Monday, February 18, 2008

What is Wrong [UPDATED]:

This is monstrous:
"It is not like putting burning coals on people's bodies. The person is in no real danger. The impact is psychological."
-- Sen. Joe Lieberman, after voting against a bill prohibiting waterboarding
Sounds like it's time for a little experiential learning, Senator. Yes! Waterboard me!
"I'm finding out just how long I can go sleep deprived. You know, running for office is sort of like being waterboarded, I think."
-- Mike Huckabee
There's always room for one more, Mikey. Yes, you too.

Friday, February 15, 2008

What is right

I, for one, do not intend to back down – not to the terrorists and not to anyone, including a President, who wants Americans to cower in fear.

We are a strong nation. We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.

Silvestre Reyes (D-TX)
Member of Congress
Chairman, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence

Bringing New Heat to a Bright Light

Mr. Edwards, far more than is usual in modern politics, ran a campaign based on ideas. And even as his personal quest for the White House faltered, his ideas triumphed: both candidates left standing are, to a large extent, running on the platform Mr. Edwards built.
So notes economist Paul Krugman in a recent editorial. I have been a supporter of those ideas for a while now, and was disappointed that Edwards was unable to find the (astronomical) funding necessary to be a consistent player in the race. I cast my caucus support for Obama, but reluctantly, as I felt he had not offered much in the way of substance. (That, and like a good "movement conservative," I'm not interested in bi-partisanship. I'm interested in eviscerating the GOP.) But that tide is starting to turn, as Obama begins to tout more publicly the policy choices that would inform his presidency. And I'm pleased to hear things like this:
We are not standing on the brink of recession due to forces beyond our control. The fallout from the housing crisis that’s cost jobs and wiped out savings was not an inevitable part of the business cycle. It was a failure of leadership and imagination in Washington – the culmination of decades of decisions that were made or put off without regard to the realities of a global economy and the growing inequality it’s produced.

It’s a Washington where George Bush hands out billions in tax cuts year after year to the biggest corporations and the wealthiest few who don’t need them and don’t ask for them – tax breaks that are mortgaging our children’s future on a mountain of debt; tax breaks that could’ve gone into the pockets of the working families who needed them most.

...I will not sign another trade agreement unless it has protections for our environment and protections for American workers.

...We’ll be called upon to take part in shared sacrifice and shared prosperity. And we’ll have to remind ourselves that we rise and fall as one nation; that a country in which only a few prosper is antithetical to our ideals and our democracy; and that those of us who have benefited greatly from the blessings of this country have a solemn obligation to open the doors of opportunity, not just for our children, but to all of America’s children.
This is populism, but it's politically polished populism that shows a level of restraint which Edwards wasn't willing to display. As a successful attorney, I have no doubt he was capable of restraint; part of what I loved about him was his willingness to forgo it. Passion is a kind of truth, too. But Obama's polish has proven more charismatic to more people. Now, it's beginning to read as a velvet-gloved fist.

First of all, he's right. There are specific policies that led us directly to this point -- bipartisan ones. A great example of this is 2005's cynically named "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act," a more accurate name for which might have been "Cutting Off Our Only Escape Route and Protecting Usurious Credit Corporation Profits Act." "Grab Your Ankles" for short. But people don't like their truth unvarnished.

Here's what I mean by polish: Obama says, "the wealthiest few who don’t need [tax breaks] and don’t ask for them." This is utter rubbish, and Barak knows it. The rich and the corporate spend millions of dollars in lobbyists and campaign contributions precisely to secure these favors. They don't just ask for them, they order them up like specials off the dollar menu. But a line like this says, "Hey, I'm not attacking the rich. This isn't a class battle. This is me against W, who's giving the country away." Edwards wouldn't put it that way, and even if he did he wouldn't be heard that way because of his well mapped trenches.

But the speech and the message are pure Edwards. Obama doesn't come out with the "two Americas" phrasing (that Edwards may as well have copy-righted). But his last paragraph is soaked with the subtext of anti-privilege, pro-middle and working class language. Obama says:
...a country in which only a few prosper is antithetical to our ideals and our democracy; and that those of us who have benefited greatly from the blessings of this country have a solemn obligation to open the doors of opportunity . . . to all of America’s children.
Obama means: "The rich shall not build their empire by subjugating the poor. 'To he who much is given, from him much is expected.' The Bush tax cuts will be repealed. You will compensate the society that has made your wealth possible. An unregulated market is not free; it's extremely expensive and those who pay the tolls should have a share of the rewards. The rich have not been paying a toll; that toll is disproportionately paid by the workers and the workers have not been rewarded. I am going to see that that changes."

