Sunday, December 26, 2010

Last Call

Every now and again, fate gives you a second chance.  Even in Washington.

Robin C. Ashton, the woman Attorney General Eric Holder just named to head of the Justice Department's internal ethics office, was reportedly herself a victim of improper politicization during the Bush administration at the hands of Regent University graduate Monica Goodling.

"As a veteran career prosecutor, Robin is uniquely qualified to serve as Counsel for Professional Responsibility, and I am confident she will lead the office with the highest standards of professionalism, integrity and dedication," Holder said in a statement.

You remember Ms. Goodling, yes?

Goodling, you may recall, arrived at DOJ at the start of the Bush administration after working as an opposition researcher for the Republican National Committee. She graduated from Regent University School of Law, the school founded by Pat Robertson, and believed that part of her job was to bring people with conservative and Christian values to the Justice Department, former colleagues said. She admitted to "crossing the line" and running afoul of civil service rules governing hiring decisions.

She thought her job in the DOJ was to purge the office of anyone who might have been a "democrat" or |"liberal", i.e. anyone to the left of Monica Goodling.   Ashton was only one of Goodling's victims.  Holder's decision shows he's serious about restoring the ethics office to actually meaning something, unlike during the Bush years.

We'll see what she can do.

State Of Decay

George Will grabs his towering hairdo and his dessert tray and unleashes a collective, pre-emptive "Let them eat cake!" when it comes to states facing budget chasms, with intent to simply abrogate the pension contracts of millions of state employees.

The nation's menu of crises caused by governmental malpractice may soon include states coming to Congress as mendicants, seeking relief from the consequences of their choices. Congress should forestall this by passing a bill with a bland title but explosive potential.

Principal author of the Public Employee Pension Transparency Act is Rep. Devin Nunes, a Republican from California, where about 80 cents of every government dollar goes for government employees' pay and benefits. His bill would define the scale of the problem of underfunded state and local government pensions and would notify states not to approach Congress like Oliver Twists, holding out porridge bowls and asking for more.

Corporate pension funds are heavily regulated, including pre-funding requirements. A federal agency, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., copes with insolvent ones. By requiring transparency, the government gave the private sector an incentive to move to defined contributions from defined-benefit plans, which are now primarily luxuries enjoyed by public employees.

Less candor, realism and pre-funding are required of state and municipal governments regarding their pension plans. Nunes's bill would require them to disclose the size of their pension liabilities - and the often-dreamy assumptions behind the calculations. Noncompliant governments would be ineligible for issuing bonds exempt from federal taxation. Furthermore, the bill would stipulate that state and local governments are entirely responsible for their pension obligations and the federal government will provide no bailouts. 

After all, this is the same George Will who scolded the American taxpayer for causing the financial crisis in the first place, so his latest paean to tough economic love to screw millions of little people out of their pensions should come as no surprise.

So what would happen if states simply stripped state employees of their pensions?  Exactly what would then do then?  Work longer at their state jobs?  Quit?  Everyone seems to be eager to do this, but nobody seems to have a plan for doing so without piling the burden onto Social Security or Medicare. 

Of course, maybe that's the plan.  Force them onto Social Security and Medicare, then make cuts across the board on those programs so everybody shares the pain.

Oh what, you thought that only government employees were going to be hurt in this crossfire?  I'm sure that's what George Will wants you to think.

A Painfully Mysterious Problem

So, on one hand we have Sen. Tom "I block 9/11 first responders from getting health care" Coburn predicting doom unless spending is cut immediately.

Coburn, who said throughout the interview he was not trying to "scare" Americans with his rhetoric on the deficit, was then asked to give his worst-case scenario outlook for the American economy.

"I think you'll see 15 to 18 percent unemployment rate. I think you'll see a 8 to 9 percent decline in GDP. I think you'll see the middle class destroyed," Coburn said.

"The people it will harm the most will be the poorest of the poor," adding that he believed hyper-inflation could contribute to the degradation of the American way of life.

