Big health care news story you probably missed (because your local media didn’t cover it)

December 10, 2013

Just sayin’, you know?

This is news economists and budget watchers and policy makers have been hoping to hear for 60 years.

Here it is — did you see it in your local paper? On TV? On Facebook?

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises.  From ThinkProgress

Chart showing news coverage of record low health care cost rises. From ThinkProgress

http://twitter.com/didikins4life/status/404112438519668736/photo/1

One criticism aimed at the Affordable Care Act that had some legs was that it did not go far enough to control actual costs. Cost controls would have been impossible to add to the bill, politically. So the hope was that this first step would have some impact.

In 2009, health care cost inflation ran about 20% per year, despite the recession. For the previous two decades, health care costs inflated at a greater-than 10% clip every year.

By 2012, with a push from the reforms in the ACA, Bill Clinton reported that health care cost inflation had dropped to 4% per year.

Now?  1.3%.  This is huge news.

Who covered it?  Not many, according to ThinkProgress.

Bad news gets 24-hour coverage and bulletins during the ads.  Good news is an orphan.  How wrong is that?

Bookmark the chart and ThinkProgress; you’ll need facts in your discussions.

More:


Millard Fillmore nominates the government of the Utah Territory

September 9, 2013

Interesting exercise, probably for an undergraduate college history student:  What became of these men during their service in the Utah Territory, and afterward?  What effect did they have on Utah’s history, and Utah on them?

In September 1850, Millard Fillmore sent the Senate, for confirmation, his nominations of officers to run the Utah Territory, three years after Brigham Young had led the first band of Latter-day Saints into the Salt Lake Valley to settle:

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 - U.S. National Archives image

Letter from President Millard Fillmore to the U.S. Senate, nominating people (all men) to govern the Utah Territory, September 26, 1850 – U.S. National Archives image

Page 2:

Page 2 of President Fillmore's letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850.  National Archives image

Page 2 of President Fillmore’s letter to the U.S. Senate, nominating officers to govern the Utah Territory , in 1850. National Archives image

National Archives notes:  Executive Nominations for the First Session of the 31st Congress, 12/03/1849 – 09/30/1850

Production Dates: 09/26/1850

Notes in red ink indicate that confirmation dates for each of these nominees — all but one done two days later.  Fillmore’s nominee to be U.S. marshall in the territory wasn’t confirmed until the following February.

Amazing to think of the speed with which these confirmations occurred, compared to today’s U.S. Senate — and remembering that Congress was not particularly friendly to Fillmore.

An animated GIF of the as it evolved from 1850...

An animated GIF of the Utah Territory as it evolved from 1850 to 1896, when statehood was granted. (Territory boundaries not exact, especially in the west, where early proposals took in parts of California) Wikipedia image

Nominations were:

  • Brigham Young, of Utah, to be governor of the Utah territory
  • Broughton Davis Harris, of Vermont, to be Secretary of the territory
  • Joseph Buffington, of Pennsylvania, to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Perry E. Brocchus, of Alabama, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Zerubabbel Snow, of Ohio, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Utah Territory
  • Seth Blain, of Utah, to be U.S. Attorney
  • Joseph L. Haywood, of Utah, to be U.S. Marshall.

What other odd little delights are hidden away in the on-line holdings of the National Archives?  What sort of DBQ exercise can history teachers make out of this stuff?

More:

Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives

Brigham Young in 1851; photo from LDS archives


Outlaw flying in the American west

August 15, 2013

Old Jules tells a great story here about cranking up the old Cessna and climbing high enough to watch the vast powers of the U.S. military run training operations in the New Mexico Desert.

Pilots, bless ‘em, tend toward the ornery end of the scale.  That’s what you want if something breaks on your airplane.  You want a guy at the stick who says, “Dagnab it, let’s see how to get out of this one safely.”  (Shades of Flight.  A great movie, really — did you see it?)

This is the place to insert the heroics of pilots in various times of stress, Wally Stewart and his crew bringing their B-24 bomber back over the Mediterrannean and dropping it perfectly on the runway, where it fell apart from the bullet holes [See KUED resources here].  That brave American Airlines crew in the DC-10 over Detroit, Flight 96, who lost hydraulic control when the rear cargo door blew out, and after a string of blue talking, brought the plane down safely (one flight attendant died in the explosion). Those United Airlines pilots who brought the DC-10 Flight 232 down in Sioux City, Iowa, after the rear engine flew apart and destroyed all control of the tail and rudder.  That brave U.S. Airways crew that executed a perfect landing in the Hudson River with Flight 1549.

I think if you talk with pilots much, you get the idea that they like things a little on the edge.  They don’t develop those cool, steely nerves that save lives by having nothing go wrong, ever, or by not pushing their aircraft where the wonks at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C., say aircraft should not be pushed.  We hope they do all this pushing in flight simulators; but we also know better.

Cessnas, and just violating some of the rules, don’t deserve those accolades, really.  These stories tell how pilots might develop the skills the brave guys use later.  But they are stories, nevertheless, and they deserve to be told.  They may not save your life flying, but they’ll enrich your life, and help you get through the stuff here on the ground.

So go read Old Jules’s tale.

Then come back here; here are a couple of stories, true as I remember them (a couple of which really should be tracked down; the American west of the latter-half the of 20th century is full of these stories, and they need to be told).

I told Old Jules:

What’s outlaw in flying?

Two observations.

Years ago, while I was staffing the Senate, my brother, Jerry Jones, who spent a good deal of time in his last 20 years in Page, Arizona, called to ask me to check in on a Senate hearing on some FAA issue or other.  Turns out someone — National Park Service, perhaps? — was asking FAA to significantly tighten rules on flying around NPS stuff, including around Rainbow Bridge National Monument.  Apart from the usual issues of air traffic congestion and safety around conflicts between “fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft” (airplanes and helicopters) in and around the Grand Canyon, there were complaints about small plane pilots flying under Rainbow bridge.  The thing really is massive, and you could put the dome of the U.S. Capitol under it, so it’s about 500 feet high . . . what barnstorming pilot could resist?

A somewhat skeptical group of senators quizzed the FAA and Park Service guys on what the problem was, other than noise and hubbub to hikers (who had hiked a mile from the marina on Lake Powell).  About that time Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, shuffled into the hearing.  Goldwater was very protective of grand things to see in Arizona, like Rainbow Bridge, and he was also a pilot.

