Friday Reads

17022314_10154505890203512_1051292543946394533_nGood Afternoon!

Our Federal Government continues to morph into something hostile, xenophobic,and corrupt as we look at yet another weekend where taxpayer money will be filtered into a private resort owned by Kremlin Caligula.  The Cabinet is now filled with corrupt and unqualified people. Entire Departments are being defunded and destroyed.  First among them is the State Department.  This all appears to part of Bannon’s crusade to “deconstruct the administrative state”.

This week began with reports that President Donald Trump’s budget proposal will drastically slash the State Department’s funding, and last week ended with White House adviser and former Breitbart head Stephen Bannon telling the attendees of the annual Conservative Political Action Conference that what he and the new president were after was a “deconstruction of the administrative state.” At the State Department, which employs nearly 70,000 people around the world, that deconstruction is already well underway.

In the last week, I’ve spoken with a dozen current and recently departed State Department employees, all of whom asked for anonymity either because they were not authorized to speak to the press and feared retribution by an administration on the prowl for leakers, or did not want to burn their former colleagues. None of these sources were political appointees. Rather, they were career foreign service officers or career civil servants, most of whom have served both Republican and Democratic administrations—and many of whom do not know each other. They painted a picture of a State Department adrift and listless.

Sometimes, the deconstruction of the administrative state is quite literal. After about two dozen career staff on the seventh floor—the State Department’s equivalent of a C suite—were told to find other jobs, some with just 12 hours’ notice, construction teams came in over Presidents’ Day weekend and began rebuilding the office space for a new team and a new concept of how State’s nerve center would function. (This concept hasn’t been shared with most of the people who are still there.) The space on Mahogany Row, the line of wood-paneled offices including that of the secretary of state, is now a mysterious construction zone behind blue tarp.

c59rpxrvuaa0eisUnder Trumps Slash and Burn Budget, everything loses but the military.  The EPA will be decimated.

A wide slew of Environmental Protection Agency programs could be under the knife to meet President Donald Trump’s budget proposal requirements, a source told CNN Wednesday night.

The source spelled out details of an Office of Management and Budget proposal that would cut the EPA’s budget by 24% and reduce its staffing by 20%. Some of the EPA’s most longstanding and best-known programs are facing potential elimination — including initiatives aimed at improving water and air quality as well as a number of regulations tasked with reducing the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Other programs include the Environmental Justice program, which is meant to help local communities grapple with environmental concerns, and Global Change Research, a program funded by several agencies, including the EPA, which reports humans’ impact on the planet.

The Clean Power Plan, which could also be recommended for cuts, was an initiative by former President Barack Obama meant to reduce carbon emissions from each state. Fourteen separate EPA partnership programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions could also be on the chopping block.

Also among the programs up for elimination are multi-purpose grants to states and tribes, Energy Star grants, Science to Achieve Results (STAR) graduate fellowships, the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act and initiatives aimed at environmental protections along the US-Mexico border.

Some of the grants recommended for elimination could be matching grants for local projects around the country, the source added.

Ken Cook, the head of the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy and research organization, told CNN in a statement: “The Trump administration has decided fence-line communities across the country, whose residents already bear an outsized burden from pollution, are on their own to take on big polluters.”

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

Daryl Cagle / darylcagle.com

The American Heritage Foundation has been out for the EPA for a long time.  Its even had a plan that may be part of the Adminstration’s vision for letting go of any kind environmental controls and regulation.

Right now, the Trump administration is crafting a budget proposal that envisions steep cuts to a number of federal agencies — including, reportedly, a 24 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency that would eliminate one-fifth of its 15,000 jobs.

There aren’t yet any final decisions on exactly which environmental and energy programs will be targeted for elimination; the White House is still discussing with the relevant agencies. But one place to look for clues is this budget “blueprint” put out by the Heritage Foundation, a major conservative think tank. According to multiple reports, Donald Trump’s team has been using Heritage’s blueprint as a rough guide in its search for $54 billion in domestic spending cuts for fiscal year 2018.

The Heritage budget explains how to get cuts of that magnitude — spreading them out across every agency. And it goes particularly hard after energy and environmental programs. The EPA’s climate-change programs? Gone. Federal research into wind, solar, electric vehicles, nuclear, and other clean tech? Gone. Environmental justice programs? Gone. There are cuts to pollution enforcement and EPA programs that deal with surface water cleanup to diesel truck emissions. Plus cuts in aid to poor countries that help deal with ozone depletion and global warming. Taken together, the blueprint’s cuts would amount to a stark change in US environmental policy.

These cuts won’t all necessarily fly with Congress — a few Republicans are already balking at some of the numbers Trump’s team is tossing about. But it’s a useful read as an aspirational document, a look at the programs that some influential conservatives with Trump’s ear would like to see rooted out of the federal government (and why)

11darcy-carson1jpg-c9d65932f15d4e86It isn’t clear at all that the Pentagon needs that much money or wants it for that matter.  It traditionally gets pretty much what it wants already.  The nation has been on a war time footing since 9/11 so it isn’t even clear that there’s been any kind of “depletion” of anything.

Defense spending accounts for almost the same proportion of the federal budget as all non-discretionary domestic spending, meaning that the Trump administration’s proposal will result in a roughly 10 percent across-the-board cut in all other federal spending programs.

Budgets for most federal agencies would be reduced substantially, said an OMB official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity on a call with reporters to discuss the proposal.

The announcement marks the beginning of a process in which the OMB will coordinate with agencies to flesh out the plan.

Trump said his budget, which will be submitted to Congress next month, will propose “historic” increases in spending to bolster the country’s “depleted military,” and he said it will support law enforcement in an effort to reduce crime.

court-of-donald-i-sans-text-300b

I really don’t think that any one in the administration has a clue what they’re doing in any kind of conventional sense since nearly all of them have no experience in governance at any level. Bannon’s slash and burn the state ideology appears to be driving much of this.  The cabinet appointees will have difficulty doing much of anything at this rate because staff is fleeing already.

The career executives who staff and run the approximately 250 federal departments and agencies not only formulate and implement executive orders, they also make choices every day that influence large swaths of public policy — from immigration to law enforcement to education to the environment. They use their legal authority to do what all executives do: interpret the power given them by their board of directors (in this case, Congress), set organizational priorities in formal guidance or memorandums and make decisions about where to allocate people and dollars.

The recent enforcement actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) illustrate how agency choices about what to prioritize and how to enforce the law can produce a dramatic policy change.

