Barack Obama Is Not the “Ice Cream President”

There’s an email making the rounds that tells a story about two little girls who run for class president in grade school. One girl works hard, runs a good campaign, and promises to do her best if elected. The other girl promises to give everyone ice cream. The teacher asks the children how they’ll pay for the ice cream. They have no idea, but they vote for the ice cream girl anyway.

That, says the email, is how Barack Obama won the election. He promised to give away free stuff that we can’t afford.

Bill O’Reilly got the ball rolling on this theory when he said, “It’s not a traditional America anymore, and there are 50 percent of the voting public who want stuff. They want things. And who is going to give them things? President Obama.”

Earlier that day, a Romney supporter told me that he expected his candidate to lose because Obama “bought” votes by “giving away” food stamps and welfare.

We have such short memories.

It was the Republican president George W. Bush who expanded eligibility for food stamps in the 2002 farm bill. It was 99 Republican representatives who voted to expand the program further in the 2008 farm bill. And it was that same Republican president who waived one of the work requirements for 32 states in November 2008.

That’s why the food stamp program added more recipients under Bush than it did under Obama.

The welfare claim is even more ridiculous. We may not remember the food stamp expansion under Bush, but surely we remember welfare reform under Bill Clinton. In 1996, Congress ended “welfare as we know it” and replaced it with “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF), a program whose budget hasn’t changed in 16 years. It was $16.6 billion in 1996, and it’s $16.6 billion today.

In the year before welfare reform, 4.7 million Americans received assistance from the program. Today, only 2 million receive assistance from TANF.

When TANF was created, 68 percent of families with children in poverty received welfare. Today, only 27 percent get it.

Low-income entitlement spending has increased, but it would’ve increased under any president. Most of it is what economists call “automatic stabilizers” because they automatically increase during recessions. More people become unemployed. More people fall into poverty. More people lose their health insurance. So more people qualify for unemployment insurance and food stamps and Medicaid.

Since the end of the recession, low-income entitlement spending has been falling. In the next decade, the Congressional Budget Office says that it will return to the same level it’s been for the last forty years: a little more than 1 percent of our nation’s income. If you exclude health care, where costs are rising for completely separate reasons, the CBO expects low-income entitlement spending to fall below its forty-year average in coming years.

The CBO is making these projections, of course, based on the Obama administration’s budget. The president who is supposedly giving away free stuff, it turns out, is actually planning to reduce low-income entitlements.

What’s particularly galling about the Republicans’ argument is that Romney was the candidate who couldn’t explain how he’d pay for everything he was promising. Romney was the candidate who wanted to add a $480 billion tax cut to a $1.3 trillion deficit. Romney was the candidate who wanted to add $200 billion in new Pentagon spending every year.

It was the Republican president George W. Bush who turned a surplus into a deficit. It was Bush who took the nation into two wars while passing two massive tax cuts. It was Bush who signed Medicare Part D without figuring out how to pay for it.

Are we all suffering from a collective bout of amnesia?

The Romney camp’s explanation for their electoral loss fits right in with the broader picture they tried to paint of the Obama presidency. In their world, Barack Obama “has fundamentally changed the relationship between government and the people of this country,” as Jon Stewart put it in his debate with O’Reilly.

But it’s simply not true.

And the truth matters. Obama didn’t win the election because he’s giving away free stuff, and perpetrating such a myth only serves to obscure what’s really going on and what really needs to be done in Washington.

==========

This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The Fault Lies Not in the Stars But in Our Politicians

As I predicted on this page at the beginning of the year, the housing market has turned the corner.

The Zillow Home Value Index experienced the first year-over-year increase since 2007, the fourth consecutive month of increasing value. The Federal Housing Finance Agency also reported the fourth straight month of rising home prices in May.

At their current rate, new home sales are on track to beat last year’s numbers by 17 percent. Compared to a year earlier, the inventory of unsold existing homes has been declining for sixteen consecutive months. In fact, this month we saw the biggest drop in inventory ever reported.

Last month, housing starts reached their highest level since October 2008. This month, home builder confidence reached the highest level since March 2007. Foreclosures in distressed markets like California have reached their lowest level since 2007.

