Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, December 31, 2010 8:38 pm

Why it’s a rigged game

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , ,

Byron Wien is vice chairman of Blackstone Advisory Partners LP. One year ago, he created what he called the Top 10 Surprises for 2010. (Zero Hedge reposted them here this past Jan. 5.) If you don’t know a ton about finance, it’s sometimes hard to know when ZH is being sincere, when it’s being mildly snarky and when it’s being outright ironic, but you didn’t need to be an expert to know that the site’s proprietors were highly skeptical of Wien’s predictions.

As well they should have been, because Wien just whiffed on almost everything. Here were his calls, each followed in parenetheses italics by my fact-checking from earlier today:

1. The United States economy grows at a stronger than expected 5% real rate during the year and the unemployment level drops below 9%. Exports, inventory building and technology spending lead the way. Standard and Poor’s 500 operating earnings come in above $80.

5% real growth? Numbers aren’t in yet, of course, but even with a better-than-expected 3Q, 4.5% looks like the upper bound of any sane estimate at this point. Unemployment below 9%? No; it’s 9.6%, and a lot of people are going to have to either find jobs or quit looking to bring that number down much. S&P 500 earnings $80+? No.

2. The Federal Reserve decides the economy is strong enough for them to move away from zero interest rate policy. In a series of successive hikes beginning in the second quarter the Federal funds rate reaches 2% by year-end.

Fed funds rate at 2% by year-end? Nope, still bumping along close to zero.

3. Heavy borrowing by the U.S. Treasury and some reluctance by foreign central banks to keep buying notes and bonds drives the yield on the 10-year Treasury above 5.5%. Banks loan more to corporations and individuals and pull away from the carry trade, thereby reducing demand for Treasuries. Obama says, “The suits are finally listening.”

As of this morning the 10-year Treasury was at 3.3%.

4. In a roller coaster year the Standard and Poor’s 500 rallies to 1300 in the first half and then runs out of steam and declines to 1000, ending where it started at 1115.10. Even though the economy is strong and earnings exceed expectations, rising interest rates and full valuations present a problem. Concern about longer term growth and obligations to reduce leverage at both the public and private level unsettle investors.

S&P index right now is a shade over 1255, a few dollars shy of its 52-week high. So, hit 1300? No. Down to 1115.10? Also no.

5. Because it is significantly undervalued on a purchasing power parity basis, the dollar rallies against the yen and the euro. It exceeds 100 on the yen and the euro drops below $1.30 as the long slide of the greenback is interrupted. Longer term prospects remain uncertain.

At no point in the past 52 weeks has the dollar rallied above 100 against the yen and it’s currently at 81.225. Euro drops below $1.30? It did during the summer, but it was back up to $1.3397 this morning. As for longer-term prospects, don’t they always remain uncertain?

6. Japan stands out as the best performing major industrialized market in the world as its currency weakens and its exports improve. Investors focus on the attractive valuations of dozens of medium sized companies in a market selling at one quarter of its 1989 high. The Nikkei 225 rises above 12,000.

Pfft. The 52-week high was 11,408, and the most recent close was 10,228.92.

7. Believing he must be a leader in climate control initiatives, President Obama endorses legislation favorable for nuclear power development. Arguing that going nuclear is essential for the environment, will create jobs and reduce costs, Congress passes bills providing loans and subsidies for new plants, the first since 1979. Coal accounts for about 50% of electrical power generation, and Obama wants to reduce that to 25% by 2020.

Yet again, no. In fairness, Obama does seem to be leaning somewhat in that direction, and philosophically, the new House majority probably favors such a move as well. The question is, will Congressional Republicans approve, or even forcefully support, anything that will allow Obama to claim even a modicum of victory? That remains to be seen, but Congressional GOP behavior during the recent lame-duck session does not give one cause for optimism.

8. The improvement in the U.S. economy energizes the Obama administration. The White House undergoes some reorganization and regains its momentum. In the November Congressional election the Democrats only lose 20 seats, much less than expected.

