31 August 2011
FORT WORTH, Texas — Between events in Fort Worth and Dallas Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called in to conservative pundit Sean Hannity's radio show, and the host brought up a controversial story published by the online publication Politico this week with the headline "Is Rick Perry Dumb?"
"What's dumb is to oversee an economy that has lost that many millions of jobs ... to downgrade the credit of this country ... to put fiscal policies in place that were a disaster back in the '30s and try them again in 2000s," Perry said.
Hannity quickly warned that the thought listeners will take away from the interview could be: "Perry calls Obama policies 'dumb.'"
"Are you ready for that headline?" Hannity asked.
"America is ready for leadership," Perry said.
Perry continued on the intellect theme, explaining why he thinks it's a problem that many of Obama's advisers come from academia.
"They have gone to some great schools and they are intellectually smart, but he does not have wise people around him ... He has listened to smart people but nobody who has real wisdom," Perry said.
The scale of the CIA's rendition programme has been laid bare in court documents that illustrate in minute detail how the US contracted out the secret transportation of suspects to a network of private American companies.
The manner in which American firms flew terrorism suspects to locations around the world, where they were often tortured, has emerged after one of the companies sued another in a dispute over fees. As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, the mass of invoices, receipts, contracts and email correspondence – submitted as evidence to a court in upstate New York – provides a unique glimpse into a world in which the "war on terror" became just another charter opportunity for American businesses.
As a result of the case, the identities of some of the corporations involved in the rendition programme have been disclosed for the first time, along with the names of some of the executives who knew the purpose of the flights.
One unintended consequence may be that some of those corporations and individuals are now at risk of being sued in proceedings brought on behalf of the al-Qaida and Taliban suspects who were the victims of the programme.
The New York case concerns Sportsflight, an aircraft broker, and Richmor, an aircraft operator. Sportsflight entered into an arrangement to make a Gulfstream IV executive jet available at $4,900 an hour rather than the market rate of $5,450. A crew was available to fly at 12 hours' notice. The government wanted "the cheapest aircraft to fulfil a mission", Sportsflight's owner, Don Moss, told the court. But it was the early days of the rendition programme, and business was booming: the court heard that Sportsflight told Richmor: "The client says we're going to be very, very busy."
Invoices submitted to the court as evidence tally with flights suspected of ferrying around individuals who were captured and delivered into the CIA's network of secret jails around the world. Some of the invoices present in stark detail the expense claims that crew members were submitting on their secret journeys, down to £3 biscuits and £30 bottles of wine.
One Gulfstream jet has been identified as the aircraft that rendered an Egyptian cleric known as Abu Omar after CIA agents kidnapped him in broad daylight in Milan in February 2003 and took him to Cairo, where he says he was tortured.
Another invoice, for $301,113 relating to a series of flights over eight days that took the Gulfstream jet on an odyssey through Alaska, Japan, Thailand, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, tallies with the rendition of Encep Nuraman, the leader of the Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah, better known as Hambali.
Other invoices follow flights that appear to have been involved in the rendition of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the man said to have masterminded the 9/11 attacks. After being captured in 2003, Mohammed disappeared into the CIA's secret prisons, where he was waterboarded 183 times in just one month, according to a US justice department memo. The invoices also show the aircraft flying in and out of Bucharest, where one of the CIA's secret prisons is now known to have been located. On one occasion, the court heard, the jet flew direct from a European airport to Guantánamo. The court heard that in October 2004 the aircraft's tail number was changed, to N227SV, after the US government discovered that its movements were being tracked. The following March the aircraft was publicly linked to the Abu Omar rendition.
The documents were discovered by staff at the legal charity Reprieve. Its legal director, Cori Crider, said: "These documents reveal how the CIA's secret network of torture sites was able to operate unchecked for so many years. They also reveal what a farce it was that the CIA managed to get the prisoners' torture claims kicked out as secret, while all of the details of its sinister business were hiding in plain sight."
Richmor was providing the aircraft for DynCorp, a private military company, which was acting on behalf of the CIA. The bills for the operation passed through Sportsflight and a second aircraft broker, Capital Aviation. Portions of DynCorp were sold by its parent company in 2005. The entity that was sold became known as DynCorp International.
The aircraft's ultimate owner was Phillip Morse, an American businessman with substantial sporting interests who was subsequently appointed vice-chairman of Fenway Sports Group, the company that owns Liverpool FC. In between rendition flights the aircraft was used to fly the Boston Red Sox baseball team.
The court documents make only passing reference to the human cargo being transported. Enough details of the rendition programme generally have now been disclosed to know that men on these flights were usually sedated through anal suppositories before being dressed in nappies and orange boiler suits, then hooded and muffled and trussed up in the back of the aircraft. The precise conditions in which suspects were transported on Richmor flights are not known.
Richmor's president, Mahlon Richards, told the court that the aircraft carried "government personnel and their invitees" (pdf). "Invitees?" queried the judge, Paul Czajka. "Invitees," confirmed Richards. They were being flown across the world because the US government believed them to be "bad guys", he said. Richmor performed well, Richards added. "We were complimented all the time." "By the invitees?" asked the judge. "Not the invitees, the government."
Rep. Webster’s Winter Garden, Florida district office gave out a “Watch List” of six Floridians who had asked questions at Webster’s previous town halls. The list, with the header “For the Media,” included names, photographs, and questions that members of the media should ask them.
The Watch List itself doesn’t contain any information on who wrote it or where it comes from.The memos surfaced in Arkansas in connection to the office of Rep. Tim Griffin, and were traced back to Rep. Webster’s office.
With black and white photos that resemble police surveillance, some of them pulled from the individuals’ Facebook profiles, the memo is clearly meant to intimidate these six people and anyone else who might stand up and ask a question of their elected representative. At a Griffin town hall, staffers were handing out the Watch List to attendees, calling it their “homework.” Griffin staffers were also spotted taking photos and shooting video of attendees, creating an extra layer of intimidation.
While Webster and Griffin are ostensibly making these lists to screen out paid activists, the people they are targeting are regular constituents who have simply spoken up and expressed their disagreement about important policy decisions. Nevertheless, Webster staffers clearly went out of their way to investigate the backgrounds of these individuals and insinuate people like them are not welcome at future town halls.
In April, ThinkProgress reported from Webster’s home district about a town hall where he faced a barrage of criticism for defending his support for tax breaks for the rich and the Medicare-ending Paul Ryan budget. One of the constituents ThinkProgress interviewed, Tamecka Pierce, ended up as #5 on the “Watch List.” Pierce, who had to undergo chemotherapy, asked Webster a tough question about what would happen to people like her with major preexisting conditions under the Republican budget. She expressed her disappointment in Webster for dodging her question — which apparently was enough to land her on a McCarthy-esque list that pictures her like a criminal.
In another instance, the memo suggests that members of the media question the military service of a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran named Ron Parsell. Parsell told the Orlando Sentinel, “I think it’s pretty weird. Someone asks a legitimate question, and all of a sudden somebody’s got a dossier on you.” Parsell added, “It’s the type of thing they’d do in old Russia.”
29 August 2011
Hardly the America I grew up in.
I get tired of those folks who say that because I believe members of the illegitimate Bush administration played a clandestine hand in the events of that day that I must needs be an idiot or a conspiracy nut. I am neither. There are too many unresolved issues and unanswered questions and I won't let Bush officials off the hook until some of those lingering problems are addressed and answered and neither should my countrymen. It's especially ironic that my fellow Americans are so quick to let the Bush junta off the hook because we all know politicians are soulless insects incapable of truth or honor who are more concerned with getting a quick buck from their rich masters than the needs of common Americans. And yes, we also know our government is capable of such a treasonous act against America, just look up Operation Northwoods. All it took were men of power willing to go there and Cheney seems like a poster boy for that sort of abuse of authority.
