Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The First Season of Sequestivus
A Time to Air Grievances

It is the season of Sequestivus

The legend of the origin of Sequestivus*

The great leader Obama, who was dearly loved by (52% of) the people spoke to his minions and said "Hear me! You must fear the great beast Sequester, for if it is loosed upon the land there will pestilence and famine." And the people listened to Obama and wondered.

"Go now!" He pointed "Go to the dark castle on the Hill, where the Congress of Many Heads created the great abomination called Sequestration. Bring your pitchforks and torches! Storm the castle and kill the great beast before it wreaks havoc on the land!" The great leader Obama paused, nodding his head sagely  "And if you accidently kill the Congress of Many Heads that lives in the castle on The Hill, well - you know -  collateral damage... shit happens... I wouldn't get too worried about it."

The people considered what the dear leader said and asked. "WTF? A 2.3% decrease in the rate of spending increases? Are you f*cking kidding me? Do you have any idea what kind of cuts we've had to make over the last four years? And you're saying can't figure out how to cut a lousy 2.3% out of this bloated governments spending increases?"

And the dear leader Obama's heart was heavy when the people did not heed his warning. Not to mention pissed. So it came to pass that the Sequestration monster was released to prey upon 48% of the people. And the great leader Obama again went to the people and said "I declare this to be the Season of Sequestivus,  A time of regret, remorse, and recrimination. Let the Airing of Grievances begin."

And so, as a public service, the Dividist Town Crier herewith offers a selection of public grievances in this the first fortnight of the first season of Sequestivus.

The Airing of Grievances

Jon Stewart has a grievance with the Congress of the United States.

The Democrats have a grievance with the public. They warned us all that if sequestration cuts went into effect, there would be a terrible political backlash against Republicans. They were right, except for the Republican part.
"President Obama's approval rating has dipped to 43 percent — a seven-point drop since February 19, as the nation responds angrily to Washington's inability to strike a deal to avert the sequester, according to a new poll from Reuters and Ipsos."
"President Barack Obama’s approval rating in New York fell precipitously in the past month, according to a poll released Monday, and three-fifths of the state’s registered voters now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. Obama’s approval rating remains high in New York, at 56 percent, with 41 percent disapproving, according to the Siena College poll.But the president’s approval rating was at 66 percent last month, with only 32 percent disapproval — so the change is a net 19 point decline."
Spring break tourists to Washington D.C. have a grievance with the secret service. Due to the sequester cuts, White House tours were suspended, so that secret service resources could be diverted to guarding the President's golf outings and Michele Obama's 50th birthday.
The self-guided tours are typically arranged through a member of Congress. Natalie Cooper had obtained a ticket through the office of a senator from North Carolina for her son's 8th birthday.  Standing outside the White House Saturday, shortly before noon, Cooper told the birthday boy, Aaron, that they would no longer be getting a tour. "I was pretty upset about it," she told CNN. "He had his own bucket list and on that bucket list was D.C. and the White House, so it was a little bit upsetting." Aaron had already told his class he was going to the White House and added that he was "sad, very sad." But, he said, they had plans to see more monuments and museums in town. 
Paul Krugman has a grievance with Joe Scarborough. Despite being a Nobel Prize winning economist, a prolific New York Times columnist,and every progressive's favorite Keynesian, Professor Krugman got his ass kicked in a debate about spending, deficits and debt with morning talk show host Joe Scarborough in a venue hosted by Charlie Rose on PBS:
"Well, we’ll see how it comes out after editing, but I feel that I just had my Denver debate moment: I was tired, cranky, and unready for the blizzard of misleading factoids and diversionary stuff (In 1997 you said that the aging population was a big problem! When Social Security was founded life expectancy was only 62!) Oh, and I wasn’t prepared for Joe Scarborough’s slipperiness about what he actually advocates (he’s for more spending in the near term? Who knew?)"
In all fairness to Paul Krugman, Joe Scarborough used unfair tactics. He quoted Paul Krugman's own words. Really. That was beneath you Joe.

Jeffrey Sachs and Niall Ferguson have grievances with Paul Krugman. Sachs objects to  Krugman's crude and simplistic Keynesian prescriptions and Ferguson to Krugman's uncivil partisanship.
"... crude Keynesians like Krugman believe that we don't have to worry about the rising public debt for many years to come, perhaps well into the next decade. This is remarkably shortsighted. The public debt has already soared, from around 41 percent of GDP when Obama came into office to around 76 percent of GDP today (and with no lasting benefit to show for it). If Krugman had his way, and deficits were not restrained, the debt-GDP ratio would already be above 80 percent by now and would be rising rapidly towards 90 percent and above (as shown in the recent CBO alternative scenario)....  In my view the result of this misguided approach, adopted by the Obama Administration, has been a large build-up of public debt with no long-term benefits for an economy that instead needs a public-investment-led recovery. If we had followed Mr. Krugman's long-standing advice to double down on this failed approach the situation would have been even worse. Yes, Mr. Krugman, I believe that you are a crude Keynesian at a time when we need subtler, surer, longer-term policies". 
"In my view Paul Krugman has done fundamental damage to the quality of public discourse on economics. He can be forgiven for being wrong, as he frequently is--though he never admits it. He can be forgiven for relentlessly and monotonously politicizing every issue. What is unforgivable is the total absence of civility that characterizes his writing. His inability to debate a question without insulting his opponent suggests some kind of deep insecurity perhaps the result of a childhood trauma. It is a pity that a once talented scholar should demean himself in this way."
It's been a rough Sequestivus for Paul Krugman. I almost feel sorry for him. Almost.