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator (AZ-R)

Barry Goldwater, U.S. Senator, R-Arizona. Wikipedia image.

At some point, one of the officials making a case to yank licenses from pilots who pulled the illegal stunt made a comment that questioned the sanity of any pilot who would do such a thing.  Goldwater sat upright.  You mean any pilot who would do such a thing is crazy? Goldwater asked.  Well, yes — and we don’t want crazy people flying airplanes, the official said.  How about such crazy people representing the people of Arizona and passing judgment on your proposals? Goldwater asked.  Then he said he didn’t want an answer to that, that he had some grave reservations about the proposal, and he left the hearing.

I later caught a conversation with the senator in a hallway, in which someone asked him directly if he’d ever flown under Rainbow Bridge, and he said something like, not enough times that the FAA needs to worry about it.

Brother Jerry started a public service effort in his Page days, Page Attacks Trash, a project to clean up litter in and around Page, on the Navajo Reservation, and in the Lake Powell National Recreation Area (NRA) and Rainbow Bridge NM.  It was a great clean-up effort, got the support of the Salt River Project (who operate the Navajo Generating Station in Page); it was big time.  Iron Eyes Cody, who did the famous anti-littering ad featuring the tear in the eye of an American Indian, sometimes dropped in to help out.

Jerry arranged for some television Public Service Announcements (PSAs) filmed in and around Lake Powell, to fight littering.  One of the spots was shot at Rainbow Bridge.  Jerry’s health had been failing for years, but he’d get his cane and make the hike, just to watch the proceedings and keep it all going well.  They finished the spot, broke sticks (as they used to say in the filming biz), and were walking back to the boats at the marina, Jerry and his cane far in the rear.  Just before the film crew rounded the bend, they heard a small airplane buzzing around and the tell-tale cut of the engine, to lose altitude, before roaring the engine to pass under the stone formation.  One of the cameramen had some footage left, and had the presence of mind to turn on the camera and film the thing.

Well, the Park Service and FAA were outraged to hear of the event.  They subpoenaed the film footage, and blew up every frame to see if they could get the tail number on the airplane.  To be honest, I don’t know how that turned out.  I do know that one my wall I have a massive picture of my late brother, two by two-and-a-half feet, waving to the cameraman, with Rainbow Bridge in the background.  That frame didn’t have any useful information, and the law gave him the photo.

The Rainbow Brigde National Monument

Rainbow Brigde National Monument; no, I wouldn’t try to fly a plane under it, either. You could, if you had to, but the authorities would probably track you down like a woodpecker and yank your license. Wikipedia image

Two:

The West Utah Desert remains desolate.  On the border between Nevada and Utah, there ain’t much of nothin’.  A few roads connect a few ranches, but there’s a good reason U.S. 50 and 6 out there is known as “the loneliest highway in the world.”  Bandits might be regarded as welcome company out there sometimes.

Anyway, it was expensive to run copper wires out there, say, 50 miles, to an isolated ranch house, or a lone gas station, or some other building said to be a business.  So mostly, AT&T didn’t do it.  People who lived and worked out there just had to get along without phone service.  Enter a guy named Art Silver Brothers (I think; my memory fades, too)), who figured out that radiophone service worked okay.  Give people a radiophone — a device which existed then, but which required several pounds of gear and a lot of juice, relatively — and they could dial up the “local” grocery store to check to be sure the milk was good this week, before driving 50 miles to get some dairy whitener for the coffee.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing their service area.

A photo from Beehive Telephone in 2012, showing a part of their service area in Utah, or Nevada, or both. The company still exists!  On their website, they say:  “

Art strung wires where he could, using REA-installed power poles, or fence poles, or whatever he could, and thin, light copper wiring.  His Beehive Phone Company was one of the last truly independent phone operations in the U.S., serving a grossly underserved area with patchy service.  He didn’t get rich doing it.  He was the company’s only employee most of the time.

Stringing copper over 50 miles for one phone, a company can have difficulty maintaining such lines.  Art had a pilot’s license, and he learned he could spot downed lines and other trouble from the air . . . and it was just one step to landing his small airplane on the local road, fixing the problem, and taking off again.

Well, that got the ire of the FAA.  They said he shouldn’t do that.  They argued that he was impeding traffic an imposing dangers.  He said he was keeping lifelines open for people in far-flung places, and it was not a problem for traffic on roads where there might be two vehicles a week passing by.  FAA paid for traffic studies on a bunch of those roads; and they enlisted the FCC to try to shut down Silver’s operations.

Remember, part of the system was wired, and part was radio.  Turns out that in those pre-cellular days, the radio frequencies Silver used were in the “emergency” spectrum — radio frequencies used by cops and firefighters in places where cops and firefighters existed.  FCC took to taping the “phone conversations” of Art’s customers, and in yet another hearing in the Senate, charged that Art was abusing emergency frequencies.  The star audio was a tape recording of a woman ordering a significant amount of liquor from a liquor store that served probably six counties in eastern Nevada.  FCC argued that obviously was not an emergency, and it amounted to an abuse of spectrum, and it was enough of an abuse to shut down the phone company.

Art finally got his chance to explain.  Someone quizzed him about that liquor order, and whether that was appropriate use of emergency radio spectrum.

Well, Art started, the woman making the liquor order was the owning madam of [a] western Nevada brothel, set way in the hell in the middle of nowhere.  “And I gotta tell you, if you run a whore house, and you run out of whiskey, that’s an emergency.”

Those were good days to attend hearings in Washington.  The Tea Party has ruined all that.

That’s my story; the true facts are probably better.

More:

Jerry Jones and Rainbow Bridge

A bad snapshot of the picture on my wall, Jerry Jones waving from the path to Rainbow Bridge National Monument, moments after a small aircraft flew under the Bridge.


Got questions about ObamaCare? Check out this site

June 24, 2013

I get e-mail; this one may prove useful to more than a few people, especially anyone who owns a small business and has questions about how ObamaCare — the Affordable Care Act — will affect your taxes, your hiring, your expenses, etc.:

The White House, Washington

Hi, all –

In fewer than 100 days, the new health care reform law takes an important step forward. On October 1, 2013, Health Insurance Marketplaces will open in every state, and millions of Americans will be eligible to apply for coverage. Between now and then, we’re sure that lots of people will be looking for information about the upcoming changes.

That’s why we revamped HealthCare.gov.

