Monday, October 31, 2011

Oh Noes, don't "gut" the military!

I hope we aren't all too busy immersing ourselves in the lastest GOP candidate scuttlebutt to notice our political class's latest demonstration of budget shell games.

It started (or at least this phase of the shell game started) over the weekend in the form of the Wash Post's front page, above the fold, report complaining about how after two decades of annual hundred billion dollar surpluses from the Social Security Trust Fund, those trillions of dollars borrowed by the federal budget, are now coming due. Yes, dear media elite, the party's over. No more Social Security Trust Funds to fund your tax cuts and war budgets with.

It continues today with the lament by Robert Samuelson in the Post's op-ed section that, horrors, with all this budgetdebtdeficitspending talk in the past year, the country is in real danger of actually cutting spending....on the military. Although the Cold War ended two decades ago, the U.S. still spends more on war than any of other nation by exponential amounts.

Nevertheless, our pundit class is wringing its hands that all the debtdeficit hype it manufactured last year will potentially result in some possible reductions to the one area of the government it supports: the war establishment.

Here's Samuelson's first 'graph today: (sorry, no linky)

We shouldn’t gut defense. A central question of our budget debates is how much we allow growing spending on social programs to crowd out the military and, in effect, force the United States into a dangerous, slow-motion disarmament.

Get that? Cutting war spending is the same as "gutting" our war-making capabilities. The problem, says our pundit spokesperson, is "growing spending on social programs" that will "crowd out the military".

I see. What the debt howlers meant last year when they were fanning the flames of debtdeficit hysteria was Social Security and Medicare (and Medicaid). Well, they should have said so. At least now this key policy priority is coming into focus.

Samuelson goes on to "refute" what he believes to be a myth of war spending, that we can't afford it. Sure we can, Samuelson says, it's just all about choices.

Well then, how about we make the choice to spend more on our growing population of aged people? We can do that just as easily as we can make the "choice" to continue bloated war budgets and continue wars in faraway places.

Also, as just an aside, can we dispense with the frame of calling America's military spending, "defense" spending? It's war spending. We aren't "defending" the American homeland with any of this.

Our media really is so transparent. #OccupytheWashingtonPost.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"He doesn’t lead, and he doesn’t understand why we don’t feel led."

That's a snippet from MoDowd's NYT column today, which I invite you to read in full. Not all of the column is compelling, but this line in particular I thought was pretty spot-on.

It seems that the agreement to raise the debt ceiling has marked a sea change for how some of Obama's strongest defenders have turned disallusioned. Bloggers P.M. Carpenter and Andrew Sprung are two prime examples. The same is true for neutral or quasi-neutral media observers like Dowd and Dana Milbank, who had a like-minded disallusionment column yesterday.

There are probably more things that could be said about this, but I'll leave for that another time when my thoughts are more cohesive.

2 out of 2 Pundits agree - Bad Economy requires massive cuts to Social Security

"Sure, high unemployment sux, but since we can't do anything about that, let's go for the gusto and gut Social Security."

“The problem for Obama is that right now, the United States is either at a precipice or has fallen off it,” said David Rothkopf, a Commerce Department official in the Clinton administration. “If he is true to his commitment to rather be a good one-term president, then this is the character test. In some respects, this is the 3 a.m. phone call.”

Mr. Obama, Mr. Rothkopf argues, has to focus in the next 18 months on getting the economy back on track for the long haul, even if that means pushing for politically unpalatable budget cuts, including real — but hugely unpopular — reductions in Social Security, other entitlement programs and the military.

A longtime Republican strategist echoed Mr. Rothkopf. Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Senator John McCain when he ran for president, said Mr. Obama “has got two big problems” — the unemployment rate and the budget deficit.

“Frankly, there’s not a whole lot he can do about jobs now,” Mr. Black said. “But it would help if we got the deficit under control, and to do that, you’ve got to reform entitlements.”

For instance, he argued, Mr. Obama should tackle Social Security, leaving the system in place for those 55 and older but establishing means tests to determine benefits for those under 55. If Mr. Obama did that, Mr. Black said, “he could be a hero like Bill Clinton was when he negotiated with Trent Lott and Newt Gingrich” on the 1997 budget.

If Mr. Black’s take is correct and there is little the president can do about jobs, that is more bad news. In a New York Times/CBS News poll released last week, 62 percent of those responding said that creating jobs was the No. 1 priority, while only 29 percent said cutting the deficit should be the top goal.

"Yes, it's true, the public seems to care about jobs, but since we can't do anything about that, Obama should become a 'hero' by making sweeping changes to Social Security."

Seriously, if you're going to go all in on the one term presidency deal, maybe Obama could make a few other "unpopular" choices, like increasing taxes.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

On Not Binding Future Executives and Congresses

Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers on the recently concluded debt deal:

Despite claims of spending reductions in the range of $1 trillion, the agreements reached so far are likely to have little impact on actual spending over the next decade. The deal confirms the very low levels of spending already negotiated for 2011 and 2012 and caps 2013 spending about where most would have expected this Congress to end up. Beyond that, outcomes are anyone’s guess — Congress votes on discretionary spending annually, and the current Congress cannot effectively constrain future actions. True, there are caps and sequester threats in the debt deal, but these are virtually certain to be reformulated in 2013; in other words, the fact remains that discretionary spending going forward will largely reflect the will of future Congresses.

Will Wilkinson (h/t Andrew Sullivan) also writes:

Maybe Washington's game of debt-ceiling chicken went on too long for comfort, but the resolution of the game looks a lot like a pragmatic compromise to me. Unless the bill fails, which it might, it looks like our democracy will have raised the debt ceiling, didn't really cut a thing, passed off responsibility for substantial deficit reduction to a "super committee", which will either come up with a plan that does not bind the future executive and legislature or will trip a "trigger" that won't go into effect until after the next election, and then, again, will go into effect only if the government of the future wants it to go into effect. If this is what "raw extortion" delivers, it's not very much.

I realize most of our Media Villagers apparently don't understand the political process and are busy breathlessly proclaiming the triumph of teabaggerism on the debt, but for all the fire and fury the past few weeks, nothing really much happened here.

The fact that the supposed long term cuts amount to less than that proposed by other policymakers in town has also attracted some attention:

The problem with the plan is that it’s just a step forward; it isn’t a solution. It leaves more than half of its work — finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings to avert an automatic set of cuts — to a new bipartisan Congressional committee. Even if that committee is successful, more tough work will be necessary to avoid, a few years down the road, another crisis over the deficit.

This country needs a plan to reduce our deficits by no less than $4 trillion in the next decade. It needs a plan to cut more wasteful spending in the defense and nondefense budgets than this deal does. In addition, we must address the unsustainable growth of our entitlement programs and reform the tax code to make it more competitive and more efficient.

Even if fully implemented, the debt deal's 10-year budget cuts would amount to only $2.1 trillion, which is far less than the $4 trillion proposed by Obama's own deficit commission, chaired by Bowles and Simpson.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

No need to panic. Yet.

Reading my Twitter feed this weekend had me thinking the looming debt deal was a blunder and capitulation of historical and tragic proportions.

My reading of the actual deal, however, makes me more optimistic, or at least not nearly so discouraged as many of my Progressive bretheran and sisters.

First, there are no real cuts in the deal. True, about $1 trillion or so is scheduled to be lopped off the budget over the next ten years, but as I understand it, none of that will take effect in this fiscal year (FY 2011) and only $25 bill will take effect in the next FY, starting in October.

Second, the debt limit gets increased into 2013. Republicans wanted a shorter extension. They did apparently enact the McConnell scheme to allow the phony "repudiation" votes to take place in which the teabaggers can vote against a scheduled increase a few months from now, but if the House vote fails to gather a two-thirds vote, the debt limit increase will continue. This is supposed to be a real scary and threatening vote for Democrats who want to support the President. But it seems like BS to me. The debt limit has been increased into 2013. That's the deal. The rest is kabuki.

Third, future cuts, if they take place at all, will either need to survive a separate vote, or will involve significant cuts in the defense budget. Most Progressives don't seem to think much of this "trigger". But to avoid the trigger will require the passing of legislation, agree to by a sizeable number of Democrats to make very painful cuts in social spending. Or the Republicans will need to pass separate legislation somehow sparing the Pentagon from the cuts agreed to in this bill. The default, no pun intended, option is to do nothing. And the do-nothing option of allowing Pentagon cuts to go through, would be better for Progressives. Conservatives can override this, but it won't be nearly as easy as simply holding the debt limit hostage and risking default. Inaction this time won't be on their side.

Finally, to reiterate previous points, there's nothing in this bill that can't be undone by future Congresses. The only sure element in the bill is the debt limit increase.

