Monday, December 21, 2009

Health Care Reform

It's been a while, and I thought it was high time to explain What To Think (tm) about the impending health care reform.

First things first. The bill as written is a mess. It's a product of a legislative process that both lacks leadership and has a large faction devoted to promoting ignorance and fear. Here's what's troubling about the bill:

1. No minimum level of coverage. The mandate's analogy to auto insurance is compelling to many people, but there's a huge difference: GEICO and State Farm can compete on price because they cannot compete on coverage. The basic coverage required by state law can be improved, but it's a floor that's also an adequate level of coverage. If a consumer takes only the minimum coverage, they'll be OK in the event of a claim. This omission is largely absent from the current debate -- and it's the #1 thing that makes the bill unlikely to improve anyone's health care coverage.

2. No Pre-existing Condition Exclusion. The health insurance lobby got rid of the "no pre-existing condition" language and have re-instated it as a basis for excluding coverage. Again, this received no coverage, but it's a problem.

3. The "subsidies" are a joke. They do not take into account anything like affordability. It assumes that $90,000 has the same value in Los Angeles as it does in Terre Haute, when it obviously does not. A family in NYC that makes $100,000 and pays $3200 a month in housing expense will be required to pay $15,000 a year or else face a fine of about half that (meaning they pay half and get nothing, coverage-wise). This is ridiculous.

4. It preserves the status quo for half a decade. The bill's provisions won't take effect until 2014. That's more than enough time for the moneyed interests to undo the beneficial effects of the bill.

5. Cost-Containment Is Absent. There's a lot of pilot programs to test various kinds of cost-reduction strategies, but there's no guarantee that even successful programs will ever be rolled out more broadly. Cutting the cost of health care in the US isn't a mystery that has flummoxed the nation's brightest minds for years. It's a goal that it antithetical to the interests of those with access to power.

6. It further codifies the Right's misogyny. Telling poor and middle class women that abortions are not for them is simply wrong. I can't imagine greater hypocrisy than saying abortions are OK only for those that can afford them. This is supposed to be principled? Complaining that you don't want your (federal) tax dollars going to support abortions is like me complaining that I don't want to have my (federal) tax dollars spent on killing innocent Yemeni women and children.

7. Public Option? Yeah. Um, just yeah. This was never going to be the panacea we all hoped it would be. At best, it was something that could grow into something useful, but that wouldn't happen for sometime. And in the meantime, we can come back to this, though I doubt we will. The sad truth is that in the class was in the US, the outcome is clear: the rich have won, and they will never accept quality healthcare for all. Being mean to our poor and weak is the hallmark of our society, and that's not going to change any time soon.

I could go on, but that covers it. There are some reasons to support the bill.

1. It goes far beyond what any Presidential aspirant proposed as recently as 2004. Compared to previous health care reform measures, this is significant. Remember it wasn't much more than a year ago that the President (Bush) vetoed a modest expansion in S-CHIP coverage for children. This bill undoes that veto and then some.

2. It signals to the health finance industry a cultural shift toward reform and meaningful cost control. This is the value of thought leadership. For tens or even hundreds of thousands of people who work in healthcare and its related financial industry, this bill will be an inspiration to consider new approaches, to take on things that were previously thought to be sacred cows, etc.

3. It makes Republicans mad. This is the best reason of all. And apart from the sport of seeing the likes of Jim DeMint and "Doc" Coburn fuming mad, this bill is only possible because of the GOP apporach. Their boycott of the process has meant that there are no "middle ground" bills to attract the weak minded Maine Senators and their ilk. For Dems, it's the Senate bill or nothing -- a choice that's bringing us the Nelsons and the Landrieaus.

Add it all up and I'd vote for it. A half loaf is on offer -- take it! I doubt there will be many benefits from it, but even a few benefits are worth it, and who knows, maybe when the electorate gets a load of their money being shovelled to United Healthcare, they might actually want real coverage. It's not likely, but it could happen! Ponies!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Lousy Air Travel The Least of Our Worries

Kevin Drum riffs on an Atrios comment that "flying really sucks." Kevin says:

If I can put on my Andy Rooney hat for a moment, doesn't it seem as if this describes most of American business these days? It's not just the airlines. As near as I can tell, consumer-facing businesses these days virtually never think about how they can make things genuinely more convenient for people. Rather, they seem almost obsessively concerned with calculating the maximum amount of pain people will put up with before they finally get pissed off enough to take their business elsewhere.

