Friday, December 31, 2010

Last Call Of 2010

Happy New Year!

On to 2011.

You'll need a helmet.

Pour One On The Floor For Ol' Jon Swift

Battochio at Vagabond Scholar rounds up some of the best lefty blog posts of the year from the bloggers themselves in honor of the departed Jon Swift.

I'm not even in the same phylum as most of these guys, so make sure you hop over there and see the best of 2010.

Maybe Europe's In A Bit Of Trouble

A UK think tank is giving the euro a 20% chance of making it to 2021.

The Center for Economics and Business Research said Spain and Italy would have to refinance over 400 billion euros ($530 billion) of bonds in the spring, potentially sparking a fresh crisis within the 16-nation euro area.

"The euro might break up at this point, though European politicians are normally able to respond to a crisis," said CEBR Chief Executive Douglas McWilliams in a list of 10 forecasts for 2011.

Hell, it sounds like the euro might not make it to 2012.

McWilliams argued that the deeper imbalances between the euro zone's stronger and weaker economies, which have become increasingly apparent since the 2008 financial crisis, would undermine the project in the long term.

"I suspect that what will break up the euro will be the failure of most of the countries to take the tough medicine necessary to make their economies competitive over the longer term," McWilliams said:

"We give it only a one in five chance of surviving in its present form for 10 years. If the euro doesn't break up, this could be the year when it weakens substantially toward parity with the dollar," he added.

Well, if everyone decides to go through with Irish/Greek style austerity, there may not be a Europe in 2021.  Keep a really close eye on eurozone politics in 2011.  it's a preview of the crapburger we're going to have to eat in order to satisfy our lords and masters.

Well Now Here's Your Problem, Senate

If you're wondering why the United States Senate doesn't seem to work very well, check out the hoops Democrats would have to jump through in order to change filibuster rules.

Possible Procedure for the Constitutional Option

· On the first day of the 112th Congress, a member of the reform group would seek recognition from the Chair. Upon receiving recognition, s/he would say: "Mr. President, on behalf of the following Senators and myself, and in accordance with Article I, Section 5 of the Constitution, I send to the desk a resolution and I ask that the Clerk read it." This would be a resolution containing the various reforms to the Senate rules.

· After the Clerk reads the Resolution, the Senator would ask unanimous consent for its immediate consideration. If there is no objection, the Resolution is on the floor for debate.

· Most likely, there would be an objection. Senate rules require 1 legislative day's notice in writing to amend or modify a Senate rule. The Senator who offered the motion would then address the Chair and send to the desk a motion to amend a Senate rule and ask that the notice be read.

· At some point, the Senate would adjourn, rather than recess, so the reformer's Resolution would comply with the one-day notice rule. (The Senate majority leader determines whether the Senate recesses or adjourns at the end of a day.)

· Reform Senators would need to object to any attempt to transact substantive business or seek a unanimous consent request to that effect. The objective is to ensure that the reformers do not waive any rights to amend Senate rules on opening day by majority vote. Thus, "opening day" could be extended for several days or weeks.

· On the day the Senate returns after an adjournment, the Chair would lay the Resolution before the Senate during the morning hour. At the conclusion of the morning hour, the Resolution would be placed on the calendar. At that time the sponsor of the Resolution would move that the Senate proceed to its consideration. Debate on the motion that the Senate proceed to the consideration of the Resolution would follow.

· Opponents could (a) move to table the reformer's Resolution reaffirming the continuity of Senate rules; (b) move to refer the Resolution to the Committee on Rules and Administration; (c) defeat the motion to call up the Resolution; (d) reject the Resolution outright; or (e) raise a constitutional point of order against the Resolution. Assuming there is a majority in favor of reform, all of these tactics would fail.

· The constitutional challenge would likely come if a filibuster is launched against either the motion to call up the Resolution or on the Resolution itself. After a reasonable period of debate, a member of the reform group would move to cut off debate by a simple majority vote. A point of order would likely be made that the move to cut off debate is contrary to the continuous nature of Senate rules. The Chair would submit the point of order to the Senate because it raises a constitutional question. The point of order is debatable.

· As occurred three times in 1975, a majority could vote to table the point of order, thus upholding the right of a simple majority to end debate on a rules change.

