As we approach another faux money crisis, this time over the debt ceiling, a few thoughts to help people understand what’s going on … and what isn’t going on:
1. Every year, the United States raises X amount of dollars through taxes and other means. At the same time, it places orders for goods and services, ranging from tanks to office supplies to Medicare payments, for Y amount of dollars. If X and Y are equal, the budget is balanced. If X is larger than Y, the budget is in surplus. If Y is larger than X, the budget is in deficit.
2. If the budget is in deficit, the US government has four choices in how to proceed. It can cut its orders (it can buy fewer tanks, office supplies, Medicare payments, etc.). It can raise its taxes to meet its orders. It can borrow money to cover the difference between tax receipts and orders. Or it can do some combination of all four. That’s it.
3. For most of the last 30 years, the budget has been in deficit. For most of that time, the United States has chosen to borrow money to cover the gap between taxes and orders, rather than raising taxes or cutting orders or both.
4. Notably, the United States buys much of what it buys (Y) on what amounts to credit: vendors provide office products and other goods and services to the United States today in return for a US promise to pay for those goods later.
5. The constant borrowing of money year after year after year has left the United States with an accumulated debt of $16+ trillion. Which is a lot of money.
6. Some years ago, in an effort to shame itself into not borrowing money forever and ever amen, Congress passed a law creating something called the “debt ceiling.” This is the maximum amount of money the United States is to be allowed to borrow. The idea was that if the Congress had to explicitly vote to raise the debt ceiling, it would be embarrassed and would choose to cut spending or raise taxes or both in order to bring the United States’ budget into balance.
7. This attempted shaming into good economic behavior has never really worked, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge. This is mostly because the programs the US spends its money on are actually pretty popular (for the most part), and so people don’t really want them cut even as they refuse to pay higher taxes to pay for these goods. As a reminder, the United States spends almost 80% of its entire budget on seven (7) things: defense (20%), Social Security (20%), Medicare (13%), Medicaid (7%), “welfare” (12%), retirement benefits for federal workers (5%), and interest on the debt (5%). Everything else—roads, schools, the FAA, the FDA, the National Parks, college loans, everything—comes out of the remainder. Chopping those programs is somewhere between hard and impossible. Rather than raise taxes or cut spending or both, the United States has generally just kept on borrowing and raising the debt ceiling as needed.
8. Recently, Republicans in Congress have decided that the vote to raise the debt ceiling affords them a chance to force the United States to reduce its spending. Essentially, they are refusing to allow the United State to borrow more money (which requires raising the debt ceiling) unless the United States reduces its purchases of goods and services.
9. One problem with this Republican demand is that, per point 4, much of what the United States buys it buys on credit. Accordingly, vendors have already provided various goods and services to the United States and are awaiting payment … payment which will come only if the United States borrows money (and thus necessitates raising the debt ceiling). In other words, the United States has already received the good or service. The question is: will it pay for it? If the US fails to borrow money to pay for goods and services it has already received, no one will provide the US with any goods or services (or loans) on credit … which, given that we borrow 40% of the money we spend these days, means that we’d have to cut 40% of our budget instantly.
10. Another problem with this Republican demand relates to point 7: the programs that would be cut are quite popular, at least for the most part. While everyone imagines someone else’s program will be cut while theirs will be saved, as a practical matter that can’t happen if cutbacks happen in the 40% range.
11. On the other hand, nothing else has worked to force political leaders and all the rest of us to accept that we either have to want less, or pay more taxes, or both.
See? It’s easy. Just square the circle and solve all of America’s budget problems.
Have fun. And if you figure it out, please do let the rest of us know!
It’s been said many times that generals always prepare to fight the last war.
This makes sense when you think about it. “Last war” is a real, tangible thing with knowable problems and knowable achievements. “Next war” is uncertain, filled with unforeseen problems and unassessable risks.
Notably, the “preparing to fight the last war” phenomenon is particularly pronounced on the winning side. After all, “we” won doing things a certain way … why change? All one has to be is “better” at “last war” and you will win “next war” even more easily.
