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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Adore Mundo


I don't know who buys these, because what kids are going to see the cute, stamped images of Mickey, Goofie, et. al.? (I mean, I doubt kids are cooking their own eggs, these days...).

Disney Eggs (h/t for Adore Mundo):

Friday, January 30, 2009

Infrastructure: Weekend Research


The Reinvestment Act has spending on broadband for rural communities.

Now, I don't know what that means, exactly (hence, weekend research).

But, I thought that was going to be handled by our much overdue, national project to build out a wireless network, which private money was willing to do, including taking on the burden of providing service to rural areas.

So, now that Ted Stevens is no longer mucking things, where does all that stand?



Interoperability is a Homeland Security concern, so ... this doesn't look like a step in the right direction, at face:

Jan 15 via dailywireless.org

New York Gov. David A. Paterson’s administration has canceled the state of New York’s $2.1 billion contract to build a statewide wireless network for emergency workers after years of delays and numerous technological snags, reports the NY Times.

Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, the state’s chief technological officer, sent a letter by express mail postmarked last night to the president and lead legal counsel for M/A-COM, a subsidiary of Tyco Electronics that was chosen in 2005 to build the network meant to link first responders across the state.

Ted Haggard, Redux


What to say about Ted Haggard, after forcing myself to watch his Oprah appearance?

I'll try.

One of the purposes of religious scripture, broadly put, is to pass on a wisdom about living life, based on insights that hopefully are not arbitrary, but are drawn, instead, from a wisdom about what "works" and what "doesn't work", in life.

Written on Ted Haggard's interview are the fruits of a lost life, of a way taken so obviously unsuitable to to his fulfillment, because of the teachings of his Christian faith community. He's spent so much looking for a life centered in Christ that was already present, right?

This false errand, centered around his possible homosexuality, might not have transpired, if the flock wasn't so misled, so harshly and carelessly unattended. No gay kid needs to go on that journey, any longer.

There is another path.

... and no one needs be alone on it, the world over.

And that's all I have to say about that.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Bush Library - Acquisition Idea

George and Laura are probably busy, but here's an acquisition idea for their library. I'm sure they could get the original or a replica, right?

Shoe Attacker Statue via Buzzfeed

Iraqis commemorate the man who threw a shoe at George Bush. It looks like a giant version of the copper-plated baby shoes your grandparents used to have, except with plants.

Regional Pictures of the Crisis


Here is a map from the WSJ that puts up some data on where the spending and relief from the Reinvestment Plan may be going, throughout the country. On a per-capita basis, it's spread pretty evenly, even if there is quite a range in the details:

Here is the latest foreclosure map from the NY Fed. Sorta makes the approach look less than perfectly targeted, although maybe foreclosures are not the best metric. Still ...:

Here are the persistent poverty areas, a designation defined in the house bill, HR-1, as of 1990 (yeah, quite old, but...). Notice that almost all the non-metro areas are all ... in red-state, South.

Here is the change in economic activity, as measured by the Philly Fed - direction is most important here (notice the states that have been spared, so far);

Why can't laws be written well?

Readers here will know that I have a pet peeve for provisions in the tax code that are legislated as dollar amounts, rather than ratios related to economic factors or figures to be adjusted-for-inflation, etc.

Here comes more on how Government Agencies don't get forced by Congress to follow ... the laws of economic efficiency, maybe:

From HR1

"(1) In general.—For the costs of State administrative expenses associated with carrying out this section, the Secretary shall make available $150,000,000 in each of fiscal years 2009 and 2010, to remain available through September 30, 2012, of which $4,500,000 is for necessary expenses of the Food and Nutrition Service for management and oversight of the program and for monitoring the integrity and evaluating the effects of the payments made under this section."

Why aren't these agencies managed on an expense ratio basis or some other business metric, rather than just given a dollar-figure for salaries?

Maybe I misunderstand, but ...

Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

"Recovery.gov", eh?

Well, here is a phrase from HR-1, that bears thinking about:

"...[an oversight board reporting to Congress] to coordinate and conduct oversight of Federal spending under this Act to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse"

Ignoring the irony of asking Congress to police waste, fraud, and abuse, what are the assurances that something like Boston's "Big Dig" won't be repeated?

More precisely, what puts the teeth into "prevent" in that phrase?

From what I see, the Board is not empowered to stop a project. The IG and others are empowered to review and to audit - but those aren't necessarily preventative, are they? What are the penalties for "waste", discovered after-the-fact? "Abuse"?

There are people who know more than I, certainly, about the many types of projects funded and why this structure may have been set-up. Let them speak.

Back to Iraq: The Known Unkowns


When we went into Iraq, no one asked how we were going to get out of it. Then, as now, urgency was a key element, in casting aside constructive doubt.

As long as I see nondescript elements in key places, like "for some time", rather than scenarios based on hardened assumptions, you have to ask, how deliberately are we moving forward?

From the exceptionally competent new/old director of the CBO:

The scale of those [bank] losses suggests that many financial institutions and markets will remain deeply troubled for some time, which will keep borrowing exceptionally costly for many borrowers and thereby dampen spending by households and businesses. p.
Economists and financial experts widely agree that the financial markets are likely to remain severely stressed for some time..p. 6
In 2007, about 1.6 million foreclosures were initiated; the first nine months of 2008 alone saw 1.7 million foreclosures. Moreover, with house prices likely to continue to fall and with the recession pushing down family incomes, analysts expect the number of foreclosures to remain high during the next two years. p. 17

Other, important dimensions of the problem.

(CBO expects that the prices of houses will decline by another 14 percent, and some forecasters in the private sector are looking for even bigger slides.) Some analysts are now suggesting that the prices of houses in some markets are back to or near their fundamental values; however, another possibility is that prices could overshoot on the downside by 10 percent or more. p. 17

The costs associated with the rescue of Japan’s financial system have been estimated at about 25 percent of GDP. p. 9

By the middle of last year, an estimated 10.5 million borrowers had a total of about $850 billion in negative home equity with an average amount of more than $75,000. Those borrowers do not have the necessary equity to qualify for a refinanced loan with a private lender. p. 19

CBO estimates that the value of the GSEs’ [FreddieMac and FannieMae] mortgage loans and guaranteed assets falls short of their liabilities by about $200 billion (on a present-value basis). p. 23

And from the scoring of H.R.-1, the recently passed bill:

Title I would appropriate $248 million for Inspectors General for several agencies and the Government Accountability Office. CBO estimates that almost all of those funds would be spent by the end of fiscal year 2010.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Spiritual Violence Continues

Gays and lesbians can be thrown out of Christian madrassas, in California, without legal challenge.

