Puppies, Cats and Filibusters

Last night Rachel Maddow did this weird segment launching her contest to come up with a word that is less boring that filibuster.  Her theory being that the process won’t change until people understand what it is and they won’t understand it until we come up with a word that doesn’t put everyone to sleep.

Rachel explained this while running unrelated video of a puppy who kept falling asleep in a large pan of water.

So I tried an experiment.  Peter, one of the cats, was asleep on the end of the sofa.  I called his name.  He woke up and looked at me.  I told him I wanted to have a conversation about filibusters.  He promptly closed his eyes and went back to sleep.  Coincidence?  Probably.  I didn’t say the magic word, “food”, for one thing.  But it was kinda cute.

I’ve written about the filibuster several times in the past and despite what Harry Reid seems to want to do (which is nothing) something has to happen.  Did everyone hear President Obama mention many things which have passed the House and not the Senate during his State of the Union Address?  And it is sad that the Senate has to be threatened with recess appointments before they begin to confirm nominees.

Of all the suggestions, I think the best is not changing the 60 vote rule itself, but instituting the old talk until you drop rule.  No more going on to other business.  No more going home.  If you call for a filibuster, be prepared to talk.

Come on, Senate Democrats.  Stop looking like sleepy cats and puppies.

Dr. Bones Explains Health Care

This past Sunday, the back page of the Boston Globe “Ideas” section was a great cartoon by Dan Wasserman.

And I’m still disappointed about the public option, but I’m not quite ready join Howard Dean and dismiss the entire bill.  [An update:  soon after I first published this Howard was on the Rachel Maddow show saying he is now not going to oppose the bill due to some additional changes that had been made.]

For more from Wasserman use the blogroll link for Out of Line.

The Joe Problem

I started thinking about the Democrats Joe Lieberman problem back when the President (who was really new then and trying to play nice) gave his blessing to allowing Joe, a McCain and other Republicans supporter, back into the Democratic Senate caucus.  They also let him be the Chair of the Homeland Security committee.  So now why is Joe going to vote with the Republicans to let them filibuster the health care bill.  He claims he is opposed to the public option and worried about the deficit.

The other night Rachael Maddow had an interesting piece about Joe and Birch Bayh.  Yesterday, Bayh flipped flopped around, but in the end said he will vote with the Democrats to let Health Care Reform come to the floor of the Senate.  I hope he was scared of the ads that reform supporters would be running showing his wife on the board of directors of Wellpoint and graphs of how much money they made from the insurance companies. 

But Joe is a different problem.  As Nate Silver writes

The reason this is a little scary for Democrats is because the usual things that serve to motivate a Congressman don’t seem to motivate Joe Lieberman.

Would voting to filibuster the Democrats’ health care bill (if it contains a decent public option) endear Lieberman to his constituents? No; Connecticutians favor the public option 64-31.

Would it make his path to re-election easier? No, because it would virtually assure that Lieberman faces a vigorous and well-funded challenge from a credible, capital-D Democrat, and polls show him losing such a match-up badly.

Would it buy him more power in the Senate? No, because Democrats would have every reason to strip him of his chairmanship of the Homeland Security Committee.

Is Lieberman’s stance intended to placate the special interests in his state? Perhaps this is part of it — there are a lot of insurance companies in Connecticut — but Lieberman is generally not one of the more sold-out Senators, ranking 75th out of the 100-member chamber in the percentage of his fundraising that comes from corporate PACs.

So what does Harry Reid need to do?  Stroke Joe’s ego more?  Buy him a puppy as Nate Silver suggests?  And how many times does Reid do this?  Back to Nate

The other way that this is damaging to Democrats, of course, is that it may embolden an Evan Bayh or a Blanche Lincoln or a Ben Nelson to adopt Lieberman’s stance. None of these guys want to be the lone Democratic member to filibuster — but it’s much easier to defray individual responsibility on a procedural vote against your party when you have someone else joining you.

