Thursday Reads

Einstein reading

Good Morning!

The New York Times has added more fodder for the Republicans’ Benghazi attacks. James Risen Mark Mazzetti and Michael S. Schmidt report that: U.S.-Approved Arms for Libya Rebels Fell Into Jihadis’ Hands.

The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats.

Of course there’s no evidence that this had anything to do with the Benghazi attacks, but I’m sure that won’t stop Senators McNasty, Huckleberry Closetcase, and their new pal Senator Kelley Ayotte from pretending otherwise.

No evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris during the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi to the attack that killed four Americans at the United States diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, in September.

But in the months before, the Obama administration clearly was worried about the consequences of its hidden hand in helping arm Libyan militants, concerns that have not previously been reported. The weapons and money from Qatar strengthened militant groups in Libya, allowing them to become a destabilizing force since the fall of the Qaddafi government.

Also at the NYT, Jared Bernstein once again explains why politicians (and the media) in the Village need to stop obsessing on taxes and start focusing in increasing employment and, along with it, consumer demand.

WITH the budget-and-tax showdown dominating headlines, most Americans probably missed an even more ominous story: according to a report by the Congressional Budget Office, America’s underlying growth rate — that is, the best the economy could do, under optimal conditions, without driving up inflation — has slowed from just under 4 percent a year in 2000 to just under 2 percent today.

Why does this matter? For one thing, the combination of a lower underlying growth rate, which you could think of as the economy’s speed limit, and a less equitable distribution of that growth was a reason middle-income households did so badly and poverty went up in the 2000s.

During the 1990s, in contrast, stronger demand for goods and services led to much faster job growth and the last real gains experienced by middle- and lower-income households. Faster growth in those years also spun off a lot more government revenues, which interacted with slightly higher tax rates to take the budget from deficit to surplus.

Read the whole thing and fantasize what we could be doing if we had smarter leadership in DC.

Back in Republican la-la land, Joel Kotkin at Forbes claims that blue states are committing suicide by supporting raising tax rates on the rich.

With their enthusiastic backing of President Obama and the Democratic Party on Election Day, the bluest parts of America may have embraced a program utterly at odds with their economic self-interest. The almost uniform support of blue states’ congressional representatives for the administration’s campaign for tax “fairness” represents a kind of bizarre economic suicide pact.

Any move to raise taxes on the rich — defined as households making over $250,000 annually — strikes directly at the economies of these states, which depend heavily on the earnings of high-income professionals, entrepreneurs and technical workers. In fact, when you examine which states, and metropolitan areas, have the highest concentrations of such people, it turns out they are overwhelmingly located in the bluest states and regions.

Really? Then how come we did so much better under the Clinton tax rates in the ’90s? After all, that’s all that is happening–except that the first $250,000 of these poor rich people’s money will still be taxed at the Bush rates. But that’s not how Kotkin sees it.

The people whose wallets will be drained in the new war on “the rich” are high-earning, but hardly plutocratic professionals like engineers, doctors, lawyers, small business owners and the like. Once seen as the bastion of the middle class, and exemplars of upward mobility, these people are emerging as the modern day “kulaks,” the affluent peasants ruthlessly targeted by Stalin in the early 1930s.

OMB!! “Wallets…drained!” “Stalin!” Let’s all freak out!

The ironic geography of the Democratic drive can be seen most clearly by examining the distribution of the classes now targeted by the coming purge. The top 10 states with the largest percentage of “rich” households under the Obama formula include true blue bastions Washington, D.C., which has the highest concentration of big earners, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, California and Hawaii. The only historic “swing state” in the top six is Virginia, due largely to the presence of the affluent suburbs of the capital. These same states, according to the Tax Foundation, would benefit the most from an extension of the much-lambasted Bush tax cuts.

Hey Joel, maybe it’s not all about taxes, even though that’s all that seems to matter to you. Maybe some blue state folks think the whole economy would benefit if more people got back to work, earned some money and spent it–as suggested by Jared Bernstein in yesterday’s NYT (see above).

As Zandar notes, Kotkin then goes on to show how Republicans can use the home mortgage deduction and other methods to punish the blue state richies for voting for Obama.

– Keep the tax rate on capital gains the same.

– Raise income taxes on the top income bracket for 2013, those making $398,350 and up (single filers, married joint filers, or head of household).