The Catholic Church, along with others, are yet determined to propagate the farce that gays are bad for children.

(h/t JMG)

p.s. other countries are electing openly gay prime ministers. These days, America is so not the 'last, best hope', right?

Some People Wait a Lifetime, For a Moment Like This


After listening to a bit of the news coverage today, all that came to mind to describe the shouting and rushing over the largest public investment project since Roosevelt were the first stanzas of Saint-Saƫns' great "Organ" Symphony, in the finale, the Allegro Maestoso (the first 1:42 is what you need, Charles Munch conducting - 250Watts or better recommended :-), although if you want to show off your system, go with this version):

Hearing the GOP talk about dashing the next generation with debt could make any sane person's head explode. It's like the ultimate flip-flop for them, to the tune of trillions of dollars and the ruin of the Republic.

Meanwhile, the spendy ruling class is showing off their cauldron of ... mismashed together 'projects'.

Does this sound like something concrete enough for a ... legacy project, something you would rest the entire Obama-Biden success on?

After reading this, I have no idea exactly what will be _built_ after this project is complete.

Bush, et. al., voted billions for energy research, so ... do we need more laboratories? It would appear that direction and coordination are more important to having this money produce the hoped for results, on that score.

From speaker.gov, the selling points [after the jump]:

Smart Grid /Advanced Battery Technology/Energy Efficiency ($32 billion)
  • Transforms the nation’s electricity systems through the Smart Grid Investment Program to modernize the electricity grid to make it more efficient and reliable. This will jumpstart smart grid demonstration projects in geographically diverse areas, increase federal matching grants for smart grid technology (20% to 50%) including “Smart Meters” that give consumer more choice in their energy consumption at home, and spur research and development. Build new power lines that can transmit clean, renewable energy from sources throughout the nation.
  • Creates temporary loan guarantees for up to $80 billion for renewable energy power generation and electric transmission projects that begin in the next two years. These would help ease credit constraints for renewable energy investors and spur new private sector investment over the next three years.
  • Supports U.S. development of advanced vehicle batteries and battery systems through loans and grants so that America can lead the world in transforming the way automobiles are powered. Also includes other initiatives to promote the use of alternative fuel vehicles by federal state and local governments.
  • Helps state and local governments make investments for innovative best practices to achieve greater energy efficiency and reduce energy usage, including building and home energy conservation programs, energy audits, fuel conservation programs, building retrofits, and "Smart Growth" planning and zoning. Also encourages states to adopt updated energy-efficient building codes and regulatory policies to encourage utility-sponsored gains in energy efficiency.
  • Spurs energy efficiency and renewable energy research, development, demonstration, and deployment activities at universities, companies, and national laboratories to foster energy independence, reduce carbon emissions, and cut utility bills.
  • Provides consumer rebates to buy energy efficient appliances to replace old ones to lower energy bills.
  • Makes key investments in carbon capture and sequestration technology demonstration projects to work toward making coal part of the solution and reducing the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from industrial facilities and fossil fuel power plants.

I'm surprised by Paul Krugman's take on the timing of the money is "That’s not at all bad."

Unless there is a framework that suggests how long it is going to take banks to stop tamping on consumers, housing markets to clear poorly underwritten debts and adjust to new price levels, then what exactly is the analytical framework that suggests this program is well designed to suit the underlying problems of restrained demand?

'Early is better'?
'Lags aren't all that bad, in context', even ignoring how much "guess" is in the CBO's spend-timing guesstimates? Is that all we've got?


Afterall, the media, the pundits, the editorial pages, and more plunged us into the Iraq debt-spending spree on less, arguably...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Berlin Philharmonic, Live To Your Desktop

I am reminded that the Berlin Philharmonic's million dollar technology investment to bring me (and you) their concert series live is up and running!

There are times when I am not looking for the concert hall experience, especially when seats are cramped, the flu is going around, or the tickets you have to get for the best sound are limited ...

(10Euros/$12.50 for each concert or 90Euros/$115 for the season. That's the cost of tunnel and tolls, for a live concert, so... it's attractive.)


1970s San Francisco's Castro, remembered by Dan Nicoletta.

Also via the folks at OMG!:

Giant Panorama of Obama-Biden Inaugural

"My final photo is made up of 220 Canon G10 images and the file is 59,783 X 24,658 pixels or 1,474 megapixels. It took more than six and a half hours for the Gigapan software to put together all of the images on my Macbook Pro and the completed TIF file is almost 2 gigabytes."

Friday, January 23, 2009

Team Obama Needs Our Help!


I think that team Obama are suffering from having it backwards and from being short time enough to be thoughtful and thorough.

Sometimes, you just have to get basic. They ought to tackle things in this order:

  1. Part 1. A comprehensive housing and financial market approach ("TARP-II Plus")
  2. Part 2. An accelerating, massive jobs spending-program, designed as much for the long-term as the short-term (if not more).

Understanding the scope, timing, cost, and duration of the first will inflect what can be done in the second.


Accordingly, the key decision-making pitfalls they face are the ones the Republicans managed so poorly: (a), underestimating the cost and duration of action and having no 'plan B'; (b), hoping for the best or hoping to be done quickly, when the key economic adjustments simply are not short-term or when the proposed fixes are designed to smooth out those adjustments, rather than accelerate them.
As it is now, they seem to have it backwards.

Also, they may be confusing 'solutions' with diagnosis or something. If you take 'cutting entitlements' as a part of their unrevealed comprehensive solution, then Obama's foreboding speech obviates Paul Krugman's well thought-out criticisms, for instance.

