Friday, December 30, 2011

One risk in the next election

In case you haven't noticed, my biggest concern throughout this blog has been the deficit, and it's my focus still in my thinking about who I favor in the 2012 election. There is a scenario that especially scares me: one-party domination.

In the last decade, the worst economic moves have been made when one party had control over the presidency, the House, and the Senate:
  • Bush tax cuts - responsible for a large part of our deficit
  • Stimulus bill - an unfocused mixture of reasonable spending and money-down-the-hole projects
  • Obamacare - a too-big answer to a real problem
At the 2012 election, we are facing the possibility of all three bodies in Republican hands. (I don't see the Democrats recapturing the House, and they have a better than 50% chance of losing the Senate.)

That worries me because I recall what the Republicans did last time they held the triple crown. We can't afford more Bush-type tax cuts, but I don't trust newly elected Republicans to see it that way. Many Republican candidates are promising major tax cuts already.

Although the Republicans have been stalwarts on balancing increased spending with revenue (or revenue gimmicks), we've seen before how quickly they abandon all that good sense when they direct the deficit spending. As painful as gridlock and obstruction may be, at least there is one good result: less spending and no big tax cuts.

To prevent one-party domination, I'll be voting for a Democratic president and a Democratic senator, even if I kind of like the Republican. We need elected officials who will block the stupidity of a thundering herd of partisans. In 2009, it was a herd of Democrats and the Senate blocked some of their excesses. In 2013, it's likely to be Republicans, so we'll need as Democratic a Senate as possible, and a Democratic president as insurance if the Senate fails.



Update 1/31/12. Read how I reevaluate after a weak SOTU address.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reflections on partisanship

Partisanship is more the norm, but bipartisanship also has a robust history. I was asking myself the question: is it really worse now than it was in the past? Yes, I think so. In the past 3 years, Congress has negotiated virtually no bills. A few measures have been so popular that they passed easily, most recently a jobs bill for veterans, but that it isn't the hard work of negotiating a compromise. All the compromises in the past year have occurred as time ticked down to a shutdown or a hard expiration date.

A welfare reform bill or education bill worked on by both Bush and Kennedy would be unthinkable today. There had been camaraderie among senators in past years, but not now.

Not So Small Beginnings
I tried to think back to when this nearly constant animosity started, and I think it was during Reagan presidency. There won't be any proof of this, but I think there was a near constant barrage of disagreement and belittling critique of the man, his intelligence, and his policies. It wasn't surprising, because Reagan was an existential threat to the liberal-leaning status quo. He wanted to roll back a scary number of the gains liberal had made: welfare, abortion, tax-free student loans, decreased military spending, women's liberation.

One of the most blatant of the liberals' attacks was on Robert Bork, Reagan's nominee to the Supreme Court. Republican neither forgave or forgot, and Supreme Court nominations have been generally been contentious ever since. (To be clear, I agreed with the fight against Bork. He was a frighteningly persuasive reactionary, and I don't use those terms lightly.)

 "I'll see you and raise you five."
This form of partisanship, with constant attacks, became even more pronounced during the Clinton administration. The tools--congregational hearings, constant news leaks, rumors, special prosecutors (blessedly defunct now)--had all been used before by Democrats out to embarrass a Republican administration. Perhaps the Republicans added a few new tricks, such as finding PACs or think-tanks that would  financially sponsor accusers on press junkets (though it's possible that wasn't a new twist).

The Republicans really upped the ante with their impeachment proceeding against Bill Clinton. Even a strong electoral repudiation of the Republicans didn't deter the House Republican leadership, who commenced impeachment proceeding after losing a significant number of seats in the 1998 off-year election. Since then, the partisanship has barely had even a Christmas truce, except perhaps Gore's altruistic concession of the disputed 2000 presidential election. Each president has been accused so often of being "the most polarizing figure ever" that it could be a title equivalent with 'Mr. President.' I'm so tired and cynical about all this partisanship that I don't want to chronicle any more of it in this post. Suffice to say that it continues unabated.

I don't have a hopeful note to end on. No pithy quip. I still pray for an end to this partisanship, but without any spirit of hopefulness. Sorry to be such a downer.

 ... just another day at the beach

Extras
Google counts:
  • "Impeach Carter"   - 5140 results, none contemporaneous.
  • "Impeach Reagan" - 10,700 results
  • "Impeach Clinton"  - 62,900 results
  • "Impeach Bush"       - 2.2 million results
  • "Impeach Obama"  - 1.0 million results
Supreme partisan Jon Kyl

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Species identification - Lousy arguments


We've all heard about logical fallacies and rhetorical tricks. The straw man argument, ad hominem attacks, exaggeration, etc. I'd like to catalog more of these arguing tactics. Reader suggestions and verbatim examples are strongly encouraged:
  1. Straw man - An opponent raises up a terribly weak point in your favor and busts it down. It's like punching a kid.
  2. Ad hominem attack - You're a complete jerk, or moron, or traitor, or ... Your opponent may be a complete jerk too, but it doesn't make the underlying argument better or worse.
  3. Correlation is causation - Obama caused the recession, the debt, etc. This is a big one because it can be used in so many situations.
  4. Case closed - Annoying, one-sided closure of the argument.Variant: End of story, Period.
  5. Irrelevant - Annoying, one-sided judgment of what the boundaries of an argument will be.
  6. Limit choices argument -- Status quo or my candidate. EPA overreach or no EPA. Keep all the Bush tax cuts or none of them. You can reframe the argument: someone is offering 0% or 100% and ignoring all the possibilities in between.
  7. Demand for proof - This can be legitimate, for example when someone asserts a fact, like 47% of people pay no income tax, or makes other kinds of assertions. But it's also used to derail the argument. It can be used as a straw man, an offhand assertion that isn't central to the argument, but an opponent picks it as a weak point and demands data.
  8. Ignoring context - This is major, and is related to declaring information irrelevant. No extenuating circumstances matter. For example, unemployment was under 8% when Obama was elected and soared to 10%.
  9. Creating a diversion, or "look over there, something worse" - Someone is clearly desperate when they try to distract you and steal your chess pieces. Point out the maneuver, and hammer the point you just made. It was probably a winner.
  10. False comparisons - Our poor people are richer than 95% of the world. Implication is that they aren't poor, so the money shouldn't be spent on them. A give-away is the mention of different countries or  different eras.
  11. Exaggeration - Making what is bad infinitely worse. Example: Taking away our freedoms, ruined the economy, if it wasn't for medicare we would all die.
  12. False assertion - Claiming something that isn't true or is only an opinion. This is a case when demanding evidence is a good idea. Ex. Obama is the worst president in my lifetime. 
Examples:
Look at Europe and Cuba and every other place that has government run health care, they are in big financial trouble. - Correlation is causation.

Additions:
13.  It's common sense - Common sense always supports your side. This is similar to asserting something without evidence and declaring "case closed."
14. The well-known "No true Scotsman" argument. This is used to discredit someone so you don't have to listen to their point. All Americans should rally around the president. But here's an American who isn't rallying around. Must not be a true American.
15. Gotcha question - A question meant to derail a discussion rather than clarify positions or weak points. A gotcha question isn't on an important point in the argument, but on trivia. It functions similarly to the demand for proof (#7), and is similarly obnoxious in having a know-it-all smell to it. Example: "Pop quiz time: When MLK was in jail, ... which 1960 presidential candidate called Coretta Scott King to express sympathy and support: JFK, or RMN? Take all the time you need before responding...."

*****************************************************************
If you'd like, add  your own examples in the comments.

Links to the 13 or 20 top fallacies. Link to a good list of 42 fallacies with excellent examples and very little Latin.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Planning your repatriation holiday

You may see this proposal in the platform of Republicans. They advocate a tax holiday for companies bringing home the profits collected in other countries, called repatriation. I'm much less a business expert than some who read this blog, so I may be about to subject myself to cruel humiliation, but I'll attempt to explain this anyway.