Losers, by contrast, often think creatively about “next war.” They, after all, did not fare well in “last war,” and so need to change the terms of engagement if they have much chance of winning “next war.”
The classic example of this phenomenon can be found in the lead up to the German invasion of France in 1940. Between 1920 and 1940 French military leaders constructed elaborate, complex and powerful defenses against what they perceived would be “next war” against Germany. However, those leaders decided that “next war” (WWII), would be a carbon copy of “last war” (WWI). The Germans, however, had a different idea, and crushed France fairly easily despite France’s profoundly powerful military.
Put another way, France prepared to fight a war its enemy decided not to fight, but failed to prepare for a war its enemy actually chose to fight.
It seems clear that the contemporary Republican Party, like the French between WWI and WWII, has gotten itself stuck in “last war.”
The party has been remarkably successful for the last 30 years in articulating a message grounded on two core principles: lower taxes (as a proxy for smaller government/self-reliance), and the culture war (moralistic claims that some ways of life were wrong or lesser, and that “good” Americans could only live in some ways). However, the tax claim is falling under its own weight: it’s one thing to lower taxes when they’re high, but quite another to lower them when they’re low and when government is out of money. Likewise, the culture war is failing: people are less worried about religiosity and gay marriage and marijuana smoking, to name a few examples, than they used to be.
But what was the very first bill introduced into the House of Representatives this session? Michelle Bachmann’s bill to repeal Obamacare—a version of a bill that passed the House 33 times in the last session of Congress before going precisely nowhere. Which is where this bill is going.
Talk about fighting “last war.” I imagine the birthers and the socialisters and the fascist state worriers about gun control leading to the loss of all human freedom are just waiting their turn to ply their craft on the political stage. (Oops: believers in the gun control equals the end of freedom are already on stage, I see.) Meanwhile, in two presidential elections in a row the electorate has been younger and more diverse than the Republican election model can cope with.
The question is: where is the Republican Party going? Having lost “last war” will they rethink what it takes to win and change the grounds of engagement? Or will they stand at their Maginot Line (look it up!) and keep insisting that the war has to be fought on their terms, even as their opponents sweep to victory after victory?
The future of the Republican Party hangs in the balance of the answer to that question.
So for some reason or another I got to thinking about the chain of wackadoo claims conservatives/radicals have made about Democrats/Progressives over the last 20+ years. Some highlights:
- Bill Clinton had his aide Vince Foster killed to cover up the Whitewater Real Estate “scandal” from his Arkansas days.
- Bill Clinton had the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City destroyed to cover up the Whitewater “scandal” — some of the FBI agents killed in OK City were alleged to have been knowledgable about the “scandal.” Alternatively, the bombing was alleged to have been done to cover up the Clinton administration’s mistakes in Waco, TX, dealing with the Branch Davidians. (There were real mistakes in this confrontation, by the way, which is not an endorsement of this claim.)
- The Clinton administration had purchased “black helicopters” they were using to surveil Westerners in preparation for placing them in UN-run internment camps. (Google the name “Helen Chenoweth.” She was a Congresswoman from Idaho who made Michele Bachmann look like a voice of reason and consideration.)
- During the Clinton Administration, NRA leader Wayne LaPierre described federal agents as “jack booted thugs” (a reference to Nazi SS storm troopers) for enforcing the Brady Bill. Talk show host and former Nixon attorney G. Gordon Liddy, who went to prison for his part in the Watergate scandal, urged his listeners to “aim high” if they were raided by federal agents since—and I am not making this up—federal agents wore body armor, and shots to the body wouldn’t be effective. All of this, of, course, was in the midst of the rise of the militia movement, an incipient armed rebellion against the US government centered in Montana and Idaho and built off the dregs of the survivalist and white supremacist movements.
Skipping forward a few years, we get …
- Claims during the 2008 campaign that Obama was the literal Biblical antichrist.
- The 2008 election was stolen by ACORN.
- Claims that having schoolchildren watch an Obama speech about the importance of education was political indoctrination into the Obama cult of personality.
- Birtherism. ‘Nuff said.
- Muslimism. ‘Nuff said.
- The bailout of the auto industry meant the socialization of the American economy. Which is already a lot socialized. And the auto industry is basically on its own again.
