The Surreal World of The Villagers vs. The Nightmare Reality of the 99 Percent

Amazing Portraits of Salvador Dali (13)

This is going to be sort of a cross between a morning reads post and a rant.

Yesterday, Dakinikat and I were talking about how lately it seems like it’s hard to find things to blog about because there’s nothing really new happening in the political world. Sure, there’s news coming out of DC, but it’s pretty much the same thing every day. The Republicans hate President Obama and continue to do their best to block everything he tries to do. Obama sort of sounds like a liberal at times, but he’s still offering that “grand bargain” to the Republicans who hate his guts and still letting down the voters who elected him in the process.

Republicans pretend to obsess over the federal deficit and debt and economic writers like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich repeatedly try to explain that the problem with our economy right now isn’t the deficit or the debt, but the high unemployment and stagnating wages that keep the lower 99 percent of us from spending our money as freely as we’d like.

Lugubrious Game, by Salvador Dali, 1929

Lugubrious Game, by Salvador Dali, 1929

As I looked around for Thursday reads last night, I began to feel as if I’d entered a surreal alternative reality–almost as if I had awakened to find myself in a Salvador Dali painting in which everything seems crazy and nothing ever changes. The only breaks from the tedium of the Village come when there’s news of another shooting and the media covers it for a few days–like the recent obsession with ex-cop “Rambo” Christopher Dorner.

Now that Dorner has gone down, there’s another high-profile shooting for the media to focus on. USA Today reports: Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius charged with murder.

South African police on Thursday said they would charge Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius with murder after his girlfriend was shot and killed at his home earlier Thursday morning.

The circumstances of the incident are still unclear but police in South Africa said they would oppose bail when the Paralympic gold medalist appears in court Friday. The hearing was scheduled for Thursday afternoon but was delayed to give forensics investigators time to do their work, the Associated Press reported.

Police in South Africa do not name suspects in crimes until they have appeared in court but police spokesperson Brigadier Denise Beukes said that Pistorius was at his home after the death of the victim and that “there is no other suspect involved,” The Associated Press reported.

Britain’s Sky News first named the woman as Reeva Steenkamp, a model and recent contestant on Tropika Island of Treasure 5, a South African reality TV show. A talent agent for Steenkamp said she was the victim. However, police have yet to confirm the woman’s relationship with the Olympic and Paralympic athlete.

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp attend an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa last November.(Photo: Lucky Nxumalo, AP)

South African Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp attend an awards ceremony in Johannesburg, South Africa last November.(Photo: Lucky Nxumalo, AP)

Meanwhile, as the Villagers ignore the need for gun safety legislation and argue about the deficit and the supposed out-of-control government spending that isn’t actually happening, the rich get richer and the lower 99 percent get screwed. Case in point, please read this piece in The New Republic by Timothy Noah that the Villagers will either ignore or mock: The One Percent Gobbled Up the Recovery, Too. In fact, it put the 99 percent back in recession.

Emmanuel Saez, the Berkeley economist who (with Thomas Piketty, an economist at the École d’economie de Paris) first mapped the enormous 34-year run-up in income share for America’s top 1 percent, came up last year with a statistic that was widely quoted by people who care about rising income inequality. In 2010, the first year of economic recovery after the 2009-2010 recession, 93 percent of all pre-tax income gains went to the top 1 percent, which in that year meant any household making more than about $358,000. This was, I quipped at the time, a members-only recovery. No 99-percenters need apply.

Saez has now updated (PDF) this statistic to include 2011. When you look at the economic recovery’s first two years, the top one percent (which by 2011 meant any household making more than about $367,000) captured 121 percent of all pre-tax income gains.

How is it even possible for the one percent to capture more than 100 percent of all income gains since the last recession? Looked at from one point of view, it’s not. It is enough to say that in 2010 and 2011 all of the recovery went to the one percent. If you were in the bottom 99 percent, as by definition nearly all of us are, you didn’t see a dime of that recovery.

What happened to the rest of us then?

Over 2010 and 2011, it saw, on average, a slight net decline in pre-tax income of 0.4 percent. This “negative growth” is what, at least theoretically, boosts the one percent’s share of income gains from 100 percent to 121 percent. If you think of income distribution as a Pac-Man game, with the one percent as Pac-Man, imagine your Pac-Man consuming all the pac-dots in one game and then somehow, after you’ve left the arcade, gobbling up some of the pac-dots in the next player’s game too. Another way to put it is that the one percent didn’t just gobble up all of the recovery during 2010 and 2011; it put the 99 percent back into recession.

Sadly, airhead talking heads like Joe Scarborough will continue to have much more influence in the Village than actual economists like Emmanuel Saez and real reporters like Timothy Noah.

