George W and Barack Obama

Any one else notice that two events seem to be bringing former President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama together?  First, in Africa.

130702_obama_bush_africa_reu1According to Politico

The presidents appeared side-by-side and bowed their heads for a moment of silence at the embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, according to pool reports. They also shook hands with guests at the ceremony, which included the U.S. ambassador and family members of victims of the truck bombing.

The embassy was struck on Aug. 7, 1998, by Al Qaeda in a coordinated terrorist attack that also hit the embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. In Tanzania, 10 people were killed and more than 85 were injured.

The Clinton quote I found in the Washington Post.

The Clinton quote, from Aug. 13, 1998 at Andrews Air Force Base, reads, “We must honor the memory of those we mourn by pressing the cause of freedom and justice for which they lived. It is the burden of our history and the bright hope of the world’s future.”

The second event bringing them together is immigration reform.  Remember that George W. tried to get a bill passed when he was President.  Now according to new accounts, including Politico, he is going to speak on the importance of reform.

Former President George W. Bush is expected to make a speech next week on how  immigration reform is good for the country, the Dallas Morning News reports.

Bush will speak after a citizenship ceremony at the George W. Bush Presidential  Center in Dallas on Wednesday followed by a panel discussion titled “What  Immigrants Contribute.”

While no one knows if he will inject himself into the current Congressional debate by supporting either the Senate or House bills, his talking about it may just help push some House Republicans into supporting the Senate bill which President Obama supports.

I think that Presidents are an exclusive club and no matter the politics there are always shared experience.  In Tanzania, we had the convergence of three: Clinton, Bush, and Obama.

Photograph:  Reuters

Surveillance and President Obama

I look forward to my weekly email from my Congressman, Mike Capuano.  Of course, I once worked for him when he was mayor of the City of Somerville (a near Boston city) so I am used to Mike’s saying what he means and I almost always agree with him.  I am copying the entire first part of his email into this post.

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“U.S. Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville), who voted against the Patriot Act, rallied protesters by calling the law the worst attack on freedom since the 1798 Alien and Sedition Acts.”

                                                                                                                Boston Herald

                                                                                                                September 10, 2003

 

The Patriot Act and Verizon

 

I am sure you are aware that Verizon has reportedly been ordered by the top-secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA court) to turn over, “on an ongoing daily basis”, information about every customer telephone number, including landline, cell and business numbers. That information reportedly includes all numbers dialed and all calls received within the United States as well as between the United States and other countries.

As I write this newsletter, the news is filled with reports that a similar program called PRISM is in place for every major internet and email provider. The government claims they have not accessed the content of phone calls, but it seems they ARE accessing the content of emails such as videos, websites visited and more. According to reports, the PRISM program is not at this time being used on U.S. citizens.

Even if you can accept the government collecting the number and length of every call you make, are you really comfortable with them having the ability to catalogue all the YouTube videos you watch, the Netflix movies you download, or the web pages you visit? It seems that our own government has access to every phone call, email and internet search for all Americans at every minute of every day.

Like most Americans, I am absolutely outraged. But, if you’re a long time subscriber to these newsletters, you probably already knew that. You also probably know that I voted against passage of the so-called “Patriot Act” and every reauthorization since it first passed in 2001.

Before I go any further, I feel compelled to remind you that I was an early and strong supporter of President Obama.  I am still amongst the strongest Obama supporters in the House of Representatives.  Nonetheless, I cannot remain silent out of some sort of misplaced loyalty to President or party when I believe that basic American rights have been intentionally trampled.

I know we live in a dangerous world and there is work to do to prevent terrorists from harming us. But we must find a balance between giving law enforcement the tools they need to track and identify terrorists and protecting the very liberties upon which our great country was founded.

This data collection has reportedly been going on for 7 years. The length of time that this has been going on and the staggering amount of data collected on every Verizon customer amounts to an incredible overreach. Even if you’re not a Verizon customer, there is clearly reason for concern. Who really believes that Verizon is the only telecommunications company required to turn over this data?

I have always believed that we must give law enforcement the tools they need to pursue criminals. However, we can do that and still protect civil liberties.

It is time for those of us who support President Obama to speak up.  I believe he is a good man and has been a good President.  However, I think his Administration has allowed their concern for our safety to lead them down the wrong path.  If we remain silent, those who have always wished him to fail on every point stand a better chance of winning the hearts and minds of America and we will all be worse off for it.  It is possible to support President Obama and yet disagree with him on certain issues – this is one of those times.

