Wednesday, June 30, 2010
What's next, running an ad with an exhumed Charlton Heston saying,"You can have my bazooka when you take it from my cold, dead hands!"?
[Anna] Chapman had met regularly with a Russian government official since January, the complaint said. On Saturday, after a meeting with an F.B.I. undercover agent posing as a Russian consulate employee, she bought a cellphone and provided a false name and address: 99 Fake Street.
The world’s rich countries are now conducting a dangerous experiment. They are repeating an economic policy out of the 1930s — starting to cut spending and raise taxes before a recovery is assured — and hoping today’s situation is different enough to assure a different outcome.
In effect, policy makers are betting that the private sector can make up for the withdrawal of stimulus over the next couple of years. If they’re right, they will have made a head start on closing their enormous budget deficits. If they’re wrong, they may set off a vicious new cycle, in which public spending cuts weaken the world economy and beget new private spending cuts.
Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Some people are usually cheerful. Others are more likely to have sad, depressing thoughts. Such traits help make up our personalities.
But could such traits actually be related to measurable differences in brain structure?
As Europe’s major economies focus on belt-tightening, they are following the path of Ireland. But the once thriving nation is struggling, with no sign of a rapid turnaround in sight.
Nearly two years ago, an economic collapse forced Ireland to cut public spending and raise taxes, the type of austerity measures that financial markets are now pressing on most advanced industrial nations.
“When our public finance situation blew wide open, the dominant consideration was ensuring that there was international investor confidence in Ireland so we could continue to borrow,” said Alan Barrett, chief economist at the Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland. “A lot of the argument was, ‘Let’s get this over with quickly.’ ”
Rather than being rewarded for its actions, though, Ireland is being penalized. Its downturn has certainly been sharper than if the government had spent more to keep people working. Lacking stimulus money, the Irish economy shrank 7.1 percent last year and remains in recession.
Joblessness in this country of 4.5 million is above 13 percent, and the ranks of the long-term unemployed — those out of work for a year or more — have more than doubled, to 5.3 percent.
Now, the Irish are being warned of more pain to come.
Monday, June 28, 2010
Now tell me again how paywalls are going to make people pay for content?
The president should re-open the debate. (Or open it for the first time.) Why are we in Afghanistan again? What are our objectives there? What exactly would "victory" look like? How long will it take? How much will it cost? And how many American lives must be lost in the effort? Is this something that we really want to do?
David Gregory had a few guests on Meet the Press yesterday who were experts on the subjects of Afghanistan and/or warfare. (They all were for continuing the effort.) I don't pretend to be well-versed in either. But I do know that it's extremely difficult to conduct a war in America without broad public support. And right now, the war doesn't have it. I think you'd be very hard pressed to find many "average Americans" who could answer the questions in the preceding paragraph.
The experts yesterday said that the counterinsurgency strategy currently being pursued in Afghanistan would take at least another ten years. Would the public really be up for that kind of commitment? Really?
Sunday, June 27, 2010
...Sterling Hall, a building [on the University of Wisconsin campus] that housed both the university physics department and the Army Mathematics Research Center. The center, which operated under a contract with the United States Army, had been the target of many nonviolent protests since it opened in the 1950s.
Though the bombers said afterward that they had not intended to hurt anyone, the explosion killed Robert Fassnacht, a physics researcher who was working late. Mr. Fassnacht, 33, a father of three, was, his family said afterward, against the war.
But Armstrong eluded capture for nearly seven years and was freed from prison after only three years. One of his co-conspirators, Leo Burt, was never apprehended.
Armstrong's brother, Karl, was also freed in 1980 and drives a cab in Madison, the town where the crime took place.
In the warmer months, as he has for nearly three decades, he operates a juice cart. The cart is on a pedestrian mall at the edge of the campus, a few blocks from the rebuilt Sterling Hall, where a plaque honors Mr. Fassnacht’s memory.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
Frannie's also has outdoor seating, a bathroom and ketchup.
Friday, June 25, 2010
If, in the next two and a half years, Obama can pass energy and education reform, his may go down in history as one of the most productive first terms ever. And if he can get a handle on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of his second term, he may be remembered as one of the best presidents in modern times.
But Matthews talks too much. He talks -- way -- too -- much. It seems like every time Matthews asks a question he just can't wait to give the answer. Most of the time he just talks over his guests. It can be really frustrating. That was a good question. Now shut the heck up and let your guest answer it! For the love of God, Chris, take a breath...
A week or so ago, Matthews seemed to meet his match. He went on the Charlie Rose Show to plug his special on the New Right. It was like a Battle Royale of two of the World's Worst Listeners. (I wonder if either of them -- say, five minutes after the show was over -- could recall anything that the other one had to say during the interview. Was there someone else on the set with me?)
