07/25/2011 archive

Congressional Game of Chicken: Dueling Debt Plans

As we move closer to the debt ceiling limit and defaulting on the debt, two proposals have been put forward by opposing sides. The Republicans have put a bill together that will come up for a vote on Wednesday that calls for a two-step plan that would allow the debt limit to be raised by $1 trillion and create “a “Super Congress,” composed of members of both chambers and both parties, isn’t mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, but would be granted extraordinary new powers.”

From the Democrats, House Majority Leader Harry Reid has proposed $2.7 trillion in spending cuts and raising the debt ceiling through 2012 with no revenue increases but would not touch any of the big three social safety nets. It does include the proposed “super congress”:

“made up of 12 members, to present options for future deficit reduction. The committee’s recommendations will be guaranteed an up-or-down Senate vote, without amendments, by the end of 2011.”

There are a few problems though. The first problem is the neither bill will pass both houses. The other obstacle two-fold. Reid’s bill will need 60 votes for cloture. It is unlikely that Reid can convince four Republicans to vote for it. He may get able to convince Sen, Olympia Snowe (R-VT) and Sen. Collins (R-ME) but he also must get the blue dogs to fall in-line. The only way I can see Reid getting this bill to the floor for a vote is to use the “Cheney nuclear option” and call bull shit on the filibuster. They don’t have the guts for that.

House Speaker John Boehner has similar problems. He needs 217 votes to pass. With 89 tea party Republicans who signed a letter refusing to raise the debt ceiling no matter what the deal, Boehner would need to convince 63 Democrats. That won’t happen either. Some of the tea party crew may break tier “oath” since they are taking heat from their constituents at home. The House bill stands a better chance of suvival.

If both bills by some miracle pass, then it goes to reconciliation and both bills have to be voted on again. This isn’t going to happen in less than a week. If only the House bill makes it, the Senate probably reject it. That is the most probable scenario.

That leaves one option and it falls back to the White House to use the 14th Amendment, Article 4. Obama has already rejected this option but as it gets closer to August 2 and default, given the choice of a constitutional crisis versus a global economic melt down, let hope Obama put his “big boy pants on” and starts acting like a responsible adult who has to make a decision not everyone is going to like.

More on Medicare

This time from Herr Doktor Professor-

Messing With Medicare

By PAUL KRUGMAN, The New York Times

Published: July 24, 2011

(A)ccording to many reports, the president offered both means-testing of Medicare benefits and a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. The first would be bad policy; the second would be terrible policy. And it would almost surely be terrible politics, too.

The crucial thing to remember, when we talk about Medicare, is that our goal isn’t, or at least shouldn’t be, defined in terms of some arbitrary number. Our goal should be, instead, to give Americans the health care they need at a price the country can afford. And throwing Americans in their mid-60s off Medicare moves us away from that goal, not toward it.

For Medicare, with all its flaws, works better than private insurance. It has less bureaucracy and, hence, lower administrative costs than private insurers. It has been more successful in controlling costs. While Medicare expenses per beneficiary have soared over the past 40 years, they’ve risen significantly less than private insurance premiums. And since Medicare-type systems in other advanced countries have much lower costs than the uniquely privatized U.S. system, there’s good reason to believe that Medicare reform can do a lot to control costs in the future.

It’s true that Medicare expenses could be reduced by requiring high-income Americans to pay higher premiums, higher co-payments, etc. But why not simply raise taxes on high incomes instead? This would have the great virtue of not adding another layer of bureaucracy by requiring that Medicare establish financial status before paying medical bills.

But, you may say, raising taxes would reduce incentives to work and create wealth. Well, so would means-testing: As conservative economists love to point out in other contexts – for example, when criticizing programs like food stamps – benefits that fall as your income rises in effect raise your marginal tax rate. It doesn’t matter whether the government raises your taxes by $1,000 when your income rises or cuts your benefits by the same amount; either way, it reduces the fraction of your additional earnings that you get to keep.

So what’s the difference between means-testing Medicare and raising taxes? Well, the truly rich would prefer means-testing, since they would end up sacrificing no more than the merely well-off.

How so Herr Doktor Professor?

(T)he difference between means-testing and just collecting a bit more taxes? The answer is, class warfare – not between the rich and poor, but between the filthy rich and the merely affluent. For a tax rise would get a significant amount of revenue from the very, very rich (because they have so much money), while means-testing would end up imposing the same burden on $400,000 a year working Wall Street stiffs that it imposes on billion-a-year hedge fund managers.

What we need is actual control of health costs. Means-testing of Medicare is just a badly designed, unfair form of taxation.

Of course, it’s possible that the reason the president is offering to undermine Medicare is that he genuinely believes that this would be a good idea. And that possibility, I have to say, is what really scares me.

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”.