Trump’s success as president depends in part on his ability to get agencies to behave like ICE and choose to use their power in the ways he would prefer.

trump-cabinet-1170x864A number of agencies have already gone literally rogue on him with employees undermining him every chance they get.  This is even true of some of the agencies that are to be used to purge the country of whatever it is Trump fears.  Bannon has even indicated that the Cabinet picks were part of the Deconstruction plan.

President Trump’s critics have noted that at least some of his Cabinet picks seem uniquely unsuited to their roles. Scott Pruitt, recently confirmed as head of the EPA, had previously challenged its regulations in more than a dozen suits. Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, Andrew Puzder, operated a company that depended on low wages and faced allegations of labor abuse. Puzder’s nomination was scuttled by the discovery that he had employed at least one undocumented immigrant.

Trump’s FCC chairman and energy secretary have also been critics of the very agencies they’re now tasked with managing. Rick Perry, Trump’s pick for energy secretary, famously called to eliminate the department while running for President in 2011.

Putting anti-regulation chairs at the top of regulatory bodies is nothing new for conservative administrations—George W. Bush’s EPA administrator Stephen Johnson, for instance, pushed back against staff recommendations and slackened enforcement. As the saying goes, elections have consequences, and lightening the regulatory load on businesses is a pillar of modern Republican doctrine.

What’s remarkable here, though, is Bannon’s framing of these moves as more anti-state than pro-business. The CPAC comments about ‘deconstruction’ are a toned-down version of startling statements made last August to the Daily Beast. Bannon impishly declared himself a “Leninist,” saying that the Soviet leader “wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

It’s not a stretch to see Bannon’s comments reflected not only in Trump’s cabinet picks, but in his slow progress in filling hundreds of lower-level cabinet positions. Until they’re filled, those positions are staffed by temporary administrators with reduced power, leaving enforcement and other matters in limbo.

December 18, 2016

This is perhaps though why Paul Ryan–on top of Putin–find the Trump minions to be “useful fools”.  Ryan is known as the nation’s premier granny starver and all this chaos and cutting is pretty much right up his ally.  This is analysis by Jonathan Chait.

What is the substance of the supposed schism between Trump and the regular GOP? The Times depicts the president and the House Speaker as split over whether to cut “Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.” But, while Ryan has made it known that he would like to cut Social Security (a position that has won him immense inside-the-Beltway Establishment credibility), he has not persuaded his party to go along. The “Better Way” plan crafted by Ryan and endorsed by House Republicans makes no mention of Social Security at all. It does propose privatizing Medicare, but only for workers who are not retired or are near retirement — which means, despite its long-term significance, it has no impact on the budget over the next decade. And both Trump and Ryan are planning deep cuts to Medicaid.

The similarities continue. Both favor increases in defense spending and dramatically weaker enforcement of labor, environmental, and financial regulation. Both favor deep cuts to anti-poverty spending. Trump is more enthusiastic than the regular GOP about infrastructure spending, but he has decided to postpone that issue until next year and use it as an election messaging vehicle rather than a real legislative priority. Most important, both agree that large, upper-income tax cuts are the party’s highest priority. Trump has even endorsed Ryan’s legislative strategy of sequencing Obamacare repeal first in order to grease the skids for bigger tax cuts. (“Statutorily and for budget purposes, as you know, we have to do health care before we do the tax cut,” he said this week.)

It is true, as conservatives say, that Trump’s budget numbers do not really add up. But he is relying on the same voodoo economics assumptions that are de rigeur in his party. “The money is going to come from a revved-up economy,” Trump said on Fox & Friends. “I mean, you look at the kind of numbers we’re doing, we were probably GDP of a little more than 1 percent. And if I can get that up to 3, maybe more, we have a whole different ballgame.” Remember that ultra-Establishment Republican Jeb Bush promised tax cuts and deregulation would produce 4 percent growth, so Trump’s 3 percent growth promise is actually moderate and realistic by Republican fiscal standards.

The illusion that Trump has radically altered his party’s agenda is convenient for all sides.

Democrats have already sent out a battle cry as have a few Republicans.  Lindsey Graham is having none of  the cuts to State.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Tuesday that President Trump’s first budget was “dead on arrival” and wouldn’t make it through Congress.

“It’s not going to happen,” said Graham, according to NBC News. “It would be a disaster.”

Graham, a frequent Trump critic, expressed concerns with Trump’s proposed cuts to the State Department budget, especially the targeting of foreign aid.

These are trying times.  Let’s just hope we have enough leaders in the District with other patriotism or deep seated interests in some of these agencies or our country will never look the same again.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads: The Ides of March

Eid_Mar Ah! The Ides of March and today’s political men with that lean and hungry look are upon us!  Let’s check out what Eric Cantor, Bobby Jindal and Paul Ryan are up to.  All of them have that creepy angular look that makes my skin crawl. I always wonder if their supporters are as odd looking and grinch-like?

Ryan “looks with such ferret and such fiery eyes” and is trying to ride the same old budget that the voters soundly rejected in November.

Ryan’s budget is a retread of his previous offerings, the same ideas that were rejected by voters in the 2012 election. Like the old Bourbon kings, he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. Once more he doubles down on the failed ideas of the past, and once more he brazenly seeks credit for making hard choices while refusing to tell us what those choices are. The cowardice and lack of candor reflect just how unpopular these ideas are.

The basic strategy is the same; the only new packaging is the pretense of balancing the budget in 10 years. Ryan does that by adopting the $600 billion in “fiscal cliff” taxes that Republicans voted against, the Medicare tax hikes that were part of the Obamacare that Ryan proposes to repeal, and, most brazenly, the infamous $716 billion in “Medicare cuts” that Ryan and Romney and legions of Republicans have railed against over the last two election cycles.

Ryan’s basic strategy is unchanged. He would lower rates on income and corporate taxes. He does this despite studies showing that lowering rates over the last decades have produced more inequality, but not more growth. With the top 1 percent capturing a staggering 121 percent of the income growth coming out of the Great Recession, and corporate profits at record highs as a percentage of the economy, Ryan still argues that if they just had more money, they would start investing here at home.

The lower tax rates, Ryan claims, will be paid for by closing loopholes and eliminating “tax expenditures” — only he reveals none of Romney 2012those that he would close. Studies show millionaires could give up all their tax deductions and still pocket a big tax break from the Ryan plan. By definition, middle class families will end up paying more — and will face the loss of tax deductions for mortgages, for employer-based health care, for state and local taxes and more. No wonder Ryan doesn’t want to reveal what’s behind the curtain.

