Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009
The First 100 Blah Blah Blah

As we head into a blizzard of pointless rehashes of Obama's first 100 days, it's worth noting that this navel gazing, which is irrelevant for most presidencies, is even more so for Obama's. Most presidents hit town with an opposition that is willing, at least for the moment, to go along with much of what the new team plans, particularly when the new president's plans are pretty much the same ones that he won by a large margin campaigning on. Obama's decision to make the stimulus his first big bill was undoubtedly in part due to the urgency of the situation, but it was also probably intended to take advantage of this tendency and gain a bipartisan vote for his first major initiative. After all, a stimulus bill is mostly a whole bunch of spending, and Congress generally likes nothing better than to spend money and bring goodies back for the home district.

Of course, that plan fell apart, and Obama faced nearly unanimous opposition from the minority, as he clearly will on every other major bill. This means, among other things, that Obama will have the most political wind at his back not over the last 100 days, but later this year, after Franken is sworn in, giving him one less vote he needs to break a filibuster. That's even more true now that Specter has gone over. And he will likely have even more freedom after the midterms, which look to be another Democratic win, and could well be another blowout if there is even a modest movement toward recovery by next November.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Operacion Libertad Espanola

It now seems official that John McCain's interview flub when he suggested he wouldn't be willing to meet with Spanish PM Zapatero is being claimed as an actual policy by the McCain camp, the better to contrast it with Obama's weak policy of being willing to meet with democratically elected leaders in allied nations.

While some Spaniards might find this upsetting, they should remember that our quarrel isn't with the Spanish people, but rather with the dictatorship in Madrid. We support their dreams of a free Spain and are ready to aid them in liberating their country from under the dark shadow of Communist one party (OK, technically a Socialist Worker's Party / United Left / Republican Left of Catalonia coalition) rule. After a bombing campaign to soften up the enemy, an invasion to overthrow the dictatorship, and the installation of a new government under Looter In Chief Prime Minister Alberto Gonzales, we are confident the Spanish people will greet us as liberators.
Sunday, September 07, 2008
One of These Things is not Like the Others

Today's activities for the candidates:

Barak Obama: Interviewed on This Week
Joe Biden: Interviewed on Meet the Press
John McCain: Interviewed on Face the Nation
Sarah Palin: According to her campaign manager, is "getting to know voters on her own schedule".

The statement in the prior post that the Palin pick was a big blunder at the time McCain made it was CW at the time it was posted. Today's CW is that it was a brilliant, daring choice. I'm sticking to my guns. Even given the willingness of the media to twist itself into a lying pretzel for the sake of Saint McCain, it's not going to be easy to cover up her obvious lack of readiness. Although the media in the extensive discussions of her today did, AFAIK, draw a complete curtain of silence over the fact that her husband was for 6 years a member of an anti-American extremist political party.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
It's now pretty clear that John McCain would be in a vastly better position today if he really were the maverick he wants us all to think he is. Various press reports agree that McCain actually wanted to go with Lieberman or Ridge, but chickened out in the face of opposition from the religious right and threats of a floor fight.

But would a floor fight really have been such a bad thing? Lieberman is, admittedly, a bit much for a Republican convention to swallow. His voting record on domestic issues is mainstream Democrat, not far at all from Biden. And on top of that he's a notoriously boring speaker and mediocre campaigner. But Ridge is a solid Republican, well qualified, who happens to be pro-choice. Even better, if he wanted a woman, was Christine Whitman: a successful two term governor of a blue state, a proven tax cutter, a former Cabinet member with a good environmental record. With strong picks like this, McCain would have won a floor fight. And really, to face and win the first real floor fight at a GOP convention in decades would have been a huge plus for McCain: it would have underlined with an exclamation point the real change/maverick messages McCain has been struggling to make stick.

McCain wanted to strengthen those messages with the Palin pick. Unfortunately, the real message behind that pick is becoming increasingly obvious: McCain the ex-maverick is now the religious right's bitch, taking orders one after another like he's back in the freshman class at Annapolis.
Friday, August 29, 2008

Over what I think of as the modern era in politics, roughly since TV took over the process circa 1960, there have been four Hail Mary VP picks - that is, attempts to go with somebody who wasn't on most candidate lists and was virtually unknown to the country at large.

1968 - Agnew
1972 - Eagleton
1984 - Ferraro
1988 - Quayle

The obvious point that stands out is that every one was a costly failure. In each case, previously unknown and embarrassing information surfaced. Except in the case of Agnew, which surely would have cost Nixon the tight 1968 election if it had come out during the campaign, the material surfaced well before the election.

You could perhaps add to this list the choice of Nixon himself in 1952. That again was a near-disaster, salvaged by Nixon with a rather mawkish speech that was a triumph in 1952, but would almost certainly be laughed off the stage in our more cynical era.

With Palin, we may not even need new info. The existing scandal over the firing of her sister's ex-husband in the midst of a nasty divorce could easily get quite embarrassing well before November. And her obvious lack of experience undercuts McCain's most powerful argument against Obama. This looks pretty clearly like a desperate pick, showing McCain's unhappiness with the alternatives and his understanding that, for all the ink being spilled about his improving poll numbers, he is in real trouble from the damage Bush has done to the Republican brand.

Still, one more bit of history should be noted. We now definitely know that next year, for the first time ever, the president and VP will not both be white males.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
I'm not a Hillary-hater, unlike quite a few netroots types, but I have to say at this point she's pretty completely jumped the shark. I have no real problem with her still being in the race - she still has widespread support, enough that she's likely to win several more primaries. She still has stunning fundraising numbers - about $20M in March. Consider that Dean raised about $40M for the whole year of 2003 and everybody said that was an amazing number. Hillary has gotten a good chunk of that in one month, even though the easy money from the Clintons' long-term supporters is almost entirely maxed out and for that whole month it was clear that she was very much a long shot to actually win.

So there's enough Hillary backers out there that she has every right to keep running. But it's long past the time for her to find some campaign strategy beyond, "What can I do today that will really soften up Obama and help McCain after I lose the nomination?"

