Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering

The cumulative effect over time has resulted in a U.S. House where today only about two dozen of the 435 seats are considered competitive by non-partisan election analysts, and Republicans — who controlled more state legislatures in 2012 when the current maps were approved — are favored to maintain control of the House until the next reapportionment round ahead of the 2022 congressional elections.

via Democrats introduce bill to end gerrymandering.

And there you have it.  More stats and data on this (hopefully) soon.

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The Problem and Solution of Student Loans

hat-tip story here…..

…more good reading here…

 

One thing that *REALLY* needs to be stressed in these discussions….this entire problem is mostly created by “for profit” schools.

Most of these are glorified “trade school” that someone figured out that by re-classifying themselves, and getting a couple laws passes, they could get in on that sweet, sweet, federal student loan money…which the for profit banks were more than happy to act as middle men for…loan approved, we’ll co-sign for you with the Feds…

So now we’ve kicked the private banks out of the process, but sadly still have the GOP to deal with before we can fix the situation. They are, of course, offering up a solution where interest rates can rise higher than the Dem solution (a fixed rate), which is estimated to cost those students a certain more amount of money (about $4,000,000,000 more).

I like the solution that Australia has come up with for this problem (student loans in general). What they do is offer the loans that are not tied to interest rates (fixed or otherwise), but instead tied to a person’s income. For example, when you start making $50,000/yr, you start paying back 4% of that to your loan balance. And it grades up to a high of (something like) 8% at about $75K. You pay that until the balance is done.

If you lose your new, first job and your income drops for a while, you aren’t crushed into poverty despite having a shiny new degree.

This is so much a better way to deal with the issue. It avoid the “staying in school just to stay in school” syndrome. It doesn’t punish “life circumstances” as much. It doesn’t punish “you know, this just isn’t for me” as much. And it still provides the opportunity for reward for a great many more people than would otherwise have it.

So there are better ways to deal with it. Unfortunately, as mentioned, we have the GOP. So we have to wait for them to introduce the idea. The Dems to agree to it. Obama to endorse it. The GOP to then turn against it until the last possible second, then *allow* the Dems to pass it despite their *very serious concerns* about the socialisms.

That’s how screwed up our politics are. We have a big problem, other people in the world have figured out a pretty smart solution to said problem, and we can’t go that route because GOP.

Harrumph.

Why The Super Committee Failed : An Open Response to My Representative, Jeb Hensarling

Howdy, Jeb, hope you get this.   I’m going to address this to you, personally.  The main reference point for those following along at home is this article in the Wall Street Journal, penned by Jeb Hensarling, entitled ” Why The Super Committee Failed”.

First off, Jeb, a bit of background.  I’ve been watching you folks mangle the finances of the United States for a good long while now.    Now, to be sure, you weren’t in Congress when they first passed the tax cuts in 2001, but you were there and voted for the tax cuts in 2003.  If you don’t recall, you called that bill the “Jobs and Growth Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2003”.  Over the next 5 years, it would create zero net jobs.

Unfortunately for most Americans, just because *you* call a bill something, it doesn’t mean it does that.   I’ve noticed this disturbing trend for a while now, and wanted to call your attention to it.  You seem to think if you just call a law something, that is what it will do.   It did not in this case, and I was wondering if you even knew that.  In your article, you don’t mention how you tried the same thing before and it didn’t work.

For those that don’t remember, this was the collection of  tax cuts that both lowered rates (mainly on the wealthy) and *specifically* allowed banks and hedge funds to avoid paying taxes through “qualified dividends”.

 In addition, taxes on “qualified dividends” were reduced to the capital gains levels. “Qualified dividends” includes most income from foreign corporations, real estate investment trusts, and credit union and bank “dividends” that are nominally interest.

Yes, Jeb, you are one of the who voted *for* creating these exact same huge tax loopholes.

But enough about the past, surely you can remember what you did and don’t need me to remind you that we already tried it your way, and it failed miserably.

In your article, you use the sub-head, to avoid taking any responsibility for anything.

Democrats were unwilling to agree to anything less than $1 trillion in tax hikes, and unwilling to offer meaningful reforms for health-care entitlement spending.

Ok, maybe you don’t understand this, but your were on a “DEFICIT CUTTING COMMITTEE” and, indeed, bringing in more taxes CUTS DEFICITS.   I feel almost silly having to point this out to you, but, in fact, all throughout history governments have used taxes to pay for the debts those same governments create and endorse.  When you voted to cut taxes in 2003, it raised huge deficits.  You claimed then we would naturally “grow our way out” of it.   It didn’t work like that (it can’t…we’ll get to this in a minute).   That’s *why we have this committee*.  And now you seem to be attacking the very idea of using taxes to pay for government debts.

