Trapped Here in Our Anger

So, over the last several years we have learned how angry those Tea Party folks are – what with those town hall meetings before congress voted and the votes were counted and the Affordable Care Act, which they call Obamacare, became law. You remember those town hall meetings – shouting down speakers, folks showing up carrying semiautomatic weapons, lots of talk about the Blood of Patriots Watering the Tree of Liberty, some chat about how, should this pass, people might have to turn to Second Amendment remedies, and assorted women weeping that they – Obama and the Democrats – were taking away the America they once knew, the Real America. Maybe it was the death panels Sarah Palin said were coming, where, across the nation, three bureaucrats behind some podium would order the immediate execution of the even vaguely imperfect and anyone who was starting to get old and useless. And when Obama addressed Congress and said the Affordable Care Act did not involve providing free healthcare for illegal immigrants, that feisty congressman from South Carolina, Joe Wilson, screamed out YOU LIE! He became an instant Tea Party hero, and the toast of Fox News. He was wrong, but that was beside the point. He was angry, and that’s what mattered.

And the midterm elections, where the Republicans regained control of the House, represented the triumph of that anger – ninety or so new congressmen and congresswomen saying they were Tea Party folks, mad as hell and out to change things, big time. So there would be no compromise, ever – tear it all down unless they get exactly what they wanted. This drove house speaker John Boehner kind of nuts – he couldn’t negotiate with the White House on anything, lest the Angry Ones unload on him too. They too were Republicans after all. So there was the mess with the debt ceiling and with extending the payroll-tax cuts – for those who get paid a salary and don’t live off dividends and capital gains from their massive investments. Stop it, whatever it is.

In fact, nothing much got done at all. Anger does that, when coupled with the idea that the totally useless government should not do anything much at all, damn it. Refusing to fund the FAA was curious, as air traffic control is kind of useful. No one wants granny to die when two big planes slam into each other at thirty-thousand feet over Toledo. But anger is not reason – it’s just anger. And why shouldn’t pilots be free to fly their airplanes full of hundreds of people any damned place they want, any way they want, at any time they want? Freedom is freedom. And we do spend too much money, and incur too much debt. You have to draw the line somewhere.

And one of these new angry congressmen was Allen West – who has been representing Florida’s 22nd congressional district since January 2011 – an ex-Army guy who served in Iraq and was a civilian adviser in Afghanistan. He put in more than twenty years of active duty ending up a lieutenant colonel. But he elected to retire after an investigation of his conduct during the interrogation of a detainee:

While serving in Taji, Iraq, West received information from an intelligence specialist about a reported plot to ambush him and his men. The alleged plot reportedly involved Yahya Jhodri Hamoodi, a civilian Iraqi police officer. West, who was not responsible for conducting interrogations in Iraq and had never conducted nor witnessed one, had his men detain Hamoodi. In the process of detaining Mr. Hamoodi, soldiers testified that Hamoodi appeared to reach for his weapon and needed to be subdued. Hamoodi was beaten by four soldiers from the 220th Field Artillery Battalion on the head and body. West then fired his pistol near Hamoodi’s head, after which Hamoodi provided West with names and information, which Hamoodi later described as “meaningless information induced by fear and pain.” At least one of these suspects was arrested as a result, but no plans for attacks or weapons were found. West said “At the time I had to base my decision on the intelligence I received. It’s possible that I was wrong about Mr. Hamoodi.”

He was angry, he did what he did, and got what turned out to be completely meaningless information, but he insists he was right to do that, because he was angry. It’s a Tea Party thing.

But he also got this:

West was charged with violating articles 128 (assault) and 134 (general article) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. During a hearing held as part of an Article 32 investigation in November 2003, West stated, “I know the method I used was not right, but I wanted to take care of my soldiers.” The charges were ultimately referred to an Article 15 proceeding rather than court-martial, at which West was fined $5,000. West accepted the judgment and retired with full benefits in the summer of 2004. Asked if he would act differently under similar circumstances again, West testified, “If it’s about the lives of my soldiers at stake, I’d go through hell with a gasoline can.”

