Wednesday, October 02, 2013

A Grain of Salt to Go with a Post from a Blogger I Admire

Ratio of government spending to potential GDP, via K-Thug
John Robb's a good guy. USAF Special Forces pilot, war expert, organic gardener... Writes a great blog on asymmetrical warfare called Global Guerrillas. Also writes a terrific blog on how to make yourself more resilient, Resilient Communities. I love that blog because, for environmental reasons, being resilient is a great idea. Also saves you money.

But his big reason for being resilient is that he thinks the nation state is hollowing and out, and he apparently doesn't believe that democracy can work out the huge problems we face. While I sometimes think he might be right, simply because Republicans seem determined to ruin everything if they can't get their way, I really wish he'd get his facts straight. Repeating right wing BS talking points to convince his readers that the government is going to fail might convince some of his right wing readers to plant a garden or install some solar panels, worthwhile goals indeed, but the lack of substance to his claims tends to just make him sound like another crackpot prepper (complete with the BS on the LifeLine, or Obamaphone, program!).

And since he's apparently decided not to post my comments correcting his mistakes, and I really believe he deserves this free service, I'll do it here...

"a government shutdown is nothing new. This is the 18th shutdown in the last 37 years."

Not really. As K-Drum points out today in his series of reminders you should read on this subject:
Prior to 1980, everything kept on running pretty normally during budget impasses. True shutdowns didn't happen until after a series of Justice Department rulings at the tail end of the Carter administration. Since then, there have been a handful of shutdowns prompted by garden variety disagreements over funding levels for defense and domestic programs, but they've been so brief as to be barely noticeable. The only exception was the long shutdown of 1995, prompted by Newt Gingrich's demands. 
So when you hear someone saying that there have been loads of government shutdowns in the past and this one is really nothing new, it just isn't true. In practice, there's only been one serious shutdown in recent history, and like this one, it was the product of Republican ultimatums.
"100% at the mercy of the 535 folks sitting in Washington posturing their next political move."

Jack Sheldon was the Bill who became a Law.
Actually, we're at the mercy of about 30 - 60 Tea Party Republicans in the House of Representatives who apparently never saw the Jack Sheldon School House Rock where he explains how a bill becomes law. You know, Democracy! What you flew jets to protect! That you blame both sides without understanding the dynamic that is causing this doesn't really help your case.

"This time, it’s not because of your safety, but just so the egos in Washington can watch out for your best interest."

What does this even mean? The egos in Washington that are causing this are a handful of Republicans that the Speaker of the House is too chicken to stand up to. All the Democrats in the House of Representatives would/will vote for a clean CR to keep the government going. And how was the last shutdown about safety? I thought it was about Newt Gingrich throwing a temper tantrum...

"The federal government stands for FAILURE."

Tell that to the millions of seniors and disabled people who aren't starving or freezing to death thanks to Social Security, SNAP, etc. It's still a shining city on a hill to those folks...

"Aside from its spending of over 9% of the total economy, the federal government is also deep in bed in key sectors, including; agriculture via Farm Bills, food and drugs via FDA and Food Stamps, banking and finance via the 6 agencies for oversight, rental real estate via Section 8 housing, cell phones via the LifeLine program and almost a dozen major undeclared wars since World War II."

Do you have a source for your numbers? Federal spending as a percent of GDP isn't really that far outside recent historic norms, considering the fact that we just had the biggest recession since the great depression (aka, The Little Bush Depression), and spending is designed to go up during bad times. In fact, federal spending as a percent of potential GDP is actually dropping now.

Feeding America
But I'm more interested in the details. While I agree that subsidies to highly profitable corporations are not helpful and a form of market rigging by the elites who like to redistribute wealth and income upward, you are lumping a lot of things together here that are actually quite different, and some of which are quite necessary if we'd like to live in a civil society where grandma doesn't have to eat cat food and keep her house 40 degrees in the winter. Cause, you know, Grandma can't exactly build an attached greenhouse or some solar panels. For instance, "76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person." It's a very efficient program with very little waste that does a lot of good.

The FDA may be in the pockets of big pharma, (the bigger problem with drugs is that overly extended patents on drugs rip us off for about $300 billion a year), but when run by Democrats, they tend to take public safety a little more seriously than when run by Republicans who are just tools for the elites. Same with banking oversight. Republicans put foxes in charge of hen houses, and let Wall Street run wild enough to create the Little Bush Depression, while your Sr. Senator for Massachusetts is out there fighting everyday to make them more accountable. Doesn't seem fair to lump her in with the market riggers who caused the meltdown.

The "Obamaphone" program you mentioned is a favorite of wingnuts, which makes me wonder exactly where you're getting your information... The FCC recently enacted measures to save $2 billion over three years. In 2011, the program cost $1.6 billion (CEPR's handy budget calculator tells me this was 0.0452% of total spending in 2011--the horror!). And just today we found out that the strapping young bucks ripping off this government program include the wireless service providers. Odd that we don't blame these businesses for our future collapse as much as we do the "government."

And while you're well aware that I'm all for resilience, especially for environmental reasons, this kind of disingenuousness isn't helping:

"It would be easy to name billions, or trillions, of dollars of fraud and waste that goes into each and every one of these agencies and programs. Including the trillions of dollars of promises made into the future that they can’t mathematically keep (it may even be hard for them to print money fast enough to meet the demand)."

Actually, the amount of fraud and waste in our social insurance and welfare programs is surprisingly low. Social Security, Medicare, SNAP, AFDC, Section 8, all run very efficiently, and have very low rates of fraud. The idea that they are riddled with fraud is generally perpetuated by bullshitting conservatives and libertarians who care more about making a certain impression than they do about facts.

Further, our "unfunded" mandates are also overblown by the right wing blowhards. Social Security is fine for decades, at which point the relatively small shortfall could easily be made up for by lifting the cap on earnings subject to the tax, lowering payments, or increasing the tax slightly.

Via the Washington Post
The rapid rise of health care costs have slowed down, at least partially because of Obamacare. Maybe this is why the market rigging GOP is trying to stop it? Because it will fight the rapid cost increases in health care sector that are THE single issue driving our long term debt, but which also put money in the pockets of their contributors? We pay twice as much per person for health care that the rest of the civilized world. If we paid even close to what they pay, we'd have surpluses as far as we could see, even at current low historical tax revenues and high defense spending.

So, yeah. I love your work, man, but when you venture off into this stuff, it's like you're just regurgitating the BS scare tactics from Fox News. Read some Dean Baker and find out the actual facts about these things. You'll be doing your readers an even bigger favor if you use facts to make your case, instead of the right-wing detritus you're scooping up off the side of the road.

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