Archive for May, 2014

Obama delivers commencement speech at West Point

Huge foreign policy speech by the President today.

In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline, or has seen its global leadership slip away — are either misreading history or engaged in partisan politics. Think about it. Our military has no peer. The odds of a direct threat against us by any nation are low and do not come close to the dangers we faced during the Cold War.
Meanwhile, our economy remains the most dynamic on Earth; our businesses the most innovative. Each year, we grow more energy independent. From Europe to Asia, we are the hub of alliances unrivaled in the history of nations. America continues to attract striving immigrants. The values of our founding inspire leaders in parliaments and new movements in public squares around the globe. And when a typhoon hits the Philippines, or schoolgirls are kidnapped in Nigeria, or masked men occupy a building in Ukraine, it is America that the world looks to for help. (Applause.) So the United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come.


Here’s my bottom line: America must always lead on the world stage. If we don’t, no one else will. The military that you have joined is and always will be the backbone of that leadership. But U.S. military action cannot be the only — or even primary — component of our leadership in every instance. Just because we have the best hammer does not mean that every problem is a nail. And because the costs associated with military action are so high, you should expect every civilian leader — and especially your Commander-in-Chief — to be clear about how that awesome power should be used.

Cutting Unemployment benefits only hurts the economy

Great coverage from Ben Casselman over at FiveThirtyEight.

Laurusevage, 52, is one of more than a million Americans who lost payments when Congress allowed the Emergency Unemployment Compensation program to expire at the end of last year. The program, which Congress created in 2008, extended jobless benefits beyond the standard 26 weeks provided by most states; at its peak, the federal government provided an unprecedented 6 million workers with up to 73 weeks of benefits. The Senate earlier this year voted to renew the program, but House Speaker John Boehner hasn’t allowed the measure to come to a vote in the House.

The case against extending unemployment benefits essentially boils down to two arguments. First, the economy has improved, so the unemployed should no longer need extra time to find a new job. Second, extended benefits could lead job seekers either to not search as hard or to become choosier about the kind of job they will accept, ultimately delaying their return to the workforce.

But the evidence doesn’t support either of those arguments. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether.

For years now, conservatives have been arguing that the unemployed are addicted to unemployment insurance and would rather lazily receive less-than-half pay than look for work (despite the near universal requirement of searching for work while receiving unemployment insurance). But their thesis hasn’t proven correct.

Criticism for extending unemployment insurance because it hurts the economy is now, ironically, demonstrably the opposite of the truth. Recipients spend this money on actual needed goods and keep the gears of the economy turning. These individuals also were (definitionally) part of the work force (though still seeking work). Now a large percentage have dropped out of the workforce completely and are no longer looking for work, putting them into new categories, typically of the government dependent or retired variety. Such a reality creates new problems, many which we likely cannot fully foresee.

But a more central question to this entire discussion is this: is our society better off abandoning the long-term unemployed (who continue experiencing employment difficulty the longer they are out of work) or do we have some basic responsibility and interest in ensuring that these once hard-working Americans are not thrown to the gutter (and tangentially, don’t inflict further economic harm through foreclosure, amassing consumer debt, bankruptcy, etc). Now that we have findings that cutting unemployment insurance for the long-term unemployed is hurting the economy more than extending them would, I don’t think there’s a real argument to be made that abandoning them makes any sense. Unless you’re simply trying to be a dick. Ripping off a band-aid only makes logical sense when you’re no longer gushing blood.