The federal government taxes profits that US companies earn in foreign countries. It gives credit for taxes paid in the original country, but the companies still have to pay tax beyond that up to the top rate of 35%. Since the income tax rate on US companies is so high, companies may park the profits and not take them officially. Companies are asking for a tax holiday to bring the profits back to the US, reinvest them here, and grow the economy.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Not quite. This is a great line, but I hope it isn't successful like the "corporate gains and dividends are double taxed" argument. The truth, which the companies won't be mentioning, is that much of the money is already deposited in US banks. Also, the last repatriation holiday resulted in a lot of stock buybacks, not new investment.

So, when I read this talking point sometime next year, I'll be ready with this comeback:
This is a convenient argument for bigwigs who would like to increase their personal wealth. A tax holiday would allow executives to 1) repatriate profits, 2) avoid corporate taxes, 3) initiate stock buy-backs, 4) raise the stock price, 5) sell stock at higher prices, 6) take capital gains at 15% next year (if Obama is re-elected) or possibly 0% in 2013 if there’s a Republican president. But it’s very important for executives to get this repatriation tax holiday soon, because special low capital gains rates may be over at the end of 2012.
Do I think they’re planning to reinvest? No, but they hope other people will believe it.

All that money pining to come home


Anyone but Romney

...Except Dopey, Loony, Sleezy, Geezer, Niney, Prig, and Snoozy.


Maybe it's a bit early to post this, but I got started on the nicknames with Dopey and decided to run with it. Who knows, maybe they will pick Dopey.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Ron Paul supporters get their wish


Ron Paul is finally getting a lot of press. Some higher power heard the collective prayers (or rants) from Paul supporters, and granted their wish. But as is wont to happen with wishes, it didn't turn out quite as hoped.

Now the media, instead of ignoring Ron Paul's numbers in this straw poll or that conservative conference, is reporting on Paul's surge in the Iowa pre-caucus polls. Mostly, it's "He might win Iowa, but that just shows how marginal Iowa is" or "There's no way he'll win the nomination." There are also a spate of articles on his newsletters from the 1990's with some racist articles that appeared under his byline.

All this gives Ron Paul supporters a new reason to call foul. I'm glad they have a new reason, because the old one was worn thinner than the elbows on my favorite shirt. They are shocked... shocked that the media is not all adulation and hero worship. I don't know how this happened, but every single one of Paul's supporters ignored what happens when the press turns its attention on someone, especially a candidate for president. The anointed Obama excepted, of course.

Now, I think it's a great idea to report on Paul's policies, and give them a real good inspection, because they don't hold up to scrutiny. But the coverage on his newsletter is also plenty fair. Paul has barely explained this ghost from his past. If I have to fill the blanks that he leaves, I'm not giving him much benefit of the doubt. Here goes:
  • Paul is a strict constitutional libertarian, and there aren't many around.
  • He'll hang with anyone who also says that they want the federal government out of their business.
  • There's a concentration of somewhat like-minded people in militias, white-supremacists groups, gun rights/survivalist groups.
  • Ron Paul craves any audience, and this is what came to him. He didn't look too closely at anything else they support and stand for. Why? Because the constitution is all that matters.
  • There is a lot of evidence that Paul is not a racist, but he didn't mind associating with them, or giving them control of his newsletter.
  • I don't want this guy as my president. I'll add this of my pile of reasons.
  • Move over, Tea Party. Cue a new bunch of people screaming about Sen. Byrd being in the KKK.
It's a fair question whether an issue form 20 years ago should matter so much. If it is wasn't a pattern, or was completely disavowed in word and deed, I'd agree. However, Paul has continued the pattern of poor associations with whackos. For him, crazy is OK so long as he gets airtime. I'll repeat, I don't want this guy as president.

Extras
Don't get no respect:
"Wow. The second Ron Paul becomes a viable candidate, the slander machine begins. Someone REALLY doesn't want him to win... Don't you find it odd that there was no mention of him before he started polling first, and now that his numbers are rising, every mention is negative?!"
"Now that media's attempt to eliminate Paul haven't worked and he's due to win Iowa, now all of a sudden 'iowa doesn't matter', and here come the tired re-treads of this old canard."
"MSM should stick with what they do best cover Britney Spears or a "sports hero" or any other useless time wasting coverage... " - Atlantic comments
Best defense of Ron Paul:
"Libertarianism is an attractive philosophy to racists... because it states that people should be allowed to freely associate and enter into contracts with whomever they decide. This would mean racists could have a private club and only allow same race people to join... History shows, however, that racists will flock to whatever party serves their interests at the moment. They will switch parties based on superficial reasons. They've switched between Democrats and Republicans." - Atlantic comment

Update 12/29/11. I allude to Paul's continuing pattern of working with whackos, but I should name names. Here goes: Alex Jones, truther and major conspiracy theorist. The New York Times has a longer list. I think this is important because it indicates potential risks in a Ron Paul presidency. All presidencies have risks, and it's good to identify them as well as we can and then choose. By the way, it was almost all Ron Paul all the time in political news today. He's not missing in the media anymore.

Analogies: Carter is to Obama as Reagan is to...


If (note the 'if') Obama is the Carter of the 21st century, do we have a Reagan to defeat him after one lucklustre term? As the tragicomedy of the Republican nomination campaign continues, it becomes more and more apparent that there is no 21st century Reagan to run against Obama.

I hope I'm witnessing the demise of Newt Gingrich's campaign. I loathe Newt because he has consistently put his ego above the good of the country, or honesty, or countless other virtues. He is definitely no Reagan.

Today, I regret that there isn't another Reagan, with the caveat that the myth of Reagan glosses over many characteristics out of favor today: negotiating with Democrats, raising Social Security taxes, closing loopholes to increase revenue, increasing deficit spending.

It could be that Reagan picked the low hanging fruit that ripened during years of Democratic domination of Congress. Not that I want to downplay his accomplishments. He showed that the country could reverse the trend of ever increasing social spending without the dire outcomes that liberals predicted (upsurge in crime and desperation with the end of social programs). He also showed the possibility for strong conservative policy objectives after the previous 20 years had been mostly in line with liberal objectives.

Today's Republicans are in a much different situation. Republican ideas have been dominant for 30 years. So would a would-be 21st century Reagan be running against the 20th century Reagan?

Maybe this is the problem we're seeing. Republicans are running against their former selves, at least to a certain extent. That's a problem Reagan didn't have. He could go full bore against the excesses of the Democrats and the exclusion of conservative ideas. Today's Republican candidates have to thread the needle very carefully--use the tactic of blaming Democrats as much as possible, throw in a few mea culpas and 'back to basics' rhetoric. But they can't go full Reagan.

There's a bigger problem than rhetorical positioning, however. Candidates can't promise initiatives the way Reagan did because our fiscal situation limits what we can do. Reagan's sunny outlook just doesn't fit with the times. Would the electorate believe a candidate today who says we can build up our military, face down our enemy, be the leader throughout the world, reform entitlements and put them on a stable footing for the next century, cut taxes, and unleash growth? We would probably roll our eyes and ask: "We already did this. What do we do now?" That's a question even Reagan couldn't answer.



Carter is to Obama as Reagan is to: _____________________  (Your answer here.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Simpson-Bowles economic plan - WIN

I've written about my support of the Simpson-Bowles plan many times, but I'm finally doing a capsule review as I've done of Obama's, Romney's, and Cain's plans. A debt-reduction commission was created by Obama in early 2010 after Congress after the Republicans in the Senate refused to give a mandate for a commission and guarantee a vote on their recommendations.

The commission was bipartisan with members from the House, Senate, business, and economic experts. They worked from April 2010 until December 2010. In the end, 11 of 18 commission supported the report, with the dissenters split nearly equally between Dems and Repubs. (Thanks, Wikipedia, for this background.)

This plan is actually very readable with all major recommendations put into categories and bullet pointed, like this:
RECOMMENDATION 1.1: CAP DISCRETIONARY SPENDING THROUGH 2020. Hold spending in 2012 equal to or lower than spending in 2011, and return spending to pre-crisis 2008 levels in real terms in 2013. Limit future spending growth to half the projected inflation rate through 2020.