Now Matthews has a new segment at the end of his show called "Let Me Finish." You've got to be kidding! Doesn't this guy ever stop talking? He must be a real hoot at cocktail parties.
Chris, you have a good show. Now learn to zip it once in a while.
...At a special church service on Thursday night, Bishop Nicholas A. DiMarzio of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn opened what is known as a “canonical inquiry” into the cause of sainthood for a Brooklyn priest, Msgr. Bernard J. Quinn.
Monsignor Quinn, who died in 1940 at age 52, championed racial equality at a time when discrimination against blacks was ubiquitous in America, even inside the Catholic Church. In the Depression-era heyday of the anti-Semitic, pro-Fascist radio broadcasts of the Rev. Charles E. Coughlin, Monsignor Quinn encountered sharp resistance from some fellow priests when he proposed ministering to Brooklyn’s growing population of blacks, many of them fleeing the Jim Crow South or migrating from the poor Caribbean countries.
The process of canonization can take a long time. The inquiry on behalf of another New Yorker, Cardinal Terence J. Cooke, has been going on since 1984. Pierre Toussaint, the 19th-century Haitian abolitionist, former slave and devout Catholic — who, like Cooke, has been championed by the Archdiocese of New York — has been in line since 1943.
But the inquiry on behalf of Monsignor Quinn is the first the Brooklyn diocese, which encompasses that borough and Queens, has started since its creation in 1853, according to the diocese’s spokesman, Msgr. Kieran E. Harrington.
Its purpose is to scour the record of the candidate’s priesthood to determine whether he was morally fit for sainthood and whether his ministry attracted many new people to the church.
If Monsignor Quinn’s record passes those tests, the diocese will have to present evidence of at least two miracles attributed to him after his death. The process of verifying such miracles is conducted by a Vatican delegation. The pope makes the final decision on whether to canonize, and when.
Two miracles? What century are we living in? Is all this really necessary? Can't we just remember this guy as a really, really good priest?
Thursday, June 24, 2010
The general’s ill-advised remarks, which have prompted him to prepare a letter of resignation, will only feed the general sense of despair and impatience that Americans seem to feel about our progress in Afghanistan.
Any suggestion that the war is lost is ludicrously premature...
Increased casualties are obviously not good news, but they aren’t necessarily a sign of impending disaster. They could be the price of victory.
The piece goes on and on in this vein, arguing that if we only do this, or if we only do that, "victory" in Afghanistan will be ours. For those of us old enough to remember, Boot's arguments were eerily reminiscent of the ones made during the Vietnam era.
The last paragraph was particularly chilling (my emphasis):
...[General McChrystal] deserves credit for...putting in place the right strategy to turn around a failing war effort. Whether or not he carries it out, his plan can work. We just need to give it a little time.
And then one day, you say goodbye to them for good.
It's a cruel, cruel summer...
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
When Wolf Blitzer pushed Huckabee to say whether he believed in evolution, at a debate in New Hampshire in June of 2007, Huckabee expressed exasperation that the question “would even be asked of somebody running for President—I’m not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth-grade science book.”
No, Mr. Huckabee, you're not. But we do want to know if you're grounded in reality.
(His answer was "No.")
First, the president should immediately pull a Harry Truman and fire the insubordinate general in a very public way. Next, he should begin the process of withdrawal.
As I remarked after the current strategy was announced last winter, is there really anyone in America -- left, right, or center -- who thinks this war will end well for the United States?
Monday, June 21, 2010
Sunday, June 20, 2010
Friday, June 18, 2010
- Taxes? We have an extremely low tax base here, one of the lowest in the nation, and our services are also extremely meager -- no fire district, closed library system and 16 hour police coverage outside the town limits. And these are regular people living on regular fixed incomes, so the federal government has not increased their taxes.
- Same sex marriage? Who cares, if this is about personal freedom?
- Immigration? They should have been furious about that for the last 30+ years.
- "Foreign born" POTUS? Come on!
- Repeal government run health care? What does that mean? With the exception of veterans, seniors and children?
- Pork projects? They should have been outraged for the last 30+ years!
- Federal fiscal responsibility? Again, they should have been outraged for the last 40+ years !
- Protect the constitution? From what? Should we re-establish slavery and rescind many of the voting rights that weren't in the original constitution? Is it so obviously and blatantly wrong to consider how a document written 200+ years ago might be applied to modern society, to consider that some of the authors might have seen the need for adjustments to some of the original ideas due to changes in culture, etc.; to consider that some of these authors did not think of their words as "set in stone" but as ideas for future men to contemplate and expound upon?
- Corporate power? This one is mine; and I'm surprised that it isn't a tea party issue.
