Thursday, February 28, 2013

Making the Case for Syria Intervention

Sen. Bob Casey had an op-ed in Foreign Policy yesterday calling on the United States to "provide non-lethal equipment to vetted elements of the Free Syrian Army." It appears the Obama administration isn't quite ready to do that, as Secretary of State Kerry announced the U.S. would provide military rations and medical equipment. Unfortunately, it's another too tentative step by the Obama administration regarding Syria. I've had my conversion on this issue and I just keep hoping the administration would catch up. Apparently so does Sen. Casey.

As much as I agree with giving non-lethal aid to vetted (how do we do that, I'm not sure) elements of the FSA, there are still a couple things I disagree with in his op-ed. First, I just don't agree with this statement:
Inaction could have grave regional consequences and serve to empower Iran at a time of nuclear uncertainty and embolden Hezbollah, a terrorist organization that has proven its ability and intent to strike in and outside the Middle East.
Now maybe, maybe if Assad is able to crush this rebellion the above statement would be true, but I think we're over the tipping point. There is no going back to status quo ante (you share a blog with a lawyer long enough). Coming from that perspective, state implosion holds little prospects for Iran or Hezbollah. Perhaps they could benefit from the chaos, but they're all in with Assad and his regime, which would make any pivot to a new puppet really difficult. No, the real danger in the unmanaged implosion of Syria is the rise of an Islamic extremist state or safe haven. Sen. Casey fails to mention that threat and instead it feels like he's pandering by raising the specter of Iran (though I'd likely say the same thing if he invoked AQ too).

The second thing I question is if indeed our substantive aid, at this point, would really gain us many friends among the Syrian people. Or rather, would we just be laying the groundwork for the next authoritarians? Now this isn't a reason to not do it, but to think we give them non-lethal and maybe even lethal aid and then they're our friends when Assad falls is a bit of wishful thinking. It's especially wishful thinking in light of our Afghan and Libyan experiences in the most recent past. Again, not a reason to do nothing, but not a good reason to sell it to the American people.

On the whole, I'm with Sen. Casey here and it's hard to sell this sort of thing to the American people, but some of the reasons he outlines misstate the real threat or overstate the real benefit. Let's give the FSA non-lethal aid straight away, but let's be real honest on the situation when we do it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Calling Speaker Boehner

Matt Yglesias catches up with where I was back in July 2011 asking Speaker Boehner to, you know, act like a guy that's third in line for the presidency and lead us out of this sequester/budget/fiscal fiasco. Yglesias also touches on the same thing I touched upon yesterday, poo pooing David Brooks thought that Obama can singularly change the terms debate around these fiscal issues.

Beyond my snarkiness about who got there first, I agree with Yglesias' assessment of the situation, the complete absence of leadership from Speaker Boehner, the gamble the GOP made in 2011 that didn't pay out, and the broad terms of what the deal would look like.

The most maddening part of watching politics these days is the common knowledge that we know how to fix these problems. The method isn't in question. The only question is if the more sensible people in the respective parties can reach and sell a compromise. Perhaps that's wishful thinking. For now, we can keep watching journalists strain to blame both sides, instead of accepting the reality of the situation.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Dream on David Brooks

I'm not going to like this post. I'll reflect on it and wonder how I wrote it. I'll wonder if I was lacking oxygen to the brain or if the residual effects for DC Brau's Ghouls Night Out carried over into the day after drinking it.

Guys, David Brooks wrote a column that makes sense. Please pick your jaws from up off the floor. I still have a couple bones to pick, but on the whole I like what I read. Mr. Brooks wants  a "dream Obama" who would end the endless back and forth of the size of government and the individual versus the collective. Instead, Mr. Brooks would like this dream Obama to get past size and speak plainly that in 2013, the government isn't going away, and that the size of the government isn't nearly as important as the intelligence of the government.

Brooks wants his dream Obama to advocate to change the benefits regime of wealthy, elderly people and transfer those savings to the youth of America in a variety of existing programs that could use the resources. He wants dream Obama to institute a value-added tax and use the revenue to make a $100,000 income tax exemption and lower corporate tax rates. Mr. Brooks acknowledges doing any and all of this is a big political lift, but he believes "only the president can fundamentally shift the terms" of the debate. There is much to like, but there are some questions outstanding.

First, there are no numbers here and while initial reaction from more liberal minded folks hasn't been to pillory Mr. Brooks, I would be curious how the numbers play out in reality if you made this sort of fundamental change in tax policy in an abbreviated timeline.

Second, we face an environment where a healthy portion see almost no legitimate role for the federal government or nearly any government. Part of the reason Obama's second inaugural and the most recent state of the union speech focused so much on the value of government and the shared experience of a collective is because, honestly, that's no longer a settled question in the United States. Beyond debating the size of government, there are questions being raised about its fundamental role. Many of these questions had a broad consensus on both sides for decades. So, in part, Obama has to make this case because it's not a settled case anymore.

Third, I think Brooks overstates the ability of the president to change the terms of the debate. There was, perhaps, a time that was true, but it's not anymore. I'd cite this article about Tea Party glee over the seemingly imminent sequester. There is a happy tone that Congress would almost indiscriminately cut the budgets of departments and that doesn't allow the apartments to shift money around to make the cuts less dire for essential services. (And please don't tell me that BS about how it's just 3% of the federal budget, first off that's a substantial chunk to cut after budgets have been set, second, in actuality, it's ranges from 5.3% to 7.8% just in FY2013 to the affected agencies which is draconian considering budgeted priorities.) Furthermore  those reveling in the sequester are already threatening colleagues who might want to strike a deal along the lines the White House has pushed for. Consider this quote from the article:
Barney Keller, communications director for the conservative Club for Growth, said Republicans who don’t support big budget cuts might face primary challenges next year.
“Many Republicans aren’t afraid of losing their job to a Democrat, because of redistricting” that virtually guarantees that GOP lawmakers will hold on to their seats, he said. “But they are afraid of losing their jobs to more fiscally conservative candidates.”
Redistricting and the primary system in this country is a double whammy undermining most any hopes of comity in Congress and greatly diminishing the president's ability to change the terms of the debate. I mean, you have very protected districts that aren't competitive in the general elections, just the primaries, so you have elected representatives captive to the base of their party. In that dynamic, what does it matter if the president tries to change the terms of the conversation? Doing so doesn't imperil that elected representative because his or her primary voters drive the results in the district, not the broader national, or even district mood.

