Sunday, February 22, 2009

American Caesar's Ghost

Original LinK:

by Jeff Huber

We are witnessing what a military takeover of a superpower looks like in the new American century. David Petraeus became the most dangerous American general since Douglas MacArthur when George W. Bush announced that his "main man" would decide when, how, and if an Iraq troop drawdown would occur, giving Petraeus unilateral control of U.S. foreign policy. In the summer of 2008, when then-candidate Barack Obama started talking about a 16-month withdrawal deadline and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said that sounded about right, you could almost hear Petraeus screeching What a world! What a world! from Baghdad to Washington. If you listened closely, you also heard the propaganda campaign to sell America on an endless occupation of Iraq click into high gear.

On Feb. 2, foreign policy analyst Gareth Porter revealed that in a Jan. 21 meeting, Petraeus, Joint Chiefs chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates were unable to dislocate President Obama from his 16-month redeployment policy. Porter also reported that a group of senior retired officers were preparing to support Petraeus, Gen. Ray Odierno, and their allies by mobilizing public opinion against Obama's decision. I estimated that support to be part of the larger information campaign that was an integrated effort of the surge strategy from the outset.

D-Day of the latest phase of that information campaign arrived on Feb. 8 when Pulitzer Prize-winning Pentagon correspondent Thomas E. Ricks launched a series of TV interviews and Washington Post articles to promote his new book, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008. It's not pleasant to call Ricks out for prostituting his credentials, but you can't sleep in a general's tent for years the way Ricks has and pretend not to be a camp follower. Ricks has become for Petraeus what Ned Buntline was to Buffalo Bill Cody: his official legend-maker.

In his 2006 book Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005, Ricks painted Petraeus as the only division commander who got it right in post-invasion Iraq. By January 2007, when Petraeus became the new commander of forces in Iraq, Ricks described him in an interview as a "force of nature," and recalling the sight of the general doing one-arm push-ups with teenage privates sent Ricks into a breathless arrhythmia. With The Gamble, Ricks promotes Petraeus to five-star deity. Both Brainiac and action figure, Super Dave defies the establishment and changes the course of mighty strategies to save America from the agony of defeat in Iraq. He's got a Ph.D. from Princeton, he wears Kevlar, he's a complicated man – but no one understands him but Tom Ricks, can you dig it? By the time you finish The Gamble, you'll pray on your knees that Dave Petraeus runs for president in 2012.

Ricks used a crate of lipstick to make Petraeus' sidekick, Gen. Ray Odierno, look presentable in The Gamble. He savaged Odie in Fiasco: ox-like Odierno is "confused by criticism" that his 4th Infantry Division, the "worst outfit" in theater at handling prisoners and civilians, is a virtual corps of "recruiting sergeants" for the insurgency. Odierno himself denies an insurgency is in progress, and he is the epitome of the dysfunctional leader who doesn't want to hear the "bad stuff." But in The Gamble, Odierno has experienced an "awakening." It is Odierno, more than anyone else, who is responsible for the surge's success. "White House aides and others in Washington … had nothing to do with developing" the way the surge was executed. Odierno made all those decisions. You can trust Ricks on that score because he got the information straight from source: Odierno.

In fact, almost the entirety of Ricks' surge saga is told from the perspective of Petraeus, Odierno, and the rest of the surgin' safari. If Ricks picks up another Pulitzer for The Gamble, the inscription should read "best stenography." Petraeus and Odierno are assisted by crafty retired Army general Jack Keane. Big Jack wields his mighty influence to break down the doors of the Washington bureaucracy, and he helps his protégés maneuver around their chain of command to place their surge concept before young Mr. Bush himself. The three wise warriors vanquish a host of fakes, liars, fumblers, and meanies and put their enlightened counterinsurgency scheme to work in Iraq, so gosh, we can't just give up now that things are going so good. Well, better. Sort of.

In his book, his Post columns, and his interviews, Ricks manages to run through the gamut of neocon talking points on why we still need to stay the course, a compendium of doublethink mantras that in real-speak boil down to "Buy our war or we'll shoot this soldier's dog" and "Don't forget to be afraid of Iran." At the same time, remarkably, Ricks generates a mountain of fog in an attempt to cover the neocons' tracks.

In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Matthews, Ricks absolved the neocons, saying they get "too much credit and too much blame" for Iraq. Nothing was the neocons' fault, really. It was that mean old Dick Cheney who duped the public into supporting the war, and that grouchy old Donald Rumsfeld who ran the war so badly. Never mind that Cheney and Rumsfeld were charter members of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), the neocon think-tank that first publicly called for an invasion of Iraq in early 1998. Ricks makes a single passing mention of PNAC in The Gamble. That's a stunning omission when you consider that along with Cheney and Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Zalmay Khalilzad, Scooter Libby, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Richard Perle, Richard Armitage, and many other PNACers also held key positions on the Bush administration's Iraq policy team. Eliot Cohen is a featured player in The Gamble, a key figure in the selling of the surge and, according to Ricks, the man who told Bush he should make Petraeus the top commander in Iraq. Not once does Ricks note that Cohen is a luminary in the neoconservative constellation and that, like Cheney and Rumsfeld, he was a founding member of PNAC.

Also noteworthy is Ricks' glaring omission of any reference to "Rebuilding America's Defenses," the September 2000 PNAC manifesto that delineated the foreign policy the Bush administration would adopt in whole. Unfinished issues from Desert Storm, it said, provided the "immediate justification" for an invasion of Iraq, but the need to establish a large, permanent military footprint in the geostrategic heart of the oil-rich Gulf region transcended "the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." Then 9/11 gave the neocons the "new Pearl Harbor" they needed to launch their scheme, and the rest is history – as rewritten by the likes of Tom Ricks, who is now abetting them in pursuit of their original purpose.

As is the case with all revisionists, you'll find grains of truth along the path of Ricks' narrative, just as you'll find grain in every pile of horse manure. The only honest thing you'll find picking through Ricks' prose, though, is the insanity behind the argument for staying in Iraq.

The real secret of Petraeus' "success" at counterinsurgency is payola. As commander of the 101st Airborne in Mosul, "he bought everybody off." The enemy "was just biding its time and building capacity, waiting him out." When Petraeus left Mosul, it went up for grabs. As top commander in Iraq, Petraeus bought everybody off again, making "a lot of deals with shady guys" who are "just laying low," so we can never leave, or the whole country will go up for grabs like Mosul did.

Odds are things will be worse if we leave than they were under Hussein, Ricks told NBC's Chris Matthews. Hussein was a toothless tyrant, but now that Petraeus has "armed everybody to the teeth" it's too dangerous to get out. We've made the Iraqi security forces strong enough that they might attempt a coup if we're not there to stop them. The surge may have averted a civil war, but one colonel tells Ricks he doesn't think "the Iraqi civil war has been fought yet," so we have to stick around so we don't miss all the fun. As Iraq becomes more secure, it moves backward. There's a "long-term trend toward increasing authoritarianism," so we have to stay in Iraq so things don't go back to the way they were under Hussein, even though, as Ricks just told us, things were better under Hussein than they are now.

Ricks says the surge is a strategic failure because it didn't bring about the unification government it was supposed to produce. But that's okay, because an analyst Ricks knows says "power-sharing is always a prelude to violence," so we have to stay in Iraq to make sure we don't achieve our strategic objective, which will be easy because "the whole notion of democracy and representative government in Iraq" was "absolutely ludicrous" from the get-go.

If you're thinking Petraeus was plotting all along to create a situation we couldn't extract ourselves from, you're right. As Ricks notes, Petraeus needed time "not to bring the war to a close, but simply to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer."

Even Ricks seems uncertain that we've seen genuine progress; maybe we've actually just "poured more gas on the fire," he thinks, and even though the surge is a failure, its "attitude is right" so it was "the right step to take," and we should continue to support U.S. presence in Iraq because we'll be there a long time whether we support it or not.

As Ricks explained to David Gregory on Meet the Press, Petraeus and his henchmen have Obama over a barrel. If Obama continues to stand up to them, they'll accuse him of betraying the troops because of a campaign promise he made to get the peace poofter vote. If things go the way Ricks predicts, the president will fold, the military oligarchy will consolidate its hold on American political power, and the neocons will live to make other people's sons fight another day because they conned Tom Ricks into covering for them.

How sad it is to see that Thomas E. Ricks, dean of the Pentagon beat, has been pants-down, bent-over-the-table seduced by the neoconservative cabal. He is as mad as they are, and as madly in love with their eternal crusade in the Middle East as he is with David Petraeus.

Jindal to refuse some stimulus money

Original LinK:

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Friday that he will decline stimulus money specifically targeted at expanding state unemployment insurance coverage, becoming the first state executive to officially refuse any part of the federal government’s payout to states.

In a statement, Jindal, who is slated to give the Republican response to President Barack Obama’s message to Congress on Tuesday, expressed concern that expanding unemployment insurance coverage would lead to increased unemployment insurance taxes later on.

“The federal money in this bill will run out in less than three years for this benefit and our businesses would then be stuck paying the bill,” Jindal said. “We must be careful and thoughtful as we examine all the strings attached to the funding in this package. We cannot grow government in an unsustainable way.”

Jindal is one of a small group of Republican governors, which includes South Carolina’s Mark Sanford and Mississippi’s Haley Barbour, who have said they might refuse some or all of the stimulus money targeted to their states.

In an interview Friday, Barbour said he, too, would likely decline funds for broadening access to unemployment insurance.

“Subject to learning more, my position is that Mississippi won’t accept funds that require us to have a tax increase later, because [they would force] us to change our rules for qualifying for unemployment compensation,” he said.

It is not clear which, if any, other parts of the stimulus funding Republican governors will decline. But initial suggestions that anti-stimulus governors might decline all the funds targeted for their states have faded.

Joel Sawyer, Sanford’s communications director, said the South Carolina governor was still reviewing his options with respect to the stimulus.

“We haven’t made any decisions on any part of the stimulus yet,” Sawyer said

Pentagon issues performance pay and bonuses averaging 8.35 percent

Original Link:

By Brittany R. Ballenstedt

Nearly all of the employees in the Defense Department's new personnel system were rewarded for their job performance in their first paychecks of 2009, with the average pay raise and bonus totaling 8.35 percent.