Robert Kuttner: Obama Holds the Cards — If He Will Play Them Well

If President Obama were to invoke that emergency authority to prevent the economy from collapsing as money markets began shunning U.S. government bonds, it is hard to imagine Republican leaders suing the president… to demand what? That he let the economy go off a cliff? And it is even harder to imagine the Supreme Court, even a Court as partisan and corrupted as the Roberts Court, voting to tie Obama’s hands in an economic emergency that — keep in mind — is entirely contrived.

Obama, the Great Conciliator, finally showed a bit of irritation and a bit of spine this past week. It would be perverse of him to reward Republican intransigence by agreeing to an 11th hour deal that, by definition, would have to be on almost entirely Republican terms to be approved by the Tea-Party besotted House of Representatives.

Better to show some leadership in an emergency, invoke the 14th Amendment, calm money markets, and leave the Republicans sputtering mad. Obama might even come to enjoy exercising leadership.

New York Times Editorial: Consumers vs. the Banks

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau officially opened its doors last week a year after it was established under the financial reform law. Score one for consumers. But the fight to create a bureau strong enough and independent enough to really take on the banks isn’t over.

Federal watchdogs have given the bureau stellar marks for getting up and running in a timely, professional manner. The bureau has already begun to tackle crucial issues, like simplifying mortgage disclosure requirements and handling credit card complaints.

Banks and their Congressional allies are pushing back hard, determined to weaken the bureau. It is not clear how much political capital President Obama is willing to spend to stop that from happening.

Paul Krugman: Messing With Medicare

At the time of writing, President Obama’s hoped-for “Grand Bargain” with Republicans is apparently dead. And I say good riddance. I’m no more eager than other rational people (a category that fails to include many Congressional Republicans) to see what happens if the debt limit isn’t raised. But what the president was offering to the G.O.P., especially on Medicare, was a very bad deal for America.

Specifically, according to many reports, the president offered both means-testing of Medicare benefits and a rise in the age of Medicare eligibility. The first would be bad policy; the second would be terrible policy. And it would almost surely be terrible politics, too

Ari Melber: On the Compromiser-in-Chief and Elizabeth Drew’s Article

“I’ve never won a tough election,” concedes Paul Krugman, “but neither has Obama!”

The Nobel Prize-winning economist is fuming about the White House’s “ludicrous” view of what independents want — a President, apparently, who embraces anti-spending conservatism.

That’s the core thesis in a new article by Elizabeth Drew, which Krugman flagged Sunday and is now roiling the liberal blogosphere. Drew, 76, is one of the good ones – she spent 19 years as the New Yorker’s Washington correspondent, authored 13 books, and has an intimate yet relentlessly independent outlook on Washington. In the New York Review of Books, her political essays are originally reported and exhaustive; this one runs 4,800 words and features some telling anonymous quotes from Democrats in high places.

Richard (RJ) Eskow: Why Are Discredited “Agencies” Like S&P Dictating Our Economic Future?

“Who does Standard & Poor’s think it is?” asks Matt Miller, the reasonable and congenial host who represents the “center” on NPR’s “Left, Right, and Center.” Miller’s understandably outraged that this discredited organization still has so much power and influence. But he’s asking the wrong question.

S&P knows exactly what it is, and so should everyone else. It’s the for-profit company which, while masquerading as a credit rating “agency,” bartered its coveted AAA ratings for increased profits. The real question is why? Why does S&P still have the power to cost the government billions of dollars in added interest payments, which is what would happen if they downgraded our credit rating?

The pronouncements of these for-profit “agencies” have no more credibility than the murmured compliments of an overpriced escort in a candlelit hotel room. So why do they still have the power to endanger the financial security of millions of Americans?

Jeffrey Sachs: Budgetary Deceit and America’s Decline

Every part of the budget debate in the U.S. is built on a tissue of willful deceit. Consider the Republican Party’s double-mantra that the deficit results from “runaway spending” and that more tax cuts are the key to economic growth. Republicans claim that the budget deficit, around 10 percent of GDP, has been caused only by a rise in outlays. This is blatantly untrue. The deficit results roughly equally from a fall of tax revenues as a share of GDP and a rise of spending as a share of GDP.

On both sides of the ledger — spending and taxes — part of the shift results from the weak economy (“cyclical factors”) and part from long-term trends. Spending, for example, is higher in part because of unemployment compensation, food stamps, and other federal spending to help the downtrodden in a weak economy. That’s the “cyclical” component. Part of the higher spending reflects long-term patterns, such as rising health care costs and an aging population, as well as America’s chronic addiction to wrongheaded wars and military occupations in Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.

Matthew Rothschild: No Wonder Obama Is Losing Support from the Left

CNN has just come out with a poll that shows Obama losing support from his left flank.

“Roughly one in four Americans who disapprove of the president say they feel that way because he’s not been liberal enough,” the poll said. “Obama’s approval rating among liberals has dropped to 71 percent, the lowest point in his presidency.”

