Left In Lowell

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December 8, 2010

Why the Left (and Center) Is Pissed

by at 12:34 pm.

A self-identified strong political centrist friend on facebook recently expressed his disgust at Obama’s “compromise” on the tax cut extensions for the rich. I commented that if Obama has lost him, he really has lost the squishy middle. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans didn’t want a tax cut extension for the wealthy. And in the context of all the (somewhat misplaced) concern over deficits, this so-called compromise from Obama is even weirder - after all, neither the tax cuts, nor the unemployment benefit extension that we “got” from Republinans, are “paid for.” Which makes both the Republicans, who “ran” on the deficit, and Obama, with his Catfood (er, “Deficit”) Commission, incredibly hypocritical.

Of course, Obama didn’t lose, and the Republicans didn’t win, on the election being about deficits. It was about an economy that people felt hadn’t gotten enough attention by our leaders of either party. Many stayed home, and the result was that the fired up Republicans took control of the House. But you can’t convince a Republican about that by giving in to him.

But it gets worse. Obama called the Republicans “hostage takers” - and he’s right. They held a gun to Americans suffering with long term unemployment, and to tax cuts for the middle class, and demanded a ransom for the rich, despite the 60%+ of Americans who don’t want that. Obama wants us to believe that this was about preventing harm to the hostages.

He might be right, but only for the short term. What do you get when you negotiate with hostage takers? Emboldened hostage takers. They now know they can threaten harm to get what they want with little or no consequences. And the next threat of harm is right around the corner, and is very, very dire - Chris Bowers at dkos explains:

The problem is, this deal does not free the hostages, and escort them to a safe place. This is because, at a minimum, the deal does not raise the debt ceiling.

According to current projections, Congress will have to vote on raising the debt ceiling in late March, or else the whole country goes into default. At that time, Republicans could–and likely will–take the entire country hostage. After their successful hostage taking on the tax cuts, in exchange for raising the debt ceiling preventing default, they could demand spending cuts that will far exceed any of the stimulus in this deal, or exceed any collateral damage caused by not doing this deal.

Keep in mind that many Republican leaders threatened this very thing already. It’s not a matter of maybe, it’s a matter of when and how much.

This time it won’t be your $400-to-700-on-average tax cut extension on the line, or the $2M long term unemployed, but the “Full Faith and Credit of the United States” held hostage. That threat, if carried out (government shutdown, defaulting on loans, the works) could cause another severe dip back down to recession. So, what safety did we gain for the American public with this deal? After all, we just proved to Republicans that holding the American economy and people hostage gets them pretty much everything they want.

Republicans leaders don’t really believe their own hype that tax cuts for the wealthy (or preventing the lapse of such) really helps job growth. The Congressional Budget Office, and many other prestigious institutions, have said over and over again that this “trickle down” theory doesn’t really work - tax cuts for the rich are not stimulative. It is marginally more stimulative to cut taxes for the middle class and below, as they are out there spending their money on goods and services, and so will spend marginally more if given tax cuts. It is more stimulative still is to ensure that the unemployed are buoyed up by benefits, and the best stimulus is direct government spending. Those facts are not in dispute - unless you’re a Republican leader (or their adherents) trying to sell a despicable tax and spending cut policy that will continue to erode the middle class.

In fact, you can easily make the argument that a double dip recession will only benefit Republicans politically, as people will continue the blame the party that is mostly in power, even if in name only. You might even be able to make the argument that they could be cynically aiming to bring us back to recession in order to peddle their snake oil solutions in 2012, and possibly succeed. Certainly, with Democratic leaders reluctant to use their bully pulpit to fight for what will help the middle class and small businesses, there really isn’t any competing storyline out there to gainsay them.

The fact is, not holding a line now will have consequences going forward. Not just political consequences - those are pretty bad alone. But also policy consequences on the “hostages” that Obama thinks he just saved. Enjoy the compromise you have now, because it’s going to get even worse later.

August 25, 2010

Lowell Sun Editorial, FULL of Sunshine…

by at 3:55 pm.

Or rather, it’s full of sh*t. Probably another edition of Jim “Logic? What’s that?” Campanini drivel. It has his signature pull-it-out-of-my…well. You know.

