Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for the ‘Congress’ Category

A look at income inequality in the US and France

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Kevin Drum has two very interesting charts that are well worth a look. It seems as though Congress is betraying its public trust and the American people.

Also note the emergence of crony capitalism in the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 December 2016 at 10:09 am

A clear-sighted look at the “Replace” part of “Repeal and Replace (in same session)”, based on industry feedback

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Kevin Drum has a very solid post here. Read the whole thing. The conclusion:

. . .Here’s the case for laughing: the insurance industry says it’s OK with repealing Obamacare, but we should maintain the pre-existing conditions ban, the individual mandate, the subsidies for low-income families, and the Medicaid expansion. Needless to say, that is Obamacare.

Here the case for crying: “The market has already been a little wobbly this year,” Tavenner said. If it looks like any of these four provisions are going to be repealed with nothing to replace them, insurers will simply pull out of the market at the “next logical opportunity.” That would be about six months from now.

And as I’ve mentioned before, there’s a good chance this doesn’t just mean pulling out of the Obamacare exchanges. If the mandate and the subsidies go away, but the pre-existing conditions ban stays in place, insurers might very well pull out of the individual market entirely. Republicans are playing with fire here, and it’s not clear if they even know it. Someone in the insurance biz really needs to have a come-to-Jesus meeting with them.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 6:04 pm

Pentagon buries evidence of $125 billion in bureaucratic waste

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In the Washington Post Craig Whitlock and Bob Woodward offer a way Congress can trim the budget substantially:

The Pentagon has buried an internal study that exposed $125 billion in administrative waste in its business operations amid fears Congress would use the findings as an excuse to slash the defense budget, according to interviews and confidential memos obtained by The Washington Post.

Pentagon leaders had requested the study to help make their enormous back-office bureaucracy more efficient and reinvest any savings in combat power. But after the project documented far more wasteful spending than expected, senior defense officials moved swiftly to kill it by discrediting and suppressing the results.

The report, issued in January 2015, identified “a clear path” for the Defense Department to save $125 billion over five years. The plan would not have required layoffs of civil servants or reductions in military personnel. Instead, it would have streamlined the bureaucracy through attrition and early retirements, curtailed high-priced contractors and made better use of information technology.

The study was produced last year by the Defense Business Board, a federal advisory panel of corporate executives, and consultants from McKinsey and Company. Based on reams of personnel and cost data, their report revealed for the first time that the Pentagon was spending almost a quarter of its $580 billion budget on overhead and core business operations such as accounting, human resources, logistics and property management.

The data showed that the Defense Department was paying a staggering number of people — 1,014,000 contractors, civilians and uniformed personnel — to fill back-office jobs far from the front lines. That workforce supports 1.3 million troops on active duty, the fewest since 1940.

The cost-cutting study could find a receptive audience with President-elect Donald Trump. He has promised a major military buildup and said he would pay for it by “eliminating government waste and budget gimmicks.”

For the military, the major allure of the study was that it called for reallocating the $125 billion for troops and weapons. Among other options, the savings could have paid a large portion of the bill to rebuild the nation’s aging nuclear arsenal, or the operating expenses for 50 Army brigades.

But some Pentagon leaders said they fretted that by spotlighting so much waste, the study would undermine their repeated public assertions that years of budget austerity had left the armed forces starved of funds. Instead of providing more money, they said, they worried Congress and the White House might decide to cut deeper.

So the plan was killed. The Pentagon imposed secrecy restrictions on the data making up the study, which ensured no one could replicate the findings. A 77-page summary report that had been made public was removed from a Pentagon website. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 9:32 pm

How long has this been going on? Jennifer Rubin writes really good columns these days (with example)

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I remember when Jennifer Rubin was praising Mitt Romney without reserve, only later to admit that after his defeat that she was just making statements that she thought would help him. You can see why I stopped reading her column.

But for whatever reason—and I suspect that Trump has some credit for unleashing her recent clarity of vision—the columns are pretty good these days, and today’s is excellent:

The Wall Street Journal reports: “U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 178,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. While the rate was the lowest since August 2007, it reflected some people finding jobs while even more dropped out of the workforce.”

