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Bill USA

Bill USA's Journal
Bill USA's Journal
December 1, 2012

The "Fiscal Cliff" is an austerity crisis - Ezra Klein

[font size="3"]"The trouble starts with the term “fiscal cliff,” which misstates the nature of the problem and provides no hint of how to solve it. I prefer the term “austerity crisis,” which at least describes the real issue — too much austerity, imposed too quickly."[/font]

(emphases my own)

...... Although the problem may be too much austerity too quickly, most everyone in Washington is insisting that the solution should encompass much, much more. In theory, this crisis should be easily resolved: If you have too much austerity, lighten the load. The reason the austerity crisis has become so messy is that the connection between the problem and its solution has been severed.

In fact, proposed solutions inevitably include four or even five distinct categories of policy. There are proposals to address the crisis itself — to reduce the dangerous size and speed of the scheduled deficit reduction in 2013. There are proposals to replace the scheduled deficit reduction with a different set of deficit-reducing tax increases and spending cuts, to be phased in over a longer term. There are policies to redesign the tax code or reform certain entitlements. There’s the need to raise the debt limit, as the Treasury is expected to run out of borrowing authority in February. Finally, there are policies to increase the amount of short-term stimulus and boost infrastructure investment.

So while the proximate problem is too much austerity, too quickly, the solutions being offered address an array of other concerns. Meanwhile, amid these wide-ranging proposals, [font color="red"]the conversation in Washington tends to focus exclusively on achieving deficit reduction — even though the economic threat we face in January is too much deficit reduction[/font].

A more sensible approach would deal directly with the problem at hand: the austerity crisis. And that could be defused fairly simply, without doing overly much to harm the deficit. The path would involve identifying policies that pack a big stimulus punch without significantly increasing the deficit. Such “mismatched” policies abound.

November 30, 2012

Obama to GOP: I’m done negotiating with myself - Ezra Klein

This I find to be a very welcome change. I have expressed my frustration before with Obama's penchant for opening discussions with an 'offer' which is a reasonable position TO AGREE UPON. But you don't OPEN with that position if that's where you would like to end up. It seems the President has evolved with regard to how he deals with Republicans (I can only hope so)....

note Klein's words: [font size="3"]"Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up."[/font]


...Republicans are frustrated at the new Obama they’re facing: The Obama who refuses to negotiate with himself.

That’s what you’re really seeing in this “proposal.” Previously, Obama’s pattern had been to offer plans that roughly tracked where he thought the compromise should end up. The White House’s belief was that by being solicitous in their policy proposals, they would win goodwill on the other side, and even if they didn’t, the media would side with them, realizing they’d sought compromise and been rebuffed. They don’t believe that anymore.

Perhaps the key lesson the White House took from the last couple of years is this: Don’t negotiate with yourself. If Republicans want to cut Medicare, let them propose the cuts. If they want to raise revenue through tax reform, let them identify the deductions. If they want deeper cuts in discretionary spending, let them settle on a number. And, above all, if they don’t like the White House’s preferred policies, let them propose their own. That way, if the White House eventually does give in and agree to some of their demands, Republicans will feel like they got one over on the president. A compromise isn’t measured by what you offer, it’s measured by what the other side feels they made you concede.

The GOP is right: This isn’t a serious proposal. But it’s not evidence that Obama isn’t serious. He’s very serious about not negotiating with himself, and his opening bid proves it. Now that they’ve leaked his initial offer, the next question is obvious: What’s their offer?(more)

I regard this development as wonderful news, but it must be recognized that given how President Obama operated in the first four years, it's not going to be easy to get Republicans to accept the new Obama. (here's hoping they do).

November 29, 2012

GOP pre-emptive attack on Susan Rice misfires - USA Today editorial


Last week, Republican senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona vowed to block confirmation of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, if she is tapped to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of State. Not to be outdone, nearly 100 House Republicans, led by Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, signed a letter charging that a Rice nomination would undermine U.S. credibility abroad.

Their complaint? Misleading comments Rice made 10 weeks ago on Sunday talk shows about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans. Working from talking points put together by intelligence officials and later edited by others, Rice peddled the story that the attack sprang from a spontaneous protest, spurred by an anti-Muslim video produced by an American.

