Later On

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Archive for the ‘Obama administration’ Category

Donald Trump’s wrecking crew and the damage they’ve done already

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James Fallows writes in the Atlantic:

In the four weeks since the election, which seem like four centuries, Donald Trump has dominated the news and done real strategic and economic damage with his stream of intemperate tweets. For a reckoning of the chaos that his tweets about Taiwan and China have already induced, please see these Atlanticitems: by Uri Friedman with Shen Dengli, by David Graham, by Chris Bodenner, and by Isaac Stone Fish, with links to many other analyses. The harm he petulantly inflicted today on Boeing, a company that is perennially the United States’s leading exporter and one of its most important high-tech manufacturing employers and standard-setters, is only the latest and most flagrant illustration.

This is not responsible behavior. This is not normal. This is not something the United States, or for that matter the world, can really withstand from a commander in chief. But this ungoverned, thin-skinned impetuosity is something the “responsible” GOP has decided, to its enduring shame, that it dare not criticize.

One other thing is true of Trump’s destructive outbursts. They come from a person who does not yet exercise any official power. The American-democratic principle of peaceful transfer of power includes the tenet that the United States has only one president at a time. And for the next 44-plus days, that president is Barack Obama.

As president, Obama has often been at his best in moments of national trauma, stress, or confidence-destroying emergency. I am thinking, for example, of one of  his very greatest speeches: his “Amazing Grace” eulogy and exhortation after the gun massacre last year in Charleston, South Carolina.

Our current exposure to Donald Trump is a moment that even experienced Republicans will say—carefully off the record—represents a confidence-destroying emergency. A man whose temperament makes him manifestly unfit to command the vast military, surveillance, investigative, and enforcement powers of the U.S. government stands mere weeks away from assuming that command.

There is nothing Barack Obama can do about the transition scheduled for January 20. But in the meantime he is the president, and he needs to be present— and visible, and heard from. So far he has been deferential to a fault, letting the chaos emanating from Trump’s Android phone disrupt markets and alliances. His latest major press conference was on November 14, more than three weeks ago. (Trump, of course, has not held a press conference since the election, and none at all since July.)

Obama’s lowkey approach is no doubt an extension of his statesmanlike invitation to meet Trump just after the election, and their strained handshake at the White House. It’s in keeping with “no drama Obama.” He has never been known for seeking confrontations.

But if he thinks that America stands for values different from Trump’s daily outbursts, if he thinks the institutions of the country can survive the tantrums of the man scheduled to control them, if he thinks democratic norms and limits deserve defense, if he thinks the United States can find a steady path in the world despite a most unsteady leader—and we assume that Obama believes all these things, and may even have thoughts about the path forward—then let’s start hearing from him. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 3:30 pm

Does the Pentagon Really Waste $125 Billion on Pencil Pushers? Probably not

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Keven Drum casts a skeptical eye on the $125 billion “waste” at the Pentagon. It looks a lot like a consulting company trying to drum up business with phony figures and bogus estimates. Read his post here. His post begins:

The Washington Post has a big article up tonight about military waste:

Pentagon hid study exposing $125 billion in wasteful spending

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….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.

Hmmm. I have some doubts about this. For starters, that $125 billion over five years. That comes to $25 billon per year, or about 4 percent of the defense budget. That’s not peanuts, but it hardly seems big enough to represent “far more wasteful spending than expected,” as the article says.

But that’s not the main thing that makes me skeptical about this. My big problem is that this is a McKinsey report, and I have a fairly cynical view of McKinsey-driven “process improvement” blather. For example, the report suggests that the Pentagon can save loads of money by increasing its back-office productivity by 4-8 percent per year. “Private sector industries commonly show similar gains,” they say merrily, so why not the Pentagon?

This is exactly the kind of thing that gives business consultants a bad name. Do private sector businesses really show routine annual productivity gains like this in their back-office operations? I doubt it very much. And even if they do, can the federal government do the same things that private industry does? Hard to say. In any case, it turns out that McKinsey’s biggest finding is that the Pentagon is spending more on its contracts than it should. Here’s how they propose to fix this: . . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by LeisureGuy

6 December 2016 at 10:36 am

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

And, speaking of ledes, check the lede to “The Mafia State,” by Chris Hedges

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Systems of governance that are seized by a tiny cabal become mafia states. The early years—Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton in the United States—are marked by promises that the pillage will benefit everyone. The later years—George W. Bush and Barack Obama—are marked by declarations that things are getting better even though they are getting worse. The final years—Donald Trump—see the lunatic trolls, hedge fund parasites, con artists, conspiracy theorists and criminals drop all pretense and carry out an orgy of looting and corruption. . .

That’s the lede to this article by Chris Hedges at TruthDig.com. It continues:

The rich never have enough. The more they get, the more they want. It is a disease. CEOs demand and receive pay that is 200 times what their workers earn. And even when corporate executives commit massive fraud, such as the billing of hundreds of thousands of Wells Fargo customers for accounts they never opened, they elude punishment and personally profit. Disgraced CEO John Stumpf left Wells Fargo with a pay package that averages nearly $15 million a year. Richard Fuld received nearly half a billion dollars from 1993 to 2007, a time in which he was bankrupting Lehman Brothers.