The President has said he is glad this is out in the open and he welcomes discussion.  Instead of reacting in horror – or wishing more information would be collected, we need to talk.   I’m not sure I know where the balance is, but one thing that I learned at St. John’s College (Annapolis) is that dialog can lead to greater clarity and understanding.  So let’s talk:  To each other and to the President and your member of Congress.

Photograph from Capuano website.

What’s up with sequestration? Or we should have issued war bonds.

When I looked up sequestration in Merriam Webster, the closest meaning I could find to what is going on with the federal budget is

2
a: a legal writ authorizing a sheriff or commissioner to take into custody the property of a defendant who is in contempt until the orders of a court are complied with
b: a deposit whereby a neutral depositary agrees to hold property in litigation and to restore it to the party to whom it is adjudged to belong
So our tax dollars are being put aside until we pay down the debt or is it cut the deficit?  Back in 2004, the Treasury Department explained the difference this way.

What is the difference between the public debt and the deficit?

The deficit is the difference between the money Government takes in, called receipts, and what the Government spends, called outlays, each year.  Receipts include the money the Government takes in from income, excise and social insurance taxes as well as fees and other income.  Outlays include all Federal spending including social security and Medicare benefits along with all other spending ranging from medical research to interest payments on the debt.  When there is a deficit, Treasury must borrow the money needed for the government to pay its bills.

We borrow the money by selling Treasury securities like T-bills, notes, Treasury Inflation-Protected securities and savings bonds to the public. Additionally, the Government Trust Funds are required by law to invest accumulated surpluses in Treasury securities. The Treasury securities issued to the public and to the Government Trust Funds (intragovernmental holdings) then become part of the total debt.

One way to think about the debt is as accumulated deficits.

So back when Bill Clinton balanced the budget, we did not run a deficit and did not accumulate more debt.

While some on the right would argue that Clinton really didn’t reduce the deficit and he ruined the economy by raising taxes, I seem to remember that things were going pretty well for the average person during the Clinton years.

When George W. came into office he said he wanted to give us taxpayers back our surplus which probably would have been OK if he hadn’t then started 2 wars which we didn’t raise taxes of any kind to pay for.  No war bonds, no special tax assessment (used by state and local governments to pay for things), no general tax increase.  Thus the red ink on the chart above.  Then came what everyone is now calling the Great Recession.  Barack Obama really had no choice but to spend money to get the economy moving again.  We can argue about some of the spending – like saving some of the banks – but much of it work out pretty well, I think.

So now we have the sequester.  This was a deal made in 2011 to keep everything from coming to a halt.  I don’t think that anyone thought at the time that there wouldn’t be another budget deal to keep the cuts from going into effect, but so far no dice.  The New York Times ran an editorial on Sunday which is the best explanation of what the cuts would mean that I have seen.  For example:

NATIONAL SECURITY Two-week furloughs for most law-enforcement personnel will reduce Coast Guard operations, including drug interdictions and aid to navigation, by 25 percent. Cutbacks in Customs agents and airport security checkpoints will “substantially increase passenger wait times,” the Homeland Security Department said, creating delays of as much as an hour at busy airports. The Border Patrol will have to reduce work hours by the equivalent of 5,000 agents a year.

AIR TRAFFIC About 10 percent of the Federal Aviation Administration’s work force of 47,000 employees will be on furlough each day, including air traffic controllers, to meet a $600 million cut. The agency says it will be forced to reduce air traffic across the country, resulting in delays and disruptions, particularly at peak travel times.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE Every F.B.I. employee will be furloughed for nearly three weeks over the course of the year, the equivalent of 7,000 employees not working each day. The cut to the F.B.I. of $550 million will reduce the number of background checks on gun buyers that the bureau can perform, and reduce response times on cyberintrusion and counterterrorism investigations.

A three-week furlough of all food safety employees will produce a shortage of meat, poultry and eggs, pushing prices higher and harming restaurants and grocers. The Agriculture Department warns that public health could be affected by the inevitable black-market sales of uninspected food.

RECREATION National parks will have shorter hours, and some will have to close camping and hiking areas. Firefighting and law enforcement will be cut back.