Certainly troubling trends continue. (“Declining participation in the labor force is one of the nation’s more worrisome economic trends, highlighting crosscurrents that have lifted the prospects of many Americans while creating new challenges for others.”) And there are some specific bright spots. (“A broad measure of unemployment and underemployment, which includes those who have stopped looking and those in part-time jobs who want full-time positions, was 9.3% in November, down from 9.5% the prior month and the lowest level since April 2008. The rate averaged 8.3% in the two years before the recession.”) However, as we anticipate a new administration with a president who painted the U.S. economy as a wreck, some perspective is in order.

Credit is due to President George W. Bush and, in turn, President Obama (and the Federal Reserve and the presidents’ respective treasury secretaries) for the emergency measures that averted a meltdown of the financial system. Bush passed and Obama continued the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which right- and left-wing populists bitterly opposed.

My colleague Robert Samuelson wrote: “One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today.” That was in 2010, when unemployment was close to 9 percent.

Given the large gap in time between the nearly billion dollar stimulus and the onset of real job growth, we are less convinced that this played much of a role in reviving a then-$15 trillion economy. (Liberals complained it was too small to work — before deciding that it gave us the “Obama recovery.”)

The alarmists on all sides got it wrong. Obamacare didn’t sink the economy, nor did the expiration of a sliver of the Bush tax cuts. Those on the right who claimed otherwise were wrong.  Meanwhile, the absence of a second stimulus did not prevent us from reaching 4.6 percent unemployment. Inequality did not, contrary to the president’s frequent claims, impede recovery. The left had those things wrong. Populists were also off base: Trade deals don’t prevent us from growing or adding substantial numbers of jobs. (We have job churn, not losses because of trade, and many other factors.) The trade deficit does not mean we are losing jobs or failing to grow; the opposite is true.

Each side will claim the recovery would have been better and faster if it had its way, but our point is that essential gridlock for eight years after TARP did not cause economic calamity. We should promote pro-growth, pro-job programs butwith caution and humility to admit the U.S. economy left to its own devices generally recovers. (There certainly are other reasons — inequality, upward mobility, wage growth — for pursuing some robust policy changes. Liberals, conservatives and populists will differ as to what those are.)

What is not in dispute is that Donald Trump will enter office in January with an economy that is nothing like the dystopia he painted. Before charging off to throw up tariffs or pass a massive tax cut that opens up a gusher of red ink, or throw 11 million people out of the country, perhaps some caution is warranted. We are not now in a recession, and we should stop pretending we are to justify extreme measures which carry unintended consequences. We are growing at 3.2 percent at last count; and Trump’s treasury nominee declares we can grow at a rate — get this — of between 3 and 4 percent.

We suggest getting back to reality and assessing our real needs:

  • We have a gap between skills and the needs of the 21st century economy.
  • We need to upgrade infrastructure.
  • We have a Byzantine . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, one cannot overlook the other enormous drain on the economy: the war of unwarranted aggression. Lest we forget, George W. Bush undertook an invasion of Iraq, then bungled the recovery beyond belief, creating a breakdown that seems to have rippled across the Mideast. On hindsight, George W. Bush dealt a serious economic wound to the US, along with the moral wounds (the innovation of instituting torture as an actual government policy, along with mass surveillance of the public). And, TBH, we all might be better off if Bush had not been so dismissive of the national security intelligence briefings, an attitude that seems even worse in our President-Elect, who simply refused to believe the intelligence he received in the briefly, blowing it off because his own impressions (formed from cable TV and Twitter) are different.

