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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jon Stewart's Closing Remarks at the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear

I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions.
This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or at passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do.

But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.

But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.

If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.

There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people, but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.

The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker and perhaps eczema.

And yet with that being said, I feel good — strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin and one eyeball.

So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin assed forehead eyball monster?

If the picture of us were true, of course our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is - on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate - and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!

The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do — often something that they do not want to do — but they do it. Impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make.

Look on the screen: this is where we are this is who we are. These cars - that’s a schoolteacher who probably thinks his taxes are too high. He’s going to work. There’s another car - a woman with two small kids who can’t really think about anything else right now. There’s another car swinging I don’t even know if you can see it - the lady’s in the NRA. She loves Oprah. There’s another car - an investment banker, gay, also likes Oprah. Another car’s a Latino carpenter. Another car a fundamentalist vacuum salesman. Atheist obstetrician. Mormon Jay-Z fan.

But this is us. Every one of the cars that you see is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear - often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers.

And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile long 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river. Carved, by the way, by people who I’m sure had their differences. And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go, "Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car?" Well, that’s okay - you go and then I’ll go.

And sure, at some point there will be a selfish jerk who zips up the shoulder and cuts in at the last minute, but that individual is rare and he is scorned - and not hired as an analyst.

Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together and the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land.

Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.

If you want to know why I’m here and what I want from you I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.

Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

60 Minutes - The 99ers

Even after an extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, many of those about to go off the program are in a quandary. Scott Pelley talks to some of them in Silicon Valley.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

60 Minutes Preview: Unemployment and the 99ers

Even after an extension of unemployment benefits to 99 weeks, many of those about to go off the program are in a quandary. Scott Pelley talks to some of them in California's Silicon Valley. Sunday, Oct. 24, 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

And Now For Something Completely Different

I came across this tweet in my stream, and went over to read the linked article. It seems the reporter in question, Lachlan Markay, made a hash of things by referring to a ThinkProgress article on the Chamber of Commerce and foreign funding of campaign advertising as

"a salacious, factually-erroneous report on a highly partisan left-wing blog"

"Salacious" is a sinful-sounding word - all that sibilance just slithering around like that. But what does it mean?

Salacious: 1. lustful or lecherous. 2. obscene; grossly indecent. Synonyms: 1. lewd, wanton, lascivious, libidinous. 2. pornographic.

I tried to find examples of the most salacious, the most lecherous, the most obscene language I could find in the article. I really tried. Unfortunately, it's all safe for work:

  • "the Chamber is likely skirting longstanding campaign finance law"
  • "Under the manufacturing policy goal, USIBC boasts that it 'can play a helpful role in guiding U.S. companies to India, while supporting various policy initiatives that will enhance India's reputation as a major manufacturing and investment hub.'"

Unless there are additional secret references embedded in the text, skirting, boasting and enhancing are about the closest things to salacious language in the entire article.

Well, what about the factually-erroneous part? Markay makes that claim in his opening paragraph, but never cites any examples of the erroneous facts in the article. Not one. Instead, he simply repeats the claim four more times: "a completely bogus smear of a large political group," "unsupported allegations (that) can demonize and victimize a legitimate, law-abiding (as far as anyone can tell) politiclal group," "completely fabricated charges" and "ThinkProgress's bogus 'investigation.'" For someone concerned about erroneous facts, unsupported allegations, completely fabricated charges and a bogus investigation... wouldn't one or two examples be important, as in "Here's a sample of the erroneous facts..."?

The ThinkProgress article actually does make good use of the "who-what-where..." fundamentals of reporting, by explaining who the players are (the Chamber of Commerce, AmChams and fundraising departments like the USBBC and USIBC), what a 501(c)(6) organization is, and where the money seems to be going: the 501(c)(6) general account.

In a Ben Smith piece on Politico, a Chamber of Commerce spokesman said:

"No foreign money - from AmChams of otherwise - is used to fund political activities. None of the AmCham money is used for political activities."