According to figures issued by the Pentagon on Wednesday, 98 percent of the more than 170,000 employees rated under the National Security Personnel System received performance-based payouts for 2009, meaning their supervisors graded their work as a 3 or better out of five possible points. The majority of those employees -- 55.4 percent -- earned a rating of 3, defining them as valued performers.

The average rating among all NSPS employees was 3.46, and the typical pay raise was 6.41 percent plus a one-time bonus of 1.94 percent. This increase was larger than the 2.9 percent across-the-board pay hike and 1 percent locality boost that federal employees under the General Schedule received for 2009. Workers in the Washington area received the highest overall increase of the General Schedule employees, at 4.78 percent.

But the 8.35 percent average payout under NSPS isn't directly comparable to the across-the-board and locality pay boosts that General Schedule employees receive. General Schedule employees have earnings potential beyond their annual raise, while under NSPS, within-grade pay boosts, quality step increases and bonuses are factored into the overall performance-based pay increase.

Announcement of the 2009 payouts comes on the heels of a congressional request to slow implementation of NSPS. Two Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee recently asked the Pentagon to stop converting employees to the system until the Obama administration and lawmakers complete a thorough review. The lawmakers noted concerns with the costs and transparency of NSPS.

A Defense employee who requested anonymity said on Wednesday that while the average 2009 payouts appear to be larger than the General Schedule increase, the system still is a "zero-sum game."

"In the short term, [NSPS employees] may seem to do better, but GS employees receiving a scheduled step increase and/or promotion can still stand to do better than a 3-rated NSPS employee," the worker said. "Over time, it should even out between the two systems -- in theory, at least."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A 'fraud' bigger than Madoff

Original Link:

By Patrick Cockburn in Sulaimaniyah, Northern Iraq

Senior US soldiers investigated over missing Iraq reconstruction billions

In what could turn out to be the greatest fraud in US history, American authorities have started to investigate the alleged role of senior military officers in the misuse of $125bn (£88bn) in a US -directed effort to reconstruct Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. The exact sum missing may never be clear, but a report by the US Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) suggests it may exceed $50bn, making it an even bigger theft than Bernard Madoff's notorious Ponzi scheme.

"I believe the real looting of Iraq after the invasion was by US officials and contractors, and not by people from the slums of Baghdad," said one US businessman active in Iraq since 2003.

In one case, auditors working for SIGIR discovered that $57.8m was sent in "pallet upon pallet of hundred-dollar bills" to the US comptroller for south-central Iraq, Robert J Stein Jr, who had himself photographed standing with the mound of money. He is among the few US officials who were in Iraq to be convicted of fraud and money-laundering.

Despite the vast sums expended on rebuilding by the US since 2003, there have been no cranes visible on the Baghdad skyline except those at work building a new US embassy and others rusting beside a half-built giant mosque that Saddam was constructing when he was overthrown. One of the few visible signs of government work on Baghdad's infrastructure is a tireless attention to planting palm trees and flowers in the centre strip between main roads. Those are then dug up and replanted a few months later.

Iraqi leaders are convinced that the theft or waste of huge sums of US and Iraqi government money could have happened only if senior US officials were themselves involved in the corruption. In 2004-05, the entire Iraq military procurement budget of $1.3bn was siphoned off from the Iraqi Defence Ministry in return for 28-year-old Soviet helicopters too obsolete to fly and armoured cars easily penetrated by rifle bullets. Iraqi officials were blamed for the theft, but US military officials were largely in control of the Defence Ministry at the time and must have been either highly negligent or participants in the fraud.

American federal investigators are now starting an inquiry into the actions of senior US officers involved in the programme to rebuild Iraq, according to The New York Times, which cites interviews with senior government officials and court documents. Court records reveal that, in January, investigators subpoenaed the bank records of Colonel Anthony B Bell, now retired from the US Army, but who was previously responsible for contracting for the reconstruction effort in 2003 and 2004. Two federal officials are cited by the paper as saying that investigators are also looking at the activities of Lieutenant-Colonel Ronald W Hirtle of the US Air Force, who was senior contracting officer in Baghdad in 2004. It is not clear what specific evidence exists against the two men, who have both said they have nothing to hide.

The end of the Bush administration which launched the war may give fresh impetus to investigations into frauds in which tens of billions of dollars were spent on reconstruction with little being built that could be used. In the early days of the occupation, well-connected Republicans were awarded jobs in Iraq, regardless of experience. A 24-year-old from a Republican family was put in charge of the Baghdad stock exchange which had to close down because he allegedly forgot to renew the lease on its building.

In the expanded inquiry by federal agencies, the evidence of a small-time US businessman called Dale C Stoffel who was murdered after leaving the US base at Taiji north of Baghdad in 2004 is being re-examined. Before he was killed, Mr Stoffel, an arms dealer and contractor, was granted limited immunity from prosecution after he had provided information that a network of bribery – linking companies and US officials awarding contracts – existed within the US-run Green Zone in Baghdad. He said bribes of tens of thousands of dollars were regularly delivered in pizza boxes sent to US contracting officers.

So far, US officers who have been successfully prosecuted or unmasked have mostly been involved in small-scale corruption. Often sums paid out in cash were never recorded. In one case, an American soldier put in charge of reviving Iraqi boxing gambled away all the money but he could not be prosecuted because, although the money was certainly gone, nobody had recorded if it was $20,000 or $60,000.

Iraqi ministers admit the wholesale corruption of their government. Ali Allawi, the former finance minister, said Iraq was "becoming like Nigeria in the past when all the oil revenues were stolen". But there has also been a strong suspicion among senior Iraqis that US officials must have been complicit or using Iraqi appointees as front-men in corrupt deals. Several Iraqi officials given important jobs at the urging of the US administration in Baghdad were inexperienced. For instance, the arms procurement chief at the centre of the Defence Ministry scandal, was a Polish-Iraqi, 27 years out of Iraq, who had run a pizza restaurant on the outskirts of Bonn in the 1990s.

In many cases, contractors never started or finished facilities they were supposedly building. As security deteriorated in Iraq from the summer of 2003 it was difficult to check if a contract had been completed. But the failure to provide electricity, water and sewage disposal during the US occupation was crucial in alienating Iraqis from the post-Saddam regime.

Bad News From America’s Top Spy

Original Link:

By Chris Hedges

We have a remarkable ability to create our own monsters. A few decades of meddling in the Middle East with our Israeli doppelgänger and we get Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaida, the Iraqi resistance movement and a resurgent Taliban. Now we trash the world economy and destroy the ecosystem and sit back to watch our handiwork. Hints of our brave new world seeped out Thursday when Washington’s new director of national intelligence, retired Adm. Dennis Blair, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee. He warned that the deepening economic crisis posed perhaps our gravest threat to stability and national security. It could trigger, he said, a return to the “violent extremism” of the 1920s and 1930s.

It turns out that Wall Street, rather than Islamic jihad, has produced our most dangerous terrorists. You wouldn’t know this from the Obama administration, which seems hellbent on draining the blood out of the body politic and transfusing it into the corpse of our financial system. But by the time Barack Obama is done all we will be left with is a corpse—a corpse and no blood. And then what? We will see accelerated plant and retail closures, inflation, an epidemic of bankruptcies, new rounds of foreclosures, bread lines, unemployment surpassing the levels of the Great Depression and, as Blair fears, social upheaval.

The United Nations’ International Labor Organization estimates that some 50 million workers will lose their jobs worldwide this year. The collapse has already seen 3.6 million lost jobs in the United States. The International Monetary Fund’s prediction for global economic growth in 2009 is 0.5 percent—the worst since World War II. There are 2.3 million properties in the United States that received a default notice or were repossessed last year. And this number is set to rise in 2009, especially as vacant commercial real estate begins to be foreclosed. About 20,000 major global banks collapsed, were sold or were nationalized in 2008. There are an estimated 62,000 U.S. companies expected to shut down this year. Unemployment, when you add people no longer looking for jobs and part-time workers who cannot find full-time employment, is close to 14 percent.

And we have few tools left to dig our way out. The manufacturing sector in the United States has been destroyed by globalization. Consumers, thanks to credit card companies and easy lines of credit, are $14 trillion in debt. The government has pledged trillions toward the crisis, most of it borrowed or printed in the form of new money. It is borrowing trillions more to fund our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And no one states the obvious: We will never be able to pay these loans back. We are supposed to somehow spend our way out of the crisis and maintain our imperial project on credit. Let our kids worry about it. There is no coherent and realistic plan, one built around our severe limitations, to stanch the bleeding or ameliorate the mounting deprivations we will suffer as citizens. Contrast this with the national security state’s strategies to crush potential civil unrest and you get a glimpse of the future. It doesn’t look good.

“The primary near-term security concern of the United States is the global economic crisis and its geopolitical implications,” Blair told the Senate. “The crisis has been ongoing for over a year, and economists are divided over whether and when we could hit bottom. Some even fear that the recession could further deepen and reach the level of the Great Depression. Of course, all of us recall the dramatic political consequences wrought by the economic turmoil of the 1920s and 1930s in Europe, the instability, and high levels of violent extremism.”

The specter of social unrest was raised at the U.S. Army War College in November in a monograph [click on Policypointers’ pdf link to see the report] titled “Known Unknowns: Unconventional ‘Strategic Shocks’ in Defense Strategy Development.” The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order.” The “widespread civil violence,” the document said, “would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

“An American government and defense establishment lulled into complacency by a long-secure domestic order would be forced to rapidly divest some or most external security commitments in order to address rapidly expanding human insecurity at home,” it went on.

“Under the most extreme circumstances, this might include use of military force against hostile groups inside the United States. Further, DoD [the Department of Defense] would be, by necessity, an essential enabling hub for the continuity of political authority in a multi-state or nationwide civil conflict or disturbance,” the document read.

In plain English, something bureaucrats and the military seem incapable of employing, this translates into the imposition of martial law and a de facto government being run out of the Department of Defense. They are considering it. So should you.

Adm. Blair warned the Senate that “roughly a quarter of the countries in the world have already experienced low-level instability such as government changes because of the current slowdown.” He noted that the “bulk of anti-state demonstrations” internationally have been seen in Europe and the former Soviet Union, but this did not mean they could not spread to the United States. He told the senators that the collapse of the global financial system is “likely to produce a wave of economic crises in emerging market nations over the next year.” He added that “much of Latin America, former Soviet Union states and sub-Saharan Africa lack sufficient cash reserves, access to international aid or credit, or other coping mechanism.”

