Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

Bush, Obama and the federal deficit

October 2, 2013

deficits-since-2000The great economist, John Maynard Keynes, said that governments should set taxes and expenditures so that they run a surplus when times were good and a deficit when times are bad, but balance over the period of the economic cycle.   This is much like the advice that Joseph gave to Pharaoh in the Bible.

The Clinton administration, with maybe some nudging from Republicans in Congress, followed that advice.   Bill Clinton was lucky in his timing.  He came into office at the start of an economic recovery and got out before the next crash.

The boom in itself helped bring the government’s budget into balance.  Tax revenues increased, and it was easier to cut spending.  Clinton made good use of that opportunity.  A commission headed by Vice President Al Gore streamlined the government so that, at the end of his administration, there was less spending (in inflation-adjusted dollars) and fewer civilian employees [1] than at the beginning.

Clinton persuaded Congress to increase taxes [2] by a few percentage points, which also helped.  Taxes still were low compared to what they were prior to the Reagan era.

I don’t think increasing taxes makes it easier to spend money.  On the contrary, the fact that it is necessary to pay for what is spent creates an incentive to avoid unnecessary spending.

President George W. Bush changed this.  He persuaded Congress to cut tax rates while launching an expensive war.  Nevertheless, the economic recovery during his administration brought the federal budget closer to being in balance, until the crash.

Notice that a fiscal year starts on October 1 of the previous year.  Thus fiscal 2001 began on Oct. 1, 2000, and fiscal 2009 began on Oct. 1, 2008.  This means the first Bush budget was in 2002 and the first Obama budget was in 2010.

deficits-2018

In 2010, the first Obama budget, the federal budget deficit began to close.  Maybe the need to appease Republicans in Congress had something to do with this.  Maybe the decrease is not enough since, even though the deficit is being reduced, it still exists and the debt in cumulative.   I won’t argue either point.

What I will argue is that if budget balance is your main priority, the Clinton era shows how to do it.  Cut unnecessary spending, raise enough taxes to cover the rest and hope for economic growth.

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Who caused the deficit?

September 17, 2012

I’m not a supporter of President Obama, but if I thought that balancing the federal budget was the overriding issue, I would vote for him.  On fiscal matters, he is a better conservative than the present Republican Party leadership.

Remember that the fiscal year begins in October of the previous year.  The 2009 fiscal year began Oct. 1, 2008, and so is the responsibility of the George W. Bush administration, except for the stimulus program enacted after Barack Obama took office.

The main causes of the federal budget deficit were the tax reductions proposed by President George W. Bush, the cost of invading Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Great Recession, which reduced tax revenues while automatically increasing spending for the social safety net.   Recall that when President George W. Bush took office, he and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan thought that federal budget surpluses were a problem, and Bush’s tax reduction program was intended to eliminate those surpluses.

I see little hope of balancing the federal budget until (1) the Clinton era tax rates are restored, (2) military spending is brought under control and (3) the Great Recession comes to an end.  President Obama has proposed restoring Clinton era taxes on upper-bracket taxpayers, and he is reducing the size of the U.S. military (although not cutting back on its mission).  Obama’s embrace of drone warfare is, I think, partly for budget reasons, like the Eisenhower-Dulles “massive retaliation” policy of the 1950s.

The most important step to bring the federal budget under control would be to bring the Great Recession to an end.  Budget problems, like other problems, are relatively easy to solve under conditions of peace and prosperity.  So long as unemployment is high and poverty is increasing, tax revenues will be low and spending on the social safety net should be relatively high.

Newt Gingrich called President Obama the “food stamp” President.  The present food stamp program was created by bipartisan legislation in the 1970s co-sponsored by Senators Robert Dole and George McGovern.  The reason spending on food stamps is high is because the Great Recession is pushing people into unemployment and poverty-wage jobs.  We should not change the law and let children go hungry, but by work toward a high-wage, full employment economy in which hard-working people won’t need food stamps.

Click on Marketwatch: Obama spending binge never happened for background and the source of the first two charts.

Click on The Four Causes of the Huge Deficit for more background and the source of the next to last chart.

Click on Causes of the Trillion Dollar Deficits for more background and the source of the bottom chart.

Click on Greenspan Endorses a Cut in Tax Rate for an article from 2001 about how Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan and President George W. Bush wanted to get rid of budget surpluses.

Click on ‘Reagan Proved Deficits Don’t Matter’ for comment on the Crooks and Liars web log on changing Republican attitudes toward the deficit.