We all know that there's nothing really wrong with what Obama said about guns and religion beyond a few poorly chosen words. I'm quite sure that Hillary believes pretty much the same thing Obama said. And her attempt today to portray herself as a gun-totin' good old boy was just ludicrous. Talk about condescending - how many small town blue collar voters does she think are really going to fall for the story that Hillary Clinton is somebody just like them who shares their life experiences? She really should be sticking to the version, both more believable and more honest, that she is someone who can and will use her education and experience to fight for policies that will reverse the decline in their living standards.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Jeff Jacoby has written, wonder of wonders, a silly column arguing that the cause of the mortgage crisis must be - since markets cannot fail - government regulation. For Jacoby, the sub-prime disaster "is a good reminder of that most powerful of unwritten decrees, the Law of Unintended Consequences - and of the all-too-frequent tendency of solutions imposed by the state to exacerbate the harms they were meant to solve." Specifically, the real problem is actually an obscure law passed under the Carter administration. Andrew Sullivan has praised this argument and cited approvingly a reader e-mail suggesting that the problem is in fact Fannie Mae and the mortgage interest deduction, two policies that date back to the New Deal!

If these 75 year old policies were really the cause of the mortgage disaster, wouldn't it have happened a little earlier? If you're looking for causes of the record foreclosures in government action, wouldn't it be a little more appropriate to look at more recent actions, such as the Bankruptcy Act of 2005, which strongly encouraged unsound and predatory lending practices? Or quite a few regulatory changes of the past decade which have increased fees and interest rates and weakened consumer rights? But anything which tilts markets towards corporate interests and away from consumers is regarded as 'deregulation' rather than 'government action', and therefore can never, ever have unintended consequences.

Stopped clock addendum: Jacoby is actually right about ethanol, an idea whose time, if it ever did come, has long ago gone. It's a bad solution to several problems and a good solution only to the problem of finding more markets for corn, as if huge existing markets for human food and cattle feed arent enough.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Only a few days ago, I thought that Senator Clinton, clearly now an underdog, still had a realistic shot at winning. But the latest results and all the trends of the race seem to imply it is virtually over.

Polls taken about a week ahead of the Wisconsin Primary showed a real possibility of a Clinton upset, with only a 4% Obama lead and one outlier from ARG (which is having a bad year) showing Clinton up by 10. In late polls, Obama showed a healthy 10% margin. In the actual voting, Obama won by a hefty 17.4%. This is consistent with the results from the Potomac Primary, where late polls gave Obama a mean margin of 18 in Virginia (actual margin +28) and 20 in Maryland (actual margin +24). So much for the Bradley Effect!

The pattern seems to be that Obama rises in the polls going into a primary where he is actively campaigning, then outperforms his polls on election day. If this pattern holds on March 4, we're looking at Obama winning in Texas and Ohio being neck and neck. That result would end any serious competition. With a deficit now of about 150 elected delegates, Clinton really needs to blow Obama away on March 4 - and notice that is something she hasn't done once in this season in a state both worked hard for. Her big trophy victories were New Hampshire, probably more a backlash against media sexism than an endorsement of Hillary, where her margin, with other candidates clouding the issue, was 2%, and Nevada, where the margin was close enough that Obama actually won 1 more delegate. Obama did campaign in California, where Clinton scored very well, but he made, it now seems rightly, a strategic decision to emphasize picking up multiple victories that day and put less focus on the Golden State.

Exit polls have showed that Obama is making inroads into Hillary's key constituencies of women, union members, and low income white voters. The results in Wisconsin, a blue collar state with modest blocs of white collar and black voters, a state where Clinton should have done well, confirm that. Unless those groups rally to Clinton in numbers that now seem unlikely, and give her two landslide wins in conditions where she has yet to claim one, Clinton on March 5 will have to start worrying about a graceful exit from her campaign, rather than Iraq.
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Polls for today's California primary are bizarre, as noted by a blogger at Kos: Zogby shows a 13 point edge for Obama, while SurveyUSA shows Hillary by 10. That's a gap I can't recall ever having seen in polls this close to a major election. But then, no final poll that I saw showed Hillary winning NH or correctly called the huge size of Obama's margin in SC. It does seem that Obama is riding a wave, with recent jumps in most national polls, but it may crest too late for him. If Hillary has a big night, she will, with some right, be able to say she it the party's national choice. If Obama can split the outcome, he lives to fight on in later primaries, where I think he'll likely win. It's still very much up for grabs.

Still, one thing should be noted: for most voters in California, this will be the first opportunity they've had in their lives in either party to vote in a Presidential primary that actually mattered. The Dems haven't held one here since 1972, the Dark Side since 1968.
Monday, January 14, 2008
You probably didn't catch it, but something interesting happened in minute 42 of Hillary Clinton's full hour Meet The Press interview Sunday. Tim Russert asked her, for the first and only time during the hour, a question about what she intended to do if elected to the Presidency. (Every other question was about the campaign or her past actions or statements, particularly her vote to authorize the Iraq War - certainly a crucial subject to raise, since that vote has been so little discussed until now.) Here is the exchange:
SEN CLINTON:...What people are talking to me about is the economy. They're losing their jobs. You know, economic activity is slowing down. We need to focus very clearly on what we're going to do to make this economy as, you know, ready to be able to navigate through the potential of a recession. We're slipping toward recession. Some people think we're in recession right now. And I've proposed a very vigorous package of economic action that I think would, you know, forestall and maybe, hopefully mitigate against what is going on in the economy.

MR. RUSSERT: You don't pay for it.

SEN. CLINTON: Well, you know, Tim, I am probably the strongest on fiscal responsibility in this campaign. Senator Edwards, I respect, he said that's not a priority for him. Senator Obama puts out a lot of his policies without paying for them, about 50 billion, as we have calculated. I have paid for everything. I tell you how I will pay for my healthcare plan, how I will pay for the American retirement accounts.

MR. RUSSERT: But not for this stimulus.

SEN. CLINTON: But this--stimulus shouldn't be paid for. The whole point of stimulus--now, as we end the war in Iraq, we're going to be bringing that money home. But the stimulus, by the very nature of the economic problems we're facing, is going to require an injection of federal funding.

