Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Good Reads on a Sunday while sipping your Coffee or Tea

“Two Cheers for Corruption” and Bill Black’s Response

Plunder has become a way of life for many elite Corporate CEOs, Bill Black argues in response to Deirdre McCloskey supposition:

But corruption can be efficient and just, too. It can be good for efficiency if, say, bribes are paid to get around bad laws (such as most of the building codes in American cities) or to smooth the course of sales by U.S. businesses to the Egyptian military. And the turkey at Christmas supplied by Tammany Hall justly helped the poor—if they voted right.

Bill Black reviews the reviewer Deirdre McCloskey’s Wall Street Journal supposition of corruption being beneficial to the economy overall as it short circuits the law and government agencies by promoting economic growth. It is only ethical behavior and ethics, which can change the corporate culture. Firing back, Bill Black cites Frédéric Bastiat;

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”,

and takes apart McCloskey’s review potentially (Deirdre denies it) favoring corporate bribery, fraud, and extortion through deregulation removing laws governing corporate behavior, desupervision by government watch dogs, and de facto decriminalization of actions by corporations and management. Without which or the subversion of such creates the environment for a corrupt corporate culture. A good back and forth by Bill and Deirdre in this and other posts on Bill’s site and worthy of a Sunday morning coffee.

Would a Car Which Can Read Speed Limit Signs Go Over in Michigan?

The speed-limiting tech can be activated via the steering wheel and briefly overridden by pressing firmly on the accelerator. Ford suggests the facility will help drivers avoid fines and could reduce the number of accidents.

Hmmm, many drivers in Michigan have no problem doing 80+ MPH on 96, 23, and 696, etc. marked at 70 MPH. The state was going to increase the speed limit to 80 MPH because of the claim the majority of drivers do 80 MPH. I guess I creep along at 72 -75 MPH. This more an effort to increase road revenue from gasoline purchases as cars and light trucks are less efficient the faster they go.

However, there is a plan afoot to beam speed limits to your car’s computer thereby giving control of the speed to the car rather than the driver. I can see a whole new industry developing, computer chips which would not be impacted by state speed-limit-beams. “No one is going to impede my speed on the highway!”

The new “Ford technology will become available to the public this August, when it launches the second generation of its S-Max cars in Europe.” This represents just a start in new auto-technology. It will progress to being able to identify humans and bike riders as well as animals in the way and apply the brakes as well as other areas such as heart attacks.

Banks may Not Donate to the Dems?

Banks are having temper tantrums over Senator Elizabeth Warren declaring banks should be broken up as they are a threat to the economy . . . no surprise there! The most recent compromise with the budget removed the barrier to banks making riskier investments and having them tied directly to the main bank. Dodd-Frank originally forced banks to spin those investments off to a 3rd party company to whichthe banks had no financial liability. Pres. Obama signed the legislation as developed by Jamie Dimon and staff allowing those investments to be associated directly to the banks. Hence, Main Street is liable for bank gambling again.

Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs (remember when Goldman Sachs was just an investment house?) and Bank of America recently had a meeting to discuss way in which to urge the Democrats to be kinder and gentler to TBTF. GS became a bank when it was poised to fall on its own sword from risky ventures and never went back as the Fed makes cheaper loans available to them now.

Senator Warren has openly stated Citigroup is one “banking-company” to be broken up under Dodd-Frank. She also blocked the appointment of banking friend Antonio Weiss which has angered bankers.

Suggested donation amounts by banks to political Senatorial candidates are said to be as low as $15,000.

Reducing the Prison Population . . . Duh!!!

In 1994, Newt Gingrich’s model legislation “Taking Back Our Streets Act” and Biden’s “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act” put into play a doubling of the prison population of which almost half are non-violent which I wrote about here; One in 31 in 2010.

Today Gingrich writes:

There is an urgent need to address the astronomical growth in the prison population, with its huge costs in dollars and lost human potential,”

I would wonder if it is more the former than the later? An odd consortium made up on Repubs, Dems, the ACLU, and the Koch Brothers(?) besides Gingrich are looking into reducing the prison population by 50% and agreeing it needs to be reduced.

I would suspect it is more the rising cost to house a prisoner in state and federal prisons which is ~$30,000 and growing. I would also suspect the Koch Brothers (they have a concern about prisoners?) and the law and order crowd could give two hoots about “lost human potential.” Prisons are typically placed in out of the way places like Muskegon, Kingsley, and Iona Michigan and employ the locals as guards and in other occupations. Close a prison and you affect the local economy and that costs votes in traditional Rep districts. I also suspect this prison population is getting older and the government has to take care of them beyond yanking a tooth needing a new filling. Those interested in reducing the prison population are more concerned about the aging of the prison population, the need for healthcare, and the associated costs.

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Why didn’t Clinton set up two email addresses for herself, one for her personal emails, the other for her work emails, on Just wondering.*

In many ways, [Clinton] did a good job at her press conference on Tuesday. The part of her speech talking about her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral arrangements being off limits, that certainly resonated. She absolutely was right when she said, “No one wants their personal e-mails made public.”

Hillary Clinton Is Turning Into Richard Nixon and Bill Belichick, Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, today

One thing that surprises me about analyses of Clinton’s press conference is the apparent consensus among pundits, including some liberal ones who are not supportive of her, that she was effective in gaining empathy for her desire to keep her personal emails from public view, so that no one wonders why, then, she (unlike most people who work for organizations) chose to commingle her personal and work emails not just on one server but in a single email account. She was, after all, absolutely right when she said, “No one wants their personal e-mails made public.” Ergo, ….

