Monday Reads

bohemiaGood Morning!

Last week, I wrote about the debacle behind the study that was used to promote fiscal austerity in a time when just the opposite policy is prescribed by economic theory.  One of the big questions I had was if the results of study’s hypothesis was now insignificant–which in scientific method  means the conclusions were not proven–would we see a stop to these crazy austerity policy pushers. We’ve learned the answer is no.  Dumber and Dumber–heads of the so-called cat food commission–who couldn’t lead their committee to a written conclusion are on the road touting their call to deficit hysteria based on the always controversial and now highly flawed study.

On April 19, just after I had written about how the key academic research used to bolster austerity policies was exposed by a 28-year-old grad student at U Mass-Amherst, I got a surprise in my email inbox: Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson giddily announced their new deficit-reduction plan, which includes, among other things, a recommendation to increase the eligibility age for Medicare. Their plan would reduce debt as a share of GDP below 70 percent by 2023, and as the Washington Post reports, “seeks far less in new taxes than the original, and it seeks far more in savings from federal health programs for the elderly.”

What’s incredible is that over the last week, the study by Harvard economists Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff that famously warned of the dangers of government debt has been proven to be riddled with errors and questionable methodology. To recap: R&R’s paper purported to show that countries with public debt in excess of 90 percent of gross domestic product suffered negative economic growth. Austerity hawks everywhere used it to justify cuts that have cost people jobs and vital services. The original spreadsheet used by R&R was obtained by a U Mass grad student, who found that in addition to the mistakes already noted by several economists, there was a coding error in their Excel spreadsheet that significantly changed the results of their study.

As New York magazine’s Jon Chait has pointed out, that same discredited research has been used by Bowles and Simpson to formulate their deficit-reducing austerity plans.

You simply cannot get these tools of the plutocracy to come clean.  They’re going to go down with the stupidity and are trying to bring the rest of the country with them.

I promised myself to make sure we pointed to injustice and suffering around the world as well as our own home towns.  Today I want to provide information about Myanmar–a country I’ve spent time studying and a country trying to change–with a history of brutal ethnic cleansing of its Muslim minority population.

Ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity have been committed against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya people, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW), a New York-based nongovernmental organisation.

According to the report released on Monday, entitled All You Can Do is Pray, more than 125,000 ethnic Rohingya have been forcibly displaced since two waves of violence in May and October 2012.

Satellite images show almost 5,000 structures on land mostly owned by Muslim Rohingya have been destroyed, says the report.

The October attacks, the report states, were coordinated by Myanmar government officials, an ethnic Rakhine nationalist party and Buddhist monks. The deadliest attack took place on October 23, in which witnesses say at least 70 Rohingya – including 28 children – were massacred in Mrauk-U township.

The UN has described the Rohingya as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world.

Most Rohingya who live in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state are denied citizenship by the Myanmar government, which claims they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh and often refers to them as “Bengali”.

The Myanmar government has done nothing to prevent the violence, alleges the report, and at times government forces have joined in the attacks on the Rohingya.

“The Burmese government engaged in a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya that continues today through the denial of aid and restrictions on movement,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said.

“The government needs to put an immediate stop to the abuses and hold the perpetrators accountable or it will be responsible for further violence against ethnic and religious minorities in the country.”

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I am so ashamed to read that Buddhist monks may have been participants. They have been targets themselves and this behavior violates the most important teaching of the Buddha which is the vow of non harming. No real Buddhist would participate in such horrors.

I also wanted to mention the return of CISPA and its impact on internet users in this country.  This was slipped back into Congress while we were all watching Boston.

Described as “misguided” and “fatally flawed” by the two largest US privacy groups, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) threatens the online privacy of ordinary US residents more so than any other Bill since Congress amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008.

Its sole purpose is to allow private sector firms to search personal and sensitive user data of ordinary US residents to identify this so-called “threat information”, and to then share that information with each other and the US government — without the need for a warrant.

By citing “cybersecurity”, it allows private firms to hand over private user data while circumventing existing privacy laws, such as the Wiretap Act and the Stored Communications Act. This means that CISPA can permit private firms to share your data, such as emails, text messages, and cloud-stored documents and files, with the US government.

It also gives these firms legal protection to hand over such data. There is no judicial oversight.

To make matters worse, because there is little transparency and individual accountability, those who have had their data handed to the US government may not even know about it or be given a chance to challenge it.

Norway’s ruling party is pushing for drilling around environmentally sensitive areas in the Arctic Circle.  Could this impact a return to attempts to drill the area by US Oil companies?  I hope this doesn’t lead to a race to destroy ANWR

Norway took a major step towards opening up an environmentally sensitive Arctic area to oil and gas exploration when the ruling Labour Party gave the go-ahead on Sunday for an impact study.

Exploration in the waters around the Lofoten islands just above the Arctic circle is becoming one of the most contentious issues for parliamentary elections in September.

The picturesque area had been off limits because it is home to the world’s richest cod stocks, with environmental groups and the tourism industry opposed to any development.

The Labour party voted for the study, a precursor to any exploration, but also said it would take another vote in 2015, before actual drilling could begin.

Oil is the Norwegian economy’s lifeblood – the nation is the world’s seventh-biggest oil exporter and western Europe’s biggest gas supplier.

Its sprawling offshore energy sector continuously needs new areas to explore to halt the decline in production and energy firms have argued that they should be allowed to investigate the Lofoten islands.

Norway’s oil production will fall to a 25-year low this year as North Sea fields mature. Even a series of recent big finds, like the giant Johan Sverdrup field, which could hold over 3 billion barrels of oil, will only arrest the decline.