Speaking of airheads, after the SOTU speech on Tuesday night we had the pleasure of watching baby-faced Florida Senator Marco Rubio make a complete ass out of himself on the TeeVee. Hullabaloo blogger David Atkins, who–unlike Rubio–is somewhat knowledgeable about economics, tried to explain to the the latest “great Republican hope” (before his speech) that not only do deficits not cause unemployment, but also our federal deficit is steadily decreasing. Of course no reader of Dakinikat’s posts needs any of this explained. But I still want to link to Atkins’ concluding paragraphs.

Why is the deficit shrinking? Mostly, because of the pickup in economic activity. The elimination of some of the tax cuts for the wealthy will also help. The Affordable Care Act will also be taking a bite out of our extravagant healthcare costs.

4. None of this has any impact on unemployment. Generally speaking, there are two kinds of jobs: public sector and private sector. Even though the private sector is doing better, public sector jobs are still declining due to conservative policies theoretically designed to reduce deficits. Private sector jobs, meanwhile, depend on consumer demand–not corporate profit. American corporations are experiencing record profits, but they aren’t hiring because there’s not enough middle-class consumer demand for them to hire workers.

4a. The lack of consumer demand leading to poor private-sector job growth in spite of record profits has nothing to do with deficits or uncertainty in the investing climate. It has everything to do with income inequality and economic insecurity among the middle and lower classes.

4b. The obsession over deficits among conservative politicians is directly responsible for public sector job cuts that are helping to drive up the unemployment rate and kill consumer demand.

All of which means that politicians like Marco Rubio who insist that the deficit is directly hurting employment are either so ignorant of economics that they shouldn’t be handling public policy, or so cynically manipulative that they shouldn’t be handling public policy.

And no “reporter” in Washington or elsewhere should be covering Rubio’s statements without providing a basic lesson in macroeconomics as context for his fact-free response.

Actually, Village idiots “reporters” like Chris Cillizza pretty much ignored whatever substance there was in Rubio’s speech and approvingly reported on the personal history that Rubio discussed. But beforehand, Cillizza wrote that Obama should focus on deficit in State of the Union

It’s the deficit, stupid. A look back at Obama’s first three State of the Union speeches, plus the address to a joint session of Congress in 2009, suggests a similar thematic pattern: He starts with the economy, moves to education and then, in the middle section of the speech, addresses the deficit. (The exception was in 2011, when Obama began his speech with a riff on partisanship.) In 2012, Obama spent just five minutes on the debt — less time than he spent on partisanship (51/2 minutes) or foreign policy (six minutes).

He should flip that script in this State of the Union and spend the bulk of his time talking about the deficit. Here’s why: In January 2009 polling by Pew Research Center, 53 percent of respondents said reducing the deficit was a “top priority.” In January 2013, that number soared to 72 percent, by far the biggest increase of any issue over that time. (By contrast, 85 percent said strengthening the economy was a top priority in 2009, while 86 percent said so at the start of this year.)

The debt is the issue of the day, and one that, if Obama is beginning to eye his legacy as president, could go a long way toward shaping how history remembers him. Make this speech a deficit speech.

For Cillizza and his ilk, “the deficit” (or “the debt,” which he doesn’t seem to understand is not the same thing) is “the issue of the day,” and unemployment and the other struggles of the 99 percent are completely invisible. Oh, and by the way, Dick Cheney loved Rubio’s speech.

I could go on and on like this, but I’ll stop now. I just wanted to rant for a bit in hopes of pulling myself out of my current malaise. I’ve realized finally that there isn’t going to be any real change as because the Villagers (often including the President) are just going to continue focusing on cutting spending and ignoring the problems facing those of us who live in the real world.

If you stayed with me this far, thanks for letting me rant! Now, I welcome your links to whatever you are reading and blogging about today.


New Year’s Day Reads: The Lousy Deal

First Night fireworks against the Boston skyline

First Night fireworks against the Boston skyline

Good Morning and Happy New Year!!!

Sorry to be late with this post. I got so discouraged last night with our dysfunctional government that I went to bed completely disgusted. After a good night’s sleep, I’m feeling slightly more optimistic, if not truly hopeful. If I have any hope, it’s that perhaps the American people will rise up and let the president and Congress know what a horrible job they are doing.

So, what’s happening this morning? We officially went over the fiscal cliff at midnight even though the Senate approved a half-baked, crappy “deal.” Politico reports:

Congress lost a mad, New Year’s Eve dash to beat the fiscal cliff deadline, cinching a deal with President Barack Obama to raise taxes on the wealthy and temporarily freeze deep spending cuts but failing to get it through both chambers before midnight.
So over the cliff the country went — though perhaps for only a day or two and, assuming no snags, without incurring the double whammy of another recession and higher unemployment.

