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Thursday, December 30, 2010

New GOP Congressmen Arrive in Washington Prepared to say "No" to everything sensible

...and get paid for it.



(This has got to put Tim Geithner's Treasury on the wrong footing, since they were willing to cave on Freddie and Fannie, right?)

That's Senator Joe Manchin in the back, shaking their hands on arrival.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A gay marine taught my 'son' everything he needed to know...

Worth the read and to clip for the file/record.

Retired Marine Lt. Col. Tom Brannon works for the U.S. Navy as a military contractor in Ridgecrest, Calif. (link)

Friday, December 24, 2010

For those far from home and with responsibilities that cannot rest...

Merry Christmas and the joys of the season...



Camp Phoenix, Afghanistan, 2006

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Signposts of American bankruptcy

You know, back in the olden days, it was a disaster if the Federal budget wasn't balanced by the Executive.

As late as the Reagan era, the worst program, in the eyes of Conservatives, so-called "welfare" or Aid to Families with Dependent Children, was maybe a $25 billion program, in today's dollars.

Since Bush-41, we throw around hundreds of billions in unpaid for tax cuts, annually, unrelated to economic stimulus or exigency. Probably 90% of the Iraq war was funded with unpaid-for "supplemental appropriations". It's now widely recognized that the Bush-era tax cuts didn't pay for themselves.

Tonight, Lawrence O'Donnell asks in relation to Bush-44's taxes, "Was it worth it?", to do so, as if it were a temporary thing.

I mention it, but it doesn't matter. My sense is the fix is in in Washington: cut the social programs rather than raise taxes on the super-wealthy and impose a regressive gas tax to pay for the failed years.

I'm ready to be told, "That's the best deal we can get." Why bother voting one party or the other, on policy substance?

At the end, Senate passes START

Does anyone know what is in this treaty, except that it is "good"? A communications triumph.

For the Gay Republican in Your Life...?

military or otherwise...

Quote of the Day

"Judging by the urgency and the 'willingness' to face votes in the lame duck, Democrats should lose more elections."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Americans will pay more for cleanup than replacement cost of tower

The Senate voted $4.3 billion to cover health costs and compensation.

Pop Quiz: You have a Republican EPA Administrator, a Republican President, and a Republican Mayor telling you that the mound is safe. Do you run away?

Of course you do.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Invisible Progress is Hard to See

On the most recent strategy review for the Af-Pak quagmire, if one dares to use that word for it:

"Strategic patience seems to require strategic denial."

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On the Eve of Christmas, Nation Awaits Do Nothings They Voted for in November

"We are looking forward to getting back to doing nothing", said John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who will "lead" the House in two years of quietude and long weekends for Representatives at home, in their districts, 'conferring with constituents' about how not to do anything.

"You remember all the taxpayer time and money spent investigating Bill Clinton's Christmas list? It will be just like that", said Eric Cantor, noisy whip from the gay-hate state of Virginia.

Cutting the department of education, a GOP-Tea election throw-away line/promise, may prove hard:

Boehner's tears aren't hard to read. After analyzing hundreds of psychological experiments and sociological studies of weeping, hundreds of accounts of crying in different cultures and different historical periods, thousands of tearful moments in film and fiction and art, I have come to see that, like the mother of the bride, many of us weep because we are overwhelmed by contradictions. -link

"We hope to stage some votes on Iran and healthcare", said the leader. "With a little luck, we can get back to the good old days of the do-nothing 109th. History shows that we'd prefer to filibuster everything, but we feel doing nothing is easier for the American people."

Senate Allows Executive & Military to Certify an End to DADT at some, unkown future date

STRAIGHT SHOOTING

In the last days of the mangled lame duck of the 111th, the Senate voted today, in two votes, cloture on the motion to concur and to adopt the House concurring resolution, to give the authority to the President, SecDef, and JCS Chairman to "certify" that a repeal of DADT would be timely and effective.

No time limit exists for when the Executive can present a certification.

No changes were made to the UCMJ, leaving in place the legal framework that existed prior to DADT (10 U.S.C. 654) that led to so-called "witch hunts" of gay and lesbian servicemembers and potential for dishonorable conduct discharges, if 'certification' doesn't occur (and perhaps even if it does).

With luck, the courts will review the existing cases on appeal, to shore-up the perimeter.

The Bill was managed as an historic stand alone, after its incorporation in the failed NDAA for FY 2011.

These changes take place in heavy times. In separate news, ISAF identified today a U.S. Marine killed in Afghanistan earlier this year, as well as an ISAF servicemember killed today. For 2010, total US casualities in Af-Pak "war" includes 361 IED deaths out of nearly 500 year-to-date.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Bush-44 to Nation

Everyone gets everything they want, we call it "compromise", and we charge-it-up to the next generation.

This shows that the two parties can 'work together'.

Bush-44 and the Mortgage Markets

Oh, well, this could put Freddie and Fannie on the slide to oblivion, no?

Moody's signals that U.S. debt watch will go "negative" with the Bush-44 "compromise".

Tweet of the Day

The newest face of the Democratic Party in Washington:

"Manchin supports DADT repeal, but will vote against it until world peace is achieved."

From wonk room.

"Infantile"

BRIDGING THE GAP BY SELLING A BRIDGE

Charles Krauthammer invents a new context for belittling liberals, calling them "infantile" for not accepting the moral proposition that we should borrow money to give to the very, very wealthiest, if we are going to extend income to the unemployed.

But look at his math.

He declares, "the package will add as much as 1 percent to GDP and lower the unemployment rate by about 1.5 percentage points".

Yet, he reckons that package size that Bush-44 got is bigger than $814 billion. $814 billion is 5.5% of GDP.

Got that? Stimulus package of 5.5% of GDP gets you 1% GDP growth ...

The State of the Union

Gays bigotry. Frank Rich pens a piece on the takedown at and of the Smithsonian that meets or exceeds Andrew Sullivan's knack for words.

Elsewhere, this week, organized gay hate groups, smarting from their designation as such by the SPLC, tipped their hat at an upcoming "start debating, stop hating" campaign to fight the challenge.

I have this to observe, in the big picture, about their manufactured meme on the "loss of religious freedom", due to the 'gay agenda'.

Women have achieved places of power and have been given all the legal rights of men in society. This is not scriptural, in Christianity, on so-called 'conservative exegesis'.

So, have we seen the end of society or the loss of "religious freedom" because of it? No.

It is only the small size of the gay population that makes bigotry supportable, in 2010.

The Most Expensive Unemployment Insurance Bill Ever

AS WE SAY HELLO TO "BUSH-44"

As Obama moves forward with making "Bush-44" the law of the land on Monday, it is worth noting that this bill is perhaps the most expensive unemployment insurance bill in the history of the Republic, if not the world.

If the crux of having to sign this politically self-defeating and economically irresponsible bill is, in Obama-logic, so that there is not a "catastrophe" among the unemployed, then no matter how you add-up the cost of this bill, it is truly the most expensive "save" executed on behalf of the unemployed ever done... Probably over $85,000/person in ill-advised excess of what is needed, as astounding figure, if you think the program will serve 2 million, maybe $25,300, if you think it might serve 6.7 million, still a fantastic number.

With Obama and a half-dozen or so Senate Democrats soon to be "Bush-44" in tax law, the Democrats give away any pretense of all that they did under pay-go and making sure things were paid for.

But, it is even worse.

MORAL CHOICE AND THE UNEMPLOYED

The President's compromise appears not to address the long-term unemployed, those with 99 or more weeks already, with no new program in which to qualify.

Where are all these people going to go?

Hoovervilles. You think I kid? Yet, some 'catastrophe' has been avoided, we've been told...

