22 November 2014

Bush With Tan ……… Again

Yes, it turns out that our exit from Afghanistan won't be an exit:
President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.

Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.


The decision to change that mission was the result of a lengthy and heated debate that laid bare the tension inside the Obama administration between two often-competing imperatives: the promise Mr. Obama made to end the war in Afghanistan, versus the demands of the Pentagon that American troops be able to successfully fulfill their remaining missions in the country.
Once again, we see the pattern.

Obama knows what the right thing to do is, but he has to accommodate the ones who f%$%#ed up in the first place, much like he did with Obamacare.

I understand the desire to be a conciliator, particularly given Obama's life story, but the role of POTUS is to be the adult in the room, because the Pentagon cannot be.

The generals, and the civilian side of the defense establishment, is simply incapable of making the call to cut their losses and leave.

They subscribe to the Green Lantern theory of Geopolitics, in which the limits of American military might are limited only by the will, and where any realistic examination of the risks and rewards are assiduously eschewed.

This is insane.


I want to know what happened when the car hit the freeway.

Deep Thought

Seen on Facebook.

20 November 2014

Seriously, Charles Schumer is a Boil on the Ass of the Body Politic

While I am highly dubious that the recent "leadership" position granted to Elizabeth Warren in the Senate, the response of Chuck Schumer to this development was a case study as to why the Democratic Party is seen as hopeless:
When Reid was in talks with Warren about a job in Senate leadership earlier this month, Schumer suggested tapping moderate Sen. Mark Warner, too, to balance out her progressive politics — or perhaps making her a “liaison to liberal groups,” a narrower job than what Reid had proposed, according to sources familiar with the private talks.

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, said no to both of Schumer’s suggestions, later taking the job as a policy adviser to Schumer’s messaging operation.
Mark Warner? Seriously?!?!?!

Because somehow or other, Elizabeth Warren is just so scary that Schumer needed for her to be counterbalanced by yet another bland creature of the oligarchs.

If I am Sounding a Bit Incoherent, It's Because I am a Bit Incoherent

Major deadline at work, and I put in 14 hours today.

I got everything done that I needed to do today, but I am completely knackered.

Tomorrow should be fascinating. (Not snarking here)

If Sid Vicious Had an iPhone, He Would Be Alive Today

Roll Tape!
Because it appears that Mr. Vicious' band mate, John "Johnny Rotten" Lydon, has discovered a new mode of dysfunctional addictive behavior, overdoing the Apple App store:
I wasted – you’re the first to know this – 10,000 f‑‑‑‑‑‑ pounds in the last two years on apps on my iPad. I got into Game of Thrones, Game of War, Real Racing, and I just wanted to up the ante. And like an idiot I didn’t check myself. I’ve been checked now. But there's a kid in me, see? A bit of my childhood was taken from me and I’m determined to bring it back.
I guess that it beats doing heroine, as Sid and his former girlfriend Nancy Spungen's all too brief lives demonstrate.

But still, app abuse?

It boggles the mind.

19 November 2014

Yes, the Goal is the Eimination of Employer Supplied Health Plans

Remember when I said that I thought that one of the hidden goals of Obamacare was the elimination of employer sponsored healthcare plans?

Well, pretty much:
In a 2011 conversation about the Affordable Care Act, MIT economist Jonathan Gruber, one of the architects of the law more commonly known as Obamacare, talked about how the bill would get rid of all tax credits for employer-based health insurance through "mislabeling" what the tax is and who it would hit.

In recent days, the past comments of Gruber -- who in a 2010 speech noted that he "helped write the federal bill" and "was a paid consultant to the Obama administration to help develop the technical details as well" -- have been given renewed attention.


The issue at hand in this sixth video is known as the "Cadillac tax," which was represented as a tax on employers' expensive health insurance plans. While employers do not currently have to pay taxes on health insurance plans they provide employees, starting in 2018, companies that provide health insurance that costs more than $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for a family will have to pay a 40 percent tax.

"Economists have called for 40 years to get rid of the regressive, inefficient and expensive tax subsidy provided for employer provider health insurance," Gruber said at the Pioneer Institute for public policy research in Boston. The subsidy is "terrible policy," Gruber said.

"It turns out politically it's really hard to get rid of," Gruber said. "And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it's a tax on people who hold those insurance plans."


The issue at hand in this sixth video is known as the "Cadillac tax," which was represented as a tax on employers' expensive health insurance plans. While employers do not currently have to pay taxes on health insurance plans they provide employees, starting in 2018, companies that provide health insurance that costs more than $10,200 for an individual or $27,500 for a family will have to pay a 40 percent tax.

"Economists have called for 40 years to get rid of the regressive, inefficient and expensive tax subsidy provided for employer provider health insurance," Gruber said at the Pioneer Institute for public policy research in Boston. The subsidy is "terrible policy," Gruber said.

"It turns out politically it's really hard to get rid of," Gruber said. "And the only way we could get rid of it was first by mislabeling it, calling it a tax on insurance plans rather than a tax on people when we all know it's a tax on people who hold those insurance plans."
Seriously, Obama, and the people who advise him, make Ronald Reagan look like a f%$#ing socialist.