Budget Cuts
Roll back discretionary spending to $688 billion for security and $410 billion for non-security spending. Let agency heads recommend the budget reductions for their department; Congress will not be allowed to micromanage and protect a fiefdom.

Cut congressional and white staffing and budgets by 15%. Reduce federal workforce by attrition. Institute pay freezes and much tighter travel budgets.

Tax Reform
Raise gasoline taxes $.15 a gallon for adequate funding for transportation (currently partially funded through borrowing).

Eliminate most deductions. All dividend and capital gains will be taxed as the same rate as earned income. The commission offered three choices to determine which brackets to establish:
  • If there are no deduction and no credits, the brackets would be 8, 14, and 23%.
  • If there are credits for low-wage workers and their families, the brackets would be 9, 15, and 24%.
  • If there are credits for low-wage workers and somewhat limited deductions for mortgage interest, health insurance, charitable giving, and retirement savings, the brackets would be 12, 22, and 28%.
  • Exemptions would be maintained as is. The standard deduction would become an exemption. A family of four would exempt $26,000 from taxes.
  • Business income tax would be 26 or 28%.

Health Care Spending
  • Freeze doctor reimbursement for 2013 and have a 1% reduction in 2014. 
  • Reform the payment formula. Repeal the longterm care part of ACA (already done). 
  • Institute a simpler, higher deductible higher copay. 
  • Require the same drug rebate for some on Medicare as already used in Medicaid. 
  • Increase fraud division. 
  • Decrease contributions to states for Medicaid administration costs. 
  • Reform malpractice law and create specialized courts. 
  • Start pilot programs for health insurance vouchers for federal workers (already in ACA and part of Ryan plan for Medicare). 
  • Create a board like the IPAB payment board to set reimbursement rates. 
  • Once reforms are in place, establish hard caps that allow spending increases that match the percentage growth in GDP plus 1% per year.


Mandatory Spending Reforms
Change federal pension rules to bring them in  line with lower rates in the private sector. Reduce spending on agricultural subsidies. There is also a bunch of smaller savings on student loans, general fees, mines, private pension insurance, energy, post office.

Social Security
Change benefit formulas to provide better support for low-income, very old, and long-term disabled. Provide less generous support at the high end. Raise the retirement age, tax more income, make state and local workers join SS.

Enforcement
Cut spending somewhat gradually. Start tax increases after first year of substantial spending cuts. The CBO will score spending bills and send them  back to committee when they exceed the allotment for their category of spending. OMB can require across the board cuts if Congress passes offending bills.

An appointed ongoing committee will recommend 2% cuts every year by identifying programs that are no longer needed or not working as planned. They will also recommend consolidation of redundant programs.

No off-budget spending for wars.

Congress will define what constitutes "emergency" and "disaster" spending. They will establish a special fund for disaster relief based on 10 year average.



My Critique
It's a  great plan. I think the exemptions are a bit low. It doesn't zero out the deficit in its ten-year projection, which I think should be a goal in any plan because we can't pay down our debt until we have a zero deficit. Those are my two specific criticisms. That doesn't decrease my awe at the achievement of the commission. They were actually able to reach agreement in many areas:
  • Cutting the federal workforce
  • Discretionary spending limits
  • Healthcare spending (where agreement is especially hard to reach)
  • Social Security
  • Provisions to enforce the budget agreements
The one area where they couldn't reach a final agreement was tax reform, and even then, they agreed on a framework and three workable options within that framework. Whittling tax reform plans down to option A, B, or C, and getting agreement to present just those options is still a solid achievement.

You can compare the Simpson-Bowles plan to mine, but I wish you wouldn't. On the other hand, go ahead and compare it to Romney's plan and Obama's plan. For laughs, compare it to Cain's plan. Remember when he was the frontrunner?


The Payoff
Within the first 4 years of the plan, we reduce our deficit to 2.3% of GDP, then down to 0.8% by 2025. In the meantime, normal growth in GDP will make our debt smaller as a percent of the economy.

Green - current trajectory
Red - Bush tax cuts expire
Blue - Simpson-Bowles WIN!


Edit 12/27/11. Added my second criticism, that the plan didn't zero out the deficit.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

My Crystal Ball - Iowa and beyond

On Bernstein's blog, we were asked for our predictions for Iowa. The caucuses in Iowa are inscrutable to foreigners, and I'm definitely a foreigner with regard to Iowa, so I don't have a prediction. But others on the blog made longer-range predictions, like Paul was going to be a stronger contender throughout the primary season. Be sure to read the interesting array of ideas. As for me, I'm afraid that I have a vanilla prediction.



I have pity for Mitt. He's the most sensible choice for the general election (Paul would be slaughtered), but the girl he's waiting for keeps dancing with all these bad-boys. He's even tried to be more bad-boy himself, but it's not working.

Despite the reluctance of the national party, I do think Romney will win in NH. I was up there this past weekend, and Romney had the most and largest signs. Ron Paul is second.

Romney will do well enough to stay in the race past Florida, and he'll have stronger wins after that. Gingrich will win a few, but people will find him less and less charming. He'll enjoy the campaign, avoid becoming nasty to his rivals, and be cordial when he bows out.

Paul will keep up the fight, but he doesn't have a shot. He'll have to decide whether to run as an independent.

I haven't mentioned Iowa because don't think it's going to be important. The only exception to that is if Paul does really well (1st or very high 2nd) and the same in NH. If Paul gets two wins or near-wins, he'll finally get some press. Once he gets some coverage, the merely curious will drop out, and he'll have only his die-hard 15%. (Because he really is Nader crazy.)

The final scorecard will look like this:
  • Romney - gets the nomination, is gushingly grateful. The bride has her doubts all the way to the altar and beyond.
  • Gingrich - his good cheer wins him elder statesman status--less than Reagan, but more than any other Republican. He remains very partisan, with frequent visits to Fox News and all the right-wing think tanks. 
  • Paul - 80% find out for sure that Paul IS crazy. Fifteen per cent know for sure he's a genius. The remaining 5% are split between lizard-alien, regular alien, and "who?"
*****************************************************

To me, it's almost as though the Republicans are a contestant on Let's Make a Deal. The only difference is that they can see the prizes, and still the choice is difficult. "... Do I want the RV, the Mediterranean casino cruise, or the goat? Oh no, I can't decide."


Bonus predictions: Callista divorces Newt and takes over the Huffington Post. Both Newt and Ron Paul will be contestants on The Apprentice. Pirate videos of Ron Paul grabbing Trump's hair will go viral. Newt will get a Christmas special on TV and dress up as an elf. Lots of Christian stars will sing. Sarah and Bristol Palin will visit. President Romney will visit on the second season. Newt dies happy and fulfilled. The End.

Update 12/30/11. This post is already a bit out of date. I know it stuck out like a red flag: "Gingrich will win a few..." It now looks like this part of my prediction won't pan out. And I couldn't be happier--I loathe Gingrich.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

No shock treatment, please

Is it already too late to save the US from becoming Greece? I think there's hope. We have some time left, but we don't know how much time it is.

If this was an action movie, and the US was under a known threat of attack, there would be multiple military missions, conventional and unconventional, trying to prevent a terrible outcome. You can probably picture it--the stalwart hero who does everything he can think of to stop the devastation.

Well, we are under that kind of threat. We don't know how long we have to defuse the bomb, this bomb being our high and growing level of debt. And unlike in an suspense movie, I don't want to take any high stakes gambles. I don't want to try to shock our economy into a burst of activity that saves us, because what if it doesn't work? Shock treatment always costs a lot, whether direct government stimulus spending or tax cuts. The costs and risks are too high, and there is a good alternative.



We can take a conservative course. We can match our spending to our income. We haven't done that on a federal level in 11 years, and it'll be hard to do in just one year without causing painful shocks to our economy. However, we can put ourselves on a multi-year reducing diet plan. We can plan that in year 1 we will do this, in year 2 even more, etc.

