Friday Mashup (2/15/13)

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  • Never letting dumb stuff like, y’know, facts and actual data get in the way of his talking points (like everyone else in his party apparently), Repug U.S. House Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster recently engaged in some name-calling of Number 44 after the State of the Union address on Tuesday (here)…

    I think he’s lying about CEOs — they want to invest in a country that has high-speed rail? Really? Tell me what CEO said that, that cares about high-speed rail,” Shuster said when asked for his thoughts on the speech. “Manufacturers want to invest in a country that has roads that are built, they want the infrastructure to be right for the transportation system, but to say one of the reasons they’re going to invest in America and manufacturing plants is because of high-speed rail is crazy.”

    (Ok everybody, feel free to take a break for a few minutes, since we know what’s coming next…catch up on the laundry or the bills, check the kids’ homework, replace the leaky oil pan in your SUV, get a snack or a cup of coffee…I’ll wait.)

    (Oh, I think Shuster has something else to say now, so let’s resume…)

    “This type of incendiary rhetoric is not my style,” Shuster said at a Chamber of Commerce infrastructure summit after apologizing for his remarks. “I do not think the president is a liar.”

    Later, when asked what he thought of the “fix it first” portion of the speech, Shuster threw his hands up and said, “I started off saying what I shouldn’t have said.”

    In response, I give you the following on the matter of the U.S. and infrastructure here, in which we learn (among other things) the following:

    – China spends 7 percent of its Gross Domestic Product on its infrastructure. India spends 5 percent. The United States spends less than 2 percent. Engineers think the U.S. will have to spend $2.2 trillion over 5 years to bring the overall grade for infrastructure up to an ‘A.
    – Here’s a sobering statistic: more than 4,400 of the nation’s 85,000 aging dams are considered susceptible to failure, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
    – The investment needed just to maintain the transit system’s current condition and performance is $7,900,000,000 annually over the next five years, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). It would take between $12,900,000,000 and $14,500,000,000 annually to maintain and improve conditions and performance–a need of about $72,000,000,000 over the next five years. Federal, state, and local investment averaged just $5,400,000,000 annually in recent years.
    – America is known for its huge highways, but with few exceptions (London among them) American traffic congestion is worse than western Europe’s. Average delays in America’s largest cities exceed those in cities like Berlin and Copenhagen. Americans spend considerably more time commuting than most Europeans; only Hungarians and Romanians take longer to get to work. More time on lower quality roads also makes for a deadlier transport network. With some 15 deaths a year for every 100,000 people, the road fatality rate in America is 60% above the (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) average; 33,000 Americans were killed on roads in 2010.

    And from here (by T. Peter Ruane, president and chief executive officer of the Washington-based American Road & Transportation Builders Association )…

    Some might wonder: What about that $800 billion stimulus package that was enacted in 2009? Wasn’t that supposed to solve problems such as this? The answer is depressingly simple: Just 6 percent of that money went to transportation infrastructure and states cut their own transportation spending by almost an equivalent amount. It is indeed unfortunate that we haven’t had more of a debate these past four years — a debate over the physical plant of our nation, over the facilities we all rely on for our health and wealth.

    So basically, I don’t know why (aside from stupid, petty partisan politics of course) Shuster or anyone else is quibbling over what President Obama or anyone else has to say about the need to rebuild our country’s infrastructure; money is cheap, and this is the time to spend it and invest in the future.

    I should also point out that “Tiger Beat on the Potomac,” as Esquire’s Charles Pierce astutely refers to Politico, called the story an “apology” from Shuster. To yours truly, however, it looked like nothing of the kind.

  • Next, I should note that there’s a reason why economists should be on the Sunday gab fests more often discussing financial matters as opposed to Beltway media talking heads; Fred Barnes of The Weakly Standard attempts to discuss money matters, and hilarity ensues (here)…

    Obama, though, was on-message (during the State of the Union address), just as he was in his inaugural address three weeks ago. He wants to spend more. He wants the government to do more (except overseas). And he isn’t much worried about the possibility of a debt crisis. He leaves it to Republicans to worry about things like the debt-to-GDP ratio.