I think Kevin's on to something significant.

I heard a restaurant evaluator a few years ago talking about restaurants, and he always favored local institutions, whatever it was, from a great Northern Italian to a clam shack at the beach. He described food at big chain restaurants as "just good enough so that you won't swear never to return and mean it." He pointed out that there's no one for whom Olive Garden is the best restaurant, just the most convenient, easiest to park at, and not so bad that one would never return.

A lot of large businesses are run this way: gouge every penny possible from the consumer to the point where you are one cent shy of losing the customer. And, after all, it's a smart way to maximize near term profits.

Smaller businesses that don't have to face the demands of the stock market have freedom to charge what they like, and provide whatever level of service/quality they like.

The problem is that the larger businesses essentially rig the game by using their size -- and ready (ish) access to capital to preclude smaller businesses. That's why nearly every town in the US has the same stores, restaurants, etc.

Another undesirable consequence of Wall St.'s demands is that it starves society of research and development. Air travel benefits in part from the R&D that is done by the government. But a lot of companies don't have any R&D strategy, so they riff on the products they already have, they move those products into new markets, and they buy-out the competition. Plus, there's always moving work to lower-cost markets and otherwise depriving workers and suppliers of any available pennies in order to make the firm look like it's growing.

This all points to a serious crisis in the world's economy. We have faced and rebounded somewhat from last year's financial crisis. But we have yet to face and rebound from the underlying economic crisis that continues to worsen. I believe that the current downturn shares this feature with the Great Depression.

We exited the Great Depression by providing work to every man and woman we could get our hands on. We came out of the war with enough technological innovation to support a couple of decades worth of improving products and services.

I don't see any such deus ex machina on the horizon, and so don't see any basis to suppose that the long-term decline in our standard of living is going to be reversed any time soon.

It's certainly true that some of the decline of the West is the happy by-product of a sort of global equalization which is having the positive effect of lifting hundreds of millions out of abject poverty. But we are also dealing with the consequences of a poorly managed society for the last 40 years or so. (Hardly surprising when one considers that we've had a faction in our society for that period that seems to seek and celebrate poor or non-existent social management).

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The Future

The Dems will win on health insurance reform, and over the next 25 years will argue with the Republicans over various important improvements (which the Repubs will denounce as "expansion of government power" and "employing more and more bureaucrats" or some such).

In the medium- to-long term, say 25 or so years out, the Democrats will in fact have come to take their rule for granted. They will propose foolish ideas and will be taken down over the ensuing 15-25 years, when the latest iteration of the conservative movement again captures political power.

Rinse. Repeat.

I'm inexplicably upbeat and positive about tonight's BHO speech. I saw a few minutes of his Cincinnati speech, and had the experience of thinking I was re-connecting with an old, dear friend after a summer apart. Weird, yeah.


Any hoo, I'm sure I'll find more than adequate grounds for pessimism and gloom shortly. Do not be alarmed!

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

A sustainable answer to the cruel logic of exponential math

Simply a Deep Thought(tm):

Humans had, for most of our development, millions, thousands, hundreds and even tens of years to adjust to the new problems of our growing species. How best to protect the tribe from animals? How best to store grains? How best to protect our group from other groups who would attack us? How to attack other groups and get their stuff? All of these questions have been addressed with the luxury of some considerable time -- and in a time when significant loss of life was not all that rare.

In the last 200 years, though, our growth has risen to insanely high levels. (Strangely, most population growth experts expect it to top out at some point fairly soon, though why that should be so I have no idea.) We have had to invent, nearly on the fly, systems to handle our basic human needs. We have often done so while incurring large loss of life, and I'm not even counting warfare and genocide - simple death from starvation has been an ongoing catastrophe of enormous proportions.

When I consider the state of our American experiment, I am concerned that we do not have a sustainable model. We still follow an extractive model, and routinely waste enormous resources, lost in our obsession with free markets and social Darwinism.

Social Darwinism is not who we are as creatures. We are hard-wired to be more community-minded, and are obviously striving to get more and more community minded all the time. But we have a hard time imagining a better future, and remain fixed on the structures that have "worked" in the past.

