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Grand Bargain Circus – Red Clowns Ready?

5:24 am in Uncategorized by joe shikspack

Jugglers_Circus_Amok_by_David_Shankbone

There’s a big deal brewing in the Beltway Bigtop that’s been years in the making. The Grand Bargain is now officially on the red clown leadership’s radar. But can they get their ducks in a row? Will the rank and file blue clowns have an attack of conscience? And what about the audience – will they meekly accept the shears as the Ringmaster and clowns together begin to fleece them? Or will they bombard the clowns with rotten tomatoes, imprecations, incantations and entreaties frightening them away from yet another of the Ringmaster’s big plans as they did with the Ringmaster’s recent plan to engage in yet another stupid and expensive war of choice?

Here’s a wrap up of the past couple of days under the Beltway Bigtop.

Bigtop Blame-a-Rama – Juggling the Hot Potato of Blame

The lights have been doused under the Beltway Bigtop as the red clowns and blue clowns could not come to agreement over how best to rob the audience. The blue clowns adamantly protected the Ringleader’s plan to demand tribute of the audience for his donor cronies in the insurance and pharmaceutical industries in return for health care insurance products of dubious utility. The red clowns would not give up their demands to kill the Ringleader’s program as well as demands for a smorgasbord of environmental destruction, means-testing for medicare, limitation of court awards for medical malpractice, repeal of taxes on some of their cronies and a contraceptive-free dessert bar.

Killer-Klowns-from-Outer-Space-pies

As the sun came up on the Beltway Bigtop Tuesday morning there were lines of circus employees leaving the parking lot as the tall order of the day began – the search for a scapegoat.

While both the red clowns and the blue clowns stayed up until the wee hours juggling the hot potato of blame back and forth between the red clown-controlled Ring 1 and the blue clown-controlled Ring 3, the Ringmaster called the red clowns “irresponsible” and upbraided them for their, “ideological crusade.”

The US government shut down early Tuesday for the first time since 1996 after lawmakers divided over Obamacare failed to reach an agreement to fund federal agencies through the next fiscal year.

President Barack Obama called it the ‘height of irresponsibility.’

Speaking Tuesday afternoon, Obama slammed Republicans for shutting down the government as part of an “ideological crusade” designed to kill his signature health care law.

‘I urge House Republicans to reopen the government,’ Obama said at the White House Rose Garden, while surrounded by Americans he said would benefit from the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile one of the red clowns’ leaders, Boner T. Redclown, did impressions of the Ringmaster over in Ring 1 as he passed juggling potatoes back and forth with Harry T. Blueclown over in Ring 3. Harry T. Blueclown, for his part, returned the relentless hail of hot potatoes with all of the speed and bravado he could muster.

House Speaker John Boehner imitated the president on the House floor as he described their ultimately fruitless conversation Monday evening in the hours before a U.S. government shutdown.

‘I talked to the president earlier tonight,’ the Ohio Republican said before dropping his voice to sound more like President Barack Obama. ‘I’m not gonna negotiate. I’m not gonna negotiate. We’re not gonna do this.’ Well, I would say to the president, ‘This is not about me. This is not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness for the American people.’

House Republicans repeatedly sent bills that would have temporarily funded the federal government but cut funding or delayed the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

The Senate’s Democratic majority repeatedly stripped those bills of their anti-Obamacare provisions and sent them back to the House for approval, setting up the impasse that led to the first U.S. government shutdown in 17 years.

Audience reaction was mixed to the impressions and the rapid-fire juggling spectacle, however, the Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions was quick to assign responsibility for Boner T. Redclown’s performance to a subset of the most effusive and animated of the red clowns. Some in the Beltway Bigtop’s Office of Promotions claim that a conspiracy is afoot amongst some of the red clowns to force Boner T. Redclown into his behavior, while others claim that Boner T. Redclown and his leadership group held a meeting outside of the Bigtop and stole the schtick of the more animated red clowns.

Bozos_Circus_postcard_1960sMonday was a frantic day on Capitol Hill, though all the activity ultimately came to nought: A flurry of last-minute legislative feints failed to prevent the government from shutting down at midnight. But in the process, House Republicans’ total crackup was on full, public display.