Waters off Lofoten are estimated to hold 8 percent of Norway’s undiscovered oil and gas resources with seismic tests identifying 50 prospects that could hold recoverable reserves or around 1.27 billion barrels of oil equivalent, the petroleum directorate said earlier.

With Labour’s support, Norway’s top three parties now favor exploration in the area, raising the chance that the next government would begin the process.

15-japan-mag024So, here’s what Boston’s “union thugs” will be doing this morning: Boston Teamsters vs. Westboro Baptist Church: Teamsters to form a human shield at Bombing victim’s funeral,  Look out BB and our Boston friends!  These Westboro folks have come to disrupt funerals there.  Down here, our Bikers block them.

Teamsters from Local 25 in Boston will protect the family of bombing victim Krystle Campbell during her funeral tomorrow morning. Members of the Westboro Baptist Church are expected to protest.

The Associated Press reports,

Family and friends are saying final good-byes to Krystle Campbell, one of the three people who lost their lives in the bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.

A wake for Campbell is being held Sunday at a funeral home in Medford, where the 29-year-old restaurant manager was raised and graduated from high school in 2001. A private funeral is scheduled for Monday at St. Joseph Church.Local 25 was contacted by some concerned citizens of Medford asking for help to keep members of the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell, scheduled for tomorrow morning at 10 AM in Medford.

Local 25 President Sean O’Brien asked all off-duty Teamsters to participate:

Teamsters Local 25 will be out in full force tomorrow morning at St. Joseph’s Church in Medford to form a human shield and block the Westboro Baptist Church from protesting the funeral of Krystle Campbell. The Campbell family and friends have already endured immeasurable amounts of heartache and tragedy this week, and deserve a peaceful funeral with time to grieve privately.

Westboro Baptist Church should understand that we will go to great lengths to make sure they don’t protest any funerals of the victims of the past week’s tragedies, and that those we lost receive a proper burial.

Teamsters Local 25 represents 11,000 hardworking men and women from the Boston area.

There are three dead from the bombing.  Westboro is also connected to a law firm that makes money from the antics of these folks.  They usually claim their first amendment rights were violated and then collect government money defending their case.

And just because I’ve quit watching CNN around a year ago after watching the station for years, I thought I’d end with this: “Last Week, CNN Itself Became the Poop Cruise”. Frankly, I’ve thought they were full of it and lacking substance for some time.

As reactions to the media’s handling (or rather, mishandling) of breaking news during a busy week continue to flow in, perhaps none is more condemning than David Carr’s latest column in The New York Times. The media critic came down hard on correspondent John King, newly appointed chief Jeff Zucker and the rest of the CNN news team that famously fumbled during the aftermath of the Boston bombing and hunt for the suspects. Most notably, the network erroneously reported the arrest of a suspect on Wednesday, when everybody now knows that a suspect wasn’t arrested until Friday when police found Dzokhar Tsarnaev hiding in the back of a boat.

Carr has an analogy for that. In discussing the mistake, one that more than one person described as “devastating,” Carr reminded us of the most recent moment that CNN’s stolen the limelight — perhaps not in a good way:

It was not the worst mistake of the week — The New York Post all but fingered two innocent men in a front-page picture — but it was a signature error for a live news channel. … Until now, the defining story in the Zucker era had been a doomed cruise ship that lost power and was towed to port, where its beleaguered passengers dispersed. This week, CNN seemed a lot like that ship.

Zing. Inevitably, Carr’s piece comes off almost as apologetic. In his parting words, the veteran journalist points out how even the president “wants CNN to be good.” So when it’s bad, it’s hard to watch.

I’m just praying for a better week and that we can get some attention on the small town of West Texas that really needs our help.

What’s you your reading and blogging list today?


The Sequestration Blues: Part 2 Pete Peterson Creates a Crisis

Web-caphill01-0212Ben Bernanke joined the chorus of economists concerned about the impact of the sequester on the sluggish recovery.  This is not the first time the Fed chair has commented on misguided and dysfunctional Fiscal Policy in our country.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress risks slowing the economy by allowing $85 billion in automatic spending cuts to be triggered on Friday, arguing they should be replaced with more deliberate, long-term cuts.

In prepared testimony for the Senate Banking Committee, Bernanke argued the sequester would pose a “significant headwind” to the economic recovery.

 “Given the still-moderate underlying pace of economic growth, this additional near-term burden on the recovery is significant,” he warned.Bernanke did not offer an opinion on whether tax hikes should be included as part of a replacement bill, and he did not call for any specific entitlement reforms.

Meanwhile, the White House released reports on how the expected cuts will impact states.  This undoubtedly will trigger more Republican whining on how mean the President continues to be to them as they continue their role as economic agents of chaos.

In Kentucky, home of the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, residents woke up on Monday to news articles like these: Widespread government spending cuts that begin on Friday will cost 21,484 jobs in the state. A construction project at Fort Knox will come to a halt. Three airports may endure partial shutdowns. Nearly $12 million in grants to public schools would be cut, putting at risk the jobs of 160 teachers and aides. More than 1,000 children would lose access to Head Start.

The White House released warnings for every state on Sunday in the hope that angry voters would besiege Republican lawmakers like Mr. McConnell and the House speaker, John Boehner, to stop the $85 billion in cuts, known as a sequester. President Obama wants to replace the sequester with a mix of tax increases on the rich and less damaging spending reductions. Republicans say they won’t consider any proposal that isn’t all cuts, so the sequester is all but certain to begin this week.

SequesterThere’s a fairly good list of the types of spending items that will be subject to cuts at the Bipartisan Policy Center.