Sticking to a budget can be hard for a family unless the family has 1) discipline and 2) some emergency money. The US is a wealthy country, so having some emergency money isn't really the problem. Discipline definitely is.

Right now, most of the country agrees that we have economic problems and rapidly increasing debt. In fact, that was the consensus at the beginning of 2010 when Obama created the deficit commission.

Unfortunately, there wasn't a consensus on the treatment. Was it more important to stimulate the economy to grow, and if so, using what method? This lack of consensus didn't hamper the deficit commission. As they studied the problem, most of the members came to a consensus, which became the Simpson-Bowles plan. Ultimately, the Republican and Democratic chairs (Simpson and Bowles) and 9 other committee members representing both parties approved the plan. However, there were dissents on both the right and the left. Obama damned the plan with faint praise, and Congress didn't act on it. This was an incredible waste, because a plan that can get bipartisan agreement is a rare achievement. This plan, supported by moderates, was scuttled by the extremes and the cowardly.

Once the plan was rejected, then we saw the plans from the extremes. Obama's initial budget proposal for 2012 had a deficit of $1.1 trillion. The Ryan plan cut only $90 billion, had a deficit of $1 trillion, and had future cuts that overwhelmingly affected domestic spending. Ron Paul's plan called for cutting $1 trillion in his first year. He's clearly unafraid of the economic shock. Consequently, no budget was ever passed for 2012. Instead, the government has operated under continuing resolutions for the entire year. Budgets cuts were agreed during a crisis over the debt ceiling, but there is no plan in place for 2012.

If Simpson-Bowles had been accepted, voted on, and passed, we would be nearly to our second year of the plan. Instead, we have a deeply polarized Congress, a current confrontation over payroll tax cuts, and no deal in sight for the Bush tax cuts due to expire at the end of 2012. We will stumble to a more balanced budget, even without a deal, thanks only to sunset provisions. I guess we should count our blessings. The extremes are canceling each other out (at least until the next election). A lucky default outcome is better than an expensive, ill-conceived policy, but a reasonable, conservative approach like Simpson-Bowles would be far better. In the meantime, the bomb is still live, and time is getting shorter.

 Blue - new taxes, Red - spending cuts. Simpson-Bowles: Most balanced


Update 2/10/12. Greece today:  "Papademos said failure to secure the $171 billion rescue package that’s under negotiation threatened 11 million Greeks with a default that would halt the payment of wages and pensions and shut down schools, hospitals and businesses." -- Bloomberg.  Is that what we want in our future?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Advice to Mitt

Romney isn't going to be able to corner Newt on policy issues. He's already tried on health insurance mandates, and Newt simply admitted to it. He didn't go on to justify it, he just left it as an error, plain, simple and small. That was very smart.

Romney would be much better complimenting Newt on ideas and conservative strategy, then questioning him on character issues and governing style. There's a lot to work with there. Just imagine an open-ended question on how Newt decided to do the global warming commercial with Pelosi.

********************************************************************

I guess the Romney campaign doesn't need my advice. From CBS today:
...Gingrich's erratic behavior had imperiled future progress. "You were in a situation where you would get up in the morning, and you would have the to check the newspaper, the clippings, that was before the Internet, to see what the Speaker had said that day that you were going to have to clean up after in your own district."
 Be honest --what's the first thing that jumped into your mind?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Political Empathy FAIL

Get ready for a rant.

The Tea Party
I set a goal for myself--try to understand the Tea Party from the inside. So I read a lot of blogs covering almost 2 years in this attempt to understand the goals, frustrations, emotions, etc. of the Tea Party. This is what I learned:

Tea Party types think there is nothing redeeming in Democrats, Democrats are crypto-communists who want the state to take over everything [this actually applies to just a few Democrats, mostly Kucinich and Nader supporters], MSM is completely biased [actually only partially biased], conservatives are the only patriots in this country, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

And this is what I conclude: they are deluding themselves. They quietly went along with 7 years of the Bush administration, and only started questioning in the 8th year. Then, they don't even look for realistic solutions for problems they identify:
  • Banks are too big and too risky - government regulation is the problem.
  • Healthcare costs too much - repeal Obamacare.
  • Too much government spending - cut government workers, welfare, foreign aid, liberal programs like family planning, NPR, arts, university and student funding, that should be enough.
  • Budget is out of balance - cut taxes to stimulate the economy.
  • Not enough jobs - cut taxes to stimulate the economy.
They don't f*cking look at or care whether their supposed solutions have a hope of working against the identified problem. They are not in the realm of logic or observable fact or pragmatic thinking.

That's how they can blame Obama for the bad economy and deficits, even though this is exactly what Bush left on the plate! If someone believes it's all Obama's fault, it's a waste of time trying to convince them. I don't want to convince them. I just want to expose them.

Liberals
Likewise, in some ways, with liberals. This will be a shorter rant, because I haven't just done a bunch of research on liberals. The biggest thing that bothers me about liberals is their sense of math. It's not going to hurt to raise taxes a little for this wonderful social program, and then this one, and then this one, etc. Since it's for a good cause, money shouldn't be an impediment.

Excuse me, but I'd like to keep more of my money that you have myriad ways to spend. This is an imperfect country that all the money in the entire world won't fix, so let's set some limits and priorities and always, please, consider the costs.

One last thing, liberals, don't try to guilt me. It doesn't work, at least not on me. Why? Because I don't believe in the perfectability of people or this world. I am at peace with the plain fact of  imperfection. I can choose my struggles, instead of every damn thing being a struggle.

It's kind of zen... and I'm calming down already. Exhale slowly ...  ...  ...

Thank you and goodnight.




Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The pulse of Republican regret 2008

In researching the roots of the Tea Party movement, I read many blogs. More illuminating than the posts were the comments. This is a selection, but often they are best read in context, with counterpoints, insults, and disagreements aired in a long stream. One comment can be egregious, next a thoughtful one. Most comments come from HotAir, a conservative multi-blogger site that excludes casual commenters. I highly recommend clicking on the links to get the flavor of discussions.

Here are some of the comments I found significant.

Disappointment with McCain as Nominee Apparent
When we lose in November it will teach us a lesson. We need to nominate a candidate who represents all 3 legs of the stool next time, none of our candidates did that convincingly this time around, not even Fred in reality... We need to get behind guys like Coburn and Demint, they are the future. - HotAir comment 2/5/08

Dirty Tricks on Hated Dems
The Dems are faced with two fantastic options:  If he wins, they will run this boob against an experienced, established, generally liked Senate leader. And The Obama will lose. If the Super Delegates back Hillary they will face riots and that will make me so happy I’ll have to dance around my front yard.
I’ll vote for Hill-rod on the 5th! - HotAir comment, 5/24/08, when Hillary was staying in the race.

Traitors
I DO question his Patriotism, his Judgement, his Americanism, etc. I consider him, and most of the “Democratic” “leadership”, nothing but out, and outright Traitors for their disgraceful conduct during the past 7 years, against this President, the Troops, etc. But Hey, what would I know, I just served in Iraq the first time around in the Marine Corps, lived over their, speak their language, and have analyzed them for the last 30 years. - HotAir comment 7/25/08

Bailout Mania
Harry Reid’s statement shows me that the DEMS are scared $hitless. They don’t have the confidence to say we are/or are not voting for this and Barack believes this and he’s voting this way. NO! He’s telling us what McCain is going to do. He has no idea what McCain’s going to do! Someone else above said it right… I’ll believe it when McCain or at least someone from his own party or campaign tells us he’ll support it.
I repeat… the problem is, we don’t know the details. Who among us has read the bailout plan and would understand it if we read it? I would appreciate getting the chance to read it however. - HotAir comment 9/23/08

Same Story, Different Names
There is already a strong vocal populist opposition, Gingrich adds to it, and the democrats are instictively inclined to not do anything Bush wants done. The democrats have been effective in deflecting any responsibility for their own actions, and the democrats have so effectively destroyed the Bush Administration’s credibility that the democrats could just adjourn congress without being blamed for the results.[emphasis added] - HotAir comment 9/23/08


 The Long Confidence Game

Obama's 'Organizer' Buds Pushed for Bad Mortgages - NY Post 9/29/08

Obama and the Strategy of Manufactured Crisis
... He can be tied directly to a malevolent overarching strategy that has motivated ... the most destructive radical leftist organizations in the United States since the 1960s.... I submit to you that they [Democrats] understand the consequences... the goal is more malevolent - the failure is deliberate. Don't laugh. This method not only has its proponents, it has a name: the Cloward-Piven Strategy. - James Simpson, blogger and former White House economist 9/28/08


The Irony of a 2008 Dream Candidate
My Dream: President Bush appears on national television to give a speech. Standing next to  him are Dick Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Warren Buffett. Dick Cheney says, “I resign.” President Bush says, “I thank Vice President Cheneyfor his service. I appoint Mitt Romney to be Vice-President. He is a skilled financial manager. Just the guy we need right now.

Romney is sworn in as Vice President. President Bush starts talking again. “Right now America needs a leader. Due to my standing in the polls, regretfully, I have lost credibility with the American public. I hereby resign.

Romney is sworn in as President. Mitt Romney starts talking. “Secretary Paulson has done a good job, but people just aren’t listening to him. I hereby fire him. In his place, I appoint Warren Buffett as acting Secretary of the Treasury. I thank Mr. Buffett for serving his country in its hour of need.” Romney and Buffett then get the Paulson plan passed and FDIC insurance limits increased. Romney appoints Ed Morrissey as Vice President. America is saved." - HotAir comment 9/30/08

Too Late to Criticize
Oh, and NOW you want McCain to criticize GW Bush? Where were you when McCain bashed Bush and Rumsfeld in 2004 and 2005? Saying that was proof of what a horrible guy he was, for daring to criticize Bush? How about a few months ago when McCain visited LA with Gov Jindal, and (correctly) said that the Bush administration civilian response to Katrina was incompetent? How about when McCain criticized Chris Cox? Were you one of the people calling McCain a traitor for those criticisms? But you now expect him to take your advice and go on a full on crusade against Bush/Paulson/Pelosi?
Yeah, you want him to win." HotAir comment 9/30/08

Doomed
McCain seems to be resigned not to win. Just this morning, I woke up with the realization that he will not win this thing, no matter what we do. But we MUST vote for him nonetheless. The enemy is too strong to overcome. The Big Temptation of the Pied Piper is too strong to break. And America will follow him to the cave, and then, to Marxist servitude. Yet, we still have to make a stand. We MUST make a stand. - HotAir comment 10/5/08

Equal Opportunity Delusion
Why do the libs always believe that voting out irresponsible repubs automatically means wholesale acceptance of every whackjob democrat plan ever devised? Guess what, Rahm, 2000 and 2004 also saw two consecutive elections where the people “voted for change”, yet you and the rest of the left cried foul.
The libs ALWAYS make this mistake, this time it will cost us plenty before they are done.
Bend over, here it comes. - HotAir comment 11/19/08

Their Mess Now
And just what are you going to say when it all falls apart? “It’s all George Bush’s fault”? What is striking is how smug and clever these people sound right now. Come January, we’ll see how they face reality when it comes up and kicks ‘em right in the nuts.- HotAir comment 11/19/08


The Trouble With Voters
Remember that the voting public are practically brain dead zombies with an average 70 IQ... they go by impressions alone not policies.  - HotAir comment 11/19/08

Pre-Emptive Blame, Before Inauguration
High unemployement.
Low dollar value.
Low consumer confidence.
Gob’ment control of corporations.
I blame Obama. And on 1.20.09, I’ll blame him even more." - HotAir comment 1/9/09

Bambi’s got lots of super lefty ideas to choose from, we’ll all be up to our armpits in a glorious economy before long, I tell you. - HotAir comment 1/9/09

I wonder if the Obama supporters understand that the “you” might include your boss or employer whose company makes over $250,000? ...Wrap that all up in a pretty socialist bow and it’s no wonder that with the messiah in control the pink slips are flying out in record numbers. - HotAir comments 1/9/09

Extra. Over the top Tea Party video. Long on fear, very short on policy.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Republican regret in 2008

The Tea Party narrative is that it sprang spontaneously in early 2009 when a number of conservatives saw what was happening in the new Obama administration and had to act to "Take Back Our Country." So far, I've found out that, unless you believe the Tea Party sprang fully formed in February 2009 (which I disbelieve based on knowledge of physical systems), the roots of the Tea Party lay before Obama was inaugurated and before the election of 2008.

Bush Crumble
The real roots of the Tea Party start after the Democrats gained control of the House and Senate in 2007. With Democrats in control of some of the government, the talk radio conservatives had targets with real power, not just straw men. The Republican nomination race started heating up by April 2007, with Fred Thompson as the conservative favorite. (Note: Most of my information comes from HotAir because the comments are readable, there is more discussion of differing ideas, and the archives are easy to navigate. Since it has links to Michelle Malkin, Allahpundit, pajamasmedia, and similar conservative sites, I took it as representative. Not being a conservative insider, that's the best I can do.)

By fall of 2007, the discontent with the economy, the looming mortgage crisis, torture scandals, and Bush cluelessness and over-promising had grown to the point that is clear that the country wouldn't vote for a Bush clone in 2008.


Pick the Un-Bush
McCain, the maverick who sponsored unRepublican legislation like public campaign financing, cap-and-trade, immigration reform, etc., seemed the most favored of the Republican candidates, at least by the general electorate. After more conventional conservatives--Thompson and Guilani--fizzled in early 2008, it became a two-man race between McCain and Huckabee. McCain won fairly easily.

However, most of the party supported him reluctantly. They hated his previous stance on amnesty for illegals immigrants. In fact, the most common epithet for him was McShamnesty. Huckabee was disliked even more for supporting more generous social programs and being too much a Christian and not enough a conservative. He was also blamed for blocking the only other credible challenger, Romney. This was a surprise to me, but here's a typical comment:
"Ok. Today I sign up on Mitt’s site and donate. If it is McCain v. Hillary in November I pull the GOP lever except for POTUS. That I leave untouched. 4 years of Marxism, then back to conservatism." - HotAir comment 1/29/08
It's important to remember that Romney was seen as a Mr. Fixit with fairly solid conservative credentials in 2008. The requirement for purity didn't exist then. In fact, Romney was a good contrast with the dumb, dependent-on-advisers Bush. He wasn't as popular with movement conservatives as Fred Thompson, but he was more on the ball with policy details. Also, this is before Obamacare became evil incarnate and damned Romney's Massachusetts healthcare program with it.

So in early 2008, McCain was on his way to the Republican nomination, but he was hated almost as much as this woman (image from the HotAir website):



Changing the One (We Hate)
By the February, McCain had sewed up the nomination, but the Democratic race was still going strong. Hillary was slipping from the most-hated throne as Obama ascended to it. By April, Obama was the one to hate, disrespect, and belittle:
'He wants people to believe that he can change the game, but in the three short years he has served in national office, he has done nothing to suggest that. John McCain actually has a track record of working across party divisions and trying to reach solutions on controversial issues; Barack Obama prefers to reserve his “political capital”.' - Ed Morrissey, 4/24/08
"It is all about being labeled in History books: 'Barack Hussein Obama, the First African-American President of the United States of America' THAT IS ALL. Why people can’t get it? Idiocy is rampant in America." - HotAir comment 4/24/08

Self-Awareness
There were flickers of self-awareness during the nomination process. Karl Rove was blasted for giving bad advice to Bush, but he could "only do so much for a guy like GW Bush." The first strong self-criticism came in May:
"Memo to the GOP: we don’t believe your rhetoric any longer. Oh, conservatives still want an end to corruption, a reduction in the size and scope of the federal government, and spending discipline to go with lower taxes. We just don’t believe that many elected Republicans want those goals, nor do we think that current Republican leadership has any real commitment to them, either." - Ed Morrissey, 5/22/08
Even McCain's meeting with the Log Cabin Republicans and Obama's tax plan got some fair discussions.