You also complain that “[Democrats were] unwilling to offer meaningful reforms for health-care spending”.   But you already knew this was going to happen.  Your House of Representatives passed the “Ryan Plan” with absolutely no support from anyone but Republicans.   Why did you think you could force it through this committee when it had absolutely no support outside of it?

We’ll get back to that later, let’s move on a little bit further into your piece.

All now know that the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction has failed to reach an agreement. While there will still be $1.2 trillion of spending cuts as guaranteed under the Budget Control Act, we regrettably missed a historic opportunity to lift the burden of debt and help spur economic growth and job creation. Americans deserve an explanation.

I want an explanation on why you don’t understand that if you cut taxes at one point, you have to raise them back at another point, or cut services to pay for them.    And I’m not just an American here (although I am that), I’m also one of your constituents.   You are supposed to be representing me, and instead it appears you don’t understand how basic math works.

I want someone who understands math representing me.

President Obama summed up our debt crisis best when he told Republican members of the House in January 2010 that “The major driver of our long-term liabilities . . . is Medicare and Medicaid and our health-care spending.”

This is a curious technique.  You here have focused solely and completely on only one side of the balance sheet, “our long-term liabilities.”   As you may not be aware, we also have significant “long-term assets”, although again you don’t seem to be aware that these exists or how to tap into them.

 A few months later, however, Mr. Obama and his party’s leaders in Congress added trillions of dollars in new health-care spending to the government’s balance sheet.

And again, this is a lie of omission.  You correctly note that the Affordable Patient Care Act adds to the spending side of the government’s balance sheet.  You neglect to note, once again, that there exists *another side* to the balance sheet, called “revenue”, and the APACA brings in more of that than it spends.  This is why the Congressional Budget Office, CBO, indicated that it would actually cost more to repeal, as you already attempted to do.

CBO and JCT estimate that, on balance, the direct spending and revenue effects of enacting H.R. 2 would cause a net increase in federal budget deficits of $210 billion over the 2012-2021 period. By comparison, last March CBO and JCT estimated that enacting PPACA and the health-related provisions of the Reconciliation Act would reduce federal deficits by $124 billion over the 2010-2019 period.

Perhaps this is why I have such a hard time believing you, Jeb.  The CBO is calling you a liar, or at least very uninformed about the legislation you  are voting for.

Republicans offered to negotiate a plan on the other two health-care entitlements—Medicare and Medicaid—based upon the reforms included in the budget the House passed earlier this year.

The Medicare reforms would make no changes for those in or near retirement. Beginning in 2022, beneficiaries would be guaranteed a choice of Medicare-approved private health coverage options and guaranteed a premium-support payment to help pay for the plan they choose.

This is the “Ryan Plan”.  Look, Jeb, I can see why you don’t call it that, because Republicans have realized that when people know what it is, they do not like it. So, Jeb, the Republicans on the committee tried to force an end-run around Congress to end Medicaid, privatize Medicare, and cut taxes.   Unsurprisingly, this failed miserably…and it’s their fault.

Now on to something else you don’t seem to understand, how job creation works.

The Congressional Budget Office, the Medicare trustees, and the Government Accountability Office have each repeatedly said that our health-care entitlements are unsustainable. Committee Democrats offered modest adjustments to these programs, but they were far from sufficient to meet the challenge. And even their modest changes were made contingent upon a minimum of $1 trillion in higher taxes—a move sure to stifle job creation during the worst economy in recent memory.

Jeb, really…you passed a “Jobs Cuts Creates Jobs” bill back in 2003.   It didn’t create any net jobs.   And now you are claiming, again in the face of history, that raising taxes can’t ever work to stabilize an economy, and can’t be a harbinger of job growth as a result of that stabilization.

And again, need I remind you, Jeb…you were on a “deficit cutting committee”.  Raising taxes cuts deficits.   Or…does that last sentence not make sense to you?   I understand you have taken a pledge to a lobbyist group to never raise taxes in return for election support, but does that lobbyist money really change your perception of reality so completely?

