Friday, February 27, 2009

Iraq - One Downside of an Exit Date

Yes, I want us out of Iraq. The sooner the better. But it seems to me that there is one downside to a fixed exit date that could be summed up in a very old question: "Do you want to be the last person to die in [fill in the blank]?"

I know that soldiers fight to save themselves and their comrades but, surely, from this day forward, and each day that we get closer to that exit date, they can't not be thinking "how do I stay alive until x"? (Obviously the same problem exists for tours of duties that have specific end dates, but this exit strategy must certainly add to the effect.)

Fighting to stay alive is both rational and normal in any war, but when you're told that your country not only wants to leave the field of battle but plans to leave by a fixed date, the nature of the conflict, psychologically, must change, mustn't it?

Just a thought.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jindal and the Volcano - Media Missing in Action Again

Good grief. Our media seem to get more useless with every day. (Even progressive bloggers have gotten lazy.) Here's the legislative language:

For an additional amount for ‘‘Surveys, Investigations, and Research’’, 140,000,000, for repair, construction and restoration of facilities; equipment replacement and upgrades including stream gages, and seismic and volcano monitoring systems; national map activities; and other critical deferred maintenance and improvement projects.

Was this hard to find? No. I just went to, followed the links and voila!

Link (Instruction for Russ Limbaugh listeners: use the search function and type in the word volcano.)

Republicans and Tax Cuts (Obama's first budget)

Well, Obama's 2010 budget has been announced and, as usual, Republicans are apoplectic about the tax increase on the rich which will cause small businesses to fail all over the country, kill entrepreneurship, etc.. And how big is this tax increase? 3.9%. The top marginal tax rate for people earning over $250,000/year will increase from 36% to 39.6% - which won't kick in until 2011. Now, I know that COLs vary a lot around the country and I believe that, once we're out of the recession, we should all pay more for the government services we want. But this knee-jerk Republican hissy fit should be shown up for what it is. And if the reduced tax rates on dividends and capital gains remain in effect, this increase will, practically speaking, probably have even less impact.

Once upon a time, the top marginal tax rate in this country was 94%!* Now, the Republicans think 39.6% is too much. Indeed, during the battle over the stimulus package they wanted a 5% across-the-board cut. Tax cuts are the Republican answer to good times and bad times. It is, indeed, the only government action they approve of (except for defense and legislating morality, of course).

Republicans won't even raise taxes to pay for the one government function, defense, of which they approve - which is why Obama inherited a trillion-dollar deficit. The truth is that Republicans don't believe in government. They want to kill social security, medicare, medicaid, welfare, the NEA & NEH, the CDC, the NIH, the NSF, the FDA, etc. Indeed, if they could, they would kill every non-defense agency. And they figure the way to do this is to starve the government of money. But they know that if they tell the American public this is their objective, they couldn't get elected dog-catcher. They know Americans don't like to pay taxes (who does) but,while Americans differ on which government programs they approve of, all Americans use or want some government services. So Republicans talk about "waste, fraud, abuse" (of which there is nowhere near enough to end the deficit and at least one of which exists in every household in the U.S.). They talk about earmarks (which don't add money to the budget but direct it to pet projects). They talk about individual responsibility. They don't talk about the government programs they want to kill. And our ineffective media let them.

I have a challenge for you tax-cutting Republicans. Give me a tax rate, any tax rate (flat or progressive), which will satisfy you. 20%? 15%? 5%? 0%? And then tell me what government agencies you will shut down to balance the budget.

*Here are three web sites with historical tax rate information:
1.Top tax rates 1913-2003
2.Highest marginal tax rates 1913-2009.
3. Historical bottom and top tax brackets 1913-2000.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

CNBC's Santelli: Ignorant & Unprofessional Rant

CNBC, with the exception of Kudlow and this jerk, has generally had the best, if still weak, reporting on the financial crisis.

But Santelli's rant was both unprofessional and ignorant. The lack of professionalism is obvious. He's supposed to be a reporter on the floor of the NYSE [correction: Chicago Board of Trade].

Ignorant because he obviously didn't listen to Obama's speech in its entirety and because none of us will know the full details of the mortgage plan until March.

