Yesterday the Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes reported that during a private meeting with President Bush last Friday, Bush cited his failed push to privatize Social Security as his biggest domestic policy achievement. However, yesterday in an interview with conservative columnist Cal Thomas, Bush seemed to change his mind, saying he wished he had focused on immigration reform instead of Social Security:
THOMAS: And biggest do-over? Knowing everything you know now, what would you have done over again?
BUSH: I probably, in retrospect, should have pushed immigration reform right after the ’04 election and not Social Security reform.
Regardless, some conservatives fault Bush for focusing on both issues. When asked what Bush’s “biggest mistake” was as president yesterday during the RNC chair candidate debate, South Carolina GOP chairman Katon Dawson said the “Social Security debate and the immigration debate.” “Those were two that tore our Party apart at certain times and cost us electorally,” he said.
“She’s non-controversial, she has been here, she’s an African-American, she clearly has not been picked by the governor, and she would be appointed by virtue of her past history,” said Bennett, whose committee may soon consider Burris’s Senate appointment.
“Everyone would accept her,” Bennett said. “If she wanted to compete in the special election, she could. If Burris wanted to compete in the special election, he could.”
But the Republican added, “No one will listen to the idea and I don’t expect anything to come of it.”
Earlier today, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) broke with her party’s leadership in “calling for Roland Burris to be seated in the Senate once his paperwork is signed by the Illinois secretary of state.”
As the financial crisis has unfolded, I’ve heard a lot of voices loudly insisting that nobody could have foreseen this. And I’ve also heard a lot of voices wondering why nobody foresaw it. And I’ve also heard a lot of voices insisting that, hey, damnit, I did foresee this. What there’s been less attention to is what I think is the more disturbing angle to the crisis — the extent to which the people who mattered were perfectly aware that something was amiss and just didn’t really care.
Apparently, for example, Chuck Prince of Citigroup told the FT “When the music stops, in terms of liquidity, things will be complicated. But as long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance.” James Surowiecki remarks: “That sounds like someone who realized that there would be a drying up of liquidity, and that things would be ugly as a result, but who decided that it didn’t matter . . .even when people recognized the possibility of dragons, they decided it was in their short-term interests (even if it wasn’t in the company’s interests), to run the risk of getting incinerated anyway.”
And, indeed, as best I can tell Prince is still a multimillionaire. Looking back, I think it’s clear that Prince didn’t exactly maximize his wealth with his decision-making. But he didn’t really blunder, either. Nobody’s perfect, and he made out extremely well in the scheme of things. If in the course of doing so he contributed to huge problems at his company and massive suffering around the world, well, that’s not really his problem. He’s a businessman trying to get rich. And he succeeded.
Appearing on CSPAN’s Washington Journal this morning, Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN), the third ranking Republican in the House, repeatedly claimed that the solution to the economic crisis was to “do what Ronald Reagan did” and implement “across-the-board permanent marginal tax reductions.” Towards the end of his interview, however, a caller challenged Pence’s idea, saying that deficits exploded under Reagan, forcing the first President Bush to raise taxes.
Pence replied that the caller was right that Reagan “saw deficits and the national debt grow,” but claimed it was the fault of spending in Congress because Reagan’s tax cuts “resulted in more than a doubling of the revenues.” Pence then asked viewers to “check me on this”:
PENCE: You’re absolutely correct in saying that they saw deficits and the national debt grow under President Reagan, but it was — and check me on this, people can check things easily on the internet these days, check me on this — the rate reductions that President Reagan enacted resulted in more than a doubling of the revenues over the next seven years that went from the American people to the federal government.
ThinkProgress loves a challenge, so we looked into Pence’s claim. As he suggested, it wasn’t hard to find out on the internet that this common conservative claim is wrong.
As Media Matters noted when Sean Hannity made the same argument, revenues did not get close to doubling under Reagan:
According to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget (OMB), when adjusted for inflation to constant fiscal year 2000 dollars, receipts (revenues) increased only from $1.077 trillion to $1.236 trillion during Reagan’s term in office. Even in unadjusted (current) dollars, Hannity’s claim that revenues “doubled” to more than $1 trillion during the Reagan administration is false: From 1981 to 1988, revenues in current dollars increased from $599.3 billion to $909.3 billion.
Additionally, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) has found that “Income tax receipts grew noticeably more slowly than usual in the 1980s, after the large cuts in individual and corporate income tax rates in 1981.” In contrast, “income tax collections grew much more rapidly in the 1990s,” when “marginal income tax rates at the top of the income spectrum were raised,” wrote CBPP.
One interesting issue in the current crisis is how come Hezbollah hasn’t acted aggressively to start up a second front in the north while the IDF is conducting major operations in Gaza. Abu Muquwama has some plausible sounding speculations about this. One could, I think, probably construct other scenarios. Part of the reason is almost certainly just status quo bias and inertia — on any given day, Hezbollah has a strong presumption against undertaking a dramatic escalation of the conflict with Israel.
But note that while one can adduce all kinds of reasons to explain Hezbollah’s actions, none of them are consistent with the (apparently popular in Israel as well as among US neocons) line of thinking which holds that both Hamas and Hezbollah are nothing more than puppets of Iran and extensions of Tehran’s relentless drive to eradicate Israel.
