Monday, December 19, 2011

The Great Recession - Job Creators and the Unemployed in Republican minds

Something I've noticed recently - some "leading" Republicans, and their side-kick pundits - seem to want to have it both ways economically.

On the one hand, they want to continue hacking away at the tax code so upper tier income earners (the now legendary 1%) and large corporations pay little to no federal income tax (or any other federal tax for that matter). This, along with further deregulation, is supposed to be driving that segment of the economy to create new jobs that will lift us out of a recession.

On the other hand, they also want to slash long-term unemployment benefits because they see the unemployed (philosophically) as lazy louts who would work if only there was no government social net under them.

So here's my question - if the unemployed are lazy because of Unemployment Insurance, and you cut it, what jobs are they going to go out and get, since unemployment seems to be hovering around 9% in spite of the "Bush-Obama" tax cuts for the upper income tiers? In other words - the "job creators" aren't creating jobs inspite of our tax and regulatory roll back, so how is cutting UI going to get people to work in jobs that don't exist?

Oh, wait, I'm thinking analytically again. And using facts. Bummer for me, huh?

What is Terrorism?


But can we really blame them? The older, fearful generation put plenty of that fear into their heads. Our government, our media, and our corporations, even if they do a decent job with security, don’t really help either when it comes to terrorism, which, I’ll remind you, is a state of mind.

Where did it come from? A railfan posting about his unfortunate experiences conducting his hobby. Read more at Jimbeaux's Journal.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Great Recession - Taxation with Representation can work!

I wrote a long time ago about how cutting taxes just didn't jive with the history of recession and recovery in the U.S. Others then jumped on the band wagon (Here, here, here). Even Warren Buffet got into the game, practically begging to be taxed more.

So I wasn't necessarily surprised when Nick Hanauer(venture capitalist) also raised his hand and said "tax me too." Rather, it's his economically sound, market-driven perspective on WHY that is novel and refreshing:

We’ve had it backward for the last 30 years. Rich businesspeople like me don’t create jobs. Middle-class consumers do, and when they thrive, U.S. businesses grow and profit. That’s why taxing the rich to pay for investments that benefit all is a great deal for both the middle class and the rich.

So let’s give a break to the true job creators. Let’s tax the rich like we once did and use that money to spur growth by putting purchasing power back in the hands of the middle class. And let’s remember that capitalists without customers are out of business.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Great Recession - tracking the thinking of others

Here are a few blog posts that put both the Great Recession, and Occupy Wall Street in perspective:

  1. Barry Rineholtz takes a facts driven look at the financial crisis, and concludes as so many others have that volitional decisions by a variety of private actors caused the crisis, not government regulations or Congressional cram-downs.
  2. Rex Nutting, looking at how we might get out of the mess created in part by too little and way too late regulation of the financial sector, shows that, contrary to Republican talking points, regulations generally create jobs as well as add significant economic benefits to the economy - particularly in foregone medical expenses.
  3. Dean Baker takes on another Republican canard - that corporations are "double taxed" and therefore need to have tax burdens lifted in order to spur economic development. His view - people create corporations knowing full well what the tax implications are, but do it anyway because they perceive the benefits as outweighing the taxation particulars. Again, we're back to that pesky volitional decision thing that Republicans seems to want to avoid when discussing corporate activity.
  4. Finally, in another blow to the idea that renewable energy and sustainable building are too costly with too little benefit to the economy, Jorn van Doren reports on a study from the Netherlands that says, when it comes to sustainably built housing with minimal carbon impact, if you build it they will come.
  5. Finally, the WaPo Fact Checked Grover Norquist this weekend - mostly because he managed to say things that were vague factual instead of just politically inflammatory. If he, and other Republicans really want to have a discussion about tax rates and their impacts, getting all this other stuff wrong doesn't help their case.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Great Recession - Lies built on top of quicksand

Here's a fresh reminder from Forbes Magazine (of all places) as to who the real villains are in the current recession:

It is clear to anyone who has studied the financial crisis of 2008 that the private sector’s drive for short-term profit was behind it. More than 84 percent of the sub-prime mortgages in 2006 were issued by private lending. These private firms made nearly 83 percent of the subprime loans to low- and moderate-income borrowers that year. Out of the top 25 subprime lenders in 2006, only one was subject to the usual mortgage laws and regulations. The nonbank underwriters made more than 12 million subprime mortgages with a value of nearly $2 trillion. The lenders who made these were exempt from federal regulations.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

U.C. Davis Pepperspray Response

Here's an important open letter regarding the pepper spraying incident at UC Davis:

The fact is: the administration of UC campuses systematically uses police brutality to terrorize students and faculty, to crush political dissent on our campuses, and to suppress free speech and peaceful assembly. Many people know this. Many more people are learning it very quickly.