BWA. There was no improvement in the economy from wage-earners’/consumers’ standpoint, therefore no regained Democratic momentum, and the only reason the Republicans didn’t take back BOTH houses of Congress is that the Republicans nominated some Senate candidates who were so batsh*t insane that even Republicans couldn’t stomach them. Yeah, Christine O’Donnell and Joe Miller, I’m talking to you.

9. When it finally passes, financial service legislation, like the health care bill, proves to be softer on the industry than originally feared. There is greater consumer protection, more transparency, tighter restriction of leverage and increased scrutiny of derivatives, but the regulatory changes for investment bankers and hedge funds are not onerous. Trading volume and merger activity increases; financial service stocks become exceptional performers in the U.S. market.

Finreg was softer than feared, but financial performance hasn’t been substantially affected because finreg was never an issue. Demand was. And demand still sucks. Moreover, most of the largest U.S. banks are “profitable” only because the rules are being changed and the goalposts moved to avoid acknowledging what is painfully obvious to those of us who don’t hold BAC stock: any honest accounting system would have found them insolvent.

10. Civil unrest in Iran reaches a crescendo. Ayatollah Khameini pushes out Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in favor of a more public relations adept leader. Economic improvement becomes the key issue and anti-Israel rhetoric subsides. Talks with the U.S. and Europe begin but the country remains a nuclear threat. Pakistan becomes the hot spot in the region because of the weak government there, anti-American sentiment, active terrorist groups and concerns about the security of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

Half-credit. The dissent predicted in Iran hasn’t materialized. The problems predicted in Pakistan have, although so far as we know (and we shouldn’t bet we know everything), things haven’t yet reached a boiling point.

So, to the surprise of pretty much no one not on a bank payroll, Wien’s batting average was .050. In the big leagues, you need a 100 mph fast ball and a curve that can open your beer bottle for you to stick to a roster with an average like that. Speaking of beer bottles, how many did he open before writing this stuff?

And where does this leave the rest of us? The “official” unemployment rate of 9.6% masks a true unemployment rate probably two to three points higher and a U6 rate topping 18%, and yet our government is so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that no one in a responsible position sees this as any kind of problem requiring action, let alone the national emergency that it truly is.

(UPDATE: Slight edits for clarity.)

Saturday, December 25, 2010 10:58 pm

Dancin’ Hooper

Filed under: Fun,Hooper — Lex @ 10:58 pm
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Hooper asked me to add some tuneage to his Shuffle today, so I did. His taste continues to be eclectic – today it was Taio Cruz, Santana and Lady Gaga. Here he dances to “Poker Face.” He has had a blast this Christmas.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010 10:53 am

… followed immediately by Bishop Death

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:53 am
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Bishop Thomas Olmsted of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix wants women to die. I’m sorry, but there is no other logical conclusion to be drawn from this episode:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix stripped a major hospital of its affiliation with the church Tuesday because of a surgery that ended a woman’s pregnancy to save her life.

Bishop Thomas Olmsted called the 2009 procedure an abortion and said St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center — recognized internationally for its neurology and neurosurgery practices — violated ethical and religious directives of the national Conference of Catholic Bishops.

“In the decision to abort, the equal dignity of mother and her baby were not both upheld,” Olmsted said at a news conference announcing the decision. “The mother had a disease that needed to be treated. But instead of treating the disease, St. Joseph’s medical staff and ethics committee decided that the healthy, 11-week-old baby should be directly killed.” …

In a statement, St. Joseph’s President Linda Hunt said the hospital will comply with Olmsted’s decision, but she defended its actions.

“If we are presented with a situation in which a pregnancy threatens a woman’s life, our first priority is to save both patients. If that is not possible, we will always save the life we can save, and that is what we did in this case,” Hunt said. “Morally, ethically, and legally, we simply cannot stand by and let someone die whose life we might be able to save.”

The woman is in her 20s had a history of abnormally high blood pressure when she learned of her pregnancy. After she was admitted to the hospital with worsening symptoms, doctors determined her risk of death was nearly 100 percent.

Let’s be clear: There were two, and only two, possible outcomes here. In one, the baby dies and the mother lives. In the other, the baby dies and the mother dies. And the Church, presented with this information, chose Door No. 2.

This was a heartbreaking situation — for the mother, the child and their family; for the medical professionals involved; and for the Church, which, I’ll grant, has a significant interest in how the hospital does its job.

