This Seems Like Something That Shouldn't Be Surprising

The lede on this is priceless:

According to the latest statement from the U.S. Treasury, the government had an operating cash balance Wednesday of $73.8 billion. That's still a lot of money, but it's less than what Steve Jobs has lying around.

Tech juggernaut Apple had a whopping $76.2 billion in cash and marketable securities at the end of June, according to its last earnings report. Unlike the U.S. government, which is scrambling to avoid defaulting on its debt, Apple takes in more money than it spends.

This symbolic feat—the world's most highly valued tech company surpassing the fiscal strength of the world's most powerful nation—is just the latest pinnacle for Apple, which has been on an unprecedented roll ....

Anyway, carry on. Nothing to see here. Go about your business.


Right-Wing Priorities

In this terrorized age of wild-eyed Muslim demons, Norwegian Hitler Youth, and an elective American debt crisis, Ben Smith reports for politico Politico about the National Republican Senatorial Campaign's latest bogey-man—a sex advice columnist:

With the Massachusetts Democratic Party attacking Senator Scott Brown for refusing to film a video for the "It Gets Better Project," which offers moral support to gay teens, the National Republican Senatorial Committee came to Brown's defense today with a shot at the project's founder, Dan Savage.

Savage, who edits the Seattle alt-weekly The Stranger, is best known as an often-raunchy syndicated sex columnist.

Emails NRSC communications director Brian Walsh:
    If, as the old saying goes, you’re known by the company you keep, than the voters of Massachusetts deserve to know who Democrat Party operatives are teaming up with to spread outrageous attacks on Scott Brown’s character. It’s truly reached a new level of desperation in their efforts to tear down Scott Brown, but we look forward to hearing whether state and national Democrat leaders agree with Dan Savage’s long history of lewd, violent and anti-Christian rhetoric. Given their press conference call today, one has to presume at this point that they do.

Mr. Savage should be honored. Like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, it seems his very name is now a fundraising cue for American conservatives.

Is that one of those, "You know you've made it when ...", moments?

At any rate, yeah. War on Terror. Debt ceiling. Youth abroad with political consciences. Yet the appeal for support apparently demands that the GOP make Dan Savage a top priority.

Too bad the stakes are so high. The GOP is a perpetual-motion machine otherwise known by the cliché, the gift that keeps on giving.

Notes on the Debt Ceiling Debate

Notes on the debt ceiling debate:

Some market observers speculate that a downgrade would be a non-event: Japan, for example, went from a rating of AAA to AA without much drama. Others suggest that a downgrade would increase Treasury’s borrowing costs by $100 billion a year or more, making our already unsustainable deficit trajectory even worse.

There are no rules to define what is systemic and what isn’t — or to accurately predict the consequences of an economic shock. Each crisis is unique. How exactly it will affect financial markets, companies and our economy is impossible to know. Nonetheless, recent examples offer guidance.

In 2008, a number of once-cherished beliefs were turned upside down: (1) that home prices in America would never fall; (2) that AAA-rated subprime securities are money-good; (3) that a major investment bank would never fail. Consumers, investors and companies allocated capital according to these truths. When the beliefs were revealed to be false, massive shocks were inflicted on the economy as financial markets rapidly adjusted to account for these new risks.

Neel Kashkari's analysis of potential impacts for The Washington Post is worth a read. And as long as we're pausing to think about credit ratings, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich offers up his own opinion thereof:

... Standard & Poor's has gone a step further: It says even if the debt ceiling is raised next week, it might still lower the nation's credit rating -- unless the deal also contains a credible, bipartisan plan to reduce the long-term budget deficit by $4 trillion. This is something neither Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's nor House Speaker John Boehner's plans would accomplish.

Now I don't mean to be impertinent, but as long as America pays its debts on time, who is Standard & Poor's to tell America how much debt it has to shed and by when?

Until the eve of Wall Street's collapse in late 2007, S&P gave triple-A ratings to what turned out to be some of the Street's riskiest packages of mortgage-backed securities.