The breaking point was Speaker John Boehner’s penultimate proposal, a bill that would have funded the government — and Obamacare — while delaying the health-care law’s individual mandate and canceling congressional staffers’ insurance subsidies. To Boehner, this was a major concession from the House’s previous offering — a delay of the entire law. To the White House and Senate Democrats, it was just as unacceptable and no concession at all.

But within the GOP, it provoked a freakout on both Boehner’s right and left flanks. Moderate Republicans, long silent for fear of the party’s angry base, correctly viewed the proposal as inexorably leading to shutdown, and threatened to rise up and block it. ‘This is going nowhere,’ New York Representative Peter King told National Review. He claimed to have 25 members on his side and demanded that Boehner instead put a ‘clean’ government-funding bill — one that didn’t touch health care — on the floor of the House.

Meanwhile, conservatives were also in revolt. The Senate Conservatives Fund sent an email to its supporters denouncing “the Republican establishment in Washington” for telling ‘lies to help them fund Obamacare.’ It accused GOP leaders of using the mandate delay as cover to disguise the fact that they were allowing the rest of the law to go into effect — something the group called unacceptable.

Many in the Beltway Bigtop Office of Promotions are eager to sell the narrative that the clowns have cracked up and become completely dysfunctional, creating new norms for governance.

Many of the contributing media outlets in the Beltway Bigtop’s Office of Promotion apparently can’t seem to remember previous government shutdowns as they swoon from the vapors from their, “discovery” of the, “new governing norms.”

In the past the blue clowns have been quite willing to press their advantage as a majority to protect their constituency just as the red clowns are doing now:

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The Grand Bargain Circus Is Back In Town!

7:52 am in Uncategorized by joe shikspack

Circus Sign

Under The Big Top

Hey looky, the circus is back in town – and here come the two lead clowns, one red clown and one blue clown – specially chosen by the Ringmaster:

Like harbingers of a hard winter, anti-entitlement spokesmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have returned to the nation’s capital. These constituentless advocates for a widely disliked set of policies were given their usual unwarranted level of press coverage. Somewhat messianically, Simpson told Politico that ‘we have to be in reserve’ in case politicians ‘put their country at risk’ – by failing to impose the destructive austerity policies favored by Bowles and Simpson’s backers.

‘But don’t use our names,’ adds Simpson, ‘because that might be too volatile. We’re both on the witness protection program now.’ …

It’s all part of a wider Washington offensive. As another recent Politico news item reported, ‘Fix the Debt is ramping back up its lobbying efforts as government funding fights become the topic du jour on Capitol Hill.’ Politico listed a group of Republican and Democratic politicians who ‘met Monday with Maya MacGuineas, head of the campaign, and members of the group’s CEO council and small business members.’

The Ringmaster is busy as hell trying to pack all of the clowns into the car. The red clowns and the blue clowns keep complaining about each others flatulence while in the car and continuously stream in and out of it. The clowns all agree that they want to get into the car and get on with the show, but the Ringmaster needs to come up with the correct enticement. The Ringmaster proposes to rob the audience and distribute the proceeds amongst the clowns and their cronies; the clowns don’t trust the Ringmaster to take enough from the audience to make it worth their while.

GOP-White House ‘Grand Bargain’ Talks Collapse:

Senior Republican US senators say talks with the White House about a sequester-addressing fiscal deal have broken down, and they say any future talks must include Democratic members.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the first among a group of GOP senators with whom senior White House officials had been talking all summer about a ‘grand bargain’ fiscal deal to reveal those talks had stalled. Corker told reporters the White House has lost credibility with Republican senators on several issues, including pursuit of a big fiscal deal. …

Several participants confirmed efforts with the White House to strike a deal that lessens or voids sequestration have been scuttled, and signs of hope for a Pentagon and defense sector eager to avoid more cuts to planned military spending began to recede. …

Democrats from states with a large defense-sector presence are eager to find a way to turn off the next round of cuts to planned defense spending.