DEFENSE PERSONNEL Enlisted personnel are exempt from sequester reductions this year, but furloughs lasting up to 22 days will be imposed for civilian employees, who do jobs like guarding military bases, handle budgets and teach the children of service members. More than 40 percent of those employees are veterans.

The military’s health insurance program, Tricare, could have a shortfall of up to $3 billion, which could lead to denial of elective medical care for retirees and dependents of active-duty service members.

And the list goes on.

The editorial concludes

Last week, Senate Democrats produced a much better plan to replace these cuts with a mix of new tax revenues and targeted reductions. About $55 billion would be raised by imposing a minimum tax on incomes of $1 million or more and ending some business deductions, while an equal amount of spending would be reduced from targeted cuts to defense and farm subsidies.

Republicans immediately rejected the idea; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, called it “a political stunt.” Their proposal is to eliminate the defense cuts and double the ones on the domestic side, heedless of the suffering that even the existing reductions will inflict. Their refusal to consider new revenues means that on March 1, Americans will begin learning how austerity really feels.

Remember the definition of sequestration I began with?  It is a temporary thing.  The money is supposed to come back to us.  If the sequestration cuts really happen, I can bet you they won’t be temporary.  We are reaping the cost of wars most of us didn’t want and any rational solution will be held up by the same folks who did want to go to war.  We should have had war bonds.

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY...

THE VICTORY FUND COMMITTEE CAN HELP YOUR MONEY WIN THIS WAR THROUGH INVESTMENT IN U.S. TREASURY SECURITIES SUITED TO… – NARA – 515674 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

44 Presidential drinks

I plan to open a bottle of champagne today and start celebrating early and I guess I’m not the only one.  I heard a story on NPR yesterday about Jim Hewes the bartender at the Willard Hotel Bar who has researched presidential history and created 44 drinks for our 44 Presidents.  I went looking for the complete list and found it on a Washington Post GOG blog.  So here, courtesy of NPR and the Post are some of those 44 drinks.

The Post points out

Hewes has certainly done his homework. Franklin D. Roosevelt represented by a Plymouth Gin Martini (the first drink he mixed up after the end of Prohibition), while James Garfield’s tipple is a Dewars Scotch, since industrialist Andrew Carnegie sent Garfield a case of Dewars to celebrate his inauguration.

Some of the list is based on conjecture: We don’t really know if Warren Harding ever drank a Seven and Seven, for example, though the mix of Canadian Whiskey and 7-Up was popular in his day. But it’s a fun and delicious trip through the history of drinking in America.

Hewes has even made some non alcoholic drinks for the teetotalers among our Presidents.

43. George W. Bush: Diet cola with a slice of lemon

Light and crisp, able to keep even the busiest Chief Executive, active, alert, and awake.

39. Jimmy Carter: Alcohol-Free Sparkling Wine

Served, much to the dismay of the fourth estate, throughout his four years in the White House.

30. Calvin Coolidge: Cranberry juice and soda

A gentle New England tonic to fortify one’s Puritan constitution.

19. Rutherford B. Hayes: Orange Blossom

Washington’s pressmen spiked the oranges with gin at the tea-totalling Hayes inaugural in 1877.

Jim Hewes of the Willard’s Round Robin Bar distills presidental history into 44 cocktails on his special inauguration menu. (Bill O’Leary/The Post)

Jim Hewes of the Willard’s Round Robin Bar distills presidental history into 44 cocktails on his special inauguration menu. (Bill O’Leary/The Post)

Is this the Coolidge cranberry with lime?  It looks like it might be. However I am much more interested in Cleveland, Madison  and Reagan who served champagne – or the California sparkling. Or in FDR or JFK who drank martinis.  FDR made his with Plymouth gin the way my husband makes mine. Some of the drinks sound pretty bad like James Monroe’s Sherry Cobbler.

According to NPR

The Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel is just a stone’s throw from the White House. Bartender Jim Hewes has been serving up drinks there for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve served presidents prior to their going to the White House and after,” he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, including Presidents Reagan, Ford and both Bushes.

The original Willard Hotel was built in the 19th Century. Abraham Lincoln slept there the night before his inauguration, and President Ulysses S. Grant would enjoy a drink and a cigar in the lobby.

So what about 44?  A blue drink, of course.

44. Barack Obama: Blue Hawaiian

Combines the president’s penchant for aged Tequila and the cool blue waters of the Pacific. Features aged Tequila, Curacao and fresh lime juice.

