Tuesday, September 28, 2010

More Contractors Killed Than Soldiers

This year, more private contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than soldiers. Congratulations, we have privatized our military.

"More private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months, the first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses on America’s battlefields.

More than 250 civilians working under U.S. contracts died in the war zones between January and June 2010... In the same period, 235 soldiers died, according to Pentagon figures.

This milestone in the privatization of modern U.S. warfare reflects both the drawdown in military forces in Iraq and the central role of contractors in providing logistics support to local armies and police forces, contracting and military experts said."

We're outsourcing our military. Jobs that used to be for military folks are now for "contractors". I wonder what a strict reading of the Constitution would say about that? Maybe a Tea Partier can help me out here?

Update: A Republican friend asks:
"And the problem here?"

Well, I don't think we should be hiring private companies to act as our military. If we're going to do that, maybe we should hire a bunch of cheap labor to act as our soldiers? Why should we have to fight at all? Let's pay "them" to do it. That may be all well and good until "they" decide they want the power. I guess that's when we're supposed to defend ourselves using "2nd Amendment Guarantees".
I've written about this before...

Poll This

Hmmm... maybe most people just don't realize how much wealth the super-rich are hoarding. Check out this poll:

"All demographic groups -- even those not usually associated with wealth redistribution such as Republicans and the wealthy -- desired a more equal distribution of wealth than the status quo."

The report (pdf)... shows that across ideological, economic and gender groups, Americans thought the richest 20 percent of our society controlled about 59 percent of the wealth, while the real number is closer to 84 percent.

More interesting than that, the report says, is that the respondents... believed the top 20 percent should own only 32 percent of the wealth. Respondents with incomes over $100,000 per year had similar answers to those making less than $50,000. (The report has helpful, multi-colored charts.)

The respondents were presented with unlabeled pie charts representing the wealth distributions of the U.S., where the richest 20 percent controlled about 84 percent of wealth, and Sweden, where the top 20 percent only controlled 36 percent of wealth. Without knowing which country they were picking, 92 percent of respondents said they'd rather live in a country with Sweden's wealth distribution.

I think the tea party folks might be interested in this poll, but something tells me we won't be hearing about this on FOX News or even MSNBC. Here's a good pie chart for you, since what you think is probably wrong:

Update: A Republican friend asks:
"And the problem?"

Well, not everyone thinks they're going to be a billionaire when they grow up, my friend ;-)

If we are to remain a capitalist country (I think we agree on that), we need a strong middle class to buy things. This post may help explain.

And this article has some good graphs.

More graphs from Slate, they ran a 10 part series on "The Great Divergence" recently.

Income inequality, and especially the loss of a vibrant and large middle class, could spell our economic doom! From Robert Reich:

"Here’s the point. Policies that generate more widely shared prosperity lead to stronger and more sustainable economic growth -- and that’s good for everyone.

The rich are better off with a smaller percentage of a fast-growing economy than a larger share of an economy that’s barely moving. That’s the Labor Day lesson we learned decades ago; until we remember it again, we’ll be stuck in the Great Recession."

The Rat is (Coming) Back

That's right Tar Heel fans, the legendary eatery in the alley is going to pull a phoenix and once again serve those famous burned, tough steaks and cheese bowls. All hail the great Ram's Head Rathskeller in Amber Alley! Daily Tar Heel article

I got polled last night

Well, sorta. It was more of a "misinformation" campaign call from....somebody.

Guy says he's going to ask me five questions. On question 2 he has enough information to determine my political leanings (I said I thought our state was going in the right direction, and that I planned on voting for a democrat for NC legislature). So, question 3, he tells me to state whether I agree with the following statement on a scale from 1 to 10. He then goes on to read a very misleading paragraph of a statement (about Medicare and taxation) that no reasonable person would agree with. In fact, it was complete misinformation and hogwash designed to confuse the average voter. So I told him to stop right there. I asked him who he was polling for, and he told me it was for a Republican website. I then asked for and got a supervisor.

The supervisor explained that it was a "non-partisan" poll, despite what the original caller had said. I got the company name and told him that I was reporting the call to the elections commission. And I told him that he knew what he was doing. And that he had to live with himself.