Maximum potential benefit remains unchanged, no matter what your state's unemployment level in 13 months. With no new maximum, 4 million people will "max out". That would roughly double the U.S. homeless population.



It should be noted that Jim Webb of Virginia is quoted in the NYT calling it "the ultimate stimulus plan". No comment.

For the record, Andrew Sullivan, of no party, clique, or cult, calls "what Obama got" "staggering".

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Mr. President

For eight hours, yesterday, Bernie Sanders was the President of the United States.

Why? As Andrew Sullivan likes to say, he was the only responsible person in the room.

The rest of 'em were off in some beltway sideshow.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lies of Chris Matthews, Friday Version

He says there is a "massive" stimulus.

First, it's not massive, whatever it is.

The payroll tax reduction is solely on the individual side. The employer portion is not affected. Therefore, no "incentive to hire". Most companies look at hiring a person based on a longer view than just a one-year, temporary change in marginal cost. Not all, including temp jobs and low wage jobs, but most.

Again, the purpose of accelerated depreciation, often a staple of IMF-type "packages", is to help companies who don't have cash or financing available to them. Corporations have ample cash, right now. If you want them to spend it, threaten the cash!

New equipment is a double-edged sword during slack demand, at least. In the short run, higher productivity might lead to fewer jobs. It depends. It didn't lead to a huge amount of hiring, when Bush-43 tried it.

DADT Repeal - Not Dead Yet

The new, stand alone bill was introduced and read twice, the first steps in Senate to considering the measure.

The Responsible Thing and Bush-44's Tax "Compromise"

The responsible thing is not to compromise with the unreasonable and the irresponsible.

The responsible thing is to demand and, yes, to force the unreasonable and the irresponsible compromise.

The GOP's compromise? They get tax cuts for the wealthy if they pay for them.

Why does Clinton think that deal is 'not out there'?

Bernie Sanders: The American People Can Free the Hostage!

Bernie Sanders takes the floor.

My god, there IS still a liberal lion in the Senate.

They all haven't sold their soul for the job!

No Crisis Should Remain Unexploited

THE CORE INDECENCY OF THE RIGHTWING TODAY

It appears that the GOP have found their cause in the unemployment crisis.

What do you call someone who uses your own needs against you, to get you to compromise your integrity or your ideals?

Are the unemployed fair-game in America? Are these people really the 'structurally unemployed', such as in other countries? No.

Bob Dole once told his colleagues, in the mid 90s, "We are not going to balance the budget on the backs of the unemployed." Apparently, the Reagan Devolution continued after him, and now we are forced - forced - to give handouts that a majority of Americans oppose to those in the best place to sacrifice, the nation's most wealthy, just so that we don't have to be inhumane to those who have no work, through the fault of fraud and malfeasance on Wall Street.

Andrew Sullivan smokes the dope on "jump start the economy"

Andrew thinks there is a "knock out" blow, here, to "K-thug".

I could write a long set of reasons why, in addition to the stuff Krugman-sensei has already written on "jump starting" as a silly metaphor. I could laugh that the second Bush-43 tax cuts were designed to "jump start" his election, in all likelihood, because they already had fed their base quite well at the expense of the public weal, by that time.

But, what Andrew displays is not unique to him. It is the triumph of hope over reason.

The Japanese kept "jump starting" throughout the entire 90s. Recovery was always just one year away, when the "adjustments" would be complete. They are now the Italy of the East.

But, hey, tax cuts for everyone! Yahoo! There will be growth in the spring! Warning: UI extension ends in 13 months (someone elephant looking was reading the research...).

More Money for the Big Banks?

Americans have paid down $40 billion in credit card debt in 2010, through October, the latest figures available. We'll probably end the year around $45 billion or so.

Indeed, the immediate purpose of accelerated depreciation - a favorite of the standard IMF-type packages, too - is to make the cash needed to buy something less. But companies are flush with cash, right now, so that's not the problem, is it?
By comparison, the "stimulus" in the pipeline is for $120 billion from the reaid of the social security dedicated tax ("payroll tax"). With jacked-up rates on consumer credit, no reason that a huge chunk of that isn't rationally going to go to pay down debt, too.

So, taken together, we're talking less than $75 billion in "stimulus". That's not going to be enough to bring down the employment rate to exciting levels or to induce companies to go on an extraordinary equipment buying spree, accelerated depreciation notwithstanding.

Indeed, the immediate purpose of accelerated depreciation - a favorite of the standard IMF-type packages, too - is to make the cash needed to buy something less. But companies are once-in-a-liftetime flush with cash, right now, so that's not the problem, is it?

Joe Manchin's Epic Fail

The freshman Senator, Joe Manchin, needs a footnote in history.

In one of his first significant votes in the Senate, he voted down the Defense Authorization Bill yesterday.

In doing so, he voted against
-His President
-His Vice President
-His entire party in the Senate - every single one of them
-The military brass, especially including the SecDef, the JC Chairman and Vice-Chairman.
-A clear majority of the nation and a clear majority of the troops on active duty

He did not abstain. He voted "nay", although his vote alone would not have been success or failure (that belongs to the GOP, who have abused the Senate rules, roundly).

It's clear the Senate chambers cannot contain Joe Manchin's ego and self-importance.

"Payroll Tax Holiday"

OH, HAPPY! HAPPY! JOY! JOY! A HOLIDAY FOR ME AND YOU!

Can you believe the euphemism embodied in the phrase being circulated?

It's like saying, "Oh, aren't you all interested in a defecation Holiday!" Buy yourself puppies!

Taking a phrase from Geraldine Ferraro, "let me just say":

Let me just say, you don't pay your social security taxes, you probably won't get all those benefits you thought you were going to get.

Anyone else not want to jump into that sidewalk chalk-painting?

Obama is King

I can't believe the drone from the beltway insiders that Senator Obama is untouchable: can't be primaried and can't be challenged.

And I don't even 'blame Obama', at least to this degree: he did what every beltway insider probably recommended and what every President since Carter has done, including Jed Bartlett: punt.

And so what about that?

Well, it's doubly frustrating, because the Democrats have been working right along (pay-go, etc.) to the point where they had a growing tracking record in support of a "brand" that they were far more credible than the GOP, including on punts and on 'interventions' (GM bailout, Mexico bailout, etc.).

I know Larry Summers probably thinks of it as just laying down a bunt, but I know a punt when I see one.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Quote of the Day

"We're wondering when Obama will change his registration. Apparently, it is easier to serve the American public and to bear the weight of governance, if you adopt GOP positions, wholesale."

By the way, $3.5 million exemption from the estate tax?

Do the math on the astounding rise in that level since Bush started in on that in 2000, when it was $675,000. I'd bet it has gone up faster than inflation or wage growth by an order of magnitude.

I calculate an 18% compound annual rate of increase in the exemption.

Instead, why don't we just index the year-to-year exemption to the GDP growth rate, so we don't end up with another tax-law-farce-in-law?

If we took an annual growth rate in the range of 4% to 7%, then we'd get an exemption level between $1,000,000 and $1,300,000.

What was lost in the Obama-Summers-Geithner-Biden rush compromise

If we can't make sacrifices during hard times, make the hard choices, when there is urgency (clear impetus) and the tradeoffs are in high relief, when are we going to make them?

During good times?

Obama gave away his and his political party's credibility to face off against the GOP.

Therefore, the debate will shift to who in the Republican party can take up the "true" mantle of responsibility. And it doesn't even have to be true. It just has to be perceived to be authentic. Perhaps some governor who has a track-record cutting, cutting, cutting.

That person, if they emerge, will beat Obama and win the Presidency.

