Archive for June, 2011

The march of folly toward government default

Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Maury Harris, chief U.S. economist for UBS Investment Bank, and Drew T. Matus, senior U.S. economist, UBS Investment Bank, walk us through the likely consequences of a government default:

“Even a temporary default would eliminate the safe and liquid nature of the U.S. Treasury market, harming this country’s ability to exercise its power, to the detriment of the U.S. and the global economy….

The impact of a U.S. Treasury default could make us nostalgic for the market conditions that existed immediately after the failure of Lehman Brothers…. it would not simply be a question of whether Treasury investors would get their money; eventually they would. It would be a question of whether the U.S. would lose something that made it special. The answer would be yes and the consequences for U.S. growth could be significant.”

For those who have forgotten, when Harris and Matus warn that the chaos of default could make us nostalgic for the post-Lehman …

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Ga. 400 trickery takes toll on gov’t credibility

Given modern cynicism regarding politicians, it’s nice to see that at least one promise to the voters is being kept.

With construction bonds paid off, the 50-cent toll on Ga. 400 is scheduled to end at 8 this evening, just as our leaders had promised us more than 20 years ago when they sought public support for the project.

No more worrying about your Cruise Card account. No more digging 50 cents out of your pocket as you pull up to the toll booth. The freedom of the American road is being restored, just as promised.

For a week anyway.

At 8 p.m. July 1, the 50-cent toll will be reintroduced and will stay on for another 10 years to finance another set of projects. As former Gov. Sonny Perdue explained last year after arranging the scheme, it will be a “new toll,” as opposed to the now-expiring toll.

Nobody’s fooled, of course. In fact, the week-long suspension threatens to confirm the belief of many voters that a deal isn’t really a deal, and that government isn’t …

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GOP leaders put pedal to the metal and steer for the cliff

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House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has suddenly abandoned deficit-reduction talks with the White House, an example that the other Republican negotiator, Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, quickly followed.

As National Journal reports:

“The new GOP position appears to be that they will not negotiate any further until Democrats take tax increases off the table. That stance seems to reflect their assessment that there are not the votes in the House to pass any deal that includes tax increases.

Cantor announced suddenly on Thursday that he would not be attending the scheduled afternoon meeting of the bipartisan deficit-reduction leadership group headed by Vice President Joe Biden, declaring tax issues an obstacle that President Obama needs to help resolve and that he believes it is time for the negotiations to move to a higher level. “Given this impasse, I will not be participating in today’s meeting and I believe it is time for the president to speak clearly and resolve the tax issue. …

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Gingrich a performance artist, not a politician

Last month, Newt Gingrich tried to explain that his presidential campaign must be understood as something different, in fact as the kind of campaign that the American people hadn’t seen in a long, long time.

“It’s going to take a while for the news media to realize that you’re covering something that happens once or twice in a century,” he warned us in a campaign swing in Iowa.

As a student of politics, I was intrigued by that claim. I started thinking back over the past century or so, trying to identify the historical antecedents of the Gingrich 2012 campaign. And I think I’ve finally found it:

Pat Paulsen for president, 1968.

The timing is certainly right. In 1968, Gingrich would have been an ambitious young man of 25, scanning the political landscape for a role model. The evidence is overwhelming that he found that model in Paulsen.

Paulsen, for example, used to describe himself on the campaign trail as “just a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.” Can …

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Obama plays it safe with Afghan withdrawal schedule

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In his speech this evening, President Obama is expected to announce the withdrawal of 10,000 American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year, a step that would still leave almost 90,000 U.S. military personnel in that country.

And while that pace of withdrawal is more rapid than many military leaders would prefer, it is also much slower than public opinion demands. According to a new Pew poll, 56 percent of Americans now want our troops out of Afghanistan as soon as possible, up sharply from 40 percent just a year ago.

That rapid change of heart can be attributed to a range of factors. We’ve been in Afghanistan for almost 10 years now, with relatively little to show for it except for the death of Osama bin Laden. And with bin Laden now removed from the scene, the official rationale for staying seems much less convincing. In the Pew poll, for example, only 38 percent of Americans believed it likely that we would be able to leave behind a stable Afghan government, and …

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So far, probationers don’t cotton to farm life

How’s it going down on the farm?