Setting aside the magnitude of the reductions, the most difficult aspect of both the defense and domestic cuts is that they will be made across the board to all non-exempt government spending regardless of programs’ merits or demerits.*** The reductions designed by law are executed at the Program, Project & Activity (PPA) level of the federal budget, sometimes defined in appropriations bills and which often includes very granular categories of expenditures, such as “two Virginia Class Submarines” or “salaries and benefits” of a particular agency.

Absent a new law passed by Congress, the president has little ability to spare one type of spending and cut more from another. This creates uncertainty in both the public and private sector because there remains much to be determined about how PPAs will be defined by agency administrators and how the cuts will be implemented. This inability to plan is already acting as a drag on economic growth.

Furthermore, the immediate and across the board nature of the cuts, along with their magnitude concentrated in a seven-month period, will impair economic growth as the year progresses. At BPC, we estimated last year that the sequester would reduce 2013 gross domestic product (GDP) growth by half a percentage point, and would cost the economy approximately one million jobs over the next two years. More recent estimates released by the CBO and Macroeconomic Advisors have roughly confirmed these projections.

Given all of this, you would think that most congress critterz would want to avoid the sequester.  However, there’s that same group of tea party crazies that are so disconnected from an evidence-based reality  it appears congress will tank the economy rather than develop a cogent Fiscal Policy related to economic theory and the state of the economy itself.

The White House strategy on the sequester was built around a familiar miscalculation about Republicans. It assumed that, in the end, they would be reasonable and negotiate a realistic alternative to indiscriminate cuts. Because the reductions hurt defense programs long held sacrosanct by Republicans, the White House thought it had leverage that would reduce the damage to the domestic programs favored by Democrats.

It turns out, though, that the defense hawks in the party are outnumbered. More Republicans seem to care about reducing spending at all costs, and the prospect of damaging vital government programs does not seem to bother them. “Fiscal questions trump defense in a way they never would have after 9/11,” Representative Tom Cole, a Republican of Oklahoma, told The Times. “But the war in Iraq is over. Troops are coming home from Afghanistan, and we want to secure the cuts.”

Cuts this draconian have no place in a tottering economy. But, realistically, the only way to break this standoff is for the cuts to exact their toll on daily life, causing Republicans to face pressure from the public to negotiate an alternative plan with higher revenues in March as part of talks to finance the government for the final six months of the fiscal year.

It’s difficult to believe that so many folks can be so misguided about the need to drastically cut the budget. Read the rest of this entry »


Incestuous Amplification and the Beltway Feedback Loop

PaulKrugman_TiredSo, all you kind folks that get up way too early in the morning for my tastes and habits sent me to the Morning Joe website to watch Paul Krugman commit beltway heresy.  I actually had to play it twice to believe my eyes.

I am reminded of the occasional student that would turn up in a freshmen class and proceed to school the professor on his subject.  I saw this when I went to university and I experienced it when I taught freshmen classes.   For some reason, all your education, experience, research, and accolades matter naught before people who are absolutely convinced they are right because they just are. I’ve been watching for  the internet reactions and they’re wonderful.  None is better than Krugman’s response who likens it to the drumbeat leading up to the invasion of Iraq.  Even though the evidence was weak and called bogus by experts, we invaded a country with the incestuous amplification of the villagers who really wanted to be war correspondents.

No matter how much proof we have that austerity makes things worse and the current deficit is cyclical, there are a bunch of those in the press that insist they’re not, well … just because they really love the idea of Simpson-Bowles and the unnecessary suffering that would be induced by a study that their committee wouldn’t even approve.  I don’t know why they want to induce unnecessary suffering but maybe it has something to do with not being impacted but being able to report from the middle of homeless and starving grannies.

Krugman called it “Incestuous Amplification, Economics Edition”.

Back during the early days of the Iraq debacle, I learned that the military has a term for how highly dubious ideas become not just accepted, but viewed as certainties. “Incestuous amplification” happen when a closed group of people repeat the same things to each other – and when accepting the group’s preconceptions itself becomes a necessary ticket to being in the in-group. A fundamentally flawed notion – say, that the Germans can’t possibly attack though the Ardennes – becomes part of what everyone knows, where “everyone” means by definition only people who accept the flawed notion.

We saw that in the run-up to Iraq, where perfectly obvious propositions – the case for invading is very weak, the occupation may well be a nightmare – weren’t so much rejected as ruled out of discussion altogether; if you even considered those possibilities, you weren’t a serious person, no matter what your credentials.

Which brings me to the fiscal debate, characterized by the particular form of incestuous amplification Greg Sargent calls the Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop. I’ve already blogged about my Morning Joe appearance and Scarborough’s reaction, which was to insist that almost no mainstream economists share my view that deficit fear is vastly overblown. As Joe Weisenthal points out, the reality is that among those who have expressed views very similar to mine are the chief economist of Goldman Sachs; the former Treasury secretary and head of the National Economic Council; the former deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve; and the economics editor of the Financial Times. The point isn’t that these people are necessarily right (although they are), it is that Scarborough’s attempt at argument through authority is easily refuted by even a casual stroll through recent economic punditry.

The Krugman view on the economy isn’t an outlier in the community of economists.  That’s because we know theory and we know the empirical evidence that supports the theories.  Here’s a list of 10 People that disagree with the narrative of the deficit scolds as compiled by Joe Wiesenthal at TBI.

But actually there are plenty of economists and economically-literate minds who think that, to varying degrees, the deficit is not what we should be worrying about.

For Joe Scarborough’s sake, here’s a list of people. With each we’ve linked to comments they’ve made about their (lack of) worry about the deficit.

Anyway, that was just a partial list, but one that covers conservatives, liberals, Wall Street economists, and former government officials.