It is refreshing to me to hear this kind of message come more explicitly from a person who I think stands the best chance against John McCain. As Obama has sharpened his populism and his race against Hillary enters the back stretch, I am not the only one to notice this. The Boston Globe's Robert Kuttner writes
Tuesday night in Madison, Wis., Obama offered his usual generic themes of hope and change, but he was also quite pointed in defining what he meant. The American dream, he said, is "the dream of the senior I met who lost his pension when the company he gave his life to went bankrupt. He doesn't need bankruptcy laws that protect banks and big lenders. He needs us to protect pensions, not CEO bonuses."

. . .Coming from Edwards, similar words were often criticized as divisively populist. But Obama manages to be a unifier - yet around a very progressive critique of what ails America.

It's nice to see.

America The "Beautifull..."

"This is arrrrrr ku-uuntryyyyy!"

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Chubby Gears Up

Many of you will remember Chubby, my almost faithful side-kick of last summer's half-marinsanothon-bikewreckstravaganza. Well, she's at it again. And this time, very likely without my help.

Her goal: raise some cash for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Both of our grandfathers died from cancer. Our mom's dad, Jim, was able to die with dignity, in our home with my mom and my Gram at his bedside. Much of that was due to the fine care--first curative then palliative--he received at Norris Cotton. Here is a link about where your donation will go.

Chubby's a tough nut, but she's got her work cut out for her. Last attempt at the Covered Bridges half ended in a drop-out due to extensive foot blisters. You know (or can read) the story of last summer's assault on the CHaD with me--plantar fasciitis was the culprit then.

Please chip in with a donation and help her reach her goal of raising $1000. A dollar donated is 100% inspiration, and every bit helps.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Thanks For the Tip

Whoopee! We're all going to get a check from the government! I think it's going to come with instructions to run right out and spend, spend, spend (helps fight the terra, you know).

If you're like me--a "single" making less than $75,000--you'll get a "rebate" for $600. If you're married with one kid and make less than $150,000, you'll get $1200, plus a $300 sweetener to help pay off your child.

Set aside for the moment the dubious wisdom of giving away money when the national debt is (as of this writing) $9,234,580,862,826.21, with a proposed FY 2009 federal budget of $3.1 trillion (adding a paltry $800 billion to that debt). Also fail to think about how that budget cuts pretty much every public service, but adds significantly to the Pentagon's budget ('cause they've done such good work with what we've been giving them).

(Actually, in that context, the $170 Billion that the rebate will cost seems like a drop in the bucket...let's double it!)

So, whatcha gonna buy?

That's the patriotic question, right? If this is designed to spur the economy, then our duty is to run right out and spend it.

I'm thinking they might hold on to mine, as I owe some back taxes. Even if you're not in my shoes, consider this: Average household debt in the United States is somewhere in the neighborhood of $23,000. Average income is somewhere in the $44,000 range.

So, thanks for the tip, Uncle Sam. Apparently I'm not the only one who feels this way. $170 Billion is a lot of bones for a stop-gap measure that's probably not going to work. But what the hell. It's good for some pointless pandering and grand-standing.

Good News for People Who Love Bad News

illustration by Bobby Casumbal

I'll never claim to have a rich understanding of finances. But this morning, while listening to NPR and eating my delicious yet financially indulgent (from a grocery point of view) Kashi breakfast cereal and drinking a nice cup of coffee, I was listening to the Marketplace Report. Their news? Either things are going to crash, or they're not. We just don't know.

During my semi-daily bout with procrastination today, I came upon this fine story. It's a great exposition of interest rates and inflation over the course of the last half-century, opposed to several market-indicating staples of the economy.

For those among us who have been content to allow the market to flap in the breeze because they simply don't have enough market-based capital to care (like me), this helps to bring home the real consequences to ordinary folks--such as a nurse who can only count on a 3% annual raise--of flagging money value and the price of goods.