The list of financial titans, including Trump, who have profited from a rigged financial system and fraud is endless. Many in the 1 percent make money by using lobbyists and bought politicians to write self-serving laws and rules and by forming unassailable monopolies. They push up prices on products or services these monopolies provide. Or they lend money to the 99 percent and charge exorbitant interest. Or they use their control of government and the courts to ship jobs to Mexico or China, where wages can be as low as 22 cents an hour, and leave American workers destitute. Neoliberalism is state-sponsored extortion. It is a vast, nationally orchestrated Ponzi scheme.

This fevered speculation and mounting inequality, made possible by the two ruling political parties, corroded and destroyed the mechanisms and institutions that permitted democratic participation and provided some protection for workers. Politicians, from Reagan on, were handsomely rewarded by their funders for delivering their credulous supporters to the corporate guillotine. The corporate coup created a mafia capitalism. This mafia capitalism, as economists such as Karl Polanyi and Joseph Stiglitz warned, gave birth to a mafia political system. Financial and political power in the hands of institutions such as Goldman Sachs and the Clinton Foundation becomes solely about personal gain. The Obamas in a few weeks will begin to give us a transparent lesson into how service to the corporate state translates into personal enrichment.

Adam Smith wrote that profits are often highest in nations on the verge of economic collapse. These profits are obtained, he wrote, by massively indebting the economy. A rentier class, composed of managers at hedge funds, banks, financial firms and other companies, makes money not by manufacturing products but from the control of economic rents. To increase profits, lenders, credit card companies and others charge higher and higher interest rates. Or they use their monopolies to gouge the public. The pharmaceutical company Mylan, in a classic example, raised the price of an epinephrine auto-injector used to treat allergy reactions from $57 in 2007 to about $500.

These profits are counted as economic growth. But this is a fiction, a sleight of hand, like unemployment statistics or the consumer price index, used to mask the speculative shell game.

“The head of Goldman Sachs came out and said that Goldman Sachs workers are . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 5:19 pm

Edward Snowden points out that David Petraeus “shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did”

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And unlike Hillary Clinton’s inclusion of some classified information (some of which was retroactively classified) in emails on her personal server and thus ran risks of a leak, David Petraeus quite deliberately and knowingly delivered classified material to his mistress, for God’s sake! And nothing (essentially) was done. He lost his job, he paid a fine ($100,000, easily covered by speaking fees), and got probation, and now he’s considered for Secretary of State?! That position, as the GOP has pointed out frequently in their punitive investigations of the emails, involves loads of classified materials.

Anyway, Matthew Rozsa writes at Salon:

Edward Snowden, the former contractor for the National Security Agency who leaked tens of thousands of documents revealing that the American government has spied on its own citizens, told Katie Couric on Yahoo News on Monday that retired Gen. David Petraeus, Donald Trump’s potential pick for secretary of state, disclosed far more classified information despite receiving a much lighter punishment.

“We have a two-tiered system of justice in the United States,” Snowden said to Couric, “where people who are either well-connected to government or they have access to an incredible amount of resources get very light punishments.”

Snowden went on to juxtapose how he was treated by the federal government with the punishments received by Petraeus, who shared classified information with his mistress and biographer, Paula Broadwell.

“Perhaps the best-known case in recent history here is Gen. Petraeus — who shared information that was far more highly classified than I ever did with journalists,” Snowden said. “And he shared this information not with the public for their benefit, but with his biographer and lover for personal benefit — conversations that had information, detailed information, about military special-access programs, that’s classified above top secret, conversations with the president and so on.”

Snowden went on to say that, “When the government came after him, they charged him with a misdemeanor. He never spent a single day in jail, despite the type of classified information he exposed.”

In a Yahoo News piece on Monday discussing the Snowden interview, Michael Isikoff disputed Snowden’s analysis. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 1:31 pm

Private Prisons Are Really Bad, But Good Enough for Immigrants, Concludes Homeland Security Report

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Alice Speri reports in The Intercept:

Private immigration detention facilities may be bad — but they’re probably not going anywhere.

That, in essence, was the conclusion of a much anticipated review of the Department of Homeland Security’s reliance on private companies to detain an immigrant detainee population that’s reaching historic highs, and that the president-elect is promising to escalate to even greater levels.

The report, produced by a panel of law enforcement, national security, and military experts, was commissioned by the Department of Homeland Security on the heels of a similar review by Department of Justice in August. In that report, the DOJ found that private prisons “simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources,” “do not save substantially on costs,” and “do not maintain the same level of safety and security” as facilities operated by the Bureau of Prisons. The Justice Department said it would begin to gradually phase out its own private contracts — which are a fraction of private prison companies’ business when compared to federal immigration detention centers.

The DHS advisory committee report, released last week, raised similar criticisms of the billion-dollar private prison industry, but was more fatalistic in its conclusions.

“Much could be said for a fully government-owned and government-operated detention model, if one were starting a new detention system from scratch,” said the report. “But of course we are not starting anew.”

“Fiscal considerations, combined with the need for realistic capacity to handle sudden increases in detention, indicate that DHS’s use of private for-profit detention will continue,” the report concluded.  Only one of the six members of the Homeland Security Advisory Council subcommittee that drafted the report, Marshall Fitz, dissented, recommending instead “a measured but deliberate shift away from the private prison model.”

But when the report — and its conclusion that private prisons were an inevitable evil — was brought to the broader HSAC committee for a vote, it sparked a contentious discussion. The committee ultimately voted 17-5 to make Fitz’s dissent the report’s recommendation to DHS.

Carl Takei, an attorney at the ACLU’s National Prison Project, called the vote a “stunning reversal.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 December 2016 at 11:57 am

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

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