Lost in Washington

I can't help but think that Barack Obama is lost in Washington.

Yesterday, he said that the Republicans are going to have to make a case over the next two years why tax cuts over $250K weren't an ill-advised addition to the deficit.

Really?

I think that it is equally likely that the pressure is going to be on you, Mr. President, about the status of your own "permanent" middle class tax cut.

And, what's more, you are going to bring the house down on that yourself, through your own debt commission...

Last, you, Mr. President, are going to be the first Democrat who cuts social security program. First, with your willingness to accept a bogus stimulus by putting a "holiday" on the revenue stream dedicated to social security. Then, by forcing Americans to work longer and get less.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Negotiator

Uh, not for nothing, but shouldn't fear tactics have been used, against, uh, Republicans, for threatening to 'take hostages'? Or, even those six Senate Democrats who held out?

Not to defend a bogus and forced compromise?

Just sayin'. Is there an officer on deck?

The Estate Tax Goes Up in 2011

GOP has a losing hand on that. (So do various Senate Democrats...)

Meanwhile:

"Payroll Taxes"

It's telling that some people are using the language "payroll tax", instead of the more descriptive "social security taxes", which amount to nothing more, economically, than a forced savings program, really. Certainly not "big government".

They don't want to actually reveal they just agreed in principle that it is now okay to ruin the actuarial balance of the program, in favor of alleged cyclical stimulus. (There is no guarantee that the vast majority of the money won't be going to help people pay down debt or to help their landlords pay down debt).

I mean, for years, it has been okay to recklessly spend the temporary social security surpluses. Now, it's actually okay to just ignore that there is meant to be a dedicated stream of income at all.

Quote of the Day III

David Axlerod: "Some men see things the way they are and say, 'Word'. That's me."

Who's in charge around here?

What Obama's piqued-ness at his press conference reveals - and a press conference is hardly the first, best way to make yourself look "Presidential", to assert 'The Presidential Voice' - is that they think they've done an exceptional job running the government.

In some ways they have. They've been very good on appointments, with little scandal, but also at the cost of time. They've done an exceptional amount, while also running two hot war zones, something truly great.

But, the truth is that a generic Democratic candidate would have enjoyed large majorities in the House and Senate in 2008. Therefore, things like healthcare reform may not be so much attributable to the unique skills of Obama. Hillary or even Biden probably could have gotten the same.

What he was elected to do qua Obama was to bring a refreshing responsibility to governance, in a clear departure, a clean break from the ways of Bush-43, to offer audacity of perspective and to continue to inspire people to a new way forward.

Have they delivered on that? Is that too much to ask, even during hard times?

Quote for the Day II

DRINKING THE TEA

"Democratic donors must be wondering what are the other issues with 80% public support on which they intend to 'compromise' in 2011 and 2012. Social security? Medicare? Food stamps? Disability? Certainly some must be wondering what kind of harbinger that is for tighter issues, like immigration reform."

Quote of the Day

"As regards the Obama self-compromise on fiscal matters, four short years since the Democrats took over the House, ending the contract on America, and we are all GOP again.

And, there is more of that, on the way."

If insanity is the definition of doing the same thing over again and expecting that it will be okay this time, we're insane all over again, as of yesterday.

After all, isn't it true that Obama-Geithner did the Washington insider thing on taxes: punt?

Obama-Geithner to Sanctimonious Left: Okay to Raid Social Security Trust Fund

Thought for the day is that we have moved, in the space of just 10 years, from a Democratic Presidential candidate who wanted to put social security into a "lock box" to an actual Democratic President and his Treasury Secretary who are willing actually to raid the same social security funds for "stimulus".

There are other choices. With the multiplier on tax cuts probably zero, because consumers are paying down debt as fast as they can, almost all of the other choices look better.

And, given choices, I don't think the public would like to be told that they have to work longer, now, too, because of Wall Street's malfeasance, while we pass out an incredibly generous estate tax and tax cuts for the highest earners.

No one actually put the question to them that way. What we heard, after the midterms, is that "Obama didn't get the message". What? That we have to raid social security, in order to have economic stimulus? Pft.

And, it's even worse, because Obama-Geithner have opened up a serious rift with the Democratic caucus on the Hill, right at the time when he arguably needs solidarity, as the GOP tries to buy-off and pick-off Senators to get their agenda items done in the next two years.

Why Team Obama Weren't Ready from Day One

THEY HAD THE LEVERAGE THEY NEEDED

Ezra Klein explains how the GOP had the correct assessment, while blowing smoke about "uncertainty" at everyone (perhaps especially Tim Geithner, who I judge to be susceptible to these things, ever since his bizarrely conciliatory comments at his confirmation hearings).

By far the thing they were most concerned about was the estate tax. (Once you realize this, you understand that the President had significant leverage over both the GOP and his own party, even going into the next session).

Without having any sources or knowing anything about the behind the scenes, I would have agreed with this assessment, a priori:

Let's start with the Republicans. For one thing, the things they wanted were things they really, really wanted. A number of sources with direct knowledge of the negotiations have fingered the estate tax as the major player in the size of the deal. "Republicans were extremely eager to get benefits for the top tenth of a percent of Americans," says one senior administration official.

It was the estate tax, in this telling, that secured Republican support for, among other things, the two-year extension of the refundable tax credits and the payroll tax cut. Republicans believe that the two-year extension of the estate tax at Lincoln-Kyl levels will turn into a permanent extension of the estate tax at Lincoln-Kyl levels. So they attached much more importance to it than the price tag might suggest.

And it went beyond the estate tax: Conservatives saw the extension of the tax cuts as an important pivot point in American politics -- full stop.


So, they had the leverage they needed, with the estate tax and the alternative minimum tax.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

More Tax Cut Facts - Food for Progressives?

Payroll tax cuts are a "get" for progressives? Who knew. When the Social Security Trustee's report comes out next year, with an actuarial gap wider than ever, I'll check back with those who think it's a win-win for progressives.

In the meantime, with consumers paying down debt like mad, I'm supposed to believe that a payroll tax cut is going to create upwards of 750,000 jobs in the next year?

Day 2: Obama Gets Tough

Mr. President, the time to get all "fired up" over what is going on is *before* you make a compromise. Perhaps, for as long as you need to bring opponents to heel, especially if you have public opinion at your back. What's more, it's not necessary to "win" all the votes you need, i.e. even if you don't have the votes and know it.

Why?

Because today you or your communications advisers or your strategy team have you looking defensive. If you had said the same things you said today, just four weeks ago or made a case right in the heartland for 9 million unemployed during a Thanksgiving national address to the nation, you'd be looking like a champion, today, even as you compromise.

Might be past time to review the model, the model of starting with going easy, seeking "reasonable" partners and end with getting fired up or tough looking. Might be past time to review the strategy of being part of the negotiations, instead of standing over them at least as much.

Revisit the entire assumption that to get early support or even end support, one can't start with fire or confrontation.

In other words, have a look at Ronald Reagan...

Team Obama: Unprepared for Harsh Realities of Gridlock?

It's true if their answer to being "held hostage" is to capitulate.

If the American people voted for gridlock, you can't change that, can you?

The Political Price of Creating Human Misery


Marvel, if you will, at this statement from the President:

"I'm not willing to see 2 million Americans who stand to lose their unemployment insurance at the end of this month be put in a situation where they might lose their home or their car or suffer some additional economic catastrophe." -link


How has it come to pass, in modern times, that a threat to create human misery of this magnitude has political currency in American politics, enough that it can be used to as a bargaining chip for a compromise?

when people ask for more "fight", it is to reject wholesale this frame of the debate, to stir up public opinion with persuasion, with public diplomacy, to make it harder for opponents to bluff and more likely for them to feel the need to back off, no?
Why the "I", there? Does the President believe that the GOP "earned" a mandate to create this kind of misery, based on their mid-term election success?

