Category Archives: Politics: US

The Red Lionfish of Politics

How can this be?

Most people are now familiar with President’s Obama’s proposal to cut Social Security by reducing the annual cost of living adjustment. While the final formula is somewhat convoluted, the net effect is to reduce benefits by an average of roughly 3.0 percent.

Since Social Security benefits account for more than 70 percent of the income of a typical retiree, this cut is more than a 2.0 percent reduction in income. By comparison, a wealthy couple earning $500,000 a year would see a hit to their after-tax income of just 0.6 percent from the tax increase that President Obama put in place last year.

While President Obama is willing to make seniors pay a price for the economic crisis, his administration his unwilling to impose any burdens on Wall Street. Specifically, it has consistently opposed a Wall Street speculation tax: effectively a sales tax on trades of stock and derivatives. The Obama administration has even used its power to try to block efforts by European countries to impose their own taxes on financial speculation.

If the idea of taxing stock trades sounds strange, it shouldn’t. The United States used to impose a tax of 0.04 percent until Wall Street lobbied to eliminate it in the mid-1960s. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, Switzerland, China, and India already impose taxes on stock trades.

Oh, wait, it’s simple:

Wall Street bankers have a lot more political power than old and disabled people who depend on Social Security. That is why President Obama is working to protect the former and cut benefits for the latter.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, let me repeat two things I’ve said often before:

1. We need a Tobin Tax too.

2. Consider this administration the flowering of the Nelson Rockefeller wing of the GOP. Obama governs like the moderate-liberal Republicans of my youth — a species now all but extinct in its original habitat, but thriving like red lionfish in their new home.

Posted in Econ: Social Security, Politics: US | 4 Comments

No Saturday Mail Deliveries?

Apparently this is not a Washington Monument ploy: the USPS plans to discontinue Saturday delivery.

The Post Office’s money troubles stem from totally unreasonable congressional requirements, not imposed on any private business, that they fund not just current retiree’s pensions or 401(k) contributions for current employees (the private sector standard), nor just current employees’ future pensions, nor just projected future pensions for the next 20-25 years (the standard for most federal agencies), but all future pensions for all future projected retirees in the next 75 years. The idea, I have to presume, is to put the Post Office out of business and privatize its functions — a really bad idea when you consider that we rely on Post Offices to issue passports and to do other critical jobs like distribute medicine in the event of an epidemic.

I predict more credit cards will make bills due on weekends, forcing people to pre-pay, adding to their float.

Speaking selfishly, this makes me happier that I decided finally to stop renewing the Economist on the grounds that its politics were too predictable and its analysis increasingly threadbare. It came Saturday (on good weeks), which made it seem less dated and I had more time to look at it. Getting it on Monday at best will make it even less attractive.

Posted in Politics: US | 6 Comments

Ed Koch 1924-2013

Former NYC Mayor Ed Koch — who just a few days ago was still going, if a bit weakly — has died. The NYT has a very readable obituary, which notes,

Besides his sister, a former dean at New York University whom he saw regularly in later years, Mr. Koch is survived by New York itself, as an old friend put it a few years ago.

Koch’s generally successful tenure was buoyed by his outsized and quotable personality but stained by what could most charitably be called insensitivity to New York’s racial problems; to a distant observer that insensitivity sometimes looked more calculated. It’s odd to read again about the many scandals involving Koch’s associates that brought him down; that isn’t what sticks in memory nearly as much as Koch dooming his run for Governor by knocking upstate as too rural and Albany as devoid of a decent Chinese restaurant.

Posted in Politics: US | 1 Comment

The Optimist

Cool story in the WaPost today about a man who rode an elevator with Candidate Obama in 2008 and gave him something: Earl Smith is the man behind a military patch that President Obama prizes.

Posted in Politics: US, Politics: US: 2008 Elections | Leave a comment

Shopper Boehner’s Mistake

House Speaker John Boehner acts like he’s a customer at the Obama Emporium of Budget Plans. Shopper Boehner doesn’t like the wares he offered. “Bring me a better one,” he commands. Strangely, this is more or less how negotiations between the Obama administration and the GOP used to work. Now, however, the Obama people have reverted to claiming they want actual negotiations, the sort that requires both sides to have an actual opening bid. “Bring me a better one” will not do. Shopper Boehner, and the House GOP in general are finding this shift hard to cope with.

The conventional wisdom is that House Speaker John Boehner is weak. He can’t deliver his caucus, and he doesn’t really understand the budget; he appears to believe, for example, that the Ryan Budget adds up. Because he doesn’t command the loyalty of his caucus, and because he has an ambitious lieutenant just aching to put the shiv between his ribs, Speaker Boehner can’t discipline his troops either. For these reasons, I recently called Boehner the Yasser Arafat of the Republican Party. It wasn’t meant as a compliment.