He finishes by asking my opinion of all this and by linking to a piece in the New York Times, "The Very Angry Tea Party." Well, I've never been one for having opinions (wink, wink), but after rereading this piece and watching the Chris Matthews special, "Rise of the New Right," I thought I'd take a stab at it.(By the way, don't feel bad if you missed that show; it wasn't very good. It reminded me of one of those old "Best of Seinfeld..." shows that just show a bunch of clips in rapid-fire succession. What works for a sit-com, however, is useless in a documentary. And while it had the usual blizzard of Matthews chatter, it was sorely lacking in explanation and analysis. Matthews needs to learn to talk less but say more. The show looked like it was thrown together pretty hastily; no wonder he'd been plugging it so hard lately.)
My response to my cousin:
First of all, tea party sentiment is everywhere. (Remember, one of the first tea party rants was by Rick Santelli, from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange.) My 80-something Glenn Beck-watching next-door neighbor is a tea party sympathizer, too. And if he wasn't such a nice old guy, I'd remind him that it's people like him that are the main recipients of most of the federal government's largesse. As Paul Krugman pointed out recently, the federal government can be thought of as an insurance company with an army. In other words, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the Department of Defense account for most of the spending in the federal budget. The rest of it is, more or less, a rounding error. So my neighbor, who is receiving Social Security and Medicare, is a big part of the "problem." But I don't have the heart to tell him that.
My personal take on this whole tea party phenomenon is that it is completely driven by the poor state of the economy. After all, where were these people when Bush was making such a mess of things? I had a therapist once tell me that anger is usually just a manifestation of fear or hurt. And after the real estate bubble burst and the stock market crashed -- the two primary asset classes that make up the average person's wealth -- and jobs began to disappear, people naturally got scared (and maybe felt a little hurt, too). Combine that with what most reasonable people saw as unfair treatment for the banks, auto companies, etc. and the public felt like they were getting the shaft. (I also think there's something to the idea that middle-aged [and older] white people are feeling the ground shift beneath them, so naturally they're not too sure about that black guy with the funny name in the White House. Whose side is he really on?) So the public -- cynically manipulated by Fox News and the Republican Party -- lashed out at a convenient target: the federal government. But what's odd (and you brought this up) is why they weren't angrier at large corporations -- especially the health insurers! My best guess is that Fox and the GOP simply haven't steered them in that direction.
But the economy won't stay down forever. I'm convinced that the worst is behind us, as long as we can avoid any obvious mistakes. (See Paul Krugman in today's Times on the deficit hawks.) And when the economy recovers, as it surely will, everyone will calm down and go back to doing what they were doing before all of this got them so stirred up.
From a political standpoint, I expect the Republicans to gain seats in the fall just as the party out of power usually does. This may embolden the tea partiers. Then, in 2012, the GOP will nominate someone acceptable to the base (like Sarah Palin) and get crushed, a la Goldwater and McGovern. Only then do I expect a David Cameron-type to emerge in the Republican Party and say "Hey, do you guys really want to remain ideologically pure and thus in the minority forever, or do you want to join the modern world and become relevant again some day?" Since political parties are all about power, I think the answer is obvious. A new generation of moderates will arise and take back the party.
So I figure we have another couple of years to put up with this nonsense before things return to normal. Long-term, I'm an optimist.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
President Obama has to be breathing a sigh of relief. Talk about the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight...
In an interesting Q&A, Rajan says:
The everyday consequence for the middle class [has been] a stagnant paycheck as well as growing job insecurity...Thus politicians have looked for other, quicker ways to mollify their constituents. We have long understood that it is not income that matters, but consumption. A smart or cynical politician knows that if somehow the consumption of middle-class householders keeps up, if they can afford a new car every few years and the occasional exotic holiday, perhaps they will pay less attention to their stagnant monthly paychecks.
Therefore, the political response to rising inequality — whether carefully planned or the path of least resistance — was to expand lending to households, especially low-income ones. The benefits — growing consumption and more jobs — were immediate, whereas paying the inevitable bill could be postponed into the future. Cynical as it may seem, easy credit has been used as a palliative throughout history by governments that are unable to address the deeper anxieties of the middle class directly.
"It is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case a $20 billion shakedown."
And yet, what if President Obama didn't insist on BP's creating an escrow account? Might the money disappear somehow?
From an article in the Times dated June 26, 2008, nearly twenty years after the famous Exxon Valdez spill:
The Supreme Court on Wednesday reduced what had once been a $5 billion punitive damages award against Exxon Mobil to about $500 million. The ruling essentially concluded a legal saga that started when the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker, struck a reef and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1989.
