Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Onion, January 17, 2001

On January 17, 2001, in The Onion satirical newspaper:

Mere days from assuming the presidency and closing the door on eight years of Bill Clinton, president-elect George W. Bush assured the nation in a televised address Tuesday that "our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over."
Bush swore to do "everything in [his] power" to undo the damage wrought by Clinton's two terms in office, including selling off the national parks to developers, going into massive debt to develop expensive and impractical weapons technologies, and passing sweeping budget cuts that drive the mentally ill out of hospitals and onto the street.

During the 40-minute speech, Bush also promised to bring an end to the severe war drought that plagued the nation under Clinton, assuring citizens that the U.S. will engage in at least one Gulf War-level armed conflict in the next four years.
On the economic side, Bush vowed to bring back economic stagnation by implementing substantial tax cuts, which would lead to a recession, which would necessitate a tax hike, which would lead to a drop in consumer spending, which would lead to layoffs, which would deepen the recession even further.
"Finally, the horrific misrule of the Democrats has been brought to a close," House Majority Leader Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters. "Under Bush, we can all look forward to military aggression, deregulation of dangerous, greedy industries, and the defunding of vital domestic social-service programs upon which millions depend. Mercifully, we can now say goodbye to the awful nightmare that was Clinton's America."

"For years, I tirelessly preached the message that Clinton must be stopped," conservative talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh said. "And yet, in 1996, the American public failed to heed my urgent warnings, re-electing Clinton despite the fact that the nation was prosperous and at peace under his regime. But now, thank God, that's all done with. Once again, we will enjoy mounting debt, jingoism, nuclear paranoia, mass deficit, and a massive military build-up."
"We as a people must stand united, banding together to tear this nation in two," Bush said. "Much work lies ahead of us: The gap between the rich and the poor may be wide, be there's much more widening left to do. We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."
First written as satire, then written as history.

Palin Pity Party?

Not for Rebecca Traister:
Shaking our heads and wringing our hands in sympathy with Sarah Palin is a disservice to every woman who has ever been unfairly dismissed based on her gender, because this is an utterly fair dismissal, based on an utter lack of ability and readiness. It's a disservice to minority populations of every stripe whose place in the political spectrum has been unfairly spotlighted as mere tokenism; it is a disservice to women throughout this country who have gone from watching a woman who -- love her or hate her -- was able to show us what female leadership could look like to squirming in front of their televisions as they watch the woman sent to replace her struggle to string a complete sentence together.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Banana Republic of the United States

Remember when Bush won in '00, and the GoP got all smug about how "the adults are in charge now?"

I just want you to hold that idea, and read the following from Forbes.com:
The more Congress examines the Bush administration's bailout plan, the hazier its outcome gets. At a Senate Banking Committee hearing Tuesday, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle complained of being rushed to pass legislation or else risk financial meltdown.

...some of the most basic details, including the $700 billion figure Treasury would use to buy up bad debt, are fuzzy.

"It's not based on any particular data point," a Treasury spokeswoman told Forbes.com Tuesday. "We just wanted to choose a really large number."
Yeah, they just made it up. I'm filled with confidence.

"How much should we ask for?"

"I don't know...what do you think we can get?"

"Not sure. How scared do you think they are?"

"Pretty scared. The press is doing a good job, Joe lunchpail can't fill his tank or pay his mortgage...plus half the congress is on the take."

"I know. Plus we've got Phil Gramm!"

"Good point. Let's make it big. How about a billion -- no! 7 billion!"

"Seven billion?! Come on, man. That's peanuts. Think bigger! How about we just ask for the deficit Bush racked up? They're used to that."

"C'mon. That's just greedy."

"Well...what, then?"

"Hope they buy it."

"Oh they'll buy it, all right."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Your Urgent Help Needed

Dear American:

I need to ask you to support an urgent secret business relationship with a transfer of funds of great magnitude.

I am Ministry of the Treasury of the Republic of America. My country has had crisis that has caused the need for large transfer of funds of 800 billion dollars US. If you would assist me in this transfer, it would be most profitable to you.