On the other hand, we've got actual inflation numbers showing Coburn wouldn't know what he was talking about if he had a team of rocket scientists explaining things to him, as Steve Benen explains.

Apparently, as Coburn sees it, spending will lead to inflation, which will lead to "apocalyptic pain," especially for lower-income Americans. The solution, then, is to take capital out of the economy by slashing public spending, much of which benefits lower-income Americans, deliberately slowing already-weak economic growth.

I just don't know what planet Coburn is living on. The right-wing Oklahoman, best known for his recent fight against health benefits for 9/11 first responders, may not realize it, but the inflationary threat -- the one that he thinks would lead to 18% unemployment at a 9% drop in GDP -- doesn't exist. When the most recent economic figures were released, showing GDP growth at a severely underwhelming 2.6%, there was scarcely any inflation at all. Indeed, as of a month ago, core inflation was at its lowest levels since officials starting keeping track over a half-century ago.

On the gripping hand, we are seeing major speculative action in commodities right now, particularly basic foodstuffs like sugar and other commodities like oil (not to mention gold and silver). So we are seeing price rises, but they are being caused by market speculation, not demand.  Remember $140+ a barrel oil in 2007?

Same thing appears to be happening again.  There's no fundamental reason for these massive shifts in price.  It's just another Big Casino game being played with taxpayer money and backed by moral hazard.

And Coburn's very quick to blame the taxpayer for causing the problem.  Either way, we're the ones who will have to pay.

Not Quite Your Average Joe

Keep an eye on GOP Rep. Joe Walsh from IL-8.  If you're looking for somebody who personifies the Teabagger Paradox perfectly, the suburban business consultant turned politician is your man.

Mr. Walsh, 48, will get about $1.4 million annually to run his operation and plans as many as three district branches. He’ll sleep in his office in Washington, while his family stays here in McHenry. And get this: he’s turned down the usual congressional health care, pension and retirement packages.

“I don’t think congressmen should get pensions or cushy health care plans,” he said. His wife is not exhilarated with the latter decision; she has a pre-existing medical condition and is now forced to hunt for a plan.

Mr. Walsh had an initial campaign debt of about $90,000. That soared several fold because of legal bills related to a lengthy recount battle. A New Year’s Eve party at the Lakemoor Banquet Hall will raise money for a congressman-elect happy to take checks from lobbyists and political action committees.

“If JPMorgan Chase wants to give me money, fine,” he said.

It’s no surprise that he’s unhappy with the tax deal congressional Republicans cut with President Obama. “We cut taxes, raised spending and contributed to the deficit,” he said. “Republicans should have held out for something better.”

His legislative goals are repealing Mr. Obama’s health care legislation and seeking major changes in Social Security and Medicare. I asked if reducing the size, scope and power of government is a means to an end or an end in itself.

“An end in itself,” he said, without pausing. “I think we were sent to D.C. to cut spending and grow the economy. We have to talk about cutting real programs” — and agencies — “like the Department of Energy and Department of Education.”

One of the first votes he’ll confront is on raising the federal debt ceiling. Many economists warn that voting down an increase would be a mistake, and the House Republican leadership agrees. Mr. Walsh will vote against it. “On principle and policy, the leadership is wrong,” he said. “This is a teachable moment on my part.” 

The Club For Growth guys must have wet dreams about cloning Joe Walsh and replacing as much of Congress as possible with them.   Don't kid yourself about what "major changes" to Medicare and Social Security means, either.  He goes on to say he has no intention of working with Democrats, and that governing through anger is the way to go, saying he's "absolutely" prepared to lose in 2012 if it means he was instrumental in shredding the safety net, blowing up the country's credit rating, and dismantling as many executive branch agencies as possible.

Sure, he gets credit for not taking government health care or pension programs.  But this guy is a fanatic, plain and simple.  He'll take all the corporate lobbying cash he can get his hands on to wreck the lives of the very people who sent him to Washington:  blue state seniors.

After all, anyone who outright says that the middle class has it too good in America is not exactly going to be on the side of working class or fixed income Americans.
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