Daily Archive: October 17, 2013

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Looking Ahead

What to Expect During the Cease-Fire

Robert Reich, EconoMonitor

October 17th, 2013

We know the parameters of the upcoming budget debate because we’ve been there before. The House already has its version – the budget Paul Ryan bequeathed to them. This includes major cuts in Medicare (turning it into a voucher) and Social Security (privatizing much of it), and substantial cuts in domestic programs ranging from education and infrastructure to help for poorer Americans. Republicans also have some bargaining leverage in the sequester, which continues to indiscriminately choke government spending.

The Senate has its own version of a budget, which, by contrast, cuts corporate welfare, reduces defense spending, and raises revenues by closing tax loopholes for the wealthy.

Here, I fear, is where the President is likely to cave.

He’s already put on the table a way to reduce future Social Security payments by altering the way cost-of-living adjustments are made – using the so-called “chained” consumer price index, which assumes that when prices rise people economize by switching to cheaper alternatives. This makes no sense for seniors, who already spend a disproportionate share of their income on prescription drugs, home healthcare, and medical devices – the prices of which have been rising faster than inflation. Besides, Social Security isn’t responsible for our budget deficits. Quite the opposite: For years its surpluses have been used to fund everything else the government does.

The President has also suggested “means-testing” Medicare – that is, providing less of it to higher-income seniors. This might be sensible. The danger is it becomes the start of a slippery slope that eventually turns Medicare into another type of Medicaid, a program perceived to be for the poor and therefore vulnerable to budget cuts.

But why even suggest cutting Medicare at all, when the program isn’t responsible for the large budget deficits projected a decade or more from now? Medicare itself is enormously efficient; its administrative costs are far lower than commercial health insurance.

The real problem is the rising costs of healthcare, coupled with the aging of the post-war boomers. The best way to deal with the former – short of a single-payer system – is to use Medicare’s bargaining power over providers to move them from  “fee-for-services,” in which providers have every incentive to do more tests and procedures, to “payments-for-healthy-outcomes,” where providers would have every incentive to keep people healthy. (The best way to deal with the latter – the aging of the American population – is to allow more young immigrants into America.)

More generally, the President has been too eager to accept the argument that the major economic problem facing the nation is large budget deficits – when, in point of fact, the deficit has been shrinking as a share of the national economy. The only reason it’s expected to increase in future years is, again, rising healthcare costs.

Our real economic problem continues to be a dearth of good jobs along with widening inequality. Cutting the budget deficit may make both worse, by reducing total demand for goods and services and eliminating programs that lower-income Americans depend on.

Losers?

Source Watch: Fix the Debt

Exortionist Fellow-Travelers

Paul Krugman, The New York Times

October 17, 2013, 12:04 pm

Fix the Debt didn’t just help create a climate of crisis with its fearmongering over the deficit; the fiscal scolds actively cheered GOP hostage-taking in 2011, and were still lending support to hostage tactics this time around.

Furthermore, neutrality is not an option here. If one political party attempts to defy due process and extract concessions from the other party by threatening financial and economic catastrophe, and your response is to condemn partisanship in the abstract and suggest that both sides are equally to blame, you are in effect lending cover to the hostage-takers.

In other words, Fix the Debt isn’t just ineffectual in its pursuit of a Grand Bargain, it’s an actively malign force in our politics, in effect acting as an ally of the extortionists.

On This Day In History October 17

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 17 is the 290th day of the year (291st in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 75 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1986, President Ronald Reagan signs into law an act of Congress approving $100 million of military and “humanitarian” aid for the Contras. Unfortunately for the President and his advisors, the Iran-Contra scandal is just about to break wide open, seriously compromising their goal of overthrowing the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

Congress, and a majority of the American public, had not been supportive of the Reagan administration’s efforts to topple the Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Reagan began a “secret war” to bring down the Nicaraguan government soon after taking office in 1981. Millions of dollars, training, and arms were funneled to the Contras (an armed force of Nicaraguan exiles intent on removing the leftist Nicaraguan regime) through the CIA. American involvement in the Contra movement soon became public, however, as did disturbing reports about the behavior of the Contra force. Charges were leveled in newspapers and in Congress that the Contras were little more than murderers and drug runners; rumors of corruption and payoffs were common. Congress steadily reduced U.S. assistance to the Contras, and in 1984 passed the second Boland Amendment prohibiting U.S. agencies from giving any aid to the group.

The affair was composed of arms sales to Iran in violation of the official US policy of an arms embargo against Iran, and of using funds thus generated to arm and train the Contra militants based in Honduras as they waged a guerilla war to topple the government of Nicaragua. The Contras’ form of warfare was “one of consistent and bloody abuse of human rights, of murder, torture, mutilation, rape, arson, destruction and kidnapping.” The “Contras systematically engage in violent abuses… so prevalent that these may be said to be their principal means of waging war.” A Human Rights Watch report found that the Contras were guilty of targeting health care clinics and health care workers for assassination; kidnapping civilians; torturing and executing civilians, including children, who were captured in combat; raping women; indiscriminately attacking civilians and civilian homes; seizing civilian property; and burning civilian houses in captured towns.

