Daily Archive: 02/14/2013

Feb 14 2013

Hagel Nomination Filibustered

Mitch McConnell is smiling

Chuck Hagel Confirmation: Senate Vote Fails To End Filibuster On Obama Pick

by  Sabrina Siddiqui

Senate Republicans successfully foiled attempts to confirm Chuck Hagel for the post of defense secretary on Thursday, by denying him the 60 votes needed for the nomination to proceed.

Democrats ultimately came up short of the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture and end the Republicans’ filibuster, with a final vote count of 58 to 40. Republican Sens. Mike Johanns (Neb.), Susan Collins (Maine), Thad Cochran (Miss.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska) voted with Democrats in their failed effort to end debate. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) voted present.

The nomination is hardly dead. In fact, it looks increasingly likely that Democrats will be able to muster the needed votes to confirm Hagel’s nomination after a 10-day recess.

But the failure to end the GOP filibuster is still is a setback for the administration, which wanted a fast confirmation process, and Senate Democratic leadership, whose decision to punt on filibuster reform at the beginning of this congressional session was met with criticism.

Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said it was “tragic” that Senate Republicans decided to filibuster a “qualified nominee.”

“It’s really unfortunate,” Reid said on the Senate floor.

This is on you, Harry, resign as Majority Leader.

Feb 14 2013

The Deficit Is Shrinking

Why was this not in the State of the Union address? The deficit is falling faster in the last three years than at anytime since World War II.

Fiscal Lurch photo Web-caphill01-0212_zpsb784b821.gif

To be specific, CBO expects the deficit to shrink from 8.7% of GDP in fiscal 2011 to 5.3% in fiscal 2013 if the sequester takes effect and to 5.5% if it doesn’t. Either way, the two-year deficit reduction – equal to 3.4% of the economy if automatic budget cuts are triggered and 3.2% if not – would stand far above any other fiscal tightening since World War II. [..]

History suggests that there’s little good to be gotten from cutting the deficit much faster than 1% of GDP per year. That’s especially true at the moment, given the nature of our related demographic and budget challenges.

Both of those challenges suggest that growth should be our paramount concern, far ahead of near-term deficit reduction, even as we work to improve the intermediate-term budget outlook.

So the deficit falling too fast is bad? What Ezra Klein said:

And we may well have a coincident recession this time, too. According to the initial GDP numbers, the economy shrank slightly in the fourth quarter of 2012, largely because government spending fell. As federal spending continues to fall and the effects are compounded by new tax increases (the payroll tax cut expired in January, for instance), it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more quarters of negative growth. So, given that the typical definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters in which the economy shrinks, this drop in deficits might yet be accompanied by another recession.

Hence, two things to remember in the deficit conversation: First, the deficit is expected to fall faster in 2013 than at any time in the last 60 years. And second, that kind of austerity tends to be accompanied by recessions, and we’ve already seen evidence that the same might be true this time, too.

Austerity and sequestration are really bad ideas and that is what the President should have been hammering in the SOTU.

Feb 14 2013

Why is the “Grand Betrayal” Still on the Table?

What Atrios said: Republicans Don’t Care About Cutting Social Security

The big flaw in the premise of the grand bargain is that Obama is asking them to give away their precious by increasing taxes on the rich in exchange for something they don’t care much about. Cutting taxes for rich people is their whole purpose. Cutting Social Security? Well, if they can use Social Security cuts to cut taxes for rich people, sure. But cutting Social Security in order to increase taxes on rich people? Really not interested.

401Ks are a disaster

We need an across the board increase in Social Security retirement benefits of 20% or more. We need it to happen right now, even if that means raising taxes on high incomes or removing the salary cap in Social Security taxes.

Over the past few decades, employees fortunate enough to have employer-based retirement benefits have been shifted from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. We are now seeing the results of that grand experiment, and they are frightening. Recent and near-retirees, the first major cohort of the 401(k) era, do not have nearly enough in retirement savings to even come close to maintaining their current lifestyles.

Frankly, that’s an optimistic way of putting it. Let me be alarmist for a moment, because the fact is the numbers are truly alarming. We should be worried that large numbers of people nearing retirement will be unable to keep their homes or continue to pay

Economics and law professor at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, William K. Black joined Paul Jay, senior editor at The Real News Network to discuss President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address and his economic proposals.


More at The Real News

Feb 14 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Henry A. Giroux: The Shooting Gallery: Obama and the Vanishing Point of Democracy

We live at a time in the United States when the notion of political enemies has become a euphemism for dismantling prohibitions against targeted assassinations, torture, abductions and indefinite detention. Under the elastic notion of permanent war and the use of Orwellian labels like terrorists, enemy combatants, enemies of the state or the all-encompassing “evil-doers,” the United States has tortured prisoners in Iraq and Guantanamo for more than a decade. It also kidnapped suspected terrorists, held them in CIA “black sites,” and subjected them to extraordinary rendition – “the practice [of] taking detainees to and from US custody without a legal process … and often … handing [them] over to countries that practiced torture.”1 As a new report from the Open Society Foundation, “Globalizing Torture,” points out, since 9/11 the CIA has illegally kidnaped and tortured more than 136 people and was aided in its abhorrent endeavors by 54 countries.2 All of this was done in secrecy and when it was eventually exposed, the Obama administration refused to press criminal charges against those government officials who committed atrocious human rights abuses, signalling to the military and various intelligence agencies that they would not be held accountable for engaging in such egregious and illegal behavior. The notion that torture, kidnapping and the killing of Americans without due process is an illegitimate function of any state, including the United States, has overtly suffered the fate of the Geneva Conventions, apparently too quaint and antiquated to be operative.

