Archive for the ‘Conservatives’ category

Deficits Don’t Matter?

November 7th, 2010

In a moment of honesty, Vice President Dick Cheney told a reporter, “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter” (source). Yet, more often the Republicans and their fringe backers, Fox News and the Tea Party, have made the public debt a source a public anxiety and anger. The reality is that deficit spending is required for a healthy economy, and we have been in much more debt in the past (i.e., during WWII) and we experienced the greatest boom and largest middle-class in our history (source). This is not an endorsement of “welfare for the rich, capitalism for the poor.” I think it is a crime when the government bails out corporations who have been irresponsible, and the public gets stuck with the bill. No, I strongly disagree with what went on during the Bush and Reagan years: Redistribution of lower-income/middle-class wealth to the rich, through corporate welfare (i.e., tax cuts/loopholes/shelters, no-bid contracts, bailouts, deregulation, privatization of public resources, etc.). But being against welfare for the rich does not mean all deficit spending is a bad thing. In fact, it may actually be essential for a thriving economy.

(Rick Seaman of Portland, Oregon, made this chart from data he found on TreasuryDirect.gov.)

Republicans seek to spook the population into balanced budget spending, but then they go on a spending spree when they are in power (see the chart above). Keynesian economics have proven over and over, and history bears this out, that during economic downturns government spending is essential for recovery. Some economists even insist that ongoing deficit spending is required for a vibrant economy, and deny that there is a downside. Republicans pose as the “fiscal conservatives” who are for “fiscal responsibility,” but this is a ridiculous claim. It is Democrats that have been the fiscal conservatives, and have tried to balance the budget during economic booms.

Joe Conason of Salon.com wrote that, “In our time, the Republican Party has compiled an impressive history of talking about fiscal responsibility while running up unrivaled deficits and debt. Of the roughly $11 trillion in federal debt accumulated to date, more than 90 percent can be attributed to the tenure of three presidents: Ronald Reagan, who used to complain constantly about runaway spending; George Herbert Walker Bush, reputed to be one of those old-fashioned green-eyeshade Republicans; and his spendthrift son George “Dubya” Bush, whose trillion-dollar war and irresponsible tax cuts accounted for nearly half the entire burden. Only Bill Clinton temporarily reversed the trend with surpluses and started to pay down the debt (by raising rates on the wealthiest taxpayers)…Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise, although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source).

According to their own stated standards, Republicans regularly commit the unpardonable sin of massive deficit spending. If we buy-in to their fear-mongering about deficit spending (even during recessions) then we must give Republicans very poor ratings. It is worth mentioning that when Republicans implement deficit spending, the spending usually ends up in the hands of the ultra-rich, who tend to save; whereas Democrats typically channel deficit spending to the middle-class, who are likely to spend, which leads to a stronger economy. There is a big difference between awarding no-bid military contracts to Haliburton and Blackwater, and on the other hand, extending unemployment benefits. Only the later actually ends up helping the economy.

Conason also points out that, even though deficit spending is an essential part of sound fiscal policy,”Not all of the warnings about deficit spending are false. Wasteful federal spending can eventually lead to inflation; excessive deficits can cause interest rates to rise,although that doesn’t always occur. But as Clinton proved in confronting the huge legacy of debt left over from the Reagan era, it is possible to raise taxes and slow spending without damage to the broader economy” (source). Tax rates in the U.S. are among the lowest of industrialized countries (only Mexico, Turkey, South Korea and Japan have tax rates lower than ours), and we spend more on our military than all other nations combined—if our deficit become a real problem, we could easily make some changes in these areas, without cutting “entitlements,” and wipe our our debt in a decade. Ron Paul has said, “Deficits mean future tax increases, pure and simple.” Perhaps there is truth to this. However, take a look at countries that have higher taxes. For example: Denmark. » Read more: Deficits Don’t Matter?

Party Like It’s 1994!

November 3rd, 2010

The Republicans have tried their best to make 2010 the new 1994.  In 1994, after 46 years of Democratic control, the Republicans finally won the majority in the House. They remained in control of the House for 12 years until 2006, when the Democrats took back the House. From 2002-2006 the Republicans controlled the House, the Senate, and the Executive Branch. During that time they had the opportunity to implement everything important to them. What they did do (and didn’t do) is telling: They started an unprovoked war in Iraq. They tried to privatize social security (and failed), but did nothing to expand healthcare to millions of uninsured citizens. They did nothing to improve government transparency, but rather, they allowed illegal wiretapping. They did nothing to rein in unchecked spending, but instead set spending records and allowed no-bid contracts to private contractors such as Halliburton and Blackwater. When the Republicans now claim to want to fix healthcare, create transparency, and rein in spending, why would we believe them. We need to look closely at the Republican agenda. Why would we give them power, when in fact their agenda is against the interests of most Americans?