The real battles lie ahead with the "trigger" and the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. A tax deal as a part of the compromise might have generated far less revenue then the expiration of the Bush tax cuts will. Again, Progressives aren't confident the Bush tax cuts will be allowed to expire. I'm not so sure. The onus will be on Conservatives to pass a bill extending them, while having to explain the tax cuts impact on the debt they've just been complaining about, or they will need to agree to a tax reform bill of some kind to replace them. And if they can't do that, and nothing gets done, the tax cuts expire.

Conservatives have a harder road ahead, as hard as that may be to believe.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Today in Consumer Protection

Michelle Singletary and Faiz Shakir sound off on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and its nominee.

Singletary rightly regrets Obama's declining to name Elizabeth Warren to the post, while Shakir wants the WH, in the face of Republican obstruction, to let this, and perhaps other, nominees speak for themselves and the policies they'd advocate:

[CFPB nominee] Cordray could face the same ignominious fate. A toxic partisan climate, amplified by a round-the-clock news cycle, demands a new strategy.

The White House should take the muzzle off its nominees. Let them talk to the press over and over again to tout their accomplishments. Allow them to publicly defend their records, as they are best and uniquely qualified to do.

By silencing a nominee, the administration gives its critics the opportunity to spout unfounded concerns about the nominee’s fitness to serve. The conversation quickly descends from one about the individual’s merit to meritless attacks on his or her character or qualifications.

The White House must be willing to cede a degree of control over its day-to-day messaging in favor of the greater victory of getting its nominees passed and its policies enacted. The administration shouldn’t be turning down all press requests, but should instead be picking and choosing the venues that can give the nominee a fair and reasonable hearing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I'll Miss Borders

From Yahoo:

The Borders Group, the bankrupt 40-year-old bookseller, said on Monday that it will move to liquidate after no last-minute savior emerged for the company.

Borders said in a press release that it will proceed with a proposal by Hilco and the Gordon Brothers Group. That liquidation plan will be presented to the federal judge overseeing the company's bankruptcy case on Thursday.

What is left to unwind are Borders' 399 stores, about two-thirds of the locations it operated when it filed for bankruptcy in February. It currently has 10,700 employees.

Aside from being deprived of a place to buy books in my town, this unfortunate development will also mean less competition for And 10k plus people added to the ranks of the unemployed, although I know nobody cares about that.

Mr. Brooks

I realize this David Brooks column today is somewhat harder on the GOP than usual, I think this point, the post's first paragraph is especially illuminating:

Over the past months, Republicans enjoyed enormous advantages. Opinion polls showed that voters are eager to reduce the federal debt, and they want to do it mostly but not entirely through spending cuts.

I wonder why voters were so eager to reduce the federal debt "mostly" through spending cuts?

It couldn't be because that was how our national media framed the issue from the beginning, could it?

Also missing from Mr. Brooks lament this morning was any mention of unemployment, which I know our media villagers don't care about, but there it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Today in Teabag Democrats

Amidst the debate over the debt ceiling, the John Birch Congress tried to roll back energy standards on light bulbs. Five Teabag Democrats joined all but 10 of the chamber's John Bircher Republicans in favor of the rollback. And these five Teabag Democrats deserve some sort of mention. They are, in alphabetical order:

Dan Boren (OK), relevant committee: Natural Resources
Jerry Costello (IL), relevant committee: Science, Space and Technology
Jim Matheson (UT), relevant committee: Energy and Commerce
Collin Peterson (MN), relevant committee: none
Nick Rahall (WV), relevant committee: none

Consider especially the committee affiliations for these Bad Democrats. One sits on the Science, Space and Technology Committee, of all places. This is why we can never have nice things.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

I wonder what Heath Schuler thinks about the debt-ceiling debate?

Another voice sadly absent these last few weeks about the debt ceiling is NC "Democrat" Heath Schuler. Since Schuler's Blue Dogs generally follow the Republican line, I'm guessing he's in favor of an all-spending-cuts "compromise". Absent that, I bet he loves the McConnell proposal, which would let him appear to vote against each debt ceiling increase while actually allowing Obama to increase the debt ceiling. It's a proposal right up Blue Dog Alley.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

"The quest for truth within the bounds of the law"

Doug Mataconis has a non-hysterical take on the Casey Anthony verdict (h/t E.D. Kain)

First of all, it’s worth reminding everyone that the standard here is that it’s the state’s obligation to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That is an incredibly high standard. It means that someone who actually committed a crime could go free if the evidence presented to the jury suggests that there’s another reasonable interpretation of what happened, or if the state isn’t able to produce sufficient evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So, being found “not guilty” doesn’t mean the Defendant didn’t do it, but it does mean it couldn’t be proven within the bounds of the law, and it reflects the value that we’ve placed on ensuring that only someone who is assuredly guilty goes to prison (or gets executed). As the old saying goes, it’s better that ten guilty men go free than one innocent man goes to prison.

Second, the criminal justice system is about a quest for the truth within the bounds of the law, not a quest for “justice” for the victim. That means, for example, that evidence that doesn’t meet the applicable evidentiary standard won’t get before the jury, that statements the Defendant made to the police while in custody but without being advised of their rights will be excluded, and that protection of the Defendants constitutional rights will bar the introduction of illegally seized or unreliable evidence. Some of that evidence might arguably to a quest for “justice,” but it’s not relevant to a quest for truth within the bounds of the law. If you’re looking for “justice” for the victim, you’ll have to search somewhere else because it won’t come from a courtroom.

Finally, I’ll just add that this case struck me as yet another example of how the media can pervert the public perception of the justice system. For three years, the cable networks, especially people like Nancy Grace, covered this case like it was the biggest story ever and had essentially already tried and convicted Casey Anthony even before the trial started. It wouldn’t surprise me if people who spent their time watching such stuff are now sitting around wondering what the heck happened and how this jury could let the “Tot Mom” go free when it’s so clear that she killed her baby. Of course, people don’t get tried and convicted in on Headline News, they get tried in a Court of Law, where they have rights and where the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The people who have spent the last three years thinking they “know” Casey Anthony is guilty, don’t really know anything.

I'll only add that being on vacation last week, I happened upon a lot of the Anthony trial coverage, and was sightseeing but listening on the radio when the verdict came in, and I can report that the cable TV station HLN, and its leading prime-time anchor, Nancy Grace, were a disgrace. Hour after hour of HLN programming consists of former prosecutors turned cable hosts shouting over guests and other former prosecutor "analysts". Fox news may have very little balance. In the Anthony trial coverage, HLN had none.

Sayeth the good Roger Ailes:

While the Fox News Channel is consistently loathsome, it has been surpassed in loathsomeness by CNN Headline News. America now has a cable television network dedicated to villifying -- dehumanizing -- a single human being. Even the Christian channels don't spend as much time bashing Satan.

The murder of a child is a terrible crime, which is why we have courts, and prisons. But justice and demented bloodlust are not the same things. And HLN has never concerned itself with "Justice for Caylee," as it chyrons and wig-wearing freak-hosts proclaim. Only with "Hating for Ratings."

h/t James Wolcott

I wonder what John McCain thinks of the debt-ceiling debate?

I realize he's not in the House of Representatives, so from the viewpoint of our Village Media, his presence on the cable news circuit is probably less interesting than on most other issues.

But I wonder if this isn't related to the Republican capture of the House last year more generally. As in, with GOP control of the House, McCain is less of an opposition figure than he was in '09 and '10.

Maybe this development has been remarked upon by others, but given McCain's usual ubiquitousness in the media, suddenly noticing his absence is a surprise.

Friday, July 01, 2011

The Debt Ceiling Debate

I'm still not sure what Krugman, PM Carpenter and others want Obama to do in the face an opposition that doesn't want to compromise on this issue, but it seems to me that among the reasonable interpretations to be made from GOP rhetoric is that they don't much care if Obama exercises the so-called Constitutional Option--essentially ignoring the debt ceiling restriction and authorizing Treasury to pay the country's bills anyway.

Certainly their drastic-spending-cuts-only demand is ludicrous and not made in good faith. In addition, their offstated claims that the debt ceiling clock isn't a serious matter and the "Treasury has lots of means at its disposal to avoid default" bare the sound of a party that expects its demands to not be taken seriously and an invitation for the President to act regardless of any authorization legislation.

Obviously, at some point, the GOP would rail against the President one way or the other. But their language so far seems, weirdly, to be anti-crisis. And given the tragedy that would result from implementing the GOP's Dream Spending Cuts as an alternative, it's hard to imagine a worse outcome than the Constitutional Option.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Punching Back

Unfortunately, I think David Frum makes some valid points here about the President's presser yesterday (h/t Sullivan):

1) The stuff about corporate jets is just … crapola really. It’s the Democratic equivalent of Republicans pretending that the deficit can be closed by cutting PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. If Obama, the supposed grownup in the room, wants to make the case for revenue measures, let him make the case for relevant revenue measures.