Anyway, from Bush and Cheney refusing to testify under oath about that day to the doctored footage of the Pentagon attack (if you go over that 7 seconds of footage they released frame by frame after adjusting your TV's color settings, you can clearly make out the ghost image of a helicopter firing a missile into the Pentagon) to the stop options put on the airlines involved in the events of that day to Rumsfeld's orders to the air force to stand down to the mysterious collapse of WTC #7 you see a disturbing pattern that to this day is unresolved and the excuse to keep such unconstitutional things like the Patriot Act in place. Worse, I see President Obama wants to legalize indefinite detention for anyone perceived as threat to the American government.
As we slip further and further away from our Republic into a fascist oligarchy that will doom our nation to ruin with its militaristic ambitions, we can no longer simply accept the "official version" of events simply so we don't have to face the horrifying truth that evil men in our nation's capitol shrouded in Old Glory and believing themselves patriots would stop at nothing to achieve their designs of power and subvert the Constitutional liberties and freedoms that were such an inconvenience to their plans.
That's my 2 cents anyway. 13 days to go before I can wish everyone a Happy 9/11 Day!
28 August 2011
26 August 2011
New York's police commissioner confirmed Thursday that a CIA officer is working out of police headquarters there, after an Associated Press investigation revealed an unusual partnership with the CIA that has blurred the line between foreign and domestic spying. But he and the CIA said the spy agency's role at the department is an advisory one.
Speaking to reporters in New York, commissioner Raymond Kelly acknowledged that the CIA trains NYPD officers on "trade craft issues," meaning espionage techniques, and advises police about events happening overseas. Kelly also said he was unaware of any other U.S. police department with a similar relationship with the CIA.
"They are involved in providing us with information, usually coming from perhaps overseas and providing it to us for, you know, just for our purposes," Kelly said.
CIA spokeswoman Jennifer Youngblood said the agency does not spy inside the United States and also described the relationship with the NYPD as collaborative.
"Our cooperation, in coordination with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is exactly what the American people deserve and have come to expect following 9/11," she said.
A months-long investigation by the AP, published Wednesday, revealed that the NYPD has dispatched teams of undercover officers, known as "rakers," into minority neighborhoods as part of a human mapping program, according to officials directly involved in the program. They've monitored daily life in bookstores, bars, cafes and nightclubs. Police have also used informants, known as "mosque crawlers," to monitor sermons, even when there's no evidence of wrongdoing. NYPD officials have scrutinized imams and gathered intelligence on cab drivers and food cart vendors, jobs often done by Muslims.
Many of the operations were built with help from the CIA, which is prohibited from spying on Americans but was instrumental in transforming the NYPD's intelligence unit after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The NYPD denied that it trolls ethnic neighborhoods and said it only follows leads. The mayor on Thursday defended the police department's efforts...
Read the rest of this troubling article at the link. The soul of the Soviet Union lives on in the heart of post 9/11 America. Again, thanks to cock smoker George Dubya Bush for destroying American freedom through gross negligence and incompetence. Freedom: we weren't really using it anyway amirite?
25 August 2011
24 August 2011
The latest scandal surrounding the New York Police Department suggests that the Big Apple’s boys in blue were targeting Muslims in undercover operations, working outside of their jurisdiction and profiling ethnic communities with aid from the CIA.
The NYPD are denying allegations reported by The Associated Press that the Police Department has been sending undercover informants into mosques, minority neighborhoods, hookah bars and other hangouts frequented by Muslims in order to gather intel, despite having no probable cause to suspect crimes were being hatched.
A federal judge overruled a law in 2002 that kept cops from waiting for “specific information” before gathering intelligence, and ever since the NYPD has used this to their advantage to infringe on the constitutional rights of Muslims by spying on them in what is being suggested as an anti-terrorism initiative.
Retired-CIA Chief David Cohen tells the AP that he helped overrule that legislation nearly a decade ago, and with the help of the NYPD installed a “Demographic Unit” within the Police Department. The undercover police officers involved were then sent to houses of worship and other locales in order to get an insight into what followers of Islam were up to. If these “mosque crawlers,” as Cohen calls them, were conducting operations, the surveillance they carried out could be highly illegal.
Cohen tells the AP that it’s no racial profiling, however. He says that in a post-9/11 New York City, measures are necessary to keep another terror attack from taking the city by storm.
"It's like, after a shooting, do you go 20 blocks away and interview guys or do you go to the neighborhood where it happened?" asks Cohen.
The AP adds that Pakistani officers were sent into Pakistani cafes to look for signs of potential terrorism, and that some NYPD cops were even sent out of the city, into New Jersey, Pennsylvania and outside America, in order to gain information. The deployments into areas well outside the jurisdiction of the NYPD could be not only illegal, but the AP says they were done without the approval or warning to the local law enforcement agencies that normally look out in those areas.
Also in the dark was the FBI, who the Associated Press says found out about one undercover operation in New Jersey after responding to a report of a suspected terrorist. A building superintendent found terrorist literature all over a room on his property in New Brunswick, New Jersey in 2009, and, suspecting he stumbled upon the next-9/11, alerted authorities. The FBI responded to the scene, only later to find out that the site was actually a command center for the NYPD's “Demographic Unit.” In that instance, not only did the NYPD operate outside of their geographic jurisdiction, but federal investigators were left ignorant of operations they should have been handling that were carried out unbeknownst to them.
According to the report, release today, the long arm of the law is a lot longer than one thinks.
Mordecai Dzikansky, author of "Terrorist Suicide Bombings: Attack Interdiction, Mitigation and Response," says NYPD officers were stationed in nearly a dozen cities overseas. Dzikansky says he served in Israel and was deployed “to ask the New York question." On the scene, Dzikansky says he’d report to bring info back home. "Why this location? Was there something unique that the bomber had done? Was there any pre-notification. Was there a security lapse?"
Dzikansky defends it just like Cohen, saying it wasn’t racial profiling at all. "It's not a question of profiling,” he tells the AP. “It's a question of going where the problem could arise. And thank God we have the capability. We have the language capability and the ethnic officers. That's our hidden weapon."
Meanwhile, NYPD spokesman Paul Browne says the notion that the CIA has installed Big Apple coppers as “mosque crawlers” is the figment of someone’s “great imagination.” He adds that the police try to thwart terrorism as much as they can, but does not scour streets of Muslims looking for leads.
Browne adds, however, that "The New York Police Department is doing everything it can to make sure there's not another 9/11 here and that more innocent New Yorkers are not killed by terrorists."
"And we have nothing to apologize for in that regard," says Browne.
If proven true, the AP says the installation of undercover NYPD agents and their deployment overseas “would run afoul of civil liberties rules if practiced by the federal government” and that the partnership between the New York cops and the CIA “has blurred the bright line between foreign and domestic spying.”
23 August 2011
Q. Texas governor and GOP candidate Rick Perry, at a campaign event this week, told a boy that evolution is ”just a theory” with “gaps” and that in Texas they teach “both creationism and evolution.” Perry later added “God is how we got here.” According to a 2009 Gallup study , only 38 percent of Americans say they believe in evolution. If a majority of Americans are skeptical or unsure about evolution, should schools teach it as a mere “theory”? Why is evolution so threatening to religion?