This week, they took the House, and picked up seats in the Senate. Commentators are trying to make sense of the shift. It can’t be the Tea Party, because very few of those candidates won. It isn’t a “mandate” of their agenda or a “referendum” on Obama’s party because a number of Democrats won, such as Cuomo as New York Governor, and Senate Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. Rather, the shift was a predictable change that comes with most mid-term elections for a first-term president. But this time around, voters are disgruntled about the slow progress of the economy, and they took out their frustration at the polls. The problem with giving Republicans another chance at fixing the problems that they created is that they don’t have a different plan from what they have done in the past. That is, their plan  is to do what they have always done over thee past several decades.

Since the 1980s, the Republicans have basically used their “Starve the Beast” strategy. This strategy is basically to cut taxes (i.e., revenues) so that we can’t afford government programs. The ultra-rich are given special tax cuts, breaks, credits, loopholes, etc. Military spending is increased to suck up most of the federal budget. With less tax revenues they drive up the deficit, blame the Democrats, and scare the public about the mounting deficit. Once voters throw them out of office, Republicans happily leave behind a huge mess for the Democrats to clean up. Democrats now have to make the tough choices about spending and reviving the economy. While out of power, Republicans sit on the sideline and criticize anything the Democrats do to fix the mess, and even try to block anything that might help people, such as extending unemployment benefits. Republicans do everything they can to cut social programs that actually help people and create a middle class, and to cut taxes that would actually help us pay down our debt. They turn the public against Democrats with their rhetoric about “tax-and-spend-liberals,” and throw in a few words about abortion and gay marriage to please the religious right (but do nothing on these issues while in office). And then they bet on public amnesia to try to regain power in subsequent elections. This strategy has worked for them over the past several decades, but it has harmed our country.

Now that Republicans have reclaimed power in the House, what will be their agenda? » Read more: Party Like It’s 1994!

The Difference Between a Liberal and a Conservative

September 20th, 2010
Of all the political theories used to understand our complex political system, one of the most useful is “Social Dominance Theory” (SDT) developed by Sidanius and Pratto. This is a sociological theory that seek to make sense of social hierarchies and how they are formed and maintained. To understand social hierarchies is to understand discrimination, oppression,  stereotypes, inequality, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, nationalism, and the like. In short, SDT provides a framework for understanding power and group inequality.
Sidanius and Pratto’s 1999 book, Social Dominance, exhibits high scholarly standards, and is considered a classic sociological text. For anyone who wants to understand human systems, including political-economic social systems, this is an excellent read. There work is particularly relevant for understanding the difference between conservatives and liberals. Essentially, a political conservative is someone who accepts group inequality—that is, when a small group of elites dominates the majority (the subordinate group). A liberal is someone who seeks more egalitarian social organization, with equal opportunity for all groups. SDT identifies the attitudes associated with conservative/liberal views by measuring a group’s “social dominance orientation.”
“Social dominance orientation” is the degree to which individuals desire and support group-based hierarchy and domination of “inferior” groups by “superior” groups. Individuals have varying degrees of social dominance orientation. Political conservatism, authoritarianism, racism, sexism, lack of empathy, acceptance inequality, patriotism, and the presence of oppressive and discriminatory behavior is strongly correlated with social dominance orientation. » Read more: The Difference Between a Liberal and a Conservative

Glenn Beck’s Propaganda Fest

September 5th, 2010

I have been trying to figure out what Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in Washington was about (8/28/2010). “Faith, hope, and charity,” was the theme. It was a “wake up” call (literally) to call people to prayer and traditional values. It was basically a religious revival, with a strong emphasis on the greatness of Glenn Beck. He took a number of jabs at the media, hinting that they would underestimate the numbers of people in attendance. There were about 300,000 people in attendance. The whole event was an appeal to religious and patriotic emotions, tying together religious faith and American exceptionalism. This use of faith and patriotic sentiment is not new. Conservative politicians have used these emotions to stir up their base throughout our history. What was different is that Beck seems to be trying to connect conservatism with minority civil rights—never mind the fact that it was conservatives who fought against virtually every attempt to give additional rights to any group, from women and minorities to labor and immigrants.

The rally repeatedly invoked Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech, which was given on the same date 47 years ago. Beck essentially claimed Martin Luther King as part of his own political movement. He referred to “justice” repeatedly, even though months earlier he told people to leave their churches if they spoke of social justice. He equated the concept of social justice (a central message of Dr. King) with communism. Now, he is claiming justice as part of his own movement. To drive this connection home, he had King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, speak.

» Read more: Glenn Beck’s Propaganda Fest

10 Worst Conservatives

September 4th, 2010

Keith Olberman of MSNBC has a funny portion of his nightly show called, the “world’s worst person.” And of course, David Letterman has his top 10 lists. I thought it might be time to have our own “top ten worst conservatives” list. Here is our list (explanations and [very funny] video clips below).

  1. Glenn Beck
  2. Newt Gingrich
  3. John Boehner
  4. Sarah Palin
  5. George Rekers
  6. Jan Brewer
  7. Richard Army
  8. Sharron Angle
  9. Lindsey Graham
  10. Mitt Romney

» Read more: 10 Worst Conservatives

Do Tax Cuts Increase Revenue?