As borrowers and lenders regard each other with mutual wariness, things are drawing to a near stand-still. This is particularly evident in our declining manufacturing sector, where financing large capital investments has several positive ripple-effects: it keeps cash in circulation; requires the manufacture of durable industrial equipment (a sector that used to be reliably domestic); and finally, presages job growth and security in the one part of the economy that was once the cornerstone of the middle class.

This brings me to another grim observation: it's axiomatic by now that the middle class is shrinking. In part, that depends on your definition of "middle class." It has been a habit of our government (and I'll not single out the current administration here) to define that upwards.

Check out the following chart: I'm sorry if that's not easy to read; you can get a better look at if you click on the image, I think. I want to point out two subtle (maybe not-so-subtle) things about this chart.

First: 80% of taxpayers make less than 80,000 dollars per year. The graph itself underplays that fact by squishing them into only 1/3 of the total space. In order to see this graph as a true illustration of income spread, you need to read the top 20% as a single data point on the top line. In other words, according to income, anyone that makes more than 80,000 is firmly upper class.

Second: The "Bush tax cuts" shift the burden largely within that top 20%, with the lion's share borne by those making from 80-380,000 dollars. That in itself is absurd, given the marginal value of money. In what way is an income of 380,000 similar to an income of 80,000? It's a vast amount more. (For a primer on the marginal value of money, see here (in a post on social security).)

Even more perverse, however, is the fact that .2% of the shift will redound to the bottom 40%. Your taxes, relative to the rest of the country, will actually increase over the next 7 years if you make 25,000 or less. How's that for a kick in the teeth? Ever try living on less than 20,000? From experience, I can tell you that Top Ramen gets old pretty quick (though you can dress it up with a can of tuna).

Anyway, back to the "middle class." Bushco pushed these cuts as a middle class tax cut. And, if you make between 25-45,000, you'll eventually see a savings of .7% (relative to the rest of the country). But if you make $580,000 or more, you'll see a savings of 1.2%. Go figure.

But what really grinds my gears (thanks, Peter), is the way this regime treats everyone from the 60th to the 90th percentile pretty much uniformly. There is nothing similar between making 44,000 a year and making 117,000 a year. Nothing.

Also notable is how the percentiles bracket incomes: Folks who pull 44k are in the same bracket as those who pull nearly twice as much. Not only have real wages stagnated, but the curve of living standards have drifted to the right given that stagnation. A 44k income today is like a 30k income a decade ago. And right on down the line. A middle class standard of living has slid up the chart, while the true middle of the income curve in real dollars has slid down the chart.

Today's economic news presages more of the same.

Start with what the Bondad article tells us (you can check out bondad's site here for more analysis) about prices and inflation. Now put it up against this:

Philadelphia Federal Reserve Chair Charles Plosser said that we'll skirt a recession. On the other hand, San Francisco Fed Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is more pessimistic. So...

We just cut the inter-bank lending rate by 1/2 a percent. We're already near 50-year lows on that. There isn't much more room to maneuver. As bondad points out, the eyes of the Fed have been on "core" inflation (not focused on commodities, in other words). In the meantime, prices for everything I use have been going up. The only thing not on the rise is the value of the dollar and the real value of my wage.

Brother can you spare a dime?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Mitt Pulls into the Pits

Romney's quitting.

And so we trade one sleazy, transparently venal and opportunistic Republic candidate for the certainty of another sleazy, less transparently venal and opportunistic one. More analysis to come.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

That's Gonna Leave a Mark

The Patriots Offensive Line prepares for The Game.

File this under: Facing the Pain.
After what shall henceforth be known as "Black Sunday, February 3, 2008" (at least here), I'm back and seeking some perspective. "Perspective," of course, is something that victors don't need and rarely offer. It's left for those who lost to find other reasons to be happy, or at least not despondent. Perhaps by the end of the post I'll get there.

Naturally, I'm crushed. But it was pretty clear from the get-go that the Giants really came to play and that the game would be a battle. And it was fierce. Big Blue played with the ferocity of the underdog with nothing to lose and a big chip on its shoulder. And the better team won.