Last, consider the timing. It implies that America cannot make hard choices during hard times. In order to deal with hard times, we have to 'compromise', we have to pass out $140 in income and estate tax-breaks-cum-debt-spending, over 24 months, in order to get maybe $80 billion in unemployment compensation, over 13 months. (Figures are my own guesstimates, but should be in the ballpark).

So, when people ask for more "fight", it is to reject wholesale this frame of the debate, to stir up public opinion with persuasion, with public diplomacy, to make it harder for opponents to bluff and more likely for them to feel the need to back off, no?

Obama's Ridiculous Political-Economic Gamble

HOPE THAT EXTENDED TRIP TO ASIA AND SHOWING FACE IN LISBON WAS WORTH THE COST IN TIME NOT SPENT ON THE DOMESTIC AGENDA

If the President thinks he just bought the election by putting jobs first and making sure that the recovery will give him "good times" in which to campaign, he might want to check that with his not-so-crack-liberal economic team:

The AFL-CIO reminded readers in a statement ... that "some 150,000 new jobs a month are needed just to keep pace with the growth in the labor force, and a stunning 11 million jobs must be generated to return to pre-recession employment levels."


There will not be an era of good feeling in 2012, in all likelihood. Even the housing market overhang will not likely be lifted, as millions of bankruptcies and the ever climbing standards to get home financing from Fannie and Freddie shut people out of the housing markets, for years (refinance or sale/purchase).

The Obama Compromise Model

Late afternoon press conferences to reneg on a major campaign promise?

All the impassioned leadership of saying, "I completely disagree with this." This is the high rhetoric that is appropriate for major, defining moments of a Presidency? Of national economic emergency? For millions of people without jobs? Of letting down the core of his base?

He avoids public confrontation, getting drawn into a 'war of words'. This saves time and, in some cases, saps the strength of the opposition.

But, in seeking compromise before confrontation, he appears to everyone to lack leadership skills. He negates his dual-role as a leader of ideas and an decided of when to compromise.

Moreover, it's now clear that he's not working well through the Senate, if someone there is going to be the tip of the spear. Harry Reid is conferring after the President makes a public statement. (In contrast, the GOP have had success rotating Senators who 'take the lead' on various issues, so that no one person can be vilified, like Reid/Pelosi have been).

Anyway, it's not worth watching the next two years. It's going to be like watching the last two quarters of a game in which your favorite team is simply outmatched.

Santa Brings Gift to GOP Early This Christmas

It is Obama.

I just read his full statement.

What, in this compromise, will the GOP not like, Mr. President?

I think they're passing the Champagne.

  • The largest inter-generational wealth transfer in the history of the republic goes on at even lower estate tax rates than Bush-era (thanks Tim Geithner, for that?).
  • They don't have to face-up to having an unpopular opinion with the public, w/r/t taxes on the wealthy.
  • In two years, they get to run on "no tax increase", ensuring continual "renewal" of their inanity, no political reckoning of it. That makes a mockery of "temporary" as a concession.
  • The Democrats become complicit in cut-tax-and-spend, losing the chance to build a fiscal brand name of their own.
I'd say, game, set and match to the GOP. All they had to do was threaten to take the economy into the tubes ... and the President's judgement is that calling a bluff on that kind of overreach would have been a "symbolic fight"?

I'm not even saying that votes in the Congress would have changed, with a prolonged "fight".

What I am saying is that the Democratic Party didn't "win" the political optics of making a compromise, did they?

Monday, December 6, 2010

13 months or 24 months

Apparently, the rate of job growth is going to be so unexpectedly fantastic next year, that the job-seekers who are relying on unemployment won't need to after 13 months.

But, BUT ... (wait for it)

... the stability and security of the recovery is going to need 24 months of income tax cuts.

Somehow, both of those can't be true, can they?

Do you have any idea how fast the economy needs to get growing to even have a 7% unemployment rate by this time next year? C'mon, guys! (Geithner?)

The Crux of the Compromise

CUT-TAX-AND-SPEND, NON-BUSH-43-VERSION, OBAMA VERSION

The crux of this compromise is that everyone can have everything they want, basically, and we can "afford" it, so long as we pretend it is "temporary".

In other words, nothing has changed, even if you thought you voted for that, since trickle down days or the 80s, the non-sacrifice days of Bush-43.

We're still the "exceptional" Americans, who can do everything.

Obama's Coming "Conversation with the American People"

He apparently thinks he's going to get a pass for extending the cuts, with perfunctory outrage, when it comes time to "make difficult decisions".

We're supposed to believe he's responsible or credible, after he makes himself complicit in the GOP's fiscal nonsense and economic stimulus nonsequiturs? He's got an explanation for that?

If we're in an emergency situation, then why are we dealing with tax cut rhetoric in the lame duck? How are tax cuts of this sort sufficient to the emergency?

They don't understand that they are almost guaranteed to never get it to all add up, rhetorically.

But, hey, don't listen to me, I'm the "professional left". I could get it wrong.

Why Chris Matthews is Wrong

Why wouldn't the GOP take the blame, feel the heat, as it were, not the President?

Isn't it the mission of "winning" in politics to see your ideas win in that way, too?

The President is NOT going to get "points" for being "responsible" if he doesn't go out there and sell, sell, sell himself as the responsible one in the room. As long as he cuts-taxes-and-spends in the fashion of the GOP, he gives too much ground, if he doesn't win the political fight, in terms of public opinion.

The way I look at it, they had a chance in a lifetime to take the whip-handle on the GOP's brand, to expose their overplayed hand; but they blew it with a quick-fire deal, however well conceived.

Obama Blinks

Uh, I'm not the "professional left".

Is it an absolute problem that Obama extended the income tax cuts, temporarily, for economic reasons?

No, not fully. [An estate tax at 35% with a $5 exclusion is pretty eye-popping, however...100% of all capital purchases written off - equipment spending is already near an all time high, so is that really going to be stimulated or, more importantly, add domestic jobs?]

If all you are perceived to stand for is compromise, than sooner or later people don't think you stand for anything.
What is the problem is that he never took his case to the American people. There was no support for the GOP's position in the election results, yet the Democrats didn't pressure them. Instead, they staged votes, which is easier and also a focal point, but not leadership. He should have taken them to task for it. Doing so is NOT "cheap political points".

If all you are perceived to stand for is compromise, than sooner or later people don't think you stand for anything.

Unlike Reagan, Team Obama have yet to master the art of standing for something, yet being "Presidential", when it comes time to compromise or showdown.

For instance, if there are critical issues facing the nation - and they are, with millions scheduled to lose their unemployment benefits, the economic recovery dicey, and credit for housing under continual "new standards" assault from Freddie and Fannie - why didn't he address the nation? A press conference in Winston-Salem? Seriously, guys?

They have no sense of the moment. Little clear-cut vision of their role as Executive, as bully-pulpit-in-chief. Little idea how to manage expectations within their own party.

What's more, following his post-election admission that they rushed through things because of urgency and didn't take the time for 'public diplomacy', what's his excuse now? India? Lisbon? Afghanistan? This has been on the table since his campaign promise. Besides that, they are trying to do too much, still, so "the politics" of these weighty issues isn't being handled fully, in terms of the communications effort required, to support any change.

So, like George Soros, I'll just watch him muddle through, because it's clear that they still don't have their legs.

