Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Why the Repeal and Replace is Political Suicide

Hi Everyone,

I posted earlier on this so I won't repeat the general argument. But now there are polling numbers to back it up. I got these from Polling (see link to the right).

Here are some highlights:
Aprove, No Reservation: 15%
Approve, Did Not Go Far Enough: 27%
Dissaprove, Support Some of it: 31%
Dissaprove, All of it: 25%

As you can see the Republicans were correct that a majority dissaproved of the health care reform bill. But what they don't say (and apparently aren't noticing themselves) is that more than half of the dissaproving respondents actually LIKE parts of the bill. The problem for the Republicans is that those people probably don't all agree about which parts they like and don't like. That means that for any given amendment the Republicans want to make to the bill to weaken it, they will likely face a majority in defense of the Democrats' bill.

When the question is reframed to specifically deal the vague "Repeal and Replace" strategy, the Democrats also appear to be on safe ground:

Leave as is: 23%
Increase Government Involvement: 27%
Repeal and Replace: 47%

A majority of respondents either want the law left the way the Democrats set it up or want the government role INCREASED (hardly what the Republicans are likely to propose). True, 47% say they want "Repeal and Replace" but that does not indicate what aspects would be repealed. Keep in mind that any repeal will not be a one line law saying "everything the Democrats did in March 2010 is hereby repealed." The Republicans will have to enumerate the benefits they are repealing that will fracture that 47%.

What about the emotional response to the new law?

Enthusiastic: 15%
Pleased: 30%
Displeased: 27%
Angry: 26%

45% are either pleased or enthusiastic about the law. And of course, from the earlier questions, we should assume that some significant portion of the 27% who are displeased with the bill are displeased in ways that will not help the Republicans.

What does all this suggest? The health care reform bill that the Demcorats just passed over lock step intransigence from the entire Republican party is popular enough with enough people to stay the law the land and be the foundation for future laws. I think it also shows that a lot of voters are working on emotion rather than solid information about the law. As information about the law gets more widespread, I suspect that portion of people who "support some of it" will increase.

This is political suicide because the Republicans are playing to the 25% of the population who are angry. Anger is rarely a solid basis for winning elections. There was plenty of anger among the Democratic base in 2004 but they lost. You MIGHT make the case that anger alone was the source of the 2006 Democratic victory in the Congressional elections. Vitriolic anger turns off most independent voters and risks energizing the base of your opponents. You have to be very very sure that the independents are angry too and for the same reasons or you are on thin ice with an anger based election strategy.

Oh, and blowing your campaign funds on strip clubs is not going to help.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010

FBI Breaks Up Domestic Right Wing Terror Group

Over the last several days, the FBI has conducted a series of raids in the Michigan, Indiana and Ohio tri-state area arresting the members of a militia group calling itself the Hataree Militia. The group was based in a rural area about equidistant from Detroit, Toledo, Fort Wayne and Lansing. Their plan was to conduct a terror attack against local police, then conduct follow up attacks on their expected funerals (presumably to kill more police officers). The motive was based in a fringe version of fundamentalist Christianity. They blame local police for being "foot soldiers" of the Federal government. So in addition to having what LTG will explain is a twisted theology, they also don't understand the relationship between federalism and law enforcement. I'm sure more details about their ideology and political activities will come out over the next several weeks. I'm guessing the next thing we will hear is that the leaders of this group have been active in the tea-party demonstrations.