Here’s why I ask that.   You claimed, at certain points in the debate, to be open to raising revenues…[from an older interview]

[Jeb] continued: “We put a half a trillion dollars of revenues on the table. Some of that fees. But 250 [billion] of it is what most people call static tax revenue. But that is in the context, Candy, of bringing down marginal rates — fundamental tax reform to make the tax code fairer, simpler, more competitive to create jobs.”

“But it’s something Democrats have rejected, as you know, it’s not enough, that it’s just a token amount,” Crowley noted.

“Well, first, Candy, I hope I’m never in Washington to where I consider $250 billion the American people’s money to be a token.” Hensarling explained. “Republicans, we want more revenues, we just want to raise it by growing the economy.”

But now I get to see what it was you called “new revenues”. [from this latest article]

Republicans were willing to agree to additional tax revenue, but only in the context of fundamental pro-growth tax reform that would broaden the base, lower rates, and maintain current levels of progressivity. This is the approach to tax reform used by recent bipartisan deficit reduction efforts such as the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission and the Rivlin-Domenici plan.

Does everyone understand what Jeb is saying here?   Jeb, I’ve shown rather conclusively that the math doesn’t work like this, even in theory.   I’ve also shown, again using real world numbers, how this “tax cuts pay for themselves” thing simply DOES NOT WORK.   It didn’t work over the last decade, while you were on the inside.   That you are so close to this, and still cannot see it, makes me seriously question your perception of reality, or your honestly in conveying it to your constituents.  Or perhaps you are simply being paid too much not to see it.

Finally, Jeb, we see that a bit part of the problem was that you didn’t understand the problem.

Unfortunately, the committee’s challenge was made more difficult by President Obama. Since the committee was formed, he has demanded more stimulus spending [1] and issued a veto threat against any proposed committee solution to the spending problem [2] that was not coupled with a massive tax increase.

1] This is a reference to the President’s jobs bill.  Part of which already passed.  Stop complaining about things you support and called for in this same article only because someone else does them, Jeb, it makes you look petty.

2]  You were on a deficit cutting committee.  The deficit is the difference between revenue and spending.  That you focused only on spending and refused to entertain realistic notions of how government revenue is raised (hint: natural growth from “stimulative” low rates can’t work…see: math), makes it obvious why you failed so hard…you simply do not understand the totality of the actual problem.

Finally, your responsibility avoiding conclusion…

Ultimately, the committee did not succeed because we could not bridge the gap between two dramatically competing visions of the role government should play in a free society, the proper purpose and design of the social safety net, and the fundamentals of job creation and economic growth.

I think it’s that last one where you personally failed so hard, Jeb.  You don’t understand seem to understand how basic math works, and build your policy positions of those misconceptions.   You haven’t read your history, and instead just repeat the same tired talking points.    You don’t understand that we tried the exact same thing you are advocating now, and it led to economic collapse.

At the very least, you could take some modicum of responsibility for you own failure.  At the very least.

UPDATE: Finale….I didn’t realize I missed your second-to-last paragraph.   This is probably a better reason why the committee failed…you thought, all along,  you could simply undo the results of that failure by playing the fear card again.

A great opportunity has been missed, but America’s fate will not be sealed by the failure of a temporary congressional committee. Spending cuts will begin anyway in 2013, but in a manner many of us, including our secretary of defense, believe could fundamentally harm our national security. I am committed to ensuring that full deficit reduction is realized, but Congress must work to achieve these savings in a more sensible manner that does not make us less safe.

Jeb…this is completely untruthful.  The entire impetus for your committee was to avoid these cuts by making a deal.  Now you’ve refused to make a deal, and want to go back on the cuts that were supposed to encourage you to make a deal.   Now you call those same cuts a threat to national security…but they weren’t enough of a threat while you were  on the committee to raise taxes to pay for the tax cuts, and wars we’ve had going on the last decade?

This is just so….two-faced, Jeb.  It’s no wonder you have such low approval, one has to be a complete fool to take what you say at face value.   You always thought you could wiggle out of the “trigger” on the committee, which is why you took a hard line, refused to compromise, and failed so completely.   At least your whole plan is clear now.    As a voter, that’s important to me.    Hopefully my follow Texans, and residents of the 5th district, feel the same in 2012.

Grab Bag of Political Link Dumpings

Just a few things to get off the desktop here…organized by order of randomness…

How “For Profit” Colleges cost us all a lot of money.   I hate it when good things (higher education) get exploited for money in the wrong way.   Continuing professional education should be a means to an end (expanding skillsets leading to making more money/job satisfaction) not used as that end in and of itself.

The Reality of the last Congress.

The Big Lie that killed it.

