Sunday, December 30, 2012

Countdown to capitulation

So it's Sunday afternoon, and the GOP are still trying to get something (I don't know what) for the junk cards they hold in their hand. (For those you need a recap, the Bush tax cuts expire on January 1, and to a lesser extent the sequester starts.  The GOP would like to stop both, but they didn't win the presidency or the Senate, so that scrapped their plan.)

Today, the Dems refused to give the GOP the index that will allow Social Security payments to grow more slowly. The GOP will be lucky if the Dems give them a fig leaf. The GOP may have to totally capitulate and allow all the tax increases now scheduled for those earning over $250,000. Capitulation is what they did earlier this year on the 2% Social Security tax holiday.

Some conservatives are calling for letting all the tax hikes take place. This is a brave position since it won't be popular with people getting smaller paychecks. In the meantime, Democrats have been promising in two presidential campaigns to maintain those lower tax rates for the 98%. If the Republicans don't go along, they will likely be seen as the enemies of the common man at worst, or hard-nosed realists at best.

The GOP hasn't resisted the 'common man' pressure before, so I don't predict it happening now. But you never know. This is a strange time for the GOP, being on the brink of the first tax increases for over 15 years, in the era that has brought us Norquist, Rove, and the Tea Party populism.

Maybe the GOP will try something new--hard-nosed fiscal conservatism. But my money is on capitulation. I won't know how complete until we see non-core issues such as estate tax, tax rates on incomes between $250 - 400K, unemployment insurance extensions, and low income credits.

Throw in the cards, save the chips for the next round

Correction 12/31/12. According to this article, the GOP wants to keep the sequester, and the Dems want to delay it until 2015. When I wrote that the GOP wanted to avoid the sequester, it was based on their presidential campaign stance, which was against cuts in defense spending. I remain in favor of the sequester.

Note: I first described on Dec. 22 (in comments on this post) that the GOP would end up capitulating. They're getting closer.

Update 1/1/13 9PM. The final timeline for capitulation is nearly certain now.  

Quick Capitulation - Tonight

The House is going to vote this hour on whether to amend the Senate-negotiated deal. They need 217 votes to pass an amendment of $330 billion in spending cuts added onto the Senate bill (a package from someone's files, no doubt). 

Any Republican who doesn't vote for the amendment has a target on his back and can expect a primary challenge. However, maybe enough Republicans will have the courage to defy the pack, and defeat the amendment. If so, the Senate bill as is will be (or should be) voted on and pass.

Drawn out Capitulation - Thursday
If the amendment passes, presumably the amended bill will also pass. Then it will sit untouched in the Senate--a piece of political theater that won't be going on the road.  The House will be forced to act on the Senate bill without amendment.

Outcome -- Slighter Quicker Capitulation

That didn't take long at all. Almost all of the House voted to debate the Senate bill without amendment. The Senate bill passed 257-167, with 85 GOP and 172 Dems voted yea. 


Short: Tax increases for everyone!

Here's a good article outlining why the GOP should let the country go over the fiscal cliff. This is the reason in one sentence:
"Republicans will never be able to build a political case for less spending if most Americans are insulated from the cost of that spending."
That's a very "tough love" approach, and maybe it's the right one. I've been thinking about political gamesmanship and leverage, but this is first principles. If people want it, they should pay for it.

Of course the article makes it sound like Obama invented deficit spending. It doesn't mention Bush cooking the books, keeping wars off-budget, or anything like that. However, the article points out that extending the Bush tax cuts was a terrible thing to do in 2010, and maybe it handed the election to Obama.

Perhaps I should check whether the author, Avik Roy, told Romney that extending the Bush tax cuts is a terrible idea. Hold on a minute...

Well, no, he didn't suggest this until  Dec. 22. In fact, during the GOP convention, Roy wrote that the GOP wasn't wrong to resist tax increases, but deserves "a meaningful proportion of the blame for the fiscal situation that Obama inherited and then made worse."

This is another lesson that everyone wants tax cuts on their watch, and no one wants to be the grinch or deliver the bill. However, it also makes me want to go over the fiscal cliff in order to find out if people are really willing to pay the full cost of government. I want to know that!

How much government do I really want?