After 911, the Republicans insisted on dramatically curtailing civil liberties and increasing and concentrating police powers for the FBI. I predicted then that the right would howl when they eventually lost power and these new police powers were directed against violent groups on the right. The dirty not-so-secret of the Republican party is that while Republicans themselves are not violent, they have lots of mutual friends with groups that are. Look at the Republican reaction to Waco and Oklahoma City. Rather than advocate a crack down on terror groups, they loudly criticized federal law enforcement agencies. And as soon as they got control of the house in 1994, they initiated renewed Congressional investigations of how it was Federal agents' fault that a group of religious fanatics with an enormous, illegal arsenal shot up a bunch of agents and then killed themselves and their own kids. I imagine they'll do the same kind of thing now.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Tension with Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu miscalculated, and he's having a devil of a time getting out of it. The more you know about Israeli politics, the more you realize that Netanyahu was trying to have it both ways: appease the right-wing parties with more Jewish settlements in disputed territory while at least publicly hewing to the 'peace' line. This sort of behavior worked with Bush, who never asked for more than positive public statements from Israel. Barack Obama is not happy with it. Obama and Bush both endorsed a two-state solution (technically, Bill Clinton didn't insist on it) but Bush paid lip service to it. Bush allowed the Israelis to take steps that would make 'final status' negotiations harder. Obama wants a deal. He believes (correctly) that the way to get a peace settlement is not to set a "ticking clock" where each day without a settlement gives Israel a bigger piece of the pie.

There are some who suggest that Netanyahu intended to use the "Jewish lobby" as part of a two-pronged strategy to get the Obama administration to back down on settlements. This is highly unlikely, I think. Netanyahu knows that the hard-right view of Charles Krauthammer (it is per se support for terrorism to criticize Israel in any respect) is not the administration's line, nor even AIPAC's line. I think Netanyahu rather bought into the "Obambi" rhetoric, that Obama was weak, and figured he could please his right-wing coalition partners by blindsiding Joe Biden on his visit.

Now he's in a terrible predicament at home. The gambit failed. His non-rightist coalition partners are angry that Bibi has succeeded in doing what 40 years of Palestinian propaganda have failed to do: get the USA to turn screws down on Israel. And all for a principle that is silly: everyone knows that ISrael will probably keep most or all of Jerusalem and doesn't need to change any more 'facts on the ground' with new settlements to do it. It was a needless provocation. Obama is in something of a box too: he HAS to make Netanyahu pay dearly for this or it will happen again. IT is working, I believe.

Evidence is that Bibi came to Washington quite a bit shaken and was hoping for the usual smile-with-USA-president-don't-worry-all-is-good photo for his nervous constitutents at home. He didn't get it. Pics weren't allowed of the visit. Evidently at one point, Obama withdrew from the private meetings to have a private dinner with his family, rather than inviting Bibi to have dinner - a deliberate breach of protocol that Bibi is sorry got leaked. He seems almost whiny in interviews, as if he just can't imagine why a trick that worked for years isn't okay anymore.

Some have suggested that Obama is playing Israeli politics, trying to get Kadima elected. I think even Rahm Emanuel knows better than to play that game. But maybe not. It's changing the game in the middle east in ways that few thought possible. From here on out, Israeli politicians will not simply assume that appeasing right-wing factions will only cost them within Israel.

This also has to frighten the Palestinians a little bit. Sure, today they are happy to see Israel getting a bit of trouble, but they know they're next.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Good Ideas From a Republican

I just saw a great video of an interview on Canadian TV with former Bush aid, David Frum. First, of course this would be on Canadian TV. No American news agency - except for perhaps PBS - would ever devote a half an hour to an honest and frank discussion of political ideas and strategies.

Frum made a number of really interesting points about where the Republican party is today politically/ideologically and where he thinks it used to be and where he thinks it needs to go. In particular, he says that catering to the shrinking share of the population that white, non-college educated, and middle income is a recipe for chronic political decline. He also talks about how the GOP has become "anti-merit" where it used to be about "limited but effective government." Perhaps most interestingly, he implies that the GOP has ill-advisedly "nailed their colors to the pole" as far as policies demanded by and supported by voters over 65 - especially social policies and medicare policies. He paints a picture of a Republican party that has become impractical and inflexible. This is not news to the rest of us but it is interesting to hear it from a prominent Republican.