No dispute whatsoever: No one wants their personal e-mails made public.  Which is why (presumably) most people who work for organizations—private or government—take pains to separate their private correspondence from their work correspondence, by using their work email account mostly* for work-related correspondence, and their personal account entirely or almost entirely for personal emails.

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Why are so many Dem-leaning pundits so profoundly clueless? [Updated.]

Today, Martin O’Malley, the former Maryland governor who has been talking about challenging Clinton from the left, was repeatedly asked by reporters to comment on Clinton’s emails, and he repeatedly refused. Not because he doesn’t think there are legitimate questions here, but because his advisers say raising them might reflect badly on him:

“His advisers say there’s no benefit to him criticizing Clinton at this point. She’s already on the defensive, they reason, and die-hard Democrats are likely to be turned off if O’Malley sounds too much like Clindeiton’s Republican critics.”

Well, I hope that isn’t the real rationale. I suspect most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails; in fact, such a debate among Democrats could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of her over it, which is likely to be polluted by overreach.

Maybe it’s time for a real Democratic presidential primary, Greg Sargent, Washington Post, today

Of course!  I’ve been dying to hear a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails! Because there’s obviously a lot of room for disagreement on whether or not it was a good idea for Clinton to set up a separate, private email server and commingle all her personal emails about her daughter’s wedding and her mother’s funeral with her State Department-related emails.  And because this is, unquestionably, the issue I care most about.

So please, Mr. O’Malley, keep me and all of us Dems in suspense no longer: Would you, as president, require your Secretary of State to use the State Department email system for State Department-related emails?  And if not, would you require that your Secretary of State comply with the Federal Records Act and related laws?

Such a debate among Democrats absolutely could be more illuminating than whatever results from Republican criticism of Clinton over it.  Which obviously is saying quite a lot.


Last weekend, O’Malley appeared at some Dem functions in New Hampshire and discussed the types of issues that Elizabeth Warren talks about, and even the types of issues that Paul Krugman talks about—and deigned to allude to the latest actions by Scott Walker and economic-policy statements from Jeb Bush.  Reading some of the specifics of his comments, I was delighted.  And I assumed that most Dems would be, too.  Maybe we’ll start gaining some traction on these things, instead of constantly having to settle for more Clinton silliness and more Clinton banalities, clichés and hints about the approximate month of her formal announcement, I thought.  Hurray! Hurray!

Then I read that some New Hampshire state senator and a few other attendees at one or another of the functions was disappointed that O’Malley effectively demurred when asked to comment on the Clinton email mess.  If he’s going to run, he has to comment on what the big issue of the moment is, the state senator said.

Which sure seems right if the big issue of the moment is, say, a substantivepolicy issue.  But best as I can tell, email policy for federal officials isn’t, really.

Then there was Dana Milbank’s comment a few days ago comparing O’Malley with the tooth fairy.  Or, more precisely, comparing people who think O’Malley could beat Clinton for the nomination with people who believe in the tooth fairy.  And this evening he has a more detailed follow-up, the thrust of which is that O’Malley was just a governor and, before that, mayor of Baltimore.  As opposed to, say, Scott Walker, who is a governor and was, before that, a County Executive.  And as opposed to, say, Jeb Bush, who was a governor and, before that, a president’s son.

I certainly get that only the Republican Party is entitled to nominate such folks for president. Which, of course, they did, in 2012.  Minus the big-city-mayor/big-county-executive part.  I’m not sure what percentage of the public outside of Wisconsin knew anything about Walker until two months ago, but many more people sure do now. For better or for worse, but that’s beside the point.  Walker didn’t have to compete for the media’s notice with someone whom the press has been obsessed with for a quarter-century—the members of the press, that is, who were covering politics in the ‘90s.  Or who followed stuff like that when they were in elementary school.

But O’Malley does have to compete for the media’s attention with Hillary Clinton.  A political media, that is, whose members apparently almost universally believe that the minimum voting age is 42.  And so competing, it appears, is impossible.

I keep reading political commentary that “we” all have already made up our minds about Hillary Clinton. Each of us either loves her or hates her, having decided which one all the way back in the ‘90s.  When some of “us” were in the primary grades in school and others of “us” were adolescents or teenagers. And when a small percentage of “us” were still in diapers.

But some of us do remember the ‘90s, if not all the specifics.  I speak as someone who does remember ‘90s politics, but who had forgotten such specifics as that Clinton said during her “pink sweater” press conference in 1994 that she had thought that her husband’s and her own unusual financial pursuits that depended upon friendships and connections during her husband’s terms as governor should have been viewed as within a privacy zone.  She couldn’t distinguish then between land development deals and cattle-futures trading, on the one hand, and buying, say, Vanguard Index Fund shares, on the other.  And so her law firm’s billing records for the Whitewater land deal (or whatever) remained hidden for two years in a White House closet until things got wackily out-of-hand, politically.

What I, unlike Sargent, suspect is that most Democratic voters and activists want to hear a spirited debate about the subjects that we actually care about. Including a spirited response to Scott Walker’s and Jeb Bush’s economic’fiscal/regulatory policy positions and their counterfactual justifications for them, and Paul Ryan’s ahistorical claims about supply side economics, financial industry regulations, and federal budget deficits in the ‘70s and ‘80s.  Some discussion of what’s happening with, say, Kansas’s budget and economic growth, and maybe even Wisconsin’s, and Europe’s—and why—would be very, very welcome.