Postscript. Of course, there may be some important reasons not to go over the cliff, like we really don't need to push our economy into another recession quite yet. Let's think about the greater good, not just partisan advantage, OK? Do I know the best course. Uh... no. So maybe it's best to be cautious. A bit of a cliff now, and more later this year if we don't have a tummy ache recession.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rant: Equal hypocrisy in the gun debate

I AM SICK OF the one-size-fits-all solutions from different factions in the gun debate.

Some people are so pro-gun and so angry about the tiniest regulations that they have one solution--MORE GUNS. No gun-free zones. Many more people carrying guns all the time.

Excuse me, but I know too many people with short fuses. The expectation that more people should be carrying guns all the time is dangerous because some people aren't fit to handle guns. I don't want people like Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner thinking that they should be carrying guns all the time. These are people we want to keep away from guns.

Some people are so anti-gun that they think all private ownership of guns should be outlawed. They ignore certain facts about this country: some people hunt with guns, many criminals won't give up their guns, but would love for potential victims to be unarmed, and culturally many Americans consider it their right to own guns for self-protection.

On both sides, idealistic visions for this country cloud realistic thinking.
  • Removing all guns and all violence isn't possible, so banning guns from responsible people also removes their ability to protect themselves.
  • There is very little chance that a competent armed citizen is going to be on the scene and able to stop a mass shooter, even if all willing competent citizens are armed at all times. I'm guessing 1-in-10 chance at most.
To everyone, when you think you have a solution to the problem of mass shootings, please subject it to a reality test. Gather some relevant data, such a polling on gun ownership or accounts of armed citizens at  shootings, and ask yourself whether your idea has a snowball's chance in hell of working.

By the way, I've read only a few comments from people who want to ban all private gun ownership. However, I've seen too many people, including the leaders of the NRA, who think more guns everywhere are a solution to the problem of mass shootings. The pro-gun dreamers are definitely more numerous than the anti-gun dreamers, so there isn't exactly equal hypocrisy on both sides.

 Mutually assured disrespect

The success of concealed-carry laws

In light of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, many have been discussing a particular solution to the problem of these kinds of shootings. It's the idea that if we had many more people carry concealed guns, we would be safer for two reasons:
  • Some criminals would be deterred since they could face being stopped, captured, and even shot.
  • Criminals intent on their crimes would be interrupted by being shot.
However, opponents counter with these disadvantages:
  • With more people armed, there would be more gun altercations in the heat of emotions.
  • In a tense, fast-moving situation, the vast majority of gun carriers don't have the skills to react properly. 
  • They may make the situation worse with uncontrolled firing and false bravado.
I researched these issues, not exhaustively, but looking for clear evidence for or against concealed carry. What I found was that concealed carry doesn't cause excessive problems. The data is equivocal. In general, crime has been decreasing, whether new concealed-carry laws are enacted or not. There's no clear trend that concealed-carry deters crime (link pp.80-83), but it definitely doesn't seem to increase it.

In most states, a permit to carry a concealed weapon isn't simple to obtain. For example, Colorado has this long list of requirements: fingerprint check, background check, no restraining orders, no chronic alcohol or drug abuse, certificate of firearms training. That sounds like a list that would weed out most of those who shouldn't be carrying around guns.

Even organizations that are against concealed-carry provide data showing that it is relatively rare that people with concealed-carry permits commit crimes. From May 2007 to December 2012, 499 people have been killed by assailants who had concealed carry permits. Compare this to the total number of homicides over the same period, which I estimate to be 83,500 (extrapolating from FBI statistics). That is roughly 0.6% homicides from a population (roughly 8 million) that is 2.6% of the US population.

This doesn't mean that concealed-carry laws are without problems. Florida has accelerated the permitting process and also passed "Stand-your-ground" laws that may be contributing to unwarranted, indefensible shootings. That is why I support more stringent requirements like those of Colorado.

Are there any benefits from concealed weapons? Yes. On at least a few occasions, people with concealed weapons have ended shooting rampages. This is in addition to the many times when those carrying have defended themselves or prevented attacks.

