thoughts on politics

January 3, 2009

Caroline Kennedy: Worse than Sarah Palin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 2:04 am

I wish this was a joke.

That’s all.

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December 20, 2008

this week’s newsweek: not so bad

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 11:37 pm
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I’m back home for Christmas break, and used today to thumb through Newsweek.  Happily, this week’s cover story was much more relevant, well-researched, and necessary.  It tells the personal story of Thomas Tamm, the government official who first leaked to the press the existence of the NSA wiretapping/domestic spying program.  Since making his one stand before the US government, his life has become something of a maelstrom — his house has been raided, employment has been scarce, and he knows he’s under investigation at the highest levels of the FBI.  He could be arrested at any time, but as of yet has not been.  The costs of standing up to the government have been tremendous — not only to him, but to his family, friends, and other past associates.

Robert Samuelson, meanwhile, finally gives a sensible perspective in a mainstream outlet on what lobbying really is, and why it should not be looked down on in a democracy.

On the page facing his commentary, though, is an entirely wrong-headed piece by a former Clinton economic official.  The sub-headline about encapsulates the story.  It begins promisingly, saying, “World leaders have spent trillions on confused, inadequate rescue plans,” but from this reaches what seems to me the most bafflingly backwards of conclusions: “They need to spend more.”  Consider this in light of the story I just posted, and read the rest if you want.  We do not run the risk of inflation, we ensure it; it’s already happened.

one more step in the road

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 5:02 am

Federal spending soars 25% before bailout

The government’s spending commitments exploded by 25 percent in 2008, putting taxpayers more than $1 trillion in the hole even before the astronomical costs of the economic bailout were taken into account, according to an annual report released Monday by the White House.

A joint report by the White House budget office and Treasury Department said that much of the increase in obligations came from an unexpected jump in veterans benefits liabilities, while revenues remained mostly flat because of the recession that began a year ago.

Jim Nussle, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, called the report “sobering.”

The report showed that U.S. debts and liabilities are close to passing the value of the U.S. population’s net worth, said Peter G. Peterson Foundation, a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting fiscal responsibility.

December 11, 2008

Newsweek: Bible actually for gay marriage after all.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 10:36 am
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In gay marriage news, Newsweek is trying to rock the boat in response to Prop 8 passing in California.  Though of course I’m against any measure, like prop 8, which denies people of their rights, I think Newsweek’s ridiculous attempt to explain how the Bible is actually a pro-gay marriage text is ultimately going to do more harm than good, to the magazine itself as well as the movement.  The author, in addressing sections of the New Testament that would seem to take a negative stance on homosexuality, turns for perspective to one guy out there who reads them as actually being castigations of the Roman Emperor.  No one except people who were already in favor of gay marriage are going to be convinced by this.  On the other hand, it likely has gotten so much play on talk radio and on Christian blogs that it has energized its opponents and convinced a whole host of people who may not have had negative views of the media to perceive an agenda.

Anyway, I’ve been following the threads on one particular response to this.  Click over to read my responses to some of the bloggers (you can just ctrl+f my name).

Time for Obama’s troop surge

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 8:25 am
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I’ve been writing a paper all night, and while emailing myself a copy, I saw the top story of the CNN morning email–a newsletter I’ve been getting for several years now, but which I now always just delete without reading.  However, today’s begged comment after I read:

U.S. to send more troops to Afghanistan

(CNN) — The U.S. military plans to move three more combat brigades to Afghanistan by summer, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates plans to deploy more troops to Afghanistan.

Gates landed Thursday in the Afghan city of Kandahar, where he was met by Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces battling a resurgent Taliban and its al Qaeda allies. Gates said the deployment will include one brigade that was scheduled to be sent to the 7-year-old conflict in January and two more that have yet to be named.
It’s bad, but I definitely can’t call this a surprise.  With six weeks left in probably the lamest-duck administration in history, if this wasn’t Obama’s original idea, it surely has his full approval.  Faux-dove Obama has always tempered his Iraq opposition by saying he was only against it because it was a “dumb war.”  Afghanistan, on the other hand, has always qualified in his mind as a “smart” Middle East snakepit to get tangled up in. 
We’ve been in Afghanistan for seven years.  When will it occur to our leaders that our troop presence is hindering the country’s own political development and wasting our money?  Seven years–longer than it took us to beat back Japan and Germany in World War II, the same length of time it took our country to win its independence from the strongest country in the world, longer by a far cry than our involvement in World War I.  Right now the only major conflict I can think of that’s been longer is Vietnam, probably our dumbest war of all.  Yet it’s going to keep playing out the same, as if this were a sequel.  Can someone tell me what sign we’re waiting for that Afghanistan is ready for us to leave?  Do they need to have McDonald’s and Starbucks everywhere, a cowed population, and an overreaching democratic system of government running their lives?
With Obama, we just don’t know.  He generally expresses favor for the idea of us “pulling out” of Iraq–meaning, in his book, leaving 16,000 “non-combat” troops.  But whether he’ll even seriously pursue this objective remains to be seen.  (spoiler: he won’t.)
Since reading Bacevich’s book, I’ve realized how historically tilted toward conflict United States foreign policy is, and how amenable to war the population really is.  Of course, the half that voted for McCain (out of the half that participated in the election) is obviously quite comfortable with the thought of using military power to achieve our goals around the world, but those who voted for Obama in hopes of some major change in foreign policy toward peace will mostly not recognize the overall trend this is a part of.  In the supposed story of American politics, the Democratic party is favorable to peace, and the Republican party is favorable to, well, something else.  Most of Obama’s followers will read this news, shake their heads, but continue to support him in the belief that he is trying to end the violence over there.  The fact that we are actively forcing ourselves on the populations of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan seems to affect them very little, and even more the fact that we continue our surprise missile strike policy of blowing up schools and houses in tiny villages in countries we’re not even supposed to be at war with. 
They have not made and will not make the connection that by voting for a candidate without a demonstrable anti-war record, you are not going to end up with someone who will push anti-war policies.  Obama is a fox; he’s most concerned with getting votes.  He’s not going to do something as politically costly as trying to end our wars in the Middle East.