But let's deal with his "do you want your taxes to pay for your neighbor's mortgage when that person wasted money on a [fill in the blank]"? (You could use this same argument for objecting to universal health insurance, unemployment insurance, ERISA, welfare, etc.)

Let's assume the worst, that some tax dollars will go to the "undeserving", however one defines that person. That isn't alone reason to object to the plan. No system is perfect, private or public. And, sometimes, people who shouldn't get something do. The objective of any public program should be to maximize the positives and minimize the negatives.

So you still have a job and a 30-year mortgage you can afford. But you could be underwater (owing more than the house is worse). Maybe you don't care. It's your home and you figure it will eventually regain its value. But your neighbor is having trouble making the payments, maybe because one of the partners has lost a job. That person may decide, quite logically, to walk away from a house that isn't worth what is owed on the mortgage. So the house gets foreclosed. The same thing happens across the street or on the next block. All of a sudden, your home's value shrinks even more, and maybe the neighborhood starts to go downhill, too. Perhaps you don't care. Those "other" people didn't deserve any help, no matter what happens to your neighborhood as a result. This is the prototypical case of cutting off your nose to spite your face. Most reasonable people, however, would prefer to live in an intact neighborhood with no foreclosure signs. Obama's proposal will specify rules for reducing mortgage payments and writing down the principal that should reduce the likelihood of mushrooming foreclosure signs in this scenario. This is a social good - even if some of the individual recipients are "undeserving".

As for the details of the plan... I suspect they will pretty much resemble what Baird has done for the Countrywide mortgages. In her program, if you don't have a job or can't afford to pay a mortgage (however renegotiated), you will lose your house. You also have to live in the house - so the program won't help speculators. Allowing judges to force a cram down in bankruptcy is widely disliked (because a first mortgage is a special kind of contract and if you allow this contract to be broken there will be long term financial consequences). I'm not qualified to judge the long term consequences. But, short term, the idea is to have a stick in the wings so the people holding the mortgages will be more inclined to negotiate reduced payments or some kind of mortgage write down. And, finally, as I recall, Baird's program uses a NPV calculation to determine if the changes to principal and interest make financial sense to the owner when compared to the cost of a foreclosure. It it doesn't, foreclosure is the only solution.

In short, the plan won't help everybody. Foreclosures will still occur. And most of the "undeserving" will, indeed, lose their houses. The goal of the program is to help the rest, the ones who are in trouble through no real fault of their own.

But Santelli, like most ideological Republicans, doesn't care about the public good. And he's gotten a lot of press for his rant which he no doubt counts as a personal good.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Roland Burris: Rachel Maddow is Shocked, Shocked, Shocked

After treating Mr. Burris for weeks as if he were a lovable but somewhat eccentric favorite uncle, Ms. Maddow is now shocked to learn that maybe, perhaps, he isn't quite as innocent as he had appeared. Not that it is Mr. Burris's fault, mind you. He was just caught in the corrupt aura that ex. Gov. Blogojavich spread wherever he went.

But, as I pointed out in January, Mr. Burris was suspect from the beginning. A man who would accept an appointment under the circumstances that existed had either to be corrupt himself, lacking in personal ethics, or so ambitious for the job (after multiple electoral rejections by Illinois voters) that he simply did not care. In short, under the best interpretation of his behavior, Mr. Burris came up lacking.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Bankers vs. the House Banking Committee: Highlights & Lowlights

Opening Statements
Anybody who listened to the opening statements (Feb. 12, 2009) might have wondered what the fuss is all about. It appears that many of the banks were profitable last year and took the TARP money only as sort of a favor to the Federal government. This got shot down pretty much through later questioning when it turned out that although all the bankers promised to return the funds by 2012, with interest, and would like to do it earlier there was one small hitch: to return it they must replace it with private capital and that they don't have. Still, I give the bankers points for a lack of arrogance and a recognition of the concerns of the Congress.