The other interesting idea from this interview was Frum's proposal for tax reform. He suggested that we shift the tax burden away from "production" and towards "consumption." Now, usually when Republicans talk like this they are proposing replacing income taxes with sales taxes. But Frum - rightly - said that sales taxes are a horrible idea. What he proposed was making all monies currently in savings accounts exempt from taxation. You only pay taxes on money you spend on things. So in other words if you save 10% of your income you are reducing your taxable income by 10%. I haven't fully thought out the ramifications of this but it sounds like a remarkable idea. It's certainly something worth looking at.

We do a lot of bashing of Republicans on this blog, so I thought it would be good for me to point out when I hear a genuinely good idea and analysis from a Republican.


Repeal and Replace? Really? That's the plan?

So the Republicans have their latest catch-phrase as policy proposal. They are going to campaign this summer on the slogan "Repeal and Replace" health care reform. Let's look at this in detail.

Replace? With what? The Republicans LIKED THE STATUS QUO. They had from 2000 to 2006 to reform health care and all they did was a medicare prescription bill that is widely regarded as a massive subsidy to Big Pharma. They gave billions to the pharmaceutical companies and left a gaping hole in the coverage. So for the Republicans to say they are all for health care reform just not the way the Democrats did it, is just a lie for political gain.

Repeal? They have no chance of doing that. The reason the Republicans were so angry about health care reform is because it has massive distributive implications. Resources are going to be taken away from favored Republican constituencies (the wealthy and big insurance companies) and given to favored Democratic constituencies (the middle class, workers, the elderly and the poor). The only reason the Democrats were able to pull this off was because they had huge majorities in both houses of Congress and even then it was a very difficult and nearly run thing. The problem for Republicans is that now that the thing has passed, repealing it will mean REdistributing the resources - that is taking tangible benefits away from large groups of voters (middle class, workers, and the elderly). Even if the Republicans take both houses of Congress (something is very unlikely), President Obama would surely veto any attempt at repeal and would have enough support left in Congress to make it stick.

Meanwhile, the news media have run out of process stories and are finally making the content of the legislation a top story. As people learn more and more about the benefits they are going to get, they support the bill more and more.


Summer of Love: Planning for the Summer of 2010

The Health Care debate is over. The Democrats won. Okay, it's not that simple, but that's the message the public will get. Dems 1, GOP 0. That's a good message. Now the legislative leadership on the Hill is relaxing. Likely it is that nothing else they do in their lives as legislators will again be this hard. What's on the agenda:
1. Financial reform. Bank-bashing. This is a bad place for the GOP. It's almost as bad as blocking unemployment benefits. It reminds the public that the GOP has always been the party of Wall Street. [That's the only solid thread going straight back to 1854 when they used to also be on the side of minority rights and democratic inclusion. This mid-19th-century coalition that embraced progressive ideas but managed to exclude urban immigrant labor was crucial in preventing the development of a real "labor" party in the USA]. This will be a Democratic win. Dems vs. Bush and Bankers is part of the 2010 playbook.
2. Immigration reform. Whoa, nellie! Can Democrats split the GOP from its last few Latino votes in Texas and Florida? Possibly. Obama got 71% of Latino women but only 55% of Latino men in Texas. In CA, 71% Latino men and 75% Latino women. Note that percentage of Latino men in Texas still voting GOP. There's been a lot of talk about what happens if those votes switch over. That appears to be about 3% of the electorate. That would have made the vote 52-48% - hella close.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Constitutionality of Health Care Reform (HCR)

So, Virginia and 12 other states have filed suit against HCR, specifically against the "individual mandate" that will not kick in until 2014. Obviously it's not really a lawsuit to declare HCR unconstitutional. It would leave in place all of the regulation, subsidies, and employer mandates - it would only seek to overturn the individual mandate.

If the court decided against it, there are easy patches. First,remember: people want health insurance. If the subsidies are good enough, compliance should be pretty high with or without a mandate. Big deal. Second, taxes are constitutional. The individual mandate could be transformed into an add-on to the income tax where the payee is the government, not private insurance companies. If it is unconstitutional to require every citizen to pay $1000 to General Insurance, it is not unconsttitutional to require every citizen to pay $1000 in taxes (and be offered a free a General insurance policy).

