This Week in Stimulus
This week marks the fifth anniversary of President Obama's stimulus, officially called the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The White House's Council of Economic Advisors--no nonpartisan group, mind you--has released a report that finds that the ARRA was a success. It prevented a terrible recession from becoming a second Great Depression. It saved and created jobs. It kept people out of poverty, it repaired roads and schools and bridges, it cut taxes for most Americans.
There's another benefit that most people rarely consider, but Time's Michael Grunwald has written articles and a book about the ARRA, and he says, "The Recovery Act jump-started clean energy in America, financing unprecedented investments in wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable sources of electricity. It advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and energy efficiency in every imaginable form. It helped fund the factories to build all that green stuff in the U.S., and research into the green technologies of tomorrow. It’s the reason U.S. wind production has increased 145% since 2008 and solar installations have increased more than 1,200%. The stimulus is also the reason the use of electronic medical records has more than doubled in doctors’ offices and almost quintupled in hospitals. It improved more than 110,000 miles of broadband infrastructure. It launched Race to the Top, the most ambitious national education reform in decades."
Senator Marco Rubio (R/FL) is just one of the many Republicans who disagree with the report. Rubio claims, "If you recall five years ago, the notion was that if the government spent all this money — that, by the way, was borrowed— that somehow the economy would begin to grow and create jobs. Well, of course, it clearly failed. Five years later, underemployment is still too high, the number of people that have dropped out of the workforce is astounding, unemployment remains stubbornly high and our economy isn’t growing fast enough — proof that massive government spending, particularly debt spending, is not the solution to our economic growth problems."
Rubio is right about the symptoms, but wrong about the causes and the prescription. To argue that the ARRA didn't halt the dangerously steep job losses, didn't turn the economy from the wrong direction to the right one, didn't begin the recovery, is simply to ignore recent history. During the 2008 primaries, every candidate offered a stimulus proposal, becaue they all knew it was necessary. [By the time the election rolled around and the economy had gone into freefall, candidate John McCain (R/AZ) was arguing for a complete freeze in federal discretionary spending, a policy that would have been a disaster and would have guaranteed that we did, in fact, enter a new Great Depression. We can thank our lucky stars every day that McCain lost that race.] The ARRA passed Congress on a largely party-line vote, in no small part because of the inauguration-night meeting at which top Republicans agreed to do whatever was required to make sure the president was a failure--whatever the cost to America. If Rubio wants to seriously discuss the reasons there still aren't enough jobs and the economy isn't growing fast enough, he has to start with the fact that those Congressional Republicans have blocked virtually every job-creating bill and every effort to spur economic growth. At every level of government--federal, state, and local--right-wing austerity measures slashed public-sector jobs and programs, hampering economic progress. (Europe tried austeriry, and our post-recession growth is far outpacing theirs.) Congressional Republicans decided for the first time in history to threaten default on our obligations, and continually turned normal budgetary processes into games of economic chicken. History and intellectual honesty demand that those facts be acknowledged in any serious conversation on the topic.
Whether they like it or not, the stimulus worked. This isn't just our opinion. It's shared by the aforementioned Council of Economic Advisors, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and a panel of expert economists polled by the Initiative on Global Markets, as well as most private-sector economists. Steve Benen at Maddowblog.com has created a handy chart showing just what the private-sector jobs picture looked like, before and after the stimulus.
Image via The Maddowblog
Here, Benen explains more and shows another chart, of domestic GSP. Before the stimulus, it was crashing. After, it wasn't.
We understand there will always be partisan-based differences of opinion. There's certainly room to argue that stimulus money could have been spent differently, or that it could have been larger or smaller. But flatly stating that it didn't work? That is contrary to every known fact, and to make that claim is dishonest to the core.
This Week in Poverty
Lately there's been a lot of discussion of food stamps, more accurately known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. In debating the recently passed farm bill, Democrats wanted to cut SNAP by a smallish amount, while Republicans wanted to cut it by a much, much larger amount. The compromise was closer to the Democrats' side of the line, but it was still too much.
Seemingly lost in the conversation was this: "Members of the military redeemed almost $104 million worth of food stamps at commissaries from October 2012 through September 2013 fiscal year, as first reported by CNN." So we passed a farm bill that cuts precious assistance not just for millions of struggling Americans, many of them children, but also for the families of our military personnel. Congress must be proud.
This Week in Internecine Warfare
Two prominent Senate Republicans have the knives out for each other. Last week, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R/KY) did the right, responsible thing by agreeing to and voting for a clean debt ceiling increase, as Congress has done dozens of times until 2011, when some members decided to inhibit economic growth by holding the debt ceiling hostage.
