Thursday, December 30, 2010

Oncoming Malarkey

It's not like we haven't been warned.

When in February President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, he set out as part of its mission to

propose recommendations that meaningfully improve the long-run fiscal outlook, including changes to address the growth of entitlement spending and the gap between the projected revenues and expenditures of the Federal Government.

It was there in code- "entitlement spending"- so as to please the media and not alarm the people, but it refers to Social Security as well as Medicare and Medicaid.

Committee co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson in November released, ahead of the report of the full committee, their personal recommendations. No matter: when the committee issued its report in December, it included roughly the same recommendations as did its co-chairmen: change the formula for calculating cost-of-living adjustments, which would cut benefits; gradually increase the retirement age, which would effectively cut benefits; and in the case of the commission, "begin a broad dialogue on the importance of personal retirement savings." (For those of you with little patience for euphemism, that would be privatization.) Plus a couple of minor modifications.

Oh, and somewhat raising the cap on Social Security contributions. However, Robert Kuttner notes the plan "gets 92% of proposed Social Security savings from cutting benefits, and just 8 percent from increasing the income ceiling on payroll taxes."

Then Peter Orszag, on his way to CitiGroup as a vice-president, penned an op-ed in The New York Times acknowledging "Social Security is not a major contributor to our long-term deficits." Somehow, though, he managed to praise its recommendation in an ostensibly deficit-reduction commission because "the plan would not create private accounts within Social Security — the most controversial issue that came up when reform was last debated in 2005. Why not lock in a reform when private accounts are off the table?"

Orszag, we recall, served a stint as President Obama's director of the Office of Management and Budget and his willingness to sacrifice Social Security and his defensive reasoning ("oh, why not harm it so others don't harm it even more?) seem to echo the style of his ex-boss.

On December 16, Kuttner revealed "a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan — including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address."

Ed Rendell, far more happily, agrees. On The Ed (Schultz) Show Tuesday, the former Philadelphia mayor and outgoing Pennsylvania governor told guest host Cenk Uygur (video, below, from The Young Turks, Uygur's outfit) to consider "what the President is going to propose, I think, in his State of The Union," then went on to say

But if you tell me by 2050 we're going to raise the age of Social Security to 69, I don't have a problem with that because we'll all be living to 94, 95 years in life expectancy....

Barack Obama won't claim within a few decades "we'll all be living to 94, 95 years in age"- he's far too careful with details to come up with that whopper. But the myth that a life like Methuselah is just around the corner has been a necessary precursor to get people to accept a cut in benefits for the elderly (also keeping them in their jobs longer, a swell gift to the nation's young people.) And raising the retirement age has been where this Administration has been heading since before the deficit commission was formed.

Kuttner notes that Social Security is in surplus for the next 27 years and "what pushed" it "(very slightly) into the red is the fact that all the income gains have gone to the top." Few, however, on the right or among the moguls of bipartisanship will note the fiscal soundness of Social Security- which, understandably, from their perspective is "entitlement." And there will not be even a hint that any "crisis" (however contrived) is due to the widening gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. But you knew that.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Obama Embraces Vick


On July 20, 2009 Michael Vick is released from federal custody after serving time running a dogfighting ring and seven days later is conditionally reinstated to the National Football League by Commissioner Roger Goodell. The following month he signs with the Philadelphia Eagles a conditional contract which allows him to file for full reinstatement in mid-season. On September 3 Goodell sends down from his mountaintop permission for full reinstatement and Vick plays a full season, albeit with limited playing time, with the Eagles.

In September, 2010, following injury to the Eagles starting quarterback (who had performed poorly) and an effective job by Vick, the latter becomes the team’s starting quarterback. (See the timeline here.)

On December 19, the Eagles defeated their primary rival, the New York Giants, in a remarkable game notable in part for an extraordinary fourth quarter performance by Vick. The Eagles stood at 10-4 behind a quarterback who now is widely acknowledged as the second leading candidate for the NFL’s Most Valuable Player award. One week later, they clinched a divisional championship as the Giants went down to defeat in Green Bay.

The following day- twelve months after Michael Vick is released from prison; nineteen months after Vick is signed by a professional football team on a conditional basis; eighteen months after Vick is fully reinstated to the NFL; three months after Vick is made starting quarterback, after which he proceeds to enjoy a fabulous season; and eight days after Michael Vick leads his team to one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history- we read

NBC's Peter King reports that Barack Obama called Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie earlier this week to congratulate him for giving Vick a second chance after his release from prison. According to King, the president said that released prisoners rarely receive a level playing field and that Vick's story could begin to change that.

To quote the great journalist Dan Rather, though in a different context: COURAGE. After all this, as Michael Vick sits practically atop the world of professional sports, Barack Obama musters the courage to tell the Eagles owner: well done. It was a heck of a job by President Obama, who carefully read the tea leaves and waitied till Michael Vick, through hard work, great ability, and scrupulous coaching, become one of the most popular athletes in the nation,

Moreover, as Morris W. O’Kelly commented

President Obama's phone call (and subsequent spotlight) would have been better served highlighting individuals and entities truly about the business of helping everyday African-American men reintegrate themselves into society after prison; not offering more inappropriate idolatry of athletes.

Fat chance of that happening. “Everyday African-American men” are neither celebrities, nor wealthy. They are not the privileged who get huge tax breaks from this president nor the likes of Obama favorite Ludacris. And I think we all know where that places most blacks, as well as most whites, on President Obama’s priority list.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Doubters Need Not Apply

State your case, defend it, then blow it up.

That wasn't Chris Matthews, who on Monday evening engaged in conversation with Clarence Page and Mother Jones' David Corn and asked, nearly rhetorically

Well, what about going to that 20 percent or 23 percent we showed in the "New York Times" poll that doesn`t know, they just want evidence? Is that a group that has a right to get more documentation? And would Abercrombie`s position here be the right one, David?

Matthews was responding to the report that

Neil Abercrombie, who took over the governor's office in Honolulu this month, is pledging to burst the birther bubble. "I'm going to take care of that," he told the New York Times.

For Abercrombie, the dispute is personal. He was a friend of Obama's parents, Stanley Ann Dunham and Barack Obama the elder who was studying at the University of Hawaii on an exchange from his native Kenya.

Though Abercrombie was not present at the birth of the younger Barack at Kapiolani Maternity and Gynaecological hospital on 4 August 1961, he did get to see the baby thereafter. He regards the ongoing background noise of doubts surrounding Obama's US citizenship as an insult to his late friends.

"[Obama's] a big boy; he can take sticks and stones. But there's no reason on earth to have the memory of his parents insulted by people whose motivation is solely political. Let's put this particular canard to rest," he said.

The governor is working with Hawaii's attorney general and health department to find ways of producing definitive evidence of Obama's Hawaiian birth. Full disclosure is restricted under the state's privacy laws.

The idea that Obama is not a natural-born American first surfaced in 2008 during the presidential campaign. In an attempt to kill it, the Obama campaign released his certificate of live birth and allowed it to be closely studied by fact-checking websites who declared it authentic.

Birth notices were also confirmed from the time in the local Honolulu Advertiser.

But at every stage, the birthers have responded with further demands and additional objections.