Stop avoiding the question. Is it constitutional? This is not so easy a call as you might think. There are two modes of attack. The first is that it is an impermissible intrusion on liberty, which would (under the 14th amendment) be the same analysis for states as for the feds. Nobody has levied this attack against Massachussetts, for example, which has an individual mandate. It probably would fail. Most obviously, if viewed as a kind of tax, then it's fine. And it is very much like a head tax, although that's not the Democrats' favorite argument. Are Medicare or Social Security unconstitutional? Both require expenditures by all for specific items. The individual mandate could be re-case easily enough. Remember, it is only a mandate to spend money.

The second main attack is that the mandate is a violation of the commerce clause of the federal constitution, intruding on an area subject solely to state regulation. The latter appears to be the premise of the lawsuits. Note that this is not an objection to the individual mandate as a violation of some supposed fundamental American liberty (the Tea Party line) but is a purely federalist argument. The response of the courts will probably be that this is within the commerce clause. Why? The courts will likely find that the feds can do this regulation precisely because state regulation isn't effective in dealing with this insurance market. If state regulation isn't effective - if national regulation is needed - that all but proves that what we are dealing with is an INTERSTATE commerce issue. Compare the Lopez case of 1996 where the Supreme Court invoked the "dormant" commerce clause limits to strike down a federal ban on guns within 1000 feet of schools. Clearly, state laws would be equally effective to accomplish the same goal within each state's borders.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Health Care Reform Update

Lots of websites are trying to track which Rep is going to vote which way on the bill this coming Sunday (at least, that's when a vote is expected). I've been trying to follow it too, and it's giving me a headache. So let me instead post this:

Intrade is giving the bill an 80% chance of passing. Nate Silver has it over 90%. Now this is far from a sure thing and you should probably call your Rep just to be sure. But it's looking rosier than it was, say, last week.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

We're #1!

Wow, we've been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize! This is the most exciting thing to happen to us since we all were named Time's Person of the Year.


Monday, March 15, 2010

The Bugle

Well, I've just discovered something great. It's a podcast called "The Bugle" by British comedians John Oliver of "The Daily Show" and Andy Zaltzman. Hilarious podcast about politics. Let me excerpt from episode 105 when they were talking about The Falklands -- this is an international issue I had no idea about. If you're not up to speed, Argentina is squawking about taking the Falklands again. Chavez (of course) has gotten involved, and the UK doesn't want to give them up because ... drum roll please ... oil has been discovered there! So John, take it away:

The estimate is that there may well be sixty billion barrels of oil around the Falkland Islands, and Britain has really hit the jackpot with this, Andy. Many people were mystified as to why we cared enough to fight a war over the Falklands all those years ago, but now we've been rewarded. It was like we bought an ugly painting no one liked from a thrift store, held on to it for decades, then we took it onto Antiques Roadshow only to be told there was a Rembrandt hidden behind it, and that we were now stinking rich.

- snip -

The beauty of this is that Britain must really be able to count on the U.S. with this one, Andy, we supported them in their morally dubious war for oil, time to call that favor in! But oh, hold on, what's this? It turns out the Obama administration has absolutely no desire to get involved in this at all; it has declined to back Britain's claim that oil exploration near the islands is sanctioned by international law, saying the dispute is strictly a bilateral issue. What!? What happened to "shoulder to shoulder"? All we are asking for is a tiny set of islands, not a region in the middle east. Et tu, Obama? Et tu? If Bush was president, Buenos Aires would already have been carpet bombed by now. Bring him back, Andy, at least we knew where we stood with that guy.
Go check it out.