Our society, like so many others around the world, has a jobs/work crisis. Humans need to feel productive to remain happy, and far too many are not producing at anything like their potential. The value of specialization, the value of economies of scale, the power of technological acheivements - these are all forces that free humans from various kinds of work. But we have operated under the impression that the goal is a society where no one has to work, which has sadly led us to a society where not enough people have useful work to do.

In considering the best ways to create work/jobs, we must start to value more highly the need of humans to have meaningful work. Even if it means we "pay" more. We might pay teachers more, even though we might not "have" to. We might "pay" to have more manufacturing work done nearby, even though we could "pay" less for it to be done elsewhere.

I've been trying to formulate a model that would be universal enough to be adopted by almost any society. My thought begins with something like, "for every 2,200 humans, we need one dentist, for every 100,000 humans we need 1,400 farm workers, for every 28,500 humans we need 100 carpenters," and so on. The idea is to have communities that are optimally sized and ensure a wide variety of vocations. A single social unit of say, 300 million, is simply too large to manage. My current thought is to establish something rather like colleges and universities, but these institutions would have missions that do not revolve around education (though some could and would), but would have some focus or speciality. I can imagine a transportation college, where engineers would design forms of transportation and workers could produce it; the rest of the community would work to support that. It's not something I've finished thinking through, so there are a lot of issues. But the core of the idea is to create communities of sizes that would more readily allow adaptation, change and growth over time, so that we wouldn't have to work solely on systems that worked for communities of a half a billion souls or more.

If we don't grab hold of our own destiny, the cruel logic of math will leave us with a single system for all 20 billion of us, in which errors are far more costly, innovation is therefore harder, and far too many will fail to lead the kind of productive and satisfying lives that they could if we only built smarter structures and systems.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Max Blumenthal Is Big

Max Blumenthal is on Democracy Now! promoting his new book, Republican Gamorrah.

This is a major voice already. His willingness to show the hard-right on camera as they really is by itself a major contribution both to our current discourse as well as to later historical analysis.

This new book takes the already highly-insightful thinking of Richard Hofstadter's in his Paranoid Style and American Politics one step further. He takes the paranoid mind-set that describes so well the Right's perspective, and links that mind-set to what I've always believed was at the heart of their movement: a (sometimes all too accurate) perception by its members that they have failed by the standards they subscribe to.

Blumenthal quotes the amateur philosopher (OK, that's just fun to type) Eric Hoffer to Explain Everything:

“Faith in a holy cause,” Hoffer wrote, “is to a considerable extent a substitute for the lost faith in ourselves.”

This thought becomes Blumenthal's thesis (likely more of a theme, but hey, it's not a literary society), and is used over and over to illuminate the workings of the current Right at their very most fundamental level. He also introduces readers to some of the charlatans and lunatics who have personally created and led this movement - the actual Right Wing Conspiracy.

Max and I disagree about Obama's read of this history -- he thinks the President doesn't take it on board adequately, I disagree. My own view is that the President is taking a long-ish view, and knows that a success on health care will be the crack in the dam that brings about the destruction of the Lunatic Fringe as a significant force in American society for many years to come.

That destruction will take some time, and the health care win will be but the first big breakthrough. But once Americans come to understand that the government can be a very good solution to many problems, the current RIght will finally have their "emperor has no clothes" moment. We will then be able to enjoy another 40-50 years without their interference.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Guns of August: How the Republican Right Fired on Health Care

I think the President understands something that Professor Reich and many others do not: victory goes to the side that understands the power of the counter-attack.

The right has had months to mount their opposition, and have come up with things that we can all accept (like "no death panels"), or things that make no sense ("we don't need health care reform).

When Obama returns to the offensive, he will be able attack a fixed target. I predict he will prevail, and all those who wondered why he "let the narrative get away from him" will have to concede that in the end, we got meaningful health care reform.
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Public Option? It's About Accountability

Why don't Dems talk about the need to have non-public ownership of an insurance option? Not too long ago, plenty of insurance companies and banks were owned by their insureds/d­epositors. The vice is the need to post year-over-year profit increases, as demanded (probably justifiably) by the public markets...

I think a lot of older Americans would recall "mutuals" with some fondness. Well that they should, too!
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Monday, August 10, 2009

"I Hate Big Government"

Don't know where this is from, or who wrote it. I found it on

This morning I was awoken by my alarm clock powered by electricity generated by the public power monopoly regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy.