But while a Nelson or a Lincoln is liable to have a fairly rational set of concerns — basically, they want to ensure they get re-elected — it’s tough to bargain with people like Lieberman who are a little crazy. In certain ways, he resembles nothing so much as one of those rogue, third-bit Middle Eastern dictators that he’s so often carping about, capable of creating great anxiety with relatively little expenditure of resources, and taking equal pleasure in watching his friends and enemies sweat.

In other word:  Joe Lieberman is not rational and is more than a little nuts.  And he must be feeling great because his, little Joe Lieberman, is standing single handedly in the way of what is looking like an acceptable health care bill.

The Republican Problem with Blondes

I generally don’t like to stereotype people, but today I just can’t resist.  Remember Dan Qualye?  He who used to look adoringly at Bush I?  He was a blonde back then. Then there was blonde bombshell pundit Ann Coulter.  Now the Republicans have Liz Cheney and Elizabeth Hasselbeck. 

Liz Cheney is on a crusade to save her father’s image.  Maybe she is trying to save a Spanish court or a truth commission or U.S. attorney from prosecuting him, but I don’t think it helps much at she can’t get facts which are clearly on tape correct.   Last night Rachel Maddow deconstructed Liz Cheney’s interview with Andrea Mitchell in which Cheney claimed that the linking of Saddam Hussein with 9-11 was an attempt to smear the Bush administration and that her father never said any such thing.  And here I’ve been thinking for at least 7 years that this was the reason for the War in Iraq.  Silly me.  Oh, the link wasn’t really with 9-11 just with Al-Qaeda.  Didn’t they take responsibility for the attack which would mean, if Saddam and Al-Qaeda were linked that Saddam would be linked to 9-11?  But no one has ever found such a link including the Congressional 9-11 Commission.  Liz is a blonde.

And then there is the other Republican blonde, Elizabeth Hasselbeck.  She criticized President Obama’s Cairo speech by saying he never mentioned “democracy.”  Elizabeth, he had a whole section which he called “Democracy.”  Keith Olbermann deconstructed this one.

The Republicans may have a problem with blondes.

What is Dick Cheney Up To?

I couldn’t sleep after something woke me up at 4:15 this morning and I started thinking about Rachel Maddow’s piece last night about former Vice President Dick Cheney.  She presented a video montage of his “torture saves lives” tour of news talk shows.  It is really quite remarkable when you see them one after the other.  Maddow’s piece ends with an interview of Retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson who served as Colin Powell’s Chief of Staff when Powell was Secretary of State.  Wilkerson wondered out loud if Cheney realized that he may be making revelations that could provide evidence which could eventually lead to his, Cheney’s, prosecution. 

Then when I finally got out of bed and turned on the computer, there was Maureen Dowd’s column Rouge Diva of Doom.

When Bush 41 was ramping up to the Gulf War, assembling a coalition to fight Saddam, Jimmy Carter sent a letter to members of the U.N. Security Council urging them not to rush into conflict without further exploring a negotiated solution.

The first President Bush and other Republicans in Washington considered this treasonous, a former president trying to thwart a sitting one, lobbying foreign diplomats to oppose his own country on a war resolution. In 2002, when Bush Junior was ramping up to his war against Saddam, Al Gore made a speech trying to slow down that war resolution, pointing out that pivoting from Osama to Saddam for no reason, initiating “pre-emptive” war, and blowing off our allies would undermine the war on terror.

Asked by Bob Schieffer on Sunday how America could torture when it made a mockery of our ideals, Cheney blithely gave an answer that surely would have been labeled treasonous by Rush Limbaugh, if a Democratic ex-vice president had said it about a Republican president.

“Well, then you’d have to say that, in effect, we’re prepared to sacrifice American lives rather than run an intelligent interrogation program that would provide us the information we need to protect America,” Doomsday Dick said.

Cheney has replaced Sarah Palin as Rogue Diva. Just as Jeb Bush and other Republicans are trying to get kinder and gentler, Cheney has popped out of his dungeon, scary organ music blaring, to carry on his nasty campaign of fear and loathing.