He’s that kind of guy, and a letter supporting him was signed by ninety-five members of Congress and sent to the Secretary of the Army. Bob Gates was not moved. He seemed to think this guy was a jerk, so West retired and taught high school for a time, and gave speeches all over and spoke in defense of anyone in our military who got mad and tortured prisoners for useless information, or just because they were angry, and who now faced charges. It wasn’t fair. But that was beside the point. They were angry, and that’s what mattered.

And now, as an angry new congressman, he’s speaking out about the hotly contested Florida primary:

This is a battlefield that we must stand upon and we need to let president Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and my dear friend, the chairman of the Democrat National Committee, we need to let them know that Florida ain’t on the table. Take your message of equality of achievement, take your message of economic dependency, and take your message of enslaving the entrepreneurial will and spirit of the American people somewhere else. You can take it to Europe, you can take it to the bottom of the sea, you can take it to the North Pole, but get the hell out of the United States of America. Yeah, I said hell.

This is not about 1% and 99%. This is about 100% – 100% American. And I will not stand back and watch anyone defame, degrade or destroy that which my father fought for, my older brother, my father-in-law, myself, my nephew and all my friends still in uniform. I will not allow Obama to take the United States of America and destroy it. So if that means I’m the #1 target for the Democrat Party, all I gotta say is one thing: “Bring it on, baby.”

On the other hand, there’s a new NBC Marist poll from Florida:

Obama: 49%
Romney: 41%

Obama: 52%
Gingrich: 35%

Obama: 50%
Paul: 36%

Obama: 50%
Santorum: 35%

Anyone who wants Obama to remain in office should just get the hell out of America. Go to Europe where you belong, probably France. And David Akins comments:

It’s early, of course, and polls are a snapshot in time. But it certainly appears that at this moment, Allen West would prefer that the majority of Floridians leave the country for more socialist climes.

Perhaps it’s Allen West who might need to leave America for a more libertarian paradise. He could go to the bottom of the sea for it. But I hear Afghanistan and Somalia are lovely places where no oppressive government will enforce equality of achievement on anyone (no one with a penis, anyway.)

But of course what West was angry about is an Obama presidency in which a radical socialist alien president is seeking to wreck and overturn the American way of life and the free enterprise system – and turn us into France, or worse, Greece – but any European nation will do. They know nothing over there. Their governments do all sorts of things for their people – assure healthcare for everyone, and fast trains and clean streets, and safe food and clean air and paid maternity leave and all the rest – and all that did was crush their entrepreneurial spirit and kill the free enterprise system there, and simply end their freedom – and it drove them into crushing debt. And see – now they have to go to full austerity and shut it all down. That’s the lesson. No country can have that stuff. Now they know. Everyone sees what’s happening there. They all had to become Tea Party Republicans after all. Everyone does.

Well, maybe so, or maybe not – as the European Union leaders meet in Brussels tomorrow and there is a growing recognition that austerity alone will just not work to fix their problems:

European leaders are expected to conclude this week that what the debt-laden, sclerotic countries of the Continent need are a dose of economic growth. …

A draft of the European Union summit meeting communiqué calls for ”growth-friendly consolidation and job-friendly growth,” an indication that European leaders have come to realize that austerity measures, like those being put in countries like Greece and Italy, risk stoking a recession and plunging fragile economies into a downward spiral.

Yes, this could be empty rhetoric or cynical pandering, or it could be a psychological turning point:

“I think it is an important shift, particularly from Germany but also from others, from the phase where it was all about fiscal balance and consolidation to a more comprehensive approach where you have an all-encompassing look at economic sustainability,” said Nicolas Véron, senior fellow at Bruegel, an economic research institute in Brussels. “It is quite promising, but at this point I don’t see it translating into immediate measures.”

Those are badly needed in a Europe with more than 23 million people unemployed. Indeed, the lack of growth was highlighted by Standard & Poor’s this month when it downgraded several euro zone nations, including France.

“We believe that a reform process based on a pillar of fiscal austerity alone risks becoming self-defeating, as domestic demand falls in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues,” S&P said.

