It is an essential reform. So it is normal for it to trigger concerns and significant strike action, as was the case yesterday. It’s one of the functions of the trade union organizations to call for demonstrations and strikes. I am conscious of the concerns being expressed in this way. Just as I am conscious of the disruption it causes those using public services. This is why we brought in the requirement for a minimum service on public transport [in the event of strikes], which has always been fulfilled since 2007.
The core of the plan is “a rise in the minimum retirement age to 62 from 60 and in the full pensionable age to 67 from 65″ which would more or less bring France in line with current American practice.
While Rev. Terry Jones ultimately canceled his plans to burn Qurans at his Gainesville, FL church today, and said he will “not ever” attempt the stunt again, infamous Christian-right activist Randall Terry followed through on his scheme to destroy the Islamic holy book, tearing pages from an English copy this morning in front of the White House.
Jones’ plan sparked huge protests in Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, but Terry wasn’t fazed by military leaders’ warnings that burning the Quran could endanger U.S. troops, explaining, “The only reason I will not burn it at the White House is because to burn anything on the Capitol grounds is a felony.” Terry said he stood “in solidarity” with others who planned to destroy Qurans today, including far-right Christian activists in Springfield, TN, Amarillo, TX, and Cheyenne, WY.
As ThinkProgress has noted, some families of 9/11 victims have condemned the politicization of the anniversary of the terror attacks, saying protests related to the proposed Islamic community center near ground zero today “disrespect the memories of our loved ones on this sacred day.” When asked about this by ThinkProgress, Terry dismissed the victims’ families concerns, offering an insincere “sorry” and adding that he wouldn’t “let the tail wag the dog:”
Tomorrow, tea party activists will rally on the National Mall for a “Taxpayer March on Washington.” Activist Andrew Beacham, who actually performed the Quran ripping while Terry explained which passages were being desecrated, told ThinkProgress that he has been actively affiliated with both the tea party and the related 9/12 movement:
When asked why he was desecrating Islam’s holiest book, Beacham said, “there is only one religion and that is Christianity.” Asked about ripping versus burning the Quran, Beacham casually replied, “same diff.” Beacham and Terry were joined by about four other protestors, who carried signs with messages such as, “9-11 = Koran + Sharia Law,” “Obama: Sharia or Constitution?,” and “Can violence be peaceful? Islam thinks so!”
As President Obama finishes his second year, he and his staff would do well to catch up on what the social scientists have been saying about politics in addition to the books about his campaign. Though certainly not as engaging, their work offers great insight into the constraints of governance that he has faced. When Obama abandoned government reform upon taking office he ensured that he would have to struggle against the many structural factors that social scientists have been writing about, such as Senate rules that require sixty votes on all legislation or the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
One way to think about the 2008 election is that Team Obama developed such an awesome message that a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name “Hussein” was able to get 53 percent of the vote against a broadly popular war hero. Another way is that conditions in 2008 were so favorable to the Democrats that a first-term African-American Senator with the middle name “Hussein” was able to get 53 percent of the vote against a broadly popular war hero. One explanation is more appealing to the members of Team Obama and another explanation is better-supported by scholarly research. And the two theories have different predictions about what kinds of governance strategies are likely to prove fruitful.
The White House announced on Friday it’s intention to nominate Cameron Munter as ambassador to Pakistan, so I looked up his bio:
Cameron Phelps Munter is a United States diplomat and career foreign service officer. He is an advisor for political and military issues to Christopher R. Hill, US ambassador in Iraq.
Ambassador Munter was sworn-in as United States Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia on July 26, 2007, succeeding Michael C. Polt and stayed in this position until 2009 when he was transferred to work in Iraq. A career Foreign Service Officer, Ambassador Munter was Deputy Chief of Mission at the American Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic from August 2005 to June 2007. He volunteered to lead the first Provincial Reconstruction Team in Mosul, Iraq, from January through July 2006, and then returned to Prague. He came to Prague from Warsaw, where he served as Deputy Chief of Mission from 2002 to 2005.
Before these assignments, in Washington, Ambassador Munter was Director for Central, Eastern, and Northern Europe at the National Security Council (1999-2001), Executive Assistant to the Counselor of the Department of State (1998-1999), Director of the Northern European Initiative (1998), and Chief of Staff in the NATO Enlargement Ratification Office (1997-1998).
You can tell from these assignments that he’s a very well-regarded career foreign service officer and thus a natural fit for an important job in Pakistan. But it’s also a nice little postcard into the US government’s general lack of interest in specific regional, cultural, or language knowledge. A guy’s plugging away in Europe, doing a good job, volunteers for a post in Iraq, goes back to Prague, but then gets called back to Iraq, does a good job there, and next thing you know he’s Ambassador to Pakistan.