The funny thing is that polls show that the American public isn’t all that worried about the deficit either.  The economy and jobs outpolls the deficit concerns by about 2 to 1 in polling from all kinds of pollsters.  David Atkins–writing at Hullabaloo–calls it the problem of the Kool Kids Table.

Here at Hullabaloo we call it the Kool Kids Table, a pathway to power and social acceptance inaccessible to those who don’t hold the “right” views.

Do I believe that everyone in Joe Scarborough’s sphere of influence knows that Keynesianism is accurate and that Krugman is right, but chooses to say otherwise because it pads their bank account? Of course not. It takes a conspiracy theorist and an idiot to believe that. Washington is corrupt, but it’s not that corrupt.

No, most of these people believe what they say. I don’t doubt that Scarborough’s perplexed shock is genuine. Just like I believe that most of the conservative theologians who burned Giordano Bruno at the stake believed that our solar system was the only one of its kind. After all, anyone who believed otherwise wasn’t taken seriously and didn’t advance in the Church hierarchy. Everyone who was anyone knew better, and since Bruno refused to accept the conventional wisdom he had to be shunned and ultimately silenced. Bruno’s ideas were unserious and dangerous. The man had his head in the sand and couldn’t see what seemed obvious to everyone else.

Perhaps one day the Church of the Austerians will belatedly apologize to Keynes, Krugman, Stiglitz and all the other great economists whose names have been dragged through the mud. But not likely soon, and not during their lifetimes. In our own sordid lifetimes, Popes Simpson and Bowles will continue to bestow favors upon their cardinals, giving communion only to the Kool Kids who deserve it.

It is actually a freshman economics problem to argue that now is a very bad time to focus on the deficit.  It’s very simple math.  There are 4 actors paul_krugmanin our economy.   That would be businesses, the foreign sector, households and the government.  During a bad economy, the first three actors generally pull back.   Households tend to save and pay down debt, businesses don’t order as much inventory or expand because households are pulling back, and the foreign sector is generally impacted by the US economy and will slow down its buying too unless the dollar should become very weak and our prices fall dramatically. US policy normally doesn’t let that happen.

So, the idea is that the government–using its taxing and spending policy–can make up for the fall off in economic activity.  It can buy things from the private sector or do things like public works and directly offer households jobs and income and businesses a reason to expand.  It can also do this by handing money over to state governments to do the same.  All the activity of the four actors contributes to our GDP so if all four of them are pulling back, we get a recession.

We know this not only by talking about it in conceptual terms but also by studying the great depression and the austerity policies of countries like the UK. The UK fixated on austerity and–as a result–has had miserable economy experience and is now fallen into another recession.  As Krugman explains, we’ve done relatively better because we had some stimulus.  Had it been politically feasible to make it stronger, we’d have had a much stronger recovery.  It’s not just a matter of embracing a Keynesian mindset, it’s just a matter of knowing the math or what’s called the national accounting identity. Remember, it’s an identity which means it’s true by definition. You can’t have four negative numbers summed together on one side of an equation with out the other side being negative too.

We also know that we’ve been in worse situations with deficits. Notably, the post-World War 2 period saw huge government deficits. Our economy expanded, we had extremely progressive taxes, and we paid the deficit down. They sky did not fall down because we ran up huge deficits during the War. In fact, buying war bonds that financed the war was seen as patriotic. We personally supported government spending this way. We did not do the same thing in our following wars and skirmishes. Bush Two put two very expensive and long, drawn out wars on the deficit while lowering taxes and decreasing the progressiveness of the tax system. This policy behavior is a huge problem.

The truth is that Keynes himself never suggested an economy run a perpetual recession.  The fiscal policy prescription is to run a deficit during recessions, run towards a balanced budget in a Goldilocks economy where everything is just right, and run a budget surplus in an overheated, inflationary economy.   It seems we never hear any of this from the obnoxious freshman student that sits in the front row and insists his high school reading of Ayn Rand tells him something completely different. We also never hear this from ideologues who really have a completely different agenda in mind.  Their agenda is basically just to drown government in the bathtub and they don’t want any thing to work.

The problem is the kids at the Koolaid Table never, ever learn and are more motivated by access to power than access to knowledge.  It’s evident in that they keep playing the deficit hawks running around yelling the sky is falling and they’ve done so for about 5 years.  Or, as Krugman puts it:

KRUGMAN: “People like me have been saying for five years don’t worry about these deficit things for the time being, they’re non-issues, other people have been saying imminent crisis, imminent crisis … how many times do they have to be wrong and people like me have to be right before people start to believe us?”

Krugman must have an endless amount of patience to continually sit down with a group of these obnoxious freshmen.  I wonder at  how he does it day-in-and-day-out.


Thursday Reads: War on Women, the Fiscal Cliff, and Austerity Arriving in the USA

GWTW reading

Good Morning!!

Brrrrrrrrrr! All of a sudden winter has arrived! Can you believe it’s 4 degrees outside my house? With a wind chill factor of 6 below 0. My furnace can’t keep up in this kind of weather, so I have to bundle up. So what else is in the news this morning? Let’s see….

Today the new Congress gets sworn in and there are a record number of women in the new Senate. From ABC News: Meet the New Class: The Senate Swears in a Historic 20 Female Senators

Today the Senate will make history, swearing in a record-breaking 20 female senators – 4 Republicans and 16 Democrats – in office….

“I can’t tell you the joy that I feel in my heart to look at these 20 gifted and talented women from two different parties, different zip codes to fill this room,” Sen. Barbara Mikulksi, D-Md., said while surrounded by the group of women senators. “In all of American history only 16 women had served. Now there are 20 of us.”

Senator-elect Deb Fischer, R-Neb., becomes today the first women to be elected as a senator in Nebraska.

