CEPR’s Dean Baker, one of the only economists to anticipate the collapse of the housing bubble, calls out his many colleagues currently collaborating in the deficit witchhunt. [Y]oung people today can expect many more years of dire labor market conditions, because the remedies that could turn around their job situations have been blocked by nonsense spewing from economists. Incidentally, this situation works out very nicely for those on top, who are enjoying the benefits of record-high profit shares, which have also helped to fuel a soaring stock market.”
Along very similar lines, here’s James K. Galbraith on the state of economics in 2002:
|“Leading active members of today’s economics profession, the generation presently in their 40s and 50s, have joined together into a kind of politburo for correct economic thinking. As a general rule — as one might expect from a gentleman’s club — this has placed them on the wrong side of every important policy issue, and not just recently but for decades. They predict disaster where none occurs. They deny the possibility of events that then happen. They offer a “rape is like the weather” fatalism about an “inevitable” problem (pay inequality) that then starts to recede. They oppose the most basic, decent, and sensible reforms, while offering placebos instead. They are always surprised when something untoward (like a recession) actually occurs.
And when finally they sense that some position cannot be sustained, they do not re-examine their ideas. Instead, they simply change the subject. No one loses face, in this club, for having been wrong. No one is disinvited from presenting papers at later annual meetings. And still less is anyone from the outside invited in. Only the occasional top-insider-turned-dissident — this year the admirable Stiglitz — can reliably count on getting a hearing.
Put another way, when it comes to our elected representatives, the best lack all conviction while the worst are full of a passionate intensity. A new study finds politicians consistently overstate the conservatism of the American electorate. Which may be why we’re all very busy discussing ridiculous cuts to everything in Washington right now, instead of working harder to create jobs and foster economic growth.
In very related news, the Dow reaches a new high — 14,164 — even as household income hits a decade low. “As a percentage of national income, corporate profits stood at 14.2 percent in the third quarter of 2012, the largest share at any time since 1950, while the portion of income that went to employees was 61.7 percent, near its lowest point since 1966.”
As CERN in Switzerland becomes the new frontier in particle discoveries, physicists worry the United States is falling behind. “How such efforts will fare in this age of sequestration and federal cutbacks is unknown, he admitted, but particle physics has produced important spinoffs into medicine, including imaging devices and beams to treat cancer, and in materials science.”
It’s not just pandas and sea lions: Chris Good of ABC News lists fifty-seven terrible consequences America can expect from the looming sequestration, the deep automatic cuts resulting from the August 2011 debt ceiling deal that — unless action is taken — are set to go into effect on March 1st. Among the probable damage: 700,000 jobs lost. “With the House in recess and with Obama playing golf [with oilmen] over the weekend, a deal does not appear imminent.”
There’s a lot of back-and-forth going on in Washington right now about whose fault these lousy sequesters are. Clearly, the GOP loved the idea back when, and they’re the ones preventing any action on averting the cuts now. So make no mistake — if these deep and indiscriminate cuts go into effect, it’ll be because the GOP wants them. It’s the same reason they hold up disaster relief constantly, and are currently holding the US Postal Service hostage — Because they seem to get an ideological kick out of seeing Big Guvmint fail at its basic responsibilities.
That being said, let’s remember: The president handed House Republicans a loaded gun. It takes a very short-term view of things to forget how, throughout 2010, 2011, and 2012, President Obama actively fomented the deficit witchhunt, and continued to promote both Simpson-Bowles and a deadly Grand Bargain even as it became patently obvious that investment, spending, and economic growth should be the order of the day. (By the way: Not in the Simpson-Bowles package of deficit-defeating awesomeness? The corporate tax loophole that just made Erskine Bowles $114,000.)
In short, this lousy sequester is the GOP’s baby, yes. But it’s also the ultimate consequence of both parties trafficking in unresponsible hysteria over a phantom problem for years one end. Now the chickens have come home to roost, and our fragile economic recovery, weakened by several years without any serious stimulus, faces a real crisis. Let’s be clear: This crisis was not caused by the illusory danger of deficits, but because Republicans and the administration both, when the chips were down in August 2011, elided over basic economic sense and instead embraced the nonsense of austerity.
In Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi explains how and why the Justice Department refused to prosecute HSBC for sundry violations of the law. In short, they were Too Big to Jail. “An arrestable class and an unarrestable class. We always suspected it, now it’s admitted. So what do we do?”