On the updated site, you’ll be able to get a personalized list of coverage options, tailored to your situation, and a checklist to help prepare for October 1. You’ll find a rich set of answers to frequently asked questions, powerful search features to help you find the specific information you need, and two great ways to talk to customer service representatives, 24/7: a new 1-800 number (1-800-318-2596) and online chat.

When open enrollment starts on October 1, 2013, you’ll be able to use the site to compare various health care plans side by side to find a plan that fits your life and your budget. You’ll even be able to use HealthCare.gov to apply for coverage or be directed to your own state’s application portal.

We hope you’ll use the site to get answers to your questions about the health care law — and forward this email to your friends so they can do the same.

Thanks!

Tara

Tara McGuinness
Senior Communications Advisor
The White House

P.S. — Have questions about what else you can expect from health care reform? Click here for a timeline of the key features of the Affordable Care Act.

Visit WhiteHouse.gov

[My e-mail address cut out ]

The White House • 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW • Washington, DC 20500 • 202-456-1111

Several people I’ve run into have questions about the program — some of the questions are serious, and difficult for me to answer, and some are silly (“Why do I have to give up my insurance now?” Answer:  You don’t.)  There’s a great need for answers.  Distortions of the plan from the nasty political fights involved, have taken hold in the mind of many as representations of what the plan weill do.

Go try the site.  Does it answer your questions?  What questions do you have that are not answered by this site?

More:

Screenshot of HealthCare.gov. Click to visit the site.

Screenshot of HealthCare.gov. Click to visit the site.


Oklahoma storms, as viewed by NASA

May 21, 2013

Oklahoma storm of May 20, 2013, as viewed by NASA Goddard's Aqua satellite.

Oklahoma storm of May 20, 2013, as viewed by NASA Goddard’s Aqua satellite.

Residents of Moore got several minutes of warning before the tornado struck, saving perhaps hundreds of lives.

Can the U.S. afford to keep cutting resources from NASA and NOAA?  Seriously?

 


How’s that austerity working for you?

April 6, 2013

NJ State Police Benevolent Association sign

Sign outside Atlantic City, New Jersey. Image from NJSPBA.com

“Even the bad guys are feeling lucky.”

With declining income, American cities lay off cops.

No problem for the rich!  Just hire private cops! Story in the Christian Science Monitor:

After people in Oakland’s [California] wealthy enclaves like Oakmore or Piedmont Pines head to work, security companies take over, cruising the quiet streets to ward off burglars looking to take advantage of unattended homes.

*  *  *  *  *  *

Long known for patrolling shopping malls and gated communities, private security firms are beginning to spread into city streets. While private security has long been contracted by homeowners associations and commercial districts, the trend of groups of neighbors pooling money to contract private security for their streets is something new.

Besides Oakland, neighborhoods in Atlanta and Detroit – both cities with high rates of crime – have hired firms to patrol their neighborhoods, says Steve Amitay, executive director of the National Association of Security Contractor.

“It’s happening everywhere,” Mr. Amitay says. “Municipal governments and cities are really getting strapped in terms of their resources, and when a police department cuts 100 officers obviously they are going to respond to less crimes.”

Potential issues:

  1. Is the cost less than the modest increase in taxes required to keep the cops on?
  2. What happens when a rent-a-cop finds criminals in action?  Private security firms are not bound to stop criminal action, nor put their lives on the line to catch criminals.
  3. Would it be as effective if those people who fire private security simply donated that money to local law enforcement agencies?

File this under the so-called conservative rich cutting off their fingers to spite their hands:  Does it ever occur to them that they would have more bankable cash if they didn’t have to hire a security service to guard their homes, but instead paid modest taxes to educate would-be criminals to do non-criminal work, and to provide police protection instead of private spies?

Didn’t Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association say his agency would support bigger budgets to hire more cops?  Where is that lobbying action today?  What’s that — he was just jerking whose chain?  (I’d be more comfortable if I knew LaPierre does not regard Somalia as the model for how a national government ought to work.)

More:


What news organizations need to know about “no-fly” zones over disaster areas

April 4, 2013

Lots of chatter around the internet today on the discovery that the Federal Aviation Agency posted a notice making the area over the oil spill in Arkansas off limits to aircraft.

Some people claimed they were certain that it was because Exxon-Mobil paid to get a special favor; others wondered why the government would be complicit in such a deal. Several of the comments linked to aerial photos of the spill, and said ‘obviously’ Exxon Mobil doesn’t want photos of the severity  of the spill to get out.  Bill McKibben’s tweet alerted me to the controversy (take a look at that video, too).

Actually, it’s common procedure to make sport flying and other unnecessary flying over disasters, off limits — FAA has a special set of regulations for that.  Rescuers and disaster fighters, and relief workers,  don’t want sight-seers on visual flight rules posing hazards to flights necessary to work on disaster relief or clean up of a spill of a toxic or hazardous substance.

But this doesn’t mean that news organizations cannot fly — in fact, there is a special regulation to ALLOW news aircraft over the zone, for photography and other reports.

Here’s the notice at FAA’s website (I’m sure that link will be unworkable in a few weeks):

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

FAA notification, NOTAMs notice of Mayflower, Arkansas, temporary flight restrictions; screen grab April 3, 2013.

Most announcements of restrictions of any public activity by a federal agency contain a notice of from where the agency draws that authority; I didn’t include it in the screen grab, but FAA notes the authority flows from Title 14 CFR section 91.137(a)(2).  That’s the Code of Federal Regulations, the set of volumes that list all the regulations the federal government has.  This was also published in the Federal Register — and I suspect the NOTAMs is also published there — but CFR is the more permanent set of books for finding government rules.

In the interests of open government, of course the FAA makes these rules available online.  They are available at several sites.  Here’s the meat of the regulation:

Section 2. Temporary Flight Restrictions in the Vicinity of Disaster/Hazard Areas (14 CFR Section 91.137)

19-2-1. PURPOSE

This section prescribes guidelines and procedures regarding the management of aircraft operations in the vicinity of disaster/hazard areas in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137. TFRs issued under this section are for disaster/hazard situations that warrant regulatory measures to restrict flight operations for a specified amount of airspace, on a temporary basis, in order to provide protection of persons or property in the air or on the ground.

19-2-2. RATIONALE

TFRs in accordance with 14 CFR Section 91.137 are issued when necessary to:

a. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(1) – Protect persons and property on the surface or in the air from an existing or imminent hazard associated with an incident on the surface when the presence of low flying aircraft would magnify, alter, spread, or compound that hazard.

b. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(2) – Provide a safe environment for the operation of disaster relief aircraft.

c. 14 CFR 91.137(a)(3) – Prevent an unsafe congestion of sightseeing and other aircraft above an incident or event that may generate a high degree of public interest.