“It was an historic election,” Fischer said, “But what was really fun about it were the number of mothers and fathers who brought their daughters up to me during the campaign and said, “Can we get a picture? Can we get a picture?’ Because people realize it and — things do change, things do change.”

There’s a group photo at the link.

Still, the war on women continues. HuffPo reports: House GOP Lets Violence Against Women Act Passed By Senate Die Without A Vote.

Despite a late-stage intervention by Vice President Joe Biden, House Republican leaders failed to advance the Senate’s 2012 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, an embattled bill that would have extended domestic violence protections to 30 million LGBT individuals, undocumented immigrants and Native American women.

“The House leadership would not bring it up, just like they wouldn’t bring up funding for Sandy [hurricane damage] last night,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), a key backer of the Senate version of the bill, in an interview with HuffPost. “I think they are still so kowtowing to the extreme on the right that they’re not even listening to the moderates, and particularly the women, in their caucus who are saying they support this.”

The Senate bill passed way back in April.

In April, the Senate with bipartisan support passed a version of VAWA that extended protections to three groups of domestic violence victims who had not been covered by the original law, but House Republicans refused to support the legislation with those provisions, saying the measures were politically driven. Instead, they passed their own VAWA bill without the additional protections. In recent weeks, however, even some House Republicans who voted for the pared-down House bill have said they would now support the broader Senate bill — and predicted it would pass if Republican leaders let it come to the floor for a vote.

“I absolutely would support the Senate bill,” Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told HuffPost in late December, speculating that other House Republicans, namely GOP congresswomen, “are very supportive of that.”

Asked if he thought the Senate bill would pass in the House if it came up for a vote, Cole replied, “My judgment is yes.”

Too little, too late, Congressman. So Boehner managed to screw women yesterday too though it was the refusal to vote on Sandy relief that got all the media attention.

In India police have filed murder charges against five men in the horrific gang rape in New Delhi.

Authorities filed rape and murder charges Thursday against five men accused of the gang rape of a 23-year-old university student on a New Delhi bus, a crime that horrified Indians and provoked a national debate about the treatment of women.

Police said they plan to push for the death penalty in the case, as government officials promised new measures to protect women in the nation’s capital.

Prosecutor Rajiv Mohan filed a case of rape, tampering with evidence, kidnapping, murder and other charges against the men in a new fast-track court in south Delhi inaugurated only the day before to deal specifically with crimes against women. Mohan asked for a closed trial and a hearing was set for Saturday.

The men charged are Ram Singh, 33, the bus driver; his brother Mukesh Singh, 26, who cleans buses for the same company; Pavan Gupta, 19, a fruit vendor; Akshay Singh, 24, a bus washer; and Vinay Sharma, 20, a fitness trainer.

A sixth suspect was listed as 17 and was expected to be tried in a juvenile court, where the maximum sentence would be three years in a reform facility.

Read more at the link. The New Yorker has a good article on the New Delhi story by Basharat Peer: After a Rape and Murder, Fury in Delhi. Please go read the whole thing if you can.

Back in the USA, Republican state legislatures are up to their old tricks. Irin Carmon reports in Salon: Michigan, Virginia pass backdoor abortion restrictions.

In Michigan, Rick Snyder signed a bill passed by the lame-duck Senate — the same one whose anti-union legislating dominated headlines in recent weeks — requiring clinics that perform more than 120 abortions a year to become surgical outpatient facilities, a level of licensing intended to be onerous and put clinics out of business. He also approved a bill that purports to screen for women being coerced into abortions.

Snyder did veto another bill limiting insurance coverage in private employee plans, which would have required purchase of a separate abortion rider. He objected to that on the grounds that rape victims would have to pay out of pocket if they didn’t buy the rider, and because, “As a practical matter, I believe this type of policy is an overreach of government into the private market.” Overreach of government into other realms, of course, is another matter entirely. (According to Michigan resident Emily Magner, one legislator interrupted her to cry, “THIS ISN’T ABOUT WOMEN! THIS IS ABOUT PROTECTING FETUSES!”)

Virginia’s similar, hospital-level restrictions on clinics were somewhat overshadowed by the ultrasound requirements for women seeking abortions. Under threat of forever having the word “transvaginal” attached to his name, Gov. Bob McDonnell tried to split the difference on the ultrasound legislation, but in the final days of the year signed off on the clinic regulations. This followed months of conflict between the Board of Health and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli over whether existing clinics would be grandfathered into the legislation. The governor’s office called the regulations “common-sense”; NARAL Pro-Choice Virginia said in a statement, “After two years of shocking backroom deals and bullying public health servants, Governor Bob McDonnell is clearly proving his disregard of Virginians’ opinions about women’s health care.”

Clinic regulations are the most insidious of abortion restrictions, because they’re harder for the layperson to understand and tend to incite less outrage as a result. And opposition to them tends to fall into antiabortion narratives about back-alley butchers resisting safety standards. But research has suggested that they also tend to be the most effective: It’s difficult to talk a woman out of having an abortion, but if you make access near impossible, you might take the choice off the table altogether.

SimpsonEatsCatFood

On the “Fiscal Bunny Slope,” as Dakinikat refers to it, TPM reports that Simpson and Bowles of the famous Catfood Commission didn’t like the deal hammered out by the Senate and passed by the House. It seems it doesn’t cause enough suffering for the poor and elderly to satisfy them. Here’s their statement:

“The deal approved today is truly a missed opportunity to do something big to reduce our long term fiscal problems, but it is a small step forward in our efforts to reduce the federal deficit. It follows on the $1 trillion reduction in spending that was done in last year’s Budget Control Act. While both steps advance the efforts to put our fiscal house in order, neither one nor the combination of the two come close to solving our Nation’s debt and deficit problems. Our leaders must now have the courage to reform our tax code and entitlement programs such that we stabilize our debt and put it on a downward path as a percent of the economy.

