How wrong can one blogger be?

UPDATE: Jerry took the post down. He didn’t offer up a correction or an explanation – or an apology. He just took the post down. I guess that’s as close as he’ll come to admitting an error. I’ve changed the link below to the Google cache version, but can’t find the graph he used.

When that one blogger is Jerry Fuhrman, the answer is very wrong. Very, very wrong.

In a recent post, Jerry was going on about out-of-control government spending and how he didn’t trust Democrats to make cuts if they increased revenue. Boilerplate stuff.

But he used a chart to try to make his point, and that’s where he got into trouble.

Referring to the chart above, Jerry wrote, “Take a look at this chart: It shows government spending (in green) (along with growth in GDP in blue) from 1930 to the present.”

Ahem. If you actually take a look at the chart, you’ll see that Jerry is either color blind or confused. The green is GDP. The blue is government spending. As I pointed out in a comment on his blog, his first clue should have been that the green was so much bigger than the blue – government spending literally cannot be higher than GDP, since it is part of GDP.

Jerry went on: “You’ll note the fact that spending has never been reduced in any year in between, no matter how out-of-control it became.  (You’ll also note, I hope with a high degree of alarm, where that trajectory is taking us.)”

Actually, when you have your colors straight, what you note is that GDP has grown at a far greater rate than government spending. What would be interesting would be to add a color showing what’s happened to taxes. That would prove once and for all that we don’t have a spending problem, we have a revenue problem.

Jerry never replied to my comment and never corrected his post.

I guess when you’re that wrong, a correction would just be too embarrassing.

One party is to blame for gridlock

I was nodding my head in complete agreement as I read Court Rosen’s commentary in this morning’s Roanoke Times. He was exactly right when he wrote about the fact that Congress, which was born in a Great Compromise, now seems incapable of passing “meaningful laws that provide stability to our economy.”

But then I got to this paragraph, and Rosen lost me completely:

Washington is broken. We must not fool ourselves into thinking it is one party or the other — the only party that is winning is self-interest. Glad-handing, fundraising and photo-ops do not make for a good Congress. Hard work, commitment to advancing the interests of our country and basic levels of respect for one another, even those on the other side, should be the standard.

That’s 180 degrees wrong. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that both parties are to blame for how broken Washington is. The recent battle over the debt ceiling, for instance, was a crisis created completely by Republicans intent on turning what had been a completely routine procedural matter into leverage to win their policy argument. Then, even after they had gotten their way on the policy argument and had an agreement to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion with no revenue increases whatsoever, Republicans continued to hold the nation’s full faith and credit hostage, taking us to the brink of disaster, until they won an agreement to form a super committee to reduce the deficit even further. They insisted that the failure of that committee would trigger across-the-board spending cuts, again with absolutely no revenue increases. And then they proceeded to ensure gridlock on the committee by appointing members committed to refusing any kind of revenue increase.

Democrats, in dealing with this unprecedented act of gross irresponsibility, tried to bargain rationally. President Obama offered a deficit reduction package more conservative than any such package passed in modern times. That grand bargain would have restructured Medicare and Social Security and cut trillions of dollars in spending. Republicans rejected it because it contained a very small proportion of revenue increases – mostly in the form of closing loopholes and limiting deductions for the wealthy.

It is true that Washington gridlock and the inability to compromise has had serious results – the S&P downgrade, shaken investors, a stock market in turmoil. But it’s simply not reasonable to blame this on both parties.

One party was willing to compromise to make progress not the deficit. The other party was willing to force the economy to collapse if it didn’t get its way entirely.

Blaming both parties equally may help a commentator seem more credible and fair – but it simply does not reflect reality.

Today’s GOP is in the grips of unprecedented political insanity, and the sooner the nation comes to realize that, the better off we’ll be.

One disaster averted; others await

With hostage negotiations successfully completed, the only drama left over the debt ceiling debate itself is whether the deal can pass in the House.

But assuming it does, America really shouldn’t breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Yes, a terrible economic disaster will have been averted, but other disasters are waiting in the wing, and they’ve become more likely with the way the debt ceiling debacle played out.

As Paul Krugman put it, the deal “will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.”

That last part cannot be emphasized too much. For the first time since the debt ceiling was established, a party used the full faith and credit of the United States of America as leverage to win a policy argument it could not win at the polls. Radical Republicans were willing to crash the American economy if they didn’t get their way – and some still want to crash it even though they did get their way.