The clowns all agree that the audience hasn’t brought enough stuff with them into the tent to make it worth their while. The Ringmaster has proposed to steal their retirement securities. Will he now agree to drop his demand for taxes on the clowns and their cronies to sweeten the deal? Stay tuned…

“All the cuts they need are there to avoid a possible shutdown:”

It’s impossible to know what will happen in a fluid situation like this, of course. But it pays to be a bit paranoid. When you find yourself in a position of counting on your enemies to be so stupid as to keep saving you from your friends, you are in a precarious position. …

[I]t’s important to remember that the earlier deals didn’t fail to materialize because the two sides disagreed on cutting Social Security. They didn’t. It failed because the president refused to give up on some sort of tax hike in exchange. … Republicans have added another demand: defund Obamacare. If they want to come up with some sort of agreement in which the GOP saves face, to me the logical way to do that would be for the Democrats to agree to drop their demand for tax hikes if the Republicans drop their demand for defunding Obamacare. What’s left of the deal? You guessed it.

Special Bonus – What Happened Last Time The Circus Was In Town

Remember the last time the circus was here? Yes, that’s right, you got fleeced by a bunch of carnies! One of the big clowns, Pete Peterson, paid a couple of academic con-persons to shill for austerity and the Ringmaster got away with the con. Take a look at what it cost you last time. Are you ready to let the Ringmaster do it again?

Once again, the Beltway fell for cherry-picked data—and you paid the price:

So what has austerity cost us in the United States? The full price is hard to calculate, but the Congressional Budget Office figures that sequestration alone has cut GDP growth by about 0.8 percentage points. Since sequestration accounts for less than half of total belt-tightening over the past couple of years, a rough guess suggests that our austerity binge has cut economic growth by something like 2 percentage points—about half the total growth we might normally expect following a recession. Ironically, this means that we have indeed suffered the halving of economic growth that Reinhart and Rogoff estimated we’d get from running up the national debt above 90 percent. But we got it from not running up the debt. …

The obvious question at this point is: Why? It’s not as if we needed the skills of Nostradamus to predict the consequences of austerity. It’s pretty much textbook economics. … Reinhart and Rogoff were pushing on an open door. There were lots of powerful actors—Pete Peterson, Grover Norquist, the Washington Post editorial page—ready to leap at the chance to pretend that their pursuit of austerity was motivated not by politics or self-interest, but merely by a virtuous desire for economic growth. The 90 percent paper provided them that cover.

So have we learned our lesson from all this? Of course not. No further stimulus is even remotely on the table, either in the United States or in Europe, and Republicans are already promising another debt ceiling crisis unless Obama agrees to yet more spending cuts. The inmates took over the asylum three years ago, and they show no sign of leaving.

Austerity is working out fine for the 1 percent: Their jobs are safe, their investments are growing, and their taxes are low. But the rest of us are paying a high price in the form of slow growth, high unemployment, and stagnant wages for years to come. All things considered, we’ve been remarkably tolerant of our fate. The folks who run the world might do well to ponder how long that’s going to last.

Photo by Jackie under Creative Commons license

The NSA – Hiding a Shadow Government Behind a Haystack, “To Keep Us Safe”

5:35 am in Uncategorized by joe shikspack

obama stasiThe enormous service that a certain whistleblower has provided to Americans and the world at large, is becoming clear even in the face of shrill cries of “traitor” and histrionic accusations of “aiding the enemy.”

That certain whistleblower (who will not be named, in hopes of avoiding comments about personalities rather than revelations) has shone a light on a shadow government, a set of parallel institutions that operate without democratic controls. It is a government-corporate warren of institutions that uses secrecy and the application of large amounts of cash to avoid democratic control by the people and has allied with corporate chieftains and hijacked large corporations, defying the “discipline of the market” and the democratic controls of shareholders and chartering states.

Some portion of these institutions have been described before; Dana Priest and William Arkin did ground-breaking work scouring the public record and describing the size and shape of the leviathan entity:

These are some of the findings of a two-year investigation by The Washington Post that discovered what amounts to an alternative geography of the United States, a Top Secret America hidden from public view and lacking in thorough oversight. After nine years of unprecedented spending and growth, the result is that the system put in place to keep the United States safe is so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine.