Last October, largely at the instigation of Senator Ted Cruz (R/TX), the economy was jeopardized further by a government shutdown and another debt ceiling fracas. This time, recognizing that Republicans would be blamed for any economic fallout from default of even the threat of default, McConnell and Speaker of the House John Boehner corraled just enough members of their party to pass a clean increase.
In the Senate, not a single Republican vote would have been necessary had Cruz not forced a filibuster, and therefore a 60-vote threshold, to bring the debt limit bill up for a vote. But he did, enraging many Senate Republicans who would rather have avoided blowback from the extreme right for voting in a responsible manner. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, long an establishment-right supporter, labeled Cruz a "minority maker" and a member of the "kamikaze caucus."
This weekend, Cruz continued his crusade against his own party (and, by extension, against his own country). Taking Republicans to task for not crashing the American economy on purpose might gain Cruz some headlines, but we here at TWiA World Headquarters hope Texas voters understand that his only goal is the aggrandizement of Ted Cruz, not the economic well-being of the United States. The two, in fact, are at extreme opposite poles. What's good for Cruz is bad for America, and voters should keep that in mind the next time his name appears on a ballot.
This Week in the Minimum Wage
People on every side of the political spectrum are talking about the CBO's report on a minimum wage increase. Opponents are shouting about the potential 500,000 jobs lost (though the report actually says the number could be anywhere from 1 job to 1 million jobs. That's an extremely wide range). Most (but not all) economists believe it would be on the lower end of that spectrum. As economist Jared Bernstein points out in the New York Times, "There is no policy I can think of that generates only benefits without any costs, and policy makers always have to weigh the two sides. In the case of the minimum wage, on the benefits side of ledger, the budget office shows that 16.5 million low-wage workers would directly get a much-needed pay increase at no cost to the federal budget." The increase would lift 900,000 people out of poverty. Conservative writer Josh Barro explains why the tradeoff is a good thing (but increasing to $10.10 an hour might not be high enough): "And the minimum wage trade-off presented by CBO looks awfully favorable. For every person put out of work by the minimum wage increase, more than 30 will see rises in income, often on the order of several dollars an hour. Low- and moderate-income families will get an extra $17 billion a year in income, even after accounting for people who get put out of work; for reference, that's roughly equivalent to a 25% increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit."
Side Note: It's genuinely comical to watch Republicans on Capitol Hill freak out about the CBO projections of job losses. They've been fighting tooth-and-nail to keep the sequester in place, despite the CBO estimate that it's costing the country 900,000 jobs. The extension of long-term unemployment benefits they've been blocking since December would, by CBO reckoning, create 200,000 jobs. The ARRA, the CBO says, has saved or created millions of jobs (0.2 million to 1.3 million in 2012 alone). And the CBO says the immigration reform bill already passed by the Senate but blocked by the House would create millions of new jobs. In all those cases, they either dispute CBO findings or they stick their fingers in their ears and pretend not to hear. But when something President Obama wants to do might cost some jobs (but also help millions of working Americans), suddenly the CBO report is gospel and those jobs lost outweigh every other consideration.
This Week in the Company You Keep
We here at TWiA World Headquarters have never been fans of Ted Nugent's music--his biggest solo hit, "Cat Scratch Fever," has always been guaranteed to make us change the station if it comes on the radio--but his personal life and his "politics" are even worse. He's admitted to having sex with underage girls, and on one occasion he persuaded a girl's parents to make him her legal guardian, so that his "relationship" with her would be legal. In 2012, he famously drew the attention of the Secret Service when he said, "If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year…. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Any questions?” It was, of course, a typical tough-guy statement coming from a coward who, as soon as the Secret Service showed up at his door, insisted that he never meant a word of it.
More recently, Nugent referred to the twice-elected President of the United States as a "communist-raised, communist-educated, communist-nurtured subhuman mongrel." The bilious hatred and racism in that statement aren't even hidden; they're right out there in front. It's all untrue, of course, and it should be far, far beyond the boundaries of anyone who expects to be taken at all seriously in the political arena.
Despite that, this week--on the first day of voting in the Texas gubernatorial primary--Republican candidate Greg Abbott (currently the state's attorney general) invited Nugent to appear onstage with him at two campaign events. Think for a moment about what that means. Think who it means Abbott is trying to appeal to. Not to mainstream Republicans or to thinking conservatives, but to people whose voting decisions are spurred by hate: hatred of other races, hatred of other ways of life, hatred of individuals who don't think exactly the same way that they do. Those aren't the votes Abbott will accept, however reluctantly--they're the ones he's trying to actively court.
When a politician is out looking for that kind of support, reason demands that voters with a brain and a conscience look elsewhere for their candidate. With that single act, Greg Abbott has proven that he lacks the judgment and decency to hold public office.
This Week in Gun Safety
Lots of gun-related news this week, including a major federal appeals court decision and a new study showing what happened in Missouri when its permit-to-purchase law was repealed.