NPR provides the recipe

Serves One

Patron Silver Tequila, (2 oz.) Blue Curacao (1/2 oz.), lime juice (2 oz.)

-Muddle 3 lime wedges with tequila

-Add ice, Curacao and lime juice

-Shake and strain over crushed ice

-Garnish with a wheel of lime and pineapple

Washington, D.C., bartender Jim Hewes distills presidential history into cocktails.

So today we either celebrate or drown our sorrows.  Look at the complete list published by the Post and pick a drink.

Thank you, Jim Hewes!

Photograph Hewes at the bar Liz Baker/NPR

Shaking hands – or not

Shaking hands is an almost universal and very ancient custom likely begun to show that neither person was holding a weapon.  Is it time to give up the custom?  And if we do, what would we replace it with?  I started thinking about this important question after reading Scott Lehigh’s column in today’s Boston Globe.

Let’s call our group of health-conscious citizens POSH: People Opposed to Shaking Hands.

Which brings me to the silver lining: This is the only time of year when it’s socially acceptable to refuse a handshake. Confronted with a presumptuously proffered paw, one need only invoke this magical phase: “The health experts say you really shouldn’t shake hands in flu season.”

If only those experts would make that a year-round recommendation. I mean, what, really, is the point? I’d understand it if humans were like those old cast-iron water pumps, and you had to lift and lower their arms a few times to bring forth a flow of conversation. But most folks I encounter are so impulsively chatty they feel no compunction whatsoever about sallying right into subjects that are none of their business. Like, say, why you don’t want to shake hands.

I know, I know, some people see it as a mark of friendship. But here at POSH, we see an outstretched hand for what it is: An amphibious landing craft crammed with an infantry of infectious microbes.

“OK, boys, we’re about to make contact. Move fast, travel light, and dig in as soon as you can.  Cold, Cough, and Fever, take the lead.”

I’ve been known to say that I have a cold so the other person doesn’t want to shake hands with me so I guess I’m a member of POSH.

I suggest we substitute another form of greeting.

There is the Japanese custom of bowing.  In Japan there can be complicated rules about the deepness of the bow to indicated relative social importance, but we don’t have to adopt that, we can just place our hands on our thighs or at our sides and incline slightly from the waist.

Or we could adopt the Sanskrit, namaste, which has more spiritual significance.

Finally, there is the good American fist bump.

Obama Fist Bump

Dap, first bump, whatever you call it: Barack and Michelle Obama showed their togetherness.

Even Mitt does it!

From christopherstreet

And Dubya tried.

So I’m with Scott Lehigh – lets stop shaking hands.

Creating Jobs: which party does better

The Republicans will campaign on the idea that lowing taxes on the wealthy (I think Romney wants to keep the Bush tax cuts and even cut more) creates jobs because the money the wealthy do not pay in taxes goes to create jobs.  Fay Paxton has looked at the history of job creation and posted an analysis on Winning Progressive.   Her conclusion:  Democrats create more jobs.  These charts describe private sector job creation.

Yes, the first months of the Obama Administration were rough, but as the chart shows, we started bleeding jobs under George W. Bush.

Ronald Reagan wins among Republicans, but he wasn’t afraid of raising taxes.

So what about federal public sector jobs?  The Republicans always claim that the Democrats are the party of big government.  Is this true?  Paxton says

Republicans talk about being conservatives who believe in small government and reducing the federal workforce. The numbers don’t bear out their claims.  In a press conference, House Speaker John Boehner said, “In the last two years, under President Obama, the federal government has added 200,000 new federal jobs.”  The Republicans even advanced legislation calling for a reduction of 200,000 federal employees.

Here’s the truth:

According to the Office of Personnel Management, it is true that the federal workforce increased by 237,000 employees. What Boehner does not tell…150,000 of the employees added to the roles were uniformed military personnel, no doubt to accommodate the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 237,000 figure also includes temporary Census workers.

Despite claims of huge government expansion, historically, Democratic presidents reduced the size of the federal government workforce. The federal employment numbers, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, the department charged with tracking the number of employees, the data shows the following:

Paxton summarizes

If we combine the totals for all federal employees, including the military:
Reagan began office with a total of 4,982,000 employees and ended his term with 5,292,000 employees. While President Obama took office with a federal employee roster of 4,430,000 employees (fewer than Reagan). At the end of 2010 President Obama’s federal workforce numbered 4,443,000; that’s 849,000 fewer employees than Reagan, the advocate of small government! Add to this the fact that President Reagan governed during peacetime, while President Obama inherited two wars.