Had S&P done its job, we wouldn't have had the debt and housing bubbles to begin with. That means taxpayers wouldn't have had to bail out Wall Street. We probably wouldn't have had a Great Recession. Millions of Americans wouldn't be jobless and collecting unemployment benefits. There'd be no need for the stimulus that saved 3 million other jobs. And far more tax revenue would have been pouring into the Treasury.

In other words, had S&P done its job, the federal budget deficit would likely be far smaller than it is today -- and S&P wouldn't be threatening the United States with a downgrade if we didn't come up with a plan for shrinking it.

And why has S&P decided to get into public policy now anyway? Where was it when President George W. Bush turned a $5 trillion budget surplus bequeathed to him by Bill Clinton into a gaping deficit?

Of course, this is what happens when we play by marketplace rules intended not for the benefit of the marketplace, but, rather, those who wish to control it.


Best Political Cartoon I've Seen in a While

Who: Rainer Hachfeld
What: "Republican Descent To Hell", Cagle Post
When: July 28, 2011

Nothing I could possibly say would add to this:

Republicans Put the United States of America in Their Crosshairs

Who: Eugene Robinson
What: "Why progressives need a Big Idea", The Washington Post
When: July 28, 2011

Those who would chronicle events in Washington can find no richer source of analogy and metaphor than the Three Stooges. These days, I’m thinking of the times when an exasperated Moe, having suffered the indignity of an accidental spritzing or clobbering, turns to Larry or Curly and demands, “What’s the big idea?”

The premise of the debt-ceiling fight is too far-fetched for a Stooges film, since no audience could imagine leaders of a great nation stumbling into such a mess. Moe’s trademark line is still relevant, however, even if it’s not followed by the two-fingered poke in the eyes that our elected officials richly deserve ....

.... Conservatives are on a winning streak because they have a Big Idea that serves as an animating, motivating, unifying force. It happens to be a very bad idea, but it’s better than nothing — which, sadly, is what progressives have.

The simplistic Big Idea that defines today’s Republican Party is that taxes are always too high and government spending is always wasteful. Therefore, both taxes and spending need to be reduced.

That’s basically it. There are a couple of asterisks: Many conservatives, perhaps most, don’t consider the military a part of “government” per se and are more amenable to defense spending; and even a Tea Party freshman is more likely to keep an open mind about the publicly funded infrastructure project in his or her own district. There is also an overarching philosophy about the relationship between government and the individual, and some conservatives imagine a “return” to a Jeffersonian Arcadia that never was.

In terms of the ongoing rivalry between Democrats and Republicans generally, Robinson is absolutely correct that Democrats have no "Big Idea" to pitch to voters.

But I think the key word above is that Robinson is describing the simplistic Big Idea of the GOP. Consider what we have long heard from Republicans about government, taxes, and entitlement. And then consider what happens if that simplistic Big Idea comes true. The two conditions coincide.

To put it bluntly, the GOP is presently attempting nothing more than the destruction of the United States government.

Faffing About

Who: Mark Steel
What: "Time to inflict pain on the terminally ill", The Independent
When: July 27, 2011

How do YOU suggest we cut the deficit then? You'll be asked this if you ever oppose a cost-cutting scheme, such as merging the sewer system with the library service or something. So here's one answer, we could pay a bit less to ATOS, a company that receives £100m a year from the Government for assessing who should be cut off from disability benefit.

The method they choose is to interview each claimant, asking them a series of questions such as, "Do you look after your own pets?" Because clearly if someone can feed a hamster they're capable of driving a fork-lift truck. Another is "Do you cry?" If you do, you're probably told it's all very well being depressed but there's no reason why you can't get a job imitating actresses who've won an Oscar, or hiring yourself out to appear at funerals to make it seem the deceased knew more people than they did.

During this questioning the interviewer taps the answers into their computer, which makes an automatic calculation as to whether the claimant loses their benefit. This is so much quicker as a method of assessing health than the old-fashioned way of examining someone.

Hospitals should follow this example. Instead of faffing about with X-rays and stethoscopes, the consultant could say, "Which do you prefer, pizza or a curry? Who would you rather have to dinner out of Fearne Cotton and Dermot O'Leary? OK, let's see what the computer says – aah, you've got gallstones."