NOTE-
This provision applies only to disaster/hazard incidents of limited duration that would attract an unsafe congestion of sightseeing aircraft.

Specific  rules of restrictions, who in the FAA declares them, who can grant waivers, and to who the restrictions apply, get spelled out following that  part.

Notice that, generally, these restrictions apply only to flights below 1,000 feet.  A good camera in a television station’s helicopter can get a lot of great shots from 1,000 feet out (three football fields) — this is a distance often seen in the videos of police car chases.  So it’s not a complete ban.

Savvy news organizations will know how to get news photos using the specific exemption for news aircraft, with procedures spelled out so the FAA knows it’s a news gathering operation; I’ve put the critical clauses in red:

c. Section 91.137(a)(3). Restrictions issued in accordance with this section prohibit all aircraft from operating in the designated area unless at least one of the following conditions is met:

1. The operation is conducted directly to or from an airport within the area, or is necessitated by the impracticability of VFR flight above or around the area due to weather or terrain, and the operation is not conducted for the purpose of observing the incident or event. Notification must be given to the ATC facility that was specified in the NOTAM for coordination with the official in charge of the activity.

2. The aircraft is operating under an ATC approved IFR flight plan.

3. The aircraft is carrying incident or event personnel, or law enforcement officials.

4. The aircraft is carrying properly accredited news representatives and, prior to entering that area, a flight plan is filed with FSS or the ATC facility specified in the NOTAM. Flight plans must include aircraft identification, type, and color; radio frequencies to be used; proposed times of entry to and exit from the TFR area; the name of news media or organization and purpose of flight.

Well-run news organizations already know this; in an age when more and more news rooms operate on a shoe string, it may be that this information about how to cover disasters is not passed along in the newsroom, though.  So I’m reposting it here, so you’ll know, so news organizations now, so environmental reporters can get a copy of the regulations  to carry with them when they head out to cover spills, fires, floods, and other disasters.

I’m waiting, too.  It’s only a matter of time until somebody figures out a local kid has a good radio control helicopter, and it can carry a GoPro camera; or until a local news station invests in a news-gathering drone.  Here in Texas, we’ve already had one environmental disaster uncovered by a drone operated by a guy just checking on real estate.

If you see some footage of the disaster filmed on or after April 3, would you let us know, in comments?

And spread the word to any reporters you know.

More:

Amateur video of the spill:


I get email (sorta): How long could U.S. survive without a president?

March 31, 2013

A brilliant and vexing former student, Bryan Sabillon, asked a question — on Facebook:

Remember how you said America can’t go two hours without a president? What’s the worst that can happen if it just so happens to take three-four hours? Or is it uneventful?

Interesting question — to me, at least, and maybe even to Bryan.  Here’s my response, with a few links added:

Did I say that? (Some context would be nice. No I don’t remember saying that.)

Technically, can’t happen now with the 25th Amendment and succession laws; if a president dies, another is there, probably without regard to swearing in.

A few historical examples suggest no big problem; these are nullified if missiles are in the air at that moment, though:

1. When Tyler succeeded Harrison 1 (first death of president in office), John Tyler was more than 24 hours out of Washington. Worse, many people thought that while the duties of the president fell to the VP under the Constitution, that should be a temporary condition settled by a special election. Despite all this uncertainty, nothing bad happened in the interim.

U.S. Sen. David Rice Atchison, from Missouri; photo by Matthew Brady

U.S. Sen. David Rice Atchison, from Missouri; photo taken by photographer Mathew Brady at the United States Capitol at Washington, D.C., March 1849. Courtesy of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, via Wikipedia. Photo taken the same month some say Atchison was acting President, for one day.

2. On March 4, 1849, [James K.] Polk’s term expired. But it was Sunday, and incoming Pres. Zachary Taylor refused to be inaugurated on Sunday. So did incoming VP Millard Fillmore. Some argue that David Rice Atchison, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and then-third in line for the presidency under the laws then existing, was president for one day. He didn’t claim that, but in any case, spent most of the day sleeping, as the outgoing Senate had been working late for several previous nights. Some argue that because the Senate had adjourned sine die on its last session, not even Atchison was president. In any case, nothing happened.

President of the Senate Vice President Chester...

Official Senate bust, President of the Senate, Vice President Chester A. Arthur (it’s a bust; he was not really that pallid) Photo from Wikipedia

3. When [James] Garfield was shot, he did not die immediately, but hung on for more than a month before infection took him. Vice President Chester A. Arthur did not assume duties of president, nor did anyone else, in that period. A lot of stuff got delayed, but no big deal. Government continued during the long dying process, and until Arthur was sworn in.

4. Similarly, when [William] McKinley was shot, they thought he’d survive. VP Teddy Roosevelt took off to hunt in the Adirondacks. When McKinley took a turn for the worse, guides had to be dispatched to find Teddy climbing a mountain (Mt. Marcy); by the time he got to Buffalo, McKinley had been dead for several hours. Nothing of consequence happened as a result of there being no president on hand (and they were in Buffalo, New York, not Washington, anyway).

5. Woodrow Wilson suffered a stroke on October 2, 1919, that left him blind in one eye and unable to walk. He was kept out of the presence of the VP and cabinet for months; when he finally returned to cabinet meetings in 1920, he was clearly unable to function as president. It’s an interesting case with his second wife essentially taking over the office under the guise of intermediary and care giver to the president. This one may have had some consequences – the Senate never did ratify the Treaty of Versailles, for which Wilson was campaigning when he was stricken, and so the U.S. never joined the League of Nations, dooming it to failure years later as World War II erupted. But perhaps Wilson couldn’t have gotten it ratified had he been fully active, anyway. Perhaps Wilson could have influenced the election of 1920, which Warren G. Harding won (who would die of a heart attack in San Francisco, making Calvin Coolidge president). But all of that is pure conjecture.

6. The funniest (in retrospect) was when Ronald Reagan was shot. At a press conference at the White House as Reagan was being prepped for surgery, a reporter asked some cabinet officials “who is in charge?” Perhaps reacting too much to the question as a challenge to whether the government was leaderless and vulnerable, Secretary of State Al Haig grabbed the microphone and said “I’m in charge here!” In reality, Vice President George H. W. Bush was in full communication mode of the modern presidency; control of the “football,” the nuclear strike code case which accompanies the president at all times, could have been an issue, but was not.