“When those growth rates go down, my gut tells me that there are going to be problems coming out of that, and we’re looking for that,” he said. He referred to “statistical modeling” showing that “economic crises increase the risk of regime-threatening instability if they persist over a one to two year period.”

Blair articulated the newest narrative of fear. As the economic unraveling accelerates we will be told it is not the bearded Islamic extremists, although those in power will drag them out of the Halloween closet when they need to give us an exotic shock, but instead the domestic riffraff, environmentalists, anarchists, unions and enraged members of our dispossessed working class who threaten us. Crime, as it always does in times of turmoil, will grow. Those who oppose the iron fist of the state security apparatus will be lumped together in slick, corporate news reports with the growing criminal underclass.

The committee’s Republican vice chairman, Sen. Christopher Bond of Missouri, not quite knowing what to make of Blair’s testimony, said he was concerned that Blair was making the “conditions in the country” and the global economic crisis “the primary focus of the intelligence community.”

The economic collapse has exposed the stupidity of our collective faith in a free market and the absurdity of an economy based on the goals of endless growth, consumption, borrowing and expansion. The ideology of unlimited growth failed to take into account the massive depletion of the world’s resources, from fossil fuels to clean water to fish stocks to erosion, as well as overpopulation, global warming and climate change. The huge international flows of unregulated capital have wrecked the global financial system. An overvalued dollar (which will soon deflate), wild tech, stock and housing financial bubbles, unchecked greed, the decimation of our manufacturing sector, the empowerment of an oligarchic class, the corruption of our political elite, the impoverishment of workers, a bloated military and defense budget and unrestrained credit binges have conspired to bring us down. The financial crisis will soon become a currency crisis. This second shock will threaten our financial viability. We let the market rule. Now we are paying for it.

The corporate thieves, those who insisted they be paid tens of millions of dollars because they were the best and the brightest, have been exposed as con artists. Our elected officials, along with the press, have been exposed as corrupt and spineless corporate lackeys. Our business schools and intellectual elite have been exposed as frauds. The age of the West has ended. Look to China. Laissez-faire capitalism has destroyed itself. It is time to dust off your copies of Marx.

Ending the hidden agenda behind tax cuts

Original Link:

by Joe Brewer, Cognitive Policy Works

What happens in the real world when this reasoning is taken to its logical conclusion?

Something as simple as a metaphor can mean the difference between shared prosperity and widespread suffering.

It's time to tell the truth about tax cuts. This phrase dominates political discourse and is coughed out every time a conservative public figure opens his mouth. It is treated like the basis of sound reasoning, yet no one points out what should be obvious — that "tax relief" and "tax cuts" are just code words for destroying the capacity of government to serve the public.

We've heard over and over again that the source of society's problems is the government. The solution that follows is to "trim the fat", "cut out the waste", "shrink the government", and provide "relief" to millions of citizens who suffer the burden of exploitation by Washington elites. This story flies in the face of the facts, yet it makes sense to a significant portion of the U.S. population. How can this be?

The answer has to do with how we make sense of things in the world. Our experiences shape what seems legitimate by reinforcing (or undermining) our ideas about the way things work. So, for example, a progressive politician may speak honestly and forcefully about the positive role of government in our lives. But this will fall on deaf ears if our typical experience is at odds with such claims. This observation demonstrates a key element of what George Lakoff and I have dubbed the Cognitive Criterion for Public Support:

An effective policy must be popular if it is to stand the test of time and it must be popular for the right reasons, namely because it promotes the right long-term values in the minds of citizens, reinforced through the lived experience.

The reason many people accept conservative claims about taxation and government is that they hold up for many common experiences, especially when conservatives are in control of the government. Conservative officials enact policies that make life worse for people while claiming that things will get better. Then they draw upon these negative experiences to advance their agenda. No Child Left Behind is an excellent example. The strategy works like this (a more detailed analysis can be found here):

1. Declare that the agenda is to "improve" public education

2. Pass legislation that cripples public schools

3. Cry out for "reform" when people see how bad our schools are doing

4. Get rid of public schools and replace them with private schools, especially schools that teach conservative ideology (e.g.: elite charter schools, religious schools, etc.)

This strategy demonstrates how cognitive policy works. Emphasis is given to how people understand what is happening. The goal is to ensure that our experiences are interpreted through a conservative lens. It is not literally the case that taxation is a burden (a provocative metaphor), but rather that our common sense is influenced by a combination of our experiences in the world and the interpretive filters that give them meaning. (A key feature of how the political mind works, as I discuss in The Great Political Blind Spot )

Back to the hidden agenda behind tax cuts, we can apply this insight to see that conservatives want people to have negative experiences with government. Why? Because it supports decades of propaganda — and an underlying belief that stems from their worldview — that government is the problem. In the early 1970s, conservative elites started investing heavily in the creation of idea factories to spread their views far and wide so that they eventually became the new common sense of our culture. They had to work tirelessly for years to change the underlying values of American citizens because our long history has been devoted to advancing our most cherished values, which happen to be progressive. But, as we can see by the pervasiveness of their ideas today, this effort has been catastrophically successful.

Now is the time to nip their bankrupt idea about taxation in the bud. The way to do it is simple. Take their reasoning to its logical conclusion and see what happens if it is applied to the real world. We can test the conservative belief about taxation against our own and decide what's best by looking at the outcomes.

First, we'll need to be very clear about just what conservatives and progressives mean by taxation. Then we can apply these understandings to the world to see their consequences. (The insights that follow come from linguistic analysis of cognitive "frames" that shape political thought.)

Taxation as Conservatives Understand It

I've already alluded to an interesting metaphor that helps make sense of conservative thought about taxes, what I'll call Taxes Are A Burden to make it explicit. The understanding of taxation that follows from this metaphor can be seen in this story:

Hard-working Americans are in need of some tax relief. Years of mismanagement by tax-and-spend liberals have taken money out of the hands of working people and put it into bloated government programs that serve special interests. We need to cut taxes, return fiscal responsibility to government, and put money back in the hands of taxpayers who know best how to spend it.

This perspective is grounded in two beliefs: (1) The world is comprised of individuals; and (2) People are inherently bad and must learn right from wrong through self-discipline. I like to call this the "Me First" perspective because it assumes that people must help themselves before thinking about others. It can be summarized with the declaration, "You're on your own!" The Me First perspective assumes that any assistance from the community would be "coddling" or "spoiling" us. This claim is asserted as truth in the conservative worldview.

Taxation as Progressives Understand It

Progressives have a different understanding of taxation that can be expressed through a variety of metaphors: Taxes Are An Investment, Taxes Are Membership Dues, Taxes Are Pathways to Opportunity, Taxes Are Infrastructure, and Taxes Are a Duty. Reasoning that emerges with these metaphors can be seen in this progressive story:

Our great nation was founded on a promise of protection and opportunity. Through our shared wealth, pooled together by taxation with representation, we have invested in the public infrastructure that makes possible the creation of new wealth. We have a sacred trust to keep this promise alive throughout our lifetimes, expand it as we are able, and pass it along to our children.

This perspective is grounded in the beliefs that (1) Individuals are influenced significantly by our communities; and (2) People are inherently good and benefit from cooperation with others. I like to call this the "People First" perspective because it assumes that people must help each other in order to enhance their ability to help themselves. It can be summarized with the declaration, "We're all in this together!" The People First perspective assumes that we are greater than the sum of our parts and that new opportunities emerge when we make wise investments with the common wealth we share.

Truth and Consequences

Now that we have a clear sense of what taxation means to conservatives and progressives, we can see what happens if these different ideas are used as governing principles for shaping society. This analysis accomplishes two purposes. First, it reveals key truths about taxation that complicate arguments made by conservatives, truths that don't get talked about nearly enough. And second, it exposes a covert agenda that deceptively exploits real concerns of people to advance an otherwise unpopular agenda.

What happens if the Me First perspective is applied to taxation? Just look to the world we find ourselves in today. A problem defined as "too much spending" leads to budget cuts. This results in a diminished capacity to provide vital services. Public goods like education, civil and criminal courts, road maintenance, and fundamental scientific research are too costly for individuals — or even multinational corporations - to afford. So these services are cut and people lose their jobs. Thousands of teachers no longer cultivating young minds. Countless construction workers laid off when city and state governments halt infrastructure projects. Graduates with advanced degrees unable to find work because public agencies are "tightening their belts" and cutting back on grants to academia, non-profits, and the private sector.

Beyond the direct human suffering of disrupted lives, there is substantial reduction in government programs that protect the public against harm. The FDA cannot staff enough inspectors to keep toxic peanuts out of the food supply. The EPA lacks capacity to keep drinking water clean in cities and towns across the country. The SEC is unable to keep a watchful eye on runaway speculation and our economy spins wildly out of control. Bridges crumble and levies break because funds are in short supply.

The consequence of conservative ideology is a self-fulfilling prophecy. People are forced to be "on their own" with no protection against serious threats and no assistance to get them beyond their current means. When disasters strike, there is widespread suffering and death because the tapestry of society — our precious safety net — has withered and decayed. Think I'm exaggerating? I'll just say one word — Katrina.

And despite their claims to the contrary, conservative leaders want this to happen.

Contrast this with the People First perspective. Again, we can let experience be our guide. A decade of rampant deregulation, perpetrated by a conservative mindset about the relationship between government and the economy, led to the great stock market crash of 1929. A visionary progressive leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, stepped in and vastly expanded a wide variety of public programs. The flood of revenues accompanying this expansion was enough to put millions of unemployed back to work. New programs that embody the spirit of progress emerged in the decades that followed. Social Security, the GI Bill, Medicare, and the FDIC are a few examples of the legacy this pooling of resources delivered to the American people.

Along with this massive investment in societal infrastructure, Americans experienced tremendous growth of shared prosperity. For the first time in our history, an entire generation of children from working-class families moved up the economic ladder with college degrees in hand. Home ownership skyrocketed. Literacy rates went through the roof and new skills emerged to expand the capacity of markets. And two generations of people experienced the benefits of cooperation in their daily lives, codifying the ethic that we're all in it together as a bedrock of sound reason.