Russert wants to know if the Clinton stimulus plan will increase the deficit. That's more or less reasonable, although, as Clinton correctly pointed out, stimulus packages increase the deficit pretty much by definition. But is he being consistent? Clinton's proposed stimulus is a one-time shot of about $100 Bn. Other candidates in the race have proposal to blow far bigger holes in the budget. Every Republican candidate - except for Huckabee and Paul, who propose to eliminate the income tax completely - has called for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, which will cost about $2 Tn over 10 years, and most, again excepting Paul, want to increase the size of the military. What is Russert asking about their plans? It turns out mostly he just wants to know if they're really as anti-tax as they claim to be. What the consequences of their proposals might be is beneath his attention.

Mike Huckabee states on his web site, "I will expand the army and increase the defense budget." On taxes, he is backing the Fair Tax, a national sales tax plan that is cuckoo for too many reasons to go into here; some of them are explained here. it's likely the most ambitious, and the most deeply flawed, domestic proposal put forward by any major candidate in the last few decades. And Russert, interviewing Huckabee on Dec 30, never mentioned it. Instead, he only pressed on apparent contradictions between Huckabee's claim to be an demented anti-tax lunatic and his record in Arkansas of being relatively responsible on tax issues:
MR. RUSSERT: But you raised taxes, and the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a D and an F for your tenureship as governor. So there have been some legitimate criticisms of you as a Republican for raising taxes and for spending money.

GOV. HUCKABEE: Well, I don't think they're legitimate criticisms when you improve education for the children of your state or when you build highways that give you economic incentives and capacities that, frankly, created the lowest unemployment numbers that our state had over had over a sustained period of time. We saw more new jobs created. That's what being a governor is about. It's about creating opportunities for the people of your state.

MR. RUSSERT: Even if it means raising taxes?

Mitt Romney says, "We must strengthen our military by increasing the size of our military by 100,000 troops and dedicating at least four percent of our gross domestic product to defense." He also proposes to "Lower The Corporate Tax Rate....Lower Taxes For All. Lower income tax rates across the board to reward productivity....Eliminate all taxes on interest, dividends, and capital gains for anyone with Adjusted Gross Income under $200,000....Make The Bush Tax Cuts Permanent....Eliminate The Death Tax Once And For All." (As far as I could determine from a quick look at his issues pages, Romney isn't even giving lip service to a balanced budget or even lowering the deficit, which seems to be true of most of this year's GOP crew.)

Here is the only section of the Romney interview where tax policy is discussed:
MR. RUSSERT:As you campaign around the country, you talk about your record in Massachusetts with budgets and taxes and so forth. The Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, gave you a C as governor of Massachusetts. And they say, "His first budget, presented under the cloud of a $2 billion deficit, balanced the budget with some spending cuts, but" "$500 million increase in various fees was the largest component of the budget fix." The AP says it this way: "When Romney wanted to balance the Massachusetts budget, the blind, mentally retarded and gun owners were asked to help pay. In all, then-Gov. Romney proposed creating 33 new fees," "increasing 57 others." The head of the Bay State Council of the Blind said that your name was "Fee-Fee"; that you just raised fee after fee after fee. That's a tax.

GOV. ROMNEY: Well, let's, let's step back and get all the numbers right. First of all, it was nearly a $3 billion budget gap that we faced as we came into office, my team and I. Secondly, we raised fees, and we generated about $240 million worth of increased revenue. So of a $3 billion budget gap, we raised fees of about $240 million. Now, these were not broad-based fees. I said I'm not going to go after driver's license fees or automobile fees for registration because these apply to everybody, and any...

MR. RUSSERT: Duplicate driver's license fee.

GOV. ROMNEY: Because, because if they're broad, broad-based, they, they have the--they have a sense, a feeling like a tax. But a fee is different than a tax in that it's for a particular service. And we had some fees that hadn't been changed in over a decade....

MR. RUSSERT: A fee's not a tax?...Governor, that's, that's gimmick.

What's not a gimmick, of course, is to propose what likely amounts to $2,5 Tn or more in tax cuts, plus spending increases, with the explanation that it will all be fine because there will be unspecified spending cuts.

One week before Hillary, Russert was blessed with the sacred presence of Saint McCain of the Straight Talk. McCain thinks it would be dandy if American troops remain in Iraq for the next 100 years. He also advocates, "The development and deployment of theater and national missile defenses....[Enlarging] the size of our armed forces to meet new challenges to our security....As requirements expand in the global war on terrorism so must our Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard be reconfigured to meet these new challenges. John McCain thinks it is especially important to increase the size of the Army and Marine Corps to defend against the threats we face today....Modernizing American armed forces involves procuring advanced weapons systems that will help rapidly and decisively defeat any adversary and protect American lives. It also requires addressing force protection needs to make sure that America's combat personnel have the best safety and survivability equipment available." He'd also like to, "permanently repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT)...Make the Bush income and investment tax cuts permanent....Reform and make permanent the research and development (R&D) tax credit." Although McCain tries to make it look bigger with promises to ban various types of taxes that don't currently exist, it's a modest plan by current GOP standards. And that's remarkable because, after all, in pledging to make the Bush cuts permanent and eliminate the AMT, McCain is actually promising substantially larger tax cuts in an era of a large and growing deficit than Bush promised while running with a surplus - yet his tax cuts are the lightest of any Republican candidate. I won't actually quote from the discussion of taxes, which is somewhat longer than for other hopefuls, but just note that Russert is interested solely in McCain's admittedly desperate attempts to reconcile his votes against the Bush tax cuts with his current pledge to make them permanent. The potential effects of making those cuts permanent is never raised.

When Giuliani appeared on Dec 9, he had not yet unveiled his recent tax cut plan, which would make the Bush tax cuts look positively Lilliputian. He had made vague commitments to, "keep America on offense in the Terrorists’ War on Us" and "cut taxes and reform the tax code". Here is the only tax discussion which took place:
MR. RUSSERT: Would you pledge to balance the budget if you were elected president?

MR. GIULIANI: Sure, I would make the goal—I would make it a goal of...

MR. RUSSERT: But not a pledge.