President Obama waving

President Obama at an airport; the Marine in the background looks to be carrying the “nuclear football.” Photo from Cryptome (Is this an AP photo? Anyone know?)

Under the 25th Amendment and the Succession Act, it’s difficult to imagine how the U.S. could be without a president at any time; the confusion around the death or disability of a president offers a window of a de facto gap, but that should last only minutes under the procedures and precautions now in effect (some of which we saw on 9/11).

Worst that could happen now? If missiles were incoming, and confusion over who has control of the football went on for more than 10 minutes, a retaliatory strike could be late in getting launched. It takes about 15 minutes for intercontinental ballistic missiles to get to their downward path, or to register on known radar, so a ten minute delay might be encouraging to a Russia that hoped to knock out the U.S. before a retaliatory strike could occur; but that’s probably not realistic. And, even that would be of no great consequence if the secret “missile net” many people think the U.S. has, actually exists.

Is this a class question, or are you involved in some odd drinking game again?

(Update:  Sheesh.  Turns out he just saw “Olympus Has Fallen,” and wondered.

Everyone knows we’re really safe, so long as Morgan Freeman is anywhere near the presidency, even Speaker of the House.)

(Anyone else seen the movie?  Is it a scenario not already contemplated under the 25th Amendment?)

More:

Voice of America video on Al Haig’s life, featuring the famous quote:


“Return to Madison,” urges James Madison U president on the great man’s birthday

March 22, 2013

What would Madison do?

James Madison’s work, not only on the Constitution, but on making the Constitution and new government work, and on creating the foundation pilings for that Constitution and society, should make his words and ideas key points of study for us, and his principles should be our guiding principles much more than they are today.

Madison is the forgotten founder, I’ve argued.

JMU President J. R. Alger and others present wreaths at tomb of James Madison, March 16, 2013 (Madison's birthday)

JMU press release caption: JMU President Jon Alger, second from left, presents a wreath at the tomb of President James Madison in honor of his 262nd birthday.

James Madison University President Jon Alger spoke at the ceremonies honoring Madison’s birthday last Saturday, March 16, at Madison’s mountain home, Montpelier, Virginia (a few miles from Jefferson’s Monticello).  In his speech, Alger urged a return to civility in discussion of politics, a return to focus on important ideas and the processes by which we discuss them, and make decisions in our national government.

Alger’s remarks deserve a much wider audience, I think.  I asked JMU for a copy, and they pointed to the university’s website where the entire speech is posted.  I repost it here.  Please spread the word.

Jon Alger’s Montpelier remarks

President Jonathan R. Alger
James Madison University
Remarks on the Occasion of James Madison’s 262nd Birthday
March 16, 2013
at James Madison’s Gravesite, Montpelier
Orange, Virginia
(Remarks interrupted by rain)

Good afternoon.  Honored guests, members of the Montpelier Board of Directors, President Imhoff and Montpelier staff, members of the James Madison University Board of Visitors, faculty, students and alumni, family, friends and fellow Madison enthusiasts, it is my great honor to speak at this hallowed place.  On this day 262 years ago, James Madison was born.  Perhaps more so than any other president or founder, James Madison is responsible for the creation and miraculous endurance of our republic.  Known as the Father of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison’s contributions to our nation should be remembered by every American.  The sacred fire of liberty lit by Madison’s ideas burns to this day and draws us here to honor him.

I came to Montpelier for the first time only a few months ago.  As a great admirer of James Madison, to me the trip here felt like a pilgrimage.  When the mansion first came into view as we made our way up the long sweeping drive, I was struck by the majesty of the moment—as we feel when in the presence of greatness.  During that visit, Montpelier board president Greg May invited me to speak at this annual event as we strode down a pathway that Madison himself must have walked many times.  I could not have been more honored.

Indeed, this is a dream come true for me.  As a political science major and history minor in college, I read many of the same texts Madison himself studied—as well as some of Madison’s own work.  Even as a young child, I admired the creative genius of our forefathers.  While other kids had stuffed animals or model airplanes displayed in their bedrooms, on my dresser I proudly exhibited a set of small ceramic statues of the American presidents.  I like to root for underdogs and was always partial to Madison, because his was the shortest statue.  Today his picture hangs proudly in my office.

As many of you know, Montpelier and James Madison University have long had a special bond.  It began when Dr. Clarence Geier, an archaeologist at Madison, arranged an archaeology field school here at Montpelier more than 25 years ago.  Our students and faculty have been coming to Montpelier ever since and have participated in digs all across the grounds. (Except for right here, of course.  They are not allowed to dig in this particular area.  You never know with undergraduates!)

From then the relationship between our two institutions has blossomed.  This past November a bus containing JMU faculty, staff and me – as well as my wife Mary Ann and daughter Eleanor – came here to spend a day brainstorming with the Montpelier leadership and staff on ways to deepen our relationship even further. The primary objective of this deeper relationship is to bring more attention to James Madison and his ideas.  This objective reflects the missions of our two great institutions, but it must go beyond those gathered here today.  As a nation, we are in great need of what I will call a Return to Madison.

It is true that, during the past few years, more and more American citizens are professing respect for the U.S. Constitution.  The document was read on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives for only the second time in history this past January.  In fact, Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia’s Sixth District – JMU’s district – opened the reading with a delivery of the document’s Preamble.  That’s a good start, but as a nation we must go much further.  For this newfound reverence toward the U.S. Constitution to elevate us as a nation, we must explore and gain a deeper understanding of the principles on which the U.S. Constitution is based.  We must Return to Madison.

Now, by suggesting this return, I don’t mean that we become a nation of history buffs (although that would be OK with me).  Rather, a Return to Madison would provide us with very real and practical insights into how we as a society should confront issues facing us all.

Starting with a realistic view of human nature, Madison believed that politics was driven by “interest,” not by “virtue.”  In his excellent work, The Sacred Fire of Liberty, Madison scholar Lance Banning captured this core principle.  He wrote, “Madison did not assume that a republic could depend upon a superhuman readiness to sacrifice self-interest to the common good. Taking humans for the interested, opinionated creatures they are, Madison asserted that in a pluralistic, large republic, partial interests would be counterbalanced by competing interests.”

