Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Robert Samuelson On Truth Serum

Oh boy.... Robert Samuelson imagines a world where we put politicians on "truth serum" and suddenly everything the have to say coincides 100% with (you probably guessed it) Samuelson's personal political agenda. Let's supplement some of these remarks, such that they're actually truthful.
"What we can do is preserve an economic climate that favors long-term growth. That means holding down the tax burden to maintain incentives for work and investments. We're already running a $400 billion or so deficit; some broad-based tax increases may be needed. This will disappoint conservatives, who think no one should pay taxes, and liberals, who think only the rich should pay them. But we must also cut spending, because, unless we do, the future tax increases will be crushing.
"Taxes may need to be raised, but only broad-based taxes. Should we need to raise taxes, we need not concern ourselves with progressive taxation or the impact of higher taxes on working families. We should caricature both conservatives (in a somewhat flattering way) and liberals (in a somewhat nonsensical way).

"To cut to the chase - while taxes may need to be raised that's something to be avoided. What we must do is cut spending. And by cutting spending, of course, I mean programs that help the poor and (primarily) the middle class. I have no interest in examining other major expenses, such as the cost of the Iraq War, so don't even go there.
"Of necessity, spending cuts should focus on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. These programs are projected to grow from about 45 percent of the present budget to 70 percent over a couple of decades. Paying for that exclusively with taxes would be devastating for the economy and our children. Paying exclusively by cutting other programs would gut vital government services. I admit that raising eligibility ages for baby boomers and cutting some benefits are unfair. People should have received more warning. But our politicians have so dawdled that there's no warning time left.
"Yes, I'm one of those politicians who happily advances the right-wing canard that because we "spent" the money we borrowed from Social Security, even though Social Security owns treasury notes that if repaid would carry it for decades, those taxes you paid to support your retirement are gone and now we need to cut your benefits. We won't pause to reflect on what this means for the oft-heard line, 'the poor and lower middle class don't pay income taxes,' as if we divert your Social Security taxes into the general fund what are they other than just another income tax.

"And no, don't ask me the financial specifics of the Social Security crisis, because the facts hurt my argument. I want you scared that if you don't give up some benefits now, even though we can afford them, the entire system will soon collapse. The truth about Social Security? Not so scary. We have some work to do, sure, but it's dishonest of me to suggest that the sky is falling.

"Now Medicare and Medicaid are a different story, and we do need to find a way to reign in costs. I'm going to start by ignoring how implementation of universal health care could affect this financial picture, because I'm busy pretending that nobody is addressing these issues. While universality of health insurance doesn't directly address the problems of Medicare and Medicaid, it could keep people off the Medicaid rolls who currently intentionally reduce their earnings and assets in order to qualify for benefits.

"My opponent sees a future where the working poor can hold jobs despite having chronic, costly illnesses and still have good health coverage. My vision involves keeping them poor and dependent - then cutting their Medicaid benefits. Let's face it - that's better for wealthy taxpayers like me. We can pay for our own health care - although our ability really isn't the issue, as most of us also have really good insurance and we don't need to worry about the consequences of Medicare and Medicaid cuts.

"Take for example candidate John McCain. His wife could open him his own private medical clinic, staffed with personal physicians and nurses to cater to his every need. She could afford this without even having to sell her private jet or mortgage one of her vacation homes - they have so much money, it wouldn't affect their lifestyle at all. But he and I still want to cut your medical benefits and your medical safety net, because let's face it. We're more important than you.

"And because we're more important to you, when I talk about cutting Social Security and the medical care safety net, I'm not talking about cutting retirement benefits for members of the Senate, or eliminating the generous health insurance packages available to Senators at taxpayer expense. You may notice that while I'm talking about surprising you with less income and more medical expenses in your retirement, I have no interest in sharing your pain. I would prefer it if you didn't notice that, but no matter how hard I wish it weren't the case, not all of you are stupid.
"We've also dawdled on energy. No one likes $125-a-barrel oil. Last year, we paid an average price of $64 a barrel for imports. Some blame the oil companies, but the truth is that we're all to blame. Americans like cheap gasoline and big vehicles. Nothing was done to dampen consumption. Meanwhile, Congress restricted new oil and gas exploration on environmental grounds. So, demand rose and supply fell. In 1985, we imported 4 million barrels of oil a day; now that's 12 million
"Now when I say 'nothing was done', I don't really mean that. I mean that once Ronald Reagan was elected President and energy self-sufficiency and conservation no longer seemed like pressing concerns, those quaint notions were quickly relegated to the status of exhibits at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library. I'm also going to pretend that the only issue causing a rise in oil prices is our domestic inability to get more oil out of the ground right now. That it has nothing to do with increased demand for oil around the world, and perhaps especially in China and India.

"I'm also going to pretend that other oil-producing nations would not step down their production in response to any domestic increase, so as to maximize their own profits. I will happily ignore the fact that if we drained ANWR dry, odds are we will get at most a four year domestic supply of oil - then it's gone and we're back where we started. And I'll ignore the very concept of the word "reserves" - because I think it's better that we completely tap out domestic sources of oil sooner rather than later, so we can become even more dependent on foreign oil.