If not diabetic, or driving on New Years Eve, lift a toast to Governor Abercrombie for wanting to lay all the evidence out. And (on this matter), to Chris Matthews, who asked- really, commented-

Because we`ve got the poll that shows that only 58 percent are confident of his birth in this country. So what do you do about those other 43 percent? I`m just asking you. Why isn`t Abercrombie on the right trail here to at least go to the 20 or 30 percent -- you can`t -- obviously, the nutcases on the far right who hate this guy aren`t going to ever admit that you`re right, but why not get to the people who are confused?

Ignore Matthews' reference to "the nutcases on the right." More telling was his acknowledgement- all too infrequent in the mainstream media- that some Americans may not be "nutcases," or stupid, or racist, but simply confused. And that their views ("why not get to the people") are worth talking to.

But on the same network, MSNBC, a little later, Slate's Dave Weigel would tell Countdown guest host Sam Seder

....the Obama campaign put out the short version of the birth certificate that you can get if you lose yours and you don`t want to go through a lot more fuss. The one that`s public, the one that says born here, Island County Hospital, all of the information is basic. But it doesn`t have a baby`s footprint on it.

And they really thought that was the end of it. They put this on their website. That is what started the Birther movement. So feeding this frenzy -- well, I just completed my own sentence. That feeds the frenzy. Acknowledging that you need to prove something else just lets them prove -- argue that they need even more.

This is not how conspiracies usually end. The Warren Commission did not convince people that -- who want to believe another theory of JFK`s assassination that there was a -- that their theory was incorrect.

To Weigel, skeptics are in a "frenzy," so weak of mind they want to "believe another theory" and are cooking up "conspiracies." Curious, then, that the willfully ignorant better describes Weigel himself. He argued

This is not how conspiracies usually end. The Warren Commission did not convince people that- who want to believe another theory of JFK's assassination that there was a - that their theory was incorrect.

Gee, could that be because the Warren Commission's theory is not, contrary to what Weigel evidently believes, the official explanation of the assassination of President Kennedy? Given that a later, more thorough investigation found otherwise, the Warren Commission report lacks not only definitiveness but also the imprimatur of the U.S. government.

The idea that the question in the mind of a fair number of Americans about their President's birthplace should be ignored is not one held only by Weigel, of course. And it is not confined to the birther controversy, inasmuch as he wanted the media to give little attention to the ludicrous death panel charges propagated by former vice-presidential, and possibly future presidential, nominee Sarah Palin.

The analogy between the birther and Kennedy conspiracy theories is far less defensible. Many people believe, contrary to most evidence, that Lee Harvey Oswald alone killed John F. Kennedy, that there was no involvement by La Cosa Nostra or other organizations. But alleging a parallel between people who believe Barack Obama was born outside of this country (a very long shot) and those who believe the Warren Commission was wrong (arguable, but extremely likely) is astonishingly naive and remarkably ignorant.

Page Reveals

Approximately 704 days into the Obama presidency and finally someone has the birther controversy figured out. No, not whether Barack Obama was born in the U.S.A. (he was) or whether the original of his birth certificate should be released (it should) but a more minor point.

According to the latest Gallup poll, 46% of registered voters approve of President Obama's job performance with the same number disapproving. Depending upon the particular survey, your mileage, or numbers, may vary but it appears roughly half the country is "up" on Obama while half is "down" on the guy.

How is it, then, as Chris Matthews noted on Hardball (transcript here) Monday evening, that roughly 43% of the American people believe Barack Obama may have been born outside of their country? (The poll cited is from April, but many people still are unconvinced of the origins of Obama, whose approval rating at that time actually was higher than it is now.) Forty-three percent, in the survey to which Matthews referred, believe Obama was born elsewhere- but approximately only 50% (slightly more) disapprove of his presidency.

If President Obama were born outside of the U.S.A., he would be constitutionally ineligible to serve. Is it possible that of 57 people who are convinced that he was born here, a full 50 (dividing the undecideds evenly between "approve" and "disapprove") approve of his presidency?

There are two chances of that being the case- slim and none, and slim has a bus ticket out of town. The Chicago Tribune's Clarence Page, discussing the issue (or is it an issue?), has it figured out as he revealed in this insightful, if simple, explanation:

There`s also another answer which the questionnaire apparently did not include, and that`s the "Don`t care" crowd. A lot of those people who don`t know don`t care enough to look deeper into it because it`s just not relevant to their lives, compared to other things they want from the president right now, like helping to turn the economy around.

They don't know because they don't care. That explains why a fair number of citizens believes Obama might be foreign-born but like him (or his policies) anyway. (A poll from much earlier in his presidency suggested that some of these same individuals, probably unaware that Hawaii is a state, know that Obama was born there.) Because it was not asked (and has it ever been?), there is no telling whether these citizens realize that being born in this country is a constitutional prerequisite to becoming president.

There is, however, no constitutional obligation to know of Article II, Section 1 of the United States Constitution, as Page understands: "it's just not relevant to their lives, compared to other things they want from the president right now, like helping to turn the economy around."

In an age in which many media personalities- which is what they seem to be- frustrate and annoy the viewer, Clarence Page scored a twofer. (And for ignorance beyond the call of duty- uttered on the same network on the same evening- stay tuned for the next post.) He recognized that some Americans don't care whether President Obama was born in their country. And, in contrasting it with "helping to turn the economy around," Mr. Page apparently lacks the condescension the press corps is otherwise no stranger to.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Health Care Polling

Jed, please; you're killing me!

A good blogger, Jed Lewison, at Daily Kos comments about a poll taken for CNN by Opinion Research Corporation earlier this month:

As you may know, a bill that makes major changes to the country's health care system became law earlier this year. Based on what you have read or heard about that legislation, do you generally favor or generally oppose it?
Favor: 43%
Oppose: 54%

(IF OPPOSE) Do you oppose that legislation because you think its approach toward health care is too liberal, or because you think it is not liberal enough?

Favor (from previous question): 43%
Oppose, too liberal: 37%
Oppose, not liberal enough: 13%

It takes about three seconds to look at these numbers and realize that the failure to secure a public option was President Obama's single biggest political mistake of the health care reform fight. Given the power of the health insurance lobby, getting a robust public option was probably never a serious possibility, but something like Medicare buy-in for people 55 and up was doable, and if Obama had been able to shepherd it through Congress, it almost certainly would have won over much of the liberal opposition to reform.

An important thing to keep in mind here is that most liberal opponents of health care reform aren't Democrats whose votes can be taken for granted. Most of them are actually independents. According to the poll, 17 percent of independents oppose reform because it is not liberal enough. That compares with 9 percent of Democrats.

In all, one-quarter of opposition to health care reform comes from people who believe it's not liberal enough, including about twice as many independents as Democrats who wish it were more liberal. If you happen to be one of those who believes that independents decide elections, that's a number you can't ignore.

Lewison's theme is right: a lot of people support single-payer (or a variant thereof) and should not be ignored. But Lewison undermined this point with his interpretation of the ORC numbers.

Question 2 was asked only of those who, unaware of the follow-up question, responded to Question 1 by saying they are opposed to the health care legislation enacted earlier this year. However, there are people who offered their support but, if aware they would be given the opportunity to explain their opposition because reform did not go far enough, would have answered "oppose" to the first question. These are people, the very wisest among us, who had grave misgivings about "Obamacare" but are loathe to put themselves in the camp of the opponents.