You are responsible for the police violence directed against students on the UC Davis quad on November 18, 2011. As I said, I am writing to hold you responsible and to demand your immediate resignation on these grounds.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Great Recession - a Dose of Reality

As we blast through the remainder of 2011, the economic condition of both the U.S. and the world is seriously on everyone’s minds. Just today, the Marketplace Morning Report highlighted concerns that the global economy is not recovering (emphasis mine):

Jeremy HOBSON (Host): When you look at the number -- 0.1 percent growth, then you look at France, 0 percent growth, Japan, negative 1.3 percent, the U.S., 1.3 percent -- are we heading into a global recession here?

Simon TILFORD: I think in terms of the Western, developed industrial economies, we're in a depression, frankly. It's very hard to see where growth is going to come from over the next few years. Governments have tapped out, they can't borrow. Monetary policy is as loose as it can be, interest rates can't be cut any further. The bottom line is there's a massive amount of debt that needs to be addressed.

HOBSON: Well, how can we go from what economists called a global recovery, into, as you say, a depression?

TILFORD: I think all talk of recovery of the last 18 months has been exaggerated. Many developed economies still haven't recovered their pre-crisis levels of economic activity. The U.S. is marginally above its pre-crisis level; Germany is marginally above; France, the U.K., Italy, Japan, well short of pre-crisis levels of output.

It’s a stark view, and at odds with the mainstream line in the American media of late. Yet it seems to resonate will with the experiences of average Americans, and especially their intense interest in job creation and economic growth.

Of course in Washington, the Deficit and debt are still distracting America’s “leaders” from that job issue, especially the post deal finger pointing. Once S&P downgraded us from AAA to AA+, a lot of Republicans began to bandy about the notion that the downgrade was because the proposed spending cuts didn’t go far enough, nor did they have enough additional tax breaks included.

Sadly for the Republicans, S&P said no such thing the first time.

Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that “people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default,” Mukherji said.

“That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable,” he added. “This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns.”

Called out on their behavior, Republican politicians began to try and roll back their message. Sadly, in the Internet age, nothing goes away, as this tracker points out. TPM documents 19 instances in the three months leading up to the debt “deal” where prominent Republicans publically dismissed the doom and gloom predictions oof just about everyone, all the while singing the ideas that SUPPLY Side solutions could solve a DEMAND Side problem.

How bad has the disconnect between the disease and cure gotten? First, consider that much of the federal deficit problem (which feeds the debt increase ) is really a tax cut problem in as much as keeping the Bush tax cuts on the books (which Republicans want) is the single biggest driver for the deficit for the next decade. Second, Second, add in the fact that businesses don’t need regulatory certainty, they need profit certainty – and the best way to increase profits is to slash costs/wages/workers while retaining productivity. Throw in a healthy dose of “Government can’t create jobs” either by paying people to do work or contracting for services (like highway repairs). Stir well. At the end, you end up with plans of action coming from the conservative side of the aisle that ignore revenues, destroy the social safety net, and significantly hobble both military readiness, and our ability to grow the economy.

All this could be avoided, however, if we do a few sensible things. We need to listen to Warren Buffet. One of the richest men in the world reports that his real annual tax burden is about 17%, far below the top marginal federal income tax rate of 35%. As he sees it, and I concur, the tax code is stacked with too many things he and his ultra rich friends can use to pay less taxes, while soaking his own employees with tax burdens of 20- 35%. If he’s willing to call an egg an egg, so should we be.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Great Recession fuels a swing to the Right - the Debt Deal and what it means for Liberals

It will come as somewhat of a surprise to my regular readers that I’ve stayed silent on the debt ceiling crisis. Part of the reason has been my July schedule – two weeks of vacation, a week in the office, and then a professional trip to Alaska. The other part of the reason is that I long ago reached a conclusion that analyzing the sausage making is a waste of my time – having spent most of the last five years doing federal budget work I know all too well how much can change in a day.

But now a “deal” is out, and like Washington Post Columnist Matt Miller, I’m underwhelmed:

So this is what we’ve driven the global economy and America’s credit rating to the brink for?

This is why Republicans (who voted for the Paul Ryan plan that would add $5 trillion in red ink over the next decade) decided it was vital to not lift the debt ceiling to accommodate their own budget’s outsized debt?

This is the best the White House could salvage after inexplicably failing to insist that the debt ceiling be raised as part of December’s deal to extend the Bush tax cuts — which would have let the country avoid this unprecedented exercise in self-inflicted damage?

See, I’m one of those liberals who sit well to the Left of the President – who is a Centrist at best and a moderate Republican normally – and thinks we could have done better. I’ve written here and elsewhere before about how, at the gross analysis level, you can’t cut your way out of this debt cycle – you have to raise revenues as well. Yet the plan now going before the House and Senate (with less than stellar chances of passing IMHO) is all cuts.

