Friday, February 06, 2009

Yes we can make it worse

Whacking $ for science, schools, and the poor.

And more tax cuts, too.

And less money for states.


What the GOP really wants

Ezra Klein:

Jim DeMint just offered an amendment to the stimulus package. Via Dave Weigel, here's what it contains:

• Permanently repeal the alternative minimum tax once and for all;
• Permanently keep the capital gains and dividends taxes at 15 percent;
• Permanently kill the Death Tax for estates under $5 million, and cut the tax rate to 15 percent for those above;
• Permanently extend the $1,000-per-child tax credit;
• Permanently repeal the marriage tax penalty;
• Permanently simplify itemized deductions to include only home mortgage interest and charitable contributions.
• Lower top marginal income rates from 35 percent to 25 percent.
• Simplify the tax code to include only two other brackets, 15 and 10 percent.
• Lower corporate tax rate as well, from 35 percent to 25 percent.

The amendment was beaten back, but all but five Republicans voted for it. It reminds me of something John Cole wrote earlier today. "I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane," he said.


I was going to comment or make some analytical point here, but I think it sort of explains itself.

To our league of morons in Congress

Steven Pearlstein: (h/t TPM)

Actually, what's striking is that supposedly intelligent people are horrified at the thought that, during a deep recession, government might try to help the economy by buying up-to-date equipment for the people who protect us from epidemics and infectious diseases, by hiring people to repair environmental damage on federal lands and by contracting with private companies to make federal buildings more energy-efficient.

What really irks so many Republicans, of course, is that all the stimulus money isn't being used to cut individual and business taxes, their cure-all for economic ailments, even though all the credible evidence is that tax cuts are only about half as stimulative as direct government spending.

Many, including John McCain, lined up this week to support a proposal to make the sales tax and interest payments on any new car purchased over the next two years tax-deductible, along with a $15,000 tax credit on a home purchase. These tax credits make for great sound-bites and are music to the ears of politically active car salesmen and real estate brokers. Most economists, however, have warned that such credits will have limited impact at a time when house prices are still falling sharply and consumers are worried about their jobs and their shrinking retirement accounts. Even worse, they wind up wasting a lot of money because they give windfalls to millions of people who would have bought cars and houses anyway.

What adds insults to injury, however, is that many of the senators who supported these tax breaks then turned around and opposed as "boondoggles" much more cost-effective proposals to stimulate auto and housing sales, such as having the government replace its current fleet of cars with hybrids or giving money to local housing authorities to buy up foreclosed properties for use as low-income rental housing.

Personal economic trainers would confirm all this. Until they're on board, however, here's a little crib sheet on stimulus economics:

Spending is stimulus, no matter what it's for and who does it. The best spending is that which creates jobs and economic activity now, has big payoffs later and disappears from future budgets.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Why the, or at least "a", stimulus bill will pass

Via LG&M, Kevin Drum explains:

If Republicans really did put up a united front and filibuster the legislation, the Democratic leadership would just turn around and consider the bill under budget reconciliation rules, which require only a majority vote to pass. Sure, they've already said they'd prefer not to do that, but if they have to they will. And since the bill is all about short-term spending, it would obviously qualify under reconciliation rules.

So all the public handwringing seems like standard DC negotiating kabuki to me, not a genuine effort to kill the bill. If Republicans filibuster, the public will view them as bitter obstructionists and the bill will pass anyway. It's hard to see what's in it for them to go down this road.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


I've just skimmed through the Congressional Budget Office's report on the Stimulus bill and I have to admit I find it pretty underwhelming--the stimulus that is. Apparently, so do a few others.

It also occurs to me that the price tag frequently cited--usually in the neighborhood of $800-$900 billion dollars--probably overstates the scope of the bill, since this amount will be spread over three years. Here is the CBO statement:

Combining the spending and revenue effects summarized above, CBO estimates that enacting the Inouye-Baucus substitute for H.R. 1 would increase federal budget deficits by $233 billion over the remaining months of fiscal year 2009, by $461 billion in 2010, by $142 billion in 2011, and by $884 billion over the 2009-2019 period.

Monday, February 02, 2009

"Israeli operations in Gaza..."