You remember those critics: the Democratic bill will increase the deficit by forcing millions of people to lose their coverage in the best health care system in the world and replace it with government takeover of health care which will destroy the private insurance industry and in which government bureaucrats will come between you and your doctor, determine what plan you have to accept, impose death panels, increase wait times for care, and generally turn us into Canada. Some of us would rather stand with President Obama and the Democratic Party than with the radicals whose opposition was more often hysterical than reasoned.

If the first two questions of the survey had been combined, such that respondents were asked whether they support the legislation, oppose it because it was too liberal, or oppose it because it was not liberal enough, more than 13% would have gone with the last option. Oh, maybe not 20% or 25%- but wherein a few respondents are proxies for millions of Americans, the percentage increase would have represented a lot of us who strongly believed the health care legislation far too tepid, reform excessively cautious. Those would have included independents, but more Democrats.

Unfortunately, as Lewison appears to understand- and as now is obvious- President Obama was little concerned about those "liberal critics" or, as he would put it, "sanctimonious purists."

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Going Private

Guess who was confirmed by the Senate this week as the new head of the U.S. Marshalls Service?

That would be Stacia Hylton. Last month Talking Points Memo reported

Human rights groups and criminal justice organizations are criticizing President Barack Obama's nomination of Stacia A. Hylton for director of the U.S. Marshals Service because of her ties to the for-profit prison industry.

Hylton was a 29-year career employee of the Justice Department until she left her post earlier this year and accepted $112,500 in consulting fees from the GEO Group, a for-profit prison industry group. Hylton awarded contracts worth up to $88 million to the GEO Group during her nearly six years as DOJ's Federal Detention Trustee, according to a press release. The GEO Group is the second largest operator of for-profit prisons in the United States.

"Sounds like the fox watching the henhouse to me," Ken Kopczynski, the director of the nonprofit watchdog group Private Corrections Working Group, told TPMmuckraker.

"This is a prime example of the revolving door between the public and for-profit private sectors," said Alex Friedmann, associate editor of Prison Legal News.

Among some issues causing concern for human rights groups is the fact that, as a Federal Detention Trustee, Hylton objected to a recommendation from the Justice Department Office of Inspector General that called for limiting the amount of profit that a state or local jail -- some of which are owned and/or operated by for-profit companies -- can earn for housing federal prisoners.

GEO Chairman and Chief Executive Officer George Zoley admitted recently that "the primary driver for growth continues to be the incarceration of criminal aliens" in the area of federal contracts, the Washington Times reported.

The Washington Times reported last month on Hylton's contract with the GEO Group and the possible conflicts of interest. She received $112,500 in income from her own private company through "consulting services for detention matters, federal relations and acquisitions and mergers" from March through July of 2010, the newspaper said.

"The U.S. Marshals preside over one of the nation's largest privatized federal detention systems," said Bob Libal of Grassroots Leadership. "Policies that have driven the private prison expansion such as Operation Streamline are carried out by the U.S. Marshals. Ms. Hylton's consulting work with the GEO Group, a troubled company that benefits handsomely from such policies, is a cause for major concern."

Of course that's a conflict of interest. But the larger issue is privatization of federal prisons, especially for detaining illegal immigrants. And there are a lot of illegal immigrants detained, facing new charges or otherwise, in federal prisons. The Obama administration has detained and deported more "criminal aliens"- individuals here illegally who have committed other serious offenses- than has the Bush Administration. One hopes: that is because enforcement of borders is a priority rather than because high ranking officials like Hylton can go from government to industry to government, padding the bottom line of the private prison industry. The U.S.A., after all, is not Arizona.

But one cannot be sure. Consider federal education policy under the current president, who wears the uniform of a Democrat. President Obama and education secretary Arne Duncan, who made his name in Chicago by closing public schools and opening charter schools, are enamored of No Child Left Behind, despite evidence that it is a failure. Diane Ravitch, Assistant Secretary of Education under Bush 41 and member of National Assessment Governing Board under President Clinton, explains

And the institutionalized fraud is that No Child Left Behind has mandated that every child is going to be proficient by the year 2014. Except they’re not, because no state and no nation has ever had 100 percent of the children proficient. Kids have all kinds of problems. And whether it’s poverty or a million things, there’s no such thing as 100 percent proficiency.

But every year we get closer to 2014, the bar goes up, and the states are told, “If you don’t reach that bar, you’re going to be punished. Schools will be closed. They’ll be turned into charter schools.” That’s part of the federal mandate, is that schools will be privatized if they can’t meet that impossible goal.

Replacing public prisons with private prisons. Replacing public schools with private schools (and in the case of charter schools, paid for by the public). Replacing jobs with decent pay and benefits with jobs with neither. Remarkably, organized labor, presumably part of that "professional left" which so bothers the White House, generally has stayed fairly loyal to this president, even while its jobs go to union-free companies, South Korea, and elsewhere as the middle class continues its descent, this time in a Democratic Administration.

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Bit Of A Snag

Asked a few weeks ago at his press conference (transcript here) called to discuss the tax cut deal, President Obama commented:

So this notion that somehow we are willing to compromise too much reminds me of the debate that we had during health care. This is the public option debate all over again. So I pass a signature piece of legislation where we finally get health care for all Americans, something that Democrats had been fighting for for a hundred years, but because there was a provision in there that they didn't get that would have affected maybe a couple of million people, even though we got health insurance for 30 million people and the potential for lower premiums for 100 million people, that somehow that was a sign of weakness and compromise.

Perhaps a less self-absorbed president would not refer to "I pass a signature piece of legislation" but instead one which "we passed" our "Congress passed" or "our party passed." But then that would be one less obsessed with scapegoating those liberal "purists."

Still, it was "a signature piece of legislation." It would help, however, if that "signature" were a little clearer or more decisive. Better still would be a likelihood that it were going to be implemented. Ezra Klein, the Washington Post analyst generally fond of Obama's minimalist approach and supportive of the Affordable Care Act, commented on the Senate's refusal to pass an omnibus spending bill and substituting for it a continuing resolution. He observed:

Here's the problem with funding 2011's government using 2010's budget: When the 2010 budget passed, neither financial regulation nor health-care reform had passed. And so the 2010 budget didn't include the new funds necessary to support their implementation. We're not talking about a lot of money here, of course, but certainly some. And for the health of these bills, it's important money.

But after the collapse of the omnibus spending bill, the Democrats have moved to funding the government using a resolution that simply continues 2010's funding levels. And that means starving some of their signature accomplishments of implementation funds.

In the spirit of the holiday season, and of Christmas Day, here to be diplomatic, even generous: it might have behooved the President, whilst he was giving away the ranch on tax cuts for billionaires, to have demanded that McConnell agree to approval of the continuing resolution. Obama referred, accurately, to "tax cuts" as the GOP's holy grail; then, in return for granting them, failed to secure an agreement that would guarantee funding for his "signature" legislation or financial reform legislation.

He could have, but didn't. Instead, it's "take a tally," something he can claim as a win, whether effective or ephemeral. It is, further, a president who rationalizes his approach by claiming "this country was founded on compromise," which would have come as quite a surprise to the men who fought a revolution to win the nation's independence.


Link Of Two Issues, Slightly

You may not think gay rights and Social Security 'reform' have anything to do with each other. But they do, at least according to my sometimes bizarre way of thinking.