Bibi learns that Obama is not Obambi

Right wingers push the idea that Obama is just a dogooder wimp. A pushover. They say it all the time in the US press. (This does embolden our enemies like Ahmadinejad, but the GOP only cares about such things when one of theirs is in power). So Benjamin Netanyahu, who buys into all this, hatched a plan to end the US call for a halt to West Bank settlements. He had his a housing minister (forget actual title) announce 1600 new houses (1600- anyone get the symbolism?) the day that Obama's Vice President arrives in Israel for talk. The plan was obvious: have a stunned and embarrassed Obama administration, in the person of Joe Biden, do nothing and say little while Israel flouted our wishes. Then the whole MidEast, Israel and the Arab world would see that the US wasn't serious about holding Israel to the 'no settlement' line, and that the Obama would not take on Israel in any serious way.

What a mistake. Biden promptly condemned Israel, using the "condemn" word that the USA never uses for Israel. Biden then actually snubbed the Israeli government by arriving an hour and a half late to an official dinner. Imagine keeping the president of the USA waiting for that long! These things matter. The entire Israeli government got to wonder what it might be like if the Biden didn't come at all. VP Biden's other reactions were so bad that Bibi (his nickname) immediately claimed (with no real credibility) that the unfortunate timing was a total mistake. The govt even passed a new law to prevent such 'mistakes' from re-occurring. But he didn't apologize for the action or offer to take it back. Nobody who has ever studied the middle east seriously thinks this was a mistake. A 'mistake' would be dealt with by immediately canning the minister and canceling the plan. But such things are not mistakes. Israel is a small country where everyone knows each others' business. It is inconceivable that Bibi did not know what was going on in his own administration.

Of course, Bibi didn't engage Biden on the real problem that settlements are anathema to a peace agreement. Jewish settlements over the green line in Jerusalem or the West Bank are an attempt to change facts on the ground using Israel's power advantage. [Imagine how incendiary it would be if the Palestinians were able to (and did) build Arab settlements near Tel Aviv on formerly Jewish-owned property, then connected them to the West Bank with roads and fenced the Jews out...].

Then it got worse. Evidently, Joe Biden didn't deliver the message forcefully enough. Hillary Clinton called yesterday and, according to the Jerusalem Post, read Bibi the riot act for three quarters of an hour. In short, she said that you do NOT pull this shit on the United States of America. The Israeli public, whatever they think about settlements, knew that Bibi's plan was a slap in the face to the Obama administration. Now, for the first time in 40 years, the US government is telling Israel that "enough is enough" and that it won't be a doormat, won't be toyed with or played in these little Levantine intrigues. Differ with us if you must, but don't insult us. Not when we pay the Israeli government $1,000 per year for every Jewish citizen of Israel (do the math...). This is becoming a serious political problem for Bibi. He risked the US-Israeli relationship for the desires of a small religious right wing and, for the first time ever, is paying the price.

The Obama administration brilliantly handled this. It broke ALL the unspoken rules of US-Israeli relations in ways that have clearly stunned and shocked the Israeli government. For those who don't know, every word is fraught with meaning in these contexts, and the US reaction was not like a bull in a china shop, but a deliberate transgressing of dozens of unspoken rules. In doing so, it may have handed the Israeli people a hint of the existential crisis they would face if they lost the unlimited American backing they have enjoyed for nearly half a century. The Jerusalem Post is complaining that the USA has emboldened Israel's enemies. Maybe so. If so, that was a price Israel had to pay for its own behavior, and its leaders know it.

I think Netanyahu will wait a while before insulting the US again. The strong US reaction has helped the US standing across the world, and will cut a the image of Obama as a wimp. After all, even Reagan didn't have the balls to stand up to a right-wing Israeli government when the whole phenomenon of mass settlements began - a big part of why we are now in this mess today.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Health Care at Last?

It looks like we may be less than 10 days away from the House passing the Senate's version of the health care reform bill. A fix-it bill will then follow. This may finally be about to happen.

It should never have taken this long. Reconciliation was an available vehicle last summer, when the term "health care reform" was still popular. The inability of Democrats to unite and advance their agenda (or defend their plans) has led to all kinds of political hooey. Now the cost of passing the bill is much higher than it would have been last summer, or so it appears to pundits.

