A few thoughts from Professor Krugman on unemployment and my own on the mid-term election

One of the issues in the mid-term elections is the failure of the economy to fully recover.  Having watched bits and pieces of the new Ken Burns series on the Roosevelts  I see some parallels between FDR and President Obama.  Both Presidents saw the economy begin to slow after showing good signs of recovery. In FDR’s case it actually fell back into recession.  The mistake in both cases is, at least in part, the failure to continue to fund government programs to create jobs,  to end the programs too quickly.  FDR came to understand this; Barack Obama always did.  But the current Congress doesn’t seem to get it.

Breadlines: long line of people waiting to be fed: New York City: in the absence of substantial government relief programs during 1932, free food was distributed with private funds in some urban centers to large numbers of the unemployed. (Circa February 1932)

Breadlines: long line of people waiting to be fed: New York City: in the absence of substantial government relief programs during 1932, free food was distributed with private funds in some urban centers to large numbers of the unemployed. (Circa February 1932)

At the end of my work life I got to administer some of the stimulus funding.  What I saw was not the direct creation of a huge number jobs with government  funding, but many jobs created as the result of the opening of a new business, new hotel, or new housing.  Those employed persons paid taxes which helped bolster the economy.  If the benefits of having people employed are obvious to an economic novice like me,  I don’t understand why the Republicans in Congress don’t want to fund infrastructure projects.  Road and bridge repairs, creating a grid that can tie in with alternative energy sources, construction of affordable housing:  these are just a few of the types of projects that can be government funded and that can create jobs.  While construction jobs may disappear, the infrastructure created will result in new opportunities.

Paul Krugman’s recent column helps me understand a little what may be going on.  He begins

Last week John Boehner, the speaker of the House, explained to an audience at the American Enterprise Institute what’s holding back employment in America: laziness. People, he said, have “this idea” that “I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.” Holy 47 percent, Batman!

People are just lazy.  Krugman continues

First things first: I don’t know how many people realize just how successful the campaign against any kind of relief for those who can’t find jobs has been. But it’s a striking picture. The job market has improved lately, but there are still almost three million Americans who have been out of work for more than six months, the usual maximum duration of unemployment insurance. That’s nearly three times the pre-recession total. Yet extended benefits for the long-term unemployed have been eliminated — and in some states the duration of benefits has been slashed even further.

The result is that most of the unemployed have been cut off. Only 26 percent of jobless Americans are receiving any kind of unemployment benefit, the lowest level in many decades. The total value of unemployment benefits is less than 0.25 percent of G.D.P., half what it was in 2003, when the unemployment rate was roughly the same as it is now. It’s not hyperbole to say that America has abandoned its out-of-work citizens.

If unemployment is too costly, then any kind of jobs program must cost way too much.

…My question for today is instead one of psychology and politics: Why is there so much animus against the unemployed, such a strong conviction that they’re getting away with something, at a time when they’re actually being treated with unprecedented harshness?

Is it race? That’s always a hypothesis worth considering in American politics. It’s true that most of the unemployed are white, and they make up an even larger share of those receiving unemployment benefits. But conservatives may not know this, treating the unemployed as part of a vaguely defined, dark-skinned crowd of “takers.”

My guess, however, is that it’s mainly about the closed information loop of the modern right. In a nation where the Republican base gets what it thinks are facts from Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, where the party’s elite gets what it imagines to be policy analysis from the American Enterprise Institute or the Heritage Foundation, the right lives in its own intellectual universe, aware of neither the reality of unemployment nor what life is like for the jobless. You might think that personal experience — almost everyone has acquaintances or relatives who can’t find work — would still break through, but apparently not.

The bottom line:  If you are still unemployed or if you are poor it is your own fault.  Besides, those people live in a world far from the world of Fox News.

I hope that people think about the state of the semi-recovered economy when they vote and that they vote for candidates who can learn from the lessons of the Depression, will vote some funding for jobs programs and not worry so much about the deficit which is shrinking.  They should instead worry about our infrastructure which is failing.  If they fix that, they may find people aren’t lazy, they just need jobs.

 Photograph:  Picture from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

Moving toward the cliff

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend, a federal employee, who is not working because of the shutdown.  She can’t check her work email or phone messages and fears the backlog of problems that awaits her when she does get back to work.  She said the only way she was fortunate was that she was not one of the essential employees who had to work anyway.  We speculated on how people will get to work if October moves to November and people’s monthly transit passes run out.  Will they be expected to shell out money they don’t have to get to a job they aren’t paid for?  All her friends can do is to buy her lunch.  Fast forward 24 hours and we still have no deal.  Even if the Senate comes up with a solution it is not clear if 1) the House will even vote on it and 2) if they do, if this is just another short term postponement.  All my friend hopes is that the next deadline is past the holidays and that there is back pay.