A. There is nothing unusual about Governor Rick Perry. Uneducated fools can be found in every country and every period of history, and they are not unknown in high office. What is unusual about today’s Republican party (I disavow the ridiculous ‘GOP’ nickname, because the party of Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt has lately forfeited all claim to be considered ‘grand’) is this: In any other party and in any other country, an individual may occasionally rise to the top in spite of being an uneducated ignoramus. In today’s Republican Party ‘in spite of’ is not the phrase we need. Ignorance and lack of education are positive qualifications, bordering on obligatory. Intellect, knowledge and linguistic mastery are mistrusted by Republican voters, who, when choosing a president, would apparently prefer someone like themselves over someone actually qualified for the job.
Any other organization -- a big corporation, say, or a university, or a learned society - -when seeking a new leader, will go to immense trouble over the choice. The CVs of candidates and their portfolios of relevant experience are meticulously scrutinized, their publications are read by a learned committee, references are taken up and scrupulously discussed, the candidates are subjected to rigorous interviews and vetting procedures. Mistakes are still made, but not through lack of serious effort.
The population of the United States is more than 300 million and it includes some of the best and brightest that the human species has to offer, probably more so than any other country in the world. There is surely something wrong with a system for choosing a leader when, given a pool of such talent and a process that occupies more than a year and consumes billions of dollars, what rises to the top of the heap is George W Bush. Or when the likes of Rick Perry or Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin can be mentioned as even remote possibilities.
A politician’s attitude to evolution is perhaps not directly important in itself. It can have unfortunate consequences on education and science policy but, compared to Perry’s and the Tea Party’s pronouncements on other topics such as economics, taxation, history and sexual politics, their ignorance of evolutionary science might be overlooked. Except that a politician’s attitude to evolution, however peripheral it might seem, is a surprisingly apposite litmus test of more general inadequacy. This is because unlike, say, string theory where scientific opinion is genuinely divided, there is about the fact of evolution no doubt at all. Evolution is a fact, as securely established as any in science, and he who denies it betrays woeful ignorance and lack of education, which likely extends to other fields as well. Evolution is not some recondite backwater of science, ignorance of which would be pardonable. It is the stunningly simple but elegant explanation of our very existence and the existence of every living creature on the planet. Thanks to Darwin, we now understand why we are here and why we are the way we are. You cannot be ignorant of evolution and be a cultivated and adequate citizen of today.
Darwin’s idea is arguably the most powerful ever to occur to a human mind. The power of a scientific theory may be measured as a ratio: the number of facts that it explains divided by the number of assumptions it needs to postulate in order to do the explaining. A theory that assumes most of what it is trying to explain is a bad theory. That is why the creationist or ‘intelligent design’ theory is such a rotten theory.
What any theory of life needs to explain is functional complexity. Complexity can be measured as statistical improbability, and living things are statistically improbable in a very particular direction: the direction of functional efficiency. The body of a bird is not just a prodigiously complicated machine, with its trillions of cells - each one in itself a marvel of miniaturized complexity - all conspiring together to make muscle or bone, kidney or brain. Its interlocking parts also conspire to make it good for something - in the case of most birds, good for flying. An aero-engineer is struck dumb with admiration for the bird as flying machine: its feathered flight-surfaces and ailerons sensitively adjusted in real time by the on-board computer which is the brain; the breast muscles, which are the engines, the ligaments, tendons and lightweight bony struts all exactly suited to the task. And the whole machine is immensely improbable in the sense that, if you randomly shook up the parts over and over again, never in a million years would they fall into the right shape to fly like a swallow, soar like a vulture, or ride the oceanic up-draughts like a wandering albatross. Any theory of life has to explain how the laws of physics can give rise to a complex flying machine like a bird or a bat or a pterosaur, a complex swimming machine like a tarpon or a dolphin, a complex burrowing machine like a mole, a complex climbing machine like a monkey, or a complex thinking machine like a person.
Darwin explained all of this with one brilliantly simple idea - natural selection, driving gradual evolution over immensities of geological time. His is a good theory because of the huge ratio of what it explains (all the complexity of life) divided by what it needs to assume (simply the nonrandom survival of hereditary information through many generations). The rival theory to explain the functional complexity of life - creationism - is about as bad a theory as has ever been proposed. What it postulates (an intelligent designer) is even more complex, even more statistically improbable than what it explains. In fact it is such a bad theory it doesn’t deserve to be called a theory at all, and it certainly doesn’t deserve to be taught alongside evolution in science classes.
The simplicity of Darwin’s idea, then, is a virtue for three reasons. First, and most important, it is the signature of its immense power as a theory, when compared with the mass of disparate facts that it explains - everything about life including our own existence. Second, it makes it easy for children to understand (in addition to the obvious virtue of being true!), which means that it could be taught in the early years of school. And finally, it makes it extremely beautiful, one of the most beautiful ideas anyone ever had as well as arguably the most powerful. To die in ignorance of its elegance, and power to explain our own existence, is a tragic loss, comparable to dying without ever having experienced great music, great literature, or a beautiful sunset.
There are many reasons to vote against Rick Perry. His fatuous stance on the teaching of evolution in schools is perhaps not the first reason that springs to mind. But maybe it is the most telling litmus test of the other reasons, and it seems to apply not just to him but, lamentably, to all the likely contenders for the Republican nomination. The ‘evolution question’ deserves a prominent place in the list of questions put to candidates in interviews and public debates during the course of the coming election.
Earlier this month, The Financial Times linked to a post by commentator Mike Shedlock about the failure of Keynesianism. I’m not sure why: the post was a standard-issue evidence-free rant. But there is something interesting about it, all the same: None of the alleged policy mistakes used to declare Keynesian economics a failure have anything to do with Keynesian economics.
Here’s the list cited by Mr. Shedlock. Written by Urs Paul Engeler, it originally appeared in the conservative Swiss magazine Die Weltwoche: “By following today’s apologists of the British economist John Maynard Keynes (1883-1946), the so-called ‘welfare’ states pumped too much money (which they didn’t have) into consumption: into pensions for all (Europe), exorbitant armament (U.S.), endangered industries (both) and, finally, bailouts for ailing mortgage banks (also both). This intervention was celebrated by Keynes’ disciples as the ‘return of politics.’ ”
Pensions are Keynesian economics? Bloated defense budgets are Keynesian economics? Who knew? Even bank bailouts, whatever you think of them, have nothing to do with anything in the Keynesian model per se.
So what’s going on here?
I’m not the first person to notice this, but whenever you read conservatives trying to critique what they think the other side believes, you find them assuming that their opponents must be mirror images of themselves. The right believes that less government spending is always good, regardless of circumstances, so it assumes that the other side must always favor more government spending. The right says that deficits are always evil (unless they’re caused by tax cuts), so they assume that the center-left must favor deficits in all conditions.
I personally get this a lot, of course. Not a day goes by without someone blithely asserting that I have never called for spending cuts on anything, and that I have never called for action against budget deficits. A few minutes searching my writing would disabuse them of these beliefs, but they don’t need to check — they know.
What seems beyond their intellectual range is the notion that other people might have subtler beliefs than their own. Keynesianism, in particular, is not about chanting “big government good.” It’s about viewing recessions through the lens of an economic model under which temporary increases in government spending can, under certain circumstances, help reduce unemployment.
Indeed, not all recessions call for fiscal stimulus; it’s the special conditions of the liquidity trap that make stimulus essential now — which is why the Bush deficits, run under non-liquidity trap conditions, say nothing at all about the desirability of deficits now.
I have no hope of actually getting through with this, of course. To actually understand what people like me are saying, we’d have to get past crude slogans and simplistic nostrums. The problem is obvious.
© 2011 The New York Times Company
22 August 2011
An analysis of tens of thousands of documents obtained by Bloomberg through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request shows that the U.S. Federal Reserve made approximately $1.2 trillion in loans from public money to support Wall Street firms in the midst of one of the worst financial crises ever.
