Saturday, March 23, 2013

The roads must roll

Our infrastructure is paid for by the Highway Trust Fund. Like Social Security, it is not part of general funds, but is a dedicated revenue stream. We never used to mention Social Security or the Highway Trust Fund monies when we talked about "the budget" because they just aren't part of all that - they are something separate.

And then, suddenly, we started hearing about how we had balanced the budget or even had surpluses because of a magical accounting trick in the '90s in which we started pretending they were "assets". And also this:

Although the majority of highway user tax revenues are credited to either the highway or mass transit accounts, there is a noteworthy exception. The exception is that 4.3 cents per gallon of fuel taxes are credited to the General Fund of the U. S. Treasury for deficit reduction purposes.

This is why a lot of people in the red states hated the Clintons - and the Democrats - so very much. They raised taxes on gas, but the maintenance on the infrastructure wasn't done - because the money was diverted.

A big pile of money is in new budget proposals to go back into the Highway Trust Fund. Which, you might think, is good - and, ordinarily, it would be.

Except that our Democratic leadership doesn't want to be on record as failing to reduce budget deficits. So they want to take that money from somewhere else, and that's what you're hearing so much about right now:

Bipartisan deficit reduction consensus in the '90s tanked our Highway Trust Fund, so now $18bn a year in deficit has to be reduced by tanking the Social Security Trust Fund.

(Why, yes, the title is a reference to Heinlein's much-lauded, engineeringly-defective, atrociously anti-union story.)

* * * * *

By the way, is this a big money-saver? "States Urged to Expand Medicaid With Private Insurance: The White House is encouraging skeptical state officials to expand Medicaid by subsidizing the purchase of private insurance for low-income people, even though that approach might be somewhat more expensive, federal and state officials say." Like Lambert says, "They don't even care enough to fake it anymore."

It's important to remember how short-sighted everyone has been about this. Buying silicon from the Chinese to make solar panels was expensive. So a company called Solyndra got federal funding to bypass the problem with a new technology that reduced the need for their silicon. They needed the funding because starting up such a business, requiring unique plant-fittings, costs a lot of money. And after they spent all that money to get started, the Chinese suddenly dropped the price of silicon and Solyndra went bust. You can see what's coming, right? "China may soon stop offering the world cheap solar panels." (As a side-note, I have been sitting here for the last four hours watching it snow outside my window. At the end of March. Last year March was unseasonably summery. Now, although I admit the snow doesn't seem to be sticking, there's hours of snow. But, you know, Al Gore is fat.)

From Down With Tyranny!:
"Why Did 35 Democrats Join The GOP To Defeat The Senate Budget? Wednesday evening, we took a quick look at the House vote on the Progressive Caucus Back To Work Budget. Wednesday the House also voted on the Senate budget. Oddly, it was introduced by South Carolina teabagger Mick Mulvaney (who voted against it). Every Republican voted against it... and it failed 154-261. The Democratic caucus operation is a near-shambles and no one was leading. Nancy is preparing herself to sail away into retirement. Hoyer is conflicted with everything and Clyburn is sidelined. No one is cracking the whip and Democratic Members are just doing whatever they want. 35 of them voted with the Republicans against the Senate budget. Oh, wait-- they weren't just doing whatever they wanted. Many of them-- the freshmen and vulnerable members in red-leaning districts, were counseled by Steve Israel, chairman of the DCCC, to vote with the Republicans. He does that kind of thing; it's a losing strategy that causes low Democratic turnout. It killed the Democrats in 2010... but Israel has learned nothing from the Great Blue Dog Apocalypse."
"A Clear Majority Of Democrats Abandon Pelosi's And Hoyer's Job-Destroying Sellout To Boehner: One of Pelosi's finest moments was when she stood up to her boss, House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt, in October 2002, and told him to take the Iraq War Authorization bill he and DeLay had put together and stuff it where the sun don't shine. Although-- with help from House leaders Steny Hoyer, Steve Israel, Joe Crowley and Eliot Engel-- Gephardt managed to get 81 crucial Democrats in the House to OK Bush's plot to invade Iraq, most Democrats backed Pelosi and that was the end of Dick Gephardt's dreams of being Speaker or president. He's a creepy-crawly, sleazy Beltway lobbyist now. And Pelosi went on to be the first woman Speaker of the House f Representatives in history. She's eager to retire now-- at least according to her daughter-- and she's... well, slipping. She's been backing Obama's crackpot scheme to go along with Republican plans to torture seniors by mercilessly slashing Social Security. And this week she voted for Boehner's Continuing Resolution. It passed-- with only with a minority of Democratic votes-- 81 + Pelosi. 115 Democrats voted no. The House caucus leader who did on Thursday what Pelosi had courageously done in 2002 was Los Angeles' fighting progressive Xavier Becerra, the emerging antidote to corrupt conservatives like Hoyer, Wasserman Schultz, and Israel."