– Means-test, or eliminate entirely, the mortgage interest deduction (which benefits taxpayers in areas with the highest real estate values and mortgages – i.e., Hawaii, D.C., New York, California and Connecticut).

– Means-test or eliminate entirely the federal deduction of state and local taxes, which is disproportionately utilized by those in high-tax blue states: “In 2005, taxpayers in California and New York together made up 20 percent of those claiming the deduction and accounted for 30 percent of its value. Itemizers in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and California claimed on average over $12,000 per household.”

Talk about a sore loser! Kotkin must be really bitter about Romney’s failure to get those blue state dopes to vote for him.

Meanwhile all those Romney voters in the red states are dreaming about seceding from the union. But if they did, asks The Nation, “Who’d Pay for Their Massive Government Handouts?”

In the wake of Obama’s victory, citizens in several states submitted petitions to secede from the United States. It is something of an irony that the very states seeking secession from “big government”—like Louisiana and Alabama—have been among the top beneficiaries of that selfsame government. Put bluntly, the government would be far smaller without them, and they would seriously struggle far more without it. Indeed, were they to become independent, most would be failed states in need of a bailout. Only this time their benefactor would be not the federal government but the International Monetary Fund, of which the United States is the principal donor. Louisiana and Alabama would go the way of Greece and Spain.

Oh, the irony of it all! And here’s another irony for Republicans to chew on. From TPM: Why Insurers Are Wary Of Raising The Medicare Age

House Republican leaders want to avoid the fiscal cliff with a proposal that would gradually raise the Medicare eligibility age to 67. Democrats are broadly reluctant to cut benefits, but President Obama was willing to accept the policy last year in failed deficit reduction talks with House Speaker John Boehner, and top Democrats have left the door open to including that measure in a grand budget bargain.

It may seem counter-intuitive: why would an industry threatened by government insurance not want it to shrink?

The reason: hiking the Medicare eligibility age would throw seniors aged 65 and 66 off Medicare and into the private market, forcing insurers, who will soon be required to cover all consumers regardless of health status, to care for a sicker, more expensive crop of patients.

“The risk pool issue is important,” the insurance industry source said. “[I]f you add more older and sicker people to the pool, that’s definitely going to have any impact on premiums.”

The policy would save the federal government $113 billion over a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But it achieves that by raising the cost of private insurance: the Kaiser Family Foundation projected that a Medicare age of 67 would raise costs for under-65 patients by an average of $141 in 2014. (In practice it would be phased in.)

Duh!

And even more Republican stupidity: Right wing nutcases are all bent out of shape because their favorite crazy propaganda movie didn’t get any Oscar nominations.

Gerald Molan, the director of the extremely anti-Obama movie, 2016: Obama’s America , is mad that his and Dinesh D’Souza’s film [“2016”] wasn’t on the shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award.

“The action confirms my opinion that the bias against anything from a conservative point of view is dead on arrival in Hollywood circles,” he complained to the Hollywood Reporter.

It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact that the movie is based on a pack of lies and right wing conspiracy theories, could it?

To cleanse your palate of right wing and DC craziness, try watching this video from NASA that show views of the Earth from space. Here’s a still shot:

new-view-earth-at-night-usa_62009_600x450

So what are you reading and blogging about today? I’ve been a little out of the loop for the past couple of days, so I look forward to clicking on your links!


Wednesday Reads

Good Morning!!!

The infighting for Democratic party leadership positions is getting heated.  The Hill highlights the struggle between Clyburn and Hoyer for minority whip status.  Clyburn is calling shennanigans on Hoyer but both insist the squabble doesn’t signal a party split.

Clyburn, currently the majority whip, said Majority Leader Hoyer’s strategy of releasing the names of his supporters is threatening a process that is historically “about respecting and honoring” fellow Democrats.

“This is not about playing the numbers game,” Clyburn told The Hill outside Washington’s Newseum when asked about his whip count . “This is about respecting and honoring the members of our caucus in such a way that they will be comfortable with the process.

“I don’t see how you maintain a comfort level for all of our members by rolling out these names. I don’t think it does the process any real good. I’ve never done it; I’m not going to do it.”

It must be getting bad since CNN reported a letter by some congress critters suggesting that a delayed leadership election might be in the best interest of the upcoming lame duck session. A copy of the letter is available at the link.