I then took a shower in the clean water provided by a municipal water utility.

After that, I turned on the TV to one of the FCC-regulated channels to see what the National Weather Service of the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration determined the weather was going to be like, using satellites designed, built, and launched by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

I watched this while eating my breakfast of U.S. Department of Agriculture-inspected food and taking the drugs which have been determined as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

At the appropriate time, as regulated by the U.S. Congress and kept accurate by the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the U.S. Naval Observatory, I get into my National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-approved automobile and set out to work on the roads build by the local, state, and federal Departments of Transportation, possibly stopping to purchase additional fuel of a quality level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, using legal tender issued by the Federal Reserve Bank.

On the way out the door I deposit any mail I have to be sent out via the U.S. Postal Service and drop the kids off at the public school.

After spending another day not being maimed or killed at work thanks to the workplace regulations imposed by the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health administration, enjoying another two meals which again do not kill me because of the USDA, I drive my NHTSA car back home on the DOT roads, to my house which has not burned down in my absence because of the state and local building codes and Fire Marshal's inspection, and which has not been plundered of all its valuables thanks to the local police department.

And then I log on to the internet -- which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration -- and post on and Fox News forums about how SOCIALISM in medicine is BAD because the government can't do anything right.

Quad. Erat. Demonstratum. The government is NOT incapable of doing anything (with the possible exception of bombing people on the other side of the world).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Face of Joblessness

This photo is so full of longing, dispair, defeat, desparation.

I suggest looking at it full-size.

Once again our society faces an employment crisis, and we seem to have no better way out than these folks did 70+ years ago.

I'm not certain I see a viable way forward at this point. We need literally millions and millions of jobs. Our leadership seems bereft of any idea of how to do that. (Me? I got plenty of ideas...)

Ten years after this was taken, these girls were women, maybe having lost someone dear in the war. They stood, however, at the start of a new age of economic opportunity. I hope today's 8, 10 and 14 year-olds stand someplace similar in 2119...

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

We Are Pissing Away our Assets

This photo-essay is something that has really stuck with me. Detroit is experiencing in a couple of decades what Philadelphia experienced over a century.

I am posting it here so I can find it easily. It is beyond haunting...

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Apology Fliers

Don't really know if this is really true or not, but it's an example of what one could do justce-wise if one weren't constrained by ossified values from the millennia before last:

A woman judge in Turkey has ordered a wife beater to personally distribute 1,000 leaflets apologising for the act, the Turkish media reported on Tuesday.

Judge Aslihan Limon, 28, in the northern town of Arac served the ruling on Mustafa Kadinci who was accused of hitting his wife and then locking her up after a row.

Apology Fliers. Imagine what we could do if all we were trying to do was provide the best justice system we could, based on effectiveness, fairness, etc. rather than on constraining Anglo-Saxon ideas form 10-something.

Healthcare, Smhealthcare

President Obama writes me:

The campaign to pass real health care reform in 2009 is the biggest test of our movement since the election. Once again, victory is far from certain. Our opposition will be fierce, and they have been down this road before. To prevail, we must once more build a coast-to-coast operation ready to knock on doors, deploy volunteers, get out the facts, and show the world how real change happens in America.

And just like before, I cannot do it without your support.

So I'm asking you to remember all that you gave over the last two years to get us here -- all the time, resources, and faith you invested as a down payment to earn us our place at this crossroads in history. All that you've done has led up to this -- and whether or not our country takes the next crucial step depends on what you do right now.

I think the world of the President, in general. I know he will not embarrass us, he will not do overtly dumb things, he will often do good things, and occasionally very good things. But I'm starting to get a rather panicky feeling...

I've been listening to the debate the last several weeks, and all I hear is mandates and tax credits. And something about gateways or collectives. I know I didn't vote for that. I thought I was voting for universal health care. But this administration starts off by saying that we will never acheive that, so let's settle for some bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo and reforms and affordability and call it a day.

And then he asks me to throw my support behind it.

Look (as the President is so fond of saying), no person in this country should be unable to get healthcare because of an inability to pay. Ask me to work for that and I'm there tomorrow. But to ask me to work for a tax credit, for Clintonian incrementalism, for a no-illegals guarantee, for a public option -- well, as the President would say, "come on now."