In other words, our long national nightmare is over.

And yet, our malaise has only deepened. Output growth is weak, unemployment remains stuck at 8.2 percent, and the twin engines of growth — exports and manufacturing — have stalled. If the cause of our discontent has reversed course, what fresh hell is holding us back?

Some of the blame belongs to the European Union, whose weakness has driven the euro down, making the U.S. dollar more expensive. As a result, exports have flatlined, along with the manufacturing sector that depends on them.

But the real sand in the wheels has been the cutbacks in Washington.

No, that’s not a typo. Despite all the news you’ve heard about the big bad budget deficit, the truth is that the government has been retreating, leaving the private sector to fend for itself.

In the two and a half years since the end of the recession, government spending, adjusted for inflation, has fallen by 2.6 percent. Government purchases have also fallen by 2.6 percent. Government employment has fallen by 2.7 percent.

Compare that to the two and a half years after the end of the 1982 recession, over which Ronald Reagan presided. By this point in Reagan’s term, government spending had increased by 10.2 percent, government purchases had increased by 11.6 percent, and government employment had increased by 3.1 percent.

Or we could compare to George W. Bush. From 2000 to 2007, government spending grew faster than it has from 2007 to 2011.

Any way you measure it, government spending growth has been very weak.

From 1980 to 1984, real government spending increased over 14 percent. From 2008 to 2012, in contrast, it has increased only 6 percent. And, since the beginning of last year, it has turned negative. In fact, this year, real government spending per capita is falling faster than it has since the aftermath of the Korean War.

But the real bloodbath is yet to come. On January 1st, $110 billion in automatic spending cuts are scheduled to kick in, followed by over $1 trillion more in spending cuts and tax increases over the next decade — unless, of course, Congress enacts a new law to postpone them.

Republicans are particularly concerned about this so-called “fiscal cliff,” not only because they abhor tax increases, but especially because half of the spending cuts will come from the Pentagon. Democrats are equally concerned about the possible extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, which are scheduled to expire at the end of the year.

So Democratic Senator Patty Murray made them an offer: We will agree to postpone the “fiscal cliff” if you will agree not to extend the Bush tax cuts for household incomes above $250,000.

Senate Democrats held up their end of the bargain on Wednesday, passing a bill to extend all the Bush tax cuts below $250,000. But Washington insiders say that the bill is as good as dead in the Republican-controlled House.

House Republicans, it seems, are determined to hold the economy hostage to the selfish interests of the rich — yet again.

But it doesn’t have to go down like this. Weak economic growth is not a fait accompli. The fundamentals of our economy are improving. The recovery will accelerate…if the government steps up like it did in previous recoveries.

==========

This op-ed was published in today’s South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Dear White America,

I write to you as a fellow member, disturbed by a new development in our ranks.

According to the latest polls, most of you believe that anti-white racism – or “reverse racism,” as many of you refer to it – is now a bigger problem than anti-black racism. That, apparently, is the majority view in White America.

The view looks very different, however, in Black America.

In Black America, the unemployment rate is 16.8 percent, twice the unemployment rate in White America. 35 percent of black households have zero or negative net wealth, compared with 15 percent of white households — and the gap is growing. The average white household is 20 times richer than the average black household — the largest gap since the government started recording this data a quarter century ago.   Continue reading “Dear White America,”

Chandra Mishra Rides Astride a Trojan Horse

When Professor Mishra and I debated the Bush tax cuts a few weeks ago, we agreed to limit the debate to income taxes, but the Professor went a bit off-topic. He spent half his op-ed talking about corporate taxes, and I didn’t get a chance to respond.

Until now.

First, let’s see what I’m responding to:

A high corporate tax rate moves jobs overseas. Currently American companies are sitting on more than $2 trillion of cash overseas, which is used for hiring and investments in foreign operations.

The United States has the second highest corporate tax rate in the world. Two things we must do to spur job growth and expand the taxpayer base in the America: Cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 20 percent, the median tax rate for the developed countries, and eliminate the taxes on repatriation of foreign earnings.