There are indications of further confusion. They indicate 'our problems' may not be solved overnight. Yet, today, we have news that 18 months is the duration of what they have in mind, for far and away most of their spending. Why is 18 months magic?

There are indications they are not targeted, because they haven't done or finished the work on part one. Adding 'stimulus' (to seniors?) in New Hampshire isn't going to help near 10% unemployment and an ongoing housing crisis in California. Neither are tax breaks going to help the unemployed, if that money ends up unspent by those with the jobs or companies. More jobs and money isn't going to return growth prospects, if credit card companies and others continue to tighten standards.

Obama has clearly got the priority right. He appointed a team pronto and indicated he knew multiple priorities had to be juggled. However, his team is hamstrung because they need something now, but do not appear to have it ready-to-go, at least on part one (so part two is already suspect, right?).


Okay, next up: A daily economic briefing shows outstanding commitment from the top. But, what they need is not Larry Summers interpreting monthly indicators (if that is what it is). They need an economic situation room, not unlike the real situation room. Any they ought to move quickly to get the data and people to fill up that room to the brim and beyond, especially if that involves legislation to acquire new and complete data. I'm sorry, but sitting down with Paul Volker, Charlie Rose style, is simply woefully inadequate to the challenge, if that is what is going on.

Finally, they need to shoulder reality. Depending on the assessment done in part one and the solution-type adopted, this downturn could go for more than two years. A recovery without both a rebound in the housing markets and, subsequently, banking is hard to imagine (although it is not impossible).


Accordingly, the key decision-making pitfalls they face are the ones the Republicans managed so poorly: (a) underestimating the cost and duration of action and having no 'plan B'; (b) hoping for the best or hoping to be done quickly, when the key economic adjustments simply are not short-term or when the proposed policy fixes are designed to smooth out those adjustments, rather than accelerate them.

Last, the need more communication that was given by Paulson, et. al. They need to demonstrate that they are actually in command of the risk at banks, not caught responding to further, poor risk-taking. They need to come up with nifty ways to describe and sell the plan and who is going to do it. (If it is Geithner, he has to work on those magic eyebrows, IMHO).


If they need more time to craft a proper, well thought-through 'Reinvestment in America Plan', then there are stop-gap measures that can hold them over.

The idea that there is all this pressure for a comprehensive everything in three more weeks is false.

Morning Joe, Still 'Stunningly Superficial'


This morning he told Mika that she seemed to him like a 60s radical putting flowers into gun barrels, because she suggested that Bush-Rumsfeld-Ashcroft had made a "mess" out of how we go about detaining ... well, 'people grabbed', basically, including how their stand on Gitmo has alienated our allies and right-thinking people the world over.


After exculpating himself (in his mind) because he had said he wanted trials "after four years", for people detained, Joe didn't go on to say how or why the 245 people at Gitmo have been pushed down the road for the next Administration to deal with, i.e. he didn't take up the cross of the Bush-Cheney failed legal strategy, the one that failed at the Supreme Court, even, a strategy which revised has hardly dispatched the situation adequately, to this day.


Finally, the people in Gitmo are there on the say-so of the Chief Executive alone, right? Isn't it fair that a new Executive stop and look at the facts relied on by the prior Executive, case-by-case? Wouldn't that topology suggest the practical way forward for dealing with the left-over detainees from the Bush-Cheney failed legal strategy?


Update: Joe believes that it is possible for the U.S. to "surrender" to al-qa'ida - his word, to Chuck Todd. The guy is clinically addicted to "war", including the horrible conception of Rumsfeld, the "war on terror", a phrase so stunningly superficial that it's surprising that people aren't embarrassed to continue to use it.

Is Norm Coleman Winning?

He's got a new job to hold him over while he continues to sue a system that, embarrassingly, still cannot hold a close election. (Despite working for a lobby organization, he's not a lobbyist, so that he doesn't fall foul of Senate ethics. Still...how does the Senate intend to enforce their own rules? Are they going to subpeona his phone records?)

His claims seem to be almost without merit, judged on face; yet the Senate leadership isn't willing to call it like that and take steps to seat Franken and dismiss the challenges as 'political nonsense' - you know the GOP, the party of Limbaugh, would, right? (That posture could be good or bad, but ...).

Meanwhile, the Democrats are short one up on the Hill, Franken gets cheated of time as a freshman, and the Minnesotans get penalized, without any known timetable.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Return of Enlightened Leadership

It was a mob scene at the State Department today. Over 1,000 people swamped to give a standing ovation to Hillary Clinton as she arrived.

I was kinda taken aback, when I saw the coverage. So long have these folks waited for the return of Enlightened Leadership and not being under the boot, I guess.

Don't miss,The Decline and Fall of Condi's Empire: The Secretary of State's Shoes, Hairdos, and Fabulous Fashions, Part Four, 2008 (h/t Americablog) [a favorite: "11-06: Mean reporters keep talking about Condi's failures in the past tense."]

Update: Rachel Maddow calls the enthusiastic reception almost like "greeted as liberators". Now, if that doesn't make your day ...


This is factually wrong (from one of AS's readers):

As long as Guantanamo remains open and as long as the terror suspects are treated as more than common thugs, they gain a larger-than-life reputation on the streets in the Arab world. The apparent fear of U.S. citizens to bring them to justice through our penal system plays into the hands of the terrorists.

Some captured al-qa'ida desire access to the courts. We know from manuals, etc., some of them to have been trained to continue 'the struggle', in this way, to use the open-court as a platform for broadcasting their ideology/grievances.

Joe-The-Plumber where are you?

Have you figured out that the world is bigger than you imagine?


Well, John Thain, "CEO" at Merrill Lynch, spent $1.22 million of shareholder money to redecorate his office. (To be honest, that's the most I've ever heard, including a re-do of the corporate showers, etc., at Ford.*).

More on Merrill, the gift that keeps giving.

*looking up EBRD for comparison; my comparisons excluding fradulent transfers, which have been magnitudes larger

Dear Mr. Vice President Biden

I'm just dying to know how much it cost the taxpayers, this biggest search-for-nothing in the history of the world (and I strongly suspect the numbers will bear that out).
I believe that the Vice President's office may be the classifying authority on what was the cost to search for WMD in Iraq.