- Obamacare = socialism, despite the fact that it’s based on private insurance and was mostly a windfall for private, for-profit health insurance providers.
- Signing the UN Treaty on the rights of disabled persons would let the UN set rules for American parents in raising their children.
- The 2012 election was stolen by ACORN … which hasn’t existed for several years.
- Any form of gun control is the first step in creating a fascist state under the communist fascist Kenyan Muslim antichrist Obama.
And before anyone starts with the “the Democrats demonized Bush II” too nonsense, let me concede that lots of Democrats accused/implied that Bush had become president through illegitimate means (e.g., a crony Supreme Court). Lots thought he was a terrible president for lots of reasons (Politicalprof among them). But you can show me nothing like this list from Democrats aimed at Republicans, particularly from elected, actual government officials or party leaders. And please note that in my list I cheated in the REPUBLICANS’ favor: I didn’t post anything from the assbags Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage and their ilk. Nothing, despite the millions of people they have in their daily radio audiences (especially Limbaugh).
So forgive me when I roundly mock the next right wing wackadoo who screams the sky is falling. Really: reason, truth, facts, evidence, science … none of these work. Outright mockery is about all we have left to address these loons.
It’s only reasonable.
As I quoted the New York Times in this post in February (when the Republicans failed to reauthorize the act, which has now died), Republicans rejected the Violence Against Women Act because:The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.So think of this way: the Republicans decided it was better to protect NO women than to ALSO protect gay women, or transgender women, or undocumented women.If we weren’t talking about the contemporary Republican Party, this would be impossible to believe. Now it’s only expected. And vile.
At George McGovern’s death, lots of people have written to honor his long service to the US. And they should: he was as brave in politics as he was in war, switching from flying bombers in WWII to aggressively calling out those — of both parties — who sponsored the Vietnam War. His was a remarkable career.
It also was a career that points to one of the core contradictions, even hypocrisies, of American political life. For McGovern was exactly what many people today claim they want in a politician: forthright, clear, ideologically consistent. All right winger claims about Barack Obama to the contrary, McGovern was unquestionably the most liberal/progressive person ever to win the presidential nomination of a major political party. If he were on the ballot in 2012, he would have been the progressives’ fantasy candidate even today.
In other words, he was willing to lose for his beliefs. Which, of course, he did: he was utterly wiped out in the 1972 campaign. His loss was, at the time, the greatest electoral college defeat of all time. (It would be surpassed 12 years later by Ronald Reagan’s 1984 reelection margin of 525-13.)
(As an aside, among the many absurdities of Watergate is that Nixon did it to beat McGovern. Why? Nixon just had to breathe and he would win.)
So what we got was more Nixon. This included, it should be said, a final end to the war in Vietnam as well as detente with Russia and the opening with China. But it also led to the morass of Watergate and the emergence of the hard right wing of the Republican Party.
None of that is McGovern’s fault, of course. But we need to be realistic. Whatever we say about wanting ideologically pure, politically consistent political leaders, the simple truth is: we don’t. We crush them, mock them (think Denis Kucinich) or commit the greatest crime of all — we ignore them (Jill Stein, Gary Johnson). Our media abets this hypocrisy because nothing sells like controversy, and the claim that someone is not living up to his or her values is a sure-fired controversy-getter.
We should honor George McGovern for the life he lived and the service he gave. But we shouldn’t kid ourselves: we didn’t like him. He reminded us of our own flaws and imperfections, and no one likes that.
And besides, America loves a winner. It also loves convincing itself that the winner was no George McGovern. Which is absolutely by damn true.
So in response to a snarky post I made on Sunday, asking whether tea party loving, federal government hating Florida Governor Rick Scott would violate his ideology and ask for federal disaster aid after Hurricane Isaac comes to shore in the next few days, one of my respondents insisted that whatever his ideology, it’s okay for Scott to ask for federal money in a crisis.
The person’s logic was simple. Current taxes and law mean that the federal government collects money for emergency management and other scenarios. Accordingly, when crises occur, it’s only the federal government that has the funds to respond. However, this person imagined that the law would be changed in the future and Florida could tax its residents for such purposes by itself. No federal government would be needed.
