Sunday, February 28, 2010

Another Sunday, another Kelly column ...

Well, and also Meet the Press. Kelly's column was once again interesting,and had parts I might even agree with. Kelly starts by complaining that the health-care summit this past Thursday amounts to nothing more than a disingenuous ploy, since Democrats would never agree to start over on health care/insurance reform. Now, we know that many Presidents have tried to push throw through some health care/insurance reform. Who among us can say that when the Democrats were thrown out in 1994, the republicans said "Now let's start over". So, coming back to today, after passing bills in the House and Senate in the face of all the vitriol the Republicans, the Republicans are saying lets start over, and by the way, let's do everything our way.

Then Kelly mentioned three proposals, and I have say I would be interested. First and most important, Kelly suggested allowing drugs to be imported in at the foreign prices. Sounds fine to me. Kelly also suggested allowing some drugs to be changed from prescription to over the counter, and also shortening the time needed to develop new drugs. I understand the economic effects of the proposals, but I would like to see the opinions of medical professionals or public health people.

But just to step back, didn't the Democrats want negotiation with the drug companies when Medicare part D negotiations were going on a dew years ago? Didn't the Democrats talk about allowing drugs to be re-imported back then? Kelly says something ludicrous about how pharmaceuticals are helping the Democrats, so Kelly wants to take away their ability to make obscene profits. Well, whatever. If the Republicans want to help on this one part of health-care/insurance, seems fine to me.

Meanwhile, on the Meet The Press, John McCain complained about back room deals made by Democrats. That makes me think it might be nice to have a historian to remind viewers how much Republicans did this during their four years of Congressional control (from January 2003 on). And Eric Cantor said that the Republicans were also all about cost containment. Really, that is the first time I have heard that. And it seems like local conservative commenters have not expressed any interest in cost containment. But Cantor was part of the round table, and David Gregory allowed Ron Brownstein (of some news service) to act as the scorekeeper. So Brownstein was able to say that both (the Democratic and Republican) plans would affect existing insurance plans about the same, except that the Democrats would make the minimum plan a little higher than what the Republicans might. Brownstein also pointed out the Democrat plan would only allow about a one percent in increase in health costs, and while it would have increased costs over the Republican plan, it would insure an additional 33 million people compared to the 3 million the Republicans would cover. Which puts things in perspective.

The only other comment I will make is that I get annoyed when Republicans drape themselves in this mantle of public disapproval they claim Americans have for health care/insurance reform as passed by the Democrats. they keep saying the American people are tired of this or that. The Republicans have through the town meetings, the death panel rant and the creation of the Tea Party (which may come back to haunt them) made health care/insurance reform into an issue similar to abortion or gun control. As we should know, Americans (as expressed in polls) do not want to ban either guns or abortions, but they are willing to entertain limitations on both. In the case of health care/insurance reform, I don't believe Americans would be unhappy with either single payer or even the public option, but I believe Americans want something. The question is whether Democrats can succeed in blaming Republicans this November for the failure of health care/insurance reform, assuming that becomes needed.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Is it a sign of im-maturity or a sneaky new maturity ...

Sometime last week, the Mayor's campaign chair and I believe the Mayor's brother and possibly other friends of the Mayor went to Mardi Gras. We can only guess that the Mayor might have gone too, if not for the lingering effect of Snowmagedden 2010. But we now know that he didn't go. What did happen was that there were discussions about extending the City's state of emergency on Monday of last week, with the general understanding that the Mayor wanted to do that. The extension was signed on Tuesday by public safety director Mike Huss. Apparently some on Council thought the Mayor, as the top City official should sign, unless he was unavailable. Is he available, Council asked the Mayor's staff. Wellllll, he is in the City, but no one knows where. He is unavailable for cell phone calls. And so on, until a press conference late in the afternoon where the Mayor told the press he was teaching them a lesson.

And so we talked about that for a while. The PG had a fairly scathing (unsigned) editorial raking the Mayor over the coals for his juvenile behavior. And I basically agree with that, except that ....

I can't help feeling like the Mayor has once again gotten away with something, and that he is getting better at getting away with it, he is learning. He used to just hang tough and tell us he was right and his accusers were wrong. Now he is learning tricks.

At the start of the snow storm the Mayor was trapped at Seven Springs, at a celebration of his birthday. The Mayor maintains no one could have know, but we all know that was so much BS. He was staying at a cabin or lodge which he (or whomever) paid for, to a Pittsburgh business. Now, in all honesty I don't know if the Mayor has said how much he paid to any reporter or if the Mayor has reported the amount, all I know is that he told one reporter that it was none of his business how much he paid. Given this Mayor's record on reporting the value of gifts he has accepted, a refusal to say how much he paid is essentially an admission that he knows he did something wrong. And then there is the matter of the man who died because paramedics refused to go to him. Now that clearly wasn't specifically the Mayor's fault, although the poor example he set in skipping town doesn't help much. But neither of these issues will be talked about as much because the Mayor's juvenile game has taken center stage.