Ben Smith reports that Rep Xavier Becerra doesn’t want to fill in for Bill Richardson as Official Hispanic Cabinet Dude at the Commerce Department. And I can’t blame him, it’s a kind of C-List department and his current job in congress is a pretty good one. But I’m no member of congress — why not me? I’m very interested in the department’s statistical collection functions.
In its new package of rule changes, the House has finally decided to make its official language gender neutral, recognizing the growing representation of women in Congress (including as Speaker of the House). Gone are references to “he,” “chairman,” and phrases such as “his duties.” From the resolution:
Read the full list of changes here (gender neutrality language beginning on p. 9).
Here’s why it won’t happen any time soon. As Cindy Williams, former director of the National Security division of the Congressional Budget Office and now a senior research scientist at MIT, points out in an as-yet unpublished paper for the Tobin Project, DOD is insulated from serious cuts by an array of impressive political advantages. First, its budget is more than 50 percent of all federal discretionary spending, and its sheer size gives it a lot of bureaucratic clout. Second, the Pentagon has a large domestic constituency: there are 1.4 million men and women in uniform, 850,000 paid members of the National Guard and Reserve, and 650,000 civilian employees. Forget GM, Ford and Chrysler: the Department of Defense is the largest single employer in the whole country. Now add the companies that provide goods and services for the military. Their employees amount to about 5.2 million jobs, which is a pretty impressive domestic constituency. And don’t forget those 25 million veterans, who are hardly shrinking violets when defense spending is concerned. Finally, a well-financed group of Beltway bandits and Washington think tanks stand ready to question the patriotism of any politician (and especially any Democrat) who tries to put the Pentagon on a diet.
It seems unlike a realist to cite domestic political dynamics as the cause of national security policy, but clearly this is correct. And I would note the last point about the think tanks has implications that go beyond the budget. People don’t like to be dishonest — to advocate for policies they disagree with purely in order for money. And actually the think tank lifestyle isn’t very lucrative. Which means that if people and firms who profit from high levels of military expenditures want to support think tanks that support high levels of military expenditures they need to identify individuals who genuinely believe that high levels of military expenditures are good and properly. Naturally, people who think that kind of thing tend to be people who have a somewhat paranoid attitude toward foreign countries and who are strongly predisposed to favor aggressive use of military force by the US and our allies alike.
That in turn comes to be a serious distortion in the public conversation.
And it goes further. Many members of congress don’t represent districts that particularly benefit from high levels of military spending. And those members tend not to seek out assignments on the congressional committees that deal with military expenditures. But those members whose districts do benefit from said expenditures do seek out those assignments in order to maximize the share going to their folks. That has a distorting effect all its own, but it also re-enforces the think tanks issue. Members of congress like to call experts in to testify who they know are going to agree with them. So if the armed forces committees are dominated by people who favor big military spending, they’ll tend to call in “experts” who agree with that agenda — hawks.
This, in turn, gives hawkish think tank types more juice and credibility. And this, in part, is where the Very Serious People come from. Frank Gaffney gets on TV all the time but you’ll never see Carl Conetta. Gaffney’s a crank, but Conetta’s something much worse — a peacenik.
Now some very serious people are suggesting that there is a lot less accessible coal out there than most folks believe. If we are nearing peak coal (and peak oil), then we would need to embrace the rapid transition to a clean energy economy almost as urgently as we need to embrace it to avoid destroying the climate.
The Gillette coalfield, within the Powder River Basin in east-central Wyoming, is the most prolific coalfield in the United States. In 2006, production from the coalfield totaled over 431 million short tons of coal, which represented over 37 percent of the Nation’s total yearly production.
The “total original coal resource in the Gillette coalfield” without applying any restrictions, “was calculated to be 201 billion short tons.” Then USGS subtracts out the inaccessible coal, and then mining and processing losses, which leaves 77 billion tons, and finally:
Coal reserves are the portion of the recoverable coal that can be mined, processed, and marketed at a profit at the time of the economic evaluation. With a discounted cash flow at 8 percent rate of return, the coal reserves estimate for the Gillette coalfield is 10.1 billion short tons of coal (6 percent of the original resource total) for the 6 coal beds evaluated.
Ouch! And this analysis was done at a time of soaring coal prices.
The National Research Council’s Committee on Coal Research, Technology, and Resource Assessments to Inform Energy Policy wrote in a 2007 report:
Dallas City Manager Mary Suhm confirmed Monday that the younger Bush is seeking to have a gate placed somewhere along the entrance to streets leading to his future Preston Hollow address.
The plan, which requires approval by the Dallas City Council, isn’t expected to encounter much opposition at City Hall, and the Bushes’ neighbors seem to be on board.
So far, several options to limit access to the Bushes’ new street have been discussed. But a final decision on exactly where to place the gate hasn’t been recommended, Suhm said.
Federal money would pay for the gate, not the city, she said.
“The Bushes apparently bought a four-bedroom, ranch-style home at 10141 Daria Place through a private trust that Mr. Bush established after he was elected governor. The county appraises the house at nearly $2.1 million, but the home sold for considerably more.”