2009 - %3, February

Federal Pay

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:58 PM EST
Federal employees are sharing the pain in Obama's FY2010 budget:

Civilian employees of the federal government will be limited to a 2 percent pay increase in 2010 under the proposed budget released this morning by the Obama administration.

...."It's a modest increase, but it certainly is prudent," said Jacque Simon, public policy director for the American Federation of Government Employees...."While it's certainly a modest pay increase, federal employees recognize the severity of the economic situation, and we're viewing it from that context."

Over the past 12 months the Consumer Price Index has gone up 0.4%, so a 2 percent raise isn't exactly iron-fisted.  No wonder the union guy is taking this so serenely.

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The $1 Trillion Carbon Cap GDP Boost

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 2:00 PM EST

The consensus among economists these days is that the economic cost of curbing climate change in the short-term will run between 0.5 and one percent of U.S. GDP—about $143 billion if we use 2008's GDP as a reference.

But Grist's Gar Lipow doesn't think curbing climate change will cost the GDP a dime:

Chart of the Day - 2.26.2009

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:51 PM EST
Henry Farrell says today that self-reported ideology is pretty unreliable when it comes to blog readers:

Netroots blog readers may identify themselves as being a mixed bag of ideologies....But self-identification here is misleading, as we can see if we look at a scale measuring blogreaders’ attitudes to a number of hot-button political issues such as abortion and the Iraq war, where left and right disagreed strongly at the time the data was gathered.

....Here, we don’t see anything like an even spread between those who are strongly liberal (i.e. inclined to take the ‘liberal’ position on all of these issues), and those who are moderate liberals or centrists. Instead, left blog readers tend to clump heavily at the strongly liberal end of the spectrum, with pretty well no centrists worth talking about.

The same thing is true for conservative blog readers.  I don't find this surprising, but I think a caveat is in order.  The issue scale is apparently based on a survey of only five questions (“partial-birth” abortions, funding for stem cell research, withdrawing troops from Iraq, raising the minimum wage, and extending capital gains tax cuts), and this doesn't allow for much nuance.  For example, there's not much question that I'm further toward the center than, say, Glenn Greenwald or Jane Hamsher, but on this scale we'd all come out identically as raging communists with perfect 5-0 liberal scores.  I think you'd need to dig quite a bit deeper than this to get decent read on the real views of the blogreading public.

Coen Brothers Take on Clean Coal (Video)

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:38 PM EST

The Coen brothers + environmental advocacy equals this:

Take that, "clean" coal! You're never going win the battle for the hearts and minds of America's movie-going hipster minority now! (No, seriously, "clean" coal is a hoax and needs to be stopped. Kudos to the Coen brothers for joining the effort.)

John Bolton at CPAC: The Benefits of Nuking Chicago

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:27 PM EST
Former UN Ambassador John Bolton believes the security of the United States is at dire risk under the Obama administration. And before a gathering of conservatives in Washington on Thursday morning,  he suggested, as something of a joke, that President Barack Obama might learn a needed lesson if Chicago were destroyed by a nuclear bomb.

Appearing at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), the nation's largest annual conference of conservative activists, Bolton, one of the hardest hardliners of the George W. Bush administration, spoke at length about Obama's naiveté and how various nations – Russia, North Korea, Iran – will be exploiting the new president. The most dramatic moment of his speech may have been when he cracked a joke about the nuking of Obama's hometown.

"The fact is on foreign policy I don't think President Obama thinks it's a priority," said Bolton. "He said during the campaign he thought Iran was a tiny threat. Tiny, tiny depending on how many nuclear weapons they are ultimately able to deliver on target. Its, uh, its tiny compared to the Soviet Union, but is the loss of one American city" – here Bolton changes his tone subtly to prepare for the joke – "pick one at random – Chicago – is that a tiny threat?"
 
Bolton wasn't the only one who thought this was funny. The room erupted in laughter and applause. Was this conservative catharsis, with rightwingers delightfully imagining the destruction of a city that represents Obama? Or perhaps they were venting vengeance with their laughter. (Bolton is no stranger to inflammatory remarks. He once infamously quipped, "There are 38 floors to the UN building in New York. If you lost 10 of them, it wouldn't make a bit of difference.")

At CPAC, the Right's most fevered beliefs about Obama live on, with speakers portraying him as a radical liberal who wants to compromise American values, hand hard-earned taxpayer dollars to the shifty poor, and, as Bolton repeatedly pointed out, weaken America's defense.

Obama Increases Military Budget, Ignoring Frank's Criticisms

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:04 PM EST

On Tuesday, Rep. Barney Frank said that "To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit," President Barack Obama had to cut the military budget. Apparently, Obama didn't get the message. The White House released its proposed budget on Thursday morning. The very first page of the Department of Defense section of the budget (PDF) proposal trumpets: "$533.7 billion for the Department of Defense base budget in 2010, a four-percent increase over 2009." (Obama's budget is for fiscal year 2010, which runs from October 1, 2009 through September 30, 2010.)

