The President spoke today from the shadows of the Brandenburg Gate. Berlin has been the site of previous Obama speeches and welcomed him warmly again. He spoke of spirit, of how great nations respect the rights of individuals, and the triumph of freedom over tyranny. (All great messages for places like Russia, Syria, Turkey, and the Middle East in general.) He stood tall like a Statesman and gave a serious speech. One wonders why?
It could be that White House aides are seeking to put the President back in leading position. The IRS and Benghazi kerfuffles have pretty much been shown to be non-events and the political opportunists who ranted about them now appear exposed for who they are. But why Berlin?
Barack Obama is at his best with a prepared speech and a teleprompter to lead him through it. The Brandenburg gate, a sunny day, and flags galore, all make up an inspiring picture. But why Berlin now?
Just a few days ago, the G-8 met in Northern Ireland. These leaders discussed economic issues in public and the Syrian conflict in private. From public statements, not much was accomplished, most probably because progress on any of these issues would involve more risk and sacrifices than any G-8 member wants to take. So, once again why Berlin?
While enroute to the G-8, the House of Representatives decided to vote against women on previously Supreme Court established abortion limits. The Republican majority decided that restricting the right to an abortion to the 20th week was more important than the budget or debt extension, or any legislation on job creation. The GOP decision is more befuddling when one realizes the bill die in the Senate and that women opposed this type of thinking in the last Presidential election. Of course, less surprising, it is the same legislative body that has voted to repeal Obamacare 37 times, each time without a proposal to deliver the same benefits. Is this why Berlin?
As George W Bush said, history will judge where my 8 years rate. Time has a way of moderating the emotions of the present and putting in perspective the hills and valleys of a Presidency. Certainly no speech in Berlin is going to amount to much in any evaluation by history.
The “why” about Berlin, I think, lies in the nature of Barack Obama. He may be a modern day Don Quixote. President Obama has concluded that governing in Washington is like being a cafeteria monitor during a food fight. Congress is totally self absorbed, dysfunctional, and uninterested in steps to advance the US economy or our quality of life. The President has become frustrated and is seeking other platforms where he can speak out on “how the world should be”. The German Reichstag and Bundestag are not going to speak against anything he says.
With two unattractive choice, deal with Congressional Republicans the way they are dealing with the President (that is getting into the gutter), or making speeches in historic settings, I think Berlin is surprisingly perfect.
It must be open mic night at Politico, because this opinion piece from governor Bobby Jindal reads more like a sis boom bah rant from a conservative radio fill-in host at a third-rate station for a show that starts at 10pm. Remember when Jindal wrote after the election that Republicans should stop being the “stupid party” and reject “identity politics?” That briefly earned him some praise as a politician speaking truth to the party powers after badly losing a national election. The momentary blip in his popularity was quickly brought down after his failed attempt to massively reduce taxes on the wealthy in his state, and this new column essentially tells us he’s learned the error of his ways. Instead of mapping a new policy path for conservative relevance outside of social issues and upper-echelon moneyed concerns, Jindal implores his party to double-down on the derp that burns and return to the bubble that produced the infamous 47 percent remarks.
All alone, or in two’s,
The ones who really love you
Walk up and down outside the wall.
Some hand in hand
And some gathered together in bands.
The bleeding hearts and artists
Make their stand.
And when they’ve given you their all
Some stagger and fall, after all it’s not easy
Banging your heart against some mad bugger’s wall.
–”Outside the Wall,” by Pink Floyd on The Wall album
Last week marked the 26th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech. Most people don’t pay much attention to 26th anniversaries. But this one stood out to me because Reagan’s speech came on the 26th anniversary of the wall’s construction. It took some brass ones to stand at the Brandenburg Gate during the Cold War and call out the leader of the Soviet Union. Reagan’s presidential record divides scholars and pundits, but no one can deny that the man was a master orator. (Remind you of anyone today?) And this speech was one of his greatest, drawing a stark contrast between what the New York Times called “a world of darkness and repression and a world of freedom and self-determination for hundreds of millions of people who had been trapped behind the barbed wire fences and concrete walls of the Soviet empire.”
Over the weekend the NYTimes reported on the annual economic forecast from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which is predicting slower economic growth in the United States (1.9 percent). The IMF is a multinational organization that seeks to “ foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability [...] promote high employment and sustainable economic growth,” while also serving as type of international loaning institution for developing countries. In the report the IMF also states that “growth would be as much as 1.75 percentage points higher if not for a rush to cut the government’s budget deficit.”
From the Times piece:
The IMF said the United States should reverse the spending cuts and instead adopt a plan to slow the growth in spending on government-funded health care and pensions, known as “entitlements.” The Fund would also like the United States to collect more in taxes.
“The deficit reduction in 2013 has been excessively rapid and ill-designed,” the IMF said. “These cuts should be replaced with a back-loaded mix of entitlement savings and new revenues.”