I was trying to find some humor in the whole situation, but find that I actually feel very sorry for John Boehner.  John Cassidy posted this for the New Yorker.

Give the Republicans on Capitol Hill one thing: they don’t leave a job half done. Evidently disturbed by polls showing Congress with a single-digit approval rating, they appear intent on driving it to zero.

What other explanation can there be for Tuesday’s farcical maneuvers, which saw the House Republican leadership try and fail to seize the initiative in the debt-ceiling standoff from the Senate, in the process humiliating Speaker Boehner yet again. By the end of the day, facing renewed opposition from some of his own members, Boehner had dropped his efforts to pass a bill that would have ended the shutdown and raised the debt ceiling until February, but one with more riders than an agreement that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, and Harry Reid, the Democratic leader, have been working on.

From the point of view of the country, that’s good news. Overnight, officials representing McConnell and Reid were rushing to complete their negotiations, which were called off on Tuesday after Boehner’s unwise intervention. As it stands now, the Senate agreement would reportedly fund the government until January 15th and raise the debt ceiling until February 7th, with the only concession from the Democrats being an agreement to toughen up the policing of eligibility requirements for obtaining federal subsidies to buy health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

Boehner is in a box.  He can’t control his own party caucus and can’t turn to Democratic votes because then he would lose his Speakership.  If the country goes into default, he will likely lose it anyway.

Once the Senate passes a bill and sends it to the House, the Speaker will face the unenviable choice of allowing it to pass with Democratic support or exercising the nuclear option of forcing a default. Having already ruled out this second option in public comments, there were reports on Tuesday night that Boehner was prepared to bring the Senate bill to the floor, which would probably insure its passage. That wouldn’t end the budget crisis—it’s never-ending—but it would put off the next showdown until the new year, whilst ensuring that the Republican ultras had gained almost precisely nothing for their willingness to shut down the government and raise the prospect of a debt default. (In another development on Tuesday, Fitch, one of the big ratings agencies, placed U.S. government debt on watch for a potential downgrade, saying that “the prolonged negotiations over raising the debt ceiling (following the episode in August 2011), risks undermining confidence in the role of the U.S. dollar as the preeminent global reserve currency by casting doubt over the full faith and credit of the U.S.”)

From the point of view of the Republican Party, things have been going from bad to worse. With the party divided, its poll ratings tanking fast, and its leadership unwilling to risk an actual default, it has been clear for some time that it was in a losing position. The discussions in the past few days have been about the terms of surrender, with the White House and Reid pressing for something close to an unconditional capitulation.

So here are a few cartoons to weep at as we proceed at a Senate’s slow pace, to the edge.

From Tony Auth

From Tony Auth

Tom Toles

Tom Toles

Signe Wilkerson

Signe Wilkerson

And Wilkerson, again.

Wilkinson2

Can we hope that there are still some adults who won’t drive us over the edge?

Star Trek or Star Wars

I’m a fan of the original Star Trek and of the first Star Wars trilogy.  I guess I dropped out after that, maybe moved on or something.  But putting that aside, I love this Ruben Bolling.  Sums up the cultural reference controversy and the sequester all in one.

tom 3-13-2013

Marco and Barack and the State of the Union

The President did not awkwardly reach for a bottle of water during his speech.  In fact, I don’t remember him drinking at all.  John Boehner, however, seemed to be sipping from his glass often.  When he wasn’t looking dour, that is.  I’ll write more about substance later, but this post is about impressions.

The best description of the Speaker is from Joan Walsh in Salon

But Boehner’s disdain was unrivaled. He also managed not to rise even for a shout-out to “wounded warriors,” or 102-year-old Deseline Victor, who waited seven hours to vote in Miami on Election Day. It was sometimes hilarious to watch him next to Vice President Joe Biden, who looked like a happy Easter Bunny with his white hair, lavender tie, pink-tinted glasses and green Newtown ribbon. Biden seemed to occasionally enjoy standing up, clapping while looking down at Boehner sulking in his chair.

This is what she means.

When John Boehner just sat there

And then we can move on to Maureen Dowd on Marco Rubio.

The ubiquitous 41-year-old — who’s on the cover of Time as “The Republican Savior” — looked as if he needed some saving himself Tuesday night as he delivered the party’s response to the State of the Union address in English (and Spanish). He seemed parched, shaky and sweaty, rubbing his face and at one point lunging off-camera to grab a bottle of water.

Oh, that water lunge.  How it will haunt poor Marco!

John Cassidy writing for the New Yorker, calls him “Water Boy”.