But a heartbreaking situation is not automatically equivalent to an ethical or moral dilemma. Though tragic, this case was a moral and ethical no-brainer: If the baby’s going to die whatever you do, you at least try to save the mother, full stop.

The Church’s role here was not only to provide ethical and moral guidance, but also to offer the comfort of Christ to all those who were suffering. Instead, it punished the medical team and their hospital for making the only ethically defensible choice they could make, it punished the hospital for acting on that choice, and by implication it heaped undeserved guilt onto everyone concerned.

Way to model Christ, there, Bishop.

There’s a part of me that would like to witness the forthcoming conversation between Bishop Olmsted and Jesus on this case. But there’s a bigger part of me that really wouldn’t, because I suspect that it would be too horrific to watch. And unlike the bishop, I haven’t lost all empathy for my fellow sinners.

Dr. Death

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 10:07 am
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That’d be Tom Coburn, the physician-turned-senator who seems to think having “M.D.” after his name entitles him to inordinate amounts of deference even when his behavior is both insane and a violation of the Hippocratic Oath.

Right now, Coburn is the main obstacle to passing the Zadroga 9/11 act, which would compensate 9/11 first responders for health problems related to their exposure to toxins at the World Trade Center site on and after 9/11. These people responded with incredible bravery to try to rescue people in the Twin Towers. Hundreds of them died in the attempt, and many of the survivors are now seriously ill, even dying, because of the risks they took on.

Coburn doesn’t want them to get that help, and whatever his real reasons are, he’s lying. He claims he objects because the bill is being rushed through at the end of the session without a committee hearing. In fact, it has been pending for more than a year, has already been brought to the floor once, and did indeed get a committee hearing in June of this year before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, whose members include … Tom Coburn.

“First, do no harm,” Dr. Coburn. If you don’t want to pass this bill because you think it’ll mean smaller tax cuts for zillionaires or something, at least be enough of a grownup to say so. Don’t lie to the American people about it.

One other thing: It’s worth remembering that this guy was considered one of the more reasonable members of the ’94 Gingrich revolution — not because it wasn’t true, but because it was.

One other other thing: The so-called liberal media has been shamefully absent on this story. It has taken Jon Stewart’s flogging this issue like a rented mule on “The Daily Show” for it to get anywhere, and even the White House knows it.

Monday, December 20, 2010 8:43 pm

Eat the rich before they eat you?

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:43 pm
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Having reached a hideous “compromise” with Republicans on tax cuts, sometime soon, possibly in his next State of the Union address, President Obama is going to propose some spending cuts.

The conventional wisdom in Washington is that these cuts will require “tough decisions,” which is code for cutting Social Security. But if you’re one of the people actually making the decision, it really ain’t all that tough:

As you can see, people in the top 40% of earners, and particularly in the top 20%, rely far less on Social Security for their retirement income than do the less fortunate of us in the American majority.  (And it’s worth remembering that congresscritters and most prominent DC journalists aren’t just in the top 20%, they’re in about the top 5%.) Conversely, if we go cutting Social Security to try to balance the budget, you can see what kind of damage it’s going to do to the least fortunate in this country.

And the even bigger picture is this: 1) Federal taxation is at its lowest in 60 years relative to GDP, and that was the case even before the recession. 2) Our deficit problem is, to a large extent, a health-care cost problem and is, to an almost complete extent, a combination of a health-care cost  problem and ahistorically low tax rates on the highest earners and wealthiest individuals. If we fix health care (which the Affordable Care Act was well on the way to doing) and start taxing the wealthy at anything like historical averages, then most if not all of our deficit problem goes away.

These statements are arithmetical facts. But you won’t hear politicians or DC journalists mentioning them, and now you know why.

Beware those who profess bravery in the face of other people’s suffering.

Friday, December 17, 2010 8:37 pm

Blog OS weirdness; or, Dude, where’s my Twitter link?

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 8:37 pm
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John Cole at Balloon Juice has a special tag, FYWP — if you know what that means and I think  you do — for problems caused at that blog by the WordPress blogging system, which is the same one I use. Now, Balloon Juice’s traffic is orders of magnitude higher than mine, so I would not be surprised if that traffic creates occasional problems, some bordering on existential.