Leading a mass movement requires embracing inspirational ideals. It requires pushing for the changes that the people are clamoring for. Many people like their insurance just fine, says the President. That's because they're not sick. To get welfare programs for the poor, people who are not poor had to be convinced to get on board. Mr. President, let's see you do some convincing that every American deserves health care, even if he/she can't scrape up the $890 a month it's going to cost.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Isn't Supply-Side Economics Debunked By Now?

The question I'd like to ask every politician who opposed tax increases and favors cuts to social services is this:

"You are placing a rather large bet on the idea that the budget is best balanced on the backs of the weakest, the neediest, the sickest, etc., and that we must not under any circumstances ask the rich to contribute even one cent more, all on the theory that increasing taxes will cause more harm in the long-run by discouraging enterprise. Given the size and social importance of this wager, can you tell us what evidence you have that this theory is true?

Monday, June 08, 2009

John Cole says:
The unemployment situation is getting worse than was expected, something we all knew anyway:

(And I'm not going to remark on the Thing We All Know(tm)

Here's What To Think(tm):

I don’t think people have processed just how serious is the trouble we’re in. We have been created job-less people at an alarming rate for some time. That is translating, as personal savings are exhausted, the kindness of family and friends is dwindling, and assets are being liquidated, into more foreclosures and evictions—some of which will also contribute to the coming commercial real estate collapse. (So says Atrios, so it must be true.)

We may get to a point where the external indicators agree we have nowhere lower to go. But that won’t mean we start climbing back up. Our economy has been so distorted for so long that it will take a long time to get it right again.
When was the last time housing was affordable? When could most families handle paying their own tuition bills, or health insurance premiums?

Which industries are going to be creating new jobs in adequate quantity any time soon? (Search your heart and you’ll know it ain’t alternative energy, at least not in the next 5 years.)

We are in serious trouble. This is not ordinary ebb-and-flow of the business cycle. Yes, the business cycle still exists, and yes it will eventually stop swinging negative and start swinging positive. But we’ve learned in the recent past that an economy that is in a statistical growth period can still be a hard place to find a place to live, educate the kids, and take care of the sick.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

This Is A Good Example

Great post about CA's problem which shows how balancing the books on the backs of the poorest, sickest, ailing, etc. is now the overt and explicit policy of the CA government. It is no longer Something We All Know(tm) but never say out loud. This is out loud for sure.

When NY Gov. Paterson have his first speech on NY's budget woes last fall, he went in this order: First, the sick. Then the old. Then the little kids. Then students. But never, ever, the hedge fund managers -- that would be wrong!

Ah-nolt's experience is CA is eerily reminiscent of Ron Reagan's stint in the governor's mansion and then White House. "Tax Cuts! Yea! Pay for Them By Cutting Government Waste (And Yes I Mean Those Welfare Queens)." Who knew such a tough-but-compassionate guy would end up creating whole new generations of homeless people.


Today's NY Times is a perfect example of dumb-ness masquerading as insight. On the front page of the site, the headline manages to blame President Obama for "push[ing] the issue of 'identity' back to fore front."

Seeing it in context is worse. This - likely intentionally -- makes it sound like the President caused this controversy by dint of his nominating a Latina judge. WRONG. EPIC fail.

The controversy is caused by the barely-concealed bigotry of what passes for the leadership of the Republican party. Where is Steele denouncing Rush and Newt? Where's Boehner distancing House Republicans from these people?

The NY Times manages to locate the center of gravity on this in exactly the wrong place. Further evidence, I suppose, that no one with critical thinking skills reads the NY Times before it is published.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I've Never Seen It Put Better

Bob Herbert:

America has become self-destructively shortsighted in recent decades. That has kept us from acknowledging the awful long-term consequences of the tidal wave of joblessness that has swept over the nation since the start of the recession in December 2007. And it is keeping us from understanding how important the maintenance and development of the infrastructure is to the nation’s long-term social and economic prospects.

It’s not just about roads and bridges, although they are important. It’s also about schools, and the electrical grid, and environmental and technological innovation. It’s about establishing a world-class industrial and economic platform for a nation that is speeding toward second-class status on a range of important fronts.

It’s about whether we’re serious about remaining a great nation. We don’t act like it. Here’s a staggering statistic: According to the Education Trust, the U.S. is the only industrialized country in which young people are less likely than their parents to graduate from high school.