Review of advantages/disadvantages of concealed-carry:
  • Some criminals would be deterred. (Probably true, but marginal)
  • Criminals intent on crime would be interrupted by being shot. (Rarely)
  • With more people armed, there would be more gun altercations in the heat of emotions. (False)
  • In a tense, fast-moving situation, the vast majority of gun carriers don't have the skills to react properly. (True)
  • They may make the situation worse with uncontrolled firing and false bravado. (False so far)
Other interesting links:
  • Concealed carry and crime statistics in N. Carolina.
  • Study of attacks on police officers--mostly illegal firearms.
  • Stories of killings - people who shouldn't have access to guns but did.
  • John Lott's controversial study of concealed-carry.
  • Statistics on crime by permit holders - not huge numbers.
  • Concealed-carry would not have stopped the mass shooting at Aurora.
  • Mass shootings and high capacity rounds.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sadly true headlines: The GOP

From HuffPo:
"The Absolutist Politics of Norquist and LaPierre Will Destroy the Republican Party"
I haven't even read the article because I have a load of Christmas shopping to do. For the record, I don't think the GOP will die. They have the will to stay whole, if not completely united. They also benefit from being the only alternative to the Dems, who seriously couldn't handle hegemony if it was handed to them. I mean, when it was handed to them. The GOP will continue as a viable party because the Dems aren't cut out for single-party rule.

That is all. Must go shopping. Must make reservations. Must STOP BLOGGING.


Sheepish confession: I'm back editing this post and adding the picture. Someone stage an intervention. But later, I've got more shopping to do.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What to do in a shooter scenario

Chalk this up to the wonders of the internet. Someone I was trading comments with has this background:
"20 years U.S. Army Retired, Platoon Sergeant, Armored Reconnaissance, Firearms instructor, Sniper, 5 years as a Police Office, 5 years in Corrections, and 40 years in ballistic studies. I hunt, and use my own hand loaded ammunition, because I achieve better accuracy, and quicker kills because the loads are tailored to the animal I am hunting."
I asked him what to do if there's an active shooter in your building. Here is his advice, with a few edits.


[If you crawl under the table, you're going to die.] That is exactly what happens all too often when you have an active shooter. He walks among the victims and picks and chooses who will die by luck of the draw. Read the after-reports from mass shooting. The police will not arrive for 2 to 20 minutes. Then they will establish a command post, and after that they will decide if they are going to enter the building. All that while the active shooter is walking among his victims and killing, and only by the Grace of God will he miss some who are hiding.

The first thing that you do if you are not armed is get the hell out of the [area] in the opposite direction from the shooter. That means if you have to break out windows, break down doors, you do what ever is necessary to get out of the building. Only as a last resort do you hide, and then choose a sturdy closet or room that can be locked from the inside, and barricade the door with the heaviest furniture and storage cabinets available.

If you are armed, if possible get out. If you can't, find a protected position that offers you cover. The best is a bullet-proof barricade that limits the direction that the shooter can approach. Set your self, and when the shooter approaches, take aim and shoot for the center of the chest. Keep shooting till the shooter is down and the weapon is out of the shooter's hands. Then if the shooter is still alive, or even if he appears dead, keep him covered. If you have a cell phone, carefully try to contact the police. Tell them where you are, and a description of yourself, and prepare for them to arrive. As they approach, holster your weapon, and follow all orders given by the police. Then do not give a statement until you have a attorney present.  

Keep Your Miranda rights [all of them]. This is the one that is the most dangerous to you: ANYTHING YOU SAY OR DO MAY BE USED AGAINST YOU IN A COURT OF LAW. So even if you are totally justified in your self-defense, or defense of others, have a lawyer guide you through your statement with the police. It will save a lot of heartache and legal problems. You're going to be amped up and rattled as all get out, which is the exact type of mindset that makes misstatement an extreme likelihood. So maintain your Miranda rights to have an attorney present.


Thank you, Bob from Mosimee, for sharing your specialized knowledge.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Year in review

Just kidding. That's too much work and not enough fun. Instead, I went through the images and picked my favorites. Here they are with links for their context.

Think bailout

Yes, it's personal

No solid core

Negotiation box score update - more FAIL

Well, this isn't as much fun as I hoped it would be. The GOP is hopelessly mired in the idea that they can get a lot by giving a tiny bit.

Boehner's offer circa 12/16/12
  • Tax increases on those with incomes $1 million and over. 
  • Increased revenues of $1 trillion if there are spending cuts of $1 trillion. 
  • GOP keeps the leverage of further negotiations on the debt ceiling. (source)
Obama's offer circa 12/17/12
  • Tax increases on those with incomes over $400,000. 
  • Increased revenues of $1.2 trillion. 
  • Certain savings in the big entitlement programs, but not a particular numerical promise. 
  • Automatic debt ceiling increases based on this deal for 2 years. (source)

Both are bad deals, asking for too much while offering much less. So Boehner is turning to Plan B, writing a bill that will extend  most of the Bush tax cuts for non-millionaires. This bill may pass the House, but then go nowhere, except perhaps as butt-covering for House members. Sigh.