Please de-classify it, if you can.

I'm just dying to know how much it cost the taxpayers, this biggest search-for-nothing in the history of the world (and I strongly suspect the numbers will bear that out).

Should America's Retirees Pay for Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld War Blunders?

Whatever your pre-invasion position, there is no question that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld ended up dragging the effort in Iraq on a long time, at great cost, a cost that continues today.

Reading the tea-leaves, I detect that the GOP will push to have the balance due on that war paid by America's retirees and those 'gapped' by our first-class health care system (pun intended). Of course, they will pretend that it is related to the current, jobs spending that is required.

Obama has signaled an entitlement summit for February.

Are you up for that? I'm not sure I am.

I'd propose that the Social Security Tax, capped as it is, have that cap removed temporarily, until the costs of the Iraq war are recouped (both direct and indirect).

There is a lot of wealth in this country, and we haven't had a wealth tax act since the 1930s. (Sooner or later, folks will realize that is on the table, seriously, just as FDR did.)

We do not need a military presence everywhere in the world, do we? Can't we propose nearly $100 billion in annual savings, from 2015 and beyond, say, based on a 'rethink' of the military?

How much is in the classified budget, in which we collect every, single piece of communication in the country, if not the world? Can we get $20B annually out of that budget?

Put another way, let's put all options on the table. Let's put our first, best efforts into ways to control health costs, including immediately legislating for the *total* information required to do so, smartly (not what we have collected, to date, which I judge to be ... not of decision-making quality, based on what I've seen).

Quote for The Day

Larry Kudlow is flapping harder than a goose over the Hudson today.

-yours truly

Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld : Unfinished Legacy Costs

Let us not forget that we are still losing a soldier every other day in Iraq and have moved up to almost one a day in Afghanistan.

From i-casualties.org, as of today, the Bush-era tally (now well in excess of the 9/11 loss of life):

U.S. DoD Confirmed Fatalities
, Iraq
Reported Deaths: 4229
Confirmed Deaths: 4227
Pending Confirmation: 2

Coalition Military Fatalities By Year, Afghanistan


Please Sit While $800 Billion Leaves the Building

My gut says that freightraining an economic plan of this critical national importance and phenomenal size is ludicrous.

With a party that already has a majority, it doesn't make sense, unless one is afraid that improper resistance will build up, mostly due to lobby money. That is not a small concern:

The stimulus bill currently includes some $6 billion for infrastructure improvements designed to increase access to broadband Internet services. Currently, the bill conditions funds on adherence by the recipients to the principles of net neutrality, but the telecom companies who're salivating over the prospect of getting this money want those conditions out, and are lobbying hard to get that done as early in the process as possible -- their first crack at it coming in today's markup.

If you've got a problem with telecom companies using federal tax dollars to build a subsidized broadband infrastructure, and then turning around and slicing and dicing up services so that you'll have to pay a premium to access sites that haven't agreed to pay these telecom carriers extra to favor their stuff, then you need to let members of the Energy and Commerce committee know that ASAP.

[ed. note: Frankly, I'm not sure why someone isn't trying to cut cable access fees, as a means of 'stimulus'.]

But it is also a separate problem.

The need for public input is plain. Have the Congress applied a consistent set of principles to create a stimulus sufficient to the job, or have they simply cobbled together a bunch of disparate, incremental or "pet" ideas that may not do the work they are supposed to?

We also need to know how this spending is strategically timed. We need to know how it is going to reach those parts of the nation most in need. And before that, we need to know how it is going to dovetail with the 'Comprehensive Housing Solution', alluded to by the new Treasury Secretary.

On the latter point, one could support a nationalization of the banks, even, if that is what is required if changes in the bankruptcy code are done and the industry bands together to balk...

Finally, the long-term fiscal situation needs to be put into the balance, yes?

Get Involved? Not so easy, that

The House Appropriations Committee is holding markup hearings on the the economic recovery bill, but I couldn't find copies of it anywhere.

The hearings don't even make the radar screen at DailyKos, except as a one-line update! No links to the legislation from the Committee website (at least, that I found).

Apparently, the House's ideas of how to spend money are known, but not available.

Ways and Means will hold hearings tomorrow.

Some of the members even have amendments to propose, which suggests that the outlines of this package have been available for a while, just not to the general public.

The CBO has had time to job-score some provisions, apparently.

That looks like a refutation of grassroots, not an empowerment, right?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I'm game.

Oh that? Well, it's a gift. These are turkish cigarettes. What? You meant what? The hat. Listen, stop bothering me. Run along. Watch Frost-Nixon.

Charles Philip Arthur George

Oathiness and The Flub

I have to say that the flubbed oath reminded me of that endearing moment when Diana repeated Prince Charles' full name incorrectly at their wedding ceremony.

Lawyers with serious beards now have a hold of it, and some recommend a swift, proper re-oathing.
Lawyers with serious beards now have a hold of it, and some recommend a swift, proper re-oathing.

Rather than rightwingnuts insisting that George Bush is still President, I was thinking this was a good time for William F. Buckley, Jr. to pen a piece to say just how poorly the Constitution is written.

er...is written, poorly. uh...is poorly written.

Oh, well - he's gone (and so is his magazine).

Update: CNN is reporting (8:10 EST) that the oath was re-administered today at 7:35 p.m.. No art can imitate life - how sweet it is.

The Supply of Credit and Other Edible Delights

Tim Geithner, Treasury Secretary nominee, is talking about securing the supply of credit (lending).

That's good. That looks like last year's goal, though, despite it continuing to drag into this year.

Now, of course, it is the demand for credit that is going into a spin, potentially a very serious one, largely due to Bush-Paulson's inability to address the root problems, early, decisively, and comprehensively (even after a crisis developed).

A strong banking sector may be necessary for a full recovery, but it is no longer sufficient, whether an American banking-system at full strength is even possible (in a downturn, there is so little chance of a 100% 'clean' balance sheet, right?).