We can’t put our people to work. We can’t educate the young. We can’t keep the infrastructure in good repair. It’s hard to believe that this nation could be so dysfunctional at the end of the first decade of the 21st century. It’s tragic.

'Nuff said.

Monday, May 11, 2009

What It Means To Be a Republican

In the dust up over former Vice President Cheney's recent appearance promoting torture, there was a revealing bit that shows what being a Republican means to old Dick:

"I think my take on it was Colin had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican."

"So you think that he's not a Republican?"

"I just noted he endorsed the Democratic candidate for president this time, Barack Obama," Cheney said. "I assumed that that is some indication of his loyalty and his interest."

In fact, old Dick even went so far as to explicitly proclaim that "maintaining our loyalty and commitment to those principles is vital to our success" as Republicans.

Seems to me that Dick's view is that being Republican means marching in lock-step loyal formation. Obedience to orders would seem to be a core Republican virtue, at least according to old Dick.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

HHS Secretary

Dear Republicans,

Do you think your concerns about Gov. Sibilius' reproductive rights record might be a wee bit, I don't know, WAY, WAY out of proportion to the real issues here on Planet Earth?

Thank you for shutting up and getting out of the way.


One With A Brain

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Reader JB at TPM has this insight:

Now that Bush is gone, there is nothing and nobody else for the Republicans to turn to. They can either try to build a new identity for the party from scratch, or they can remain loyal to what they know, as so many 1930s-era Republicans remained loyal to the legacy left by Coolidge and Hoover. The latter course obviously doesn't offer much hope for the future (unless President Obama crashes and burns), but at least it promises safety for the present to the majority of Congressional Republicans representing safe Republican constituencies.

There's two things worth noting. First, those 30's era Republicans who remained loyal to Hoover and Coolidge in fact passed on their legacy -- to Barry Goldwater, Ron Reagan and ultimately George W Bush.

Secondly, there's a certain irony in the fact that Republicans took jerry-mandering to new heights, thinking it would enable them to hold onto their "permanent" majority. However, it seems to be having the effect of forcing Republicans to stick with a failed ideology, thereby ensuring their trivialization. Funny how that works.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

I Just Gotta Say

We live in a mass society. 300 million in America alone. And the days when most people were more-or-less self-reliant are long gone -- centuries gone. We have stumbled into a sort of social agreement. Leaders make the choices for us: what work shall there be, who gets to do what, who can live where, will there be education or health care or entertainment.

These leaders have a powerful responsibility. Should there be a social breakdown, restoring order can be difficult, and take decades. What we're living through now is a failure of monumental proportions. Of course, the leaders of our society have been failing in various ways forever -- world poverty stands as a pretty powerful rebuke, for example. And failing to build a society that is sustainable, that provides more and more opportunity for more and more people, that delivers a kind of social justice -- that is the crime which has been committed.

We are coming to realize that we need to re-think our society from the ground-up. Of course, doing so is a wonderful opportunity to avoid past mistakes (and make all new mistakes!). But the fact that we must do so in an environment of crisis is to be regretted, as it was avoidable.

There's nothing natural, or inevitable, or "inherent in the system" about our current woes. On the contrary, many leaders have failed, time and again, to take the right path. While we all bear some blame for suffering our leaders, at the end of the day the leaders themselves must bear the brunt of the responsibility.

I fear that our society has not yet figured out that the people who led us to this point are still hanging around trying to save their skins. We can get better leadership by demanding it, of course. But one of the things that the new leaders must handle is getting rid of the ideas of the old leaders. In these times, it seems, that includes getting rid of the notion that we need to return to a consumer-ist society where "shopping" is a primary activity, where borrowing is "necessary" for consumers to live a good life-style, or that failed businesses must be given new leases on life to redeem their failures.

Things Were Pretty Bad Before The Crisis...

In all the talk about the economic crisis, a fact that get overlooked, one that I think may well prove to be the reason that this recession is fundamentally worse (i.e., harsher, deeper, more prolinged, likely to never truly end, etc.) is that we were already in dire straits:

The recession in Flint, as in many old-line manufacturing cities, is quickly making a bad situation worse.

Most of the coverage in the papers is by (and for, in the case of the NY Times) people of means -- people who had largely escaped the slow decline of the American economy for the previous decade or more.