· Throughout these procedural steps, there would be negotiations on the rules reforms that might be able to pass with a supermajority. This is how the filibuster rule was amended in 1959 and 1975 - the looming threat of a majority vote on cloture forced a compromise.

You get all that?  And all that mess will most likely result in Republicans deciding to come to the table on filibuster reform, and the negotiations would start all over again.

Awesome.  And people wonder why Congress is about as popular as herpes.

Look For The Union Scapegoat Label

Via Memeorandum I see that John Hindraker has declared war on public employee unions.

For the large majority of our history, public employee unions have been illegal. It is only since the 1960s and 1970s that they have been allowed. Currently, they are legal in roughly half the states. The United States has carried on a four-decade experiment in legalization, and the results are in: public employee unions are a cancer on our country.

I'd argue that Hindraker probably decided to forgo pluralizing "employee" and omitted the word "and" after it as an editorial change in that last sentence, because that's what would really float his boat.

Public employee unions flourish because government is, by its nature, a monopoly. Thus, there is no need for unionized government units to compete against non-unionized units. Moreover, public officials who negotiate with public employee unions generally lack the same incentives that private employers have to keep costs down. The result has been a fiscal disaster, with numerous states and municipalities now going over the waterfall of bankruptcy.

Correlation does not equal causation.  "Government is a monopoly" is also silly.  And since private sector unions are being broken up all across America and have been for decades now, the endpoint of Hindraker's logic is of course no unions at all and the end of collective bargaining, period.

But here's the really fun part.

Meanwhile, public employee unions have become perhaps the dominant force in our political life. They extract dues from their members which go to fund the candidacies of politicians who will pay public employees even more money. The unions' ill-gotten clout has created a vicious cycle; at the same time that government units are going broke, public employees are now far better paid than their private sector counterparts, while enjoying better benefits and ridiculous job security.

Raise your hand if you believe that unions control the country.  Let's take a look at the latest Labor Department union stats for 2009:

In 2009, the union membership rate--the percent of wage and salary workers who were members of a union--was 12.3 percent, essentially unchanged from 12.4 percent a year earlier, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 771,000 to 15.3 million, largely reflecting the overall drop in employment due to the recession. In 1983, the first year for which comparable union data are available, the union membership rate was 20.1 percent, and there were 17.7 million union workers.

Even with the number of public employees who are unionized (7.9 million) that still brings the total to just one in eight across the entire country.  That's how far down in membership and power unions have dropped in this country.

And if you think unions are the "dominant force in our political life" one has suffered selective amnesia of how corporate America and particularly the financial, insurance, and medical industries in this country gained massive polticial power over the last decade.  The Citizens United decision in particular favored corporate interests over unions, unless you think the AFL-CIO has more money or political power than Goldman Sachs.

And if Hindraker's statement really is true, then the most important political issue to unions, card check legslation to make it easier to join and form a union, should have passed easily.  It went precisely nowhere, even in a Congress dominated by Rust Belt and New England blue state Democrats with union constituencies and a President from Illinois.  It died in the Senate early.  What dominance can unions have if they can't even get their central legislative effort passed during the short time that the Democrats had 60 seats in the Senate?  On the contrary, that would demonstrate how weak unions are.

No, what Hindraker is doing is putting the blame for state fiscal problems squarely on the backs of public employee unions instead of public officials always making the decision to cut taxes to remain popular.  The magical thinking of cutting taxes not adding to deficits is idiotic and leads to this kind of shoddy, irresponsible scapegoating of public employees.

But that's where we are going into 2011, our hated, vile public employees.

[UPDATE]  Oh yes, and addressing Hindraker's original point, maybe it wasn't a slowdown.

In the last two years, the agency's 6,300-person workforce has been slashed by 400 trash haulers and supervisors and, effective tomorrow, 100 department supervisors are to be demoted and their salaries slashed as an added cost-saving move, the Post reports. 

You cut 6% of the workforce and expect response time to be adequate in a blizzard on a holiday weekend?  How are those cost savings looking now?

A Most Disturbing Village Trend

The more I look for it, the more I find articles about "what to do about state budget shortfalls?" not including the obvious solution of raising taxes and fees at all, let alone on the wealthy.  Again and again we're told the only solution is painful cuts in vital social programs.  A prime example of this phenomenon is today's Philip Moeller article in US News & World Report covering the subject of the senior safety net.