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Why I’m not voting for the black President

September 13, 2012

Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer and blogger for The Atlantic Monthly, wrote an essay entitled “Fear of a Black President” in which, among other things, he described what President Obama’s election means to black people, and especially to black parents.  It means that there is literally no upper limit on what black Americans are allowed to achieve.  As recently as five years ago, I would not have believed it possible for a black person to be nominated, let alone elected, by either of the two major parties.  I take satisfaction as an American that I was proved wrong.

At the same time, as Coates pointed out, Barack Obama is under constant attack based on his race.  He is accused, based on no evidence whatsoever, of being a product of affirmative action, of being a Kenyan anti-colonial radical, of hating white people.   When Obama said policeman James Crowley’s arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates on trumped-up charges was “stupid,” he was accused of stirring up black people against white people.  Given Obama’s difficult situation, Coates wrote, it is understandable that he has not actually done anything to help black people as a group.

I think this is correct.  As a matter of pure political calculation, it is more important for him to reassure white people than to stand with black people.  The fact that he has shown a black man can be elected President, plus the nature of the attacks made on him as a black man, is enough to assure him the support of the vast majority of African-Americans.  So he can afford to turn his back on Van Jones, on Shirley Sherrod and on ACORN, while he would give ammunition to his attackers if he had stood by them.

Obama’s political career, as Coates noted, is based on presenting himself to white people as someone more reasonable than a Jesse Jackson or an Al Sharpton.  Obama was not, except for his short and ineffective service as a community organizer, an advocate of the interests and grievances of African-Americans.  Rather he was the person who could bring black people and white people together and get them to, if not forget about race, at least put race in the background.

Much has been made of Obama’s connections with the angry preacher Jeremiah Wright, the ex-revolutionary Bill Ayers and the racketeer Tony Renko.  Obama is not angry, revolutionary or a racketeer.  The significance of these three people is that they are part of the Chicago power structure, which he as an outsider worked his way into, just as he worked his way into the Washington, D.C., power structure.

Obama’s political advancement was based on his ability to convince people in power that what he advocated was reasonable.  That is how he persuaded the Illinois state legislature to pass a law requiring police interrogations to be videotaped and made available to juries; that is how he together with Senator John McCain persuaded Congress to create an Internet site on which all earmarked appropriations would be listed.   All his speeches—and he is a great speaker—are examples of walking through minefields, of satisfying and reconciling all sides.

My astute friend Oidin pointed out during the 2008 campaign that Barack Obama’s advertising and video biography showed him interacting only with white people, not with black people.  His black sister did not emerge into the public eye until election night.  Many successful black people say they have to purposefully be less forceful than is natural to them, in order that white people not feel threatened by them.  President Obama is the prime example of the non-threatening black person—although there are a certain number of white people who will feel threatened by him no matter what he does or doesn’t do.

Ta-Nehisi Coates

When I voted for Barack Obama in 2008, it was not in order to do black people a favor.  I voted for him because I thought he would stop the country’s drift into perpetual warfare, lawless authoritarianism and economic oligarchy.  I thought that merely replacing President George W. Bush would be a change for the better.  I was wrong.

I don’t think President Obama is any worse than the leading white Presidential candidates of the past 10 years.  Obama built on precedents set by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.  He probably is no worse than Hillary Clinton or John McCain would have been in his place, let alone Mitt Romney.

But I am not demanding that the black President adhere to a higher standard than a white President.  The basic minimum duty of a President is to obey the law and to enforce the law.  I would vote for a Gerald Ford if I could count on him to do these two things.  President Obama has claimed the power to sign death warrants and commit acts of war based on decisions made in secret according to secret criteria.  He has refused to enforce the law against financial fraud or crimes against humanity.  The legal and organizational infrastructure for dictatorship exists in the United States, and Obama has not dismantled it.  He has strengthened it.

Human rights do not end at the water’s edge.  People in targeted areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen have as much right as you, me or Trayvon Martin to not be killed based on vague suspicions.

Most of my friends and acquaintances intend to vote for Obama.  They tell me it is my responsibility to choose among the options on the table and, if they are all bad, to vote for the least bad.  I don’t accept that.  If I don’t insist on a candidate who upholds the Constitution and the laws, then I am an enabler for the violation of the Constitution and the laws.

Click on Fear of a Black President for the complete article by Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic Monthly.  It is well worth reading in full.

Click on Vertical Solidarity is nonsense for a rejoiner by “B Psycho” on Psychopolitik.

