Wednesday, August 17, 2011



The guys at the New York Times editorial page are cleverer than they look. We're the first to admit that's a very low standard, but today they have an editorial that seems pathetic at first glance but turns out, on close reading, to be a gem. The title is "His Anger Is a Start." The reference, it hardly need be said, is to Barack Obama. When we saw the headline, we rolled our eyes at the prospect of this once-great newspaper cheering on the latest show of presidential petulance.

But it turns out there's a hidden message in the editorial for those--surely including a brilliant intellectual like Obama--who are familiar with the K├╝bler-Ross model, popularly known as the five stages of grief. With Obama's presidency consumed by sickness and facing a grim prognosis, the Times offers the president the therapy he needs to work through his grief:

Stage 1, Denial: "Mr. Obama has proposed a series of small-bore measures to reduce the jobless rate, chosen in the hopes that they are so obvious that even House Republicans would consider going along with them. That was a mirage, of course."

[botwt0817] Associated Press

Stage 2, Anger: "Now, on a bus tour in the Midwest, he is bitterly pointing the finger at his opponents for their refusal to consider any new revenues to tackle the deficit and their insistence on deep near-term spending cuts that will only cause more economic pain. His anger is long overdue."

Stage 3, Bargaining: "Faced with a divided Congress and an economy in desperate straits, President Obama tried bargaining with Republicans, he tried adopting some of their ideas and he pleaded with them for reasonable policies to help stave off disaster."

Stage 4, Depression: "For his efforts, he got nothing but a cold shoulder and the country got a credit downgrade. . . . Fearing the real possibility of a default (something that never seemed to concern the Republicans), the president stayed largely mild-mannered through the whole debt-ceiling hostage ordeal."

The Times advises Obama to move to Stage 5, Acceptance: "It would be much more effective if he [offered] strong ideas of his own for how to fix the economy, rather than the thin agenda he is now promoting."

Then again, an accompanying editorial suggests some policies for Obama:

Federal funds to hire construction workers could be a prodigious job creator. . . . Another measure under discussion is a tax incentive for businesses to hire. . . . Another stimulus measure worth reviving that could create good jobs is a tax credit for manufacturing clean energy equipment. . . .
A serious jobs agenda should also ensure that federal funds are available to rehire teachers, police officers and firefighters who have lost their jobs in state and local government budget cuts. It should include new programs to hire unemployed young people, say, in federal parks and in community centers and new financing for national service programs, like AmeriCorps, where applications have far outstripped openings.

If the guys at the Times think these are "strong ideas," they're stuck at Stage 1. Be warned: Next, they'll get angry.

Lather, Rinse, Re-Elect
The Associated Press reports President Obama has figured out what to do about the unemployment problem, and you're going to want to sit down before we tell you. Ready? OK, here goes:

He's going to give a "major speech."

Wait, there's more! The Los Angeles Times reports that he's already "daring Republicans to block" the "job-creation package" he has yet to devise. Yesterday's Dilbert strip offered a preview, with Pointy-Haired Boss playing the role of Obama: "This is the best plan in the world, and anyone who disagrees is an ignorant nuisance.'

The AP adds that since Republicans are likely to oppose the yet-nonexistent proposals, Obama "is already preparing to lobby the American public for support. . . . That would set up an issue for his re-election campaign next year."

So, to sum up: Give a big speech, demand that Congress do his bidding, implore Americans to lobby Congress. Lather, rinse, re-elect. What a fresh new style of leadership!

1. Pay People Not to Work. 2. ? 3. Jobs
How do you put people back to work? According to the Obama administration, by paying them not to work. Seriously, that's what they claim to believe. notes an MSNBC interview in which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak bragged that 1 in 7 Americans are now dependent on food stamps:

When you talk about the SNAP program or the food stamp program, you have to recognize that it's also an economic stimulus. Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity. If people are able to buy a little more in the grocery store, someone has to stock it, package it, shelve it, process it, ship it. All of those are jobs. It's the most direct stimulus you can get in the economy during these tough times.

Last week our colleague Laura Meckler asked Jay Carney, the White House press secretary a reasonable question and got a silly answer:

Meckler: I understand why extending unemployment insurance provides relief to people who need it, but how does it create jobs?
Carney: Oh, it is by--I would expect a reporter from The Wall Street Journal would know this as part of the entrance exam just to get on the paper. But the--no, seriously. It is one of the most direct ways to infuse money into the economy because people who are unemployed and obviously aren't earning a paycheck are going to spend the money that they get. They're not going to save it; they're going to spend it. And unemployment insurance, that money goes directly back into the economy dollar for dollar virtually. So it is--and when it goes back in the economy, it means that everywhere that those people--every place that that money is spent has added business. And that creates growth and income for businesses that then lead them to making decisions about job--more hiring.
So there are few other ways that can more directly put money into the economy than providing unemployment insurance.
Meckler: And why since it's been extended have we seen unemployment not drop, in fact?
Carney: Well, look, this is "what would have happened" argument. But we have seen is, what is it, 2.4 million private sector jobs created. And this year there's--I mean, again, this is not just--I encourage you, and I know that you all have good contacts in that world, but economic analysts wholly unaffiliated with this administration would tell you, and told you back late last year, that the combination of the payroll tax cut and extension of unemployment insurance would have a direct, measurable impact on job creation, so that of the jobs created this year, a certain number--however many tens or hundreds of thousands of jobs--can be attributed to those actions taken and pushed by the president last year, which is why he feels so strongly they ought to be done again as we continue to emerge from this recession.
So that's why he believes very strongly we ought to extend the payroll tax and extend unemployment insurance.
Meckler: And is the best argument that you can put forward to people for these things that if we do this again, it won't necessarily get any better, but it won't get any worse--
Carney: Laura, you know that's not how it works.