So, back to my question:  What is Cheney up to?  Is he on some long term campaign to get Americans to be afraid so we will elect Republicans again?  Is he trying to influence public opinion so that we don’t think torture is all that bad and we won’t want to bring him to trial?  Or is he just stupid?  Here’s Dowd again

Cheney’s numskull ideas — he still loves torture (dubbed “13th-century” stuff by Bob Woodward), Gitmo and scaring the bejesus out of Americans — are not only fixed, they’re jejune.

He has no coherent foreign policy viewpoint. He still doesn’t fathom that his brutish invasion of Iraq unbalanced that part of the world, empowered Iran and was a force multiplier for Muslims who hate America. He left our ports unsecured, our food supply unsafe, the Taliban rising and Osama on the loose. No matter if or when terrorists attack here — and they’re on their own timetable, not a partisan red/blue state timetable — Cheney will be deemed the primary one who made America more vulnerable.

According to Dowd, even the Bush Family doesn’t like what he is doing.  What scares me is that there is a small segment of the population that will believe everything Cheney says and a larger one that can be influenced by his scare tactics.  But maybe the Bushes would like to silence him before he implicates George W. Bush in a way that will be impossible to ignore.  I think his remarks will lead to more documents being revealed.  Perhaps we should keep Cheney talking.

Rachel Maddow has said several times she would like to interview Cheney and last night issued her invitation again with a twist.  She would have Col. Wilkerson help her to do the interview.  I’d say the odds are not good he will accept.

Let’s Tea Party

I don’t know how anyone else feels but I think it is very clear that the Republican Party is caught in a timewarp.  Maybe not 1980, but sometime in the early Reagan Year or even pre-Reagan years.  And they are also trying to be 2009 hip.  The combination is ripe for hilarlity – unfortunately for the Republicans.  First there was Chairman Steeele saying he wanted to appeal to the hip hop crowd kinda like Karl Rove and his famous rap, I guess.  Now there is tea-bagging.  The tea baggers don’t seem to get it that we did really well with the higher tax rates – look at the Clinton years.  It is the Clinton tax rates the President wants to restore.

The original Boston Tea Party in 1773 protested the tax on tea without representation in Parliament.  If I recall my history, we had not yet decided to split from Mother England but just wanted to have some guys in Parliament.  I don’t think it was a protest on the tea tax directly.  The tax on tea touch everyone.  President Obama’s tax plan only effects the very top earners since the rest of us will get a little cut.  Bruce Bartlett, writing in Forbes.com, has posted some very interesting statisitics.

Next week is April 15, the day when most Americans have to file their federal income tax returns. To protest the allegedly high level of taxation in the United States, various right-wing groups are organizing tea parties around the country in the spirit of the Boston Tea Party of 1773.

The irony of these protests is that federal revenues as a share of the gross domestic product will be lower this year than any year since 1950. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal government will take only 15.5% of GDP in taxes this year, compared to 17.7% last year, 18.8% in 2007 and 20.9% in 2000.

The truth is that the U.S. is a relatively low-tax country no matter how you slice the data. The following tables illustrate this fact by comparing the U.S. to other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a Paris-based research organization.

As Table 1 shows, total taxation (federal, state and local) amounted to 28% of the GDP in the U.S. in 2006. Only four of the 30 OECD countries had a lower tax ratio. Taxes averaged 35.9% for the OECD as a whole and 38% in Europe. Citizens of Denmark and Sweden paid very close to 50% of their total income in taxes.

Table 1: Total Taxes as a Share of GDP, 2006

Denmark

49.1

U.K.

37.1

Ireland

31.9

Sweden

49.1

Hungary

37.1

Greece

31.3

Belgium

44.5

Czech Rep.

36.9

Australia

30.6

France

44.2

N.Z.

36.7

Slovak Rep.

29.8

Norway

43.9

Spain

36.6

Switzerland

29.6

Finland

43.5

Luxembourg

35.9

U.S.

28.0

Italy

42.1

Portugal

35.7

Japan

27.9

Austria

41.7

Germany

35.6

Korea

26.8

Iceland

41.5

Poland

33.5

Turkey

24.5

Netherlands

39.3

Canada

33.3

Mexico

20.6

Source: OECD

Bartlett ends with an interesting observation. (I should say that he also has other charts comparing individual tax rates.)