    In response, I give you the following from Professor Krugman (here)…

    (The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities) goes on to advocate another $1.4 trillion in revenue and/or spending cuts, which would bring the debt ratio at the end of the decade back down to around its current level. But the larger message here is surely that for the next decade, the debt outlook actually doesn’t look all that bad.

    True, there are projected problems further down the road, mainly because of the continuing effects of an aging population. But it still comes as something of a shock to realize that at this point reasonable projections do not, repeat do not, show anything resembling the runaway deficit crisis that is a staple of almost everything you hear, including supposedly objective news reporting.

    So you heard it here first: while you weren’t looking, and the deficit scolds were doing their scolding, the deficit problem (such as it was) was being mostly solved. Can we now start talking about unemployment?

    And where exactly did that $1.4 (or so) trillion come from exactly? As noted here (in a post where Mr.-Puppy-Dog-Eyes-With-The-Shiv now embraces the “sequester,” due to cause the pain he professed to oppose on the campaign trail last year)…

    Days before House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) abandoned negotiations with President Obama to advance his failed Plan B, the White House paired a tax increase on the richest Americans with spending cuts of $1.22 trillion over 10 years, including “adopting a new measure of inflation that slows the growth of government benefits, especially Social Security.” Despite Ryan’s claims, the Democrats’ plan contained: $400 billion in savings “from federal health care programs; $200 billion from other so-called mandatory programs, like farm price supports, not subject to Congress’s annual spending bills; $100 billion from military spending; and $100 billion from domestic programs under Congress’s annual discretion.”

    Ryan also reiterated that Republicans won’t support additional revenues to turn off the sequester, noting that the American Taxpayer Relief Act — the last minute law that averted the fiscal cliff — included an increase in taxes on couples making more than $450,000 annually and singles making more than $400,000. “The point is, though, the president got his additional revenues. So that’s behind us,” Ryan said on Sunday.

    The comments represent another retreat for Ryan, who backed Mitt Romney’s proposal to raise revenues by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions for the wealthiest Americans. Those reforms were not included in the American Taxpayer Relief Act and could be part of a package that reforms tax breaks for high-income individuals and corporations, generating “$1 trillion in potential savings over 10 years” — more than enough to replace the sequester.

    But of course, since we’re talking about the Beltway…well, If it isn’t good news for Republicans somehow, then it must be bad news for Democrats, as noted here

    The president mentioned the coming sequester, but Douglas Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget Office, told the Senate’s Committee on the Budget, that he can’t score the proposal to replace the sequester because he hasn’t yet seen “a specific proposal.” The sequester was the president’s idea, though he now suggests it came from Congress. The House has proposed targeted spending cuts that protect defense. Those proposals have gone nowhere in the Senate.

    Yes, the sequester did come from Obama, but Congress voted on it and approved it, with “Man Tan” Boehner saying he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in it here (and maybe this tells us why the proposals have “gone nowhere” in the Senate…because of military push-back, that is).

    And while we continue to dither away over this temporary nonsense, our roads continue to crumble, our bridges continue to wear, and our planet continues to melt.

  • Further, The Doughy Pantload is unintentionally hilarious here yet again…”oh, it’s ‘too trite’ to compare Obama to W.E.B. DuBois and the Repugs to Booker T. Washington…but I will anyway”…

    In an earlier era, Dr. Benjamin Carson’s speech before the National Prayer Breakfast last week would have been a really big deal rather than mere fodder for a brief squall on Twitter and cable news.

    Born in crushing poverty to an illiterate single mother dedicated to seeing her children succeed, Carson became the head of the department of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins medical institutions when he was 33. He’s been a black celebrity role model ever since.

    So what’s the deal with Dr. Carson anyway? As Jonah Goldberg tells us…

    Although much of Carson’s speech focused on personal responsibility, he offered two concrete policy ideas. The first is a flat tax. The Bible endorses the idea, Carson explained. Everyone should tithe — give 10 percent — in good times and bad. It doesn’t have to be 10 percent, he conceded. It’s the principles of proportionality and simplicity that matter.

    I don’t know about the Bible, but as far as Utah is concerned, that state passed a flat tax and quickly ran into funding problems, as noted here (and oh yes, what would our lives be like without another conservative lecture on “personal responsibility”?).