I switched from Blogger to WP several years ago because Blogger had been having what I thought were way too many outages, even for a free service. There was one significant tradeoff: the ability, at no charge, to change the RSS in your blog. The payoff was far more reliable service — I think this was back in the days before Google had bought Blogger.

All of which is just me indulging a bit in what’s left of my memory and has nothing to do with my main point, which is: When you call up a post on this blog as its own page (if you’ve never done that, you do it by clicking on the title of a post), you see a bunch of “sharing” widgets at the bottom that allow you to do such things as tweet about the post, post it to your Facebook account, e-mail the link to someone and so forth. For the past couple of days, the Twitter widget has been disappearing and reappearing without obvious explanation. Any other WordPress users know what’s up with that?

Thanks.

Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:50 pm

Your new House speaker: Feces on toast

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:50 pm

Gail Collins of The New York Times, for the win:

Boehner is driven to great, noisy sobs when he contemplates the fact that as a youth, he mopped the floor at his father’s tavern.

Besides the crying gap between men and women, there’s also one between Republicans and Democrats. On the one hand, you have the folks who can’t afford tears because it makes them look weak, and on the other, the people who are presumed to be tough and hard-nosed, for whom crying is an attractive sign of complexity.

Boehner is opposed to extending unemployment benefits for the jobless, and he wants to kill off the law that guarantees health coverage to all Americans. So you know when he starts weeping when his wife says she’s “real proud” of him, it’s not a sign of softness.

In 2007, he cried while delivering a speech on the floor of the House, in support of funding for the war in Iraq. “After 3,000 of our fellow citizens died at the hands of these terrorists, when are we going to stand up and take them on?” he sobbed.

Then this year, he voted against providing money to take care of our fellow citizens who became ill while doing rescue and reclamation work at ground zero after the terrorist attack.

Twice.

The English language overflows with words appropriate for such a loathesome human being, but because my daughter occasionally surfs by, I won’t use any here.

But here’s what I will do.

First, I will predict — something I rarely do — that within two years, historians will be having serious discussions about whether Boehner has been the worst House speaker  in history and will have arrived at consensus that he is at least among the bottom 10.

And I will promise you this: I am going to make an example of him. Unless this guy starts showing numerous and prompt signs of being anything more than a waste of a carbon-based life form, I am going to ride him like an enormous hooved beast across the plains of Mongolia and I am going to flog him like a rented mule.

There have been WAY too many worthless meatsacks running things in this country in the past 30 years — greedy, stupid, un-self-aware, hypocritical, pompous, strutting field marshals in the War on the Constitution, the Rule of Law, Empathy, Science, Logic, Human Decency, and Basic Common Freaking Sense — and I have jolly damned well had it with every last one of them. Better people than I claim that no one is irredeemable; I used to believe them, but I no longer do and John Boehner is my Exhibit A. It’s on.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010 8:47 pm

In which I copy edit …

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:47 pm

the Utne Reader:

With progressive rhetoric and staggering grabs of presidential power, some Latin American presidents have deconstructed democracy …

Fixed.

In which I copy edit …

Filed under: Journalism — Lex @ 8:33 pm
Tags:

… Media Matters for America:

Limbaugh distorts First Lady’s comments on child nutrition bill

Fixed.

We’re not a complete dictatorship. Yet.

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:31 pm
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One bit of good news that escaped my notice earlier: The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in U.S. v. Warshak that if the government wants to read somebody’s e-mail, it needs to get a damn warrant. Orin Kerr at Volokh writes that three previous, similar 2-1 appeals-court panel rulings have been overturned or withdrawn on other grounds, but he outlines reasons why he thinks this one is likely to “stick around.” (He has written previously on related issues here.)

So, one for the good guys.

Quote of the day …

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 8:03 pm
Tags:

… from Jon Stewart:

Republicans, if you don’t owe 9/11 responders health care, at least you owe them royalties.

Burn in hell, the lot of them. Republicans who voted against the health care, I mean.