I can attest to this from personal experience. Both of my parents came from working-class families. I was the first to get a college degree. Federal and state scholarships delivered me from the rural farm to the hallowed halls. And now society gets to benefit from the fruits of my labor as I work to transform our political system for the betterment of society. The cognitive policy of the People First perspective is a foundation of my identity in the world.

The Hidden Agenda Exposed

The progress of our nation is being held hostage by a malicious metaphor. Treating taxation as nothing more than a burden is tantamount to declaring that citizenship is nothing more than getting all you can for yourself . . . everyone else be damned. Conservative elites have undermined the responsibilities we have to one another to advance their agenda. They are fully committed to crafting the world in their image, as we've seen all too clearly these last eight years and throughout the current debate about economic recovery under the Obama Administration.

I say enough is enough. Let's call this tactic out for what it is. People are hurting in every corner of the land and they're looking for help where they haven't dared to look for quite some time — in the service of our representatives in the federal government. Conservatives will try to convince us that our hardships are caused by excessive government. The truth is that we are suffering under excessive conservative ideology of governance, which is a very different beast. They continue to claim that we can't get ahead because we're over taxed. This claim is absurd!

Not a single home foreclosure throughout this crisis has been caused by excessive taxation. The misfortune of illness in a dysfunctional health system has burdened people with horrendous debt. Where did this problem come from? Profit-driven health care created under the Nixon Administration.

Banks haven't failed catastrophically through over-sized personal W-2 forms. Radical deregulation is the culprit. Who deregulated the market? Conservative ideologues from both political parties. (This is what the word "centrist" really means — conservatives who've infiltrated the Democratic Party.)

Companies haven't been driven to huge lay-offs because their tax burden is too high. They are victims of an unraveling market. What undermined the integrity of the global economy? An extremist philosophy of governance that is blind to the role of the regulatory frameworks that give stabilizing structure to our markets.

What can we do to stop the conservative agenda? Call it out for what it is. When someone says, "People need tax relief," respond by letting them know that "We really need to invest in one another." Make it clear what the consequences of tax cuts really are - the destruction of our mechanisms for protecting and empowering one another. And let's stop taking their language for granted just because everyone is doing it. That logic didn't make much sense in middle school. It's all the more dangerous to follow as adults. Challenge the conservative meaning of taxation directly. Declare that we are decidedly NOT on our own. Point to the benefits we've taken for granted too long, things like education and schools and roads and courts.

We mustn't stop with a critique of their ideas either. We need to fervently argue for our own. Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. A prosperous community is a place where neighbors pool their efforts for the greater good. Taxes provide resources for investments larger than anything we could build on our own. And these benefits create a space for new ideas to take hold and expand our wealth.

Ideas matter. Words are important. We cannot afford to let a radical minority set the tone of public debate any longer. The time is ripe for moving beyond the era of misguided individualism. Let's take the momentum we've built in the last few years and place the United States back on a course that resonates with our deeply held values — caring for one another, expanding freedoms to the marginalized, and recognizing that our shared prosperity is at the core of our success as a nation.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Republicans Fight Obama's Stimulus Plan, Fearing Its Success Will Mean Years of Political Oblivion

Original Link:'s_stimulus_plan,_fearing_its_success_will_mean_years_of_political_oblivion/

By Dean Baker

At least some Republicans are starting to muster an anti-stimulus drive, claiming that President-elect Obama's package will not help the economy. Their drive is centered on what they claim is a careful rereading of the history of the New Deal. According to their account, President Roosevelt's policies actually lengthened the Great Depression.

In their story, we would have been better off if we just left the market to adjust by itself. New Deal programs that directly employed people, or in other ways supported living standards, created an uncertain investment climate. They claim that this uncertainty slowed the process of market adjustment that was necessary for returning to high levels of employment.

he Wagner Act, which created the legal framework for the union organizing drives of the era, stands out as being especially pernicious in their story. The Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the 40-hour workweek and established the first national minimum wage, also gets singled out for criticism. In this new reading of history, what most people consider the great successes of the New Deal simply worsened the Great Depression.

In reality, any careful reading showed that the New Deal policies substantially ameliorated the effects of the Great Depression for tens of millions of people. The major economic failing of the New Deal was that President Roosevelt was not prepared to push the policies as far as necessary to fully lift the economy out of the Great Depression.

Roosevelt was too worried about the whining of the anti-stimulus crowd that he confronted. He remained concerned about balancing the budget when the proper goal of fiscal policy should have been large deficits to stimulate the economy. Roosevelt's policies substantially reduced the unemployment rate from the 25 percent peak when he first took office, but they did not get the unemployment rate back into single digits.

It took the enormous public spending associated with World War II to fully lift the economy out of the depression. The lesson that economists take away from this experience is that we should be prepared to run very large deficits in order to give the economy a sufficient boost to generate self-sustaining growth.

However, from the standpoint of Republicans, the more ominous lesson of the New Deal policies is that it left the Democrats firmly in power for more than 20 years. The Republicans did not regain the White House until 1952, 20 years after President Roosevelt was first elected.

Imagine how terrifying the prospect of 20 years of Democratic presidencies must be for the current generation of Republican leaders. This would mean that they would not retake the White House until 2028, just 20 years before the Social Security trust fund is first projected to face a shortfall.

In 2028, Newt Gingrich will be 85 years old; Mitt Romney will be 81; Mike Huckabee will be 73 and Senator McCain will be 98. Even Sarah Palin will be a less than youthful 64. In short, if President-elect Obama is allowed to carry through with his stimulus package and the rest of his ambitious domestic agenda, most of current leadership of the Republican Party can expect to spend the rest of their political career in the political wilderness, far removed from the centers of power.

For this reason, the Republicans can be expected to adopt a strategy aimed at delaying and diluting the stimulus. We can expect their leaders to find every conceivable argument to slow down the spending that the economy desperately needs right now to prevent further job loss. While some of their concerns may be legitimate - we should all support efforts to restrain wasteful pork barrel spending and rein in corruption - these concerns should not be the basis for obstructing stimulus. The public should be careful to distinguish legitimate concerns from simple delaying tactics.

In short, we should realize that the main concern of some of those opposed to stimulus may not be that it will fail, but rather that it will succeed. Most of us don't have the same set of concerns.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Failure to Rise

Original Link:


By any normal political standards, this week’s Congressional agreement on an economic stimulus package was a great victory for President Obama. He got more or less what he asked for: almost $800 billion to rescue the economy, with most of the money allocated to spending rather than tax cuts. Break out the Champagne!

Or maybe not. These aren’t normal times, so normal political standards don’t apply: Mr. Obama’s victory feels more than a bit like defeat. The stimulus bill looks helpful but inadequate, especially when combined with a disappointing plan for rescuing the banks. And the politics of the stimulus fight have made nonsense of Mr. Obama’s postpartisan dreams.

Let’s start with the politics.

One might have expected Republicans to act at least slightly chastened in these early days of the Obama administration, given both their drubbing in the last two elections and the economic debacle of the past eight years.

But it’s now clear that the party’s commitment to deep voodoo — enforced, in part, by pressure groups that stand ready to run primary challengers against heretics — is as strong as ever. In both the House and the Senate, the vast majority of Republicans rallied behind the idea that the appropriate response to the abject failure of the Bush administration’s tax cuts is more Bush-style tax cuts.

And the rhetorical response of conservatives to the stimulus plan — which will, it’s worth bearing in mind, cost substantially less than either the Bush administration’s $2 trillion in tax cuts or the $1 trillion and counting spent in Iraq — has bordered on the deranged.

It’s “generational theft,” said Senator John McCain, just a few days after voting for tax cuts that would, over the next decade, have cost about four times as much.

It’s “destroying my daughters’ future. It is like sitting there watching my house ransacked by a gang of thugs,” said Arnold Kling of the Cato Institute.

And the ugliness of the political debate matters because it raises doubts about the Obama administration’s ability to come back for more if, as seems likely, the stimulus bill proves inadequate.

For while Mr. Obama got more or less what he asked for, he almost certainly didn’t ask for enough. We’re probably facing the worst slump since the Great Depression. The Congressional Budget Office, not usually given to hyperbole, predicts that over the next three years there will be a $2.9 trillion gap between what the economy could produce and what it will actually produce. And $800 billion, while it sounds like a lot of money, isn’t nearly enough to bridge that chasm.

Officially, the administration insists that the plan is adequate to the economy’s need. But few economists agree. And it’s widely believed that political considerations led to a plan that was weaker and contains more tax cuts than it should have — that Mr. Obama compromised in advance in the hope of gaining broad bipartisan support. We’ve just seen how well that worked.

Now, the chances that the fiscal stimulus will prove adequate would be higher if it were accompanied by an effective financial rescue, one that would unfreeze the credit markets and get money moving again. But the long-awaited announcement of the Obama administration’s plans on that front, which also came this week, landed with a dull thud.

The plan sketched out by Tim Geithner, the Treasury secretary, wasn’t bad, exactly. What it was, instead, was vague. It left everyone trying to figure out where the administration was really going. Will those public-private partnerships end up being a covert way to bail out bankers at taxpayers’ expense? Or will the required “stress test” act as a back-door route to temporary bank nationalization (the solution favored by a growing number of economists, myself included)? Nobody knows.

Over all, the effect was to kick the can down the road. And that’s not good enough. So far the Obama administration’s response to the economic crisis is all too reminiscent of Japan in the 1990s: a fiscal expansion large enough to avert the worst, but not enough to kick-start recovery; support for the banking system, but a reluctance to force banks to face up to their losses. It’s early days yet, but we’re falling behind the curve.

And I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach — a feeling that America just isn’t rising to the greatest economic challenge in 70 years. The best may not lack all conviction, but they seem alarmingly willing to settle for half-measures. And the worst are, as ever, full of passionate intensity, oblivious to the grotesque failure of their doctrine in practice.

There’s still time to turn this around. But Mr. Obama has to be stronger looking forward. Otherwise, the verdict on this crisis might be that no, we can’t.

Obama and liberals: a counter-productive relationship

Original Link:

By Glenn Greenwald

The New Republic's John Judis today has an excellent analysis of the politics behind the stimulus package -- one which applies equally to most other political controversies. Judis argues that the stimulus package ended up being far inferior to what it could have been and points to this reason why that happened:

But I think the main reason that Obama is having trouble is that there is not a popular left movement that is agitating for him to go well beyond where he would even ideally like to go. Sure, there are leftwing intellectuals like Paul Krugman who are beating the drums for nationalizing the banks and for a $1 trillion-plus stimulus. But I am not referring to intellectuals, but to movements that stir up trouble among voters and get people really angry. Instead, what exists of a popular left is either incapable of action or in Obama's pocket. . . .