Republican Talking Points
I almost felt sorry for some of the Republican questioners as they desperately tried to get these Captains of Capitalism to buy in to Republican philosophy:

Are the regulators keeping you from making loans? No.
Is this government intervention destroying the free market system? No.
Shouldn't we step back and wait and think things through before we proceed? No.
Was TARP really needed? Is it working? This question was asked several times in different ways and the answers were a bit more ambiguous. Still, the most favorable to Republicans were still pretty weak: one CEO said he hadn't thought at the time that it was needed but, in retrospect, yes it was. Another, Jamie Dimon I think, said they'd be arguing about it for years, but he thinks it was, and that (at worst) it kept things from getting much worse.
Is a stimulus needed? Yes.
Isn't the idea of a systemic regulator bad? No. In fact, every single CEO welcomed the idea of more government regulation. That must truly have been galling.

Will those answers have changed the minds of the Republicans who asked the quesions? No. These Republicans are almost all ideologues who can't be bothered having their minds changed by simple facts. Indeed, in previous hearings I recall several basically admitting, when presented with facts they didn't like: "I know what I know". These Republicans are, politically, the equivalent of Creationists.

Quality of the Questions
I've watched almost all the hearings broadcast on C-SPAN since the start of this crisis last September and the questions, in general, from this committee were among the worst - to the point of being outright embarrassing. There were the grandstanders, of course. Ever since Ackerman got his 30 seconds of fame last Fall with the issue of private planes when the auto CEOs testified, an increasing number of his colleagues have decided they want their 30 seconds of fame, too. So we got a lot more blustering outrage than is usual - as well as the normal attempts to embarrass as much as possible those who are testifying. But the sheer ignorance of how the banking and financial systems work that was evident in many of the questions was truly appalling. Choosing the dumbest (in the sense that they demonstrated ignorance of how the system works) questions would be difficult, but Gutierrez (from Illinois, I believe) ranked among the least well-informed. It doesn't take much imagination to guess that probably all of the CEOs found themselves asking how they ever got in the position of having to politely answer questions put by such, to be kind, financially illiterate people (and they must have wondered how those Representatives managed to get elected let alone get positions on this committee - a question I was asking myself). On the positive side, the experience may be another spur for these executives to get their companies out from under government intervention asap. I doubt they want to go through a similar round of humiliation again.

My Favorite Comment
My favorite comment came from Emanuel Cleaver at the end of his questions (which fell into the outrage and "shame on you" category) when he remarked that he was "woefully unimpressed" by the diversity of the panel in front of him and for as many rows behind them [presumably filled by their staff] as he could see. Kudos to Mr. Cleaver. With the exception of Pandit from Citi, they were all white men. Otherwise there was not a woman, African-American, Asian or Hispanic in sight.

Overall Impression
Generally speaking, I was impressed by the bankers. These guys, for all the mistakes they've made, know change is needed and know that part of that change is increased regulation. Jamie Dimon, Mack, and Blankfein were especially fine witnesses. Pandit did the worse but then Citi is probably in worse shape than any of the other banks. And Lewis from B of A seemed to find the attacks harder to take.

Finally, I couldn't help but wonder how many years it has been since any of these men has had to raise a hand in answer to a question - let alone been subject to the level of abuse they had to absorb.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Stimulus Package - What I Wish Obama Would Say

Instead of relying on the same points Obama has been making for weeks now, I wish Obama would do the following (quotes are my attempt to imitate his pattern of speech).

1. Emphasize that this is a global crisis
"You know, this is not just a U.S. crisis. Countries around the world have been pouring money into their own banks with their own TARPS. Did you know that Iceland, the country of Iceland, the entire country!, has gone bankrupt? And, just as we are putting together a financial stimulus package, so are they. In short, there are a lot of people around the world who believe that what we are doing is the right thing to do. And they're putting their money where their opinions are. "

2. Give a brief economic lesson.
"A lot of you are wondering why your tax dollars should be used to bail out rich bankers who made bad decisions. You wonder why, when you've been prudent and have a mortgage you can afford, your tax dollars should be used to help the person who wasn't prudent. And, you know, it isn't fair. But sometimes punishing the bad guy can hurt the good guy even more. If we hadn't stabilized the financial system, and if we don't continue to work to make it healthier, we could have been faced with a situation like that which occurred in the Great Depression. Thousands of banks failed. People lost their life savings. In today's terms, you might not have been able to go to your ATM or write a check on your bank. And it won't help your financial situation any if half the houses on your block or in you neighborhood or city are abandoned. So, yes, it's not fair that your tax dollars have to be used to bail out the bad guys but, in this case, the alternative would be worse.

