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The Morning Grumpy – 10/16/12

Filed under: Morning Grumpy

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. I like libraries, parks, and cultural institutions. I also like well-paved roads, snow removal, rodent control, competent sheriffs, functional social services, clean water, and fully staffed and secure prisons. I like that the people who provide these services are paid a decent wage (or more) and I’m also quite aware that all of these things cost money.

In the past year we’ve seen a sharp decline in county tax revenue to pay for these things as well as a sharp increase in state-mandated costs to deliver services. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz’s 2013 budget reflects our wants and these realities. He was elected on a platform of preserving our community and cultural assets and he kept that promise. Unfortunately, we’ll see a small tax increase to pay for them, which will result in plenty of screaming from anti-tax troglodytes who will make a circus of the budget hearings in the Legislature this year. Yes, we’ll soon all be assaulted with frenetic nightly updates from the redcoats as they ask Ed Rath to furrow his brow and give us reasons to hate the poor.

Let’s get down to brass tacks, most of us pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $500-900 in county property taxes each year for all of the aforementioned services and more. As a percentage of what we pay per year, it’s not that much money. I know that our total tax bills are high, but that’s a function of our local municipal and school taxes, not our county taxes. And whenever we are offered an opportunity to do something about those local taxes, we near unanimously vote in favor of increasing them.

So, can everyone just pre-emptively chill the fuck out? Your County Executive has just put forward a simple choice, do you want all the stuff that makes this county a nice place to live? If so, pay $20-50 more per year and enjoy it. If you don’t want all that stuff, try and vote him out next time so we can all be forced to live in the spartan nirvana of your dreams. However, I beg of you, let’s just not act like morons this year, mmkay? Put down the Ayn Rand book, read through the budget, form an educated opinion, and enter into rational discussion and debate with your legislator. 

2. If you haven’t read the best piece of longform journalism in America this year, here’s your chance. “The Hunt for Geronimo” by Mark Bowden in this month’s Vanity Fair.

The president listened, but he had already pretty much made up his mind. “One of the things you learn as president is you’re always dealing with probabilities,” he told me. “No issue comes to my desk that is perfectly solvable. No issue comes to my desk where there’s 100 percent confidence that this is the right thing to do. Because if people were absolutely certain then it would have been decided by someone else. And that’s true in dealing with the economic crisis. That’s true in order to take a shot at a pirate. That’s true about most of the decisions I make during the course of the day. So I’m accustomed to people offering me probabilities. In this situation, what you started getting was probabilities that disguised uncertainty as opposed to actually providing you with more useful information.” The president had no trouble facing reality. If he acted on this, he was going to be taking a gamble.

The conversation about percentages wore on, and the president finally cut in. “This is 50–50,” he said. That silenced everyone. “This is a flip of the coin. You guys, I can’t base this decision on the notion that we have any greater certainty than that.” What he wanted to know was: if he decided to act, what were his options?

It presents a picture of a President focused on the mission, pateintly evaluating his options and ultimately driving members of his national security team to get Bin Laden. Riveting.

3. President Obama, deficit hawk?

I put together this new chart reflecting the deficit over the course of the last four years. It starts with the figures released in 2009, when the deficit reached a record high of $1.4 trillion. Why is the column in red? Because, thanks to fiscal years, Obama inherited a deficit of nearly $1.3 trillion from Bush/Cheney the moment he took the oath of office.

This year, however, according to the official data published by the Treasury Department, the deficit was $1.089 trillion.

When the president’s critics spin this, they’ll say, “The deficit was over $1 trillion again,” and that will be accurate. What the criticism fails to note, however, is that (a) the deficit is now much smaller than it was when Obama took office; (b) this is the smallest deficit we’ve seen in four years; (c) this new figure represents an improvement of over $200 billion since last year; and (d) the main drivers of the remaining deficit are Republican policies.

Interesting. Over the last four decades, only two presidents have reduced the deficit this much, this quickly, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Mitt Romney is the favorite of deficit hawks, but oddly, he doesn’t have much of a plan to cut the deficit.

Obama, whether the public realizes it or not, has a record he can brag about when it comes to deficit reduction — very few president in American history can boast about having inherited a massive deficit, then cutting it by nearly a fourth in just one term.

But perhaps most important is the detail that’s gone largely forgotten: Romney doesn’t have a deficit-reduction plan. It simply doesn’t exist. If you go to the Romney/Ryan “issues” page, you’ll see 29 links. One mentions “spending,” but there are no references to “deficit” or “debt.”

If one looks hard enough, there is a “Romney Plan For Deficit Reduction” on the campaign’s website, but the entirety of the plan is literally just 208 words long. (For contrast, note that President Obama published a plan of his own over a year ago. It’s 80 pages.)

