Free Markets, Free People

Daily Archives: November 29, 2010


The progressive deficit plan, ala Krugman

In case you’re interested a group of progressive think tanks has produced an eighty-something page deficit reduction proposal.  Paul Krugman says he’ll have to study it, however:

It’s at least as responsible as any of the other plans being advanced, with a very different emphasis: more reliance on revenue, no attack on Social Security. Some of the revenue comes from indirect taxes — green taxes and fuel taxes — but the rest comes from measures that would raise taxes mainly on upper-income Americans.

I guess agreement or disagreement rests in your definition of the word “responsible”.  Let me just say I disagree.  A quick look at the plan (here, PDF) shows it’s pretty much the same old stuff.  Cap-and-trade, raise the income cap on Social Security, tax the crap out of the “rich”, an increased fuel tax and keep at least 50% of the electorate off the tax rolls.  Meantime cut the bejesus out of defense spending – one of the few actual constitutionally allowed federal government expenditures – and lay all those “savings” on health care and infrastructure.

Well here, let’s use their own 5 step plan:

1. Jobs first. Jobs and economic growth are essential to our capacity to reduce deficits, and there should be no across-the-board spending reductions until the economy fully recovers. In fact, efforts to spur job creation today will put us on a better economic path and create a solid revenue base. We believe there should be no consideration of overall spending reductions until unemployment has fallen to 6% and remained at or below that level for six months (Irons 2010a).

No “across-the-board spending reductions” until the economy fully recovers.  Really?  So the assumption here is in many areas of government, there is no “fat” that can be cut and thereby reduce spending?  That’s just nonsense and it puts into immediate question the credibility of this report.  Of course, unsurprisingly defense is not one of those areas which shouldn’t see such across the board spending cuts.

So immediately we have a “keep spending” recommendation until they deem the economy to be fully recovered (what’s that point, 5% unemployment?  3% GDP growth?) with economic predictions saying that we may not see joblessness reduced significantly by 2012.  So far, unimpressed.

2. Stabilize debt. Over the long term, national debt as a share of the economy should be stabilized and eventually brought onto a downward trajectory.

Well duh.  The key question here, given the “let’s keep spending” recommendation above is what constitutes the “long term”?  My guess is “never”.

3. Build on economy-boosting investments. We must build and maintain initiatives that directly support long-term job and economic growth. Failing to invest adequately in these efforts – or sacrificing them to short-term deficit reduction – would be a dereliction of sound public management.

Are you snickering yet?  Or are you already in the full out belly laugh mode?  If you are then you spotted the code words to “keep on spending” didn’t you?  So we have goal 1 – keep spending until the economy recovers and goal 3 – keep spending, er “investing” in stuff that will directly support “long-term job growth” even at the expense of deficit reduction.  But, wait, goal two – stabilize that debt folks.  How do you do that in light of 1 and 3?

4. Target revenue increases. Revenue increases should come primarily from those who have benefited most from the economic gains of the last few decades.

Tax the rich. Wow … that’s new. Don’t forget cap-and-trade and increased federal fuel “fees” as well.

5. No cost shifting. Debt reduction must be weighed against other economic priorities. Policies that simply shift costs from the federal government to individuals and families may improve the government’s balance sheet but would worsen the condition of many  Americans, leaving the overall economy no better off.

See unfunded mandates.  See ObamaCare.  See any number of “target revenue increases”.  See the nonsense?

Krugman goes on to say:

I’ll need to work through the proposal, but one thing it clearly does is to explode the myth that there is no alternative to the Bowles-Simpson-type regressive proposal.

What myth?  Did anyone honestly believe (or say) there wasn’t an alternative?  The fact that one exists doesn’t make it worth a damn though.  It simply exists.  Lots of  “alternatives” exist for all sorts of things.  The fact that they exist doesn’t make them credible or viable.  And my cursory reading of this paper presents nothing new and most of which has already been rejected by much of the American public.

And my favorite:

And it’s definitely worth noting that even with the revenue measures in the progressive plan, the US would have lower overall taxation than almost any other advanced country.

You mean like Greece and Ireland, Paul?  Japan? 

What a ridiculous argument for paying more taxes.   The problem in America, Mr. Krugman, isn’t that Americans are taxed to little – its because the politicians in our government spend too freakin’ much.  There’s not much in that plan that addresses that basic problem, is there?  And that’s why it’s as worthless as Krugman’s commentary.

~McQ


3 million had access to diplomatic cables?

If you’re wondering why Wikileaks has been able to obtain military reports on Iraq and Afghanistan as well as diplomatic cables for the last 10 or so years, wonder no more.

According to the UK’s Guardian, up to 3 million people had potential access to those archives on the government’s Siprnet system.

More than 3 million US government personnel and soldiers, many extremely junior, are cleared to have potential access to this material, even though the cables contain the identities of foreign informants, often sensitive contacts in dictatorial regimes. Some are marked "protect" or "strictly protect".

To me that’s a phenomenal revelation.  If, like me, you were wondering how a Private First Class like Bradley Manning had access to this sort of information, now you know.  Had I been aware of the number who had potential access to these files, I’d have said it isn’t a matter of “if” but “when” a leak would occur.  Allowing that amount of access to information marked “Secret” and “NoForn”, short for “no foreign dissemination”, as well as the names of highly sensitive sources and contacts is a intelligence disaster waiting to happen.

A State Department Spokesman claims it was a reaction to pre-9/11 intelligence sharing – or lack there of:

"The 9/11 attacks and their aftermath revealed gaps in intra-governmental information sharing. Since the attacks of 9/11, the US government has taken significant steps to facilitate information sharing. These efforts were focused on giving diplomatic, military, law enforcement and intelligence specialists quicker and easier access to more data to more effectively do their jobs."

He added: "We have been taking aggressive action in recent weeks and months to enhance the security of our systems and to prevent the leak of information."

While I certainly don’t at all condone the Wikileaks publication of these cables, I have to tell you, given this new information, that I’m not at all surprised it has occurred.  In fact, I’m rather surprised it has taken this long.  And, of course, the damage being done is incalculable to US interests and foreign policy – not to mention those contacts and sources named.  Wikileaks claims to have safeguarded that information, however, that’s a hollow promise.  We have no idea who has seen these archives in full and what they may have done with the information.  Any present contacts or sources have to fear for their lives and the likelihood of developing new sources and contacts just took one hell of a shot in the head.

Prior to 9/11, human intelligence (HUMINT) was an area of extreme weakness for the US.  We’d made a conscious decision decades earlier to rely on technical means to gather intelligence – communications intercepts, spy satellites, etc.  But, with some very notable intelligence failures (India’s nuclear weapons, Cole Bombing, embassy bombings, 9/11), we again understood the critical importance of HUMINT and have been attempting to again establish networks around the world.   Obviously, the strictest secrecy must be maintained in order for that to work.  Leaks like this could completely destroy those new networks and make impossible our ability to establish new ones.

No matter what you think of Wikileaks, and I’m not at all pleased or happy with what they’ve done, the decision to put this information on a network on which 3 million had potential access to the information borders on criminal.  Sharing information is one thing – it should be done, but it must be done intelligently.  This wasn’t about sharing – it was about a structural failure to safeguard critical information in a manner in which it should have been safeguarded.

The fact that these cables are being published around the world right now isn’t just the fault of Wikileaks, but a government which allowed that information to be easily accessed by those who had no reason or need to access it.  The result of such poor management is now evident for all to see.

~McQ