MR. GIULIANI: I don’t do pledges. I didn’t do a pledge on taxes. I stated my intention. I said my intention is to lower taxes. I have a record of lowering taxes. My intention would be to balance the budget. I have a record of eight balanced budgets in a city where we had some serious economic and financial difficulties at various times, and we figured out a way to balance the budget. So I have a really good record on that.

Fred Thompson, who goes in for button points in a big way in his "white Papers", wants to "

  • Be prepared to increase the core defense budget up to 4.5% of GDP to support the expansion, modernization, and increased readiness of U.S. military forces
  • Build a "Million-Member"ground force capable of handling peacetime and wartime tasks without wearing out the troops and increasing U.S. vulnerability.
  • Increase the pay and benefits of our Military Personnel, and the care of our Veterans, to enhance recruitment, retention, and quality of life.
  • Increase the U.S. Navy fleet to at least 325 ships to increase mission capability across the full spectrum of operations and maintain the ability to project power globally.
  • Complete the modernization of the U.S. Air Force to ensure continued tactical air dominance over all potential adversaries and the ability to project power globally.

At the same time, lets:
  • Permanently Extend the 2001 and 2003 Tax Cuts.
  • Permanently Repeal the Death Tax.
  • Repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax.
  • Reduce the Corporate Tax Rate.
  • Permanently Extend Small Business Expensing.
  • Update and Simplify Depreciation Schedules.

The last one (which actually costs the IRS relatively little money) is original and might even qualify as wonky, if the whole thing wasn't done with such obvious contempt for the basic wonk skill of addition.

Thompson also complains that, "Congress has consistently refused to balance the budget and address the deficit" and does say he will balance the budget. Those magical, unspecified spending cuts - is there anything they can't do? We may never know, because, when Thompson did his MTP gig on Nov 4, the subject never came up.

Five out of five mainstream Republicans have proposal that would blast holes in the federal budget bigger than the iceberg made in the Titanic - and not one got a single question on it. (Ron Paul actually was pressed fairly hard on his plan to eliminate the IRS, confirming that he is definitely not part of the in crowd.) However, Hillary and Ron Paul weren't the only ones to get a grilling on their fiscal soundness. Here are some excerpts from the interviews with Biden and Edwards: (No similar questions were asked of Richardson or Obama, and I couldn't find a transcript for Dodd.)
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. Here’s what you say about energy: “Biden would make a substantial national commitment by dramatically increasing investment in energy and climate change research” “technology" “Health care” “expand health insurance for children” “relieve” the “families and” business “of the burden of expensive catastrophic cases.

“Education” “expand help for families by increasing” “tax” deductions “for tuition payments.” “Expand Pell grants to cover the average tuition” to “public colleges for low income families.” “Expand national service programs” to help “high school students so” “they can earn money for college.

“Homeland Security” “take back one year of the tax cuts for Americans who make over a million dollars” “and put this money in a dedicated Homeland Security and Public Safety Trust Fund.

“Crime: Biden’s priority is restoring the nearly $2 billion” that’s “been cut from state and local law enforcement.”

All noble goals for Democrats, but it’s more money, more money, more money.

SEN. BIDEN: Yeah, but it’s...

MR. RUSSERT: Where you going to get it?

SEN. BIDEN: I’ll tell you where you get it. First of all, we’re going to end this war. It’s 100--$100 billion a year we’re spending. Number one, it’s 100 billion. Eliminate the tax cuts for people making over a million bucks, and they’ll go for it. They, they didn’t ask for it; they know they don’t need it. That’s 85 billion bucks a year.

MR. RUSSERT: But that goes to the trust fund. You still have...

SEN. BIDEN: No, you have—you have...

MR. RUSSERT:, health care, education.

SEN. BIDEN: No, I got it. I got it. Let’s go through them, because I think you’re asking, obviously, a fair question.

Eliminate the, the, the tax break for investment on dividends and—which is $195 billion is, is, is the cost of that. And begin to do, for example, on the crime side, it’s pointed out in my crime bill for every single dollar we spent we saved the public $6, $6 dollars. We have to have—there’s a fancy word down here—a little new paradigm down here in Washington, as my Republican friends like to say. Investment in these areas saves money. For example, for $26 billion a year, I can insure every single solitary child under the age of 18 in the United States. America doesn’t have health insurance. For $3 billion a year, I can double the investment we have on alternative energy sources and research. For a billion dollars a year I can put 50,000 more cops back on the street. And so this is where—we’re, we’re talking manageable numbers. But the larger point here, in my view, the larger point here, and I think distinguishes me from Democrats, I think we got to start looking at the direct savings that come from the investments we make. If we make an investment in wellness, we save hundreds of billions of dollars here. And so we got to look at it differently, Tim. But you need start-up dollars. The place I’d start off with is somewhere over $220 billion a year by the tax cuts and ending the war. And, by the way, all you need is $10 billion a year for the next five years to fund every single solitary aspect of the 9/11 Commission report, and I would only use 10 of the 85 billion from the top 1 percent for that purpose.

MR. RUSSERT: But, senator, we have a deficit. We have Social Security and Medicare looming. The number of people on Social Security and Medicare is now 40 million people. It’s going to be 80 million in 15 years. Would you consider looking at those programs, age of eligibility...

SEN. BIDEN: Absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: ...cost of living, put it all on the table.

SEN. BIDEN: The answer is absolutely. You have to. You know, it’s—one of the things that my, you know, the political advisers say to me is, “Whoa, don’t touch that third”—look, the American people aren’t stupid. It’s a real simple proposition.

MR. RUSSERT: And we are back. Senator Edwards, Friday you spoke to the Democratic National Committee about health care. I want to show that clip and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape, DNC Winter Meeting, Friday)

SEN. EDWARDS: Can we finally say we stand now and forever for every single man, woman and child in America having health care, universal health care? We will leave no one behind. We will not allow a single family or a single child in America to not have health care coverage and to not have the health care that they need and deserve.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: Universal health care, noble goal, but that’s 47 million more men, women and children. How much would that cost and what kind of plan would you propose?