First Tea in the Harbor
Everything changed with the Wall Street bailout. This is also the first fight in the Tea Party struggle, before it was called the Tea Party. More bloggers and their commenters rallied around McCain, and the vitriol flew at Obama, Reid, and Pelosi.
"McCain’s got little choice other than to support the bill. But chalk me up as one who thinks he should demand a “clean” bill. That way, he can demonstrate that he’s casting a vote to protect the American people, not bloat the government even more with pork." - HotAir comment 9/23/08
"I wish someone would run an ad calling out Obama for what he is, a Marxist…The left has pounded home the “fact” that Bush was an idiot for eight years, and the average jughead on the street, it’s all he knows. “Vote against Bush”. The message needs to be changed to “Vote against Marxism”." - HotAir comment 9/30/08
"True conservatives should be against this 'crap sandwich'." - HotAir comment 9/30/08
After the first version of the bailout was defeated in the House, it passed on the second vote on Oct. 1. Votes for the bailout have since been an issue for Republicans facing Tea Party-backed primary challengers. Although at the time conservative opinion was quite split, afterward it was a stain on the record of Republicans if they didn't stand against the big-government bailout. This position ignores the financial crisis the country was suffering, but such nuance doesn't register with the Tea Party.

The campaign just got nastier after that bailout passed with both candidates supporting it. Obama was called a socialist, marxist, black liberationist, empty suit, elitist, the ONE, and media-anointed messiah.

 Regroup and Reload
With the economy in crisis, the expectations of late 2007 came true, and the Democrats sailed to  victory, winning the presidency, more seats in the house, and what looked like a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The one bright spot for movement conservatives was Sarah Palin. She was almost uniformly adored by the conservative blogosphere. They loved that she was the attack dog against the evil socialists in general and Obama in particular. After the election, McCain went back to being panned as a fraudulent conservative.

The day after the election, the movement conservatives actually rallied. There was a gracious concession to the election victors, but only in the polite right-leaning press. In talk radio and the conservative blogosphere, Obama was slammed as viciously as before.

Jeff Flake, an Arizona congressman, summed up the loss this way in the polite press:
Let's face it: We Republicans are now, by any reasonable measurement, deep in the political wilderness... Today the party is defined in the public mind by the Bush presidency... I suggest that we return to first principles. At the top of that list has to be a recommitment to limited government.
Most House Republicans opposed the recent bailout and will be in a strong position to promote economic freedom over central planning ....As surely as the sun rises in the east, the Democrats will overreach. As long as we Republicans... get back to first principles and work like there's no tomorrow, we've got 'em just where we want 'em.
In the impolite talk radio and blogosphere
Limbaugh: "But do you know what the Democrat plan for your 401(k) is?... So far, this is not Obama yet ...the odds are that it will sound attractive to [Obama] because these people are all about expanding government coffers."
Limbaugh: "I do not want unity with President-Elect Obama! ... By the time all this is all over, 57 million Americans will have voted "no" on this stuff! I, for one, do not think it wise to abandon 57 million Americans who want no part of an Obama agenda..."
Jason Lewis: "We are the 'leave us alone' crowd, so naturally we don't gravitate towards government. Unfortunately, you've got this well-funded, merry band of committed socialists who look at government for power. We need people committed to defending free-market capitalism."
MacRanger: "This is a call to fellow conservative bloggers to join together in a coalition with one goal, to return the White House and the Congress to true conservative Republican control.
Let’s get to work!" MacRanger also published his first birther post only after the election, on Nov. 9.
HotAir comment: "Perhaps he doesn’t realize that too much change could bring revolution also.
Ya feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?"
HotAir comment: "If I hear one more person say 'wait ’til he’s been in office a while before you judge him,' I’m gonna smack that individual right in the mouth. If by now, you cannot discern HOW Obama will govern from his past actions,and statements, then ya gotta have the sentience of a fence post.
HotAir comment:  "We can sit here all day and comment on this blog, but we’re preaching to the choir here! The elites in DC and NYC don’t even know we’re here! The left thinks the right voted AGAINST The Big O because of race! They don’t EVEN know how we feel, what we stand for, or the fact we’re highly intelligent people... We’re going to have to get off our butts and away from our computers and take it to the streets. We need a ring-leader obviously! Some one give us a date or series of dates, locations, and tell us what we’re marching for on that particular day (we have so many things to protest), and we’ll do it!
The last comment sounds like the Tea Party, doesn't it? The ideas of no cooperation, stone wall opposition in Congress, and constant vocal hammering were already in the talk radio and blog media well before Obama was even inaugurated. The transition to street protest just got the ideas out in the open where non-conservatives could see it. That was easy to do. Some local conservatives, already networked and already steeped in the language, needed only to organize conservatives from their local areas. The ideas, the talking points, many of the tactics, and the enthusiastic troops were already poised in 2008. They just needed a name and a date. And they got those on Feb. 19, 2009.

The Tea Party may have the narrative that the small-government conservatives slumbered during the big, bad Bush administration, but awoke just in time to hem in the socialist threat from Obama. That's a convenient story if they want to paint themselves as heroes, when actually they were deaf, dumb, or collaborators while Bush pissed away 8 years and trillions of dollars that we can't get back now.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Tax battle 2011

Back in August, I warned that there would be a fight over the 2% Social Security payroll tax cut that expires at the end of the year. Now we are there. (For anyone keeping score on me, I blew it on my political reboot prediction and my super committee prediction. Overall my record isn't great. Sue me.)

This tax started just last year as part of the crappy deal to save the Bush tax cuts and blow another hole in our lousy deficit budget.

Now the Senate, and only the Senate, are voting on and discussing this issue. The Democratic proposal, which includes further payroll tax cuts and an unemployment extension, pays for the spending with a surtax on the wealthy. Republicans countered with a salary freeze on federal workers (acutally, a future freeze since the current freeze was part of an earlier deal) and personnel cuts by attrition. Neither proposal met the 60 votes minimum needed to move ahead in the Senate.

The Republicans aren't big supporters of this tax cut. It wasn't "paid for" with spending cuts (making it a kissing cousin to the Bush tax cuts, not that Republicans acknowledge that). It also was part of Obama's price for agreeing to extend the Bush tax cuts last December. If you're a politician who hates all things Obama, these tax cuts would be included. A lot of Republicans would like to see these tax cuts die quietly. In fact, 26 Republican senators voted against the Republican plan.


The Democrats, however, want to make hay over these cuts. They want to show that Republicans cling to their tax cuts, but won't raise a finger for Joe Sixpack's payroll tax cuts.

Republicans don't have a strong counter story to this... yet. They can say that it's bad for Social Security, which it is, among many other things. They can say that the Democrats just want to soak the rich and piled on even more spending, which is true, and not the best move by the Dems. But the Republicans aren't in a good place to defend the Bush tax cuts after this.

They should be scrambling to fix this narrative, but I'm not seeing it yet. The House isn't doing anything. They probably hope when Senate's competing bills fail, "it isn't the House's fault." I think the Senate will oblige them.

However, if  the Senate does manage to negotiate a continuation of this tax cut and negotiates a way to pay for it, that would be a hugely unexpected breakthrough in partisan gridlock. It would open a major new dynamic. Suddenly, the House, with its rigid, no-compromise, take-no-prisoners talk, would look like the obstructionists they've been. And many politicians up for re-election this year would have to show what camp they're in -- compromise or no compromise.

I'm not a fan of continuing stimulus, this particular tax cut, or its continuation, but I am a fan of putting politicians in stark relief, and making them justify the positions they've taken. This tax cut isn't sacrosanct, and either are the Bush tax cuts. That is where the real conversation should start.