There are only two reasons why most of us want a meaningful primary debate, forced by a meaningful candidacy—and neither of those reasons is to make Hillary Clinton a stronger candidate.  One reason is to have the option to vote for a genuine economic-policy progressive.  The other is to enable our party to actually put forward the arguments for progressive economic policy, and that means ending the constant focus on this silly woman, her huge “circle,” her incessant calculations and decisions-by-committee about absolutely everything, and waiting for the next shoe (and the next, and the next) to drop.

The very, very, very, very last thing most Democrats want is a spirited debate about Clinton’s emails.  We don’t want to debate Clinton’s emails.  We want to debate actual substantive-policy issues, especially but not solely economic/fiscal/regulatory policy issues.  Government email policy isn’t on our list.  If Warren were planning to run, would anyone claim that she needed to take a break from those economic-policy/bank-deregulation/policy-of-by-and-for-the-mega-campaign-donors things and talk about the more important issue of government officials’ email-procedure?  Really?

Look. Hillary Clinton should not run for president.  Her life, her husband’s life, her family’s foundation’s life, all are too complicated for her to be able even to concentrate on serious, specific policy issues other than the women’s-movement issues whose clichés she cites, mantra-like, and has for the past 40-plus years.  These are by no means trivial issues.  They are, though, by no means what most people think should be the end-all-and-be-all of the Democratic nominee’s concerns.

I myself agree with Bill Clinton’s comments a few days ago that, on balance, their family’s foundation has done more good than harm—thanks in large part to Chelsea Clinton’s efforts to make the foundation into what it should be: something far more important than just a Bill and Hillary Clinton ad and a well-paying landing place for their many hangers-on.  Hillary Clinton should put her time and effort into furthering the meaningful goals of that organization, and wind up her career with something truly special. She should not impose so upon those who need to have this election be about what it should be about. Which is to say, about things more important than her.

I can assure Dana Milbank, and Martin O’Malley, that I don’t believe in the tooth fairy.  Even though Clinton will of course run.



Probing, persistent questions like these from the political press corps at Tuesday’s news conference are the sort that rival candidates would be expected to ask on the campaign trail or in televised debates, as Barack Obama did against Mrs. Clinton in 2007 and 2008 over the Iraq war and other issues.

Unlike then, however, Mrs. Clinton is not expected to face comparably aggressive opponents for her party’s nomination. Among the possible Democratic field, former Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland has shown little taste for cutthroat tactics.

Early in 2016 Race, Clinton’s Toughest Foe Appears to be the News Media, Patrick Healy, New York Times, today

Uh-huh.  Can’t beat Clinton unless you use cutthroat tactics.  Talking just about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy issues hasn’t worked well at all for Elizabeth Warren.  Which is why, much as a huge swath of Democrats cares deeply about those issues, there’s no movement to draft Warren to run for the nomination, and why no one pays attention when she speaks, right? She doesn’t use cutthroat tactics against Clinton, instead using cutthroat tactics only against the Republicans.

Mr. Healy, talking about economic-policy/bank-regulation/big-money-dictating-policy is a cutthroat tactic. It’s just that the political-news media hasn’t noticed.

Updated 3/12 at 12:12 p.m.

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The Individual Mandate: Has the Obama Administration Silently Repealed the Rule that Virtually Everyone Must Have Health Insurance?

Maggie Mahar has been featured at Angry Bear Blog and has written for Angry Bear Blog from time to time. This article has been taken from her blog, Health Beat.

Obamacare’s critics continue to argue that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will self-destruct. Now, some claim the mandate that uninsured Americans must purchase coverage– or pay a stiff fine— is so “riddled with new loopholes and exemptions” it ceased to exist.

14 New Waivers

When the ACA passed Congress in 2010, it offered a handful of basic exemptions to the mandate of everyone must be insured. For example, if the only comprehensive coverage available would cost more than 8% of a household’s income, the fine would be waived. Individuals who were in jail, or belonged to a recognized religious group that objects to all insurance, including Medicare and Social Security, they to could be excused.

But then, late in 2013, the administration quietly added some 14 new ways the uninsured could dodge the fine.. “’This latest reconstruction’ of the ACA received zero media coverage,’ a Wall Street Journal editorial declared, ‘and the Health and Human Services Department (HHS) didn’t think the details were worth discussing in a conference call, press materials or fact sheet.'”

Yet if the new waivers went largely unnoticed, reform’s opponents claim that the swelling list of escape clauses will have a huge impact. By 2016, they say, almost 90% of the nation’s 30 million uninsured will be able to ignore the mandateof buying insurance – without paying the piper. So much for universal coverage.

Just last week Bloomberg reported of; some Republicans referring to the new list of loopholes as a “stealth repeal” of the individual mandate. To her credit, Bloomberg’s Caroline Chen points out the contradiction in the GOP’s arguments. The same critics who, in the past, argued that the mandate represented “unwarranted government coercion” now criticize it for being too “wimpy.” Can they really have it both ways?

“Hardship Exemptions”

The new waivers were designed to help those who are facing hard times. Some exemptions will suspend penalties for 3 months – others for a year.

Perhaps the most important waiver bails out low-income Americans who have the bad luck to live in a state refusing to expand Medicaid. Originally, the ACA stipulated states must extend Medicaid to adults earning less than 138% of FPL ($27,310 for a family of three), with the Federal government paying the lion’s share of the extra cost. At the same time, the ACA set out to help low and middle-income families earning more than 138% of the FPL by providing government subsidies designed to help them purchase insurance in their state exchanges.