Now even Standard & Poor’s agrees – that shut-it-all down austerity, which our Tea Party says means growth and prosperity, means disaster, with demand collapsing and a deflationary death spiral. You really do want to stimulate demand:

“Even countries with relatively strong public finances such as Germany – the country’s budget deficit fell to just 1 percent of GDP in 2011 – are tightening fiscal policy,” Simon Tilford, the chief economist for the Center for European Reform in London, wrote recently. “In so doing, European governments are standing conventional macroeconomic thinking on its head. Governments are withdrawing demand from their economies at a time of pronounced private sector weakness.”

Output in both the euro zone and the European Union is still around 2 percent lower than before the crisis. The Spanish and British economies are still almost 4 percent short of their pre-crisis peaks, the Italian one nearly 5 percent, and the Greek and Irish economies 10 percent to 15 percent, Mr. Tilford added. Greece’s deep recession has thrown its financial rescue package off target, complicating yet further efforts to restructure its debt and create a second, larger, bailout.

It seems that causing a deep recession on purpose, by withdrawing demand, is not that good an idea, if you want things to grow. Sure there will be less debt, and less of everything. And guess who else is coming around:

Germans increasingly accept that this is a dangerous outlook, said Joachim Fritz-Vannahme, director of the Europe program at the research institute Bertelsmann Stiftung. “Many people now say that it will never work to push all the Southern European countries into austerity, hoping that, one day, they will pay back what they owe,”‘ he said.

Why didn’t they see that in the first place? Maybe they were angry. It happens.

Still, this isn’t going to be easy:

As Greece tries to reach a debt-swap agreement with its private creditors, the country’s prime minister suggested on Sunday that the three leaders in his fractious coalition were prepared to back additional austerity measures and reforms needed to receive a second bailout.

As Calculated Risk notes, the politics are tricky:

Prime Minister Lucas Papademos is in the middle of a three ring circus negotiating with private creditors, negotiating with the “troika” (European Union, ECB, IMF), and negotiating with the various political parties in Greece.

But at least no one is trying to please Allen West. They remembered they’re Europeans. Irrational anger is for those crazy Americans.

And we are who we are. See Mark Thoma with Austerity is Holding Back the Recovery:

According to the advance report on GDP, released Friday morning, economic growth for the fourth quarter of 2011 was 2.8 percent, a rate of growth near the average rate of GDP growth in recent decades of roughly 2.5 percent. Average economic growth is enough to keep us from losing ground, but re-absorbing the millions of unemployed workers into productive employment will require an acceleration in GDP growth. We need a growth spurt that exceeds trend by some margin, something we haven’t seen yet, and without that we are headed for a very slow recovery.

Unfortunately, when the components of GDP – consumption, investment, net exports, and government spending – are examined, it’s not clear where that spurt will come from. Households lack the income needed to support a burst in consumption, and they are in no position to support a large rise in debt-fueled consumption. We wouldn’t want that in any case.

So it’s simple:

Investment has two components – business investment and the construction of new houses. Businesses are waiting for the outlook to improve before increasing investment (Business investment will follow GDP growth, not lead, and the housing market is unlikely to give us the necessary spark.) Net exports are a possibility. They were featured in President Obama’s State of the Union speech as part of the path to a better economy, but problems in Europe make an export boom unlikely anytime soon. Besides, not every country can be a net exporter. Other countries will not sit idle while we try to increase our share of exports to world markets, so that even if the world economy grows robustly gaining, market share will not be easy.

That leaves government spending. However, these numbers are moving in the wrong direction.

And as Jared Bernstein points out, that seems to be a conscious choice:

Here’s one reason we’re stuck in slow growth mode: the budget crunch among state and local governments.

The figures show the yearly percentage point contribution to or subtraction from real GDP growth from the state and local sectors since the late 1980s. The trend bounces around but the recent cliff dive is evident. It’s also why we keep losing jobs in these sectors month after month.

He has a cool line chart to show that, but it comes down to this:

Unlike the feds, states have to balance their budgets every year, which means they either raise taxes or cut services. They haven’t done much on the tax side, so they’ve been laying off teachers, cops, maintenance workers; practically every month over the past few years we’ve been adding private sector jobs and shedding public sector jobs.