From the land of Newspeak we have somebody named Soner Cagaptay on Turkey, Israel, and the West:


Turkey is a special Muslim country. Of the more than 50 majority-Muslim nations, it is the only one that is a NATO ally, is in accession talks with the European Union, is a liberal democracy and has normal relations with Israel. Under its current government by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), however, Turkey is losing these special qualities. Liberal political trends are disappearing, E.U. accession talks have stalled, ties with anti-Western states such as Iran are improving and relations with Israel are deteriorating. On Thursday, for example, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan walked out of a panel at Davos, Switzerland, after chiding Israeli President Shimon Peres for "killing people." If Turkey fails in these areas or wavers in its commitment to transatlantic structures such as NATO, it cannot expect to be President Obama's favorite Muslim country.


Then there is foreign policy. Take Turkey's status as a NATO ally of the United States: Ankara's rapprochement with Tehran has gone so far since 2002 that it is doubtful whether Turkey would side with the United States in dealing with the issue of a nuclear Iran. In December, Erdogan told a Washington crowd that "countries that oppose Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons."

The AKP's commitment to U.S. positions is even weaker on other issues, including Hamas. During the recent Israeli operations in Gaza, Erdogan questioned the validity of Israel's U.N. seat while saying that he wants to represent Hamas on international platforms. Three days before moderate Arab allies of Washington, including Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, gathered on Jan. 19 in Kuwait to discuss an end to the Gaza conflict, Erdogan's officials met with Iran, Syria and Sudan in Qatar, effectively upstaging the moderates. Amazingly, Turkey is now taking a harder line on the Arab-Israeli conflict than even Saudi Arabia.

For years, Turkey has had normal relations with Israel, including strong military, tourist, and cultural and commercial ties. The Turks did not emphasize religion or ideology in their relationship with the Jewish state, so Israelis felt comfortable visiting, doing business and vacationing in Turkey. But Erdogan's recent anti-Israeli statements -- he even suggested that God would punish Israel -- have made normal relations a thing of the past. On Jan. 4, 200,000 Turks turned out in freezing rain in Istanbul to wish death to Israel; on Jan. 7, an Israeli girls' volleyball team was attacked by a Turkish audience chanting, "Muslim policemen, bring us the Jews, so we can slaughter them."

Emerging anti-Semitism also challenges Turkey's special status. Anti-Semitism is not hard-wired into Turkish society -- rather its seeds are being spread by the political leadership. Erdogan has pumped up such sentiments by suggesting Jewish culpability for the conflict in Gaza and alleging that Jewish-controlled media outlets were misrepresenting the facts. Moreover, on Jan. 6, while demanding remorse for Israel's Gaza operations, Erdogan said to Turkish Jews, "Did we not accept you in the Ottoman Empire?" Turkey's tiny, well-integrated Jewish community is being threatened: Jewish businesses are being boycotted, and instances of violence have been reported. These are shameful developments in a land that has provided a home for Jews since 1492, when the Ottomans opened their arms to Jewish people fleeing the Spanish Inquisition. The Ottoman sultans must be spinning in their graves.

The erosion of Turkey's liberalism under the AKP is alienating Turkey from the West. If Turkish foreign policy is based on solidarity with Islamist regimes or causes, Ankara cannot hope to be considered a serious NATO ally. Likewise, if the AKP discriminates against women, forgoes normal relations with Israel, curbs media freedoms or loses interest in joining Europe, it will hardly endear itself to the United States. And if Erdogan's AKP keeps serving a menu of illiberalism at home and religion in foreign policy, Turkey will no longer be special -- and that would be unfortunate.


This might just be the least self-aware op-ed I've ever read. That or it's the most evasive piece of bamboozlement I've ever read. Either way, the column is obstensibly about Turkey's apparent backing away of a "Pro-West" position, but seems primarily a reaction against the country's critique of Israel.

The writer seems so offended that anyone, least of all some country as irrelevant as Turkey's PM would consider "Israel's operations in Gaza..." to include "killing people" he (or she) can't seem to acknowledge the obvious facts of the PM's complaint.

And of course that the Turkish PM would dare meet with "Iran, Syria, and Sudan" (such obvious bad guys) amidst "Israel's operations in Gaza" or remark that " 'countries that oppose Iran's nuclear weapons should themselves not have nuclear weapons' " are also actions and statements that seemingly require no explanation.