Overall, the poll had Obama with an approval-disapproval rating at 45%-54%.

For anyone within shouting distance of most progressive communities, this is not a surprise.

The dissatisfaction with Obama has been building steadily over the past three years, and it has grown more audible by the month.

While he spoke progressive on the campaign trail, Obama has, for the most part, governed from the corporate center right.

Just the facts

Why Medicare Is the Solution – Not the Problem

Robert Reich

Friday, July 22, 2011

Americans spend more on health care per person than any other advanced nation and get less for our money. Yearly public and private healthcare spending is $7,538 per person. That’s almost two and a half times the average of other advanced nations.

Yet the typical American lives 77.9 years – less than the average 79.4 years in other advanced nations. And we have the highest rate of infant mortality of all advanced nations.

(A)dministrative costs eat up 15 to 30 percent of all healthcare spending in the United States. That’s twice the rate of most other advanced nations. Where does this money go? Mainly into collecting money: Doctors collect from hospitals and insurers, hospitals collect from insurers, insurers collect from companies or from policy holders.

Medicare’s administrative costs are in the range of 3 percent. That’s well below the 5 to 10 percent costs borne by large companies that self-insure. It’s even further below the administrative costs of companies in the small-group market (amounting to 25 to 27 percent of premiums). And it’s way, way lower than the administrative costs of individual insurance (40 percent). It’s even far below the 11 percent costs of private plans under Medicare Advantage, the current private-insurance option under Medicare.

Estimates of how much would be saved by extending Medicare to cover the entire population range from $58 billion to $400 billion a year. More Americans would get quality health care, and the long-term budget crisis would be sharply reduced.

On This Day In History July 25

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.

Click on images to enlarge

July 25 is the 206th day of the year (207th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 159 days remaining until the end of the year.


On this day in 1788, Wolfgang Mozart completes his Symphony No. 40 in G minor.

The question of the Symphony’s premiere

There is no completely solid documentary evidence that the premiere of the 40th Symphony took place in Mozart’s lifetime. However, as Zaslaw (1983) points out, the circumstantial evidence that it was performed is very strong. On several occasions between the composition of the symphony and the composer’s death, symphony concerts were given featuring Mozart’s music, including concerts in which the program has survived, including a symphony, unidentified by date or key.

Most important is the fact that Mozart revised his symphony (the manuscripts of both versions still exist). As Zaslaw says, this “demonstrates that [the symphony] was performed, for Mozart would hardly have gone to the trouble of adding the clarinets and rewriting the flutes and oboes to accommodate them, had he not had a specific performance in view.” The orchestra for the 1791 Vienna concert included the clarinetist brothers Anton and Johann Stadler; which, as Zaslaw points out, limits the possibilities to just the 39th and 40th symphonies.

Zaslaw adds: “The version without clarinets must also have been performed, for the reorchestrated version of two passages in the slow movement, which exists in Mozart’s hand, must have resulted from his having heard the work and discovered an aspect needing improvement.”

Concerning the concerts for which the Symphony was originally (1788) intended, Otto Erich Deutsch suggests that Mozart was preparing to hold a series of three “Concerts in the Casino”, in a new casino in the Spiegelgasse owned by Philipp Otto. Mozart even sent a pair of tickets for this series to his friend Michael Puchberg. But it seems impossible to determine whether the concert series was held, or was cancelled for lack of interest. Zaslaw suggests that only the first of the three concerts was actually held.

Pique the Geek 20110724: Loudspeakers Part II

I was running out of time last week as the publication hour was neigh, so I was not able too include everything that I wanted to include.  In the meantime, I have gained some additional information that refutes one of the points that I made.  Remember, The Geek likes to be corrected when he is wrong.  We shall get to that after the fold.

This installment has to do with some experimental or otherwise not widely used loudspeaker designs, but also something much more personal to me.  It has to do with a good friend from almost 40 years, and his interaction with Paul Klipsch and others involved in the company.

First we shall make the correction, then talk about other loudspeaker designs, and then the more personal stuff.  Ready to go?

Evening Edition

Evening Edition is an Open Thread

From Yahoo News Top Stories

1 Norway carnage suspect admits responsibility

By Pierre-Henry Deshayes and Charles Onians, AFP

19 hrs ago

The suspect in Norway’s twin attacks that killed at least 92 people admitted responsibility and said the carnage was long planned as the nation mourned victims of its worst violence since World War II.

Anders Behring Breivik, 32, was arrested for allegedly shooting at least 85 people dead at a youth Labour Party meeting on an island and killing seven more in a car bomb explosion which ripped through government buildings in Oslo.

“He admitted responsibility,” Behring Breivik’s lawyer Geir Lippestad told Norway’s NRK television channel. While there was no official confirmation of the man’s identity, he was widely named as Anders Behring Breivik by local media.