Category : The U.S. Government

(NA) Adam White–Amid growing calls to break up Google, are we missing a quiet alignment between “smart” government and the universal information engine?

Google exists to answer our small questions. But how will we answer larger questions about Google itself? Is it a monopoly? Does it exert too much power over our lives? Should the government regulate it as a public utility — or even break it up?

In recent months, public concerns about Google have become more pronounced. This February, the New York Times Magazine published “The Case Against Google,” a blistering account of how “the search giant is squelching competition before it begins.” The Wall Street Journal published a similar article in January on the “antitrust case” against Google, along with Facebook and Amazon, whose market shares it compared to Standard Oil and AT&T at their peaks. Here and elsewhere, a wide array of reporters and commentators have reflected on Google’s immense power — not only over its competitors, but over each of us and the information we access — and suggested that the traditional antitrust remedies of regulation or breakup may be necessary to rein Google in.

Dreams of war between Google and government, however, obscure a much different relationship that may emerge between them — particularly between Google and progressive government. For eight years, Google and the Obama administration forged a uniquely close relationship. Their special bond is best ascribed not to the revolving door, although hundreds of meetings were held between the two; nor to crony capitalism, although hundreds of people have switched jobs from Google to the Obama administration or vice versa; nor to lobbying prowess, although Google is one of the top corporate lobbyists.

Rather, the ultimate source of the special bond between Google and the Obama White House — and modern progressive government more broadly — has been their common ethos. Both view society’s challenges today as social-engineering problems, whose resolutions depend mainly on facts and objective reasoning. Both view information as being at once ruthlessly value-free and yet, when properly grasped, a powerful force for ideological and social reform. And so both aspire to reshape Americans’ informational context, ensuring that we make choices based only upon what they consider the right kinds of facts — while denying that there would be any values or politics embedded in the effort.

Read it all (emphasis mine).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, Corporations/Corporate Life, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Politics in General, The U.S. Government

(PS) Martin Feldstein–America’s Exploding Budget Deficit

The federal government’s debt has risen from less than 40% of GDP a decade ago to 78% now, and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) predicts that the ratio will rise to 96% in 2028. Because foreign investors hold the majority of US government debt, this projection implies that they will absorb more than $6 trillion in US bonds during the next ten years. Long-term interest rates on US debt will have to rise substantially to induce domestic and foreign investors alike to hold this very large increase.

Why is this happening? Had last year’s tax legislation not been enacted, the 2028 debt ratio would still reach 93% of GDP, according to the CBO. So the cause of the exploding debt lies elsewhere.

The primary drivers of the deficit increase over the next decade are the higher cost of benefits for middle-class older individuals. More specifically, spending on Social Security retirement benefits is predicted to rise from 4.9% of GDP to 6%. Government spending on health care for the aged in the Medicare program – which, like Social Security, is not means tested – will rise from 3.5% of GDP to 5.1%. So these two programs will raise the annual deficit by 2.7% of GDP.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Medicare, Politics in General, Social Security, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government, Theology

(Wash Post) Robert Samuelson–Don’t deny the link between poverty and single parenthood

What’s less worthy is basing any debate on misleading analysis. That’s my complaint against the Times essay. Its hypothetical and admittedly unrealistic thought experiment that eliminating poverty among single mothers wouldn’t have much effect on overall poverty is wrong, according to the government’s own figures from the Census Bureau.

Let’s look at the census figures.

In 2016, 40.6 million Americans had incomes below the government’s official poverty line, which was $24,339 for a family of four, including two children. Of those below the poverty line — 12.7 percent of the population — nearly 5 million were moms or dads heading single-parent families; 8.7 million were children under 18 in these single-parent homes.

Do the arithmetic. Together, single-parent families and their children totaled almost 14 million people, which is roughly a third of all people in poverty. If, magically, a third of America’s poor escaped poverty, the change would (justifiably) be hailed as a triumph of social policy. If we included the children in poverty in two-parent families, that would add more than 7 million to the total (3 million parents and 4 million children). The total of 21 million would equal about half of all people in poverty.

Read it all.

Posted in Census/Census Data, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Personal Finance & Investing, Poverty

A graphic of U.S. young adults living with their parents by age, 1980 vs. 2016

Posted in America/U.S.A., Census/Census Data, Young Adults

A Picture is Worth 1000 words–The baby Boombers are Reaching Retirement

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, America/U.S.A., Budget, Children, Economy, Health & Medicine, History, Marriage & Family, Medicaid, Medicare, Pensions, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Social Security, Taxes, Young Adults

(WSJ) Why Entitlements Keep Growing, and Growing, and . . .An interview with John Cogan

Mr. [John] Cogan has just written a riveting, massive book, “The High Cost of Good Intentions,” on the history of entitlements in the U.S., and he describes how in 1972 the Senate “attached an across-the-board, permanent increase of 20% in Social Security benefits to a must-pass bill” on the debt ceiling. President Nixon grumbled loudly but signed it into law. In October, a month before his re-election, “Nixon reversed course and availed himself of an opportunity to take credit for the increase,” Mr. Cogan says. “When checks went out to some 28 million recipients, they were accompanied by a letter that said that the increase was ‘signed into law by President Richard Nixon.’ ”

The Nixon episode shows, says Mr. Cogan, that entitlements have been the main cause of America’s rising national debt since the early 1970s. Mr. Trump’s pact with the Democrats is part of a pattern: “The debt ceiling has to be raised this year because elected representatives have again failed to take action to control entitlement spending.”