Which makes me wonder if that was what the Mayor intended all along, when he became unavailable on Tuesday.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reasons and reasons ....

(this one ran long)

As I have before, I will make a comment on Jack Kelly's column today Presidential Petulance, but only a brief one. His topic today might be that the Obama administration is exercising bad judgment, using the example of the trial of Kahlid Sheikh Mohammad. But Kelly doesn't talk about intelligence secrets coming out in civil court, or even the laughable claim that allowing terrorists to appear at a trial will somehow expose Americans (particularly New Yorkers) to Islamic propaganda. But Kelly doesn't really mention that, he only talks about how no one wants terrorist trials in their own city. I guess Kelly's hidden message is that terrorists should be tried in military tribunals. Now personally I think we should have faith in our legal system and in fact put it on display for all the world. If it means that terror suspects (remember, they haven't been convicted) go free because the ham fisted government (under either Bush or Obama) mistreated suspects in an illegal manner, or because the evidence against them is weak or non-existent, then the worls will see we take our own rules seriously. And Kelly can go live in Russia or China or some country that has laws and procedures he approves of.

But Kelly, who doesn't quote the President directly in his column, appears to just want to call the President names. His last word: "The president's petulance at not getting his way overcomes good judgment."

The lack of reasons for policy proposals continued when I watched "Meet the Press". First Tim Pawlenty talked about the need to reduce spending (read: assistance to the poor) and reduce taxes (read: increase profit for business) and the need to get government out of the way of business to help create jobs including things like not having no card check (read: jobs but low wages and no benefits).

Understand, the gap between rich and poor has widened since the 1950's. It widened hugely in the 1980's when Reagan "reformed" the tax rates (taking out some deductions, yes, but cutting the top tax rate in half). The rate of increase of the widening has risen (during Republican administrations) and fallen (during some Democratic administrations), but the gap between rich and poor has been increasing for more than fifty years.

Some time in the 1960's, as the civil rights movement grew from a southern issue into a national issue, pressure grew for the government to assist the poor, to level the playing field to some extent. Why is that important? Well, there is a new report from the OCED about how important parental income is for a child's earnings (roughly 48% for the US, 49% for Italy and 50% for Germany). It was, of course, much worse in the 1960's (remember there were riots in Philadelphia, Watts, Newark, Baltimore and DC). Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam changed in the minds of first a minority and then a political majority of Americans from helping heroic Vietnamese stand of the tyranny of communism to vicious Americans bullying and massacring innocent Vietnamese (and by the way no argument on my part that communism in practice is in fact totalitarian). Civil rights, Vietnam and other social issues combined to create a liberal synergy, even as there was a minority/majority backlash (Nixon in '72) which became a full fledged change in direction in the 1980's.

But some aid to the poor has stayed in place even today. Pawlenty and the conservatives on the discussion panel on Meet the Press didn't mention things like the Earned Income Credit and Medicaid by name as things to eliminate (although Pawlenty did use the magic word "entitlements", the assistance the government gives everyone else besides me). In fact, Republicans might not even want to eliminate those programs. because the actual negative effect of making poor people even poorer might be more riots and political tensions, and the effect of denying medical assistance to the poorest might be the elderly or chronically ill dying on the sidewalks.

Still, the Republicans are proposing that un-named government programs must be slashed, and we need tax cuts to stimulate the economy. Now, there was a tax cut in the '60's that did help some, although the actual timing, effect and causes for the results are somewhat debated. But right now I regard Republicans calls for tax cuts as giveaways to wealthier voters, particularly since I can see firsthand the poorer tax payers don't pay any taxes at all. Will employers who save money with a tax cut say to themselves, I could use this extra money to hire another worker, or should I keep it myself? Well, the employer is getting the money from a tax cut (not from extra work), so why hire another worker, especially when you can get a 50" home theater? We have already seen many wealthier Americans show large amounts of greed in the mid 2000's buying houses hoping to "flip" them.

So the debate on the surface in America has to do with first how legislation passed during Obama's first year has not worked. The number or percentage of uneplmoyed people contains far too many wealthy people (Republicans have never expressed concern for the number of unemployed black youths, even even much concern for the number of slain black youths). Second, Congress has produced a huge, overly bureaucratic health reform bill. And third, congress hasn't passed a health bill because it hadn’t gone through reconciling committee, which is part of the narrative that government is actually frozen. So Obama, while being too aggressive in allowing Congress to pass bills, has also not been aggressive enough in pushing Congress to pass bills. And although Obama had tax cuts in the stimulus bill (which Congress also worked on), they were the wrong kind of tax cuts because they hadn’t come from Republicans.