In it, he blames Obama, Patrick, and the Democrats for the reslumping economy we are, it appears, going through now. Of course, Campanini (ahem, I mean “the editor who wrote this”) has a real, electoral reason for doing this - he wants Republicans to win, so he’s gotta paint this as a problem with the leadership of the Democrats. To do so, he has to ignore general consensus of real economists (the reality-based ones who don’t work for the Heritage Foundation). Particularly with Mass job increases at 20 year highs, he has to make you think that despite this progress, it’s not progress.

All the real economists (the ones that win Nobel Prizes) have rejected trickle down (hey even Bush Sr. called it “voodoo” after all), affirmed Keynesian economics, and basically have said for a couple YEARS now that the big problem with the economy is that we didn’t stimulate it enough - and 1/3 of that stimulus bill we did get was, actually, useless tax cuts, to boot. (I find it odd how this is never mentioned in the context of conservative rants about the stimulus package. Maybe because it would help prove they are full of crap?)

These smart economists are now saying that what we’re seeing has an awful lot in common with the slowdown and retrenching of the unemployment rate in the 1930s after FDR and Congress got all deficit-hawky. And they are right, there’s a ton in common. And this deficit worry is the prevailing idiocy here and around the world. End result? Since we haven’t yet dug ourselves out of the hole we were in, we’re sliding back in now that we put the brakes on powering our way up.

It’s sort of like worrying about how to fix the patient’s broken arm while he’s still on the surgeon’s table having a heart attack. Simple triage dictates you deal with the worst problems first, then move on once you’ve stabilized the patient. This is pretty conventional wisdom for those who don’t still believe in the tooth fairy and Reaganomics.

And I love, just adore the whole concept of ignoring why we’re in this mess of a economic pothole in the first place - the tender ministrations of one George W. “I went to business school!” Bush. Who. Cut. Taxes.

Here’s the other piece of logic stupidity this editorial commits - it fails to take into account that the ONLY reason Obama has not fixed the economy more substantially (besides just how bloody deep it was to begin with) is the Republicans (and the few conservaDems) watered down any attempt to actually do the real things that needed doing - like going all in on stimulus rather that doing what most economists tell us is dipping one’s toe in.

If anyone’s to blame for the failures of this economy, it’s Bush, first, and second, Republicans in the Senate who prevented Obama from enacting a decent agenda that had a shot at actually working. But I can tell you, far smarter people than Jim Campanini say that the only reason we’re treading water instead of drowning to our deaths is because of the stimulus that was put into place. Without it, we’d be far, far worse off.

Oh, hell, for fun, because I haven’t done this in a while, let’s pick apart the arguments in the editorial one at at time…

Both Obama and Patrick have tried to tax and spend their way out of the recession rather than rein in fiscal policies and promote business investment.

In a recession, (says all the smart people in the world), if unemployment is high and there are no buyers, businesses will not invest in anything. Why in the hell would they?? They won’t create widgets (or houses, or sell services) if people are not buying them. Businesses are not stupid. They know that a widget sitting on a shelve is lost revenue. Apparently, this editor thinks that businesses are dumb and will build widgets if they get tax cuts - regardless of whether or not they have buyers!

However, if more people are employed (those much-maligned teachers and fire fighters and public employees whose essential jobs were saved, to name a few), they buy things. They buy services. They, in effect, create, what’s that word…demand. But this writer here thinks the Demand Faerie brings that to businesses in the night, I guess…

Democrats who once hailed the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus plan are now making excuses for its failure to create jobs. They say the package wasn’t big enough. What gall.

Who has gall? This writer ignores the fact that fully one third of the stimulus was in tax cuts as a sop to the GOP to get them to stop filibustering it. Otherwise, it would have been 1/3 more effective than it was. It was, at the time, being lamented as too small - our economy is just too big for a few hundreds of billions to drag us out of a Bush-dug recession.

Reviving the economy should have been Obama’s No. 1 priority.

I agree. And it was. The Republicans however, prefer a shitty economy so they could run on it, and blocked all the effective stuff that would have been otherwise directed towards the economy. Note, however, that the stimulus bill was basically one of the first things Obama ever worked on - a fact conveniently not noted here.