Many in the media punditocracy will no doubt try to spin this as “the best a besieged president could do. Paul Krugman is not buying it:

For the deal itself, given the available information, is a disaster, and not just for President Obama and his party. It will damage an already depressed economy; it will probably make America’s long-run deficit problem worse, not better; and most important, by demonstrating that raw extortion works and carries no political cost, it will take America a long way down the road to banana-republic status.

Start with the economics. We currently have a deeply depressed economy. We will almost certainly continue to have a depressed economy all through next year. And we will probably have a depressed economy through 2013 as well, if not beyond.

The worst thing you can do in these circumstances is slash government spending, since that will depress the economy even further. Pay no attention to those who invoke the confidence fairy, claiming that tough action on the budget will reassure businesses and consumers, leading them to spend more. It doesn’t work that way, a fact confirmed by many studies of the historical record.

Glenn Greenwald isn’t buying it either, and he notes with a fairly strong factual basis that the deal reached is the deal Mr. Obama wants to reach:

It appears to be true that the President wanted tax revenues to be part of this deal. But it is absolutely false that he did not want these brutal budget cuts and was simply forced -- either by his own strategic "blunders" or the "weakness" of his office -- into accepting them. The evidence is overwhelming that Obama has long wanted exactly what he got: these severe domestic budget cuts and even ones well beyond these, including Social Security and Medicare, which he is likely to get with the Super-Committee created by this bill (as Robert Reich described the bill: "No tax increases on rich yet almost certain cuts in Med[icare] and Social Security . . . . Ds can no longer campaign on R's desire to Medicare and Soc Security, now that O has agreed it").

Last night, John Cole -- along with several others -- promoted this weak-helpless-President narrative by asking what Obama could possibly have done to secure a better outcome. Early this morning, I answered him by email, but as I see that this is the claim being pervasively used to explain Obama's acceptance of this deal -- he was forced into it by the Tea Party hostage-takers -- I'm reprinting that email I wrote here. For those who believe this narrative, please confront the evidence there; how anyone can claim in the face of all that evidence that the President was "forced" into making these cuts -- as opposed to having eagerly sought them -- is mystifying indeed. And, as I set forth there, there were ample steps he could have taken had he actually wanted leverage against the GOP; the very idea that negotiating steps so obvious to every progressive pundit somehow eluded the President and his vast army of advisers is absurd on its face.

As usual, Mr. Greenwald is correct in the larger context of his analysis, and that is one of my main (and saddest) beliefs about the current Administration. They were not outfoxed nor were they outsmarted – they got what they wanted, just as they did with “healthcare reform”, our horrific indefinite detention policy, extensions of the “Bush era” tax cuts, and host of other, Right of center policies.

What the President (and to a certain extent Congressional Republicans) ignore is that the Economy has both grown weaker over the last 4 or 5 decades, and that weakness is severly exacerbated by the trends of income inequality that have emerged. Simply put, as Wages at the Higher end of the Economy (80th% and up) have grown significantly since the early 1970’s, wages for all the percentiles below have grown so slowly as to remain flat. This chart shows it well. Add in the fact that tax rates have actually gone down slightly since 1965 as a percentage of GDP, and it’s no wonder the government has the huge debt problem it has.

It’s also no wonder that the problem of that debt CAN’T be solved with a policy that severely reduces spending (even with slashes to entitlements and Defense/security expenditures). Such slashing is doubly disingenuous because it ignores responsibility for fiscal actions taken since 2000. If Republicans were to start all their discussions of what to do with the debt by owning this series of decisions, I might respect them more, even when I disagree with them:

The bottom line, however is this – the President has the deal he wants, Congressional Republicans have the deal they want, truly liberal Democrats are left out in the cold, and the fiscal condition of America’s middle and lower class households is about to get worse. What’s the starting line for that continued decline?

· 58% of Americans have a job

· 56% of Americans are covered by Health Insurance

· The median yearly wage in the United States is $26,261

· The Average American household is carrying over $75,000 in debt, including their mortgage

· Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975

· American families are approximately 7.7 trillion dollars poorer than they were back in early 2007

· Approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line in 2010

· According to Newsweek, close to 20 percent of all American men between the ages of 25 and 54 do not have a job at the moment

And lest anyone think the legislation (If it passes , consider this regarding the legislative branch:

The biggest problem here is that Congress is completely incapable of binding itself over time. And everyone knows it. There’s a name for the problem — legislative entrenchment — and a line of Supreme Court cases supporting it. And there’s Blackstone before that. (More here, if you want. But the headline is misleading, as the only significant loophole to legislative entrenchment is that one Congress can compel another to pay off its debts — not, shall we say, helpful in this situation.)