As the United States slogs its way through a third year of recessionary conditions, the cumulative impact on government support programs for older Americans has become worrisome. Most eyes are on the federal government's massive budget deficits. Safety net programs would be affected by deficit reduction proposals that have been introduced to generally favorable receptions. Whether you call them entitlements or part of a welfare state, the big three — Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid — must be reined in for meaningful deficit reduction to occur. The battle over these programs has already begun and will intensify when the new Republican majority takes office next year in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Here's point number one:  these programs must be "reined in" or else.  Cuts are coming.  You have to accept that, because tax increases are unfair (especially on America's precious rich people).  You're not lazy like one of them, are you?  Good.  Tighten your belt like a good Christian.  (You are a Christian, right?)

Even as the lines are drawn for the federal deficit-reduction war, the states have become a battleground for resources to fund Medicaid. The states share funding for Medicaid services with Uncle Sam, and have been increasingly hard-pressed to come up with their portion of Medicaid funding. Where Washington can, in effect, print money to pay its share of the tab, states cannot. Their budget deficits are, in many cases, getting worse instead of better.

Along with the Medicaid battle there will be countless skirmishes over continued funding for local support programs for seniors. Such efforts may receive some government funds but also depend on private philanthropy and the work of an extensive network of nonprofit agencies. After three years of flat or reduced contributions and austere operating budgets, this government-volunteer network is stressed and tired. And there is no relief in sight.

Note the clever wording here:  if you feel guilty about America's seniors taking program cuts, then you need to get off your ass and donate to charities.  If you're not willing to put your money where your mouth is, then you clearly don't care about America's seniors.  Don't you dare mention raising taxes, you horrible person.  Don't tread on me!

The concept of tax increases doesn't even enter into the article.

Tax increases don't exist, so you'd better be ready to take your medicine, America.  Your betters demand it.  And the more the Republicans cut taxes for the wealthy, the more you'll have to tighten your belt.  Or don't you work for a living like a Real American?

A Real American who used to understand what shared sacrifice truly meant, anyway.  Now it's just sacrificing for the lords of the manor.

Zandar's Ten Predictions For 2011

Let's see if I can do any better at all than 45%, shall we?  Here's my ten predictions for 2011.

  1. The GOP will shut down the government at some point in 2011 over the budget.  Maybe it will involve the debt ceiling, maybe it won't, but March is going to be real interesting.
  2. Unemployment will top 10% again.  I just don't see the job situation turning around, especially given the coming avalanche of local government layoffs when stimulus money runs out.
  3. California, Illinois, and/or Michigan will ask for federal money to close their budget hole.  What Obama and Congress will do is anyone's guess.
  4. President Obama will bust out the veto pen at least once in 2011.  Seems like a no-brainer.
  5. At least one major GOP presidential candidate will embrace birtherism in order to capture a plurality of support heading into 2012.
  6. If California's Prop 8, the HCRA individual mandate, or Arizona's immigration law reaches the Supreme Court in 2011, Justice Kennedy will make it a 5-4 split and side with the court's liberals. Most likely we won't see a decision on these until 2012.
  7. Republicans will find a way to delay full implementation of DADT repeal until after 2011.  It may involve number 1 up there, too.  Totally wouldn't put it past the Republicans to say "re-implement the law or no budget for you."
  8. Julian Assange doesn't make it to see Dec. 31, 2011.  Somehow, I think somebody's government agents are going to erase the guy.  The consequences could be interesting however.
  9. Apple's iPad 2 crushes the competition.  I was dead wrong about the iPad last I own one. 
  10. Dow ends the year under 10,000.  I'm going to eat that prediction from last year, but 2011 is going to be ugly.
We'll see how I do at the end of next year.  Into the Future Stupidity files you go.

The Kroog Versus Voodoo Economics

Paul Krugman wonders why the Village idea of deficit austerity vanished when the Obama-McConnell tax deal came along.

How did Republican leaders reconcile their purported deep concern about budget deficits with their advocacy of large tax cuts? Was it that old voodoo economics — the belief, refuted by study after study, that tax cuts pay for themselves — making a comeback? No, it was something new and worse.