Ryan then calls for cutting $4.6 trillion in spending over 10 years from projected levels. $2.5 trillion of that comes from repealing Obamacare and gutting Medicaid. That will leave, according to estimates of the Urban League and the Congressional Budget Office, 40 to 50 million more poor and middle-income Americans uninsured, even as the wealthy and multinationals pocket their tax breaks. In addition, Ryan promises to dismember Medicare 10 years from now, turning it into a voucher that will push more and more costs on seniors over time.

Ryan would cancel the “sequestration cuts” for the military over the next decade while cutting even more from domestic services. All domestic services — education, border patrol, workplace safety, food and drug monitoring, research and development, Head Start, infant nutrition, etc. — would be cut to levels not seen in modern times. Naturally, Ryan does not identify what would be cut.

His budget is expected to pass the House yet again even though there is no chance in the Senate and no chance that “Obamacare” will be repealed.   Yet, he’s consistent which is more than we can say about Eric Cantor recently.  You know Cantoe. ” Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort s if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit that could be moved to smile at any thing.”

Cantor seems newly pained by his reputation as an ideological roadblock. In Virginia, his favorable rating is twenty-seven per cent, a fact that makes a statewide run for office in the near future a dim prospect. Cantor explained why he argued at the retreat against using the debt ceiling as political leverage. He had been hearing from donors on Wall Street and in the business community about the potential impact on the markets. “Most people would say incurring debt at this point is allowing money for bills that you already incurred,” he said. “It’s to pay the bills.” Eight days earlier, at a press conference, Obama had made the same argument.

Besides, there were better fights to come. Conceding the debt-ceiling vote was a simple way for House Republicans to prevent the 110803_eric_cantor_ap_328U.S. government from going into default, which would be disastrous for the economy here and abroad. It also meant they could save their leverage for the coming fight over the automatic spending cuts in the sequester. “We’re not trying to sit here and just obstruct,” Cantor said. “We’re trying to solve the problem, and we’ve been put in this position, I guess, perception-wise, that all we want to do is obstruct. So this is an attempt for us to get on firmer ground.”

To win over the right, House leaders promised three things. They would demand that the Democratic-controlled Senate write a formal budget, which Senate Democrats have avoided doing for several years; if the senators didn’t pass a budget, they wouldn’t get paid. Second, they promised conservatives that the cuts in the sequester would be kept intact or replaced with something equivalent. The final promise was far more daunting: Paul Ryan would write a budget that balanced within ten years. “Big goal,” Cantor said, and he sounded relieved that it wouldn’t be his job; Ryan’s last budget, which included severe spending cuts, didn’t promise to come into balance until the late twenty-thirties. “People were concerned that it took too long to balance,” Ryan said. To make the budget balance in a decade, the level of cuts will have to be extreme. Cantor may have led his colleagues out of the debt-ceiling canyon only to get them trapped in another one.

I pointed out that, because the fiscal-cliff deal included more than six hundred billion dollars in higher taxes over the next ten years, Ryan’s job might be a little easier. Cantor flashed a mischievous grin. “Irony!” he said.

Then, there is Bobby Jindal who is plotting to push the most regressive tax plan ever through the state of Louisiana. jindal  He’s got the ALEC plan for wrecking the state down pat. “He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

Jan Moller with the Louisiana Budget Project said he fears a financial blow to the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

“At a bare minimum, a tax overhaul should not be an excuse to make the state’s poorest citizens pay more, and they would suffer the most from the governor’s proposal to raise sales taxes,” Moller said in a prepared statement.

Barfield said something will be proposed to offset any increase for low- and lower-middle-classes.

“They would be in no worse position than they are today,” Barfield said.

Barfield said the administration wants to encourage job creation and economic growth, which help elevate the poor.

One has to wonder how the national ambitions of these men jibe with voters given their agendas benefit very few people.  I suppose the idea is to appease the big donors and hope that every one else just votes based on name recognition and glossy mailers.  Still, Jindal’s popularity sits at 37%.  As mentioned above,  Cantor’s popularity sits at 27%.  Ryan’s last poll was the election.

So, here are a few other reads that you might want to check out.  I’d say all of this is good news for rationale people and bad news for our Republican deniers of reality.
BBC News reports that “LHC cements Higgs boson identification”.  Yes, despite the agenda to stamp out the progress of scientists in the US, science and discovery happens in other countries.

“This is the start of a new story of physics,” said Tony Weidberg, Oxford University physicist and a collaborator on the Atlas experiment.

“Physics has changed since July the 4th – the vague question we had before was to see if there was anything there,” he told BBC News.

“Now we’ve got more precise questions: is this particle a Higgs boson, and if so, is it one compatible with the Standard Model?”

The results reported at the conference – based on the entire data sets from 2011 and 2012 – much more strongly suggest that the new particle’s “spin” is zero – consistent with any of the theoretical varieties of Higgs.

“The preliminary results with the full 2012 data set are magnificent and to me it is clear that we are dealing with a Higgs boson, though we still have a long way to go to know what kind of Higgs boson it is,” said CMS spokesperson Joe Incandela.

As is often the case in particle physics, a fuller analysis of data will be required to establish beyond doubt that the particle is a Higgs of any kind. But Dr Weidberg said that even these early hints were compelling.

“This is very exciting because if the spin-zero determination is confirmed, it would be the first elementary particle to have zero spin,” he said.

“So this is really different to anything we have seen before.”

Even more data will be required to explore the question of more “exotic” Higgs particles.

This HuffPo article suggest that there will even be fewer Americans for those Republicans to fool in the future as religion in America hits  new low!!

The number of Americans who claim to have no religious affiliation is the highest it has ever been since data on the subject started being collected in the 1930s, new research has found.

Sociologists from the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University analyzed results from the General Social Survey and found that the number of people who do not consider themselves part of an organized religion has jumped dramatically in recent years.

Back in the 1930s and 1940s, the number of “nones” — those who said they were religiously unaffiliated — hovered around 5 percent, Claude Fischer, one of the researchers with UC Berkeley, told The Huffington Post. That number had risen to only 8 percent by 1990.

But since then, the number of people who don’t consider themselves part of a religion has increased to 20 percent.

No wonder Republicans want to tank public education.  I’d say there’s a bit of intelligent life left here!

Finally, the Mars Rover “Curiosity” finds some astonishing things on Mars.

marvinThe verdict is in: Mars’s Gale Crater was habitable in its distant past, perhaps during the same period in which microbial life was establishing itself on Earth between 3 billion and 4 billion years ago.

That is the conclusion scientists have reached after NASA‘s Mars rover Curiosity analyzed the first sample ever culled from deep in a rock on another planet. Curiosity used a first-of-its-kind drill to extract the sample.