The recession simply made real to the richest Americans what was long real to everybody else: we had built an economy that was failing to meet the needs of the society it was supposed to serve.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Paging Governor Perry

Texas Governor Perry to the white courtesy phone, please.
I hold that in contemplation of universal law and of the Constitution the Union of these States is perpetual. Perpetuity is implied, if not expressed, in the fundamental law of all national governments. It is safe to assert that no government proper ever had a provision in its organic law for its own termination. Continue to execute all the express provisions of our National Constitution, and the Union will endure forever, it being impossible to destroy it except by some action not provided for in the instrument itself.

Again: If the United States be not a government proper, but an association of States in the nature of contract merely, can it, as a contract, be peaceably unmade by less than all the parties who made it? One party to a contract may violate it—break it, so to speak—but does it not require all to lawfully rescind it?

- Famous 19th Century Illinois Politician

Another Deep Thought

Josh Marshall has a deep thought:
Conservatives are so incensed by warnings about the threat of right wing radicalism that they're considering overthrowing the federal government.

I note as oddly absent in the whole Perry-Texas-Secession debate any reference to the fact that the right of a State to secede via unilateral declaration was the causus belli of the Civil War. The non-Perry-Texas-Secession party prevailed, decisively (or so it seemed at the time).

Monday, March 23, 2009

“I Must Have Somebody,”

Both Frank Rich and Arianna Huffington seem to be developing a case of the vapors. Both cite Geithner as the problem in the administration’s efforts to respond to the unraveling economy. Huffington wants him fired. He is, these and others say, too close to Wall Street. Too invested in the culture of corporate greed. Too close to the problem as NY Fed President. Too…something. The idea seems to be to get someone who is outside the system, someone who is not invested in the banks’ survival to Do the Right Thing. (Maybe Spike Lee is available?) It almost seems that the chorus of would-be Simon Cowell’s are crying for anybody to replace Mr. Geithner.

First, the evidence that Geithner is not succeeding is thin to non-existent. Other than picking off elements of his plans that seem ill-advised, the main thrust of the criticism is that his thinking is too conventional, too wedded with restoring the status quo ante. But the technical measures of the performance of the markets aren’t so clear that Timmeh must go.

Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen, this is no time to panic. Let’s remember we’re 10 weeks into this thing. Whether Geithner’s plan is smart or dumb should be judged at least in some measure by how well it works.

We need to remember that the criteria for judging his work is not comparison to a perfect person or an ideal Treasury Secretary. A rigorous standard of judgment would suggest a reasonable, successful Treasury Secretary as the baseline for comparison. (A fair standard of comparison would be to compare Geithner to a hypothetical Secretary Phil Gramm, since that’s who we would likely have if we didn’t have Obama making the call.)

Pundits and voters have a hard time imagining the challenges Geithner faces. My guess is that the level of reliable information is appallingly thin. But does it make sense to share that with the public? Is knowing that our regulatory apparatus is dangerously broken something that will help or harm our situation?

We don’t know, by definition, what we don’t know. When Al Gore was asked a few years ago how accurate was the press’ coverage of the Clinton administration in terms of correctly divining what was really going on, he answered (paraphrasing here) “about 5%,” meaning that 95% of what was important was simply missing from the press. Geithner and Obama have a good deal more information than we do, and if their actions seem curious or ill-advised in light of what we know, the likeliest explanation is that they know things we don’t, and in light of what they know, they are acting reasonably and responsibly.

An example. People like to agitate for ending “zombie banks,” those institutions that are dead but haven’t been buried. But which ones, exactly are dead? While we as savvy consumers of news may feel confident saying, “why Citibank and BoA, silly,” that may not be so clear once one starts digging in a little. If the Obama administration seems to be proceeding more slowly than we would like, it may be because caution really is the best strategy in light of all the circumstances. After all, what are the chances, really, that the steady-eddie Obama who we all watched in the election and the transition, who carefully weighed his options and then took decisive action, is suddenly flummoxed, or suddenly under the spell of the Wall St. elite? To me, that seems rather far-fetched.

(I do think Obama has made a communications error in not having Democratic surrogates get off of the “bail-out” terminology. It has allowed a straight rhetorical line to be drawn from the excessive lavishness of the lifestyles of the rich and powerful to the doling out of trillions to try to steady the markets and stop the downward spiral of the economy. We are not bailing out banks; nor are we bailing out counter-parties; we are bailing out creditors and shareholders, and ultimately the borrowers, of these institutions. Some of these folks are rich, and a means test to ensure we are not using taxpayer dollars to pay for luxury is warranted (and I suspect in the works). But a lot of these folks are 401(k) plans, teacher retirement plans, local governments, and others who have seen their means melt away.)