At least three things are wrong about this.
1. The respondent appears not to understand that Florida today is a major net recipient of federal tax receipts. Between its many military bases and the large number of retired people receiving Medicare and Social Security who live there, the citizens of Florida receive far more money from federal tax receipts than Floridians pay to the federal government. (Illinois, where I Iive, is by contrast a net donor state: we pay more federal taxes than our citizens receive.) Florida is subsidized by the rest of the United States. Without federal money today, even without the hurricane, Florida would sink financially.
2. The notion that Florida could create a future tax system that would allow it to be effectively self-financed for hurricanes runs afoul of simple math. Lots and lots of federal tax recipients in Florida — the elderly who are on Medicare and Social Security — are on tight, fixed incomes. The idea that you could and tax your way to financial independence when millions of your citizens have limited incomes is silly. This might—might!—work if Florida was allowed to seal its borders and no longer allow older, poorer people to move to its humid swamps … but so far we haven’t ever allowed a state to close its borders to citizens from other states. And even then Florida would lose all the SS and Medicare money those citizens currently get and spend in Florida. (Full disclosure: Politicalprof was born in Florida but got out as a small child.)
3. Most of all, the idea runs afoul of the notion of the United States as such. The whole point of having a country is that the country can pool its resources for a variety of purposes and ends. Florida takes a disproportionate share of the military bases and retired people … so the federal government takes taxes from people in the rest of the United States and send it to people in Florida. (Much the same thing happens in Arizona.) Cities on average are net contributors to federal tax receipts and subsidize the farmers whose food people in cities eat. It simply doesn’t make any sense to act like the United States is 50 different countries — the Duchy of Florida, the Canton of Illinois — that have to go it alone. It’s called the United States for a reason.
I guess people don’t know this stuff. It seems to me that they should.
So there’s been a group of people running around the United States for 30 years or so who call themselves Constitutionalists, among other things. They have — shall we say —quirky ideas about the rule of the law, the nature of the US constitution and of citizens’ rights within it.
My personal favorite of their claims is that — in their claiming, not mine — that I (meaning Politicalprof and people like me) are “sovereign citizens.” What this means in practice is that since people like me — white, male and property owning — were legally entitled to be citizens of the US before the US Constitution was created, we are “sovereign” — e.g., superior — to the Constitution. This means that I — meaning Politicalprof and people like me — have the personal right to reject or nullify laws that seem to us to intrude on our freedom since, obviously, we would never have consented to such laws in 1787. I am sovereign over the federal government, which cannot take away my rights as I define them.
Now, many of my sharp and sophisticated readers will be have their brows in a knot, going, “but, Politicalprof, what if you’re NOT a white male property owner? What if you’re a woman? Or a minority? Or an immigrant?” No worries: you are what is known as a “14th Amendment citizen.” That is, you are a citizen, but not a sovereign citizen. (Again, this is their argument, not mine.) Rather, you were granted citizenship by the 14th Amendment.
The distinction here is important: I was a citizen (allegedly) who could have made the Constitution, so my rights and liberties exist independent of the Constitution. Everyone else is a citizen as a result of the Constitution, and is bound therefore by its rules and limitations. In addition, we can take your citizenship and rights away through Constitutional changes, but we can never take mine away — as I define them — because people like me defined them in 1787.
Simple, huh? In any case, such persons are on the loose again. The anti-government fervor of the last years, mixed with the rise of a legalistic strain of libertarianism, has combined to make nonsense sound like Constitutional reasoning.
To wit, the post below. A group calling itself the “Republic for the united States of America” (the lowercase “u” matters) has decided that the United States you and I think of is not the real united States. More, they’ve decided they’ve recreated the real the united States. I am posting their words in full, cause hey: you need the full crazy.
The year 1776 marked America’s victory in the war for independence. The lawful right to re-inhabit is inherent in The Declaration of Independence circa 1776. The Declaration, one of our founding documents, declares our right to change, alter or abolish any system of government that we believe is contrary to the safety and security of the American people.
