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Tag: Congress (Page 1 of 2)

Felix Salmon Makes a Key Observation

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

For Obama, if a decision doesn’t work out, he’s OK with that, since he reckons there’s a statistical certainty that a good third of his decisions will fail to work out. And he takes solace in the idea that so long as the process of arriving at the decision was a good one, by which he means that it was properly technocratic and probabilistic, then he did the best that he could have done.

But that kind of decision-making framework leaves very little room for ideals — for actually putting into practice the kind of vision you have for America. By making decisions on a case-by-case basis, you can end up missing out on building something bigger and much more coherent. In 2008, America voted for a man who was truly excellent at staring into the distance, a man looking at the big picture, and at a centuries-long legacy. Instead, hampered by the financial crisis and by a dysfunctional Congress, they got a man who spends his days weighing success probabilities: a tactician, rather than a strategist.

Barack Obama and the limitations of probabilistic decision making | Felix Salmon

“Little room for ideals:” Exactly, the President lacks the desire to fight on moral or ethical grounds but governs based on some kind of intellectual calculus, a bloodless exercise in which losses are measured in much the same way as a  a lost chess game.

Mr. Salmon hit on something I have long suspected, and I very much wish both he and I were wrong but we are not. The President lives in a world devoid of ethical calculus. He lives by the probability of the possible. We voted for a new direction for American democracy, a different vision, but we got a President who cannot envision a different reality – only manipulate the current one.

James Pilant

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Student Loan Debt a Lifetime Burden for Middle Class but Major Money Maker for Goldman Sachs

Kids today still screwed – Student Loan Debt – Salon.com

Just in case anyone decided to “scam” themselves some free higher education by going to college and then declaring bankruptcy, Congress decided in 1998 to make sure that student loan debt had no statute of limitations and could not be discharged except in the event of extreme (and effectively unprovable) hardship. Then tuition began skyrocketing, players like Goldman Sachs got into the student lending business, and middle-class job opportunities for people without college degrees disappeared. The result, naturally, has been extremely profitable for certain people (Lally Weymouth) and basically awful for everyone else in America. Now, Eric Pianin is in Lally Weymouth’s Washington Post saying that student loan debt might be “the next debt bomb.

Kids today still screwed – Student Loan Debt – Salon.com

Student Loan Debt a Lifetime Burden

My poor students are getting battered by an economy where there are few jobs in a nation where last year’s college graduates owed an average of $24,000 in student loans.

Other nations do not place the burden of higher education on the students. It is a matter of public expenditure. The United States has long been the leader in college graduates worldwide and no we are fourth. I see no prospect of that getting better but only worse. Education is not a commodity. It is a public good necessary for a successful society. For almost all students, the debts accumulated in college will last their entire lifetimes, making it difficult to buy homes, cars, etc. One of the great tragedies will be the necessity of working at a job that enables regular payments. The broad opportunities offered to previous generations are now limited to those that pay enough, and if you don’t get one of those, no matter how hard you work, you will never get even.

We can do better than this. We are a better people than this.

James Pilant







Will Rogers – Mortgage Relief

Will Rogers (19th century photo)

Image via Wikipedia

I am a big fan of the American humorist, Will Rogers. I have a first edition of one of his biographies, (Will Rogers, Ambassador of Good Will, Prince of Wit and Wisdom – P.J. O’Brien) and hope to collect a complete set of his newspaper columns.

The mortgage foreclosure crisis has  long been a concern of mine. I’ve written about it many times.

Imagine my delight when I discovered that Rogers had his own views on the subject –

… Why my lord, there is dozens of different things that will help the farmer on his land, besides water, or fertilizer, either. There is the interest on the first, and second mortgages. Why don’t they introduce a bill in Congress to help the farmer by paying off his mortgages? That’s what eating him upon the farm, it’s not lack of irrigation, or lack of fertilizer – it’s abundance of interest payments; that’ s the baby that is there every minute of every day. Talk and sing about “Old Man River,” but it’s old man “interest” that keeps the farmer running to town every few days. He has to have a bookkeeper to keep a set of book to keep track of when his various Notes and Mortgage interest comes due. It’s the thought of the old mortgages that keep him awake at night.

But if you notice, they are always trying to put through some kind of bill in Congress, but nobody ever puts one through to do something about interest. No sir, you couldn’t do that, because then you are getting into the business of the boys that really hold the hoops while the jumping is going on. You could no more get a bill through to whittle the old interest down, than you could get a politician to admit a mistake.