Update 12/2/11. Boehner is trying to write something that his House Republicans will pass. They don't like the tax, so Boehner is trying to sweeten it with extraneous Republican tidbits. However, what Republicans consider tempting enough are actually huge concessions that the Democrats would never make:
  • "We'll give you this 2% tax cut extension if you give us the Keystone pipeline." 
That probably sounds as attractive as the Republicans super committee offer:
  • "We'll give you $500 billion in 'revenue' if you give us continuation of all the Bush tax cuts." 
Yet again, the Republicans don't understand their weak bargaining position.

Update 12/20/11.The Senate didn't manage a breakthrough, but managed to negotiate a reprieve for two months with solid bipartisan support (89-10). The House Republicans want to stick with their bill, and make the Senate accept it NOW. However, a minority of the House Republicans would rather vote for the Senate bill and take the reprieve. The Republican leadership, knowing they have wavering members, won't put the Senate bill up for a vote. The ball is in the House's court, and we'll see how stubborn the House Republicans are. This is the stark relief I hoped to see, though I'm looking forward to seeing it in the Senate too.

Update 12/22/11. McConnell is trying to close the gap. Currently the House Republicans are saying 'no deal unless it's negotiated before Jan. 1.' The Prez is saying 'two month extension, and we start negotiating on Jan.1.' McConnell can make them both partial winners--'two month extension, and negotiations start today.' I predict that is what will happen today or tomorrow, and McConnell will get the credit. The saga continues. (Eye roll on a national scale.)

Second Update 12/22/11. House Republicans give in and agree to a 2-month extension. Merry Christmas, good-bye Scrooge, and God bless us everyone.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Republican Campaign: Pander v. Pander

Since I'm obsessed with being painfully honest, I think I have to give Romney a bit of a plug. He really wants to give his constituents, whomever he perceives them to be, what they want. So when he runs for senator or governor in the liberal state like Mass (my home), he gives convincing assurances about reproductive choice. His Republican constituency in 2011 is more conservative than those of 2008, so he's had to get more conservative. If he gets to the general election or White House, I expect more changes to please the wider audience.

The important point, though, is that he wants to make the wider populace happy, not just a narrow slice. He's a likeable, wonky-but-not-too-technocratic, Mr. Fixit with a soft-conservative foundation.

This puts him miles ahead of Gingrich, who wants to burnish his own legacy and power above all else... then the power of his cohort... then somewhere down the list is the general good of the country, conservative principles, or whatever.

I think I know which panderer would be less worse for the country. Hands down, it's Romney.

 ...but ... What are the other choices again?

Friday, November 25, 2011

"I could do better than this clown"


Most of the Republican candidates state that Obama's done a horrible job with the economy. A few of them will admit that the economy wasn't in good shape when he came into office. (Maybe that's the Republican form of compromise: we'll compromise on what the situation was, but not on the solution.)

Overall, though, the Rep candidates make it sound like Obama was a brainless fool in his handling of the  economy. It could've been easily fixed using good old conservatives principles.

I'll be surprised if this argument flies with most of the electorate. The economy was a mess in 2008-2009. Unemployment was soaring faster than any recession since WWII. People were rightly scared. They were angry about the bailouts, but that doesn't mean people thought they were unnecessary. Similarly with the stimulus.

These Republican arguments, if they don't jive with reality, are going to fall apart like tissue paper with a quick reminder of what those times were like. That's no guarantee the Democrats will do better however. They can spin a tissue of lies and unlikely scenarios too, and then the electorate will have to choose who is less bad. If you look over the last 30 years, the voters have mostly gone for the Republicans, so the Democrats better have good, believable plans, or we could have a change of government. Or I should say a change of clowns.

(In case you don't recognize him, that's Rick Perry. He was the best looking clown, but not the most likely to be nominated. I decided on eye-candy.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Solving the Healthcare Cost Puzzle

Republican solution: Block-grant Medicaid (limits federal costs), voucherize Medicare (again, Feds get to set limits on their contribution).

Democrat solution: um, decrease reimbursement to doctors, a bunch of other nips and tucks.

The Republicans have the solution that is simpler to understand, that's for sure. Of course that's not the best way to judge a policy proposal, but when it's put up against a complicated, incoherent plan, it does pretty well.

 Truth squad
But in many ways, the whole political debate about providing healthcare is incoherent because there are many competing interests, and not all of them are openly declared. Here is a sampling of some of the objectives in the debate:
  • Provide healthcare to as many people as possible.
  • Provide healthcare to as many Americans as possible, but not to immigrants.
  • Provide healthcare to productive members of society (and retired productive members of society).
  • Eliminate the problem that some people don't have health insurance.
  • Provide enough healthcare to the uninsured so that it's not embarrassing or unchristian, but also minimize taxpayer expense.
  • Allow patients and doctors to make healthcare choices without interference from bureaucrats.
  • Protect individuals from the high cost of healthcare by spreading the cost to larger groups.
  • Slow down the growth of healthcare costs dramatically.
  • Demonstrate that life is the most important consideration no matter what.
  • Cast doubt on the motives of your opponents regarding healthcare availability, cost, and who shoulders the bill.
I probably missed some goals, but it does paint the picture. There are goals for healthcare coverage, goals for handling healthcare expenses, and goals for winning elections.
  • Too much of the political debate is centered on electoral goals where it's important to cast doubt on your opponent and insulate your side. Clarity, not surprisingly, is sacrificed. 
  • When it comes to individuals deciding how to vote or what to advocate for, often the issue is fear of losing access to needed healthcare, plus the desire to shift costs. Cost prevention or cost containment may not register.
 A goal we can agree on?
In the all debate, fear, and sniping, something that is often lost is whether we should try to make our medical spending more efficient and how. Efficient really means not doing the low value or no value procedures. If we don't want to cut the number of procedures, we have to squeeze what we pay for them. That means not passing the Doc Fix every year, and hoping the people doing the work won't resent performing the same job for a lot less money.

Rather than simply squeezing the providers, I'd prefer to cut the number of procedures. But no one  seems to want to talk about making do with less medical care. I can easily do it as a personal choice (sure-I'll wait five years for my next colonoscopy!), but how can we get large numbers of people to sign on? And make the right decisions about what to trim?


 Doctor's advice
Really, the doctors should start this revolution. We have more trust in them than in having our insurance companies or government panels make the recommendations. Doctors could save the entire country a lot of money by cutting back on the testing they recommend. I saw an article (now irretrievably lost in the web) that Americans spend 40% more on outpatient testing than other advanced countries, so this is one area we can definitely trim back.

Unfortunately, doctors often have a business interest in recommending testing, since GE has sold them a bunch of expensive medical equipment, and the docs need to make those payments. There is also malpractice fear. I think someone is going to have to persuade and guide our medical professionals, but that brings us back to the hated insurance companies or government bureaucrats. Oh what a mess. Still, I hope it would be possible for some of our larger medical groups, like Kaiser Permanente and the Mayo Clinic, to study what treatments and testing are effective and cost-efficient. If we can save enough money by stripping out inefficient medical spending, we may not have to touch that third rail: rationing of medical care.

I'll break the taboo, just a bit, and talk about rationing. But to some people, any management of healthcare choices is rationing. In one way I agree, but I see it as good rationing. (Similarly, there is good discrimination, which is what you use if you date only sane, responsible people.) In the future, we may need to ration medical care on a variety of criteria including: odds of survival, odds of recovery to productive status, cost of care, citizenship, etc. This is where the arguments really heat up, and I don't want to go there yet. Let's remove inefficient spending from our system, and see how much breathing space that gives us.

Maybe we can pay with play money...

Extra: Explore some detailed data on healthcare spending with this nifty/easy tool.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History for Amnesiacs: 2009 Bipartisanship FAIL


Obama came into office saying that he wanted to change the atmosphere of partisanship and bring people together. I wanted to look back with see how this vision failed and to apportion blame.


 The Republicans
The campaign was plenty nasty, especially among the activists. It's not surprising that rhetoric like "socialist," "hates America" and such couldn't be turned off in the weeks between the election and when Congress started its new term.