I'd like to offer my congratulations to the Giants defensive front four. They absolutely crushed the Pats offensive line, and that is the beginning, middle and end of the story of this game. Compared to the performances of Manning and the hitherto unheralded David Tyree, the role of the front four (particularly the middle two) won't be talked about as much. But for my money, they are the full volume--not just part of the story. You can fly up the edges all you want, but if there's a pocket to step into, Brady can clean up. There was almost never a pocket, however, as Koppen, Neal and then Hochstein were routinely knocked back. No room = no time. And the play-calling took too long to adjust--Josh McDaniels only went to three-step-drops, screens and slants late in the third quarter--too late to turn the tempo around.

From the moment Patriots RG Stephen Neal went down with a leg injury in the first quarter, it was mealtime for New York. And I don't know if you could scoop up the picked-over leavings of Neal's replacement Russ Hochstein (pictured below) with a rake and a shop-vac. There's nothing left of that poor guy.

Hang a chain of gold with a blue first-place ribbon around the necks of the Giants' interior D-line. They did what they said they would, and it was the difference in the game.

In the final analysis, there was nothing cheap about this game for either side.  No one won or lost via lucky breaks or bad penalties.  The Giants flat-out beat the Patriots, who now have some serious self-reflection in front of them.  Their defense couldn't get it done when the chips were down, and the offensive line (trumpeted in the media) couldn't get it done at all.  On the flip side, the Giants played tough, intense football with tremendous passion.  It's hard not to admire them, even from the losing side of the field.

From experience I can say that NYG fans will relish this one for a long time.  There was no fraud here, no trickery.  NY's offense is simple and the defense is no mystery, either:  they just line up and beat you.

On our side, I'll be surprised if we reach the mountaintop next year.  There will be one or two defections (Asante Samuel and Stallworth) and some key retirements (Seau, Bruschi, Harrison).  Too many holes to plug in one season, methinks.  But there shouldn't be much standing in the Giants' way of repeating as NFC Champions -- especially considering the relative youth of that team.  Chemistry will be the biggest determinant.  It's very difficult to repeat.  A lot of the same pressure that eventually bore down the Pats this year accrues to a team trying to repeat, though it plays out over a longer period of time.  

In the meantime, love this NY. (Here comes the perspective.)  When you come right down to it, we're all pretty lucky.  Our teams have established great history:  The Patriots have finally carved a place in the game for themselves,  and the Giants' recent run is worthy of their deeper history as a storied, cornerstone franchise of the game we love.  

Neither of us is the Falcons, in other words.

PS:  Justin Tuck is a pain in my ass.

Adapted from a previous post at Big Blue View.

Coupla New Links

"Time for an update," says one of my few loyal listeners. So today's a twofer: an obligatory Super Bowl post (confront the pain) and this, an introduction to two new links on my side-bar.

I'd like to introduce you all to my bud Petrie, his wife Trixie and the fruit of her womb, Mia (the only one of the three who gets her real name on the interwebs). Mia's my new girlfriend and she has her own blog titled at right "My Buddy's Baby Girl," a title more explanatory to the average Borrowed Suits reader than its real name, "Mia's Adventure Through Babyland."

OK, it's the human version of a "cat blog," and it seems like everyone and their sister writes a blog about their kids. Who gives a shit about your damn kids?! But Petrie is a good writer -- downright entertaining, actually -- and like I said, Mia's my new girlfriend, so they're up there. When he puts in a real post (rather than just putting up a bloody picture so everyone can see how impossibly cute his issue is) Petrie's a fun read. Go get to know him. (No children were harmed in the making of this blog.)

The other new link is "Poor Sports," a site where four buddies put their bitching on line. Because they're Philadelphia guys, there's plenty to bitch about. I admit to a significant sprinkling of schadenfreude in my affinity for these guys, especially since what shall henceforth be known as Black Sunday, February 3, 2008. That said, any time you get to listen to four buddies intelligently and glibly skewer the teams they love (and everyone else's), it's fun to eavesdrop. Plus, Philly fans hate the Giants more than they resent the Patriots (generally speaking), which makes it one of the few sports blogs that are safe viewing for Pats fans.

First Poor Sports post today is a gem: A recipe for Rose Jam Tartlettes with Cream Topping. "WTF?" you ask. The answer is in the comments:
I understand that you are upset with the Giants talk, but this is such a harsh reaction.
-- by PotsNPans

I can get behind that.