2) 30 or so days before a forced default on the financial obligations of the United States seems a poor choice of a time for negotiations over budget measures. Why is Obama allowing himself to be engaged in this way?

3) Why for that matter is Obama surrendering to the demand to change the subject from jobs to deficits? Surely Obama believes that rapid budget-cutting will be deflationary? And therefore irresponsible in the context of 10% unemployment, near-zero inflation, and 1% interest rates on federal debt? Why has he allowed himself to be pushed into measures he regards as irresponsible?

4) Beyond that why isn’t he yelling his head off about the Republican default threat? Why isn’t he being specific about what it could mean? And why isn’t he doing what Lyndon Johnson would do – making it clear that if H-Hour does arrive, he’ll use disbursement power just as politically as Republicans are using the power of the debt ceiling: eg, paying Medicaid bills from Blue states first, Red states later? Paying farmers and other Republican constituencies with IOUs, while hoarding cash for Democratic voters?

I do appreciate that the President made specific references to the governmental functions, like ensuring food safety, that could be at stake, that are in fact already at stake, in a spending-cuts-only position on raising the debt limit.

And it seems rather obvious that Democrats have public opinion on their side relating to tax increases, even those beyond the marginal ones Obama offered up yesterday.

But I'm having a hard time seeing how the scope of the ultimate agreement won't embrace nearly all the GOP demands, given the circumstances and Obama's unwillingness to make the consequences of default and drastic spending cuts plain to the public.

At the same time, that his speech elicited a wonderful "He's a dick" from GOP shill Mark Halperin, followed quickly by an apology and suspension from MSNBC qualifies as a small reward.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

American Christianity and MMA

One of the most disconcerting aspects of American Christianity is its, at best, indifference to violence in our culture. At worst, Christianity, especially it's more fundamentalist and evangelical strains, seem to actively defend it.

I mention this in relation to the recent Supreme Court decision on violence in video games. Steve M at No More Mister Niced Blog writes:

To a guy like Scalia, for whom it's always going to be 1968, lefties are people who burn draft cards because they're simperingly allergic to red-blooded American violence, even as they insist on having dirty hippie dope-fueled sex in the streets. Lefties want you to shun Patton and The Green Betets and go see I Am Curious (Yellow) instead, or some mystifying Off-Off-Broadway play with antiwar sentiments and nudity and no plot.

Or, as Charles Murray wrote in a 2010 Washington Post op-ed praising the tea party and sneering at "the New Elite":

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

Dirty hippies hate NASCAR and mixed martial arts because, y'know, people can get hurt. Eeek! I'm not sure how this jibes with the existence of successful contact-sport teams in, say, Boston, or other blue enclaves, but this is what wingers believe. So of course the conservative bloc (Thomas excepted, admittedly) thinks game violence (as opposed to, say, porn sex) is protected speech.

I actually don't know if Charles Murray is a church-goer. But to the extent he represents the wing of American conservatism that is perpetually lamenting the decline of American culture, it's interesting he would single out Mixed Martial Arts (see I know what the acronym MMA means) as somehow virtuos.

Whatever else could be said about MMA, it certainly isn't Christian in any respect. And yet, I can't recall any Christian leaders denouncing it. Sex and the entertainment industry, yes. Conservative Christians hate that. But violence on the sports field or at the point of a gun? Today's Christianity seems all too comfortable with it.

Obama's Bully Pulpit

Interesting little discussion at Balloon Juice related to Obama's "evolving" position on gay marriage and whether or not more assertive presidential leadership would be beneficial.

In general, I think Obama's use of the presidential bully pulpit has been pretty disappointing. He hasn't made much of an effort to challenge the anti-government rhetoric of Republicans and in so doing, help provide liberals and liberal-minded independents a reason to support the president's legislative successes, which have been several (universal health care, the consumer financial protection bureau, stricter food safety regs, and an improved auto industry condition due to the bailout, to name a few).

But I'm not sure a bolder, more public stance on marriage equality, particular state initiatives in Maryland and New York, would be advantageous. The recent victory in New York owes a lot to that state's GOP Senate majorty's willingness to allow a vote on marriage equality to come to the floor, a position that might have been harder had the President weighed in on the matter.

The President has already started the elimination of DADT and is no longer defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court, itself a potentially controversial tact given the Executive Department's general obligation to enforce federal law.

Still I long for an Obama more willing to be more public about these positions.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


Yeah, I've gotten several of these invites already. The last one suggested a $95 donation...

Though I think it's quite revealing, I don't really have any objection to Obama's efforts to persuade Wall Street and other oligarchs to (once again) fill his coffers with cash. Virtually every politician, especially at this level, is going to troll for money wherever they can get it, if, for no other reason, than to deprive their opponents of that cash. I just don't want to have to once again endure 18 months of the propagandizing (and false) mythologizing conceit that this is some sort of special campaign propelled by plucky, small-donor enthusiasts driving him back to the White House $5 and $10 at a time so that he can stand up on their behalf to special interests.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Iowa and the GOP

From this otherwise unremarkable and unenlightening article in today's Post, Dan Balz says:

The extent to which Romney solidified his position on Monday will also affect Jon Huntsman Jr. The former Utah governor and former U.S. ambassador to China in the Obama administration will announce his candidacy next week.

In so many ways he and Romney are competing for the same support. Both are former governors, both tout business experience, both are Mormons, and neither feels comfortable with the electorate in Iowa and therefore must take his stand in New Hampshire.

Not to concern-troll for Romney or Huntsman, but if the GOP wants to win the WH in 2012 I would assume winning Iowa would be part of that strategic calculus.

It's possible they figure that with other more evangelical conservatives in the race, especially with Minnesota neighbors Pawlenty and Bachmann competing in the Iowa caucuses, the two Utah Mormons need to make their stand elsewhere.

But if they aren't "comfortable with the Iowa electorate", that could make for a tougher general election as well.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

More Bad Economic News

First, is this Post piece on Treasury Secretary, Tim Geitner. According to the Post, Geitner has been among the leading Obama advisors who want to prioritize deficit reduction over further stimulus.

A couple of interesting tidbits from this article, though, are that (1) Larry Effin Summers was one of Obama's "job recovery first" advisors; that (2) at least Geitner thinks deficit reduction should involve tax increases; and that (3) the government needs enough money to do its job:

Republicans were pushing for an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy enacted during George W. Bush’s presidency. It was administration policy to oppose extending them, but neither White House advisers nor congressional Democrats, facing tough midterm elections, wanted to engage in a tax fight.

Geithner, however, believed the tax cuts were a waste of money at a time of growing deficits and began giving speeches about the importance of letting them expire

Naturally, Republicans who want debt/deficit reduction through tax cuts, don't much like Geitner's plan or views:

“After meeting with both President Obama and Treasury Secretary Geithner this week, I and my colleagues are not confident that the Administration has a credible plan to reduce our debt, so it’s time to demand one,” freshman Rep. Diane Black (R-Teabag) said in a statement. “Clearly a package of significant spending cuts and structural reforms are necessary.”

But since the Obama Administration seems to neither have the interest of doing more stimulus, or of persuading the public of the need to do more stimulus, this article wasn't especially suprising.

I actually found the NYT write-up of Fed Chairman Bernanke's recent comments more discouraging:

The leaders of the Federal Reserve are talking like people ready to sit down and let others take the lead in addressing the nation’s economic problems.

“Monetary policy cannot be a panacea,” the Fed’s chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, told an audience of bankers Tuesday in Atlanta.

He said that growth remained slow and uneven, but he made no mention of the possibility that the Fed would intervene, noting instead that “a healthy economic future” required a plan to shrink the federal deficit.

William C. Dudley, one of Mr. Bernanke’s top lieutenants, expanded on the same theme Tuesday night, saying that the government needed to balance its books, and that the nation needed to reduce its dependence on borrowing and consumption.

“These are fundamentally structural issues — not cyclical issues; they cannot be tackled primarily through monetary policy,” Mr. Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech at a Midtown Manhattan hotel. “Instead, monetary policy is mainly a tool for stabilizing the macroeconomy and keeping inflation expectations well anchored.”


Mr. Bernanke made clear that recent data had shaken his confidence in the strength of the recovery, which continues to depend on extensive federal support. Mr. Bernanke has said he wants to see evidence of strong and sustained hiring by private firms before deciding that the economy can withstand the loss of that support. On Tuesday, he said that “until we see a sustained period of stronger job creation, we cannot consider the recovery to be truly established.”

The economy has expanded much more slowly this year than the Fed had predicted. Last month private employers added only 83,000 jobs, reducing the average so far this year to about 180,000 jobs a month — barely enough to cut into the numbers of the jobless.