I am working with Mr. Phil Gram, lobbyist for UBS, who will be my replacement as Ministry of the Treasury in January. As a Senator, you may know him as the leader of the American banking deregulation movement in the 1990s. This transactin is 100% safe.

This is a matter of great urgency. We need a blank check. We need the funds as quickly as possible.
Read the rest at Angry Bear, and enjoy the dark humor of the moment. The gallows makes comics of us all, I guess.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The beauty of the free market

Opening up the health insurance market to more vigorous nationwide competition, as we have done over the last decade in banking, would provide more choices of innovative products less burdened by the worst excesses of state-based regulation.
John McCain, "Contingencies" Sept/Oct 2008.

If you're lucky enough to get health insurance from your employer, you're probably also aware that your contribution to that insurance is taken out before you're taxed. In that article, McCain explains how, in addition to deregulating the health insurance market in the same way we've deregulated the mortgage market, he'd tax your contribution. Then he'd give you a $2,500 tax credit, regardless of your income, to offset your costs. A family could get up to a total of $5,000 in credits.
Individuals who currently don’t have access to employer sponsored insurance where they work can use the tax credit to purchase individual insurance coverage. Everyone purchasing health insurance would gain access to exactly the same tax benefits.
Think you can insure a family of four for $5000 a year? John McCain thinks so. In John McCain's happy world of friendly health insurance companies, "Consumer-friendly insurance policies will be more available and affordable when there is greater competition among insurers on a level playing field."

Just as with mortgages, however, the field will never be level. Not when the least among us will get whatever $5,000 pays for, while John McCain's base gets whatever they can afford. Or want.

Imagine a world where medical histories indicate "default risks" in health insurance. Imagine a world where those "default risks" are bundled and re-insured in the same way that mortgages are. Pools of people who have not yet become sick will be favored investments for these insurance companies. Pools of people with chronic or persistent illnesses (diabetes, depression, heart disease, Crohn's disease, e.g.) will become personae non grata. Hey--they're expensive! And you know they're going to cash in on their benefits. In fact, they're the very people that -- right now -- are costing you and me money!

If you have a history of breast cancer in your family, and your husband's father was diabetic, how much do you think it will cost to insure your children per year on John McCain's "open market?"

Do you think $5,000 will cover it?

I don't know how I can make this any simpler. John McCain says (and we all agree) that health insurance is too expensive to the government. His answer to that is not to find a less expensive way to insure people. His answer is to simply stop paying.

Well. That will certainly cost less. But don't worry. I'm sure that the "healthy competition" of a de-regulated health insurance market will guarantee you can afford coverage.

Right now, open market health insurance of the most basic variety (excluding Rx, hospital, or "critical illness" care) would cost $4,236 per year in my city, for a healthy family of three. Add one more kid, and the rate doubles. Add any "pre-existing conditions," and, well, it depends. And hey, who needs prescriptions anyway?

That plan is offered by a company that guarantees to cover you, as far as you are able to pay. Under McCain's plan, you'll be able to pay up to $5000 a year, plus whatever you can contribute on your own. Which is pretty good--unless something goes wrong. If you can get covered. If you don't have a high "default risk."

Anyway, don't worry about it. The same de-regulated markets that catapulted our national investment banks and mortgage companies to the top of the finance world is sure to help you out when your kid gets hit with leukemia, or something.

Obama's plan. If you care.

Here's a Boston Globe Editorial saying essentially the same thing. I hadn't read it until today (9/22), believe me or don't.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Privatize Social Security

Still sounding like a good idea to you?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Patriots 2.0

Crossposted from Pats Pulpit

So. Now what?

Now that we know NFL MVP and Patriots starting QB Brady is out for the season, what comes next? I put this column together for SB Nation site Pats Pulpit on Sunday, before the whole thing shook out. I stand by it (seriously--how can you get paid for this? I do it for fun and I know it's better than 99% of the sports-bloviating out there).