We have been giving some thought for a while about how we might incorporate opinion columnists into our coverage. We are about to start with a bang: Starting in October, veteran columnist Michael Kinsley and newly minted columnist Joe Scarborough will be appearing in our pages weekly.
These two will offer ideological balance, as their opinions generally come from competing ends of the political spectrum. But what they have in common is much more important: They are both original thinkers with exceptionally compelling voices. Both are intellectually honest people who by long habit resist doctrinaire thinking or hypocrisy by politicians of any stripe. They both have a natural appreciation for the nonstop argument, and nonstop carnival, of politics.
Aside from the unsurprising stale/male/paleness of this duo, I’m provided with yet another opportunity to marvel at the frequency with which the term “intellectually honest” is bandied about in punditry circles. I feel like I’ve been somehow held back in my career by confusion about what this phrase means. Does it just mean “honest”? And if the phrase “intellectually honest” is synonymous with “honest” then why are so many professional writers using it?
The whole thing to me really seems like a kind of cop-out. How hard would it really be for an editor to put out a help wanted add saying “I want to pay you a bunch of money to write coherent English sentences without lying?” Talk about a low bar! When I read books or articles or columns or blogs, what I’m looking for is writers who I learn from. Dahlia Lithwick is a good columnist (and so is Michael Kinsley) because she’s usually persuasive and accurate on interesting subjects not because she’s “honest.”
I guess people feel that admitting that accuracy has some relevance would be to merely encourage cocooning. But people who are serious about learning-to-read will still try to avoid this. Ross Douthat, Tyler Cowen, and David Frum are all people I tend to disagree with but you still learn from reading them. But that’s because they, like the liberal writers I like, make some persuasive and accurate points on important subjects. Honesty’s great, but it’s a terribly low bar to clear.
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), ranking member of the Budget Committee and incoming chairman if Republicans capture the House in November, has a budget plan called “America’s Roadmap,” which slashes Medicare and Social Security in an ostensible effort to end the budget deficit. While right-wing pundits have been quick to applaud the plan, elected Republicans and those hoping to be elected are much more hesitant to endorse deep cuts to popular social programs. Manyhaveshied away from endorsing the plan.
One such politician was former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R), who dubbed Rep. Ryan “extraordinarily formidable” but had not explicitly endorsed his plan. But yesterday at an event in Iowa that was widely seen as laying the groundwork for a 2012 presidential run, Gingrich explicitly endorsed Ryan’s plans for Social Security, while voicing disapproval for the taxes contained in the roadmap:
Taking questions after his talk, Gingrich told The Tribune that Wisconsin U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan is “one of the smartest conservative thinkers in Congress,” but that he opposes a value-added tax proposed by Ryan as part of a plan to end the U.S. deficit.
Gingrich also said he believes that Ryan’s plan to partly privatize Social Security would “triple the earnings” of future retirees.
Gingrich may “believe” that Social Security privatization would triple retirees’ benefits, but it is not a belief based in fact. The Center for Economic and Policy Research studied President George W. Bush’s proposal to privatize Social Security — a plan that the Ryan roadmap closely resembles — and found that a 15-year-old entering the system would see a benefit cut of 45 percent by the time they were of retirement age, which would mean a loss of about $200,000 in retirement benefits. Private accounts would only replace about $9,000 of the lost benefits, according to CEPR — and that’s assuming the individual doesn’t retire in an economic slump.
As a Center for American Progress Action Fund analysis found, under a Bush-style privatization plan, an October 2008 retiree would have lost $26,000 in that year’s market turmoil. Gingrich’s support for privatization is notable because it belies the claim made by many conservative pundits that no Republican wants to privatize Social Security.
Also, Gingrich’s specific disapproval of the value-added tax plan undermines his stated goal to balance the budget — something the Ryan plan already fails to do. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says that the Ryan budget would not balance the budget nor seriously reduce the national debt, and that’s taking into account the revenues raised by value-added taxes. Gingrich’s specific disapproval of those taxes would move the Ryan “roadmap” even further away from accomplishing that goal.
Jake Blumgart doesn’t like my posts on manufacturing, and comments:
1. What do we generally make these days? A lot more crap than we used to. Which is one of the reasons you see countries like Germany, which held on to its high-end industrial base, doing a brisk export trade with the developing world, particularly China(and having lower unemployment and a bit of an easier recession than us). Which is part of the reason why they have a trade surplus and we have a trade deficit in the hundreds of billions. Both international and national markets are less and less interested in our industrial output.