The point is that one can’t look just at the taxes people pay here or elsewhere without looking at what they get in return. It doesn’t automatically follow that the places with the lowest taxes are the best places to live and work. This is obvious when we think about where to buy a house. We always look at the quality of local schools as a major factor and are willing to pay higher property taxes in return for good schools. The same is true at the national level as well. Higher taxes may pay for services that people value and thus are not as burdensome as they might appear at first glance.

So what are these tea parties really about?  And is this the best the Republicans can do to find a voice?  Once again we have to turn to Rachel Maddow.  Gabriela Resto-Montero writes this intro for the Nation

The “Tea Bag” movement spawned by a rant on CNBC by Rick Santelli seeks to protest the Obama tax cuts by imitating the revolutionary fathers’ Boston Tea Party, which in fact protested taxation without representation (the opposite of a tax cut). While the logic behind the protest is confusing, the right-wing’s complete lack of awareness about the term “Tea Bagging” is even more so. Rachel Maddow and Ana Marie Cox have some fun at the expense of clueless conservatives and point out that at long last Senator David Vitter may have found a worthy cause to champion.

And I have a really stupid question:  Are they throwing in the tea or the entire tea bag?  If it is the entire tea bag, they are really polluting our lakes and rivers with paper made not to dissolve in water.

After the G-20

The meeting seemed to go well.  The world leaders fell all over themselves to get pictures with President Obama who was his usual cool self even though he didn’t get the Europeans to cough up  stimulus/recovery money of their own.  They seem to like the idea of regulations a lot more.  

 I wrote a piece a few weeks ago on the Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act as an example of degegluation that led to things like AIG.  I think the Europeans at the G-20 would like us to reinstitute some things like a version of the Gramm, Leach, Bliley Act.  Are the Administration and Congress really waiting to see the economy stabilize before the begin to write regs, or is it just a big stall hoping we will forget about it? 

Paul Krugman wrote an interesting op-ed yesterday in which he tied bankers/financiers salaries to bad stuff happening. 

Thirty-plus years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, only the least ambitious of my classmates sought careers in the financial world. Even then, investment banks paid more than teaching or public service — but not that much more, and anyway, everyone knew that banking was, well, boring.

In the years that followed, of course, banking became anything but boring. Wheeling and dealing flourished, and pay scales in finance shot up, drawing in many of the nation’s best and brightest young people (O.K., I’m not so sure about the “best” part). And we were assured that our supersized financial sector was the key to prosperity.

Instead, however, finance turned into the monster that ate the world economy.

This is a cycle that began during the Great Depression

Before 1930, banking was an exciting industry featuring a number of larger-than-life figures, who built giant financial empires (some of which later turned out to have been based on fraud). This highflying finance sector presided over a rapid increase in debt: Household debt as a percentage of G.D.P. almost doubled between World War I and 1929.

During this first era of high finance, bankers were, on average, paid much more than their counterparts in other industries. But finance lost its glamour when the banking system collapsed during the Great Depression.

So now we have the heads of AIG, CitiBank (or whatever they call themselves now) saying they deserve their money and bonuses even though they contributed mightily to the current recession.  Even Larry Summers is fat and happy from feeding out of the financial trough.  Robert Sheer writes in The Nation

Not surprisingly, Lawrence Summers is convinced that he deserved every penny of the $8 million that Wall Street firms paid him last year. And why shouldn’t he be cut in on the loot from the loopholes in the toxic derivatives market that he pushed into law when he was Bill Clinton’s treasury secretary? No one has been more persistently effective in paving the way for the financial swindles that enriched the titans of finance while impoverishing the rest of the world than the man who is now the top economic adviser to President Obama.

It is especially disturbing that Summers got most of the $8 million from a major hedge fund at a time when such totally unregulated rich-guys-only investment clubs stand to make the most off the Obama administration’s plan for saving the banks. The scheme, as announced by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, a Summers protégé, is to clean up the toxic holdings of the banks using taxpayer money and then turn them over to hedge funds that will risk little of their own capital. At least the banks are somewhat government-regulated, which cannot be said of the hedge funds, thanks to Summers.