What one Congress enacts, another Congress can repeal. Always. This problem is often brushed aside, but it makes a lot of policy proposals ultimately silly the longer you look at them. Al Gore’s Social Security lockbox is the most infamous example, but unless I’m missing something really big, this one bids fair to surpass it.

Surprisingly, however, there may well be Democratic resistance, and principled resistance at that:

At a press conference held by members of the House Out of Poverty Caucus Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich), the second most senior member of the U.S. House, was pointed in his criticism of the White House regarding jobs and cuts to Social Security the President put on the table last week. “We’ve got to educate the American people at the same time we educate the President of the United States. The Republicans, Speaker Boehner or Majority Leader Cantor did not call for Social Security cuts in the budget deal. The President of the United States called for that,” Conyers, who has served in the House since 1965, said. “My response to him is to mass thousands of people in front of the White House to protest this,” Conyers said strongly.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Short Take - WaPo chat on Atheists in Politics

Today's Washington Post website had a really interesting web chat about atheism and politics. I think more such chats (and maybe a few well done probing articles) would accomplish several good things, not the least of which would be mainstream recognition of the importance of atheists in American Politics, as well as the shear numbers of peole who claim little to no religious belief in America. Some of the questioners seem not quite to get it, but I think it was a significant leap forward for a mainstream news outlet in a larger market to do the chat.

The Great Recession and Corporate Boldness: Why no American company will sacrifice profit for employees

Robert Samuelson comes so close today to understanding the paradox that is the modern economy(Emphasis mine):

So it’s a Catch-22: You can’t get hired unless you have experience; but you can’t get experience unless you’re hired. With technology changing rapidly, workers need to know more, even as their skills-support systems weaken. There is no instant cure for today’s job mismatch, but it might ease if America’s largest companies were a little bolder. Surely many of them — enjoying strong profits — could make a small gamble that, by providing more training for workers, they might actually do themselves and the country some good.
Yet, like every good "The Free Market Will Solve all ills" fiscal conservative, he fails to take in two important truths. First, private companies have NO responsibility to do the country any good, especially if it conflicts with their fiduciary responsibility to turn a profit for their owners. Quite the contrary, as we saw in the 2000's, companies need and want to maximize profits in the short term no matter the long-term sector damage. That way, the bosses can justify their big bonuses, which Ezra Klein points out are derived from part of our normal human psychology:

Study after study shows that people would prefer a medium-sized house in a neighborhood of small houses to a big house in a neighborhood of much bigger houses. What people really want isn't to have a big house, in other words, but to have a bigger house than their peers. Economists call products driven by this sort of status competition "positional goods." The less-technical term for this sort of behavior is "keeping up with the Joneses," and we all do it.

When you're talking about changes in CEO pay, you're not talking about changes in the money CEOs use to make ends meet. You're talking about changes in a compensation package that has long since become totally abstract. Making $50 million is nicer than making $40 million, but the things it's buying, and the things it's saying about you, are, at that point, positional: it's a display of worth, not the way you put food on the table. People sometimes ask what CEOs need with all this money. The answer is they don't need it. But they need to not be making less money than other CEOs. If they are making less, then what does that say about them?

Thus, nothing in these companies structure or economic function drives them to make the nation better by improving employment through training, hiring or anything else.

The second point Mr. Samuelson misses is that one key function of government is to overcome this mismatch between what a business needs to do to profit, and what society needs businesses to do to keep the economy flowing. One of the reason we have massive systems of public education (from pre-K to Graduate School through community colleges) is to train a workforce that can evolve to the needs of the changing economy. One of the reasons we have the Small Business Administration, and environmental regulations, and laws requiring the protection of jobs for military reservists is that history has shown that if companies are left truly unregulated, they will do things that physically harm their workers and our environment, and financially harm just about everyone, all in the name of profits.

So while I agree that it would be nice if those companies were a "little bit bolder." But they won't be, and nothing in our economy right now incentivizes them to be. And against that backdrop many conservatives, Mr. Samuelson included, want to continue to cut and eliminate those government functions that could actually remedy this situation.


This editorial in the Wall Street Journal emphasizes my point - Boeing wants to move plants, presumably to save costs. But as the writer notes, it sends a signal that the kind of complicated machining and engineering needed to keep our aviation industry ahead of the pack is not highly economically valued.

Most depressing of all, Boeing's move would send a market signal to those considering a career in engineering or high-skilled manufacturing. It is a message that corporate America has delivered over and over: Don't go to engineering school, don't bother with fancy apprenticeships, don't invest in skills. No rational person wants to take on college or even community college debt to come out and work on the Dreamliner —which should be the country's finest product—for a miserable $14 an hour. If a single story in the news can sum up the reasons for America's global decline, it's the decision to build a Dreamliner that will gut the American dream.