November 26, 2008

climbing back on the horse

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 3:20 am
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After not posting for a couple of weeks, it becomes hard to start again.  Knowing what to post about, wanting to catch up on things missed and trying to offer explanations for the large gap of writing all become questions that further delay writing.  This happened to me; now I’m stopping it.  In the future I’ll just resume without any explanation.

In the time since my last writing, a couple of things worth noting have happened: Obama won, the economy sucked, and everyone in America lost.

The story that finally motivated me to write was this:

U.S. Unveils New Programs to Ease Credit

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury announced $800 billion in new lending programs on Tuesday, sending a message that they will print as much money as needed to revive the crippled banking system.

The two new efforts — one mainly to finance loans for consumers, and an even bigger one to push down home mortgage rates — marked the latest but hardly the last of the federal government’s efforts to shoulder the losses that began with subprime mortgages and have spread throughout the economy.

All told, the government has assumed at least $7 trillion in direct and indirect financial obligations in the form of Wall Street bailouts, emergency lending and government guarantees on bank deposits, inter-bank loans and home mortgages.

As the New York Times writes, $7 trillion.  $7,000,000,000,000.  I saw a story a couple of weeks ago, posted by drudge, which had the grand total figure at $4.5 trillion.  Since then our government’s commitment to fix our economy has expanded $2.5 trillion, or about 50%.  Has it stopped now?  I doubt it.

PERSPECTIVE:

The US government’s budget for fiscal year 2009 (that being Oct 08-Sept 09) was $3.1 trillion.  Note that this amount was $407 billion higher than what the government took in, by its own accounting.  That is, this budget was already a deficit.

The budget was released in February, before the collapse of Bear Stearns, and before the depth of the economic crisis was apparent.  Thus, all of this money to “help” the economy comes from outside the budget.  In fact, it dwarfs the budget for this year!  The government has already spent or pledged to spend more than twice as much as its own admitted operating costs for the next year. That’s on top of its own operating costs, so in effect triple the amount budgeted.

No doubt none of this new money was planned or budgeted for.  Where then will it come from?  Americans would notice a tax increase of $7 trillion, as that would be around $23,000 per person (taking the population to be 300 million).  Since not every person is a taxpayer, it’s a lot more than that per taxpayer.

Yet there won’t be a tax.  I won’t see the taxes on my job at the newspaper next year shoot from $100 to $30,000, or anything like that.  (In fact, Obama has promised that not only will I not see a tax increase, I will see a tax decrease as someone earning less than whatever his quoted income limit was.)  The money will be printed.  Well, I doubt it will actually be physically printed; it’ll just be credited to the accounts of  the banks and companies receiving it.

We can of course be mad about the moral injustice of this action, but I see it as being economically unsound, as well.  Again, going by the government’s budget documents, the estimated GDP of the American economy for this time will be $15 trillion.  The government is attempting to add to the economy an amount equal to half of all the goods produced in the country last year.

Is there any way this can not have a devastating effect?  News stories always list inflation down in the article as a potential risk of the plan.  The money supply is exploding.  We will now experience drastic inflation as well as the shocks of the rest of the credit crisis.

Does anyone think that the leaders in Washington, outgoing or incoming, know what the fuck they’re doing?  The government created this mess; do we now look to the government to fix it?

October 6, 2008

Mad Money with Matt Brandenburgh

Haven’t had time to finish a longish post I started last week in response to some NY Times opinion stuff, but I’ll try to get to that this week. In the mean time, Maureen Dowd’s column Sunday rocked, as could have been expected. Final line: “True mavericks don’t brand themselves.” True dat, Mo. Bill Kristol, on the other hand, I don’t even know why they keep around.

