This was made last year, but I’d never come across it before, and it’s bloody brilliant.
It’s 1517, and Luther’s got some dope shit:
The lyrics are on the 95thesesrap.com website. The whole thing was directed by a senior history major at Yale, Alexander Dominitz, and produced by a junior at Yale, Kate Maltby. More info also in an item she posted on the Iqra’i blog.
Many of the Americans among you, I suspect, will have heard of the telling incident this week in which Fox News aired a news item on the stimulus bill which repeated, word for word, the points in a press release from the Senate Republicans. Without ever mentioning that the analysis they were presenting came straight from Republican officials, of course. “It was so blatant,” Steve Benen notes, “Fox News’ on-screen graphic included the identical typo made in the original GOP document, making it obvious that the network used a party press release as a news script”.
But bias isn’t usually as jaw-droppingly stupid or outrageous. Subtle still isn’t quite the right word, but try this on: Some Critics Blame Emanuel for Obama’s Cabinet Troubles. I clicked the headline because, well, I don’t like Emanuel, so I’m in principle well-disposed to believing the diagnosis, even if it does come from Fox. (The HuPo, for example – admittedly not the most reliable source either – last week had a disturbing take on the stimulus negotiations, which alleged that Rahm had undermined Congressional Democrats and Nancy Pelosi in order to curry favour from moderate Republicans and deflect criticism of Obama.)
Alas. The Fox headline referred “some critics”. The opening sentence read, “President Obama’s latest Cabinet setback [..] has put the White House on the defensive, particularly Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, whom some critics blame for cracks in the vetting process.” So what inside sources had Fox News found dishing the dirt on Rahmbo? Who was blaming Emanuel, and what did they have to share about his role in these vetting mess-ups?
Um, well … “some critics” turns out to refer to exactly one person. And that person turns out to be “Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.” That’s it. The only person they got to blame Rahm was the spokesperson to a lowly Republican Congressman, who himself is a bit of a crackpot.
The whole story, in fact, quotes just two sources. One is, unsurprisingly, Democratic consultant Doug Schoen, the kind of Democrat Republicans love; but even he refused to play ball, saying that “it’s hard to defend or attack Emanuel without knowing how involved he’s been in the vetting process,” and that it “doesn’t strike me as fair or appropriate [..] to put it all on Rahm”. The other’s Bardella.
He gets no less than six paras, though.
If you were in any suspense about which Republicans voted for the stimulus in the Senate, by the way, now that the previous Senate and House versions have been unified into a final bill, here’s a hint: they were the same ones as last time.
Four days ago, the Senate voted on its own version of the stimulus bil. All of three Republicans voted in favour: Olympia Snowe (ME), Susan Collins (ME) and Arlen Specter (PA). Judd Gregg (R-NH) abstained, and all other Republicans voted Nay, while all the Democrats voted Yea.
Then the bill went into the conference committee, where Senate and House bigwigs hammered out a compromise between the different versions of the bill the two chambers had passed. Yesterday the House passed the new version almost entirely along partisan lines, with not one Republican voting in favour and just seven Democrats voting against (see this post for the details). Which left it to the Senate to confirm the result and pass the new, unified bill as well.
They did so, and the vote was practically identical to last time. The only differences were that Ted Kennedy, battling brain cancer, wasn’t able to come now, and Gregg this time did not abstain but voted against. The result: 60 Yeas and 38 Nays, compared to 61-37 last time.
|00064||13-Feb||On the Conference Report||Agreed to||Conference Report; American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009|
You may have seen Karl Rove opine in the WSJ that “support for the stimulus bill is falling”, and that “the more Americans learn about the bill, the less they like it.” He is certainly not the only conservative asserting that the bill is impopular.
I’m not in the super-enthusiastic category myself, if obviously for very different reasons than conservatives have for disliking it. Overall I think the bill doesn’t look bad, though my initial enthusiasm has been damped somewhat after reading, for example, Paul Krugman’s very persuasive commentary. It’s probably not enough, and maddeningly worse than it could have been; but it’s still a whole lot better than nothing, and it does have lots of good stuff in it. So far my layman’s take, which is not exactly the most interesting one.
But what does the American population think? Is Karl Rove right? Unsurprisingly, not quite. An overview of the polls that were conducted in the past two and a half weeks, and explicitly asked respondents to express an opinion for or against the bill.
There are two pollsters that have done more than one poll within this timeframe: Gallup and Rasmussen.