In California, the usually liberal-leaning 9th Circuit Court of Appeals shot down San Diego County's ban on concealed-carry weapons. Their rationale is that the state doesn't allow open carrying, so concealed is the only way a San Diegan can exercise his or her Second Amendment rights. Gun enthusiasts, of course, are in favor of states deciding such things for themselves, unless a state wants to limit gun deaths. In that case, an "interventionist federal court" becomes a welcome ally. (Thanks to TWiA special federal courts correspondent Marcy Rockwell for the tip.)
In Florida--and if that's a surprise, you haven't been paying attention--jurors couldn't find a man guilty of first-degree murder who approached a car full of teenagers in the parking lot of a convenience store, because they were playing their "thug" music (his word) too loud, and then shot one of them to death. Never mind that he doesn't live at the convenience store, or work there--he would have been on his way in minutes, and so would they. Never mind that he approached the vehicle instead of just bitching about it like most people would. When the teenagers acted like teenagers, he pulled a gun and fired ten times, killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis. The jury only found him guilty on attempted murder charges. Do we have to mention that he was white and they were black? We already said "Florida."
In Missouri, a law requiring people to get a permit from their local sheriff to buy a gun was repealed in 2007. The result? Not surprisingly, an increase in the people murdered with guns.
"'Coincident exactly with the policy change, there was an immediate upward trajectory to the homicide rates in Missouri,' said Prof Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research.
"'That upward trajectory did not happen with homicides that did not involve guns; it did not occur to any neighbouring state; the national trend was doing the opposite – it was trending downward; and it was not specific to one or two localities – it was, for the most part, state-wide,' he told BBC News.
"The team said it took account of changes that occurred in policing levels and incarceration rates, trends in burglaries, and statistically controlled for other possible confounding factors such as shifts in unemployment and poverty."
Another finding was a sharp increase in the number of legally owned guns that ended up in criminals' hands, which proves a point we've made here many times: If you own guns to "protect your home," the chance that you'll actually use them for that purpose is slender indeed. It's far more likely that your guns will be stolen--so congratulations! You have just armed another criminal. (Thanks to TWiA special Daniel Webster correspondent Maryelizabeth Hart for the tip.)
In Colusa, CA, a man reportedly found a handgun near a garbage can and almost instantly shot himself in the abdomen. In Fort Lauderdale, FL, an off-duty corrections worker who carried an unholstered handgun in a pants pocket accidentally discharged it inside a restaurant, injuring nine people. And in Fort Worth, TX, a grandmother stopped in a bar for a drink after helping raise money for victims of a house fire, and was killed (and four men were wounded) when an altercation devolved into a gunfight.
And finally, in the department of poetic irony, a Wisconsin man who had recently written an editorial in favor of open carry laws has been arrested--and could lose his concealed carry license--because he and three other people alledgedly threatened a man with their guns.
This Week in Priorities
"Another dubious first for America: We now employ as many private security guards as high school teachers — over one million of them, or nearly double their number in 1980.
"And that’s just a small fraction of what we call guard labor. In addition to private security guards, that means police officers, members of the armed forces, prison and court officials, civilian employees of the military, and those producing weapons: a total of 5.2 million workers in 2011. That is a far larger number than we have of teachers at all levels."
The article points out that America leads the developed world in both economic inequality and guard labor, and that the two have been rising together. The authors don't make the explicit connection between the increase in guard labor and the increase in the number of guns in the country, but we would be surprised if that didn't mirror guard labor and economic inequality. They do say this: "There is a simple economic lesson here: A nation whose policies result in substantial inequalities may end up spending more on guns and getting less butter as a result." We're not sure the word "guns" is meant to be taken metaphorically.
This Week in "An Affront to Democracy"
Ohio Republicans are trying to pass legislation aimed at "limiting voters who might vote for Democrats," according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The newspaper calls the bills "an affront to democracy," and it's hard not to see them that way.
This Week in Burgeoning Scandals
Gov. Chris Christie (R/NJ) might not be feeling so lonely these days. Former VA Governor Bob McDonnell was already in hot water. This week, they've been joined by Governors Scott Walker (R/WI) and Pat McCrory (R/NC). Just a few months ago, these four Republican governors were considered up-and-comers and plausible presidential and/or vice presidential nominees. Now they're all struggling for their political lives against scandals with the potential to send people to prison and destroy careers.
This Week in Texas
This Week in How You Can Help
Since the rights of LGBT people are simultaneously being protected (by judges and legislatures around the country) and attacked (ditto), consider volunteering for or contributing to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that believes we're all entitled to the same rights. It's hard to argue with that proposition--but of course, some people do.
This Week in Bears
Bears prefer Pepsi to Coke. Also, they shouldn't be spanked, or petted. Which should be obvious, but, people.