"Second, there's an economic concept you need to understand. It's called the paradox of thrift and it works this way. Too many of us have gotten too deep in debt over the past decades. And now we've gotten religion. We're buying less and saving more. And, under normal circumstances, that's good. If you've still got a job, you want to save in case you lose it. If you don't have a job, you have to save. But what happens when everybody stops buying and starts saving at the same time? Companies can't sell enough. So they shut down factories and lay off workers. And those workers spend less because they have less to spend. So companies cut back further. It creates what economists call a deflationary spiral. And that is what we fear. There is almost nothing economists fear more because it is hard, really, really, really hard to get out of such a spiral once it gets in motion.

Now, it would be irresponsible for you as individuals in this economic environment to spend money you don't have. And State governments can't help. They have to balance their budgets. In an economic downturn, their tax receipts decrease, so they have to cut services. And that, too, contributes to this deflationary spiral. The only entity that can spend money is the Federal Government. And, yes, it is borrowed money. But it is borrowed money to buy goods and services that American workers create. To generate the demand that will keep businesses from shutting down more factories or laying off more people. And that's what the stimulus package does.

So, finally, that's why I'm asking you to bail out banks and the auto companies and people with bad mortgages, because if we don't do this, all of you who have been careful, have done the right thing, will get hurt, too. As you sometimes tell your children, don't cut off your nose to spite your face."

3. Focus on the three major parts of the stimulus package:
"Now, I know the stimulus package is big. But it needs to be big because we have a big economy and we need to give it a big kick in the pants to get it started.

And it has the three key components it needs. First, it gives tax cuts to working Americans because we know you're hurting. Second, it helps the people who are out of work by increasing the number of weeks of unemployment insurance - because the people who are out of work aren't responsible for the length of this downturn and it is going to be long - and helping them keep their health insurance by helping them pay for COBRA. Third, and most important, it spends money on things we should have been spending money on anyway: roads, bridges, school, information technology, etc.

Is this a perfect bill? No. It would have been if I had written it, of course, but I didn't. We live in a democracy. The Congress has over 500 members, each representing a district or state. And they all want to do what is best for the people they represent. And they should. That's what you hired them to do. So, the bill's a compromise. That's what we do in a democracy. We compromise. There are tax cuts for Conservatives and spending for Liberals. But no earmarks. None.

So does the bill have a perfect mix of tax cuts and spending? Probably not. Will all of the money be spent in the most effective way? Probably not - although we're going to do our darndest to make sure that most of it does do what we expect. Will it work all at once? No. Will we have to do more? Probably. But we are in the worst worldwide economic crisis in our lifetimes. Make no mistake. This is not an ordinary recession. This is a major crisis. And this stimulus package is a down payment, a critical down payment, on turning the economy around. So call, email, write your representatives and Senators and tell them to vote for this bill. It is time we got started on the road to recovery."

TARP - Give Paulsen a Break

Everybody, and I do mean everybody (left, right, center, Democrat, Republican) is dumping on Paulsen. The rescue plan didn't work: banks aren't lending. It was all ad hoc with no central planning. It was wasteful (we paid too much). Etc.

Everybody seems to forget a couple of important things.
1. There was a GLOBAL financial meltdown. The U.S. was not the only country pouring money into its major banks.

2. After Lehman Bros. failed, the financial crisis got worse by an order of magnitude over just a couple of days.

3. There was no "bait and switch". Yes, Paulsen asked for the money to buy the toxic assets. But a number of people, in and out of Congress, doubted the government's ability to do that - which is why Chris Todd and Barney Frank crafted the bill to permit other means, especially capital injection (as was being done in Europe). Paulsen, to his credit, realized that they couldn't put together a purchase of toxic assets fast enough to help. And, as the months have gone by and various suggestions have been put forth, it is clear that solving this fundamental problem is not something that could have been devised over a weekend.