As long as American companies are willing to undercut their own workforces in pursuit of ever greater profits, Mr. Samuelson's ideal will never be considered, much less fulfilled.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Washington DC, Status Quo, and why the Great Recession is "Business as usual"

I'm not normally a fan of David Brooks - he's never going to come to the center enough for me to support most of his positions. But as a conservative columnist, he's remarkably willing to chastize both the Washington DC Power class, as well as his colleagues in the Chattering sub-class.

His latest column for the New York Times takes the former squarely on, noting that the housing collapse that brought on the Great Recession was partially the fault of one DC outfit doing business the normal way:

Morgenson and Rosner write with barely suppressed rage, as if great crimes are being committed. But there are no crimes. This is how Washington works. Only two of the characters in this tale come off as egregiously immoral. Johnson made $100 million while supposedly helping the poor. Representative Barney Frank, whose partner at the time worked for Fannie, was arrogantly dismissive when anybody raised doubts about the stability of the whole arrangement.
So just like we're not looking back on Torture, we won't prosecute this behavior - the lead up to the Great Recession was and still is the norm in our nation's capitol.

But the most devastating scandal in recent history involved dozens of the most respected members of the Washington establishment. Their behavior was not out of the ordinary by any means.

For that reason, the Fannie Mae scandal is the most important political scandal since Watergate. It helped sink the American economy. It has cost taxpayers about $153 billion, so far. It indicts patterns of behavior that are considered normal and respectable in Washington.

And that is perhaps the greatest tragedy of the Great Recession, apart from the job losses, the foreclosures, and the national decline. Across party lines, over more then a decade, the "Leaders" in Washington decided it was acceptable to have this go on. and thus wa sthe GReat Recession born.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Run, Republicans run!

Over at the Washington Post, Charles Krathammer asks the perennial Republican political questions:

The Republicans swept November’s midterm election by making it highly ideological, a referendum on two years of hyper-liberalism — of arrogant, overreaching, intrusive government drowning in debt and running deficits of $1.5 trillion annually. It’s not complicated. To govern left in a center-right country where four out of five citizens are non-liberal is a prescription for electoral defeat.

Start with Obama’s abysmal stewardship, root it in his out-of-touch social-democratic ideology, and win. That would create the strongest mandate for conservative governance since the Reagan era.
Just two problems - first, the Republicans can't lead anything - witness Newt Gingrich's campaign implosion, and Mitt Romney's "I really do believe the science of climate change but I'm going to run against everything else I ever did as Governor just because my record might anger the base." Second, all the Republicans are running on is the thin air of messaging as opposed to innovative ideas that will do anything for the country.

Relaxed regulatory climate that's good for business -tried that under the last Republican President and it left us with the worst Recession since the Great Depression. Lower marginal tax rates and get more economic growth - tried that under Reagan, and it took 8 years of Bill Clinton to change that course of the ship back to prosperity and surplus. Let private insurers run the healthcare system without government intervention or price control through negotiations? Tried that under Medicare's Drug benefit, also a Republican idea, and that single change led to the biggest jump in the national debt and deficit in my lifetime.

So sorry, Charlie, but your party is not offering me anything I want, need or can use. Its not offering the American People anything new, or worth retrying. Its not offering to actually do anything, other then preserve the jobs of the people whose backsides you prefer to kiss instead of coming up with an original idea.

The saddest thing of all, however, is that the Democrats are just as bad.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Refusing to advise and consent to a Presidential Appointee

In a further sign that some politicians are not connected to reality, it seems that Senator John Barrasso (R, Wyo.) is opposing the nomination of John Bryson to be the next Commerce Secretary (replacing Gary Locke, soon to be Ambassador to China):

Barrasso gave fellow Republicans a one-pager at their policy lunch Tuesday — with the heading "Mismatched: John Bryson & the Commerce Department" — citing his founding of the "extreme environmental organization" the Natural Resources Defense Council and his support of the cap-and-trade bill House Democrats passed in 2009.

"Instead of appointing a truly an economic leader, he has appointed an environmental extremist," Barrasso told reporters after the lunch.

Apparently Mr. Bryson's current stint as chairman of the board of BrightSource Energy, former as well as his former employment as president of the California Public Utilities Commission and as the former chairman, president and CEO of Edison International don 't qualify him as a businessman. In addition, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) making up approximately 65% of the Department of Commerce's budget in years we don't take the Census, having someone with environmental familiarity wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Of course, there's little love lost between NOAA and Republicans on the Hill these days, since NOAA administers the Endangered Species Act in marine waters of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone, and many Republican politicians want to ditch the ESA.