But then, two years after the PPACA passed Congress, the Supreme Court blind-sided the reform’s architecture by ruling states could opt out of expanding the federal/state. program. No surprise, politicians in Red states saw this as an opportunity to undermine Obamacare.

Today, twenty-two states still are refusing to open the Medicaid umbrella to cover some of their poorest citizens. As a result and in many cases, only parents earning less than 50% of the FPL ($9,893 for a family of three) qualify for Medicaid for Medicaid and childless adults remain uninsured in almost all of these states. (When Medicaid passed Congress in 1965 legislators decided that only “the worthy poor” should be covered. People who did not have children were not considered “worthy”.)

Now, roughly4 million low income adults who earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid in their states and too little to qualify for government subsidies in the Exchanges have been left out in the cold. As a result, the administration has waved the penalty for this group for at least a year.

By 2016, the situation is likely to change. Politicians who have refused to take the federal aid letting them expand Medicaid are facing tremendous political pressure. Hospitals, in particular, cannot afford to continue to care for uninsured patients without being reimbursed. States like Texas and Florida are leaving millions of federal dollars on the table. They may be the very last to cover their poorest citizens; but over the next year or two, Red States will no doubt cave to the pressure.

Bankruptcy, Domestic Violence, Fires and Floods

Other hardship exemptions cover a wide range of financial catastrophes. For example, you may be excused from the fine if:

– You were evicted in the past 6 months or are facing eviction or foreclosure;
– You received a shut-off notice from a utility company;
– You recently experienced domestic violence;
– You recently experienced the death of a close family member;
– You are homeless;
– You experienced a fire, flood, or other natural or human-caused disaster that caused substantial damage to your property;
– You filed for bankruptcy in the last 6 months;
– You had medical expenses you couldn’t pay in the last 24 months that resulted in substantial debt;
– You experienced unexpected increases in necessary expenses due to caring for an ill, disabled, or aging family member;
– You expect to claim a child as a tax dependent who’s been denied coverage in Medicaid and CHIP, and another person is required by court order to
give medical support to the child. In this case, you don’t have the pay the penalty for the child;
– As a result of an eligibility appeals decision, you’re eligible for enrollment in a qualified health plan (QHP) through the Marketplace, lower
costs on your monthly premiums, or cost-sharing reductions for a time period when you weren’t enrolled in a QHP through the Marketplace; Your individual insurance was cancelled because it did not meet the ACA’s standards, and you believe other Marketplace plans are unaffordable;
– You experienced another hardship in obtaining health insurance.

The last and very broad escape clause prompted Robert Laszewski, a master spinner of Obamacare myths, to ask:“Is there really an individual mandate?”

Laszewski is not alone in this belief. When the administration announced the new exemptions, The Wall Street Journal’s editors joined the chorus of critics, complaining that originally the ACA reserved waivers for “the truly down and out.” But now, the WSJ argued, Washington was tacking on exemptions that would excuse virtually anyone. The Journal quoted Douglas Holtz-Eakin, president of the conservative American Action Forum. A long-time foe of reform, Douglas quipped; “the rules have become so lax, it seems if your pajamas do not fit well, you do not need health insurance.”

But in fact, the mandate still has teeth. Indeed the CBO estimates that the IRS will collect some $4 billion from those who choose to go it alone in 2016, subtracting the fines from taxpayer refunds. (If you are not due a refund in a particular year, the tax collectors will deduct the penalty from your refund in future years.)

Who Will Be Paying Billions in Fines?

Does this meant that the IRS will be dunning poor and middle-class families who just haven’t heard about the bill—or don’t understand it? By and large, no. The CBO reports two-thirds of those fines will be paidby upper middle class and upper class Americans who object to the PPACA for political reasons.

Most could afford insurance, but bring home too much to qualify for subsides, and as a matter of principle, are rejecting Obamacare. The notion of “shared responsibility” does not move them. They would rather pay a fine than jump into an insurance pool with their fellow citizens. They believe that they are responsible only for themselves and their families.

What Reform’s Opponents Do Understand – the ACA Cannot Survive Without the Individual Mandate

The mandate is as the WSJ has acknowledged; out “at the core of reform.” Without the mandate, its deadlines and penalties, many Americans would simply wait until they became sick and then sign up for coverage. When they recover, they might well stop paying their premiums, and drop the insurance.

If that happened, people who need surgery, chemotherapy, or expensive medications soon would outnumber the healthier and younger folks in the insurance pool. Premiums would spiral for everyone. The system simply cannot afford “free riders” — defined as “people who receive the benefits of “a public good” (like universal coverage) “without contributing to paying the costs.”

In 2014, most people had not yet heard of the 14 new hardship exemptions that were added in December of 2013. This might explain why, last year, the penalties were without a question . . . effective, especially for young people,” Erin Hemlin, health care campaign director for “Young Invincibles,” a group that reaches out to young adults, recently told Politico/Pro.

Hemlin reports on a survey published last May showing that 40 percent of respondents indicated they would not have gotten insurance without the individual mandate. For adults ages 18 to 29, it was even more important, with 42 percent saying they signed up to avoid the fine.

What no one knows is what will happen over the next two years. By 2016, many more Americans will have heard about the waivers. But given the size of the subsidies and the growing number of Americans who have tried Obamcare and like it; I doubt that many will ask for a free pass.

How Many of the Uninsured Will Even Try To Get A Waiver?