Of course, this is all just so much inside baseball. The biggest issue with Jane Q. Voter is the economy. The second business is that the federal government doesn't seem to work. HC reform addresses latter. I guarantee you that Obama will see a bump in the polls when HC reform passes, as will Democrats generally, because of the old saying that "nothing succeeds like success." All the shrill cries of socialism and death panels don't really resonate when the bill is already passed and none of the bad stuff happens.

This bill really is it for the Obama administration's first term. Failure here will doom them, perhaps to only one term. Success will breed more success in all kinds of other areas, as every other mountain is so much easier to climb. "At least they get shit done" is worth a whole lot these days, both with independents and with a thoroughly disappointed left.

And we forget how quickly public opinion can shift. Liberals who dumped on Harry Reid for months suddenly cheered when he broke the GOP filibuster last Christmas Eve. It's going to be a big party if they pass HC reform in the next 10 days or so. And everyone is going to want to feel invited.


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Ryan's Lyin'

A while back, Paul Ryan (R-WI) introduced a budget of his that purported to balance the budget. Democrats (the smart ones) who've been attacking this have been going after Republicans to see if they support his budget, because it slashes all sorts of entitlements. But everyone seemed to agree that it at least cut the deficit, right?

Well, no.

As we reported a month ago, the CBO's analysis of the Ryan plan was drawn up based upon revenue projections Ryan himself provided. The CBO doesn't analyze the impact of tax policy on revenue, so they were unable to estimate how Ryan's policy prescriptions would actually impact revenues--and just took Ryan's numbers at face value. Turns out, those numbers were pure fantasy.

The Tax Policy Center--a non-partisan think tank--did a thorough analysis on the impact of the tax changes Ryan proposes--a massive tax cut for the wealthy, paired with substantial tax increases on 90 percent of the country--and found that the so-called "Roadmap" would actually leave the federal government desperately starved for funds.

According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, "the Ryan plan would result in very large revenue losses relative to current policies."
We need to make a big deal out of this.


Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Why We Need Unemployment Insurance

So, Senator Kyl (wanna guess which party?) says that unemployment benefits do nothing to help the economy and are a disincentive to find work. He's wrong for so many reasons. Let's go over them.

1. Most people on unemployment are suffering staggering losses of income - usually getting well under half of their employment -level income. Most get less than $1500/month, sometimes much less. Very few are paid more than $2000/month, those from very high-paying jobs where the salaries were likely 4-5 times as much beforehand. That is, in itself, a massive incentive to find work.
2. The real problem is there are no jobs out there. Don't blame the victims.
3. Unemployment insurance payments - which largey are funded out of employee paychecks in good times - prevent the economic floor from falling out under millions of people and families. It enables them to keep paying rent, keep car payments, buying food. These payments greatly reduce the economic shock of the sudden loss of consumer dollars in the economy. The money is not saved: it goes directly to consumer spending and debt service, where it does the most good in our economy.
4. Unemployment insurance helps preserve the dignity of the unemployed. That dignity is exactly what helps them get back on their feet again.
5. Human dignity is a value we should support. We don't want our millions of unemployed people homeless and digging through trash cans. We don't want them working under the table for scraps ($1/hour anyone? Piecework? Child labor? All the horror of the industrial revolution we abolished with minimum wage/hour laws...). We don't want kids working, or selling themselves.
6. I think Senator Kyl has no idea what it is like to have the shame of losing a job. If coupled with total economic destitution - zero dollars income and debt service payments remaining - it is, quite literally, a killer. Kids get beaten. Old people abused and neglected. Spouses get beaten. Familes are torn apart. All for want of a few dollars to keep the heat on and a roof to sleep under, for those who have always worked hard before.
7. I don't think Senator Kyl has any idea what it is like to be hungry. I don't mean that irritating feeling you get while waiting for the cocktail party to start. I mean wanting food badly and not having any way to get any. Scarlett O'Hara is pure fiction. Hungry people don't resolve to work harder and harder than ever before. Hunger makes you crumble inside. Hunger is dehumanizing. It leads to abasement. The miracle of feeding the five thousand was not about the amount of food available: it was that someone with means gave a damn about hungry people. Sorry Mr. Kyl missed this along the way.

