Friday, June 24, 2011

Obama Proposes 1/2000 Trillion Dollar Manufacturing Plan

Haz manufacturing plan? When you unveil it, make sure you're not too far off Butler Street. Otherwise you risk losing Ferlo.

In the speech, he launched his new high-tech plan with six universities in what the administration is calling the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership.

The plan also features 11 manufacturing companies, including Ford Motor Co., Caterpillar Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and Northrop Grumman Corp. Leading the effort will be Andrew Liveris, chairman, president and CEO of the Dow Chemical Co., and Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (P-G Early Returns, Daniel Malloy)

Assertively rebuilding our manufacturing capacity and spurring our technological sector sounds like a good strategy for America.

The only issue is, when we think about "real money" these days, we usually think of it in billions if not trillions. This knowledge was revealed to us all in having attentively watched a parade of certain bailouts, stimulus packages, weapons systems, quantitative easing, routine entitlement and occupation spending, and tax cuts.

$400 or $500 million is real money in terms of building a skyscraper -- albeit a fancy one -- but is it even close in terms of rebuilding an atrophied world-power economy? Hard to say. What about once we concede there is a significant public-private-and-academic partnership aspect to the plan? That itself can be a real hot potato.


Alright, I admit it. When it comes to economics, I just read Paul Krugman and believe whatever he says. He's the only one in the game with a Nobel Prize, and whose work passes the smell test on each and every occasion. No glaring omissions, no over-reliance on maxims and quotations, no flowery puffing up. It engenders confidence, this making of his real theses so easy to apprehend.

Let's see what he has to say right now:

But [Republicans are] willing to sacrifice that future [they say is at risk due to the deficit], not to mention risk the good faith and credit of the federal government, rather than accept so much as a single penny of tax increases as part of a deal.

Given all that, it seems almost redundant to mention that federal tax receipts as a percentage of GDP are near a historic low: (NYT Conscience of a Liberal, Paul Krugman)

Nothing on the President's manufacturing plan yet, but note where Krugman focuses. We agree. Forget the deficit*. Prioritize our present spending, raise revenues, and plow all those sweet proceeds into manufacturing, technology, education and infrastructure -- that is, with real money. Employ the country productively, then worry about the bondholders with a sufficiently productive and competitive country.

*- And forget the curveball, Ricky.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Docs say Insurers Shouldn't War On Providers


"We're hearing it from our patients: 'What happens if I can't go to a UPMC facility? Or what if insurance won't cover a visit to the doctor who has been seeing me for 29 years?' (P-G, Steve Twedt)

Congratulations, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center aka UPMC. You've found a way to turn all the Hillarycare, Obamacare and socialized medicine ghost stories into a horrid reality.

Now to change things sensibly. How?

Remember the old Glass-Steagall Act, separating investment banks and depository banks? Maybe we need something similar to ward off malignancy in these insurer-provider combines.

Remember Act 55, the old Institutions of Purely Public Charity Act? Maybe we'll be asking that one day, or at least rereading it and tinkering with the fine print. If the dominant players in health care are intent on conducting their business operations more like corporate sharks and racketeers than humanitarians, we might as well buy some public safety vehicles and educate some children.

ARCHIVAL: A 2007 state Senate subcommittee hearing on Act 55 was liveblogged here and here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Monday: Josh Wander, and Other Notes

Today we note the occasion of a great honor for Pittsburgh City Council District 5 candidate Republican Josh Wander, who is opposing Democratic party nominee Corey O'Connor in the November 8th general election.

Wander has joined an illustrious line of political figures whom the Comet has interviewed, only to spend absolutely forever getting around to actually chronicling the experience online. Far too long a time. To an embarrassing degree. To the point where an interviewer might forget wide swaths of the conversation.

Fortunately for Mr. Wander, there is a strong correlation between this very situation and the incidence of multiple-part blog posts and heightened long-term interest. Even still, that also sometimes correlates to an extended "teaser" period and stylistic unpredictability.

Yet c'est la vie, for que sera, sera. If you'll pardon the French. Sometimes an unorthodox approach is for the best.