(The column was written in 1928 and is found on pages 134-135 of A Will Rogers Treasury, compiled by Bryan B. Sterling and Frances N. Sterling, Crown Publishing 1982)

Rogers was not a big fan of Congress or the big banks. In 1928, the farming depression was in its tenth year. American farmers had prospered during the First World War and had borrowed heavily to increase production by buying more land, mechanizing their farms, fertilizing and irrigating their crops. When the war ended and the soldiers of that war returned home and resumed farming the price of every kind of agricultural commodity dropped dramatically. The farmers were left on the hook for large mortgages that were difficult to pay. Believing in their way of life they doubled down getting further into debt but the agricultural depression did not let up until the Second World War. I wouldn’t be until the Roosevelt Administration that the farmers began to receive significant aid.

Will Rogers was a member of the one percent, the highest paid film star of his time but he never forgot where he came from and who was important even though they didn’t have that much money.

James Pilant

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I Showed the Documentary, Gasland, Today

Films receive a wide variety of responses in the college classroom. The response to Gasland was excellent. The class paid careful attention, had good questions and comments. I knew of the film but did not intend to use it in class. My Tuesday-Thursday class actually asked to see it. So, I read up on it, and it struck me as useful. I’ve shown it in three classes now with the same positive results in each class.

Josh Fox

This is a Josh Fox film. The first time you see it, you are shocked by his story of unregulated drilling of natural gas known as fracking. But is only the second time, you realize the skill of our documentarian. The film never sags. It always keeps the audience engaged. The film is well paced and its plotline beautifully constructed. I’ll be watching for any of his films in the future. It may well be that his work will grow in skill as time goes by.

It is troubling to consider that for most of us, Josh Fox is our only defense against the practice of fracking. Only a handful of states regulate it, and the response of most of officialdom to complaints is basically to drop dead.

You see, an act of Congress relieved the giant energy companies of the need to comply with federal environmental laws. Federal agencies aren’t even allowed to study what the companies are doing. We only have partial knowledge of the chemicals being used, and the very fact that these companies essentially placed themselves outside the law through a compliant Congress raises suspicions of their motives.

I think until strong regulation is enacted to deal with the fracking problem, I will be using the film in class.

Below is a link to the web address for Josh Fox’s film, Gasland.


And here is the link for the trailer.


Here is the link to buy it on Amazon.com.


I recommend it for classroom use at the college level.

James Pilant

Tapwater that ignites.

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Meltdown Monday: Like watching my fantasy baseball team get slaughtered, only it matters (via Minding the Workplace)

The Congressional Edifice

David Yamada and I definitely see eye to eye on this issue. I have no retirement investments on Wall Street, so I am one step further away. Still, I am very upset by the self destructive tendencies of the Congress of the United States and its effect on world markets. Meltdown Monday is another announcement that our government does not work. I’m looking to the elections in 2012. Surely we can do better than this!

James Pilant

I confess that I have spent my day alternating between semi-productive writing and e-mailing tasks and less productive glances at the stock market reports. At the bell, the Dow has finished another 600 points down. Like millions of Americans, what happens with the stock market bears directly and indirectly on my financial health. And like many fellow Americans, I am a bit player in this casino economy. Some of my retirement savings are invested i … Read More

via Minding the Workplace

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Wall Street plunges after S&P downgrade (via Reuters)

Stocks plunged on Monday, with the S&P down more than 6 percent for its largest drop in nearly three years on rising fears of a recession exacerbated by the United States’ loss of its triple-A credit rating.

I wonder what would have happened if we had actually defaulted. I guess it would have been very entertaining from a news standpoint. Of course, from the point of view of an American trying to get by, it would have been less entertaining.

How bad is this going to be? I expected this to be the kind of response an actual default would have caused. So, I’m not that good a guide. Apparently these financial gurus bear more resemblance to an overpopulation of lemmings than to coldly analytical Ivy League grads.

The next shoe to drop will be the reaction of the overseas markets especially the Asian ones. If there is a sell off there. We may continue the sell off here.

Great fun. I tell my students we are in the midst of history being made. This history does not seem to me to be fairly similar to other historical eras. I think the self destructive tendencies of the Congress are worse then at any other time besides the Civil War. We could be creating a fiscal situation unprecedented in all of world history, a great power literally committing financial suicide – a great power giving up its planetary pre-eminence to avoid raising taxes on the rich.

James Pilant


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The Debt Ceiling Agreement Clobbers Grad Students – What on earth is S365? (via (B)LogtheLeg)

The debt ceiling agreement clobbers grad students. It makes it harder to get loans for those working toward advanced degrees. We in this country need to encourage education not just at the bachelor level but at all levels. We don’t just live to make money but to extend our civilization. It’s important to continue this process.

Let’s cut grad students a break and maintain their ability to stay in school.