Now, only seven months into its mission – a period set aside primarily for testing the rover’s various instruments – Curiosity has already given researchers the answer to the broad, basic question they set out to answer: Did Mars ever host environments suitable for life?

The issue of habitability is “in the bag,” said John Grotzinger, a planetary geologist at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Calif., and the mission’s lead scientist, during a press briefing announcing the results on Tuesday.

The minerals in the tiny, gray, ground-rock sample exposed by Curiosity’s drill speak of abundant standing water, conditions neither too acidic or too alkaline for life, and the minerals that would have provided a ready energy source for microbes, if any had been there.

Wonder what Pat Robertson will say about this?

and what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Obama Outlines Budget 2013

WAPO has gotten a copy of the what the Obama administration is offering for its 2013 budget. There are several points that I think you’ll find interesting.   There’s a peace dividend, there’s no planned cuts to social security or medicare, and there’s plans for higher taxes.  It appears Obama will not repeat the conciliatory tone of his first 4 years which we characterized as a series of cave-ins.

Democrats said Obama is likely to maintain a tough stance Friday, when Boehner and other congressional leaders are due to gather at the White House for their first face-to-face discussions about how to avoid the fiscal cliff. Fresh off a resounding electoral victory in which they kept the White House and picked up seats in the House and Senate, Democrats said there is no reason to compromise now on a central plank of the president’s platform.

“It was an intrinsic part of his campaign, and the public supports it. So what more do you want?” said Rep. Sander M. Levin (D-Mich.), the senior Democrat on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

Obama’s stance on not extending the Bush tax cuts was stated in meetings with liberals yesterday and in a presser today.   This is consistent with the WAPO budget outline.

Obama’s 2013 budget sought to reduce borrowing over the next 10 years by about $4 trillion, counting $1.1 trillion in agency cuts already in force. In addition to raising taxes, Obama proposed to slice $340 billion from health-care programs and to count about $1 trillion in savings from ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His budget request did not include reductions to health and retirement benefits, but Obama did consider such changes in his 2011 talks with Boehner, including raising the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67 and applying a stingier measure of inflation to Social Security.

Senior Democrats, meanwhile, threw cold water on a competing proposal to scale back deductions that disproportionately benefit upper-income taxpayers while keeping the top tax rates at their present level.

On Tuesday, former Clinton administration Treasury secretary Robert Rubin wrote in the New York Times that closing loopholes and deductions would not be an acceptable solution to the nation’s fiscal challenges. And Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who is set to become chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said she “has not seen how the math works to let you come up with the additional revenue.”

In a meeting Tuesday, Obama offered no specific assurances to liberal leaders about what a final deal might look like and what entitlement programs might face cuts. But Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association and a participant in the session, said Obama did not have to make such assurances.

“He hasn’t wavered through the whole campaign,” Van Roekel said. “He’s been consistent on [his] message, and I don’t think he’ll change it now.”

Obama’s presser was focused mostly on the Bush Tax Cuts.

But despite his softer rhetoric, Obama made no concessions on his demand for higher taxes on the top 2 percent. He argued that the majority of the American voters supported his position on taxes, which he campaigned strongly on. “I’m concerned about not finding us in a situation where the wealthy aren’t paying more or aren’t paying as much as they should,” he said.

He added, moreover, it would be “very difficult to see how we make up that trillion dollars” of revenue that would be lost if the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy were extended. Outside economists have confirmed as much: It’s not easy to use deductions and exemptions for the wealthy to generate much tax revenue without hitting the middle class or going after tax breaks like the employer deduction for health care that many lawmakers believe are off-limits.

1:55 pm: Obama said that dealing with the Bush tax cuts by making sure that middle-class taxes don’t rise would make major headway in dealing with the threat of the fiscal cliff. “Half of the danger to our economy is removed by that single step,” he said.

Reform to the tax code and to Social Security and Medicare may be forthcoming in long term debt talks.

Obama met on Tuesday with allies from labor and liberal groups, and invited a group of CEOs to the White House for a mid-afternoon session, also to focus on the threat posed to the economic recovery by the combination of tax increases and spending cuts.

At the news conference, he laid out a two-step process for an overall compromise — immediate extension of all the expiring tax cuts except the top rate, followed by a comprehensive agreement in 2013 to overhaul the tax code and the government’s big benefits programs, which include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

Obama signed legislation two years ago extending the Bush tax cuts in their entirety after saying he wouldn’t.

Asked why this time will be different, he said, “what I said at the time was what I meant, which is that this was a one-time proposition.”

Now, he said, legislation that keeps most of the cuts in place but not those for the upper-income earners would be “actually removing half the fiscal cliff.”

Asked if he viewed it as a deal-breaker if Republicans refused to allow the top tax rate to revert to 39.6 percent from the current 35 percent, he said, “I just want to emphasize I am open to new ideas if the Republican counterparts or some Democrats have a great idea for us to raise revenue, maintain progressivity, make sure the middle class isn’t getting hit, reduces our deficit.'”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said the president would bring to the table a proposal for $1.6 trillion in new taxes on business and the wealthy when he begins discussions with congressional Republicans, a figure that Obama outlined in his most recent budget plan. The targeted revenue is twice the amount Obama discussed with Republican leaders during debt talks during the summer of 2011.

All of these articles indicate that Obama has walked away from his 2011 offers as leaked earlier this week.  The obvious fight will come as the so-called fiscal cliff issues begin to appear at the beginning of the year.  Most of these issues come into play if the sequestration deal kicks in.   This time the President has not lead with a compromise deal.  We’ll see what happens as the lame duck congress winds down and the beginning of the year approaches.


Throwing People to the Wind and the Dogs of Profit

Dennis "Paul Ryan" Moore: Stealing from the Poor and Giving to the Rich

Paul Krugman has a disturbing blog post up. Republicans have been moving to throw the public interest to their corporate masters for some time while collecting their own federal subsidies and benefits. Their privatization fetish is doing in all kinds of things. They’ve been turning prisons, schools, and a bevy of national resources to businesses who are only in it for the short-run boost to their bottom line. These decisions are being made on a purely ideological basis. They have nothing to do with the safety and solvency of the assets involved or the fact that things like national forests belong to the country and the country should have some say in what happens there. Krugman links to articles discussing the privatization of Medicare and then links to an op-ed that argues that the real test of Obama’s meddle will be how well he stands up to these privatization schemes.