Previous offers:
Boehner/Ryan 11/14/12
  • New revenue only through GDP growth.
  • All the spending cuts in the Ryan 2012 budget. (source)
Boehner 11/15/12
  • Ok, maybe some new revenue.
  • All the spending cuts in the Ryan 2012 budget. (source)
Obama 11/29/12
  • $400 billion in entitlement cuts.
  • $1.6 trillion in tax revenue.
  • $50 billion stimulus program. (source)
Boehner 12/3/12
  • $800 billion in tax revenue.
  • $600 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
  • $300 billion in savings from programs like farm subsidies.
  • $200 billion to slow growth of government, including Social Security.
  • $300 billion cut to federal agency budgets. (source)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gun follies

We have had so many horrific mass shootings in this country, I'm not sure why the shooting of 20 first-graders would make a difference. After all, 12 were killed in a theater in Aurora, CO, 6 were killed in Tucson, thirteen at Columbine, 37 at Virginia Tech, etc.

So I don't understand the change, but there does seem to be a change. Sen. Joe Manchin,  a blue-dog Democrat from gun-toting West Virginia, wants to sit down with Sen. Dianne Feinstein and figure out some workable gun controls that will prevent this from happening again. He is shocked by this killing spree. I'm not, but I've been watching the trends, and this seems of the same piece.

Bob McDonnell, governor of Virginia, plugs the most common gun supporter solution, which is that we need to protect ourselves by having more guns, such as guns in schools. I totally agree with this. We need guns in our high schools, middle schools, grade schools, nursery schools, maternity wards, and Lamaze classes.

The NRA has kept quiet, but finally announced that they will have a press conference where they'll present "meaningful contributions." Great news, except that they've scheduled the conference for Friday, December 21. Maybe it'll be in the afternoon, right before the long Christmas holiday weekend.

I can think of two reasons that the NRA would schedule for that time:
  1. They are going to say something that will anger their usual supporters.
  2. They aren't going to say anything to anger their usual supporters. 
I don't have much (or any?) respect for the NRA, so my bet is on #2. They'll just retread the usual talking points such as more concealed-carry, more enforcement of current laws, blah, blah, blah.

I've been for a less violent society and reasonable restraint in the sale and use of guns, but I've never seen a way to get there. Mandatory safety procedures (that is, laws) have consistently lost to gun rights forces. Compare this to the effective curbs on drunk-driving, both legal and social.

My response has been largely to give up the fight. I choose not to mount vain attempts to convince my fellow citizens to adopt values they clearly reject. I just quietly disagree and bear it, taking the bad along with the good in my country.

Maybe I shouldn't have given up, and there will be real change now. That's what happened after Timothy McVeigh (from my region of New York) blew up the federal building in Oklahoma. Perhaps it was because of the children killed there too.

Maybe in this country, you can kill any number of adults, college students, and high schoolers, and we won't change. But we will start to think about it when our tykes die. I'm sorry, but that is just dumb. I can't wrap my head around the idiocy of it. In future posts, I might comment again, but I might not. I had truly given up, and it's hard for me to change on a dime.

McDonnell's plan for Va kindergartens

Update 12/19/12. I hope that readers don't find this post too callous. I'm not uncaring about the lives lost that can't be replaced, the lost children/brothers/sisters/mothers and everything they would have done with their lives. But I also always see the bigger picture and value honest, uncensored discussions of our human condition and ways to improve it.

Second update 12/18/12. Per the Wall Street Journal:
"Many gun-control advocates, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have charged that the group has contributed to a regulatory climate of easy gun access that makes such shootings more likely."
I agree that the NRA has contributed to the atmosphere that makes these mass shootings more likely. Pro-gun groups protest that's unfair to them. I may post evidence for my belief.

Here is the NRA's statement. It is short and worth a look so that you have it straight from the source.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The high price of taxes in GOP fairy land

Boehner is finally just barely admitting that taxes are going up. His latest offer allegedly supports tax rate increases on those with incomes over $1 million. But, for his agreement, Boehner also requires cuts in the big entitlement programs (SS, Medicare, Medicaid).