Differing from the $16 trillion in loans made through asset swaps and preferred stock agreements, which were first revealed by a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) audit mandated by Congress, these loans came from public money, representing the greatest largess of the financial sector during a crisis that threatened to pull the whole globalized system of finance to its knees.
Made from August 2007 through April 2010, the largest borrowers included familiar names like Morgan Stanley, which took $107.3 billion; Citigroup at $99.5 billion; and Bank of America with $91.4 billion.
Foreign firms got a piece of the pie too: the Royal Bank of Scotland Plc was given $84.5 billion; UBS AG took $77.2 billion; and German bank Hypo Real Estate Holding AG took out $28.7 billion, according to Bloomberg.
The Fed claimed it suffered "no credit losses" on the emergency loans, insisting that it has even made back over $13 billion in interest and fees. The loans were made in secret, and not even disclosed to the GAO, to prevent the appearance of weakness in the system, the Bloomberg report said.
Impossible, right? GOP lawmakers are so virulently anti-tax, surely they will fight to prevent a payroll tax increase on virtually every wage-earner starting Jan. 1, right?
Many of the same Republicans who fought hammer-and-tong to keep the George W. Bush-era income tax cuts from expiring on schedule are now saying a different "temporary" tax cut should end as planned. By their own definition, that amounts to a tax increase.
The tax break extension they oppose is sought by President Barack Obama. Unlike proposed changes in the income tax, this policy helps the 46 percent of all Americans who owe no federal income taxes but who pay a "payroll tax" on practically every dime they earn.
There are other differences as well, and Republicans say their stand is consistent with their goal of long-term tax policies that will spur employment and lend greater certainty to the economy.
"It's always a net positive to let taxpayers keep more of what they earn," says Rep. Jeb Hensarling, "but not all tax relief is created equal for the purposes of helping to get the economy moving again." The Texas lawmaker is on the House GOP leadership team.
The debate is likely to boil up in coming weeks as a special bipartisan committee seeks big deficit reductions and weighs which tax cuts are sacrosanct.
At issue is a tax that the vast majority of workers pay, but many don't recognize because they don't read, or don't understand their pay stubs. Workers normally pay 6.2 percent of their wages toward a tax designated for Social Security. Their employer pays an equal amount, for a total of 12.4 percent per worker.
As part of a bipartisan spending deal last December, Congress approved Obama's request to reduce the workers' share to 4.2 percent for one year; employers' rate did not change. Obama wants Congress to extend the reduction for an additional year. If not, the rate will return to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1.
Obama cited the payroll tax in his weekend radio and Internet address Saturday, when he urged Congress to work together on measures that help the economy and create jobs. "There are things we can do right now that will mean more customers for businesses and more jobs across the country. We can cut payroll taxes again, so families have an extra $1,000 to spend," he said.
Social Security payroll taxes apply only to the first $106,800 of a worker's wages. Therefore, $2,136 is the biggest benefit anyone can gain from the one-year reduction.
The great majority of Americans make less than $106,800 a year. Millions of workers pay more in payroll taxes than in federal income taxes.
The 12-month tax reduction will cost the government about $120 billion this year, and a similar amount next year if it's renewed.
That worries Rep. David Camp, R-Mich., chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, and a member of the House-Senate supercommittee tasked with finding new deficit cuts. Tax reductions, "no matter how well-intended," will push the deficit higher, making the panel's task that much harder, Camp's office said.
But Republican lawmakers haven't always worried about tax cuts increasing the deficit. They led the fight to extend the life of a much bigger tax break: the major 2001 income tax reduction enacted under Bush. It was scheduled to expire at the start of this year. Obama campaigned on a pledge to end the tax break only for the richest Americans, but solid GOP opposition forced him to back down.
Many Republicans are adamant about not raising taxes but largely silent on what it would mean to let the payroll tax break expire.
Republicans cite key differences between the two "temporary" taxes, starting with the fact that the Bush measure had a 10-year life from the start. To stimulate job growth, these lawmakers say, it's better to reduce income tax rates for people and for companies than to extend the payroll tax break.
20 August 2011
Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman took a swipe at his rivals and warned his party against rejecting science in an interview that will air Sunday.
"I think there's a serious problem. The minute that the Republican Party becomes the party -- the anti-science party -- we have a huge problem," the former US ambassador to China told ABC television's "This Week."
Earlier this week, Texas Governor Rick Perry, also running for the nomination, called man-made climate change a "theory that has not yet been proven."
He added that "there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects."
Shortly after Perry's comments, Huntsman, who has been lagging in the polls, scored big on Twitter when he wrote: "To be clear, I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy."
At least 3,600 people on the micro-blogging site 'retweeted" Huntsman's claim over the next 24 hours, making it the most repeated comment by a Republican White House hopeful in 2012, according to the 140elect.com website.
Huntsman told ABC that if Republicans opt for a stance that "runs counter to what 98 of 100 climate scientists have said," they will find themselves "on the wrong side of science and, therefore, in a losing position."
Despite his impressive resume as a successful Utah governor and Obama's well regarded ambassador to China, Huntsman has yet to catch fire with Republican primary voters looking for a standard-bearer in the November 2012 elections.
Huntsman has drawn considerable media attention, but has been polling inside the margin of error in most surveys.
Who says American companies aren't investing? They are. Billions, in fact. Only, they are just not investing here in the U.S.
Atlanta based Coca-Cola (KO) plans to invest $4 billion in China, the company's CEO Muhtar Kent told reporters in Shanghai this week. It's the company's biggest planned investment in China since the 2009 investment of $2 billion. The investments will start next year and is part of the company's China capex until 2014.
Kent said the company is even considering listing its shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, adding itself to the list of mainstream brands listing their depositary receipts on exchanges outside of their home base. Massachusetts luggage maker Samsonite opted to list in Hong Kong in the second quarter rather than do its initial public offering on the NYSE. The new China investments will focus on innovation, infrastructure and expansion of its production capacity. The company now has six manufacturing centers in the country.
"U.S. corporations are actually in good shape and a lot of that is due to emerging markets, particularly the BRIC countries," fund manager Paul Dietrich of Foxhall Capital Management in Orange, Conn told Forbes on Friday. The BRIC countries are Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Low growth in the U.S. and Europe have essentially forced the hands of the big multinationals to look for growth elsewhere. "In this low growth environment, we will continue to see European and American multinational companies spending in countries far from home," says Martin Schulz, managing director of international equities at PNC Capital Advisors in Columbus, Ohio.
Way to sell out your home country assholes!
19 August 2011
The nation's framers established a federal court system whereby judges with "good behavior" would be secure in their job for life. Perry believes that provision is ready for an overhaul.
"The Judges," reads Article III, "both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behavior, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services a Compensation which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office."
Perry makes it no secret that he believes the judges on the bench over the past century have acted beyond their constitutional bounds. The problem, Perry reasons, is that members of the judiciary are "unaccountable" to the people, and their lifetime tenure gives them free license to act however they want. In his book, the governor speaks highly of plans to limit their tenure and offers proposals about how to accomplish it.
"'[W]e should take steps to restrict the unlimited power of the courts to rule over us with no accountability," he writes in Fed Up! "There are a number of ideas about how to do this . . . . One such reform would be to institute term limits on what are now lifetime appointments for federal judges, particularly those on the Supreme Court or the circuit courts, which have so much power. One proposal, for example, would have judges roll off every two years based on seniority."
