All season long, I’d been resisting the temptation to proclaim the Wizards “better without Arenas” but the evidence from this playoff series against the Cavaliers is really tending to change my mind. The fact that Agent Zero has a solid backup in Antonio Daniels is what makes this work, but the whole rest of the team really does seem to play with both more defensive intensity and more tactical acumen in key offensive situations without Gilbert. Certainly I don’t think it’s a no-brainer at this point that Arenas should be paid more money if he chooses to opt out of his current contract.
Once again, Karl Rove appeared on Fox News to discuss the Democratic primary, and once again, he and the network failed to identify his ties to Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign. It has now been 85 days since Rove first appeared as an analyst without any disclosure.
Marcus Brauchli recently stepped down as the Wall Street Journal’s managing editor — just four months after Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. bought the newspaper. WSJ union members reportedly viewed Brauchli’s resignation as a “loss of ‘a buffer who would maintain editorial independence.’” Editor and Publisher reports that “[t]he special committee formed to oversee editorial independence” at the WSJ “claims it was improperly informed of [Brauchli's] resignation after the fact, according to a report the group released Tuesday”:
The report states that learning about the resignation “after the fact failed to meet the letter and the spirit of the agreement” between Dow Jones and News Corp. over editorial independence.
It went on to add, “Mr. Brauchli expressed ‘regret’ that the committee ‘learned of my resignation late in the process.‘” Brauchli resigned on April 22.
“Country music star Toby Keith had a performance in Afghanistan last week interrupted by mortar fire, according to his booking agent. Curt Motley, the agent, told The Oklahoman in an e-mail that the 46-year-old Keith was playing his song ‘Weed With Willie’ for troops during a USO Tour stop at a base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Thursday when mortar fire sent the singer and most of the about 2,500 soldiers in the crowd scrambling for shelter.”
Paul Krugman makes a very pertinent point today in his blog: the technical definition of recession doesn’t really matter to Americans. What really matters is not how the economy is labeled, but whether or not Americans can fill their cars with gas, put food on the table, buy clothes for their kids, pay their bills — including their mortgage, and hold down a steady job with a well-paying wage.
In academic terms, a recession is defined as a “few” months of consistent pessimistic economic activity spread throughout the economy. This is normally visible in a convergence of negative GDP, income and employment levels, retail sales, and industrial production.
When all these elements converge, there is no disputing that the economy is going down the tubes. But Americans have been singing this song now for months, even years, and they don’t give two cents about dictionary definitions or Wall Street economists — they want relief. Other economic indicators tell a more revealing story:
– The unemployment rate has climbed to 5.1 percent and is expected to move higher in the coming months.
– Consumer spending and retail sales, which account for 70 percent of the US economy, have fallen steadily, scraping lows unseen in more than seven years.
– Home foreclosures have topped the charts, as a record 18.6 million U.S. homes stood empty in the first quarter of 2008.
– Consumer confidence levels, which record popular perceptions on inflation, the job market and the economy in general have hit bottom. The overall number has reached its lowest point since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, while inflation expectations are the highest they’ve been since Hurricane Katrina.
– The share of consumers planning to take a vacation in the next six months has plummeted to a 30-year low.
So when the Department of Commerce announces that the GDP has increased by a meager 0.6 percent in the first quarter of 2008 — signifying that the economy may not technically be in a recession — Paul Krugman asks: “Who cares?”
This week, President Hamid Karzai was the subject of an attempted assassination plot, allegedly launched by the Taliban, which narrowly escaped. In a Rose Garden press conference yesterday, ABC’s Martha Raddatz asked Bush to comment on the status of Afghanistan in light of the assassination plot:
RADDATZ: Are we winning in Afghanistan?
BUSH: I think we’re making progress in Afghanistan [...]
Q: But do you think we’re winning? Do you think we’re winning?
BUSH: I do, I think we’re making good progress. I do, yes.
In contrast, today, the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Terrorism. The opening lines of the report are a stark departure from Bush’s blind optimism:
Al-Qa’ida (AQ) and associated networks remained the greatest terrorist threat to the United States and its partners in 2007. It has reconstituted some of its pre-9/11 operational capabilities through the exploitation of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), replacement of captured or killed operational lieutenants, and the restoration of some central control by its top leadership, in particular Ayman al-Zawahiri.
In Afghanistan and surrounding areas, State Department notes, al Qaeda now has “greater mobility” in the region:
Despite the efforts of both Afghan and Pakistani security forces, instability, coupled with the Islamabad brokered cease-fire agreement in effect for the first half of 2007 along the Pakistan-Afghanistan frontier, appeared to have provided AQ leadership greater mobility and ability to conduct training and operational planning, particularly that targeting Western Europe and the United States. … AQ leaders continued to plot attacks and to cultivate stronger operational connections that radiated outward from Pakistan to affiliates throughout the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe.
The report also notes that terrorist attacks in Afghanistan increased 16 percent last year, which was the bloodiest year in Afghanistan since 2001. Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, who commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said last week, “This year won’t be different.”
In his press conference yesterday, a reporter asked President Bush about the rising price of gasoline, now at roughly $3.60 per gallon. In response, Bush was helpless, repeatedly saying he wishes he could just “wave a magic wand” to lower prices:
[Y]ou know, if there was a magic wand to wave, I’d be waving it, of course. I strongly believe it’s in our interest that we reduce gas prices, gasoline prices. … No, I think that if there was a magic wand, and say, okay, drop price, I’d do that. … But there is no magic wand to wave right now.