The measure, which would raise tax rates for families making more than $450,000 and delay deep across-the-board spending cuts for two months, cleared the Senate by an overwhelming 89-8 vote shortly after 2 a.m. The Republican-controlled House could take up the pact in a rare New Year’s Day session, though the timing of that chamber’s vote was not clear.

The $620 billion agreement was a major breakthrough in a partisan standoff that has dragged on for months, spooking Wall Street and threatening to hobble the economic recovery. It turned back the GOP’s two-decade-long refusal to raise tax rates, delivering a major win for the president.

The bill also canceled pay raises for members of Congress and averted an expected hike in the price of milk by extending expiring dairy policy.

Wow, they cancelled their own pay raises? That was big of them–not. They probably did that out of fear of an angry populace. And of course, we still have to watch the shameful spectacle of the tea party House wrangling over a deal that basically give them everything they wanted and more than they ever dreamed of.

From TPM, the Senators who voted against the deal:

The eight senators voting no were Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Carper (D-DE), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Mike Lee (R-UT), Rand Paul (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Richard Shelby (R-AL).

Robert Reich calls it “A Lousy Deal on the Edge of the Fiscal Cliff.” I’m thinking that could be the new logo for this administration–”The Lousy Deal” as opposed to Roosevelt’s “New Deal.” Reich writes:

Details of the agreement reached by the president and congressional Republicans are still forthcoming, but from the look of it, Obama gave ground where he need not have.

What else is new?

Yes, the deal finally gets Republicans to accept a tax increase on the wealthy, but this is an inside-the-Beltway symbolic victory. If anyone believes this will make the GOP more amenable to future tax increases, they don’t know how rabidly extremist the GOP has become.

The deal also extends unemployment insurance for more than 2 million long-term unemployed. That’s important.

But I can’t help believe the president could have done better than this. After all, public opinion is overwhelmingly on his side. Republicans would have been blamed had no deal been achieved.

More importantly, the fiscal cliff is on the president’s side as well. If we go over it, he and the Democrats in the next Congress that starts later this week can quickly offer legislation that grants a middle-class tax cut and restores most military spending. Even rabid Republicans would be hard-pressed not to sign on.

I hate to say it, but it really looks like Obama pushed for this so he could give more away that he would have had to if we had just gone over the cliff without all the fake deal making.

Noam Scheiber writes at The New Republic: Democrats’ Cliff Compromise Is Bad; But the Strategic Consequences Are Disastrous.

I think the president made a huge mistake by negotiating over what he’d previously said was non-negotiable (namely, the expiration of the Bush tax cuts on income over $250,000). Then the White House compounded that mistake by sending Biden to “close” the deal when Harry Reid appeared to give up on it. As a practical matter, this signaled to Republicans that the White House wouldn’t walk away from the bargaining table, allowing the GOP to keep extracting concessions into the absolute final hours before the deadline….

I think a reasonable person can defend the bill on its own terms. The fact is that nudging up the tax threshold to $450,000 only sacrifices $100-200 billion in revenue over the next decade (against the $700-800 billion the administration would have secured with its original threshold), while allowing unemployment benefits to lapse would cause real pain to both the 2 million people directly affected and, indirectly, to the economy. Yes, Obama could have gotten the latter without giving up the former had he just waited another few days—at which point what the GOP considers a tax increase suddenly becomes a tax cut. But these things are always easier to pull the trigger on when you, er, don’t actually have to pull the trigger. I can’t begrudge Obama his wanting to avoid some downside risk for only a marginally better deal.

My far bigger gripe with the whole fiscal-cliff exercise has always been the strategic dimension—how it affects the next showdown with the GOP, and the one after that. Coming into the negotiation, Obama had two big problems: First, no matter how tough he talked, Republicans always assumed he’d blink in the end, for the simple reason that he pretty much always had. (This is one of the major themes of my book about his first term.) Second, despite the results of the most recent election, in which Obama won a fairly commanding victory on a platform of raising taxes on wealthy people, the GOP continued to believe that public opinion was mostly on its side. House Republicans cited the preservation of their majority—never mind that their own candidates received fewer total votes than House Democratic candidates—and polls showing most Americans still think government is too big.

No kidding. And I disagree that we shouldn’t begrudge Obama for not sticking to his promise to hold the line at $250,000. As I’ve written previously, Obama should not be involved in negotiations, because he either wants to lose to the Republicans or his need to please the people who hate him is just too strong. I don’t know which is the real problem, and it really doesn’t matter for practical purposes. He’s just a horrible negotiator, period. Now we have to watch another repulsive display of childish squabbling in a couple of months. Is this going to be the extent of what happens in Obama’s second term? With this incompetent, useless Congress, it’s entirely possible.

And of course we still have to wait and see what Boehner and his gang do.