2. Congress should have the power to override Supreme Court decisions with a two-thirds vote.
Ending lifetime tenure for federal justices isn't the only way Perry has proposed suppressing the power of the courts. His book excoriates at length what he sees as overreach from the judicial branch. (The title of Chapter Six is "Nine Unelected Judges Tell Us How to Live.")
Giving Congress the ability to veto their decisions would be another way to take the Court down a notch, Perry says.
"[A]llow Congress to override the Supreme Court with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, which risks increased politicization of judicial decisions, but also has the benefit of letting the people stop the Court from unilaterally deciding policy," he writes.
3. Scrap the federal income tax by repealing the Sixteenth Amendment.
The Sixteenth Amendment gives Congress the "power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." It should be abolished immediately, Perry says.
Calling the Sixteenth Amendment "the great milestone on the road to serfdom," Perry's writes that it provides a virtually blank check to the federal government to use for projects with little or no consultation from the states.
4. End the direct election of senators by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment.
Overturning this amendment would restore the original language of the Constitution, which gave state legislators the power to appoint the members of the Senate.
Ratified during the Progressive Era in 1913 , the same year as the Sixteenth Amendment, the Seventeenth Amendment gives citizens the ability to elect senators on their own. Perry writes that supporters of the amendment at the time were "mistakenly" propelled by "a fit of populist rage."
"The American people mistakenly empowered the federal government during a fit of populist rage in the early twentieth century by giving it an unlimited source of income (the Sixteenth Amendment) and by changing the way senators are elected (the Seventeenth Amendment)," he writes.
5. Require the federal government to balance its budget every year.
Of all his proposed ideas, Perry calls this one "the most important," and of all the plans, a balanced budget amendment likely has the best chance of passage.
"The most important thing we could do is amend the Constitution--now--to restrict federal spending," Perry writes in his book. "There are generally thought to be two options: the traditional 'balanced budget amendment' or a straightforward 'spending limit amendment,' either of which would be a significant improvement. I prefer the latter . . . . Let's use the people's document--the Constitution--to put an actual spending limit in place to control the beast in Washington."
A campaign to pass a balanced budget amendment through Congress fell short by just one vote in the Senate in the 1990s.
Last year, House Republicans proposed a spending-limit amendment that would limit federal spending to 20 percent of the economy. According to the amendment's language, the restriction could be overridden by a two-thirds vote in both Houses of Congress or by a declaration of war.
6. The federal Constitution should define marriage as between one man and one woman in all 50 states.
Despite saying last month that he was "fine with" states like New York allowing gay marriage, Perry has now said he supports a constitutional amendment that would permanently ban gay marriage throughout the country and overturn any state laws that define marriage beyond a relationship between one man and one woman.
"I do respect a state's right to have a different opinion and take a different tack if you will, California did that," Perry told the Christian Broadcasting Network in August. "I respect that right, but our founding fathers also said, 'Listen, if you all in the future think things are so important that you need to change the Constitution here's the way you do it'.
In an interview with The Ticket earlier this month, Perry spokeswoman Katherine Cesinger said that even though it would overturn laws in several states, the amendment still fits into Perry's broader philosophy because amendments require the ratification of three-fourths of the states to be added to the Constitution.
7. Abortion should be made illegal throughout the country.
Like the gay marriage issue, Perry at one time believed that abortion policy should be left to the states, as was the case before the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. But in the same Christian Broadcasting Network interview, Perry said that he would support a federal amendment outlawing abortion because it was "so important...to the soul of this country and to the traditional values [of] our founding fathers."
Be afraid America, be afraid! It's funny to me how these conservative, fundamentalist Christian politicians always go on about loving America and the Constitution, yet can't wait to get their hands on either to change it and corrupt it.
17 August 2011
16 August 2011
—“The time for putting party first is over. The time for compromise on behalf of the American people is now.” Barack Obama, July 29, 2011
Barack Obama wants to be the President in times when the quote above describes the spirit of the day. He desperately wants to be President when Americans, both in Washington and out of it, work creatively and effectively on big solutions to the nation’s troubles.
I believe he is sincere about this. I believe he really wants to be president in the post-partisan America many commentators imagined would arise with his election in 2008.
But he isn’t.
Instead, he’s President at a time when Mitch McConnell, R-KY, the Senate majority leader, can say time and again, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.” One in which right wing radio host Rush Limbaugh noted, “I hope he fails,” even before Obama took office.
I think a lot of the Obama’s problems, and a lot of the reason many liberals and progressives are growing disenchanted with the Obama Presidency, can be explained by the fact that Obama keeps trying to be President of a post-partisan America even as the nation has hardened ideologically, and even as his opponents have made undermining his presidency the heart of their political agenda.
This is the best explanation I can find of Obama’s deal on the debt ceiling. He STARTED at a position most Republicans would have died for even a year ago, pre-tea party, and “negotiated” from there. His health care and global climate change proposals started life as Republican programs. (That’s why “Obamacare” looks a lot like “Romneycare,” and in any other election cycle, Romney would be touting its successes in Massachusetts, not running from them.)
Likewise, it’s the best explanation I can come up with for the apparent “debate” in the administration about Obama’s reelection campaign—should he be more partisan, or should he be focused on the supposed desire of independents that politics be more bipartisan?
In both cases, Obama starts from the position that “the other side”—whether Republicans in Congress or independents whose votes he needs—are reasonable, moderate people who want good policies made in Washington, DC.
Which is a lovely sentiment. It’s just not true.
It’s not that Republicans—especially those active in politics today—are crazy. It’s that they’re ideological. They have strong points of view and fight for them. They’re willing to lose if they fight on their principles. Indeed, from their point of view the fight matters more than the policy since the fight undermines the Obama presidency and enhances the chances that he will be a one term president.
Unfortunately, the gap between Obama’s desired presidency and the one he actually has causes at least two major problems for him and his supporters.
First, as I have stated on this blog before, you can’t negotiate with “no.” If you want something, and the other side is willing to let things blow it up rather than give it to you, then you have to concede an enormous amount of ground, perhaps well past the opposition’s starting point, to get the opposition to agree to your goal. You’re constantly persuading the enemies of your point of view to support it by giving in to their demands and more, while getting very little out of it. You are unilaterally disarming yourself before the fight begins, only to discover that your opponents have recently been to the gun store.
Second, you dishearten your core supporters. You tell those people who organized for you and fought for you and gave you money that, in the end, you care more about getting something—anything—done than you do about what actually gets done. So, naturally, those who once supported you naturally begin to ask themselves, if I supported this person and I got policies more favorable to my opponents than even my opponents wanted a few months ago, why should I bother supporting “my guy” again? This is true even if you are successful in major policy areas—like health care. “VOTE FOR ME BECAUSE IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN EVEN WORSE” is a terrible campaign slogan.
Ironically, and this needn’t have happened but it has, Obama appears to have lost the independents he hoped to capture by being post-partisan: his approval rating is at its lowest point in his term, and is low by comparison to most other presidents at this point in their terms. It’s MUCH LOWER than it was for presidents who got reelected.
As it happens, I’m a realist and a pragmatist. It’s been said that politics is the art of the possible. Presidents always disappoint because they’re not elected dictators who can compel action with a glance. Congress, the Courts, the media, interest groups and voters all get to check and balance the president’s powers. Effective action requires compromise.
But in enacting a post-partisan presidency in a hyper-partisan age, Barack Obama seems to have missed the zeitgeist. He may yet be reelected—I find this likely, still—but it won’t be because of his presidency. It will be because the Republicans may nominate someone so ultra partisan that the vast majority of voters will have to vote for an Obama they’re disappointed in to avoid a Republican they’re horrified by. (And I think they’ll think that about Rick Perry once he’s a known, rather than an unknown, candidate.)