Instead, he directed Democrats to push through a costly health-care law that, when it kicks in in 2014, will add more financial burdens on business and workers.

Again, that was after the stimulus-that-was-small-and-1/3-tax-cuts was passed, and it was evident that none more would be had with the Republican filibuster threat. Also, health care is a huge, just ginormous portion of our GDP - more than all the socialized countries who’ve taken health care off the books of their private sector. Addressing it was a necessary long-term help to our economy, though obviously not a short term solution. Our businesses are drowning in health care costs that are just insane.

The bulk of the money has gone to protect government jobs — union teachers, police, firefighters, etc. — while ignoring the private sector, which creates jobs.

Yeah, cuz we don’t need those stinkin’ police, firefighters, and teachers…or their spending money to stimulate the economy, either. And of course, the editor here ignores the 20-year-high rate of private sector job increases in MA in the last few months. Funny how that happens. How much better does he think the private sector job growth can get, without breaking all records??

With more one-time stimulus money on the way, Patrick will be spreading the wealth to municipal governments to protect even more union jobs. It’s an election year, after all. A responsible leader, however, would tuck that money away in the state’s rainy-day fund, leaving it for the challenges of fiscal 2012.

Shorter Jim Campanini: unions suck. I hate them! Damn the weekends they gave us, and damn them for serving the Commonwealth with crazy policing, firefighting, and teaching all over the place. They should paid $20K a year, or not at all!

And, in the middle of the worst recession in ages, we should be SAVING! Saving for a rainy day! The hell with the reason we have a rainy day fund in the first place!

God, can you get any sillier than pretty much this entire editorial?

Of course, if you’re Campanini (*ahem* this editorial writer), facts and the words of real smart economists don’t really influence your view of the universe. You have your narrative all picked out and then torturously try to twist everything fit it. Reality doesn’t really factor in to it.

Whereas I’d rather actually solve the real problems of our time. But hey, that’s just me.

December 22, 2009

Perhaps, Signs of Optimism

by at 12:43 pm.

The news is reporting that MA home sales last month were up incredibly from last November, by a whopping 59% for single family homes. Of course, November 2008 was a terrible month for home sales, but that is still a very good trend. This is in addition to the encouraging, though fragile news that the state’s revenues are also on the rise, beyond previous gloomy projections.

The conservatives have attempted to label the stimulus efforts of the last year as more than fruitless - they state it has been a huge waste of taxpayer money. For instance, they constantly cite their favorite sets of numbers with regards to the Cash for Clunkers program - that each “clunker” cost far too much to be useful as a stimulus.

But here’s what I know. I know a family member of mine who works in the auto parts industry went from a dismal reduction in hours a year ago, to working full time again in the last few months. I know his company is now working on electric car technology, partly due to a bigger emphasis on green transportation and getting ourselves rid of “clunkers.” I know that my own brother proudly purchased his first home to take advantage of the first-time buyers program last summer, one more notch in the stabilization of home prices. He has a good steady job and was a perfect candidate for someone who just needed a little incentive take the plunge to being a home owner.

I also know that I myself have expanded my business as a direct result of stimulus money which is going to a program intending to help people gain the skills necessary to become more financially responsible. My business is doing so well I have less time for blogging. :)

I know there’s construction going on around the state and I know that the Hamilton Canal District’s Appleton artist live-work rentals had their groundbreaking and is keeping people employed for 18 months. I know that MA’s unemployment numbers are looking better every month, and I know that our schools have dodged a huge bullet when it comes to losing budget in the last year, thanks largely to the priorities of our Governor.

Maybe today’s just a glass half full day because my Christmas shopping is done and mostly wrapped and we’re headed for a three day weekend and I get to watch my excited nieces unwrap gifts, but I’m feeling that 2010 is definitely looking up, and I think that the policies enacted to deal with the Main Street worries, such as the stimulus bill and the incentive programs, did what they were supposed to do. Could they have been more efficient? Sure. For instance, we wasted a 1/3 of the stimulus in pointless tax breaks for special interests and big business. It’s well known* that you do not get back the same economic activity from tax cuts as you do direct spending.