President Ronald Reagan famously said "Trust, but verify." After all, Bernie Madoff had a system in place for managing his clients' money, and we all know how well that worked out.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Vote

The Nessie Chart for September

The Bureau of Labor Statistics has just published the Employment Situation Report for September. Coupled with the JOLTS report for August, we see little change in the job market:

  • The job seekers to job openings ("Nessie") ratio has improved fractionally, moving down to 4.6423 from 4.6479 - the ideal number would be 1.0
  • The civilian employment to population ratio (EMRATIO) remains unchanged at 58.5% - versus 63% before the recession
  • The number of 99ers has worsened, moving up to 1.471 million from 1.459 million

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Same As It Ever Was

On tonight's Rachel Maddow show, EJ Dionne referred to this story as one the late Senator Fritz Hollings used to tell. A little Googling turned up a source from 1988:
A veteran returning from Korea went to college on the GI Bill, bought his house with an FHA loan, saw his kids born in a VA hospital, started his business with an SBA loan; got electricity from TVA and, then, water from a project funded by the EPA. His kids participated in the school-lunch program and made it through college courtesy of government-guaranteed student loans. His parents retired to a farm on their social security, getting electricity from the REA and the soil tested by the USDA. When the father became ill, his life was saved with a drug developed through NIH; the family was saved from financial disaster by Medicare. Our veteran drove to work on the interstate, moored his boat in a channel dredged by Army engineers, and when floods hit, took Amtrak to Washington to apply for disaster relief. He also spent some of his time there enjoying the exhibits in the Smithsonian museums. Then one day he wrote his congressman an angry letter complaining about paying taxes for all those programs created for ungrateful people. In effect, he said, the government should get off his back. -Jonathan Yates, in Newsweek, November 28, 1988, p 12 (source)
Any resemblance between 1988's veteran and today's Tea Party supporter is entirely... accurate:
"I'm anti-spending and anti-government," crows David, as scooter-bound Janice looks on. "The welfare state is out of control."
"OK," I say. "And what do you do for a living?"
"Me?" he says proudly. "Oh, I'm a property appraiser. Have been my whole life."
I frown. "Are either of you on Medicare?"
Silence: Then Janice, a nice enough woman, it seems, slowly raises her hand, offering a faint smile, as if to say, You got me!
"Let me get this straight," I say to David. "You've been picking up a check from the government for decades, as a tax assessor, and your wife is on Medicare. How can you complain about the welfare state?"
"Well," he says, "there's a lot of people on welfare who don't deserve it. Too many people are living off the government."
"But," I protest, "you live off the government. And have been your whole life!"
"Yeah," he says, "but I don't make very much."
Vast forests have already been sacrificed to the public debate about the Tea Party: what it is, what it means, where it's going. But after lengthy study of the phenomenon, I've concluded that the whole miserable narrative boils down to one stark fact: They're full of shit. All of them. At the voter level, the Tea Party is a movement that purports to be furious about government spending - only the reality is that the vast majority of its members are former Bush supporters who yawned through two terms of record deficits and spent the past two electoral cycles frothing not about spending but about John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations. The average Tea Partier is sincerely against government spending - with the exception of the money spent on them. In fact, their lack of embarrassment when it comes to collecting government largesse is key to understanding what this movement is all about - and nowhere do we see that dynamic as clearly as here in Kentucky, where Rand Paul is barreling toward the Senate with the aid of conservative icons like Palin. (source)

BLS: Job Openings and Labor Turnover – August 2010

"There were 3.2 million job openings on the last business day of August 2010, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The job openings rate was unchanged over the month at 2.4 percent. The hires rate (3.2 percent) and the separations rate (3.2 percent) were little changed. This release includes estimates of the number and rate of job openings, hires, and separations for the total nonfarm sector by industry and geographic region."

Job Openings

"The number of job openings in August was 3.2 million, which was little changed from July. Although the month-to-month change is small, the number of job openings has risen by 863,000 (37 percent) since the most recent series trough of 2.3 million in July 2009. (See table 1.) This trough immediately followed the end of the recession in June 2009 (as designated by the National Bureau of Economic Research). Even with the gains since July 2009, the number of job openings remained below the 4.4 million jobs open when the recession began in December 2007."

"The number of job openings in August (not seasonally adjusted) increased from 12 months earlier for total nonfarm and total private. Over that period, the job openings level decreased in educational services but increased in many other industries and in all of the regions. (See table 5.)"

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Modest Proposal

Resolved: That the nation's unemployed pay for renewed tax cuts for the nation's high-income earners.

The term "modest proposal" was popularized by Jonathan Swift, who argued in a satirical essay that the Irish should sell off their "surplus" children as food.

I'd like to offer a proposal that may sound just as satirical, but is based in sound dollars and cents.

We know that Senator Stabenow brought S. 3706 to the Senate floor, just as she promised to. She submitted a discharge resolution that failed to gain unanimous consent, thanks to the objection of Senator George LeMieux (R-FL). His objection?

"we need to know what it's going to cost, we need to know how we're going to pay for it so we don't put this debt on our children and grandchildren."