What Laszewsi, Holtz-Eakin, the WSJ, and a gang of other Obamcare critics ignore is applying for a waiver is not as simple as it might sound. First, almost all hardship exemptions require documentation to prove that you qualify.

Secondly, while in some cases, you can apply for exemptions when filing your taxes, most require you to fill out a separate three – page form providing extensive information about everyone in your household.

Meanwhile, just applying, providing the documents, and filling out the applications is no guarantee that your fine will be cancelled. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Finally, if you do succeed in being approved, you will receive a certification number in the mail—and then must fill out and file a newly drafted tax form.

Taking all of this into account, how many people will take the time and trouble to apply for a reprieve that, in most cases, will let them skirt the penalty for just three months?

The critics also forget that hard times are likely to make people more risk-adverse, not less. Imagine that you are a battered single mother. Recently, you divorce and your husband’s employer no longer covers you. Would this seem like a good time to drop coverage? What if your home was hit by a hurricane — would you be inclined to ditch your family’s health insurance?

This helps to explain why, as of October 2014, TurboTax estimated that less than 5 percent of those who would qualify for exemptions had applied.

Keep in mind that those who have lost their jobs, or have fallen victim to some other form of financial disaster, may well discover that they now are eligible for Medicaid. Others are likely to qualify for generous government subsidies that will help cover their premiums. Last year, nearly 9 out of 10 people who purchased insurance in state marketplaces qualified for tax credits that cut the average premium by 76 percent—to just $82 per month. Almost half of those who received subsidies wound up paying $50 or less.)

My point is that the majority of the uninsured would be better off if they didn’t try to escape the mandate, and instead applied for government help that would make insurance either free, or very cheap.

Waivers Don’t Just Cancel Fines, They Open the Door to New Coverage

The best hardship exemptions do more than erase the fine. Some let the uninsured apply for coverage in their state exchange after the open enrollment period ends on February 15, while others let those who are down on their luck purchase insurance that doesn’t meet Obamacare’s strict rules for “minimum essential coverage.”

For example, if a natural disaster kept you from enrolling on time, you can sign up after the February deadline. If you received a letter from your insurer telling you that your old coverage was cancelled because of the ACA, this year you can meet the mandate by buying a low premium catastrophic insurance which will offer free preventive care as well as coverage for worst-case scenarios.

In the end, what many Americans don’t understand is that ACA penalties are not aimed at punishing those who opt out of Obamacare. As CEO Kevin Counihan recently told The Hill: “Our goal is not to get income [from penalties] or to make this difficult for folks. Our goal, fundamentally is to get people insured.”

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Scott Walker Announces His Foreign Policy: Privatize Social Security and Medicare; end the food stamp program and CHIP, and repeal the National Labor Relations Act

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Two days after provocatively suggesting that standing up to organized labor in Wisconsin has prepared him to fight terrorists overseas as president, Scott Walker told a crowd of conservative donors on Saturday that “the most significant foreign policy decision” of his lifetime was when Ronald Reagan fired 11,000 air traffic controllers. …

“Candidly, I think foreign policy is something that’s not just about having a PhD or talking to PhDs. It’s about leadership,” he said. “I would contend the most significant foreign policy decision in my lifetime was made by a president who was previously a governor. A president who made a decision that wasn’t even about foreign policy. It was in August of 1981, when Ronald Reagan fired the air traffic controllers.”

Scott Walker pressed for specifics at Club meeting, James Hohmann, Politico, yesterday

Turns out that that was the second time in a week that Walker said this.  The first time was in his speech at the private fund raiser in which Giuliani said Obama doesn’t love America, or love Giuliani, or love the donors in attendance at the dinner, later citing as supporting evidence that he (Giuliani) rarely hears Obama profess his love of country using the cants that Dwight Eisenhower and Franklin Roosevelt—er, Reagan and Bill Clinton—did regularly. (Free speech is for college students and human and corporate campaign donors, but not for presidents, who must recite a loyalty oath every few weeks.  Joe McCarthy was right!  That ole five-star general who conned his way into the White House in ’53 was a Communist after all!)  But Walker’s comment received little notice, because … well … you know.

But Larry Kudlow, one of the people whom Giuliani identified by group (Kudlow was an attendee) as someone whom Obama doesn’t love, and who reported on Walker’s speech for Real Clear Politics, did take note:

Noteworthy, Walker argued that when Reagan fired the PATCO air-traffic controllers over their illegal strike, he was sending a message of toughness to Democrats and unions at home as well as to our Soviet enemies abroad. Similarly, Walker believes his stance against unions in Wisconsin would be a signal of toughness to Islamic jihadists and Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Noteworthy, indeed.

Of course, our Soviet enemy abroad in August 1981 was led by a man who by then was spending much of his time in a hospital, and who died 15 months later at the age of 75, presumably having never recovered from the shock of having to deal with a U.S. president who fired his country’s striking air traffic controllers.  He was replaced with a man who, also elderly, died in office 15 months later after spending all but  the first three months of his presidency in such poor health that it was doubted at the time that he (or anyone else) was actually running the country.  He was replaced with an elderly man who lived only 13 months, not the full 15 months that his three predecessors each had managed while dealing with the stress of trying to oppose a U.S. president who had won his war against unionized air traffic controllers.  The next Soviet president, seriously concerned that Reagan was onto something with his unconventional, remote-control, foreign-policy tactic, and wanting to remain healthy for at least two years into his presidency, waved the white flag and declared glasnost and perestroika.