“...I think we need to prioritize our law enforcement efforts,” Palin added. “If somebody's gonna smoke a joint in their house and not do anybody any harm, then perhaps there are other things our cops should be looking at to engage in and try to clean up some of the other problems we have in society.”
Palin then urged law enforcement to “not concentrate on such a, relatively speaking, minimal problem we have in the country.”
If not blocked by the courts, Mr. Gardner will be hooded, strapped to a chair and shot through the heart.
Yikes! Sounds barbaric. And yet, aren't all methods of capital punishment barbaric?
From the same article in the Times, a Ms. Debra Radack makes a point that I've been trying to articulate, in a different context, about myself (my emphasis):
The national debate over capital punishment has evolved, too, especially in the last few years as states from New Mexico to New Jersey to Illinois have repealed the death penalty or halted executions.
Debra Radack has lived that arc of change.
Ms. Radack, 54, was planning her wedding in 1977, working at a radio station and completely convinced that [Gary] Gilmore deserved to die for killing two young men in separate armed robberies. She said she was convinced that Mr. Gardner’s execution was just, too. But the black-or-white certainty of her youth is gone, she said. Evidence about mistakes and miscarriages of justice in death penalty cases around the country have made her cautious.
“After you live a bit, you see more shades of gray,” she said, interviewed on a lunchtime stroll in Salt Lake City, about 20 miles north of here.
"I'm proud of the fact that I stand for the little guy."
Of course he does. All politicians say that; people love to hear it. He stands for me!
Yesterday, BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg, who is Swedish, said:
"I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are greedy companies who don't care. But that is not the case in BP. We care about the small people."
Small people? Americans were up in arms! Who are you calling small?
Svanberg later apologized for his insensitive remarks.
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
German Millionaires Volunteer to Pay 'Rich Tax'
A group of 51 German millionaires and billionaires founded a Club of the Wealthy and wrote to Chancellor Angela Merkel proposing to give up 10 percent of their income in the form of a "Rich Tax" for 10 years to consolidate the budget.
With an estimated 800,000 millionaires (in dollars) — about 1 percent of the total population — Germany is eye-to-eye with the USA and has long overtaken the UK as Europe's number one "millionaire-land," both in terms of absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population.
But traditionally, the Germans don't dare to feel good about their riches. A German would — by and large — never display his wealth too publicly. Being rich, one might think, is not necessarily viewed as a sign of success, but more as a flaw, something to be hidden rather than displayed.
Post-war Germany created its very own brand of capitalism — the “Soziale Marktwirtschaft,” which literally translated means “social market economy,” but in essence it understands itself as capitalism with a strong social conscience; an economic blueprint that is built on a consensus society, rather than one of social conflict.
Wages are negotiated once a year by big blocks or industrial trade unions for whole sectors or industry, rather than in individual companies.
That has brought Germany decades of labor peace, but also a certain degree of inflexibility in the labor market. The economy is shaped to achieve a steady pace, rather than high peaks. The social safety net is knit much tighter than in many other countries.
That has its costs and its pitfalls. The costs? — More than 100 billion euros (or a quarter of the German federal budget each year) spent on social security, unemployment benefits and the like.
The benefits? — Virtually no jobs lost in the recent financial and economic meltdown — not least of all too subsidized short-shift arrangements that encouraged companies not to fire people they might later on want to rehire. An unemployment rate that hovers around 7.6 percent (compared to close to 10 percent in the US).
The present political debate in Germany about the upcoming 80 billion euro austerity package adds more fuel to the fire.
Angela Merkel has drawn scathing criticism even from within her own centre-right coalition for planning to take too much money out of the pockets of the lower income ranks while not levying extra taxes from the top earners.
Maybe that's why at least some of Germany's "Have-a-lots" now feel they want to live up to their responsibility that they reckon comes with wealth.
But let's not forget we are talking about 51 of an estimated 800,000 plus German millionaires and billionaires.
And so far, the richest of the rich in Germany — like the heirs of the Porsche clan, the Quandt family (BMW) or the founders of multi-billion euro discount empire Aldi — are not to be found on the list of those who propose to relinquish a sizable chunk of their wealth. And then, even the 50 odd rich and super rich that have said they would be prepared to hand over 10 percent of their annual income — very commendable offer indeed — haven't actually done anything yet, have they?
The Roman poet Ovid put it so candidly more than 2,000 years ago: “Everyone is a millionaire where promises are concerned.”
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
"Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise," the official said. "If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."
Maybe so. But without this pressure from the left, Ms. Lincoln almost certainly wouldn't have been motivated to sponsor a provision in the financial regulation reform that would effectively bar banks from trading derivatives. In the Times today, it says:
On Monday, Mrs. Lincoln offered to ease some of the toughest elements of her provision (Surprised? Don't be. She has to tack to the center for the general now, remember?), but not enough to assuage Wall Street’s concerns.