Yes, there may be some people who manage to game the system and glide on unemployment for longer than they should. No system will ever be abuse-free. But that's not what's going on here. Unemployment insurance props up the economy and human dignity.

Republican opposition to unemployment insurance should be the Democrats' rallying cry in the 2010 elections.


Saturday, March 06, 2010

IceSave and the Recession

So you may all have heard about Iceland's woes. The biggest bank, Landsbank (with its branch IceSave) collapsed, and some $5.3 billion was lost largely by Dutch and British savers. The Dutch and British governments repaid their citizens, but demanded that Iceland - the government and people - pay back the $5.3 billion. The $5.3 billion represents 40% of the GDP. It is as if Americans were being asked to pay $2-3Trillion to repay the Chinese government for losses borne by Chinese citizens in US banks. No wonder the Icelanders are saying NO.

The real problem here is that Iceland - like every other western country since Reaganism/Thatcherism has socialized the risk without socializing the rewards. So taxes are very low on big bankers, but if they fail, we're all on the hook for it. Here in this country, we wen tthrough our own version of this bank bailout last Fall.

Now what's happening? We can't really afford to de-socialize the risk. That would mean ending the FDIC guarantees that have prevetned bank runs and all that. And we don't really know how to chop up banks so they are not too big to fail. The answer is to regulate heavily against risk and to socialize the rewards - to have special taxes on bank profits and have bankers pay into a big risk insurance pool to hedge for their own greed and ineptitude.

But it's not happening. The Republican party just says NO. Paid huge amounts of money by the financial services industry, they are resisting any meaningful change in the system that has made the bankers so wealthy and taxed the rest of us so much. It's time to demand real change. It's too bad we don't have our own IceSave crisis to help out. 1/4 of the Icelandic citizens signed an online petition against the bailout already, and the government is going to have to reconsider what to do.

Oh, and the rich bankers themselves who made all the money? So far, no punishment. I want to see punishment and restitution here. I want to pass a 150% bonus tax on all bank bonuses in excess of $50,000 received in the last 5 years. And we need to make it a crime, punishable by hard labor if possible, to cause losses of this magnitude.


Monday, March 01, 2010

Some Thoughts About The Earthquake in Chile

Hi Everyone,

First, I wonder when Pat Robertson or some other Christian Fundamentalist is going to blame the Earthquake on some moral failing in Chilean policy.

Second, the differences between Chile and Haiti from a geological perspective are getting a lot of attention. But something that gets mentioned less is that the Chilean avoidance of mass casualties is evidence of the importance of a stable government capable of providing emergency services AND enforcing regulations about building safety.

This is important from a grand ideological sense. Republicans on the far right are found of saying that there should be minimal government. In practice this means they support any reduction in the regulatory authority of the state and support any increase in the military or police power of the state. If we project their preferences out to their end point, they prefer a government that supplies public safety (police and fire mainly) and military protection and virtually nothing else. We don't have to imagine what such a Republican utopia would look like. Most of Sub-Saharan Africa is like this. Haiti used to be like this until a series of corrupt authoritarian leaders and natural disasters destroyed even the public safety and military.

Chile's government instituted building codes to account for their frequent strong earthquakes. And what's more, they enforced those regulations. They did not rely on the enlightened self interest of private contractors to make their own buildings safer. Because of those building codes, even severely damaged structures stay intact enough, long enough for people to escape with their lives. This is in sharp contrast to Haiti's regulation free environment where buildings immediately "pancaked" on their inhabitants.

The message to the far right: be careful what you wish for!