Josh Barro: A Smarter Alternative to Raising the Minimum Wage

One of President Barack Obama’s biggest proposals in yesterday’s State of the Union Address was a big minimum wage increase, from $7.25 per hour to $9. The trade-off with any minimum wage increase is that it reduces inequality and poverty, but may raise unemployment. As Evan Soltas wrote for the Ticker last month, within the wage range that is on the table, the former effect should be substantial and the latter effect small, if existent. So, raising the minimum wage is a better idea than doing nothing.

But while a higher minimum wage is a way to address poverty, it’s not the best way. It would be preferable to increase the Earned Income Tax Credit, a government program that makes payments to workers in low-income households. Unlike a higher minimum wage, a larger EITC would not create any disincentive to hire; and while some of the benefits of a minimum wage hike will go to teenagers in middle-class households, everyone who benefits from the EITC is poor.

Dean Baker: Fix the Debt and a Wall Street Sales Tax

At this point everyone knows about Fix the Debt. It is a collection of corporate CEOs put together by Peter Peterson, the Wall Street private equity mogul. Ostensibly they want to reduce budget deficits and the national debt, but for some reason their attention always seems focused on cutting Social Security and Medicare. While some in this group will allow for minor tax increases, budget cuts are explicitly a priority, with these two programs firmly in their crosshairs.

Given that the stated goal of this group is to reduce budget deficits, it is worth asking why taxes don’t figure more prominently on their agenda. After all, the United States ranks near the bottom of wealthy countries in its tax take as a share of GDP. It is also worth asking why one tax in particular, a financial transactions tax, never seems to get mentioned in anything the group or its members do.

Amy Goodman: Historic Tar-Sands Action at Obama’s Door

For the first time in its 120-year history, the Sierra Club engaged in civil disobedience, the day after President Barack Obama gave his 2013 State of the Union address. The group joined scores of others protesting the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which awaits a permitting decision from the Obama administration. The president made significant pledges to address the growing threat of climate change in his speech. But it will take more than words to save the planet from human-induced climate disruption, and a growing, diverse movement is directing its focus on the White House to demand meaningful action.

Robert Reich: The Biggest Republican Lie

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) says Senate Republicans will unanimously support a balanced-budget amendment, to be unveiled Wednesday as the core of the GOP’s fiscal agenda.

There’s no chance of passage so why are Republicans pushing it now? “Just because something may not pass doesn’t mean that the American people don’t expect us to stand up and be counted for the things that we believe in,” says McConnnell. [..]

Perhaps most importantly, it advances the Republican’s biggest economic lie – that the budget deficit is “the transcendent issue of our time,” in McConnell’s words, and that balancing the budget will solve America’s economic problems.

Mark Weisbrot: Japan’s Fiscal Stimulus: Yes, There Is Such a Thing as a Free Lunch

Economists like to say there’s no such thing as a free lunch — this was even the title of a 1975 book by Milton Friedman. But sometimes there is a free lunch — in a vitally important sense — and now is one of those times for a lot of countries suffering from unnecessary unemployment and in some cases, recession.

Adam Posen doesn’t want to recognize that this is the case for Japan at present. Posen is president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, which is probably Washington’s most influential think tank on international economics. Posen is not an “austerian” economist — in the second half of the 1990s he supported expansionary fiscal policy in Japan; and more recently, as a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee from 2009-2012, he supported expansionary monetary policy, including quantitative easing and very low-interest rates.

So it is worth looking at his argument, because it may help us understand how the mainstream of the economics profession can sometimes be an obstacle to global economic recovery, as well as to important social goals such as reducing unemployment and poverty.

Feb 14 2013

On This Day In History February 14

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 14 is the 45th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 320 days remaining until the end of the year (321 in leap years).

On this day in 1884, future President Theodore Roosevelt’s wife and mother die, only hours apart.

Roosevelt was at work in the New York state legislature attempting to get a government reform bill passed when he was summoned home by his family. He returned home to find his mother, Mittie, had succumbed to typhoid fever. On the same day, his wife of four years, Alice Lee, died of Bright’s disease, a severe kidney ailment. Only two days before her death, Alice Lee had given birth to the couple’s daughter, Alice.

Roosevelt left his daughter in the care of his sister, Anna “Bamie/Bye” in New York City. In his diary he wrote a large X on the page and wrote “the light has gone out of my life.”

A short time later, Roosevelt wrote a tribute to his wife published privately indicating that:

She was beautiful in face and form, and lovelier still in spirit; As a flower she grew, and as a fair young flower she died. Her life had been always in the sunshine; there had never come to her a single sorrow; and none ever knew her who did not love and revere her for the bright, sunny temper and her saintly unselfishness. Fair, pure, and joyous as a maiden; loving , tender, and happy. As a young wife; when she had just become a mother, when her life seemed to be just begun, and when the years seemed so bright before her-then, by a strange and terrible fate, death came to her. And when my heart’s dearest died, the light went from my life forever

To the immense disappointment of his wife’s namesake and daughter, Alice, he would not speak of his wife publicly or privately for the rest of his life and made no mention of her in his autobiography.