K-Street special interest lobbyists have a grievance with Congress.   They didn't want the sequester to cut their special interests and Congress was not listening.
"From university professors and scientists to cancer victims, defense contractors and federal workers, hundreds of advocacy, trade and labor groups have lobbied aggressively for months to head off the cuts. They’ve run ads, testified on Capitol Hill, staged demonstrations and hounded lawmakers, all to no avail."
In a related grievance, special interests have a grievance with K Street lobbyists. Why pay them the big bucks if they can't even protect their interests from dumb sequester cuts? Just sayin' Special Interests... there might be a better use for your money.

Glenn Sperling has a grievance with Bob Wodward reporting that: 1) The idea for the sequester came out of the White House; 2) that the President moved the goal post on the sequester after election and; 3) That Sperling threatened Bob Woodward with this email:
"But I do truly believe you should rethink your comment about saying saying that Potus asking for revenues is moving the goal post. I know you may not believe this, but as a friend, I think you will regret staking out that claim. The idea that the sequester was to force both sides to go back to try at a big or grand bargain with a mix of entitlements and revenues (even if there were serious disagreements on composition) was part of the DNA of the thing from the start. It was an accepted part of the understanding — from the start. Really... I agree there are more than one side to our first disagreement, but again think this latter issue is different. Not out to argue and argue on this latter point. Just my sincere advice. Your call obviously."
Sperling has point about the last - it is hard to see anything that resembles a threat in this e-mail. On the other hand, two out of three ain't bad. And Sperling confesses in the e-mail to yelling at Woodward. A transcript of that phone conversation would be way more interesting than the follow-up CYA e-mail.

Brian Beutler has a grievance with national/beltway media. Apparently they are not following the preferred progressive narrative about the pain the sequester is causing. He is much happier with local coverage.
"If beltway news reflected events in the country at large, the worst consequences of sequestration would amount to griping over politically motivated spending cuts, or programs spared. That kind of coverage stems from a GOP effort to identify unpopular and cynical sequestration cuts and lay them at the feet of the Obama administration lest the public regard them as a direct consequence of sequestration itself. But outside of Washington DC, sequestration is already causing real problems for regular people, and Democrats are engaged in a counteroffensive — highlighting the day-in, day-out problems sequestration is causing outside of the capital."
Nobody said there would be no pain. But after the massive spending federal spending increases of the last four years, the relatively minor reductions in the sequester barely move the needle. If a little bit of pain now can slow down our headlong rush down the unsustainable debt path where we find ourselves, it's worth it.

The Chicago Tribune has a grievance with the administration. After getting caught repeatedly misrepresenting the pain of  sequester cuts, they now appear to be hell bent on manufacturing enough pain to match their exaggerations.
"All of us who have to live within budgets know how to economize if we have to get by on 97.6 percent of our income. The White House wants us to believe that Washington cannot do so. But selling that cowflop has been hard: Fact-checkers at The Washington Post, Politifact and Politico have dealt Team Obama one rollicking embarrassment after another. Among claims largely or wholly debunked:
  • Education Secretary Arne Duncan's assertion that "There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips" in Kanawha County, W.Va., because of the sequester? Wrong, Duncan later admitted.
  • Obama's threat that federal prosecutors would "have to close cases and let criminals go"? "Mostly False," ruled Politifact.
  • A White House fact sheet stating that subsidized programs such as Meals on Wheels would serve "4 million fewer meals to seniors"? At best, exaggerated.
  • "Up to 70,000 children would lose access" to Head Start programs, as Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius asserted? Incorrect.
  • Our favorite: Officials predicting dreadful airport delays, juxtaposed with TV images of passengers meandering casually through uncrowded airports.
The most brazen fomenting of sequester hysteria came from an arm of the Agriculture Department, which told a federal official in North Carolina that available funds couldn't be spread across several states to minimize the effect of service cuts. The word from Washington: "We have gone on record with a notification to Congress and whoever else" about the cuts, "So, it is our opinion that however you manage that reduction, you need to make sure you are not contradicting what we said the impact would be."
Not cool Agriculture Department. Heads should roll.

It is an ill wind that blows no good. So it is with the sequester. Motivated by a common desire to moderate or replace some of the sequester cuts,  budget proposals  are being prepared and presented by Senate Democrats and House Republicans. Unsurprisingly, they look nothing alike. Surprisingly we may actually get a compromise Grand Bargain that puts us on a sustainable fiscal path this time.  The only certainty is that the airing of grievances will continue for the foreseeable future. 

*In the Credit Where it is Due Department, I tried to track down the first use of "Sequestivus.  I think Kenny Murdock gets the prize:

Postscript: The Dividist also has a grievance. Too many Americans fail to appreciate this fundamental fact:

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