Brian Beutler, musing about "Why Republicans Gave In," argues

Republicans must at some level have understood that some of these things weren't going away. DADT would've stayed on the agenda. 9/11 responders would have stayed on the agenda. DREAM will stay on the agenda. And I'm guessing they made the simple calculation that it would be easier and wiser to give Dems these victories now, rather than fight it out with them publicly next after the GOP takes over the House with a caucus that's divided over these things.

Now the issues are off the table, and that creates more space for them to set the agenda.

Agreeing, Digby adds

DADT was endorsed by the military, START was endorsed by every Republican statesman dead or alive, including retired Generals by the bus load, and the 9/11 responders bill was to benefit a bunch of cops and firemen. At the end of the day, the GOP has always been a sucker for a man in a uniform.

But if START was approved because the only legitimate reason to oppose it would have been allegedly insufficient verification procedures- and that would have required a debate on details, not a GOP staple- and the 9/11 bill ultimately was approved because 9/11/01 is cheap politics for some, Don't Ask, Don't Tell involved another dynamic.

Repeal of DADT may be a boon for the military. Or it may be a bust for the military. More likely, it will be neither. But it surely is a milestone for gay rights in this nation. For a member of Congress to have voted to maintain DADT would have been as antithetical to the gay agenda- and in some quarters, discriminatory. That would not be an easy vote to make for a legislator who knows someone who is, or may be, gay.

Now that President Obama has partially mollified his left base with a victory on DADT and on nuclear arms reduction, it is time for him to swing right. And, according to Robert Kuttner, it appears he will do so on economic policy, possibly announcing at the January State of the Union address his support for much of the neo-liberal, moderately conservative proposals of "deficit" committee co-chairmen Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson.

They would include measures to cut Social Security. Paul Krugman explains

The proximate cause is that cutting Social Security is one of those things you’re for if you’re a Very Serious Person. Way back, I wrote that inside the Beltway calling for Social Security cuts is viewed as a “badge of seriousness”, which has nothing to do with the program’s real importance or lack thereof to the budget picture; that column elicited a more or less hysterical reaction, which sort of proved the point. (Looking back at the column, I was surprised to see that it was about the ISP himself; tales of a debacle foretold.)

But why Social Security? There was a telling moment in 2004, during one of the presidential campaign debates. Tim Russert, the moderator, asked eight or nine questions about Social Security, trying to put the candidates on the spot, while asking not once about Medicare, which serious people – as opposed to Serious People – know is the real heart of the story. Why the focus on Social Security?

The answer, I suspect, has to do with class.

When medical expenses are big, they’re big; even the very affluent are grateful when Medicare pays the bills for their mother-in-laws bypass or dialysis. The importance of Medicare, in short, is obvious to all but the very rich.

Social Security, by contrast, is something that matters enormously to the bottom half of the income distribution, but no so much to people in the 250K-plus club. A 30 percent cut in benefits would represent disaster for tens of millions of Americans, but a barely noticeable inconvenience for VSPs and everyone they know. A rise in the retirement age would be a vast hardship for people who do manual labor, but if anything a gift to VSPs, who don’t want to step aside in any case. And so on down the line.

So going after Social Security is a way to seem tough and serious — but entirely at the expense of people you don’t know.

As these pie charts The New York Times found at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (estimates from the March 2008 Current Population Survey) indicate, elderly Americans in the lowest quintile receive 88.4% of their income from Social Security while those in the highest quintile obtain only 18.6% of their income from Social Security.

The inability to relate to those Americans who most need Social Security goes deeper than politicians who know far more people who need this insurance than those who don't. Lamenting the distortion of the debate emanating from the mainstream media, William Greider maintains

The core fact is that Social Security has not contributed a dime to the deficit, but has piled up trillions in surpluses, which the government has borrowed and spent. Social Security’s surpluses have actually offset the impact of the deficit, beginning with Reagan.


the elites who don’t want to talk about this—because if people understand that Social Security has a $2.5 trillion surplus, building toward more than $4 trillion, people will ask why are politicians trying to cut Social Security benefits?

Noting "the owners of their publications.... think pretty much what the Business Roundtable and Chamber of Commerce think, Greider states that reporters

are so embedded in the established way of understanding things (and) as media ownership became highly concentrated, the gulf between the governing elites, both in and out of government, and the broad range of ordinary citizens has gotten much worse. The press chose to side with the governing elites and look down on the citizenry as ignorant or irrational, greedy, or even nutty.

So, as DADT is washed away, we may see Social Security not washed away but eroded by a media elite anxious to encourage Republican and Democratic politicians who are unable or unwilling to understand its critical role in American life.


Thursday, December 23, 2010

Demagoguing Cake And Pie

Never missing a chance never to be right,

Sarah Palin took a shot at Michelle Obama during Sunday's episode of her reality TV show, "Sarah Palin's Alaska," jabbing the first lady's anti-obesity campaign for attempting to deprive Americans of dessert.

While searching for s'mores ingredients on a family camping trip, Palin remarked:"Where are the s'mores ingredients? This is in honor of Michelle Obama, who said the other day we should not have dessert."

Speaking on December 13 at the signing ceremony for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, the First Lady actually said

Everywhere I go, fortunately, I meet parents who are working very hard to make sure that their kids are healthy. They're doing things like cutting down on desserts and trying to increase fruits and vegetables. They're trying to teach their kids the kind of healthy habits that will stay with them for a lifetime.

We can't just leave it up to the parents. I think parents have a right to expect that their efforts at home won't be undone each day in the school cafeteria or in the vending machine in the hallway. I think that our parents have a right to expect that their kids will be served fresh, healthy food that meets high nutritional standards.

You have to admire how the former Governor is able to simplify things for her supporters, even if her remarks are destructive, inaccurate, and dishonest. Noting "the First Lady's campaign is on target," former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (video below) told New York radio talk show host Curtis Sliwa

Michelle Obama's not trying to tell people what to eat or not trying to force the government's desires on people. She's stating the obvious, that we do have an obesity problem in this country.

Huckabee, who lost considerable weight through diet and exercise and is fairly knowledgeable about the latter, himself was merely stating the obvious. But that is dangerous and even bold in today's GOP, especially for a guy who presumably is contemplating another run at his party's presidential nomination.

The competing remarks by these two powerful women demonstrate not only an ignorance on the part of the former Governor of the impact of food on health, but also a disturbing attitude toward parents. The First Lady defends parents, who "are working very hard (and) trying to teach their kids" healthy habits. Sarah Palin, however, appears to view them altogether differently: as people who understand nothing that is not reduced to the level of 'no dessert!' and who are so gullible as to believe the wife of the President of the United States would tell adults what they must feed their children. It is truly evocative of a scheming politician who, far from being a populist, has just found a clever, subtle way to look down on voters.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Change We Can't Decipher

As ABC News explained on September 13, 2008, the campaign slogan of "Change We Can Believe In" morphed into "Change We Need" shortly after Senator Barack Obama was formally nominated for President:

Barack Obama has suddenly changed his campaign slogan and signage replacing the 19 month Obama campaign event staple with a new one: "Change We Need."

The new slogan slowly started debuting after the convention but wasn't fully debuted as a package until this weekend in New Hampshire. The new campaign slogan is coupled with a new podium donning the familiar – yet slightly different - message, new campaign signs, and a large banner on stage behind Obama.

The colors, and design are the same – and could be quickly overlooked, yet the message is an important one that the Obama campaign is trying to push: that Obama is the change that now not only should you believe in, but it’s the change Americans need because of the state of their lives over the last 8 years under a Bush presidency.