This was not new political thinking, of course.  During the 16th century in Florence, Machiavelli (whose work was more nuanced than is often remembered today) explored what he called the “effectual truth” of politics.  In other words, as Paul Rahe writes in his book, Machiavelli’s Liberal Republican Legacy, “[I]n order to avoid their ruin and achieve their preservation, men should govern themselves in accordance with how they do behave rather than in the distorting light of how they ought to.”

So Madison’s great innovation was to devise a system of government that sought to create political and civic conditions allowing the interests of individual citizens, groups, regions and other entities to balance one another so that no one of them could overtake the rest.  He recognized that we would be a society with diverse perspectives and experiences, and that we needed a structure to allow that diversity to flourish.

Today – while publicly professing faith in the Constitution as a document – we seem to have forgotten this essential element.  Far too often, our public discourse on the important challenges of our time degenerates into shallow shouting matches and name-calling in which we cry for the elimination of opposing views on political, social, economic and cultural issues. The people we despise across the political aisle, the fools on the television spouting their ridiculously wrongheaded opinions, the heathens who believe in a different god than we do – we not only hold them in utter contempt, we behave as if we want their ideas extinguished.  And if they were extinguished – oh, if only they were extinguished – we believe the world would be a better place.  If only we all agreed on everything – wouldn’t that be great!  Yet we must be careful what we wish for.  If that kind of wish were to come true, not only would our lives be much more boring—but our society would stop progressing and stagnate.

A Return to Madison would shine a light on the fact that the strength of our republic relies on the existence of opposing ideas and perspectives.  Voices who advocate for Wall Street and others who focus on Main Street?  They need each other.  Republicans and Democrats need each other.  Without the diversity of ideas and opinions, our civic balance would tilt and our system eventually would topple.  The great man we honor today knew this was true.  We as a society need to embrace this notion and continue debating the important issues of the day, but with reason and civility—not with hatred and hopes for total domination.  We need each other.  And I believe that spreading the understanding that our great Constitution is based squarely on this principle could lead to greater social harmony.  Boy, do we need a Return to Madison.

Madison’s Federalist 10 is recognized the world over as one of the great examples of political thought in history.  You might remember that Madison published the Federalist with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in newspapers while the states were considering whether to ratify the proposed Constitution.  Of these 85 essays, Madison’s 10th is widely considered to be one of the best, and it’s about balancing competing interests.  I love it for the philosophy it expresses, but also because it contains one of his most elegant turns of a phrase.  If you’ve read much Madison, you know that his writing can be (to be honest) dense and elliptical.  He is not often quoted in today’s sound-bite culture.  But in the Federalist 10 he wrote, “liberty is to faction what air is to fire…”  Think about that for a moment.  “Liberty is to faction, what air is to fire…”  Madison was making the point that liberty creates a nourishing environment for faction.  At the time, great fear existed that too much liberty could lead to dangerous factions emerging.  Madison was resolute, however, and he completes the idea by writing, “But it could not be a less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.”

Madison is saying that even though liberty allows faction to thrive, it should not be curtailed.  He goes on to observe, “As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed.”

Thus even as Madison advocated for liberty despite its dangers, he was sure to remind his Federalist readers that man’s passionately held views are imperfect.  Therefore, if we claim to respect our Constitution and if we understand this fundamental premise, we have a responsibility to change the tone of much of our civic dialogue.  Now, to be clear, I am not arguing that we should hold our views any less dear.  Passion leads great people to act. And I am not suggesting that we all adopt a relativist perspective – right and wrong do exist.  As enlightened as Madison and his colleagues were for their time on so many issues, for example, even they were unable to come to grips with the tragic injustice of slavery

If Madison were here today, however, I believe he would remind us of our human limitations when we encounter and react to opinions that differ from our own.  We can all benefit from trying to listen to and understand the views of others with civility and respect, even as we hold and espouse our own cherished points of view.  As the president of the university named for James Madison, I feel strongly that our institution of higher education can best honor his legacy by embracing the diversity of perspectives and backgrounds in our society, while fostering and modeling civil and respectful discourse on the great issues of our time.  That is part of the reason why I began my own presidency with a “Listening Tour” to hear, and learn from, the richly diverse voices and opinions of our university community.

In my inaugural address yesterday at the university, I called for James Madison University to be the national model for the engaged university—an institution that combines a commitment to teaching and learning with a conviction that all humans are interconnected.  This combination embodies James Madison’s ideals.  If we enlighten ourselves through education and believe that we all are connected – even with those with whom we might passionately disagree – we honor Madison.  I intend for this idea to be a hallmark of my administration at JMU.

Another hallmark will be to continue deepening the relationship between the university and Montpelier.  Some of the ideas generated during our visit here in November already are taking shape.  For instance, staff in our department of History and our Adult Degree Program are working with faculty here in the Center for the Constitution to create a course about James Madison and his ideas that includes online and in-person instruction, as well as visits here. The course will be available to JMU students and the general public.  As we celebrated Madison Week on our campus these past few days, Montpelier has honored our university by loaning us several artifacts from its own collection.  These exchanges are reminders of the man to whom we owe so much.  Our educational initiatives can go a long way to motivate those who profess their faith in the U.S. Constitution to deepen their understanding of its underlying principles, and thus inspire a Return to Madison.

Let me share with you a personal story of my own heightened sense of Madison’s, and Montpelier’s, significance.  While inside the house, I was surprised by how moved I was when I sat in the modest room that is believed to be Madison’s study.  The thought that I was in the very room where James Madison read Machiavelli and Locke and Montesquieu and all the others; the room where he synthesized thousands of years of thinking into a framework for our most important founding document; the room looking west toward unsettled lands of great promise; the room in which James Madison addressed civilization’s most intractable problem – how to govern ourselves – I was filled with a sense of wonder and awe.

Yet another way in which the university will connect with Montpelier and its legacy will be to honor the memory of Dolley Madison, the great woman buried beside our 4th President.  Dolley was herself an intellectual and social force who played a profound leadership role by convening people of different backgrounds for civil discourse.  In fact, Yale University historian Catherine Allgor wrote, “Dolley’s assumption that compromise would be the salvation of the system marks her as one of the most sophisticated politicians of her time.”  Through a new initiative called Women for Madison, our university will celebrate the vital role women play in leadership and cultivating a culture of philanthropy.

Finally, as an advocate of education and an ardent student himself, I believe Madison would have enjoyed meeting today’s students who benefit from his legacy in this free and civil society.  I wonder how he would have felt meeting students attending the university named for him. We have several with us today – can you come and join me here?