The funny thing is that the entire arguments made for this kind of thing are how much more efficient the private sector supposedly is at service delivery and cost containment. This is a charade.  We’ve seen everything from the botched student loan program that thankfully, just got pulled back into the Department of Education. This can be observed is in Medicare Advantage where we’ve had private companies enrich themselves more than provide benefit. We keep subsidizing inefficient private corporations with no demands they cut cost and deliver things as asked efficiently.  Medicare Advantage was set up to enrich Republican constituencies.

Privatizing and voucherizing Medicare does nothing whatsoever to control costs. We’ve seen that from the sorry history of Medicare Advantage. I’m sure that the Republicans will claim savings — but those savings will come entirely from limiting the vouchers to below the rate of rise in health care costs; in effect, they will come from denying medical care to those who can’t afford to top up their premiums.

Ryan is calling for draconian changes that have no basis in anything other than ideology. His obsession with starving the beast in the name of fiscal discipline is insanity. The man should be declared a public menace and put on an island some where. If Ryan’s way were the correct one, we’d have never had most of the major assets and infrastructure that made 20th century America a powerhouse. That would include things like the interstate system, Hoover Dam, rural electrification, and World War 2. All of these projects were huge, have paid off tremendous benefits in the long run, and were done on borrowed money. I guess World War 2 would’ve not be worth fighting–had Ryan been around–or farmed out to mercenaries because little Paul’s had such a bad life over the last 4 decades due to the debt burden which we still carry in many ways. This is insanity. People actually believe him too. This is exactly how dumbed down and selfish many of our citizens have become. The propaganda campaign on efficient private businesses has been so effective that many don’t seem to notice that their lives have been made much worse off by the excesses put into law over the last ten or so years.  I have yet to meet any one–other than a fat cat–employed by a private business that doesn’t have nightmare stories about stupid and bad management practices.  They’re more plentiful in the private than public sector.  I’ve seen and heard many of them in my years working and consulting with both sectors.

Notice that Ryan is avoiding the wrath of the senior citizen vote with the trick of letting every one 55 and over go into the current program. He’s only throwing certain people to the Dogs of Profit.  Ryan’s hypocrisy knows no bounds.  As long as your part of the Republican base, you get to keep your government largess.   He’s out to delivery windfall profits to insurance companies, not efficient health care delivery to people.

Recognizing the political risk of significant changes in Medicare and Medicaid, the health care program for poor Americans, Mr. Ryan emphasized that such spending would continue to rise under the Republican budget plan, just not as sharply as it would have otherwise.

He also sought to clarify that any Medicare changes, which would include requiring more affluent Americans to pay a larger share of their Medicare costs, would not amount to a voucher program — an approach that has been heavily criticized by Democrats.

Mr. Ryan said his plan was more like the Medicare prescription drug program and would allow patients to pick from a menu of insurance plans. The federal government would direct the subsidy to the plan, not to the consumer.

“It doesn’t go to the person, into the marketplace,” Mr. Ryan said. “It goes to the plan. More for the poor, more for people who get sick, and we don’t give as much money to people who are wealthy.”

Americans who are now 55 or older would go into the current program to prevent a sudden change in their health insurance coverage, he said.

There are some Democratic politicians still fighting against these unnecessary and draconian budget and program cuts.  It doesn’t look like a robust fight, however and the President has been slow to engage.  Senator Chuck Schumer did the Sunday news talk show circuit yesterday arguing the idiocy of throwing people off programs that work and keep them out of much more expensive trouble.  Not only do these things work to keep people out of desperate situations, they create jobs.  Many small population states actually rely heavily on state and federal jobs for revenues and services.  I’d hate to live someplace like Wyoming if Republicans have their way.  The Republicans want to cut the people programs and the programs that invest and sustain our resources.  It’s all about delivering short term profits to whatever business pops up over night to abuse the program.  Republicans still balk at cutting war programs, corporate welfare programs, and the types of subsidies and tax loopholes that line their own pockets.

Mr. Schumer said Democrats were urging Republicans to consider reducing some of the automatic annual spending in Agriculture, Treasury and Justice Department programs to reach a target of about $33 billion in cuts rather than insisting that it all come out of what is known in budget parlance as discretionary accounts.

A Democrat involved in the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said alternative spending cuts from the White House and Senate Democrats would range up to $8 billion. But to the Democrats’ dismay, not only were Republicans resisting those cuts, they were also proposing more spending than the Pentagon wants for military and homeland security programs.

“If you just cut from domestic discretionary, you’ll have to cut things like helping students go to college; you’ll have to cut scientific research, including cancer research,” Mr. Schumer said on the ABC News program “This Week.” “These things have created millions of jobs through the years.”

It’s completely disingenuous but they don’t care.  They’re willing to ax the meager federal spending on Planned Parenthood which covers basic reproductive health for poor people to give farm subsidies to Tea Party Buddy Michelle Bachmann. Why keep pouring money into inefficient private sector ventures other than they turn around and donate to your campaigns?  This leads me to the other link provided by Krugman to an op ed  E. J. Dionne JR at WAPO.

This week, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will announce the House Republicans’ budget plan, which is expected to include cuts in many programs for the neediest Americans.

The Ryan budget’s central purpose will not be deficit reduction but the gradual dismantling of key parts of government. Remember that Ryan wants both to preserve the Bush tax cuts and, over the long run, to enact more breaks for the wealthy, including the elimination of the capital gains tax.

Ryan’s plan reportedly will include steep Medicaid cuts, disguised as a proposal to turn the program into a “block grant” to the states. The net effect would be to leave even more Americans to the mercies of the private insurance market.

In deference to the GOP’s success in turning last year’s health-care law into “Obamacare,” let’s call this proposal Ryancare — and let’s make sure we look carefully at its impact on the elderly and the disabled, the main beneficiaries of Medicaid.

Put the two parts of the Ryan design together — tax cuts for the rich, program cuts for the poor — and its radically redistributionist purposes become clear. Timid Democrats would never dare embark on class warfare on this scale the other way around.

Paul Ryan is the anti-Robin Hood.  He steals from working Americans and subsidizes the already rich. Who is going to stand up to this complete disconnect between Ryan’s dogma and the reality that was the healthy US economy prior to all this enabling of inefficient oligopolies and monopolies at the cost of the Treasury?    Both Krugman and Dionne are correct in this assessment.  The President kicked off his re-election bid today.  Whose side will he be on?  Will he mouth his campaign themes from 2008 while doing the Republicans’ worst for them? From Krugman:

This will be Obama’s defining moment. Will he stand up for the principle that society takes care of those in need? Or will he cave in? I wish I had confidence in the answer.

I’d say the odds on favorite is that we’re going to continue to give away every one’s American Dream to the bonus class.  The Republicans may be removed from reality, lying, and bat shit crazy, but what do you say about Democratic officials that enable them?


