How does one conduct herself each day among such partisanship, isolation, domestic and international disasters, and what seems like the daily fracturing not only of our nation, but also of our relationship with other nations? It's been a harrowing week trying to figure all of this out -- here's what I've established.
Given that any reasonable person can plainly see that our president is in fact trying to lead us to ruin, here's the good news: he's really, really bad at it.
This week showed how celebration can often go hand-in-hand with desolation. In Bangladesh, a woman was rescued from the rubble of the collapsed garment factory, having been buried alive for 17 days -- even as the death toll passed 1,000. In Cleveland, Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight were freed after years in captivity, touching off celebrations that were tempered by revelations of the horror of their prolonged abuse. With the raising of its spire, 1 World Trade Center became the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, nearly a dozen years after the devastating losses of 9/11. And though a lowered deficit is good news, any celebration should be tempered by the fact that fiscal belt-tightening has come with a high price: disastrous unemployment rates. As The New York Times put it: "Consensus about the result is clear: Immediate deficit reduction is a drag on full economic recovery." Consensus, that is, everywhere but in Washington.
Fix the Debt did a dance flash mob in Farragut Square in downtown Washington, D.C., around noon on Friday. Two participants expressed concern about the debt, but did not want to cut Social Security.
The deficit is going down. Woo-hoo! Let the celebrations begin. Oh, wait. That may not be altogether a good thing. Certainly not for Republicans. They need an out-of-control deficit to bludgeon Democrats into cutting more spending.
As more of our best and brightest are lured into the private sector, many into lucrative but socially unproductive jobs, we reduce the prestige and desirability of government service. This could have devastating effects for the future.
The debate over fiscal responsibility has been muddled by the Great Recession; inevitably, perhaps, arguments over long-term fiscal problems have been conflated with debates over short-term recovery programs. Both debates have suffered terribly as a consequence.
Why does one governmental agency have 13 different cell phone plans for which it pays varied prices that are higher than commercially available rates? The one take away is that the government clearly is not leveraging its buying power and, as a result, is wasting taxpayer dollars.
The bond-rating agency Moody's made itself famous for giving subprime mortgage backed securities triple-A ratings at the peak of the housing bubble. Well, Moody's is back. They announced plans to change the way they treat pension obligations in assessing state and local government debt.
Tax reform has evolved into one of the emptier platitudes of U.S. politics. Politicians support "tax reform" in the same way that they support "a strong national defense," "fiscal responsibility," and "pro-growth economic policies." It's a brave statement in search of a challenge. Is anyone ever against tax reform?
Bob Kuttner has been among the country's most visible advocates of stimulus. His new book, Debtors' Prison: The Politics of Austerity versus Possibility is his latest shot at the austerity gang.
Repealing laws by hollowing them out -- failing to fund their enforcement or implementation -- works because the public doesn't know it's happening. Enactment of a law attracts attention; de-funding it doesn't.
Now we've learned what it takes to get legislators to do something smart about at least a part of the sequester: make them wait for hours on the tarmac because air traffic controllers are on furlough caused by mindless budget cuts.
The controversy continues to simmer around the Reinhart-Rogoff paper. The re-examination should go a step deeper and ask why anyone ever took their argument seriously in the first place. It's not just the arithmetic on debt-to-GDP ratios that tripped up Reinhart and Rogoff.
This is the danger of revenue-neutral tax reform: having secured the achievable tax-expenditure savings and used them to fund other tax rate cuts, policymakers will have squandered the opportunity to raise the significant additional revenue needed for deficit reduction.
The sequester is going to be painful but the pain that we will suffer from the type of severe spending cuts that Republicans want will be much worse, and the long-term damage to our economy extreme.