This was radicalism combined with stunning ignorance about what the debt ceiling represents – which is the ability to pay past obligations, not a “blank check” to enter into new ones. (I think John Boehner should win the award for the single most despicable lie during this whole pathetic debate for that one.)

I sincerely hope that Americans will remember that one party brought this nation to the brink of default as a negotiating tactic. And I hope there will be a political price to pay for that. Democrats should make 2012 about this stunning abdication of responsible governance on the part of their opponents.

But Republican extortion aside, let’s not forget that this is a really horrible time to cut government spending. The fragile recovery will be put at serious risk by this deal, which makes another recession far more likely, if not inevitable. That, by the way, will not be good for the deficit. Much of the current deficit is, after all, the result of depressed revenue from the last recession.

Another recession will be bad for everyone, except maybe Republicans. A bad economy is almost always bad news for the incumbent in a presidential election, after all. And if there was any reason to doubt the ability of Republicans to put political interest above the nation’s, it should have been completely obliterated by what we saw happen with the debt ceiling.

Two coins to rub together

Could the Treasury really counter Republican insanity on the debt limit with an idea that sounds completely insane? Two coins is all it would take. Two coins “worth” $1 trillion apiece.

Via Matt Yglesias, I’ll allow Yale Law School professor Jack Balkin explain it:

Sovereign governments such as the United States can print new money. However, there’s a statutory limit to the amount of paper currency that can be in circulation at any one time. Ironically, there’s no similar limit on the amount of coinage. A little-known statute gives the secretary of the Treasury the authority to issue platinum coins in any denomination. So some commentators have suggested that the Treasury create two $1 trillion coins, deposit them in its account in the Federal Reserve and write checks on the proceeds.

You know how conservatives say the federal government can always just print money to pay its bills? It turns out that’s not true. There are statutory limits on how much money the Treasury can print. But there is no limit on how many coins, or what value: “(k) The Secretary may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.”

Yeah, it’s crazy. But then again, so is refusing to increase the debt ceiling. This might be a better way out than the 14th Amendment argument.

Of course, even better would be the Republican Party coming to its senses, taking the extremely conciliatory offer put on the table by Obama and Senate Democrats and avert economic disaster.

Except, of course, for the fact that significant spending cuts right now actually invite economic disaster of a different kind even as we realize that the recession we’re just pulling out of was deeper and longer than even the experts knew.

Come to think of it, maybe it isn’t just the Republican Party that’s gone insane.

Impeach Boehner

John Boehner is arguably the worst Speaker of the worst House ever. He is definitely the worst liar.

Of his debt-reduction/debt-ceiling plan that he couldn’t even get his own radical caucus to pass, Boehner yesterday said, “We have a reasonable, responsible bill put together by the bipartisan leaders here in Congress. There’s no reason for them to say no,” Boehner said. “It’s time for somebody in this town to say yes. . . . When is somebody on the other side of the aisle going to take yes for an answer?”

This is the same plan that just the day before he said this about: “Barack Obama hates it, Harry Reid hates it, Nancy Pelosi hates it,” he said, naming off the Democratic leadership.

Now a plan can be reasonable and responsible and put together by “the bipartisan leaders here in Congress,” but that same plan cannot be hated by one half of the bipartisan leadership of Congress.

So, here we are, five days after Boehner introduced his plan. Five days before the United States runs out of money to pay its bills. And Boehner is wasting time on this plan that he knows the Democrats hate and will not pass. In order to get it passed by his insane caucus, he needs to make it even less palatable to Democrats, making it even less likely – if that is even possible – that it will ever become law.

And this has to happen before Congress can even start action on a genuine compromise – the Reid plan that gives Republicans essentially everything they’ve been asking for, at least in public: One-for-one spending cuts for every dollar increase in the debt ceiling and no revenue increases.

Which brings us to the biggest, baldest lie uttered by this shameful public official: “When is somebody on the other side of the aisle going to take yes for an answer?” I don’t know. Maybe when Republicans can actually force themselves to say yes.

The entire Republican Party should be impeached for dereliction of duty. Let’s start with Boehner. If America defaults for the first time ever, blame will lie squarely on this man who has been dithering to pass a bill his caucus doesn’t want that he knows the Senate will not pass.

He could have admitted defeat and moved on. He could have brought the bill to a vote and let his own caucus vote it down. But that doesn’t serve his political machinations. He wants to the House to pass something – however unreasonable and poisonously partisan – so that he can try to blame Democrats for the default when they vote it down.

That’s why he lies and tells all of America it’s a “reasonable, responsible bill put together by the bipartisan leaders here in Congress” after telling the hyper-partisan listeners of the Laura Ingraham show the truth: “Barack Obama hates it, Harry Reid hates it, Nancy Pelosi hates it.”