TGIFriday Reads

Good Morning!

There’s been quite a few economists weighing in on the debate going on in congress about the budget.  Paul Krugman’s op-ed is on “The Austerity Delusion”. Krugman’s appalled that more policymakers aren’t concerned with the high rate of unemployment which is contributing to the deficit in several ways.  First, it decreases tax revenues.  Second, it increases state and federal expenditures.  Solve the jobs problem and the deficit will decrease.  He’s worried that all this austerity will just bring on another economic slowdown.

Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.

So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it’s a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we’re constantly told that if we don’t slash spending immediately we’ll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we’re told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.

Politico features a series of Former CEA members who signed  a letter of concern on the deficit and unsustainable US Budgets. Too bad that people like Greg Mankiw–advisor to Dubya–didn’t speak up when the spending problems were originated.  They mostly trace to Reagan and Bush administrations.  They all suggest using the Cat food commission report as the focus of discussions.  Hang on to your social security, folks!  It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

As former chairmen and chairwomen of the Council of Economic Advisers, who have served in Republican and Democratic administrations, we urge that the Bowles-Simpson report, “The Moment of Truth,” be the starting point of an active legislative process that involves intense negotiations between both parties.

There are many issues on which we don’t agree. Yet we find ourselves in remarkable unanimity about the long-run federal budget deficit: It is a severe threat that calls for serious and prompt attention.

While the actual deficit is likely to shrink over the next few years as the economy continues to recover, the aging of the baby-boom generation and rapidly rising health care costs are likely to create a large and growing gap between spending and revenues. These deficits will take a toll on private investment and economic growth. At some point, bond markets are likely to turn on the United States — leading to a crisis that could dwarf 2008.

“The Moment of Truth” documents that “the problem is real, and the solution will be painful.” It is tempting to act as if the long-run budget imbalance could be fixed by just cutting wasteful government spending or raising taxes on the wealthy. But the facts belie such easy answers.

I suppose you know the professional insane Republican Michelle Bachmann is forming an exploratory committee for a possible presidential run.  I’d vote for any one’s dog before I’d consider Bachmann who doesn’t appear to have paid attention to any course she ever attended in school. I’ve never in my life heard any one outside of maybe a grade school that has such a bad grasp of American History, law, and politics.  I think she should’ve just gotten a mail order degree.  Education appears to have been wasted on her.

CNN has exclusively learned that Rep. Michele Bachmann will form a presidential exploratory committee. The Minnesota Republican plans to file papers for the committee in early June, with an announcement likely around that same time.

But a source close to the congresswoman said that Bachmann could form the exploratory committee even earlier than June so that she could participate in early Republican presidential debates.

“She’s been telling everyone early summer,” the source told CNN regarding Bachmann’s planned June filing and announcement. But the source said that nothing is static.

“If you [debate sponsors] come to us and say, ‘To be in our debates, you have to have an exploratory committee,’ then we’ll say, ‘Okay, fine…I’ll go file the forms.'”

Speaking of Republicans, a former aide to Sen. John Ensign has just been indicted for violating conflict of interest laws.

The Justice Department announced the indictment late Thursday, which charges Doug Hampton with seven counts of violating criminal conflict of interest laws for allegedly engaging in unlawful communication with Ensign’s office, violating the Senate’s “revolving door” policy.

According to the indictment, after Hampton left Ensign’s office in 2008 he “knowingly and willfully made, with the intent to influence, communications to staff members of the U.S. senator” on behalf of an energy company he was employed by at the time.

Hampton is alleged to have sought the assistance of Ensign and other staff members for help in moving forward a proposal to build a power plant in eastern Nevada.

Hampton, if convicted, could face up to five years in prison for each of the seven counts in the indictment.  He is set to be arraigned in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. on March 31.

Ensign is retiring.  Probably because of all the scuttlebutt around his affairs and possibly what may come out of this prosecution.  Maybe Tom Delay will have a new cell mate on the way.

Glenn Greenwald has written an excellent piece in Salon on withering Miranda rights under the Obama administration.   You may want to check it out.

The number of instances in which Obama has violently breached his own alleged principles when it comes to the War on Terror and the rule of law are too numerous to chronicle in one place. Suffice to say, it is no longer provocative or controversial when someone like Yale Law Professor Jack Balkin writes, as he did the other day, that Obama “has more or less systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the George W. Bush Administration.” No rational person can argue that or even tries to any longer. It’s just a banal expression of indisputable fact.

Today, the Obama DOJ unveiled the latest — and one of the most significant — examples of its eagerness to assault the very legal values Obama vowed to protect. The Wall Street Journal reports that “new rules allow investigators to hold domestic-terror suspects longer than others without giving them a Miranda warning, significantly expanding exceptions to the instructions that have governed the handling of criminal suspects for more than four decades.” The only previous exception to the 45-year-old Miranda requirement that someone in custody be apprised of their rights occurred in 1984, when the Rehnquist-led right-wing faction of the Supreme Court allowed delay “only in cases of an imminent safety threat,” but these new rules promulgated by the Obama DOJ “give interrogators more latitude and flexibility to define what counts as an appropriate circumstance to waive Miranda rights.”

Just hope you never get classified as a terrorist or you’ll disappear down some rabbit hole.  You should also read William Grieder over at The Nation on How Wall Street Crooks Get Out of Jail.

Instead of “Old Testament justice,” federal prosecutors seek “authentic cooperation” from corporations in trouble, urging them to come forward voluntarily and reveal their illegalities. In exchange, prosecutors will offer a deal. If companies pay the fine set by the prosecutor and submit to probationary terms for good behavior, perhaps an outside monitor, then government will defer prosecution indefinitely or even drop it entirely. The corporation thus avoids the stigma of a criminal trial and the bad headlines that depress stock prices. More to the point, the “deferred prosecution agreement,” as it’s called, allows the company to escape the more severe consequences of criminal conviction—the loss of banking and professional licenses, charters, deposit insurance or other government benefits, including eligibility for federal contracts and healthcare programs. In other words, the punishment prescribed in numerous laws.

“With cooperation by the corporation, the government may be able to reduce tangible losses, limit damage to reputation, and preserve assets for restitution,” the Justice Department’s authorizing memorandum explained in 2003. “A deferred prosecution or non-prosecution agreement can help restore the integrity of a company’s operations and preserve the financial viability of a corporation that has engaged in criminal conduct.”