In a joint statement late Monday, House GOP leaders promised to keep their commitment to act on the measure if it passes the Senate. But they say they won’t decide whether to accept the measure or to amend it and send it back to the Senate until lawmakers and their constituents have a chance to review the legislation.

Give me a frickin’ break! I’m going to end here, because there doesn’t seem to be much other news. What are you reading today. I look forward to clicking on your links.

Whatever else happens, I hope everyone has a great day today and a very happy new year in spite of the idiocy in Washington DC!!


Open Thread: Presidential Press Conference

I just got home and noticed that President Obama has just started his post election press conference. He began by talking about extending the middle class tax cuts and letting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% expire.

Now he’s opened it up for questions. I’ll update in the comments.


President Obama Wins Reelection, but Romney Won’t Concede Ohio Yet

MSNBC is reporting that although every network has called Ohio for Obama, the Romney campaign refuses to concede that they have lost Ohio. Chris Matthews just said that Donald Trump is calling for revolution. I hate to think about the craziness we are going to see from Republicans in the days ahead. But thank goodness the danger of a Romney presidency is over.

Here’s a fresh thread to discuss what’s happening.


Election Day Afternoon Update

Good Afternoon!!

Here’s a fresh thread while we wait for any bits of exit poll results to be leaked. Let us know if you’ve heard any!

I’ve got a few entertaining links for you in case you’re looking for something to read while obsessively waiting for the polls to close in Florida and Virginia (7PM Eastern).

Can you believe Mitt Romney is charging reporters who want to be inside his campaign headquarters tonight when the returns come in?

BOSTON — The campaign of Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney appears to be setting a precedent this election year in charging journalists and news organizations for any access to a presidential campaign headquarters on the night of the election.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who is locked in a tight race with Democratic President Barack Obama, will be holding his election night gathering at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, where access costs anywhere from $75 for a chair in the ballroom to $1,020 for permission to use the media filing center. Broadcast news organizations will be paying up to $6,500 for workspace.

Obama’s campaign party will be held at McCormick Place, in Chicago, and although his campaign is charging for premiums, credentialed reporters are granted access, which includes a workstation, electrical power and a wireless Internet connection, at no cost.

Romney is ending his historically awful campaign as gracelessly as he ran it for the past year.

But Romney’s money men will be treated like kings tonight.

BOSTON, MASS. —Mitt Romney isn’t going to forget the folks who picked up the tab for his billion-dollar run for the White House tonight.
Roughly 2,000 mega donors and bundlers are flocking to Beantown on Election Day for one last get together —which includes some special perks — according to a source on the ground familiar with the finance teams efforts.

Some of Romney’s biggest supporters, including New York Jets owner Woody Johnson; Texan mega donors L.E. Simmons and Ray Washburn; Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute; Bobbie Kilberg, head of the Northern Virginia Technology Council; among others are expected to attend. Nevada gambling magnate Sheldon Adelson may also make an appearance, according to the source….

The festivities kick off with a dinner for the Romney Victory Council at the Westin Boston Waterfront Hotel, just a few short steps from the convention center where Romney’s slated to speak later in the evening. The group, dubbed informally as the “Council of 100,”are those that have raised significant amounts of money and includes many of Romney’s state chair network.

Unlike the press, the mega donors will watch the festivities in style.

Following the dinner, the finance team has organized two massive rooms in the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center for election night watch parties, one for the victory council and another for the national finance committee members. The finance committee room will include the campaign’s high-end donors of the founding members and partners as well as the bundlers that hit their marks in the“Stars” and “Stripes” programs.

May they all end up crying in their champagne.

Even though Romney will lose badly in Massachusetts, voters are flocking to the polls for the Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

Lines crawled down hallways of schools, outside firehouses and community centers around Cambridge, Somerville and Braintree just outside Boston.

At the end of the most expensive senate race in Massachusetts history, voters cast their choice as one for the decidedly progressive politics of Warren or the sense of moderation they felt that Brown–who shocked the nation when he won Kennedy’s seat in 2009–had brought to the Senate.

A few more links:

Emptywheel has an interesting post about her day working in “voter protection” at an African American district in Michigan: On the Ground Turnout in MI Feels Like It Did in 2008

At another Michigan polling place: Southfield Twp. voter appears to die, then asks ‘Did I vote?’

TPM: Ohio Viewers Hit By Anti-Obama TV ‘Special’ On Election Eve

The Cleveland Leader reports that Sherrod Brown’s opponent, Josh Mandel got a surprise from some family members yesterday: Josh Mandel’s In-Laws Call Him Out on Anti-Gay Stance in Newspaper Ad

In Franklin County, Ohio Tea Party “observers” from “True the Vote” were “barred from Franklin County polling places.”

What are you hearing in your neck of the woods?