Chance of rain later this week

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 5:47 am
Tags:

Monday, December 13, 2010 8:37 pm

When your sexual practices gross out even a member of Motley Crüe …

Filed under: Weird — Lex @ 8:37 pm
Tags: , ,

… maybe you need to rethink. Particularly when your partner is a killer. Just sayin’.

The genesis of IGMFY

I’ve talked from time to time here about the I’ve Got Mine, [Forget] You” crowd and how much trouble they’re causing. But many people ask me (and I’m pretty sure a lot who don’t have at least wondered), WHY do these people, who presumably have been brought up with the same religious/moral instruction and social mores as the rest of us, get it?

Psychologists think it might be because upper-class people are less adept at deriving meaning accurately from personal interaction than are people lower on the socioeconomic scale:

“We found that people from a lower-class background – in terms of occupation, status, education and income level – performed better in terms of emotional intelligence, the ability to read the emotions that others are feeling,” says Michael Kraus, co-author of the study and a postdoctoral student in psychology at the University of California, San Francisco.

In other words, if you’re looking for a little empathy, you’re more likely to get it from a poor person than a rich one (just ask Bob Cratchit).

So, rich people: You might want to become aware of people “looking daggers” at you lest you look at see a real dagger coming at you.

 

More theocrats head to Washington

I have been taken to task both here and at my former work digs for warning that Christian Reconstructionists are trying to change the United States into a right-wing theocracy.

Well, kids, I know it is common in some local circles to accuse me of pulling stuff like this out of my nether regions, but in response I would merely ask you to look at Mike Lee, the Republican who knocked off three-term Senator Bob Bennett in this year’s Utah GOP primary. He’s merely one example. I have pointed previously to others.

I do not mean to suggest that these people are on the verge of doing what I say they are trying to do. They are not. They are not yet numerous enough, and our sclerotic form of government guarantees that their progress will be slow, at least until such time as Alito (for whom Lee once clerked) and the other partisan hacks on the Supreme Court find  a Citizens United-like case in which they can rule to demolish the disestablishmentarianism of the Constitution.

But rest assured, the Mike Lees of the world are looking for such a case, and the Alitos of the SCOTUS are sitting in their marble building, praying for the day.

Contra Ralph Nader, there is still some difference between Republicans and Democrats on some issues. This here’s a big one.

Quote, and civics lesson, of the day

Digby, on metaphors that make us stupid:

America isn’t a family and managing a national economy isn’t like managing a family budget. It isn’t like a business either (the second most common stupid metaphor). The government has a completely different set of responsibilities than other human organizing entities, and democratic government is designed to completely upend the authoritarian model of family, church and business and put the “kids” in charge.

Ayup. And specious distinctions between “republic” and “democracy” aside, that fact is what the authoritarians are doing their damnedest to keep you from learning and acting upon. Because once you do, it’s game over for them and their grand larceny.

Free markets. Wish we had some.

The next time anyone tries to dismiss any sort of government intervention as “socialism” and suggests that all we need are free markets, have them read this and the articles linked therein. What we have isn’t a free market besieged by interfering, interventionist big government. What we have is a rigged game that the government is kinda, sorta trying to unrig only not really because they’re all BOUGHT OFF. Not that I am bitter.

Sunday, December 12, 2010 9:22 pm

Friday Random 10, Sunday Evening Edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:22 pm

Even Now – Bob Seger
Sweet Soul Music – Arthur Conley
Melanie – Dreams So Real
I Know That You’re High – Trolleyvox
I Always Call Her Back – Del Fuegos
Merritville – Dream Syndicate
The Kill – Fugazi
Crossroads – Cream
Come to My Window – Melissa Etheridge
The High Road – Broken Bells

lagniappe: Another Sunny Day – Belle & Sebastian

Thursday, December 9, 2010 8:06 pm

Third World country: You’re soaking in it

Filed under: America. It was a really good idea — Lex @ 8:06 pm
Tags:

The only thing more necessary to human life than water is oxygen. And in California, a very few very wealthy people are buying up the drinkable water while selling their employees, who don’t have access to any, overpriced bottled water marketed in the rest of the country to rich people.

I want to see all you Ayn Rand libertarians drink your investments for a few days.