SEN. EDWARDS: It’d cost between 90 and 120 billion a year once it’s—once it’s fully implemented. I will, on this show and tomorrow, be laying out details of a universal health care plan. Basically, we start with the problem, which are—we want to get—make sure that the 47 million people who don’t have health care coverage are covered immediately. Second, we want to do—deal with the costs that middle class families, who may have health care coverage but are worried about paying for it, worried about keeping it. Premiums are up 90 percent, literally 90 percent just over the last few years. So I want to do something to bring costs down for others. And we want to create some efficiencies that allow competition. And, and then finally—here, here’s the bottom line. We want to make sure everybody’s covered, we want to help middle class families with the costs, we want—we want to try to create competition that doesn’t exist today. And I think the best, most effective way to do that I—which is what my plan will be as I lay it out tomorrow, is we take the 46 million, 47 million people who don’t have health care coverage, we expand Medicaid, we provide subsidies for people who don’t have coverage. We ask employers to play a bigger role, which means they either have to have coverage, or they have to buy into what we’re calling health markets. We’re going to create health markets all across the country which will help provide some of these efficiencies. One of the choices, by the way, available in these health markets is the government plan. So people who like the idea of a single-payer insurer health plan, that is actually one of the alternatives that people can choose. They’ll be allowed to choose. We expand SCHIP; we expand Medicaid. The bottom line is we’re asking everybody to share in the responsibility of making health care work in this country. Employers, those who are in the medical insurance business, employees, the American people—everyone will have to contribute in order to make this work.

MR. RUSSERT: Would you be willing to raise taxes in order to help pay for this?

SEN. EDWARDS: Yes, we’ll have to raise taxes. The, the only way you can pay for a health care plan, from 90--that costs anywhere from $90 billion to $120 billion is there has to be a revenue source. The revenue source for paying for the plan that I’m proposing is, is first we get rid of George Bush’s tax cuts for people who make over $200,000 a year. This plan, in and of itself, creates some efficiencies and helps to reduce the cost of health care globally in America. And then, finally, we need to do a much better job of collecting the taxes that are—that are already owed. And a very specific example of something we should do, we should have brokerage houses report the capital gains that, that people are incurring, because we’re losing billions and billions of dollars in tax revenue, and billions and billions of dollars from capital gains not being reported.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’d be willing to increase taxes to provide health care?

SEN. EDWARDS: Yes, absolutely.

MR. RUSSERT: What about Social Security and Medicare? There’s 40 million people on Social Security and Medicare now. The next 15 years it’s going to go to 80 million. The chairmen of the Federal Reserve say, if we do nothing, you’ll have to raise taxes by a third and cut all the rest of government by 50 percent in order to meet those demands and expectations of the entitlement programs.

SEN. EDWARDS: Yes. Well, we have a huge challenge on this front. I think the starting place is Medicare, not Social Security, simply because Social Security is stronger, longer—significantly longer than Medicare. So let me, if I can, start with, with Medicare. You know, the, the—Medicare has very serious short-term, intense financial problems, and there—and there are things we can do that we’re not doing, which is—we ought to have much better chronic care management than we have today. We ought to be investing in a serious and systemic way in preventative care, which we’re not doing today. And we have significant fraud and abuse in the Medicare system. It’s—every study that’s been done demonstrates that. So I think there are things we can do to strengthen Medicare. And we ought to be using like, for example, in my universal health care plan, we create these health markets which require providers to, to compete against each other. We ought to be using the power of the federal government to negotiate better prices in Medicare. And it was a—it was a foolish thing, in the Medicare prescription drug law that was passed, which I voted against, to not allow the government to use its market power to negotiate better prices. And those are all things we can do that will help, help strengthen Medicare.

One consequence of this conduct was well described by Matthew Yglesias in a recent discussion of one of Russert's Village confederates: "Fiscal responsibility, as defined by The Washington Post, means something like `new spending must be financed by unpopular tax hikes unless it's spending on a war or the military or spending proposed by Republicans; also, budget deficits are an acute problem if a Democrat is president or if they're forecast to occur far in the future as a result of Social Security.` That, obviously, is a political framework designed to make progressive governance impossible while simultaneously giving lip service to the desirability of spending money on important priorities like health care, education, clean energy, infrastructure, etc." It's also important to note that modern Republican policy on taxes and the budget is utterly indefensible in any serious, reality based analysis, and that fact would quickly come out if Republican politicians were closely questioned on this topic by probing, informed reporters. Which they never are, so even most well informed people have wildly inaccurate ideas about the size of the deficit and what would have to be done to fix it. This extremism also seems to be out of touch with an overwhelming majority of voters. Exit polls in NH showed that, even in that traditionally anti-tax state, a majority of the Republican voters felt that reducing the deficit was a higher priority than cutting taxes. Not one GOP candidate agreed with the GOP electorate. Those voters went for McCain, who has legitimate standing as a spending hawk, but no longer has any honest claim to his reputation as a deficit hawk.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008
Reports today are that turnout in NH is off the charts, with apparently more demand for Democratic than Republican ballots. That's good news for Obama, of course, who is a prohibitive favorite if he wins tonight with a healthy margin, as seems likely. It's bad news for McCain, who needs those independent votes. (I'm pretty sure that McCain in 2000 lost every primary in which only Republicans voted.) But don't worry, however the votes come out, it's a Big Win For McCain in the media.

The interesting question, for NH and beyond, is where Huckabee fits in. Bill Kristol's first column suggests that the dean of neocon pundits is willing to accept the rise of Huckabee. This will spread, and has always been inevitable. Who is Huckabee? A Southern governor, a fundamentalist evangelical with roots in the Christian Right, a man who likes to talk about the poor but whose policy proposals pretending to help the poor are in fact geared to the extremely rich, a candidate who criticizes his predecessor for an overly aggressive foreign policy but has advisers committed to at least equally aggressive views, a man who feels comfortable running for President although his grasp of public policy is roughly that of a village idiot. This is an agent for change? This is the guy who is more like Dubya than Jeb is. That there was even hesitation to accept him shows the deep power of ruling class condescension in the leading circles of the Conservative movement.
Thursday, January 03, 2008
One prediction is safe to make for the upcoming Iowa/New Hampshire fetes: the big story coming out of one or both will be John McCain's brilliant comeback. That's not because McCain will do extremely well: he might, but it's far from certain. It's because that's the story the the political media are dying to write: McCain does better than expected. And since expectations are such a flexible bar, almost anything will give them an excuse to write it. If Ron Paul wins NH in a landslide and McCain finishes 3rd, the media story coming out will be that McCain did better than expected.