Mr. Bernanke noted that after two years of economic recovery, the net decline in one important measure, aggregate hours worked, remained greater than the peak decline in the same measure during the deep recession in 1981-82.

So, Bernanke doesn't think any more Fed action would matter, deficit reduction should be the goal, and oh yeah, even though the Fed's more optimistic economic projections haven't come true, the Fed still thinks things are basically OK and improving and will do better. We're sure this time. Meanwhile, William Dudley, one of Bernanke's Fed deputies, repeats teabag economics in saying the Fed should basically only execute one of its fundamental duties (fight inflation) while ignoring the other (promoting full employment).


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Media Still Love Ryan "Boldness"

Writing in today's Wash Post (link unavailable), reporter Dan Balz says about the Ryan Medicare Plan:

Ryan (Wis) earned plaudits for putting forward a bold proposal on the table to deal with what is genuinely a national problem. But without significant debate and discussion, House Republicans pressed ahead voted to embrace it...

Acknowledging the lack of "significant debate and discussion" is surely a colossal understatement. The Democratic HCR was debated ad nauseum (mostly falsely, i.e. death panels) for over a year. The Medicare Voucher Plan was rushed through in a manner of days after it's publication. The ink was barely dry on Ryan's budget documents before House Republicans (R-Teabagger) voted almost en masse in favor.

But aside from having the Ryan Medicare Bill "rammed down our throats", that the bill still keeps getting labeled "bold" by Media Villagers is more than mortal citizens should have to bare. It's indicative, I think, of the media establishment's regret that the plan wasn't unquestioningly embraced by consumers of health care and the families that care about them.

Update: Andrew Sullivan highlights a Center For Budget and Policy Priorities post by Paul N. Van de Water that shows healthcare spending for the elderly would actually increase under the Ryan Medicare Voucher Plan. And most of this increase would be born by the elderly themselves.

Why Does The Republican Party Hate Consumers?

There will always be things I don't understand about the universe, how we all came to be here, how life evolved, and why the Republican Party hates consumers. The Republican Party jihad against Elizabeth Warren and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is only the most high profile and peculiar demonstration of that hatred.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

And now for something completely local

Former Prince George's County Executive Jack Johnson has now pled guilty to charges of corruption (i.e. bribery and developer shakedowns) and appears to be headed to 11-13 years in prison. Johnson, who just finished serving two terms as County Executive, was arrested, along with his wife, on bribery charges at the end of last year.

Johnson is apparently "sorry for what happened" but wants to remind PG residents that "all have sinned..."

So what did Johnson's bribery yield for residents of PG County? Apperently not more or sufficient grocery stores:

What a luxury for the residents of Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood to fight over the redesign of a Giant grocery store. Not long ago, the Safeway serving the Landover Hills area in Prince George’s County fled. Quite recently the nearby Giant packed up; the company said that the footprint was too small for its current business model.

While I’m grateful that an Aldi’s is slated to move into that location in the fall, its stores don’t accept WIC payments — a real drawback for the low-
income residents who have walked to that location for the past 30 years.

Ah, to get into a snit over whether the new Giant will maintain the historic integrity of the building it will occupy, or whether the addition of mixed-use development there would cause traffic problems. In Prince George’s, we’re facing what’s closer to a food desert rather than the glut of Cleveland Park, which has at least five supermarkets less than two miles from the Wisconsin Avenue Giant.

“The Cleveland Park community is going to have a bright new supermarket,” says Giant’s public relations office. If its residents can’t agree on that new supermarket, please send it to the Landover area. We’ll take it.

Jolene Ivey, Cheverly

The writer is a member of the Maryland House of Delegates (D-Prince George’s).

While many will be glad Johnson is finally getting his due, as rumors and allegations of corruption surrounded him for years, it's the people of PG County who will bear the brunt of Johnson's "sins".

Behold the Awesomeness of Voucherized Medicare

I wonder, though, how and when did voucherized Medicare become the GOP’s, or anyone’s, health care gospel? All during the HCR debate progressives were all over the place complaining (with some justification) of the inadequacy of the plan, the need for something more progressive, for something less wedded to prior GOP ideas (like the individual mandate). But every Repub except the Newtster is suddenly all on board with a proposal that got no campaign attention—because it didn’t exist—and was unveiled and passed (“rammed down our throats”) with lightening speed as soon as Boner got the gavel.

If It's Wednesday, It Must Be

Anti-Chavez Day at the Washington Post, special front-page, below-the-fold edition.

Since Chavez is well-known to be planning a united Latin/South America world government and invasion of the U.S. to impose Soshulism and Shariah Law on us, this is indeed a most important report from the Post.

Seriously, the American media’s decade long Chavez-hate and military coup-amnesia has truly been a sight to behold.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

It's Daniels-mania!!!

The NYT has a front-page item on the former Bush OMB director who helped balloon the nation's debt after Clintonian taxes brought finally brought the budget back into balance in 1999.

The Wash Post relegates coverage of its hero to the Style section, which is more appropriate given the aspect of Daniels' life it's referencing, but unfortunately includes an obligatory mention of Daniels' supposed Fiscal Seriousness:

The governor’s political enemies — those who are eager to box out a promising contender with a reputation for fiscal seriousness, establishment backing and intellectual heft — are taking him at his word.

Fiscal seriousness!!!! Not like the current WH occupant who crashed the economy and exploded the national debt all by himself!

And intellectual heft!! Apparently the Post thinks this is a great trait for a Republican to have, but for the current WH occupant, "intellectual heft" is too "distant", too "Mr. Cool", too "analytical", too "reserved".

Friday, May 06, 2011

I Can't Believe We're Losing To These People

Republicans still hate consumers:

Republican senators vowed Thursday to block any nominee to lead the fledgling Consumer Financial Protection Bureau unless stronger limits are put on its power, in the latest blow in a long-running battle to rein in the watchdog agency before it officially launches this summer.

In a letter to President Obama, 44 lawmakers called for a board of directors to run the agency, rather than a single leader. The letter also demanded tougher oversight of the CFPB by existing banking regulators, such as the Financial Stability Oversight Council, and that the new agency be funded by congressional appropriations. Under the current structure, the CFPB’s budget is carved from the Federal Reserve.

“How the CFPB director exercises his or her authority . . . will have a profound influence on the future of our economy and job creation,” the letter said. Lead signatories were Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Richard C. Shelby (Ala.), ranking Republican on the Senate banking committee.

The proposals mirror three bills passed by the House Financial Services Committee a day earlier. Rep. Sean P. Duffy (R-Wis.), who sponsored one of the bills, said he believed that “the movement here on both sides of the aisle is to make sure we have a system that’s going to work for our consumers.”

But consumer advocacy groups lashed out at the proposals, arguing that they would give banks undue influence over the CFPB and jeopardize its independence.

“Enactment of these measures would virtually guarantee that the CFPB would be a weak and timid agency,” said Travis Plunkett, legislative director for the Consumer Federation of America.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Courting Disaster!

Obama not keeping us safe! Time for some golden oldies:

White House speechwriter Marc Thiessen was locked in a secure room and given access to the most sensitive intelligence when he was tasked to write President George W. Bush’s 2006 speech explaining the CIA’s interrogation program and why Congress should authorize it. Few know more about these CIA operations than Thiessen, and in his new book, Courting Disaster, he documents just how effective the CIA’s interrogations were in foiling attacks on America, penetrating al-Qaeda’s high command, and providing our military with actionable intelligence. Thiessen also shows how reckless President Obama has been in shutting down the CIA’s program and releasing secret documents that have aided our enemies.

Courting Disaster proves: (PROVES!!--ed)

How the CIA program thwarted specific deadly attacks against the U.S.
Why “enhanced interrogation” was not torture by any reasonable legal or moral standard
How the information gained by “enhanced interrogation” could not have been acquired any other way
How President Obama’s actions since taking office have left America much more vulnerable to attack

In chilling detail, Thiessen reveals how close the terrorists came to striking again, how intelligence gained from “enhanced interrogation” repeatedly stymied their plots, and how President Obama’s dismantling of this CIA program is inviting disaster for America.

Thiessen is among the Bush-torture apologists trying to claim now that their torture helped catch and kill OBL. Sully links to Jane Meyer who writes from the New Yorker:

You would think that if the C.I.A.’s interrogation of high-value detainees was all it took, the U.S. government would have succeeded in locating bin Laden before 2006, which is when the C.I.A.’s custody of so-called “high-value detainees” ended. Instead, after the Supreme Court ruled that year that prisoners needed to be treated humanely in compliance with the Geneva Conventions, the C.I.A. was forced to turn its special detainees over to the military for detention and interrogation using more lawful tactics in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It took five more years before all the dots could be adequately connected.