"Commentary: Media throw Bradley Manning to the wolves" - The media certainly agreed with Bradley Manning that the material he saw should be shared with the world - they used it themselves on their own pages - but they haven't raised a peep to defend him.
Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone reviews a film and talks about secrets. Corporations are allowed to have secrets. Corrupt governments are allowed to have secrets. For the rest of us, our every private moment is public and for sale.

"Supreme Court Rejects Ban on Taping Police Officers" - Well, actually, they've refused to overturn a lower court ruling, but that's the same thing, and it's a very good thing indeed. The idea that public servants should be able to hide their activities is wrong on its face and clearly intended to cover-up criminal behavior on their part.

In AlJazeera, "Chained CPI: A direct attack on middle class and working class people." But you knew that.

Even Ezra says: "House Progressives have the best answer to Paul Ryan: The correct counterpart to the unbridled ambition of the Ryan budget isn't the cautious plan released by the Senate Democrats. It's the 'Back to Work' budget released by the House Progressives. The 'Back to Work' budget is about exactly what the name implies: Putting Americans back to work. The first sentence lays it out clearly: 'We're in a jobs crisis that isn't going away.' So that's the budget's top priority: fixing the jobs crisis. It begins with a stimulus program that makes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act look tepid: $2.1 trillion in stimulus and investment from 2013-2015, including a $425 billion infrastructure program, a $340 billion middle-class tax cut, a $450 billion public-works initiative, and $179 billion in state and local aid."

"Everyone But China" Agreement Prevents Regulation of Hot Money and Speculation
I know I posted the link to the show last June, but since we were on the subject, here's the video clip from Sam Seder's interview with Lori Wallach about the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.

In USA Today, Atrios says, "Marriage equality no longer impossible." I appreciate that Duncan probably wants to write about more than one thing, and it's not an unimportant issue, but since he only gets one column every couple of weeks, I wish he'd keep hammering the economic stuff. Social progress goes down the tubes unless the economy gets fixed.

Charles Pierce thinks people who got it all wrong on Iraq should shut up: "Go away. You are complicit in one way or another in a giant crime containing many great crimes. Atone in secret. Wash the blood off your hands in private. Because there were people who got it right. Anthony Zinni. Eric Shiseki. Hans Blix. Mohamed ElBaradei. The McClatchy Washington bureau guys. Dozens of liberal academics who got called fifth-columnists and worse. Professional military men whose careers suffered as a result. Hundreds of thousands of people in the streets around the world. The governments of Canada and France. Those people, I will listen to this week. Go to hell, the rest of you, and go there in silence and in shame."
At the bottom of this article on the conspiracy of silence is a documentary from Bill Moyers' Journal on buying the war.

The Lyndon Johnson tapes: Richard Nixon's 'treason'

Weather report: Big weather in Australia.

It figgers: Barack is a Klingon name.

Imagine a world without hate.

Ruth still has more snow.

Buffalo Springfield


  1. 1. I disagree with Charles Pierce: I want mea culpas, sackcloth, ashes, and groveling. I want all of them to say, and to put in writing, that "We were wrong, and we will never pontificate in public about anything ever again because we are morally unfit." And then I want them to have to sing, on American Idol, "Wheels in the Sky." In the original key.

    2. The "One of Pelosi's finest moments" para appears twice.

  2. If they would all disapprear, I'd take that over the mea culpas in an instant.

  3. But, you know, Al Gore is fat.

    At last, someone who dares to tell the Truth! To power! ;)

  4. It's long been said that capitalism and the associated management structures select for sociopathy (which is, in the extreme form, psychopathy). It's all about treating other people as things. That need not be dreadfully bad, if the things are regarded as valued assets which should be invested in, but that no longer happens.

    I am now inclined to go one step further. The policies we see now can only be not-called sadistic on a technicality. The government of the greedy may not be getting sexual pleasure from the policies they impose. But, when you look at so much that they do, sexual pleasure as a motive is hard to deny. Look at the trophy wives, and the harassment of women, and the various sexual peccadilloes that they are caught indulging in. We can only speculate about their motives, but the things they do can certainly provoke sexual envy, which is suggestive.

    And the way that power can be seen as leading to sexual success can fuel some pretty ugly thinking. If you're treated like shit at your workplace, or regarded as defective because there is no work so that you cannot find employment, is there any place you can get a feeling of power? And is the way that porn movies have turned ugly and abusive entangled with this. Cause or symptom, the context of the acts depicted has worsened. ((And that's not the same thing as how the performers are treated: we are seeing something that comes out of whatever story the production team is choosing to tell, and the story could be told in far less explicit ways.))

    Now, I'll admit, my feelings about this government by the criminally insane are chiefly provoked by the British experience: we have our own set of incompetent slimeball sadists in control, drawn from a fairly tightly-knit pool of candidates who went through the same university courses and reveled in membership of the same clubs, and, if they have any intellect worthy of mention, have never done very much with it outside politics.