So I can see why Walker would contend that the most significant foreign policy decision in his lifetime was Ronald Reagan’s decision in August of 1981 to fire the air traffic controllers.  Walker’s lifetime began on November 2, 1967, and nothing much of importance has happened in foreign policy since then.  But even if that weren’t so, fending off four Soviet presidents in as many years simply by firing the striking air traffic controllers was indeed a significant foreign policy achievement.  As well as a major technological advance.  Computer science history books record all this as the first known instance of virtual reality.

But I don’t think Putin will be as easily dispensed with as Brezhnev, Andropov and Chernenko—he’s younger than they were, and looks pretty healthy—or as cowering as Gorbachev was.  And I definitely doubt that Jihadi John or ISIS’s military leaders follow U.S. labor law politics very closely.  So simply ending collective bargaining rights here probably won’t cause ISIS to surrender or Putin to end his attempts to annex Ukraine.

No, Walker would have to up the toughness ante.  Something that will grab ISIS leaders’ and Putin’s attention.  Something that they’ll understand.

Social Security.

Once President Walker starts privatizing Social Security and makes clear that next up is Medicare, Putin and ISIS will know whom they’re dealing with.  But President Walker, an impatient leader and a man of action, won’t wait to press the point further.  Ending the food stamp and student-lunch programs will provide awesome video of people who starved to death, and ending CHIP will yield perfect photos and stories for the administration’s foreign-policy messaging.  Walker may not even have to push through Congress a measure mandating the shooting on sight of all stray dogs and cats, to get ISIS to surrender.

He’s an irresistible candidate.  Sure, we don’t want those domestic policies, and we, and he, know that they can’t be justified to the public on their own merits.  But we do really want to see Putin end his military aggression in Ukraine, and we really, really want to see the demise of ISIS.  And we want these to happen without the assistance of U.S. ground troops.  So the trade-offs seem fair.

Uh-oh.  Poor Hillary Clinton.


POSTSCRIPT: As someone who has followed the Wisconsin political situation in the last four years fairly closely, I’ve been downright dismayed at the political news media’s facile adoption of the line that Walker is the candidate who can appeal both to the party’s base (pun intended; read the first few paragraphs of Alec MacGillis’s outstanding June 2014 longform article in The New Republic) and the party’s Establishment.  Hillary Clinton, and I, will keep our fingers crossed that the Republican Establishment doesn’t read the MacGillis article or is too clueless to foresee ads featuring audio clips from the two radio shows those first few paragraphs describe, broadcast days apart on some show hosted by someone named Mark Belling, in late 2013.  There is no possible definition of civilized society in which this would be considered a plus for someone campaigning to be its leader.

Then again, I’ve also been sort of chuckling at the Conventional Wisdom of the last few months among political news media folks that the Republican field is much stronger than their 2012 field.  Rick Perry is starting to look good, folks, especially since he’s now remembered the third Cabinet Department he wants to shutter.

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An Act of Kindness – The Rest of The Story

I was never aware of what impact I had over the years in my family until my youngest son reminded me of what I had done on an evening in a store called Woodman’s located on the west side of Madison, WI. I was out of work and I was busy supplementing my income by gaffing up trees, cutting them down, and chipping wood. A job not requiring a lot of intelligence for a man with 4 degrees. I was deadly tired each day.

My 8 year old young son and I were waiting in line to check out with our groceries. The man in front of us had a loaf of bread, a half gallon of milk, and peanut butter. The cashier rang him up and gave him notice of what he owed. He plopped down his money and they stared at each other for the longest 15 seconds I ever experienced. He was short cash to pay. As the cashier reached into her pocket to pay the difference, I dropped a dollar on the conveyor. She took it and he left just taking a moment to look back at us. 25 years passed and my youngest son Craig in a conversation reminded me of what took place that day of something I had long forgotten. It was not important to me; but, my actions had an impact on him.

What makes this story in the picture interesting on USA Today and Crooks and Liars is an adult white male taking time to teach a young black male how to tie a regular tie as opposed to using a clip-on tie. The young man was scheduled to interview for a job and he needed to look the part. The Target employee took the time to teach how to and tie the tie as there were no clip-on ties at Target besides tutoring the young man in answering questions a prospect employer might ask him. Do you believe this young black male will remember the kindness an adult male showed him one day? Furthermore, is it possible in the future this young male might return a moment of kindness to another person who may need his help as a result of one person taking the time to help him regardless of gender, age, religion, and hue of skin? I am sure he will remember.

Perhaps, this gesture is little more than a person who sees the other as a person of equal stature and makes the effort to reach out with a moment of kindness.

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To Mark Cuban on Student Loans: Grab some Bench, “Rookie”

Guest Post by Alan Collinge

Group Founder Alan Collinge has written numerous articles, and editorials on the topic, and also published The Student Loan Scam in 2009. He was selected as one of seven “Financial Heroes” by CNN/Money Magazine in December 2008.

There has been a disturbing coalescence of papers, positions, and proposals coming from Stanford graduates, academics, and Silicon Valley tycoons regarding student loans recently. All of these have, unfortunately failed to address the relevant economic dynamics governing the lending system, and their proposed solutions either completely neglect the $1.3 Trillion dollar problem at hand, or even defend the Public Policies that gave rise to it. Whether by chance, design, or otherwise, these proposals, collectively, are badly distracting the public discourse, and perpetuating a problem that is simply false.

It started with a paper by G. Marcus Cole, Stanford professor, who argues that because student loans are unsecured, there should be no bankruptcy protections for them. Coles is quoted in the Stanford Law School News:

“…With dischargeable loans, the risk that lenders would not receive the money they originally lent would increase. Cole added that investors wouldn’t see the sense in lending to students anymore.”