This timeline doesn’t seem to provide a lot of support for the pro-torture narrative. One would think that if so-called “enhanced interrogations” provided the magic silver bullet, and if the courier was a protégé of K.S.M.’s, then the C.I.A. might have wrapped this up back in 2003, while they were waterboarding the 9/11 mastermind a hundred and eighty-three times.

Monday, May 02, 2011

A Fitting End

Well, I really regret turning off the TV before 11 pm last night.

I'll confess that one of the first thoughts I had this morning upon learning of the killing of OBL was one of suspicion about his being buried at sea. As more details of the raid and killing have come in my suspicions have been put to rest. Obviously it goes without saying, Great job, Mr. President and thank you, Navy Seals.

It's particularly fitting that his killing was accomplished by a Democratic president and by this Democratic president especially. Part of the trauma associated with the events of 9/11 was the three year period or so afterwards when both liberals and political dissent were treated as treasononous. Beyond the tragedy and devastation of that day was the hysteria that gripped much of the media and common man alike. The first few years after 9/11 were nothing short of toxic, for many Americans and for hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's in particular.

But the killing of OBL helps put the final stake into that period. There are obvious signs before last night's heroics that the nation has, with at least some awareness, started to move on. But getting OBL "dead or alive" preferably dead, was an important piece of the healing puzzle.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Who Will Protect The Animals?

Amidst all the birther nonsense, not to mention deathly serious issues like abolishing Medicare, some of our "labratories of democracy" are hell-bent on making life more miserable for our animal friends:

Getting caught is a drag.

Just ask Kirt Espenson, whose employees at E6 Cattle Company in Southwest Texas were videotaped bashing cows’ heads in with pickaxes and hammers and performing other acts of unspeakably sickening cruelty.

Yet if some state legislators have their way, horrific but valuable videos like that one will never be made.

But, first, the story: Espenson, who comes off on the phone as sincere and contrite, explained to me that he’d made a “catastrophic error in a very difficult situation,” when ultracold weather caused frostbite in some of his 20,000 cattle. He was short-staffed and had his best employees saving the endangered but viable cows while new workers were asked to “euthanize” those who were near death. Out came the hammers. “We just didn’t have the protocol to deal with it,” he told me. “I made a mistake and take full responsibility.”

The offending employees have been terminated. Nothing like this has ever happened before. Nothing like this will ever happen again.

Much as I’d like to believe Espenson, this sounds like too many other horror stories of animal cruelty, and frankly — without belittling either situation — the excuses echo Abu Ghraib. And this is far from an isolated incident. Remember the four Iowa factory farmers who pleaded guilty in 2009 to sexually abusing and beating pigs, and the abuses of downed cattle exposed by the Humane Society of the United States in 2008 at the Hallmark slaughterhouse in California, which led to the country’s biggest ever recall of meat.

The root problem is not Espenson or his company, any more than the root problem at Abu Ghraib was Lynndie England. The problem is the system that enables cruelty and a lack not just of law enforcement but actual laws. Because the only federal laws governing animal cruelty apply to slaughterhouses, where animals may spend only minutes before being dispatched. None apply to farms, where animals are protected only by state laws.

And these may be moving in the wrong direction. In their infinite wisdom the legislatures of Iowa, Minnesota, Florida and others are considering measures that would punish heroic videographers like the one who spent two weeks as an E6 employee, who was clearly traumatized by the experience. (I spoke to him on the phone Saturday, with a guarantee of anonymity.)

Minnesota’s “ag-gag” law — isn’t that a great name? — would seek to punish not only photographers and videographers but those who distribute their work, which means organizations like the Humane Society of the United States and Mercy for Animals, which contracted the videographer for the E6 investigation. “It’s so sweeping,” says Nathan Runkle, the executive director of Mercy for Animals, “that if you took a picture of a dog at a pet shop and texted it to someone, that could be a crime.” Unconstitutional? Probably, but there it is.

Videotaping at factory farms wouldn’t be necessary if the industry were properly regulated. But it isn’t. And the public knows this; the one poll about the Iowa ag-gag law shows a mere 21 percent of people supporting it. And poll after poll finds that almost everyone believes that even if it costs more, farm animals should be treated humanely.

That is not the norm on factory farms. Espenson insists that it was a coincidence that the investigator for Mercy for Animals showed up just when his workers were hammering cows’ heads; the videographer believes it was routine. And, while the farmer claims that extreme weather had hurt the cows, Weather Underground recorded that the weather was far from extreme during the period in question. The investigator theorizes that weaker, less desirable animals were sickened by living in their own feces.

We can’t know. What we can know is that organizations like the Humane Society and Mercy for Animals need to be allowed to do the work that the federal and state governments are not: documenting the kind of behavior most of us abhor. Indeed, the independent investigators should be supported. As Runkle says, “The industry should be teaming up with organizations like ours to put cameras in these facilities, to advocate for mandatory training and have real euthanasia policies, things that would allow the public to trust these operations rather than fear them.”

The biggest problem of all is that we’ve created a system in which standard factory-farming practices are inhumane, and the kinds of abuses documented at E6 are really just reminders of that. If you’re raising and killing 10 billion animals every year, some abuse is pretty much guaranteed.

There is, of course, the argument that domesticating animals in order to kill them is essentially immoral; those of us who eat meat choose not to believe this. But in “Bengal Tiger,” a Broadway play set at Baghdad Zoo, the tiger — played by Robin Williams — wonders: “What if my every meal has been an act of cruelty?” The way most animals are handled in the United States right now has to have all of us omnivores wondering the same thing.

This sh$t is starting to really p#ss me off. First there was the anti-puppy mill referendum in Missouri last year, which the voters passed by a small margin, but which is in the process of being undone by the state legislature. Now this crap. WTF?

Mercy For Animal's website is here and you can make a one-time or regular donation.

The NYT editorial page also includes a short editorial, rightfully denouncing Iowa, Minnesota and Florida's pending legislation.

I'd also love to hear some presidential bully-pulpiting on this.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Richard Cohen blasts "Cult of Lee"

Every once in a while, Richard Cohen erupts into some very shrill:

It has taken a while, but it’s about time Robert E. Lee lost the Civil War. The South, of course, was defeated on the battlefield in 1865, yet the Lee legend — swaddled in myth, kitsch and racism — has endured even past the civil rights era when it became both urgent and right to finally tell the “Lost Cause” to get lost. Now it should be Lee’s turn. He was loyal to slavery and disloyal to his country — not worthy, even he might now admit, of the honors accorded him.

I confess to always being puzzled by the cult of Lee. Whatever his personal or military virtues, he offered himself and his sword to the cause of slavery. He owned slaves himself and fought tenaciously in the courts to keep them. He commanded a vast army that, had it won, would have secured the independence of a nation dedicated to the proposition that white people could own black people and sell them off, husband from wife, child from parent, as the owner saw fit. Such a man cannot be admired.

But he is. All over the South, particularly in his native Virginia, the cult of Lee is manifested in streets, highways and schools named for him. When I first moved to the Washington area, I used to marvel at these homages to the man. What was being honored? Slavery? Treason? Or maybe, for this is how I perceive him, no sense of humor? (Often, that is mistaken for wisdom.) I also wondered what a black person was supposed to think or, maybe more to the point, feel. Chagrin or rage would be perfectly appropriate.

I'm pretty puzzled by it, too.

I suspect the admiration of Lee probably stems from the 100+ years of grace awarded the South upon their military defeat, when a morally exhausted but commercially ambitious country turned its attention from war and bloodshed (and racial justice) to reconciliation among Whites and expansion. More specifically, Lee, being a "warrior", is more apt to be seen as "above the fray" and given reverence not afforded to other, more political Confederates such as Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens.

The nation's turn from war to reconciliation, at the expense of racial justice, is addressed in David Blight's Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory. I'm a few chapters into it and recommend it heartily.

If anything, I find the respect afforded Lee by professional historians more puzzling than that of average citizens, particularly those in Virginia, who could be expected to be more generous to one of their state's ancestors.

At the same time, I'm not as irritated by the various signs and other monuments to Lee and other Confederates as I once was. The respect granted to "losers" in American history is in its own way, appropriate. I think it largely serves the interest of a pluralist society to allow for a wide range of "heros". For example, there are monuments and tributes, commercial and otherwise, to the various Native American leaders of the Old West (Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, etc) in places such as South Dakota, that serve to help educate Ameicans living long after of their lives and causes, leading us to question our own country's treatment, past and present, of the continent's native inhabitants. Many Americans living today no doubt have little sympathy for Indians or the historical preservation of their leaders. Nonetheless, we appropriately remind ourselves of these representatives of American life.