Wow. Every sentence there is either wrong or very misleading.   Continue reading “Chandra Mishra Rides Astride a Trojan Horse”

What to Read on Iran

Iran’s Ties to the Taliban — Mohsen Milani

Iran’s views of the Taliban have changed considerably since 2001. Iran did not recognize the Taliban government and considered them an ideological nemesis and a major security threat that was created by Pakistan’s ISI, with generous financial support from Saudi Arabia partly for the purpose of spreading Wahhabism and undermining Iran. When the Taliban were in power in the 1990s, Iran, along with India and Russia, provided significant support to the Northern Alliance, which was the principal opposition force to Taliban rule and eventually dislodged them. Iran also contributed to dismantling the Taliban regime and to establishing a new government in Kabul in 2001.

Ironically, the strategic interests of Tehran and Taliban have converged today, as each, independent of the other and for different reasons, oppose the presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan and demand their immediate and unconditional withdrawal.

A Taliban-dominated government is clearly not in Iran’s long-term interests, since it would generate considerable tension and conflict between Iran and Afghanistan and would inevitably lead Pakistan, and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia, becoming dominant foreign powers in Afghanistan, which Tehran vehemently opposes. At the same time, Tehran has for many years maintained that political stability in Afghanistan can be achieved only if the government reflects the rich ethnic and sectarian diversity of Afghanistan itself. Iran, more than anything else, wants to see a stable and friendly government in Kabul. Tehran now seems convinced that without Taliban participation in the government, as a partner but not as the main force, stability would be unattainable.

Tehran has attempted in vain to convince Karzai to call for the withdrawal of Western troops. Tensions between the two neighbors are likely to increase if there is a new agreement between Washington and Kabul about establishing permanent U.S. military bases in Afghanistan.

Mousavian: Iran Is Ready to Negotiate…If — Semira Nikou

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,…does not object to transparency because he already issued a fatwa in 1995 against weapons of mass destruction. But he is against discrimination, suspension [of uranium enrichment], and the deprivation of Iran’s rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

On the nuclear issue, the end state for the Iranians is full rights under the NPT, without discrimination over enrichment. Other countries enrich but do not face sanctions. The nuclear impasse will not be resolved as long as U.N. resolutions are enforced because they require Iran to indefinitely suspend enrichment and provide access to sites and scientists for an indefinite period. These conditions extend beyond the framework of NPT.

Iran views indefinite suspension as a way for the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) to buy time for a long-term ban on Iran’s enrichment program and ultimately its discontinuation.

Iran and al-Qa’ida: Can the Charges Be Substantiated? — Flynt Leverett & Hillary Mann Leverett

[The] Iranians raised, almost immediately after the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the problem of al-Qa’ida personnel trying to make their way from Afghanistan into Iran…

…Tehran documented its detention of literally hundreds of suspected al-Qa’ida operatives, repatriated as many of these detainees to their countries of origin as it could, and requested U.S. assistance in facilitating repatriations of detainees whose governments did not want to cooperate (a request the Bush Administration denied).

…Iranian officials acknowledged that a small group of al-Qa’ida figures had managed to avoid capture and enter Iranian territory, most likely through Sistan-Balochistan, in 2002. The Iranian government located and took some of these individuals into custody and said that others identified by the United States were either dead or not in Iran. At the beginning of May 2003, after Baghdad had fallen, Tehran offered to exchange the remaining al-Qa’ida figures in Iran for a small group of MEK commanders in Iraq, with the treatment of those repatriated to Iran monitored by the International Committee for the Red Cross and a commitment not to apply the death penalty to anyone prosecuted on their return. But the Bush Administration rejected any deal.

Of the six al-Qa’ida operatives sanctioned by the Treasury Department last week, only one is alleged to be physically present in Iran — and, by Treasury’s own account, he is there primarily to get al-Qa’ida prisoners out of Iranian jails. Moreover, the United States apparently has no hard evidence that the Iranian government is supportive of or even knowledgeable about the alleged al-Qa’ida network in the Islamic Republic.