I'm afraid Mr. Brooks will have to remain dreaming about his Obama and the policies and debate he would like that dream Obama to engage in. I think, substantively, Mr. Brooks is on to something but the well of our politics is poisoned and it can't be helped by progress in national polls. It can only be helped by a fundamental rethink of our electoral process.

Syria: Weapons from Croatia and Money from Saudi Arabia

Following on my last couple posts on Syria, comes The New York Times article that reports a substantial shipment of Yugoslav weapons from Croatia  paid for by Saudi Arabia, and routed through Jordan have been handed off to the rebels inside Syria. It is entirely possible this sort of thing happens without tacit U.S. approval, but I think that's unlikely.

I want to real quick talk about two things in the report. First the claim that "The weapons' distribution has been principally to armed groups viewed as nationalist and secular." There is a lot of wiggle room in that sentence and since Croatia, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan haven't commented on the shipments, I'm curious how the reporters know this is the case? Is it just the intel from photos and videos of secular and nationalist holding these weapons? It's not clearly articulated in the article and it gives me pause.

The second question is if Jordan might have exposed itself to reprisals either from Syria or Hezbollah but reportedly getting these weapons into Syria and to the rebels? I'm very curious how the Assad regime might respond if the reports are substantiated by Syrian intelligence. Without a doubt, they have other things to take up their time, but still. I'd also be curious if Iran utilizes Hezbollah to execute reprisals in Jordan. Jordan is different from Turkey and Saudi Arabia at this point because there is still an undercurrent of political unrest in the country. There is an opportunity, if even a slim one, for an outside party to foment further unrest.

I don't have answers to either of these questions, but as I read the reports I'm encourage there is an effort on any level being made to end the stalemate, but who actually winds up with the guns and what it means for Syria's neighbors remains a concern for me.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Syria: Is the Enemy of My Enemy My Friend?

Leslie Gelb, writing in the Daily Beast, has an article advocating the broad outlines of what productive US engagement with the crisis in Syria might look like. The whole strategy Gelb outlines is predicated on one simple notion: Neither Assad loyalists, nor those loyal to the Syrian National Council and affiliated groups want to see a Syria ruled by Islamic extremists who may or may not have ties with Al Qaeda. Conveniently  this notion is also very much aligned with U.S. and Iranian interests in Syria, as the former doesn't want a terrorist safe haven and the latter can't afford a bastion of Sunni extremism in what was once a proxy state.

I think there's a lot right with this approach, but I want to touch on a couple things that I think skew the reality a bit. First, as a sign of good will to the Alawites Gelb argues the U.S. should "ensure that neither its European nor its regional allies gave arms to groups suspected of being even slightly jihadi in nature." But how can the U.S. actually do this? Even if we could identify the groups that aren't "slightly jihadi" how could we prevent KSA or Qatar from taking a different tact? Historically our gulf friends have smiled and nodded as we made requests and done what the wanted to do anyway. Furthermore, Gelb undermines his own case for arming Syrian groups when he notes that "Arabs all look alike to Americans, even CIA operatives." If we have such a hard time identifying the "right" people just generally, how can we be expected to do so in the cacophonous milieu of Syria today?

The second challenge is how we provide arms to the right people publicly enough that the Alawites know we're a benevolent interloper, while also ensuring we don't undermine the legitimacy of the groups we arm. Let's not kid ourselves that both the Alawites and the jihadis would make great public relations hay of public U.S. selective intervention. This has been the catch 22 of U.S. engagement in the region for years. Do nothing and we are criticized as allowing slaughter, do something and you undermine the legitimacy of the people you're trying to help. Remember that intervention in Syria hasn't received a GCC blessing. 

I know, to some extent, the above contradicts my previous post on Syria. But I think Gelb's goal and my goal are different. Gelb wants to arm these selected groups, not to tip the scales in the conflict, but to send a signal to the Alawites. I tend to think the goal should be arming them so they can take decisive action to hasten an end to the conflict. Gelb's point that about the dynamic of violence is well taken, but if you arm the "right" rebels, acknowledging the challenges that creates, and you work back channels centered around Gelb's overarching premise, which I think is 100% correct, suddenly you have a regime losing militarily and wondering if the Al Nusra Front or more moderate Syrian rebels will take Damascus first. 

Status quo results in a long, bloody decline on both sides. In so far as identifying, arming, and assisting the "right" rebels can change the underlying equation I think it might hasten the Assad government to the negotiating table and strengthen the position of said "right" rebels. Gelb is certainly on to something here and it's almost the best of a lot of bad options if only because its organizing principle is on point and resonant with almost all the disparate parties involved.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Raising the Minimum Wage Isn't the Answer

In President Obama's State of the Union address he cited raising the minimum wage as policy goal. Liberals cheered, conservatives sneered, and me, for me it was a "ugh" moment. Let's be for real, the amount of money someone earns annually if they're working full-time in a minimum wage job verges on an insult to our collected humanity if that's what a head of household brings home. I mean, I'm a reasonably frugal guy but $15,000 just ain't a lot of money.

But a federally mandated raise in the minimum wage is a ham-handed way to deal with the problem. There are small businesses out there that hire high school kids or retirees a minimum wage. These aren't head of household employees, they are supplemental income employees and a federally mandated rise in the minimum wage hurts business while given the high school version of me a little more money maybe to save for college, but more then likely to buy another game of bowling. Now, I know not everyone is like me and there are folks that need a living wage. So let's write a smart law to reflect that, without hitting a small business like the one I worked for in high school.

But as Ezra Klein notes, raising the minimum wage isn't really about raising the minimum wage, it's about the growing income inequality going on in this country. It's about trying to see a greater share of corporate profits go to labor. And Ezra does a good job of breaking down some ways this could be tried without raising the minimum wage, or rather, that were tried and even implemented by Congress and Obama, but then allowed to lapse. And if Ezra is right that this is more about winning an issue for Obama and the Democrats at this point, then I may need to eat some crow. But it also means the Democrats and Obama are playing the long game here. They keep offering to compromise and keep hearing no, so they'll ignore compromise and pursue a popular policy that makes Republicans look bad for opposing since it's harder to make them look back for refusing the compromise. It's shrewd politics of the sort that would have the Republicans try and pass a law that makes English the official language.