Can Obama drive this point home in the debate tonight?

4. If President Obama can give us something similar to this in tonight’s debate, this election is over.

5. Blame Canada.

Sometime this past summer, the average net worth of Canadians surpassed that of Americans. Adding insult to injury, Canadians have universal health care and a lower unemployment rate too.

But you know what really makes it sting? They barely even worked for it. The average employed Canadian works 85 hours fewer each year than the average American — more than two full workweeks. And that may be the lesson that Canada has for the United States: Working 24/7 isn’t the road to prosperity, much less happiness, and there are numbers to prove it. In fact, across rich countries, it turns out there’s no close link between the average hours people put in at the office and how much they make. So go ahead: Take that vacation.

We’re doing it wrong.

Fact Of The Day: The price of gas in Norway is just over $10 per gallon.

Quote Of The Day: “We have now sunk to a depth at which re-statement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” – George Orwell

Video Of The Day: “The Power of Networks”

Song Of The Day: “Shine A Light” – Rolling Stones

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Like The Morning Grumpy on Facebook

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com


  • BlackRockLifer

    On #3, the right has done an excellent job of falsely defining President Obama as a big spender, a socialist, or as un-American. The facts and his record don’t seem to matter to his opponents or to the great number of low information voters that buy this crap. When I talk to people about President Obama their reasons for disliking him are almost always due to false accusations and outright lies that the right has fabricated. Rarely do I hear an informed counter opinion based on facts or a reasonable argument based on policy or philosophical differences.

    • Well, he is a big spender. And in fact, one progressive criticism of him is that he didn’t spend enough, and the stimulus package should have been a lot bigger. Chris cherry picks his chart, because if you take a wider view, it looks like the red bar chart on on this NPR story: http://www.npr.org/2011/08/02/138900281/after-15-years-gop-revives-balanced-budget-idea

      I don’t like Obama because he’s duplicitous, the budget being a perfect example – you can’t wish you had spent more and crow about reducing spending. Or step up military action in Libya, Afghanistan, etc and brag about reducing it. Pick one. The human interest story on Candidate Obama was that he was the anti-Bush – he seriously considered all sides of a policy or point. Turns out he also chooses all sides of a policy or point, which is how we got awful healthcare legislation.

      PS I dislike Romney more.

      • peteherr

        Nice to have you back in the blogosphere more often. I enjoy your commentary.

      • BlackRockLifer

        Other than the stimulus (that most economists agree  was necessary) I don’t see where President Obama is a big spender. The largest driver of our debt has and continues to be the Bush tax cuts and two unfunded wars.  The economic downturn is responsible for most of the other spending, not any initiatives of the Obama administration.

        Obama has tried too hard to walk the middle ground, he seems to be too cautious and willing to compromise. I think this is due to the unprecedented attacks on his presidency and the virulent nature of the criticism. No other president in my memory has been so disrespected and disparged by not just the fringe but by the political establishment.

        I think the health care legislation is too weak, just a foot in the door for future improvement. Single payer is the only route to reduce costs and improve outcomes, we can’t afford a for profit system that skims off so many scarce dollars.

        Finally, your comments are refreshing in that you offer a credible and polite argument,  something that seems to be lacking in much of our political discourse today.

      • I was always the reasonable one…

        Well, the stimulus was almost a trillion bucks, 90% of the deficit. So you don’t need anything other than the stimulus to make the hole. If Pres Obama doesn’t like the tax cuts or not funding two wars, he had 4 years to raise taxes and fund wars. The economic downturn may not have been his “fault,” but then he should be selling us on fixing it, not praising himself for both increasingly and cutting spending.

        I am always wary of the term “unprecedented.” I don’t think small-minded racists being small-minded and racist is unprecendented. Presidential campaigns in the mid-19th century used worse tactics than now. Obama set himself a high standard, and he hasn’t achieved it – do you praise him for the former or vote against him because of the latter? I think he’s bad at governing (GWB was good at governing, bad at war making), but I think the other option is worse.

      • Elise Garvey

        Brian, I’m not sure the graph that you cite here to counter the one in the post is actually different. You see the same the pattern until 2011, but 2011 is only an estimated figure at the time of the NPR article. Not really arguing the rest of your comment, but I don’t think you actually counter Chris’s point here on President Obama reducing the deficit even when taking a broader view.

      • No, you’re right. Obama is “reducing” the deficit, from all time historical huge proportions to simply historic proportions. His current “reduced” deficit is a good for 5 or 6 average Bush years, that’s my point. It’s going down, but still way out of control.