That account turned out to be wrong, but it's hardly a reason to block Rice's potential nomination. After all, if misleading comments based on flawed intelligence were disqualifying, Colin Powell would have been forced to resign as George W. Bush's secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice never would have succeeded Powell. Powell's powerful speech before the United Nations in 2003, proclaiming proof of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, helped push the United States into a misguided war. Condoleezza Rice also touted the story line about Iraq's supposed nuclear program, warning on CNN that "we don't want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud." No such weapons were found.

Susan Rice's comments about events in Benghazi are at best a sideshow. Instead of obsessing about what she said on TV after the tragedy, lawmakers ought to be more concerned about finding out what went wrong and preventing a repeat. Why weren't security warnings heeded and requests for more protection granted? As U.N. ambassador, Rice most likely had zero involvement with those decisions.

if Rice's comments on tv were a 'sideshow' McCain's and Graham's actions would qualify as a vaudeville act. McCain and Graham have shown Republicans never pass up an opportunity to engage in hypocritical political opportunism at the expense of responsible governance. While McCain and Graham are showing what consummate clowns they are their antics are an offense to a responsible public servant such as Suzan Rice and taking time away from actually getting something practical done.

McCain and Graham might as well be dancing around in clown suits and whacking each other with rubber chickens. This at least would be more forethright than pretending to be doing anything constructive in their offensive, nonsensical questioning of Rice.

November 28, 2012

The $250,000 Question: Poll Shows Obama’s Tax Plan Is Widely Misunderstood


For the last four years, President Obama has been pushing his plan to raise tax rates on people’s income over $250,000, but a new poll indicates that most people still don’t understand one of the plan’s most basic concepts.

OK, it’s a poll conducted by my journalism grad students at NYU, and it’s not highly scientific. But I can say with a reasonable degree of certainty that it’s more accurate than the Gallup and Rasmussen polls were about the election.

Here’s the Obama plan in brief. The Bush tax cuts would be extended for households with an annual income under $250,000 (or $200,000 for individuals), but the tax cuts would expire on any income above $250,000. That means, for example, if you make $300,000, your tax rate would rise a few percentage points, to the Clinton-era rates, but only on the portion above $250,000; in this case, only on $50,000. Bottom line: no one—not a billionaire, not someone making $251,000—would have to pay more taxes on that first $250,000.

There’s a widespread misconception, however, and it’s causing a lot of unnecessary fear. It’s the faulty belief that if your income is above $250,000, you’d have to pay the higher rates on all your income, as if you were suddenly being moved entirely into a higher tax bracket. That is wrong.
November 27, 2012

Jim Greer, Ex-Florida GOP Chair, Claims Republican Voting Laws Focused On Suppression, Racism


Jim Greer, the former head of the Florida Republican Party, recently claimed that a law shortening the early voting period in the state was deliberately designed to suppress voting among groups that tend to support Democratic candidates, the Palm Beach Post reports.

“The Republican Party, the strategists, the consultants, they firmly believe that early voting is bad for Republican Party candidates,” Greer told the Post. “It’s done for one reason and one reason only...‘We’ve got to cut down on early voting because early voting is not good for us.’"

The HB 1355 law, which was passed by Florida's Republican legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in Nov. 2011, cut the number of early voting days from 14 to eight. It was publicly sold as an effort to reduce voter fraud and to save money, but Greer says that this was simply a "marketing ploy."

Greer served as Florida's GOP chairman from 2006 until 2010 when he was forced to resign after allegedly stealing money from the party. He was arrested and his case is pending.
November 25, 2012

Danielle Fong wants to reinvent the power grid using compressed air - Wired

interesting article about a process that supposedly doubles the efficiency of compressed air energy storage systems.



....The question is always the same: How do we build a system that lets us storage energy and then retrieve almost all of it? But Steve Crane — LightSail’s CEO and a geophysics Ph.D. — says Danielle Fong has cracked at least part of the code. “It’s a little arrogant to put it this way,” he says, “but I think that Danielle has succeeded where Edison and others have failed.” The trick? Fong added water. LightSail’s prototype sprays a dense mist into the compressed air tanks, and this absorbs the heat produced during compression. Water can store heat far more efficiently than air, and with this mist, Fong says, the prototype more easily stores and releases power. It heats up the tanks to temperatures that are only about 10 to 20 degrees warmer than the environment, as opposed to several thousand degrees. The tanks are still pressurized to about 3,000 pounds per square inch — and Fong hopes to increase that amount — but since the power is stored at lower-temperatures, it’s easier to insulate the tanks. Some compressed air storage systems sit deep underground, taking advantage of the earth’s natural insulation, but LightSail’s tanks sit above ground, which is less costly. When you want the heat back, you just reverse the process, spraying the warm water out of the compression tank as the air expands, and it drives a piston to reproduce the power. But in both storing the heat and spitting it out, you need just the right amount of water. LightSail has tested nearly 40 nozzle heads — not to mention various tank designs — in an effort to achieve just the right mix. According to Fong, her system doubles the efficiency of compressed air, from about 35 percent to roughly 70 percent.