But my point is this: I believe income equality is a problem in this country and it's a problem that's getting worse. I think it's incumbent on the government to do something about this, but I don't think raising the minimum wage is the right way to address it. It's a popular move with many people, but it doesn't help us address the underlying issue and we shouldn't lose sight of that.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

More Flash, Less Substance for the GOP

This is becoming a sport for me, though I'm not intending it to be so. Over at the National Review, Andrew Stiles decries how Democrats are fanning the flames of the "war on women" by trying to pass legislation like Violence Against Women Act and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Act. I suppose one could hypothesize that the Democrats are pushing these initiatives because they believe in them, but Mr. Stiles assigns a more nefarious purpose:
Democrats have nearly perfected the following exercise in cynical electioneering: 1) introduce legislation; 2) title it something that appeals to the vast majority of Americans who have no interest in learning what is actually in the bill, e.g., the “Violence Against Women Act”; 3) make sure it is  sufficiently noxious
 to the GOP that few Republicans will support it; 4) vote, and await headlines such as “[GOP Lawmaker] Votes No On Violence Against Women Act”; 5) clip and use headline in 30-second campaign ad; and 6) repeat.
Now I'm immediately going to move past the pot vs. kettle name calling that could ensue when Stiles notes VAWA and I mention the PATRIOT Act. No, instead let's just consider how dejected Stiles must be, how cynical he must be to suggest Democrats push these policies. But if this is "cynical electioneering" shouldn't these then be issues where women support what the Democrats are advocating? Here again is more from Mr. Stiles:
The policy proposals Obama has offered since beginning his second term — gun control, universal preschool, the minimum-wage hike, immigration reform — may not be specifically targeted toward women voters, but the White House is keenly aware of what the polls are saying. “These are issues that play very, very well with women voters, and further put the Republicans in the corner,” Politico’s well-sourced White House reporter Glenn Thrush said on MSNBC last week. Universal preschool is an especially favorable issue, Thrush said, because “chicks dig it.”
On gun control, women favor “controlling gun ownership” over “protecting gun rights” by a 57–38 percent margin, according to a recent Pew poll. Male opinion is reversed, favoring “gun rights” by 51 to 44 percent. Significant majorities of women support proposals to ban assault weapons, ban high-capacity magazines, ban online sales of ammunition, and track gun sales with a federal database, nearly all of which measures are unlikely to pass Congress owing to Republican (and substantial Democratic) opposition.Recent polling on the minimum wage suggests overwhelming support among women for Obama’s proposal to raise the current minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9 per hour. Nearly 80 percent of women support raising the minimum wage, and 64 percent say they “strongly” support it. Support is significant among non-college-educated women (82–9 percent), independent women (82–13), and even Republican women (58–30),
So there you have it. Women support these policies according to the polls. Okay so the Democrats have advanced bills that have the support of a majority of women, and because Democrats have advanced these bills, they enjoy an elecotral advantage among women. Where's the nefarious part again? Back to Mr. Stiles:
None of these policies has a particularly good chance of passing both houses of Congress any time soon. But that has never stopped President Obama and his Democratic allies from pushing such issues as a means to achieve political advantage.
Wait? What? Haven't we been hearing from Republicans during the sequestration battle that they can only do so much? That the responsibility is on the Democrats to offer a plan since they control the Senate and the White House? Just so we're clear, when the Democrats offer up proposals that are popular among the population they would help, but have a hard time passing the GOP-controlled House it's about political advantage. However, when the Democrats want the GOP-controlled House to advance a bill that might get along with the Senate and the White House it's seen as shirking responsibility. That's where we're at?

But it gets funnier. The Democrats are absolutely crushing the Republicans in wooing women votes because they're advocating for policies that women like, but Republicans don't want to support. Now one would think the Republicans, if they are interested in wooing some of those women voters away from the Democrats, might reconsider their policy positions, right? Wrong. You see, the Republicans of today think it's a problem of communication. Sabrina Schaeffer from the Independent Women's Forum says, "There are ways to reach out to women, to address their concerns, without pandering, simply by finding a better way of communicating."

In the words of someone else's Yiddish grandmother, "Oy vey!" I...just....can't... Pretty much every "serious" GOP operative quoted since the election has advised that it's not that the policy position is wrong, even when the effing columnist says the polls are in favor of the policy, no, it's communication. If they talked about it better, they would be doing better.

I stand by my warning that there are some in the GOP youth movement that are likely to make the party more relevant, but good grief. Right now, in the party Mr. Stiles advocates for, you have another explicit suggestion that they need more flash and less substance.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Another False Requiem for the GOP

I don't remember 2005 being like this for Democrats. I don't remember a stream of pieces coming out about how lost the Democrats were. I don't remember 2005 to 2007 being wilderness years for the party. Maybe I was too busy partying to notice what was going on in that party. But it's not 2005, it's 2013 and the GOP, if the articles are to be believed, is convulsing in fits of equal parts disbelief and rage at Barack Obama's reelection. And as much as the reelection of the "socialist" other Obama is, the real head-scratcher for the GOP faithful is how the heck they lost ground in the Senate, when they seemed primed to flip it as late as September.

Well add another article to the documented morass of the GOP circa 2013. Robert Draper has a long piece in The New York Times Magazine where young Republicans outline how crappy the party is, how it's picking the wrong battles, and how the party is a tribe of Luddites when it comes to technology. Draper raises the specter of obsolescence for the GOP, more to drive home the Luddite angle than to doom the party. Still at a time when Karl Rove wants to throw money at "electable" candidates and Gov. Jindal tells Republicans to stop being the "stupid party" without proposing any substantive policy changes to the platform, the article deserves a discerning read for a few reasons.

First, absolutely none of the young Republicans that Draper interviewed were obsessed with, or dare I say, even that interested in social issues. Perhaps we have the libertarians in the party to thank, perhaps it's just a matter of liberalism's march forward, but issues around gay marriage and abortion doesn't seem to animate these folks. It doesn't mean they'll be going to the next pride parade or raising a glass at the next anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I just got the sense they were past it. They seem completely disinterested in holding up the social conservative banner.

Personally, I'm not surprised. All the polling data suggests folks in my generation and the heinous millennials on my generation's heels may not agree with gay marriage or abortion, but they're disinclined to fight it. They have gay friends, they likely know of someone who had an abortion. Indeed, those interviewed seem to think there are bigger fish to fry so let's move on to the next issue.