Gallup asked: ”As you may know, Congress is considering a new economic stimulus package of at least 800 billion dollars. Do you favor or oppose Congress passing this legislation?” All three times it polled the question, it found a majority in favor, and in the last iteration, on the 10th, that majority had grown from 52% to 59%.
Rasmussen asked: ”Do you favor or oppose the economic recovery package proposed by Barack Obama and the Congressional Democrats?” It found strikingly different results.
According to Rasmussen, in late January a narrow plurality of 42% was in favour; a week later the roles were reversed, with a plurality of 43% in opposition; and by the 11th a plurality of 44% was in favour again.
Three other pollsters asked a variation of the same question at some point in these last two and a half weeks.
A CBS poll queried respondents: ”Would you approve or disapprove of the federal government passing an economic stimulus bill costing more than 800 billion dollars in order to try to help the economy?” They approved by 51% to 39%.
A Pew poll asked respondents: ”From what you’ve read and heard, do you think [the economic stimulus plan being proposed by President Obama that may cost about $800 billion] is a good idea or a bad idea?”. It found a narrow majority of 51% saying it was a good idea; 34% thought it was a bad idea. Continue Reading »
Continue Reading »
There was an interesting juxtaposition of successive posts on The American Scene on Wednesday*. In one post, Alan Jacobs links to a fascinating story on Wired, which lays out how leaf cutter ants avoid the very problems that plague urbanised human society with traffic congestion by instinct. Basically, they never get stuck in traffic, because they behave, well, rationally:
Of the returning ants, some were empty-mandibled — but rather than passing their leaf-carrying, slow-moving brethren, they gathered in clusters and moved behind them. This seemingly counterintuitive strategy — when stuck behind a slow-moving truck, are you content to slow down? — actually saved them time…
The trick here, of course, is that ants do not experience egoism:
“One dominating factor in human traffic is egoism,” said University of Zoln traffic flow theorist Andreas Schadschneider. “Drivers optimize their own travel time, without taking much care about others. This leads to phantom traffic jams which occur without any obvious reason. Ants, on the other hand, are not egoistic.”
The question, therefore, as Jacobs points out, is whether there is “any .. way to prompt people to learn these lessons? Or is unthinking, reflexive egotism invincible? It seems to me that the prime problem here is that the leafcutter approach only works if pretty much everyone applies it. I’m not sure that partial compliance would have much effect.”
Right. Enter the post directly below on the Scene, by James Poulos. He quotes the report you may have seen a while ago about the behaviour of the Titanic’s passengers:
[..] British passengers, who queued for a place in one of only 20 lifeboats provided for the 2,223 on board, had 10 percent lower chance of survival than any other nationality.
In contrast, Americans, who reportedly elbowed their way to the front of lines, had a 12 percent higher probability of survival than British subjects.
“Be British, boys, be British!” the captain, Edward John Smith, shouted out, according to witnesses.
“Being British” meant to forget mass panic behavior — everyone looking after themselves — and rather follow the social norm of “women and children first.”
Well, there you go then. The Brits suffered from their own selflessness because they were not among themselves, and their efforts to put community ahead of ego were crushed by those darned selfish Americans. But in a more or less mono-cultural (or -national) setting, then, the Brits were apparently able to apply a leaf cutter ant ethos to their community interaction – by invoking nationalism. Problem solved!
Ugandans have been over fishing Lake Victoria for years, notes Nathan Fiala. As the quantity of fish is depleted ever further, fishermen illegally capture younger and younger fish.
Consequence: there’s ever less to eat for carnivorous animals in and around the lake too. And so they become desperate.
Hence, local crocodiles have started to eat some five people a month. Such as the village mayor (not pictured below) who was fishing with an illegal net in January, and tried to escape arrest by a passing fishing patrol by swimming away…
There you go: the fishermen deplete the fish quantities, meaning less feed for local wildlife, and so the wildife has started to eat the fishermen. Not to make light of the issues of poverty involved, but there’s a certain justice and symmetry about it.
So the vote is in; the US Representatives in the House have voted on the new, unified, post-conference version of the stimulus bill.
The outcome is predictably, depressingly similar to when the House voted on its own draft of the bill two weeks ago. No minds were changed here, no hearts were won. Well, one or two.
|70||13-Feb||H R 1||On Agreeing to the Conference Report||Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year ending 2009|
The vote: 246 in favour; 183 against. Compare: the previous time it was 244 in favour and 188 against.
Just like last time, not a single Republican voted in favour. On their side, the only differences were that:
On the Democratic side of the aisle, 246 Representatives voted in favour; 7 against; 1 “present”; and 1 did not vote. Last time round, 244 voted in favour and 11 against.