"We know we can sell as many of these as we can make,” she says, insisting that by 2015, her company will be growing threefold every year. “This has never been achieved in any industrial setting. At all. But there’s no other possible energy storage solution that can do that. And if we don’t do it, pretty solid models about the climate — and the way the economy is going to go and what people will do with coal plants — will fuck the world.” Some may doubt whether all this will happen. And others may doubt whether Danielle Fong has the right plan to deal with it. But she’s used to that.

November 25, 2012

Ten Numbers the Rich Would Like Fudged -

(all emphases my own)

According to both Marketwatch and economist Edward Wolff, over 90 percent of the assets owned by millionaires are held in a combination of low-risk investments (bonds and cash), personal business accounts, the stock market, and real estate. Only 3.6 percent of taxpayers in the top .1% were classified as entrepreneurs based on 2004 tax returns. A 2009 Kauffman Foundation study found that the great majority of entrepreneurs come from middle-class backgrounds, with less than 1 percent of all entrepreneurs coming from very rich or very poor backgrounds.

2. Only FOUR OUT OF 150 countries have more wealth inequality than us.

In a world listing compiled by a reputable research team (which nevertheless prompted double-checking), the U.S. has greater wealth inequality than every measured country in the world except for Namibia, Zimbabwe, Denmark, and Switzerland.

3. An amount equal to ONE-HALF the GDP is held untaxed overseas by rich Americans.


4. Corporations stopped paying HALF OF THEIR TAXES after the recession.
November 21, 2012

Rest of us would be better off if Confederacy of Takers secedes - DANA MILBANK

(emphases my own)

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama's opponents have unwittingly come up with a brilliant plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff." They want to secede from the union.

If Obama were serious about being a good steward of the nation's finances, he'd let them.

The White House, in one of those astro-turf efforts that make people feel warm about small-d democracy, launched a "We the People" program on its website last year, allowing Americans to petition their government for a redress of grievances. Any petition that receives 25,000 or more signatures within 30 days is promised a response (though not necessarily a favorable one) from the Obama administration.

And so a large number of patriotic Americans, mostly from states won by Mitt Romney last week, have petitioned the White House to let them secede. They should be careful about what they wish for. It would be excellent financial news for those of us left behind if Obama were to grant a number of the rebel states their wish "to withdraw from the United States and create (their) own NEW government" (the petitions emphasize "new" by capitalizing it).

Red states receive, on average, far more from the federal government in expenditures than they pay in taxes. The balance is the opposite in blue states. The secession petitions, therefore, give the opportunity to create what would be, in a fiscal sense, a far more perfect union.

November 19, 2012

Delusions of (Upward) Mobility - Paul Krugman

[font size="3"]The stupidity of the right is taking on preternatural proportions......[/font]

(emphases my own)
Greg Sargent sends us to Paul Ryan’s latest — an attempt to debunk the CBO report on income inequality. As usual, Ryan makes me think of Ezra Klein’s old line about Dick Armey: [font color="red"]he’s a stupid person’s idea of what a smart person sounds like[/font].

Greg gives us a thorough takedown by Tim Smeeding, who really really knows his inequality stuff. I’d just add that Ryan repeats the familiar line about how we have vast income mobility, so that the picture given by static inequality comparisons is misleading.

But as I’ve pointed out, the CBO report itself takes that argument on and refutes it. Multi-year measures of inequality, it turns out, aren’t much lower than single-year measures. How is that possible, when many people change income quintiles? Because they’re usually moving short distances on the income scale. A lot of people move from, say, the top of the second quintile to the bottom of the third quintile or vice versa — but such moves are trivial in terms of their true income position. Big moves, jumping more than one quintile, are much less common; yet it’s those big moves people have in mind when they talk about ,mobility.