The company does not exist according to Google, and the 877 number that called me has been used before for collections, random hang-ups, and other nasty stuff (according to the internet).

Basically, I can't find them and they're getting away with this crap.
So if you're in North Carolina and get a call from a "poller", be aware that it may actually be a misinformation campaign.

Nancy & Barry's Latest Success

Once again, the Democrats have managed to pass a reasonable bill without the help of Republicans. A shame they should sit this one out, as most all of the benefits are for small businesses. "They" (tea partiers or republicans? hard to tell the difference...) would have you believe that the expiration of tax breaks for the richest 2% will hurt small businesses, but in reality, only 3% of small businesses would be effected, the ones with the biggest profits.

Here's a sampling of what the Democrats (the only working party) passed:
Starting today, millions of small business owners will be eligible for up to eight new tax cuts, and within weeks, thousands of businesses will finally have access to the credit they desperately need.

The bill also includes key provisions the President has fought for since the beginning of this year:

-- Small businesses receive a tax write-off on the first $500,000 of new equipment investments;
-- More than a million eligible small businesses will be able to make key long-term investments that are subject to zero capital gains taxes;
-- Entrepreneurs who take a chance on a new idea can deduct the first $10,000 of start-up costs; and
-- The self-employed can deduct 100 percent of the cost of health insurance for themselves and their families from self-employment taxes.
I really like that last one, and added the emphasis.

What's the Republican/Tea Party alternative? Stop taxing the rich so much and deregulate everything. Oh, and starve all social programs (Social Security/Medicare), so that eventually they won't be sustainable, because they don't like the government "giving" benefits in the first place. But I digress.
What I really want to do is congratulate the Democrats on passing this bill, and the health care bill, and the finance reform bill. Nancy Pelosi may be vilified by the "right", but you gotta hand it to her... she has passed legislation that Democrats have wanted for ages, with almost zero participation from "the other side". That's why they hate her, because she has been successful. She's no crazy liberal, she won't even support legalized marijuana in her home state. She's reasonable, and willing to compromise to get most of what she wants, a real politician in the best sense of the word.
It makes me long for a Republican Party that would compromise on Social Security, and make a plan that keeps it strong for the long term....you know, like Reagan did with Tip O'Neil back in the 80's. Why is Reagan always the hero, unless he did something "today's conservative" doesn't agree with, in which case it's whitewashed over. Reagan helped save Social Security.... Reagan gave amnesty to illegal aliens.... Reagan ran up the biggest deficit ever.... Reagan ran from a fight in the Middle East. He was a great president, in large part because he was willing to compromise when the time was right, and make pragmatic decisions. Today's Republicans would rather "stop everything up" than get anything done, and I think that's a disservice. I hope they will once again consider the possibility of compromise, after all, compromise is the heart of politics, and the only way to get things done in a democracy.

More info on small business jobs bill.

Update: Despite the election returns, Obama's first 2 years were an outstanding legislative success, and it was worth it to lose!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Multiverse" means "whoa......"

Gizmodo has a cool article about the "multiverse". Yeah, you got that right, it's not just the universe anymore. Scientists are theorizing that there may be multiple universes. And there's more, right here in our universe.... physical laws may change from place to place. Whoa!
"Mutliverse" subscribers believe there are other, crazier universes beyond ours that could potentially boast their own unique physics. That's one theory. Another, floated this week, is that the laws of physics in this universe aren't so constant either.
"The implications for our current understanding of science are profound. If the laws of physics turn out to be merely 'local by-laws', it might be that whilst our observable part of the universe favours the existence of life and human beings, other far more distant regions may exist where different laws preclude the formation of life, at least as we know it."

This reminds me.... don't forget to watch Fringe tomorrow night! Best show on TV, and they're battling it out with the alternate universe.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Reich is Right on Economy

Robert Reich clearly shows how income inequality, especially decreasing wealth in the middle class, will have profound effects for our economy which depends on consumer spending.