In a very real sense, what you have here is a microcosm of austerity measures at work in cities and towns across the country. Moreover, this drag on growth is avoidable. One of the most successful parts of the Recovery Act was state fiscal relief, as those dollars went directly to preserving state and local jobs. The American Jobs Act proposed $35 billion to build on that progress, resources that would have prevented hundreds of thousands of ongoing layoffs. But it languishes in the dysfunctional Congress and we’re left with the fiscal drag you see in the figure.

Thank you, Angry Tea Party. And yes, mistaken insistence on cutting government spending is delaying a healthy recovery, as Paul Krugman adds this:

But it’s even worse than he says. Why? Because if you look at what’s being cut, it’s heavily focused on investment…

That is, we’re sacrificing the future as well as the present. Oh, and the cuts that aren’t falling on investment in physical capital are largely falling on human capital, that is, education. It’s hard to overstate just how wrong all this is. We have a situation in which resources are sitting idle looking for uses – massive unemployment of workers, especially construction workers, capital so bereft of good investment opportunities that it’s available to the federal government at negative real interest rates. Never mind multipliers and all that (although they exist too); this is a time when government investment should be pushed very hard. Instead, it’s being slashed.

And Digby adds this:

It’s very hard not to believe the conspiracy theorists who say that this is consciously being done to lower wages and standard of living. Can anyone really be this dumb?

There’s a short answer to that question – apparently so. See Allen West, above.

And in the Washington Post, Suzy Khimm discusses the latest survey of economists and the general public sponsored by Northwestern University. While economists all agree that raising tax rates by one percentage point on the rich would bring in more revenue, only two thirds of the public believes this. And Kevin Drum dryly comments – “That’s a big victory for Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.”

And that’s a big victory for the Angry Ones, the Tea Party.

So, over the last several years we have learned how angry those Tea Party folks are. And what good has their anger done? Even those effete European fools are starting to figure out some things are just nuts. Ah, but we’re not them. Yes, Congressman West, we’re not them. But most of us aren’t you either.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to Trapped Here in Our Anger

  1. Rick says:

    I think this was a good one, especially in the Mark Thoma and Jared Bernstein and Paul Krugman discussion of the components of the GDP — that if we reduce any one of them, we are, by definition, shrinking the economy, which is the opposite of what we want to be doing.

    Although even my own eyes glaze over when I see equations used to explain economic theories, I have still always wondered why you don’t see economists and politicians explaining what’s wrong with austerity in this very simple way:

    GDP = C + I + G + (X-M)

    It’s really very simple:

    GDP = “Gross Domestic Product” (also known as “The Economy”)
    C = “Consumer Spending”
    I = “Investment”
    G = “Government Spending” (not just Federal, but also State, County, and Local — although these are effected by how much money they get from Federal)
    X = “Exports”
    M = “Imports”

    With so many Americans out of work, or else scared they will be, consumers are not spending (C); since consumers aren’t spending, businesses are not investing in new factories, and for the same reason, builders are not investing in building new houses (I); and our trade balance (X-M) is already in negative territory. All that’s left is government spending (G), which is also going negative — but this one is hurting us, it could be said, by design!

    Too many people, here and abroad, because they think it will somehow give businesses and consumers “confidence” in the economy, think that reducing G is good for the economy. In fact, mathmatically, the exact opposite happens, since reducing any one of the components of the economy — including Government spending — reduces overall spending in the equation. Reducing G also has a multiplier effect of reducing employment downstream among all those — not just in local government, but also in the private sector — who depended on that spending.

    And this is not just a theory about local government losing jobs, it’s happening in the real world. You can see it if you dig down into the new employment figures when they come out each month: Whatever positive growth number we see is almost always growth in private-sector jobs, but the overall total would be much higher if we didn’t have to subtract the jobs lost in state and local government.

    But people don’t understand this, because they cannot be coaxed into using that math they learned in high school (which was probably taught by some union hack anyway), and they’d just rather trust their guts than their brains. And despite what may be happening in Brussels, I don’t get the feeling that the Europeans, with their number of unemployed almost equal to ours, have learned this math yet either.

    Maybe years from now, historians will look back in disbelief and marvel at how dumb our leadership was, but after seeing the spate of recent historical revisions (“Politically Incorrect History”) that claim FDR only prolonged the Great Depression, I’m thinking there’s a chance the world will never learn the lesson.

    Rick

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