Today's Headlines from Prop8 Hearing

There is going to be so much written on this, by those better than I, I'll just offer my take:

Part-1

"Alliance Defense Fund failed to enjoin California AG, Sinks Suit on Appeal"

Part-2

"Olson to Appellate Court: Prop8 fails constitutional challenge on any and all standards for review."

"Strategery" of Court Procedure

Arthur Leonard: part 1, part 2 See also David Cruz on standing.

Ari Waldman part 2

For the record: Scotusblog on LGBT Movement Lawyers

Two parts on this part 1, part 2, from Mary Fisher.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Prop 8 This Week - Finale or Allegro ma no troppo?

All below the cut. Long and academic-ish.



Looking at the amicus curiae of the Robbie P. George brain trust in prep for this week’s oral contest on marriage for gays in California, one observes they continue to hold the view of rival goods, rather than the more intuitive and obvious complementary goods.

They argue that there is no value neutral marriage policy (even if their quoted assertion from Michael Sandel is easily falsifiable, because the government could have other, normative grounds to bar polygyny). Who would disagree, except perhaps those who believe that the only common good that is served by ‘marriage policy’, within reason, is to facilitate private, individual goods?

They suggest there are legitimate moral purposes for a discriminatory marriage policy, but they analogize to goods that are not obviously in conflict, such as the relationship of business partners compared to personal friendships. Elsewhere, in contrast, they suggest that the purpose for a retained prejudice against gay couples is to be found in the perceived conflict of goods, i.e. down the road the perceived social linkages or norms may be lost (a consequence both in dispute and not in evidence at trial and one that could be, nevertheless, easily addressed by propagating the appropriate ethic, rather than denying or hypothesizing that so much is impossible).

They suggest that one can’t reason from a ‘fundamental right’ to marriage to gay marriage, because the concept of fundamental right is contingent on the purposes of marriage. A contingent fundamental right is hardly intuitive, because what we would think of as grounding the word “fundamental” is what we should use to judge whether restricted purposes are legitimate. Thus, we might well consider fundamental expression of innate sexuality and associated partnership, as seen by evidence and testimony in court and so obviously related to “flourishing” and “human good”, as not quite in the same category as their choice example, an artist seeking contingent self-expression through antisemitic art, who nevertheless gets defunded.

Indeed, they fail to meet the burden that the court should choose to impose on them. If they purport that there are legitimate moral purposes for discriminatory policy, it should have been proven at trial that these purposes can win the form of rationality, going beyond mere animus, reference to tradition, or belief in revealed truths. The trial record is pretty bare on this.

What’s more, it is closer to the time when the Supreme Court Justices ought to formally realize that, in finally removing “criminalization” as a penalty, they ought not to simply replace it with other forms of sad and uninspired penalties, that are often as damaging to the human spirit, even if they are not as physically threatening. This is the spirit of Romer, I think. If the court has the prescience to see the obvious complementarity of goods, we do not lose the past, we gain the future.

Their answer to these problems is not to delve into them much, but to provide a formalism: whatever the postulated legitimate and inevitable moral purposes of discriminatory marriage policy are, the court(s) should not assess them, because such purposes are only for the people to decide. (They confuse the legislature with the people, in citing Gregg v Georgia, p. 13, raising the vexing issue of judging the ‘legislative intent’ of a plebiscite and other issues besides.)

But, this is no answer, really.

If the moral purposes of the law are all left to a non-deliberative plebiscite, that makes a mockery of their statement about the majesty of the law, “instituted to preserve justice and secure the conditions under which individuals or communities can thrive or flourish” (p. 4), because a plebiscite could make a horse a Senator and more besides.

Even in that potential chaos, a court would still have to weigh competing and conflicting moral claims of the plebiscite, e.g. we want to live with equal protection and we want to discriminate against a minority (gays). To settle that question, with weighty matters at hand, a court would have to weigh consequential harms, look at the case in hand, examine the aptness of the discrimination in meeting the governmental interest, to see whether it rested on sheer animus or on supportable, evidential linkages. The trial court did that, in spades. The plaintiffs must and should win on appeal.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Major Iraq & Afghanistan Vet Group Comes Out for Repeal of DADT

They've done it. They've kept faith with their gay and lesbian colleagues, against an often derelict class of seniors.

IAVA Joins Top Military Leaders in Supporting Repeal of DADT

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Emboldened by Beckian Teflon, FOX moves to outright censorship

They've refused this completely anodyne advertisement:

The cost of technological innovation in Washington

All you need to know about applied technology in America starts with K-street.

Was this Chertoff's only adventure, or was there another? I can't remember.

Frank Schaeffer

One voice, crying the desert, worth listening to.

Here's his take on Evangelicals and The Jews.

No money quote, because it's gestalt.

Brilliant

"The Simpsons" took its latest dig at Fox News on Sunday's episode, inventing a new motto for the channel: "Not Racist, But #1 With Racists."

Monday, November 22, 2010

GOP-Tea Obstructionism: After trillions, we must spend more on nukes

THE CONDESCENSION OF SENATOR KYL


Here are today's headlines on START. Can you find the one that doesn't belong?

European allies say New START would aid policy
Ex-Eastern Bloc nations tell US Senate to ratify New START
Russia, NATO call on US to ratify START treaty
Reagan yes, START yes
Lugar Urges Senate Support For New START: 'Please Do Your Duty For Your Country'

The Nuclear Treaty Rush


I can't figure out why the GOP-Tea is opposed.

They want more money spent on nukes? Why? Have they noticed the deficit? Does most of the money go to Arizona, Senator Kyl's state?

They want to stop Obama, no matter the cost, from looking smart and effective on foreign policy, too?

They want to sabotage our position vis-a-vis Iran.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Flash your 'stache - Movember Men With Little Time Left


AFGHANISTACHE

Checking in on how the men of Movember are doing.

It appears that some in Afghanistan are sympatico.

CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – During the month of November, some Marines in Afghanistan are growing mustaches to raise awareness for men’s health.

-True that


Meanwhile, down under, handlebars seem to be the rage... [pic link and the $2500 team]

College Republicans Kick Out Gay Chairman

Duke has enough problems that their President just sent out an appeal to propriety this week. Even Gawker took note.

But their troubles are just ramping up with Justin Robinette, who apparently was impeached from his position in the College Republicans. The reasons for that are in dispute, but this tidbit about the response from the Dean of Students suggests that Duke is in for a world of hurt:

When the last of their attempts to go through the student government to resolve claims failed, Robinette met privately with several administrators, including Dean of Students Stephen Bryan and President Richard Brodhead.

“The meeting with Bryan proved to be the most humiliating,” Robinette said. “He told me he had a theory that as a closeted gay guy in the organization, I had developed sexual feelings and was rejected, and that explains this scorn I have towards them.

- Tar Heel



It does seem odd that a Republican-linked organization would impeach someone simply for incompetence. /snark

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Whither the Mortgage Crisis

THE DEMOCRATS ARE GOING TO HAVE TO FIGHT BATTLES THEY SORT OF DIDN'T HAVE TO WHEN THEY HAD COMFORTABLE MAJORITIES

The Democrats were unable to get real reforms on mortgage debt past the Mortgage Bankers Association, who bought more Senators than had Obama, apparently.

Meanwhile, the fight over who pays for the fraud on Wall Street may seem settled (hint: Main Street lost in Washington and the wealthiest won in the last election).

However, behind the scenes Fannie and Freddie and some of the other bond insurers have been pushing back. And, once the amounts get into the tens of billions (reported by Barron's), one's eyes open from their general glaze of surrender.

Directly related or not, the GOP is honing its knives for the agencies who would dare to do such a thing as insert accountability of this size into the world of go-go finance.