Click on Why Barack Obama Is the More Effective Evil for an important article by Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report.

Click on The Hard Right Is Paranoid About the Wrong Things for comment by Conor Friedersdorf, another Atlantic writer, on rational and irrational reasons for opposing President Obama.

A pragmatic case for voting for Obama

September 10, 2012

Click to enlarge.

Click on Ted Rall’s Rallblog for more cartoons.

Hat tip to AZspot.

Is President Obama the best we can expect?

September 8, 2012

These two videos are segments of a debate yesterday on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now program.  Glen Ford, a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, argued that Barack Obama, with all his flaws, is the most progressive President who has a chance of being elected, while Michael Eric Dyson, editor of the on-line Black Agenda Report, said that Obama, compared to Mitt Romney, is the more “effective evil” in his support of Wall Street and undeclared war.  Interestingly, Dyson plans to vote for Obama just the same.

Click on The Black Left Debates Barack Obama for a link to the complete debate, comment by Ta-Nehisi Coates and an interesting discussion thread.

How Obama has surpassed Bush

July 19, 2012

David Boaz of the Cato Institute has combed through the statistics, and unearthed achievements in which President Obama can justly claim to have surpassed President Bush:

Most deportations.  Despite his endorsement of the DREAM Act, President Obama has deported more illegal immigrants than any president in history. He’s been deporting about 400,000 people a year, about double the number in the George W. Bush administration.

Most leaks prosecutions.  The Obama administration has been criticized for leaking classified information in a series of campaigns to portray the president as a tough, engaged commander-in-chief. But meanwhile the administration information has used the 1917 Espionage Act to target suspected leakers in twice as many cases as all previous presidential administrations combined.

Most troops in Afghanistan.  The United States had about 30,000 troops in Afghanistan during 2008, the last year of President Bush’s term. By the end of 2010, President Obama had increased that number to almost 100,000. It’s down to about 88,000 now, which still might surprise people who recall candidate Obama’s ringing antiwar speeches of 2008. 

Most medical marijuana raids … …

Most drone strikes.  President Obama doesn’t like the way the Bush administration treated prisoners at Guantanamo, so he’s taking fewer prisoners. The Obama administration has carried out at least 308 covert drone strikes in Pakistan, more than five times the 44 approved under Bush.

Most fundraisers.  All presidents spend a lot of their time fundraising. But President Obama leads the league. Political scientist Brendan J. Doherty, author of the new book The Rise of the President’s Permanent Campaign, reports that Obama had held 104 fundraisers by March 6, compared to 94 held by Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined [at the same point in the years they campaigned for reelection]. CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller noted that by June 12 Obama had done 160 re-election fundraisers, twice as many as Bush by the same point in 2004.

Click on Obama’s Accomplishments to read Boaz’s whole article.  I don’t agree with Boaz that the failed recovery is because President Obama has weighed down the economy with taxes, spending and regulation.  The total U.S. tax burden is at a low point, the Obama administration is looking at cutbacks in Social Security and Medicare and the big Wall Street and energy companies ought to be regulated more than they are.  In these respects, too, the Obama and Bush administrations are more alike than they are different.

Click on George W. Obama? for an article about the Obama administration has followed in the footsteps of the Bush administration by David W. Bromwich of Yale.  [Added 7/20/12]

Click on Obama May Not Even Be the Lesser Evil for a comparison of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney by Andrew Levine of Counterpunch.

The Julian Assange file

June 20, 2012

This was originally posted June 20, 2012.

Julian Assange is a hero.  He has defied the world’s most powerful government, and, like brave dissidents in China, Russia and Iran, will pay a price.  For a time, as when the TED video above was made in 2010, it appeared as though he might succeed.  But now he has been brought down.

For the past year he has been unsuccessfully fighting extradition to Sweden on allegations of sexual misconduct.  He has a realistic fear that once he is under Swedish jurisdiction, he will be handed over to the United States, where he will be subject to the Soviet-style treatment meted out to Bradley Manning or the Chinese-American scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Yesterday he asked for political asylum in Ecuador, which, even if granted, would not mean an end to his troubles.  Ecuador is a small nation, vulnerable to U.S. pressure and without a tradition of the rule of law—although, as an American citizen, I live in a glass house where human rights are concerned and shouldn’t throw stones.