The Quarterback of the Future

The quarterback of the future is Tom Brady. I don't think that, even if we've lost him for the entire year, this team would seriously contemplate replacing him as the starter. In quarterback years, he's in his prime. His arm is good and his judgment and knowledge of the system have never been better. With the exception of his left ACL, his body is going to get a nice break from the weekly beating. Given the shallow pool of quarterback talent in the league (it's not even 32 deep) Tom Brady is still the near-term future of the team.

For that reason, I don't think you'll see a high profile signing like Daunte Culpepper for example. The cap hit would cripple the team's flexibility and introduce a complicated personnel dynamic. I think signing a guy like Sims is a backup the backup strategy, the judgment being that O'Connell isn't ready to be that close to live fire.

The quarterback of today is Matt Cassel. Cassel is an interesting story--one we're going to rehash ad nauseum this week. His last big game was in high school. He held a clipboard at USC for Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. A backup's backup, if you will. So why would he get the call from Pioli and Belichick? I think we saw part of the answer on Sunday, and, given the crap he took in the preseason, it bears looking at again.

Matt Cassel

Before yesterday, Matt hadn't played a serious down in a game of football since he was in high school.

High School.

On opening day in front a packed house, he took over one of the premier teams in the league, got the snap from center and took two backward steps into his own endzone to hand off.

On the next play, he lined up in his own endzone and did the same thing.

On his third serious play from scrimmage since losing in the 3rd round of his high school championship tournament, Cassel took the snap from center, faked a hand-off and launched a 50-yard strike to a wideout on a go-route who had sagged into the zone, hitting him in the hands and in stride. If you'd been standing on the cross-bar, you could have peed on his helmet.

98 yards later, the Patriots were in the endzone and on the board. Cassel's day: 13 of 18 for 152 yards, one TD and no INTs.

Patriot haters, people who don't know better, and some that should, have in the past derided Brady as a "system" quarterback. But he isn't--he's a talent, and one of the best ever. Matt Cassel may one day be a very good quarterback. But the numbers he put up on Sunday illustrate one thing: the difference between a great quarterback and a great system. Start with a great quarterback in a great system. Subtract great QB. What do you get? 13 of 18 for 152 yards and a touchdown. Why (in this case)? Because the quarterback place-holder we put in was able to execute the system. He didn't bring much to it--but he didn't get in its way.

You really can't ask for more than that from your backup. In fact, if your backup QB does bring more than that to the table, then you're brewing one of two things: either your QB-of-the-future-in-waiting, or a quarterback controversy.

Give Matt his due: pretty much everyone wanted him out. What he showed on Sunday is what some of us suspected: the pre-season was a long science experiment that worked to his detriment. He's ok.

Of course, the Chiefs aren't the best. But it was one to grow on.

Who Are These Guys?

Team identity--what do you do well, consistently. How do you win?

When Brady went down, I lost whatever detachment I usually muster (not much) and became simply a fan again. I was rooting for the guys to come together, to lean on each other and make room for Matt to fill the void. I stopped paying attention to the little things I like to watch like, "how quickly is Light getting into his pass set?" "Is the running back seeing the blitz?" "Is Mayo flowing to the ball?" "How's the communication in the defensive backfield?" "Is Wilfork dealing with the doubleteams?"

My stream of consciousness was more like, "comeon comeon comeon comeon!"

Hey, they did it. Tough to pull it together like that. And I think we got a glimpse of who this team might be this year, offensively at least:

Run, then throw. Morris looks good. Maroney looks good. Evans looks his solid self and LaMont looks ready. With the return of Faulk, there are some seriously talented toys in that backfield and lots and lots of possible combinations. The only moments of concern were when we were pinned on Matty's first series. Backup QB, on your own goalline--even the PeeWees know you're going to try the run. Later in the drive, we were knocking them off the ball and dominating the LOS. Could be shades of things to come.

In the air, we looked efficient. Less opportunistic than with Brady at the helm but by no means incapable. I think you can look for Cassel to improve over the next six weeks, too. Thomas showed his hands; it'll be nice if Watson can get healthy (and stay healthy, dammit). Welker is going to be even more key this year than last, though his catches will inevitably decrease.