A faculty member at Stanford’s Public Policy Program and a fellow at the university’s Hoover Institution, Mr. Cogan, 70, is one of those old-fangled American men who are always inclined to play down their achievements. The latest of his is the book that draws us together in conversation. To be published later this month by Stanford University Press, it is a 400-page account of how federal entitlement programs evolved across two centuries “and the common forces that have been at work in causing their expansion.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Budget, Credit Markets, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Medicare, Politics in General, Social Security, The U.S. Government

(NYT) In Ukraine, Could a Malware Expert Blow the Whistle on Russian Hacking?

The hacker, known only by his online alias “Profexer,” kept a low profile. He wrote computer code alone in an apartment and quietly sold his handiwork on the anonymous portion of the internet known as the dark web. Last winter, he suddenly went dark entirely.

Profexer’s posts, already accessible only to a small band of fellow hackers and cybercriminals looking for software tips, blinked out in January — just days after American intelligence agencies publicly identified a program he had written as one tool used in Russian hacking in the United States. American intelligence agencies have determined Russian hackers were behind the electronic break-in of the Democratic National Committee.

But while Profexer’s online persona vanished, a flesh-and-blood person has emerged: a fearful man who the Ukrainian police said turned himself in early this year, and has now become a witness for the F.B.I.

“I don’t know what will happen,” he wrote in one of his last messages posted on a restricted-access website before going to the police. “It won’t be pleasant. But I’m still alive.”

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Europe, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government, Ukraine

(NPR) Can’t Pay Your Student Loans? The Government May Come After Your House

On Adriene McNally’s 49th birthday in January, she heard a knock on the door of her modest row-home in Northeast Philadelphia.

She was being served.

“They actually paid someone to come out and serve me papers on a Saturday afternoon,” she says.

The papers were from a government lawsuit that represents something more than just an unwelcome birthday gift — it’s an example of a program the federal government has brought to 19 cities around the country including Brooklyn, Detroit, Miami and Philadelphia: suing to recover unpaid student loans, like the ones McNally owes.

Read it all.

Posted in Economy, Education, Personal Finance, The U.S. Government, Young Adults

(JSTOR Daily) Peter Feuerherd–How Religious Literacy Might Have Changed Waco

The siege had begun on February 28th of that year when, tipped off to an upcoming raid by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), Koresh and his followers killed four government agents who came to investigate alleged firearms violations at their compound. Six Branch Davidians were also killed in that initial gun battle.

While government officials saw the tragedy as inevitable given Koresh’s obstinancy and violent tendencies, a cascade of religious scholars argued that the Waco raid was not completely justified and that, with a little more patience and understanding of biblical theology, the massive loss of life could have been avoided. They note that Koresh had been in touch with two scholars who challenged his teachings. When the final raid took place, Koresh was writing an interpretation of the Book of Revelation in response to that critique. A little more time, religion scholars argued, and Koresh and his followers might have left the compound peaceably. They say he needed time to finish his manifesto.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Eschatology, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government, Violence

(Wired) America’s infrastructure is such a mess it earns a D+ grade, and we need $4.6 trillion just to bring it to a B

One of President Donald Trump’s first promises after getting elected was to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure—bridges, roads, tunnels, pipes, dams. And whether you’ve had to evacuate a town in the shadow of a crumbling dam, buy filters for tainted municipal water, or even just bounced over potholes on a highway, you’ve experienced the problems the president alluded to.

Well, it really is as bad as you think. The American Society of Civil Engineers has just released its latest infrastructure report card, and grades the United States at D plus. That means the country’s public works are in substandard condition, with a risk of failure. The ASCE releases its reports every four years, and the mark hasn’t changed since the last time. “While our nation’s infrastructure problems are significant, they are solvable,” says ASCE President Norma Jean Mattei. But that’ll take money.