4. Only half of the TARP money has been allocated so politicians should stop acting as if the whole 700 billion has been wasted.

5. TARP has accomplished its primary objective: the stabilization of the financial system. Compare it to Sully's landing of the Airbus in the Hudson. The plane's a goner. But the people lived. Maybe if he had thought about it some more, he could have devised a better plan - but in the meantime the plane would have crashed and all would have died. We were in a crisis. Paulsen and Bernanke landed the plane and the passengers got off alive. They lost their luggage, maybe their clothes were ruined. And they had some bruises. But they survived.

So, yes, we need to do better with the next rounds. But the reason we have a chance to do better is because Paulsen and Bernanke gave us the time we needed to do better.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Núremburg Forgotten: No Criminal Action Against Torturers

Obama and Panetta (in his Senate confirmation hearing) have both asserted that people who committed acts of torture should not be prosecuted because they acted on the belief that what they were doing was legal.

One of the key principles that came out of the Núremburg hearings was that "obeying orders" was not a valid defense. Illegal acts cannot be justified by legal orders. Even judges were not allowed to take refuge behind the law.

But Feinstein and the other members on her committee, to say nothing of the President or Panetta, seem to have forgotten or ignored this historical precedent.

We learned to our horror during the past 8 years that a President of the U.S. can, in effect, give himself the powers of a Dictator. That none of our checks and balances, neither the Congress nor the Courts, can be depended upon to rein in declarations of such extraordinary powers. Our only hope, when it comes to torture, is that the people authorized to conduct it will refuse because they understand that, no matter who has ordered them to do it, they will face prosecution, sooner or later.

The Human Ticking Time Bomb

Frequently during some of the hearings, most recently for Leon Panetta and David Ogden, the question of the "human ticking time bomb" has come up in the context of the legitimacy of torture as a technique under those circumstances. And, as far I can tell, not one nominee presented with this hypothetical has attacked the logic behind it. Panetta, no doubt feeling pushed into a corner, admitted that he would ask the President for extraordinary authority if necessary.

Perhaps I should watch 24, but may I suggest the following answers to this question.

1. Based on our experience of Guantanamo detainees (to say nothing of our own criminal justice system) where more than 2/3 of the detainees have been repatriated because they didn't represent a danger to the U.S., this argument assumes that the "good guys" really have caught a "bad guy".

2. If the guy is indeed a "ticking time bomb", all he has to do is hold out under the torture until it's too late for his interrogators to do anything, or give them a story that will keep them occupied ("yea, I put the bomb in location X" - when it's really in location Y.)

3. What constitutes a situation of this gravity? This is a slippery slope argument. The possible injury or death of 1 person, 100 people, 1000 people? Does it matter if the threat appears to be a couple men with machine guns, a nuclear bomb, or anthrax?

4, We didn't torture during WWII, after we'd been attacked, when we were suffering enormous losses in the Pacific, at Normandy, etc. Is it really possible that the nation is in so much greater danger today than it was then? Then it was during the Revolutionary War? Do we today approve of what happened at Andersonville?

I'm sure others could come up with more objections to this hypothetical case. And it is well past time that we stopped letting this straw man be thrown at anybody who opposes torture without tearing it down.

David Ogden - Deputy Attorney General - Man Without Principles?

Watching the confirmation hearing for David Ogden's appointment as Deputy Attorney General may rank as the most frustrating and infuriating of all the confirmation hearings so far.

Either Mr. Ogden has no principles or was so fearful of saying something that might prevent his nomination, not very likely under the circumstances, that he was afraid to say anything that might upset anybody, esp. the Republicans on the committee.

In particular, he did everything but disavow his briefs in favor of libraries fighting the requirements for libraries to prevent access to internet pornography by minors in libraries, in support of a 14-year-old girl's right to an abortion without parental notification, against the death penalty for a man convicted of a murder when he was a minor, the use of international standards when trying to assess cruel and unusual punishments, and even a memo in praise of Harry Blackmun, for whom he clerked, on affirmative action (the U of M/Bakke case).