Defensively, this team will need to step up. Of all the units, the most rapid maturation has to happen in the defensive backfield. O'Neal filled in pretty well--a couple of minor lapses but otherwise solid. Hobbs is still short and there's nothing to be done about that. He managed--he'll have to do better. There are some good teachers there, though--again, time.

At the end of preseason, looking at the youth, I predicted that it would take a month to six weeks for this team to really sort itself out. I stand by that. This will still be a good year, but a different one from the one we were all anticipating. The sorting is going to result in a different product.

You may recall a team of scrappers with a stifling defense and an offense that did just enough to win who walked away from the season with a Vince Lombardi Trophy in hand. Your 2001 New England Patriots were a team like that. But they weren't the first: the 2000 Baltimore Ravens did that, too -- and with a game-management quarterback (Trent Dilfer, anyone?) who stayed out of the way of the system. Is there anyone else besides me who thinks Matt Cassel has more tools (of his own and on the team) than Trent Dilfer did?

The Key Guy

Every success has a key guy--at least one, anyway. The Patriots have several lynchpins right now, guys who have to really step it up: Wilfork, Mayo, Merriweather, Hobbs. On offense: Cassel, Maroney/Morris/Jordan and whomever winds up at right guard. But there's one dude in particular who I'll be watching closely: Randy Moss.

If I had to guess at how Randy's feeling today, I'd go with "dismayed."

All he's ever wanted was to have a quarterback who he thought was just as good as he is. And he got it--then he lost it. How has our Randy grown? Moss can really make the difference this year. If he shuts it down because Cassel's no Brady, this could get ugly. That's a worst-case scenario.

On the other hand, he can do better than that--by a long shot. A strong endorsement of Cassel (and the concomitant change in offensive emphasis) as well as a commitment to both mentor and be led by Matt would go miles and miles toward a play-off run. It could make all the difference.

Let's Play

This is going to be fun--I'm serious. The expectations are shot and the pressure is off. Everything they get they'll fight for--against the competition and internally as they struggle for a new sense of themselves. For fans, it will be a ride. But, unencumbered by the stratospheric expectations of last year, I plan to enjoy myself a little bit more.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Supporting the Troops

It has always been a complex world. Most Americans would tell you that it is a more complex world today than it was in 2000, but that's just not true. Many Americans will claim that "everything changed after September 11th," but that's not true, either. The world is the same--it is we who have changed. We're paying a little more attention, right now. Not much, but a little. We're seeing a little bit deeper into the complex interrelations that move world events.

For example, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac (private, for-profit corporations) are being taken over by the US Government amid fears that their collapse would cause a domino effect of financial ruin at home and around the world. According to the NYTimes, the government (you and me) will guarantee Freddy's debt, while allowing shareholders to twist in the wind.

As an American, you might ask, "Whose debt am I guaranteeing? If the vig comes due, who will we--the taxpayer--have to pay? Who has so much pull with our government, that they can request us to take over the largest mortgage companies in the world and guarantee their investment? Especially in a lousy housing market, where the value that debt supports is rapidly shrinking? Who, in other words, does hold my mortgage?"

Answer (from MarketWatch):
The top five foreign holders of Freddie and Fannie long-term debt are China, Japan, the Cayman Islands, Luxembourg, and Belgium. In total foreign investors hold over $1.3 trillion in these agency bonds, according to the U.S. Treasury's most recent "Report on Foreign Portfolio Holdings of U.S. Securities."
$1.3 trillion dollars. At least it isn't a buyout. You and I aren't paying China. We're just guaranteeing their investment in our mortgage industry with our taxes. And, yes, it's the same mortgage industry that's in the toilet right now.

It's complex. Always has been. The point is, things are bad enough right now that we're starting to pay attention. I know I sure didn't care about China buying our debt before a couple of years ago. I don't know if I ever gave it more than a passing thought.