It's easy to say, "I'm glad I'm not English." And then we remember that we're Americans.

The Beautiful People (Literally, It Seems)

Who: The Hill
What: "50 Most Beautiful People for 2011"
When: July 27

Just in case you haven't had enough of Beltway gravity, The Hill presents the fifty most beautiful people in Washington, D.C.

No, really.

With bright blue eyes and an easy smile, Ferko laughs when asked for beauty tips. She notes moderation is the best policy, but she has her weaknesses — all things cheese.

“I eat anything that I want, but everything in moderation,” Ferko said.

She also loves to work out and travel, saying she takes “a bucket-list trip” every year with her husband, stopping in Istanbul last year to celebrate their five-year anniversary. That followed trips to Austria, Germany, Hungary and Russia in years prior.

Ferko still likes to play soccer when she can, but don’t expect to see her between the sticks.

“I took the gloves off and I’m not putting them back on,” she said.

That's number forty-eight. Jacqueline Ferko. "A keeper", according to Kevin Bogardus. Of course, it's all a play on words. Then again, what in politics isn't?


Capitalism and the Discourteous

The nature of capitalism, sometimes referred to as the "natural" economy, or the "law of the jungle", is such that pretty much anybody who intends to carry on in the world must take part in it. That is, even the socialist must accumulate capital in order to distribute it accordingly.

Dietmar Henning reminds us what it looks like when capitalism kills:

Trickle Down, Down, Dooby-Doo, Down

Who: Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor
What: "Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics", Pew Social & Demographic Trends
When: July 26, 2011

The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.

Some might simply shrug and suggest that they're not surprised. However, there is a difference, I think, between the fact of an outcome, generalized—e.g., The wealth gap between whites and blacks or hispanics is growing—and considerations of scale.

The idea that white households are better off financially than black or hispanic households is hardly shocking. But the idea of the gap being eighteen- or twenty-fold is unsettling, to say the least.

Of course, some would suggest that not only was this the predictable result of trickle-down economic theory, it was also the point.

Reminders: FOX News, the Right Wing, and Nobody's Really Surprised

File under, "Reminders":
That is, nobody really wonders why FOX News has a stake in protecting conservative political outlooks from criticism. And, to be certain, there is nothing surprising about their undignified response to the tragedy in Norway.

Rupert Murdoch: Capitalist

Russ Baker offers a reminder amid the surprised murmurs and horrified gasps:

Rupert Murdoch has had a profound influence on the state of journalism today. It’s a kind of tribute, in some sense, that the general coverage of his current troubles has reflected the detrimental effect of his influence over the years. Right now, the media, by and large, are focusing on tawdry "police blotter" acts of the very sort that have historically informed Murdoch’s own tabloid sensibility, while the bigger picture gets short shrift.

To be sure, the activities and actions of Murdoch’s that dominate the public conversation at the moment are deeply troubling, leaving aside their alleged criminality. Still, what is really pernicious about Murdoch is not his subordinates' reported hacking of phones, payments of hush money, etc., or the possibility that Murdoch may have known about, tolerated, enabled, or even encouraged such acts.

It is, instead, the very essence of the man and his empire, and their long-term impact on our world and our lives.

Missing the Point

What does it look like when a nationally-respected journalist misses the point? Dana Milbank, of the Washington Post demonstrates:

There is something rich about the president of the United States and the speaker of the House pretending that they are somehow not part of Washington. If these two aren't Washington, what is? The International Spy Museum? Ben's Chili Bowl? Wolf Blitzer?

Generally, people presume professional journalists aren't so superficial. Mr. Milbank corrects that mistaken notion without much room for question.



Perhaps the ugliest demand of politics is that tragedies often have political implications, and at some point those must be discussed. The end result, of course, is the often undignified spectacle of pundits trying to score public relations points in the face of human suffering and sorrow.

To wit, I'm pretty sure I just heard, on BBC's Newshour, one of the right-wing authors cited in Norway shooter Anders Brevik's outsize manifesto compare himself to The Beatles.