Under her latest proposal, banks would have two years to spin off their derivatives arms. A bank holding company could still maintain a derivatives operation — but as a separate affiliate with its own capital, not as part of a commercial bank. In addition, companies that are not major dealers in derivatives would be exempted from her ban.
Even so, the six largest Wall Street banks, which dominate the derivatives trading business, quickly indicated that they would lobby fiercely to defeat the entire provision.
Now whether or not you think that that provision is necessary (and I don't), there can be no denying that Ms. Lincoln has been nudged to the left. And even if she loses to Republican John Boozman in the fall (as many observers expect), at least Ms. Lincoln should be a more reliably progressive voice in the meantime. So maybe the liberal wing of the party accomplished something after all.
Sunday, June 13, 2010
For all of my three years, I heard versions of [the] accusation: The Times is a “liberal rag,” pursuing a partisan agenda in its news columns. There is no question that the editorial page is liberal and the regular columnists on the Op-Ed page are heavily weighted in that direction. There is also no question that The Times, though a national newspaper, shares the prevailing sensibilities of the city and region where it is published. It does not take creationism or intelligent design as serious alternatives to the theory of evolution. It prints the marriages and commitment ceremonies of same-sex couples. It covers art and cultural events out on the edge.
But if The Times were really the Fox News of the left, how could you explain the investigative reporting that brought down Eliot Spitzer, New York’s Democratic governor;derailed the election campaign of his Democratic successor, David Paterson; got Charles Rangel, the Harlem Democrat who was chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in ethics trouble; and exposed the falsehoods that Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, another Democrat, was telling about his service record in the Vietnam era?
Saturday, June 12, 2010
Friday, June 11, 2010
Josh Green tells us that coverage of the oil spill has driven the Tea Party out of the news. That's to be expected, but what we've seen in recent days is that the rest of the country is starting to grasp what we lefties have been saying all along: these people are kind of crazy. As some of their favored candidates become nationally known - yourRand Pauls, your Sharron Angles - they are revealed as having rather extreme views, whether about civil rights, or the danger to the integrity of our precious bodily fluids posed by flouridation.
As Yogi Berra said, making predictions is always risky, particularly about the future, but here goes: After November's election, the Tea Party movement will quickly fade into nothingness. Maintaining a political movement is hard, particularly one that has already been so discredited. Most of the Tea Party candidates will lose, and then Republicans will turn their attention to their party's 2012 nomination contest, caring more about whether Sarah Palin or Mitt Romney can beat Obama than which online retailer has the best deals on tri-corner hats. As the economy continues to improve, the generalized anger that helps give the movement fuel outside of the GOP will dissipate. And before you know it, the Tea Party will be a memory - a colorful one, to be sure, but just a memory.
Really, could a more odious pair possibly exist in the universe?
Steve Forbes, who -- as far as I can tell -- has never had to apply, or even interview, for a job in his life (much less hold one), has to be what FDR had in mind when he coined the term "economic royalist." The scion of the famous publishing family wore a neck brace on the show after having recently undergone back surgery. He joked -- twice -- that he wanted to have the procedure done "before Obamacare kicked in." Ha ha, what a cut-up! (Joe Kernen was particularly tickled by that jab; Ryan was only present for the second go-around but smirked as well.)
Now Forbes was born with a huge silver spoon in his mouth, has lived his entire life with that spoon firmly ensconced in said mouth, and no doubt will die that way. His personal net worth has been estimated well into the hundreds of millions. Not only has Forbes been a member-in-good-standing of the Super Rich for his whole life, but I seriously wonder if he's ever met anyone who hasn't. And you know what I say? God bless him! I wish it were me. His father and grandfather worked hard and invested wisely so that he would never have to.
But there was something just a little unseemly about Forbes, who my late father would have referred to derisively as "a rich man's son" (or grandson, as in his case), giggling about having his back surgery "before Obamacare kicked in." Seriously, has there ever been any doubt that the super rich in this country -- before or after "Obamacare kicks in" -- would always have access to the best medical care in the world? (As well they should.) But there's something just a little disappointing about a privileged guy like Forbes begrudging a poor person basic health care.
Before Obamacare (which Forbes has correctly pointed out hasn't even begun yet), it had been estimated that 47 million Americans were without health insurance and, in effect, without access to medical care. Not only is the United States the richest, most prosperous (and, okay Republicans, greatest) country in history, but also the only developed nation in the world not to offer universal coverage for its citizens. And according to a study by Harvard Medical School last fall, tens of thousands of Americans die each year due to lack of health insurance. And yet here's Steve Forbes, who probably arrived at the CNBC studios from his New Jersey estate in a limousine, talking disparagingly about "Obamacare." My heart bleeds for you, Steve.