The favored argument for the more conciliatory approach was that criminal indictment may amount to a death sentence for a corporation. The fallout will destroy it, and the economy will lose valuable productive capacity. The collateral consequences are unfair to employees who lose jobs and stockholders who lose wealth. Corporate defenders cited Arthur Andersen, the giant accounting firm that imploded after it was convicted in 2002 of multiple offenses in Enron’s collapse. But was it the firm’s indictment or its criminal behavior that caused clients, accountants and investors to abandon it?

A better name for the Justice Department’s softened policy might be “too big to prosecute.”

Wanna rob a bank?  Don’t do it with a gun.  Just become its President and do what you want to do.

Here’s a disturbing headline from Egypt (h/t to Minx):Secret shame of Egypt’s army: Women protesters were forced to have ‘virginity checks’ after being arrested in Tahrir Square,

Women arrested by the Egyptian police during protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square were subjected to forced ‘virginity tests’, according to Amnesty International.

Eighteen demonstrators were detained after army officers cleared the square on March 9 at the end of weeks of protest.

Amnesty today said that the women had been beaten, given electric shocks and then subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers.

They were then given ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges if medics ruled they had had sex, according to the charity.

Just when you think things will get better, something comes along that just makes things look worse.

So, what’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Friday Reads

Good Morning!!

I’m hoping that Wisconsin represents a tipping point in Republican overreach.  Fourteen Democratic Senators from Wisconsin are holing up in a Best Western in Rockford Illinois while the Governor and State Senate President send out the state troopers to find them and bring them back for a vote they will lose. That’s right.  A United States Governor is using police tactics on elected officials.  He’s also ready to call out the national guard to deal with a lawful gathering of students, teachers, police officers, fire fighters, nurses, civil engineers, doctors, and file clerks.  It’s six am.  Do you know where your constitutional rights are?

Will this be the day that Republican attempts to remove collective bargaining rights from government workers ends? TPM has evidence that right wing Republican Governor Scott Walker Ginned up a Budget battle to bust state employee’s unions by passing irresponsible tax cuts the moment he hit the office.

“Walker was not forced into a budget repair bill by circumstances beyond he control,” says Jack Norman, research director at the Institute for Wisconsin Future — a public interest think tank. “He wanted a budget repair bill and forced it by pushing through tax cuts… so he could rush through these other changes.”

“The state of Wisconsin has not reached the point at which austerity measures are needed,” Norman adds.

In a Wednesday op-ed, the Capitol Times of Madison picked up on this theme.

In its Jan. 31 memo to legislators on the condition of the state’s budget, the Fiscal Bureau determined that the state will end the year with a balance of $121.4 million.

To the extent that there is an imbalance — Walker claims there is a $137 million deficit — it is not because of a drop in revenues or increases in the cost of state employee contracts, benefits or pensions. It is because Walker and his allies pushed through $140 million in new spending for special-interest groups in January.

Meanwhile, Republicans are escalating the rhetoric on budget doom and gloom–after pushing for draconian tax cuts for billionaires in December–on the Federal level too. Boehner is talking shutting down the Government once again.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Thursday ruled out a short-term government-funding bill that maintains current levels of federal spending, escalating a standoff with Democrats and President Obama that could result in a government shutdown.

“I am not going to move any kind of short-term [funding bill] at current levels,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference.

“When we say we’re going to cut spending, read my lips, we’re going to cut spending,” Boehner added, invoking George H.W. Bush’s infamous and ultimately broken pledge on taxes during the 1988 presidential campaign.

Democratic Senate leaders refused to budge, saying a short-term bill should keep current funding levels in place. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) likened Boehner’s comment to “throwing down the gauntlet.”

Let’s hope we get the same kind of Senate leadership on the national level as Wisconsin workers are getting from their Democratic Senators.  How do you build an economy when the decision makers do things that remove incomes and jobs from ordinary Americans?

Paul Krugman’s “Willie Sutton Wept” is a must read. He explains three things you need to know about the current budget debate.  I think it’s an important read because I spent some time last night listening to multiple news outlets filled with chattering class idiots insisting that all economists think the deficit is the most pressing problem the country faces.  I personally can’t name ONE economist that does.

There are three things you need to know about the current budget debate. First, it’s essentially fraudulent. Second, most people posing as deficit hawks are faking it. Third, while President Obama hasn’t fully avoided the fraudulence, he’s less bad than his opponents — and he deserves much more credit for fiscal responsibility than he’s getting.

About the fraudulence: Last month, Howard Gleckman of the Tax Policy Center described the president as the “anti-Willie Sutton,” after the holdup artist who reputedly said he robbed banks because that’s where the money is. Indeed, Mr. Obama has lately been going where the money isn’t, making a big deal out of a freeze on nonsecurity discretionary spending, which accounts for only 12 percent of the budget.

But that’s what everyone does. House Republicans talk big about spending cuts — but focus solely on that same small budget sliver.

And by proposing sharp spending cuts right away, Republicans aren’t just going where the money isn’t, they’re also going when the money isn’t. Slashing spending while the economy is still deeply depressed is a recipe for slower economic growth, which means lower tax receipts — so any deficit reduction from G.O.P. cuts would be at least partly offset by lower revenue.

The whole budget debate, then, is a sham. House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks.

We have a staggering rate of unemployment with underlying employment trends that are not good.  Some sectors of the economy, some groups of workers, and many states are in dire straights.  I would never believe that a group of people that have lived so close to the precipice that was The Great Depression can be suggesting what they are suggesting now.  Either they seriously want to take the country down or they are so stupid and corrupt that they know not what they are doing and they don’t care what they are doing.  Our economy is not by any real standard experiencing a good and sustained recovery from a devastating financial crisis.  There is weakness in nearly every sector. The only way to grow the economy and to eventually shrink the deficit is through job and economic growth.  Every decision maker that I hear these days is aiming policy in the opposite direction and taking away every single means available to make it so.

I’d just like to ask you one question.  Was your future destroyed by the burden of paying for the debt and deficits that resulted from World War 2?  We’re still paying that down so we should have had a really really horrible economy for the last 60 years if you follow the line of thought of these people screaming about the deficit.  Would you have rather they didn’t run any deficit and just called off the entire Omaha Beach thing?  Would your life had been better now for that decision?  Do you think your life would be better if they’d have not ever offered student loans, or PBS,  or undertaken the burden of an interstate system?  Do you feel your life is burdened by paying for the Interstate system?

Some times you have to take on long term debt for the big things.  We have a big country with a big GDP.  We can handle the debt.  What we can’t handle is sustained loss of jobs and incomes for the majority of people.   They’re downsizing all of us and upsizing their billionaire friends lives.  Every one of us should be willing to take to the street like the folks in Wisconsin to stop that.  Every Senator and Congressman that believes in the American Middle class should be willing to shut down the workings of congress if it’s necessary to stop this assault on public goods and public servants.