But overall, I think we’re in better shape than we could have been, and averted a worse economic crisis. Now we need to fix what was broken, namely, the regulation of industries in which greed played and still plays such a powerful roll. We need to go back to having a firewall between lending activity and investing, among other things.

I’m not optimistic about health care reform (in that I think that the Senate bill subsides for Big Insurance are just going to become tomorrow’s boondoggle) but at least restricting the ability of insurers to deny you care for a preexisting condition or kicking you off care is a good step (we do that in MA by the way). We need fast action on carbon reduction, and though Copenhagen was a tough nut I hope people are not done fighting for it. If we can build these three pillars - economic reform, heath care reform, and environmental reform - we will have gone a long way towards transforming our country to thrive for the next 9 decades of this century.

* Known except to those who cannot let facts get in the way of their theory binkie called “trickle down.”

November 7, 2009

Barack! Keep on Saluting!

by at 3:34 pm.

Today, after reading a Letter-to-the-Editor in today’s Sun asking President Barack Obama to “Leave the salutes to our military men and women”, I immediately contacted one of Lowell’s combat veterans I know (yes, I know a few) Cliff Krieger. I figured since the President is the Commander in Chief, he can and should salute. It is one of the great things about this country, that the leader of the armed forces is a civilian, one elected by the people

The author of the letter had written:

I admit, the president is to be commended for being present at the arrival of our fallen the other morning at Dover AFB. But seeing him saluting at attention at the end of a military formation was inappropriate to say the least. Then, I watched him march with a military formation onto the ramp of a “military” transport (airplane), which was carrying the returning heroes? I have never seen such actions from a sitting president.

And this is in part Cliff’s reply to my e-mail questioning whether President Obama’s behavior was outside of accepted proper military etiquette:

Frankly, President Obama rendered a very fine hand salute at Dover. I was impressed. The salute is a sign of respect, and I was always taught that while the junior salutes first, it is the duty of the senior to return that salute, thus showing the mutual respect that exists within the chain of command. I think that the President is showing that mutual respect.

Also, as to marching up the ramp into the aircraft, that might just be a natural thing. I wasn’t there and didn’t see the video. So, this is just
my somewhat informed take on it. The ramp makes noise with each footstep, or at least that is my experience. That rhythm might cause the President to naturally fall into step with the others, who are in step.

Here is the link to the C-Span video on youtube. The ceremony took place at 3:40 a.m. and I might add very moving. So Barack, keep on saluting!

February 26, 2009

Department of Whoa

by at 4:37 pm.

Sometimes being a blogger astounds me, and sometimes it scares me. The last couple of weeks brought a tiny jolt of both, when I started receiving media advisories from the official White House Media Affairs Office. This, though I never really asked to be.

On the other hand, whoa. How’d they know about us, a dinky little blog on the edge of the country? (Answer: cuz we’re on the internets, duh…). On the first hand, hey, really cool! I’m on the official White House Media Affairs Office media list! Then there’s the third hand…if they let lags like me get on the list…doesn’t say much for their standards. :)

Anyway, this week was all about a media conference call with the Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget Rob Nabors (the same one AMERICAblog was invited to), which I didn’t opt into, mostly because I am a very busy business owner right now (not complaining!). That was set for 11am this morning (as it turns out, I ended up meeting with a client then anyway, so even if I wanted to, I would have had to back out of the call).

I get back from a late lunch after said client meeting, and goddamn…they have sent thems on the “media list” a freaking transcript of the conference call. Questions and all. I am not kidding! It turns out actually, Peter Orszag, the Director of the OMB, conducted the call.

Just because I think it’s valuable for readers, and because I think it’s damn cool, I’m just going to post the whole thing after the bump. It’s pretty long, but if you’re a budget wonk, it’s full of meaty goodness.

PS: I think I might just have to opt in to some of these calls! (more…)

February 24, 2009

Awesome

by at 4:43 pm.

Ha ha! (Spoken in the voice of Nelson Muntz.)

So much for the argument by pundits and conservatives everywhere that The People ™ think that the Republicans were the winners and Democrats and Obama the losers over this stimulus debate.