That big fish is the size of the federal government. Make no mistake about it, these folks don't want a bigger federal government. They'd like to see lower taxes. They are traditional small government conservatives in the tradition of Joe Scarborough without the arrogant bombast. But I also noticed a distinction between their comments on small government and the standard dross that fills countless Congressional press releases. They don't sound like a bunch of Ayn Rand fanatics. This isn't a rabid pack of fascists who selectively quote Hayak or Friedman. They see a role for government, like Hayak and Friedman did. They want that role to be smaller than it is now, but they don't want to burn it to the ground. To a large extent they reminded me of the young adults profiled in Missoula, MT last week. To this point, it doesn't seem like the GOPoobas are listening to these young Turks within their party, except to pay lip service. But that ignorance holds a warning.

It holds a warning for Democrats. These young conservative Turks might be behind progressive circles on social media, organizing, analytics, and grass roots efforts, but they're running hard to catch up. And more then that, let's be really honest with ourselves. This is still a center-right nation. This is still a nation of people with a near instinctive aversion to "big government" perhaps owing much to the messaging put out by Republican presidents since Nixon (with an assist from Clinton and Obama). If this circle of folks can break through, can move the GOP beyond social issues, beyond government demagoguery; if they rise to the helm of the party, I'd reckon it's highly likely they could win several national election cycles and force the Democrats into the wilderness.

It would be folly for Democrats to think we've moved the center of gravity in the electorate, even with shifting demographics. Rather, President Obama, in pursuit of a sensible compromise, has chased today's GOP rightward into the wilderness. And it isn't just a liberal like me that sees that.  There's a sizable group of young conservatives out there who want to make the nouveau GOP, a nouveau GOP that will win elections and cut programs Democrats believe in. Consider yourself warned.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

On Syria: I've Changed My Mind

The New York Times is reporting today that President Obama may be reconsidering his earlier decision to not arm the rebels in Syria. Over the past several weeks, I've been wondering where I stood on this and realized something. I've changed my mind. I believe we should be providing material military assistance to select factions of the Syrian rebel force in several ways. I'll get to how I think we should assist, but first thought it would be more important why I changed my mind.

For me, there are four reasons we should now assist, when in the past I have avoided this. First, I'm always hesitant for the US to get involved with a rebel group until some turning point has been reached. In Syria, it meant the odds needed to be greater that Assad's regime would fall versus maintaining control. Here two weeks back the rebels made overtures to Assad to come to a negotiating table and end the fighting. I believe, to this point, Assad has simply not responded. No pronouncements of defiance, no refusal, just silence. I read this as a sign he wants to keep that door open. When a proud man feels a noose overhead, it's never a good idea to spit at the hangman. But you also don't act in defiance if you know the probability your regime will fall is slightly greater than the alternative. I'm confident, at this point, that there's no going back. Assad's government will fall, it's just a question of lives lost and time.

The second reason is this article citing former Secretary of State Clinton noting that Syrian rebels are receiving messages from parts of Pakistan known to be outposts of Al Qaeda. This is a serious problem because it means those disreputable elements in Pakistan may be assisting some factions in Syria with foreign fighters with an Islamic extremist character and little interest in a secure, moderate Syria post-Assad.

This leads me to the third reason. Put simply the Al-Nusra Front. A fighting group the US has deemed a terrorist organization, they have been highly effective fighters against Assad's government with solid gains on their record. This reason, taken with the last reason, mean we're looking at a hellish brew of Islamic extremist groups winning battles, having arms, and looking to be key parts of a post-Assad regime.

The fourth reason comes from the New York Times piece, citing how Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah are helping prop up their client, Assad. And there's this story of an Iranian Guard commander being killed in Syria. I'm quite confident that already some of our allies in the region are helping get some arms into Syria, likely with our tacit approval. Generally speaking, I detest proxy conflicts. I think it's a dastardly way to fight and damage a foe when you lack the means of conviction to do it face to face (Disclaimer: I am not saying we're better off with a hot war with Russia, Iran, or Hezbollah. More a statement of ideological inclination then policy conviction). But my detesting of the method doesn't preclude the realist in me from thinking we should sit out maintaining purity and losing strategically. I think if there are meddlers, at this point, we ought to meddle as well, insomuch as our Syrian rebel allies would like.

I've pulled a one eighty on this issue. I think we should send arms, military advisers, and political advisers to Syria. I think the rebels need better weapons and better military training. I think we also need civilians on the ground now working with the rebel leadership we have identified as our allies and begin equipping them with the civil society knowledge they'll need to be an attractive alternative to Al Nusra and its Salifist sympathizers.

We've seen this play out before. A country held under the thumb of a dictator and his repressive security apparatus fights and throws off the chains of its dictator. But time and again, we've seen how the revolution was the easy part. It's the governing and compromising that proves a challenges. In so far as the United States can serve as a model and occasionally a helping hand, it should. I was content for the US to sit on the sidelines of this conflict for a long time, but now it's time to get into the game.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

A GOP Out of Step with a Generation

There was a great story in Sunday's New York Times about the twenty-somethings in Missoula, Montana whom the headline describes as "Young, Liberal and Open to Big Government." I want to take issue with the headline a bit, then touch upon what these attitudes mean for the GOP, and finally lambast the GOP in Montana (though not only in Montana) for its reaction to the changing attitudes.

First, a bone to pick. Read the article and tell me if you think these are folks dedicated to the much lamented "big government." I think that's a very misleading description of the young people interviewed, and perhaps says more about where our political discourse lies right now. The article is chalk full of comments and evidence that folks in my generation are pretty sure there's a role for the government in the world that extends beyond the common defense. Government can provide a safety net, regulations, and education. When I read the article I got the sense that the folks they talked to didn't want the government to provide for them. They wanted a government that could provide a safe and level playing field. They wanted a government that could serve as a safety net should the cruel twists of fate befell them. I think that's radically different then any conception of "big government" we hear derisively bandied about.  I would also suggest that the folks they interviewed weren't prepared to give the government carte blanche.

Will Wilkinson has used the term "liberaltarian" to capture this trend, though I don't believe he coined the term. There is the liberal acceptance of a proper role of government that is to the left and prone to rankle those at the Cato Institute, but at the same time these same folks believe government shouldn't legislate many social issues like gay marriage and drug legalization. Indeed there are many days I'd consider myself in that number. I think the government should provide a level playing field but that there's not constitutional way for them to send a reaper after me without due process (and what a novel way to apply the death penalty). All this is by way of saying that the folks they interview weren't "big government" folks, they were "smart government" folks, which sounds a lot like a president I know.