All of these briefs were, of course, criticized by Specter and Sessions, etc. And in all these cases, Mr. Ogden pretty much said he didn't really believe what he argued in his briefs, that he was acting on behalf of clients. Now, obviously, lawyers do often defend criminals they know to be guilty. But lawyers rarely take on these kinds of issues if they do not agree with their clients. We must thus conclude that Mr. Ogden has no principles when it comes to arguing constitutional cases, as long as he is being paid, or lacks the courage to defend his convictions. His disavowal of his praise for Blackmun's opinion pretty much proves that the latter explanation is the correct one.

Even worse, however, was the softball question from a Democrat about the Bush Justice memo stating that torture could be defined only as an act that resulted in the failure of a major organ. The Senator wanted to know how Ogden would respond to such an argument if it had been presented to him. Did Ogden say he would reject it outright? (Think about it: under this definition, you could beat somebody senseless, rape him or her, break bones, pull out fingernails and toenails, use electrodes to deliver high voltage electric shocks, even put somebody on the Inquisition's rack.) No. Mr. Ogden said he would talk to the lawyer who wrote the memo, try to understand the argument, consult with others, etc.

Mr. Ogden, in short, was unwilling to state, point blank, that torture is wrong. Indeed, he bent over backwards to assure the committee that terrorism was the greatest threat facing the U.S., that he would be vigorous in defense of the country, etc.

What on earth has happened to this country that Democratic nominees (even Leon Panetta in his confirmation hearing) are so afraid of being declared to be soft on terror that they refuse to say torture is wrong, period.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


Listening to this man's testimony (Feb. 4, 2009) was fascinating, not just for what he did but for who he is. This is a man who is so close to being your typical web jerk that is easy to understand why he might have been ignored.

He honestly believed that he was endangering his life by reporting on Madow.

He left an envelope for the head of the SEC in a library he thought the man would be at, and made sure he left no fingerprints.

He offered to go undercover (change his name, appearance, leave his family), etc., to expose the fraud for the sake of the country.

He doesn't know the people at the SEC but he is confident that ALL of the senior staff should be dismissed and that all of them are so dumb they couldn't find first base in a baseball stadium.

For anybody who spends much time on internet forums, these characteristics and the sense of self-righteousness, are all too common of a certain kind of net flake. That he supplied the SEC with detailed information backing up his allegations doesn't change this. Indeed, it is typical. There are people on the web who can write pages and pages and pages of complex text and calculations proving that perpetual motion machines do work and the earth does not revolve around the sun. (Pharyngula regularly exposes the "intellectual" diatribes of anti-evolutionists.)

I don't mean to excuse the SEC. They are clearly understaffed. They get hundreds of thousands of complaints and I don't even know if they have a method for logging them into a central database (issuer of the complaint, nature of the complaint, object, documentation, etc.) But Markopolos's personality and his persistence are so typical of a certain kind of internet pest that I can partly understand why he was ignored.


There's been a lot of news coverage on all the "wasteful" government spending in the stimulus package - thanks to the Republicans' ability to sell their message, the media's lack of interest in anything remotely resembling research, and our MIA Democratic leaders.

Why the Washington Mall spending was attacked is beyond me. By all accounts, the Mall is a national disgrace. Fixing it up would mean hiring workers, buying landscaping supplies, sweeping, repairing/replacing public bathrooms, etc. This is spending. People get hired. Supplies get bought. And the result is a necessary improvement of a national monument. Yes, it does mean spending money in D.C., which may be the real problem, but unemployment there is high, so why not?

Buying hybrid cars for government employees? Yes, it benefits those terrible government civil servants. But the Detroit 3 are bleeding. January sales were even worse than the worst expectations. I don't think Detroit cares who buys the cars and they sure have cars to sell.

Finally, let's be brutally honest here: the Federal government could spend 40 million dollars buying dog food and handing it out to dog owners around the country and that would be stimulative. It would help not only the producers and sellers of dog food but would relieve dog owners, temporarily, of an expense - and they could spend that savings elsewhere.

In an economic disaster like this one, with a deflationary spiral a real threat, there is no such thing as bad government spending. Yes, ideally, the money should be spent on projects (like the Washington Mall or repairing school buildings) that will have long-term benefits, but in this environment, even Washington pork isn't all that bad.


