Saturday, November 17, 2007

Inflation Numbers

From John Mauldin's weekly newsletter, this is the simplest and easiest to understand explanation of exactly why the government's stated inflation numbers are bogus:

"The Boskin/Greenspan argument was that when steak got too expensive, the consumer would substitute hamburger for the steak, and that the inflation measure should reflect the costs tied to buying hamburger versus steak, instead of steak versus steak. Of course, replacing hamburger for steak in the calculations would reduce the inflation rate, but it represented the rate of inflation in terms of maintaining a declining standard of living. Cost of living was being replaced by the cost of survival. The old system told you how much you had to increase your income in order to keep buying steak. The new system promised you hamburger, and then dog food, perhaps, after that.
During the Clinton administration, there were all kinds of these types of "algorithms" put in place for measuring inflation. The goal, of course, being to reduce cost of living increases in entitlement programs. The result is that the Fed makes it's monetary decisions based on bogus numbers.

So there you have it.


Friday, November 16, 2007



Someone showed up at the end of the Social Security thread to write this:

So math isn't one of your skills, then? The system goes into the red around 2017 - a decade from now. At that point, money that would otherwise flow towards discretionary programs will start bleeding to Social Security and Medicare. It will get worse over the course of the following 2 decades, until eventually, there won't be any money left for discretionary spending at all.

Essentially this is the prefunding con job. Since FICA revenues will cease to support general expenditures in the near future what we must do is... increase the FICA tax so it continues to support general expenditures. In other words, we need to increase the regressive payroll tax so that we don't need to raise other taxes. And we're doing it to "save" social security.

This is the con, laid out clearly for all to see. This has nothing to do with "saving Social security" and everything to do with increasing the regressivity of the tax code.

Someone had an idea for a lockbox, but the Village Elders decided that was a very silly idea.
Like who lost Vietnam, the Social Security debate will never die.


Hanging Tough

At least so far.

That is, Congress is refusing to approving spending on the Iraq war without withdrawal timelines.

At least so far.


Thursday, November 15, 2007

Can You Guess Rudy's Strategy?

And no, there are no repeated clips.


Broder Still Wanking

Via Josh Marshall:

Wow, that didn't take long. David Broder, in a chat with readers last Friday:
New York: Will you and the media ever apply as much scrutiny to the Giuliani marriages as you have done to the single Clinton marriage?

David S. Broder: I plan to leave both subjects alone.

David Broder, in his column today:
No one who has read or studied the large literature of memoirs and biographies of the Clintons and their circle can doubt the intimacy and the mutual dependence of their political and personal partnership.

No one can reasonably expect that partnership to end should Hillary Clinton be elected president. But the country must decide whether it is comfortable with such a sharing of the power and authority of the highest office in the land.

It is a difficult question for any of the Democratic rivals to raise. But it lingers, even if unasked.

Now, Broder can write about whatever the hell he wants, as far as this blog is concerned. And the question of how Bill might impact a Hillary Presidency is in some ways a legit one. But what interests me here is the level of outright denial we're seeing at play. The inability of Broder and other pundits not to return to the topic of the Clinton marriage -- as Broder did here despite suggesting a week ago that he wouldn't -- is really almost neurotic at this point, like a bad nervous habit or a facial tic.
The Clenis strikes again!


War Is Hell

Guess we "accidentally" killed a whole bunch of our new Sunni allies in Iraq.

That should play well with the Sunni populace.


Just A Letter

Eric Alterman gets a letter from a University of Maryland overseas faculty member:

"The reason that I am writing today is to inform you of something rather unsettling. Last weekend, we had a Europe-wide faculty meeting at our headquarters in Heidelberg, Germany. At that meeting, we were told that the U of MD military education contracts will be expanding soon to Iraq, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Djibouti, and other locations in the Middle East and Africa. This comes as no surprise.