So you have a generation coming up that believe in a limited role of government and much of that limitation is centered around social issues. That's not an encouraging sign for a GOP that's been dragged by its right flank further and further out of touch with young people, many independents, and science. After the 2012 election there were many who suggested the GOP go on its own sort of vision quest. Take stock of its policies and disposition, take some peyote, sing Kumbaya around a campfire, trip out because it's the first time they'd inhaled, and come back with some different policies. That's not really what happened. Instead of going out into the woods they went to Williamsburg. Instead of deep, drug-fueled introspection they have given shallow, hubris-ridden self-immolating speeches. The "lip stick on a pig" quote has become cliche, and yet apropos to the GOP response to a drifting electorate.  But that's not entirely true though.

Consider the article about Montana, the party, facing an electorate its increasingly out of touch with has started to pursue a policy:
The victories rattled Republican state lawmakers, who are now trying to undo a Montana law that permits voters to register on Election Day. Republicans say last-minute registration creates long lines and confusion.
You know what they say, if you can't convince them on the basis of your ideas; steal their franchise. There's only one word for this sort of behavior: pathetic. Strike that, there are two words: pathetic & dangerous. It's pathetic because instead of adapting to the changing attitudes in the country, attitudes that aren't nearly as left as say Eisenhower's, you want to take the football and go home. It's dangerous because it's a deliberate attempt to remove the vox populi from the system. And all this policy is framed as a solution to a problem that doesn't exist.

So, to review, young people appreciate there's a limited role for government. That doesn't make them "big government" liberals. And the GOP should have gone out into the Shenandoahs and embraced the cathartic effects of peyote (maybe even just go to Peyote Cafe, though that's a different catharsis), but instead they've decided to take away your vote because you're not voting for them. Man, who wants to go roast some marshmallows.

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Larger Import of Dell Going Private

Dell made news last week by announcing the company would be going private through a $24.4 billion dollar buyout of its public shares. It's the biggest buyout since 2007 and for me it reminded me of a piece that appeared in The Economist ahead of the Facebook IPO that considered the retreat of public companies. The Economist remembers with fondness the innovation and participation the advent of public companies caused. I find the nostalgia a bit overbearing, but interesting. And the piece as a whole got me thinking.

The main purpose of any initial public offering (IPO) is to raise capital. An entrepreneur starts a company and grows the company with investors who receive private shares of the company. The logic used to go that a company would grow to a point where it would have exhausted its ability to raise additional large chunks of capital without turning to the broader public. Facing the need for greater capital, the company would "go public" allowing anyone to buy shares. Beyond raising capital, this was often a moment where those initial investors would have the opportunity to be handsomely rewarded for their initial investment, as those private shares they have are now traded publicly, often for much more then they invested to receive them.

Of course, there are down sides to going public. Public companies have extensive reporting requirements and disclosure requirements to the government and to the public. When a company goes public and has the opportunity to enjoy the capital of the greater public, it also has the harsh daylight of public access as well. Additionally, the company is largely beholden to its shareholders. What used to be a handpicked lot of investors becomes a seething rabble of apoplectic financials instruments and traders with varying levels of commitment and a rabid appetite for every quarterly update.

It used to be a company would face the reality of the capital and the rabble and the daylight. Now more so than a few decades ago they face a choice. The uber-wealthy have created or bought in to investment groups, so-called private equity firms. Where companies used to look to an IPO to raise the money required to make the leap to the next level but also looking to the public and the rabble, now there are pools of money looking for something with a potential above market return. Companies can raise the capital without dealing with the rabble and the daylight.

I think in time this new arrangement tells us a few things we need to be wary of as business and business forms move forward.

First, the growing predominance of these private equity firms is another sign of the bulging inequality in the United States. There is a section of the populace with access to vast fortunes of money, which I don't begrudge them, but they are using this sea of money to create investment groups that lock out the standard investor in many instances. There are some institutional investors in private equity firms and even some public private equity firms (if that makes sense), but most are not readily accessible to Joe Schmo. The heavy lift of capitalism is happening far above the level of the individual stockholder, creating a parallel exclusionary system which will only entrench the financial divisions in this country as those that would aspire to join the group are increasingly without the buy-in capital necessary because they can't find the investment opportunities that allow them to compete against the entrenched and monied interests.

Second, we need a collective "come to Jesus" moment for shareholders of public companies. You invest money, you want to see a return, but tremendous sums shoot around the system based on who made a nickel per share in the third quarter earnings report. That's not investing, it's hot potato. And it's unhealthy for the sustained success of public companies. I can appreciate, in part, Michael Dell's desire to take the company private. Dell is at a crossroads. They need to evolve to remain a viable company in five years time, but this isn't a company that's on the verge of collapse. Yet shareholders demand immediate return and as the evolution were to take shape, shareholders could have abandoned the company hastening the demise of a company that wasn't dead yet. So we need to encourage a change in shareholder behavior that looks beyond the next quarter to the next year or the next decade. Now that doesn't mean Dell is a great investment, but perhaps it would temper the velocity of retreat.**

Third, and this point could surprise some people, let's take a look at the regulation and reporting regime around public companies. If you're going to ask the public to invest in something they need to know what they're investing in, but there is the counterpoint to that where the reporting burden outweighs the benefit of raising capital in the public space. I'm concerned we've designed a regime to try and prevent the bad apples (looking at you Enron) and not a regime that facilitates the good apples. The Economist says, "[politicians] have heaped regulations onto Western public companies, blithely assuming that businessfolk have no choice but to go public in the long run." I think there's something to that statement. The reality is that companies have far more options then they did when the regime was original designed and added upon and policymakers should consider the regime, how to maintain the sterilizing effect of daylight, while also making the prospect of going public more attractive to companies.

So why does this all matter? Why does it matter where a company gets its capital? I think it matters because our economy works best when we all have a vested interest in it, and that interest needs to go beyond having a job or being able to buy a cheaper TV. Our economy and capitalism works best when everyone has a share in the continued prosperity of business enterprise. The expansion of private equity firms, I believe, is likely to lead to an even greater reality of haves and have-nots, because it makes the world of investments out of reach for your standard office worker. Much was made in the presidential campaign of Warren Buffet and Warren Buffet's secretary. I think the economy works best when Mr. Buffet and his secretary both have the regular opportunity to invest in a company, even if the volume of that investment is different. Again, not equality, equal opportunity.

