Steve Benen passes along a bit of raw data today about the kinds of ads that the Obama and Romney campaigns are running:

Perhaps now would be a good time for a quick reality check. Josh Green cited research from Kantar Media's Campaign Media Analysis Group, which found that 63,793 presidential campaign ads have been broadcast since the start of the general election campaign on April 10. As Green noted, the data uncovered a noteworthy trend: "Democrats are running a largely positive campaign, while Republicans are running a mostly negative one."

That's....amazing. Not the fact that Democratic ads are 2:1 positive while Republican ads are 2:1 negative — exactly the opposite of the media spin you're likely to hear these days — but the fact that the two campaigns have run 63,793 ads in six weeks. That's 1,400 ads per day six months before the election. Yikes.

Tyler Cowen highlights a comment from Scott Sumner's blog:

It’s incredibly frustrating. The political and policy world falls into two camps:

  1. Those who believe no stimulus is necessary, everything is supply-side.
  2. Those who believe stimulus is necessary but only fiscal stimulus can or should supply it.

....I feel like to both the centre left and the right, Milton Friedman is too heretical now — too right-wing for the left obviously and too left-wing for the right. Consequently, everything about monetarism has been stripped out of the public consciousness and we are left with vulgar Keynesianism and vulgar Austrianism.

We truly live in a Dark Age of economics.

Statement #1 is correct. Nearly all modern conservatives believe that no stimulus, either fiscal or monetary, is appropriate right now. It's all about maximum pain and austerity. This truly is the equivalent of treating a patient with leeches.

But where does statement #2 come from? The liberal economists I read do indeed believe that we need fiscal stimulus, but unless I'm misreading them badly, they'd all welcome looser monetary policy as well in one form or another. That might be NGDP targeting (Sumner's policy preference), it might be further rounds of QE, it might be a higher tolerance for inflation, or it might be something else. Whatever their particular policy preferences, though, I can't think of a single liberal economist who hasn't criticized Ben Bernanke for not combating the recession more actively.

This is the kind of weird false equivalence that drives everyone on the left crazy.

Paul Krugman says that although Team Obama has been reluctant to complain about Republican obstructionism, they don't really have much choice anymore:

They can point with pride to some big economic achievements, above all the successful rescue of the auto industry, which is responsible for a large part of whatever job growth we are managing to get. But they’re not going to be able to sell a narrative of overall economic success. Their best bet, surely, is to do a Harry Truman, to run against the “do-nothing” Republican Congress that has, in reality, blocked proposals — for tax cuts as well as more spending — that would have made 2012 a much better year than it’s turning out to be.

As an empirical matter, this is true. Basically, the Republican strategy for the past three years has been this:

  1. Do everything humanly possible to prevent the economy from recovering.
  2. Wait for 2012.
  3. Run a campaign focused on the fact that the economy is lousy.

As a political matter, however, it's not likely that pointing this out will do Obama any good. Harry Truman and the do-nothing Congress may be the stuff of legend, but guess what? That probably had little to do with Truman's victory. Truman won because the economy was on a tear for the entire year before the 1948 election: Nominal GDP skyrocketed (chart below) and real GDP was growing at a pretty healthy clip too. Economically speaking, it was a terrific peacetime performance.

Obama doesn't have this. He's got about 3% nominal growth and 2% real growth. There might be justice in blaming this on Republicans, but probably not electoral victory.

I've been gone for a couple of weeks and nothing has changed. Greg Sargent reports today that the blacklisting of Norm Ornstein and Thomas Mann on the mainstream Sunday chat shows continues apace. Saying that Republicans are mostly to blame for legislative dysfunction and that the media bears some of the blame for this is, apparently, still too hot to handle.

A couple of years ago I had lunch with Mickey Kaus and happened to mention something about his 1991 book, The End of Equality. The book sort of implicitly describes a deal in which liberals accept welfare reform and stop worrying about income inequality, and in return conservatives calm down and start to support increased spending on social programs that benefit everyone. The problem, I said, is that liberals pretty much did what he suggested, but never got anything in return.

Nonsense, he replied. Everything's right on schedule. We passed welfare reform in 1995, and now, a decade later, we're getting a start on national healthcare. And that's only happening because the white working class is less agitated about the notion that their tax dollars are all being hoovered up by Washington and then shoveled out to lazy malingerers.

