Get up for the downgrade

It looks the downgrade is happening after all.

Update. This never would have happened if Democrats had just confirmed Robert Bork.

Update. Official Washington has declared that this is good news for Republicans (via commenter lamh34).

Wisconsin recall bleg

Let’s get this over with so we can all enjoy the weekend for a change.

Goal Thermometer

Update. We did it!

No Money for Butter, But Always Money for More Bigger Guns

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint-Chiefs-of-Staff chair Admiral Mike Mullen are already shrieking like neurotic lapdogs confronted with a nail-clipping… I mean, warn[ing] of dire consequences if the Pentagon is forced to make cuts to its budget beyond the $400 billion in savings planned for the next decade… “

“We’re already taking our share of the discretionary cuts as part of this debt-ceiling agreement, and those are going to be tough enough,” Panetta told reporters in his first news conference as defense secretary. “I think anything beyond that would damage our national defense.” […]
Defense spending represents about half of the federal government’s discretionary spending, and the military’s budget has increased by more than 70 percent since 2001. Although the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the Pentagon upward of $1 trillion, nearly half of the growth in defense spending in the past decade has been unrelated to the wars. […]
Mullen, who just returned from a trip to Iraq and Afghanistan, said the partisan fight over debt reduction had fueled worries among the troops that they might not be paid on time.
“Our men and women down range have enough to worry about just getting their job done,” Mullen said. “They shouldn’t also be concerned about whether or not they will be paid to do that job or whether or not their families will continue to get the support they need during long absences. We can do better than that, as a military and as a nation.”

Emphasis mine. Hey, if hostage-taking works for Republicans, why shouldn’t the valiant REMFs of the world’s most expensive military make it another weapon in its arsenal?

Doghouse Riley talks about “The Battle Elephant in the Room“:

Medicare–it provides less than half the medical expenses of its beneficiaries, the elderly and the disabled–is 13% of the Federal budget. Total Medicare spending in 2009 was $484 billion. In 2009 the total interest on the National Debt attributable to military spending was $390 billion. That’s the interest we pay on all things military (including VA costs and military pensions) for having acted, since 1946, as though it were perpetually 1944.
Our ten Nimitz-class supercarriers represent a $450 billion collection of holes in the ocean in construction costs alone; they’re scheduled to be replaced by 2040 by an equal number of Gerald Ford-class hulks at twice the cost, assuming you believe 2005 estimates, which you shouldn’t. That’s construction costs. Not development, nor maintenance, nor upgrades, attendant fleet, staffing, planes, aviation fuel, or the cost someone will eventually bear to do something with the twin reactors when we don’t need ’em anymore. That’s our supercarrier Navy. No one else in the world has any. Their role is to intimidate tenth-rate military powers, since we haven’t figured out how to invade any on the ground…
__ Read more

Won’t Get Fooled Again…and Again.

As readers of this blog know all too well, the debt ceiling “cuts” just passed are, for the most part, much less than meets the eye, particularly in the immediate future.  But, of course, the debt isn’t the issue and never was.*

No. Not even in a little bit.

Rather, all of the last month or so was a set up for this:

Thousands of Tea Party movement activists are expected to descend this month on town hall meetings across key battleground states as part of an intensifying campaign ahead of the 2012 presidential and congressional elections.

Their priority is a plan to slash Medicare costs proposed by House of Representatives Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, which could gain momentum now that a debt-limit deal between President Barack Obama and Congress has made potential Medicare cuts a centerpiece of the deficit debate.

A new congressional committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in spending cuts by November 23 is expected to focus on Medicare, and the program would see automatic cuts if the committee failed to reach agreement, or if Congress did not approve its recommendations by December 23. Market values of companies that depend on Medicare spending fell more than 10 percent in a sell-off on Wall Street after the agreement.

“The August town halls are going to be, potentially, a referendum on Democrats who don’t care and Republicans who’ve dared to offer real policy solutions, particularly on things like entitlements,” said Matt Kibbe, president of FreedomWorks, the small-government advocacy group organizing the initiative.

Freedom (sic) Works is, of course, this grass-roots organization.

Which means that one can readily translate the phrase, “real policy solutions” as “transfer payments from most of America to the richest few.”

But of course, these are the serious people in this discussion.  Just ask them:

“The Ryan plan is the only one out there so far, and what we need is an adult conversation with all politicians talking about the real issues,” [said Kibbe]

Yeah:  like those adult conversations that attended the discussion of health care last time around.

Also, note the big lie at the heart of this claim:  (a) that the Ryan is a “policy solution” despite the fact that it neither saves any real money on either the budget nor in health care spending society-wide  (as opposed to federal spending on health care);  (b) that it is the only plan out there; and (c) that it has anything to do with fiscal prudence.

Not exactly, as Jon Chait writes at the link above:

Read more

Hit and quit it

We’re almost at our goal for the Wisconsin recall elections. They take place next Tuesday!

Goal Thermometer

Robbery with Violence

Via Twitter buddy and MIT colleague/Technology Review publisher/editor Jason Pontin, I got myself steered to this brutal, elegantly clear account of the core theft at the heart of the “crisis” implied by the federal debt.