President Obama has made Speaker Boehner and the GOP an offer on the budget, one much like Obama’s previous budget plan, and so far Obama is actually sticking to it rather than ‘negotiating with himself’ as Obama has done for the last four years. Instead of offering concession after concession for the GOP to pocket and demand more, Obama has asked Boehner’s caucus to please spell out their own demands. This, of course, the GOP is unable to do for a number of reasons: politically, it would require them to own the pain caused by the radical cuts they claim to want; logistically it would require them to assemble a budget proposal that adds up (which would be a first in recent memory); logically, it requires either consistency with the budget they campaigned on — thus either causing extreme pain or not adding up — or it requires violating their recent campaign pledges. (Best line on that: “I’m old enough to remember when Republicans insisted that anyone who said they wanted to cut Medicare was a demagogue, because I’m more than three weeks old.“) Lurking in the background is the pledge that matters more than anything said to the voters on the campaign trail, the one to Grover Norquist.

Today’s paper quotes Speaker Boehner as saying this:

“We’ve put a serious offer on the table by putting revenues up there to try to get this question resolved,” Mr. Boehner said on “Fox News Sunday.” “But the White House has responded with virtually nothing. They have actually asked for more revenue than they’ve been asking for the whole entire time.”

In fact however there is no Republican “offer” on the table at all — nothing with numbers attached that could be turned in to legislation. Rather, Shopper Boehner’s idea of an “offer” is to say that were Obama to come up with something that actually closed a tax loophole, Boehner might accept it.

The Administration spent the weekend trying to explain this GOP tactic to pundits and to the people, but I’m not sure how good a job they did of it.

It may take a while for Shopper Boehner to grasp that the budget negotiation task requires Speaker Boehner. Right now I imagine Shopper Boehner thinks he is at the tailors. Someone brings out a suit. Shopper Boehner shakes his head, doesn’t even try it on, says he wants something nicer but he won’t pay much more for it. If you’re a customer and times are tough, maybe you can talk like that. If you are are a national leader trying to hammer out a budget while the economy is still on life support, not so much. You have to make a counter-proposal, and it actually has to have some substance. Even so, given the past four years, it is understandable why Shopper Boehner might think that if he continues being imperious then that nice tailor fellow will be right back out with fabrics drawn from the private stash.

Underlining the kabuki nature of the whole budget ‘negotiation’ are three other aspects: (1) The GOP has no intention of resolving the debt ceiling on a long-term basis: that’s it’s best hostage and the more it can extort for it more often, the better; (2) both sides have boxed taken the Pentagon’s budget off the table even though that is where most cuts should be coming from; (3) political momentum suggests strongly that at least a partial deal will be easier after January 1. Come the new year, the Bush tax cuts expire on their own. At that point, if the GOP wants to pass Obama’s versions of ‘tax cuts for the 98%’ it will no longer, as a formalist matter, involve ‘raising’ taxes for the top 2% since those will have gone up by themselves. While this might not please the GOP’s paymasters, it will at least allow the Republicans to claim with a straight face that their Norquist purity remains.

PS. Can someone explain to me how it can be that the Obama tax bill originated in the Senate? Art. I, sec. 7 of the US Constitution says,

All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives; but the Senate may propose or concur with Amendments as on other Bills.

Doesn’t that make the Senate tax bill invalid? Or is it that tax cuts are immune from the rule since they lower, not raise, revenue? Or is the plan to re-pass the no doubt amended version in the Senate after the House votes?

Posted in Econ & Money, Politics: US | 4 Comments

Words So Strange I Almost Expect My Monitor to Melt

the voting records show that Thad Cochran is to the left of all but three Republicans in the Senate.

— Stuart Benjamin, Moderate Senate Republicans Fall Off Their Own Cliff.

And he has impressive charts showing just how scarce anything looking like a moderate Republican will be in the next Senate.

Posted in Politics: US | 1 Comment

Curiouser and Curiouser (the Petraeus Affair) – Updated

I wasn’t going to write about the Petraeus Affair, but wow this is getting weird.