Postscript on point number two: I don't have the data to know this, but I would be curious how much of the quarterly report tweakers, or at least the money they represent, are folks who also have shares in private equity firms. In other words, in their never ceasing profit seeking behavior are they diminishing the luster of being a public company because they want an immediate return? Seems the traditional investment interests like mutual funds and 401(k)s change investments, but exist for those longer timelines.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

USPS is Best

So I have some more nostalgia prone friends who nearly teared up at the news that the United States Postal Service is ending letter delivery on Saturdays, though they will retain package delivery for now to comply with Congressional legislation. It's time when USPS is much maligned and may suggest it should be given the ax or entirely privatized  In the wake of the Saturday delivery news, Joshua Keating writes up a 2011 study by Oxford Strategic Consulting that ranks the best post services among the G-20 countries. Guess who was number one? USA! USA! USA!

Rounding out the top six are Japan, Korea, Australia, Canada, and Germany. Notably, Germany is the only one of the six that is entirely privatized. There are a lot of ideas to extend upon postal services that the US should maybe consider. Japan and Korea have a postal service that also offers simple bank products like savings accounts.  Australia, dealing with rural delivery issues, actually sells "franchises" in rural areas for a town's general store to manage postal delivery. Meanwhile, Canada allows people to handle electronic transactions through Canada Post.

Personally, I think the Australia model could be a great way for the US to go. In those more rural areas, sell franchising rights to the general stores and commissaries that keep the more wide open portions of this country stocked with supplies. Maybe include an opt-in delivery option, where you need to request home delivery. If you aren't worried about home delivery, you could always pick up your mail when you go into town. Apparently the GAO wants the USPS to do the bill pay stuff Canada Post does. I haven't looked into it deeply, but I'm not sure how much that would help the USPS.

Anyway postal carriers, hold you heads a little higher. You're the best in the world. Oh, and enjoy your weekends.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Don't Mind this Secret Drone Base

Besides finding out the legal basis the US established to kill one of its citizens, we also found out that we have a previously secret drone base in Saudi Arabia. Suddenly the Brennen nomination hearing for CIA director has the potential to be prime time viewing. I've two reactions to both the news of this base and the impending nomination hearing.

1) We know there is an airstrip in Djibouti where drones routinely take off and land. And I appreciate that Yemen is a big place and acknowledge limited technical knowledge of the flight range of our drone fleet, but did we need a secret base? Or was it easier for the CIA to have a secret base in Saudi Arabia instead of flying drones out of Djibouti?

2) While the leaked memo justifying the targeting of Awlaki could come up, I don't know how much the broader drone program will. It seems like a popular program in the country and I wonder what kind of political mileage the GOP would get for disparaging it, especially since it's a resource the Bush administration employed (along with extraordinary rendition and enhance interrogation, which have gone by the wayside in this administration). In the end the hearing could be much ado about very little. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

All Said and Done

Round Up:

I'm cooking spicy stir fry of grean beans and crispy tofu tonight. And that's all I got.

Jason Out.

Breaking Up Banks is Hard to Do

It's especially hard from on the inside.  Michael Lewis thinks we should be breaking up the big banks. In a book review of all places, Mr. Lewis, of Moneyball, Blind Side, and The Big Short fame, says banks like Goldman Sachs should be broken up.  How broken up?:
The ultimate goal should be to create institutions so dull and easy to understand that, when a young man who works for one of them walks into a publisher's office and offers to write up his experiences, the publisher looks at him blankly and asks, "Why would anyone want to read that?" 
This is very similar to what Paul Krugman was saying back during Congressional negotiations over what would become the Dodd-Frank bill. Essentially, Krugman argued and Lewis appears to concur with, banks should be boring. They should make money on interest, but not too much, and they shouldn't be playing with house money.

I would have to agree. Banks, federally insured, deposit receiving banks, should be the most boring thing in the world. How long did banks exist without the fancy monetary instruments they created ahead of the crash? How long had banks been pillars of their community before they started betting with the house money? Have banks learned nothing from credit unions?

I like my dollars in bill form, I like my beer cold, and I like my banks boring. If we need to break them up to prevent another calamity, then that's what we need to do.

GOP Energy Policy

We're way beyond "Drill baby! Drill!" at this point.  Sen. Lisa Murkowski, ranking Republican on the Senate Energy Committee released a "blue print" of energy policy for the US moving into the future.  Brad Plumer, writing at Wonkblog, has the breakdown of nine key ideas from the blueprint.

Some of it is traditional GOP energy policy boiler plate. Open up ANWR. Open up off shore drilling. Slow down on the phasing out of coal. These aren't surprising recommendations. I'm not a big fan of opening up ANWR and memories of Deep Horizon are still to fresh for me to think we should go gung-ho toward off shore drilling, but some of the ideas around coal should be discussed. And there are a couple other ideas that I think Democrats could easily support.

The chief one of these would be to use the money now tagged for alternative energy subsides and putting it into basic science research around these energy technologies. This is a very smart move for a few reasons. First, if you're a Democrat you've grown tired of the "picking winners and losers" argument over these subsidies because there's an inconvenient kernel of truth in it. Second, you bring the resources of the government to bear to facilitate innovation. Let the market worry about how to commoditize the innovation, but let's support the base innovation. I would be hesitant that the GOP money men would come after this basic science program and such programs tend to have a weaker political constituency than direct subsidies do, but I think this is a great idea to consider.

The other idea I liked was the expansion of hydroelectric energy by building more dams and electrifying existing dams. The report cites Energy Department figures indicating doing this would lead to 300 gigawatts of energy. If the figures here are to be believed, that would mean we would bring enough power into the system to electrify fifteen New York Cities. The odds are slim you could get to the full 300 gigawatts, given NIMBY issues and water management concerns but this is the sort of infrastructure investment that helps us begin to lower our reliance on coal and nuclear.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the blueprint is an explicit recognition that we can and should lower our greenhouse gas emissions. The breakdown doesn't say whether or not Sen. Murkowski believes climate change it man made, but having it mentioned as part of her plan is certainly a step in the right direction.

This blueprint has the potential to be an incredibly important document should the Senate decide to take up energy policy. I hope it does and if this is where the GOP is starting from, we may be able to do a lot more to change our energy position and begin to mitigate global warming then I thought was possible even just a couple weeks ago.

Kuwait is a Way Station for Syria

In The National there is an interesting story about how Kuwait is becoming a "back office of logistical support" for the rebels in Syria. It hasn't been news to hear gulf nations are supporting the rebels in Syria, particularly given the desire to counterbalance Iran in the broader region.  What makes the article striking is the myriad of groups raising money from within and without Kuwait to provide aid to the rebels, both lethal and non-lethal.  The impact of these organizations, perhaps less encumbered by the rules and restrictions of the UN, has been remarkable.