So, back to September 11 and everything changing and, as the title implies, supporting the troops. I don't think I'd find much argument if I said that our military is a little ragged these days. And most people would probably agree that our veterans aren't getting the help they need. If one of your older relatives went to school on the GI Bill -- maybe your Dad or your Grandfather -- you might know that's a lot harder to do now. You might also know phrases you never knew before, like "stop-loss" and "individual ready reserve."

National security has never been more critical or seemed so complex. Many of the first choices and policy decisions our next President will have to make will deal with the health and welfare of our military. If you're in the service, or you know someone who is, you're probably assuming that John McCain is the right man for the job. After all, Republicans support the troops more than Democrats and he served in the military (you might have heard he was a POW). He never hesitates to reiterate his abiding support for our military. I'm writing this post precisely for you. If you think John McCain is the best candidate for the military, then you're using the same logic as a woman who supports Sarah Palin because she, too, has a vagina.

Here are some examples:

In April of this year, the Webb GI Bill came up for a vote in the senate. The Webb bill would have guaranteed veterans a chance to go to college. The original bill, from WWII, could have (and did) put a service member through Yale University. Currently--well, not so much. McCain opposed the Webb bill, which was co-sponsored by Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) would have again made it possible for a soldier to go to college, with thanks from a grateful nation. McCain opposed this bill, saying it would decrease retention. Saying, essentially, that the benefits were too good.

Webb's bill would be expensive--about the same amount of money that we spend in Iraq in 36 hours. According to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the WWII bill returned $7 to the economy for every $1 it cost.

It is also the Army's primary recruiting tool.

On the day of the vote, only two Senators couldn't seem to make to the Senate. One was liberal Senator Ted Kennedy, at home recovering from brain surgery. The other was John McCain.

Here are some other dropped balls:

September 2007: John Sidney McCain (JSM) votes against another Webb bill that would have mandated adequate rest for troops between combat deployments (the "Dwell time" bill).

May 2006: JSM votes against providing the VA with $20 million needed for health care facilities; the money would have been provided by closing tax loopholes.

April 2006: JSM joins an elite group of 13 senators (all Republican) voting against $430,000,000 for the Department of Veteran Affairs for Medical Services for outpatient care and treatment for veterans.

March 2004: Votes against creating a reserve fund -- funded by closing tax loopholes for corporations -- to provide up to $1.8 billion in Veterans' medical care.

October 2003: JSM votes to table (essentially, to kill) an amendment that would have provided $322,000,000 of safety equipment (you know, like body armor) for troops in Iraq, funded by spending that much less on reconstruction.

In April of 2003, he voted to kill an amendment that would have appropriated $1 Billion for National Guard and Reserve Equipment in Iraq to address a shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof insets and tactical vests.
I'm not going to get into a discussion of how McCain voted on the war in Afghanistan or the invasion of Iraq, or how he wants to deal with Georgia or Iran. All I'm trying to say is that if you want to argue for military measures, or you want to say you support the troops, then you should be able to back it up with your voting record--since that's all you've really got.

The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has kept track of over 160 separate votes since 9/11, and graded every Senator and Congressman on their voting record. John McCain gets a "D."

The Disabled Veterans of America rated McCain at 20% for the 109th Congress.

IAVA and DVA also graded Obama. He got an 80% from DVA and a B+ from IAVA. If you're on the fence about these two guys, and the way they treat our people in uniform is something you're interested in, then I think you should take the evidence of their votes into account. One guy loves to use the military, but isn't interested in taking care of it. The other guy considers force the last resort, and would look after the health of his men.

If you find yourself surprised, and perhaps considering Obama, don't worry. You're in good company. According to the non-partisan Center For Responsive Politics, deployed troops support Obama over McCain 6:1, and he maintains a significant edge among all military personnel.

Our world is a much more complex place than some politicians try to make it seem. But this seems pretty simple to me.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Happy Labor Day!

I hope you enjoyed a day off from work today, courtesy of the people who brought you a minimum wage, child labor laws and the weekend:

The Radical Left.