Washington missed this magic moment to do something big to reduce the deficit, reform our tax code, and fix our entitlement programs. We have all known for over a year that this fiscal cliff was coming. In fact Washington politicians set it up to force themselves to seriously deal with our Nation’s long term fiscal problems. Yet even after taking the Country to the brink of economic disaster, Washington still could not forge a common sense bipartisan consensus on a plan that stabilizes the debt.

It is now more critical than ever that policymakers return to negotiations that will build on the terms of this agreement and the spending cuts in the Budget Control Act. These future negotiations will need to make the far more difficult reforms that bring spending further under control, make our entitlement programs sustainable and solvent, and reform our tax code to both promote growth and produce revenue. We take some encouragement from the statements by the President and leaders in Congress that they recognize more work needs to be done. In order to reach an agreement, it will be absolutely necessary for both sides to move beyond their comfort zone and reach a principled agreement on a comprehensive plan which puts the debt on a clear downward path relative to the economy.”

Don’t you love the way they call for “courage” from rich Congresspeople and then tell them to cut the sole income of millions of elderly and disabled people? What about calling for the real courage it would take for them to raise the cap on Social Security contributions so that rich people could pay a little more into the system? I doubt if many of them turn down the paltry extra income they get from it.

I’m running out of space, but I have some more fiscal cliff reads for you that I’ll pass on in link dump fashion.

Paul Krugman: That Bad Ceiling Feeling

Noam Scheiber: The House Comes Around on the Cliff. Why Am I Not Reassured?

Washington Post: U.S. markets surge after Congress approves ‘cliff’ deal

George Zornick at The Nation: While Congress Plays Deficit Games, Jobs Crisis Goes Unaddressed

Joan Walsh: Biggest Fiscal Cliff Lessions

Jonathan Chait: The Big Lebowski Explains the Fiscal Cliff

Truthout: Debt Versus Democracy: A Battle for the Future

Joe Conason: The GOP Clown Car Crashes, Again

I’ll end with a couple of articles on the European-style austerity that we’re heading for right now.

Brad Plummer at the Washington Post: U.S. now on pace for European levels of austerity in 2013

For years now, economists like Paul Krugman have been criticizing countries in Europe for engaging in too much austerity during the downturn — that is, enacting tax increases and spending cuts while their economies were still weak.

But after this week’s fiscal cliff deal, the United States is now on pace to engage in about as much fiscal consolidation in 2013 as many European nations have been doing in recent years — and more than countries like Britain and Spain.

A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests Congress has enacted around $336 billion in tax hikes and spending cuts for the coming year, an austerity package whose total size comes to about 2.1 percent of GDP. (That’s merely the size of the cuts and taxes; it’s not necessarily the effect on growth.)
This includes the expiration of the payroll tax cut, which will raise about $125 billion this year. It includes $68 billion in scheduled cuts to discretionary spending from the 2011 Budget Control Act. It includes $24 billion in new Obamacare taxes and $27 billion in new high-income taxes. And it includes about $92 billion from the now-delayed sequester cuts — assuming that these either take effect or are swapped with other cuts.

Check out the graph at the link. And in Greece, the Guardian reports: Euros discarded as impoverished Greeks resort to bartering

It’s been a busy day at the market in downtown Volos. Angeliki Ioanitou has sold a decent quantity of olive oil and soap, while her friend Maria has done good business with her fresh pies.

But not a single euro has changed hands – none of the customers on this drizzly Saturday morning has bothered carrying money at all. For many, browsing through the racks of second-hand clothes, electrical appliances and homemade jams, the need to survive means money has been usurped.

“It’s all about exchange and solidarity, helping one another out in these very hard times,” enthused Ioanitou, her hair tucked under a floppy felt cap. “You could say a lot of us have dreams of a utopia without the euro.”

In this bustling port city at the foot of Mount Pelion, in the heart of Greece’s most fertile plain, locals have come up with a novel way of dealing with austerity – adopting their own alternative currency, known as the Tem. As the country struggles with its worst crisis in modern times, with Greeks losing up to 40% of their disposable income as a result of policies imposed in exchange for international aid, the system has been a huge success. Organisers say some 1,300 people have signed up to the informal bartering network.

For users such as Ioanitou, the currency – a form of community banking monitored exclusively online – is not only an effective antidote to wage cuts and soaring taxes but the “best kind of shopping therapy”. “One Tem is the equivalent of one euro. My oil and soap came to 70 Tem and with that I bought oranges, pies, napkins, cleaning products and Christmas decorations,” said the mother-of-five. “I’ve got 30 Tem left over. For women, who are worst affected by unemployment, and don’t have kafeneia [coffeehouses] to go to like men, it’s like belonging to a hugely supportive association.”

Much more at the link.

So….what’s on your reading and blogging list today. I look forward to clicking on your links.


Was I Dreaming? Did Mitt Romney Really Lose the Election?

Which of these guys really won the election?

Is Mitt Romney the President-elect or what? For the past several days, the media and the Republicans have acted as if they won.

In fact, President Obama won in the Electoral College by 126 votes and the popular vote by 3.3 million votes (so far). Democrats added 2  seats in the Senate and are likely to have a 55-45 majority if both independent Senators caucus with them. Democrats also increased their numbers in the House by 7. By any measure Democrats won a huge victory on November 6.

Is it just me, or are the corporate media and Republican leaders continuing to act under the assumption that Republicans will still be in full control of the nation’s destiny going forward and that Obama’s reelection means nothing?