That's not a connection I'd ever made. And yet....maybe. It might just be true. Today, though, Ron Brownstein marshals some survey evidence that it's not. In poll after poll, more people believe that Obamacare will make them personally worse off than will make them personally better off:

The problem, as on almost all issues relating to government's role, is centered on whites, particularly those in the working class....Just 18 percent believe the law will leave their family better off, compared to 38 percent who believe they will be worse off as a result.

....Gallup Polling in March 2010 found that while few whites expected to personally benefit from the law, a majority of them believed it would benefit low-income families and those without health insurance. That suggested they viewed health care reform primarily as a welfare program that would help the needy but not their own families.

....Democratic strategists have long viewed a program expanding access to health care insurance as a key to combating the widespread sense among whites, particularly those in the working class, that government only takes their money and redistributing it to the poor, without offering any tangible assistance in their own often economically-precarious lives. Instead, as the latest Kaiser Poll shows, the targets of that effort remain entirely unconvinced that the law will benefit them. Rather than ameliorating their skepticism that government will defend their interests, it appears to have only intensified it.

Basically, Brownstein suggests that working class whites continue to misunderstand their own interests. Obamacare will benefit them more than almost any other group, but a barrage of misinformation from the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs of the world has convinced them otherwise. They continue to think that only other people will benefit.

Some of this is surely the fault of the Obama administration, which hasn't done enough to sell its own program. But it's also an indication, as if we needed yet another one, that welfare reform really didn't change public attitudes much at all. All the people who used to be convinced that their taxes were being funneled directly into the pockets of inner city layabouts are still convinced that's the case. Not much has changed at all.

When I returned home, I was greeted by a flood of email from one reader asking if I'd post my usual California ballot initiative guide. There are only two of them on tomorrow's ballot, so why not. In case you don't remember my general biases about the initiative process (nickel summary: I'd be happy to see it go away completely), you can read about them here. With that out of the way, here's how I plan to vote:

  1. Term Limits: YES. On balance, term limits are a bad idea. But California voters approved them two decades ago and don't seem inclined to remove them. Given that, Prop 28 is probably the best we can do right now. Instead of a 14-year term limit, split into six years in the Assembly and eight years in the Senate, it provides for a single 12-year term limit, all of which can be spent in one house. This would eliminate the ridiculous situation California is in now, where top leaders in the Assembly almost never have more than four years of legislative experience. Putting neophytes in charge of legislation is absurd, and we've been paying the price for this for a long time. Prop 28 isn't a panacea, but it's an improvement.

  1. Cigarette Tax Hike: NO. Regular readers know how I feel about ballot-box budgeting. It's a scourge. I don't have a problem with higher cigarette taxes, and yes, cancer research is a worthy cause. But there are lots of worthy causes, and it's the legislature's job to figure out which ones deserve funding on a year-to-year basis rather than enshrining specific priorities into law forever. We're already funding dumb stem cell research and a dumb bullet train thanks to ill-conceived ballot measures, and we're still paying off the dumb revenue bonds that Governor Arnold foisted on us in 2004. This has to stop. I don't care how worthy the cause is.

On Prop 29, I'll concede that reasonable people might think circumstances are special in California. A previous ballot initiative (the infamous Prop 13) requires a two-thirds majority in the legislature to increase taxes, which means that in practical terms there's really no way for things like cigarette tax hikes to happen aside from ballot measures. That's true, but I don't find it convincing. Passing an endless stream of ticky-tack budget patches that become permanent parts of the legal code just isn't a solution. It only makes things worse. If Californians won't allow the legislature to increase taxes, they should live with the consequences. Maybe eventually they'll figure out that this particular piece of Prop 13 was a bad idea.

Stuart Staniford reviews the recent rise and then collapse of oil prices today, and concludes that it's the economy, stupid:

So whither these trends now? On the one hand, it seems clear that the recent downward forces on prices will continue....Spain's difficulties rescuing Bankia, and the fact that there are likely still a lot of not-fully-discounted bad loans in Spain's banks, suggest that the Spanish government is near the end of its rope....And then there is the continued inability of the polarized US political system to come to grips with major challenges — particularly the upcoming expiry of the Bush tax cuts and the automatic spending cuts that will be triggered around the end of this year. All this is chilling stock markets everywhere, particularly as no-one really knows what the implications for the global financial system will be if pieces start to fall off the Eurozone as it trundles forward.

These kinds of considerations suggest that the downward break in oil prices could continue quite a lot further.