There is some good news for Frank and his cohorts. According to McClatchy, Obama may target the air force's F-22 fighter plane—a program Frank had mentioned as particularly wasteful—for cuts. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates has also criticized the program.) But even if the F-22 program is slashed, or even halted altogether, the military budget is still going up. That's a far cry from what Frank and other Congressional Dems called for on Tuesday. Will they make a fuss?

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Free the Memos

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 1:02 PM EST
In the LA Times today, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer argues that Barack Obama should release all the confidential memos churned out over the years by George Bush's Office of Legal Counsel:

Lawyers for the office — including John Yoo, Steven Bradbury and Jay Bybee — churned out dozens of memos on torture, rendition, detention without charge and wiretapping without warrants.

....Some of the memos were plainly intended to insulate Bush administration officials from criminal liability....And, according to the Washington Post and other sources, a yet-to-be-released ethics report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility confirms that lawyers in the Office of Legal Counsel intentionally misrepresented or distorted the law to support the Bush administration's policy goals.

....Limited redactions maybe be necessary in extraordinary cases, but national security should not be used as a pretext for the wholesale suppression of the memos. And there are good reasons to release the memos now. By releasing them, the Obama administration would signal that it truly intends to end an era in which the Justice Department became shamefully complicit in the most egregious crimes. Equally important, it would allow the public to better understand the policies that defined the Bush administration and shaped history, and to understand the role that the Office of Legal Counsel played in developing, justifying and advocating those policies.

Read the whole thing.  I suspect this is an area where Obama might need to feel some significant pressure from the left to make him do the right thing.

Haves vs. Have Nots

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 12:24 PM EST
Ezra Klein talks about the healthcare principles outlined in Obama's budget:

The salient fact about health insurance in the United States is not that 15 percent don't have it. It's that 85 percent do....That's why the first three health care principles in Obama's budget speak to the concerns of the insured: Choice, affordability, security. But In his latest column at the Kaiser Family Foundation, Drew Altman suggests a metric we should we be watching to see if they're successful. Polls, he notes, generally ask whether you think health reform will make your family better off. Kaiser recently ran one such survey and the results were moderately encouraging.

At a guess, it's the group in the center that's critical.  Supporters provide the shock troops and the opposition provides, um, the opposition.  But that big middle group that mostly thinks national healthcare is probably good for the country but isn't sure if it's good for them?  They're the ones most easily swayed by conservative scare talk.  Altman notes that these poll numbers are better than the ones Bill Clinton enjoyed in 1993, which is good, but 43% is still a huge number.  That's the battleground.

James Galbraith: Obama Isn't Doing Enough to Solve the Financial Crisis

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 11:14 AM EST

The financial crisis is even worse than people think (and people already think it's pretty bad), and we aren't doing enough to stop it, economist and Mother Jones contributor James K. Galbraith told the House Financial Services Committee on Thursday morning. From his prepared testimony:

In 1930, John Maynard Keynes wrote, "The world has been slow to realize that we are living this year in the shadow of one of the greatest economic catastrophes of modern history." That catastrophe was the Great Crash of 1929, the collapse of money values, the destruction of the banking system. The questions before us today are: is the crisis we are living through similar? And if so, are we taking adequate steps to deal with it? I believe the answers are substantially yes, and substantially no.

Galbraith pointed to six significant problems with the Obama administration's response to the financial crisis. First, he said, the White House is being way too optimistic:

Carbon Financing

| Thu Feb. 26, 2009 3:00 AM EST
The Washington Post reports on Barack Obama's plan for the revenue from his climate change plan:

As for cap-and-trade, the official said the administration believes it will generate enough money to fund a variety of priorities, including investments in renewable energy and rebates for vulnerable consumers who may struggle to pay higher energy bills if utilities pass along the cost to consumers. Obama also wants to use the money to cover the cost of extending his signature Making Work Pay tax credit, worth up to $800 a year for working families. That credit, which will cost $66 billion next year, was enacted in the stimulus package, but is set to expire at the end of 2010.

Hmmm.  That sounds like roughly $100 billion per year.  Is that reasonable?  The United States produces about 7 billion tons of CO2 equivalent a year right now, which means that Obama expects his cap-and-trade plan to generate a price of about $14 per ton in its first year — assuming it covers every single molecule of carbon emitted in the U.S.  If only half of all emissions are covered at first, it means a price closer to $28 per ton.

For comparison, the European ETS cap-and-trade plan currently prices CO2 at about 10 euros per ton.  That's roughly $13.  And that price has dropped considerably over the past few months thanks to the recession.  By 2012 it's likely to be back up in the range of $20 or more.

So at a glance, it looks like Obama's estimates are defensible.  My guess is that they're on the high side, since the initial cap will probably be fairly generous and will therefore generate a relatively low carbon price.  But as the cap goes down, the permit price should go up fairly quickly.  These numbers are at least in the right ballpark.