  step.  I believe it even if I can’t see it because he did the same thing  in  1994, in cahoots with Newt Gingrich, who recruited a new House  Republican  freshman class to take over the House. Yes, I saw Rush with  my own eyes  getting all the glory as class mascot at a fancy dinner at  Camden Yards in  Baltimore for the new Republican victors that enabled  Gingrich to become speaker. The government shutdowns and showdowns  against President Clinton  resulted—remember?


By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, July 26, 2011

July 26, 2011 Posted by | Budget, Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Deficits, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Elections, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Small Businesses, Taxes, Teaparty, Voters | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“You Talkin’ To Me?”: Obama Calls The GOP’s Bluff

Here’s how to negotiate, GOP-style: Begin by making outrageous demands. Bully your opponents into giving you almost all of what you want. Rather than accept the deal, add a host of radical new demands. Observe casually that you wouldn’t want anything bad to happen to the hostage you’ve taken — the nation’s well-being. To the extent possible, look and sound like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.”

This strategy has worked so well for Republicans that it’s no surprise they’re using it again, this time in the unnecessary fight over what should be a routine increase in the debt ceiling. This time, however, something different is happening: President Obama seems to be channeling Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver.” At a news conference last Wednesday, Obama’s response to the GOP was, essentially, “You talkin’ to me?”

Obama’s in-your-face attitude seems to have thrown Republicans off their stride. They thought all they had to do was convince everyone they were crazy enough to force an unthinkable default on the nation’s financial obligations. Now they have to wonder if Obama is crazy enough to let them.

He probably isn’t. But the White House has kept up the pressure, asserting that the real deadline for action by Congress to avoid a default isn’t Aug. 2, as the Treasury Department said, but July 22; it takes time to write the needed legislation, officials explained. Tick, tick, tick . . .

“Malia and Sasha generally finish their homework a day ahead of time,” Obama said, gratuitously — but effectively — comparing his daughters’ industry with congressional sloth. “It is impressive. They don’t wait until the night before. They’re not pulling all-nighters. They’re 13 and 10. Congress can do the same thing. If you know you’ve got to do something, just do it.”

Obama’s pushing and poking are aimed at Republicans who control the House, and what he wants them to “just do” is abandon the uncompromising position that any debt-ceiling deal has to include big, painful budget cuts but not a single cent of new tax revenue.

The president demands that Congress also eliminate “tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires . . . oil companies and hedge fund managers and corporate jet owners.” Without these modest increases in revenue, he says, the government will have to cut funding for medical research, food inspection and the National Weather Service. Also, presumably, whatever federal support goes to puppies and apple pie.

In truth, some non-millionaires who never fly on corporate jets would also lose tax breaks under the president’s proposal. And it’s hard to believe that the first thing the government would do, if Congress provides no new revenue, is stop testing ground beef for bacteria. But Obama is right that the cuts would be draconian — and he’s right to insist that House Republicans face reality.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that now is the wrong time for spending cuts or tax increases — that it’s ridiculous to do anything that might slow the lumbering economic recovery, even marginally. But if there have to be cuts, then Republicans must be forced to move off the no-new-revenue line they have drawn in the sand.

Even if they move just an inch, the nation’s prospects become much brighter. This fight is that important.

Every independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel that has looked at the deficit problem has reached the same conclusion: The gap between spending and revenue is much too big to be closed by budget cuts alone. With fervent conviction but zero evidence, Tea Party Republicans believe otherwise — and Establishment Republicans, who know better, are afraid to contradict them.

The difficult work of putting the federal government on sound fiscal footing can’t begin as long as a majority in the House rejects simple arithmetic on ideological grounds.

“I’ve met with the leaders multiple times,” Obama said, referring to House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “At a certain point, they need to do their job.” The job he means is welcoming fantasy-loving Republicans to the real world, and it has to be done.

The stakes are perilously high, but Obama does have a doomsday option: If all else fails, he can assert that a section of the 14th Amendment — “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law . . . shall not be questioned” — makes the debt limit unconstitutional and instructs him to take any measures necessary to avoid default.

Maybe that’s why, in this stare-down, the president doesn’t seem inclined to blink.


By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 4, 2011

July 5, 2011 Posted by | Class Warfare, Congress, Conservatives, Constitution, Corporations, Debt Ceiling, Debt Crisis, Democracy, Democrats, Economic Recovery, Economy, Federal Budget, GOP, Government, Government Shut Down, Ideologues, Ideology, Lawmakers, Middle East, Politics, President Obama, Public, Republicans, Right Wing, Tax Evasion, Tax Increases, Tax Loopholes, Taxes, Tea Party, Voters, Wealthy | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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