Orrin Hatch Discovers U.S. Competitiveness, January, 2009

Another in our series, "EIGHT YEARS BEFORE THE MAST"

Senator Orrin Hatch is gravely concerned about the corporate tax rate, today.

After eight years of endless support for Bush-era tax-cuts on such things as inheritance, he's suddenly concerned about U.S. corporate tax-rate competitiveness.

The Business of Government

Homeland Security holds a hearing on ... financial watchdogs. Homeland Security?

Maybe some of those criticisms of the overlapping maze of Congressional Committee oversight had merit.

The Day After - The Power of Iconography

The medium is the message. No substitute, no law, no redress quite the same. And for even the die-hard cynics, sometimes you have to go through to get out (to transcend). If that doesn't make sense, it's okay. It may to some.

Israel, Olmert declare 'victory': No chance for peace-deal, really, for 2 years at least


As much in danger of peace as war, Israel has stepped down, without bringing any kind of changeopening in the situation.

Saudi Arabia will pick up the tab, pledging $1 billion dollars, of what could easily range to twice that, by the time it's done over the next 2-3 years. So much for limiting Wahhabi influence, eh?

Of course, $1 billion might have been enough to 're-settle' everyone in Sderot, as a tactical move... $1 billlion might have 'persuaded' the Egyptians to give way and let someone close the tunnels, using technology and time, rather than let it fester. $1 billion might have ...

Instead, the money will go to ... keeping the conflict on 'death support', if you will, the condition in which everyone rebuilds, only to have at it later on, at Saudi and EU expense, once again.

Meanwhile, if you read the perspicacious Henri-Levy you'd think that Israel was the one rebuilding from rubble of a 'total war':

What we can't ignore is this fact -- this context: Gaza which, evacuated, is becoming not the embryo of the so-desired Palestinian State, but the advance base of a total war against the Jewish State.

The rest of his piece is mostly familiar territory: (a) The IDF have no way to combat people who hide missiles in schools (not even cameras themselves?); (b) there were back-door, hush-hush, informal, unaudited 'peace offers' (and 'refusals'?) that assuage everyone's conscience; (c) out of moral weakness (rather than necessity?) almost everyone is playing a 'double-game'; (d) no one is 'in charge' politically ...

Caption This

"It's true, Mr. Prime Minister. We'd like to destabilize your country next. My name is David Petraeus."

Sorry, I'm in a pissy mood.

The U.S. will be "surging" in Afghanistan, soon.

Dereliction? Contempt of Congress?


I'm wondering today, as all eyes turn most fixedly to recession-repair and another handful of large companies announce the standard "10%" workforce 'solution', whether former Secretary Paulson ever completed the 'study' that he repeatedly told Congress was underway about how to further address the home foreclosure problems in America.

I'd like to see the work product created by the taxpayer's money, if he charged the Treasury staff to do something. A list of options. Databases. Analysis. Recommendations. [There may be some. I really don't know all of what goes on in D.C.'s vaults.]

Otherwise, you know, there are some serious charges to level, right?

Update: *heavy sigh* As it is, the plan is kicked down the road another three months, to March 15, 2009, in the Congressional Legislation.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Photo of the day, bearing witness, during Lowery's Benediction. A future supreme court justice?


After watching him today, I have to say that Joe Biden could emerge as one of the gems of an upcoming Obama-Biden administration.

It looks like the potential for these two to work together is strong. If I were Obama, I'd give Joe a well-chosen portfolio quickly, even if it is just to be eyes and ears around the country, a 'keepin' it real' campaign to balance the efforts of ... Rahm? and staffers, who may (naturally) get 'tied-up' in D.C. back-and-forth.

Back in the Real World: "Pound falls to 7-1/2 year low vs dollar"

Wall Street came back from vacation and decided what we all found out last week was true - no one knows anything about what is going on with banking, again, so it's got to be marked down.

My sense is that half of the last quarter's losses, at some banks, may be due to the huge surge in U.S. Treasury prices, especially if folks were using them as liquid hedges.

As before, no *one* seems to have all the facts of the situation. Accordingly, there are prescriptions without description...

Indicators of economic activity around the world ... also weak.

update: oh, here's my favorite headline to illustrate my point, "Citi and BofA: Too Big to Fail -- or to Succeed?".

A few things to note

The sun doesn't go round the moon, the Queen doesn't bow, and the Commander in Chief ... doesn't salute. I know it can make one uncomfortable to get but not give, but please don't bring back a Reagan-era nonsense:

A little background on Presidential salutes.

“It raised eyebrows back in 1981 when new President Ronald Reagan began returning the military salutes of the servicemen standing guard when he'd disembark from Air Force One or from Marine 1, the helicopter that would deliver him to the White House lawn.

No presidents before had returned those salutes, not even Dwight D. Eisenhower, who just seven years before he took office had been a five-star Army general [see thread for rebuttal of this claim]. Reagan, who had held the rank of captain in the Army Air Corps during World War II, changed all that and every president since, including our present one, renders the salute.”

What? Too controlling?

Did He "Enlist" Americans, Today?

We'll see. (I know, I said I wasn't going to watch it, but I did, in the event.)

For myself, I think the speech lacked 'arc'. It also pulled punches, rhetorically and otherwise.

The most touching was clearly the civil rights acknowledgments that caused the crowd to cheer and rise. The most powerful section, however, was the section on foreign policy, which hit a wonderful cadence, at one point [edits are my own hubris, of course].

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. ...

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

We are the keepers of this legacy. Guided by these principles once more, we can meet those new threats that demand even greater effort - even greater cooperation and understanding between nations. We will begin to responsibly leave Iraq to its people, and forge a hard-earned peace in Afghanistan. With old friends and former foes, we will work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat, and roll back the specter of a warming planet. We will not apologize for our way of life aspirations, nor will we waver in its defense; and for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit[, no matter how soaked with tragedy,] is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you we will see you weaken and disappear, in God's time.

For we know that Our [special] patchwork, [American] heritage is a strength, not a weakness, [in all our struggles]. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus - and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; [and] that, as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself. that America must play its role I call upon all of you with ears to hear to share the burden of ushering in a new era of peace.