Then, just as my blood was approaching its boiling point (and this is all before eight o'clock in the morning, mind you), Paul Ryan, Republican Congressman from Wisconsin (Janesville, no less -- my mother-in-law's hometown!) joined the show and congratulated Joe and Becky Quick for replacing Carl Quintanilla with someone who actually has a spine (Steve Forbes). Ha ha!
This guy is really scary.
Paul Ryan is supposed to be the "thinking man's Republican." Heaven help us. He's the guy who not only makes all of his new staff members read Atlas Shrugged, but is also the author of "A Roadmap for America's Future." (Isn't Ryan, at age 40, just a tad old to be still going through his Ayn Rand phase?) I'll confess that I haven't read "The Roadmap" in its entirety, but as far as I can tell, it involves achieving a balanced budget at some point in the future by eliminating Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, while -- at the same time --preserving the current level of defense spending and cutting taxes on the rich. Nifty, huh?
Now Ryan would never admit that his plan envisions eliminating Medicare, for example. He merely thinks that the federal government should distribute vouchers in its place. My 90-year-old mother (forgive me, Ma, for telling the world your age), for instance, would be given a voucher worth about $2,000 in today's dollars to buy health insurance in lieu of Medicare. Never mind that $2,000 wouldn't buy much of a policy for anyone, anywhere; who in the heck would write one for a 90-year-old woman? No one. No, as far as I can tell, Ryan's plan is to do away with entitlements altogether and let everyone -- excepting the wealthiest among us -- rot.
It's as if you showed the federal budget to a fourth-grader and said, "Balance this." (The federal government, as Paul Krugman has pointed out, is basically an insurance company with an army --that's what we're paying for.) Any fourth-grader could look at the budget and say, "Cut entitlements and you can bring the budget into balance." Thank you, fourth-grader! But the challenge we face is in bringing some sanity to our budget process while simultaneously preserving the safety net for the neediest. (Just like they've been doing in Europe for decades.) Or, as FDR once put it:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
So please, CNBC, find some other guests for your show. I've had enough of people like Steve Forbes and Paul Ryan. Let the former go back to playing polo in the horsey environs of New Jersey while the latter can teach a seminar in Objectivism somewhere.
Like his thesis adviser Dr. [Andrey] Kolmogorov, Dr. Arnold had an unusual approach when he got stuck on a problem. Writing in the Russian online newspaper Gazeta.ru, his former students Askold Khovanskii and Yuli Ilyashenko recalled that Dr. Arnold would ski for 25 miles or more, wearing nothing more than swim trunks. (My emphasis.)
“According to him, this practice would always lead him to a new idea,” they wrote.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
People should read Matthew Yglesias's post on the increasingly destructive role the word "bailout" is playing in our public discourse. Like Matt, I've heard pretty much every policy people don't like referred to as a bailout. Money to pay teachers is called a bailout. Monetary stimulus is called a bailout. Paying our IMF dues while the IMF makes a loan to Greece is called a bailout.
For one thing, we need a better definition of a bailout. I'd say it's something like "putting public money into a firm that's insolvent because of poor business decisions." Conversely, putting money into South Carolina's schools to blunt the cuts required by plummeting tax revenue caused by a financial-sector crisis isn't a bailout. You may think it's good or bad policy, but it's not a response to epic mismanagement on South Carolina's part. Unemployment insurance, which helps workers who were laid off after the credit markets froze up and their employer could no longer access capital or find people to purchase goods, is also not a bailout.
Meanwhile, helping Greece may be a bailout, but even that doesn't make it a bad policy decision. So on the one hand, the word "bailout" is being used promiscuously and inaccurately. And on the other hand, it doesn't even tell you that much when it's used correctly.
...It's further evidence that the "lone Republican" strategy doesn't work. Time and again, Democrats have ended up in a room with a single Republican who seemed willing to cut a deal. It was Olympia Snowe on health care, Bob Corker on financial regulation and Lindsey Graham on climate change. In every case, the final bill looked a lot like what that Republican helped negotiate. And in every single case, the Republican realized that he or she couldn't get more support from their party and so they eventually bolted the effort.
If you think this has all been a cynical strategy, it's been brilliantly successful. On the one hand, Republicans have had a major role in shaping these bills. On the other hand, they haven't had to vote for these bills, and so they could cleanly campaign against legislation that a member of their party helped write. And as an added bonus, Democrats are stuck trying to defend a bill that their base doesn't like very much and that's thick with compromises that annoy political elites.
...favors the privatization of Medicare and Social Security, [abolishing the Department of Education], supported a program based on Scientology that would have offered massages to some prison inmates and did not support unemployment insurance in a state with among the highest jobless rates in the nation.