[Ed Royce-R, CA] acknowledged there was little immediate difference between him and the Treasury over the idea of a slow reduction in the government’s role and said he would write legislation that he hoped the administration would support.


I don't know how Geithner came over to the opinion that Freddie and Fannie don't have a role any longer. The organizations have functioned well since the Great Depression, so what has changed, except unchecked fraud at origination and lax underwriting, when Mudd was Chairman (and I do believe that is the crux of what went wrong).

More importantly, what would we have done without them in this crisis? To simply throw away institutionalized expertise like they have is ...

Yet, if the moves by Fannie to lock people out of refinancing their homes, potentially, by raising debt-to-equity demanded at refi come into full force, as expected, then how is that good for recovery?

Does anyone disclose how many borrowers are affected by this?

While the Irish dust is still in the air above our heads

PIGGY CAPITALISM

I couldn't help but notice that autocratic-capitalism China is raising reserve requirements, as its economy heats up.

There is plenty to dislike about China's government, but it sure is amazing to watch just what can be done.

As you know, U.S. banks let their reserves against bad loans, especially consumer credit, fall to a pittance, as they fueled a consumer-debt boom during a time of super-low, Greenspan policy rates.

Even after Greenspan started to raise rates, I'd love to see a chart of how many reserve requirements were actually waived. I do recall seeing a footnote in an annual report of one of the majors to that effect.

That's how I roll...

Friday, November 19, 2010

Taxes: Structural Changes in Taxes as a Response to Cyclical Turns

I worried aloud when Bush-43 pushed through his structural tax cuts (creating a obvious structural budget deficit), partly using justifications based on cyclical downturns.

And, as predicted, no one raised taxes, once the worst of the cycle was over and the Fed started to raise rates.

When we do, today, what Bush-43 did, promising "permanent" tax cuts, we are no longer all Keynesians.

We're just fools.

Update: sames goes for "Tax Holidays". Unless the people proposing them also say when the "Tax Jubilee" kicks in that pays back the holiday, who's interested in passing out this kind of crack?

FNMA: Hellbent on more structural misery in America

THE SOUND OF HOME PRICES FALLING AND RENTAL PROPERTIES SOARING

Can you believe that FNMA is adding yet another round of credit requirements?

If there is a quick way to neuter accommodating monetary policy, it would be to make sure that low rates matter less.

Now FNMA is locking out more borrowers. This is timely? The time to tighten credit standards is at the top of the cycle, not the bottom.

The latest. Are there any statistics that truly justify this?

  • -A whopping 10% shift in debt-to-income ratio. Like the prior guidelines, probably no phase-in period. Consider what this means for people who are committed to refinancing, to take advantage of lower rates or because they took advantage of a 3 or 5 year ARM!
  • -A single missed payment will now cost 5% penalty added to debt-to-income. No info on what the lookback period is. The predictive content of a single missed payment must be very small, at the margin, right?
  • -Borrowers with 10 payments left in a special new category
  • -The tyranny of FICO continues. If you miss a single credit-card or student-loan payment, you face a whopping 5% penalty.
  • -After upping the cap on bankruptcy workout, they are now doing the same for foreclosure, to seven years. These baffle me the most. It's like admitting that all their ramped-up loan-level adjustments and new equity requirements are bunk. They still need a special category.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

DADT - Read the (known) Amendments

After Senator Murkowski said she wanted to focus on important things rather than vote on DADT, I spent the time to do some digging on what is publicly known about amendments that were offered but didn't get considered with the Defense Authorization Bill, in which the removal of DADT is couched. Afterall, indications were that the GOP-Tea folks had plenty of "serious" material, including flag waving in Haiti.

Here's the Bill itself (S. 3454). [Take special note of the Cuba section].

Read the amendments in the GPO's pdf.

It's worth the time for a skim, because this is one of the Bills in which everything goes down. Starts with a list of who offered amendments, then continues with the text. You see why Kyl is ape about the START treaty.

Senator Voinovich wants a "COLONEL CHARLES YOUNG HOME SPECIAL RESOURCE STUDY". That's critical, right Senator Murkowski?

Kay B Hutchinson has detailed ideas about how base money should be spent - what's up with that?

Blanche Lincoln is on a tear for military family needs. Somehow more than the lobby groups in Washington and anyone in Committee?

Big John Cornyn - Went to Washington and Showed 'Em How Its Done

Bring home the earmarks ... Big John.

Now, rather than follow the VA's program for rural areas or follow the GOP-Tea's sometime plan to shift military care from the VA to private care, we have Senators building facilities and making "findings":


SA 4639. Mr. CORNYN (for himself and Mrs. Hutchison) submitted an amendment intended to be proposed by him to the bill S. 3454, to authorize appropriations for fiscal year 2011 for military activities of the Department of Defense, for military construction, and for defense activities of the Department of Energy, to prescribe military personnel strengths for such fiscal year, and for other purposes; which was ordered to lie on the table; as follows:

At the end of subtitle G of title X, add the following:

SEC. 1082. CONSTRUCTION OF MAJOR MEDICAL FACILITY IN FAR SOUTH TEXAS.

(a) Findings.--Congress makes the following findings:

(1) The current and future health care needs of veterans residing in the Far South Texas area are not being fully met by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(2) The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that more than 117,000 veterans reside in Far South Texas.

[Page: S7294] GPO's PDF

(3) In its Capital Asset Realignment for Enhanced Services study, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that fewer than three percent of its enrollees in the Valley-Coastal Bend Market of Veterans Integrated Service Network 17 reside within its acute hospital access standards.

(4) Travel times for veterans from the market referred to in paragraph (3) can exceed six hours from their residences to the nearest Department of Veterans Affairs hospital for acute inpatient health care.

(5) Even with the significant travel times, veterans from Far South Texas demonstrate a high demand for health care services from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(6) Current deployments involving members of the Texas National Guard and Reservists from Texas will continue to increase demand for medical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

(b) Construction of Major Medical Facility in Far South Texas.--

(1) IN GENERAL.--The Secretary of Veterans Affairs shall carry out the construction of a major medical facility project in Far South Texas consisting of a full service Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.

(2) FACILITY LOCATION.--The facility referred to in paragraph (1) shall be located in a county in Far South Texas that the Secretary determines to be most appropriate to meeting the health care needs of veterans in Far South Texas.

(3) REPORT.--Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Secretary shall submit to the Committees on Veterans' Affairs of the Senate and House of Representatives a report identifying and outlining the determination of the Secretary under paragraph (2) and a detailed estimate of the cost of and time necessary for completion of the project required by paragraph (1).

(c) Definition.--In this section, the term ``Far South Texas'' means the following counties of the State of Texas: Aransas, Bee, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Crockett, DeWitt, Dimmit, Duval, Goliad, Hidalgo, Jackson, Jim Hogg, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria, Webb, Willacy, and Zapata.

(d) Authorization of Appropriations.--There is authorized to be appropriated to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs for fiscal year 2011 for the Construction, Major Projects account such sums as may be necessary for the project required by subsection (b).

Upaid for Tax Cut = Tax on your kids

There is NO tax cut, if it is paid for with borrowed money.

To say otherwise is Washington double-speak.

Democratic Party Fail: An "Up-Down" Vote on Taxes is NOT Leadership

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME OPPORTUNITY SQUANDERED

Staging an up/down vote is not leadership. As a political party, not individuals, one needs to mark out and propagate - good sense of the term - why their vote on taxes "makes sense", up or down.

After this vote fails, the Dems will be technically complicit, once again, in the GOP-style cuts-tax-and-spend. Next time they promise that some program is "completely paid for", should I bother to listen to them?