The IMF goes on to warn, however, of the same long-term fiscal issues that everyone knows — an aging population, unsustainable healthcare cost growth, and a long run debt that will crush us beneath it’s mammoth dollar-sign weight. Yet leaving that aside, this policy fetish of short-term austerity in the face of a weak economic recovery has basically been the story since 2011, no? The pursuit of ‘expansionary austerity’ was supposed to sweep away the detritus of the global recession. It was supposed to be the best of times. Yet deficit reduction in the United States, while less severe than other parts of the world, has nevertheless produced the same outcome; depressed economic growth. The austerity fairy has had no wings, no magic, no balm to make the recovery a resplendent “great forgetting.” Read the rest of this entry
Dean Baker highlights a quote from the NYTimes, on the increasing percentage of young Americans completing college, to make a point about the common refrain of a supposed lack of highly-educated workers:
It is not clear what this [lack of high-skilled workers] evidence would be. The unemployment rate for college graduates, although down from its peak in 2010, is still close to twice its pre-recession level. In addition, wages for college graduates without advance degrees were stagnant even before the recession. These facts suggest that the economy is not suffering from a shortage of highly educated worker, although there may be some narrow occupations and locations in which shortages appear.
The STEM shortage debate, on whether the United States is facing a one at all, isn’t something I’ve delved into compared to other subjects but it is something I’ve followed. For years industry CEO’s in STEM-related fields and like-minded advocates have complained about a lack of highly educated, skilled workers to fulfill jobs. These complaints have translated into somewhat of a conventional wisdom because media outlets tend to take Very Important People and their concerns at face value. Also, for the same number of years, people who’ve bothered even a cursory glance at the data, like Baker does, finds that the evidence doesn’t support business’s conclusion. Rather, the truth seems to be closer to what Adam Davidson uncovers here; that the skills gap is more like a unwillingness to pay highly-educated people more money than a shift manager at McDonalds gap.
I am free.
Free to eat Big Macs for (late) breakfast, lunch, and dinner until my heart explodes.
(I was free to forego health insurance and pass on the costs of my emergency heart surgery to others, but Obamacare is taking that freedom away.)
But I am still mostly free.
Free to demean other people with racial slurs and free to protest across the street from your dead son’s funeral.
Free to create low budget, straight-to-youtube videos that insult religions that aren’t mine and result in violence against people that aren’t me.
Yes, I am free.
Free to carry my concealed handgun in public places, despite the fact that I am bi-polar and schizophrenic (HIPAA laws make sure the gun salesman cannot take that freedom away.)
I am free to be bi-polar and schizophrenic without any chance of professional intervention and treatment. (But I did hear that Obamacare might take away that freedom too.)
Still, I am free to “stand my ground” like George Zimmerman, because dead “assailants” cannot testify.
I am free.
Free to defend myself in a court of law if I am falsely accused of murder, and free to appeal a wrongful conviction in light of new evidence, unless I live in Texas.
Or Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, or Wyoming,
because those states can legally kill me first.
But, slim chance of wrongful state-sponsored murder aside, I am still free.
Free to work really hard washing your dishes for 40 hours a week, which allows me, a single father of one, to make just enough money to fall below the federal poverty level by $430.
Free to invest the extra money I do not have into the soaring stock market.
Free to watch the rich get richer and even free to join them when my Powerball ticket hits—because I am free to hope and dream, not like those pitiful folks in other countries that don’t have any freedom at all.
Fighting for front page attention are demonstrations and the Turkish government’s response. Protesters have been driven from Taksim Square after riot police applied sufficient force. Erdogan has not been asleep while Tunis, Libya, Egypt, and now Syria enjoyed the Arab Spring. Erdogan is not going to let these protests get out of hand. Or have they already?
The Turkish cause is much different than that of those other uprisings. Erdogan caused this one and he can fix it.
Turkey lies between Europe and the Middle East. Within its borders reside very wealthy, very poor, Christians, Muslims, educated, not educated, progressives, and conservatives. A true mixture and probably not a melting pot.
Strategically, Turkey is an important US ally. It’s secular history (since the founding of modern Turkey) brings needed balance to the more conservative Islamic States which lie nearby. Turkey has also maintained a supportive position towards Israel unlike its neighbors.
So why all this fuss? Read the rest of this entry
I’ve abstained so far from blogging on the rate shock debate, mainly because I’ve nothing to add to what’s been written by more knowledgable folks. This will be the exception to that trend because it illustrates a point I originally made on Twitter: the people getting the rawest deal from the Affordable Care Act aren’t “Bros” (the young, wealthy and healthy, with no history of family illness), but low-income Americans residing in states refusing to expand Medicaid.
According to analysis of Census data by Adrianna McIntyre and Josh Fangmeier over at Project Millennial, the vast majority of childless adults aged 19-25 (and to a lesser, but still significant, extent 26-30) who are already in the individual marketplace make less than 138 percent of the Federal Poverty Line (FPL):
This is important information because 138 percent FPL is the new minimum eligibility for Medicaid under the ACA. These are people who, assuming they don’t qualify for the under-26 provision for staying on a parent’s policy, stand to benefit from a much cheaper deal with Medicaid if they live in a state that will participate in the expansion .
Every month the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases a review of the federal government’s budget with all sorts of quick details on revenues and expenditures. Yet the headline numbers always concern the deficit, and like most monthly reviews for quite some time now the CBO reports today that it’s still shrinking: