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    We face serious dilemmas on Pakistan, deficit

    Realism about Pakistan may be the best course. And perhaps D.C. will do something that at least reduces the growth of U.S. debt.

    President Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden.

    President Obama announces the death of Osama bin Laden. Chuck Kennedy/White House

    President Obama shakes hands with Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after telling the nation about the death of Osama bin Laden.

    President Obama shakes hands with Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after telling the nation about the death of Osama bin Laden. Pete Souza/White House

    The Pentagon released this picture and map showing the Osama bin Laden complex in Abottabad, Pakistan.

    The Pentagon released this picture and map showing the Osama bin Laden complex in Abottabad, Pakistan. U.S. Department of Defense

    U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan

    U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan U.S. House of Representatives

    Last weekend's TV talk shows, Sunday think pieces, and blogs focused on two subjects that are vexing but have no immediately satifactory answers. We will have to live with them.

    First: What to do about Pakistan?

    As I suggested in my morning-after piece on the Osama bin Laden killing, it is inconceivable that at least some (if not all) leaders of the Pakistani intelligence and military establishments did not know that bin Laden had been living with his family for some five years in a military and resort town a few miles from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Moreover, it is quite likely that the same leaders established bin Laden there and protected him.

    Congressional leaders predictably have called for an end to the multibillion-dollar annual U.S. aid package for Pakistan. If the Pakistanis are going to keep betraying us, the thinking goes, then the money spigot should be turned off.

    Seen from the other side of the relationship, however, the Pakistanis can find good reason to hedge their bets by simultaneously maintaining relations with us, al Qaida, and the Pakistani and Afghan Taliban. President Obama has stated publicly that U.S. troops will be gone from Afghanistan by 2014 and that a drawdown will begin this summer. Pakistan's leaders know that, after we leave, fundamentalist movements will remain active in the region and, more than likely, will govern Afghanistan.

    Up until now, moreover, these forces have been useful to Pakistan's multi-year border struggles with India, making incursions into Kashmir. And Pakistan, a majority-Pashtun country, has found it useful to maintain working relations with the Pashtun-dominated Taliban both at home and in Afghanistan. Both Pakistan and India, since their founding, have been obsessed with one another, and their rivalry outweighs everything else in their calculations.

    Most American policymakers see Pakistan as playing a dangerous game with the fundamentalists — perhaps risking an extremist takeover of that nuclear-armed country. The Pakistani intelligence and military establishments see us as overwrought about the fundamentalist forces, which, they believe, can always be contained. Why wage outright war with the fundamentalists and risk chaos in the homeland?

    Something is at work here that applies, in fact, in many countries where the United States has interests. We see ourselves as having global interests — such as the need to combat terrorism and to contain nuclear proliferation. Most other countries see themselves as having only regional and local interests.

    We see ourselves as champions of democratic political and free economic institutions. Many other countries see us, like the Europeans, as meddling in their affairs for economic gain or to establish puppet governments to our liking. In places such as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Indian subcontinent, and many parts of Africa and Asia, we are seen as either fools or knaves in our attempts at creating change in their countries. Why, they ask, would we spend many billions of dollars and thousands of lives trying to change regimes in such places as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya — none of which is of vital interest to the United States? Good question.

    Pakistan has nuclear weapons. It has a strategic geographic position. We have no choice but to maintain working relations with it. But we need have no illusions about its intentions. Nor need we continue to shower U.S. resources at their present level on a regime that has often willfully sabotaged our attempts to fight terrorism in its region. We cannot expect Pakistan's friendship and gratitude. We can only expect Pakistan to pursue its interests, as it sees them, while we pursue ours.

    The second big subject is: How to resolve U.S. federal deficit and debt problems??

    The numbers are more daunting by the day: Federal debt headed toward $11-trillion-plus and due to reach its legal limit later this month. Unfunded obligations of $35 trilllion for Medicaid, $22 trillioin for Medicare, and $7 trillion for Social Security. Then there are public-pension obligations and the deepening burdens associated with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The United States, the cry goes, will soon be in the same category as Greece, Portugal and Ireland, our currency weakened, and our global power sharply reduced.

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    Posted Mon, May 9, 12:23 p.m. Inappropriate

    Time to declare "Victory" and leave. There is nothing in Pakistan, or Afghanistan that's worth dying for.


    Posted Mon, May 9, 3:04 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh, the "bipartisan group of six" is nothing of the sort. They are all Koch clones and should be referenced as such.



    Posted Mon, May 9, 4:30 p.m. Inappropriate

    Koch clones? The leading Democrat in the group is Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat and President Obama's closest ally in the Senate.

    Posted Tue, May 10, 9:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    You are in debt over your eyeballs.
    You have more maxed-out credit cards than you can count.
    Hospital bills by the thousand pour in each month - you are in poor health.
    Your home is "underwater" and you owe hundreds of thousands more than it is worth.
    You are not steadily employed.
    Your car is about to be repossessed.
    You need a mountain of money so you can hold off all your creditors so you can get by until all the money is gone, after you give away any extra funds to your buddies.
    What do you do?

    Plan A. Work out some sort of agreement with your creditors to accept less than what you owe - at least they'll get something, instead of 100 percent of nothing.

    Plan B. Declare bankruptcy and screw all of your creditors, but at least you will get a fresh start.

    Plan C. Increase the limits on all of your credit cards while you still have a good credit rating, and, borrow a couple of million dollars from your children, which you know you will never be able to pay back, which in the long-run will cause them all to go bankrupt and/or saddle your grandchildren with a mountain of debt.

    President Obama and most of the Democrat leadership, and a lot of spineless Republicans, are arguing that we need to choose Plan C.

    Posted Tue, May 10, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

    I don't expect TVD to back off his extreme deficit obsession, but the rest of us need to realize that the biggest economic threat to the U.S. is chronic high unemployment. As Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz pointed out yesterday on NPR, and as Paul Krugman has repeatedly said, it's destroying lives. That, not the deficit, need to be job #1. Most mainstream economists say the deficit is a problem in the mid- to long-term but now we need to focus on economic recovery, and drastically cutting government spending at this time will only hamper recovery and job growth.

    Posted Tue, May 10, 1:39 p.m. Inappropriate

    "koch clones" ie folks who would roll back the entire new deal if they had a chance:




    Posted Tue, May 10, 4:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh yeah add this to Seattle Observer:

    You have a rich uncle living in your house but he pays less toward living expenses than your baby daughter.

    You have a business on the front porch that you regularly give money to, but keeps moving all the manufacturing out over seas.

    You have a series of banks run by people who call themselves "masters of the universe" but they are broke and require multiple handouts which they spend on themselves, and then ask for more, like drunks at your party.

    You let foreign countries export goods into your country because in the country of orgin, there are no child labor laws to follow, no minimum wages, no maximum hours, no vacations, no environmental laws to obey. And if you complain, the manufacturer tells you he needs a subsidy to open a plant down the street. ie won't be able to pay taxes, and in fact needs a handout.

    Your roads & bridges are falling apart from lack of maintenance.

    What do you do?

    a) Increase the subsidy to your rich uncle hoping that when he dies, you'll get some of the money.

    b) cut your own environmental, and work laws hoping that manufacturing returns to your country.

    c) cut off payments to grandma and buy her a bag of cat food.

    e) tell dad and mom that they'll just have to work a "few" more years before they get the cat food diet.

    f) put up a sign, "bridge closed"



    Posted Tue, May 10, 4:58 p.m. Inappropriate

    For the record, the Gang of Six consists, on the Democratic side, of Senate Whip Dick Durbin, Senate Budget Chair Kent Conrad and Mark Warner and, on the GOP side, Saxby Chambliss, Tom Coburn, and Mike Crapo. Their evolving plan is quite close to that presented earlier by the President's Deficit Reduction Commission (Simpson-Bowles commission). The members are less vulnerable politically than many of their peers and thus able to offer something more than least-common-denominator proposals. Conrad and Coburn are not seeking reelection; Durbin and Chambliss hold relatively safe seats. None could be accused of wanting to roll back the New Deal.

    Our long-term federal debt burden is simply unsustainable and must be addressed seriously. It is the greatest single threat to our economic growth, job creation, and international competititiveness. Short-term measures to generate 2011-12 employment could increase short-term deficits slightly---if not balanced by savings elsewhere in the budget---but are not likely to bring the unemployment rate below 8 percent in the year ahead. Year-to-year cuts in discretionary spending (such as took place
    earlier this year) can only make small dents in our long-term debt burden.
    Sooner or later, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security must be seriously addressed. Because those programs are laden with political peril, they can only be addressed on a bipartisan basis, as the Simpson-Bowles Commission and Gang of Six have tried to do.

    Posted Tue, May 10, 5:52 p.m. Inappropriate

    TVD, since you constantly say Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security "must be seriously addressed," you owe it to Crosscut readers to explain exactly what you propose to do to control cost growth in those programs. Contrary to what you've written before, experts do not agree at all on how to do this. As Joseph Stiglitz said yesterday on NPR, there are values as well as dollars involved in budgetary decisions. What are your values, and how would those values be carried out in your budgetary proposals? Remember, drastically cutting Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security means putting much higher costs on seniors, most of whom live on quite modest incomes with limited savings. Give us your best shot.

    Posted Tue, May 10, 8:59 p.m. Inappropriate

    And in the spirit of proposing solutions, I would like to ask Mr Meyer just how big the unfunded liabilities should be, can be, and would be with any funding solutions he has to offer.

    The National Review article that was linked to in Crosscut's clicker the other day has some very sobering points. here's the URL:


    One excerpt:

    In an essay titled “Desperately Seeking Revenue,” Rosanne Altshuler, Katherine Lim, and Roberton Williams of the Tax Policy Center found that achieving a budget deficit of 3 percent of GDP by 2020 through tax increases on over-$250,000s would require doubling their rates, kicking the top rate to 76.8 percent. Suffice it to say, marginal tax rates at these levels would have a powerfully negative impact on work incentives.


    As Matthew Yglesias of the left-leaning Center for American Progress has argued, Obama’s strategy on taxes has a serious downside for the progressive cause. “A platform of no tax increases for the bottom 95 percent can win elections, but it reinforces rather than debunks the right’s fundamental view of the tax question — that public services aren’t worth paying for — and merely suggests that the correct answer is to get someone else to pay for them.” Rather than persuade voters to embrace a grand bargain of higher taxes for more public services, the Obama campaign promised a more appealing bargain of more public services at no cost. This was also the central premise of the president’s health-care-reform push, when the White House tried to convince the public that painless Medicare cuts and unobtrusive tax increases on the rich would generate enough revenue to pay for an enormous new entitlement program.

    end of excerpt

    I do not have magic solutions. But I am really spooked at how many promises the representatives of 'we the people' have made, whether it is implicit bailouts to the banks that Gary P rightfully decries, or the promises made to retirees that will require totally unrealistic tax rates or levels of borrowing. Look at who's lending money to us: Japan, which has its own demographic challenges and needs to start drawing down its savings, China (not exactly a hands off investor), and Europe, which also has some very serious challenges.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 8:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    Absolutely amazing. A lot of teeth gnashing about the cost of entitlement programs, but not a serious discussion or concern regarding the third leg of the federal budget and deficit: defense spending.

    There is one issue Congress (and this article) has continuely failed to address: Revenue. Some of that revenue stream can be supported by jobs, jobs and more jobs, however Congress has no apparent interest in job creation. Lastly, the notion that reducing the federal deficit is going to even begin to address or have any effect on near term unemployment situation in this country is not supported.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 9:45 a.m. Inappropriate

    A couple of wrapup thoughts on the debt/deficit issue:

    Some facts we all must face: When you clear away all the noise and rhetoric, the fact remains that there will be no substitute for dealing definitively with Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. There is not one member of the U.S. House or Senate who, in private, would not agree with that proposition. Members of both political parties find it expedient, however, to pretend publicly that there are easier shortcuts to containing debt and deficits.

    I personally have no patience with Republicans who say no tax, ever, should be increased on any income group. And the Ryan Plan's Medicare and Medicaid cost-containment formulae have no chance of enactment and amount to grandstanding. Real tax reform---that is, a scrubbing of special-interest provisions in the code (think of the infamous ethanol subsidy and related benefits for specific sectors and economic activity)---would yield big money. Both parties pledge to do this but, in the end, will have difficulty finding common ground. I mentioned in this piece, as I have earlier, that Defense expenditures should be cut. That will mean cancelling out whole weapons systems and, in doing so, enraging such contractors as Boeing and their elected representatives. It also will mean resisting new interventions abroad where U.S. vital interests are not nvolved. But even if you increase some personal and corporate taxes; cut Defense; elminate some tax expenditures (i.e., loopholes and subsidies); and cut the many federal programs under the "discretionary spending" umbrella, you are still left with big deficits and growing debt. Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security costs must be reduced. All three programs have expanded enormously in scope and cost since they were enacted.

    I have written before about the ways and means. A big problem lies in these programs' conceptual basis. Franklin Roosevelt, moving toward enactment of SS in 1935, feared it could not pass unless it were made
    "universal" (that is, benefiting everyone) rather than being "needs based" (restricted to lower-income beneficiaries), as he would have preferred.
    His disciple, Lyndon Johnson, followed FDR's example when in 1965 he made
    Medicare universal and, additionally, established Medicaid for the poor.
    Both FDR and LBJ thought---and they were right---that once everyone began getting benefits from SS and Medicare, the programs could never be turned back. Moreover, LBJ believed---and he was right there too---that, once in place, benefits would keep expanding inexorably. He did not foresee, however, the degree to which they would expand. Nor did he foresee that demographics and cyclical economic downturns would imperil entitlement programs' financial stabiity.

    The options for cost cutting are obvious and have been written about frequently by me and by others. Most Executive Branch and legislative leaders know them well. They have been contained in innumerable task-force and commission recommendations over the years. Tighten eligibility requirements (as, for instance, raising the age for SS and Medicare eligibility); increase the revenue base (as, for instance, lifting the cap on earnings subject to Fed/FICA taxation); reduce benefits (including, for instance, the setting of reasonable deductibles to be paid by Medicare recipients); or, in the case of Medicaid, leave eligibility requirements and financing more greatly to the states (which both parties, in one way or another, now propose to do).

    "Tax the rich," "cut the Pentagon, "protect senior citizens," "stop new taxes," and other bumper-sticker-level slogsns can be politically attractive. But they will not get the substantive job done. If we do not get that job done, the country's future will be mortgaged. Almost all proposals for entitlement reform would exempt citizens over 55 from
    benefit cuts. Even when the present downturn ends, and economic growth, employment, and tax revenues strengthen, only a small impact will be made
    on deficits and debt. We cannot "grow ourselves" out of this hole.
    A time for serious people, of all political parties and persuasions, to get seriously to work.

    Posted Wed, May 11, 9:54 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thank you, Bella, but it's worse than that. Sharply reducing federal, state, and local government spending at this time will have a big negative impact on economic growth and jobs. Goldman Sachs, the International Monetary Fund, and even former McCain adviser Mark Zandi have all said this.

    Posted Wed, May 11, 10:19 a.m. Inappropriate

    As I suspected, TVD has no detailed or viable solutions for "dealing definitively" with Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and he doesn't mention what social values he would use to guide his budget cutting. I've been covering these issues for many years and I can assure TVD that good solutions for cutting costs in Medicare, Medicaid, and U.S. health care in general -- real experts know you have to address overall health care costs, not just Medicare and Medicaid -- are not "obvious."
    TVD refuses to acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act has put in place a variety of cost control mechanisms which are intended to migrate out from Medicare to the rest of the health care system. Both Republican and Democratic experts believe these mechanisms hold promise over the mid- to long-term, and the nonpartisan CBO has scored the law as reducing the federal deficit by hundreds of billions in the second decade. There are no easy solutions.
    Once again, I challenge TVD to explain how you raise the eligibility age of Social Security and Medicare in an environment of pervasive age discrimination without hurting millions of people in their 60s who can't continue working even if they want to. Remember, most seniors have limited incomes and limited savings; Social Security is the main income source for most of them.
    I also would remind TVD that Medicare already has high deductibles and coinnsurance, and seniors pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for supplemental coverage and other out of pocket health costs.
    We know that block granting Medicaid and giving states great flexibility to cut eligibility and benefits will means millions of poor and disabled people will lose their health care. For disabled old people, this will mean their financially struggling families will have to pick up the cost. BTW, President Obama and the Democrats do not support changing Medicaid in that way, contrary to what TVD suggests.
    And as many seniors have said, exempting people over 55 from these drastic proposed cuts and changes in Medicare and Medicaid is not a fair or satisfactory solution. Americans care about their children and grandchildren and others, and they want them to benefit from these precious programs, too.

    Posted Wed, May 11, 11:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    Nothing like lumping Social Security which is well funded into the group which is not, Medicaid and Medicare.

    It's been clear from day one, that to fix the two health care programs, cutbacks aren't the answer, as that just moves the cost from the Federal Government's books to the states. And once that happens and we stop treating people when they are at the preventive care point we end up with them at the ER. A single payer insurance program with a funding mechanism that rewards preventive care would get us out of the hole of spending 14% GDP on health care to 7% like the rest of the civilized world. How about it TVD? How about an honest accounting of where our money is going.

    Vermont is leading the way, those rapscallion dairy farmers!

    As for bailing out the banks to the toon of a trillion dollars, then lets nationalize them. We paid for their mistakes, we should own them. Claw back those ridiculous bonuses, fire and jail those crooks.

    Then leave Afghanistan, Pakistan & Libya. A nation that is truely "broke" can't afford an empire. Chuck the F-35 an overweight slow expensive fighter plane which defends us from ?? Scrap a couple of those aircraft carrier groups, scrap 75% of the nuclear warhead carrying submarines. Dump the B1 & B2 bombers.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 12:47 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oh yeah, lift the cap on Social Security taxes. Raise the level on capital gains taxes, impose an alternative corporate minimum tax same as individuals. Add an environmental and minimum wage tariff for good produced in countries which have neither.

    Of course the easiest thing is to do nothing and let the Bush Tax cuts expire.


    Posted Wed, May 11, 1:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    On the capital gains tax loophole, Jim Hightower weighed in on this as well.



    Posted Wed, May 11, 1:35 p.m. Inappropriate

    And Robert Reich weighs in on TVD debate about whether Medicare & Medicaid are the problem.


    So Ted, instead of just complaining about the deficit, how about some "serious" proposals? You the kind, the ones voters say they care about and if enacted the math actually works.


    Posted Fri, May 13, 3:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    We spend billions each month--each MONTH--in Afghanistan and Iraq, mostly in Afghanistan. That would buy a lot of Medicaid and Medicare.


    Posted Fri, May 13, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Interesting thought, Sarah90. This country spends billions every month defending it from from the perceived threats posed by Iraq and Afghanistan, yet it doesn't want to defend its own from the threats posed by disease and sickness. Is cancer a threat any less insidious than terrorism?

    Have a nice weekend, everyone.


    Posted Fri, May 13, 5:45 p.m. Inappropriate

    Interesting thought, Sarah90. This country spends billions every month defending it from from the perceived threats posed by Iraq and Afghanistan, yet it doesn't want to defend its own from the threats posed by disease and sickness. Is cancer a threat any less insidious than terrorism?

    Have a nice weekend, everyone.


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