Boehner is still is living in the alternative reality where tax increases might not happen, so he needs a huge payoff to actually allow the tax increases. Meanwhile in the real world, everyone else knows that the tax increases are coming. It's already in the law, and it doesn't require anyone's permission, no more than rain needs permission to hit the ground after it starts falling.

Nuns can fly, but taxes can't rise, in GOP land

I almost feel sorry for Boehner because he's in a ridiculous position. He has to try to conjure something out of nothing. The 'nothing' here is the GOP's ability to prevent tax increases, which I keep saying is non-existent. Yes, the GOP has NO CHANCE to prevent these tax increases.

I don't know how large I have to type this information to get the GOP to wake up to this reality. Nothing seems to work. Various GOP congressmen talk about how they've been suckered into raising tax before for spending cuts that never materialize. Sure, my GOP friends, don't ever vote that way again. But realize that you're not being asked for your vote on this. It's coming with no vote needed.

Some Republicans are trying to get their colleagues to consider bills that will extend the tax cuts for some (such as the under-$250,000 crowd), but to no avail yet.  Actually, maybe it's one lonely Republican, Tom Cole (R-OK).

Boy, it's going to be fun watching the GOP when these inevitable tax increases hit. We should have a stopwatch (or calendar) on them to see when the denial finally ends. Maybe the heads of half the GOP will explode.

As they used to say on the countdowns, T minus 15 days and still no realism in sight for the vast majority of Republicans.

Update 12/26/12. Here is evidence of what I surmised, that the GOP didn't understand the inevitability of tax increases. According to a Wall Street Journal insider article, Boehner asked what he gets for agreeing to a $800 billion revenue increase. Obama's reported response:
"You get nothing. I get that for free."
That is harsh, but it's the truth. If Boehner expected any major concession, it shows that he didn't understand the negotiating positions. It's no wonder that they couldn't reach a deal with one party blind to the lay of the land.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Values and judgment: Judging Scalia, judging tradition

Antonin Scalia is in trouble again with liberals and the media over his viewpoints. This happens fairly often, but with little effect on the offender or the offending behavior. Scalia, with a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court, doesn't have to change. No amount of anger, demonstration, fury, or criticism will dislodge him if he doesn't want to go. Besides, he seems to love the attention and the fight.

This is the latest fracas: on Monday, Scalia spoke at Princeton. Unsurprisingly, he defended his support of laws against sodomy. He defended his comparison of laws against sodomy to laws against murder. That's expected. However, he unnecessarily twisted the knife when he added:
"I'm surprised you weren't persuaded."
Hey, Justice Scalia, a lot of people have opinions that differ from yours. That doesn't make them stupid or contemptible, so don't treat them that way.

Many people dissent

Tradition vs. Change
Aside from Scalia's atrocious manners (and he's not alone--there are way too many nasty, screeching liberals too), there is a huge question on how we respond to our traditional moral teachings. To gain some perspective, let's look at a case of conflict between tradition and change.

The Christian Example
Christianity had a major problem back in the first century. Did adherents have to follow all the laws of Judaism? On one hand, the laws had made the Jewish people keenly aware of right and wrong, and they endeavored to live in ways that were deeply virtuous. On the other hand, the laws were crazy in their extent. Not only was there circumcision with prayers, etc., but there was a huge number of dietary laws, marriage laws, maybe just about any law you could imagine. This was offputting to people who were interested in living virtuously as God intended, because it strained belief that God intended so many strictures for everyone, not just for the high priests.

St. Paul probably saved Christianity by giving adherents a pass on the old laws, which he deemed to be superseded by the new laws, which were a new covenant with God.

So there's a precedent for looking at your laws (moral rules), and chucking them when they don't make sense anymore. It certainly didn't turn Christianity into a shameless, vile religion that led people into evil ways. Christianity has generally been a force for benevolence to mankind, just as Judaism was and is.


America questions
Now we in the US are in a similar process of questioning some of our traditional morals. Specifically, are homosexual relationships immoral? Can we, like the early Christian founders, examine the laws and judge their merits?

I think we can and should. There are a lot of sources for our moral laws, and many of them are specific customs. The permission of a father or brother used to be required to get married. Was it really a moral necessity, or just a custom? How do you answer such a question? Furthermore, what are the implications of asking such a question?