These are the Democrats who voted against the stimulus both times:
“Last year,” Leopolis notes, “if one said that Kazakhstan was the “Iceland of Central Asia” it would have been a compliment.”
Now, not so much. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported, Kazakhstan’s central bank devalued the national currency, the tenge, by 18%. Propping up the currency at the old rate proved unsustainable after the country spent $1.6 billion, or 6% of its foreign-currency and gold reserves, in January alone to do so. Economic growth is down from a healthy 10% to 1%. Profit for Kazakhstan’s 37 banks plunged 93%. The four biggest banks were seized by the government as part of an emergency program costing the equivalent to 20% of GDP. (In comparison, the $800 billion the US federal government reserved for TARP last year amounted to less than 6% of America’s GDP.) The government is now trying to hawk off the largest bank to the Russian Sberbank.
Experts are expecting future currency devaluations, even if central bank chairman Grigory Marchenko emphatically rejects the prospect. As one said: “As long as oil prices remain subdued, there is nothing telling you to buy the tenge and there will be pressure there.” The one-sided character of the Kazakh economy makes it very vulnerable, Stratfor noted: the country depends on oil for 70% of its export revenue and 76% of all FDI. With the oil price down and the government spending $21 billion – or another 18% of its GDP – on a stimulus plan this year, the oil-funded National Fund which the country had built as buffer for bad times will all but run out this year.
As Nouriel Roubini commented to Bloomberg:
Kazakhstan looks like a small version of Iceland with its banks borrowing from abroad [..] A currency crisis becomes a banking crisis, it becomes a housing crisis, a sovereign-debt crisis, it becomes a corporate crisis because each one of these agents in these economies has a large amount of foreign liabilities.
Kazakhstan has one of the highest rates of privately-held foreign debt, Stratfor explains; one which equaled 100% of the country’s GDP in 2007 (compared to 35% for Russia).
And still, how unique is this? The Russian currency is down 35% and the Ukrainian one down 47%, Bloomberg notes. The size of the Kazakh bailout-cum-stimulus seems exceptional, it’s true, with the sum total equalling 38% of the country’s GDP. In comparison, Russia is spending $240 billion, or close to 20% of its GDP, on bank bailouts and stimulus, while the combined bill for TARP I and the new stimulus bill Congress will vote on now will be about 10% of America’s GDP (though TARP II will come on top of that).
Still, at least Kazakhstan is still recording some economic growth, however anemic. The Czech economy entered in a recession in the last quarter of 2008 and will probably see a 2% contraction in 2009, while Hungary, which also entered a recession and is registering the worst data since 1996, may face a 4-5% drop in GDP this year. Which pales, in turn, in comparison with the numbers from the Baltic states, where Estonia’s economy contracted 9% in the fourth quarter from the same period a year earlier, and Latvia’s GDP plummeted 11%. Latvia, in particular, is looking economic collapse in the eye as its GDP may shrink by as much as 20%.
The Baltic states, like Kazakhstan but unlike Hungary, at least enjoyed a number of years of high economic growth until now, with annual growth reaching up into double digits. That doesn’t mean that people have been able to built a protective buffer for the crisis setting on now, though. The economic growth characteristically benefited the upper middle class, and especially the top layer, disproportionally. The collapse now, conversely, is likely to hurt the poor and elderly hardest.
So basically, we’re fucked. Luckily far-right Russian demagogue and all-round buffoon Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who is also deputy chairman of the Russian parliament, had some advice on surviving the crisis. “I have been thrifty,” he boasted last year: “I am not having my hair cut. My hair has already grown longer than ever. I only shave every other day. [..] There is no need to buy new clothes. They can be swapped with others. I am prepared to give a couple of suits to someone, several pairs of shoes, a wristwatch.”
Personal hygiene products are just “all [..] chemical and hazardous” anyway, so you can leave those as well. (Though this, admittedly, wouldn’t present much in the way of savings for the Kazakhs, as anyone who’s seen Borat will know.) Finally, when it comes to the holidays, well: “no need to travel abroad or to go to a restaurant. Stay [..] at home or invite yourself over to someone else’s place”.
So there you are. When you fall on hard times this year, go to Vlad for clothes. Just make sure to stock up on vodka and cabbage rather than soap and shampoo in case he shows up in turn for Easter. He won’t mind the smell.
I suggested last night, in a quick first take, that the stimulus bill that came out of the conference committee of Senate and House bigwigs doesn’t look bad. But a quick round-up of the liberal blogs in our blogroll shows mixed reactions, in as far as people have gotten round to responding yet.