The Associated Press reports:

The first batch of probationers started work last week at a farm owned by Dick Minor, president of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association. In the coming days, more farmers could join the program.

So far, the experiment at Minor’s farm is yielding mixed results. On the first two days, all the probationers quit by mid-afternoon, said Mendez, one of two crew leaders at Minor’s farm.

“Those guys out here weren’t out there 30 minutes and they got the bucket and just threw them in the air and say, ‘Bonk this, I ain’t with this, I can’t do this,’” said Jermond Powell, a 33-year-old probationer. “They just left, took off across the field walking.”

Mendez put the probationers to the test last Wednesday, assigning them to fill one truck and a Latino crew to a second truck. The Latinos picked six truckloads of cucumbers compared to one truckload and four bins for the probationers.

Just as …

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From ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ to ‘Don’t make me repeat this’

Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Micheal P. Barrett addresses Marines in Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Sgt. Major of the Marine Corps Michael P. Barrett addresses Marines in Okinawa, Japan. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

As military veterans will tell you, the services are run not by the officers but by the senior noncoms, the E-8s and E-9s who set the tone, enforce discipline and get things done. (Right, Dad?) Even most officers, if they’re smart, will defer behind the scenes to their senior enlisted personnel.

Michael Barrett, for example, is command sergeant major of the U.S. Marine Corps, the service’s top non-commissioned officer. Judging from the photograph to the right, Barrett is a man able to grab and hold the attention of anyone within a hundred yards of his voice. And as the Wall Street Journal reports, he has a message that he’s trying to drive home to his fellow Marines:

“Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution is pretty simple,” he told a group of Marines at a base in South Korea. “It says, ‘Raise an army.’ It says absolutely nothing about race, color, …

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Cut taxes to create jobs? We’ve tried it and tried it

According to conservatives, the Obama stimulus package passed in early 2009 hasn’t worked, and it’s time to try something else. Every single Republican candidate for president believes that the “something else” in question ought to be tax cuts.

We all familiar with the mantra by now: Tax cuts create millions of jobs. Tax cuts boost the economy. Tax cuts increase government revenue. Tax cuts cure cancer, and if global warming were real, tax cuts could probably cure that too. All we need to do is remove government from our wallets, and the recovery would bloom.

However, there’s a serious problem with that analysis — well, more than one, really, but let’s just deal with them one at a time for the moment. You see, economists agree that the most accurate way to measure a nation’s tax burden is to look at federal revenue as a percentage of the nation’s gross domestic product. That number tells you how much of the nation’s economic output is being siphoned off to finance government …

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Most voters would back Mormon or gay, but not an atheist

In a new Gallup poll, 22 percent of Americans say they would not vote for a “generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be Mormon.”

That’s the same number since Gallup began asking the question back in 1967, when George Romney, father of Mitt, was running for president. However, as Gallup notes, 25 percent of Americans in 1959 said they wouldn’t vote for a Catholic, and one year later John Kennedy was elected president.

A few other tidbits:

– Democrats (27 percent) were more likely than Republicans (18 percent) to reject a Mormon candidate.

– Two-thirds of Americans said they would support a well-qualified presidential candidate who happened to be gay, compared to only 26 percent in 1978.

– Eighty-nine percent said they would support a Jewish candidate. Again, it’s interesting to track that historically. Before World War II and the terrors of the Holocaust (1937), only 46 percent would support a Jew for president. By 1958, it had risen to 62 percent, and by …

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Ethical expectations in Georgia much too low

NOTE: This post includes material published on this blog earlier. It is posted here as the electronic version of today’s AJC column.

The implications of an internal memo written last week by Stacey Kalberman, the state’s top ethics-enforcement official, are potentially explosive.

“I do not believe it to be a coincidence that your increased concern with the budget coincides with my staff’s preparation and delivery to you for your signature the subpoenas related to the ongoing [Gov.] Nathan Deal investigation,” Kalberman wrote to commission chairman Patrick Millsaps. “As you know, these subpoenas have been reviewed and approved for legal sufficiency by the attorney general’s office. Your stated concern is that we do not have the budget for this investigation. However, the costs have already been paid. Staff time is built into the budget, and in my opinion we have sufficient resources going forward. In addition, the FBI has offered at no cost its forensic accountant to assist …

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