In concern for all of humanity, “We the People” re-inhabited our lawful de jure (meaning “by right of legal establishment”) government on March 30, 2010, by serving notice on the de facto corporation, known as the “UNITED STATES”. (USC 28 Section 3002, No. 15(a) “United States” means a Federal Corporation.) The United States was incorporated February 21, 1871 (16 Stat. 419, Chap. 62, 41st Congress, 3rd Session), the purpose being “an Act to provide a Government for the District of Columbia, reorganized June 8th, 1878, (20 Stat. 102, Chapter 180, 45th Congress, 2nd Session) as “an Act providing a permanent form of government for the District of Columbia” aka US Inc. Uniform Commercial Code, UCC9-307 (h) states “Location of United States. The United States is located in the District of Columbia. A lawful grand jury in each of the fifty republics created a new Declaration of Independence that was lawfully served on the corporate UNITED STATES informing them that the original de jure government was restored. We have claimed our right to exist as a free and independent people on our land, thus exercising our God-given unalienable rights as defined in our Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
On July 21, 2010 “We the People” of the de jure government proclaimed worldwide and made our “Declaration of Sovereignty for the Republic for the united States of America” to The Hague (a.k.a. the International Court of Justice), the Universal Postal Union (UPU) and the United Nations (UN). On September 23, 2010, the first session of congress was convened by the united free Republics of the re-inhabited united States of America. The seating of the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches of the Republic government were successfully established. This was completed by more than the required two-thirds majority vote of “We the People” on the land of the independent Republics. Delegates from more than 42 free Republics (States) attended, and officers for all three branches of our government have been officially sworn into office, lawfully electing interim President James Timothy Turner and interim Vice President Charles Eugene Wright, along with other established cabinet members with a presiding majority vote of 94% approval. Thus, the Republic government is officially re-inhabited and staffed for the first time since 1868 by the will of “We the People”.
The de facto UNITED STATES CORPORATION was unlawfully established by the forty-first congress in 1871 by deceptive means and without proper consent from “We the People”. The American people were placed under involuntary servitude by a “Legal” system of laws that have continually violated the “Constitution for the united States of America”, “Bill of Rights” and the “Declaration of Independence”. The corporate constitution was changed from the original form, wherein Amendments were unlawfully added and removed without the people’s consent. Since 1871, the abuses of this corporation upon both the international community as well as the American people are inestimable and unconscionable. De facto Congress has repeatedly violated their Oaths of Office, fiduciary responsibilities, and in many cases, committed treasonous acts against “We the People” of the united States of America and the world.
We humbly come forward apologizing for the numerous atrocities we have unknowingly allowed the U.S. CORPORATION to carry out upon the international community. It is our mission to establish the American image of truth, honesty, integrity and honor around the world. Our plan is to rebuild our economy and support other economies around the world, fulfilling humanitarian needs. We will allow our military to withdraw from unnecessary conflicts around the world and promote world peace and prosperity. We intend to follow God the Creator’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick, irrespective of creed, religion or race. There is no law against these things.
We are calling on the support of all Nations around the world to help us end the tyranny that has been perpetrated by the unlawful actions of the UNITED STATES corporate government. We shall achieve this goal PEACEFULLY AND LAWFULLY, with boldness, integrity and truth, so help us God.
One of the claims running around the political world this silly season is that “Fast and Furious,” the failed ATF operation involving tracking US guns sold to Mexican drug gangs, is a scandal “worse than Watergate” — the scandal that destroyed Richard Nixon’s presidency.
On the hypothesis that almost no one on Tumblr knows anything about Watergate, I thought I’d offer a brief synopsis of that historical event so we can understand: is Fast and Furious “worse than Watergate”?
- What became the Watergate scandal can be said to have started in September 1971, when a secret team based in the White House was formed to “stop leaks” from the administration. Known as “the plumbers,” the group’s first task was to break into the psychiatrist’s office of Daniel Ellsberg, a Defense Department official who leaked what came to be known as “The Pentagon Papers” to the New York TImes. (These papers detailed the efforts the US government had made to hide our failures in the war in Vietnam. You can read The Pentagon Papers if you wish as a result of the famous and important Supreme Court case, NY Times v the United States.)
