Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice…

The “supercommittee” admitted defeat; it won’t have a blueprint for reducing the nation’s deficit (stories here, here and here).  Is this a bad thing?

Some have argued, no: the first direct result of getting no plan from this committee is that the law which authorized it will now automatically cut $1.2 trillion from defense and non-defense spending over ten years starting in 2013, and that may end up giving us more deficit reduction than we’d have gotten otherwise.  No way to know for sure, of course, but it makes sense.

I mean, there’s no reason to believe that the same members of Congress who thought nothing of threatening government default for political gain this past summer were likely to come to any agreement now, not when the party that controls the House (and virtually controls the Senate with the threat of filibuster) is still holding its breath threatening to turn blue rather than be responsible and discuss the best ways to increase revenue as part of the answer (along with spending cuts and overall economic growth) to getting the federal budget on a healthy path.  None at all.

To believe otherwise would mean, first of all, believing that the sheep people lined up behind Speakers Boehner and Limbaugh have any goal more important that the defeat of President Obama.  They don’t, unless it is the personal destruction of Obama, and anyone unlike themselves.  Second, it means they would have to have the backbone to say no to the no-tax extremists and the campaign contributors.

I read an interesting article making the point that we’re foolish to think that our elected representatives will do anything that makes sense for us, because they’re in place to serve their bosses: namely, the minority of the population who actually vote in the primaries, and the even smaller percentage of the people who pay the bills through campaign contributions both above and below board.  (By the way, read Michael Moran’s piece setting the stage for his blog The Reckoning.)

The other thing to watch out for right now, though, is the cowardly Congress finding a way to back out of the deal it made with itself!  No Congress can pass a law that would prevent a future Congress from unpassing that law; just because it set itself this deadline and mandated future budget cuts as a penalty for failing to meet that deadline can’t prevent the next Congress from overriding all or some part of the threatened budget reductions, and that’s entirely possible for a group that already can’t say no to anyone (which is a big part of what got our budget in this mess to begin with).

Give some thought to Moran’s suggestion: in times of crisis, what if we take control away from politicians and give it to people who know what they’re doing?

A real super-committee – a real committee not only empowered to take the steps necessary to right the American economy, but competent to do so – would include 12 serious thinkers. They might include policymakers like former Fed Chairmen Paul Volker or (the suitably contrite) Alan Greenspan, economists of left and right like Stanford’s John B. Taylor, Yale’s Robert Schiller, NYU-Stern’s Nouriel Roubini, plus a few representatives of labor, small business and capital – let’s say Robert Reich, Joseph Schneider of Lacrosse Footwear, and Warren Buffett, just for kicks. No investment bank chairman, please, and no one facing reelection.

Can you imagine this group failing to come up with a solution? Can you imagine any of them worrying more about the next election than the future of the world’s largest economy? Certainly, they would clash – perhaps over the same tax v. spending cut issues. The difference: they would understand better than any member of Congress that no solution is far worse than a less-than-perfect solution.

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Denial is not a river in Egypt, but it does water the root of America’s economic trouble

Please read this column.  Loren Steffy, the excellent business columnist at Houston’s Leading Information Source, makes a point that he and others have been making for a long time, but he does it today in such a clear and simple and straightforward manner that this truth must now be self-evident after any honest appraisal of the economic facts as they are recognized here in the reality-based community.

We know that increasing spending faster than revenue is unsustainable.  We know that fixing our problems will require both cutting spending significantly and increasing revenue.

We just don’t want to do it.

We haven’t even wanted to think about it for generations.  We elected representatives who promised programs that benefitted us; incumbents campaigned on a record of “bringing home the bacon” and we rewarded them with re-election; we treated the federal treasury as an ATM machine with no limits on withdrawals; and any candidates who spoke honestly of a need to raise revenue to meet government obligations were thrashed.  When the rising tide of the tech revolution lifted all boats and left the government with an actual surplus, we thought we were crapping platinum.  Our aversion to reality was so strong that rather than raise taxes to pay for two simultaneous wars we chose to trust that all would be well since we were on the side of the angels.

All those expenditures through all those years, without enough real money in the bank to pay the bill, added up: more than $14.5 trillion and counting.  As Steffy says, it doesn’t matter now whether President Obama lacks leadership or Congress lacks backbone or Standard & Poor’s bears some of the blame for the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent recession that led to the bailouts which contributed to the debt:

If we’re honest with ourselves, we know that S&P’s analysis rings painfully true.  We can blame whomever we want, but it’s a couple of decades past time to do something about it.

The leaders of the House and Senate are announcing their selections for the deficit reduction committee called for in the debt ceiling deal; that’s where the work has to start, now.  Let’s please pull our heads out of ___ _____ (you fill in the blanks) and find a solution to our problem.

Tear down this wall

This was supposed to be the last obstacle, right?  This report was to be the last gasp for members of Congress who imagine themselves, in Buckley’s phrase, standing athwart history yelling Stop, at the unstoppable sunrise of civil liberties for homosexuals in America.  Well, now it’s here; let’s see what they do.

Today the Department of Defense released its own report on the anticipated impact to military readiness if Congress were to repeal the hideously-christened “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law, which prohibits homosexual Americans from being honest about their sexuality if they want to serve their country in the armed forces.  DOD found that, by and large, there’s no problem—you can read the reports from the major outlets:  New York Times, Associated Press, Fox News.

The House of Representatives already voted to repeal the law; some in the Senate resisted, wanting to give the Pentagon a chance to determine if changing the law would weaken our national defense.  To those senators who were betting that, surely, the men and women in uniform would object vehemently to gay men and women serving openly, and thereby provide needed political cover to affirm the ban—shame on you for thinking so little of American soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen.

The former maverick John McCain was perhaps most prominent about yielding to the military leadership on this question; a couple of weeks ago Jon Stewart bothered to remember what McCain had promised. (click the pic)

imageThe Pentagon report concedes that a world without DADT might experience growing pains, but it assures Congress that some brief discomfort is no reason to wait.  Logically, then, there’s no valid reason not to repeal the law, and any objection that the change should be delayed until it’s not so hard to implement should be answered with a reminder that the same argument was floated when President Truman ordered desegregation of the military.

Yes, this is a civil rights issue; I’ve made my case here before.  There’s no stopping it—the change is coming—and if some lame duck members of Congress who aren’t worried about re-election any more make the difference in changing this law, so be it.