Which is not really all that much to hang a reelection on, if you know what I mean.
15 August 2011
This summer, despite America’s continuing financial crisis, the Pentagon is effectively considering trading two military quagmires for the possibility of a third. Reducing its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan as it refocuses on Asia, Washington is not so much withdrawing forces from the Persian Gulf as it is redeploying them for a prospective war with its largest creditor, China.
According to the defense trade press, Pentagon officials are seeking ways to adapt a concept known as AirSea Battle specifically for China, debunking rote claims from Washington that it has no plans to thwart its emerging Asian rival. A recent article in Inside the Pentagon reported that a small group of U.S. Navy officers known as the China Integration Team "is hard at work applying the lessons of [AirSea Battle] to a potential conflict with China."
AirSea Battle, developed in the early 1990s and most recently codified in a 2009 Navy-Air Force classified memo, is a vehicle for conforming U.S. military power to address asymmetrical threats in the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf -- code for China and Iran. (This alone raises a crucial point: If the U.S. has had nothing but trouble with asymmetrical warfare for the last 45 years, why should a war with China, or Iran for that matter, be any different?) It complements the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, a government white paper that precluded the rise of any "peer competitor" that might challenge U.S. dominance worldwide. The Planning Guidance is the Pentagon’s writ for control of what defense planners call "the global commons," a euphemism for the seaways, land bridges and air corridors that are the arteries of international commerce. For a foreign power to challenge this American dominion is to effectively declare war on the United States, and that is exactly what China appears to be doing in the South China Sea, a resource-rich and highly contested waterway in Southeast Asia.
It was in this spirit that Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Jim Amos, at a dinner hosted by the Center for a New American Security in late May, remarked that the wars in the Persian Gulf were denying Washington the resources it needed to cope with an increasingly assertive China. "We’d like to turn that around," he said. "I don't think we're there to [the extent] we need to be." In his candor, Amos became the latest U.S. military leader to speak about his service’s plans following the Afghanistan drawdown.
A U.S. mobilization in Asia is well underway, in faith with a spring 2001 Pentagon study called "Asia 2025," which identified China as a "persistent competitor of the United States," bent on "foreign military adventurism." Three years later, the U.S. government went public with a plan that called for a new chain of bases in Central Asia and the Middle East, in part to box in the People’s Republic. Similarly, the nuclear energy cooperation deal signed by the U.S. and India in 2008 was an obvious containment maneuver aimed at Beijing. In late March, press reports detailed a major buildup of American forces in Asia, including increased naval deployments and expansive cooperation with partner countries. Meanwhile, the Pentagon is forging ahead with a multi-year effort to transform Guam into its primary hub in the Pacific, an initiative so vast that John Pike of the Washington, D.C.-based GlobalSecurity.org has speculated that Washington wants to "run the planet from Guam and Diego Garcia by 2015."
Unlike America’s allies in Asia and Europe, however, China is not about to outsource its national security obligations to a foreign power, particularly when it comes to the South China Sea. There more than ever, and not without reason, Beijing identifies the U.S. not as a strategic partner but as an outright threat. In 2007, when China destroyed one of its weather satellites with a ballistic missile, it served as a warning to Washington after the ramming six years earlier of a U.S. spy plane by a Chinese fighter jet off the coast of Hainan Island. Though the crisis that followed was defused diplomatically, it was interpreted by some in Washington as vindication of the throaty Asia 2025. In fact, the clash followed a dramatic rise in the frequency of U.S. overflights in the area during the twilight of the Clinton years, which triggered a demarche from Beijing that slipped through the cracks of the transition to the Bush administration. The Hainan incident, as affair is known, was the inevitable outcome of a highly intrusive American surveillance regime.
In addition to China, Vietnam, Brunei, Taiwan, Malaysia and the Philippines all have competing claims on several clusters of South China Sea islands. Rather than intervening with quiet diplomacy to untangle this incendiary thicket, the U.S. has starkly sided against Beijing. In March 2010, when a Chinese official was quoted by Japanese media as identifying the region as a "core interest" of Chinese sovereignty, the White House retaliated by declaring that freedom of maritime navigation is a U.S. "national interest." As it turns out, according to the China scholars Nong Hong and Wenran Jiang, writing in the July 1 edition of the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation’s China bulletin, the core interest to which the official referred was “the peaceful resolution” of the disputes in question. Despite this, the White House refuses to climb down. Two weeks ago, three U.S. Navy ships paid call on Vietnam, China’s ancient antagonist, for a weeklong joint exercise at a time of strained relations between Beijing and Hanoi, prompting a formal protest from the Chinese. In Manila last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointedly assured her hosts that the U.S. would honor its mutual defense pact with the Philippines and sell it new weaponry on discounted terms.
For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. government has encountered the practical limits of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance. In its story about AirSea Battle and the China Integration Team, Inside the Pentagon revealed an oblique, if profound insight from Andrew Krepinevich, the highly regarded head of Washington’s Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. China, he said, is clearly jousting for control of the Western Pacific and "we have to decide whether we’re going to compete or not. If we’re not, then we have to be willing to accept the shift in the military balance." Otherwise, "the question is how to compete effectively."
OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.
Last year my federal tax bill — the income tax I paid, as well as payroll taxes paid by me and on my behalf — was $6,938,744. That sounds like a lot of money. But what I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.
If you make money with money, as some of my super-rich friends do, your percentage may be a bit lower than mine. But if you earn money from a job, your percentage will surely exceed mine — most likely by a lot.
To understand why, you need to examine the sources of government revenue. Last year about 80 percent of these revenues came from personal income taxes and payroll taxes. The mega-rich pay income taxes at a rate of 15 percent on most of their earnings but pay practically nothing in payroll taxes. It’s a different story for the middle class: typically, they fall into the 15 percent and 25 percent income tax brackets, and then are hit with heavy payroll taxes to boot.
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, tax rates for the rich were far higher, and my percentage rate was in the middle of the pack. According to a theory I sometimes hear, I should have thrown a fit and refused to invest because of the elevated tax rates on capital gains and dividends.
I didn’t refuse, nor did others. I have worked with investors for 60 years and I have yet to see anyone — not even when capital gains rates were 39.9 percent in 1976-77 — shy away from a sensible investment because of the tax rate on the potential gain. People invest to make money, and potential taxes have never scared them off. And to those who argue that higher rates hurt job creation, I would note that a net of nearly 40 million jobs were added between 1980 and 2000. You know what’s happened since then: lower tax rates and far lower job creation.
Since 1992, the I.R.S. has compiled data from the returns of the 400 Americans reporting the largest income. In 1992, the top 400 had aggregate taxable income of $16.9 billion and paid federal taxes of 29.2 percent on that sum. In 2008, the aggregate income of the highest 400 had soared to $90.9 billion — a staggering $227.4 million on average — but the rate paid had fallen to 21.5 percent.
The taxes I refer to here include only federal income tax, but you can be sure that any payroll tax for the 400 was inconsequential compared to income. In fact, 88 of the 400 in 2008 reported no wages at all, though every one of them reported capital gains. Some of my brethren may shun work but they all like to invest. (I can relate to that.)
I know well many of the mega-rich and, by and large, they are very decent people. They love America and appreciate the opportunity this country has given them. Many have joined the Giving Pledge, promising to give most of their wealth to philanthropy. Most wouldn’t mind being told to pay more in taxes as well, particularly when so many of their fellow citizens are truly suffering.