Direct funding of the Contras insurgency had been made illegal through the Boland Amendment the name given to three U.S. legislative amendments between 1982 and 1984, all aimed at limiting US government assistance to the Contras militants. Senior officials of the Reagan administration decided to continue arming and training the Contras secretly and in violation of the law as enacted in the Boland Amendment. Senior Reagan administration officials started what they came to call “the Enterprise,” a project to raise money for their illegal funding of the Contras insurgency.

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Late Night Karaoke

The NSA: Bigger Is Not Better

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the case of the NSA’s scooping up and storing all that private data, they ran into a glitch, too much information makes the job of surveillance harder

The volume of NSA contacts collection is so high that it has occasionally threatened to overwhelm storage repositories, forcing the agency to halt its intake with “emergency detasking” orders. Three NSA documents describe short-term efforts to build an “across-the-board technology throttle for truly heinous data” and longer-term efforts to filter out information that the NSA does not need.

Spam has proven to be a significant problem for NSA – clogging databases with data that holds no foreign intelligence value. The majority of all e-mails, one NSA document says, “are SPAM from ‘fake’ addresses and never ‘delivered’ to targets.”

In fall 2011, according to an NSA presentation, the Yahoo account of an Iranian target was “hacked by an unknown actor,” who used it to send spam. The Iranian had “a number of Yahoo groups in his/her contact list, some with many hundreds or thousands of members.”

The cascading effects of repeated spam messages, compounded by the automatic addition of the Iranian’s contacts to other people’s address books, led to a massive spike in the volume of traffic collected by the Australian intelligence service on the NSA’s behalf.

After nine days of data-bombing, the Iranian’s contact book and contact books for several people within it were “emergency detasked.”

LOL. The NSA has a spam problem.

Meanwhile, the head of the NSA, Gen. Keith Alexander has had to admit to the Senate Intelligence Committee that he lied back in June about those 54 terrorists plots he claimed were “thwarted” by the agency’s phone surveillance program.

Alexander admitted that only 13 of the 54 cases were connected to the United States. He also told the committee that only one or two suspected plots were identified as a result of bulk phone record collection.

Leahy was not happy. “We’re told we have to (conduct mass phone surveillance) to protect us, and the statistics are rolled out that they’re not accurate,” he said. “It doesn’t have the credibility here in the Congress, it doesn’t have the credibility with this chairman and it doesn’t have the credibility with the country.”

Over at the Wall Street Journal, in an op-ed behind a paywall, the committee chair, Sen Dianne Feinstein trotted out the old “9/11 be very afraid” canard and repeated the debunked Alexander lie.

Consider the case of 9/11 hijacker Khalid al-Mihdhar, who was being watched by the CIA while he was in Malaysia. U.S. intelligence agencies failed to connect the dots before the attack to recognize that al-Mihdhar had flown with (future) hijacker Nawaf al-Hazmi to Los Angeles in January 2000.

Intelligence officials knew about an al Qaeda safe house in Yemen with ties to al-Mihdhar as well as the safe house’s telephone number, but they had no way of knowing if anyone inside the U.S. was in contact with that phone number in Yemen. Only after 9/11 did we learn that al-Mihdhar, while living in San Diego, had called the safe house. [..]

Working in combination, the call-records database and other NSA programs have aided efforts by U.S. intelligence agencies to disrupt terrorism in the U.S. approximately a dozen times in recent years, according to the NSA. This summer, the agency disclosed that 54 terrorist events have been interrupted-including plots stopped and arrests made for support to terrorism. Thirteen events were in the U.S. homeland and nine involved U.S. persons or facilities overseas. Twenty-five were in Europe, five in Africa and 11 in Asia.

Can everyone say say Richard Clark.

At Techdirt, Mike Masnick points out none of what Sen. Feinstein said is true:

First off, as has been explained over and over again, the intelligence community already had certain tools in place to discover such phone calls. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t have the information — they did. It was that they failed to “connect the dots.” In other words, they had too much information which obscured the important information they needed. [..]

Note the all important “and other NSA programs” language here. Also the use of “terrorist events” not plots. And, remember, those “thirteen events… in the U.S. homeland,” have since been whittled down to only one that actually relied on the call records program that she’s defending — and that wasn’t a terrorist plot but a cab driver in San Diego sending some cash to a Somali group judged to be a terrorist organization.

So, we have elected representatives and high paid appointees blatantly lying and getting away with it to protect their turf with no one is holding them accountable,

2013 Junior League Championship: Boston @ Detroit Game 4

Boston barely eeked out a victory over Detroit yesterday with a Solo Shot in the 7th.

That’s it.  That’s all there was.  The most interesting part of the game was the 17 minute power outage.  Red Sox 1 – 0, lead Series 2 – 1.

In the process the Tigers wasted Verlander, we’ll not see him again unless they play in the World Series.

Tonight Detroit will send Doug Fister (14 – 9, 3.67 ERA R) who’s had 6 innings, 7 hits and 3 earned runs this post-season for an ERA of 4.50 while the Sox counter with Jake Peavy (12 – 5, 4.17 ERA R), 5 and 2/3rds innings, 5 hits, 1 run and an ERA of 1.59.

You have to give the edge to Peavy.

The Tigers are in no danger of elimination tonight but I imagine they’d rather head back to Fenway tied at 2 than facing a 3 – 1 Series deficit.

Today on The Stars Hollow Gazette

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Write more and often.  This is an Open Thread.

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