Cole completely fails to acknowledge that both private banks and the federal government administer unsecured loans, many of which are very profitable (for instance, the credit card industry). invisible hand Cole also fails to acknowledge that in the absence of bankruptcy protections, a lending system has come about where every element in the chain, up to and including the federal government makes more money on defaulted loans than loans that remain in good stead! This is a defining hallmark of a predatory lending system, and Adam Smith himself would agree is an unfair, intolerable, and unacceptable lending relationship. Would Cole argue similarly that medical debt, credit cards, and other unsecured credit be non-dischargeable?

Cole also completely fails to acknowledge that in the run-up to the 2005 bankruptcy bill- which stripped bankruptcy from private loans- the lenders promised they’d lend to needier students , but this has never happened. What the lenders DID do was begin requiring creditworthy cosigners for virtually all private loans, and now use this to extort vast sums from parents and grandparents under the threat of losing their savings, retirement, real property, etc. That Cole, or any economist would attempt to defend such a blatantly dirty trick and all the havoc it has wrought on so many families is, frankly, unconscionable.

The second attempt to address the student debt problem comes from Mr. Peter Thiel, Stanford Grad, Paypal Founder, and Manhattan Dandy who is essentially using the $1 Trillion student loan crisis as a stepping-stone by arguing that kids-particularly disadvantaged; inner-city kids- should forgo college and instead pursue entrepreneurship. Never mind that Mr. Thiel would never have snagged the success he now enjoys were it not for his Palo Alto pedigree. Never mind that a recent job-posting for Thiels investment company was very clear that only well credentialed with applicants with advanced degrees would be considered for employment. Never mind that this is typically horrible advice for young people who aren’t knowledgeable, skilled, and passionate about a potentially marketable product or service- particularly kids who weren’t lucky enough to be born into the kind of wealth and resources that Mr. Thiel was born.

Most recently, Mr. Mark Cuban, Dotcom Billionaire, Dallas Mavericks owner, television celebrity, and yes- Stanford alum, has calledfor a 10% reduction in lending limits to undergrads. Cuban, like the others, completely fails to acknowledge the root causes of the out-of-control inflationary spiral the student loan system is now on. As such, his solution does absolutely nothing to cure the root causes of the problem, does nothing to address the massive injustices and harms now being inflicted on the citizenry- many of them Dallas Mavericks fans, and only perpetuates the true “shark tank” mentality that has overtaken this industry, and the big-government behemoth that oversees it (scroll down the link to get the punch line).

While these men don’t necessarily represent the prevailing attitudes of the “Stanford Crowd”, I’d say their comments reveal stunning ignorance of the problem(at best), or an agenda to perpetuate/exacerbate a predatory lending system that has inflicted massive harms on tens of millions of citizens, and is poised to wreak a far greater havoc imminently. This reflects poorly on the university. I hope very much that the economics faculty there will have the courage to step up and inform the discussion up there.

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Krugman, 1980 And All That

Dan here…Paul Krugman New York Times Dec. 24 notes Robert’s thinking on current story lines by some economists in macromedia.  Other posts by Robert on the subject can be found here, herehere, and here.  Krugman writes:

 Robert Waldmann is shocked, shocked, to find conservative economists not doing their homework:

Even now, I am shocked that economists didn’t bother to look up the data on FRED before making nonsensical claims of fact.

But this is typical; it applies to issues across the board. The same people know that growth has been much faster since financial deregulation and the Reagan tax cuts, except that it hasn’t; they know that Reagan was the only president to oversee the creation of millions of jobs, because there never was a Clinton boom; they know that there has been unprecedented growth in government spending under Obama, when the reality is the opposite. At this point you shouldn’t be surprised.

Still, why this failure to do even the simplest homework? In general, people on the right seem to do economic history (and probably history in general) using the principle of 1066 And All That: “history is what you remember”, often what you sort of think you remember. They hear everyone around them saying stuff, repeat it, and that becomes what everyone knows; the idea of checking the facts themselves never seems to arise…

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Magical Thinking and the Paranoid Style

Guest Post by Mark Jamison, a retired Postmaster in North Carolina.

The Rightwing echo chamber has gone nuts at the comments of Jonathon Gruber, comments that were, at the least insensitive and more than a little cynical. Gruber’s assertions that the American public was not very bright and had to be tricked into accepting Obamacare were not very respectful but they did and do reflect what many elites think of the general public.

On the Left we wonder “What’s the matter with Kansas?” and bemoan the fact that so many folks seem to vote against their own economic interests, if they even bother to vote. The Right however has no greater respect for the intellect of the American public. On the contrary, the Right with its highly tuned sensitivity towards the prevailing American religion of MarketThink, sees the ignorance of the populace as a business opportunity; as H.L. Mencken observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

My inbox was recently graced with an e-mail that informed that a number of recent lotto winners were terrified, “because they’re starting to draw a lot of unwanted attention from state lotto office.” The e-mail went on to tell me of a surefire system that “guaranteed” winning lottery numbers. Yikes!

Glen Beck is first and foremost a shill who uses overheated rhetoric and fear mongering to send his audience to gold dealers and get rich quick investment schemes. Now he is using his “brand” to sell expensive hipster clothing.