Reps. Marcy Kaptur (D- Ohio) and Peter Defazio (D-Oregon) say in the letter that the “historic results” of the Democrat’s 60-seat loss in the House is one reason to push back leadership selection.

The letter comes as the soon-to-be former House Democratic majority leaders are embroiled in a controversy over who will lead the Democrats when the House changes to Republican hands in January.

Defazio is a known critic of the Democratic leadership and has vocalized his opposition to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D- California) remaining in a leadership role. Kaptur has occasionally broken with leadership, but her spokesman told CNN that Kaptur’s request to delay the elections is not about Pelosi, but about giving Democratic members some time to return to Washington and discuss future moves for all leadership slots before any decisions are made.

Meanwhile the Republicans–despite a good election year– are still trying to get rid of Michael Steele.  Well, that’s if you believe the NYT.

So far, the effort has been tentative, with Mr. Steele’s most ardent opponents working behind the scenes to persuade an alternative to run against him — fearful that any overt moves will create a backlash in Mr. Steele’s favor among those committee members who tend to view the establishment in Washington with suspicion.

One man leading the effort is a Mississippi Republican Party committeeman, Henry Barbour, who is a nephew of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi — a former chairman of the Republican National Committee, himself. Governor Barbour is said by people involved in the discussions to be among those eager to see a change at the top of the party and recently criticized party fund-raising under Mr. Steele.

Officials close to the presumed new House speaker, Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, and the Senate minority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said that both men would prefer a new chairman as well, but that they were also resigned to Mr. Steele’s continued leadership should no clear alternative emerge to defeat him.

In an interview Tuesday night, Henry Barbour said, “I like Mike Steele, and I’ve worked hard to support him as chairman.” But, he added, “I do think we have to make a change, and I have actively talked to some other members in the last week or so and encouraged a few of them to consider running.”

The CEO of Cigna doesn’t think that repealing the U.S. Health Reform law is a worthwhile endeavor.  What exactly does that say?  There’s a lot of talk about how the industry is gearing up for the changes already and the trouble that any additional major changes would cost.  Is this why some GOPers are standing down from their earlier threats to move for repeal?  Or, is it some other industry reason?  This is from Reuters.

“I don’t think it’s in our society’s best interest to expend energy in repealing the law,” David Cordani told the Reuters Health Summit in New York. “Our country expended over a year of sweat equity around the formation of it.”

Debate over the law, passed in March, has reignited after Republican gains in last week’s congressional election. The party promised to overturn the overhaul, but some leaders have backed off, saying they would target specific changes and funding.

There’s a great blog entry by EmptyWheel at FDL about the DOJ decision that basically infers its’ okay to cover up torture and destroy the evidence if you’re the CIA and it’s in the name of terrorism.  You can read how no criminal charges will be sought against the CIA at the NYT. Then, go read the the FDL blog piece.  Why is it even called the Department of JUSTICE any more?

Of course no one will be charged for destroying the evidence of torture! Our country has spun so far beyond holding the criminals who run our country accountable that even the notion of accountability for torture was becoming quaint and musty while we waited and screamed for some kind of acknowledgment that Durham had let the statute of limitations on the torture tape destruction expire. I doubt they would have even marked the moment–yet another criminal investigation of the Bush Administration ending in nothing–it if weren’t for the big stink bmaz has been making. Well, maybe that’s not right–after all, Bob Bennett was bound to do a very public victory lap, because that’s what he’s paid for.

The investigation continues, DOJ tells us, into obstruction of the Durham investigation itself. Maybe they think they’ve caught someone like Porter Goss in a lie. But at this point, that almost seems like a nice story the prosecutors are telling themselves so they can believe they’re still prosecutors, so they can believe we still have rule of law in this country.

This inquiry started long before Obama started looking forward, not backward. It started before the White House allowed the Chief of Staff to override the Attorney General on Gitmo and torture. It started before we found out that someone had destroyed many of the torture documents at DOJ–only to find no one at DOJ cared. It started before the Obama DOJ made up silly reasons why Americans couldn’t see what the Vice President had to say about ordering the leak of a CIA officer’s identity. It started before the Obama White House kept invoking State Secrets to cover up Bush’s crimes, from illegal wiretapping, to kidnapping, to torture. It started at a time when we naively believed that Change might include putting the legal abuses of the past behind us.

This inquiry started before the Obama Administration assumed the right to kill American citizens with no due process–all the while invoking State Secrets to hide that, too.