There are typically two ways to answer the question. One way is to appeal to an established authority, such as custom, religion, or an authority figure. Another is to test the action in a moral system such as the Golden Rule or Kant's categorical imperative.

The Advantages and Problems with a Moral Authority
It's interesting that there is a method other than appealing to authority. For many people, the authority is the final word, and the only safeguard from a moral free-for-all. However, the problem there is that people strenuously disagree on who or what is an accepted authority. Having an acceptable alternative, such as a test by way of a moral system, solves this problem to a certain extent, but many find it an affront to the authority they deeply respect.

Based on what I know of the American founders (admittedly just high school history), they were probably more comfortable with testing within a moral system. Political philosophers such as Locke were developing ideas of government based not on authoritarian justifications, but on consent of the governed. John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant are the two philosophers who have tried to develop systems for testing moral precepts that didn't depend on a moral authority. They haven't been completely successful, but that's true for all the other moral philosophies too.

I don't think we'll ever have a perfect moral system. I prefer a non-religiously-based moral system, but that is a preference that reflects my values, not a demonstrably superior position. As I've written before, there aren't absolutes when it comes to values, judgment, and morals.


Extra. An earlier gotcha moment for Scalia.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Short: Putting it to Scalia

I'm working on a longer post about why Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is wrong in his judicial attacks on homosexuality. In the meantime, I want to skewer him on his argumentation. Let me paraphrase:
If we cannot have moral feelings against basketball, can we have it against murder?
I hope I've just reduced Scalia's argument to absurdity. That was easy.

Of course, basketball isn't as bad as this...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Revisiting the mortgage crisis

Blaming the other side for the mortgage crisis is an ongoing game, though at a lower pitch than before. A newly published economic study is again focusing attention on the causes, though the study fails to look at the whole picture.

The good thing about this study is that it's gotten people commenting again. That's given me the chance to learn more. This post was my gateway to looking at the issue again, and deserves a mention. However, it is also too narrow in scope-- it focuses only on the thesis that banks should have priced risk better, and it's not the fault of CRA that they didn't.

The real feast is in the comment page of this brief post. Especially worthwhile are the comments of Steve Sailer, a journalist/blogger who frequently writes about the preferable outcomes and values of white American culture and provides evidence to back it up. To some, that makes him a racist. Maybe he is, but he still has points that are important to consider.

These are some facts (or possible facts) that I learned from his comments:
  1. The Clinton administration "threatened" Countrywide, a mortgage lender, with heavy regulatory pressure if they didn't lend to more low-income borrowers. 
  2. The regulatory environment favored robust low-income lending when mergers were evaluated for approval. Bankers who were sceptical were effectively weeded out.
  3. Steve Sailer isn't an ideologue who is trying to put all the blame on one quarter.
These comments discuss how CRA and similar policies changed mortgage lending practices to make it easier for low-income and minority borrowers to get home loans. These changes are part, but only part, of the huge developments in mortgage lending, including all kinds of new mortgages and the packaging of mortgages as securities.

It is clear that the Democrats liked the outcome of more minorities getting home loans. Republicans liked it too, and "the ownership society" became one of their slogans. It was good that more minorities and lower-income people were able to become homeowners and enjoy those benefits such as building equity.

What is unfair is how some conservatives are now trying to place all the blame on Democrats and their policies. This is a lie. Though there definitely was pressure from Democrats, including the Clinton administration, to increase minority lending, it is hardly the largest cause of the crisis. A fair accounting looks at many factors, not just CRA, Fannie, Freddie, and what Dems did. This was only part of the action, not even close to the whole rotten edifice.

We should be trying to figure out what policies were good or neutral, while identifying others that were problematic. This applies to all areas, including low-income lending, underwriting standards, rating agencies, and securitization. However, we may not be able sort the good practices from the bad because the horribly overheated housing market confounded everything.

Most important, let's all learn some lessons from this horrible crisis. And please, let's not use it just to bash "the other side."

Untold suffering

Update 1/24/14. "The Dems caused it" is still a favorite claim. So in arguing it yet again, I found this great article about how the Bush administration and the Supreme Court hampered states from trying to prevent the crisis they foresaw. Also, here's a good exchange between two data heavyweights, though there's no resolution of their differences. [Sadly, those comments are no longer available.]

