Archive for December, 2011

The world loses one great man, then rids itself of a tyrant

Have we even seen a day in which we learned two men of such great political stature — stature, that is, which they obtained for diametrically opposite reasons — died, unrelatedly, as we did yesterday? (Note: This has been edited to reflect the updated information that, although we learned of Kim Jong Il’s death Sunday, he actually died Saturday.)

First came the news about Vaclav Havel, the great Czech playwright-turned-political activist who led the completely peaceful overthrow of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime in 1989. From the New York Times’ obituary:

A shy yet resilient, unfailingly polite but dogged man who articulated the power of the powerless, Mr. Havel spent five years in and out of Communist prisons, lived for two decades under close secret-police surveillance and endured the suppression of his plays and essays. He served 14 years as president, wrote 19 plays, inspired a film and a rap song and remained one of his generation’s most seductively nonconformist …

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HOT lanes reversal reflects lack of vision, leadership for transportation in Georgia

If there’s one thing I’m sick of hearing, it’s that metro Atlanta and Georgia have no “plan B” for transportation. That’s because, increasingly, there’s no “plan A,” either.

The latest example is the Department of Transportation’s decision this past week to abort the optional toll lanes on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee.

Some 200,000 commuters travel that corridor daily. The stretch of 75 between the 575 split and the top-end perimeter is one of the most congested highways in metro Atlanta. Yet, here’s what those commuters will have to show for years of DOT planning for toll lanes and the politicized exercise of drafting a project list for next year’s transportation tax referendum:

Jack. And squat.

A real plan for the corridor — and most of what I’m about to say also applies to other parts of the metro area — would:

a) Recognize there is neither the land nor the money available for building highway lanes ad infinitum, and that new general-purpose …

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SEC accuses ex-execs at Fannie, Freddie with understating subprime exposure by tens of billions of dollars

The role of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the subprime lending crisis will be fleshed out in court thanks to lawsuits filed today against former executives of the quasi-governmental agencies. Bloomberg has the basic facts about the suits:

Daniel Mudd, the former chief executive officer of Fannie Mae, and Richard Syron, ex-CEO of Freddie Mac, were sued by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for understating by hundreds of billions of dollars the subprime loans held by the agencies. …

In the lawsuits, the SEC said Syron, Mudd and others understated the lenders’ exposure to subprime mortgage loans. From 2007 to 2008, Freddie Mac executives said the company’s exposure was between $2 billion and $6 billion when it was actually as high as $244 billion, according to one SEC complaint. From 2006 to 2008, Washington-based Fannie Mae executives said the firm’s exposure to subprime mortgage and reduced documentation loans was about $4.8 billion when it was nearly 10 times …

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Poll Position: Was the war in Iraq worthwhile?

Yesterday, more than eight and a half years after it began, our war in Iraq officially ended. The debate about the war’s merit may rage for the rest of our lives.

Was the war in Iraq worthwhile?

  • No (389 Votes)
  • It’s too soon to say (58 Votes)
  • Yes (45 Votes)

Total Voters: 492

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You know the costs well: the loss of almost 4,500 American lives and tens of thousands of Iraqis in the face of a brutal insurgency; thousands upon thousands more who were wounded; $800 billion spent; bitter divides at home and some chilled relations abroad.

But the gains are significant, too: the overthrow of the tyrannical Saddam Hussein and the meting of justice by Iraqis; the birth of a functioning, if messy (and durable, one hopes) democracy in the heart of the Middle East; a union of disparate ethnicities once thought to be irreconcilable to one another.

The costs certainly are permanent. Only time will tell whether the gains are lasting, as well.

As things stand today, …

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In payroll-tax debate, both parties rush to abandon principles

The debate in Washington about extending the payroll tax holiday has been remarkable. It has managed to put Republicans and Democrats alike in opposition to things they support, and in support of things they oppose. All at little actual benefit to them — or the rest of us.

OK, let’s make that “remarkably bad.”

Here are the basic facts: Last December, as part of a broader deal, the president and the Congress agreed to a one-year reduction of 2 percentage points in employees’ portion of payroll taxes, which are supposed to fund Social Security and Medicare. Leaders of both parties propose extending the holiday through next year. Both have tacked onto their proposal an unrelated extension of unemployment benefits. They have competing plans to offset the extension, which is projected to reduce revenues by $120 billion.