In the case of Lee in particular, it must be said that Lee was not tried for treason (nor really was anyone else from the Southern Confederacy). General Grant, among others, didn't wish to see Lee imprisoned or suffer politically or otherwise for his course of action, despite having fought against him for more than a year. So that his name adorns highways doesn't concern me too much. But it is high time that among our professional class that a more critical appraisal of the Confederal general is provided.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Very grim stuff in Mexico

Hard to know what to say about this, other than I was almost shocked to read it this morning. And given the carnage around the globe, it isn't always easy to be shocked. This reads like it was Afghanistan:

SAN FERNANDO, Mexico — At the largest mass grave site ever found in Mexico, where 177 bodies have been pulled from deep pits, authorities say they have recovered few bullet casings and little evidence that the dead were killed with a gun.

Instead, most died of blunt force trauma to the head, and a sledgehammer found at the crime scene this month is believed to have been used in the executions, according to Mexican investigators and state officials. The search continued Sunday, with state officials warning they expect the count to rise.

They say as many as 122 of the victims were passengers dragged off buses at drug cartel roadblocks on the major highway to the United States.

The mass killings of civilians at isolated ranches 90 minutes south of the Texas border mark a new level of barbarity in Mexico’s four-year U.S.-backed drug war.

As forensic teams and Mexican marines dig through deeper and darker layers here, the buried secrets in San Fernando are challenging President Felipe Calderon’s assertions that his government is winning the war and is in control of Mexico’s cities and roads.

In the past four years, more than 35,000 people have been killed and thousands more have simply disappeared, since Calderon sent the military to battle Mexican organized crime with $1.6 billion in U.S. support. U.S. officials in Mexico worry that criminal gangs are taking over sections of the vital border region not by overwhelming firepower but sheer terror.

On Thursday, cartel gunmen sacked the city of Miguel Aleman, across the river from Roma, Texas, tossing grenades and burning down three car dealerships, an auto parts outlet, a furniture store and a gas station. Three buses were strafed with gunfire Saturday in separate attacks, wounding three people.

The U.S. State Department issued new warnings Friday advising Americans to defer nonessential travel to the entire border state of Tamaulipas and large swaths of Mexico because of the threat of armed robbery, carjacking, kidnapping and murder by organized crime.

In the red dirt tombs of San Fernando, almost all the bodies were stripped of identification, meaning no licenses, bus ticket stubs or photographs of loved ones, according to interviews with local and state officials, making the job of notifying next of kin especially difficult.

Forensic photographs shown to The Washington Post depict mummified bodies caked in dirt and badly decomposed, with signs of extreme cranial trauma. In the largest two graves, holding 43 and 45 bodies, the corpses were piled atop one another in a 10-foot-deep pit dug by a backhoe, that criminals filled over in the past four months.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A Taxing Problem, not a spending problem

I know Faux's Republican bosses are telling them to whine about how our deficit/debt is a "spending problem, not a taxing problem", but if 45% of American households don't have any federal income tax liability, it what sense can that be a "spending problem, not a taxing problem"?

Also, too, it turns out that the average federal income tax rate for "taxed enough already" American households is a staggering 9.3%. Taxed enough already indeed.

The next teabag person who wants to complain about the deficit/debt being a "spending problem, not a taxing problem" and wants to whine out about being "taxed enough already" should be compelled to provide the rest of us a copy of their federal tax return. Or else shut up.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Where are Sarah Palin and Christine O'Donnell when you need them?

Unable to substantively answer Obama's budget challenge from Wednesday, Republicans are left flailing for the fainting couches:

The three Republican congressmen saw it as a rare ray of sunshine in Washington’s stormy budget battle: an invitation from the White House to hear President Obama lay out his ideas for taming the national debt.

They expected a peace offering, a gesture of goodwill aimed at smoothing a path toward compromise. But soon after taking their seats at George Washington University on Wednesday, they found themselves under fire for plotting “a fundamentally different America” from the one most Americans know and love.

“What came to my mind was: Why did he invite us?” Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just a wasted opportunity."

Whaaah. Sounds like these Very Manly Republican Randians need to "man-up".

Then the Post writer adds this:

The situation was all the more perplexing because Obama has to work with these guys: Camp is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, responsible for trade, taxes and urgent legislation to raise the legal limit on government borrowing. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) chairs the House Republican Conference. And Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) is House Budget Committee chairman and the author of the spending blueprint Obama lacerated as “deeply pessimistic” during his 44-minute address.

Have you ventured over to the House Ways & Means Committee website lately? Let's just say it's not full of bipartisany warm and fuzzies.

But I'm sure our Beltway Media will waste no time making Republican hurt fee-fees their obsession for the next few weeks.

A Fairness Doctrine To Believe In

In a very, very shrill and totally unBrave and Not Serious column today, Steven Pearlstein lays into Ryan:

Thursday morning, before a friendly crowd on Capitol Hill, I listened as Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, his voice dripping with moral indignation, declared that by bringing up the issue of fairness in his budget speech this week, President Obama had stooped to “political demagoguery.”

Political demagoguery? In Washington? We’re shocked, shocked. Certainly we haven’t heard any demagoguery from Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) or Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) or Ryan himself? Of course not. The budget crisis is much too serious for that.

News flash for Ryan: In deciding what to spend and whom to tax, lawmakers’ fights over budgets are always fights about values and priorities in which fairness has as rightful a place as fiscal rectitude and economic efficiency.

If it’s legitimate to decry the immorality of leaving our grandchildren a legacy of crushing debt, which Ryan and the Republicans do ad nauseam, then it is no less legitimate to talk about the immorality of reducing deficits by cutting nutritional support for pregnant women and infants rather than raising taxes on millionaires.

As Balloon Juice commenter J notes:

One of the signs of the wrong turn we’ve taken as a society, is the near total disappearance of the word ‘fairness’ from our public discourse and, it seems, of the corresponding idea from our thinking. It should be front and center. I’d like to hear Democrats use it far more often than they do and far more often than the mealy-mouthed terms they tend to favor.

Truer words never spoken.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Not Taxed Enough Already (No Tea)

This is the time of year when we are treated to the dual and obviously contradictory claims that (1) Taxes are too damn high and (2) Half the country is a bunch of moochers because they don't pay any damn taxes at all. Whaaaah.

How can these two claims both be true? We know, if we didn't know before, that members of the Republican Party just hate taxes. "They kill jobs." Raising them, even to reduce a debt and deficit that is bankrupting the country, is a "non-starter." And we don't have a "taxing problem" we have a "spending problem".

Except, apparently maybe we do have a taxing problem:

On his August 30, 2010, Fox News show, Sean Hannity said, "If half of Americans now don't pay taxes, and the other half are the beneficiaries of the tax that the other half pay, at some point you say, OK, you got a full voting block and it seems like the Democratic Party ... caters to that." Hannity has repeatedly claimed that 50 percent of Americans don't pay taxes.

So, taxes are job killers, can never be raised on anyone ever, and unfairly rob from the productive in our society. But at the same time, half the country that consists of Democrats don't pay any damn federal income taxes at all!

But maybe the Taxed Enough Already party is hedging their bets a bit:

KILMEADE: I just want to go through some things. Before people raise taxes on the somewhat so-called fortunate people in this country, because that's how they were labeled over the weekend, let's take a look at this chart: 97.11 percent of the taxes comes from 50 percent of the wage earners. There's a lot of people not paying taxes. And also, about who pays taxes, only 2.7 percent of taxes come from the bottom 50 percent of wage earners. So of course they're not -- the burden's not going to be on them. It's going to be on the people that are paying most of it anyway. [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 4/12/11]

The "bottom 50 percent of wage earners" sure are some serious deadweights, not paying their share. I wonder if any of these below-the-median hammock-laying Others are Taxed Enough Already teabag people? Are we to believe that all members of the TEA people's front of liberty are above-the-median John Galts, providing for all the rest of us?

Well, I kinda suspect that at least a few of these TEA bags belong to that despicable class of non to too low tax paying good for nothing wage earners.

I wonder when someone will point this out?

Aside: No, of course I don't believe the lower half of the wage earning distribution is a glot of no good bums. I do happen to think that even though low earners pay Social Security and Medicare taxes at the federal level and sales, income, property and other taxes at the state and local levels, that every wage earner should incur at least some post-tax-refund federal tax liability for things such as defense, national parks, food safety regulation, etc. We're all in this together. Let's just not let the reichwing, especially its supposed taxed enough already teabagging fringe continue to talk out of boths sides of its collective mouth. The country is not taxed enough already. And some of you teabaggers are lying.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Appropriations Fallout

Steve Benen notes a "pattern" that is "hard to miss":

At the time, this seemed, at least to me, like a plausible defense. Obama wanted an extension of unemployment benefits and to prevent a middle-class tax increase. With an imposing deadline, Republicans wouldn't budge on either point, so the White House struck a deal. These were "unique circumstances."