Still, you have to wonder why a politician wants to ditch someone whose actually qualified to lead both parts of the organization. Actually you don't - this is all about sticking it to President Obama.

H/t Ezra Klein at Wonkbook

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Evidence ignored in Healthcare Reform

As Ezra Klein notes today, the U.S. is not adopting any of the plans from other industrialized nations which have been effective at reducing healthcare costs while maintain quality:

And here’s the shocker: Our government spends more on health care than the governments of Japan, Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Canada or Switzerland.

Think about that for a minute. Canada has a single-payer health-care system. The government is the only insurer of any note. The United Kingdom has a socialized system, in which the government is not only the sole insurer of note but also employs most of the doctors and nurses and runs most of the hospitals. And yet, measured as a share of the economy, our government health-care system is the largest of the bunch.

And it’s worse than that: Atop our giant government health-care sector, we have an even more giant private health-care sector. Altogether, we’re spending about 16 percent of the GDP on health care. No other country even tops 12 percent. Which means we’ve got the worst of both worlds: huge government and high costs.

Sadly, since both Parties are so invested in their own positions, and more concerned with poking each other to death then real public service, I do not see this trend changing, no matter what "The President proposes and Congress disposes."

Monday, June 6, 2011

you know its a great weather day when the JetBlue ground crew is tossing pigskin waiting for their next flight.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And yet another great blog launches - Mindy Fox

Taking a significant detour from all things political, I have to give a H/T to my great sister in law, who now has her own web site and blog.

Want to be the best cook you can be? Following Mindy's recipes is a great way to start!

Excuse me sir - Taking pictures in public now makes you a terrorist

In what has to be the most egregious incident yet of police trampling individual rights in this country, the Baltimore Sun reports that an Oregon student, whose hobby is photographing transit and railroad structures, cars, trains, etc, was detained and harassed by Maryland Transit Police for haveing the gaul to pursue his hobby in a Baltimore light rail station.

The right of photographers to take pictures in public places has been a point of contention virtually since the invention of the camera. But the disputes have become more frequent — and more contentious — since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which prompted police to challenge individuals who take photos or video of public infrastructure as potential security risks.

Civil libertarians and rights advocates say police have been given no new powers to curb photography since 9/11. In many cases, they say, police are making up laws and rules on the spot and issuing orders they have no right to give.
As it turns out, not only were the cops trying to detain the man for violating MTA policy (as opposed to breaking an actual law), but the MTA is not sure its policy is Constitutional:

John Wesley, a spokesman for the MTA, said the agency would have no immediate reply to the allegations in the ACLU letter.

Wesley said MTA policy, as spelled out in its media guide, asks members of the public to seek permission before filming.

"If you film, photograph or interview customers on MTA property or film any MTA property or stations, please make your request through the Office of Communication and Marketing," the policy reads.

"It doesn't say what the consequences are if you don't," Wesley said. Asked whether the policy would pass legal muster, he said "I'm not sure whether or not it's constitutional."
So, the ACLU, which is about to sue the MTA over this and other incidents, basically has an MTA official on record saying the officers, sworn to uphold the law, may well be violating the Constitution by seeking to enforce a policy that has no weight of law behind it. In addition, the MTA wants anyone who might ever take a picture in one of its stations to get permission first?

Leaving aside the enormous logistical issue of insisting every person who ever snaps a photo in an MTA station to ask beforehand (there go all those spontaneous Friday night going to a party photos and vacation pictures), how does MTA reasonably expect that it, a public agency, funded by taxes, has the right to limit what taxpaying citizens and visitors can do in public spaces?

Its stuff like this that makes my blood boil. As a citizen, you used to have a basic right to take pictures of public facilities, public spaces, and public transit without anyone batting an eye. Now you are presumed to be a terrorist. That, dear readers, is as clear an erosion of civil liberties as I can think of.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Thinking about the GWOT - why government accountability matters

Glenn Greenwald is at it again - expecting politicians to own up to their own self serving double standards. Why else (insert heavy snark here) would he bother to blather on about GWOT, and the lack of government accountability. Why else, in the guise of an analysis of the GWOT and its relation to the renewed Patriot Act, would he insist that the loss of civil rights entrained in Patriot is NOT the direct result of our need to keep hunting terrorists, inspite of Osama Bin Laden's purported demise at the hands of U.S. Navy SEALs?

Of course, long time readers will know that I jest here - the Patriot Act, its deconstruction of our civil liberties, and the GWOT are not in anyway hampered, declined, lessoned or marginalized by the end of our global manhunt of Mr. Bin Laden. Rather, our government continued to without accountability, because once you are in office its never in your best interest to give up power you have, no matter how pernicious.