Twelve members of Congress will soon take on the crucial job of rearranging our country’s finances. They’ve been instructed to devise a plan that reduces the 10-year deficit by at least $1.5 trillion. It’s vital, however, that they achieve far more than that. Americans are rapidly losing faith in the ability of Congress to deal with our country’s fiscal problems. Only action that is immediate, real and very substantial will prevent that doubt from morphing into hopelessness. That feeling can create its own reality.
Job one for the 12 is to pare down some future promises that even a rich America can’t fulfill. Big money must be saved here. The 12 should then turn to the issue of revenues. I would leave rates for 99.7 percent of taxpayers unchanged and continue the current 2-percentage-point reduction in the employee contribution to the payroll tax. This cut helps the poor and the middle class, who need every break they can get.
But for those making more than $1 million — there were 236,883 such households in 2009 — I would raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, including, of course, dividends and capital gains. And for those who make $10 million or more — there were 8,274 in 2009 — I would suggest an additional increase in rate.
My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress. It’s time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice.
14 August 2011
12 August 2011
Yesterday the big news in the internets was the news that a company was incorporated, donated a million dollars to a super PAC associated with Mitt Romney and then disolved, all within the space of about 4 months. The building the business supposedly was based at in Manhattan had never heard of the company. All this has caused complaints to be filed to the SEC and DOJ.
It turns out that two other companies have done something very similar for Mitt, yet it appears only one station has reported it, and that is a local Fox affiliate of all places.
A political committee tied to Mitt Romney received two separate $1 million donations from companies located in Provo, but the companies don't appear to do any substantial business.http://www.fox13now.com/...
How about this?:
The giant sums of money is surprising enough, but Eli Publishing and F8 LLC don't seem to do any business. They incorporated with the state, but they have no presence on the internet and when Fox 13 went to their address, we found only an accounting firm whose employees weren't aware of the companies' activities.
Something tells me things are going to get a whole lot more interesting for Mr. Romney, especially if this other story starts to pick up steam as well.
All I want to do is grab his lapels and shout angrily, "Don't you get it, you idiot!? Because you sold us out and let the your foes have their way with dictating policy, you have accomplished nothing substantive! All you'll be remembered for is being the 1st black president!!"
So Bush and his cabinet get away with their many crimes, the American government still has the Patriot Act to abuse our civil liberties, old folk will be eating cat food, disabled folk will be kicked off the Social Security rolls, people like me who rely on Medicare for prescriptions will get sick again, we will war in perpetuity, rich folk and their corporations will laugh (corporations can laugh; they are people haven't you heard?) all the way to the bank.
I really had hope when Obama said, "Yes we can!" I even gave him the benefit of the doubt when he went on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and amended that to, "Yes we can, but--". Today I just feel the bitter disappointment of an American citizen with no representation in DC because I don't make enough money to matter to my government to make it worth their while to protect me from the fickle whims of the wealthy who have bought and sold every member of Congress and the White House.
But there’s another emotion you should feel: anger. For what we’re seeing now is what happens when influential people exploit a crisis rather than try to solve it.
For more than a year and a half — ever since President Obama chose to make deficits, not jobs, the central focus of the 2010 State of the Union address — we’ve had a public conversation that has been dominated by budget concerns, while almost ignoring unemployment. The supposedly urgent need to reduce deficits has so dominated the discourse that on Monday, in the midst of a market panic, Mr. Obama devoted most of his remarks to the deficit rather than to the clear and present danger of renewed recession.
What made this so bizarre was the fact that markets were signaling, as clearly as anyone could ask, that unemployment rather than deficits is our biggest problem. Bear in mind that deficit hawks have been warning for years that interest rates on U.S. government debt would soar any day now; the threat from the bond market was supposed to be the reason that we must slash the deficit now now now. But that threat keeps not materializing. And, this week, on the heels of a downgrade that was supposed to scare bond investors, those interest rates actually plunged to record lows.
What the market was saying — almost shouting — was, “We’re not worried about the deficit! We’re worried about the weak economy!” For a weak economy means both low interest rates and a lack of business opportunities, which, in turn, means that government bonds become an attractive investment even at very low yields. If the downgrade of U.S. debt had any effect at all, it was to reinforce fears of austerity policies that will make the economy even weaker.
So how did Washington discourse come to be dominated by the wrong issue?
Hard-line Republicans have, of course, played a role. Although they don’t seem to truly care about deficits — try suggesting any rise in taxes on the rich — they have found harping on deficits a useful way to attack government programs.
But our discourse wouldn’t have gone so far off-track if other influential people hadn’t been eager to change the subject away from jobs, even in the face of 9 percent unemployment, and to hijack the crisis on behalf of their pre-existing agendas.
Check out the opinion page of any major newspaper, or listen to any news-discussion program, and you’re likely to encounter some self-proclaimed centrist declaring that there are no short-run fixes for our economic difficulties, that the responsible thing is to focus on long-run solutions and, in particular, on “entitlement reform” — that is, cuts in Social Security and Medicare. And when you do encounter such a person, you should be aware that people like that are a major reason we’re in so much trouble.
For the fact is that right now the economy desperately needs a short-run fix. When you’re bleeding profusely from an open wound, you want a doctor who binds that wound up, not a doctor who lectures you on the importance of maintaining a healthy lifestyle as you get older. When millions of willing and able workers are unemployed, and economic potential is going to waste to the tune of almost $1 trillion a year, you want policy makers who work on a fast recovery, not people who lecture you on the need for long-run fiscal sustainability.
Unfortunately, giving lectures on long-run fiscal sustainability is a fashionable Washington pastime; it’s what people who want to sound serious do to demonstrate their seriousness. So when the crisis struck and led to big budget deficits — because that’s what happens when the economy shrinks and revenue plunges — many members of our policy elite were all too eager to seize on those deficits as an excuse to change the subject from jobs to their favorite hobbyhorse. And the economy continued to bleed.
What would a real response to our problems involve? First of all, it would involve more, not less, government spending for the time being — with mass unemployment and incredibly low borrowing costs, we should be rebuilding our schools, our roads, our water systems and more. It would involve aggressive moves to reduce household debt via mortgage forgiveness and refinancing. And it would involve an all-out effort by the Federal Reserve to get the economy moving, with the deliberate goal of generating higher inflation to help alleviate debt problems.
The usual suspects will, of course, denounce such ideas as irresponsible. But you know what’s really irresponsible? Hijacking the debate over a crisis to push for the same things you were advocating before the crisis, and letting the economy continue to bleed.
06 August 2011
This week, the United States nearly allowed itself to succumb to economic disaster. Increasingly, the divided country has more in common with a failed state than a democracy. In the face of America's apparent political insanity, Europe must learn to take care of itself.
The word "West" used to have a meaning. It described common goals and values, the dignity of democracy and justice over tyranny and despotism. Now it seems to be a thing of the past. There is no longer a West, and those who would like to use the word -- along with Europe and the United States in the same sentence -- should just hold their breath. By any definition, America is no longer a Western nation.
America has changed. It has drifted away from the West.
The country's social disintegration is breathtaking. Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz recently. The richest 1 percent of Americans claim one-quarter of the country's total income for themselves -- 25 years ago that figure was 12 percent. It also possesses 40 percent of total wealth, up from 33 percent 25 years ago. Stiglitz claims that in many countries in the so-called Third World, the income gap between the poor and rich has been reduced. In the United States, it has grown.
Economist Paul Krugman, also a Nobel laureate, hasthat America's path is leading it down the road to "banana-republic status." The social cynicism and societal indifference once associated primarily with the Third World has now become an American hallmark. This accelerates social decay because the greater the disparity grows, the less likely the rich will be willing to contribute to the common good. When a company like Apple, which with €76 billion in the bank has greater reserves at its disposal than the government in Washington, a European can only shake his head over the Republican resistance to tax increases. We see it as self-destructive.