 It was Summers, as much as anyone, who in the Clinton years prevented the regulation of the hedge funds that are at the center of the explosion of the derivatives bubble…

So do we have the makings of another crisis rather than a solution?  Here is Krugman again

The banking industry that emerged from that collapse was tightly regulated, far less colorful than it had been before the Depression, and far less lucrative for those who ran it. Banking became boring, partly because bankers were so conservative about lending: Household debt, which had fallen sharply as a percentage of G.D.P. during the Depression and World War II, stayed far below pre-1930s levels.

Strange to say, this era of boring banking was also an era of spectacular economic progress for most Americans.

The bottom line is we need to make banking boring again by regulating it so the Larry Summers of the world don’t get all the gain and the rest of us can do well also in our more modest way.

And finally, in case you missed it, is Paul Krugman on the Rachel Maddow show.

AIG Backstory: The Gramm Leach Bliley Act

Today (May 11, 2012) JP Morgan Chase appears to have engaged in the same kind of behavior that lead to the 2008 meltdown and people are talking about reviving the Glass-Steagall Act.  I thought I should repost this from March 2009.

Yesterday one of my Random Thoughts was to ask if anyone remember when banks were banks and stock brokers were stock brokers.  A few hours later, Rachel Maddow had a piece on the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (GLBA) of 1999. According to the summary of the bill the first provision is

TITLE I — FACILITATING AFFILIATION AMONG BANKS, SECURITIES FIRMS, AND INSURANCE COMPANIES

 Repeals the restrictions on banks affiliating with securities firms contained in sections 20 and 32 of the Glass-Steagall Act.

(The GLBA also did some good things like require lending in poor neighborhoods which began to end redlining, but that’s a whole different story and discussion. It also required ATM’s to post fees for use. And I need to confess that  in 1999, Representative Bliliey was my Congressman.)  

At the signing, by President Clinton, of the Gramm Leach Bliley Act Senator Phil Gramm said

“In the 1930s, at the trough of the Depression, when Glass-Steagall became law, it was believed that government was the answer. It was believed that stability and growth came from government overriding the functioning of free markets.

“We are here today to repeal Glass-Steagall because we have learned that government is not the answer. We have learned that freedom and competition are the answers. We have learned that we promote economic growth and we promote stability by having competition and freedom.

So it has taken about ten years to figure out Phil Gramm was wrong.  We did not “..promote stability by having competition and freedom.”

The GLBA was what allowed AIG to go from insurance company to a financial behemoth “too big to fail”.  It let CitiBank purchase Traveler’s Insurance and become CitiGroup. 

Circling back to Rachel Maddow, her guest David Cay Johnson compared the lack of Wall Street regulation which was supposed to save tax payers money with deciding that we no longer needed the expense of traffic lights, speed limits and stop signs because drivers will regulate themselves. 

My bottom line?  We need to get back to some sensible regulations with proper funding of regulators.  But will Phil Gramm’s sucessors – Eric Cantor and the other Republicans – understand that their essentially unregulated free market because government is bad mantra is what helped get us into trouble and brought us to the place where we are spending trillions to bailout the very companies that Gramm Leach Bliley helped to create.

The Current State of Baseball and Illegal Drugs

It is no secret to people who know me or anyone who follows this blog and has read my occasional baseball posts but I love baseball.  I follow certain basketball teams but I really don’t watch unless one of them is playing.  Baseball on the other hand, particularly live baseball is a love.  If it is live, I can watch any two teams at any level play.  I think I like the game so much because it one one of the things that my grandfather who spoke little English and I could watch in common.

This spring training 2009, what is the state of baseball.  Well, I think that the use of steroids is down.  George Vescey writes in the New York Times in his column titled “The Incredible Shrinking Baseball Player.”

Baseball clubhouses seem to be getting bigger this spring, with more room to move around. Or maybe the players are becoming smaller.