It turns out that Republicans don't approve of all tax cuts after all. Those small-dollar increases in after-tax pay don't please them. They assert that they tried it before and it didn't work. Now, what they tried before was a refund which all too many people used to pay down debt or increase savings (normally a good thing but not in this particular downturn). They don't understand that a little extra in each paycheck may be more likely to be spent just because it is so small. Sure, some people will still save it or use it to pay down debt. But if you get just enough extra to buy a latte or a Big Mac, there's a reasonable chance that's what you'll spend it on.

No, Republicans want the usual Republican tax cuts. Two deserve special comment. Cutting the corporate tax rate is not going to create jobs. (Full disclosure here: I am not an economist and barely survived Econ. 101, but that lack of background doesn't stop other people from asserting uninformed opinions so I see no reason why it should stop me.) Companies are shutting plants and laying off employees because nobody is buying. Demand has dried up. These companies aren't going to open up those plants and hire back employees to sell goods nobody is buying just because their corporate income tax rate has dropped.

The other suggestion, the payroll tax holiday, is disastrous on three grounds. First, it is another frontal attack on the funding of the social security system which, of course, Republicans still want to kill. Second, these cuts can mean to many workers a significant (two-three figures) increase in take-home pay. That is sizable enough to risk that much of it will be hoarded (saved or used to pay down debt) rather than spent. Third, it will hurt like hell when it is reinstated.

And that last point is the most important reason for objecting to Republican tax cuts. Those tax cuts, whether for payroll taxes or income taxes or whatever, will have to go up when the crisis is over. And that will give Republicans the club they love to use: liberal Democrats are raising your taxes to pay for all those awful liberal programs. And probably no tax increase would be felt as strongly by ordinary citizens as the reinstatement of payroll taxes after a 6-month or 1-year holiday.


Thanks to the fact that Obama, Pelosi and Reid have been MIA when it comes to selling the stimulus package or defending how much they've given in to Republicans, Republicans have managed - with the help of our clueless media - to define "bipartisanship" as doing things the Republican way. It seems never to have occurred to CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, etc., etc., that "bipartisanship" means BOTH parties have to give a little. None of them is asking what Democratic ideas Republicans have accepted.

Now, I've spent hours watching C-SPAN hearings. There have been a number of bipartisan amendments. But the Republican amendments that have failed have been the same old Republican ideas (you know, the counterpart of the partisan "liberal pet projects"): across-the-board income tax cuts (5%), reducing the corporate income tax, a tax holiday from payroll taxes, tax credits for business, etc., etc. And the projects they oppose are the projects they've always opposed.

But the ordinary American watching cable wouldn't know this. And it isn't all the fault of those overpaid mannequins who pretend to be journalists. Democrats are not doing what they should be doing.


Has anybody noticed how the Republicans have hijacked the debate over the stimulus package? Well, I have. And Rachel Madow has. But Pelosi and Reid? Not so much.

Now, Reid's being MIA isn't so hard to understand. He's a Democratic Senator from the Republican state of Nevada and he's up for reelection in two years. And, oh yes, Tom Daschle, the former Democratic Majority Leader of the Senate and another Democrat in a Republican state (South Dakota) lost his reelection. So Reid doesn't want to upset his Republican voters. (Why Democrats would elect as Majority Leader a man beholden to Republican voters is a matter only a political shrink could explain.)

But Pelosi's inability or unwillingness to fight Republicans is harder to understand. She comes from a liberal district in one of the most liberal cities in the country, San Francisco. Yet, since she became Majority Leader, bipartisanship (read: appease the Republicans at all costs) has for her, as for Obama, been a mantra. She apparently believes, even after an overwhelming Democratic win in Nov. 2008, that the Republicans and Independents who switched parties really still believe in Republican policies. Republicans play to their base. Pelosi not only ignores hers, she is so unsure, apparently, of the rightness of Democratic ideas, that she believes she can't sell them to the very people who voted for them.

What did we ordinary voting Democrats ever do to deserve two such lily-livered Congressional leaders?