"What is startling is that the U.S. military has also asked us to prepare a bid for educational programs in IRAN and SYRIA (and, oddly enough, France -- where we have had no presence since NATO was expelled in 1967 -- probably a function of the new conservative government there). We will be bidding on an education contract to these locations at the end of November.

"This is a truly ominous development. The U of MD overseas program follows the military around the world -- thus clearly the contingencies for an occupation of several Middle Eastern countries is not only being contemplated, but actually set up."

Could someone with an expense account from a major media corporation still interested in journalism please look into this?
Who knows .... But like the author says, it looks like a good lead for a story.


Surprise! Surprise!

Gee, no one could have foreseen this:

The Washington Post leads with a dispatch from Iraq and reports that U.S. military officials are frustrated with the Iraqi government, which they see as the biggest obstacle to futher progress in Iraq. The officials contend the government has failed to take advantage of a crucial "window of opportunity" that currently exists because of the decline in violence.
Au contrair.

I think everyone in Iraq is taking advantage of the window of opportunity. Maybe not in the way that was anticipated, but taking advantage nonetheless.

Meanwhile, let's not forget about that other war in Afghanistan/Pakistan that is heating up to new levels.


The End of America

Naomi Wolf on Book TV, talking about her new book The End of America.

Part 2 of 6
Part 3 of 6
Part 4 of 6
Part 5 of 6
Part 6 of 6


Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Grover Norquist is out there, nutbar that he is, proposing a Constitutional amendment to prevent family members from succeeding on another to public office.

Rich, eh?

I wonder if this is what he means (click to enlarge)?


Log In His Eye

Bush is making a lot of earmarks in the current budget bill that he vetoed blaming Congressional Dems for being spend thrifts. That's all well and good except for this:

However, much of the “pork” Boehner complained about was requested by Republicans. Aside from the “National Programs and Activities,” the single biggest earmark in the Labor-HHS-Education section of the bill belongs to Sen. Richard C. Shelby, R-Ala., who won $9.3 million for the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. The second-largest was requested by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. — $8.4 million for the University of Louisville Research Foundation.


Told Ya

Via Froomkin:

"House Democrats have postponed a vote until December on contempt resolutions against White House chief of staff Josh Bolten and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, delaying for now any constitutional showdown with the White House over the president's power to resist congressional subpoenas."
“House Democrats defiantly pushed ahead Wednesday with a $50 billion war spending bill that calls for troops to leave Iraq, despite concerns raised by some members of the party and a veto threat issued by the White House. The bill would require that the U.S. initiate troop withdrawals within 30 days of its passage and agree to the goal of bringing home most soldiers and Marines by Dec. 15, 2008.” Bush has, of course, vowed to veto.
Ah huh.


Quote Of The Day

"When we look back someday at the catastrophe that was the Bush administration, we will think of many things: the tragedy of the Iraq war, the shame of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, the erosion of civil liberties. The damage done to the American economy does not make front-page headlines every day, but the repercussions will be felt beyond the lifetime of anyone reading this page. . . .

"Up to now, the conventional wisdom has been that Herbert Hoover, whose policies aggravated the Great Depression, is the odds-on claimant for the mantle 'worst president' when it comes to stewardship of the American economy. Once Franklin Roosevelt assumed office and reversed Hoover's policies, the country began to recover. The economic effects of Bush's presidency are more insidious than those of Hoover, harder to reverse, and likely to be longer-lasting. There is no threat of America's being displaced from its position as the world's richest economy. But our grandchildren will still be living with, and struggling with, the economic consequences of Mr. Bush."
Nobel laureate economist Joseph E. Stiglitz


Why Bother?

Just so you know:

Think Progress » Majority believe Bush has committed impeachable offenses: A new American Research Group poll finds that 55 percent of voters believe President Bush has “abused his powers” in a manner that rises “to the level of impeachable offenses under the Constitution,” yet just 34 percent believe he should actually be impeached. Fifty-two percent say that Vice President Cheney has similarly abused his powers, with 43 percent supporting impeachment.
Makes understanding our timid Democratic Congress critters even more difficult.