Out of the roughly 1,000 major leaguers in spring training camps, a couple of dozen appear to have lost significant weight in the off-season, all in the name of health and agility.

Some of them did it by eating grilled fish. Others played active video games with their children. Some went on diet programs or took up yoga. Others cut back on alcohol. Whatever they did, clubhouse attendants are coming up with smaller uniforms all over Florida and Arizona.

Whether or not it is because they are no longer using steroids or because, like many of us non ballplayers, they are discovering a healthier lifestyle, Vescey can’t say.  But he has his suspicions.

“You have to be a little skeptical, given the context of watching bodies change,” Dr. Gary Wadler, an internist and member of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said Thursday. “The explanation then was that they were eating more and working out more. Now if you hear players say, ‘We changed our ways,’ all you can do is be suspicious.”

But the weight loss can be good.

The model for clean living and technique over brute size is Derek Jeter of the Yankees, whose physique and hitting style have never fluctuated since he came up in 1995. Jeter seemed to be quietly seething last week when having to discuss revelations of steroid use by Alex Rodriguez. Not all of us did it, Jeter veritably hissed. That is an important fact to remember as players assert their inner athlete.

Baseball players did not necessarily need all the bulk they were sporting in the last generation, said Dr. Michael Joyner, deputy director and vice dean for research at the Mayo Clinic, an expert in exercise physiology.

“I think it’s better to say people were going in the easier direction,” Dr. Joyner said, referring to past weight gain. “Athletes are supercompetitive. Many of them are almost sociopaths in almost a friendly way,” he added, saying that players would compete in anything, including body mass.

Dr. Joyner recalled the power of a small hitter like Jim Wynn and a slender pitcher like Ron Guidry, of the 1960s and 1970s. He also praised the immortal lefty Sandy Koufax and the four-time Olympic discus champion, Al Oerter, who combined athletic ability and technique.

Still, thin just may be in. This minitrend has been labeled the Pedroia Effect by Greg Lalas, retired soccer player and writer for Goal.com. He was referring to the 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound second baseman with the Red Sox who hit .326 with 17 home runs last year and was named most valuable player in his league.

I knew I’d get a reference to a member of the Red Sox in there someplace.

But the big story, at least in my mind, is the tie between the Barry Bonds trial for perjury and the tactics of the Bush Justice Department.  Who knew that all those questionable tactics would come home to roost in the trial of a baseball player for using steroids?

David Zirin writing in The Nation and also appearing of the Rachel Maddow show makes this connection.  His story “The US v. Barry Bonds” begins

This is a story about garbage. There’s the actual garbage overzealous federal investigators examined in their efforts to prosecute a surly sports celebrity. There’s the shredding of the Bill of Rights, crudely ignored by the government in the name of obsession and ambition. Finally, there’s the thorough trashing of people’s reputations, not to mention the game of baseball. Welcome to The US v. Barry Bonds; please disregard the stench.

The embodiment of this obsession was IRS agent Jeff Novitzky. He broke open the BALCO case after spending a great deal of time, to the adulation of the press, literally sifting through garbage and sewage.

Novitzky was given the green light by President Bush and Ashcroft to go for the jugular. In 2004, accompanied by eleven agents, he marched into Comprehensive Drug Testing, the nation’s largest sports-drug testing company. Armed with a warrant to see the confidential drug tests of ten baseball players, he walked out with 4,000 supposedly sealed medical files, including every baseball player in the major leagues. As Jon Pessah wrote in ESPN magazine, “Three federal judges reviewed the raid. One asked, incredulously, if the Fourth Amendment had been repealed. Another, Susan Illston, who has presided over the BALCO trials, called Novitzky’s actions a ‘callous disregard’ for constitutional rights. All three instructed him to return the records. Instead, Novitzky kept the evidence….”

It was a frightening abuse of power, all aimed at imprisoning a prominent African-American athlete. Yet despite the landfills of trash, the government’s case always rested on a flimsy premise. Bonds’s contention under oath was that anything illegal he may have ingested was without prior knowledge. The only person who could contradict Bonds was his trainer and longtime friend Greg Anderson. The government pressed Anderson to give testimony. He refused, citing a promise made by the feds that he wouldn’t have to testify after pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering in 2005. The feds stuck him in jail for thirteen months to soften him up, but he didn’t crack.