To be fair to Rubio, with a combination of eye contact and vigorous hand  gestures, he was doing a decent job with the tough task of delivering a lengthy  speech to a camera in an empty room. But then, for some reason—and it must have  seemed like an urgent one to him—he decided to reach for a small plastic bottle  on a nearby table and take a swig, thereby almost ducking out of the camera shot  and sending the Twitterverse into hysterics. “Uh-oh. Water gulp—really bad TV  optics,” Larry Sabato, a political science professor at the University of  Virginia, tweeted. “SNL, Colbert, Stewart…here they come.” After that  diversion, Rubio appeared to realize his error, and he looked a bit shaken. For  some reason, the camera closed in on his face, which didn’t improve things. As  the Democratic pundit Paul Begala cruelly noted on Twitter, the Senator was sporting a sheen  of sweat that inspired memories of Richard Nixon.

Meanwhile, the President looked confident and sometimes very passionate as when he mentioned the need for Congress to vote on gun safety legislation.

The Republicans looked more like their leader.

That is Paul Ryan in the center.

For right now, the President has the upper hand.  Neither Marco Rubio nor Rand Paul advanced any ideas beyond those from the last election – which they lost.  Plus they presented a bad image all around.  Maybe the Republicans are right in saying the President offered nothing new, nothing really that he didn’t talk about during the campaign, but there is a big difference:  Barack Obama won based in large measure on those ideas.  No wonder they look like four year olds being told they can’t have desert.  And poor Marco.  Only time will tell if he can overcome his reach for water.

Photographs AP/Charles Dharapak, Bill O’Leary/Post, Melina Mara/Post

Hopes for Obama 2.0

I thought this was a good summary of President Obama’s first term and what we hope can be avoided.

And they are still working on it.  Just look at Mike Luckovich

The more things change the more they stay the same.  John McCain is mischaracterizing Hillary Clinton’s testimony and it looks, right now like Harry Reid is going to cave on filibuster reform after all but it is an evolving situation.

And if you want another sign that nothing has changed, John Boehner is accusing Obama of destroying the Republican party.  I think they are doing a pretty good job without the President’s help.

Collage of pictures of John Boehner crying.

Boehner Collage – Jed Lewison

The “old” House votes on the fiscal cliff

David Jarman posted an interesting analysis of the voting on the Senate Bill to dodge the fiscal cliff in which he credits Nancy Pelosi for getting it done.  Here are some of the highlights.

Tuesday’s House vote on the fiscal cliff is one of those rare votes where you don’t get a straight party line vote like most contentious votes, but one where the House shatters into pieces and the winner is the side that reassembles the most fragments. Of course, this time it was Nancy Pelosi who did that, putting together a strange coalition of most of the Dems (minus a few defections on the caucus’s left and right flanks), plus the bulk of the establishmentarian and/or moderate Republicans (including the vote of John Boehner himself, no “moderate” but certainly “establishment”).

On the Republican side, there were 85 yes and 151 no votes (with 5 non-votes, from Ann Marie Buerkle, Dan Burton, Sam Graves, Jerry Lewis, and Ron Paul). That’s too many votes to replicate the entire list, but there was a significant geographic dichotomy here, one that seems to support the larger idea that the GOP is increasingly becoming a regional rump party.

Look at the New York Times map.  They also have the entire roll call at this link.

Map of fiscal cliff votes

Of those 85 yes votes, only 13 were Republicans from the Census-defined “southern” states, and many of those were either ones with ties to leadership (ex-NRCC chairs Tom Cole and Pete Sessions, Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers) or ones with atypical, moderate districts in Florida (Mario Diaz-Balart, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bill Young). Rodney Alexander, Kevin Brady, Howard Coble, Ander Crenshaw, John Sullivan, Mac Thornberry, and Steve Womack, most of whom are also pretty establishment-flavored, round out the list.

And how did the Democrats vote?

On the Democratic side, there were 172 yes and 16 no votes (with 3 non-votes, from Pete Stark, Lynn Woolsey, and John Lewis). Within those 16, though, there seem to be two camps: Xavier Becerra, Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio, Rosa DeLauro, Jim McDermott, Brad Miller, Jim Moran, and Bobby Scott (most of whom are Progressive Caucus members) voting against it from the left, and John Barrow, Jim Cooper, Jim Matheson, Mike McIntyre, Colin Peterson, Kurt Schrader, Adam Smith, and Pete Visclosky (most of whom are Blue Dogs) voting against it from the right.

It may not be that simple, though: DeFazio has in recent years been one of the likeliest members of the Progressive Caucus to stray from the party line (for example, he voted against both the Progressive budget and even the leadership budget last year); it’s increasingly hard to tell if he’s becoming more conservative or if DeFazio, always irascible, has just gotten more willing to dig his heels in on bills that feel like half-measures. Adam Smith, on the other hand, has generally been a New Democrat establishment-type player, but he might be looking to remake himself a bit with his newly configured, much more liberal district, which now contains a slice of Seattle. And Moran and Visclosky, even though Moran (who represents northern Virginia) is significantly more liberal than Visclosky, are probably coming from the same mindset, whatever that might be; they’re tight, and are some of the last remaining members of that John Murtha/Norm Dicks appropriations clique that didn’t really fit within any of the Dem caucuses.