Yesterday on Meet the Press, Bob Woodward produced a document that he described as follows:

MR. WOODWARD: Well, this is the confidential doc last offer the president, the White House made last year to Speaker Boehner to try to reach this four trillion dollar grand bargain. And it’s long and it’s tedious and it’s got budget jargon in it. But what it shows is a willingness to cut all kinds of things, like TRICARE, which is the sacred health insurance program for the military for military retirees; to cut Social Security; to cut Medicare, and there are– there are some lines in there about we want to get tax rates down, not only for individuals but for businesses. So Obama and the White House were willing to go quite far, in a sense this is the starting point

Dancin’ Dave Gregory says he’ll put it up on the MTP website so the “budget wonks” can see it. I can almost see his gleeful expression as he turns to newly elected Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro.

GREGORY: Right, we just got it here and we’ll– we’ll put it on the web [read it here]. But that’s the point. And congressman, I guess the– the question that Bob and I talked about is, there’s a lot of spending pain in there that Democrats are going to have to go back to their folks and say, hey, this is the pain you’re going to have to suffer. Are you prepared to do that?

REP. CASTRO: Oh, look, there’s no question. I mean, these are tough issues and that’s why there’s been a lot of hand-wringing and wrangling over them. But, yeah, I believe so. I believe you’ve got a Democratic Congress, especially in the House and in the Senate that are willing to make those tough choices, that know that in the long term that we’ve got to reform entitlements.

So these guys (including Democratic Rep Castro) are assuming that this same “grand bargain” will be the starting point for new negotiations? WTF?! From Lucas Kawa at Business Insider:

Yesterday on “Meet the Press,” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post displayed documents that outline a “Grand Bargain” the White House offered during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011.
The document in question appears to have been drafted by White House Legislative Affairs Director Rob Nabors, and includes the annotation ‘Post Gang of 6′ which suggests it was created as Supercommittee talks broke down.

Woodward describes the three-page document as “confidential” and points out Obama’s apparent willingness to take on sacred cows such as Medicare and Social Security. Specifically, the president was open to increasing the minimum age for Medicare recipients.

I assume Woodward would not have this “confidential document” and be handing it over to MTP if the White House didn’t want him to. The White House offer included cuts to veterans health benefits (Tricare), civilian and military retirement plans, social security, the Post Office, and Pell Grants. So it appears the White House is floating this idea to see what the public reaction will be.

This morning, I clicked around to a number of morning TV shows, and the meme I saw most often was that Obama and Congressional Democrats need to accept the reality that Obama’s supposed drop dead insistence on raising taxes on the top 2% is suddenly dead in the water and the only increased revenue will have to come from closing tax loopholes. There was much talk of enacting “Simpson-Bowles.”  I even saw Grover Norquist being asked whether he’d agree to raising some revenue in this way–but of course not by raising taxes on the wealthy!

The only tax loopholes that could be eliminated to raise significant revenue are the mortgage tax deduction and the charity deduction–and those would primarily affect middle class taxpayers.

Here’s Richard Escow at HuffPo, using a Veteran’s Day theme:

Every year our leaders honor our nation’s veterans with flags and parades. Are they also about to betray them this year with a backroom deal? Words won’t be enough this time. Our returning warriors need — and deserve — jobs, opportunity, and a thriving Social Security system that protects them and their families.

Bob Woodward obtained a copy of the deal the White House offered to Speaker of the House John Boehner last year. That proposal asked our nation’s vets to sacrifice for the luxuries of others once again It included cuts to TRICARE, the military health insurance program, which would have meant higher out-of-pocket medical costs for active and retired military personnel and their families.

The secret White House offer would have also cut Social Security payments for anyone receiving benefits today, along with everyone who’ll ever receive them in the future.

But Americans didn’t vote for a “grand bargain.” If Obama ran on anything, it was letting the Bush tax cuts expire on incomes over $250,000. He said it again and again on the campaign trail and he said it in a speech just a few days ago:

President Barack Obama on Friday signaled willingness to compromise with Republicans, declaring he was not “wedded to every detail” of his tax-and-spending approach to prevent deep and widespread pain in the new year. But he insisted his re-election gave him a mandate to raise taxes on wealthier Americans.

“The majority of Americans agree with my approach,” said Obama, brimming with apparent confidence in his first White House statement since securing a second term.

Finally, Josh Barro at Bloomberg writes that the Bush tax cuts for the rich aren’t going anywhere, “for now.”

Conservatives have taken a lot of well-deserved mockery about their overconfidence in last week’s election. But this week, I am seeing overconfidence from liberals that they are about to win the coming tax fight in Congress. They’re not.

On Dec. 31, all of the Bush tax cuts are set to expire, and, just like two years ago, Republicans want to extend them all while Democrats only want to extend about 80 percent of them, applying them to taxpayers making less than $250,000 a year….

If the fiscal cliff isn’t resolved before the end of the year, House Republicans will pass a tax cut in January — a tax cut that extends the Bush tax cuts in their entirety, including the part for people with high incomes. The Senate will pass one that excludes the high income tax cuts. Then both parties will say they have passed a tax cut bill and are just waiting for the other side to agree to it.

Democrats cannot force Republicans’ hand unless they are more willing than Republicans to let all the Bush tax cuts expire. And they won’t be. A full expiration might well cause a new recession, which would be even more politically damaging for the Barack Obama administration than for congressional Republicans. Congress is already about as unpopular as it can become, and Republicans know they are not going to get their legislative agenda enacted in the next two years anyway. But a new recession would greatly interfere with Obama’s second-term plans.

Obviously, I’m not Sky Dancing’s economist, so I’ll leave it to Dakinikat to tell me whether to freak out about this or not. But it isn’t sounding good to me so far.