Drawing a contrast with the McCain-Palin ticket, the Democratic nominee emphasized the great change coming to transform America: "Well I'm glad that they now agree with me but we've got to change America." But let's be absolutely clear about what change means - change isn’t just a word."

Ah, but it is, as we fast forward to December, 2010:

The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials.

The draft order, a version of which was first considered nearly 18 months ago, is expected to be signed by President Obama early in the New Year. The order allows for the possibility that detainees from countries like Yemen might be released if circumstances there change.

But the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.

Nearly two years after Obama's pledge to close the prison at Guantanamo, more inmates there are formally facing the prospect of lifelong detention and fewer are facing charges than the day Obama was elected.

That is in part because Congress has made it difficult to move detainees to the United States for trial. But it also stems from the president's embrace of indefinite detention and his assertion that the congressional authorization for military force, passed after the 2001 terrorist attacks, allows for such detention.

In October 2009- 14 months ago- The New York Times, back when it still appeared that the Obama Administration might not mimic the Bush Administration's penchant for secrecy and abuse of executive power, editorialized

The Obama administration has clung for so long to the Bush administration’s expansive claims of national security and executive power that it is in danger of turning President George W. Bush’s cover-up of abuses committed in the name of fighting terrorism into President Barack Obama’s cover-up.

We have had recent reminders of this dismaying retreat from Mr. Obama’s passionate campaign promises to make a break with Mr. Bush’s abuses of power, a shift that denies justice to the victims of wayward government policies and shields officials from accountability.

The "cover-up" the Times observed continues. Admittedly, the apparent abridgement of civil liberties might be justified as regrettable, but unavoidable, given the importance of preserving national security. Might be, has not been. And when candidate Obama and his adoring crowds shouted "si se puede" on the campaign trail, they may have meant: yes, we can- continue some of the most egregious policies of the Bush Administration.

Targeting Social Security

When President Obama recently negotiated with Senate Minority (that would be Minority- not Majority) Leader Mitch McConnell a tax deal the GOP probably thought it would be hard-pressed to get with a Republican President, a Republican House, and a Republican Senate, temporary reduction of the payroll tax was included.

Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), who courageously voted against his President and the legislation, noted the "founders of Social Security succeeded in making the program not just an income redistribution program that puts a financial floor under working people but also a program of wage insurance accounts for which individual workers feel ownership." He warned the payroll tax cut would "put in jeopardy the long-term survival of Social Security" and explained

The negotiated tax cut agreement would include a reduction in an employee's contribution to Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent of salary. This could have a beneficial stimulative economic effect. However, it also puts Social Security squarely in the middle of the debate over Bush tax rates for higher incomes and middle incomes, business expensing tax deductions, and the Alternative Minimum Tax. The White House says that the long term solvency of Social Security will not be affected because it will replace from the general treasury fund the $112 billion of revenue lost by the 2 percent tax reduction. But that is just the problem. In Social Security's history such a commingling of payroll taxes and money from the Treasury is unprecedented.

Social Security is not just another government program like the Park Service or the National Endowment of the Arts, with money given to it some years and taken from it other years, and it is not just a mechanism for stimulating the economy some years or balancing the budget other years. If it were, Social Security would not be long for this world.

The threat to Social Security is not limited to the recently enacted provision.

Recently, fiscal commission co-chairment Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, recognizing that their commission would reach no consensus, issued their own set of proposals which would include these cuts to Social Security:

- raise the retirement age to 69 by 2075;

- index benefits to the inflation rate, which normally would result in lower cost-of-living raises;

- "increase progressivity of benefit formula," a kind of means-testing.

Fortunately, they recommend also raising the Social Security contribution ceiling so that it captures 90%, rather than what is currently approximately 86%, of the total potential taxable wages wages.

Journalist and economist Robert Kuttner, in an opinion piece in Politico, notes

a scheme for the president to embrace much of the Bowles-Simpson plan — including cuts in Social Security. This is to be unveiled, according to well-placed sources, in the president’s State of the Union address.

The idea is to pre-empt an even more draconian set of budget cuts likely to be proposed by the incoming House Budget Committee chairman, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), as a condition of extending the debt ceiling. This is expected to hit in April.
White House strategists believe this can also give Obama “credit” for getting serious about deficit reduction — now more urgent with the nearly $900 billion increase in the deficit via the tax cut deal.

Kuttner argues

For a Democratic president, this approach is bad economics and worse politics....

Consider what the right will do when Obama moves to cut Social Security. Republicans, with no sense of contradiction or hypocrisy, will whack Obama once for not being sufficiently serious about deficit reduction — then whack him again for cutting Social Security.

We don't have to imagine what the right will do. Kuttner makes a passing reference to Medicare. Early in the health care debate, the CBO estimated that the President's health care proposal would increase the deficit- and the GOP, and its talk-radio handlers, crowed. Later, Obama inserted cost-cutting provisions, including cuts in Medicare funding to hospitals and nursing homes- and the GOP turned around and attacked the President for "cutting Medicare." Although this was not part of the party's "death panel" fantasy, it helped legitimize, in voters' minds, that incendiary charge.

It matters not that Republicans have been trying to undermine the Social Security system, through privatization or otherwise, for years, just as they could condemn the Democratic Party for allegedly targeting Medicare when that has been a prime thrust of their party for years. Three years before moderate- moderate!- Republican George Herbert Walker Bush in 1961 would call Medicare "socialized medicine," Saint Reagan- years before he was canonized- charged proponents of Medicare with promoting "simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time -- socialized medicine."

If Kuttner's prediction about the State of the Union address bears out, it will be another example of, in the words of Senator and Minnesota punter Al Franken, the President "punting on first down." Its impact would be severe, as Kuttner notes:

Republicans win three ways. They have a Democratic president doing their work for them, destroying the Democratic capacity to use affirmative government to address dire national problems and annihilating his own party.
And all this before they even take over the House

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tax Cut Talk

If you're headed for the track, don't bother asking Joe Biden for any tips.

Asked by David Gregory on Meet The Press (transcript here) "Do you really expect, in an election year, that anybody's not going to vote to extend the tax cuts," Biden responded

Yeah, I do, I do.... what'll be different is that we will have had the outcome of the deficit commission, we will be able to make the case much more clearly that spending $700 billion over 10 years to extend tax cuts for people whose income averages well over a million dollars does not make sense, number one.

Number two, we're not going to be--we're not in a position, David, where we're going to have, God willing, the shaky economy where we could not afford to continue uncertainty for a month or two or three in the next year had we not made a deal which would actually grow the economy.

Fortunately, Biden is probably not that naive, merely spouting the company line. And to be fair, if the economy is not so "shaky"- and it probably won't be- in two years, there is less reason to extend the tax cuts. Republicans then will acknowledge that- or will enthuse "they've worked so far- why kill a good thing." Which do you think will be their reaction?

But that was only Biden's opinion, a judgement call; far worse to dissemble. Gregory a moment later played a clip from a September interview the Vice-President had with Rachel Maddow, in which Biden pledged "the administration's going to the mat" to end the high-end tax cuts. Gregory noted "by January, you didn't go to the mat," after which the V.P. responded

By the--we did go to the mat. We did go to the mat. We went through every--I went into a total of 130 races out there campaigning for Democrats. Every single race I made this case. Here's what happened. We got to the end, we couldn't get it done, and we had to make a decision: Were we going to let the middle-class tax cuts expire? Let me remind everybody, the House passed middle-class tax cut only. It got to the United States Senate, we supported that provision, and the Senate could not pass it.