Now, as bad as Sergeant Sargent sounds, I'll bet it was even worse when he was Private Sargent (or when he becomes Lieutenant Sargent some day).
"Private Sargent is on the phone."
"There's a Lieutenant Sargent here to see you."
Why do people like that always choose careers that make it so confusing for the rest of us?
...the worst nightmare for status quo lawmakers was of “two businesswomen from the real world who know how to create jobs, balance budgets and get things done.”
I assume Ms. Whitman is referring to herself and Carly Fiorina, the Republican candidate for senator in California, who was the CEO of Hewlett-Packard from 1999 to 2005. (This is the same person who worked with Ms. Whitman on John McCain's campaign for president in 2008; the two are said to hate each other.)
I haven't looked at Ms. Whitman's record at eBay just yet; I'll bet she did a fine job. But Ms. Fiorina eliminated 30,000 jobs in her tenure at HP and made 60% of the owners' equity in the firm disappear.
Is this what Ms. Whitman means when she says "creating jobs and getting things done?" Sounds more like a nightmare to me.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
A senior White House official just called me with a very pointed message for the administration's sometime allies in organized labor, who invested heavily in beating Blanche Lincoln, Obama's candidate, in Arkansas.
"Organized labor just flushed $10 million of their members' money down the toilet on a pointless exercise," the official said. "If even half that total had been well-targeted and applied in key House races across this country, that could have made a real difference in November."
I'm not so sure. Maybe last night provided the best of all possible outcomes: the more competitive candidate was nominated while the message was sent to other Democrats facing reelection -- get with the program or face a primary challenge.
At the end of the piece, Jean Erstling, Landon’s director of communications, is quoted as saying, that “Landon has an extensive ethics and character education program which includes as its key tenets respect and honesty. Civility toward women is definitely part of that education program.”
Ms. Dowd then concludes by saying:
Time for a curriculum overhaul. Young men everywhere must be taught, beyond platitudes, that young women are not prey.
Hard to argue with that, but I wonder if it's really the school's responsibility to teach "civility toward women." I certainly wouldn't object to that; there couldn't possibly be any harm in it. But is that really the problem? Has the school been delinquent in its teaching? I'll bet the problem lies more with the boys' families and their fathers' attitudes toward women. Fundamental values like these are learned at home. By the time these boys arrive at Landon it's probably too late.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
This is baffling, and then some, given BP’s atrocious record prior to this catastrophe. In the last three years, according to the Center for Public Integrity, BP accounted for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors” — including 760 citations for “egregious, willful” violations (compared with only eight at the two oil companies that tied for second place). Hayward’s predecessor at BP, ousted in a sex-and-blackmail scandal in 2007, had placed cost-cutting (and ever more obscene profits) over safety, culminating in the BP Texas City refinery explosion that killed 15 and injured 170 in 2005. Last October The Times uncovered documents revealing that BP had still failed to address hundreds of safety hazards at that refinery in the four years after the explosion, prompting the largest fine in the history of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (The fine, $87 million, was no doubt regarded as petty cash by a company whose profit reached nearly $17 billion last year.)
My predictions? Meg Whitman, who has already spent about $70 million (much of it her own), will spend another $70 million or so in a losing effort to Democratic nominee Jerry Brown (yes, that Jerry Brown). Neophyte Carly Fiorina will get crushed in the fall by her opponent, incumbent Senator Barbara Boxer. Nikki Haley may be forced to win after a runoff (and pave the way for Sarah Palin in the 2012 South Carolina Republican primary). Arkansas? It doesn't really matter who wins because the Democratic nominee should get thumped in November. And in Nevada, Sharron Angle will take a merciless beating from Harry Reid in the general.
So let's have a quick review, shall we?
Nikki Haley (pictured above), the controversial front runner, has been endorsed by none other than Sarah Palin (surprised?). Haley was also endorsed by Mitt Romney back in March, but almost no one noticed. That's telling. (By the way, can you imagine the South having two Indian-American Republican governors?)
In the race for second place (which is not unimportant, as a runoff is expected), Rep. Gresham Barrett has been endorsed by former Vice President Dick Cheney and former presidential candidate Fred Thompson, while South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster has the backing of former Gov. David Beasley, Arizona Sen. John McCain, and, at the eleventh hour (what's up with that?), former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani.
Bringing up the rear is Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, who has been endorsed by former (and future?) presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
So keep your eye on the outcome of this race; it may be the most important one of the day as it could provide clues for 2012.