In related news, Wall Street bankers throw one of their customary hissyfits over a gaggle of fully complicit, bought-and-paid-for regulators finally being asked a hard question or two by the Senate Banking Committee — thanks to its and our new champion, Senator Elizabeth Warren. “The anonymous banker followed up [with Politico, naturally]: ‘Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz are dueling for the title of ‘most extreme fringe freshman senator.”
Anonymous Banker, let me choose my words carefully: Go fuck yourself. If this administration’s promises of change-we-can-believe-in were worth a dime, you and so many others would be doing hard time right about now.
My favorite Onion piece in a few moons: Pet Eating Like Country Isn’t In Goddamn Recession. “According to reports, the 5-year-old labrador appears callously unswayed by the constant stream of gloomy market forecasts and instead demands greater and greater supplies of dog food, to the point where he must think the Dow Jones industrial average is soaring through the fucking roof or something.“
A brand-spankin’ new CBO report concludes what we all already know: Income inequality has surged since 1981, and government, post-Reagan, has consistently failed to address the problem. “‘The equalizing effect of federal taxes was smaller’ in 2007 than in 1979, as ‘the composition of federal revenues shifted away from progressive income taxes to less-progressive payroll taxes,’ the budget office said.” But, hey, let’s sweat that deficit.
Along the same lines, Naked Capitalism‘s Yves Smith responds to the disclosure that repeat offender Bank of America is trying — with the Fed’s help — to foist their more toxic assets into FDIC-backed accounts (meaning that taxpayers will eat the losses.) “[T]his move amounts to a direct transfer from derivatives counterparties of Merrill to the taxpayer, via the FDIC, which would have to make depositors whole after derivatives counterparties grabbed collateral.“
Continues Smith: “The FDIC is understandably ripshit…Bill Black said that the Bloomberg editors toned down his remarks considerably. He said, ‘Any competent regulator would respond: ‘No, Hell NO!’ It’s time that the public also say no, and loudly, to yet another route for running a drip feed from taxpayers to banksters.‘” (Cartoon via here.)
“The contrast in fortunes between those on top of the economic heap and those buried in the rubble couldn’t be starker. The 10 biggest banks now control more than three-quarters of the country’s banking assets. Profits have bounced back, while compensation at publicly traded Wall Street firms hit a record $135 billion in 2010. Meanwhile, more than 24 million Americans are out of work or can’t find full-time work, and nearly $9 trillion in household wealth has vanished. There seems to be no correlation between who drove the crisis and who is paying the price.“
As Bank of America pays a pittance to other banks for its malfeasance, former chair of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission Phil Angelides looks into how the winners are now rewriting the history of the 2008 financial collapse. “So, how do you revise the historical narrative when the evidence of what led to economic catastrophe is so overwhelming and the events at issue so recent? You and your political allies just do it. And you bet on the old axiom that a lie is halfway around the world before the truth can tie its shoes.” Attorney General Schneiderman, our nation turns its lowly eyes to you.
It used to be a central tenet of progressivism was working to shorten the work week. Now, even unemployment-soothing innovations like workshare go nowhere, and, as Mother Jones‘s Monika Bauerlein and Claira Jeffrey explain (with handy graphs), we are all victims of the Great Speedup…but not the beneficiaries. “For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top…In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on — the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games — paid off. For them.”
Ex-Grayson staffer (and friend) Matt Stoller dissects the lack of political will for infrastructure reinvestment in today’s political climate. “Ultimately, of course, we will have no choice but to rebuild our infrastructure or risk social collapse…Meanwhile, the ideological fight is not over whether to spend more on infrastructure. It’s whether we should privatize what’s left.“
Proving Matt’s point is this thoroughly sad column by ex-Biden Chief of Staff Ron Klain, a man who until very recently was a senior advisor to the president. (Now, he works for a “private investment firm,” natch.). Says Klain: “Hoover Dam nostalgia is misguided…[I]t’s time to let go of the idea that a handful of marquee construction projects, even majestic and lasting ones, can solve our employment problem. Such endeavors alone didn’t bring us out of the Depression in the 1930s, and they won’t end our current predicament.“
Uh, is anyone actually saying that we should only do “a handful of marquee construction projects“? No, no, they’re not. They’re saying we should build big things, build small things, rebuild and repair things big and small, and otherwise put people back to work in any way possible. Where’s the vision? It’s going to take something a mite bigger and more audacious to get the economy moving again than an employer-side payroll tax cut.