The investigation’s other findings include:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings – about 17 million square feet of space.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year – a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

James Bamford did remarkable work describing the capabilities of some of these institutions and previous whistleblowers like William Binney and Thomas Drake have described what some of these institutions do. Binney and Drake, however, did not have documentary proof, the gold standard of credibility, which changes discussions marred with accusations of “conspiracy theories” to discussions about conspiracy reality:

One of the arguments about [redacted] that I’ve occasionally gotten caught up in is: What difference has he made? Has he really told us very much we didn’t know before?

In a broad sense, you can argue that he hasn’t. We knew (or certainly suspected) that NSA was collecting enormous streams of telephone metadata. We knew they were issuing subpoenas for data from companies like Google and Microsoft. We knew that Section 702 warrants were very broad. We knew that domestic data sometimes got inadvertently collected. We knew that massive amounts of foreign phone and email traffic were monitored.

As it happens, we’ve learned more than just this from the documents on [redacted's] four laptops. Still, even if you accept this argument in general terms—and I’ve made it myself—[redacted] still matters. It’s one thing to know about this stuff in broad strokes. It’s quite another to have specific, documented details. That’s what [redacted] has given us, and it makes a big difference in public debate. …

This is how change happens. The public gets hit over the head with something, lawmakers are forced to take notice, and maybe, just maybe, Congress holds oversight hearings and decides to change the law. There’s no guarantee that will happen this time, but it might. And regardless of how “new” [redacted's] revelations have been, we have him to thank for this.

A certain whistleblower has documentation. That documentation has already outed high government officials as (unindicted) perjurers and liars and impugned the veracity of information presented to the public on the NSA website and caused the NSA to hastily remove the misleading documents.

These high government officials have made a mockery of the President’s asssertion that his administration is being transparent and that we should have a national debate about these matters. One cannot seriously debate an issue when one side controls access to the facts and is economical with the truth, while at the same time introducing blatant falsehoods into the discussion. If the administration wanted to have a debate, and its behaviors indicate otherwise, it must stop acting in bad faith toward the American people.

Shadow Institutions

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Unemployment and the Spin Cycle

11:49 am in Uncategorized by joe shikspack

Every month, at the beginning of the month the Bureau of Labor Statistics releases a bunch of numbers that allegedly describe the employment market that Americans find themselves in. These numbers and some others from other sources are then fed into the media spin machine and talking heads hyperventilate about what all this means for the election prospects of the candidates. Amidst all of the spinning, we are left to wonder, “do these numbers really mean anything?”

An old couch with a 'Jobs' sign

Photo: Doug Geisler / Flickr

It would be good to consider whether the numbers are meaningful in two ways; do they mean anything both in terms of whether they truly reflect the experience of Americans in the job market and does the growth in employment that they sometimes state represent significant and appropriate progress?

The headline number that gets reported every month by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is called the U3 number which is calculated from two seperate surveys, the household survey, otherwise known as the current population survey and the establishment survey. The establishment survey is a sample of jobs as reported by employers and excludes agricultural workers. The household survey includes estimates of the self-employed, farm workers and even workers that don’t get paid, for example, relatives working without pay in a family business. (That’s right, you don’t have to get a paycheck or have a formal contract to be counted as employed.)

The establishment survey is based upon employer reports of the pay period which includes the 12th day of the month. For the establishment survey, if a day laborer isn’t paid on the 12th, then that isn’t counted. If a casually employed worker works one hour in a whole month and that hour is on the 12th, he’s considered employed. The household survey reports results for the week which includes the 12th day of each month. Workers are counted as employed by this survey even when they are absent from their jobs for that entire week, paid or not paid.

The margin of error for the household survey is about 436,000 and for the establishment survey is about 100,000.

The U3 report notably does not represent a number of categories of workers that are reasonably considered unemployed, such as those who have exhausted their unemployment benefits, nor does it represent the struggles of workers who find themselves employed in part-time jobs or, find themselves employed in work that does not reflect their training, education or abilities. These numbers say nothing about, for example, recent college graduates who have “played by the rules,” invested heavily in their education and find themselves heavily in irremediable debt to the same financial sector which crashed the economy and destroyed their job prospects.

Since many politicians, pundits, talking heads and bloggers are taking employment numbers as a bellwether for the President’s electoral fortunes, if their political analysis is to be correct then the best employment number to use would be the one that bears the closest relation to how the electorate experiences the employment market.

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