Explain to me again how this a change from the Dubya/Cheney years?  You can read the WAPO take here. I swear, the more I read about some of what’s not happening with the worst abuses of the Dubya/Cheney years, the more I get convinced we’re just in their third term.

David Leonhardt at Economix is calling the recent gold highs as not so high as you think.  Leonhardt says that most of the gold quotes are in nominal and not real terms (i.e. adjusted for inflation over time).  He does the math so you don’t have to.

Gold is at a record only if you fail to adjust for inflation. And you should almost always adjust for inflation. Otherwise, you end up with a series of meaningless records — Gold reaches record high! Oil reaches record high! Lettuce reaches record high! — that depend on the fact that a dollar in 2010 does not have the same value as a dollar did in, say, 1980.

More than a month ago, Ryan Chittum of The Columbia Journalism Review noticed the epidemic of supposed gold records and urged those of us in the media to stop. As he explained, the actual record was set 30 years ago, when the price of gold, in today’s dollars, hit $2,318 — or 65 percent higher than it closed on Monday.

This isn’t simply a question of math. Anyone who says gold is at a record high (or who said oil was several years ago) is getting the story wrong. Why? Because $10 today is not more valuable than $9 a few decades ago. Claiming otherwise is tantamount to saying that 10 rupees is more valuable than $9 because 10 is a bigger number than 9.

Getting information out of any one responsible for the BP Oil Gusher is not quite an act of Congress, but almost.  The EPA had to subpoena Halliburton to get that data on the “fracking” chemicals. And no, that’s not my way of avoiding the cuss word, there actually is something called “fracking” chemicals.  The story is on HuffPo.

The Environmental Protection Agency subpoenaed energy giant Halliburton Tuesday, seeking a description of the chemical components used in a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing.

The EPA said it issued the subpoena after Texas-based Halliburton refused to voluntarily disclose the chemicals used in the controversial drilling practice, also known as “fracking.” Halliburton was the only one of nine major energy companies that refused the EPA’s request.

The agency said the information is important to its study of fracking, in which crews inject millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and chemicals underground to force open channels in sand and rock formations so oil and natural gas will flow.

The EPA is studying whether the practice affects drinking water and the public health.

Now, if we could only get our fracking checks down here.

“There continue to be obvious deficiencies with the claims system,” said Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services Secretary Ruth Johnson, who, along with the Division of Administration, is overseeing the state’s role in the oil spill claims process. “An emergency payment should not take six months to process. For people waiting on those payments, the six month delay has moved from an emergency status, to one of survival. Although the Gulf Coast Claims Facility’s (GCCF) claims system is an improvement over BP’s, the state believes that claims need to be processed faster, a priority scale be implemented and baseline compensation models used for claimants who can prove their profession but not their income.”

Since Feinberg took over from BP processing oil spill claims, the GCCF has paid out more than $1.6 billion, $612 million of that in Louisiana. However, despite that large figure, only 23 percent of claims filed in Louisiana have been approved for payment

[MABlue here] You’ve probably all heard that George W. Bush has released a Mt Vesuvius-size of dog droppings an autobiography. Some people have been documenting the absurdity. Here are a couple of must-read:

The UK Guardian has a really good play-by-play of the book release, along with great comments.
George Bush’s memoirs published – as it happened

Professor Stephen Walt went through “Decision Points” and had this to say:
Delusion Points

Don’t fall for the nostalgia — George W. Bush’s foreign policy really was that bad.

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder says George Bush is a liar in addition to being delusional:
Bush-Schröder Enmity Continues in Memoirs

[Schröder] Ssaid Bush used “almost Biblical semantics” and, in reference to the US president’s repeated mentions of his faith, wrote: “The problem begins when the impression is created that political decisions are a result of this conversation with God.”

On Tuesday, the day that Bush’s own presidential memoirs, “Decision Points,” finally hit the shelves, Schröder went even further. “The former American president is not telling the truth,” he said on Tuesday in Berlin.

Schröder was referring to a passage in Bush’s memoirs in which the former president described a meeting that took place between the two leaders in the White House on Jan. 31, 2002. Bush writes that, when he told Schröder that he would pursue diplomacy against Iraq but would use military force should the need arise, the German leader responded, “‘What is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.'”

Matthew Norman of the UK Independent has my favorite review. This is unbeatable.
How did this wastrel ever find his way to the White House?