But I think the debate underneath the surface is actually whether the government should help people, or maybe who the government should help. Republicans have made it clear that they are willing and want to talk about how Americans (voters) are angry at the government. They are willing to pay lip service to the idea that the Bush years were bad, as long the conversation moves to how bad the Democrats are now. And the Republicans want to talk about how Democrats are thwarting the will of the majority of American voters who elected them by not allowing the Republicans who were elected by a minority of Americans to actually set the legislative agenda and write the legislation.

But the legislation they happen to mention wanting to pass is the problem. As I mentioned before, I suspect the tax cuts the Republicans want to pass will only benefit wealthy Americans. Tax cuts that have helped the rich in the past have not trickled down to the poor, not even in part. I mean, maybe the Republicans could take a page from the Democrats playbook and claim the gap between rich and poor would be even wider without trickle down economic policies.

Really, the fundamental debate is whether we as a people agree government has an obligation should make an effort to help poor people, or whether it should only help the rich (facilitate the markets). Now, we have already established government should help senior citizens, although senior citizens are the wealthiest age group. Yeah, some are buying cat food, but statistically they are doing better than the rest of us. And parts of the debate are probably incorrectly framed. Even though health insurance was originally offered as an inducement to work at a particular company, I believe corporations have over time realized that healthy workers (who don’t take time to visit sick kids or a sick spouse) are productive workers. So a single payer or heavily regulated private market universal health insurance system would benefit us all. But past that, should government financially help families of one or two parents raise kids? Does that help those kids become more productive citizens? Or is it something we should do because we have enough 50” plasma TV’s and SUV’s?

Clearly the Republicans think that an economic downturn is the right time to make the argument that we do not have enough to help our poor. But if some wealthy are suffering now, all the poor are suffering more. In any event, I believe that is the real debate that is going on. I think for a brief moment, literally, in October of 2008 while we were in shock from the market drop and watching John McCain dodder around a town hall and complain, we maybe also thought that electing a black man could help us to take steps to absolve us of our sins (those of us who might admit in the dark of night that we have sins). But now many of us have decided to go back to blaming the government for our problems, and every one else’s too (isn't the phrase "government is the problem"). Meaning don’t touch the money you give me, just cut off everyone else.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Jack Kelly and a bit more ...

Well, I am still not posting quite as mush as I should (cough *taxes*), but when Jack Kelly pens a column on global warming, it is a bit like catnip to blogging tabby ... or something. Anyway, I read Kelly column this morning, and then read Davoe's post on it on 2 Political Junkies a bit later. But I swear I came up with my own independent conclusions ahead of reading 2PJ's (which actually probably aren't Davoe's anyway). And those conclusions are .... ah, I got nothing.

Wait no, I was just having a bit of fun with you, I really do have something, which is that Jack complains through the whole column about what journalists are saying about global warming, as if that proves something. Then, at the end, he quotes someone from the National Review complaining about how US journalists aren't covering the stolen emails from east Anglia, and how those emails invalidate the whole of global warming. To which my reaction was "Wha ...?".

I mean, Kely is right about a bit here and there. Kelly mentions a converation on the View and how the women got some specifics wrong on global warming (while making a different point) and how Bobby Kennedy made a silly assessment and prediction a year and a half ago. Although Kelly doesn't mention it, I will throw in for free that Al Gore misquoted a climate scientist recently, Gore saying in ten years there would be no ice in the Arctic.

But here's the thing, when you listen to the scientists themselves, they are actually pretty scary. In the case of the Gore mis-quote, what the scientist said was there is a good chance that in ten years, there will be almost no ice during the summer months in the Arctic. By almost no ice, let's (not look it up on Google, but instead) be conservative and assume this guy means only 20% of the ice that is there now. When it refreezes in the winter (as it does now), it might only come back to 50%, but lets be charitable and say it comes back to 75% of what it is now. That would be from 25% to 80% of the current Arctic ice mass as either water in the ocean or water vapor in the atmosphere. The water vapor will cause perhaps heavier snow falls (look out the window?) and the water in the oceans will causes new sets of beach front property. That is certainly scary enough.

But Kelly wants to tell us that none of that will happen, because reporters are getting some facts wrong, and not covering what he thinks is important.

On an entirely different issue, I was watching the Sunday morning "talkies" this morning, and caught "Meet the Press", particularly their round table. They had David Brooks, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford and a young Republican Representative. I am quickly warming to Rachel Maddow in these formats, she seems to be interested in the actual record of events as opposed to understanding the spin on events. I like knowing how pundits tell people to look at things, but I think Maddow's contribution is also extremely important and all too often lacking from these shows.