After that, there’s little agreement about anything.

Republicans don’t share President Obama’s obsession with raising taxes on “millionaires and …

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Two must-reads about why the right kind of class warfare could be good for us

If you have any interest in the running debates about economic inequality, subsidies, “fair” taxation, tax breaks, crony capitalism and many other themes raised by tea partyers and/or the Occupiers, there are two articles you really must read. I’m going to provide some excerpts below, but please click on the links and read each piece in its entirety. I think most of you will find some wisdom in them, wherever you land on the political spectrum.

The first one is by law professor M. Todd Henderson, writing on this week:

The ‘Occupy’ movement will never succeed against its “one percent” adversaries until it begins to understand that there is not a single one percent, but rather many. …

For example, in education policy, teachers are the one percent, while students and parents are the 99 percent. But it is generally the power of the concentrated teachers’ unions that drives decisions about education spending and policy. The fact that teachers unions support Occupy …

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The wrong-headed attempt to ban cellphones in cars

The do-gooders are at it again. From the Associated Press:

Texting, emailing or chatting on a cellphone while driving is simply too dangerous to be allowed, federal safety investigators declared Tuesday, urging all states to impose total bans except for emergencies.

Inspired by recent deadly crashes — including one in which a teenager sent or received 11 text messages in 11 minutes before an accident — the recommendation would apply even to hands-free devices, a much stricter rule than any current state law.

The unanimous recommendation by the five-member National Transportation Safety Board would make an exception for devices deemed to aid driver safety such as GPS navigation systems. …

Currently, 35 states and the District of Columbia ban texting while driving, while nine states and D.C. bar hand-held cellphone use. Thirty states ban all cellphone use for beginning drivers. But enforcement is generally not a high priority, and no states ban the use of hands-free devices for …

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An anti-Wall Street idea that I like

As someone who believes in competition and challenges to the entrenched ways of doing things, I think this is a great idea (from the Wall Street Journal):

By virtue of its size, business model and popularity, Facebook is the rare company that doesn’t need Wall Street to go public. It should press home the advantage and blaze a trail for others to follow.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s has two options: a traditional [initial public offering], in which banks distribute shares to investors in exchange for a percentage of total proceeds; and the little-used “Dutch auction” that cuts out the Wall Street middlemen by making the allocation of shares dependent on prices bid by each investor.

The biggest difference between the two systems, apart from the lower fees paid by companies in auctions, is that when IPOs go Dutch, banks don’t choose who gets shares, giving all investors a fair shake and avoiding potential conflicts of interests.

This is particularly important for “hot” IPOs, like Facebook. …

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2012 Tuesday: One case (sort of) for Mitt Romney

Here is a case for Mitt Romney, albeit one I don’t expect his campaign to make. And make note of this caveat from the beginning: This post is not an endorsement, only food for thought.

We all know by now one of the conservative knocks on Romney: When campaigning for offices in Massachusetts, he often professed squishy-to-outright-liberal positions on such issues as abortion, guns, gay rights, taxes and immigration, only later to adopt far more conservative positions on those same issues once he decided to run for president. Reverse course on one issue — as Ronald Reagan did regarding abortion — and you can claim a genuine change of heart. Do it on a number of issues, and you get labeled an untrustworthy flip-flopper.

We also know by now one of the other other conservative knocks on Romney: While serving as governor and working with a liberal legislature, he actually acted on some of these squishy-to-outright-liberal positions. His health reform is of course the most prominent …

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Payroll tax holiday: A hunch about where this is headed

The House is expected to vote today on its version of an extension for the payroll-tax holiday, which would cut spending (the bulk of it years from now) to pay for continuing the 2-percentage-point tax cut in 2012. Also included is an attempt to force President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project that has been put on ice while everyone from Big Oil to Big Labor wonders aloud why an administration that says jobs are Job No. 1 would drag its feet on such a huge employment boost.

Here’s part of a preview of the vote, and the reaction it would get in the Democrat-controlled Senate, from Reuters:

Republicans are widely seen as using Keystone as a bargaining chip in their negotiations with Democrats over how to pay for the $120 billion cost of the payroll tax cut. Democrats are pushing for a surtax on millionaires to pay for it, which almost all Republicans reject.

“There will be an agreement,” a Republican aide said.

“It’s just a matter of when,” a top Democratic aide …

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