The same applies to America's broken political culture. The name "United States" seems increasingly less appropriate. Something has become routine in American political culture that has been absent in Germany since Willy Brandt's Ostpolitik policies of rapprochement with East Germany and the Soviet Bloc (in the 1960s and '70s): hate. At the same time, reason has been replaced by delusion. The notion of tax cuts has taken on a cult-like status, and the limited role of the state a leading ideology. In this new American civil war, respect for the country's highest office was sacrificed long ago. The fact that Barack Obama is the country's first African-American president may have played a role there, too.
The West, C'est nous
There's no deliverance in sight. One can no longer depend on politics in America. The reliance of Congress members on donations from the rich has become too great. Nor will there be any revolutionary storming of the Bastille in America. Popular anger may boil over, but the elites have succeeded in both controlling the masses and channeling their passions. Take the Tea Party, which has enjoyed godfather-like bankrolling from brothers and billionaire industrialists David and Charles Koch and found a mouthpiece in Rupert Murdoch's populist, hatred-stirring Fox News.
Still, America's fate should serve as a warning: We must protect our political culture, our institutions and our state. The success of Thilo Sarrazin, with his anti-Muslim message, shows that even Germany isn't free of the kind of cultural coldness that can eventually ossify the vital functions of the political system. Our society has already made significant and deplorable steps on the path towards growing inequality and de-democratization.
Nevertheless, at least one good opportunity springs from America's fate: The further the United States distances itself from us, the more we will (have to) think for ourselves, as Europeans. The West? That's us.
KABUL, Afghanistan — Thirty-one U.S. special forces troops and seven Afghan soldiers died when their helicopter was shot down during an overnight operation against Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, according to statement issued Saturday by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
It was the worst single-day toll for American forces in Afghanistan since U.S. troops entered that country nearly 10 years ago, and one of the largest tolls in a single incident of either the Afghan war or the fighting in Iraq.
The last time the U.S. military suffered such catastrophic loses was in January 2005, when 30 U.S. Marines and a sailor were killed in a helicopter crash in Iraq's Anbar province; throughout the country, another six U.S. troops died on the ground the same day.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States has lost its sterling credit rating from Standard & Poor's.
The credit rating agency on Friday lowered the nation's AAA rating for the first time since granting it in 1917. The move came less than a week after a gridlocked Congress finally agreed to spending cuts that would reduce the debt by more than $2 trillion -- a tumultuous process that contributed to convulsions in financial markets. The promised cuts were not enough to satisfy S&P.
The drop in the rating by one notch to AA-plus was telegraphed as a possibility back in April. The three main credit agencies, which also include Moody's Investor Service and Fitch, had warned during the budget fight that if Congress did not cut spending far enough, the country faced a downgrade. Moody's said it was keeping its AAA rating on the nation's debt, but that it might still lower it.
One of the biggest questions after the downgrade was what impact it would have on already nervous investors. While the downgrade was not a surprise, some selling is expected when stock trading resumes Monday morning. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 699 points this week, the biggest weekly point drop since October 2008.
"I think we will have a knee-jerk reaction on Monday," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank.
But any losses might be short-lived. The threat of a downgrade is likely already reflected in the plunge in stocks this week, said Harvey Neiman, a portfolio manager of the Neiman Large Cap Value Fund.
"The market's already been shaken out," Neiman said. "It knew it was coming."
One fear in the market has been that a downgrade would scare buyers away from U.S. debt. If that were to happen, the interest rate paid on U.S. bonds, notes and bills would have to rise to attract buyers. And that could lead to higher borrowing rates for consumers, since the rates on mortgages and other loans are pegged to the yield on Treasury securities.
However, even without an AAA rating from S&P, U.S. debt is seen as one of the safest investments in the world. And investors clearly weren't scared away this week. While stocks were plunging, investors were buying Treasurys and driving up their prices. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which falls when the price rises, fell to a low of 2.39 percent on Thursday from 2.75 percent Monday.
A study by JPMorgan Chase found that there has been a slight rise in rates when countries lost an AAA rating. In 1998, S&P lowered ratings for Belgium, Italy and Spain. A week later, their 10-year rates had barely moved.
The government fought the downgrade. Administration sources familiar with the discussions said the S&P analysis was fundamentally flawed. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss the matter publicly. S&P had sent the administration a draft document in the early afternoon Friday and the administration, after examining the numbers, challenged the analysis.
S&P said that in addition to the downgrade, it is issuing a negative outlook, meaning that there was a chance it will lower the rating further within the next two years. It said such a downgrade, to AA, would occur if the agency sees smaller reductions in spending than Congress and the administration have agreed to make, higher interest rates or new fiscal pressures during this period.
In its statement, S&P said that it had changed its view "of the difficulties of bridging the gulf between the political parties" over a credible deficit reduction plan.
S&P said it was now "pessimistic about the capacity of Congress and the administration to be able to leverage their agreement this week into a broader fiscal consolidation plan that stabilizes the government's debt dynamics anytime soon."
One analyst suggested the downgrade might move Congress to take concrete steps to fix the nation's budget problems.
"It's a downgrade and it's bad, but if it spurs more conversation about bringing down spending and maybe more intelligent tax policy, it could be a good thing in the long run," said Frank Barbera, a portfolio manager of the Sierra Core Retirement Fund.
The Federal Reserve and other U.S. regulators said in a joint statement that S&P's action should not have any impact on how banks and other financial institutions assess the riskiness of Treasurys or other securities guaranteed by the U.S. government. The statement was issued to make sure banks did not feel that the downgrade would affect the amount of capital that regulators require the banks to hold against possible losses.
Before leaving for a weekend at Camp David, President Barack Obama met with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in the Oval Office late Friday afternoon.
The downgrade is likely to have little to no impact on how the United States finances its borrowing, through the sale of Treasury bonds, bills and notes. This week's buying proves that.
"Investors have voted and are saying the U.S. is going to pay them," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics. "U.S. Treasurys are still the gold standard." He noted that neither his parent organization, Moody's, nor Fitch, the other of the three major rating agencies, have downgraded U.S. debt.
The ratings agencies were sharply criticized after the financial crisis in 2008 for not warning investors about the risks of subprime mortgages. Those mortgages were packaged as securities and sold to investors who lost billions of dollars when the loans went bad.
Japan had its ratings cut a decade ago to AA, and it didn't have much lasting impact. The credit ratings of both Canada and Australia have also been downgraded over time, without much lasting damage.
"I don't think it's going to amount to a lot," said Peter Morici, a University of Maryland business economist.
Still, he said, "The United States deserves to have this happen," because of its clumsy handling of fiscal policy.
In reacting to the downgrade, Democrats and Republicans continued to blame each other and pledged to hold firm to their principles.
Republican presidential candidates criticized the White House. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., called on Obama to fire Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and submit a plan to balance the budget and not just reduce future deficits. Republican candidate Mitt Romney, former governor of Massachusetts, said the credit downgrade was the "latest casualty" in Obama's failed economic leadership.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the American people will be closely watching the work of the 12-member joint committee that has been created to produce more than $1 trillion in additional savings over the next decade.
"The work of this committee will affect all Americans, and its deliberations should be open to the press, to the public and webcast," she said.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said the downgrade underscored the need for a "balanced approach to deficit reduction that combines spending cuts with revenue-raising measures" such as doing away with tax breaks for the wealthy and oil companies.
AP reporters Tom Raum, David Espo and Julie Pace in Washington and Business Writers Chip Cutter and Pallavi Gogoi in New York contributed to this report.