Read more here:
Establishment thought and the War on Terror

Thursday, May 26, 2011

As usual, Ezra Klein nails the current state of U.S. governance on its head:

Here’s what we should’ve learned from the events of the past decade: Murphy was right. What can go wrong, will go wrong — and we need to plan accordingly. Because terrorist attacks? They happen. Credit bubbles? They burst. Underregulated Wall Street banks? They fail. Poorly designed offshore drilling platforms? They explode. Overleveraged European economies? They can’t pay their debts. Broken-down levees in hurricane country? They breach.
The problem - the folks who should listen (i.e. the voters) won't read this, and won't then do what needs to be done to arrest the situation before it implodes again.

Why? Simply this - we Americans don't want to deal with these realities. We prefer to deal with the "reality" of Snooki and Grenades on the Jersey Shore; we want to have a reality where we can find a husband in far flung places; we wish reality were just a dance away. We don't want to look behind the wizard's curtain on our politicians and see if they are really doing our work for us, or just doing the work of some large donors. We especially don't want to make changes in our lifestyle to accommodate reality - we won't adhere to strict building codes; we refuse to regulate the segments of business that actually endanger our economy.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Convergence Blog at Wired

Sheril has finally gone out on her own:

Convergence is a forum to explore all sorts of topics, but the primary focus will be the interdisciplinary nature of understanding our world. For example, if we aspire to protect biodiversity, we must address social issues. Boosting fisheries requires economics. Tackling our tremendous energy problem involves a great deal of policy. That’s what this blog is all about: people, science, decision-making, and more. It’s where seemingly unrelated fields overlap, boundaries blur, and practical solutions are sought.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Why taxation (even with representation) matters

From a Facebook link, comes this fundamental question that SHOULD be front and center in our national debate about the economy, government size, and government debt, but is not:

I’m tired of the insane arguments. So I’m genuinely asking: What’s the solution? We can’t live without clean water, without sanitary sewage treatment. We need roads and transportation and oversight on power and communications. We need somebody to make sure the people running nuclear plants keep them safe – and to help protect us if something goes wrong. This always seems to be the government’s job. I personally am glad for that.

But if it’s not with tax money, then I want to know: How do we pay for all this? We need the money; we can’t do without the systems. If not from taxes, where does it come from?

I’m begging: somebody give me an answer.

Read more here: The Ugly Truth About Infrastructure (and Taxes)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Torture is bad - but we're Exceptional so let's not prosecute it

John McCain is one of the few prominent Republicans who knows that torture is not in our best interest (emphasis mine):
Much of this debate is a definitional one: whether any or all of these methods constitute torture. I believe some of them do, especially waterboarding, which is a mock execution and thus an exquisite form of torture. As such, they are prohibited by American laws and values, and I oppose them.
And yet, like so many on both sides of the aisle, he just can't get that belief in law and order reconciled with his political ambitions and his stake in American politics:
I don’t believe anyone should be prosecuted for having used these techniques, and I agree that the administration should state definitively that they won’t be. I am one of the authors of the Military Commissions Act, and we wrote into the legislation that no one who used or approved the use of these interrogation techniques before its enactment should be prosecuted. I don’t think it is helpful or wise to revisit that policy.
Yes sir, nothing screams American exceptionalism like not prosecuting those who violate the highest laws of the land, simply because those who broke these high laws "were dedicated to protecting Americans." Oh, and this of course makes so much sense coming from the last Presidential candidate from the Party that cast itself as both the sole bastion of law and order, and the only Party that can do homeland security, defense and foreign policy. Seriously, how much more hypocritical on the subject of torture can our nation's purported leaders be?

And as a post-script, if we shouldn't revisit this policy because that would be unwise, what other policies does Mr. McCain propose we not revisit? The tax code? The Draft?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The REAL Budget battle is not over money

As usual Simon gets it right - the budget debate is not about money, its a mask for social policy and worldview:

The real issue is how much relatively rich people are willing to pay and on what basis in the form of transfers to relatively poor people – and how rising healthcare costs should affect those transfers.

The consensus for Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison and their contemporaries was simple: No significant social spending was administered by the federal government. Lindert estimates social spending (including on “poor relief” and public education) in the United States even by 1850 was less than 0.5 percent of GDP.