But by all means, please, keep drumming people like Governor Crist out of your party.

February 23, 2009

Budget Review

by at 12:30 pm.

Dday over at Hullabaloo gives her review of the (leaked) Obama budget.

President Obama’s budget has been leaked to major news organizations in time for the Sunday papers, and it seeks to close a yawning deficit over the long term through entirely unobjectionable means like ending unnecessary wars and ensuring that everyone pays their fair share for using the public commons. Also, importantly, he doesn’t try to close the budget gap entirely, and he’s offering an honest appraisal of the numbers instead of the stupid budget tricks that have defined the past decade.

She quotes a lot of the details, but suffice it to say, there’s some spending decreases (one of which is defunding Bush’s failed Iraq war as we draw down) and some tax increases (letting the failed Bush tax cuts expire, so that the top tax rate goes from its current 35% to 39% - to my mind, still pretty damn low). As well as keeping the estate tax in place on estates over $3.5M, and getting aggressive on tax dodging by rich people and corporate loopholes, and the hedge fund loophole. She also says,

They are talking about reducing Medicare eligibility to age 55, and also getting rid of the grossly inefficient Medicare Advantage, which is essentially a $35 billion dollar payoff to private insurance companies.

Nice. This is a good and popular way to start to extend the umbrella of health care to more folks, albeit the most expensive way (given that 55+ are the most expensive in the risk pool of health insurance). It will help people like my own folks, where my dad, who owns his own business and pays his own health care premiums 100%, is approaching 65 but my mom is younger and would otherwise require a private plan costing thousands a year.

If there were also a provision stating small business owners of any age could opt into the Medicare system if they pay an extra 1% or 3% in FICA, I bet you’d see a huge influx of younger workers into the Medicare pool to help stabilize the risk pool, while saving those independent business owners thousands a year in private insurance premiums.

Dday concludes:

This budget is a Democratic statement of priorities, which states pretty clearly that we need a more responsible and progressive tax system that makes sure corporations and the wealthy are paying their fair share. It strives for progress in health care and climate change and a winding down of commitments to foreign military adventures. And it ends blatant giveaways to industry.

There will be details that come out that I imagine I will not particularly like, and I’ll certainly fight any off the books chicanery designed to prop up elites as well as any assaults on the social safety net in this time of economic peril. But the budget is a major document. And this one is, so far, a very respectable manifestation of liberal principles.

Amen to that!

February 3, 2009

International Consequences of Stimulus Bill

by at 12:10 pm.

One of my international friends sent me this link. This is more than just a blip on the global radar. The EU is serious.

The EU has increased its pressure on the US to reconsider the “Buy American” clause in the $800bn (£567bn) economic recovery package now before Congress.

The clause seeks to ensure that only US iron, steel and manufactured goods are used in projects funded by the bill.

A European Commission spokesman said it was the “worst possible signal” the Obama administration could send out.

The EU will launch a complaint with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) if the clause remains, the spokesman said.

On the one hand, you could totally see why this sort of “protectionism” would be desirable, from the point of view of the American politician and also the taxpayer. Why produce a stimulus if some large percentage of the funds will go into international hands? How does that create the jobs we so desperately need in order to get the economy back on track?

On the other hand, under many of our trade agreements and international law, protectionism isn’t allowed. The whole purpose was to open the playing field in international markets.

Also, if we’re spending taxpayer money, and some European or foreign company can produce the material or good cheaper than we can, wouldn’t it be a waste of taxpayer money to not go with the competitive bid? And the actual job of building the bridge, or road, or other infrastructure will be done by new US jobs, so is the protectionism sort of moot, or at least, not so big a deal?

It’s a pickle, to be sure, and it won’t go away if this clause in the stimulus passes. Lest we forget previous tiffs .

January 27, 2009

On Bipartisanship.

by at 10:59 am.

What Charley said.

Why do I get the feeling Democrats, including Obama, will not learn this lesson any time soon? How many times do you have to get bitten until you stop hand-feeding the animal…ug.

January 22, 2009

Portrait of a Young Couple

by at 11:45 am.

This was a really cool find. (Link thanks to Mr. Lynne.) And yes, it’s Obama related. :)

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