As many of you know, JMU has a robust study abroad program. I will tour several of our study abroad programs this summer for the first time as president, and my second stop will be Florence, the great city where republican thought reemerged during the 16th century.  Machiavelli was the most influential Florentine political thinker of that time, and his work influenced Madison greatly.  In fact, Machiavelli appears in one of James Madison’s adolescent “commonplace” books.  A commonplace book was like an academic diary.  Students during the era when Madison grew up dutifully filled their commonplace books with notes, quotations and poetry.

Students of our era – such as these fine students – and I will visit Machiavelli’s gravesite at the Basilica di Santa Croce in central Florence this summer. We will take with us the moving experience of being here at James Madison’s gravesite, and reflect on the republican ideal with which both men—and so many other people throughout history—have grappled.  It is quite fitting that students attending a university named for James Madison make this journey, connect these two places and contemplate their meaning.

With this symbolic gesture, we hope to inspire all the students of James Madison University, the visitors to James Madison’s Montpelier and all who bear witness, to Return to Madison.  Let’s go from this ceremony with a renewed sense of our roles as citizens, and of the power we have to live the ideals James Madison handed down to us through the ages.  Thank you

Who in Congress listens?  Who in media and commentary listens?  Who in the academic life listens?

More:

Fireworks at James Madison U, at inauguration of President Jonathan R. Alger

Fireworks over James Madison University, on the inauguration of new University President Jonathan R. Alger, in early March 2013. Despite the somewhat tenuous links to this post, I like the photograph. Image from JMU’s UBeTheChange blog.


Quote of the moment repeat: Robert C. Lieberman, “Why the Rich Are Getting Richer: American Politics and the Second Gilded Age”

February 20, 2013

What? You missed this, on February 20, 2011? Well, here it is again. Please pay attention this time.

The U.S. economy appears to be coming apart at the seams.  Unemployment remains at nearly ten percent, the highest level in almost 30 years; foreclosures have forced millions of Americans out of their homes; and real incomes have fallen faster and further than at any time since the Great Depression.  Many of those laid off fear that the jobs they have lost — the secure, often unionized, industrial jobs that provided wealth, security and opportunity — will never return.  They are probably right.

Cover of Winner-Take-All Politics, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

Cover of Winner-Take-All Politics, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson

And yet a curious thing has happened in the midst of all this misery.  The wealthiest Americans, among them presumably the very titans of global finance whose misadventures brought about the financial meltdown, got richer.  And not just a little bit richer; a lot richer.  In 2009, the average income of the top five percent of earners went up, while on average everyone else’s income went down.  This was not an anomaly but rather a continuation of a 40-year trend of ballooning incomes at the very top and stagnant incomes in the middle and at the bottom.  The share of total income going to the top one percent has increased from roughly eight percent in the 1960s to more than 20 percent today.

This what the political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call the “winner-take-all economy.”  It is not a picture of a healthy society.  Such a level of economic inequality, not seen in the United States since the eve of the Great Depression, bespeaks a political economy in which the financial rewards are increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite and whose risks are borne by an increasingly exposed and unprotected middle class.  Income inequality in the United States is higher than in any other advanced democracy and by conventional measures comparable to that in countries such as Ghana, Nicaragua, and Turkmenistan.

Robert C. Lieberman, reviewing the book Winner-Take-All Politics:  How Washington Made the Rich Richer — and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class, by Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Simon and Schuster, 2010, 368 pages.  $27.00.; review appears in Foreign Affairs, January/February 2011, pp. 154-158.

More:

Two years later, even more:


Lyndon Johnson as visionary: Great Society, speech at University of Michigan

January 25, 2013

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencemen...

President Lyndon B. Johnson during commencement exercises at the University of Michigan on May 22, 1964 (Photo via Wikipedia, or LBJ Museum and Library in Austin, Texas)

May 22, 1964 — Lyndon Johnson laid out his vision of a much better America. At the University of Michigan Johnson discussed what a great nation in the 20th and 21st centuries should be, the Great Society speech.

This is the Lyndon Johnson speech Republicans wish had never been given, and which they hope to ignore as much as possible, laying out dreams for a better American they hope to frustrate.

More information from the LBJ Library in Austin:

Audio from President Johnson’s speech at the University of Michigan May 22, 1964, also called “the Great Society speech.” Audio is WHCA_83_2, photo is c387-8-wh64. Both are in the public domain. For more images of this speech, please see http://youtu.be/WqP037Pe5i0, which is B Roll of the same speech.

Full text of this speech at the University of Michigan is available at The American Presidency Project, at the site of the University of California – Santa Barbara (UCSB).

January 4, 1965 — Lyndon Johnson laid out the legislative plan for the Great Society.  Back then, even after crushing defeats in the 1964 elections, Republicans shared Johnson’s and the Democrats’ dreams for a better America.

Full text of this 1965 State of the Union speech can be found at The American Presidency Project at the UCSB.

From calls for international peace to a call for great expansion of federal support of education, to calls for aid for the sick and aged, is there a single area where the GOP agrees today?

How can we get the GOP to dream again?

More:


GPO Bookstore clearance sale! (Underground Railroad for kids)

January 24, 2013

One of my great joys in working in a Congressional office was the delivery of a lot of the publications that were available through the GPO, the General Printing Office. Not just Congressional hearings and dull reports, but some excellent volumes on a wide variety of topics — back when America was exceptional (before the Republicans started claiming God made America exceptional, and not hard work by Americans), most Congressional offices kept a list of people who wanted the annual Department of Agriculture farming bulletin.  It was a sort of compendium of state-of-the-art practices, predictions on soils conditions and weather, and an encyclopedia of what the government could do to help farmers out (mostly a list of county agriculture extension agents).

A lot of this activity reflected the Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower-Kennedy-Johnson view that government should serve the people, and good information was like diamonds.

Those days are gone

GPO still publishes some great stuff, though.

Got a note in e-mail that GPO is having a clearance/overstock sale.  As an example, this Junior Ranger workbook on the Underground Railroad — reduced to $3.00 from $6.00.  Ages 5 to 12, or kindergarten to 7th grade.

Need some supplements for your elementary or middle school classrooms?  Want just one to steal ideas from?