Realclearpolitics today featured an editorial from the Chicago Sun-Times asking a question that no one else seems to be discussing: in the midst of ongoing conflicts in two countries, a severe economic crisis, the coming demographic deluge, and wildly oscillating prices of oil, how do the candidates (Obama and McCain, anyway) propose to pay for the promises they are making on the trail, such as tax cuts (both of them), healthcare (Obama), and extending our stay in Iraq (McCain)? Though the notions of low spending and fiscal responsibility have long been out of vogue in Washington, they do still apply, whether our candidates pretend they do or not.

Something has to give. Even before President Bush signed the historic Wall Street bailout bill Friday that will, at least initially, add $2,300 in government debt for every American, the two leading candidates for president, John McCain and Barack Obama, were proposing new programs and tax cuts that threatened to run up the federal deficit.

Now, with the $700 billion bailout pushing the federal debt limit to more than $11.3 trillion (with new tax breaks, to boot), one question becomes more pressing than ever: How will the next president make ends meet?

In tomorrow’s presidential debate, let’s hope that’s the first question asked — and forthrightly answered.

Both candidates have largely dodged the issue, trotting out stock solutions that no doubt date to George Washington’s day. They would “close loopholes” and “eliminate waste” and “go after earmarks.”

To his credit in the first debate, McCain did vaguely propose “freezing” spending on all but “vital” programs, but he did not spell out a single particular that might cause a voter pain, such as freezing farm subsidies. Obama proved even more reticent, saying only that some programs are ”probably going to have to be delayed.” He sounded more interested in stressing what spending he would not trim, such as for education.

How serious is this disconnect between promises and reality?

Even before the Wall Street crisis, the independent Tax Policy Center, a joint venture of the Brookings Institution and the Urban Institute, estimated that Obama’s tax plan would increase the federal deficit by about $3.6 trillion over 10 years to $5.9 trillion. McCain’s plan would boost it by $5.1 trillion to nearly $7.4 trillion. More troubling, the Center’s analysis concluded, various health proposals and other campaign promises not in the candidates’ official position papers could increase costs further.

To offset his tax cuts, McCain promises to make cuts in discretionary spending and entitlements, and to eliminate earmarks. Both candidates say they would save billions by creating efficiencies in the health care market, and Obama says he would save billions more by ending the war in Iraq.

Our purpose here is not to discourage ambitious plans and bold action by our next president, whether it is Obama or McCain. We agree on the need to provide better health care for every American, on the importance of a good education for every child, on the need to invest in the development of alternative sources of energy.

And we love a good tax cut as much as anybody does.

But it was America’s refusal to face up to the old truism “there’s no free lunch” that got us into this mess, and harder times could be ahead.

The job for Obama and McCain is to help this nation get a grip on reality.

I recently read the book I.O.U.S.A., which addresses the fiscal problems of our country. Though the book wasn’t very good (see my negative review on amazon), it made me realize how the political establishment silences discussion of this very real issue by refusing to address it at all. In this way, it grows and grows, and every time someone comes along and points out the irreconcilability of the government’s spending habits, they look crazy for even talking about it. If it’s just one guy yelling about it, how real can the problem be? That type of tacit thinking marginalizes observers and political players who raise the issue.

So anyhow, kudos to Chicago Sun-Times for the editorial, and to RCP for featuring it.

=====

Finally, Tina Fey hit another one out of the park in SNL’s parody of the VP debate. She’s as good as Darrell Hammond’s Bill Clinton, but for my money, the best political impersonator in SNL’s history is Dana Carvey, for his George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

And here’s Dana:

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more about “Dana Carvey as Ross Perot | TV, Music…“, posted with vodpod

September 29, 2008

Pelosi quotes Sandburg?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 5:16 pm

For some reason known perhaps only to Nancy Pelosi(‘s speechwriter), at 4:06 in this video, Pelosi uses Carl Sandburg’s famous image of “little cat feet” to describe how the gigantic, once-in-a-century financial crisis came upon us. You figure it out.

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more about “Pelosi quotes Sandburg?“, posted with vodpod

The Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

The Limits of Power: Andrew J. Bacevich

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 12:08 am
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Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Bill Moyers Journal . Watch & Listen …“, posted with vodpod

I found this interview on TV this afternoon, and was floored. It’s as if this man, Andrew Bacevich, understands everything I have sensed about the meaning of America, the problems in our politics, the reasons why our pre-emptive war doctrine is wrong at its core, but can elicit it better than I could ever imagine.

I encourage everyone to watch this interview in full; watch the first five minutes at least and see if you like it. The second half can be found on PBS’ website here. I recently reached my credit card’s promised land, earning a $25 gift card for amazon. I’ve been trying to decide what to buy with it, and I was leaning toward buying some Space Ghost Coast to Coast DVDs, but this guy has a book out, and it’s going down for me.

September 28, 2008

In case anyone was wondering what Jack Cafferty thinks of Sarah Palin

Filed under: Uncategorized — Matt @ 6:02 pm
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So he does do something more than read viewer email!

In all seriousness, he’s right, though.

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