A new goal in life

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 7:54 pm
Tags: ,

So those good Christians at Westboro Baptist — you know, the ones who show up at the funerals of AIDS victims with signs that say “God Hates Fags” and at the funerals of fallen service members because the United States doesn’t publicly stone homosexuals, or something — have decided they’re going to picket Elizabeth Edwards’s funeral.

It’s official: My new goal is to live my life so that Westboro Baptist Church wants to picket my funeral. My surviving friends and family are hereby instructed not to harm them. On the other hand, no barbecue at the wake for them, either, and they can buy their own damn beer.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010 8:50 pm

Shine a light and see what skitters

Quote of the day, courtesy of commenter captainmandrake at Salon.com:

If nothing else, [WikiLeaks founder Julian] Assange has lifted a rock out of which Nazis and the deeply stupid have crawled. It’s been very clarifying.

As is the original article by Dan Gillmor (full disclosure: I met him once), on which captainmandrake was commenting.

 

That ancient groaning sound you hear …

… may be the jaws of hell opening beneath Bank of America. Via Zero Hedge, Moody’s opines:

We believe the case will lead to increased litigation, higher servicing costs, and more foreclosure delays. This will pressure BofA’s earnings. Increased foreclosure timelines and costs associated with potentially defective loans will also increase losses for Countrywide-sponsored RMBS. This is negative for both BofA and Countrywide-sponsored RMBS [residential mortgage-backed securities -- Lex].

Moody’s is being too cute by half. The “defects” in these loans were common in the loans of many, many other lenders as well. BAC may be first, but they will be far from last.

It would be only human to indulge in a bit of sangfroid over the failure of a too-big-to-fail bank, one that has propped itself up with tax money while gobbling some of that same money down in the form of bonuses. And I, for one, won’t shed a tear if bank executives face, as the lawyers say, significant exposure, civil and/or criminal, though I’ll believe it when it happens.

The problem, of course, is that the failure of an institution as big as BAC, particularly one whose failure was not structured in disciplined, orderly fashion as should have happened the moment the bank’s insolvency became apparent, is going to have all sorts of consequences, and you can best believe that the direst of those will be directed at those of us least able to protect ourselves.

 

 

Monday, December 6, 2010 8:04 pm

Duh du jour

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 8:04 pm

A lot of people who voted for Barack Obama have been badly disappointed by some of his decisions while in office. I’m one of them. Many of those people have concluded that there must be some reason other than the obvious why Obama has behaved in such disappointing fashion. I’m not one of them.

Neither is Lawrence Lewis, and fortunately, he’s laying out his thoughts in a venue where even the hardest-core Obama supporters will see them:

So, why would a person of such intelligence make what seems to be so many foolish political decisions? Why does he appear not to come to understand the nature of his opposition? Why does he seem to get rolled on so many issues on so many occasions? Call it The Obama Paradox. Or realize that the answer may lie in the nature of the questions.

The Obama Paradox presumes that the president is a liberal or a progressive, and that he is ceding his principles based on faulty strategies or a disinclination to face confrontation. Many of the president’s more ardent supporters also buy into this presumption, but rather than accept that the buck stops in the Oval Office, they concoct a series of ever more ridiculous rationalizations. It’s always someone else’s fault, and the blame usually falls on Congress, particularly the Republicans, the Conservadems, and the Blue Dogs. But it’s time to consider the possibility that the problem lies with the presumption underlying all these questions and explanations. It’s time to consider that the president accepts centrist and conservative policies because he himself is a centrist or conservative.

This does not mean that President Obama is a Republican, or anything close to a Republican. The Republican Party is not conservative, it is extremist. But as the Republican Party has drifted farther and farther to the fringe, much of the establishment Democratic Party has intrepidly moved into the ideological space the Republican Party abandoned. The Republicans lead this movement to the right, and the Democrats follow, taking the political center with them and leaving the traditional left ever more disenfranchised, disenchanted, and politically alienated. The problem with Barack Obama isn’t that he is worse than establishment Village Democrats, the problem is that he is one of them. He didn’t change Washington, but he is changing what some who consider themselves liberal or progressive are willing to tolerate, accept, and even support.