Silly, me. I thought voters heard Obama remind them that the GOP had driven the car into a ditch but were exasperated- or mad- that the President and his party had not done enough to drag it back out. The Senate had an opportunity, before the election, to propose extension of the Bush-era tax cuts on middle incomes (while those on upper incomes would expire) but unwisely chose not to do so. The strategy selected was one President Obama seemed quite comfortable with although, as New York's Chuck Schumer has explained

Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle said, 'Did you hear the mandate of the election?' Well, I ran this year, I got 66 percent of the vote in my state. And I saw lots of people and lots of angry people. . . . But not a single one of them, from the tea party or anywhere else, said give tax breaks to the millionaires.

Pretending that voters rejected rejection of tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires is only spin- albeit, Republican spin- but arguably not egregious. But this is:

Were we going to let the middle-class tax cuts expire? Let me remind everybody, the House passed middle-class tax cut only. It got to the United States Senate, we supported that provision, and the Senate could not pass it.

Not quite. One Saturday recently, the Senate fell short of the 60 votes needed to impose cloture on a proposal, with broad Democratic support, which would have extended only the middle-income tax cuts. Then it considered legislation, sponsored by Senator Schumer, which would have extended the cuts for all incomes below $1,000,000.

The latter, still a budget-buster, at least would have allowed the Democrats, if the bill passed, to emphasize: we passed tax cuts for the middle class and not for millionaires and billionaires, whom Republicans wanted to protect. But this wasn't good enough for President Obama, whom earlier this month Newsday reported

is getting along better than ever with Capitol Hill Republicans. But his relationship with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer has hit a rough patch.

The newly appointed Senate Democratic "message" guru from New York has emerged as the White House's chief antagonist over the tax-cut deal Obama worked out with GOP leaders.

To Schumer, Obama's decision to accept a two-year extension of all the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush - even at the highest income levels - is a needless capitulation to resurgent Republicans. Schumer wanted the president to push harder to extend the tax cuts, set to expire at year's end, only for family incomes less than $250,000.

But to the White House, it is Schumer who is acting recklessly by seeking to wage class warfare with just days left on the legislative calendar, risking the health of the economy and the pocketbook of every middle-class household with his threat to carry the fight into next year.

That doesn't sound like a President who is opposed even on principle of tax cuts for the wealthy, beyond that which they would receive on their income up to $250,000. It is extremely unlikely that a White House which opposed Schumer's proposal- and not on the grounds that it would have jacked up the deficit and debt almost as much as tax breaks for all- "supported that provision." Especially because it was negotiating a capitulation "compromise" with Senate Minority Leader McConnell at the very same time.

This must be a problem for the formerly long-term Delaware Senator, having to front for a strategy misguided not only on policy, but also on political, grounds. For the formerly short-term Illinois Senator, not so much.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Rationalizing Party Allegiance

It is a reminder, apparently, that idiocy comes in all colors.

"The Root" is a daily online magazine which publishes pieces by blacks of varying perspectives. Lenny McCallister, reportedly a syndicated political commentator and author of Diary of a Mad Black PYC (Proud Young Conservative), posted "Is Democratic Opposition to Obama Also Racial?"

McCallister, to his credit, avoids attributing discontent with President Obama among Democrats to "racism." Sort of. He asks:

Although the 2008 presidential primary is a distant memory, it was not that long ago that key Democratic partisans were unpleasantly surprised by a young, educated black newcomer who came onto the scene to steal a nomination from consensus choice Hillary Clinton and went on to win the White House. Is it that much of a stretch to suggest that those lingering feelings from 2008 -- some racial, some not -- are playing a part in the rhetoric we are hearing from the left today?

Yes, it is. Peruse McCallister's article. There is no example of this "rhetoric we are hearing from the left today." Oh, he trots out Harry Reid's comment observation and Bill Clinton's "serving coffee" comment preceeding the South Carolina primary in 2008. The Majority Leader's remark may have been little more than an acknowledgement of reality. Bill Clinton's comment was printed in Game Change, in which Mark Halperin and John Heilemann allege, without attribution, that Bill Clinton made the comment to Senator Edward Kennedy. And Reid's statement and Clinton's- alleged- crack were made over two years ago. Both remarks may, McCallister claims, "play a part" (whatever that means) in today's rhetoric he fails to identify.

McCallister condemns

The explosive expressions of disgust and disunity with the president -- from Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-Ohio) obvious anguish over Obama's tax-compromise framework to the left's media base calling him spineless -- has been evident since Obama announced the proposal last week to maintain the Bush tax cuts in return for extending unemployment benefits.

McCallister does not place "spineless" in quotes, suggesting he may have failed to find any prominent Democrat who called the President spineless. So we won't call it "spineless." But we do have as a President an individual who recognized in 2007-2008 that criticism of George W. Bush practically was de rigeur for any Democrat or Republican and campaigned against extending the Bush tax cuts. Now, recoiled in horror at the "shellacking" his party took in the recent election, he has chosen to enact those same tax cuts into law. No need to go much more deeply- the President who watered down financial reform in the face of GOP opposition or refused to issue an Executive Order suspending discharge of gay members of the armed services because it might make the military brass angry. Or the President who, as a candidate having supported a public option in health care reform, retreated in the face of a party which threatened to make the issue his "Waterloo." He wouldn't want to make his opponents unhappy.

That would be Lenny McCallister's Republican Party, about which President-elect Obama told Rolling Stone

I still remember going over to the Republican caucus to meet with them and present our ideas, and to solicit ideas from them before we presented the final package. And on the way over, the caucus essentially released a statement that said, "We're going to all vote 'No' as a caucus." And this was before we'd even had the conversation. At that point, we realized that we weren't going to get the kind of cooperation we'd anticipated. The strategy the Republicans were going to pursue was one of sitting on the sidelines, trying to gum up the works, based on the assumption that given the scope and size of the recovery, the economy probably wouldn't be very good, even in 2010, and that they were better off being able to assign the blame to us than work with us to try to solve the problem.

Of course, it isn't that McCallister is a racist or a "reverse racist" for inferring racial prejudice that isn't there. He simply is a member of a party that has voted in lock step against the first black President. The degree to which animus toward blacks in general has motivated that approach is arguable- but it nonetheless must be embarassing to a fellow who counts himself amongst one of its proud members.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Only They Know The Way

December 13 saw the launch in New York City of "No Labels," whose leaders, according to The Washington Post, describe it as

a home for Americans turned off by a deepening divide between Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals....

The group hopes to build a network of citizen activists and establish offices in all 435 congressional districts. Beginning in January, members plan to police the new Congress, calling out lawmakers they think are too partisan and speaking up for those who cross party lines to find solutions. The group says it will not advocate specific policy positions, but will aim to foster a more civil discourse in Washington.

Presumably, that civil discourse would exclude doctrinaire citizens, whose toxic commitment to principle pollutes all that is right and virtuous. Will Bunch comments

I don't have a problem with people declaring themselves centrists and fighting for middle-of-the-road policies with all their heart and soul, but what truly drives me crazy is their holier-than-thou notion that centrism is, by definition, better than people with ideologies (which is just a high fallutin' word for people's ideas) on the so-called right or so-called left. In fact, the whole right-left spectrum is just something we crazy humans made up to simplify complicated notions of limited government or social justice or personal freedom. Declaring what you think is the middle of two ideas doesn't make you more virtuous, and often it makes you maddenly inconsistent or incoherent. See "Obama, Barack."