"Face it: The national economy isn’t escaping the gravitational pull of the Great Recession. None of the standard booster rockets are working. Near-zero short-term interest rates from the Fed, almost record-low borrowing costs in the bond market, a giant stimulus package, along with tax credits for small businesses that hire the long-term unemployed have all failed to do enough.

That’s because the real problem has to do with the structure of the economy, not the business cycle. No booster rocket can work unless consumers are able, at some point, to keep the economy moving on their own. But consumers no longer have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services they produce as workers; for some time now, their means haven’t kept up with what the growing economy could and should have been able to provide them."

He goes on to explain in detail how the crisis began, what is making it worse, and what we can do to make things better. And finally, he gets to a succinct point at the crux of the "debate":

"Here’s the point. Policies that generate more widely shared prosperity lead to stronger and more sustainable economic growth -- and that’s good for everyone.

The rich are better off with a smaller percentage of a fast-growing economy than a larger share of an economy that’s barely moving. That’s the Labor Day lesson we learned decades ago; until we remember it again, we’ll be stuck in the Great Recession."

Friday, September 03, 2010

What Obama Couldn't Say

Joe Conason over at Salon has an interesting take on Obama's "end of war in Iraq" speech, where he says the things the president couldn't say:

"What the president could not utter, under any circumstances, is an accurate description of the war, the occupation and the ruinous reasoning that led to them.

He could not say, for instance...

-that the Iraqis are broadly resentful of the U.S. presence in their country and have wished to see us go for years.
-that the predictions of the war’s proponents, both within and outside government, proved to be entirely wrong
-that U.S. prestige and influence in the Mideast have declined sharply, or that our capacity to criticize human rights violations in other countries -- ruled by thugs like Saddam -- has suffered lasting damage due to our own illegal and brutal mistreatment of detainees in Iraq
-that the war and occupation resulted in historic levels of corruption, wasting hundreds of billions of dollars on ghost projects, phony public relations scams, and crooked Iraqi politicians and American contractors
- that the misconduct and irresponsibility of the previous administration’s officials..., and many others who botched the occupation so lethally, were a disgrace to the United States.
-that imperial overstretch in Iraq inflicted lasting damage on our soldiers and our military infrastructure -- what he called the steel in our ship of state -- and that our standing has been diminished in the eyes of the world
-that the most lasting consequence of the invasion of Iraq, to date, has been to strengthen Iran

Instead he fulfilled his duty as commander in chief by copiously praising the troops and noting, correctly, that patriots on both sides of the war debate honor those who served and suffered in Iraq."
The president was right not to say those things at this point in time, but we need to remember that those things are true. The revisionist history being played by Bush-backers like Ari Fleischer needs to be tempered with these truths.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