But if that happens, Saudi Arabia will probably cut production and prices will rise again. So oil prices may fall in the short term, but will probably stay around $100 in the medium term.

Generally speaking, we're finally living in the world of peak oil. Or call it plateaued oil if you like, since we seem to have hit a rough plateau in oil production that's likely to continue for quite a while. This is the world of the vicious circle: when the economy gets better, demand for oil goes up and oil prices spike. This causes the economy to tank, which sends demand for oil down. Rinse and repeat. Add to that the effect of external events on oil prices (the Arab Spring, pipeline breakdowns, embargoes on Iran, etc. etc.) and world economic growth is likely to remain both sluggish and unstable for the foreseeable future, held hostage to OPEC oil production until we get serious about alternative energy. And since, in this brave new world, the price of oil gyrates frequently and erratically, it's hard to get people serious about this. If oil were, say, permanently above $200 per barrel or so, we'd be building wind farms and installing PV solar at breakneck speed. But whenever the price of Brent falls below $90 or so, everyone gets nervous and wonders if wind farms and solar arrays are really such good investments after all.

The uncomfortable truth is that we'd probably all be better off if the federal government simply taxed oil variably at a rate that set the all-in price at $200 no matter what the market price was. That would be high enough to get everyone serious about more reliable energy sources and stable enough that investors would be falling all over themselves to fund alternative energy projects. And since it's oil price spikes that hurt the economy more than high oil prices per se, this probably wouldn't even have a major impact on growth.

It'll never happen. But something like it probably should. There's enormous upside both economically and environmentally, and the revenue would help address the federal deficit problem everyone pretends to be worried about. Conversely, the downsides are pretty modest and manageable. Wouldn't it be nice if any of this actually made a difference in Washington DC?

Now that I'm back, I'm going to try everyone's patience by posting a really, really long slide show about my exciting family vacation to Copenhagen and Rome. However, it's all under the fold, so if you're not interested, just scroll on by.

There are basically no pictures of famous sights here. It's always been a bit pointless to take pictures of this kind of stuff, and these days it's super duper pointless. Want a picture of the Colosseum? Google will deliver hundreds of top notch photos to your desktop in seconds. Why bother taking your own?

So instead, I took pictures of cats. And pictures of other animals. And a few annoyingly arty pictures of tiny bits of famous sights. Plus a few other things that I felt like including and that gave me an excuse to write about something interesting. Click the link to start.

From Paul Krugman, bemoaning the fact that the European Central Bank has adopted such tight monetary policy:

The fact is that the ECB is highly credible: most observers, me included, are quite sure that it is totally allergic to inflation and relatively indifferent to the collapse of the real economy.

Yeah, I really don't think the ECB has any inflation credibility issues at this point. Neither does the Fed. But they very definitely have some serious growth credibility issues.

So, anyway, as this post suggests, I'm back from Europe. Did their financial crisis affect me? Nope. Not a bit. But I will say this: in a fit of paranoia that I won't pretend was fully rational, I took $2,000 in cash with me, something I've never done before. Why? I dunno. Just in case. I figured if the eurozone chose last week to collapse in panic, U.S. hundred-dollar bills might be a nice, 100% sure source of liquidity. Silly of me, I suppose, but there you have it.

And with that, I want to take this chance to thank all my guest bloggers for the past couple of weeks: Adam Serwer, Erik Kain, and Heather "Digby" Parton. I mean, not only did they write a lot of great stuff while I was gone (and you do follow them at their home blogs, don't you?), but they even kept up Friday Catblogging. How great is that? Adam's herd of Garfields is....impressive, no? And thanks also to Kate Sheppard, for extra bonus catblogging.

All this means that nobody has any reason to complain of cat withdrawal symptoms, which means I really have no excuse for writing an interminable Cat Tour of Europe™ post tomorrow. But I'm going to anyway. I know you're all looking forward to it, aren't you?

I have to end my week guest blogging for Kevin in the only appropriate way. It's Friday. And you know what that means:

Photographs by Heather Digby

Photographs by Heather Digby

That's Rhubarb, my 15-year-old lap warmer, lolling on his chair in the garden.

(I have had the pleasure of meeting Inkblot and Domino in person and let me tell you they are even more impressive than they look in pictures.)

Many thanks to Kevin and the fine folks here at Mother Jones for making it easy and thoroughly pleasurable to blog here. Have a great weekend, everyone. And come visit me at Hullabaloo.