    Continuing…

    Critics complain that the poor guy who puts in $1 will be hurt more than the rich guy who puts in $1 billion. But, Carson asks: “Where does it say you’ve got to hurt the [rich] guy? He just put a billion dollars in the pot. We don’t need to hurt him. It’s that kind of thinking that has resulted in 602 banks in the Cayman Islands.”

    Oh, so it’s the fault of that baaad Kenyan Muslim Socialist in the White House that our august captains of industry have to shelter their booty offshore, isn’t it? Uh huh.

    Meanwhile, it looks like the U.S. loses about $280 bil a year in offshore accounts, as noted here, and this tells us what the IRS plans to do about it (have to assume it’s legal unless I know otherwise, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t stink to high heaven…and yes, I know about this in a related story, but I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as it was with Romney because, in the latter case, it fit in with a pattern of misbehavior and sanctimony towards the “47 percent” that was truly galling; there’s also a big difference between serving as Treasury Secretary and President of the United States).

  • Finally, I absolutely must say something about the latest from “Chuckles” Krauthammer (here)…

    I find this amazing. First of all, just hearing him say every first grader in America has to be prepared for a high-tech economy, that is a bit early, I think. The other part of this is here we are with $16 trillion in debt, a trillion dollars a year of deficits. We have created already, with under Obama, the biggest entitlement in 50 years. And now he wants to create a new entitlement for preschool for every 4-year-old in the country.

    The worst part of this, this isn’t just any new entitlement. This is an entitlement in an area where we know the $7 billion a year that we spend on Head Start doesn’t make any difference after the third grade. There is a study that HHS has done that showed that. So it’s failure and yet he wants to double down and to make it universal. That’s probably a definition of a liberal.

    Boy, am I sick of defending Head Start against attacks from the wingnutosphere (not attacking the program, I hasten to add).

    As noted here

    …according to Scholastic, “Economists say that the return for every dollar invested in preschool can be anywhere from $2 to $17 when you total the drop in special education, grade repetition, and crime, and add the value of a more productive workforce.” A 2005 study by the University of Texas’ Children’s Learning Institute estimates the return on investment at somewhere between $7 and $8 for every dollar spent, and National Head Start Association study pegs the benefits at $9 returned for every $1 invested in Head Start alone.

    And from here

    At the end of 3rd grade, the most striking sustained subgroup finding was related to children from high risk households. For this subgroup, children in the 3-year old cohort demonstrated sustained cognitive impacts across all the years from pre-K through 3rd grade. At the end of 3rdgrade, the Head Start children from high risk households showed favorable impacts on the ECLS-K Reading Assessment, the WJIII Letter-Word Identification, and the teacher reported reading/language arts skills. This was in contrast to the impacts for children in lower and moderate risk households, for whom there were no impacts. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, October 2012]

    And from the same link above…

    Head Start’s success over the decades has been built on evidence-based practices. The model, informed by programs like the Perry Preschool, an influential project that tracked children for decades, is constantly adapting — using the best available science and teaching techniques to meet the needs of local communities. [Reuters, 12/27/12]

    And from the same link above…

    Four indicators of economic and social success in adulthood are examined. We find that, for whites, participation in Head Start is associated with a significantly increased probability of completing high school and attending college as well as elevated earnings in one’s early twenties. African Americans who participated in Head Start are significantly less likely to have been charged or convicted of a crime. We also find suggestive evidence that African-American males who attended Head Start are more likely than their siblings to have completed high school. Finally, we uncover some evidence of positive spillovers from older children who attended Head Start to their younger siblings, particularly with regard to criminal behavior. [National Bureau of Economic Research, December 2000]

    I could go on, but I’m sure you get the idea.

    Charles Krauthammer is an utterly hacktacular propagandist who will continue to parlay his thoroughly discredited literary dreck in the face of all possible evidence that he is categorically, provably and demonstrably wrong, all for the furtherance of an “ownership society” agenda (them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose, as the song goes) that has been catastrophic for the short, medium and long-term health of our nation.

    That’s probably a definition of a conservative.

    Update 7/9/13: And when it comes to Head Start, maybe “Chuckles” Krauthammer should suck on this (not that he would actually care, I know).

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