There is one more thing I want to pull out, and that's at the end of the article. As radical Islamic groups have come to the fore in Syria, these Kuwaiti groups have been providing less and less lethal aid. And yet Kuwaiti MP, Jamaan Al Harbash says that's hurts the rebels cause:
What is needed is that the FSA be authorised, officially, to acquire weapons of self-defence in a way that would enable it to prevail. The FSA must not be dealt with as a bunch of militant, opposition factions, it must rather be dealt with as an official body.
In fact, the FSA now is a large structure and if it was being supplied with a specific type of arms - especially anti-aircraft weaponry - that would enable it to finish off this battle in a month or two.
I asked yesterday who the Syrian opposition really is, and in the article I linked to there is increased pressure on the US to green light the transfer of weapons to the rebels. It's something I've been opposed to, but as it comes to light the rebels are communicating with folks in the tribal regions of Pakistan and as the Syrian National Council makes a serious overture to Assad for negotiations, I'm beginning to think the US may want to prepare to get more engaged, including considering targeted sharing of weapons to the Free Syrian Army. 

SOTD: God's Gonna Cut You Down by Johnny Cash

I really hate this song was co-opted by Jeep, kind of like how Dodge co-opted the American Farmer though The Atlantic wonders where the Hispanic people went. But that doesn't take away from the thumping intensity of this song. Start your Tuesday off with some swagger, or maybe you should be looking over your shoulder.

Gov. Kasich Wants that Obamacare Money

It's been a long, slow road where it appeared many Republican governors would deny their most vulnerable citizens healthcare to prove a political point, and while there are still hold outs, namely the two Ricks from Florida and Texas, Ohio's governor at least as seen the light. He announced on Monday that he will seek to receive the federal Obamacare dollars made available to expand Medicaid.  Gov. Kasich will have to get his legislature on board,but what I find amusing is the rationale.

You see, he thinks Ohio should take the money because I mean other states are taking the money and they'll have more business investment because they'll have a healthier workforce.  What a novel concept! If you help people get healthcare, they get healthier and are more productive, thus more attractive to employers and potential businesses.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Round Up for 4 Feb 2013

I've figured out I don't have enough thoughts to have a closing though every day, but I still though it'd be a good idea to put my posts up in one list for those that check out the blog at the end of their days.

Round Up:

- SOTD: Transatlanticism by Death Cab for Cutie. I've heard people say that this was the last good Death Cab album, and while it is great album The Open Door EP is really really good. Of course four new songs do not an album make.

- It's great we're talking to the Syrians, but who are we really talking to and more importantly who do they speak for? Also, reading the blip about Syrian rebels receiving messages from the tribal region nearly has me turned around on a broader US mission in the country.

- Prof. John Sides ruins many pundits' narrative on gerrymandering, but I think he's missing the forest for the trees a bit with his empirical analysis.

- Who doesn't love a big thought piece on Iran, George Orwell, and dystopian literature? Also, if you're a dystopian fan, I'd have to recommend We by Yevgeny Zamyatin as a worthy, but oft over looked part of the cannon.

Orwell & Iran

Over at Foreign Policy there's an interesting, if a big navel gazing, piece from Roland Elliott Brown. He works to draw parallels from Animal Farm and 1984 to Iran's captured revolution and current state. It's a great read that tries to coax how a novel intended to represent a communist revolution can be expanded to include a theologically driven one.

If it ain't Gerrymandering, what is it?

Over at Wonkblog, there's a post up from John Sides showing some empirical evidence that would suggest gerrymandered districts are not the problem for polarization in Congress. Instead, the evidence would suggest party fealty leads to the differences between parties. It is pretty compelling, but I would add a few thoughts:

1) The evidence submitted doesn't distinguish what the votes were on, which is to say many votes are largely innocuous. In those instances, one would expect fealty to party because the individual may have little interest in the specific legislation. I would think there is some dilution of voting record going on here that might screw up the expected linear relationship.

2) Just because gerrymandering isn't the reason for polarization doesn't mean it's something we should ignore. Having so many "non-competitive" seats means it's easier for entrenched interests to capture a district and keep it. Does this, alone, increase polarization? No, but it does increase the ability to be loyal to one's party instead of one's constituents.

3) Towards the bottom of the post there's a mention of "leapfrog representation" which explains why, when a district flips, the congress person elected is often dramatically to the left or the right of his or her predecessor, instead of landing in the middle. If this is the case and gerrymandering isn't the cause, what is? I would suggest primaries are the issue.  Sides notes Seth Masket's work that suggests, "local party organizations have been captured by activists for whom ideological fealty is paramount." This would explain leapfrog representation and, to some extent, polarization.

The evidence put together is strong, but I think gerrymandering is half the issue. Primaries tend to contribute to polarization as well. Why else would conservatives make a PAC to fight other conservatives in primaries? The natural follow-on question would be to ask why Obama mentioned gerrymandering, but not primaries in his interview with The New Republic? I think it comes down to party fealty. Democrats have primaries so the President is constrained for criticizing it too loudly. I mean, if not for primaries would he be president?

Who is the Syrian Opposition?

It's a question posed from time to time, but never fully answered. Take, for instance, the story at The New York Times about VP Biden's meeting with "the leader of the Syrian opposition council, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib." I think it's excellent that the US is engaging with the opposition council, but call me jaded.

I remember Ahmed Chalabi and the opposition group he ran from outside of Iraq. He was a man who said everything would be great if the US invaded Iraq and he and his group fed us much of the intel that was used to justify the invasion.

Now every situation, indeed, every person is different. But I get nervous any time I hear US officials are meeting with an opposition council, especially in Munich, far from the fighting. I think it serves us well to be skeptical of the influence and control any such personage, or council can exercise. This is especially true when the Secretary of State is saying Syrian rebels are receiving messages from the tribal regions of Pakistan.

SOTD: Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie

A great song for a Monday, I think. I really like the patience of the song. This could have been a four minute tune, but it breathes and stretches for almost eight minutes, lingering and not losing impact.

Establishment Republicans on Offense

It was an interesting weekend with lots of news items, but one thing that's likely to get buried is this story in The New York Times about a new conservative PAC designed to counter the Tea Party's primary dominance called the Conservative Victory Project. In part financed by America Crossroads, the goal of the group is to avoid getting "Akin-ed."

Coming out of the 2012 election, when GOP primary voters selected candidates that should have won but didn't because of extreme positions, it was clear the GOP needed to tamp down on some of the "legitimate" crazy that wins primaries and loses general election.  But I'm left wondering two things:

1) How does a group like the Conservative Victory Project counter the fervency and passion from the Tea Party and yet still maintain a grass roots operation during the general election? Will the group tamp down some of its extreme elements at the expense of energy as well?