Monday, June 7, 2010
I've often wondered about the way CEOs are compensated. Are they really worth all that money? Do they really have that big of an impact, one way or the other? Take Stan O'Neal of Merrill Lynch, for example. He walked away from the securities giant with about $160 million after the firm announced $8 billion in losses. (Merrill was later sold to Bank of America for a song.)
But who knows? Maybe the board of directors was actually very shrewd. Think of it this way: if they had skimped and hired someone less talented than Mr. O'Neal and paid him only $150 million or so, Merrill may have dropped $10 or $12 billion.
But again, I wonder. I wonder how much worse I would have done in their place. Take Ms. Fiorina and HP again. Now I'm sure that she has forgotten a lot more about business than I will ever know. But I would have taken that job in 1999 for a lot less, say $10 or $15 million. (Who am I kidding? They could have had me for $5 million.) And you know what I would have done as CEO? Nothing. That's right; nothing. Oh sure, I would have gotten all dressed up in a nice suit every morning and walked into the building with a BlackBerry to my ear and everything. And I would have smiled at my secretary as I strode purposefully into my office, but then I would have closed the door and done...nothing. I mean it. I would have just surfed the net or slept all day. And if any of my vice presidents had interrupted me with some pressing issue, I would have replied simply, "Do whatever you think is best." I would have let my underlings run the place.
Could my approach have possibly been worse than Ms. Fiorina's? Be honest. Would HP's stock have fallen by more than 60% in five years? I doubt it. Those vice presidents are very capable people. They didn't get those jobs by accident.
Let's say the stock fell by only 50%. I would have been considered a genius! I would have had my picture on the covers of Business Week and Forbes. All across America, business school professors would have been teaching the "Tracy Method" in their classes. Move over, Jack Welch, there's a new guy in town!
And if my strategy failed? If HP had lost more money on my watch? Oh well, I could always join Mr. O'Neal on the board of directors at Alcoa. That's right. After making such a mess of things at Merrill, Stan O'Neal was hired to...what? Advise the management on strategy? I doubt it. I hope not. No, I have to think Mr. O'Neal was hired to serve on some compensation committee that will approve a huge package for the CEO.
And if that didn't work? Heck, there's always the United States Senate.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Don't believe the naysayers; this economy is in recovery. The bottom is in. Republicans are just rooting for a double-dip so they can return to power in November.
In today's Times, Charles Blow writes about "Americans' evolving views of homosexuality." He cites some recent findings from Gallup which reveal, among other things, that:
For the first time, the percentage of Americans who perceive “gay and lesbian relations” as morally acceptable has crossed the 50 percent mark.
Now if you're under the age of, say, 90, have at least some college in your background, and live within a hundred miles or so of a (northern) city, you may be surprised that that number is so low. (Even my dear sister -- who admitted to me recently that although she didn't want to see Sarah Palin get the GOP nomination in 2012, would vote for her anyway because she "always votes Republican" -- has made comments that displayed a tolerance and compassion for gays and lesbians. Believe me, this is news.)
Makes me wonder, though, who the heck is in that other 50 percent?
Well, for starters, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. (Again, surprised?) From another article last week in the Times:
The church views gay sex as a sin and homosexual tendencies as a psychological disorder.
Now here comes the ranting part. In the last census, over 50 million Americans (almost 25% of the population) identified themselves as Catholics. Do they all agree with the above statement? (Not if my sister doesn't.) So why do they continue to be members of such a reactionary denomination? And it's not just homosexuality; there are countless cases. It took centuries, for example, for the church to condemn slavery. Same with allowing interest to be charged on loans. And the church still doesn't approve of birth control, even when practiced by married couples. (Don't even get me started on whether or not the earth revolves around the sun.)
So my question is, why do Catholics put up with a church that nearly always trails public opinion?
When do you suppose the church will finally get around to tolerating gays and lesbians? Ten years from now? Fifty? Ever? Why does it always have to be on the wrong side of history? Like the Republican Party, the Catholic Church never seems to get out in front on an issue and lead. Why is that? Is it because such a large part of the appeal of Catholicism is that it clings to tradition?
Why does it always have to be so, well, reactionary?
Friday, June 4, 2010
“Priority number one has got to be focus on preventing this from getting worse,” Rubio told a Jacksonville audience on May 25, according to the Florida Times-Union. “If that means the federal government has to step in and take over then that’s what needs to happen.”
I thought the tea partiers wanted government out of the way.
So what else is there to say or do? Well, I have a suggestion: give the car to charity. That's right; complete the circle. Even though Galarraga has acted incredibly well so far, he's a rich man and bound to get richer still. Detroit, on the other hand, is a godforsaken place and is likely to get worse. What better way to achieve closure than to give the car to some homeless shelter or orphanage (do they still have those?) and let them sell it.
I think it would make for a "perfect" ending.