- The plumbers later investigated various senior political officials, looking for dirt, and are widely suspected to have engaged in a “dirty tricks” campaign during the 1972 Democratic Party primaries, ultimately undermining other Democratic Party candidates in favor of the very liberal Senator from South Dakota, George McGovern. Eventually, the plumbers twice broke into the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building, an office/hotel/apartment complex not far from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. (The bugging equipment they planted the first time didn’t work and had to be replaced.)
- On being arrested during the second break in, on June 17, 1972, a vast coverup began. President Richard Nixon’s personal attorney, John Dean, managed a system of payoffs and hush money to the burglars and their families. Nixon used a “slush fund” of campaign contributions to make these payoffs; he also directed the CIA to tell the FBI (which was investigating the break in) that the break in was a national security matter that the FBI should just leave alone — which is pretty much the definition of obstruction of justice. (We know all this: 1) because Nixon taped his conversations in the White House; 2) John Dean eventually confessed his actions to Congress; and 3) an Associate Director of the FBI, Mark Felt, reported what he knew to two Washington Post reporters. He was known at the time as “Deep Throat.”)
- As multiple investigations continued, Nixon fired the Special Prosecutor and several senior Department of Justice officials working on the case — the so-called “Saturday Night Massacre.” He rejected calls for transcripts of the tapes (yes, on the basis of executive privilege), eventually releasing a heavily redacted version in which almost every word was blacked out. Finally, after losing the Supreme Court case, US v Nixon, tapes began to trickle out unredacted, and Nixon’s fate was sealed. He announced his resignation on August 8, 1974, and left office at noon the next day — making him the only President ever to resign. (It also made Gerald Ford the only President to have never been elected President OR Vice President — he was appointed Vice President when Nixon’s first VP, Spiro Agnew, was forced to resign in a tax scandal, and then assumed the Presidency on Nixon’s resignation.)
So is “Fast and Furious” WORSE THAN WATERGATE?
One constantly hears that Republicans are the party of small government while Democrats are the party of big government. And, of course, the person making this claim usually makes it clear that small government is good and big government is bad.
Except, of course, this characterization of the two parties’ positions on government is factual twaddle.
Think about it this way: some parts of government can be termed the “helping people” parts of government (at least in intent). This part of government includes things like education, welfare, healthcare, food and drug inspections, parks, and even roads and bridges and other infrastructure. The goal—not always achieved—is to give people the tools they need to achieve their ambitions in life.
Another part of government might be termed the “hurting people” part of government. This part of government would include the military, the criminal justice system, fines and taxes and the like. It also includes punishing what some people see as immoral behavior. Note that I don’t think all of this is “bad.” Wars happen, after all, so we do need some kind of a military, and I am quite happy a lot of people who are in prison are there. It’s just that these parts of government are engaged in negative actions to shape or change behavior, rather than attempting to equip people as they build their lives.
So think about the difference in the parties this way: in general, Democrats want the “helping parts” of government to be bigger, and the “hurting people” parts of government to be smaller. (Unless, of course, they want BOTH to be bigger.) Republicans want the “helping people” parts of government to be smaller, and the “hurting people” parts of government to be bigger.
Note that each has elaborate ideological justifications for these stands. But both are happy with substantial governments. They just differ on how big each part should be.
Libertarians, of course, think both should be as small as possible. Which is why Ron Paul won’t win the Republican Party nomination for President.
So the Violence Against Women Act is up for renewal this year, and surprise of all surprises … not a single Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to reauthorize the act. Not a single one.Why? Well, the editorial in the New York Times puts it this way:The main sticking points seemed to be language in the bill to ensure that victims are not denied services because they are gay or transgender and a provision that would modestly expand the availability of special visas for undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence — a necessary step to encourage those victims to come forward.And there you are. We might have to treat gay, transgendered and/or undocumented women with dignity and respect if they are abused, assaulted and attacked. So, naturally, the Judiciary Committee’s Senate Republicans have decided we can’t have the law at all.I am amazed any woman votes for the Republican Party, at least at the national level. Just amazed.