Pro-democracy protesters in the small monarchy of Bharain continues to experience the full force of government oppression in their struggle for reform.  American produced tear gas came into play yet again.

Armored cars are now patrolling the streets of the capital, and all further protests have been banned by the authorities. But sporadic clashes have occurred in different parts of the city.

A statement from the Ministry of Interior claimed that the authorities had attempted to negotiate a peaceful end to the demonstration.

“Security forces evacuated the area of Pearl Roundabout from protesters, after trying all opportunities for dialogue with them, in which some positively responded and left quietly,” the statement read.

However, human rights activists were quick to dismiss these reports, and Al Jazeera reported that the protesters were asleep when the police raid began and that medical staff attending the wounded were among those beaten by police.

The violence comes on the fourth consecutive day of protests since demonstrators staged a ‘Day of Rage’ on Feb. 14, with two protesters killed earlier in the week. In the aftermath of these fatalities, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa issued an apology and promised an investigation into excessive police violence.

Bahrain is an interesting Gulf Nation in that it has predominately Shia Muslim but the ruling family is Sunni.  Sunnis enjoy the majority of the wealth and benefits here as was the case in Iraq so there are tensions between the two sects. Most of the Gulf states are predominately Sunni. Sunnis represent the middle class here while Shia are poor.  There appears to be some interesting bedfellows made as a result of the protests.  Bahrain is an important US alley because of its strategic location as home for the US Navy’s fifth fleet.  It has a lot of natural gas but a small and dwindling amount of petroleum, as such, it is not as wealthy as many of its neighbors. The Al Khalifah dynasty appears unwilling to compromise at this point, but time will tell.

The SEC may be getting ready take Freddie Mac officials to court.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has escalated its investigation into mortgage financer Freddie Mac’s disclosures to investors and has notified at least one former official that it intends to file civil charges against him.

Anthony “Buddy” Piszel, who was chief financial officer of Freddie Mac from 2006 until 2008 when the government placed it in conservatorship, received a “Wells notice” from the SEC, according to Corelogic, a California company where he is chief financial officer. A Wells notice is an indication that the SEC staff intends to recommend to its five-member commission that it file civil charges. Corelogic disclosed the Wells notice on February 10 and said Mr Piszel had submitted his resignation, but would stay until June.

The SEC has investigated Freddie before for possible fraudulent accounting practices and problems related to disclosure and corporate governance. Freddie Mac was formed in the 1970s to give money to mortgage lenders to be used for house loans. It’s the largest buyer and packager of house loans in the mortgage market.  It is publicly held and currently bankrupt.

So, the world around us changing.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


This is a Democratic Adviser?

I have to admit to being with Digby on this one.   It’s getting more obvious to me that this Democratic Administration is going after our Social Security benefits with gusto.  You may recall that Peter Orzag was the Obama Budget Director and is now one of the major economic advisers to the President.  This contribution to the NYT is not the first flare to be fired, but it is a distinctly blinding one.

So, first Orzag admits that Social Security is not a federal deficit problem. You would think he’d end with that.  Social Security is an off budget program and it’s self funding and managing.  That’s the deal.  People pay for the benefits and they expect them.  It’s a third rail of politics and you’d think after Dubya’s adventures into handing the trust fund to Wall Street that would be all she wrote.  But, it’s not.  (Emphasis is mine on this.)

So it would be desirable to put the system on sounder financial footing. And that is precisely what the co-chairmen of President Obama’s bipartisan commission on reducing the national debt have bravely proposed to do. It’s too bad their proposal has been greeted with so much criticism, especially from progressives — who really should look at it as an opportunity to fix Social Security without privatizing it. Although the plan leans too much on future benefit reductions and not enough on revenue increases, it still offers a good starting point for reform.

The main flaw in the proposed Social Security plan is that it relies too little on revenue increases and too much on future benefit reductions. A reasonable objective would be a 50-50 balance between changes in benefits and changes in revenues. But the way to bring reform into better proportion is to adjust the components of this proposal, not to fundamentally remodel it.

Alrighty, so let’s first IGNORE the fact that the cat food commission had no real business sticking its nose into Social Security because it’s charter said it was to go after the Federal Deficit.  And, as Orzag has stated, Social Security is NO contributor to that deficit.

So, here’s where I agree with Digby.

I can hardly believe anyone of his stature could argue this nonsense. Orszag agrees that SS does not contribute to the long term deficit and yet is trying to convince us that that the Deficit Commission draft just put it on the table anyway, apparently out of a surfeit of progressive idealism. Huh? Moreover, he also thinks it makes sense to jump right on the third rail in American politics because it would be desirable” to do something about a potential future problem — when we are in the middle of an epic economic shitstorm with stubborn 10% unemployment and a banking and housing crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Is he ignorant of the fact that most people in this country are convinced — mainly because they’re being told it every single day by every politician, talking head and gasbag — that “entitlements” are destroying the economy and the future of the United States? The idea that social security cuts could buy the administration a chance for more stimulus is delusional.

Yup, delusional. And get this closer …

The White House has been handed a highly progressive reform plan for Social Security that could attract Republican support as well.

If this is progressive, I want to be known as something completely different.

This just seems to be the start of the swansong for the program.  BostonBoomer sent me this call for liberals to get on board with similar clarion calls today. It’s from USN and John Farrell.

Okay, my liberal friends. On Friday I explained why the proposals of the Simpson-Bowles commission should be welcomed, and put on the bargaining table by conservatives. Today I will argue, despite what Paul Krugman says, that there’s good stuff for liberals too.

Remember, first and foremost, that this is a starting point. You don’t have to buy into everything to keep the conversation going. And beware misinformation.

You know, this all seems to assume that we don’t have Democratic pols that make Faustian bargains with themselves before they even start dealing with the Republicans.  I have to admit that I’m with Krugman on this one too.

Right at the beginning of his administration, what Mr. Obama needed to do, above all, was fight for an economic plan commensurate with the scale of the crisis. Instead, he negotiated with himself before he ever got around to negotiating with Congress, proposing a plan that was clearly, grossly inadequate — then allowed that plan to be scaled back even further without protest. And the failure to act forcefully on the economy, more than anything else, accounts for the midterm “shellacking.”

You expect any one to fight for what’s right in Social Security given recent history like Krugman identifies?  I don’t. No hope or expectation of it at all.  After all, a major Presidential Advisor just call Allan Simpson brave instead of being labeled the crazy old coot he is.