It’s easy to take pot-shots at the plans that are being developed urgently to respond to an unprecedented crisis. One thing that’s little discussed is that whatever steps the US may take could be easily rendered futile if other governments don’t act in harmony with us and each other. Building a coalition of numerous independent governments is going to take a little time.

It’s always easy to criticize, and as voters and readers and pundits that’s something we all know. During the Civil War (another unprecedented crisis forced on an incoming administration), Lincoln was bedeviled by the appaling lack of generalship available to the Union forces (especially compared to those of the confederacy.) Senators (who then as now are basically nothing more than extra-pompous pundits) were crying for the head of McClellan, Lincoln’s top general. Lincoln had no great love of McClellan, but a Congressional Committee on the Conduct of the War demanded his resignation. According to Doris Kearns Goodwin’s account in Team of Rivals (p. 428),

“When Lincoln asked who they proposed to replace McClellan, one the committee members growled, “Anybody.” Lincoln’s reply was swift. “Anybody will do for you, but not for me. I must have somebody.”

Geithner may well not be perfect. (Fairly clearly, Obama isn’t perfect either. Just ask parents of kids trying to qualify for the Special Olympics.) But for Obama, he must have somebody. Who, exactly, does Ms. Huffington propose as an upgrade to Geithner?

Friday, February 13, 2009

I think the Republicans are om the verge of defining anyone who receives any benefit from governmental activity as a Democratic constituent.

Republicans continued to complain, however, that, whatever the bill’s original purpose, it had been stuffed by Democrats with “anything they wanted,” as Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, put it.

I think they may want to rethink that.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Analytical Folly

With so many pundits carping about Obama's struggles in getting his stimulus bill passed, noting that he has taken hits for a lack of bi-partisanship, for a lack of pleasing the progressive left, his naivety in dealing with Washington, etc., it's worth remembering that the correct analysis is not comparing his performance to a utopian ideal President, but to the actual likely alternative: one John Sydney McCain.

Would President McCain be performing better or worse? My guess is that President McCain would be locked in mortal combat with the Democratic Congress over the question or whether to include any spending at all, not the extent and nature of spending.

Just sayin'...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Floored. Read to the end.

The amazing Billmon had a piece earlier this week that has a simply jaw-dropping conclusion. I won't spoil the fun, but the piece is about how Russians weren't inclined to look at past crimes in the Soviet era, and wondering if something very similar isn't underway here.

There is just a yawning disconnect between the nature of the crimes allegedly committed (and, in many cases, essentially admitted): waging aggressive war, torture, secret prisons, illegal wiretapping on a massive scale, obstruction of justice, perjury, conspiracy -- to the point where it would probably take an army of Patrick Fitzgeralds and a full-time war crimes tribunal a year just to catalogue them all -- and how the story is being treated in the corporate media.

Read it all. To the end.

Jobs. Now.

We are at the end of a decades-long jobs crisis. The only way out is to ensure that every American who needs a job can get one. And that the jobs that are available will pay enough to cover decent housing, food, transport, health care, etc.

Tax cuts will not do it (as we have amply demonstrated over many, many years. Government "infrastructure" plans, as now discussed, are simply too little to make the difference we need.

The federal government needs to take the lead in direct job creation. To me, success will occur when there is a jobs center in every town in the nation where anyone can go to get an actual job. If that means the government has to create some "make-work" jobs so be it. But I think we could get to work addressing any number of our crucial chalenges right now: alternative energy, education that works, affordable housing. All of these require a lot of work, and we have a lot of people who need work. The market has failed to re-allocate these people to these needs; the government has to step in and short-circuit a process that the private sector either cannot do, or will take decades to do.

At some point, the government can sell of the assets it will have created, and can use the proceeds to start to pay down the government's debt.

That's the end-game. Everything else we do -- keep Citibank afloat, give Detroit money to make cars no one wants, give consumers checks for $300, etc. -- is just pushing peas around on our plate.

We need large and decisive moves, and we need them yesterday.

Friday, January 02, 2009