Those are fine enough words from the Senator, but they tend to lose their rhetorical strength when Republicans in the Senate are willing to fight for renewed tax cuts for incomes over $250,000, without providing offsets for the estimated $700 billion the tax cuts will cost.

Well, let's talk costs, and let's talk who's going to pay.

We've seen testimony that unemployment benefits grow the economy: they're one of the biggest bangs for the buck around. One dollar of unemployment benefits grows the economy by $1.61 of GDP within one year.

Let's use that $1.61.

Here's my proposal: for each dollar of emergency unemployment compensation (EUC), including additional tiers, that Congress allocates, let's also trigger 61 cents in tax cuts for incomes greater than $250,000.

For example: the last EUC extension was estimated to cost roughly $33 billion - if the econometric models are correct, that extension will grow the economy by $53 billion, and from our modest proposal, would trigger $20 billion in tax cuts.

There aren't many sources of PAYGO funding available: EUC would have to displace other discretionary spending, and that only takes from one group to give to another - a win-lose situation. Likewise, using ARRA funds would take stimulus dollars away from other programs, and TARP funds are restricted-use.

Using EUC to trigger tax breaks, however, would be something everyone can support: the 99ers would get the additional tiers of assistance we need. The economy would benefit, and Republicans would get the tax breaks for high incomes that they want. Win-win.

I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Time To Put Our Heads Together

Now that we've been energized by the One Nation March, it's time to talk about what's next.

For us as 99ers, there are decisions to consider: stay home? Vote? For who?

There's strategy to consider: S. 3706 isn't dead, but it is still in committee - how do we get it back onto the Senate floor for a vote?

And then, there's the calendar: November 30th is the last day for emergency unemployment compensation for people who still receive that benefit. Come December 1, those people may, unfortunately, be joining our ranks.

Here's an open thread - let's put our heads together and put some good ideas on the table.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Debt: Congress Or The President? (with updates)

Who is responsible for the national debt? Or, to ask another way, who is the more fiscally conservative party, Democrats or Republicans?

To answer, I've put together three charts. Each looks at debt as a percentage of GDP, based on the following formula:

Gross Federal Debt
- Debt Held By Government Accounts
- Debt Held By The Federal Reserve System
-----------------------------------------
= Debt Held By The Public

Colors represent the majority party: blue for Democrats, red for Republicans.

There was a split Congress from 1981 to 1987: the Senate had a 7-8 seat Republican majority while Democrats held the House of Representatives.

From 2001-2003, each party held 50 seats in the Senate. Vice President Dick Cheney, as the tie-breaking vote, puts those years in the Republican column.

From 2007-2009, each party held 49 seats, but the two independent Senators caucused with the Democrats, putting those years in the Democrats' column.

Remember that Federal budgets are voted on one year in advance: the 2001 budget, for instance, was submitted to Congress and signed by the President in 2000. The bars are adjusted to reflect the time difference between budget year and calendar year.

The first chart shows the size of the national debt and who held the majority in Congress:



Does it look like there are any correlations? Let's tweak the chart slightly:



This second chart only looks at the House of Representatives, not the Senate. If anything, it's harder to make the point that Democratic Congresses are responsible for the national debt: under Democrats, the debt went down steadily in the late 1950s and up steadily in the early 1990s.

There does seem to be one area where the numbers correlate - Presidential terms:


Now the rises and falls are starting to make sense:

  • President Truman took the post-World War II debt down from 98% to 52%.
  • President Eisenhower continued the trend, lowering the debt to just under 40% at the end of his term.
  • Presidents Kennedy and Johnson lowered it still further to 23.6%
  • Presidents Nixon, Ford and Carter kept debt relatively constant: during their Administrations, debt held at 20.3%, plus or minus two percentage points.

With the exception of two years during President Truman's Administration and another two years in President Eisenhower's, all the progress made in lowering the national debt came under Democratic Congresses.

  • Presidents Reagan and Bush presided in a steady rise in debt: from 1982 to 1993, debt went from 24.5% of GDP to 44.4% - an increase of almost 20 percentage points.
  • Under President Clinton, debt went back down: from 44.1% to 27.2%
  • Under President Bush, it went back up: from 27.8% to 47.6%

Presidents establish the budget priorities for the nation, and the charts make it pretty clear that debt rises and falls based on those priorities, not based on who holds the majority in Congress.

Update: Brad DeLong put together this chart that illustrates the answer quite nicely:

Related post: The United States of Inequality

Update 2: the Washington Post has a great infographic illustrating the differences between the budgets that Presidents have submitted, and the budgets they've ended up with.

(reposted from a previous source)