Frankly, I’m a little curious how this became part of the bill. I have long been aware of the enmity the GOP holds for the well educated. I once read a right wing commentator that said every person with a masters degree or above was an enemy of the party. I suspect there is considerable truth to that.

So, is that the intent, diminish the number of well educated and advance the power of the party? That’s pretty Machiavellian, if so I’m impressed. I assume the next target will be the sciences. After all, global warming and evolution just have to go. What attack frontally when you can just eliminate federal support for loans for specific fields? Eventually we can look forward to a system when only the right majors for the right people can be approved. A brave new world.

James Pilant

Based on the timing on this post, I think you can infer it’s the debt ceiling bill that passed the House earlier. But let’s go a bit in depth, and discuss something which I don’t believe was discussed on the Floor of the House. I’m not going to delve into the numbers of the debt ceiling, for you all can read that on whichever source you choose. What many of your outside sources will not tell you is the name of the bill itself. It is entitled, “To … Read More

via (B)LogtheLeg

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Small Boats Sunset wallpaper – The Attack of The Serious People (via The Long Goodbye)

This is a thorough analysis of the debt ceiling crisis. I enjoyed it. I hope you do too.

James Pilant

Small Boats Sunset wallpaper - The Attack of The Serious People Small Boats Sunset wallpaper   For better or worse the debt ceiling debate has turned into a horse race story. The closer any political event can be framed into a horse race context the better most of the media likes it … Boehner has a plan, talks break down, Reid has a compromise, tea toddler Republicans pull back. So ABC’s report of a tentative debt ceiling compromise might mean something for the next few hours and then disappear into th … Read More

via The Long Goodbye

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Five Reasons the House GOP Is to Blame via James Fallows from The Atlantic

James Fallows

James Fallows continues his comments on the current debt ceiling crisis. –

Here’s a comparison: Suppose, by similar quirk, there was an arbitrary ceiling on the amount of ammunition the U.S. military could buy each year. Or the amount of fuel for drones, bombers, and Humvees. Like overall national debt, these purchases are foreseeable consequences of previous political decisions — in this case, about the wars the country decides to fight. But suppose that when the “ammo ceiling” came due for its routine extension, a group of legislators said they would refuse. No more bullets or jet fuel after August 2, and for good measure no more food for the troops, unless demands for radical change in future foreign policy were met in full. That would rightly be seen as blackmail, and as a reckless willingness to damage the nation for partisan ends. A similar reckless exercise in blackmail is underway now, with the difference that the consequences can be longer-lasting and worse.

Blackmail- that’s exactly how I see it. I am happy to observe that I am not the only one.

There is not much to be done now. The Republicans cannot generate a bill that will get a majority of their own caucus’ vote. Without that, there is no chance of a congressional action ending the crisis. The only ball park left is for the President to declare that based on a Constitutional provision, the United States will continue to pay its debts.

I doubt if he has the will or the courage. Of course, even mice pushed into a corner will on occasion bite.

James Pilant

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The U.S. as ‘Lethal Laughing Stock’ (via James Fallows from the Atlantic)

This is from James Fallows –

Yesterday I mentioned that governmental paralysis over the debt ceiling — a wholly artificial construct* being addressed with mainly incoherent arguments** — was already turning the strongest, richest country in the world into an international laughing stock, whether or not we reach the final disaster of a default.

Yes, that’s about right.

It’s easy to blame the ideology driven House or Representatives but the real villain is the President. Obama has established a reputation as a negotiator ever ready to cave under every imaginable circumstance, always willing to appear as the “adult in the room” no matter what has to be given up to maintain that image. But if that isn’t enough, we have a President celebrated for his eloquence who is constantly unable to rally the American people behind any major policy whatever. His speech this week should have laid out the shady blackmail being played out by the House, instead it’s a wimp suggestion to “call your congressman.”

I would like to explain something to Mr. Obama. My congressman is one of those people who are blackmailing him to do what they want on the budget. There is no threat I can imagine including physical violence that will change his mind. He could not care less what I think and probably even less what the President thinks.

I am a constituent of this person only in the most technical sense. In reality I am meaningless to him. His real constituency is Fox news, Rush Limbaugh, the Tea Party and talk radio. The President’s call for phone call activism is a waste of his and my time.

So, the train wreck approaches. Will the President cave? Of course – that’s almost his profession.

But that is not enough any more to stop default. There are too many competing plans and the Republicans Congress is split – unable to generate a majority for any one plan. Even if they can get it together in these last few days. any bill put together by these petty blackmailers, is dead on arrival in the Senate.

So, disaster is coming, kinds of a 2012 apocalypse on an early schedule, a quick gateway into the status of a lethal laughing stock just like Fallows said.

James Pilant


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