Unfortunately, that is the Barack Obama and the GOP the mainstream media love and which came together this week to pass a tax cut bill that will baloon the deficit and exacerbate the gap between the wealthy and the middle class. With its fetish for bipartisanship, the media generally will ignore the fundamental question about No Labels: Where is it getting its money? There is at least one exception, with the liberal asking

No Labels spokesman Adam Segal if the nonprofit group, which has reportedly raised at least $1 million so far, would reveal the sources of its funding now or in the future. Segal declined to comment on the record. That $1 million has already paid for the big conference at Columbia today, a flashy website, a new logo, and a P.R. guy. The Wall Street Journal did report the names of three wealthy donors last month (more on this below), but it's unknown how much they gave and who else is involved.

No Labels is organized as a 501(c)(4), which means that it is not legally required to release the identities of donors. You may remember that designation from the midterm elections, when similarly organized groups spent millions of anonymously donated dollars on campaign ads. There is no sign that No Labels is going to be running ads (though there is talk by one of the group's leaders about creating a separate PAC to get involved in financially supporting candidates.)

No Labels believes itself a little more righteous and well, a little better than the rest of us. You will not be surprised that the self-satisfied group appropriately includes Michael Bloomberg, here nailed as "a man whose reasonableness is self-evident, because he spends a lot of time telling people that he dislikes both liberals and conservatives. (And bloggers, and journalists, and union leaders, and bureaucrats, etc., etc." It includes also a Dallas-based political consultant, who set the mood of inclusiveness and tolerance at the gathering in New York:

The country is not governable right not. It's a bunch of little brats and children who throw tantrums if they don't get everything they want.

Political Correctness, GOP-Style

When Juan Williams was ousted from NPR for (select one or both): a)speaking out of turn about Muslims; b)violating, repeatedly, NPR policy discouraging opinionated punditry on other news outlets, he responded, in part

Political correctness can lead to some kind of paralyses where you don't address reality.

When Rush Limbaugh, using the phrase itself, defended himself against criticism of his criticism of Rahm Emanuel's use of the phrase "f------ retarded," he contended

You know, they're the PC Police, and they hammer us outta office. They drive us out of our careers when we violate their speech codes.

When the rightist Conservapedia, which finds the fact-based Wikipedia too liberal, defined "political correctness," it noted

Political correctness or P.C. also means the alteration of ones choice of words in order to avoid either offending a group of people or reinforcing a stereotype considered to be disadvantageous to the group.

Notwithstanding the origin of the concept of political correctness in resistance to literature dominated by dead, white European males (DWEM), so much of the outrage toward political correctness is focused language. And so much of the right, which is mostly, though not exclusively, exorcised over "pc," use it as a lazy shorthand for "liberalism."

On a seemingly unrelated issue, Shahien Nasiripour writes in The Huffington Post:

The four Republicans appointed to the commission investigating the root causes of the financial crisis plan to bypass the bipartisan panel and release their own report Wednesday, according to people familiar with the commission's work.

The Republicans, led by the commission's vice chairman, former congressman and chair of the House Ways and Means Committee Bill Thomas, will likely focus their report on the explosive growth of subprime mortgages and the heavy role played by the federal government in pushing mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to purchase and insure them. They'll also likely focus on the Community Reinvestment Act, a 1977 law that encourages banks to lend to underserved communities, these people said.

The Republicans' report is expected to conclude that government policy helped inflate the housing bubble and that prices weren't expected to crash because the government pushed homeownership so aggressively. They say that the report will note that once the bubble burst, a financial panic followed because firms weren't adequately prepared.

Frustrated in part by the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission's chairman, Phil Angelides, and the tenor of the panel's preliminary findings, the Republicans are choosing to ignore the five Democrats and lone independent and issue their document ahead of the commission's Jan. 15 release. Angelides is described as a demanding boss who's said to be difficult to work for. Both Thomas and Angelides pledged in January that they'd strive to reach bipartisan consensus.

The Republicans' move indicates that the highly-partisan nature of Washington has infiltrated the commission's work and threatens to derail it. With four commissioners now essentially going around the panel to describe their thoughts on the roots of the financial crisis, the public may not get the full picture when it comes to understanding how the actions of a few led to the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Instead, the public will receive a report that could be discredited as being partisan, and another that is expected to largely conform with a Wall Street-friendly view that blames government for the crisis.

And how best to pretend that it wasn't behemoth financial institutions which almost brought this country to its knees?

During a private commission meeting last week, all four Republicans voted in favor of banning the phrases "Wall Street" and "shadow banking" and the words "interconnection" and "deregulation" from the panel's final report, according to a person familiar with the matter and confirmed by Brooksley E. Born, one of the six commissioners who voted against the proposal.

Banish the words and phrases that are uncomfortable and voila! the problem vanishes. History vanishes. Reality vanishes. And with it, the interests of the middle class. Nasiripour explains:

The shadow banking system refers to the part of the financial system in which investors and other nonbanks like hedge funds and investment firms provide credit to borrowers, as opposed to more traditional banks. Interconnection refers to the links that bind financial institutions to one another, like derivatives, borrowings, and investments.

"I certainly felt, and I think the majority of the commission felt, that deleting those phrases would impair the commissioners' ability to give a full and fair and understandable report to the American people about the causes of the financial crisis," Born said.

"Certainly, it's hard to imagine Wall Street wasn't involved," she added.

Yea, kind of. It is perplexing, though: just as Republicans on the Hill were demonstrating that nothing- nothing- can come between them and tax cuts for the rich, we get mixed signals. If tax cuts come first, surely omnipotent corporations are nipping on their heels as beneficiaries of GOP dogma. Pharmaceutical companies, oil and gas firms, international bankers- does it matter? Where the wealthy and the powerful are, there the GOP is.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Blame It On Mexico

With no sense of irony (it is the right-wing, after all), Red State on December 12 posted

With the exception of, perhaps, Texas governor Rick Perry, no public official wants to publicly admit an obvious fact: The United States of America will likely be forced to invade Mexico. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The question then becomes: What to do with Mexico after we invade it and wipe out the drug cartels (as much as can be). Does the United States merely return Mexico to a nation state of corrupt politicians, failed economic policies, and lawlessness, or do we annex Mexico and turn it into the 51st state?...

Irrespective of what happens farther down the road, the violence that is occurring today in Mexico and spilling over into the U.S. is something that cannot continue to be ignored by the administration, regardless how weak it may be. If things do not change in Mexico (or if the President refuses to secure our borders), sooner or later, the U.S. will likely have to send a large amount of troops into that country to wipe out the drug cartels.

The problem may go beyond economic policy, corruption, and lawlessness in Mexico. The Washington Post has published a series of articles under the heading "The Hidden Life of Guns," while conducting a year-long investigation into firearm violence.

The investigation has "uncovered the names of the top 12 U.S. dealers of guns traced to Mexico in the past two years," eight of them in Texas, three in Arizona, and one in California. Never mind the macho fantasy of Red State- the response of the federal government over the past 7-8 years is telling. "Researchers in law enforcement, academia and the media," the Post reports, "first began to examine gun tracing data for clues to potential illegal sales in the late 1990s" because

such information used to be available under a simple Freedom of Information Act request. But seven years ago, under pressure from the gun lobby, Congress blacked out the information by passing the so-called Tiahrt amendment, named for Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.). The law removed from the public record a government database that traces guns recovered in crimes back to the dealers.