2) Will a group like the Conservative Victory Project be a moderating influence on the GOP? In the story they say they intended to follow the "Buckley rule: Support the most conservative candidate who can win." One might speculate that could mean a tact back toward the middle, and they well may need it. Even folks like Gov. Bobby Jindal, who warns his party of being "the stupid party" has been accused of just changing the window dressing without changing the policy.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Closing Thought: Kicking the afternoon energy dip

It never fails. Every Friday morning I'm ready for the weekend, I'm thinking about what I'm going to do on that night. And ever Friday around 4pm the only thing I think to want to do is go home and lounge.  Most times I ignore that voice and proceed, full throttle into an evening, evenings that increasingly end well before midnight.

Closing Thought: I got find a way to kick these afternoon energy dips. 

The Fear: I'm growing increasingly concerned that Robert Goulet is close by. I've even seen this man recently, strangely only in the bathroom when I'm washing my hands.

Round Up

Americans Want to Raise Taxes for Social Security

Again via Wonkblog (who maybe should get like a "Frequently Linked" card from me) comes the results from a survey conducted by a marketing firm hired by the National Academy of Social Insurance. And the results are in, when surveyed respondents support raising the payroll tax and lifting the payroll tax cap far more than cutting benefits.

Of note about this study, the surveyors explained policies before asking for their preferences, which is to say the answers aren't quite as arbitrary as some other polls and surveys would be. To me, this ties back again to President Obama's second inaugural address, the popularity of social safety net programs, and now some survey numbers suggest people are willing to pay more to keep it.

One final add-on that connects to my first post today: respondents were also asked if they thought Social Security was in crisis with 54% responding that they thought it was.  When the surveyors explained that raising Social Security taxes by 1.4% would guarantee the program for 75 years, the number of respondents thinking the program was in crisis dropped to 26%. Pundits are ginning up panic, again, when there is no real need for it.

That Which Wasn't Said at the Hagel Confirmation Hearing

Over at the Washington Post, Max Fisher has tallied up how often some key words were used during the marathon confirmation hearing from SecDef nominee, former senator, Chuck Hagel.  As I noted in  yesterday's closing thought, it seemed like Israel was mentioned a lot.

According to Max Fisher, Israel was mentioned 178 times, just nine ahead of the mark Iran set. Beyond what was mentioned, there were some notable absences from the questions the Senators asked. The number of times Yemen, Mali, Al Qaeda, or drones were mentioned was five. That's five times if you combine all those subjects.

It's a gross figure and many of these topics might have been sitting behind references to terrorism (76 mentions, or less than half as many mentions of Israel) and certainly a confirmation hearing is about prodding the nominee on his or her record. To that end, one anticipated many mentions of Israel and Iran based on past statements by Sen. Hagel. 

But I find it almost unconscionable that a nominee for Secretary of Defense wasn't questioned about Al Qaeda or the two countries they are at their strongest, and it's near dereliction of duty by these senators to not seek some sort of stance on drones from a potential new secretary of defense. Then again, maybe that's a settled argument and I just haven't agreed on the settlement.

SOTD: Last Dance With Mary Jane - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

I don't think any explanation is needed for this one. Classic song. Classic music video. "Oh my my, oh hell yes."

Economists Are Right, Pundits Are Wrong

Over at Wonkblog, Neil Irwin does a great job breaking down why many political pundits think our current deficit and debt are nation-threatening problems, and why many economists think that's ridiculous. From past writings it should come as no surprise which side I come down on, the economists. Irwin, I think it's fair to say, is more inclined to agree with the economists, but he does a good job considering the arguments the pundits make.

To my mind, the most compelling case the pundits have to make is centered around risk management.  Here's Irwin making the argument for the pundits:
We don’t really know what the future holds and if our debt levels remain in the trillions, we may have less capacity to deal with unexpected contingencies. Suppose there is a new recession in the next few years in an already feeble recovery, which could knock the nation’s deficit reduction progress off the rails. What if there is another war? What if climate change happens so quickly and severely that the nation must start investing hundreds of billions of dollars to protect Florida from the sea?
The future is unknowable, and when there are high debt levels, even if the interest burden is seemingly manageable, it could cramp a future government’s ability to respond decisively to the challenges of the future. 
This is an excellent reason to be mindful of our current deficits and stake steps to reduce our overall debt load. And Irwin outlines, as others have, that current law will reduce our long term debt prospects. Not dramatically, but it means we don't have as far to go as some might suggest.  And of course, there is the problem of going to far toward austerity.  Irwin cites the United Kingdom:
Britain has been implementing deficit-reduction measures for the past three years, and while it has succeeded in cutting deficits, its economy has been stagnant as austerity sucks the wind out of growth. As a result, its debt to GDP ratio has been rising! (By the IMF’s numbers, Britain’s deficit has fallen from almost 9 percent of GDP in 2008 to 5.6 percent in 2012—yet in that span its debt level has risen from 61 percent to 84 percent).
I don't think that's a path we should look to replicate since it "saves" today at the expense of tomorrow. But the pundits will say our entitlement programs are a huge problem, complicating our deficit and debt issues. Hell, I've said that, but Irwin says what I have also said. It doesn't mean cuts make the most sense:
 It is certainly the case that as the post-World War II generation retires, it will put a strain on the federal government’s finances. The costs of entitlements—mainly Social Security and Medicare—for this generational bulge would be more easily managed if deficits were lower.But there are two weaknesses in this argument. First, the fact is that the costs are manageable today, and arguments that we should preemptively adjust the programs’ finances to match projections of their future challenges have an odd circularity to them: “We have to cut entitlements, because otherwise in the future we might have to cut entitlements.”
And Irwin gets even more to the point when looking at healthcare. It's not that Medicare is unsustainable as a program, it's that the healthcare sector costs are outpacing basically every other sector in cost growth year after year. So Medicare isn't the problem, healthcare costs are. Control the costs, bring the program back in line.

Finally, Irwin addresses the most quipped contestation of our deficit and debt. The specter of Greece is brought up. We will be unable to borrow. We will end in a cycle of despair. But, as Irwin notes, "there is not even a shadow of a hint of this risk priced into financial markets."  It's an unpredicatable world and financial markets are often volatile  but the economists are right. The sky is not falling. Let's work the problem, but let's not panic and make things worse.