    It is much the same pattern as in the USA. What;s that exclusive, rather thuggish, fraternity you have? Bones? We have the Bullingdon Club. I've walked down the Oxford High Street late on a Friday night and I sometimes wonder if I missed the chance to thump David Cameron. I've never been one to start fights, but friends have told me I looked intimidating in those days.

    The odd thing is I was maybe more scared than they were.

    Maybe the good guys are the ones who can still be scared, and walk down those mean streets anyway. It is a sane thing to be scared.

    1. I'm not going to disagree with you about the government being run by sociopaths and psychopaths.


      I'm afraid I can't let those remarks about porn pass without asking what you're talking about. There's a new spate of porn movies that are abusive? Are you saying this from your expierience as a long-time porn-watcher (the credible option), or because you read it somewhere? Because I'm not hearing this from porn aficionados I know.

  5. It's through seeing porn, over the years. Even in the days when net-porn was almost all sets of photographs, as soon as you got a man and a woman actually doing stuff, the captions often added a misogynistic context. And I used to see plenty of video, once I got broadband, that was explicit, even fetishistic, without being a blatant power game.

    It's not so easy to find the fun videos now.

    I don't know, maybe I just have a different standard. Maybe I have become more sensitive.

    Oddly, I think some of that fun video of the past may be rather short on plot.

  6. It was a fun read, though, particlarly in the seventies. The "sport" the kids had, jump to and fro roads rolling at varying speeds stands out.

    Gotta admit, he painted a pretty accurate picture where we're at today.

    No fear...

  7. RJ Eskow has an insightful essay at Our Future about the small social groups that inflict disastrous economic policies on the world.

    I also liked this from Margaret Kimberley at BAR:

    The nonsensical dance goes something like this. Racists attack Obama. Progressives defend Obama. Obama goes behind closed doors to do what progressives say they don’t want. Obama lies and claims he didn’t do what he in fact did. Progressives are happy. The world suffers anew.

  8. Gaius Publius on the ideology or corruption question (from Naked Capitalism):

    One last point. Framing free trade as an ideology may be technically correct in a few cases — there are true believers in almost anything (I believe in kittehs) — but if “free trade” weren’t a money machine for the wealthy, you’d never hear of it. Crickets, as the kids say.

    Put simply, the reason you heard Barack Obama tout “strong free trade” with Robert Rubin in the room, is that bankers like Robert Rubin grow obscenely wealthy by financing billionaire store-owner Billy-Bob Walton’s slave factories in Asia.

    And non-millionaire Barack Obama wants millionaire Bill Clinton’s post-presidential money — $80 million and counting. (Click the link for a stunning connection between public policy — in this case, the repeal of Glass-Steagal — and a post-presidential payday.)

    Obama may not say he wants “Clinton money.” He might even know it, in that self-blind sense of “know.” But I’ve met lots of drunks who’ve explained themselves so long, they really do “know” they’re just “prone to be ill in the morning.” Right. Occam’s Switchblade, Upton Sinclair edition:

    “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

    “I’m doing it for the kids,” Obama edition.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Should have said that the post encompassed more than this quote and is well worth reading

  9. I wonder if you're old enough to know that Heinlein wrote "The Roads Must Roll" during the late years of the Depression, and that it is based on one of many political alternatives being kicked around at the time, including Communism, Trotskyism, several flavors of Socialism, and some really weird stuff from guys like Huey Long? The particular alternative TRMR was based on was Technocracy, the theory that the Depression was caused by technologically ignorant managers being in charge in industry and government, that the insight that things would be much better if the guys who really knew how to solve problems and make stuff were in charge -- The Engineers! Of course, as you mention, the idea was pretty anti-union, but so was a lot of other science fiction. I don't know why the genre attracted so many authoritarian types. Heinlein himself, in his later years, became very blatantly authoritarian, even fascistic. And some of his other early stories (the Future History Series) were based on other 1930s fads, like General Semantics (Coventry), a pseudo-scientific philosophy I was especially charmed by.

    1. Physics is everything, Roger, everything is physics. Wheels coming off imply momentum, momentum implies anticipation of where the wheels will go. As I alluded above, he penned a grim but accurate portrait of where we're going. The technology is not quite, though we are close to a Shipstone power source, but the whole christo-nazi insanity of If This Goes On or Revolt, the devolution of Friday's population grown too large, too diverse across an area to great for centralized management (and the attendent disdain we of Cascadia have for the rest of the "country"), and the "Cowboy" Randian philosophy expressed pretty much throughout.

      While Heinlein may prove accurate in the near term, when we look at the damage we are doing to this ball of mud Asimov may have the better handle on the long term. We will be fortunate were we to long for The Green Hills of Earth.

      And Roger, I first encountered Ms Carol lo these (seven, eight, wow nine!?) many years ago as a Science Fiction forum moderator. These... discussions are not new.

      No fear.