We all knew that the Bush Justice Department was completely ignoring the Constitution to keep us safe from terroists, but to convict baseball players who used steroids?  I guess it could be a threat to the American pasttime.

It’s way past time to say enough is enough.

Whether or not you are a Barry Bonds fan, or consider him to be just a step above a seal-clubbing, pitbull-fighting bank executive, every person of good conscience should be aghast at the way the Justice Department has gone about its business. Barry Bonds, Greg Anderson and maybe thousands of others have had their rights trampled on, all for the glory of a perjury case that looks to be going absolutely nowhere. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama have strongly indicated that the government is getting out of the steroid monitoring business. That is welcome, but after so many years, so many tax dollars and so many reputations destroyed, it all feels positively Pyrrhic.

You can also watch Dave on the Rachel Maddow Show.

I’m sure that there will be another drug.  And I sure that ball players get through the long season and the travel using the occasional upper, but for now at least healthy living seems to be a trend.

Federal Aid for the Local Economy

I’m off work until the end of the year, but my friends in the budget office are working hard to try to figure out how to cut the city operating budget by 10% because the state will likely cut local aid by that amount.  The state has already made cuts in things like pay raises for direct care workers – the folks who provide care for the disabled and elderly who work for non-profits.  Some of our affordable rental housing construction is not beining constructed because there is no funding either from loans or from tax credits. I think state and local workers may be laid off before this crisis ends.  And, jokes about inefficient govenerment workers aside, do we really need more people with skills and education, unemployed?

Paul Krugman wrote about all this in Fifty Herbert HooversI know that the governors I know, Deval Patrick and Tim Kaine, do not like the comparison.  I’m sure they understand that cutting spending right now is the worst thing they could do but as Krugman explains

In fact, the true cost of government programs, especially public investment, is much lower now than in more prosperous times. When the economy is booming, public investment competes with the private sector for scarce resources — for skilled construction workers, for capital. But right now many of the workers employed on infrastructure projects would otherwise be unemployed, and the money borrowed to pay for these projects would otherwise sit idle.

And shredding the social safety net at a moment when many more Americans need help isn’t just cruel. It adds to the sense of insecurity that is one important factor driving the economy down.

So why are we doing this to ourselves?

The answer, of course, is that state and local government revenues are plunging along with the economy — and unlike the federal government, lower-level governments can’t borrow their way through the crisis. Partly that’s because these governments, unlike the feds, are subject to balanced-budget rules. But even if they weren’t, running temporary deficits would be difficult. Investors, driven by fear, are refusing to buy anything except federal debt, and those states that can borrow at all are being forced to pay punitive interest rates.

I agree that the state and local governments need help.  Funds to help pay for construction projects, funds for social service programs, funds to help pay for health care and unemployment.  And now for my rant.   But those funds need to have less rigid guidelines than normal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and other federal programs.  If AIG, Citi Bank, and the other large lending institutions have no oversight or reporting requirements, state and local governements have too many.  Take the new Neighborhood Stabilization money which is to help purchase, rehab and otherwise get foreclosed properties back online.  I will have to learn an entirely new federal reporting system (the email I got with my password says that there are “navigational problems” with the system) and monitor owners and renters for the next 10 to 15 years, with no increase in staff or administrative costs past the first 3 years.  Does this make any sense? 

Krugman again

What can be done? Ted Strickland, the governor of Ohio, is pushing for federal aid to the states on three fronts: help for the neediest, in the form of funding for food stamps and Medicaid; federal funding of state- and local-level infrastructure projects; and federal aid to education. That sounds right — and if the numbers Mr. Strickland proposes are huge, so is the crisis.

I agree with Governor Stickland with one addition:  money should also go into mass transit and intercity highspeed rail.  This could be part of the green solution at the same time.

If you also want to see and hear Paul Krugman, he was on the Rachel Maddow  show.