Obamacare is chock full of manifestations of the unholy glee that Obama and His Evil Minions take in neoliberal free market ideology and the financial industry.

The most depressing thing is that the next president is probably going to be a lot worse.

More of This

At a hearing before the Senate Banking Committee, the senior Senator from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts cut Mel Watt, the Chairman of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, a well deserved new asshole:
What started as a dry, lame-duck session hearing on the Federal Housing Finance Agency in the Senate Banking Committee on Wednesday, got heated when U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., went guns blazing after the FHFA director.

Warren, an outspoken progressive and a likely candidate for the 2016 Democrat presidential nomination, went on the attack during FHFA Director Melvin Watt’s first hearing before the committee, saying that he’s never done anything to help homeowners who are underwater and facing foreclosure.

The hearing started benignly enough, with Watt's prepared remarks delivered in a measured tone. That soon ended, when Warren took the mic.

Warren is known for aggressively grilling witnesses, but this was an unusual case of a “blue on blue” attack, as Watt is a former congressional Democrat and Obama appointee, and considered a strong advocate for affordable housing and homeowner assistance.
It does not matter what Watt was.

If you are working on housing in the Obama administration, your role is to coddle the criminals working for Wall Street at the expense of the ordinary American citizen, even if it costs the taxpayer money:
Five million families lost their homes during the financial crisis and millions more are still struggling,” Warren said, prefacing her questions to Watt. “According to the latest data from CoreLogic…another 5.3 million homeowners remain underwater on their homes. And people are continuing to lose their homes every day in foreclosure.

“We talk a little bit about the law here, now one of your duties under the law. One of your duties is to conserve the assets of Fannie and Freddie, but another duty given equal importance by Congress … is to implement a plan that seeks to maximize assistance for homeowners and take advantage of available programs to minimize foreclosures,” Warren said.

She went on to recite that Congress explicitly included reduction of loan principal as an option for the FHFA to use.

“Principal reduction is often a win-win that both helps Fannie and Freddie and helps a family,” she said.

She cited a 2013 Congressional Budget Office study found that even a modest principal reduction plan for Fannie and Freddie mortgages could help 1.2 million underwater homeowners, prevent 43,000 defaults and save Fannie and Freddie about $2.8 billion.


Watt appeared a little shaken by the line of attack.

“It’s probably an overstatement to say it’s not been a priority,” Watt stammered. “It’s just a very difficult issue. The reason it is difficult is because we are looking for exactly what you said – a win-win situation. We have to do this in a way that is responsible, otherwise we just reduce principal for everybody across the board…is not what anybody I think is advocating for, so then we have to decide what is a responsible way to do that—”

Warren cut him off.

“Chairman Watt, you have had a year to do that, you have known for five years before that what the problem was, we have two studies coming out showing that Fannie and Freddie could make money by doing this,” she said. “In the meantime you have done the reps and warranties, the buyback policy, private mortgage insurance rules, a whole list of tough technical things, and I applaud you for doing that, but people have lost their homes in the last year and every day that you delay more families lose their homes. There are 5.4 million families out there underwater so I want to know when are you going to have an answer on this?”
See my earlier comment about Obama's priorities.

For all the flak that I have thrown at exiting Attorney General Eric "Place" Holder, the buck stops at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and the reason that nothing has been done to fix the cesspools of corruption is because Barack Obama does not want the swamps drained.

What Emptywheel Says

Journalist, and internet deity on privacy and national security, Marcy Wheeler explains whyshe is opposed to the latest attempt to reign in government spying, the USA Freedom Act (USAF).

Basically it comes down to the fact that neither the state security apparatus, who are operating under legal opinions that are classified, nor Barack Obama, who has kept those legal opinions from the public, can be trusted not to take an absolutely maximalist approach to any possible loopholes under any regulatory regime, and this bill is full of loopholes.  Here are her section headings:
  • No one will say how the key phone record provision of the bill will work
  •  USAF negotiates from a weak position and likely moots potentially significant court gains 
  • USAF’s effects in limiting bulk collection are overstated
  • USAF would eliminate any pushback from providers\
  • USAF may have the effect of weakening existing minimization procedures
  • USAF’s transparency provisions are bullsh%$
  • Other laudable provisions — like the Advocate — will easily be undercut
Basically, any bill that is not passed over strenuous opposition from the Worst Constitutional Law Professor ever will be meaningless.

If Obama supports it, it will be an expansion of the surveillance state.

Read the whole thing.  It's worth it.

18 November 2014

Snark of the Day

Paul Krugman points us to this gem from Wolfgang Münchau:
German economists roughly fall into two groups: those that have not read Keynes, and those that have not understood Keynes.
Too True.

Japan Once Again Proves that Contractionary Economics is ……… Contractionary

It is no surprise that the Japanese, in their haste to go back to austerity when the first glimmers of light has driven their economy back into recession:
Japan’s economy unexpectedly fell into recession in the third quarter, a painful slump that called into question efforts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to pull the country out of nearly two decades of deflation.