July 28th, 2010

On Sunday Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made the case for letting Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire later this year. He dismissed concerns that the move could push a teetering economy back into recession and argued that it would demonstrate America’s commitment to addressing its trillion-dollar budget deficit.

Republicans have countered with predictable fearmongering. In a USA Today op-ed, on July 22, Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, wrote that letting the tax cuts expire could potentially “trigger another recession, the last thing out-of-work Americans need…Dr. Christina Romer, chair of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, found…that there’s ‘a powerful negative effect of tax increases on investment.’ Her analysis showed that $1 in tax cuts results in a $3 increase in GDP, demonstrating why lower taxes are key to investment and an economic recovery.” (OK, Sentator Hatch, then you should be thrilled that Obama gave tax cuts to 95% of Americans…where’s your op-ed about that?)

So we have Treasury Secretary Geithner saying raising taxes back to Clinton-era level is a good thing, but the senior member of the Senate Finance Committee (Hatch) saying it will be devastating to the economy. This illustrates the fundamental differences between Republicans and Democrats is their view of taxes. Democrats believe in progressive taxation–that is, taxing the rich at a higher percentage because a flat tax would take a larger percentage of income from those with lower income; and the past 30 years tells us that it is the Democrats who are the fiscal conservatives when it comes to managing the deficit. On the other side of the aisle, Republicans believe that reducing taxes for high-income earners is better for the economy because it will “trickle down” to the lower income workers in the form of jobs; and they believe that lowering taxes for the rich increases government tax revenues. Repeat: Republicans believe that taking less money from the rich will give the government more money. Yes, they believe this like an article of faith. And they repeat it ad nauseum.

Examples:

President George W. Bush: “You cut taxes, and the tax revenues increase” (2006)

Vice President Dick Cheney: Keeping taxes low, “does produce more revenue for the Federal Government.” (2007)

Senator John McCain:  “Tax cuts … as we all know, increase revenues.” (2007)

Rudy Giuliani: “I know that reducing taxes produces more revenues.” (2007)

Rep. Lynn Westmoreland, Georgia-R: “This Congress must recognize that tax cuts spur economic growth.” (2005)

Carly Fiorina, U.S. Senate Candidate: Let me propose something that may seem crazy to you. You don’t need to pay for tax cuts. They pay for themselves. (2010)

If this concept holds true then the Bush tax cuts should have brought in more revenue and helped decrease the budget deficit. They did the opposite. » Read more: Do Tax Cuts Increase Revenue?

A Case Study in Economic Policy

June 14th, 2010

What economic policies lead to greater economic health? And what political policies will lead to better economic outcomes? These are complex questions, and can be difficult to test scientifically. However, it is useful to look at case studies in an effort to understand what policies work and what policies lead to disaster. Let’s take a look at the Golden State.

California has a $24 billion budget deficit. Unlike other states, California’s constitution requires a two-thirds majority legislative vote. This means the that minority Republicans—making up almost 40% of the state congress—have significant power to block legislation and budget plans that could avert further financial disaster. Because Republicans are against tax increases, the state is struggling to fix their current budgetary woes brought on by the global economic situation. When liberal social policy meets a policy of anti-taxation—and this combination is personified by Governor Schwarzenegger—we end up with exactly what California is facing today: A large budget shortfall, high unemployment, large numbers of foreclosures, and general economic sluggishness. Modest increases in tax revenues, effective utilization of federal stimulus dollars, and cutting costs are the obvious short-term solutions. But California’s budget crisis had been unstable from well before the global recession had an impact. » Read more: A Case Study in Economic Policy

Obama’s Katrina?

May 27th, 2010

Conservatives are calling the BP oil spill, “Obama’s Katrina.” Interesting. What exactly, my dear conservative friend, went wrong during Katrina, in your view? My recollection is that liberals thought the response was slow, completely inadequate, and irresponsible. Some even saw racism, opportunism (see Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine), and corruption. But conservatives generally defended the Bush administration’s response. They simply chalked it up to a natural disaster, and in some cases blamed the victims for expecting government help.

But now, with Obama in office, they are comparing the response to this man-made oil spill by BP, to the government’s response to Katrina. So I take it that they now concede that the response to Katrina (by Bush) was woefully inadequate, and that the Obama administration’s response is also poor. Is that the point they are making now?

Jon Stewart’s analysis of this comparison is too funny to miss.

» Read more: Obama’s Katrina?

Budgeting for the Living

May 23rd, 2010

We hear a lot of criticism these days about government spending. This is a primary concern for the Tea Party movement, and is a major focus in the wave of new conservative books and publications—from Representative Paul Ryan’s “Roadmap to America’s Future,” to recent books by Gingrich, Hannity, and Beck. This concern was nonexistent during the unprecedented spending of the Bush years. Moreover, in all of their fear-mongering, we only hear about the problem of “entitlements.” It is always a concern with too much spending that directly helps low income citizens. We never hear concerns from those who claim to be conservative about government spending that feeds our massive military industrial complex. » Read more: Budgeting for the Living