2. How many of manufacturing jobs are there these days? This is the obvious point, and a lot of people tend to shrug it off. ‘The economy is changing, and some one has to get burned in the process.’ A lot of people also said these manufacturing jobs would be replaced by comparable new jobs–which has turned out to be manifestly false. Thus, a bunch of people who could have been in the middle-class have been reduced to flipping burgers or serving as a security guard for $10 an hour, no benefits. To make matters worse, America’s social safety net is pretty shitty, and a lot of them have fallen right though.
3. How much do the remaining manufacturing jobs pay? Not as much as they used to.
Several responses to this. I think point one is simply mistake. The industrial output figures I like to highlight measure value of goods produced, not raw quantity, so it’s not like we’re just churning out garbage.
As to the rest, there are many valid concerns here, but people with valid manufacturing-related concerns need to raise those concerns and not other different concerns. I keep highlighting the fact that manufacturing output is increasing, rather than decreasing, because the discussion of the subject is dominated by words and images that imply the reverse. But the phenomena we’re actually experiencing, and the hypothetical phenomenon of a long-term trend toward declining industrial output, would be two very different things.
Think about two different problems a logging town might have. One problem is the forest gets ruined by blight—no more lumber, no more jobs. Another problem is that labor-intensive two-man saws might be replaced by more efficient saws—more lumber, but fewer jobs. These are both problems for the town, but they’re different situations and they require different policy responses and it’s important to understand what problem you’re having.
One way to think about the skill-biased technological change issue that I think is useful is to construct for yourself an exaggerated hypothetical in which SBTC is definitely driving a big increase in inequality.
Like what if someone invented a machine that could cure many serious diseases, but for some crazy reason to make it work you need to describe the symptoms in Romansh. What’s more, part of the nature of the machine’s potency is that relatively small descriptive errors can produce fatal results. So since basically nobody speaks Romansh, the machine is really only useful when accompanied by an operator who can translate into Romansh. The translator doesn’t need to have specialized medical training, but he or she does need a really solid grasp of both the Romansh language and whatever language the patient is speaking in order to conduct the back and forth appropriately.
Big windfall for Romansh speakers, obviously. What’s more, you’ll see inequality within the domain of Romansh speakers. Among the Romansh speakers of the world, I assume that German, Italian, French, and English are the most commonly spoken “other” languages. And obviously being Romansh-English bilingual is going to be more rewarded by the market than being Romansh-Italian bilingual. The tiny number of people capable of translating from Romansh into Chinese, Japanese, and Arabic are going to reap super-enormous windfalls. To some extent you’ll wind up relying on risky “chain translation” of Romansh to English to Russian as the most effective way to treat illness. And of course there will be lots of efforts by people to learn Romansh. But it’s hard to scale-up language capabilities in this way since there are only so many competent teachers and they’ll all be in high demand both as teachers and as translators.
So what would be the correct policy response? I say—higher taxes to finance more and better public services, the exact same thing that’s the correct policy response to the actual world. In part that’s because I’m more sympathetic to SBTC as a description of what’s happening in the actual world, but in part that’s because I don’t really see what difference this causal analysis is supposed to make for forward-looking policy.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), like the rest of the Republican Party, opposes the individual health insurance mandate. He believes that the provision violates the 10th Amendment of the Constitution and argues that only states have the authority to require their citizens to purchase coverage.
But this wasn’t always the case. In 1993, Grassley proposed an alternative to President Bill Clinton’s health care initiative that required every American to purchase health insurance coverage. He also endorsed the mandate in 2007 when he co-sponsored the Wyden-Bennet health care plan and even backed the idea as recently as 2009.
Yesterday, during a campaign debate, Grassley’s Democratic challenger Roxanne Conlin confronted him on his hypocrisy. Grassley explained that his thinking on the mandate changed in April or May of 2009:
Grassley responded: “My name was on a bill in 1993, but there’s a lot about the constitution you learn over the period of the next 15 years and I’m not a lawyer, but I do read the constitution. I do read some of the laws and I came to the conclusion that it’s unconstitutional, just like the attorney generals of about 22 states.” [...]
After the program, Grassley told reporters it was in April or May of last year that he changed his mind about requiring Americans to buy health insurance just like drivers are required to buy insurance on their vehicles. “And then you have people raise the question, ‘Well, where is it in the constitution that you have to buy anything?’” Grassley said.
Grassley must be confusing his dates, because he expressed support for the policy as recently as August 2009. He was asked, “How does this bipartisan group that you’re a member of get to more health insurance coverage if you don’t mandate that employers provide coverage?” Grassley replied, “Through an individual mandate and that’s individual responsibility and even Republicans believe in individual responsibility.” Here he is expressing that very belief in June 2009 on Fox News Sunday:
Now, Grassley’s explanation mirrors the thinking of fellow Republican Orrin Hatch, who after years of supporting the policy also confessed that constitutional study (and apparently Obama’s election) changed his mind.