Except, the circumstances may not have been unique at all. We saw a situation in which Republicans were prepared to shut down the government, forcing the president to strike a deal he didn't want to make. We see Republicans poised to create a global crisis by blocking a debt-ceiling increase, pushing the president again into a situation where he may have to strike another deal. We see the next fiscal year's budget fight coming down the pike, and another shutdown threat.

The pattern is hard to miss -- a broad threat emerges, Republicans exploit through a hostage strategy, and the president, playing the role of responsible grown-up, takes steps to protect those who'd be "directly and immediately damaged."

Matt Yglesias has a good idea about how to approach the upcoming Armageddon over raising the debt ceiling:

It’s a two pronged strategy. The first one is a credible, repeated commitment not to surrender anything in exchange for getting congress to agree to the debt ceiling being increased. After all, why should anything be given up. Everyone knows that increasing the debt ceiling is the right thing to do. If the government were operating under uniform Republican control, the GOP would be increasing the debt ceiling. There’s nothing to bargain over. If some members of congress genuinely think that no increase in the debt ceiling is a superior options to raising it, then they’re entitled to be wrong. But there’s no reason that Obama should be trading votes with guys like John Boehner who know perfectly well that an increase is in order. This frames the issue correctly as one of whether or not Republicans who think an increase is warranted will nonetheless refuse to allow one in order to extract unrelated concessions.

The second prong, important for credibility, is to move to thinking about what happens as we reach the ceiling.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Moral Absolutes

Ruth Marcus:

Nothing justifies spending nearly $700 billion to extend tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans while cutting even more, $771 billion, of health care for the poorest.

Ruth Marcus is so silly. Why does she want all those Medicaid recipients driving around in their caddies and lounging on their hammocks?

Deep thought

I hadn't realized the last election was fought over funding for non-abortion related services of Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

"No Compromise"

This is what the teabags want:

“I know they all go up there and want to compromise,” said Phil Spence, vice chairman of the 2nd Tuesday Constitution Group in Roanoke. “I’m against compromise. Either we have principle, or we don’t have principle.”

No compromise. The teabags cannot deign to negotiate with The Enemy. The views of Other Americans cannot be considered. We are not worthy of their "democracy".

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Let the gushing begin

Paul Ryan, House Budget Committee Chair, and Ayn Rand lunatic, is proposing to phase out Medicare and Medicaid as we know it. To the tune of $5 trillion or so over the next 10 years, give or take. But our "liberal" media is pretty nonplussed about all of this at best, practically orgasmic at worst (see David Brooks today).

This NYT article by Robert Pear this morning is a case in point, although I'll admit it read a little better the second time than the first. Still, Pear refers to the whacking of these important programs and social safety-net pillars of our economy as merely a "fundamental rethinking of how the two programs work", excused as the need to "address the nation's fiscal challenges". As to the scope of the cuts, Pear understatedly reports that

the proposals on Medicaid and Medicare could shift some costs to beneficiaries and to the states.

Later, Pear discusses the plan's Medicaid component:

The Congressional Budget Office recently estimated that a Medicaid block grant, of the type proposed by Mr. Ryan and Ms. Rivlin, could save $180 billion over 10 years. House Republicans could save an additional $434 billion by eliminating the expansion in Medicaid eligibility scheduled to take place in 2014 under the new health care law.

Just think of it--if we could just whack that rather silly expansion in Medicaid provided by Obamacare we could save a whole nuther $434 bill. Wouldn't that be great?

The whole thing is a radical, drastic proposal to increase poverty, misery and economic inequality (as the plan also includes further cuts in the highest marginal tax rates).

Of course, if President Obama had not given away the store already in agreeing that "middle class" taxes can never be raised by any amount, ever, there might be the basis for offering an alternative to this nihilism. In the absence of that, in the "fierce urgency of now", our medial villagers will likely work double-overtime to assure us all how wonderful this fabulous budget blue print is.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Signs that the apocalypse is upon us, #801

Reality television star Donald Trump, still moving forward with presidential campaign plans, will headline a major Republican dinner in Iowa this June.

Maybe The Donald is jealous that that pizza company guy is getting all the attention.

My father always acts that way when he's drunk

From notable obits, former blues pianist and compadre of Muddy Waters, Pinetop Perkins, recently passed away at the fine old age of 97.

I especially got a kick out of this depiction of the late blues great:

From his days in the groups of Waters and the slide guitarist Robert Nighthawk to the vigorous solo career he fashioned over the last 20 years, Mr. Perkins’s accomplishments were numerous and considerable. His longevity as a performer was remarkable — all the more so considering his fondness for cigarettes and alcohol; by his own account he began smoking at age 9 and didn’t quit drinking until he was 82. Few people working in any popular art form have been as prolific in the ninth and tenth decades of their lives.

Not that I advocate cigaretting and drinking, mind you. Just amusing and a little heartening to see someone live it up for a long time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

I Can't Believe We're Losing To These People, Vol. 382

Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) recently accused Warren and the CFPB of leading “a regulatory shakedown,” because of their aggressive push for strict penalties against servicers in the pending settlement negotiations.


Warren quickly encountered skepticism from House Republicans who criticized the broad powers granted to the new bureau and its seemingly untouchable budget, both of which they argued could lead to a lack of accountability and the creation of unnecessary and burdensome new regulations.
Fortunately, it sounds like Warren got in a few good licks herself:

“If there had been a cop on the beat with the authority to hold mortgage servicers accountable a half dozen years ago, if there had been a consumer agency in place, the problems in mortgage servicing would have been exposed early and fixed while they were still small, long before they became a national scandal,” Warren said in testimony before a House Financial Services subcommittee. She is the Obama administration’s point person for setting up the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

If anything, Warren said, the uproar over shoddy foreclosure practices illustrated the need for an agency dedicated solely to protecting ordinary borrowers from abuses by lenders.

“I am glad that the consumer agency has been able to provide assistance in this important matter,” Warren said. “I thank Congress for creating this agency to provide a voice for American families. That’s why we’re here, and that’s what we’re doing.”

Friday, March 11, 2011

They Just Don't Want The Bill (Update)

It never really changes, does it?

Two weeks ago Maryland's state Senate passed legislation approving same sex marriage by a vote of 25-21. The bill is currently being debated by the lower house and is, was, expected to be put up for a vote today. It's prospects for approval are unclear. Delegates previously on record for supporting marriage equality, even those who originally co-sponsored the bill, have backtracked, deterred by opposition in their districts, largely from church groups. And of course this is a very proper and necessary feature of our democracy, that legislation not be rushed through, that citizens from all walks of life have a chance to become aware and knowledgeable about the various courses of action being undertaken by their government.

At the same time, allow me to call BS. Marriage equality, to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, doesn't pick anyone's pocket or break anyone's leg. Nor would it cause anyone to suffer. Nonetheless, there are people who just "don't want the bill".

So nothing ever really changes. Slow, hard-fought, incremental process is made on some matters. But if it appears someone else might get a right I reserve for myself, that I cannot abide. Yes, it's true, a certain legislative act might not hurt me in any material way, it might not take money from me or cause me direct injury. It might not even cause suffering to someone, or something else. But it would nonetheless offend me, it would present a different reality than what I subscribe to, it would lessen the degree of control I feel in this chaotic world. So, and perhaps even because, it would help others be happy and more fulfilled, I just "don't want it".

So, yeah, I'm calling bullshit on Delegate Alston's reversal of course in apparent acceptance of her community's mood. She, and the state's citizens, deserve a better argument, a better opposition, than just "not wanting the bill".

The failure of the anti-gay marriage contingent to come up with a reasonable, coherent argument was on full display during the proceedings in which a federal court heard evidence on California's notorious Proposition 8. Perhaps better publicized hearings and debate in Maryland would have helped highlight the opposition's lack of thoughtfullness on this issue. And maybe that opportunity will present itself again, either in future bills or in a referendum, should matters come to that.

But for now, the timid, uncritical acceptance of prejudice by some Maryland delegates is enough to make me sick.

Update: There was apparently not enough support in the House, so the delegates have kicked the bill back to the Judiciary Committee, effectively killing the effort on behalf of marriage equality for the year.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Marriage Equality in Maryland: Vote Expected Tomorrow

It hasn't gotten much attention nationally (there have been, admittedly, a few other things going on), but the Maryland state Senate recently passed a bill permitting same sex marriage (marriage, not civil unions). The bill is currently being debated in the state House, where it's prospects are less certain. Governor Martin O'Malley has promised to sign the bill if it is passed by the House. Opponents likewise promise to force a referendum on the 2012 ballot if the House passes the measure. Although Maryland is heavily Democratic, church groups, especially those in primarily African American Prince Georges County have spoken out against the bill.

Obviously I want the bill to pass, and have contacted my House delegates about it. All of them (Howard County Democrats) support it, and at least one is a co-sponsor.