McCain gave another example of his famous straight talk this weekend, absurdly pretending his attack ad on Romney wasn't an attack ad, because he was merely quoting attacks from others, and simultaneously waxing indignant over Romney's (much less nasty and personal) attack ads. (You can see the ad here.)

McCain: I didn't say those words. Those were the Concord Monitor and the Manchester Union Leader's words. They were their words.
Steph (Talking over McCain): Well, wait a second. You paid for people, you paid for people to see those words calling him a phony. Do you think he's a phony?
McCain: No, I paid, I paid for the ad to, that put up the words of the respected newspapers here in the state of New Hampshire and I think that's perfectly appropriate....Frankly, the voters of New Hampshire don't like this kind of negative campaigning, and they reject his negative ads....
Steph: Do you think Mitt Romney's a phony or not?
McCain: No. I think he's a, he's a person who's changed his positions on many issues and the voters know that and they'll decide that. But, that, that's what, I'll continue to quote from respected newspapers if necessary. But I'm not, as I said, we're going to move forward with this campaign.

Huckabee has, quite appropriately, been hammered for his press conference at which he announced he wouldn't run his new negative ads and proceeded to show them. For Saint McCain, naturally, no criticism.

My own guess on Iowa today: the Democratic side will be determined by where the backers of non-viable candidates go in the second round of voting. I think they'll go away from Hillary, giving either Obama or Edwards the victory. The big question will be whether her lead in NH holds. If it does, she's still a prohibitive favorite to take the nomination. If she loses both, she's in very big trouble. If Obama wins both, he's the next president.

On the dark side, I think Huckabee will win Iowa. If Romney does, he may be unstoppable straight through to the convention. I think Huckabee is the most likely winner of the GOP nod, because he's most in synch with what the party is today, but this is still hard to predict.

Note: anyone who really cares to take the time can look in my archives and see my past record on predicting elections. Let's just say, based on precedents, you might be able to make big money betting against my picks. But no guarantees I won't actually be right this time.

Update: Who needs returns? Bob Schieffer on CBS just announced that the McCain surge is the big story from Iowa. How many votes did McCain get? Who knows - Schieffer didn't bother waiting for results to announce the story.

Kos now has results up from about 1/4 of the Repub caucuses. If these early results hold, the actual big story is that McCain is doing below expectations, while Thompson is in 3rd place and doing better. Huckabee has been called by a few networks as the winner.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
We constantly hear that Bush is losing support on Capitol Hill, that Republicans there are in a rebellion against him. A Novak column some time back, the source of extensive gloating in the left blogosphere, stated, "In half a century, I have not seen a president so isolated from his own party in Congress -- not Jimmy Carter, not even Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment." An opinion piece in yesterday's WaPo, repeating what seems to be conventional wisdom these days, said:

Although congressional aides and GOP strategists said it was unfair to blame Bush alone, the collapse of the immigration bill late Thursday was a reflection of the weakened state of his presidency. Those aides said the bill's troubles were exacerbated by Bush's deteriorating relations with congressional Republicans and his inability to combat an unexpectedly fierce attack on the bill by grass-roots conservatives.

"This is sort of what his life is going to be like for the rest of his term," veteran GOP strategist Ed Rollins said. "There are Republicans defecting from him now. He's not going to have any great success on anything that's controversial."

And yet we still see almost no effects of this in actual voting behavior of Republicans in Congress. In yesterday's Gonzalez vote, only 7 GOP senators crossed the line. Four of them [Sununu(NH), Coleman(MN), Smith(OR), Collins(ME)] are running in 2008 in states where their party label is likely to be a liability. The other three [ Hagel(NE), Specter(PA), Snowe(ME)] are in the very small club of Republicans who regularly avoid traveling in lockstep, although that's generally just where they can be found when it really matters. Indeed, with McCain having quit and Chafee gone, they are the whole club. From the core of the party, not even one defection. And party loyalty was even more solid in the recent votes on Iraq.

Novak's latest column is again about Republican anger at Bush, much of which he blames on the choice to keep Gonzales. There aren't even key graphs to quote, the whole thing rips Bush and insists that Republicans are furious. Not so furious they're willing to vote against him (except by going to his right, as on immigration), but mighty furious. Clearly a pattern is emerging of Republicans claiming 'distance' from Bush because they're now ready to criticize him publicly, although they continue to vote as loyal Bushies.

The crunch point will be the votes on Iraq coming in and after September. For all the talk that there will be a revolt and Bush will have to compromise or have his vetoes overridden, I think the votes will stay for Bush to do just as he likes.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Atrios is shocked that the IRS considers forgiven debts as income. But in this case, there's actually a sensible reason for the rule.

If I were to give Atrios a new Mercedes (sorry, Duncan, much as I love the blog, this is strictly a hypothetical) he would naturally have to pay a substantial tax on that valuable gift. Suppose instead, he were to agree to pay me the market price plus interest in 1 month. That's not income to him, since he's paying the market price. But if I immediately after forgive the debt, that is income - he gets a free Mercedes. The practical result is identical to a gift of the car, so the IRS believes, not unreasonably, that the tax result should also be the same.

The potential for abuse by employers in forgiven debt is ignored is even broader. There would be major advantages, in such a system, for employers in paying personnel in the form of loans which could after be forgiven. No payroll tax, just for starters, and the employee wouldn't have to pay income tax. Furthermore, the company could, by paying bonuses in the form of loans which can later be forgiven, pay out large bonuses without showing any actual expense on the current books - since all the payments would become accounts receivable, an asset. Those receivables could then be carried on the books until a quarter in which it would be convenient to forgive them. Lastly, since the company could exercise the option not to forgive some debts, such as those of employees who resign or are fired, the company could use the promise of forgiveness as a sort of golden handcuffs to hold current employees.