But Brooks had the ultimate comment, one he made straight faced giving the "conventional wisdom" (as he saw it) version of events. He said that he thought (and I paraphrase) the Obama administration had too radical an agenda, with the stimulus, healthcare and cap and trade. What Americans want now is jobs, jobs, jobs (end paraphrasing).

As if the stimulus was not supposed to provide jobs.

I mean, I sort of like David Brooks, he is not a rabid conservative, and he likes to take some thoughtful turns. But sometimes he is a transparent water carrier for conservatives, and this was one of those occasions. I can kind of forgive being conservative but this is a case of being conservative and stupid.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Up is down, right is left, etc ...

I haven't done a Jack Kelly post in a while (at least a couple of weeks), in part because I have felt I have been (or at least should be) busy. Taxes, you know. Stuff I should around the apartment. etc etc.

But of course Kelly hasn't stopped doing his thing. Last week I believe he complained about administration action on climate change. If he feels it is important he could write columns on Republican misinformation on climate change. Kelly still dances around that issue, blasting the administration for changing its strategy on the issue without admitting the importance of taking action on the issue (having his cake and eating it).

But Kelly's column this week is even more interesting. The title is "Obama Coddles bankers". Kelly goes on to say that 12 Democratic Senators hosted a retreat for 108 lobbyists, which has to do directly with Obama how? And I suspect (strongly, strongly) that Republicans have had their share or more of such retreats and other such things.

But in fact, I think a lot of Democrats are thinking that Obama has been too nice to the big banks. I think the issue is more complicated than Kelly paints it, but there is an issue there. It was the Bush administration who guided the Congress to the TARP after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy and the several market drops. Which is the crux of the issue. There is a knife edge course to navigate. If you help the banks too much, they get fat on taxpayer money. But if you don't help them enough, then the September/October market crash would be a walk in park. Don't believe me? What happened after Lehman brothers bankruptcy?

I will say, in all honesty, I have wondered if Obama and particularly his advisors, might be captive to the New York banks. I believe Obama and company realize the importance of keeping the banks healthy. But I realize that Timothy Geitner was the President of the New York Fed before he was Treasury Secretary, and might have an exaggerated sense of the importance of the health of the banks. Congress has not acted on bank reform yet (the members may see some peril in offending wealthy people who have donated money in the past), but has the administration done as much is it could? That is a reasonable question.

Still, Kelly’s final paragraph leaves me speechless:

“To get off "the same winding mountain road," the zombie banks need to be broken up, and strict limits placed on the amount of debt banks may incur if they've accepted federally insured deposits. But these reforms would not be popular with the banksters whose contributions fill Democratic campaign coffers.”

It is amazing that Kelly wrote that first sentence, because it is exactly the policy many if not all liberals would love to see pursued. And in fact it may have merit, but I suspect that given the way the US financial system has evolved, it is impractical (at least the break up part, the limits still seem like a god idea to me). But Kelly is insulting his readers in suggesting that bankers give only to Democrats. Of course, Kelly would argue he didn’t actually say that, which is equally insulting.

My guess is that Kelly would love to see that exact scenario, the break up of big banks, come to pass. The resulting financial chaos would give the Republicans fifty years of power, and perhaps so eviscerate the Democrats such that a new party would have to be created. The fact that millions of people would suffer and perhaps die is apparently not important to Kelly. I have been saying in various places that I am convinced conservatives want to see the country hurt. I have suggested it is because the country elected a black man, and was yelled at by a conservative who says I am tarring all conservatives with the same racist brush. So I will say I don’t know what the motivation is, but I suspect for some …

But even though up is down and right is left, I don’t entirely disagree with Kelly’s column. I believe Obama did some things this past year to avoid giving conservatives the satisfaction of saying “see, he is a radical”. Obama proposed a stimulus with some thirty percent tax cuts (Congress took that and moved the percentages around a bit), and he handed health care off to Congress altogether. Now Obama is again calling for bipartisanship (after the State of the Union address). I worry that his administrations stance towards banks is not only an attempt to keep America’s financial house in order, but also another nod to conservatives.

What ever the reason for Obama’s administration stance towards the banks, count me among those who are waiting for Obama to take action, or at least more action. If Congress gets in the way, then the administration should splash that across the headlines. But it is Obama who needs to do whatever, whether it is risking conservatives feeling vindicated or whatever.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

What would you do?

So you are the Mayor of a moderate sized well known city. The weather guys are predicting a storm coming on the weekend, six to twelve inches. Maybe bad, could be really bad. As the weekend approaches, the predictions get a bit more dire. What would you do?