A member of one liberal group, Campaign for America's Future, pronounced the stimulus bill "a darn good first step." MoveOn -- as far as I can tell -- has attacked conservative Republicans for opposing the bill, while lamely urging Democrats to back it. Of course, all these groups may have thought the stimulus bill and the bailout were ideal, but I doubt it. I bet they had the same criticisms of these measures that Krugman or The American Prospect's Ezra Klein or my own colleagues had, but they made the mistake that political groups often make: subordinating their concern about issues to their support for the party and its leading politician.

By extremely stark contrast, Paul Krugman today explains why Republicans are so unified in their opposition to this bill and their willingness to uphold the principles of their supporters:

One might have expected Republicans to act at least slightly chastened in these early days of the Obama administration, given both their drubbing in the last two elections and the economic debacle of the past eight years. But it’s now clear that the party’s commitment to deep voodoo — enforced, in part, by pressure groups that stand ready to run primary challengers against heretics — is as strong as ever.

[As an ancillary matter: though I agree with Krugman's principal point, I dislike his use of the word "heretics" here. It invokes one of the worst myths in our political discourse: the idea that there's something wrong, intolerant or "Stalinist" about pressuring or even campaigning against incumbents "from one's own party" who advocate positions that you think are bad and wrong. That activity happens to be the essence of democracy, and we need more, not less, of it. If anything is Stalinist, it's the sky-high incumbent re-election rates and the sense of entitlement in our political class that incumbents should not ever face primary challenges even if they support policies which the base of the party reviles. Why shouldn't GOP voters who love tax cuts and hate government domestic spending, regardless of whether they're right or wrong, demand that their elected representatives support those views (in exactly the same way that Democratic incumbents who supported the Iraq war and/or Bush's lawless surveillance state should have been targeted for defeat)?]

But Krugman's larger point is correct: Republican groups demand from politicians support for their beliefs. By contrast, as Judis describes, Democratic groups -- including (perhaps especially) liberal activist groups -- now (with some exceptions) lend their allegiance to the party and its leader regardless of how faithful the party leadership is to their beliefs. That disparity means that there is often great popular agitation and political pressure exerted from the Right, but almost none from the Left (I'm using the terms "Left" and "Right" here in their conventional sense: "Right" being the core of the GOP and "Left" being those who most consistently and vigorously opposed Bush's foreign and domestic policies).

During the 2008 election, Obama co-opted huge portions of the Left and its infrastructure so that their allegiance became devoted to him and not to any ideas. Many online political and "news" outlets -- including some liberal political blogs -- discovered that the most reliable way to massively increase traffic was to capitalize on the pro-Obama fervor by turning themselves into pro-Obama cheerleading squads. Grass-roots activist groups watched their dues-paying membership rolls explode the more they tapped into that same sentiment and turned themselves into Obama-supporting appendages. Even labor unions and long-standing Beltway advocacy groups reaped substantial benefits by identifying themselves as loyal foot soldiers in the Obama movement.

The major problem now is that these entities -- the ones that ought to be applying pressure on Obama from the Left and opposing him when he moves too far Right -- are now completely boxed in. They've lost -- or, more accurately, voluntarily relinquished -- their independence. They know that criticizing -- let alone opposing -- Obama will mean that all those new readers they won last year will leave; that all those new dues-paying members will go join some other, more Obama-supportive organization; that they will prompt intense backlash and anger among the very people -- their members, supporters and readers -- on whom they have come to rely as the source of their support, strength, and numbers.

As a result, there is very little political or media structure to Obama's Left that can or will criticize him, even when he moves far to what the Beltway calls the "center" or even the Right (i.e., when he adopts large chunks of the GOP position). That situation is extremely bad -- both for the Left and for Obama. It makes impossible what very well might be the apocryphal though still illuminating FDR anecdote:

FDR was, of course, a consummate political leader. In one situation, a group came to him urging specific actions in support of a cause in which they deeply believed. He replied: "I agree with you, I want to do it, now make me do it."

As Judis points out, Obama, on some issues, might move to the Right because he wants to. In other cases, he will do so because he perceives that he has to, because the combination of the GOP/Blue-Dog-following-caucus/Beltway-media-mob might force him to. Regardless of Obama's motives, the lack of a meaningful, potent movement on the Left to oppose that behavior ensures that it will continue without any resistance. The lack of any independent political pressure from the Left ensures that Obama will be either content to ignore their views or will be forced to do so even when he doesn't want to.

Prioritizing political allegiance to their leader was exactly the mistake the Right made for the first several years of the Bush presidency. Even Bill Kristol admitted in The New York Times: "Bush was the movement and the cause." An entire creepy cottage industry arose on the Right devoted to venerating George W. Bush. And it wasn't until well into his second term, when his popularity had already collapsed, that they began opposing him in a few isolated cases when he deviated from their beliefs -- on immigration reform, the Harriet Miers nomination, Dubai ports, the TARP bailout and the like. But, by then, it was too late: Bush became synonymous with "conservatism" because the latter wasn't really about anything other than supporting the President no matter what he did. The ideological movement and their political leader had merged, and it was destructive for both of them.

Part of the political shrewdness of Obama has been that he's been able to actually convince huge numbers of liberals that it's a good thing when he ignores and even stomps on their political ideals, that it's something they should celebrate and even be grateful for. Hordes of Obama-loving liberals are still marching around paying homage to the empty mantras of "pragmatism" and "post-partisan harmony" -- the terms used to justify and even glorify Obama's repudiation of their own political values. Talk Left's Armando described the oddness of this mentality:

As I wrote earlier in a comment, "up yours" to the ACLU used to be known as "triangulation" when a certain William Jefferson Clinton did it. Today it is known as "11 dimensional chess." Another episode today demonstrates the transformation of "triangulation" into "11 dimensional chess:"

Sen. Tom Harkin, a liberal Democrat from Iowa, said fellow Democrats had surrendered too much in a bid to appease three moderate Republicans who can ensure passage in the Senate.

"I think our side gave in too much in order to appease a few people," he said in a hallway interview in the Capitol earlier on Wednesday. He said Democrats should have dared Republicans to filibuster and "see what the public outcry" would have been. "I think the people are getting shortchanged."

Imagine if Bill Clinton had capitulated like this to a Republican Congress in 1995? Or said "up yours" to the ACLU the way Obama did? Do you think the cries of "sellout" would be hard to find today? Me neither.

Political ideas and values that have no meaningful pressure being exerted on their behalf will always be those that are most ignored. That's just the most basic rule of politics. Last year, Accountability Now was created to provide exactly that pushback against political incumbents, and there will be a major announcement very soon along with its formal launch (an Executive Director has been hired and much of the infrastructure has been created and the groundwork laid). For the moment, on one issue after the next, one can vividly observe the harm that comes from a political faction being beholden to a leader rather than to any actual ideas or political principles.

UPDATE: Greg Sargent obtains a letter today from the Obama DOD regarding conditions at Guantanamo which nicely illustrates the need for ongoing, constant pressure on the administration -- here.

And Matt Yglesias identifies another harm from having liberals defining themselves by "whatever Obama supports":

If you succeed in muting all your critics to the left, all you do is create a situation where your program is defined in the press and the congress and the public imagination as the most-leftwing-possible proposal. And the furthest-left proposal can’t possibly win. It’s never helpful to have fratricidal warfare and battles to the death, but it’s necessary for there to be meaningful pressure to do more than is popular or possible or even necessary in order to lay the groundwork for accomplishing anything.

I wouldn't quite put it this way, because I don't believe that anyone should be advocating for positions to the Left of Obama simply as a tactic to make Obama's policies seem more centrist and therefore more likely to be accepted. But his general point is still true: criticizing Obama from the Left (as, say, Paul Krugman has been doing in the stimulus debate) expands the scope of the debate in a very important way that can only advance the Left's political goals and, incidentally, enable/force Obama to avoid the Center and Right.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

14 Studies Have Exposed the High Cost of Ethanol and Biofuels; The Unraveling of the Ethanol Scam

Original Link:


On its website, Wisconsin-based Renew Energy says it is the “biofuels industry leader for innovation and efficiency.” It goes on, saying that its new 130 million gallon per year ethanol plant in Jefferson, Wisconsin is “the largest dry mill corn fractionation facility in the world” which uses 35 percent less energy and 33 percent less water than similar ethanol plants.

That would be impressive but for one fact: Renew Energy just filed for bankruptcy.

The failure of Renew is the latest bankruptcy in the corn ethanol industry, a sector that despite billions of dollars in federal subsidies, hasn’t been able to prove its long-term economic viability. About 9 percent of all the ethanol plants in the US have now filed for bankruptcy and some analysts believe the numbers could go as high as 20 percent.

Even if the 20 percent figure is never reached, it’s readily apparent that billions of investment dollars will be lost on the corn ethanol scam, a darling of farm state legislators. Today, about four years after Congress increased the mandates on the use of corn ethanol in gasoline, the US is nowhere close to the much-promised goal of “energy independence.” Instead, the increasing use of corn to make motor fuel has caused a myriad of problems. Chief among them: increased food prices.

While it’s true that other factors have helped inflate food prices, including rising energy prices and increased grain demand in other countries, it’s also abundantly obvious that the corn ethanol industry has had a major effect on food prices. The reason is obvious: in 2008, some 4.1 billion bushels of corn – fully one-third of the US crop – was used to make motor fuel. And the results are being seen in the supermarket.

In mid-January, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that in 2008, food prices jumped by nearly 6 percent. That comes on the heels of food price increases of 4.8 percent in 2007. Some agricultural economists are now predicting that food prices could increase by as much as 10 percent in 2009. Worse still, those increases are coming at the same time that the global economy is foundering and U.S. unemployment rates are soaring.

Some of that unemployment is happening within the ethanol sector itself. Renew, which had $184.2 million in revenue in 2008, filed Chapter 11 papers on January 30, just nine days after it posted an article on its website from Ethanol Producer Magazine which touted their new ethanol production process as one that “adds up to higher profitability and sustainability.”