"As I said, I don't want you blaming the oil companies for any of this. It's not like they have intentionally limited refinery capacity so as to maximize gasoline prices in the summer. Well, actually it is like that, but I don't want you to remember that fact. Don't blame the auto industry either, because they made a lot of money off of selling SUV's, even as they ceded the technological advantage in fuel efficient technologies to the Japanese auto manufacturers. And I don't want you to bring up the environmental records of 'big oil' either, because, well, I don't think the environment is very important. And just so you know, if you disagree with me you're stupid.
" 'Energy independence' is a fraud. We simply use too much foreign oil. All we can do is limit our dependence by shifting to more-efficient vehicles and increasing domestic production. But these measures will take years and have only modest effects. The same is true of global warming. Without major technological breakthroughs, making big cuts in greenhouse gases will be impossible.
"And when I say 'Energy independence is a fraud', I mean I don't want to pay the political price of achieving it. I don't want to have to sell you on nuclear power, mass transportation, more energy-efficient living, and massive infrastructure investment - I don't even want to mention those things. I'm happy to pretend that if we get the average vehicle up to 30 or so MPG, everything will come up roses - and that we have no other ways to conserve energy. I'm going to pretend that only gasoline is made from a barrel of crude, and am not going to mention other gases or heating oil. I certainly don't want to ask businesses to ante up, and as you know I'm not going to raise taxes on the rich to pay for any of this.

"Similarly, when I say 'The same is true of global warming,' I'm again passing the buck. Obviously there are things we can do to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. I'm not willing to increase taxes to pay for those things, and again I'm not interested in asking industry to bear the expense, so forget it. It's just not a priority to me. As far as I'm concerned, the whole "global warming" thing is overblown.

"By the way, did you notice that I didn't mention nuclear energy? It would take a courageous politician to bring up nuclear energy as a possible solution to some of our energy needs. Did you see the way I avoided mentioning coal, the environmental impact of coal mining and coal-burning power plants, and the greenhouse gases and environmental damage resulting from coal-burning plants? Because it would take a courageous politician to tackle those issues, and if you noticed that you're probably also noticing that I'm anything but courageous. You did notice? Drat.
"Finally, let's discuss poverty. Everyone's against it, but hardly anyone admits that most of the increase in the past 15 years reflects immigration -- new immigrants or children of recent immigrants. Unless we stop poor people from coming across our Southern border, legally and illegally, we won't reduce poverty. Period. That doesn't mean we should try to expel the 12 million illegal immigrants already here -- an impossible and morally dubious task. Many families have been here for years; many have American children. We need a pragmatic accommodation: assimilate most people now here; shift future immigration to the highly skilled.
"And here you'll note that I'm painting a picture of immigration and poverty that is so misleading that anybody who is conversant with the issues will think I'm lying. But I'm telling the truth, in a relative sort of way, by describing the world in a way that reflects my politics and personal prejudices.

"Now you're of course asking me, 'How are you going to keep those 'south of the border types' out'? I'm not. Oh, I might promise stepped up border patrols, fencing the entire U.S.-Mexican border, or other expensive forms of window-dressing, but at the end of the day I'm simply not the type of politician who is going to ask the agriculture industry to pay the type of wages that will draw citizens to pick our nation's fruits and vegetables, the hospitality or retail industry to pay that type of wage for maids and janitors, or the construction industry to pay that type of wage for workers.

"Heck - since I'm being honest, I'm not willing to pay that type of wage for the guy who mows my lawn and cleans my pool, or the woman who clean my house. So at most I'm talking about trying to shift them into a 'guest worker'-type system that maintains them as a steady supply of cheap labor. If I were to be honest about my hope, it would be that they come here to work they leave their children at home, and by 'home' I mean 'south of the border'.

"By pretending the poverty problem is driven by immigration, I also get to avoid addressing the more difficult aspects of poverty. If I admitted that immigrant populations assimilate, their children mostly speak English and hold jobs, and that their poverty is relatively transitory, you might turn around and ask me, 'What about those populations where poverty isn't a transitional stage? Where people or families are in poverty for years, or even generations? What can we do for them?' You might even argue, 'Can't we learn something from the successful assimilation of immigrants, even those with little or no education, that might help us learn how to move other populations out of poverty?' Truth be told, I don't care about people in poverty. My only solution for them is to cut their entitlements.
"Vote for me. I'll tell the truth."
"That is, the truth as I see it. Which may not be the truth. But that technicality aside, it's the truth."

Samuelson adds,
Of course, our hapless candidate would be dismissed as misinformed, offensive, possibly racist and, of course, unelectable.
No. A fair assessment would be that the hapless candidate is ill-informed, intentionally or unintentionally oversimplifies serious issues, responds to serious problems at best with clich├ęd non-solutions, and mostly offers no solution whatsoever to anything else he defines as a "critical" issue for the nation.

That isn't a good way to differentiate himself from the rest of the field.


  1. Well, why not push for a "green" oil. Such as the B5 blend. So far, I know it's offered for heating oil purposes. it produces NO greenhouse gases and is completely safe. Plus, if every existing oil user switches over to bioheat, we can help conserve 400 MILLION gallons of oil. Imagine that. 400 MILLION!!! Will prices go down after that, probably. The more oil we allocate to other ares, the bigger the chances for oil indepependence. While working for NORA I have seen how many oilheat users are experiencing difficulty with rising prices. It's sad to see that some are freezing over because of this. Check this site out:

    It will give you more information on bioheat and how it can help us all.

  2. From what I see, B5-powered engines give a 20%-25% reduction in greenhouse gases as compared to gasoline-powered engines.

    We're starting to recongnize some of the downsides of using food crops to create fuel.

    In terms of home heating, I think the better approach is to push for broad implementation of geothermal heating and cooling systems. Once you reduce the amount of energy needed to heat a home by 30-70%, and the energy to cool a home by 20-50%, with a typical 40-60% energy savings, you get broad environmental and conservation benefits without regard to the energy source.

    Of course, if coupled with a greener source of energy, the benefits only increase.