America won’t buy that transparent nonsense. It’s time for Republicans to quit worrying about politics and start worrying about default.

Taranto falls flat

I used to really enjoy James Taranto’s The Best of the Web. He’s a witty writer capable of wonderful snark, which I always appreciate even if it comes from the other side of the ideological divide. He does have a few irritating quirks, such as adopting Rush Limbaugh’s loathsome habit of using diminutive titles to refer to females – blogress instead of blogger, for instance. But I put up with that because, again, he was an entertaining writer and his analysis was interesting and enlightening.

Since Obama took office, though, Taranto has gone downhill. His attacks have become more partisan and talking-point oriented and less dependent on logic and reasoning – though he does a facile job of hiding that deficiency. Take for instance, his assessment of President Obama’s Monday speech on the debt ceiling crisis. Taranto said this:

A couple of other points on the Obama speech: The president said he rejected Boehner’s plan that “would temporarily extend the debt ceiling” because it “would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now.” Today the White House issued a written veto threat. Yet last night he praised Congress for raising the debt ceiling 18 times during Ronald Reagan’s presidency–once every 5.3 months on average.

In demanding an extension that would carry him through next year’s election, Obama is departing from the precedent he cites in support of his position. His anxiousness at the prospect of another such confrontation reflects his political weakness in this one.

Let me see now. What has happened between the time when debt ceiling increases were routine business and now? Oh, yes. One of the two major parties in this nation went insane and decided to use the debt ceiling increase to hold the nation hostage unless it gets its way. Taranto doesn’t address the fact that the Republican Party he almost always sides with created the current crisis by insisting that any debt-ceiling increase be accompanied by a deficit-reduction package consisting solely of spending reductions. This spectacle has already shaken faith in the security of Treasuries – up until now the most rock-solid investment across the globe. That could lead to higher interest rates – which will increase the deficit, by the way – and possibly even a downgrade of our sterling credit rating.

And Taranto really can’t understand why the current crisis might make Obama less than eager to face another debt ceiling increase during an election year, when Republicans will be even more stubborn – if that’s even possible.

Obama is not “departing from the precedent he cites in support of his position.” Republicans departed from the precedent he cites. That is why a temporary debt-increase plan is unacceptable. It is not what should be a routine increase in the debt ceiling that “would force us to once again face the threat of default just six months from now,” but the extreme likelihood that Republicans would once again use the debt ceiling increase to hold the nation hostage.

Taranto used to be worth reading. Sloppy, partisan analysis like this, though, makes him worthless to anyone but the Tea Party radicals he has apparently thrown in with whole-heartedly.



One chart; one profound truth

Despite the severity of consequences of the current debt ceiling debate, I was reminded tonight yet again of how ludicrous the debate we’re having is. We’re talking about trillions of dollars in spending cuts, but for the most part those cuts will not do a single thing to contain the long-term debt crisis.

A single chart, courtesy Yuval Levin via Matt Yglesias, makes the problem clear:

For the most part, Republicans and Democrats have been arguing about the blue line. To the extent they’ve been arguing about the far more important red line, Democrats have been resisting Republican plans to deal with the red line by pushing the federal share of rising health care costs onto seniors and poor people.

What all this energy should have been expended on is trying to figure out a way to change the trajectory of that line, and that can only be done – at least responsibly and morally – by slowing health care inflation for the entire nation. The moderate health care reform that Obama barely managed to pass – and that Republicans continue to try to kill – might set up the preconditions necessary to begin that job. But much more needs to be done.

This is the debate America ought to be having. Instead, Democrats are trying to figure out how to keep the Republicans from trashing the global economy intentionally.

Does anyone in Washington wonder why the country hates them?

Earth to Boehner: You’re only in charge of part of the government

So, with the clock running out, and after walking away from a grand bargain that would have been the most conservative deficit-reduction deal ever, this is what Speaker of the House John Boehner comes up with as his attempt to avert global financial disaster: A unilateral plan that he knows will be rejected by the U.S. Senate.

Earth to John Boehner: Despite the much-hyped Republican wave of 2010, Republicans control only one-half of two-thirds of the government. That is enough to block action on anything you want – even something like increasing the debt ceiling, something done 87 times before without a real hint of drama, and something you did seven times during the Bush administration without blinking an eye.