Glenn’s attempt at the Big Lie on Net Neutrality….only partially successful.   I’ll probably do more on this after more details and analysis come out.  I am a big proponent of net neutrality.  The real kind, not the bastardized concept bouncing around the RWEC.

Fox News gives in, tells the truth, and now 9/11 Responders get federal help.   Note: Shep Smith had a previous rant about this subject that followed my guidelines in How to Make Government Look Really Bad (and Win) to the letter.   Now if we could only get Fox to stop lying about climate change we’d be that much closer to having a functioning democracy again.

 —

EU is getting sick of Israeli shennangans.  I think pretty much everyone is.   When they have the gall to blame any third party for the breakdown of peace negotiations when they pull this settlement bait and switch is somewhat galling.    Still, giving the recent string of Obama victories, maybe this SNL skit (re:Hillary) might turn out right (personally I think low expectations of a real deal increases their chances dramatically in this clusterfark).  

There will simply not be enough lawns to get off of.   I take a certain bit of guilty pleasure in reading that article.  I’ve long held that Boomers are one of the most spoiled, entitled and ultimately disastrous generations to have cursed this nation.  And now they get to start reaping their harvest.   And by “they” I meant “we”.

The grim results arrive before next month’s milestone, when the oldest baby boomers will turn 65. America’s baby boomer generation of 79 million people adds up to a little more than a quarter of the U.S. population, the center reports.

Over the next 19 years, about 10,000 people will turn 65 each day, the survey reports, resulting in a grayer America by 2030. By that year, 18% of the nation’s population will be over the age of 65, compared with 13% now.

 I just hope they come up with a good Alzheimer’s drug before the Tea Party really takes off .   I think there’s a roughly 50% chance the nation as we know it survives the Boomers.   Seriously.   By 2030 the U.S. will be 25% Young, Poor, and Hispanic and 18% Old, Rich and Racist.  If that doesn’t tear it apart, nothing will.

Why the Failout Failed (at least on Blackish Monday)

Welcome to Fail Street

Welcome to Fail Street

FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right: Swing District Congressmen Doomed Bailout.

[via Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com]

This was predictable, I suppose, but it’s remarkable to see how strong a relationship there is between today’s failed vote on the bailout and the competitive nature of different House races.

Among 38 incumbent congressmen in races rated as “toss-up” or “lean” by Swing State Project, just 8 voted for the bailout as opposed to 30 against: a batting average of .211.

By comparison, the vote among congressmen who don’t have as much to worry about was essentially even: 197 for, 198 against.

They also added this tidbit from a reader comment.  This is the one that cinches it for me.

UPDATE: A helpful reader named Matt Glassman passed along the fact that, among 26 congressmen NOT running for re-election (almost all of whom are Republicans), 23 voted in favor of the bill, as opposed to 2 against and one abstaining.

And so we see how polling and an election year and a huge financial emergency all come together to crash against the rocks of reality.

What we are left with then, is an electorate fairly split about a bailout package…that most who know how the system works would like to see implemented…and those that have no idea about oppose on general principles.  The fact that it wasn’t passed today led to this….

The day started with silence — the iconic opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange failed to sound — and things just got worse from there, ending in the single biggest one-day point loss in history. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 777.68 to close at 10,365.45. The previous biggest point drop came on Sept. 17, 2001, the first day the market reopened after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A jittery stock market spent all morning in negative territory as investors worried about the $700 [billion bailout].

[full story]

This is becauase most of these people know what’s going to happen when banks don’t have any money to lend.  We are now seeing the disease spread, and this kind of stuff *REALLY* affects people who hope to retire….soon.

It’s not that bad for people like me who are 30+ years from retirement.  Those, however, currently in the 2-5 year window (read: 40+ million Baby Boomers) don’t have that option.   They get to decide…soon…what to do.

My simple prediction?  They will sell out and the stock market will continue to stagnate.  It has been hugely propped up by this retirement money, and now that people are going to actually pull it out of the market, put it someplace *much* safer (like a bank…ha!) and use it to live, the amount of capital in the stock market is going to tumble….which adversely affects the price of everything else.

I’ve been predicting this general trend for a while now, based mainly on the demographic shift we are seeing as a country.   The whole “U.S. Economic Collapse” thing has been predicted by history, which dictates that large empires running expensive un-ending wars halfway around the world tend to collapse….every, single, time.