However, even if the vote tomorrow is successful, the effort for marriage equality would be far from over. It's also apparent that marriage equality proponents have more work to do in broadening our supporting coalition.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Private money for schools?

The Wash Post editorial page likes the idea, waxing eloquent in its perpetual promotion of school "reform" by any means necessary:

Ms. Henderson's appointment will bring much-needed stabilization to the system. Many lower-ranking officials recruited by Ms. Rhee and attracted by the prospect of serious reform will feel comfortable staying on. Ms. Henderson also will be able to recruit strong new colleagues as needed and maintain the private financial support that Ms. Rhee managed to attract.

I wonder why this aspect of school "reform" hasn't attracted much notice. It seems like kind of a big feckin deal. The whole thing about the "public" part of public schools is the idea that the public funds them and has input on them. With, and how much, private funding of public schools, the public's influence over it's public schools is questionable.

The Post's editorialists have long weighed in against the supposed "pay for play" culture of neighboring Prince Georges County. But private funding of public schools carries its own brand of pay-for-play. The givers of private funds are presumably, and usually, more than a little casually interested in seeing those dollars implemented for certain, policy-specific reasons.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Liberal Case for Social Security Reform

I raised this subject two months ago after the President's Debt Commission released its report. The nashing-of-teeth that's greeted the release of the President's 2012 budget over entitlements seems a good enough reason to raise again.

The most common liberal objection as I can tell is that reforms now won't guarantee conservatives won't come back three or six years from now demanding privatization or further cuts. And that's true. But the conservative case for post-reform privatization will be much weaker if the program has been put on the path to sustainable fiscal solvency. In such a case, conservatives won't have a basis for claiming there's a "crisis" if the program's annual reports begin to establish in the public mind that the program is indeed projected to be solvent for the next 75+ years. I'll return to this point later.

Broadly speaking, a liberal case for Social Security reform now is primarily one of political risk (combined with the economics and demographics affecting the program). Simply put, doing something now is better than waiting till later when the problem (long term actuarial imbalance) is worse. Beyond economics, the state of American politics might be worse later, too. If so, the "Overton Window" might have shifted towards a full dismantling of the program.

An additional factor worth mentioning is that for every year for the past two decades or so, Social Security's annual reports have projected the program to reach a point of insolvency at some time in the future. Many liberals tend to be dismissive of these projections in the sense that the year of projected insolvency is always said to be many years, usually several decades in the future. Why give in to pressure to reduce benefits now when the problem is many years away?

Well, one of the reasons is that because the program's funding gaps are reported every year, the public is made aware of them and legitimately or not, has cause to think the program's fiscal health is shaky. Hence the frequent mentions among polling respondents and radio call in shows that the system won't be there for "them" and will in fact be bankrupt. I have reason to attest that some version of this belief is common even among otherwise well-educated, politically involved, progressive people. Kevin Drumm recently made reference to a member of the political class' holding such an opinion.

It's tempting to castigate the media for its failure to properly educate the public or to blame members of the public, especially those who we think should know better, for this state of affairs. But the fact remains, these concerns and beliefs, while not totally accurate, do reflect information grounded in official publications and projections. And one way to help alleviate these concerns is to put the program back on solid footing for the long term.

The Social Security program, and its rich history for helping lift many of the aged out of poverty, will be the better for it. Let's not wait for 2028 or some other later year when the program's circumstances, and the public mood, could more than likely be considerably worse than today and supporters of the program have less room to maneuver. I'm not suggesting reform today will suddenly strengthen and improve everyone's perception of the program. But it would be a start.

On a related note, I largely buy in to the case made by Andrew Sprung and others that the best way for the President to lead on matters such as entitlements is through the Congress and negotiations with leaders from both parties, and not necessarily through the yearly budget requests or even for now, through public appeals. So I'm not necessarily looking for the President to be up front and vocal about this right now. But I do hope he and other progressives in and out of Congress begin to consider the matter of Social Security reform for the reasons discussed here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Who's Defaulting?

Andrew Sullivan seems to think the U.S. is on the verge of fiscal default. How likely is this? What would cause it? The failure of Congress to increase the debt ceiling?

The term "default" has come up in several of Sullivan's recent posts, as in unless drastic budget cuts (or tax increases) are enacted to balance the budget right now the country will be in default/in a state of bankruptcy.

This seems a rather drastic and questionable interpretation of the current situation. For one thing, unemployment is still almost 10 percent; Surely this has something to do with our growing deficits. And up till now elites such as Fed Chairman Bernanke have warned Congress of the need to increase the debt limit unconditionally.

But I'll be curious to see if Andrew's invocation of "default" rhetoric will soon find it's way into the mouths and keypads of Media Villagers looking for a rationale to cut "entitlements".

The GOP's Entitlement Game

Matt Yglesias has an extremely shrill post up about the GOP and Social Security:

Right now we have conservatives simultaneously calling for huge spending cuts and also getting the line’s share of old people’s votes even while the vast majority of non-security spending is on old people. In essence, by first separating the domestic budget into “discretionary” and “entitlement” portions and then dividing the entitlement programs up into “what today’s old people get” versus “what tomorrow’s old people will get” the political class has created a large and vociferously right-wing class of people who are completely immune from the impact of their own calls for fiscal austerity. In my view, that reality is the biggest driver of our current political dysfunction. There’s some need for spending to be lower over the long term than it’s currently projected to go and I think it’s politically and morally vital that the adjustments be made in a balanced way. You frequently hear of the need to exempt everyone over the age of 55 from any possible cuts. That’s nice for them and encourages them to go right on complaining about out of control spending. But the average 55 year-old will still be alive and collecting benefits in 2035 so the long-term budgetary implications of this “let the geezers keep their full benefits while they whine about how Democrats are bankrupting the country” are actually pretty significant.

I agree with Yglesias and others in pointing out that Social Security is not the cause of the deficit or the debt that's accumulated over the past decade. All the same, if conservatives, teabaggers, and Media Villagers are going to clamor for "entitlement" cuts generally, and Social Security cuts in particular, then the cuts should apply to everyone, right now. No more of this "austerity for thee, but not for me" shell game.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Barbara Jr. Does A Good

I know Atrios is a bit under-whelmed, but I think this is worth applauding:

Another high-profile Republican is breaking ranks to advocate for gay marriage -- George W. Bush's daughter Barbara. The New York Times reported late Monday that the dark-haired twin has taped a video for the Human Rights Campaign, to be shown at their annual gala in Manhattan Saturday, calling on the Empire State to legalize same-sex marriages. Bush, 29, has kept a lower profile than her author/"Today" correspondent sister Jenna, but recently founded the Global Health Corps, which sponsors do-gooder work in poor communities worldwide.

Barb Jr also seems to be doing a variety of good things. Kudos to the Bush twin.

Friday, January 07, 2011


I guess I'm not surprised Republican opted for the white-washed version of the text for yesterday's Let Us Read Our Glorious Constitwoshion Day.

It parallels the Bible fundamentalism popular among the conservative coalition in which while the whole of the Sacred Text is defended vociferously against all potential defamers and urged upon all heretics, literalist believers actually make very little use of the full material available.

For example, while Exodus 20 (The Ten Commandments) are a key part of Christianism's creed, I have yet to hear a sermon based on Exodus 21:

2 “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year, he shall go free, without paying anything. 3 If he comes alone, he is to go free alone; but if he has a wife when he comes, she is to go with him. 4 If his master gives him a wife and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and only the man shall go free.
5 “But if the servant declares, ‘I love my master and my wife and children and do not want to go free,’ 6 then his master must take him before the judges.[a] He shall take him to the door or the doorpost and pierce his ear with an awl. Then he will be his servant for life.

7 “If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as male servants do. 8 If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself,[b] he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. 9 If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. 10 If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. 11 If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free, without any payment of money.

12 “Anyone who strikes a person with a fatal blow is to be put to death. 13 However, if it is not done intentionally, but God lets it happen, they are to flee to a place I will designate. 14 But if anyone schemes and kills someone deliberately, that person is to be taken from my altar and put to death.
15 “Anyone who attacks[c] their father or mother is to be put to death.

16 “Anyone who kidnaps someone is to be put to death, whether the victim has been sold or is still in the kidnapper’s possession.

17 “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.

18 “If people quarrel and one person hits another with a stone or with their fist[d] and the victim does not die but is confined to bed, 19 the one who struck the blow will not be held liable if the other can get up and walk around outside with a staff; however, the guilty party must pay the injured person for any loss of time and see that the victim is completely healed.

20 “Anyone who beats their male or female slave with a rod must be punished if the slave dies as a direct result, 21 but they are not to be punished if the slave recovers after a day or two, since the slave is their property.

So when conservatives talk about Constitutional "originalism" and Biblical inerrancy/literalism, they don't really mean it.