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.

It Is Done. 17:06 Zulu

"I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all."

Update. Rev Lowery upstages Obama, rhetorically. Oh, man, didn't think that could be done on a day like today. (text pending update: here)


"God of our weary years
God of our silent tears"

taken from this poem.

Aretha Triumphs

I thought she'd been forgotten, when she didn't show up at the Lincoln Memorial.

Apparently, they saved center stage.

Update: Voice of soul (hat to signal the heavens).

Rick Warren - Three Minutes thirty-five

It wasn't 2 minutes. It was ... longer.

Apparently, for Saddlebackers, "nations" are accountable before God. (You go, girl! I can see Russia from my house!)

GOP Give Democrats Rope to Hang Themselves


Well, if you listen to George Will on the weekend, Conservatives have nothing to hope for except ... failure of the new Administration's policies.

(And no one better than Newt knows how to set the trap.)


400+ people put together for the Obama-Biden inaugural committee, based on cable news reports this morning.

Does Christina Romer or Tim Geithner have 400+ people working with them? Peter Orzag?

It's not their fault completely, if not. Bush-Paulson and the GOP have had no plans beyond giving the banks money (neither did the Congress that voted "targeted, timely, and temporary" last April...).


I give a lot of trouble to Larry here, because he can shoulder it, but one should give credit, too, when it is due. He's got media and communication skills (and I'm not sure Geithner has ...).

He's out saying the right things (I think), as he did on Face the Nation. Of course, it is Christina Romer who is the chieftain, so it's unfair to single out ...

Meanwhile, there are those talking about the economy like it is some kind of technical exercise, still.

Things I don't like hearing:

  1. "This is going to take a lot of time, our problems didn't arise overnight."
  2. "There are going to be starts and stops."

On the first, someone needs to describe accurately what is 'taking time'. Markets move fast. What is expected to take an extended period of time to "adjust", exactly? One can clean-up a bank balance-sheet overnight, if you have to. Even re-financing 1 million mortgages is doable within a short time, so ...

On the second, ...

Excuse me, but when you spend over $800 billion, do you really, honestly think that you get any kind of a "second chance"? What's more, we have but one 'historical simulation' of the economic policies that *may* work (the 1930s), so ... for planning, at least, let's think more in terms of a one-shot from the free-throw line, not 'fits and starts' or time-and-money-enough to re-work it, if needs be.

Bottomline: America is vulnerable, as is the World's economy.

More things I don't like hearing:

  1. The final package will have $90 billion for infrastructure spending
  2. We are thinking about $100 billion for foreclosure relief

These numbers are way, way too low, depending on what is proposed, and the priority on these items seems accordingly set far below what is key.

Put another way, what is the analysis, even back-of-envelope, that supports these figures? What is the context for that analysis? How much should we be thinking about a gradual remake of the entire residential mortgage market, with new mortgage products?

Put another way (more picante?), I'm very happy Senator Schumer wants to continue to support higher education (why, though, isn't he is willing to socialize it?). But, tax-rebates aren't going to do the trick when the demand for education is fixed by the number of students of age and the tax-payrolls are shrinking. Yes, it will have some effect, but I wouldn't want to bet the future of economic growth on this kind of spending, would you? What am I missing? I know a person who cannot even get their 9% student loans refinanced ... why doesn't he attack those 'consolidate once' provisions, so long as we are giving billions to the banks to 'shore them up'?


Dan Savage has launched a ... saucy, in-your-face competition for a definition of "Saddlebacked".

Here's my own contribution:

Saddlebacker - noun substantive: By fudgepacking the scripture, religious hipsters who think that biological children alone give them special moral privilege, rather than deep moral obligations.

What? Still too raw? Skip the prepositional phrase. Otherwise, it's a work-in-progress.

Rick Warren, Footnotes

Dear "Rick Warren" and Wannabe Saddlebackers Worldwide:

Notice this?

"Mississippi Paper Offers Apology for Its 'Gross Neglect' During Civil Rights Struggle"

...and, er... this?

"In an unprecedented gesture, Pope John Paul II on Sunday publicly asked God's forgiveness for the sins of Roman Catholics through the ages, including wrongs inflicted on Jews, women and minorities."

That gays and lesbians are an individual harm to themselves is an argument that has been lost a long time, now (although Anita Bryant look-alikes show up all the time, still).

Notwithstanding that we should all be concerned about the threat to civil society from sexual relations amok, be careful how far you press the gays-are-bad-for-society, final-line of abuse.

I promise, it will come back to haunt you, if you go too far with hard-heartedness.

Weekend Osculations

A bunch of cheeky expats having fun (pun intended) - apparently Andrew Sullivan's osculations make headlines.

tsk. tsk. What's that saying? Yadda...yadda ... you can take the boys out of England, but you can't take the Queen out of the boys?

Washington Electrified For Inaugural

For my time in D.C., it appears that the prospect of crowds and cold weather drove away all but the hardcore, which was just the best outcome.

It's not possible to underestimate the excitement and enthusiasm. It had almost a Mardis Gras like feel (although my brief spin up to U-street* suggested the locals were deep in their bunkers and undisclosed locations...).

I got on the elevator with a lady, alongside her friends, who was decked out in Obama sneakers, Obama sweat pants, Obama-Biden stickers all over her warm-puffy coat, and probably more Obama stuff that I couldn't see.

... aaand it's not common that I get so sartorially upstaged in D.C., if you catch my drift. We exchanged what I thought were knowing glaces, but I'm not sure - those folks from the South have five different ways to smile at you (and I don't know them all).

[*Is it forbidden in D.C. to own an American car, now? Toyota-Toyota-Honda-Honda-VW-Toyota-Audi-Honda-Honda-Lexus-BMW-Chrysler...]

Saturday, January 17, 2009

D.C., Swampland of Dreams

Can you believe that I am actually driving INTO this?

/f 'What were you thinking?'

road restrictions, DC DOT:

And, if you didn't work your ass off for Obama-Biden, you can freeze your ass off at the open-air concert, Lincoln Memorial. "Doors" open at 8 a.m. and circa 18-degrees for 2:30 p.m. start time, with snow-showers projected...