Discovering the Underground Railroad: Junior Ranger Activity Book

Publisher: Interior Dept., National Park Service, Southeast Region

Description: Provides activities for children ages 5-12 to learn about the history of the underground railroad and the Emancipation Proclamation. Children who finish the age-appropriate activities can send in to the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Program to receive a free Junior Ranger badge from the National Park Service. Gently covers topics including: the meaning of freedom and slavery; the hardships and daily life of slaves; the importance and travel routes of the “Underground Railroad;” safe refuge choices; key dates and laws relating to slavery and emancipation; and key figures including Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass and abolitionists Levi and Catharine Coffin, among others.

Year/Pages: 2011: 20 p.; ill.

Price: $6.00 $3.00

Of course there are a lot of other books on sale; go see.

(Oh, and a nasty little secret? The material on the Underground Railroad is in the public domain, and the booklet is available in a .pdf version, online, for free.)

Among books on sale you might find of interest:

More:


Quote of the moment, still, again: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on taxes as the price for civilization

January 12, 2013

It seems we need to keep reminding people of this.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817.  Copyright expired.

The frequently quotable Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., circa 1930. Edited photograph from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Original photo by Harris & Ewing. LC-USZ62-47817. Copyright expired.

I like paying taxes. With them I buy civilization.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., attributed. (see Felix Frankfurter, Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court, Harvard University Press, 1961, page 71.)

Did Holmes say that?

The quote was all over the internet in early October 2008 (and later), after New York Times op-ed writer Tom Friedman noted it in his column criticizing Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for her assertion that paying taxes is not patriotic.

I found reference to the quote in a book about eminent economists, through Google Scholar:

Eminent Economists: Their Life Philosophies
By Michael Szenberg
Published by Cambridge University Press, 1993
320 pages

On page 201, Szenberg refers Holmes’s view of “taxation as the price of liberty.” In a footnote, he points to Justice Frankfurter’s book. The quote is dolled up a little. According to Szenberg’s footnote:

More precisely, he rebuked a secretary’s query of “Don’t you hate to pay taxes?” with “No, young fellow, I like paying taxes, with them I buy civilization.”

Frankfurter is a reliable source. It’s likely Holmes said something very close to the words Friedman used.

This is mostly an encore post.

Urge others to give a dime and give a damn for civilization:

Add to FacebookAdd to NewsvineAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Furl

More:


Annals of global warming: 333rd consecutive month above 20th century average temperature

December 17, 2012

Exit polling called this trend 20 years ago; is everybody else ready yet?

333 months of worldwide temperature averages above the 20th century average — a kid younger than 27.5 years has never lived through a single month cooler than the 20th century average for that month.  We’re well into the second generation of people who know nothing but global warming.

A reasonable and smart person might note that one does not need to be a student of advanced statistics to spot a trend here.

Read the NOAA report (you may have to select “November 2012″):

Global temperature highlights: November

  • The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for November was the fifth highest on record for November, at 56.41°F (13.67°C) or 1.21°F (0.67°C) above the 20th century average. The margin of error associated with this temperature is ±0.13°F (0.07°C).
  • November marked the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last below-average temperature November was November 1976 and the last below-average temperature month was February 1985.
  • The global land temperature was the sixth warmest November on record, at 2.03°F (1.13°C) above the 20th century average. The margin of error is ±0.20°F (0.11°C).

Just a look at the extremes in November should be alarming, especially if you live in the USA.

NOAA chart of climate anomalies and events, November 2012

Selected Significant Climate Anomalies and Events, November 2012; click for larger, more-easily-viewed image

More evidence that Michael Mann‘s “hockey stick” graph is vindicated; more evidence that we should not regard James Hansen as we did Cassandra, but should instead heed his warnings.

More:


Cliffhanger avoidance, from Robert Reich

November 30, 2012

Economist/policy wonk/good guy Robert Reich sends along notes on the discussions in Washington (at his Facebook site, and at his personal site) (links added here for your benefit and ease of use):

Robert Reich

Rhodes Scholar, former Secretary of Labor and UC Berkeley Prof. Robert Reich

Apparently the bidding began this afternoon. According to the Wall Street Journal (which got the information from GOP leaders), Tim Geithner met with Republican leaders and made the following offer:

— $1.6 trillion in additional tax revenues over the next decade, from limiting tax deductions on the wealthy and raising tax rates on incomes over $250,000 (although those rates don’t have to rise as high as the top marginal rates under Bill Clinton)

— $50 billion in added economic stimulus next year

— A one-year postponement of pending spending cuts in defense and domestic programs

— $400 billion in savings over the decade from Medicare and other entitlement programs (the same number contained in the President’s 2013 budget proposal, submitted before the election).

— Authority to raise the debt limit without congressional approval.

The $50 billion in added stimulus is surely welcome. We need more spending in the short term in order to keep the recovery going, particularly in light of economic contractions in Europe and Japan, and slowdowns in China and India.

But by signaling its willingness not to raise top rates as high as they were under Clinton and to cut some $400 billion from projected increases in Medicare and other entitlement spending, the White House has ceded important ground.

Republicans obviously want much, much more.

The administration has taken a “step backward, moving away from consensus and significantly closer to the cliff, delaying again the real, balanced solution that this crisis requires,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) in a written statement. “No substantive progress has been made” added House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio).

No surprise. The GOP doesn’t want to show any flexibility. Boehner and McConnell will hang tough until the end. Boehner will blame his right flank for not giving him any leeway — just as he’s done before.

It’s also clear Republicans will seek whatever bargaining leverage they can get from threatening to block an increase in the debt limit – which will have to rise early next year if the nation’s full faith and credit is to remain intact.

Meanwhile, the White House has started the bidding with substantial concessions on tax increases and spending cuts.

Haven’t we been here before? It’s as if the election never occurred – as if the Republicans hadn’t lost six or seven seats in the House and three in the Senate, as if Obama hadn’t won reelection by a greater number of votes than George W. Bush in 2004.

And as if the fiscal cliff that automatically terminates the Bush tax cuts weren’t just weeks away.

But if it’s really going to be a repeat of the last round, we might still be in luck. Remember, the last round resulted in no agreement. And no agreement now may be better than a bad agreement that doesn’t raise taxes on the wealthy nearly enough while cutting far too much from safety nets most Americans depend on.

If Republicans won’t budge and we head over the fiscal cliff, the Clinton tax rates become effective January 1 – thereby empowering the White House and Democrats in the next congress to get a far better deal.

Watch that space.

It’s especially interesting to me how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) will work to get a solution, if the GOP continues its blockade to almost all action.

More:


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,150 other followers

%d bloggers like this: