Friday, April 19, 2013

Lindsey Graham

From David A. Graham at The Atlantic:
Senator Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, sent these two fascinating tweets this afternoon:
This is pretty breathtaking. Graham (no relation) is suggesting that an American citizen, captured on American soil, should be deprived of basic constitutional rights

Keep in mind that Graham isn't just an angry citizen; he's not even just a U.S. senator. He is also a trained lawyer, a colonel in Air Force Reserve, and a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the legal arm of the Air Force.
In fairness, the senator is consistent. "It has been the law of the United States for decades that an American citizen on our soil who collaborates with the enemy has committed an act of war and will be held under the law of war, not domestic criminal law," he said in 2011. But that was in the context of Americans collaborating with al-Qaeda, a link that hasn't been drawn here. 
Crooks & Liars reports a later tweet:
Is he seriously suggesting that the Administration should be spending time contemplating whether to micromanage the police on the scene concerning Miranda rights?

A later tweety reponse to Graham:
Personally, I can think of no bigger F-up that the police could do than fail to "Mirandize" the "second bomber." Luckily for us all, the Watertown and Boston Police and the FBI are professionals and – unlike Lindsey Graham – know what they're doing. I'd be shocked if the guy was out of the boat before he got his rights read to him.

Lindsey Graham is considered a Very Serious Person by the Meet the Press crowd.


Okay, so I'm a dumb-ass. I've never claimed differently. From the Friday night NY Times:
A federal law enforcement official said he would not be read his Miranda rights, because the authorities would be invoking the public safety exception in order to question him extensively about other potential explosive devices or accomplices and to try to gain intelligence.
I'm so embarrassed.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Pope Francis: More of the Same

Tom Kingston in the LATimes, in an article headlined Pope Francis reaffirms crackdown on U.S. nuns:
The Vatican said in a statement Monday that Francis had reaffirmed the doctrinal evaluation and criticism of U.S. nuns made last year by the Holy See under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI. The assessment accused the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization that represents most U.S. female Catholic orders, of promoting “radical feminist themes” and ignoring the Vatican’s hard line on same-sex marriage and abortion.
At the time, the Vatican dispatched an archbishop to rewrite the group’s statutes and set up reeducation programs to bring nuns back into line, alleging that leaders of U.S. orders had challenged the church’s teachings on women’s ordination and ministry to homosexuals.
The move was denounced by Pat Farrell, then the head of the organization, as creating “pain and scandal.” Protest vigils were held outside churches, and a petition attacking the Vatican’s decision attracted 50,000 signatures.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious represents about 57,000 sisters, or 80% of U.S. nuns.
Ed Kilgore has it right:
There’s no reason for anyone to attack Francis for “backsliding” or “hypocrisy.” Behaving more like a servant than a monarch during the early stages of his reign, and even taking seriously challenges like Vatican reform or the child abuse scandal, never for a moment meant this Pope was going to abandon teachings and disciplinary actions systematically entrenched by his two predecessors over decades. Had that been a real possibility, he would have never been elected in the first place.
It was fun for a couple of weeks, though, to think maybe, just maybe ....

Recommended Reading

Two very interesting articles in tomorrow's NY Times:

• Pat Summerall's Obituary

Some bits:
On a December afternoon in 1958, Summerall kicked a 49-yard field goal in a snowstorm at Yankee Stadium to give the Giants a 13-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns and send the teams to a playoff for the Eastern Conference title. The Giants beat the Browns again the next Sunday, then played in the first of three National Football League championship games in Summerall’s years with them.


He was born with a right leg twisted backward. A doctor, trying a novel procedure, fractured the leg, turned it around and then reset it when he was an infant. The doctor thought the child might always walk with a limp and doubted he could play sports.
Summerall’s parents had separated before he was born. When he was 3, his mother no longer wished to care for him, and he was raised by an aunt, an uncle and a grandmother, who inspired him to pursue sports.
 • InsideClimate News won the Pulitzer Prize for national journalism.

But they don't have an office. Or, for that matter, a publication. They have a web site, which has been added to Sempringham's daily reads.

Musical Interlude - Duck and Goose

Duck and Goose is a local Chicago group – if two people can make a group. I did some photos at one of their performances a few years ago, and was really impressed with them. This is a new song (to me, at least) called Mother Mary.

I guess I need to warn you: it is of a genre which I suppose might be called Christian folk. Not something I listen to a lot, but me like pretty music wherever it is. So if you're constitutionally unable to enjoy modern "Christian" music, move on along.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Rand Paul, Presidential Candidate

Here's a link to Jon Stewart on Rand Paul's trip to Howard University. Covers the major points well, especially the "craven" one.

Sequester Update

Ezra Klein in the Washington Post:
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that the sequester has been a bust. Republicans, in particular, have convinced themselves it was all a ruse. But the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which is implementing sequestration, sees it differently. The small number of cuts that have already happened, including White House tours, have provoked an outsized level of political outrage. But the cuts mostly haven’t begun.
They begin rolling out in earnest this month. Unemployment checks for people who’ve been without a job for more than 26 weeks are about to get cut by 11 percent. Military contracts are about to get canceled. Medicare patients are being turned away from cancer clinics. Schools will lay off teachers. Infrastructure projects will stop. There will be much more demand for a compromise than there is now. There will be much more political anger than there is now.
 The whole post is about Obama's budget strategy.
Republicans are, at this point, out of excuses. They can’t say the president isn’t reaching out to them. They can’t say he’s not willing to make painful concessions — or, to rephrase, they can say that, but given all the on-the-record quotes of Republican leaders demanding the White House accept means-testing Medicare and chained-CPI, no one will take them seriously. The White House is calling their bluff.
Paul Krugman is not optimistic:
Since the beginning, the Obama administration has seemed eager to gain the approval of the grownups — the sensible people who will reward efforts to be Serious, and eventually turn on those nasty, intransigent Republicans as long as Obama and co. don’t cater too much to the hippies.This is the latest, biggest version of that strategy. Unfortunately, it will almost surely fail. Why? Because there are no grownups — only people who try to sound like grownups, but are actually every bit as childish as anyone else.
After all, if whoever it is that Obama is trying to appeal to here — I guess it’s the Washington Post editorial page and various other self-proclaimed “centrist” pundits — were willing to admit the fundamental asymmetry in our political debate, willing to admit that if DC is broken, it’s because of GOP radicalism, they would have done it long ago. It’s not as if this reality was hard to see.
But the truth is that the “centrists” aren’t sincere. Calls for centrism and bipartisanship aren’t actual demands for specific policies — they’re an act, a posture these people take to make themselves seem noble and superior. And that posture requires blaming both parties equally, no matter what they do or propose. [My emphasis. -S] Obama’s budget will garner faint praise at best, quickly followed by denunciations of the president for not supplying the Leadership (TM) to make Republicans compromise — which means that he’s just as much at fault as they are, see?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Can't Blame a Full Moon for This

Last night was the New Moon, so we're about as far from a full moon as we can get. So how to explain this?

• Ann Coulter jokingly suggests that John McCain's daughter, Meghan, be killed.  Incidentally, contrary to her statement, Martin Bashir did not suggest killing the children of Republican politicians. But it made a good lead-in to her joke, so what the heck.

• Glenn Beck thinks we're headed for an Obama monarchy, and the 2nd Amendment is the best way to prevent beheading of his subjects. If, that is, you can actually use "thinks" as a verb for Glenn Beck.

• James Imhofe, an actual U.S. Senator from a state that was actually admitted to the Union, said that "Al Gore and the United Nations get most of the blame for what he called a global warming 'hoax,' but filmmaker Michael Moore and billionaire George Soros deserved some credit too."


Monday, April 08, 2013

The Chained CPI

President Obama has made a budget offer to the Republicans that includes adoption of the so-called "Chained" Consumer Price Index (CPI) for computing the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for Social Security benefits. The universally accepted judgment is that adopting the Chained CPI would reduce Social Security benefits, so there's been an uproar from some progressives and from the American Association of Retired Persons.

 I'd like to explain why I don't think the uproar is warranted on this issue.  But first, a little background.

Social Security beneficiaries have not always received an annual COLA. In fact, the first COLA was a one-time thing in 1950 – ten years after the first checks were paid – but it was a whopper, relatively speaking. Ida Mae Fuller, the representative "first person to receive a Social Security check," saw her monthly check increase from the $22.54 it had been since 1940 to $41.30.

For the next 25 years, every Social Security COLA required a separate legislative action. There were COLA's in 1952, 1954, 1959, 1965, 1968, 1970, and 1971. In 1972 Congress passed legislation that provided for annual COLA's beginning in 1975, providing the CPI-W (explained below) had risen by a specified percentage. In 2009 and 2010 there were no COLA's because there was essentially no inflation, and the triggering percentage had not been reached.

How does the Chained CPI differ from the current way of computing the annual COLA for Social Security benefits? Why would it reduce benefits, and by how much?