This is an old line. Bush and his appointees have repeatedly invoked the supernatural to express their frustrations with gas prices, as Dan Froomkin notes. Some lowlights:
– “I wish I could simply wave a magic wand and lower gas prices tomorrow; I’d do that.” — Bush, 4/20/05
– “I wish I could just wave a magic wand and lower the price at the pump; I’d do that.” — Bush, 5/16/05
– “[L]et me assure you that if the President had a magic wand that could lower prices, he would do it!” — Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman, 8/08/05
– “I wish there was a magic wand that I could wave that would lower gas prices. But I can’t.” — Bodman, 4/25/06
One of global warming’s most immediate and devastating effects comes from the melting glaciers. From Bhutan to Peru, glacier melt is accelerating. As the Melting Andean Glaciers Could Leave 30 Million High and Dry puts it:
Loss of glaciers in the Andes mountain range is threatening the water supply of 30 million people, and scientists say the lower altitude glaciers could disappear in 10 years.
What’s happening to those most closely tied to the glaciers?
His community can no longer can seed indigenous potatoes in fields located at lower levels, because sufficient water does not flow there any longer. “We must seed them to greater height. But every year that happens, also we have less earth in mountains, Felipe says. “In few years more, no longer we will have no place to seed these potatoes.”
Maybe they should move to the cities? But wait:
At a townhall meeting in Derry, New Hampshire on Jan. 3, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) infamously exclaimed that it “would be fine with” him if the U.S. military stayed in Iraq for “a hundred years.“ McCain clarified his comments, saying “as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed. That’s fine with me.” Watch it:
This past weekend, the Democratic National Committee released an ad featuring McCain saying, “[M]aybe a hundred. That’d be fine with me,” accompanied by images of the war in Iraq.
Yesterday, FactCheck.org weighed in on the ad, complaining that even though the ad simply uses McCain’s own words, it “doesn’t mention that McCain was speaking specifically about a peacetime presence” and leaves “a clear impression that McCain proposes to allow a century more of war.”
FactCheck.org is claiming that any mention of McCain’s “100 years” cannot be associated with war fighting, but McCain’s peaceful fantasy is necessitated on continuing to fight in Iraq until his unlikely scenario somehow takes shape.
In its rush to defend McCain, FactCheck.org never grapples with the unanswered questions underlying the premise of McCain’s wishful thinking about an essentially permanent U.S. military presence in Iraq that is “peaceful”:
How do we transition out of a wartime presence? How long is McCain willing to wait for that presence to be possible? Is there a point in time that he will consider leaving Iraq if casualties continue?
Here are a few examples of why McCain’s scenario is so impracticable:
- The Iraqi people do not want permanent U.S. bases in Iraq. In Oct. 2007, Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak “put the U.S. on notice,” telling Vice President Cheney that “The people of Iraq, the parliament, the council of representatives and the government of Iraq, they all say no, big fat no, N-O for the bases in Iraq.”
- If Iraq were to host U.S. bases, some factions in Iraq will always “resent their mere presence for the blame that they cast upon America,” according to CNN’s Baghdad correspondent, Michael Ware. Ware also says that a long-term presence in Iraq “could actually ferment further resentment” against the U.S.
- In the past, even McCain has said that a peaceful “South Korea” like presence is not feasible because of “the nature of the society in Iraq and the religious aspects.”
As the New Yorker’s Hendrik Hertzberg — who was at the townhall in New Hampshire — says, “the context shows…that yanking that sound bite out of context isn’t really all that unfair” because McCain is essentially saying that he is willing to stay in Iraq indefinitely until casualties stop and then he’s willing to stay for 100 more years.
Our guest blogger is James Kvaal, Domestic Policy Adviser at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
We’re halfway through health care week for the McCain campaign, with speeches in five states. But one critical question remains unanswered: how does the value of the credit change over time? If it grows slower than health care costs – as does the Bush plan it was modeled on – it would be a huge tax increase over time.
Sen. McCain has proposed a massive tax shift. He would end the tax break for health benefits that workers get from their jobs – a $3.6 trillion tax increase over the next decade. Then he’d redirect those resources into new tax credits worth $5,000 per family in the first year. The change would be a tax cut for some families and a tax increase for others.
The McCain campaign has not released a lot of details, particularly for such an important proposal. But we know more about the model for the McCain plan, a very similar Bush Administration proposal. (Bush’s proposal created tax deductions, but his aides said it was equivalent to a $4,500 credit for families. Adjust for rising health costs and you basically have McCain’s plan.)
The Bush plan capped the growth of credits at the rate of inflation (expected to be about 2 percent a year). That is much slower than current tax benefits, which grow with premiums (about 6 percent a year).
For Bush, capping the growth of tax benefits has two advantages. It makes the numbers work: the plan has a large initial cost that is slowly recouped over time as the tax cut turns into a tax increase. Second, as Ezra Klein notes, it drives families into cheaper coverage that will make them pay more for health care and therefore use less of it.
But this isn’t such a good deal for families. It’s more like a Trojan Horse: a tax increase disguised as an initial tax cut. The slower growth adds up to a 30 percent cut after 10 years and a 50 percent cut after 20 years.
So here’s my question: does the McCain proposal also limit health care cost growth? If so, it will soon become a massive cut in support for families’ health coverage costs.
UPDATE: In today’s New York Times, Kevin Sack and Michael Cooper observe that McCain’s plan “would have the effect of increasing tax payments for some workers.” Sack and Cooper note that even middle-income workers with conventional coverage could pay more over time, depending on how the tax credits are adjusted for inflation.
UPDATE II: Over at Swampland, Karen Tumulty confirms with Douglas Holtz-Eakin that the tax credit’s growth is limited to the inflation rate.