As the alleged perps try to get off by paying the (to-them) meager sum of $5 billion, a confidential audit conducted by HUD finds (surprise, surprise) compelling evidence of rampant foreclosure fraud at the big banks. “The audits accuse the five major lenders of violating the False Claims Act, a Civil War-era law crafted as a weapon against firms that swindle the government…The audit on Bank of America finds that the company — the nation’s largest handler of home loans — failed to correct faulty foreclosure practices even after imposing a moratorium that lifted last October.“
And, in very related news, someone has finally stepped up to the plate with regards to the roots of the financial crisis: New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced he’s officially going to look into the Street’s role in precipitating the meltdown. “The inquiry appears to be quite broad, with the attorney general’s requests for information covering many aspects of the banks’ loan pooling operations.” Godspeed, Mr. Schneiderman.
“‘This was maybe America’s last chance to fight back against the greed of the Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats, to generate some serious discussion about public interest and common good that sustains any democratic experiment,’ West laments…’I thought Barack Obama could have provided some way out. But he lacks backbone.“
In a discussion with TruthOut‘s Chris Hedges, Cornel West — who admittedly is nursing some rather petty personal grievances here as well — lays hard into the DLC-centrism of President Obama. “I have to take some responsibility,’ he admits of his support for Obama as we sit in his book-lined office. ‘I could have been reading into it more than was there.‘” You and me both, brother. You and me both.
In Rolling Stone, a simile-happy Matt Taibbi reiterates the open-and-shut fraud and perjury case against Goldman Sachs that was laid out last month in the Levin report — a case that, thus far, nobody in a prosecutorial position seems to be taking up. Too busy going after Wikileaks, I guess.
“To recap: Goldman, to get $1.2 billion in crap off its books, dumps a huge lot of deadly mortgages on its clients, lies about where that crap came from and claims it believes in the product even as it’s betting $2 billion against it. When its victims try to run out of the burning house, Goldman stands in the doorway, blasts them all with gasoline before they can escape, and then has the balls to send a bill overcharging its victims for the pleasure of getting fried.”
“The outlook isn’t sunshine and roses: Rick Raymond, of the College Parents of America, notes, ‘Graduates are not the first to be hired when the job markets begins to improve. We’re seeing shocking numbers of people with undergraduates degrees who can’t get work.’”
According to a new poll conducted by Twentysomething, a whopping 85% of college grads are moving back in with their parents after graduation. They’re also facing the worst job market on record and holding a record amount of college debt.
In other words, it’s crisis time. Should we ramp up government spending and fashion 21st-century versions of jobs programs like the CCC, WPA, and NYA? Or should we cut public sector jobs and just concentrate on lowering corporate taxes? hey, Win the Future™ and all that.
“‘Trump’s presidential run is no longer being treated as serious by the easily distracted and resolutely frivolous political press that covered it so thoroughly just a few short weeks ago. While it was always an unamusing joke…we had what felt like a lifetime of New Hampshire trip coverage and Piers Morgan interviews and ‘President Trump? It might be more likely than you think!’“
With last month’s embarrassing Trump boomlet seemingly run its course in the Village, Salon‘s Alex Pareene comes to bury, not praise, the Donald. “[T]ransparent idiocy didn’t cause the press to take Trump less seriously, but it did lead people to gradually grow to hate Trump, which made his ratings suffer, and the exposure of the artifice of the Trump persona was decidedly damaging to his ‘brand.’ Once your ‘brand’ has been damaged, say goodbye to credulous political press coverage!“
To be honest, I couldn’t care less about Trump, and mostly avoided all of his Birther shenanigans as they were unfolding two weeks ago for the same reason I try to avoid any political coverage — from right or left — of the “You won’t believe what Sarah Palin just posted on Facebook!” variety. It’s lazy, it’s boring, and it’s actively pernicious given all the real problems we face right now. (But at the very least, both Trump and Palin are noteworthy indicators of how far the GOP done fell.)
