Cuts are not about the deficit...

A second must read post from Jonathan Bernstein today. He's on a roll.

A Plea For Plain Language on Deficits:
from A plain blog about politics
"The long term budget deficit is about one thing: medical costs. It's not about 'entitlements.' Social Security isn't a long run problem of any serious consequence, nor are various small programs that count as entitlements in the budget process. Long-term projections of the federal budget are very clear. It's all about health care.

Medical costs. Medical costs are going up much faster than inflation. Therefore, Medicare and Medicaid, and any other government programs affected by medical costs, will, long term, get far more expensive than any realistic level of taxation can handle.

So when budget hawks talk about 'entitlements,' as Andrew Sullivan did today, they're using language that in my view obscures, rather than illuminates, the situation.

Now, I'd go a bit further, as others have done. I agree with those who have argued that health care isn't really, properly speaking, a federal budget problem. It's a serious problem for the American economy. Thinking of it as a budget deficit problem misses the point; shut down Medicare completely and you solve the budget deficit part of it, but you still have an important dysfunctional situation with regard to health care.

Either way, I agree with Jonathan Chait: the way to measure a politician on federal budget deficits is really just to measure whether he or she has made medical costs a priority.

Now, and here's the part in which I give me own views of these things, I'll admit that I simply don't buy the idea that budget deficits have something to do with the future (it's not as if all those under-30s who voted for Obama are going to have to pay back the deficits when they 'come due' down the line -- but they are among those who are badly hurt by a recession-level employment situation, which in my view could have been alleviated with more deficit spending over the last few years). That's a policy opinion, and others may and do disagree.

But as far as talking about budget deficits, there's really no question about it. It's health care costs. Most of the rest of what people are talking about is either stuff around the margins (important! -- government should be run properly! -- but it's not going to change the long-term deficit situation), or is about the preferred size or functions of government, not about deficits at all (well, there's the conservative position, which I interpret as pro-deficit, but that's a slightly different issue).

Getting back to my main my view, those who are upset about the long-term federal budget deficit should talk about it in terms of what it is, health care costs. Just as the phrase 'weapons of mass destruction' encourages sloppy thinking (because nuclear weapons are not really similar at all to chemical and biological weapons in lots of important ways), talking about 'entitlements' confuses the budget situation. I could see 'Medicare and Medicaid' or, perhaps, 'government health programs,' but not entitlements."

The budget proposal is a starting line...

Hopefully the finish line isn't a government shut-down.

Yes, The President's Budget Matters:
from A plain blog about politics
"I've seen a fair number of people today complaining that, given the election results last fall, the publication of this year's budget by the White House is more rhetoric and campaign positioning than it is actual policy-making. You hear the word 'kabuki' a lot.

I disagree! Obviously the president won't get what he wants from Congress. But the budget is an important statement of 'what he wants.' It's true that it's tailored for the budget wars, so it's not an indication of what Barack Obama would want in a world in which he has all the choices, but it does signal, over and over again, which programs he's going to fight for and which he's not, what the overall budget strategy he'll fight for will be, and, worth less but still not useless, on what terms and even what language he's going to use to fight for those things.

So, while he's not going to win all of those fights outright, it surely matters to recipients of Pell Grants, for example, what Obama's position is going to be this year.

Some links...the president's budget. The New York Times budget graphic (nice). Budget junkie Stan Collender has an ode to digital budgets that really applies to, well, everything in politics. Several good posts from Ezra Klein today...I'll link to this one, but read 'em all. And a short budget process primer for beginners that I did last year -- or if you want a spiffier and not that much longer version, go to CBPP.

Yes, they missed it.

I'm a huge Gladwell fan, but Sullivan does a good job here explaining the subversive usefulness of Twitter and Facebook in the face of an autocratic regime.

Rich And Gladwell, Wallflowers At History: Tunisia:
from The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan


It must have been a little galling for Malcolm Gladwell to observe the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt. In an atypically mediocre piece, Gladwell not so long ago denied the fact that Twitter or social media or cell-phones or Facebook had anything much to do with the Iranian Green Revolution. His point, such as it was, was that such things were never sufficient in and of themselves to create a revolution. They were weak connections not strong ones, and a revolution needed strong ones to endure. Well, as almost everyone but his editors noted at the time: duh.

Of course, strong connections like unions or political parties or churches or mosques and simply the courage of masses in the street are essential for revoltionary action. But this was true for decades - and yet the 1979 Revolution in Iran was indisputably galvanized by audio-tapes of Khomeini sermons smuggled in from abroad; and the 2009 Green Revolution was originally triggered by young people using Twitter and blogs and cellphone cameras to broadcast their numbers and outrage and courage. Then followed revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, where the same technologies were deployed as weapons against the authorities.

Perhaps sensing the lameness of his point, Gladwell went online again to reiterate his point with respect to Egypt last week. Perhaps the best rejoinder was the following January 29 Onion headline:

Panicked Malcolm Gladwell Realizes Latest Theory Foretells End Of His Popularity

Then came another old media dinosaur, Frank Rich. Here's what he wrote only a week ago:

The talking-head invocations of Twitter and Facebook instead take the form of implicit, simplistic Western chauvinism. How fabulous that two great American digital innovations can rescue the downtrodden, unwashed masses. That is indeed impressive if no one points out that, even in the case of the young and relatively wired populace of Egypt, only some 20 percent of those masses have Internet access.

For Rich, reference to Facebook or Twitter and social media in the recent revolutions is a function of American parochialism, chauvinism or condescension! Hey, Mr Rich, check out the false consciousness among these US-brainwashed capitalist tools here:


And let's look at the reality in Tunisia. Between one in ten and one in five Tunisians have a Facebook account - not that surprising when you consider that half the population is between 20 and 30, well educated, relatively secular and denied public forms of expression. In that revolution, the ability to upload videos of police brutality and post them on Facebook was central to why this time, the movement spread. In fact, it took off:

By January 8, Facebook says that it had several hundred thousand more users than it had ever had before in Tunisia, a country with a few more people than Michigan. Scaled up to the size to the U.S., the burst of activity was like adding 10 million users in a week. And the average time spent on the site more than doubled what it had been before.

Why on earth, according to Gladwell and Rich, would this happen if Facebook were irrelevant? The Facebook users kept one step ahead of the censors. Twitter helped keep dissidents in touch with the outside world when arrested:

Less than two weeks ago, Slim Amamou, a Tunisian blogger and activist, was using his @slim404 Twitter feed to let friends know that the police had been to his house. Later the same day, after he was arrested, the 33-year-old computer programmer managed to turn his phone on and log on to Google Latitude to broadcast his location: inside the country’s feared ministry of the interior.

Let's listen to a leader of the Tunisian revolution, Slim Amamou, now in the Tunisian government, explain how the Internet made a difference:

In 2008, there were uprisings in Redeyef, similar to what happened in Sidibouzid. But back then it seems that the internet community did not reach a critical mass. And then at that time, Facebook got censored for a week or two. I don't remember if it was related. But it was like a training for this revolution. People think that this revolution happened out of nowhere but we, on the Internet have been trying for years, together and all over the Arab world. The last campaign that mobilised people was for Khaled Said in Egypt, and we Tunisians participated. And you have to remember that Egyptians (and people all over the world) participated in the Tunisian revolution: they informed, they participated in Anonymous attacks and they even were the first to demonstrate for Sidibouzid in Cairo.

So, yes Internet was very important.

But what does he know from Tunisia, compared with Frank Rich on the Upper West Side?

(Photos: Peter MacDiarmid/Getty and Tumblr.)

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