Entitled One-Percenter Bill Keller Wants Baby Boomers to Give Up Social Security and Medicare

Smarmy former NYT editor Bill Keller

From today’s New York Times: “The Entitled Generation.”

The notion that our generation has been spoiled rotten is not a terribly new thought. A dozen years ago Paul Begala (of Bill Clinton and CNN fame) published in Esquire the classic of boomer-loathing, “The Worst Generation.” “The Baby Boomers are the most self-centered, self-seeking, self-interested, self-absorbed, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing generation in American history,” he declared. It’s a sturdy genre. Perhaps while Googling yourself you have come across the blog Boomer Deathwatch (“Because one day, they’ll all be dead”), a checklist of famous boomers who hit their actuarial sell-by dates. Even Barack Obama, who styles himself post-boomer though he was born in 1961, complained in “The Audacity of Hope” that today’s hyperpolarized political discourse began with the “psychodrama of the baby boom generation.”

Yeah, we’re all evil just because our parents returned from WWII and proceeded to have lots and lots of babies. Supposedly not one of us ever did a decent thing in our pathetic, useless lives, right? I’m sick to death of hear this crap–and I’ve been hearing it since I was a kid.

See Keller says it’s our fault that the government isn’t rebuilding the infrastructure. He says it won’t do any good to tax super-rich guys like him–we’re going to have to take it out of the hides of old ladies who are trying to eke out a living on $1200 a month or less.

Guys like Bill Keller don’t even have to pay into Social Security on the bulk of their income, but he doesn’t even mention the possibility of changing that. So what does super-rich one-percenter Bill Keller think we should do about it besides learning to loathe ourselves and wish we’d never been born?

So the question is not whether entitlements have to be brought under control, but how. The Republican plan espoused by Mitt Romney and his fiscal lodestar Paul Ryan would cut the cost of entitlements largely by moving toward privatization: personal investment accounts for Social Security, vouchers for Medicare. And it’s not at all clear the Republicans would assign any of the savings to investing in our future.

At least the Republicans have a plan. The Democrats generally recoil from the subject of entitlements. Centrists like those at Third Way and the bipartisan authors of the Simpson-Bowles report endorse a menu of incremental cuts and reforms that would bring down costs without hitting the needy or snatching away the security blanket from those nearing retirement. They include gradually raising the retirement age to compensate for the fact that we now live, on average, 14 years longer than when F.D.R. signed Social Security into law. They include obliging those of us who can really afford it to pay a larger share. They also include technical fixes like aligning the automatic cost-of-living formula with reality.

At least now we know which candidate Keller will be voting for in November. So much for the supposedly “liberal media.” Oh, and about that “technical fix” Keller brushes off so dismissively, Matthew Yglesias explains why it isn’t a “technical fix” and “doing the switch comprehensively would constitute a de facto tax increase.” Furthermore, there was no “Simpson-Bowles report,” because the two co-chairs were unable to get a majority of members of the Catfood Commission to sign off on one.

Judith Miller with patron Bill Keller

I have a terrific idea. Let’s hold Bill Keller responsible for his choice to assign Judith Miller to help the Bush administration lie us into the Iraq War. Let Bill Keller pay back the trillions of dollars of taxpayer money those lies cost us. That ought to provide some funds to invest in infrastructure here in the U.S.

Here’s what Dean Baker had to say about Keller’s lying op-ed:

That is really brave for Mr. Keller to stand up and call for sacrifice from his age cohort. Does Keller know that the typical near retiree has total wealth of $170,000. This includes everything in their 401(k), all their other financial assets and the equity in their homes. Another way to put this is that the typical near retiree (between the ages of 55-64) could take all their wealth and pay off their mortgage. After that they would be entirely dependent on their Social Security to cover all their living costs.

Does this situation describe Mr. Keller’s finances? My guess is that it doesn’t. If that is true, how does Keller claim to speak for people who are in a hugely different financial situation than him? Is he really that ignorant of the issues that the NYT gives him a column to write about or is he dishonest? Readers will have to debate that in the months and years ahead.

Baker says the real problem we have is the increase in income inequality over the past thirty years, but he’s not holding his breath for Keller to “appeal to his fellow one-percenters….He probably doesn’t have the courage or integrity to do that.”

I saved the best review of Keller’s op-ed for last. You guessed it, it’s by Charlie Pierce: “The Things Bill Keller Doesn’t Have to Worry About.”

I defy Bill Keller to last a week living only on those benefits available to the greedy boomers, especially after the Simpson-Bowles cargo cult — to say nothing of the zombie-eyed granny-starver Paul Ryan himself — are through with them. I defy him to make it for a day. The “we” sprinkled throughout this bag of pus is probably the most noxious thing about it. Look around, Bill. You and Mitt Romney have far more in common than do you and the overwhelming majority of your “fellow” boomers. One catastrophic illness, and many of our families die on the vine. This is not hyperbole. This is how it works in the world. And, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, Keller signs on with the clowns at Third Way, who assure us that the real problem is that the elderly moochers are the ones keeping us from building new bridges, or flying to the moons of Neptune. Jesus H. Christ on a Lipizzaner, we’ve had forty years of demonized government, and 40 years of quack economics, and tax-cuts until hell won’t have them, and the reason our infrastructure is falling apart is because some retired ironworker gets $1200 a month? How much of a courtier do you have to be before the taste of caviar makes you nauseous?

If we want to invest in infrastructure, which we desperately need to do, then we should just borrow money at the current historically low rates and fix the damn infrastructure…. People Got No Jobs. People Got No Money. Bill Keller never will have to worry about the last two, so I think he should shut up about the first.