And they wonder why the polls of independent voters continue to suggest that they trust the GOP more to do things like balance the budget.

They had a once in a lifetime chance to show that they were better than the GOP. They started, with curbing earmarks and with Pay-Go rules.

Now, when the risks and numbers get high, all they can do is stage a vote?

That's not leadership.

It's not just income taxes. The estate taxes and more are involved.

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry - Genesis says it's okay

HOW TO BE RATIONAL IN AN IRRATIONAL AGE

This is why George Soros is right. Anyone who couldn't take this to the bank is not a professional politician, in the good sense of the term.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Chair Apparent
www.colbertnation.com
Colbert Report Full Episodes2010 ElectionMarch to Keep Fear Alive

Yigit Pura

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Bernanke Buying the Right Assets?

REVERSE CLASS WARFARE

After having paid for the election, in their mind, is it any surprise that, in addition to "no taxes", there are quarters call today in unison for the Fed to stop taking human misery into its considerations? Afterall, the wealthy are not the ones unemployed are they?

Anyway, QE2 is all the rage to worry about.

Has anyone wondered aloud whether Ben should be buying up risky assets, rather than Government debt?

Are they monetizing the wrong asset(s)?

Just curious...

What does "Fiscal Conservative" Mean?

"REPUBLICAN" JUST ORWELLIAN FOR 'BRINGS RISK TO THE REPUBLIC'

I'd suggest, again, that it is Andrew Mellon: tax cuts only if they are paid for in advance by spending cuts.

What do we find instead, keeping in mind the Reagan-era debt explosion? Well, Andrew Sullivan lauds:

1986-style tax reform (largely removing deductions and lowering rates) - link

Why is this "conservative" or "fiscal conservative"? It sounds more Republican than conservative.

Lower marginal income tax rates looks like chasing the already long-in-the-tooth Reagan era. You can't fight diminishing returns to a strategy...

Why isn't the "conservative" position simply to recognize the structural deficit created by the Bush tax cuts and to raise taxes?

Last, the legacy of the Reagan era reforms looks Republican and even more risky for nation with a completely different set of economic realities:


When all was said and done, the total tax burden imposed on the American people from all sources—state and local taxes, federal income and capital gains taxes, and payroll taxes—remained basically unchanged throughout the 1980s. In the end, Reagan's reputation as a tax-cutter far outran his actual performance.

Reagan's tax policies did, however, redistribute the tax burden significantly, even if they failed to reduce it overall. By cutting income taxes, which are paid at a higher rate by the wealthy, while increasing payroll taxes, which are paid at a higher rate by the working poor and middle class, Reagan shifted the tax burden down the income scale. During the 1980s, the total effective federal taxation rate for the poorest one-fifth of American families actually increased by more than 16%. By contrast, the effective taxation rate for the wealthiest one-fifth of families fell by 5.5%, and the richest one percent of Americans saved even more: their tax rate fell by 14.4%.25

Eyewash from GOP-Teapublicans

The eyewashing of the GOP-led debt couldn't be more clear, to anyone familiar with the numbers.

But, these charts from Andrew Sullivan (via Fallows via Spinney) are right, as far as they go, but they are incomplete. Let me help. Either you remove all the social security receipts, for an adjusted figure of debt-held-by-public or you include both cash receipts and accrued obligations.

What passes as a position for conservatives on fiscal matters?

Let the Military Move When Ready

RANK OBSTRUCTION OF THE WILL OF THE PEOPLE

70% of the military and 57 Senators (representing probably at least 70% of the nation) favor repealing the military's costly policy on gay servicemen and women, who contribute to our nation's security, daily. Not personally costly, although that's a factor for military integrity, but also tax-dollar costly.

The current language in the Defense Authorization bill does not repeal the policy. It is simply a vote to let the military proceed, if and when they are ready.

Colin Powell's harmful, damaging disinformation on the matter, here, along with Meet the Press's inability to correct it on air.

Recall, that Israel moved fast, once they saw the need to do so:

Within three months, then-IDF chief of staff Ehud Barak signed the command banning military discrimination based on sexual orientation into law

We've been at it for 17 years, and intensively for ten months this year.



photo: Jeff Sheng

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Disabled, From 'The poor, the disabled, the infirm, and kids"

AEI takes a shot at the disability programs:

The fastest rising cost for Social Security isn’t retiring baby boomers, but skyrocketing Disability Insurance benefits. Disability benefits now make up 18 percent of all Social Security costs, up from only 10 percent in 1990. This year, the federal government will spend $125 billion for disability benefits. Including the Medicare benefits that are paid to D.I. recipients, total expenditures approach $200 billion. - Andrew Biggs


While fraud and abuse of any program is of interest, I'm not sure that the assertion that this is the fastest rising cost is true. See here.

As long as we're starting memes, why does the army in Texas need a list of facilities that runs as deep as your elbow?

COLA for benefits but not COLA for property taxes?

THE EIGHT YEARS OF PROFLIGATE BUSH TAX CUTS HAVE MADE SOCIAL SECURITY'S PROMISES RISKYLink

If benefits are to be indexed to COLA, shouldn't revenue caps be indexed as well, things like distortionary property tax caps? (cf Orzag on Social Security).

The immediate problem with social security isn't the long-term actuarial shortfall. It is that the trust is going to need hard cash for its enormous mountain of IOUs, soon; and, rather than prepare for that day, we've been spending social security receipts and compounding the risk of that by indulging in tax-cuts and tax-cut rhetoric. This is why the Catfood Commission's 50-year phase in on new revenues is far too risky, almost laughable. Do it now (and phase it out over 50 years, if that is the political compromise needed to get it done).

If Gore had done his "lock box", we wouldn't face nearly the same risks as those brought down by Bush's profligacy. It's amazing that GOP-Tea folks, some of them, wanted a balanced budget amendment, but they refused to follow rules-based commonsense, in terms of financial risk to the social security program.

As for cutting benefits, the wisest thing is to put pressure on employers to design jobs that are suitable to seniors and to those 55+, who don't get a fair shake, often, in the current job market. Surprisingly, a lot of people would like to work - just ask them - if they can get a job that is tailored to their needs. After that, the first benefits to cut are those that aren't needed to alleviate poverty in old age. Clearly, healthcare is a key cost consideration in hiring older employees, so do something with that.

Last, benefits, perhaps even retirement age, should be tied to the actual performance of the economy. That's very complicated, but it seems that some formulas could be worked out, so that one wouldn't have to rely on Congresscritters to take corrective action. Such formulas would tie actuarial assumptions with actual experience in those variables and make revenue adjustments and benefits changes.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

"Mission Critical", Theoretical and Practical Aspects

DADT harms the nation's security. Getting rid of it is more than just a moral appeal to "the right thing to do".

There is no need to balance this with any other practical consideration, is there, including that some GIs might feel uncomfortable, until such time as they 'get over it':

The data confirm a long-term trend, and a 2005 Government Accountability Report found that the military fired 757 mission-critical specialists, including 322 linguists, in the first decade of "don't ask, don't tell." JD Smith, co-Director of OutServe, said that today's news shows how "don't ask, don't tell" jeopardizes the safety of the troops. "These discharges put our lives at risk," Smith said. "As leadership continues to fire gay service members in critical career fields, it is the troops on the ground who will pay with their personal safety." OutServe is the first-ever organization made up exclusively of currently-serving gay and lesbian troops. It now includes more than 500 members.

The new data were collected by the Defense Manpower Data Center and made available by the House Armed Services Committee. They were submitted to the Committee in compliance with current law which requires each of the services to disclose on an annual basis the number of service members who have left the service, why they left and what jobs they performed.