National Review is Delusional

National Review does a hatchet job on our current president with their comparison to Reagan. In an article titled "Obama: More a Carter than a Reagan", the unidentified columnist (I wouldn't want my name on it either) goes off on supposed ways that Obama is not up to Reagan's snuff. But I will not let you get away with it this time, my nameless nemesis. Let's break you down:
"Both men faced seemingly intractable economic problems with no easy solution, but Reagan understood that curing the nation’s debilitating inflation was going to involve a good deal of short-term economic pain and political unpopularity, and he was prepared to endure that. By contrast, Obama has done everything in his power to avoid painful corrections — at great cost to future taxpayers."
This is patently false. Reagan and Obama both took actions that caused/will cause our national debt to grow significantly. It was OK then and it's OK now. Not the best place to be, but it beats stagflation (in Reagan's case) and the collapse of our whole economic system (in Obama's case). How do Reagan's debts come at a greater cost than Obama's debts?
"Reagan was candid about what needed to be done, according to the late Bob Novak’s reporting on the subject: “I’m afraid this country is just going to have to suffer two, three years of hard times to pay for the [inflationary] binge we’ve been on,” Reagan said. It is impossible to imagine Obama speaking such unpopular truths in public or in private after having so often expressed the opinion that a massive debt-fueled government-spending program would create millions of jobs and reconstruct an economy torn asunder by years of binging on debt."
Obama has been candid about the difficulties we face, not just to Bob Novak, but to anyone who would listen, obviously not the editors at National Review. And a report just came out that Obama's spending program did create over 3 million jobs, not enough to get us out of the slump, but maybe enough to begin to bring us back toward "normal". Yes, between Bush/Obama's TARP plan and the stimulus, we laid out a lot of money, but this deficit spending is exactly what Reagan did as well.
"We can look back now and say that the solution to stagflation was obvious, but that’s only because the Reagan/Volcker approach worked. At the time, the idea that simply raising interest rates would be sufficient to alter inflationary expectations was a contested proposition."
Is National Review suggesting we raise interest rates? Well, not exactly. Rates have been at the bare-border bottom since we started stimulating the economy after 9/11. The low rates, in large part, helped cause the housing/mortgage crisis. They're still so low that we have no power left to raise/lower it to stimulate the economy. That tool is useless now. Unless you think we need higher interest rates. Is that what National Review is advocating?
"Instead of forcing the bondholders of TARPed banks to share in the sacrifice, Obama opted for a slow-motion bailout that allowed banks to rebuild their balance sheets gradually by borrowing from the Fed at zero and lending to the government at 4 percent."
I am not sure that TARP called for the bondholders to "share in the sacrifice" when the deal was made....by the Bush administration. Had Obama tried to retroactively tax the bondholders, I'm sure "the right" would have been fine with that (rolls eyes). Let's face it, our economic train nearly came off the tracks... what if Goldman/Chase/CITI/BOA etc all were really allowed to face the pain instead of getting a hand from Uncle Sam? What if we had allowed every financial institution to cascade into the abyss we faced? It seems that is what National Review and the Tea Party folks are advocating, now that the bridge has been crossed, and difficult decisions need to be made.
"Instead of letting housing prices find their floor, the administration tried to prop them up with a variety of ill-advised programs."
Those programs have not worked well, but that's more the fault of the banks. Obama has tried to institute help for homeowners in need, but it requires cooperation from the banks. Maybe National Review is advocating more regulations to force banks to do what is needed? I hope so.
"Obama decided to shake things up even more by borrowing at record levels to effectuate a bailout of insolvent state governments, passing a raft of new financial regulations, and attempting to pass a total overhaul of the way the nation uses energy."
Say we don't borrow the money. State governments go unfunded, teachers lose jobs, national parks close, Medicaid payments stop, emergency responders get cut, roads and bridges go without repair, the economy slows more. Good plan, National Review! So, after the greatest near collapse of our economy, you're suggesting we don't "pass a raft of new financial regulations"? Yeah, 'cause things were going so well the way they were, right National Review? Total overhaul of the way the nation uses energy? Why, that sounds like something that could be beneficial in the long run....creating jobs and securing our own energy needs.... who does this Obama think he is??
"So far, we have seen no evidence that Obama’s unpopular policies will pay those kinds of dividends."
Yeah, well so far, Obama is only a year and a half in...like Reagan was in 1982.

You know, this article never even compares Obama to Carter.... what a misleading headline. It should have been "Obama: We will never think he's that great, even if he turns out to be better than Reagan".

The article misses out on a couple of other points. When Reagan took office, our biggest competitor the USSR was bogged down in a difficult war with Afghanistan. Fast forward to Obama's, and guess what....we're the ones fighting a difficult war in Afghanistan. Plus one in Iraq. Kinda makes Reagan's first years look like a cakewalk.

Except Reagan got shot early in his first term. And he deserved and got lots of sympathy. But he was still at the same place in the polls then as Obama is now.

Once Reagan's plans went into effect, yes, the economy grew and that was terrific, but we didn't conquer the deficit spending until Clinton in his last year. Reagan's "heir" George W. Bush blew it all. And it's not like Reagan's policies didn't create problems of their own.... the plight of the many homeless in the 80's comes to mind. And ultimately, Reagan's core belief that regulations were the problem has been proven false, even by the likes of its proponents, Alan Greenspan and David Walker. Obama will make mistakes too, and some bad things will happen no matter what choices he makes, just like happened with Reagan. (Can you spell mujaheddin? Me, either. Thanks spell check!)

I liked Reagan in the 80's and I like Obama now. We don't have to destroy one to appreciate the other.