You are going to hear headlines of benign inflation being reported. Don't believe it:

"From October 2006 to October 2007, finished goods prices advanced 6.1 percent. Over the same period, the index for finished energy goods climbed 16.6 percent, prices for finished consumer foods rose 7.1 percent, and the index for finished goods other than foods and energy increased 2.5 percent. At the earlier stages of processing, prices received by intermediate goods producers advanced 5.6 percent, while the crude goods index jumped 25.7 percent for the 12 months ended in October."
What's the old saying? There are liars, damned liars and statisticians?

The above description is the annual rate of inflation for each area noted. Put simply, you add this months inflation and removed October 2006. Seems pretty straightforward to me. But then, I don't work for the Fed.


Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Quality Reporting

Quote of the Day:

ABC News White House correspondent Martha Raddatz, talking to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post about her frequent trips to international hotspots: "I'd probably go crazy if I had to stay every second at the White House and not go out and be a reporter. . . . I don't want to be a stenographer."
Martha Raddatz is one of the best of TV journalists.


Suitcase Nuke

Anonymous Liberal spends some time studying the real feasibility of a suitcase nuke.

Short answer? Extremely unlikely. Extremely.


Civil Discourse


And McCain "laughed it off".


The Tortoise And The Rabbit

Why I think Romney ultimately wins the primary:

Mitt Romney "made millions in business with meticulous planning, serious salesmanship, and shrewd execution. As a candidate for president, he is applying the same techniques, courting voters with a tightly mapped strategy that governs nearly every step of his campaign," the Boston Globe reports.

"Now, just seven weeks before the first votes are cast, Romney's disciplined approach stands as one of the biggest contrasts with his main rivals for the Republican nomination, all of whom are campaigning more as charismatic figures than as methodical politicians seeking to lock up various constituencies."


If True .....

This is good news:

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said Tuesday he intends to make access to The Wall Street Journal's Web site free, trading subscription fees for anticipated ad revenue. "We are studying it and we expect to make that free," Murdoch said in Australia. - November 13, 2007 10:15 AM ET
Maybe Murdoch understands the net better than most other newspaper folks.


Oh So Serious

This ought to give you a sense of just how serious our mainstream media is:


The State Of Iraq

Juan Cole notes today that the American military has quietly begun a drawdown from the surge. In noting the change, he concludes with this:

My best guess is that Iraqis will go on fighting their three wars, for control of Basra among Shiite militiamen; for control of Baghdad and its hinterlands between Sunnis and Shiites; and for control of Kirkuk among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen. They will fight these wars to a conclusion or a stalemate. It is only the battle for Baghdad that has been fought at a lower intensity because of the American surge in any case, and I would be surprised if it does not start back up as US troops leave. Violence in all three wars was reported by McClatchy for Monday, with bombings and mortar attacks continuing in Baghdad albeit on a reduced scale. Violence in Kirkuk, and in the northern Sunni hinterland of Baghdad (Samarra) was already reported for today early Tuesday morning.
Juan Cole is batting a 1000 so far .....


Empty Shell

Steve Coll has written a very insightful commentary on Pakistan and Musharraf. It's a short read and well worth the time.

What I get out of it is that the Pakistani army is quickly becoming impotent against the conservative/fundamentalist tribal forces on the Afghan/Pakistan border (Taliban anyone?), and that Musharraf is de facto toast.


Right Wing Alert

The nutbars will have a field day with this one:

The WP fronts a new study that shows that African-American children born into middle-class families are far more likely to fall into poverty later in life than whites. Almost 50 percent of African-Americans who had middle-class parents in 1968 "grew up to be among the lowest fifth of the nation's earners," says the Post. That sort of drastic change occurred in only 16 percent of whites. Although most Americans do end up being better off than their parents, the large number of "downwardly mobile" African-Americans surprised researchers.
Nutbars won't actually read the study or understand that there are a hundred variables that could explain this. No. You know what they'll grab.