  • “Wealthy socialite”1 Jill Kelly asks the FBI to investigate anonymous threatening emails she’s getting.
  • The FBI agent she first contacts had sent her shirtless photos of himself; news articles use this to suggest he has a crush on her or something.
  • The FBI starts a full-blown investigation, which isn’t the usual reaction to emailed threats. Maybe slightly weird, maybe not given that the emails made reference to the DCIA.
  • The emails turn out to come from Petraeus’s angry mistress, Paula Broadwell, who is also his “biographer” (via the medium of a ghostwriter), and who believed Ms. Kelly of being, or trying to be, an alternate mistress. [Torts, anyone?]
  • The FBI figures out during this investigation that Paula Broadwell was corresponding with Petraeus using gmail drafts and a shared file repository that they could both log into, a tactic people use when they are afraid of leaving an email trail. But the FBI foils that strategy by using geolocation and/or email metadata.
  • Although the FBI says it found four classified documents on Ms. Broadwell’s computer, no one is being charged with leaking them — an extraordinary thing given this Administration’s near-hysterical war on leakers?
  • Meanwhile, the FBI non-boyfriend, who isn’t part of the cybercrimes division decides he’s being shut out of the investigation because there’s some great coverup in progress to protect Obama:

    But the agent, who was not identified, continued to “nose around” about the case, and eventually his superiors “told him to stay the hell away from it, and he was not invited to briefings,” the official said. The Wall Street Journal first reported on Monday night that the agent had been barred from the case.

    Later, the agent became convinced — incorrectly, the official said — that the case had stalled. Because of his “worldview,” as the official put it, he suspected a politically motivated cover-up to protect President Obama. The agent alerted Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called the F.B.I. director, Robert S. Mueller III, on Oct. 31 to tell him of the agent’s concerns.

  • Justice/FBI first informs Petraeus’s boss, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, about their findings — on Election Day. Congress is not informed
  • President Obama was informed for the fist time, at least officially, the next day.
  • Petraeus resigned two days after the election. Congress first hears about it in the public media.
  • Media are in shock. Partly due to a sense of having bought into the “cult of David Petraeus”, partly due to the sense that there’s something funny going on we don’t know yet.
  • Senators and Congresspersons are upset because the FBI kept them in the dark. FBI spins back.
  • Ms. Kelly — seemingly the victim here — lawyers up bigtime.
  • The FBI follows up its earlier search of Broadwell’s computer by carting documents away from her home after a four-hour search — a search seemingly long-delayed.
  • Top U.S. Commander in Afghanistan Is Linked to Petraeus Scandal:

    Mr. Panetta turned the matter over to the Pentagon’s inspector general to conduct an investigation into what a defense official said were 20,000 to 30,000 pages2 of documents, many of them e-mails between General Allen and Ms. Kelley, who is married and has children.

Who knew that government workers had such active exciting lives? And it’s only Tuesday.

Update (still Tuesday!): And there’s a Florida angle:

Twin Florida socialites who are at the centre of the David Petraeus affair gained intimate access to America’s military and political elite through their high-rolling lifestyles even as they quietly racked up millions of dollars in debts and credit card bills.

Jill Kelley, whose complaint over threatening emails prompted the FBI inquiry that has ensnared two top generals, is mired in lawsuits from a string of banks totalling $4 million (£2.5 million), court filings obtained by The Daily Telegraph in Florida show.

Meanwhile Mrs Kelley’s identical twin Natalie Khawam – who obtained testimonies to her good character from both Gen Petraeus and Gen John Allen during her own separate legal battle – declared herself bankrupt earlier this year with liabilities of $3.6 million, filings show.

And, then, this:

The Daily Telegraph has learned. Miss Khawam once dated Charlie Crist, the state’s former governor, a Republican source said, while Pam Bondi, its Attorney General and a close ally of Mitt Romney, attended a function at Mrs Kelley’s home.3

And, allegedly, via Huffpost, Jill Kelley, Woman Who Sparked Petraeus Scandal, Ran Questionable Charity:

By the end of 2007, the charity had gone bankrupt, having conveniently spent exactly the same amount of money, $157,284, as it started with — not a dollar more, according to its 990 financial form. Of that, $43,317 was billed as “Meals and Entertainment,” $38,610 was assigned to “Travel,” another $25,013 was spent on legal fees, and $8,822 went to “Automotive Expenses.”

The Kelleys also listed smaller expenses that appear excessive for a charity operating from a private home, including $12,807 for office expenses and supplies, and $7,854 on utilities and telephones.

  1. Update3: and Honorary Consul…to the Republic of South Korea…but somewhat unclear on the concept, it seems

  2. Update2: It’s plausible that this number comes from printing out photos or other encoded attachments, which can run to large numbers of pages for a single .gif or .jpg. Thus there may be many fewer emails than this big number suggests. Of course we can all hope for a movie…  

  3. Update 4 (Wed): Crist’s reaction: “Didn’t happen,” he said. “I may have met her.” 

Posted in Politics: US | 6 Comments