Steve Benen at the Washington Monthly quotes the Post saying that the final version of the bill, after “tumultuous negotiations,” looks a whole lot like “the broad outline that Obama had painted more than a month ago.” He comments: “It’s a good point. [T]he administration, a month ago, envisioned a $775 billion plan, with $300 billion in tax cuts. The finished product looks pretty similar.”
He concludes that while “the package should be more aggressive and more ambitious,” it’s still, as a TPM reader put it, an “astonishing … legislative achievement, coming so early in the term.”
Chris Bowers, generally one of the most critical voices, is pithy: “The deal isn’t perfect, but it is still probably the best piece of legislation to pass Congress in, oh, 15 or 16 years.” You should just make sure that it’s just “a starting point from which our legislative and political prospects only improve.”
Neil Sinhababu at Donkeylicious happily says “Good work, House leadership”, remarking that “Isakson’s idiotic $15K tax break per house for home-flippers is gone, and a bunch of the aid to states is back.” Moreover, Stephen Suh at Cogitamus, whose opinion I was particularly interested in because he’s been very vigilant in his criticism of Democratic sell-outs, is satisfied, calling it “a much better bill than anyone thought could come out of the reconciliation process”.
Not everyone is as equinimous, though. Noam Scheiber is outright disappointed: the “only real improvement” on the Senate bill ” is the rollback of the wasteful car and home-buying tax credit”. Otherwise the package is “insufficient”:
Okay, I was wrong–I’ll be the first to admit it. The conference committee didn’t end up moving nearly as far toward the House version of the stimulus bill as I thought it would. The compromise, from what we know of it, looks much more like the substantively inferior Senate version: the cuts to state aid and school construction and COBRA subsidies more or less stand. So does the $70 billion Alternative Minimum Tax relief measure, which may be a perfectly fine idea, but isn’t stimulus under any reasonable definition of the term. This is disappointing, to say the least.
He also quotes Sen. Tom Harkin, who was downright dismissive to the New York Times:
“I am not happy with it [..] You are not looking at a happy camper. I mean they took a lot of stuff out of education. They took it out of health, school construction and they put it more into tax issues.”
Mr. Harkin said he was particularly frustrated by the money being spent on fixing the alternative minimum tax. “It’s about 9 percent of the whole bill,” he said, “Why is it in there? It has nothing to do with stimulus. It has nothing to do with recovery.”
Nothing from Ezra Klein or Kevin Drum yet, the two bloggers I quote way too often here, just because somehow it often feels like they’re my long-lost, smarter, more brilliant, skilful and ambitious twin brothers or something. Normally they write what I wish I would have written, so if they turn out to be scathing about the end result, I’ll be second-guessing myself. We’ll see.
To help you make up your own mind, AP has the new, unified bill’s highlights. The Library of Congress has all the prior info on the bill, but does not seem to have info on the conference committee compromise yet. Since Congressional votes are expected within days, I’m sure the final, full text will be available soon.
Matt Yglesias is ambivalently positive: “Still, the Senate bill was a lot better than nothing and the conference report is better than the Senate bill, largely thanks to Nancy Pelosi who continues to be the most underrated progressive leader in America [..]. Still, despite Pelosi’s best efforts a lot of good stimulative ideas were left out of this package and a lot of the topline dollar figure has been dedicated to an AMT patch that’s useless as stimulus. The administration and the House Democrats still know what these good ideas are, [..] and I think it’s important that they find ways to work some of those ideas into the regular budget process.”
Ezra Klein has “mixed feelings”:
The passage of the legislation is heartening, but the specifics of the compromise are depressing. So too was the demonstrated power of the centrists and the effortless unity of Republican opposition. The process did not bode well for more controversial priorities like health care and cap-and-trade.
Perhaps most galling was the shell game of the AMT patch. $70 billion for an upper class tax break. [..] And this one provision comprised almost a tenth of the bill. [..]
It was a mixed bill that was constructed in a disappointing way. The left bought into the theory of stimulus spending, which included speed, and many hoped that the spending side would be built to accomplish an array of long-term priorities in areas like transit. That proved, if not wrong, then not right, either. The final bill included a lot of spending — most of it genuine stimulus — but much of it was very different from the sort of spending that the left wanted. If you think of the stimulus bill as having had two questions — how much spending, and what sort — I’d say that liberals should feel good about the first and ambivalent about the second.
A P.S. on the silliness of the strutting centrists: Ezra picked up on this:
Senator Collins said getting the final number to under $800 billion was more than symbolic; it meant “a fiscally responsible number,” she said.