I’m only posting on this now to point out that the Trump boomlet was by no means a one-time-thing. When the President of the United States actually had to come on TV two weeks ago to prove he was an American citizen, there was much pearl-clutching by the Village press about what a travesty this had all become. “What a sad day in American political history,” lamented MSNBC’s Chuck Todd. Meanwhile, the Washington Post opined that the release “says something embarrassing — actually, make that disturbing — about the state of American politics” — soon after that newspaper of record invited Trump to the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. (An evening, by the way, that’s as good as reflection as any of how desiccated and domesticated today’s establishment press has become.)
For his part, ABC’s Jake Tapper — a fellow who, let’s remember, got his big break as a hard-hitting journalist by kissing-and-telling on Monica Lewinsky back in the day — tried to defend the press by pointing to a Pew study which found that the deficit debate was actually the most-covered news story of the week. The problem with this line of argument is that conducting lousy journalism in one arena does not absolve you of conducting lousy journalism in another. And in fact, Village criers have been just as incompetent and/or duplicitous on the deficit.
For months, as you all know, the Serious People in the media have been banging the drum of the deficit witchhunt even though, from an economic perspective, austerity at this hour makes about as much sense as Birtherism. And, in the past few weeks, they have doubled down on this idiocy by trying to elevate the most recent flavor of the month, Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan, as a Serious Man, come to tell us hard truths about the need for sacrifice.
In fact, Congressman Ryan is scarcely any less of a huckster than the Donald. This is a guy who laments the intrusions of the welfare state at every turn, but only made it to college thanks to Social Security benefits received upon the passing of his father. (To be fair: Ryan is only emulating his hero with this sort of hypocrisy.) This is also a guy who, when confronted with the Clinton budget surpluses of a decade ago, then lamented that the debt was too small.
And this is a guy whose budget proposal — which he was quick to deem not a budget, but a cause — is basically the same vile, stale concoction of malice and magical thinking that the right has been peddling for decades. It uses made-up numbers to argue that privatizing Medicare (and leaving seniors with the bills), slashing the social safety net, and lowering taxes on the rich will somehow end deficits and save America. (Short answer: It won’t.)
By any reasonable standard, the Ryan budget should have been laughed out of the room as soon as it dropped. But, no, the press needed A Serious Man™ on the right for its lazy he-said, she-said approach to any political story. And, so Ryan got the Trump treatment and the rest is history. Ostensibly liberal pundits fell over themselves praising Ryan’s budget. In response, the president eventually drew progressive kudos for pitching his own deficit reduction plan. (More on that in a sec.) With both sides established, the press can now continue to happily indulge in the usual medley of content-free, he-said, she-said inanities that, to them, constitutes political journalism. And everyone in Washington can continue to ignore the fact that, actually, more spending, not cutting the deficit, is what is needed to fix the economy right now. Win-win!
Regarding President Obama’s deficit proposals, he delivered an eloquent speech on the subject last month, to be sure — one of his best as president. But, even if we hadn’t already been burned far too many times by his rhetoric not matching up to his policies, it’s hard for me to take his remarks as some great moment of the left just because he finally articulated what should be pretty basic principles of American government. Particularly when you consider that the Obama plan is, of course, center-right-leaning, and yet it has nevertheless become the left pole in an exceedingly narrow economic debate.
(By the way, if you’re really worried about the long-term deficit, the answer isn’t rocket science. Try raising taxes on the rich. Or passing real health care cost controls. Or going where the money’s at. Or growing the economy and putting people back to work. Or, y’know, doing nothing — that would work too.)
In sum, the Trump boomlet of last month was not the exception. It was a clear and distilled expression of the rule, a sideshow to a sideshow. And because the Village press is so terrible, our entire politics is distorted — We are living out the consequences of this disaster yet again in the deficit debate. Only the sheer amount of money flooding the system right now is a bigger political problem than the broken state of the newsmedia.