Anyway, since he couldn't be there and is a National Treasure:

Alternate vocals and instrumentation:

And somthin'-somthin', in the spirit of the times (We are all new again):

Johnny Nash:

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thought for the Day

Merrill Lynch, the gift that keeps giving, lost more in one quarter than all of what GM was asking for an entire year or more (the full monty, here - anyone who calls this "astonishing" is astonishing themselves).

No Republican, that I've heard yet, has asked them to give up their corporate jet, sell their fancy offices, etc.

Outrageous bailout for BOA-Merrill

Geithner has shot his credibility, before he even gets the job, yes?

The idea that both BOA and Merrill could pay their dividends last quarter and then come begging for money for what looks like a totally mis-managed merger, first pass, is nothing short of scandal. The "deal" was lucrative for some, eh?

Bernanke is on the hook, too, I think. (So is everyone on the Merrill Board?).

He keeps talking and talking and talking about making 'too big to fail' a non-consideration, putting that "fix" to highest priority. Well, if they cannot find a way to 'orderly bankrupt' Merrill Lynch, after months and months of its nonsense, then what are they paid for? Is it really something that requires Congress?

Seriously, opening up a sink-hole for this "merger" is an outrageous use of Federal Loan money, now that the main part of the banking panic has passed (see Ted-spread).

That's true even moreso as BOA and the rest of the industry slam credit-card holders (including students?), denting consumer confidence and threatening to deepen and widen the recession... (Last Chance to Save BOA, Today)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Country First

Glenn Greenwald wants it, badly, at the expense of the ruling class, though.

Here is Obama's pre-election position on Bush-era war crimes.

I dug it up at the time, I think, in response to questions that Matt Yglesias had written that the press refused to put to the candidates, either during the primaries (which is the only time there is any real debate in America) or during the general (which is the province of, well, you know, Joe-the-Plumber and Rovian calculation).

As expected, there was no range of opinion on the issue.

Most Important Legislation in a Generation - No Public Comment Period


The House hopes to vote on the legislation in the last week of January, with the Senate beginning deliberations the first week of February. - WaPo

Look, how can this best be handled in such short-order by backroom Congressional dealmaking?

This is potentially worse than trying to bring the tablets down on healthcare reform...

As we come to reviewing the plan(s), here are a couple of considerations.

  1. Stop thinking in terms of "one vote, one piece of legislation".

    Break it out into separate priorities, long-term and short-term, and let's have some real input on what to do. And, after everything, if you think $90 billion in infrastructure spending isn't water on a hotplate with today's fear and pessimism, think again.

  2. To Nancy Pelosi, there is this: go back to your staff and asking them the question that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld almost never asked, "What if you are wrong?".

    Then, give a call to Paul Krugman and re-design the plans for something other than "hope for the best, don't plan for the rest", which is what we had to put up with from the GOP for eight, long, gravely dissappointing years.

  3. Get something in right away for California, Florida, and Michigan and the foreclosure problem, with a higher priority than broad-spray "tax cuts", either business or consumer.

Last, a loss carry-back provision has no proof that it creates jobs, does it? It's the worst kind of nonsense, rewarding companies that made poor decisions. The only thing that one might 'compromise' on is a small-business loss-carryback, and then only from the currenr period going forward (i.e., something that will provide substantial acceleration, if and when a turnaround develops...).

Obama-Biden Reinvestment In America, Idea #2

White evangelicals are the strongest non-Jewish supporters of Israel.

-Andrew Sullivan, Polling Gaza

And we know why ...

Any and nearly all federal money that goes to Southern states, I vote goes for schools. Wadda you think? It's an idea that certainly goes well beyond Israel - I just picked that as one out of a large field ...

Glenn Greenwald is Mostly Right

Glenn Greenwald is largely right.

These facile attitudes toward 'teaching people a lesson' are an enemy to the peace and to peacemakers, quite often.

To my mind, it feeds a consequentialist, fatalistic or contractualist view of history: if they do this, then we are justified to do that - oh well, their choice.

Such an attitude is fed by assumptions that rhetoric is reality; largely inert missile fire from "territories" is "war"; or that obvious and necessary restrictions, a.k.a. "blockade", are "occupation". It blots out the shades of gray, the area in which moderate political voices need to assert themselves.

One can observe that, without making a derogatory opinion about the balance between Hamas' political goals and Israeli political goals (or motivations). This cannot be emphasized enough - one can find a reasonably just cause prosecuted unjustly, right? (Or just stupidly).

The situation requires maximal finesse, arguably, not more brutalization. Certainly, exchanging terror for terror is no answer, just an invitation to fight to the death outside the gates of hell...



But the more I look at the report, the more I wonder why anyone in the Obama team thinks the plan is adequate[ly large]. - Paul Krugman

Well, here's a conjecture: you put bureaucrats too much at center stage and you end up with 'committee'-like solutions, not too hot and not too cold. As remarked earlier, where are the dreamers on Obama's team, the radicals, those who ... aren't rangebound?


Also, the social pressures in the country don't appear to be strong enough yet for the Obama-Biden team to use the words, something like, "sweeping realignment" and "unprecedented restructuring" and "a bold strike against fear and pessimism in our times".

Winter Wonderland

Beautiful winter wonderland here today.

The snowflakes are dancing.

How? Dry snow tossed by very light wind with eddies, swirls and updrafts.


Unlikely champion of investor protection, Mary scales the Hill today.

[Obama should have gone for Elliot Spitzer. His controversy is over, and he's the only one, off hand, with the cred to restore the reputation in tatters after Bush-Cheney.]

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Bush Legacy Watch

Various messes that King George "The Decider" and his party will leave to the next.