Writing at the website of the literary mag n+1, Stephen Squibb lays it out:

Letting one dollar equal a trillion, the total debt of the US Government is roughly $14.27. This divides into $8.32 of public debt, which is held by other nations, individuals, and institutions, and $5.95 of intragovernmental debt, which is owed to programs like Social Security and Medicare, and to the Federal Reserve.

Of the $8.32 of public debt, $4.47 is owed to other countries: $1.15 to China, $0.91 to Japan, $0.36 to the UK, roughly $0.20 each to oil exporters and Brazil, and $1.70 to the rest of the world. $0.63 is due to mutual funds, $0.61 to private pension plans, and $0.31 to depositors like commercial banks, credit institutions, and credit unions. Insurance companies hold $0.25 and savings bonds and state pensions $.018 each, while individuals, brokers and dealers, bank personal trusts and estates, corporate and non-corporate businesses, and other investors are due $1.21.

Intra-governmental debt is something of a misnomer: $4.53 of it is really money owed by the government to the American people. The biggest single number in sight, $2.40, represents what Americans have collectively set aside for retirement, or Social Security. This $2.40 is a surplus, collected over decades, as the total revenues from Social Security payroll taxes have exceeded the total amount being paid to beneficiaries. This surplus has been invested in the government, where it counts towards the total debt. The psychological impact of this language game should be clear. What ought to be celebrated as sound financial planning appears instead as further evidence of reckless profligacy. The more money we save, the poorer we are told we are. There is also $1.68 in savings for health care and $0.40 dedicated to needs such as highways, housing, the disposal of nuclear waste, and unemployment insurance.

The remaining $1.42, the second-largest amount, is owed to the Federal Reserve, a public-private institution born of a compromise a century ago between a familiar set of bankers and a less familiar set of populists. The Fed has bought government debt over the last three years in increasing quantity as part of its quantitative easing programs. Unlike other money owed by the government, this debt has no destination, and in many ways is fictitious. If the money were to be repaid, it would simply cease to exist.

He also makes clear where the debt comes from: Read more

“A Man-Statue Made of Overripe Ham”

Thus is Rupert Murdoch described by a Guardian commentor to Keith Olbermann’s victory jig post, “How I was hired – and fired – by Rupert Murdoch“. The Dirty Digger seems to have lived by the old Sicilian maxim that it is better to be feared than loved, but not even a Sicilian can outlast a medianista when it comes to cherishing every detail of a long-nursed grudge.

So Frank Rich, another ex-Murdoch-employee, has five pages of high-minded vituperation in New York Magazine on “How Murdoch Hacked America, Too“:

… The real transgressions of the Murdoch empire are not its outré partisanship, its tabloid sleaze, its Washington lobbying, or even what liberals most love to hate, the bogus “fair and balanced” propaganda masquerading as journalism at Fox News. In fact, these misdemeanors are red herrings—distractions from the real News Corp. corruption that now threatens to bring down its management and radically reconfigure and reduce its international corporate footprint. The bigger story is this: An otherwise archetypal media colossus, with apolitical TV shows (American Idol), movies (Avatar), and cable channels (FX) like any other, is controlled by a family (and its tight coterie of made men and women, exemplified by the recently departed Rebekah Brooks) that countenances the intimidation and silencing of politicians, regulators, competitors, journalists, and even ordinary citizens to maximize its profits and power and to punish perceived corporate, political, and personal enemies. And, as we now know conclusively, some of this behavior has broken the law. […]
It’s not just because Roger Ailes once worked for Richard Nixon that Watergate analogies abounded as News of the World and then the key Murdoch executives Rebekah Brooks and Leslie Hinton were abruptly sacrificed in the family’s efforts to save Rupert and James. Carl Bernstein, more attuned to those echoes than anyone, got it exactly right when he wrote in ­Newsweek that “too many of us have winked in amusement at the salaciousness without considering the larger corruption of journalism and politics promulgated by Murdoch Culture on both sides of the Atlantic.” And not only “liberal” journalists feel this way. Conrad Black, the right-wing Canadian media mogul who has lately been in prison for fraud, recently described Murdoch in the Financial Times as not merely a “tabloid sensationalist” but “a malicious mythmaker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of revered institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism.” Or as the former Bush speechwriter David Frum said more than a year ago, “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us, and now we’re discovering we work for Fox.”
If Murdoch is to be undone in America, as in England, it won’t be politicians who take the lead. It will take aggressive journalism, law enforcement, and civil actions to force jettisoned News Corp. executives to sing. The latest so-called independent “management-and-standards committee” commissioned by Murdoch to conduct an internal investigation is particularly laughable, even by his standards. Its scope is limited to News Corp. behavior in England. Its chairman, Tony Grabiner, a London commercial lawyer, reports to Joel Klein, who in turn reports to Viet Dinh, a former Bush-­administration lawyer who, in what one hopes is an unintended sick joke, is best known for embracing government phone hacking in his role as principal author of the Patriot Act. Both Klein and Dinh are on the News Corp. board. Klein’s News Corp. compensation this year is expected to be in the neighborhood of $4.5 million.

Read more