This is no surprise:

The New York Times leads with two new studies that suggest behavior problems in children during the early years of school are not necessarily a marker of academic success or failure later in life.


One study found that kindergarteners with behavioral problems did as well as their peers in fifth grade. The other says that the brains of children who suffer from attention deficit disorder merely develop more slowly, which means it's not caused by "a deficit or flaw" in the child and could amount to a temporary condition, says the NYT. Some experts are suggesting that the new studies could drastically change the way behavioral problems are treated, particularly since half of the children diagnosed with attention deficit disorder are treated with drugs such as Ritalin, the LAT reports. A factor that could actually determine future academic success is how well a child does on math tests during the early years.
In my experience as a cognitive behavioral therapist, Attention Deficit Disorder (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder as it's now called) was the most over diagnosed ailment in children. It takes an expert in the field to accurately diagnose involving complex tests. Yet most of ADHD is diagnosed by teachers and parents who lack the time/resources/patience to actually ... like ... parent.

It's not that our children have ADHD. Most times it that our schools suffer from CBD (Chronic Boring Disorder).


Monday, November 12, 2007

The Anbar Story

Jon Lee Anderson has written a terrific in-depth article in the New Yorker about the American military surge in Iraq. After having spent some time in Anbar, he writes about the complexities of American attempts at providing security while fostering a secular military.

I've floated the idea that the current "calm" in Iraq is merely a pause to reload. Anderson seems to have found the same thing:

I asked Zaidan what sort of deal had led to the Sunni Awakening. “It’s not a deal,” he said, bristling. “People have come to realize that our fate is tied to the Americans’, and theirs to ours. If they are successful in Iraq, it will depend on Anbar. We always said this. Time was lost. America was lost, but now it’s woken up; it now holds a thread in its hand. For the first time, they’re doing something right.”

Zaidan said that Anbar’s Sunni tribes no longer had any need to exact blood vengeance on U.S. forces. “We’ve already taken our revenge,” he said. “We’re the ones who’ve made them crawl on their stomachs, and now we’re the ones to pick them up.” He added, “Once Anbar is settled, we must take control of Baghdad, and we will.” There would have to be a lot more fighting before the capital was taken back from the Shiites, he said. “The Anbaris will take charge of the purge. What the whole world failed to do in Anbar, we have done overnight. Baghdad will be a lot easier.”

Many of the players in Iraq seemed, like Zaidan, to be positioning themselves for the next battle. While the Shiites issued warnings about the Sunnis’ intentions, nearly all the talk among the Americans was of the Mahdi Army and its reputed sponsor, Iran, which Petraeus accused of waging a “proxy war” in Iraq; there were dismissive references to Al Qaeda as a spent force.
The chess match in Iraq continues with Sunni's, now with American help, who are positioning themselves to retake Baghdad and the government. They're planning and fostering a Shitte civil war (a civil war within the civil war) that would allow Sunni's to fill the vacuum and take control. It seems to me that this was the successful strategy used by Saddam to have the minority Sunni's becoming the ruling party of Iraq to begin with.

Interestingly, while Anderson mentions how Iran's affiliations with Shiite groups further complicates things, he makes no mention of Sunni states (Saudi Arabia anyone?) supporting the Sunni's.

The bottom line of Anderson's piece seems to me to be that while a greater American presence may have slowed some of the violence, it's only temporary with the lower levels of attacks more the result of chess moves by Sunni's than any real peace. The Americans continued to be used as pawns in the ongoing battle for power and control in Iraq. The American military is portrayed as doing whatever it takes to calm things including ethnic cleansing, building twenty mile fences between neighborhoods and tacitly sanctioning sectarian murder. Above all, this is clearly a period of positioning and reloading by all sides.