The Reagan attack on the judiciary lives on:

The endless "war" and the legacy of a poorly conceived 'war on terror':
  • No "end" (or end in sight) to any of the military conflicts started, likely to pile up to more than a trillion dollars.
  • Circa two convictions for terrorism and the rest kicked down the road, probably rendered impossible to fix, because of a failed legal strategy.
The worst State Department in memory (including both Secretaries):
  • An almost complete 'round trip' on the Israel-Palestine issue(s).
  • A Lebanon policy approach in tatters.
  • Zero results out of their Syria posturing. Ditto Iran.
  • Alienated the Russians, in a serious way. Ditto the Chinese, especially on the militarization of space.
  • A potentially destabilizing exceptionalism with India.
A fiscal Johnny two-fist:
  • More of the social security "surplus" spent than any President.
  • An unpaid-for, nearly trillion dollar fiscal "stimulus" for two-wars, because of a 'no new taxes' pledge.
  • A huge step-up in the structural cost of the military and a significant run-up in the size of the standing army, while creating a deficit of career officers and polarizing the officer ranks, with Rumsfeld-led fealty checks.
  • An 'energy policy' that brought us Enron, soaring nat gas prices and spending at the University of Texas.

They did manage to keep North Korea to just one nuclear test.

"What is to be done"

As some of us worry that the Obama team isn’t showing the audacity we hoped for, and try to chivvy BHO into doing more for the economy, one demand that I’ve been getting is for specifics — what, exactly, should they do differently?
The most independent outsiders can do is lay out general principles.

-Paul Krugman

Here is another problem-solving approach.

When time is short (and we can argue about that) and experience is spread, then one solution is distributive processing of a type.

You set objective spending areas, such as "green spending" (smart-grid, better construction materials), healthcare, and infrastructure, relief, foreclosure-fixes (or entire-mortgage market re-engineering?), improved government (productivity boosts). For each, you set out objectives and constraints and try to dovetail them with an overall program acceleration, that is critical to managing psychology.

You invite people to fill out the spending, iteratively. This open process is messy, politically, but done right it can pull in a lot of expertise. (It is an 'optimal' project finance model, using dynamic programming, basically).

It's not just spending. One can think of other types of 'stimulus'.

Some states experimented with cutting fees, for such things as inspections and licenses. The federal government could cut passport fees. $20 here and there adds up. There are other "big picture" restructurings, like picking up some of the tab for Federal mandates that are a burden to some States.

The bankruptcy code has perverse incentives in it. Credit card companies need to be monitored to forestall a self-defeating 'end to lending'.

Some people have talked about bringing back the Office of Technological Assessment (OTA).

A list can be generated ...

"The Intelligence Was Flawed" - Bush Legacy Watch

Bush blames the intelligence:
Bush denies dent in standing, but "Britons snort at Blair's award".

And Howard, also drummed from office, joins the American Hero's Club:

Some in Israel Savoring Prospect of New Gaza Settlements


You know it just has to be true. If it is not "capturing the hilltops", "settlements" are providing an excuse for more "military" "actions", so often.

So, as Israel continues its barely understood "choice for peace" and world monitors, such as the US, turn blind, someone should think to ask whether Israel intends to resettle Gaza, now that it has occupation forces back into the strip for ... whatever and that will go on for as long as that takes.

Even if you believe in setting a goal of removing the Hamas, this campaign hardly seems like a way to go about it. There would have been plenty of international support for the removal of the Hamas government. There could have been any number of other steps, of pressures tried. The air war probably could have been avoided almost completely, greatly dropping the civilian loss of life. Instead of rallying all of Israel's enemies, many of them might have been tacitly 'on board' or isolated.

The whole thing was a knee-jerk. Oh, yes, the radicals have a new rally-point, while American soldiers are trying to win over and stabilize two situations, still:

The truth is that no American government will stand up to Israel. And if everyone ever decided to put an end to their rogue behaviors, they could bomb Rome, if they wanted ...

More Defense Department Humor

This from the intelligence agency:

"Pentagon: 61 ex-Guantanamo inmates return to terrorism" - Reuters

Before you even read the story, you have to laugh.

First, that the DoD knows where 61 individuals are in all of Southeast Asia (or beyond?), yet uses the "excuse" that they couldn't possibly know where one individual is, namely, UBL...

Second, that inmates are assumed to be "returning", when no court has accepted the initial allegations and no study has been done to see if random prison radicalized anyone, either.

There is more in the story, including how the DoD defines "terrorism", in terms of providing "intelligence".

For sure, the world has its share of bad actors, but you have to laugh at this headline, right?

Friday, January 9, 2009

Obama Talks About Our Economic Woes

Kos has The Full Monty.

This catches my eye:

It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe.

I know Maddow was all excited about this; but, in another view, there is no short-term (and in yet another, it is a grave capitulation to the pandering of the no-new-taxes crowd, who are ruining the Republic).

What we might really need are a series of short-term moves that make the long-term prospects for the economy look ever rosier and stable.

An accelerating stimulus, one that spends more and more each quarter, would provide as powerful a backdrop as one can think of, off hand, to achieve that.

If someone (Larry Summers?) sells Obama on a "short-term" conception that is a "bridge" until the "real" stimulus kicks in, then it's hard to get really comfortable with that.

Wouldn't it be better to spend $300bn directly addressing the bad-debt hangover of the home-foreclosure crisis and the negative aspects of the 2005 bankruptcy bill, than in a broad-spray, across-the-board tax-cut that the markets may see as a bridge to nowhere, as finite? (Politically, there is always time for a tax-cut, right, so there is no obvious rush to fulfill an ill-advised promise, even had there been no downturn).

It's notable (to me) that Obama doesn't mention the stimulative effect of the GOP's unpaid for nation-building-exercises, that we still handle via "supplemental" appropriation .... (or should I say, "festooned", when the GOP did them?).

I hope they don't spend too much time with electronic medical records.

I wish he mentioned marrying technological advance with the roads, bridges, and tunnels, too. I don't know about you, but I'm tired of paying to have the same roads repaved. What's more, there are exciting materials to work with in construction that are ecologically sound and might last as long as the Roman roads have ...

For "state and local" government, one wishes they could do a package for Michigan, California, and maybe Florida.

Since that won't pass the Senate, couldn't they avoid the Senate's backroom backwashing, but just offering to pick up the tab for medicaid, an increasing amount each month for the next 36 months, freeing up resources in the rest of the State budgets?