The failure of Renew occurred just two days after Oregon-based Cascade Grain Products filed for Chapter 11. Cascade began operating its 108 million gallon per year distillery in Clatskanie, Oregon last June. Another distiller, New York-based Northeast Biofuels, filed for bankruptcy on January 14. That company’s plant, a $200 million facility with 100 million gallons per year of capacity, began operating last August. In October, VeraSun Energy, the second-largest ethanol producer in the country, declared bankruptcy. Other recent failures in the sector include Greater Ohio Ethanol and Gateway Ethanol.

It may be unkind to kick the ethanol industry while it is circling the drain, but little of this financial news is overly surprising. The corn ethanol industry has always depended on federal handouts for its existence. And given this string of bankruptcies, it’s worth reviewing the many studies produced over the past two years that have shown the high costs of ethanol and biofuels. Thus far, I’ve found 14 of them. If readers find more, please send them along.

1. In May 2007, the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development at Iowa State University released a report saying the ethanol mandates have increased the food bill for every American by about $47 per year due to grain price increases for corn, soybeans, wheat, and others. The Iowa State researchers concluded that American consumers face a “total cost of ethanol of about $14 billion.” And that figure does not include the cost of federal subsidies to corn growers or the $0.51 per gallon tax credit to ethanol producers.

2. In September 2007, Corinne Alexander and Chris Hurt, agricultural economists at Purdue University, found that “about two-thirds of the increase” in food price increases from 2005 to 2007 was “related to biofuels.” The report also says, “Based on expected 2007 farm level crop prices, that additional food cost is estimated to be $22 billion for U.S. consumers compared to farm prices for the crops produced in 2005. A rough estimate is that about $15 billion of this increase is related to the recent surge in demand to use crops for fuel.”

3. October 2007, the International Monetary Fund said, “Higher biofuel demand in the United States and the European Union (EU) has not only led to higher corn and soybean prices, it has also resulted in price increases on substitution crops and increased the cost of livestock feed by providing incentives to switch away from other crops.”

3. In March 2008, a report commissioned by the Coalition for Balanced Food and Fuel Policy (a coalition based in Washington, D.C. of eight meat, dairy, and egg producers’ associations), estimated that the biofuels mandates passed by Congress will cost the U.S. economy more than $100 billion from 2006 to 2009. The report declared that “The policy favoring ethanol and other biofuels over food uses of grains and other crops acts as a regressive tax on the poor.” It went on to estimate that the total cost of the U.S. biofuels mandates will total some $32.8 billion this year, or about $108 for every American citizen.

4. An April 8 internal report by the World Bank found that grain prices increased by 140 percent between January 2002 and February 2008.
“This increase was caused by a confluence of factors but the most important was the large increase in biofuels production in the U.S. and E.U. Without the increase in biofuels, global wheat and maize [corn] stocks would not have declined appreciably and price increases due to other factors would have been moderate.” Robert Zoellick, president of the Bank, acknowledged those facts, saying that biofuels are “no doubt a significant contributor" to high food costs. And he said that "it is clearly the case that programs in Europe and the United States that have increased biofuel production have contributed to the added demand for food."

5. In May, the Congressional Research Service blamed recent increases in global food prices on two factors: increased grain demand for meat production, and the biofuels mandates. The agency said that the recent “rapid, ‘permanent’ increase in corn demand has directly sparked substantially higher corn prices to bid available supplies away from other uses – primarily livestock feed. Higher corn prices, in turn, have
forced soybean, wheat, and other grain prices higher in a bidding war for available crop land.”

6. Also in May, Mark W. Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute, testified before the U.S. Senate on biofuels and grain prices. Rosegrant said that the ethanol scam has caused the price of corn to increase by 29 percent, rice to increase by 21 percent and wheat by 22 percent. Rosegrant estimated that if the global biofuels mandates were eliminated altogether, corn prices would drop by 20 percent, while sugar and wheat prices would drop by 11 percent and 8 percent, respectively, by 2010. Rosegrant said that “If the current biofuel expansion continues, calorie availability in developing countries is expected to grow more slowly; and the number of malnourished children is projected to increase.” He continued, saying “It is therefore important to find ways to keep biofuels from worsening the food-price crisis. In the short run, removal of ethanol blending mandates and subsidies and ethanol import tariffs, and in the United States—together with removal of policies in Europe promoting biofuels—would contribute to lower food prices.”

7. In mid-June, Kraft Foods Global sponsored a report by Keith Collins, the former chief economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture economist. In his 34-page analysis of grain prices, Collins concluded the ethanol scam “may account for up to 60 percent of the increase in corn prices between 2006/07 and 2008/09.

8. In late June, Oxfam, the non-profit group that fights global hunger, released a report declaring that biofuels are responsible for about 30 percent of the recent increases in global food prices, and are pushing 30 million people into poverty. Rob Bailey, Oxfam’s biofuel policy adviser, summarized the report: “Rich countries' demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiraling production and food inflation.”

9. In early July, Britain’s Renewable Fuels Agency concluded, “Biofuels contribute to rising food prices that adversely affect the poorest.” The report, known as the Gallagher Review, also said that demand for “[biofuels] production must avoid agricultural land that would otherwise be used for food production. This is because the displacement of existing agricultural production, due to biofuel demand, is accelerating land-use change and, if left unchecked, will reduce biodiversity and may even cause greenhouse gas emissions rather than savings. The introduction of biofuels should be significantly slowed.”

10. On July 16, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (O.E.C.D.) issued its report on biofuels that concluded: “Further development and expansion of the biofuels sector will contribute to higher food prices over the medium term and to food insecurity for the most vulnerable population groups in developing countries.”

11. Also in July, the U.S.D.A., the federal agency that has long been one of the corn ethanol sector’s biggest boosters, admitted that corn ethanol is driving up food prices. That’s somewhat remarkable given that the agency’s leaders have consistently downplayed the link. Nevertheless, in July 2008, the department released a report called “Food Security Assessment, 2007,” which states very clearly that the biofuels mandates are pushing up food prices. The first page of the report says:

…the persistence of higher oil prices deepens global energy security concerns and heightens the incentives to expand production of other sources of energy including biofuels. The use of food crops for producing biofuels, growing demand for food in emerging Asian and Latin American countries, and unfavorable weather in some of the largest food-exporting countries in 2006-07 all contributed to growth in food prices in recent years.”

While that admission is noteworthy, the July 2008 report’s importance lies with its projections about the growing numbers of people around the world who are facing food insecurity. And while the U.S.D.A. report does not correlate this increasing food insecurity with soaring ethanol production, the connections are abundantly clear: As the U.S. uses more corn to make motor fuel, there is less grain available on the market. That means higher prices. And that’s a key factor for residents of poor countries who generally spend a higher percentage of their income on food than their counterparts in the developed world.

For instance, in the U.S. only about 6.5 percent of disposable income is spent on food. By contrast, in India, about 40 percent of personal disposable income is spent on food. In the Philippines, it’s about 47.5 percent. In some sub-Saharan Africa, consumers spend about 50 percent of the household budget on food. And according to the U.S.D.A., “In some
of the poorest countries in the region such as Madagascar, Tanzania, Sierra
Leone, and Zambia, this ratio is more than 60 percent.”

The July 2008 U.S.D.A. report goes on saying that the number of people facing food insecurity jumped from 849 million in 2006 to 982 million in 2007. And those numbers are expected to continue rising. By 2017, the number of food-insecure people is expected to hit 1.2 billion. And, says the U.S.D.A., “short-term shocks, natural as well as economic” could make the problem even worse.

12. In September 2008, the International Monetary Fund estimated that 70 percent of the recent increase in corn prices was due to the ethanol scam. In a report to the United Nations, Olivier de Schutter, a Belgian academic, said “Policies aimed at promoting the use of agrofuels from feedstock, having an inflationary impact on staple foods, could only be justified under international law if very strong arguments are offered.”

13. On October 7, 2008 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization weighed into the debate with a 138-page report called “Biofuels: prospects, risks and opportunities.” In the section on food, the report concludes that “Rapidly growing demand for biofuel feedstocks has contributed to higher food prices, which pose an immediate threat to the food security of poor net food buyers (in value terms) in both urban and rural areas.”

14. On January 30, the University of Minnesota announced the results of a new study which compared the overall cost of corn ethanol with that of gasoline. “Total environmental and health costs of gasoline are about 71 cents per gallon, while an equivalent amount of corn-ethanol fuel costs from 72 cents to about $1.45, depending on the technology used to produce it,” said the university. Stephen Polasky, a professor in the university's applied economics department, said that "These costs are not paid for by those who produce, sell and buy gasoline or ethanol. The public pays these costs.”

Iraq: About 1 Million Killed, 4.5 Million Displaced

Original Link:'s_shocking_human_toll:_about_1_million_killed,_4.5_million_displaced,_1-2_million_widows,_5_million_orphans/

By John Tirman

Now that Bush is gone, perhaps we can honestly face the damage we have wrought and the responsibilities we must accept from it.

We are now able to estimate the number of Iraqis who have died in the war instigated by the Bush administration. Looking at the empirical evidence of Bush's war legacy will put his claims of victory in perspective. Of course, even by his standards -- "stability" -- the jury is out. Most independent analysts would say it's too soon to judge the political outcome. Nearly six years after the invasion, the country remains riven by sectarian politics and major unresolved issues, like the status of Kirkuk.

We have a better grasp of the human costs of the war. For example, the United Nations estimates that there are about 4.5 million displaced Iraqis -- more than half of them refugees -- or about one in every six citizens. Only 5 percent have chosen to return to their homes over the past year, a period of reduced violence from the high levels of 2005-07. The availability of healthcare, clean water, functioning schools, jobs and so forth remains elusive. According to Unicef, many provinces report that less than 40 percent of households have access to clean water. More than 40 percent of children in Basra, and more than 70 percent in Baghdad, cannot attend school.