Jarman doesn’t talk about Bobby Scott and John Lewis but both are in the Black Caucus as well as in the Progressive Caucus.  Lewis just didn’t vote, but Bobby (who I knew from back in my Virginia Days) represents a district that touches Eric Cantor’s and he might also have had the conservative white voter from his district in mind.

Jarman leaves us with this to think about

Fifteen of the GOP “yes” votes were members who, either because of defeat or retirement, won’t be coming back (Charlie Bass, Judy Biggert, Brian Bilbray, Mary Bono Mack, Bob Dold, David Dreier, Jo Ann Emerson, Elton Gallegly, Nan Hayworth, Tim Johnson, Steve LaTourette, Dan Lungren, Todd Platts, John Sullivan, and Bob Turner). Twenty end-of-the-liners, however, voted “no” (Sandy Adams, Todd Akin, Steve Austria, Rick Berg, Quico Canseco, Chip Cravaack, Jeff Flake, Frank Guinta, Connie Mack, Sue Myrick, Mike Pence, Ben Quayle, Denny Rehberg, David Rivera, Bobby Schilling, Jean Schmidt, Tim Scott, Cliff Stearns, Joe Walsh, and Allen West), though I suspect some of the more establishment-flavored names on that list would probably have been willing to offer a “yes” if the vote had looked closer than it actually was.

Tomorrow starts a new Congress so we can’t really look to this vote when we are reading the tea leaves about the upcoming fight on the debt ceiling and the budget.  There will be more Democrats – enough so Nancy Pelosi won’t need so many Republican votes (I think it may be 21, 17 with vacancies) – if John Boehner can be persuaded to bring things to the floor.

Looking back at 2012 progressively

2012 was a pretty good year for those of a progressive/liberal political point of view and Winning Progressive has compiled a good summary.  You can read the entire article here, but I’ve pulled out some of my particular favorites – in my own order of significance.

First I have to talk about Mitch McConnell who not only lost his effort to make President Obama a one-termer, but last night voted to increase taxes.  (Although since it happened after we technically went off the cliff  at midnight, he will probably spin it as a decrease.)  I think he an John Boehner were the big losers last year, not Mitt.  Mitt is done with politics, but McConnell and Boehner have to continue to try to herd their Republican members and get re-elected.

President Obama re-elected

So now to some accomplishments.

* President Obama Re-Elected With A More Diverse and Progressive Congress– The November elections saw the re-election of President Obama and the election of four new progressive U.S. Senators – Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-CT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).  In addition, Joe Lieberman (I-CT) is finally leaving the Senate!  On the House side, the Democrats elected in November will be the first major party caucus in US history that is majority female and people of color.  New House progressives will include Alan Grayson (FL-09), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Dan Kildee (MI-05), Ann McLane Kuster (NH-02), Grace Meng (NY-06), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Rick Nolan (MN-08), Mark Pocan (WI-02), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Mark Tacano (CA-41), Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), and Kyrsten Simena (AZ-09).  On the flip side, tea party conservatives Allen West (FL), Chip Cravaack (MN), Bobby Schilling (IL), Roscoe Bartlett (MD), Ann-Marie Buerkle (NY), Francisco Canseco (TX), and Joe Walsh (IL) were all defeat and, hopefully, will never be heard from politically again.

* LGBT Equality– 2012 was, of course, a banner year for advancing LGBT equality.  For the first time in US history, equality was supported by a majority of voters facing ballot proposals approving marriage equality in Maine, Washington, and Maryland, and refusing to ban equality in Minnesota. The first openly lesbian U.S. Senator, Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) was elected in November as were a record seven openly-gay House members.  President Obama publicly supported marriage equality, and anti-equality forces in Iowa failed in their effort to recall a state Supreme Court justice who declared that state’s ban on marriage equality unconstitutional.  In February, a federal appellate court ruled California’s anti-marriage equality Proposition 8 unconstitutional, and two federal courts in 2012 did the same with the Defense of Marriage Act.

* Health Care Reform – In a decision that surprised many commentators, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, aka “ObamaCare.”And while the GOP-controlled House has voted at least 33 times to repeal ObamaCare, President Obama’s re-election in November virtually guarantees that will never occur.   In implementing ObamaCare, the Obama Administration, standing up to strong opposition from conservative religious organizations, finalized rules requiring that contraception be included as a preventive health service that insurance policies must cover with no co-pay.  This will help millions of women afford access to birth control and also save money by reducing unintended pregnancies.

Those are my personal big three.

Yes, there is a lot left to do and a lot that happened that I didn’t particularly think was terrific, but on the first day of a new year, we should celebrate our successes!