“After the Civil War, political leaders in the defeated South announced their intention of resuming their seats in Congress and of using their power…to compel the federal government either to pay off all debts of the Confederacy or to default on the national debt which had been borrowed to finance the Union war effort…For this reason, [Reconstruction Republicans] wrote into our fundamental law an absolute prohibition against defaulting on the national debt. Its language establishes a complete firewall against the misuse of governmental power by one political faction to get its way by wrecking the public credit.“
As congressional Republicans try to bluff their way through another round of hostage-taking with the American economy, this time vis a vis the debt limit, Garrett Epps reminds us that the debt limit idea is actually unconstitutional, by way of the 14th Amendment (already not the GOP’s favorite accomplishment.) “This requirement is absolute. It is contained in Section Four of the Fourteenth Amendment, which directs, in no uncertain terms, that “the validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law…shall not be questioned.“
In very related news, see also NYT columnist William Cohan on the same subject yesterday: “Not only did the government’s theory fail in practice — unemployment remains relentlessly and historically high and American businesses seem intent on hoarding, rather than spending, the $2 trillion in cash on their collective balance sheets — but it also lost a once-in-a-century opportunity to change the mores of a momentarily chastened Wall Street, which remains badly in need of substantive reform. This is more than a shame; it is prima facie evidence of how deep Wall Street’s hooks have been — and continue to be — into the powers that be in Washington (and vice versa).“
“This chart puts the class war in simple, visual terms. On the left you have the ‘shared sacrifices’ and ‘painful cuts’ that the Republicans claim we must make to get our fiscal house in order. On the right, you can plainly see WHY these cuts are ‘necessary.’” Via JackDean and several other sites, This is What Class War Looks Like.
But, hey, Win the Future and all that.
“‘There can be no conceivable justification for requiring a soldier to surrender all his clothing, remain naked in his cell for seven hours, and then stand at attention the subsequent morning,’ he wrote. ‘This treatment is even more degrading considering that Pfc. Manning is being monitored — both by direct observation and by video — at all times.‘”
Sometimes I don’t post here because I’m really busy. Sometimes I don’t post here because the news is too damned depressing: The United States takes another big step towards Miniluv by applying Dubya-era torture and intimidation techniques to an American citizen in custody for leaking, Bradley Manning. (Y’see, it’s a four lights = five lights kinda thing. Manning has to break — and then, like Zubadayah and KSM, voice untruths — for there to be any sort of possible criminal conspiracy case against Wikileaks.)
What is there to say, really? State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley already correctly stated that this abusive treatment of Manning was “ridiculous, counterproductive, and stupid,” and, within days, he was fired for stating the obvious.
The president, meanwhile, assures us everything is ok because the Pentagon said so: “I have actually asked the Pentagon whether or not the procedures that have been taken in terms of his confinement are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards. They assure me that they are.” This, as Glenn Greenwald (who’s been on top of this all the way) points out, is exactly the same rationale Dubya used to use: “‘When [Bush] asked ‘the most senior legal officers in the U.S. government’ to review interrogation methods, ‘they assured me they did not constitute torture.’” Well, ok then.
So let’s review. Dubya’s administration constructs an illegal and unconstitutional torture regime — Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Look forward, not backward!) The Dubya administration lies to the American people in order to prosecute a war of choice in Iraq. Nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. Through greed and outright fraud, Wall Street traders implode the global economy to the tune of trillions of dollars, and, with the convenient exception of Bernie Madoff, nobody goes to jail, and nothing changes. (Synthetic junk, anyone?) Big banks continue their crime spree by engaging in a massive epidemic of foreclosure fraud, and nobody goes to jail (but we’ll make them promise not to do it again!)
Oh, and an Army private leaks “secret” documents (so secret they were available to millions of people) because “[h]e wanted people held accountable and wanted to see this didn’t happen again” — the very definition of whistleblowing — and now we’re treating him like Winston Smith. (Then again, our president does despise whistleblowers.)
Should Manning be in U.S. custody right now? Yes. He took an oath to the United States military and, knowing full well the consequences, broke it in an act of civil disobedience. If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime — I get that. But should Manning be abused and tortured in U.S. custody? Of course not — Nobody should be. In fact, I thought we elected Barack Obama as president to make sure this never happened again.
Nope, sorry. Instead, President Obama fired Crowley and is owning what’s happening to Manning right now. He also just reinstated and normalized indefinite detentions at Gitmo. (Obama the constitutional scholar? Meet the Fifth and Sixth Amendments.) And when not perpetuating Dubya-era illegalities, he (and new lefty-bashing chief of staff) spend their days talking up the deficit, talking down regulation, and hoping the Chamber and the NRA take their meetings. Feel those winds of change, y’all. (Obama meme pic above via here.)
Update: “Based on 30 years of government experience, if you have to explain why a guy is standing naked in the middle of a jail cell, you have a policy in need of urgent review.” P.J. Crowley reflects on his recent firing. “I stand by what I said. The United States should set the global standard for treatment of its citizens – and then exceed it. It is what the world expects of us. It is what we should expect of ourselves.“