Precisely. George W. Bush was just dumb, or at least incurious, enough for the notion that he was just Dick Cheney’s puppet to be plausible. (I’m not saying that that take is true, merely that it is not, at first blush, completely unbelievable.) But we know Obama is smart; ergo, we must presume that he knows, or thinks he knows, exactly what he’s doing. We’ve known going in that this was going to have to be the case, and the only thing that confuses me is why, two years after his election, people are willfully considering any other explanation for his choices and behavior.

Besides that, for any administration, Republican or Democrat, smart or dumb, the buck stops with the president. Yeah, Anne Burford was a lousy EPA administrator, but she was doing what President Ronald Reagan wanted. And the simplest explanation for Barack Obama’s consistent behavior up to this point has little to do with Blue Dogs in Congress and everything thing to do with the fact that it is getting him more or less the outcomes he wants.

So what do you do if you’re a dissatisfied Obama customer? You do what citizens have always done: advocate as forcefully and effectively as possible for what you want, as long as it’s legal and constitutional (and if it’s not, advocate for change through the appropriate channels). If you feel strongly enough about a particular issue, and if it’s an issue of fundamental rights  and not just an issue of tactics or strategy, you’re not necessarily obliged to follow what you perceive as Obama’s change or evolution on that issue. The Overton window doesn’t need to be in the same spot of your personal wall as it is in Obama’s. If you think, as I do, that he’s dead wrong about something crucial, you don’t adapt your view to match his. You keep doing and advocating for what you think is right. “Never” is a long time, but I’m still pretty sure you’re never going to convince me that, for example, allowing the president to order U.S. citizens killed without charge or trial is OK — morally, legally or constitutionally. So as long as he keeps trying to do it, I’m going to keep trying to get him impeached.

And come 2012, I’ll be looking to see whether there’s anyone else out there who would make the situation better instead of worse.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010 8:22 pm

Several reasons why the federal pay freeze is a bad thing

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 8:22 pm
Tags: ,

In no particular order:

Mislabeling: We’re freezing some federal pay. The proposal doesn’t affect congresscritters or their employees, nor, so far as I can tell, does it affect employees of the judiciary branch or the military.

Economic malpractice: The biggest problem in the current economy isn’t taxes or the size/cost of government, it’s unemployment. The biggest reason why unemployment is as high as it is, is no one’s spending. The biggest reason for that is that so many people are un- or underemployed (and many others have good reason to think they might soon be). In that kind of trap, history suggests, the best way to create jobs is to stimulate consumer spending. Freezing government workers’ pay does the exact opposite of that, and no one besides the federal sector is in a position to do it at all right now.

Fairness: It is commonly believed that federal employees get better pay than their private-sector counterparts. Nominally, this is often true. However, to do an apples-to-apples comparison, you have to adjust for geography (i.e., cost of living in different regions) and type of work. When you do, you find that federal employees already make about 22% less than their private-sector counterparts. (h/t Andy Brod)

(In)effectiveness: Someone can, and probably will, write a book on this. If your concern is the size of the deficit, you have many other choices, some of which would be not only more effective but also less damaging in the short term to the so-called recovery. The freeze is expected to save perhaps $5 billion a year initially. When deficits are north of $1 trillion, that’s a joke. We’re spending more on war and defense right now than the rest of the world combined, and just to make things more interesting, we’re losing both of the wars in question, politically if not militarily. Defense costs $600B+ annually, and a dollar spent on defense creates fewer jobs than a job spent on civilian pursuits. Like Willie Sutton, we need to go where the money is. You could enact real health-care reform and save a boatload (and any serious deficit-reduction plan is going to have to do that because health care is the main deficit driver long-term). You could raise top marginal income tax rates even back to the level where they were when Clinton was president. If you were really serious about cutting the deficit, you could raise them back to the stratospheric levels of the prosperous Eisenhower era and even enact a wealth tax to go after some of what the banksters stole.

For Obama to propose this freeze as a serious deficit-reduction step goes so far beyond unseriousness that it calls his basic intelligence or his basic ethics into question. In fact, anyone who says this is a meaningful step toward deficit reduction, let alone prosperity, is either stupid or lying.

 

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