These problems probably aren't insoluble. You could create a rule which would cut a break to consumers who are renegotiating their debts without encouraging the sort of shenanigans I've described. But the task isn't as trivial as Atrios suggests, and simply not treating forgiven debt as income would be a big mistake.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
One More Thing

Here's a tidbit from the DoJ docs that I should have included in last night's post.

A close reading of the doc dump suggests evidence that there has been interference in prosecutions from DoJ. Section 2-3 includes (pp 4-5) a proposed opening statement for William Moschella, Principal Associate Deputy AG, perhaps in preparation for his congressional testimony of March 06. The first draft (author uncertain but perhaps Kyle Sampson) states, "The Department has not taken any action to influence any public corruption case." The final draft of the same document contains a change requested by Moschella himself: "The department has not asked anyone to resign to influence any public corruption case." (2-4, p 22, emphasis added) So why did DoJ want the original statement to be weakened?
I went out to see Barak Obama on Saturday. I can't say much about his speech - I had to leave shortly after it started. And I can say even less about Obama - I never got close enough to actually see him.

Which leaves nothing to talk about but the crowd, and the crowd was extraordinary. It was the largest political gathering I've been to since the peace marches I attended as a child.

My first choice for 2008 is still Clark, and my second Gore. But I no longer expect Clark to run, and Gore I've never believed was going to run. So it looks like I'll have to find a number 3. Like most in the netroots, Hillary is not a contender for my vote. I've been very hesitant to embrace Obama, mainly because I see his candidacy as a creation of the MSM. Like Edwards - Hillary too, for that matter - his experience is short of what I would like to see in a President. But my big problem with him has been his popularity with the DC media - the same guys who gave us Dubya, lied endlessly about Gore, and have a downright embarassing crush on McCain, have somehow decided that Obama is acceptable, even if he is a Democrat. And a gang of idiots who hate us, our party, our values, and the people we represent, don't strike me as the folks who I want to entrust with the choice of our next nominee.

But after Saturday, I have to change my mind. To draw a crowd like that 9 months before New Hampshire is extraordinary. And Obama has been pulling crowds like it all over the country. However deep my distrust of the MSM, I can't dispute that there's something real in his support which goes far beyond them. The man himself is certainly impressive. And I'm still looking for a real progressive who can win against Hillary and win again in November. As things stand now, it looks like Obama's that man.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Dump Run

I've been through about 200 pages of the celebrated Document Dump of 2007. That's a larger subset of the total dump than it seems, due to the frequent repetitions. Some observations:

The sequence should be stated more plainly: even the outstanding Josh Marshall misses some points and gets one just wrong. The plan to fire the attorneys was set out in a memo from Elston to McNulty on November 7 (not 15, as Josh incorrectly said). At that point the plan was to make the calls very soon - the same week. Note that the date was election day - at the time the plans were drawn up, it wasn't clear that the new Senate would be Democratic. And the original plans don't envision using the Patriot Act - they intended to "have president make nominations and work to secure confirmation". (doc set 2-1, pp 10 - 11) The same plan, with the dates pushed out a week, is discussed between Meirs and Sampson on 11/15. This message, which also discusses whether Bush should be briefed on the plan, looks to be the last one before an 18 day gap in which only two messages, of limited relevance, have been found in the dump.

It is clear that during the gap, the plan is under discussion in the White House. In the last exchange before the gap, Sampson say "We'll stand by for a green light from you." In the first after, William Kelley says that "WH leg[al], political, and communications have signed off". (ibid, pp 14, 18)

Worth noting: Kelley is the Deputy Assistant to the President and was the recipient of Sampson's infamous email complaining about "the real problem we have right now with Carol Lam". Also interesting is that that original email refers specifically to 11/18/06, the date that Lam's original four year appointment expired, and right in line with the time Lam would have left if the original plan to do the firings on November 8th - 9th had been carried out.

Some other points of interest here: the plan of 11/7 and 11/15 lists 6 prosecutors to be dropped. Not listed: Ryan (SF) and Cummins (AR). Ryan has been added to the list in the post-gap messages. But Cummins isn't discussed in any of these plans.

The plans also specify that, along with the firing calls, calls are to go out the Republican Senators from the Attorneys' states asking for names of replacements. (In states represented by Democrats, the calls are to go to "Bush political leaders".) One Republican Senator is always left off the list, which appears in multiple places: McCain.

Although there is subsequent discussion of alleged performance shortcoming of the fired USAs, that doesn't seem to be at all a factor in the actual decision. DAG McNulty says of Bogden (NV), "I'll admit have not looked at his district's performance". (ibid p. 23)

In the mass of material we do have, it should be noted what we still don't. Nothing in the docs that I have read or seen discussed by others explains how the original list of targets was reached, or how Ryan and Cummins were added. (There's little doubt, although no proof, that the latter was Rove's initiative.) It isn't at all clear who gave the final go-ahead. Not coincidentally, we have no discussion from the White House, which seems to be where the decisions were made.

Update: We now know more about how Ryan made the list. As usual, this is too rich to make up: the attorney who was added at the last minute apparently was a Bush loyalist who DoJ wanted to protect but had to drop because his incompetence was about to be publicized.
Tuesday, February 06, 2007
Joe Klein is peeved with Arianna Huffington for challenging his claim that he opposed the war from 2003. In support of his attack, Klein links to these three columns. These columns are in fact critical of Bush and the neocons - although generally more critical of progressives. But not one of them actually criticizes the plan to go to war.

The first isn't really about Iraq at all, but about Israel. In it, Klein does note the more grandiose theories of the neocons that invading Iraq would lead to a democratic, pro-Israel revolution throughout the Arab world. Klein properly describes this, more than once, as a "fantasy". But while dismissive of this particular rationale, the column nowhere discusses the broader case for war.

'Two Cheers for the Peacekeepers' is primarily about the UN. It does contain the closest thing to an actual criticism of the war in these columns, "In foreign policy, there is a wildly idealistic pro-democracy jihad. (Iraq will be the first of many dominoes to fall, it is said.)" But again, this really isn't a criticism of the plan to invade Iraq, but a criticism of the most grandiose theories of justification.