So … $1 trillion, right? Great news! Except the ASCE report says it’ll take $4.59 trillion to bring things up to a B, or adequate grade, by 2025. That’s a shortfall of $2 trillion over current spending plans. Again: $1 trillion is nowhere near enough.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Budget, Economy, House of Representatives, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Senate, The U.S. Government

(NR) Trump’s Executive Order on Refugees–Separating Fact from Hysteria

To the extent this ban applies to new immigrant and non-immigrant entry, this temporary halt (with exceptions) is wise. We know that terrorists are trying to infiltrate the ranks of refugees and other visitors. We know that immigrants from Somalia, for example, have launched jihadist attacks here at home and have sought to leave the U.S. to join ISIS. Indeed, given the terrible recent track record of completed and attempted terror attacks by Muslim immigrants, it’s clear that our current approach is inadequate to control the threat. Unless we want to simply accept Muslim immigrant terror as a fact of American life, a short-term ban on entry from problematic countries combined with a systematic review of our security procedures is both reasonable and prudent. However, there are reports that the ban is being applied even to green-card holders. This is madness. The plain language of the order doesn’t apply to legal permanent residents of the U.S., and green-card holders have been through round after round of vetting and security checks. The administration should intervene, immediately, to stop misapplication. If, however, the Trump administration continues to apply the order to legal permanent residents, it should indeed be condemned.

Read it all from David French.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, History, Immigration, Law & Legal Issues, Office of the President, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Psychology, Religion & Culture, The U.S. Government, Theology

AP story on the DEA's attempt to try to keep up w the nearly unending stream of new US drugs

No one knew what was in the baggie. It was just a few tablespoons of crystalline powder seized back in April, clumped like snow that had partially melted and frozen again.

Emily Dye, a 27-year-old forensic chemist at the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Special Testing and Research Laboratory, did not know if anyone had died from taking this powder, or how much it would take to kill you.

What she did know was this: New drugs were appearing in the lab every other week, things never before seen in this unmarked gray building in Sterling, Virginia. Increasingly, these new compounds were synthetic opioids designed to mimic fentanyl, a prescription painkiller up to 50 times stronger than heroin.

This, Dye realized, could be one of them.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Drugs/Drug Addiction, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Science & Technology, The U.S. Government, Theology

A Terrifying WSJ profile of American Diplomat Robin Raphel, wrongly suspected for being a US Spy

Over the past two years, diplomats in Pakistan and the U.S. have scaled back contacts, according to officials in both countries. U.S. diplomats say they are afraid of what the NSA and the FBI might hear about them.

“What happened to Raphel could happen to any of us,” said Ryan Crocker, one of the State Department’s most highly decorated career ambassadors. Given the empowerment of law enforcement after 9/11 and the U.S.’s growing reliance on signals intelligence in place of diplomatic reporting, he said, “we will know less and we will be less secure.”

“Look what happened to the one person who was out talking to people,” said Dan Feldman, Raphel’s former boss at State. “Does that not become a cautionary tale?”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anthropology, Asia, Defense, National Security, Military, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Pakistan, Politics in General, The U.S. Government, Theology

(Time) Penelope Wang-The Next President’s Financial Imperative: Fixing Social Security

Today some 60% of Americans age 65 or older rely on Social Security for 50% or more of their family income”“the average payment is a modest $1,300 a month. For some 33% of families, the benefit makes up 90% to 100% of their income.

There’s a lot at stake for the overall federal budget as well, since entitlement programs are grabbing a larger and larger overall share of federal expenditures. Social Security alone accounts for $1 out of every $4 spent, and Medicare and Medicaid spending make up another 25%. Together these entitlement programs account for most of the future growth in spending, not including interest payments on debt, says MacGuineas.

The surge in Social Security spending is chiefly driven by the aging of the U.S. population. The leading edge of the baby-boom generation of 75 million began heading into retirement just as Obama took office. Back in 2009, the nation’s worker-to-retiree ratio stood at 3.0 to 1. Today, with more boomers having exited the workforce, the ratio has dropped to 2.8 to 1, and by 2035 it is projected to shrink to 2.1 to 1.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Aging / the Elderly, Anthropology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Politics in General, Social Security, The U.S. Government, Theology

(NYT Op-ed) Paul Volcker+ Peter Peterson–Ignoring the Debt Problem

Yes, this country can handle the nearly $600 billion federal deficit estimated for 2016. But the deficit has grown sharply this year, and will keep the national debt at about 75 percent of the gross domestic product, a ratio not seen since 1950, after the budget ballooned during World War II.

Long-term, that continued growth, driven by our tax and spending policies, will create the most significant fiscal challenge facing our country. The widely respected Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by midcentury our debt will rise to 140 percent of G.D.P., far above that in any previous era, even in times of war.

Unfortunately, despite a brief discussion during the final presidential debate, neither candidate has put forward a convincing plan to restrain the growth of the national debt in the decades to come.

Read it all. For a very important background on this, please see this 2011 post and the comments thereon, in which Boston University’s Laurence J. Kotlikoff makes clear that the true figure of our actual indebtedness is in excess of 200 Trillion dollars–KSH.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Budget, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Medicare, Politics in General, Social Security, The National Deficit, The U.S. Government, Theology