The conservative blogs, or more accurately, the talk-radio online blogs, were saying things like:
So much for a "Centrist" Obama Administration - Punk Emanuel Selected for Obama Chief of Staff -- Macsmind blog 11/4/08
I do not want the government in charge of all of these things. I don't want this to work.... I would be honored if the Drive-By Media headlined me all day long: "Limbaugh: I Hope Obama Fails." Somebody's gotta say it.--Rush Limbaugh 1/16/09
The respectable conservatives and Republicans were taking a wait-and-see posture. But that evaporated pretty quickly. For some, all it took was two words "I won" spoken at a meeting with Republican leaders in the run-up to the stimulus bill (see below). Others waited until the unveiling of the stimulus bill, which the Wall Street Journal called the "40-year Wish List." That was comparatively polite (see below). [Update 4/11/14. Maybe the respectable Republicans weren't waiting. An author specializing on Republicans reported that on Inauguration Day, Kevin McCarthy said "We've gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign." This was at a strategy dinner attended by a dozen congressional leaders and GOP strategists, including Frank Luntz. Update 2/1/15. I don't know how I missed this. The plan was conceived and enforced by GOP leadership, and it was absolute--no cooperation at all. ]

Republican amendments to the bill were voted down. But you should also note that some objectionable provisions were removed by the Democrats before the bill was made public. A third of the stimulus was in the form of tax cuts and rebates. However, no Republican in the House voted for the bill. Any semblance of bipartisanship in the House was over.

A few Republican senators, including Snowe and Grassley, continued to work with Democrats on the Senate version of the stimulus. In the end, only three Republicans votes for the stimulus: Snowe, Collins, and Arlen Specter, soon to be a Democratic, then soon to lose his seat. The stimulus was signed on 2/17/2009. (An overview of the bill and a critique here.)

A tiny bit of bipartisanship lingered on in the Senate during the summer, when Olympia Snowe worked with Democrats on the health reform bill, but it was over by sometime in the fall of 2009. Of course in the meantime, the Tea Party movement started in February 2009. Its founders had already organized in anticipation of some Democratic offense, and they readily felt offended by the stimulus.

The Democrats
On the Democratic side, the major mistake was cramming too much stuff into the stimulus and not being more fair-handed in deciding what to cram in. There were a few other mistakes--the biggest being Obama's invitation to Judd Gregg to be Secretary of Commerce, only minus the responsibility for the 2010 census.
Among the activists, or those who announce what is just below the surface, there was a lot of self-congratulations and at least a few threats to follow a non-centrist agenda (see below).

Division of the Blame
In an earlier post, I asked:
  • Did conservatives ever give Obama and Congress a chance to be bipartisan? Did the Democrats have a chance but blew it? Or were the compromises never going to be enough, and these conservative networks were poised to attack from the very beginning?
Chances were heavily stacked against this president. Maybe it was impossible for a new president, coming into office during a financial crisis, to get every choice correct. But I have to say no, it wasn't absolutely inevitable. But small and medium-sized mistakes are all too likely to happen. With the other actors on the scene, there wasn't much margin for error. We elected a president who wasn't wise and experienced, and who didn't have a canny team who knew how high the stakes were. So Obama and his team deserve a small share of the blame.

Nancy Pelosi, with her handling of the stimulus bill, deserves somewhat more blame. I can't back this up with more evidence than what I've given (which isn't much), but she was the Speaker, and she was heavily involved. Her hand in the creation process of the stimulus and reviled health reform bills costs the Democratics a great deal of support. She should step down. I think her egotism keeps her from stepping aside and giving the leadership to someone who could help Democrats rather than further blacken them.

The largest portion of blame belongs to the Republicans and conservatives who were so ready to throw aside bipartisanship and become the hyperpartisans they are now. There were only a few in the Senate who demonstrated any commitment to bipartisanship. For the rest, it was just a pantomime.

(Edited 11/24/11)

Extras
Balanced article on this topic by a journalist with more resources than I have. Loads of details.

12/9/08. Before civility fell apart. WSJ article and tame comments:
"The general sense among economists being canvassed by the Obama team is that "every day there's a new bad number," one of the people familiar with the matter said. "And people's sense of what the appropriate stimulus is rises" with the news."

1/18/09: Opposition getting stronger:
"I think we're going to be treated to.hagiography for weeks if not months," Erickson complained. "The first time Obama uses the bathroom, Newsweek will do a five-page spread."

I hope he fails
1/21/09. Incidentally, Rush's pronouncement was inspired by a request from the Wall Street Journal for a piece for Obama's inauguration. Newt Gingrich received the same request, and provided this:
President Barack Obama is one of the smartest leaders ever to occupy the White House. His transition has been centrist and responsible in tone. His appointments have been establishmentarian far more than radical left. His outreach to conservative intellectuals and to Republicans in the Congress has been positive and has had serious impact.
On the other hand, ... Mr. Obama's trillion dollars on top of Mr. Bush's trillion dollars represents the largest orgy of government control and government expenditure since the New Deal...

Conservative Vitriol Nearly Full Force
1/23/09. Here were conservative some reactions to reports that Obama said "I won." It's incredible that the talking points that have become so familiar were already honed back at the beginning of 2009. But that's to be expected from a well-functioning political lie machine:
Bob wrote: BO is of course correct, the D’s won, but that still does not make the concept that 50% of the American public will not be paying Fed Income taxes / some will get a check for breathing, correct.
AP wrote: The Manchurian Candidate certainly does not build confidence in the GOP with his comment. He has clearly set the table for stark debate between the two factions once again. Let’s all remember that he is nothing but a dirty politian anyways.
Richard Ingold wrote: Now as to what the GOP should do…FIGHT LIKE HELL AS CONSERVATIVES, NOT LAY ON THEIR BACKS W THEIR FEET IN THE AIR LIKE DEAD BUGS! RESIST NEVER SUBMITT…..DID THE DEMS STOP RESISTING IN 2001 OR 2005 …CERTAINLY NOT!
Huh? wrote:  after the Dems forced the banks to make those bad loans, what did you think the Dems intended for them to do with them? ‘Spread’ the risk around the rest of the economy or sit on them and go bankrupt? C’mon.
The Winners Speak
1/23/09. Liberals were quick to remind Republicans of certain facts:
toadnet wrote: You Rebublicans do remember getting your asses kicked in the last 2 elections – losers need to step aside and let the new team clean up W’s mess.
Big Duke wrote: Dear Republicans and you shills at the WSJ. We tried it your way for 8 long years. With the exception of the select few of you who just got the biggest government handout in the history of history, we are pretty much all worse off for it.
Limbaugh as Co-President
1/29/09. Limbaugh:
Let’s say the vote was 54% to 46%. As a way to bring the country together and at the same time determine the most effective way to deal with recessions, under the Obama-Limbaugh Stimulus Plan of 2009: 54% of the $900 billion — $486 billion — will be spent on infrastructure and pork as defined by Mr. Obama and the Democrats; 46% — $414 billion — will be directed toward tax cuts, as determined by me.

I remember my reaction to this proposal by Limbaugh. I thought he was quite the egotist: that he was on par with the duly elected president; that he spoke for the "loyal opposition" and could bargain on their behalf; that he should have control over some of the proceeds from national legislation.

Full-Force Opposition
2/6/09. Three weeks after the inauguration:
Poor little rich kid handed everything he wants on a silver platter. Gets the presidency with a lock on Congress and gets upset he doesn't get 100% compliance. Stop looking for cover ZERObama. Pass your Porkulous and garner or suffer the fallout depending on its merits.
BHO is just showing his socialist agenda; America should not be surprised.  He should drop the facade of trying to look to be anything but a socialist.
Harry Reid Prays for PORK and PAYOFF money!
[Alternate view] So come on G.reedy O.bstructionist P.oliticians. You did not obstruct your war criminal President Bush. You gave 700 billion, calling it " bail out money "to your corporate ceo friends for a luxurious lifestyle. Now give some help to hard working Americans, health care and schools and give President Obama a chance.


(Edited 11/24/11 for chronological order, length, and adding titles. Edited 1/5/12 to add short quotes.)