At any rate, the GOP is directly responsible for much of the damage our country has suffered in the 21st century. So far. And, based on what we see of Trump, the GOP will soon be responsible for much more damage. And just to be clear, this is reality we’re talking about: what your daily life will be like four years from now.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2016 at 1:50 pm

Odd that employers are exempt from illegal immigration punishment

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Read this post by Kevin Drum. It begins:

Controlling illegal immigration has never seemed all that hard to me. The vast majority of those who are in the United States illegally—either by crossing the border or overstaying their visas—are here to find jobs. So if you want to reduce illegal immigration, you need to make it hard for employers to hire anyone who’s not authorized to work. But in the LA Times today, Wayne Cornelius says that’s not in the cards:

There has never been much public or congressional appetite for a harsh crackdown on employers,especially the small businesses that depend most heavily on workers in the U.S. illegally. They are pillars of their communities and campaign contributors. Besides, immigration agents have had higher enforcement priorities — tracking down immigrants who committed serious crimes or pose national security threats.

President-elect Trump has called for full implementation of an electronic employment eligibility verification system called E-Verify….E-Verify, however, is no panacea. It does not prevent immigrants who are ineligible to work from getting jobs by providing valid information pertaining to other people (borrowed documents). And as long as penalties are weak, requiring employers to use E-Verify will not significantly reduce violations.

Will Congress approve crippling fines or even prison sentences for business owners who ignore E-Verify rules? Will lawmakers direct the Justice Department to make these scofflaws a top priority? Unless and until that happens, many employers will continue to view hiring those in the U.S. illegally as a low-risk, high-reward crime. In 2014, the probability that one of the nation’s 6 million employers would be investigated for violating immigration laws was 0.03%.

I don’t personally care all that much about the level of illegal immigration. The current numbers strike me as reasonable. But obviously a lot of people do care, and most of them are Republicans. They talk tough, they build walls and fences, and they promise to hire lots of border enforcement agents. But this all a sham. If the economic incentives continue to exist, so will illegal immigration. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 November 2016 at 8:33 pm

These Scientists Say the US Should Ban Offshore Arctic Drilling Forever

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And I agree. Read the Motherboard article by Meredith Rutland Bauer and see what you think.

My bet is that those in Congress who received big payoffs contributions from Koch Brothers and the like vote in favor of Arctic drilling, and indeed in favor of drilling wherever their bosses want.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 November 2016 at 3:38 pm

Gen. Michael Flynn’s Slow Descent Into Madness

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Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

Dana Priest tells us today about Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn:

A lot of reporters and other civilians found Mike, as everyone called him, refreshing. A plucky Irish Catholic kid from Rhode Island, he wasn’t impressed by rank. He told his junior officers to challenge him in briefings. “You’d hear them say, ‘Boss, that’s nuts,’ ” one former colleague said.

….The greatest accomplishment of Flynn’s military career was revolutionizing the way that the clandestine arm of the military, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), undertook the killing and capture of suspected terrorists and insurgents in war zones….[Stanley] McChrystal, who was appointed to run JSOC in 2003, brought Flynn in as his intelligence chief….He “boxed him in,” someone who had worked with both men told me last week, by encouraging Flynn to keep his outbursts in check and surrounding him with subordinates who would challenge the unsubstantiated theories he tended to indulge.

Sounds like a good guy who just needs a little direction. So, um, what happened?

In 2012, Flynn became director of the Defense Intelligence Agency….“He made a lot of changes,” one close observer of Flynn’s time at the D.I.A. told me. “Not in a strategic way—A to Z—but back and forth.”

Flynn also began to seek the Washington spotlight. But, without loyal junior officers at his side to vet his facts, he found even more trouble. His subordinates started a list of what they called “Flynn facts,” things he would say that weren’t true….Flynn’s temper also flared. He berated people in front of colleagues.

….Flynn had been on the job just eighteen months when James Clapper told him he had to go….Flynn began saying that he had been fired because President Obama disagreed with his views on terrorism and wanted to hide the growth of ISIS. I haven’t found anyone yet who heard him say this while he was still in the military….As Flynn’s public comments became more and more shrill, McChrystal, Mullen, and others called Flynn to urge him to “tone it down,” a person familiar with each attempt told me. But Flynn had found a new boss, Trump, who enlisted him in the fight against the Republican and Democratic Party establishments.

Well, I guess it will all work out. Donald Trump will provide a firm hand at the—wait. What’s this? . . .

Continue reading. And do read the rest. It will send chills down your spine.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 November 2016 at 12:39 pm

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