-Palm Center

Mr. Loathsome Goes to Washington

Compromised in advance, from Indiana, Mr. Coats.

Hate, Fear, Compassion


I blogged about it once before, and it seems that the Kos daily hate mail is brimming with gay fear and hate. It's not new that "faggot" is somehow the worst epithet. But the response is relatively new (I think): "It's okay to come out of the closet."

Meanwhile, flashback:


"Back in the early 50s (I was 14), I used to bowl in the little bowling alley in the American Colony in Nueva Rosita, a mining town in Coahuila, Mexico. We used to snicker and circle any total of 41 pins. It seems that sometime in the early 50s, Mexico City cops broke up a raucous gay party and arrested 41 men. Since then the number has been used to describe gay men in Mexico. He is one of the forty one! In Argentina we call gay men trolos and lesbians tortilleras. I don't know the origin of the former and the latter confuses me as a tortilla maker in Argentina would make omelettes while in Mexico she would make tortillas."

-Artist, photographer, Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

Saturday, November 13, 2010

@Madrigal @Zadie #AtlanticOnline

Nothing's changed: All the world's a stage. There. One tweet saved 10,000 words.

Liberals on Taxes: Question Of the Day

How can Chris Matthews have a discussion with Ed Rendell on what the appropriate level of taxation is in the country, what the appropriate structure to taxes might be, but think that "the deficit" is "that other question"?

What exactly frames or grounds "the debate" about taxes for Liberals, in general or at this time?

The GOP 'fiscal brand' in tatters? The deficit? The recession? Middle class versus millionaires? 2012? Balanced budget? Discretionary spending? Wartime spending? Mandatory spending? Cost control, especially health cost but not just? The optics of "being for tax cuts"? Which party ran up the deficits and why? Who historically has benefited the most from tax cuts and who hasn't?

If you don't have a clear vision of how all those things go together, it's hard to fight a univocal "no".

Separately, it was good to see Obama recognize at his press conference that his role isn't to negotiate in the Press.

Will he recognize that he needs to reach out to the public, a la Reagan, not just to "leaders of both parties"?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jon Stewart and the Media

I didn't find much in the Maddow Stewart interview, except his upfront recognition that FOX has, like a religion, immunized itself from criticism, because all critics must be "liberal non believers", "pinheads", or "loons".

Jon seems to want to find synthesis, when there hasn't been thesis and antithesis, yet, at least not like we used to have, during the days of yellow journalism and so forth.

It's not at all plain that the "correct" response to the propaganda that started on FOX is to re-dedicate oneself to the principles of objective journalism. This assumes that "the center will hold". But, the disinformation from "FOX" is starting to show the ability to radicalize the center, to marginalize it at a minimum. Besides, we had a fairly decent press of that sort. It's been losing and is no longer economically viable in its old form.

Since our politics, and therefore our media, is hopelessly bi-polar, these kinds of changes at one side of the see-saw are going to have an impact on the other side.

Some, strange multifaceted approach is probably both what will occur and maybe even what should occur.

QuestionOTD

Is Reid, so far, the only Democratic Party Senator who has said that $700 billion in even temporary tax cuts is too much or even said that it's an unrealistic demand from a GOP-Tea Party who just campaigned on "trust me, we won't use your kid's ATM" and don't "trust the Democrats".

The rest of them better caucus and wise up to the fact that, if they don't hang together, they will hang separately.

Beyond the Singing Nun

The power of the tube:

The kids on the primetime hit are not actually members of glee club. They are in a show choir. Their inventive production numbers are an outgrowth of musical theater.

The series may have a misleading title but its cultural dominance has helped spark a new wave of harmonics at high schools and colleges.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Team Sanity: The Right - Far Right Compromise

Andrew Sullivan suggests, in passing, that I should look at the $750 billion in tax increases, that aren't quite at a level of detail to do so, convincingly.

On my numbers, if you rely on dividend income from a U.S. company, you could see an increase in after-tax income. So, I'd like to know how they did their projections of 'savings'.

Finally, a big-ticket item in the defense budget like "reduce procurement by 15%" is a throw away. Tax cuts for the top bracket should be made conditional on achieving these cuts. That way, the 'money interests' have an incentive, not to rip off the government, but to improve its efficiency and vie for good governance, in general, rather than 'regulatory capture'.

A 22% increase in dividends possible, leading to an 8% increase in after-tax dividend income:

Corporate Earnings Chart



$ 100 $ 100

Earnings before taxes


65 75

After taxes at 35% and 25% proposal


26 36

Cash available to payout in dividends



39 39

Cash needed for re-investment


22.1 27 4.9 22% Dividends paid











3.32 6.75 3.4 104% Tax on Divs, at 15%, 25%


$ 18.79 $ 20.25 1.5 8% Income to "wealthy"




*25% is the top proposed bracket, so if you are in a lower bracket, there would be even more of an increase in dividend income.

Axelrod Prepared to Give GOP-Tea Their Brand Back With Both Hands

INABILITY TO STOMACH CONFRONTATION AND HIGH LEVEL OF CONFLICT A BAD HARBINGER FOR NEXT TWO YEARS

The man just isn't up for the job. His "strategic think" is off-the-wall in the wrong direction.

You know, it's funny. I was going to question his ability to lean toward "audacity", before this news broke. Despite expert analysis of the moment, they appear to lack a sense of the moment. It's hard to describe. I'm not even talking about grand gestures.

I'm talking about the simply ability of the President to give a speech in Sleepy Hollow that starts a national debate rampage (they should have some experience, even if he did it inadvertently on the mosque). Read some old Greenspan speeches. All you need is an assessment of the facts; a plain, dry judgment; a wry, catchy phrase; and some time to "nurture" it as it grows.

Now, he's sent out a signal that Democrats will be terms takers, not terms makers on tax cuts, despite being in nominal "control" of two branches of government.

No shaping the terms of the debate. No changing the mind or the perceptions of the public. No, "I'm the President, and I'm going to tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear."

Just, sit in the WH with a bunch of polling data, presumably, and a vague reference to "the world as we find it" and rest on your health care laurels.

When you have an over-extended opponent, like the 2010 GOP-Teapublicans, and a lay-up right in front of you, you don't call a time out and kick the can down the road two years.

Update:

President's Commission: "It Is Cruelly Wrong to Make Promises We Can’t Keep"
David Axlerod, model of courage: We can do and say anything, as long as it isn't permanent.

The Real Cap-and-Trade is Disguised As "Comprehensive Tax Reform"

GOP-Tea strategy:

1. Cap state/local property taxes [already done in 43 states...]
2. With liberals, be seen appearing to trade lower tax rates on (unlimited) income with (already capped) tax deductions on property and hope they don't notice the asymmetry
3. Celebrate with Merlot

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Thinking Fiscally, On the Right Side of the Brain

Would it surprise anyone to find that draft from the "President's Deficit Commission" does not admit upfront that we have a revenue problem? Nor does it admit anywhere that there is a revenue "alternative solution" to Social Security solvency?

Indeed, there are two major categories, spending cuts/cost containment and, instead of tax hikes, something euphemistically or quixotically or lovingly called "comprehensive tax reform".

Why? Because at least one Party in the nation can't say the words "tax hikes", even despite a long preamble about Patriotic Duty that includes the words "shared sacrifice" and "everything must be on the table".

Consider that part of the proposal is that we move quickly to just three federal tax rates.

Without knowing anything more, doesn't that just sound like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic to you, in the context of trying to solve a problem of great magnitude? I mean, if you had to brainstorm ideas to close a fiscal gap or to drop debt-service ratios, would you immediately blurt out, "let's have just three federal tax rates, that will solve the problem!"?