"It was extraordinary, and the most offensive thing you can think of," said Chuck Wexler, director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group for police chiefs. "The tracing data, which is now secret, helped us see the big picture of where guns are coming from."

Gun sales are traced by the National Tracing Center (only), where

researchers with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives make phone calls and pore over handwritten records from across the country to track down gun owners. In contrast with such state-of-the-art, 21st-century crime-fighting techniques as DNA matching and digital fingerprint analysis, gun tracing is an antiquated, laborious process done mostly by hand. The government is prohibited from putting gun ownership records into an easily accessible format, such as a searchable computer database.

For decades, the National Rifle Association has lobbied successfully to block all attempts at such computerization, arguing against any national registry of firearm ownership.

Yet, the Post reports,

Behind the scenes, federal agents in charge of stopping gun trafficking to Mexico have quietly advanced a plan to help stem the smuggling of high-powered AK-47s and AR-15s to the bloody drug war south of the border.

The controversial proposal by officials at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives calls for a measure strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association: requiring gun dealers to report multiple sales of rifles and shotguns to ATF.

The gun issue is so incendiary and fear of the NRA so great that the ATF plan languished for months at the Justice Department, according to some senior law enforcement officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity but would not provide details

The NRA got wind of the idea last month and warned its 4 million members in a "grassroots alert" that the administration might try to go around Congress to get such a plan enacted as an executive order or rule.

The NRA has attacked not only the power and authority of the law enforcement agency, but also its staffing and, the Post has found, "has the same number of agents it had three decades ago. It can take as long as eight years between inspections of gun stores. And even when inspectors turn up evidence of missing guns, they cannot compel a dealer to take inventory.

There are real-life consequences to curtailing the personnel (chart, from, below) assigned to the ATF, as well as to the resources available, and the strict regulatory regulations imposed upon it. The Post reports

The firearms bureau inspects only a fraction of the nation's 60,000 retail gun dealers, taking as much as eight years between visits to stores. By law, the ATF cannot require dealers to conduct a physical inventory to determine whether any guns have been lost or stolen.

So as the drug trade and violence rage along the border, the interior of the U.S.A. is not spared the effects of the NRA's stranglehold on Washington. The Post built a database of all 1900 police officers killed by firearms in the last decade and "was able to track how the suspects obtained their weapons in 341 of the deaths." It found

More than 200 of the shooters were felons who were prohibited by federal law from possessing firearms. Many had spent time in prison for illegal handgun possession. At least 45 were on probation or parole when they killed an officer. At least four were previously convicted of murder or manslaughter, including a Texas man who had done time for two separate slayings and was on parole at the time he killed his third victim: a 40-year-old sheriff's deputy with a wife and three children.

The gun lobby, of course, will continue to derail law enforcement efforts in the U.S.A. amid murders of police officers and civilians. Meanwhile, realization of the dream of conquest of our southern neighbor would be a major triumph for conservatives. Sure, they would have to start a third war to do it, but imagine: as the federal deficit and debt explode, their rationale for 'starving the beast' grows; more money is borrowed from Red China- a major aim, as evidenced by their obsession with tax cuts; and with the inevitable tide of refugees coming north of the border to find employment, the cost of labor here comes down. You really can't beat a win-win-win.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Breaking News: Winter Is Cold

All those who had December 14 in the pool: raise your hands!

That would be the only real pool that counts, the one to predict on what date the nation's leading conservative and Republican Party head, Rush Limbaugh, would make a startling discovery: It's winter. And it's cold!

That would, of course, be the basis of Limbaugh's newest "proof" that global warming is a hoax. As much of the the nation suffered through an exceedingly hot summer, and autumn, being autumn, provided little in the way of temperature extremes, Rush was fairly quiet on the climate change front. But no longer! On December 14 he carefully laid out his argument based on extensive analysis of worldwide climate trends:

We set an all-time record. Well, West Palm Beach did. That is across the river. It's always a little warmer here on the ocean. West Palm Beach set an overnight low record, all-time low of 32 degrees. I got a note from a friend of mine this morning. "You've been down there since 1997. Has it ever been this cold?" I said, "Nope, and certainly not even close this time of year".... Now, for all the hangers-on on global warming, this is it. You know, you don't need to tell 'em that there isn't any global warming. This has been going on two years. This is the second or third winter in a row now where it's been winter before winter even comes.

With apologies to all of you who live in the central portion of Florida's east coast, your weather may not be a proxy for the weather of the planet's six continents. Or seven continents. And the record low temperature on December 14, 2010 may not portend global ocean and land surface cooling.

And no doubt does not, given that the rate of warming worldwide is "accelerating." Research scientist and paleoclimatologist Lonnie G. Thompson observes:

Our best models predict a temperature rise in this century of between 2.4u and 4.5u C (4.3u and 8.1u F), with an average of about 3u C (5.4u F; Meehl et al., 2007; Figure 1). But these models assume a linear rise in temperature. Increasingly, computer models have underestimated the trends because, in fact, the rate of global temperature rise is accelerating. The average rise in global temperature was 0.11u F per decade over the last century (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2009). Since the late 1970s, however, this rate has increased to 0.29u F per decade, and 11 of the warmest years on record have occurred
in the last 12 years. May, 2010, was the 303rd consecutive month with a global temperature warmer than its 20th-century average (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2010).

Not only the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, but also the World Meteorological Association, the Climactic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, and NASA concluded that the last decade, 2000-2009, was the warmest on record worldwide. That replaced the 1990s as the warmest decade on record. That replaced the 1980s as the warmest decade.

This last year, 2010, will be either the warmest, or within statistical error tied for the warmest, year (though colder than average in the U.S.A. and Canada). All ten of the warmest years on record have occurred since 1998. Anyone see a pattern here?

You don't if you are Rush Limbaugh, who continued

Around the world record snowfalls in the UK, and this is one of the reasons why these people have changed their name to "climate change." But it's all falling apart. We know, you and I who have studied it, we know the whole thing was from the get-go a fraud. We know it's a hoax.

Warm air holds more moisture than cold air. Joe Romm quotes two researchers at the NASA's National Climactic Data Center who observed in 2006

Results for the November–December period showed that most of the United States had experienced 61%– 80% of the storms in warmer-than-normal years. Assessment of the January–February temperature conditions again showed that most of the United States had 71%–80% of their snowstorms in warmer-than-normal years. In the March–April season 61%–80% of all snowstorms in the central and southern United States had occurred in warmer-than-normal years…. Thus, these comparative results reveal that a future with wetter and warmer winters, which is one outcome expected (National Assessment Synthesis Team 2001), will bring more snowstorms than in 1901–2000. Agee (1991) found that long-term warming trends in the United States were associated with increasing cyclonic activity in North America, further indicating that a warmer future climate will generate more winter storms.

It's not only Rush Limbaugh. According to an October analysis by the Center for American Progress, none- zero- of the 37 Republican nominees for the U.S. Senate both accepted the reality of climate change and favored efforts to address it. Rush decrees it, and the Stepford Wives and Husbands of the Republican Party follow.


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