Julian Assange’s crime was not to reveal classified information.  The Obama administration does it all the time, as the George W. Bush administration and other administrations did before it, to advance its own interests.  Factions within the government leak information to advance their interests.  The crime of Julian Assange was to reveal classified information that damaged the reputation of the United States—that showed that U.S. forces committed war crimes and that the U.S. government ignored them.  I admire Assange, both for what he has done and for the happy-warrior persona he manifests on TV.  Even with a sword hanging over his head, he seemed to be having a good time.

Back in the days of the Nixon administration, the courts ruled in the Daniel Ellsberg case that it is not a crime to reveal secret information to the public if the only reason for secrecy is to protect the government from embarrassment.  In a constitutional republic, the citizens have a right to know what their government is doing.  The Julian Assange and Bradley Manning cases test whether the United States Constitution has any meaning.

Whatever happens, it appears that WikiLeaks has been neutralized.  (I would like to be proved wrong about this.)  There haven’t been any new releases of information since Assange was put under house arrest.  I once thought WikiLeaks would spawn copycat organizations, but this hasn’t happened.  The fates of Julian Assange and of Bradley Manning, accused of being a source of information to WikiLeaks, are a deterrent, as they were intended to be.

If publishing leaks really was a crime

Click on Julian Assange’s Right to Asylum for Glenn Greenwald’s analysis in The Guardian newspaper in Britain.

Click on It’s Ecuador or Guantanamo for Pepe Escobar’s analysis in Asia Times.

Click on Julian Assange Q&A: Why Ecuador? for background from The Telegraph newspaper in Britain.

Click on The Julian Assange Show: Rafael Correa for Julian Assange’s interview with the President of Ecuador on his The World Tomorrow show.

Click on World Report 2012: Ecuador for Human Rights Watch’s report on Ecuador.

Click on ObamaLeaks for Conor Friedersdorf’s comment for The Atlantic on President Obama’s double standard about leaking classified information to the press.

Click on In Conversation with Julian Assange Part One and Part Two for an extended interview with Assange on his life and ideas.

Click on Interesting Question for Julian Assange’s old blog from 2007.

Click on Conspiracy as Governance for Assange’s 2006 statement of his political philosophy.

Click on WikiLeaks for the WikiLeaks home page.

I will add updates below.

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A better educated class of unemployed

June 13, 2012

President Obama said in a speech sometime back that everybody should get some education beyond high school.  This might be a good thing, but, in itself, it does nothing to create jobs.  A majority of the unemployed now have some education beyond high school. Without an increase in available jobs, all that increased college enrollment will do is raise the bar for getting a job, and create a better-educated class of unemployed.

Click on College Graduates, Dropouts Now Account for Majority of Jobless 25+, First Time Ever for background information and the source of the chart from Investors’ Daily.

Is it racist to criticize Obama?

May 23, 2012

Click to enlarge.

Click on Candorville for more Darrin Bell cartoons.

Why Kazakhstan matters

May 17, 2012

In the 2006 movie Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen treated the central Asian nation of Kazakhstan as an object of ridicule, a prime example of ignorance and backwardness.  But in fact Kazakhstan is emerging as a key player on the international scene.  This central Asian nation, which is larger than western Europe and borders on Russia and China, is the world’s largest producer of uranium and an important producer of oil and natural gas.  The government of Kazakhstan recently bought a 7.7 percent interest in Westinghouse Corp., one of the two major U.S. manufacturers of nuclear weapons.

President Barack Obama, in talks recently in Seoul, South Korea, conferred one-on-one with Khazakhstan President-for-Life Nursultan Nazarbayev about forging closer ties with the two countries.   The U.S. military provides aid and training for the Kazakhstan armed forces.  A consortium of American universities, including the universities of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, are advising on construction of Nazarbayev University, which will enroll 20,000 students who will be taught entirely in English.

The problem with this, as investigative journalist Allen Ruff said in an interview on the Real News Network, is that the Nazarboyev regime is one of the world’s most brutal and corrupt.  The situation he described reminded me of U.S. relations with the Shah of Iran, prior to the Shah’s overthrow in 1979.   Our government overlooked his human rights violations and encouraged his development of a nuclear energy program because he was considered a key ally and energy supplier.  All this blew up when he was overthrown.

Click on US Befriends Kazakhstan Dicator, Now World’s Largest Producer of Uranium for a transcript of the highly informative broadcast.

Click on RuffTalk for Allen Ruff’s web log.   His recent posts go into the Kazakhstan situation in great detail.  Ruff said Bill Clinton and his Clinton Foundation played a key role in helping Nazarbayev overcome U.S. objections to his Westinghouse acquisition.


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