The mortality caused by the war is also high. Several household surveys were conducted between 2004 and 2007. While there are differences among them, the range suggests a congruence of estimates. But none have been conducted for eighteen months, and the two most reliable surveys were completed in mid-2006. The higher of those found 650,000 "excess deaths" (mortality attributable to war); the other yielded 400,000. The war remained ferocious for twelve to fifteen months after those surveys were finished and then began to subside. Iraq Body Count, a London NGO that uses English-language press reports from Iraq to count civilian deaths, provides a means to update the 2006 estimates. While it is known to be an undercount, because press reports are incomplete and Baghdad-centric, IBC nonetheless provides useful trends, which are striking. Its estimates are nearing 100,000, more than double its June 2006 figure of 45,000. (It does not count nonviolent excess deaths -- from health emergencies, for example -- or insurgent deaths.) If this is an acceptable marker, a plausible estimate of total deaths can be calculated by doubling the totals of the 2006 household surveys, which used a much more reliable and sophisticated method for estimates that draws on long experience in epidemiology. So we have, at present, between 800,000 and 1.3 million "excess deaths" as we approach the six-year anniversary of this war.

This gruesome figure makes sense when reading of claims by Iraqi officials that there are 1-2 million war widows and 5 million orphans. This constitutes direct empirical evidence of total excess mortality and indirect, though confirming, evidence of the displaced and the bereaved and of general insecurity. The overall figures are stunning: 4.5 million displaced, 1-2 million widows, 5 million orphans, about 1 million dead -- in one way or another, affecting nearly one in two Iraqis.

By any sensible measure, it would be difficult to describe this as a victory of any kind. It speaks volumes about the repair work we must do for Iraqis, and it should caution us against the savage wars we are prone to. Now that Bush is gone, perhaps the United States can honestly face the damage we have wrought and the responsibilities we must accept from it.

Wall Street Journal Don’t Know History and Some Other Rightie Revisionism

Original Link:

The right-wing New Deal conniption fit

How else to explain the paper’s increasingly shrill declarations that the New Deal absolutely, positively did not work?

The latest salvo came Monday morning in a piece by two economists, Harold L. Cole and Lee. E. Ohanian: “How Government Prolonged the Depression.”

Defenders of the New Deal will find much to argue with in Cole and Ohanion’s account, but for simplicity’s sake, I am going to zero in on just one point — the impact of the New Deal on unemployment.

[ ]…The government hired about 60 per cent of the unemployed in public works and conservation projects that planted a billion trees, saved the whooping crane, modernized rural America, and built such diverse projects as the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, the Montana state capitol, much of the Chicago lakefront, New York’s Lincoln Tunnel and Triborough Bridge complex, the Tennessee Valley Authority and the aircraft carriers Enterprise and Yorktown.

It also built or renovated 2,500 hospitals, 45,000 schools, 13,000 parks and playgrounds, 7,800 bridges, 700,000 miles of roads, and a thousand airfields. And it employed 50,000 teachers, rebuilt the country’s entire rural school system, and hired 3,000 writers, musicians, sculptors and painters, including Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

In other words, millions of men and women earned a living wage and self-respect and contributed mightily to the national infrastructure. But, according to the statistics as interpreted on the Wall Street Journal editorial page, they were unemployed.

Not a new right-wing tactic. They cannot win the argument based on facts so they spin the facts to have an entirely new meaning. You’re employed when they feel that what you do to earn a pay check counts as employment according to the right-wing playbook. What you accomplished counts as directly or indirectly leading to an economic recovery when the mood strikes them to give you credit. They can’t when the game so they change the rules.

Karen Greenberg at Foriegn Policy mag adds another article that tackles all the paranoia and misinformation Cons are floating about closing Guantánamo, Think Again: Guantánamo

“The Detainees at Guantánamo Are Hardened Terrorists”

Not the majority. Since the prison opened seven years ago, confusion has reigned about exactly who is detained at Guantánamo. Officials at the prison initially knew almost nothing about their first 300 detainees beyond the hearsay reports that they were the “worst of the worst.” The detainees’ names, countries of origin, and even the languages they spoke were not immediately apparent. The circumstances of their capture and their association with al Qaeda or the Taliban were equally opaque. Only after investigators from various U.S. agencies began interviewing and interrogating the detainees, and combing through information from foreign police departments and intelligence agencies, did they find that many of their quarry had nothing to do with terrorism at all.

Even today, evidence to back up criminal charges against most of the prisoners — now numbering 243 — is scant. By all reports, about four dozen or so of the detainees will eventually be brought to trial, including the 14 high-value detainees that were transferred to Guantánamo in 2006, among them Khalid Sheikh Mohammed…

Remember also that those that have been released so far - some, no absolute number is known - some may have returned to terroist related activity. Those were released directly by the Bush administration without the slightest bit of judicial review.

If you enjoy rubber necking at the occassional wreck the Old is New Again Republican Party may give you endless hours of entertainment, For this I went to Georgetown?

When GOP congressional aides gather Tuesday morning for a meeting of the Conservative Working Group, Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher – more commonly known as Joe the Plumber — will be their featured guest. This group is an organization of conservative Capitol Hill staffers who meet regularly to chart GOP strategy for the week.

The GOP, the new absurdists comic irony show.

The “defense cut” falsehood from The Washington Post and Robert Kagan

So Obama proposes that the U.S. spend $40 billion more this year than it spent last year.

Despite this, the right-wing noise machine, led by Fox News, is gearing up to accuse Obama of “cutting defense spending” (Fox headline: “Defense Official: Obama Calling for Defense Budget Cuts”). And today, The Washington Post publishes an Op-Ed from Robert Kagan — who, it must be acknowledged, is a decorated member of the toughest and most noble warrior-family in America — which is headlined: “No Time To Cut Defense,” and which repeatedly accuses Obama of plotting to slice military spending

I thought the Conservative media was supposed to be about getting out the ultimate truth. When is that going to start exactly.

The 10 Trillion Dollar Federal Debt Party is Suddenly Concerned About Spending

Original Link:

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us? - William O. Douglas
Posted by: thelonggoodbye February 6, 2009 The 10 Trillion Dollar Federal Debt Party is Suddenly Concerned About SpendingAssRocket at Time Magazine’s once Blog of the Year, Powerline, manages the incredible feat of being genuinely proud of one’s ignorance while simultaneously impugning someone’s character that hasn’t done anything in the dead of night,

WHAT’S THE RUSH? — As Paul notes below, neither Barack Obama nor any other Democrat has even tried to explain why the Dems’ pork-fest, which appropriates hundreds of billions of dollars years in the future, needs to be rushed through the Senate in the dead of night as an “emergency.”

The economic stimulus package - esta 800 billion- required to rescue the economy that Republicans ruined while they created an almost 11 trillion dollar debt is a pork-fest. This is what Republicans like AssRocket, Malkin, Boehner, McConnel and Limbaugh tells themselves, because having fully embraced their inner four year brat they ain’t tak’n no responsibility for nut’n, ever. “Dead of night’, does Assrocket mean doing stuff like this, Republican agenda passed in the dead of night

At 2:54 a.m. on a Friday in March, the House cut veterans benefits by three votes.

At 2:39 a.m. on a Friday in April, the House slashed education and health care by five votes.

At 1:56 a.m. on a Friday in May, the House passed the Leave No Millionaire Behind tax-cut bill by a handful of votes.

At 2:33 a.m. on a Friday in June, the House passed the Medicare privatization and prescription drug bill by one vote.

At 12:57 a.m. on a Friday in July, the House eviscerated Head Start by one vote.

Just a tiny example of Republican midnight shenanigans the last eight years. This might explain, thought its obviously far from the cognitive abilities of Republicans to understand, part of the reason normal human citizens f the United States feel some urgency in acting on an economic stimulus package, Economy Sheds 598,000 Jobs in January

As in previous months, employers in January slashed their payrolls in almost every industry except health care Manufacturers eliminated 207,000 jobs, more than in any year since 1982. The construction industry eliminated 111,000 jobs. And retailers, who were wrapping up their worst holiday shopping season in years, eliminated 45,000 jobs.

Employers slashed 598,000 more jobs in January as unemployment rate climbed to 7.6%.

As bad as the unemployment rate was, it only tells part of the story for people struggling to find jobs. Friday’s report also showed that 2.6 million people have now been out of work for more than six months, the most long-term unemployed since 1983.

None of these matters to the Republicans pundits because, one they all belong to the Republican welfare network. Two, Republicans have been out of touch with the trials of average working Americans for over half a century so there is no reason to believe they’d have a sudden infusion of knowledge about how a healthy economy works. if you’re hearing the term “pork-fest” to try and describe the attempt to keep America from falling into even more dire shape, its because its the Right’s latest bumper sticker phrase meant to be repeated ad nauseum, regardless of its lacking in the truth department, Lie down with dogs, get fleas . When Republicans were running up their 10 trillion dollar plus federal deficit, deficits didn’t matter.

President Obama having bent over backwards to incorporate perks for Republicans in the stimulus seems to be getting around to calling them out for bargaining in bad faith,

But his brilliance tonight was his embrace of the partisan. He attacked the Republicans for the “gift” of the ten trillion dollar debt that doubled on their watch. And he warned of the same old “false theories of the past.”

The American people are watching. They did not send us here to get bogged down with the same old delay and distractions. They did not vote for the false theories of the past. They did not vote for the status quo - they sent us here to bring change, and we owe it to them to act.

The President warned his opponents pointblank not to “come to table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped create this crisis.” But he also implored members of Congress “not make the perfect the enemy of the absolutely necessary,” asking them to “set aside the gameship” in order to get something done.

The Republicans do have an alternative plan. One which they seemed to have bought in the same alley where they bought the economic plan the country has been running on for years. Small problem, it cost more then President Obama’s plan and will not create jobs.

10 Absurd Conservative Myths About Obama's Recovery Plan

Original Link:'s_recovery_plan/?page=entire

By Sara Robinson

Instead of taking accountability for this mess, conservatives are firing off the latest B.S. storm. Here's what you need to know to fire back.

Here it is: our moment of economic truth. We're standing at that historic fork in the road where the nation decides, now and for the foreseeable future, whether it's going to hang on to the catastrophic assumptions of the free-market fundamentalists and rely once more on the nostrums that have so far failed to fix the mess, or take a bold step down a new, more progressive path that will finally re-empower the American people to build an economy that works for us all.

As usual, the conservatives have absolutely no conscience about what they did to create this mess. If they did, they'd all be holed up in their gated communities or on their private islands, embarrassed into silence at best and terrified of peasant uprisings at worst. Instead, they're jetting into D.C. en masse in a last-ditch attempt to head the country off -- or at least make sure that any money that does get spent ends up, as it always has, in their pockets.

To that end, the self-serving myths are starting to fly so thick and fast that the staff here at CAF has been working full-time to keep ahead of them. Here's some of what they're flinging in this latest B.S. storm -- and what you need to know to fire back.