We begin this months-long festival of cop-outs and subsequent penitence with some questions posed to Wander by the Comet author's Twitter followers:

Wander responds:

Attracting new businesses to our district and to our entire city has to be a main priority. It is the lifeblood of our economy and realistically, this is accomplished by removing government hindrances, not adding new ones. I would suggest making our city more business friendly, and I plan on providing specific examples as my campaign progresses. Please stay tuned.


Mr. Williams references this story above. Wander responds:

I appreciate the opportunity to address this prank that I played almost a decade ago. During the height of the Second Gulf War, when we invaded Iraq and France did not support our efforts, there was a movement to rename French Fries, Freedom Fries in protest. I decided, as a practical joke to up that by creating a website called,, which supposedly advocated returning the Statue of Liberty to make a "stronger statement" to France. I never expected it to go viral, but it did and was picked up by the national news. Trust me, I was humored. As I still am at people that drudge this up to be used against me!

The Comet led off its own interview by asking, "Why are you running?" Wander immediately gravitated towards a discussion on transparency, in decision making and in policy making.

He recalled a county-wide event among municipal leaders which he attended, one from among the several associations and forums wherein our fractionalized regional governments come together to commiserate over common problems, and hopefully cooperate. He described one municipal Council member giving a stirring address on serious pension-funding problems, and how they all need to get serious together to tackle this widespread challenge.

So far, so admirable -- until that official went on to emphasize, explicitly, that this must be handled behind closed doors, away from the public. And there was a strong murmur of assent in the crowd. Wander says a light went on in his head at that moment, as to a big part of the nature our civic obstacles. (For some reason, Wander is naturally suspicious of what "must" take place beyond public view.)

He then touched upon issues that sometimes go hand-in-hand with a lack of transparency, in a way that mirrored what appears prominently on his campaign's website:

78 years of one party rule, cronyism, patronages and just plan corruption has crippled our once shining beacon of bustling business activity, has seen young growing families – the city’s future – diminishing. Our schools are closing. And frankly, the city is so broke that the State of PA had to supervise it’s financial activities and put the city in receivership under the “Financial Distressed Municipalities Act.”

We asked Wander then specifically, how if in any way does his opponent O'Connor fit into this equation. Wander pointed out that he himself filled out every candidate questionnaire he was given, whereas O'Connor took criticism during the primary campaign for neglecting to fill out many of these and "remaining silent". Front-runner status be hanged -- voters deserved to hear O'Connor's thoughts on these issues, and that they did not was "disturbing".

The relative silence on the abortion issue particularly rankled Wander, who goes to great lengths to describe his nuanced position. He makes no secret in his campaign literature that he is deeply religious, yet at the same time specifies that "in Catholicism, the life of the fetus is held as paramount, but in Orthodox Judaism we put the mother first" at all times. Wander is Jewish. Whatever his ruminations on the issue -- and he stubbornly refuses to simplify -- it satisfied Planned Parenthood enough to earn a "mixed" rating in their Voter Guide.

Wander's avowedly strong Jewish perspective has proved a mixed bag for him in the political realm before. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he says he placed on display in a campaign office what he described as factual information about then-candidate Barack Obama's stance on Israel. He says he was criticized bitterly by some in the neighborhood for doing this -- which he attributes to some extent to an overly reactive loathing for Republicans in general.

Closed-mindedness, he calls it, and which he described here recorded in a speech at a campaign forum. To his mind this closed-mindedness to alternatives feeds into that culture of insularity which produces non-transparency (opaqueness?) and other problems.


I think on second thought we'll leave what (for lack of better terms) we'll call "adult entertainment" or "sexually oriented businesses" to an entirely different blog post. We owe Mr. Wander that much.

Surely the hobgoblins of meddlesome minds can wait a day or two in this process, before we begin seductively peeling away layers of prejudice, assumption and political aspersion -- until we fully reveal the breasts of empirical understanding and finally the areolae of truth. After all there's no profit in giving it away all at once!