The fact that it is our democracy itself (in the form of election-year politics) which is freezing our government when it needs to act is the icing on the crap-cake we will all soon be swallowing.   The irony would be delicious…if it wasn’t for the fact that it smells, tastes, and nourishes….like shit.

UPDATE: In what can only be called par for the course…the McCain Campaign accepted credit for passage of the measure.

“Sen. McCain knew time was short and he came back, he listened and he helped put together the framework of getting everybody to the table, which was necessary to produce a package to avoid a financial catastrophe for this country.” 

On Monday morning, McCain campaign communications director Jill Hazelbaker said on Fox News that the deal would not have happened “without Sen. McCain.” 

“Sen. McCain interrupted his campaign, suspended his campaign activity to come back to Washington to get Republicans around a table,” Hazelbaker said. “Without Sen. McCain, House Republicans would not have appointed a negotiator, which would not have moved this bill forward. 

“It’s really Sen. McCain who got all parties around a table to hammer out a deal that hopefully is in the best interests of the American taxpayer.” 

[full b.s.]

BTW, in addition to the alternate breakdown that started this post (i.e. Politicians facing re-election or Not) one can alsobreak down the vote by party lines.  Democrats 140-95 (~60% Yea) and Republics 65-133 (~33% Yea).

So that claim of “suspend[ing] his campaign activity to come back to Washington to get Republicans around a table” was not only total b.s., it was a total failure of leadership.

UPDATE2: The next step…

Democratic and Republican leaders alike pledged to try again, though the Democrats said GOP lawmakers needed to provide more votes. Bush huddled with his economic advisers about a next step. The House was to reconvene on Thursday instead of adjourning for the year as planned.

[full article]

Umm, Thursday?!?  They do realize the DJIA is going to be at about 9,000 by then, right?  [hmmm…second thought…I’ll say 9,500.]

By then I think the Panic of the People will have set in and the Bailout will get about 90% support and everyone will claim credit…including your and/or your employer’s bank.  😉

Drill, Baby, Drill!!!

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House, responding to growing public demand for more domestic energy, voted Wednesday to end a quarter-century ban on oil and natural gas drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, giving Republicans a major victory on energy policy.

An extension of the ban for another year was left off a $630 billion-plus stopgap government spending bill that President Bush had threatened to veto – possibly shutting down the government – if the anti-drilling measure were included.

The bill was approved 370-58 and now goes to the Senate, where it is likely to be approved within the next few days, also without the drilling ban.

WWL – AM870 • FM105.3 | News • Talk • Sports | OnDemand@1350 – AP – content.

My guess is that if Obama is elected, we’ll probably see a bit of a drawback on thiis one.  If McCain/Plain are elected, it will be expanded.

Opening up drilling doesn’t do much for now, but might help a tiny bit in the future.  If we structure the deals right, we could make some money, but without real pressure, expect to get raped like we were before.

WASHINGTON — As Congress prepares to debate expansion of drilling in taxpayer-owned coastal waters, the Interior Department agency that collects oil and gas royalties has been caught up in a wide-ranging ethics scandal — including allegations of financial self-dealing, accepting gifts from energy companies, cocaine use and sexual misconduct.

[full story]

What this group did was collect money on the oil and gas we are already letting be “drill, baby, drilled”.  This office was rife with corruption as the profits involved in the gas business, and the payments tied to them, have skyrocketed in recent years.  What Big Oil realized was that by boozing and blowing certain humans that represented the government, they could avoid paying any extra taxes on those record profits.

This was one of the tactics in their strategy to maximize shareholder value.  And is something that would be multiplied a couple-fold by allowing more drilling (it’s really not going to change the equation that much).

Anecdotal Idiocy and Your Government

Calling all fliers: Hang up your cell – The Denver Post

WASHINTON — Cellphone calls on airplanes in flight are unsafe and obnoxious and should be banned permanently, according to some members of Congress.

House members, most of whom board airplanes almost every week, traded horror stories July 31 about their worst experiences with annoying fellow passengers who talk loudly on cellphones before takeoff and after landing. One lawmaker said his wife sat next to a woman who loudly discussed her sex life on the phone.

Another House member topped that with the passenger sitting him behind on one flight who got a “dear John” phone call from either his wife or sweetheart just before takeoff. The begging and pleading was just terrible to listen to, he said. Finally, with the plane ready to take off, a flight attendant had to threaten to have U.S. marshals drag the man off the plane before he finally put his phone away.

Wait a second…a flight attendant threatened a passenger with an arrest by a federal officer…and this is an argument for more phone laws?

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