It takes a certain minimal intelligence for the truly dim to have a notion of their own dimness, but this is denied George Bush. He has the self-awareness of a bison.

[…]

Apparently he concludes his memoir Decision Points with the familiar anecdote of how, within days of leaving Washington, he was picking up his dog’s mess with a plastic bag in a Texas park. Evidently he regards this as a cute vignette of the transience of power, as well as his own endearing lack of pomp. Yet what causes the stab of pity is the stupidity at which it hints.

How could anyone in possession of a three-figure IQ (still a moot point with Bush) fail to see what a golden gift that image is to satirists?

His mere resurgence brought back some memories. Here’s a witness account:
Bush: “I probably won’t even vote for McCain”

A group of British dignitaries, including Gordon Brown, were paying a visit. It was at the height of the 2008 presidential election campaign, not long after Bush publicly endorsed John McCain as his successor.

Naturally the election came up in conversation. Trying to be even-handed and polite, the Brits said something diplomatic about McCain’s campaign, expecting Bush to express some warm words of support for the Republican candidate.

Not a chance. “I probably won’t even vote for the guy,” Bush told the group, according to two people present.“I had to endorse him. But I’d have endorsed Obama if they’d asked me.”

We already knew there was no love lost between Bush and McCain. I think Bush voted for Obama.

Oh, before I go, let me bring you this earth-shattering announcement from Captain Obvious:
Tony Hayward says BP was ‘not prepared’ for the Gulf oil spill

The former boss of BP Tony Hayward has admitted that the company was “not prepared” to deal with fallout over the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the media “feeding frenzy” surrounding it.

No kidding, Einstein!

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?

Business Week Declares the Winners in Health Care Reform

Business Week suggests you get to know your Insurance CEOs and I agree... UHC's Helmsley (a high flying member of the bonus class)

Business Week suggests you get to know your Insurance CEOs and I agree... UHC's Hemsley (a high flying member of the bonus class)

And guess what… it isn’t you and me. Here’s the front page story from August 6th, 2009.

The Health Insurers Have Already Won: How UnitedHealth and rival carriers, maneuvering behind the scenes in Washington, shaped health-care reform for their own benefit

All this back and forth on rw/lw blogs about whose grass roots are nuttier or meaner or better organized is cute, but while this debate on how many wingers can fit on the tip of a town hall meeting goes on, the real health care anti-reform is happening on K Street. The circus only stops you from looking at the men behind the curtain. Not one teabagger or ACORN rent-a-protester or you or the rest of us are part of the real conversation. Shouldn’t our focus be on why the Health Insurance is happy about what’s going on? Uh, maybe while you’re all throwing memes at each other, some one should be watching the pile of money on the floor that’s disappearing before our very eyes? The Democrats have the votes to make this pass. BUT, wtf are they passing? You really think this is an obsequious foot in the door?

As the health reform fight shifts this month from a vacationing Washington to congressional districts and local airwaves around the country, much more of the battle than most people realize is already over. The likely victors are insurance giants such as UnitedHealth Group (UNH), Aetna (AET), and WellPoint (WLP). The carriers have succeeded in redefining the terms of the reform debate to such a degree that no matter what specifics emerge in the voluminous bill Congress may send to President Obama this fall, the insurance industry will emerge more profitable. Health reform could come with a $1 trillion price tag over the next decade, and it may complicate matters for some large employers. But insurance CEOs ought to be smiling.

Executives from UnitedHealth certainly showed no signs of worry on the mid-July day that Senate Democrats proposed to help pay for reform with a new tax on the insurance industry. Instead, UnitedHealth parked a shiny 18-wheeler outfitted with high-tech medical gear near the Capitol and invited members of Congress aboard. Inside the mobile diagnostic center, which enables doctors to examine distant patients via satellite television, Representative Jim Matheson didn’t disguise his wonderment. “Fascinating, fascinating,” said the Democrat from Utah. “Amazing.”

Okay, did you take a deep breath long enough to read that highlighted line? Do you realize that all we’re doing with the current format is giving these guys new customers to fleece with their 30% mark-up? Is that a good deal? That’s worth a symbolic vote for single payer and an inkle of a public option? A few more folks in 2013 join the fleecing of the ill while it’s paid for by throwing children off SCHIP and removing benefits from Medicare? Are liberals really fighting for THAT? Are conservatives thinking THAT’s socialism?

What fresh hell is this?

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