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Cynthia Lummis’s (Stunningly) Glib Fraud: A Follow-Up

Cynthia Lummis, a wealthy Republican House member from Wyoming, claims her husband passed away, thanks in part to Obamacare. Lummis cited the law as a major contributing factor to her husband’s demise. Instead of blaming her husband, who could easily have afforded the test (who elected to skip the necessary diagnostic), she blames the best thing to happen to millions of low income Americans, Obamacare.

From Addicting Info:

Cynthia Lummis is actually among one of the richest members of Congress. In 2007-2008, Representative Lummis’ financial disclosure forms reported a net worth between $20 million and $75 million… Obamacare wasn’t designed for people who have $20-$75 million. It was passed so the rest of us, who are either self-employed or have no access to insurance, can afford health care. It’s not the fault of the law that Lummis’s husband chose not to get a potentially life saving test – if he chose not to get the test.

Steve Doocy was desperately trying to dramatize her ‘poignant’ moment during these ridiculous hearings based on a pompous MIT economics professor speaking candidly. Lummis would not take the bait and blame her husband’s death entirely on the healthcare law. But she was willing to attribute a likely mistake in coverage to the passing of her husband. She believes men in general are easily dissuaded from seeking medical care, so any little glitch or problem will convince them to discount medical advice.

It’s truly disingenuous to blame a death on a law which is reliant on the insurance marketplace, as we all know insurance companies aren’t exactly cooperative and committed to the well-being of their customers. They are, like Republicans, only interested in financial gain and not human lives. Her husband’s choices and consequences should not deny insurance to the millions of poor people who finally have access to medical care. But they sure as hell will try their best to perpetuate the Republican Cult of Death and take away as much as they can from poor and needy Americans.

Cynthia Lummis Lies And Blames Obamacare For Her Husband’s Death, Crooks and Liars, yesterday


I can’t figure out which is worse. That this woman dragged her dead husband into this witch hunt to make a political point, or that she is so stupid to not realize that her story makes no sense.

And [Washington Post political blogger Nia-Malika] Henderson really needs to get a clue.

— EMichael, comment this morning to my post yesterday titled “Cynthia Lummis’s (Stunningly) Glib Fraud

The one thing I wish Crooks and Liars had added to that post was that Lummis mentioned that her husband was 65 years old.  He therefore was on Medicare–although Lummis failed to say that.* 

Indeed, that may well have been what caused the confusion when he sent in his claim to “Obamacare”; he turned 65 last January, and this might have been his first use of Medicare, and that might have someow complicated the matter.  But in any event the cost at issue would have been the difference between what Medicare paid for the various tests he had, and would have paid for the test he did not have, and the portion of the remainder of the charges that the “Obamacare” plan that Lummis and her husband purchased was supposed to pay for as Medicare supplement coverage.

Lummis is trying to get away with murder here—the murder of others.  I really, really would like to see one of the high-profile fact-checker blogs inquire into why Lummis was effectively claiming that “Obamacare” negated her husband’s access to Medicare coverage.  Nor was her husband even required under the ACA to have insurance beyond just Medicare, although of course the additional coverage was free, courtesy of his wife’s employment with the federal government.

Might the Washington Post’s own Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, be interested in pointing this out?

But the Cooks and Liars highlights a critical point: that the ACA is reliant on the insurance marketplace, and, as we all know, insurance companies aren’t exactly cooperative and committed to the well-being of their customers.  Thus the problems—of the sort that Lummis complained of and of the sort that virtually everyone else who complains about it, complains about.

Such as Catherine Keefe, whose op-ed published yesterday in the Washington Post, is titled “I’m an Obama supporter. But Obamacare has hurt my family.” The subtitle is “Obamacare has been far more frustrating than I’d ever dreamed.”  Chances are, I’d say, excellent that Keefe wrote the subtitle but not the title, since the subtitle accurately summarizes her piece but the title does not.

What Keefe’s complaint, like most other accurately stated complaints about the ACA are really complaints about this country’s for-profit, market-based healthcare insurance industry.  So were Lummis’s.  Keefe’s only actual harm from the ACA itself, as opposed to harm from the obnoxious insurance-industry-created provider-networks system—a factor now in most employer-based insurance coverage, although that’s rarely mentioned in the media—is that as a 56-year-old woman (her husband is 59), she should not have to purchase a plan that includes children’s dental coverage and maternity care.  Point taken, but that would be an easy fix.  (Missing from her article is mention of two benefits from the ACA that may matter to her husband: no annual nor lifetime coverage cap.  She does, though, note her gratitude for the ACA’s having ended the pre-existing-conditions thing, a big factor for husband, especially, but also for her.)

As for Lummis, what she’s really complaining about is that, thanks to an amendment offered by Sen. Charles Grassley (R. IA) to the original ACA bill as it was being debated in Congress, members of Congress and their staffs no longer are covered by the federal government’s famously generous and user-friendly healthcare coverage. They now must, like regular folk, deal with the for-profit, market-based healthcare insurance industry that she and her ideological cohorts claim to hold in such high esteem.

As I read Keefe’s op-ed yesterday, what struck me is how very ready huge swaths of the public are for Medicare-for-all. And how thoroughly clueless most politicians, political operatives and pundits are that this is so.  Lummis’s husband needed simply to schedule that final test and present his Medicare card when he arrived at the medical facility.  And that’s how simple and direct such things should be for everyone. Including the spouses of people whose financial assets don’t range between $20 million and $75 million.


*Post edited slightly to clarify that while Lummis mentioned her husband’s age, she failed to note that he had Medicare coverage–a key point I made in my earlier post.  12/11 at 1:07 p.m.

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