Because $820 billion or $838 billion is pork-laden waste, but $789 billion is “fiscally responsible”. Because, you know, it’s a vanity percentage less than the original proposal – so, by definition that’s mission accomplished right there. It’s almost as if she set out to illustrate Ross Douthat’s point (“if the GOP wants, say, $500 billion in tax cuts, the country clearly needs $400 billion in tax cuts – but not a penny more! And if the Democrats want $900 billion in stimulus, then the best possible policy outcome must be … $800 billion in stimulus!”).
As Ezra writes, “I am just continually amazed that the press uncritically accepts nonsense like this from our politicians”. Because symbolism is exactly all the shtick of these people is about. The number needed to be just under $800 billion, no matter what worthy and effective random items had to be scrapped for it, so Collins c.s. could go home and claim their status as official moderate guardians of prudency. Never mind that they never seemed to use any internally coherent set of criteria to arrive at their conclusion of what would be acceptable. As commenter Jeebus snarked on Ezra’s post: “They should have made it $799,999,999,999.99.”
Never mind though, because this, from another commenter, seems about right, if I’m not being too enthusiastic off the cuff on the basis of a couple of news reports: “Sen. Collins was pwnd. She required some big changes in the first Senate bill, and mentioned that she wanted the cost to be about 800 billion instead of 900B. So the conferees cut the plan to less than 800B and took out most of her bad changes, leaving her no alternative but to back the bill as ‘responsible’.”
So the Conference Committee of Senate and House honchos has reached a deal: U.S. Lawmakers Agree on $789 Billion Stimulus Plan (Update4). The $789 billion price tag means that the bill is indeed smaller than either the House or Senate bill – but at first blush the outcome doesn’t look bad (at least not to my distinctly layman ears).
It’s a little distasteful to see the centrists strut themselves on the bill in the most sanctimonious way:
“It is a jobs bill,” said Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska, an architect of the compromise. “And today you might call us the jobs squad.” Nelson and several other senators had insisted that the stimulus plan total less than $800 billion.
Think about this for a second – he prides himself on having cut stuff from the plan – stuff, obviously, that would have created jobs - and even as he touts this dubious achievement, he frames it as having created ”a jobs bill,” actually praising himself as part of “the jobs squad”. Never mind that, if it hadn’t been for the vanity tour of his crew, it would have been more of a jobs bill. The chutzpah these people demonstrate, as Matt Yglesias already laid bare earlier, is truly a piece of work.
But all of that is transient. What’s important is the actual bill. And there seems to be a fair bit of good news about this latest revision, going on the Bloomberg update now. At least if you judge the bill by the criteria of liberal criticism this past month – which I am admittedly reduced to somewhat since I have little economic schooling of my own. (So do chime in!)
All in all, about 35% of the plan has ended up as tax cuts and the remainder as government spending. Just to take a step back from the fray: considering just how much tax cuts have been regarded as the holy grail by every administration since Reagan’s, and extra government spending has been widely framed as almost a bad thing in principle, that’s not bad.
The tax cuts seem overall revised in the right direction. For example, the biggest tax cut that had been included for businesses, which would have let companies convert losses into tax refunds, has been “all but eliminated”. This was a measure that had been criticized as yielding little immediate stimulus and doing little to help the people most in need - Dean Baker of the Center for Economic Progress called it ”simply a give-away to the financial industry and homebuilders,” which “has nothing to do with stimulus” and wouldn’t “even be considered if it were not for the political power of the financial industry.”
A proposed $15,000 tax credit for homebuyers was reduced to $8,000. Funding for the plan to let car buyers take a tax write-off on their interest payments has been slashed from $11 billion to $2 billion. These, too, were ideas I’ve seen criticized by liberal pundits. The auto measure would have had little immediate stimulus effect, because it would have primarily resulted in the auto industry emptying the current vast stocks of unsold cars and using the profit to plug debts – all things that would be good, but wouldn’t create new jobs. The tax credit for homebuyers, at this point in the housing market, would be like carrying water to the sea.
On the other hand, Obama’s proposed payroll tax credit has mostly survived, reduced from $500 for individuals and $1,000 for families to will be $400 and $800 respectively.
Can’t have it all though – the plan still includes an Alternative Minimum Tax patch, which, if I’m reading his chart right, ranks very poorly in terms of stimulus impact according to James Galbraith.
As for the actual spending, there’s these tidbits:
All sounds like good stuff that will immediately aid those hardest hit by the crisis, as well as nicely reverse the trend of the last decade or two to squeeze the benefits for the poorest ever further.