But control of the House of Representatives does not give you the ability to actually accomplish anything without bipartisan approval. You might be able to say on Fox News, “I would prefer to have a bipartisan approach to solve this problem. If that is not possible, I and my Republican colleagues in the House are prepared to move on our own.” But in the real world, certainly you know that a) if a bipartisan approach is impossible, it is because you and your Republican colleagues have made it impossible by refusing to budge even a little in negotiations with the president and b) that it is literally impossible for you and your Republican colleagues in the House to move on your own. You can’t pass anything on your own. Go back to high school freshman civics. You have to get buy-in from both the Senate and the president to pass anything. And your two-stage plan that promises a repeat of this drama next year is rightly unacceptable to them.

You can say,  “I know the president’s worried about his next election. But my God, shouldn’t we be worried about the country?” But you know that you and you alone are standing in the way of what’s best for the country. You and your Republican colleagues could do your part to pass a clean increase to the debt ceiling first thing tomorrow morning if you hadn’t all lost your ever-loving minds.

There have been countless bipartisan offers and overtures that could keep us from going over this cliff. You’ve refused every single one of them.

If you allow this to happen, it will be all on the Republican Party. You will have shot the hostage. That usually doesn’t end well for the bad guy, either. And make no mistake, in this, you and your insane Republican caucus are the bad guys, holding America hostage unless you get your way, completely and utterly. And that is not going to happen.

Increase the damn limit. Do it now. As you say, “But my God, shouldn’t we be worried about the country?” If you truly were worried about the country, you would make that happen, at whatever personal or political cost it required. Step up. Do what you were elected to do. Govern. Avert a global financial disaster by doing your job.

Time is up.

Increase the debt limit – now

Now that it’s clear that no bargain – grand or otherwise – can be reached on deficit reduction because Republicans are too afraid of their rabid base to even contemplate any kind of revenue increase, will they at least do the right thing and pass a clean increase of the debt ceiling – something they did seven times during the Bush years without blinking once?

Doing so would avert economic disaster. As Steve Benen of The Washington Monthly has repeatedly said, “ I can’t think of any potential crisis that’s so serious and yet so easy to resolve.”

The base won’t like this, either – because the base Republicans are most concerned about now is comprised largely of the ignorant and misinformed – but sometimes elected officials have to do the right thing and damn the political consequences. This is one of those times.

Perhaps the McConnell proposal could be resurrected, allowing Republicans to let the debt limit go up without their fingerprints on it.

In any case, once the crisis is averted, then Republicans can try to get their way the right way: They can make the 2012 election a referendum about how to deal with the debt. They can try to convince the electorate that their uncompromising solution is best, and see if they’re rewarded at the ballot box. No hostages. No drama. No global economic calamity.

It’s just a thought. A rational thought that probably will go nowhere because the Republican Party left rationality behind.

Obama is trying to govern

There’s an important point in a recent blog post by Steve Benen that would be easy to overlook: He discusses Democratic disgust with the president over his apparent willingness to give away the store in the debt ceiling debate, despite the fact that he’s won the upper hand:

After months of head-spinning, soul-crushing debate, Democrats had the upper hand in the debt-ceiling fight. Americans are siding with Dems on raising the debt limit, seeking new revenue, and raising taxes on the wealthy. Republicans, meanwhile, are seen as unwilling to compromise, which happens to be true.

If a crisis unfolds, it would be the GOP that gets the blame, a point that’s not lost on the Republican leadership, most notably Mitch McConnell. The result is an unpopular party that’s isolated, divided, and viewed as needlessly extreme.

And President Obama is going to give in to these guys?

Obama has won the PR battle. Politically, he’s dealing from a position of strength. Republicans will earn the blame if disaster strikes. But Obama’s the president, and it’s his job to try to avert disaster, even if he won’t be blamed for it. In order to avert disaster, he has to deal with irrational, irresponsible Republicans who will reflexively oppose anything he supports. He’s trying to actually govern and do what’s best for the nation.

The political/p.r. battle has gone the Democrats’ way. That doesn’t mean, unfortunately, Republicans will suddenly see the light and do the right thing. More and more, they appear quite willing to shoot their hostage and crash the economy on purpose, even if they know they’ll get the blame. The GOP is in the grips of insanity. As Benen said, “But some seem to have the impression that Obama can win the p.r. fight, use that as leverage, and wait for the GOP to fold. There’s no reason to think Republicans are or will be willing to fold, which makes some kind of compromise necessary.”

The question Americans should be asking, though, is whether any genuine compromise would satisfy Republicans, who appear to be demanding instead complete capitulation.

This is an extreme unsettling place for the nation to be. Literally, the country’s economic future is in the hands of a group of madmen.