And in the end, Ryan’s answer is that we need strong economic growth, the kind that we get by cutting taxes on the rich. Because that’s why the Clinton years were an economic disaster and the Bush years so prosperous.

November 19, 2012

So What The Heck Is That 'Fiscal Cliff' Thing All About, Anyway? - MoveOn.org

(emphases my own)

5-Point Guide To The Fiscal Showdown

1.[font color="red"] The “Fiscal Cliff” Is A Myth. As Paul Krugman put it, “The looming prospect of spending cuts and tax increases isn’t a fiscal crisis. It is, instead, a political crisis brought on by the G.O.P.’s attempt to take the economy hostage.”[1] Republicans are manufacturing this crisis to pressure Democrats to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and accept painful cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.[/font]

2. The Bush Tax Cuts Finally End December 31. If Congress does nothing, the ax will fall on all the Bush tax cuts on New Year’s Eve.[2] Then, on January 1, the public pressure on John Boehner and House Republicans to extend the middle-class tax cuts (already passed by the Senate and waiting to be signed by President Obama) will become irresistible.[3] So the middle-class tax cut will eventually get renewed, and we’ll have $823 billion more revenue from the top 2% to do great things with.[4]

3. The Sequester. The sequester is another political creation, forced on Democrats by Republicans in exchange for lifting the debt ceiling last year to avoid crashing our economy.[5] It’s a set of cuts (50% to a bloated military budget and 50% to important domestic programs) designed to make both Republicans and Democrats hate it so much that they’d never let it happen.[6] And the cuts can be reversed weeks or months into 2013 without causing damage.[7]

4. The Big Three. Nothing happens to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits on January 1—unless Republicans force painful cuts to beneficiaries in exchange for tax increases on the wealthy, which are going to happen anyway if Congress does NOTHING.[8] So, there’s literally no reason benefits cuts should be part of the discussion right now.

5. We Should Be Talking About Jobs. The real crisis Americans want Congress to fix is getting people back to work. And with just a fraction of that $823 billion from the wealthiest 2%, we could create jobs for more than 20,000 veterans and pay for the 300,000 teachers and 52,000 first responders, which our communities so desperately need.[9] That’s not to mention jobs from investing in clean energy and our national infrastructure.

(Deficit) Hawks and Hypocrits - Krugman
(all emphases my own)

Back in 2010, self-styled deficit hawks — better described as deficit scolds — took over much of our political discourse. At a time of mass unemployment and record-low borrowing costs, a time when economic theory said we needed more, not less, deficit spending, the scolds convinced most of our political class that deficits rather than jobs should be our top economic priority. And now that the election is over, they’re trying to pick up where they left off.


It’s not just the fact that the deficit scolds have been wrong about everything so far.[font color="red"] Recent events have also demonstrated clearly what was already apparent to careful observers: the deficit-scold movement was never really about the deficit. Instead, it was about using deficit fears to shred the social safety net.[/font] And letting that happen wouldn’t just be bad policy; it would be a betrayal of the Americans who just re-elected a health-reformer president and voted in some of the most progressive senators ever.

About the hypocrisy of the hawks: as I said, it has been evident for years. Consider the early-2011 award for “fiscal responsibility” that three of the leading deficit-scold organizations gave to none other than Paul Ryan. Then as now, Mr. Ryan’s alleged plans to reduce the deficit were obvious flimflam, since he was proposing huge tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations while refusing to specify how these cuts would be offset. But in the eyes of the deficit scolds, his plan to dismantle Medicare and his savage cuts to Medicaid apparently qualified him as a fiscal icon.

And how did the deficit scolds react when Mitt Romney served up similar flimflam, with Mr. Ryan as his running mate? Well, the Peter G. Peterson Foundation is deficit-scold central; Peterson funding lies behind much of the movement. Sure enough, David Walker, the foundation’s former C.E.O. and arguably the most visible deficit scold in America, endorsed the Romney/Ryan ticket.

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About Bill USA

Quotes I like: "Prediction is very difficult, especially concerning the future." "There are some things so serious that you have to laugh at them.” __ Niels Bohr Given his contribution to the establishment of quantum mechanics, I guess it's not surprising he had such a quirky of sense of humor. ......................."Deliberate misinterpretation and misrepresentation of another's position is a basic technique of (dis)information processing" __ I said that

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