'A Screech of Hawks' is the only column of the three that's primarily about Iraq. It criticizes the "intemperate" Bush diplomacy and the administration's "righteous arrogance and dim-witted machismo". But it is the style, and not really the substance, of Bush's policies that Klein dislikes. Klein quotes 3 people in this column, all of them pro-war: Kenneth Pollack, an anonymous administration source, and Leslie Gelb, who says "[Business leaders] want a smoking gun. It doesn't make a difference when I point out that we have a smoking forest, that it's clear Saddam has these weapons and doesn't want to disarm."

Of course, this is Joe Klein, so he is harsher on Democrats than on Bush, and, in keeping with the style of the time, goes out of his way to blast France.

Let's begin with a provocation: ever since Vietnam, the hawks have almost always been right on major questions of national security....George H.W. Bush was right to liberate Kuwait (and wrong not to push on to Baghdad when he had the world on his side)....Bush seems to have been blindsided by the institutional entropy of the U.N.--and the chronic grandstanding of the French and Germans. ('A Screech of Hawks')

What on earth has happened to American conservatism? It used to be a reliably dour movement, a sober restraint upon the wishful thinking of mushy-minded liberals....The paralysis of the Soviet era [at the UN] has been succeeded by a tyranny of the irrelevant — with France, and its anachronistic veto, as Exhibit A. There is, of course, a fair amount of truth to this: the U.N.'s performance in Bosnia and nonperformance in Rwanda were disgraceful (although the U.S. had a hand in the latter). The French were never serious about enforcing any of the 17 Iraq-related resolutions, including 1441. (Two Cheers for the Peacekeepers)

In fairness, there is one paragraph in the 'Screech' column which points out the danger of the post-war occupation: "[Bush] will have to be honest about what comes next, after the inevitable military victory: the likelihood that large numbers of American troops will have to remain in Iraq for years to come. There should be no illusions about the difficulty of Mesopotamian nation building. It has been attempted on this same ground many times before, by many other superpowers, and none — none — has ever succeeded."

Remember, these aren't columns I've picked to undermine Klein's claim. These are the columns Klein himself chose to document it. And they don't. He wasn't a pure down the line Bush man. He expressed some concerns before the war, and was quite negative about the most extreme flourishes of neocon dogma. But the only time he addressed the question directly before the war, he plainly said that he supported invasion.

Klein ends today's post by saying, "These are the last words I'll have to say about this matter." He doesn't want to debate the matter with Huffington or with "the take-no-prisoners left". When you can't support your claim, best to just state it and move on to other topics.

Note: Huffington responds here.
Monday, January 08, 2007
Last Thursday, the Democrats officially took over Congress. On Friday, the headline on ABC's news coverage was, "House Dems Move to Increase Spending". The story under the headline was, in fact, about a move (re-instituting pay as you go) that will reduce spending significantly. But the official narrative is that Democrats love to spend for the hell of it, so the headline has to reflect narrative rather than, say, reality.

Meanwhile, NBC's headline was, "So much for congressional lobby reform?". At first glance, one might think this reflects frustration. After all, the 110th Congress was almost a day old. If no lobbying reform had been done in all that time, presumably it wasn't going to get done at all. But in fact, lobbying reforms were passed on the first day, as the story admitted. The problem was that, after pretending to pass reforms, Pelosi then committed the deeply hypocritical act of raising money.

Pelosi isn't the first Democrat guilty of this outrage. It was one of the many crimes committed by Al Gore in 2000. The MSM is overwhelmed by the stench of hypocrisy when Democrats criticize campaign funding and then, rather than unilaterally disarming, engage in activity that is completely legal in the current system. When Saint McCain raises a fortune from PACs and lobbyists, of course, the only odors present are roses and manly authenticity.

So if you had 1 in the office pool for how many days it would take before the MSM started attacking the Democratic congress with lies pulled straight from the GOP smear book, you won. If you had something else, what on earth were you thinking?
Saturday, December 16, 2006
Horse Races

You would think that Hillary would be smart enough to not advertise the fact that she is every Republican's choice as the next Democratic nominee. You would think that, but you would be wrong.

Meanwhile the SCLM is filling the air with discussions like this pretending that the race for the Democratic nomination is now a two person contest between Hillary and Obama. It's too early for a real favorite, but if one has to be picked, it's probably Edwards. His strong name recognition, broad acceptibility, and big lead in Iowa put him a good position.

UPDATE: Since I posted this, I saw the latest McLaughlin Group - a discussion of Hillary and Obama that ran 8:18 without mentioning any other candidate. Meanwhile, this is the latest cover package for Newsweek.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
Josh Marshall points to an implausible US News article suggesting that Hastert is recovering from Foleygate. What's missing from the article? A single quote from any important Republican saying on the record that Hastert still has his/her full support. When actual GOP congressmen start saying this on the record, I'll believe that he's weathered the storm. (I don't expect to see that. I expect him to leave by Sunday.)

To publish the article without any such quote is absurd. It only means that either the story is simply untrue or the reporter didn't bother doing his job - probably both.

Update: It appears that Hastert will hold a press conference in a few hours. It's likely that he'll either resign immediately or, perhaps more likely, announce that he will not be a candidate for a leadership position in the next House regardless of the election results.
Monday, October 02, 2006
In his CNN interview with Andrea Koppel, Denny Hastert comes dangerously close to admitting that the leadership's actions on the Foley problem from the start have been about protecting the GOP:

Koppel:Congressman Reynolds put out a statement on Saturday saying that he told you in the spring. Do you think he's lying?

Hastert: No. I'm not saying - I just don't recall him telling me that. If he would have told me that, he would have told me that in the context of maybe half a dozen or a dozen other things. I don't remember that.

Koppel:I mean other allegations of improper emails?

Hastert:No, no. Just other things that might have affected campaigns.... I'm just saying that I don't remember him telling me that.

Incidentally, you should really see the video. The transcript here really doesn't do justice to how uncomfortable Hastert looked just ansering just a few questions on this topic. And Koppel asks him only a few questions, not even mentioning some potentially utterly damning areas, such as the failure to inform any Democrats when the problem came up, or the fact that pages (but apparently only GOP pages) were warned about Foley as early as 2001. No wonder that when Hastert made his statement today, he refused to take any questions at all.