We Are Different

Shamelessly reprinted here in full from Political Wire:

Not surprisingly, a new Norman Lear Center/Zogby poll reveals that America's entertainment tastes are as polarized as our political views.

A few of the findings:
  • Liberals were much more likely than conservatives to listen to commentary and entertainment with which they disagreed philosophically.
  • Fox News wins the prize for the most politically divisive TV channel (70% of conservatives watch it daily and only 3% of liberals).
  • Over 82% of conservatives say they never watch MTV.
  • Cerebral material like documentaries and arts and educational programming all appeal more to liberals... Conservative viewers are more likely to watch action-adventure, sports, and business programming.
  • Conservatives are the least likely group to listen to jazz and reggae... Liberals, on the other hand, are more likely than other respondents to enjoy almost every music genre.


Swell Progress In Iraq

The Pentagon is really pushing a story that the Iraqi government is successfully recruiting insurgents into the military, co-opting the insurgency. As usual, there's a bit more to the story:

Al-Zaman reports in Arabic that PM al-Maliki has taken the controversial decision to recruit 18,000 members of Shiite militias into the Iraqi government security forces. (In fact, the Iraqi military has de facto been recruiting a lot of Shiite militiamen anyway).

You have to wonder if this step is intended to offset the American military's pressure to recruit Sunni tribesmen and neighborhood volunteers into the security forces.

Aljazeera is reporting that Iraqi vice president Tariq al-Hashimi [Kurdish] has come out vigorously denouncing al-Maliki for this move.
This could easily be a counter move preparation for the coming civil war in Iraq (after the U.S. leaves). It's also an old story as most of the Iraq police force and military has been infilitrated by insurgents for some time.

I stand by my contention that Iraqi insurgents (on all sides) see the writing on the wall of an American evacuation eventually. Everyone is keeping their powder dry and using the time to recruit, arm and train for that eventual all out war for control of Iraq.


For Vets

In honor of Veterans Day, the LA Times has done a fine story of a poster child marine from Iraq. His signature picture was widely circulated earlier in the war. Since then, he's been to hell and back with PTSD. It's longish but a very emotional read.


Pakistan Update

Here's your nutshell update on the mess that is Pakistan.

The talks between Bhutto and Musharraf have apparently broken down. Bhutto is now calling for full scale protests. Musharraf has warned of "intelligence" that Bhutto may be assassinated by "extremists" if she appears in public.

Yeah right. I've never been convinced that the first assassination attempt on her wasn't originated by Musharraf.

Meanwhile, Musharraf continues to hold on to the dictatorship position. The big news of his willingness to hold elections needs to be tempered with his other position of being determined to maintain marital law and expel those pesky judges who have the audacity to want a democracy.

Stay tuned. This pot is still boiling vigourously.


The Fix

I told you the fix was in on the Mukasey vote:

Here's some more on what exactly happened in the negotiations that led up to the rushed confirmation of Michael Mukasey yesterday.

According to sources inside and outside the Democratic leadership, Harry Reid allowed a vote on Mukasey because in exchange the Republican leadership agreed to allow a vote on the big Defense Appropriations Bill, which contains $459 billion in military spending but doesn't fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Reid had wanted to get this bill passed before the end of this week, and in fact, the defense bill did come up for a vote late last night and was passed after the Mukasey vote.

One key reason Dem leaders wanted this defense approps bill passed, sources tell me, is that they wanted to be able to argue that they had sent a bill to the President funding the military, if not the war itself. The idea was that doing this would allow them to protect themselves in the days ahead when the battle over Iraq funding heats up and Republicans inevitably charge that Dems are refusing to fund the troops.

"This lets us argue, `Hey, we just sent $450 billion to the military," one leadership source tells me.
As usual, if the Republican leadership agrees to a deal you know it's a bad one for you. What Reid seems to have "gotten" for Mukasey doesn't seem like much to me. Senate Dems continue to act like they're in the minority.