Or a blogger for Crooks and Liars suggesting that FOX News is unwilling to describe Breivik as a "conservative" extremist. And while there is no question about why FOX News might want to protect the word "conservative" from any negative associations, there really isn't a dignified way to go about that discussion:

As you can see, the host is getting away with blaming social media, Norway's law enforcement authorities for not monitoring social media more closely for people like this, and just about everything but coming out with the truth: Brevik was not a "domestic extremist." He is a radical right-wing cultural warrior who has been influenced by many different people, including Tim Phillips, director of Freedomworks, apparently.

Herridge, instead of discussing the fundamental problem here, spends an inordinate amount of time blaming the Internet for his views. There is some truth to what she says. It's easy to turn social media, blogs, and other content into an echo chamber which then magnifies anger and hate. Just have a look at Andrew Breitbart's timeline sometime for an example. He specializes in that kind of tactic. Still, it's beside the point. The point here is that Brevik espoused extreme right-wing political positions and acted on them to inflict political mayhem on his countrymen.

Let's not forget that he didn't just target a random group of people. He chose to target the youth movement of the current political party in power, which is further evidence of just how far he was willing to go to eradicate opposition


Who: Peter Gorenstein
What: "5 Consequences If America Doesn't Raise the Debt Ceiling", Yahoo Finance
When: July 22, 2011

... David Walker -- the former Comptroller General of the United States and head of the Government Accountability Office -- says it's imperative both sides of the aisle find a compromise that also sets conditions to lower our long-term debt and get us back on track. If they don't, the rest of us will pay.

Here's what he says will happen if the federal government can't reach a deal:
  1. $4 billion-plus a day will come out of the economy.
  2. Government and civilian military workers will be laid off temporarily. That will result in penalties for late payment, to be paid by taxpayers.
  3. Social security payments will be delayed.
  4. No one knows how bad the reaction will be, but Walker is confident it will be negative for the stock and bond markets and the economy.
  5. Interest rates will rise. For every 1% rise in interest rates, taxpayers will be on the hook for an additional $150 billion in debt payments.

There seem to be some in the GOP who actually want these sorts of things to happen. Nate Silver discounts that theory, and reasonably so, though it seems worth mentioning that an associate the other day referred to the prospect of not raising the debt ceiling a chance for the GOP to accomplish something "right and meaningful".

Making Excuses for the GOP

Who: Eugene Robinson
What: "Don't blame 'both sides' for debt impasse", Washington Post
When: July 11, 2011

Washington has many lazy habits, and one of the worst is a reflexive tendency to see equivalence where none exists. Hence the nonsense, being peddled by politicians and commentators who should know better, that "both sides" are equally at fault in the deadlocked talks over the debt ceiling.

This is patently false. The truth is that Democrats have made clear they are open to a compromise deal on budget cuts and revenue increases. Republicans have made clear they are not.

Put another way, Democrats reacted to the "grand bargain" proposed by President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner by squawking, complaining and highlighting elements they didn’t like. This is known throughout the world as the way to begin a process of negotiation.

Republicans, by contrast, answered with a definitive "no" and then covered their ears. Given the looming Aug. 2 deadline for default if the debt ceiling is not raised, the proper term for this approach is blackmail.

Yet the "both sides are to blame" narrative somehow gained currency after Boehner announced Saturday that House Republicans would not support any increase in revenue, period. A false equivalence was drawn between the absolute Republican rejection of "revenue-positive" tax reform and the less-than-absolute Democratic opposition to "benefit cuts" in Medicare and Social Security.

The bogus story line is that the radical right-wing base of the GOP and the radical left-wing base of the Democratic Party are equally to blame for sinking the deal.



Who: Ethan Porter
What: "Tweeting Toward Bethlehem", Democracy Journal
When: Summer, 2011 (#21)

Central to the complexities of this moment is the power of the Internet. As Yeats and his contemporaries were grappling with a grand shift in technological capacity, so are we. It was only 20 years ago that the World Wide Web was mostly just a novel idea than a tool; now it is inescapable, as much a part of everyday life in America as the television or automobile. In the decade just completed, the developing world, while still lagging behind the developed, began to catch up. Measures of Internet penetration replaced measures of electrification as a basic barometer of modernity.