We’ve come a long way since 1792, but the question is: How far exactly? And are we willing now to debate the real issues: taxes, healthcare costs, and what kind of redistribution we think is fair and sustainable?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

So if Mr. Bin Laden's death is "major action" by the U.S. then did someone do NEPA?
So if Osama Bin Laden is really dead, how much will it really change things? I am pretty sure the answer will be - Not Much. There will be a new enemy,

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

S7P downgrades the U.S. debt outlook. that's not a supply side problem, but I bet all the solutions will be!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The words of babes . . . or Congressmen - Why Paul Ryan thinks competition will save the federal budget

I'll give Paul Ryan this - when it come to the free market, he is a true believer that competition is ALWAYS best, even when it doesn't achieve the best societal end or the most efficient process (Emphasis mine):

SIEGEL: Congressman Ryan, critics of your idea say that the cost of insurance for members of Congress has actually gone up faster with the element of choice than the cost of Medicare has. Well, why would you - if it turned out that indeed the government-run program was more cost-efficient, would you favor it, or is it in fact an ideological preference for the market even if the market is less efficient?

Rep. RYAN: The point I'm trying to make - and there is a difference of just, I think, philosophy here or of what works best - we don't believe surrendering more of the health care system over to government is an effective solution to lowering health care costs. It simply results in rationing, in price controlling. So, we do believe that the current health care system is broken and needs to be fixed.

SIEGEL: So, even - but you're saying, even if the Medicare system were to be comparably more efficient in controlling cost, the way in which it's arriving at that, you say the...

Rep. RYAN: It's competition.

SIEGEL: ...the government way - if it's not competitive, you'd prefer what might be conceivably a more expensive system if it involves free market competition.

Rep. RYAN: Actually, no, we don't believe that at all. We believe that it will be a less expensive system. But believe you me, we need to do more in the health care system to get the consumer more power in the health care system so that the patient and their doctor have the real power in the health care system so that all providers - health insurance companies, doctors, hospitals - have to compete against each other for the health insurance beneficiary's business.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

credit where it's due- Paul Ryan just said on NPR that top income earners in the US enjoy the benefits of most income tax loopholes. never heard that before!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Debt Crisis and Deficit Elimination - raising tax rates is not a bad idea!

From the Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Daily Briefing email I got this morning:

“The three biggest tax expenditures, though, are presumably politically untouchable: The exclusion for employer-paid medical insurance, the exclusion for retirement savings and the deduction for mortgage interest. Combined, they result in almost $500 billion a year in lost IRS revenue.”

This talk about possible reduction or elimination of so-called Tax Expenditures (i.e. personal deductions, corporate tax breaks, and general loop-holes) has figured prominently in a series of comment back and forth that Mike and I have been engaged at over in Ames’ corner of the world. Like many conservatives, Mike doesn’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy, unless we raise EVERYOBNE’s taxes or close EVERYONE’s loopholes. Unlike most conservative and Republican Politicians (Tea Party and not) Mike is willing to acknowledge that revenue is a part of the problem.

I mention this, because one part of our discussion that I have thrown on the table is Effective Tax Rates. Simply put, through 2007 (which is the latest year the IRS has data for publically available) the top 400 income earners in the nation paid . . . 16.5% in federal income taxes. They did that because they generally have a lopsided compensation/income portfolio that leans toward investment income, which as “capital gains” is taxed at 15%. What’s really interesting to me is that the “typical American” earning $50,000 only pays slightly more in effective federal taxes at 17.5%.

Salaries and wages, the source of income taxed at the blue line, represented only 6.5 percent of these filers’ income. Nearly two-thirds of their income comes from capital gains, and this is why you see a much tighter coupling between the orange and red lines.”

Emphasis mine.

So, when you hear conservatives say that raising taxes will eliminate our national economic growth, or that it is unfair to the rich, remember – if you have a median (i.e. 50% below you and 50% above you ) income in the U.S. you are probably paying a higher effective rate then the rich. As the Motley Fool puts it:

If your income moves into a higher tax bracket, Uncle Sam will take a bigger slice of all of your taxable earnings, right? Wrong.”

What does this mean for the current debate about both the 2012 federal budget and the debt limit increase? Simply this, if you do, in fact, raise the top marginal tax rate to 39% from its current 35% - where it was during the Clinton years – not only will you gain more revenue, you will in fact do so without real damage to those at the top because they do not pay 35% on their total income. That means you will still have plenty of money in their hands (the top 1% of income earners in the U.S. control 40% of the wealth) should they choose to invest it in American businesses and therefore create American jobs.

Will it raise as much money as getting rid of the three biggest loopholes mentioned by CQ above? Probably not, but recent economic studies indicate that if you raise the capital gains tax rate from 15% to 20.6% (therefore actually taxing the money that Americans richest people receive) you will raise revenues by 3% of GDP. Since U.S. GDP in 2011 is around $14.119 Trillion that would equal a $423 Billion increase in tax revenue, all the while leaving a TON of cash lying around for the Republicans much loved but factually implausible “Trickle Down Economics.”

Problem is, that won’t really solve the battle, which as Harold Meyerson pointed out today, is about whether the Southern or Northern economic model will ultimately guide America.