1. The proposed recovery package is too big.
False. Most progressive economists agree (and Paul Krugman is downright emphatic) that it's going to take a minimum of a trillion dollars of well-placed investment to pull our economy out of this ditch. This is no time for half-measures, blue-ribbon committees, pilot projects, or trial balloons: this is a life-or-death crisis that requires immediate and massive intervention.

CAF Senior Fellow Bernie Horn puts it this way: "The American economy is huge and it’s at a standstill. It’s like a motionless 100-car freight train -- or one going backwards slowly. A small locomotive simply can’t pull it forward. We need an engine large enough to work, one that can create millions of jobs. If anything, a $775 billion 2-year plan may be too small rather than too big."

Dean Baker of the Economic Policy Institute echoed this same thing on MSNBC's "Countdown" last Tuesday night. It's got to be big. And it's got to be now. Anything too small -- or too late -- and the American economy will be at serious risk of stagnating the same way Japan's did in the 1990s.

2. If we can't afford (insert pet project here), we certainly can't afford this.
Yes, we can. What we really can't afford is a huge recession that undercuts the tax base. That's a vicious cycle that will make it increasingly harder to dig out the longer this goes on. The Congressional Budget Office projects that the current slowdown will cost the federal government $166 billion in lost tax revenues in 2009 -- a number that could easily get even larger in coming years if we fall into a real depression. If we get on that trendline, we could lose a trillion dollars in government revenues by the end of Obama's first term. We need to invest what we have while we still have it if we hope to have a strong economy going forward.

This argument is based on the limited view that wealth is mainly generated by loaning or borrowing at interest -- a common enough assumption among financial people over the past 30 years. A more progressive view is that real wealth is generated by labor, combined with access to resources required for production. Putting people to work creates wealth. So does ensuring that our current failing energy regime is replaced as rapidly as possible with one that's infinitely renewable and that we will finally be in full control of. And so do other kinds of infrastructure investments, which form the footing on which a new round of businesses can rise and thrive.

Businesses have always invested their capital to create more capital. The best parts of Obama's proposal involve getting the government to do the same thing. Conservatives are resisting this because don't believe that there's such a thing as the common wealth -- which is how they've rationalized their plundering of our common assets. We need to make it absolutely clear that we do believe in the common wealth -- and that their assaults on everything that allows America to generate national wealth are going stop, right here and right now.

3. It's more important to balance the budget. Fix that, and the rest will take care of itself.
Read history much? Herbert Hoover is history's poster boy for the idea that balancing the budget during a recession is the best way known to turn it into a full-on depression. And that wasn't a one-off: FDR repeated the lesson in 1937, when he succumbed to the pleas of budget-hawk conservatives and tried to balance the budget -- a move that put the brakes on what had, until then, been a solid recovery.

Looking forward, this year's numbers also show the case clearly. Economists are already estimating that spending by individuals and businesses will be off by $300 to $500 billion in 2009. The upshot of this will be millions of lost jobs, which in turn will mean even lower spending and more job losses next year as the country accelerates toward depression.

The only way to halt this slide is for the government to step in and fill the hole with an additional $300 billion-$500 billion of its own spending -- and to spend that money on investments that will create as many jobs as possible. The longer we wait, the more government spending it will ultimately take to pull us out of this -- and the less able we'll be to muster that much cash.

Balanced budgets are important, but not as important right now as making sure every American has a paycheck they can count on. We can't afford to sacrifice the fate of the entire country to this one economic ideal.

4. The worst thing we can possibly do is raise taxes. Or borrow the money, God forbid.
More misplaced priorities.

As for taxes: Obama's already told us, without apologies to anyone, that he plans to raise taxes on people making over $250,000 a year -- the people who've profited most from our current high levels of inequality. Practically, it makes sense to raise taxes on the affluent, since they're increasingly the only ones left who actually have any money. And morally, it's only fair that those who've gained the most from conservative mismanagement of the economy (regardless of their own political leanings) should be the first to pay the bills for it.

As for borrowing: Don't look now, but the whole planet is reeling from financial problems as least as big as ours. Even in the midst of this colossal fiscal mess we're in, if you're an individual, business, or government with excess capital to store somewhere, the USA is still the safest place on earth to park it.

They're so eager for our American brand of low-risk investment that they're even willing to lend their cash to us at interest rates that are very close to zero (and may actually turn out to be less than zero, once you add in inflation). If someone offered you the chance to borrow massive amounts of money without paying interest, you'd do it, right? Well, that money's already sitting on the table, just waiting for us to put it to work jump-starting our economy again. We'd be fools not to take it.

5. When you want to stimulate the economy, tax cuts always beat government spending hands-down.
Another conservative fantasy that disintegrates on contact with reality.

The chart that shows the effectiveness of various forms of government stimulus, based on recent attempts, is here. (Conservatives will be infuriated to learn that food stamps come out on top, generating $1.73 for every dollar spent. Infrastructure investments come in a respectable third. The bottom half of the chart is wall-to-wall tax cut schemes.)

The problem with tax cuts is that people don't spend them in ways that get the economy moving. The Wall Street Journal reports that only 10 to 20 percent of the money remanded to taxpayers in the 2008 tax rebate actually got spent. The other 80 to 90 percent ended up in people's personal savings, were used to pay off creditors, or were simply absorbed by inflation and higher living costs.

Knowing this, we're a bit dismayed Obama is proposing to sink as much as 40 percent of his stimulus package into tax cuts. That's too much, if you ask us. But at least they're targeted at the middle class -- people who are more likely to spend that money here in the U.S., rather than ship it off to investments abroad.

6. Large-scale government investment would inevitably turn into an orgy of waste, fraud and abuse.
True -- but only if we let conservatives run the show.

The fact is that all human endeavors -- from running a household to running a nation -- entail a fair amount of waste, fraud and abuse. Bad decisions get made. Greed gets the better of people. Not everybody is as honest as we'd wish them to be.

But in spite of that truth, nobody in history can top the Americans when it comes to planning and executing successful large-scale investment projects. (A thousand years from now, that's what they'll be saying about us: Not always smart about foreign policy, but man, could those people think big -- and they usually pulled it off, too.) In our happier past, good management, careful oversight, and clear accountability have always gone a long way toward preventing really big problems, and ensured that we got the most for our collective buck.

Unfortunately, if we've learned anything about conservatives at this late date, it's that they'll defang or dismantle these mechanisms every chance they get. They think rules are for lesser mortals, oversight is a form of Big Brother-style oppression, and accountability is for people who can't afford lobbyists and lawyers. I don't think anyone would even try argue any more that when it comes to waste, fraud, and abuse, conservatives are the hands-down experts.

What's ironic is that they're now offering edifying moral guidance to the rest of us on the subject. All you can do is point and giggle at the stupefying hypocrisy of it all.

7. We need stimulus now -- and tax cuts are the only way to get the money out there fast enough.
Not really, no. Much of the infrastructure spending in the recovery package will be targeted at projects that are “shovel ready” -- the ones that are planned, approved, and sitting on the shelf ready to go as soon as there's money to fund them. Some of these could start generating jobs as early as April or May.

Some of this money will also be aimed at covering state budget deficits. That money will also be spent immediately on things like health care, child-care programs and other underfunded state services that employ large numbers of people.

That's a lot of direct funding that will put people to work quickly -- quite likely, faster than giving people tax cuts and letting them trickle out through the economy.

8. It’s wrong to bail out spend-thrift states. Let them stimulate their own damned economies.
Please. Haven't we all had a lifetime bellyfull of tax revolutionaries and drown-the-government-in-the-bathtub crazies? I swear...can't live with 'em, can't just shoot 'em....

States aren't in trouble because they overspent their allowances. Almost every state constitution in the country requires that the government balance its budget every single year. You want fiscal sanity? Anybody who's put in their time in state government knows all about it. They've made the hard choices, and faced the consequences, too.

The problem is that the recession has undercut state tax revenues to the point where these governments can no longer afford to cover their obligations -- some of which (like bonds) were taken on years ago, when times were better. Commitments that were fiscally prudent by any measure back then are wiping them out now. Budgets that were balanced and sound when they were first outlined a couple years ago are impossible monsters today.

And, unlike the federal government, the states can't deficit spend their way out of it. That's why they need federal help.

9. This whole Keynesian thing has been totally disproved. It didn’t work during the Depression. It didn’t work for Japan in the 1980s.
Say what? We know that rewriting history is a favorite conservative pastime. America is Christian country. Slavery was good for black people. Bush was never a real conservative. Saddam was in cahoots with al-Qaida. And on it goes.

The campaign to discredit Keynes (which is directly traceable to the Heritage Foundation) is a new and rather audacious fiction -- one that leaves both progressive and conservative economists as gobsmacked and sputtering as scientists get when you bring up "intelligent design." And the factual basis for it is, if anything, even more specious.

Paul Krugman addresses both the Depression and the example of Japan in his new book, "The Return of Depression Economics." According to his telling of the tale, in both cases the affected economies strengthened as long as the government continued to infuse capital into them; but bobbled when there was enough improvement that the budget hawks could get some political traction. When the spending flagged, so did the recovery. In Japan, bold steps alternating with repeated failures of nerve created a liquidity trap that stagnated the country's economy through most of the 1990s.

Keynes' prescription has worked everywhere it's been tried -- as long as governments acted boldly and quickly enough. It's not medicine that works if you take it in half-doses, or quit before the course of treatment is finished. In fact, doing it with less than full commitment can actually make the situation worse.

10. This is a partisan program that's designed to promote the Democratic agenda.
No. Almost every businessperson in America -- including the conservative ones -- are stepping forward in support of the stimulus package. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is on board with it. So (unsurprisingly) are most of the building trades and engineering groups who stand to prosper with a new round of infrastructure spending. The current economy is hurting everyone, regardless of political affiliation -- and most Americans agree that it's time for the government to step in and get things going again.

And Yes. I've written before about the way this kind of investment in the health and well-being of the middle class can, in the end, transform long-held conservative beliefs about how the economy should work. A stimulus package that works will prove that government can do important things that no other entity can do; that it can effectively in the public interest; and that there's actually such a thing as a national common good that deserves to be protected. In short, it will reaffirm progressive values in a way that's irrefutable, and will earn the enduring respect of the country.