The second consecutive quarterly decline in gross domestic product could upend Japan’s political landscape. Mr. Abe is considering dissolving Parliament and calling fresh elections, people close to him say, and Monday’s economic report is seen as critical to his decision, which is widely expected to come this week.


Rising sales taxes have been blamed for triggering the downturn by deterring consumer spending, and with Japan having now slipped into a technical recession, the chances that Mr. Abe will seek a new mandate from voters to alter the government’s tax program appear to have increased significantly.

The preliminary economic report, issued by the Cabinet Office, showed that gross domestic product fell at an annualized pace of 1.6 percent in the quarter through September. That added to the previous quarter’s much larger decline, which the government now puts at 7.3 percent, a slightly worse figure than in its last estimate of 7.1 percent.


Although the second part of the tax increase would not be carried out until October, Mr. Abe needs to decide what to do about it soon, to give Parliament time to change legislation if he opts to cancel or postpone it. If fully enacted, the plan would increase the tax on all goods and services sold in the country to 10 percent over 18 months. It now stands at 8 percent after the first increase in April.
Yeah, imposing crushing sales tax increases, taxes were taken from 5% to 8%, with an as yet not implemented increase to 10%, will discourage consumer spending, and have a deflationary effect. (See also Krugman saying, "I told you so," here and here and about a gazillion other places.)

If you are concerned about the deficit, tax financial and currency speculation,  which, in addition to reigning in destabilizing speculation, would encourage that money to go into investments in plant, equipment, training, etc.

Do Not Do Business with Psychopaths, Even if They Appear to be Hip and Edgy

A CURRENT senior executive at Uber suggested opposition research against unfriendly journalists, including going after their families:
A senior executive at Uber suggested that the company should consider hiring a team of opposition researchers to dig up dirt on its critics in the media — and specifically to spread details of the personal life of a female journalist who has criticized the company.

The executive, Emil Michael, made the comments in a conversation he later said he believed was off the record. In a statement through Uber Monday evening, he said he regretted them and that they didn’t reflect his or the company’s views.

Michael, who has been at Uber for more than a year as its senior vice president of business, floated the idea at a dinner Friday at Manhattan’s Waverly Inn attended by an influential New York crowd including actor Ed Norton and publisher Arianna Huffington. The dinner was hosted by Ian Osborne, a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron and consultant to the company. At the dinner, Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick, boyish with tousled graying hair and a sweater, made the case that he has been miscast as an ideologue and as insensitive to driver and rider complaints, while in fact he has largely had his head down building a transformative company that has beat his own and others’ wildest expectations.

A BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner by the journalist Michael Wolff, who later said that he had failed to communicate that the gathering would be off the record; neither Kalanick, his communications director, nor any other Uber official suggested to BuzzFeed News that the event was off the record.


Over dinner, he outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service. “I don’t know how many more signals we need that the company simply doesn’t respect us or prioritize our safety,” she wrote.


Then he returned to the opposition research plan. Uber’s dirt-diggers, Michael said, could expose Lacy. They could, in particular, prove a particular and very specific claim about her personal life.

Michael at no point suggested that Uber has actually hired opposition researchers, or that it plans to. He cast it as something that would make sense, that the company would be justified in doing.

In a statement through an Uber spokeswoman, Michael said: “The remarks attributed to me at a private dinner — borne out of frustration during an informal debate over what I feel is sensationalistic media coverage of the company I am proud to work for — do not reflect my actual views and have no relation to the company’s views or approach. They were wrong no matter the circumstance and I regret them.”


[Uber Spokesman Nairi] Hourdajian also said that Uber has clear policies against executives looking at journalists’ travel logs, a rich source of personal information in Uber’s possession.


At the Waverly Inn dinner, it was suggested that a plan like the one Michael floated could become a problem for Uber.

Michael responded: “Nobody would know it was us.”
(emphasis mine)

He said, "Nobody would know that it was us."

Yeah, no threat there.

Wanna trust that guy?

The Uber spokesman admits that they have logs of your personal travel that they could use against you, but they double pinky swear that they won't, even though they could.

Particularly when this still employed at Uber senior executive said that he, Prove a particular and very specific claim," about the personal life of Uber foe Sarah Lacy?

Gee, I wonder where he got that bit of information.

Wanna trust this company with your data about your comings and goings?

I think not.

A journalist is reporting on unflattering stories, and is further opining that the company and its senior executives are unethical in their business practices, and Uber wants to go after her family.

If Uber wanted to go through her professional behavior with a fine tooth comb, I would agree that it's fair game, albeit a bit petty.

If she goes after your business ethics and competence, and you go after her business ethics competence.

You don;'t go after her family.

FWIW, Ms. Lacy has penned a blistering response, one which seems to imply that whatever Mr. Michael thinks he has, it's not about her, but it's about her family.

Do not give these motherf%$#ers your money.

Do not give these motherf%$#ers your personal information.

Do not give these motherf%$#ers your attention.

Delete the f%$#ing app from your phone.


Headline of the Day

Standard Chartered Is Outraged That It Is Treated Like A Criminal For Its Criminal Acts.

Just read the whole thing.