So the figures don’t lie:  Democrats do a much better at creating new private sector jobs and reducing the size of the federal government.

 

Ryan’s Budget and the 2012 Election

 Dan Wasserman sums up the Ryan Budget.

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President Obama called the Ryan Budget “Social Darwinism” quoting that wise Republican, Newt Gingrich.  Mitt Romney called it “marvelous”.  Paul Krugman calls it “Pink Slime Economics”

Here is Krugman

And when I say fraudulent, I mean just that. The trouble with the budget devised by Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn’t just its almost inconceivably cruel priorities, the way it slashes taxes for corporations and the rich while drastically cutting food and medical aid to the needy. Even aside from all that, the Ryan budget purports to reduce the deficit — but the alleged deficit reduction depends on the completely unsupported assertion that trillions of dollars in revenue can be found by closing tax loopholes.

And we’re talking about a lot of loophole-closing. As Howard Gleckman of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center points out, to make his numbers work Mr. Ryan would, by 2022, have to close enough loopholes to yield an extra $700 billion in revenue every year. That’s a lot of money, even in an economy as big as ours. So which specific loopholes has Mr. Ryan, who issued a 98-page manifesto on behalf of his budget, said he would close?

None. Not one. He has, however, categorically ruled out any move to close the major loophole that benefits the rich, namely the ultra-low tax rates on income from capital. (That’s the loophole that lets Mitt Romney pay only 14 percent of his income in taxes, a lower tax rate than that faced by many middle-class families.)

This budget fight and the election to come are about what we want the country to be.  The Republicans have that much right.  Will we become a country with the rich hiding in gated communities and getting richer or will we a a country where everyone has a chance to succeed, where the less fortunate get help, and where there is a robust middle class?  Democracies thrive in countries with an educated middle class.  Look at the driving forces behind the Arab Spring.  The choices this election will be clear. 

The budget fight is also about whether or not a deficit is important right now.  Yes, we can’t continue to grow the deficit indefinitely, but it seems to this non-economist, that the way to deal with the deficit is not through draconian cuts to the domestic budget, but spend on things that result in jobs.  When people work they pay taxes and the deficit can begin to come down.  But cutting food stamps, unemployment insurance, job retaining programs, aid to education, are all key to growing jobs or helping those who can’t find them.

Andrew Rosenthal put it better in today’s New York Times.

He ticked off some of the budget’s most near-sighted assaults: financial aid cuts to nearly 10 million college students; 1,600 fewer medical grants; 4,000 fewer scientific research grants. Starting in 2014, it would cut around 200,000 children from the Head Start program and 2 million mothers and their young children from a food assistance program. “We wouldn’t have the capacity to enforce the laws that protect the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food that we eat,” he said.

Medicaid would be gutted, Medicare would be turned into a voucher program – but the Republicans would still cut taxes by $4.6 trillion over the next decade. The cuts, as usual, would mostly benefit the wealthy.

Mr. Obama noted that the stated purpose of the Republican budget is to reduce the federal budget deficit, but he called it a Trojan horse and “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” The real purpose is to cripple government. And he said, because it guts “the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to last – education and training, research and development, our infrastructure – it is a prescription for decline.”

The Republican response to Mr. Obama – that the nation is in a debt crisis and the president doesn’t get it – just made his point for him. We don’t have a debt crisis. We have a medium- to long-term budget problem, driven largely by rising health costs combined with an aging population. Health care reform is an honest attempt to deal with that. Letting the Bush tax cuts expire, starting with the high-end ones, would be an honest attempt to deal with that. Then there’s our lack of jobs, lack of income growth, diminishing prospects and dwindling opportunities.

And we shouldn’t forget that George W. Bush told us we didn’t need to raise taxes to pay for the war in Iraq because it would pay for itself through oil revenue.  He cut taxes for the 1% instead and created a deficit.  This probably wouldn’t have been so catastrophic except that the economy collapsed in 2008.  Here is a link to a nice chart.

So the Ryan Budget will be at the heart of the election this fall – especially if Paul Ryan is Romney’s VP.  It will be interesting.