Peter Orzag, former director of the Congressional Budget Office and Obama's first director of the Office of Management and Budget has some answers for us.
Once an American begins to claim Social Security benefits, his monthly checks increase each year in line with a consumer price index called the CPI-W (the “W” is there because the index was created to measure inflation for workers). The federal tax code, for its part, is indexed to a related measure, the CPI-U, which is the inflation measure that receives the most attention each month.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, which calculates both indexes, also publishes the chained CPI, which is a more accurate measure of inflation [in Orzag's opinion - ed.] because it better reflects how people change what they buy in response to price increases. When the price of apples rises relative to oranges, for instance, people eat more oranges, and the chained CPI accounts for this substitution, reducing the measured inflation rate. [It can easily be argued that this makes the chained CPI a less accurate measure of inflation, as people substitute sawdust for wheat flour, but that's not the point of this post. -ed.]
The result is that the chained CPI rises more slowly than either the CPI-W or the CPI-U. Switching to the chained index would therefore cause Social Security checks to grow more slowly. And if the Internal Revenue Service switched to the chained CPI as well, the cutoff lines for tax brackets would rise more slowly, pushing more Americans into higher marginal tax brackets and thereby raising revenue.
How big of a difference is there between the CPI-W and the chained CPI?
Official budget estimates suggest that switching to the chained CPI would save the federal government about $125 billion on Social Security benefits and about $40 billion in other indexed benefits (such as federal civilian and military pension payments) over the next decade, and raise about $125 billion more in tax revenue. It would also save about $30 billion in health programs and nearly $20 billion in refundable tax credits. That adds up to total deficit reduction of about $340 billion. The Social Security actuaries suggest that it would also reduce the 75-year actuarial gap in the program by about 20 percent.
But "Social Security benefits even 20 years after retirement would be reduced by less than 2 percent." [My emphasis.]
What neither side seems to have noticed, however, is that the difference between the chained CPI and the standard CPI has been diminishing. That means the impact of switching indexes may not be as great as many assume. The change may still be a good idea, but it probably won’t matter as much as expected.
The current method of computing the annual COLA was not handed down to us on stone tablets. In fact, it's a wonderful thing that we have COLA's at all; as we have seen, it was not always so. It's best that we not become unstuck from the reality-based world, as did some who bemoaned the lack of a "raise" in their Social Security in 2009 and 2010.

In a post last month I liked a NY Times proposal that Congress instruct the Bureau of Labor Statistics to construct a "statistically rigorous index of inflation among retirees." That seems fine to me. Make it statistically rigorous, then let the chips fall where they may.

Until then, I will not get exercised about a change that reduces benefits by 2% over 20 years. There are bigger battles to fight.

A good commentary from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities here.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Musical Interlude

Say, where you gonna go
Girl, where you gonna hide
You go on leavin' out your heart
And all it's sayin' down deep inside
I can feel your heartbeat
Oh, you got me all wrong
You ain't got no worry
You been lonely too long
I know what it means to hide your heart
From a long time ago
Oh, darlin'

It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'

Oh, I know how you feel
Girl, you know I been there
But what you're keepin' to yourself
Oh, you know it just ain't fair
Are you gonna worry
For the rest of your life
Why you in such a hurry
To be lonely one more night
I know what it means to hide your heart
From a long time ago
Oh, darlin'

It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'
It keeps you runnin', yeah it keeps you runnin'

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Roger Ebert (1942-2013)

Back in the late 50's or early 60's, my father sent a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, who was reading billboards calling for his impeachment, wishing him a happy birthday. I don't know if my father was surprised by it, but Warren wrote him back, thanking him for the unusual gesture. Writing thank you notes is a discipline learned by well-reared people.

Roger Ebert was one of several people who I wish I had written to at least once. Something along the lines of, "Nothing to say really, except maybe thanks for living the life you have lived."

Just yesterday the newpaper told us his cancer had returned, and he had taken a "leave of presence" from his column. Today we learned that he died within 24 hours. That's staying in the fight until the end, in my book.

One of the things Roger Ebert liked to do was enter the New Yorker's cartoon caption contest. The New Yorker gives you the cartoon, you provide a caption. The following week the magazine prints what it thinks are the three best entries, and the third week announces a winner.

Ebert was very frustrated about not winning for a very long time. Then finally he did, with this:

I chortled for a full minute over this one, an Ebert entry that did not win:

The New Yorker celebrated his winning entry with an article and more examples of his entries. I guarantee laughs there.

Not much else to say, really, except maybe thanks, Roger, for living the life you lived.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Where All These Wackos Are Coming From

Talking Points Memo has gathered for you the last 16 covers of America's First Freedom, one of the magazine options that National Rifle Association members are offered.

If you've heard a Tea Partier spewing forth venom and wondered, "Where is he/she getting this sick, twisted version of reality?", here's your answer.