To be sure, there were renewed claims that tax cuts lead to higher revenue. But 2010 marked the emergence of a new, even more profound level of magical thinking: the belief that deficits created by tax cuts just don’t matter. For example, Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona — who had denounced President Obama for running deficits — declared that “you should never have to offset the cost of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.”

It’s an easy position to ridicule. After all, if you never have to offset the cost of tax cuts, why not just eliminate taxes altogether? But the joke’s on us because while this kind of magical thinking may not yet be the law of the land, it’s about to become part of the rules governing legislation in the House of Representatives.

As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities points out, the incoming House majority plans to make changes in the “pay-as-you-go” rules — rules that are supposed to enforce responsible budgeting — that effectively implement Mr. Kyl’s principle. Spending increases will have to be offset, but revenue losses from tax cuts won’t. Oh, and revenue increases, even if they come from the elimination of tax loopholes, won’t count either: any spending increase must be offset by spending cuts elsewhere; it can’t be paid for with additional taxes.

So if taxes don’t matter, does the incoming majority have a realistic plan to cut spending? Of course not. Republicans say that they want to cut $100 billion in spending, which is itself small change in a $3.6 trillion federal budget. But they also say that defense, Medicare and Social Security — all the big-ticket items — are off the table. So they’re talking about a 20 percent cut in what’s left, which includes things like running the judicial system and operating the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; they have offered no specifics about where the cuts will fall. 

There's an even larger plan here.  Republicans figure if they cut taxes enough, social programs that are "off the table" will have to take a hit...or be privatized or eliminated completely.   The goal of Republicans in 2011 is to take the country back to the Gilded Age of the 20's, before Social Security, before Medicare, before the New Deal.  They especially want to eliminate social programs for the poor and for minorities, but keep them for traditional Republican voters.

Pretty good plan if they can pull it off.  And that's what 2012 will be all about.

Why Wasn't Wachovia Too Big To Fail?

Our old friend Republican The Odious Patrick McHenry wants to know why North Carolina-based Wachovia bank was allowed to die when the Treasury and Fed were spewing out trillions to big banks to keep them going as he takes over the new House subcommittee dealing with TARP.

McHenry, 35, will chair the new Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs when he starts his fourth term in Congress next month. It's part of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which Republicans are reorganizing as they prepare to take over the House next month.

The subcommittee is still in its early stages: McHenry's appointment came less than two weeks ago, and the other members have not yet been named. McHenry said there's "a very rich environment for potential oversight hearings," including topics like troubled Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae.

Like other lawmakers, McHenry is sometimes accused of being in lockstep with the banks. Two of his biggest donors are the political action committees of Bank of America and the American Bankers Association, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. This summer, he voted against the Dodd-Frank financial regulation overhaul, which imposed strict new rules on banks. But McHenry said he is not on the side of big banking or big government, and that he's willing to ask tough questions of either.

"If there's incompetence on the side of the regulators, I'm willing to point that out," he said. "If there's incompetence on the side of the private institutions, I'm willing to point that out."

He voted against the 2008 bill to bail out the banking industry, saying it was "inherently wrong" to send taxpayer money to Wall Street when families in North Carolina were struggling to pay bills. Instead, he backed a Republican-led alternative that essentially would have been a private-sector-funded rescue plan.

"Certainly we had to deal with the toxic assets and bad investments, the dumb decisions, by some of the significant financial institutions," he said.

He called the original bailout bill, which was passed when George W. Bush was president, a "bipartisan bad deal."

His main concern, he said, are the people caught in the middle, like the small businesses trying to get lending.

So, on one hand he did vote against TARP.  On the other hand, he voted against Wall Street regulation too.  McHenry's game is actually pretty simple:  he figures his "oversight" job means to let the banks do whatever they want to with as little government interference as possible, the standard Republican line on anything.  Government shouldn't do anything at all, as far as the banks are concerned.

Don't kid yourself, however.  He's going to try to stick as much of the financial crisis as possible on the Democrats over the last four years and let the banks walk free to play more Big Casino games.  Keep an eye on Patrick here.  The winger from my old neck of the woods is looking to hit the big time in the 112th Congress.


Related Posts with Thumbnails