Textbook economics tells us that "public policy designed to help workers who lose their jobs can lead to structural unemployment as an unintended side effect." Although, as we've noted, authors of economics textbooks sometimes sing a different tune when they join a partisan chorus.

They Must Find Perry Scary
Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has been a presidential candidate for less than a week, and already he's been the target of a smear effort and suffered a self-inflicted wound. The smear attempt came from Ed Schultz, hotheaded host of MSNBC's "The Mr. Ed Show, who on Monday made a laughable attempt to portray Perry as racist:

Schultz: I think there`s an element of racism every time people claim the first black president doesn't love this country. Perry comes from the radical country club that loves to remind white America President Obama is other, not like you. Perry also wants you to know that he`s pro-business:
Perry: I'm a pro-business governor. I don't make any apologies about it, and I will be a pro-business president. Getting America back to work is the most important issue that faces this country, being able to pay off $14.5 trillion or $16 trillion worth of debt--that big black cloud that hangs over America.
Schultz: That black cloud Perry is talking about is President Barack Obama.

A video argues that Schultz used "deceptive editing" to make Perry appear racist, leaving out the words that followed "hangs over America," namely, "that debt that is so monstrous." But even in the edited version of the clip, it's clear that the "big black cloud" is the debt.

We expect this kind of race-baiting to get even dumber and more desperate as the campaign progresses. How long will it be before somebody claims, in all seriousness, that "one-term president" is code for "black"?

Here's Perry's error, committed Monday in Iowa, as reported by Reuters:

"If this guy [Fed chairman Ben Bernanke] prints more money between now and the election, I don't know what y'all will do to him in Iowa, but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas," Perry said to laughter from supporters in Iowa.
"Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous, treasonous in my opinion," he said.

"The White House responded by saying it is important for the Fed to remain independent," Reuters reports--precisely the substance of what Perry said. But press secretary Jay Carney also said: "I certainly think threatening the Fed chairman is not a good idea," and: "When you are president or running for president, you have to think about your words."

Former Enron adviser Paul Krugman was outraged at Carney's "ominous" suggestion that "patriotic citizens were supposed to accept the administration's version of events, not ask awkward questions." Just kidding! Krugman did write those words, but he was referring to a similar comment, in 2001, by Ari Fleischer, President Bush's press secretary.

Who's Weaker, Obama or Mrs. Clinton?
As Barack Obama's presidency flounders, a lot of Democrats, and even some Republicans, are wishing Hillary Clinton had been elected. Mrs. Clinton, they believe, is savvier and tougher than Obama and would have been a stronger leader.

Granted it's hard to imagine weaker leadership, but this story from the Washington Post shows Secretary of State Clinton to be as weak as the administration she serves:

In some of her bluntest language to date on the administration's cautious response to the Syrian uprising, [Mrs.] Clinton acknowledged Washington's limited ability to directly influence a country with which it has few economic or political ties. And she struck back at critics who have accused the United States of failing Syria's pro-democracy movement by not yet publicly demanding the removal of President Bashar al-Assad. Administration officials said last week that such a call might come within days.
"It's not going to be any news if the United States says, 'Assad needs to go.' Okay, fine, what's next?" asked [Mrs.] Clinton, who spoke before a room packed with service members, academics and journalists. "If Turkey says it, if [Saudi] King Abdullah says it, if other people say it, there is no way the Assad regime can ignore it."

If Mrs. Clinton thinks it's important for the Turks and the Saudis to call for Assad's ouster, she should be privately putting pressure on them to do so. That's called diplomacy. Perhaps it's true that a public U.S. statement would accomplish little, but better to say nothing at all than to make a mealymouthed statement that we wish others say something.

Two Papers in One!

  • "By the time President Bush returns to Washington on Labor Day after the longest presidential vacation in 32 years, he will have spent all or part of 54 days since the inauguration at his parched but beloved ranch. That's almost a quarter of his presidency. Throw in four days last month at his parents' seaside estate in Kennebunkport, Maine, and 38 full or partial days at the presidential retreat at Camp David, and Bush will have spent 42 percent of his presidency at vacation spots or en route."--Washington Post, Aug. 7, 2001 (not available online)
  • "If it's August, it must be time for that annual Washington political tradition: griping over the president's vacation. Through wars and natural disasters, recessions and reelections, the getaway locales for America's chief executive have been dissected by critics looking for symbolic reasons why the president shouldn't go."--Washington Post, Aug. 16, 2011

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