Let me say clearly: Dems made this worse, Republicans made this worse, Fannie and Freddie made this worse, but most of all it was the Wall Street banks. Anyone who ignores some of the players is lying and it's probably for political reasons.

Update 3/27/14. Still a favorite claim. I tried to find out how 'liar loans' [stated income loans] started. I didn't find the answer, but I found this testimony from 2006.

Update 3/28/14. More great testimony here, but don't stop at the title because it's misleading. Follow-up post here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Voters to government: Do it over

(Prologue: This was written soon after the election. I don't why I didn't publish it then. It seems pretty good to me, with an acerbic viewpoint that's worth reading. Late but still timely.)

Some, who were reluctant to negotiate, are now trying to do it on double-time. Yes, I mean the GOP leadership. That's what happens when you save a year's worth of work for the end of the semester lame-duck session.

Why did the electorate inflict this on our elected officials?

Well, it's not as though the US electorate is a coordinated organism. But there may be some wisdom of crowds here. After all, what are the alternatives to split government? All Dem or all GOP. We collectively said "Spare me." (Well, that's my take. Interpretations differ.)


Mano a mano negotiations

The negotiations on fiscal cliff are limited to two people--President Obama and Speaker Boehner. Thanks be to God!

The last thing we need is a lot of Congress people thinking they'll have an outsized voice on this. They don't have a special insight into the will of the people, though many of them are claiming to. It's torture watching the Sunday morning talk shows (mercifully shortened here).

Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) says he'd vote to raise taxes if there was significant progress on entitlement reform. It's good higher taxes are on his radar because they're coming no matter how he and the rest of the Senate vote.

Over on CNN, a reality-based Republican (Tom Cole) is sounding sensible because he wants to pass what both sides agree on--keeping the tax rates for the lower 98%. Meanwhile, Marsha Blackburn seems to think she'll have a chance to vote to keep all the tax cuts. She won't.

Despite lingering anger or cluelessness, whispers of rebellion against Boehner subsided (after peaking on Dec. 6). Enough GOP reps have realized that they'll just have to trust him to make the best deal he can. Holding the tax rates on the middle class as hostage isn't going to work since Obama is itching to call that bluff (despite Marsha Blackburn) and see the blame rain down on the GOP.

Boehner still has the threat of shutting down government over the debt ceiling or appropriation bills. Rather, his caucus wields that threat, and they might very well use it if Obama gives them nothing. (If Obama gives nothing, the blame will quickly switch direction to rain on him.) So there is strong incentive on both sides to negotiate.

The biggest problem for the GOP is its pride in not compromising for 99% of four years. That's a hard habit to break. So it's good that they have one designated negotiator to make those hard decisions, and do what the rest of the GOP can't. It shows that there is not always strength in numbers. More particularly, there isn't always wisdom in a crowd.

The Dems kept pretty quiet during the campaign and didn't jinx themselves with the usual moral blather about our duty to [expensively] take care of society's ills. Will they be able to keep quiet when the deal isn't as advantageous as they had hoped as the election returns rolled in? I certainly hope so. The memory of the flogging in 2010 of overreaching Democrats should be fresh enough that they don't need too much of a reminder.

So, I say, let Obama and Boehner hash it out. Run all the rest of the cooks out of the kitchen, close the door, and see what kind of sausage they make. It can't be worse than the freaking awful dreck Congress would serve up if more of them were involved.

Putting their heads together

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rant: GOP tying themselves in knots

I'm so tired of how the GOP is trying to avoid the inevitable. This article talks about two (or is it three?) scenarios that the GOP in Congress could use to avoid voting for a tax increase on the highest 2%.


If you don't want to vote for a tax increase, just admit it and let the Bush tax cuts expire. Boom, no vote and the problem is solved. "Buuuuut, then we look like we don't care that taxes went up on everyone..." they seem to whimper. OK, so vote on something that can pass and prevents the taxes for going up on everyone. "But that breaks the tax pledge solemn commitment to our constituents and blah blah blah blah..."

The GOP congressmen are also whining about Obama playing hardball and zero-sum games (horrors) just when they're [finally] trying to be bipartisan.

Frankly, I'm so fed up that I don't care if we go over the fiscal cliff, EVEN THOUGH THAT'S IMPORTANT, because I can't stand the GOP whining. I would love to be able to hibernate until mid-January and wake up to the definitive answer to "did they or didn't they?" Unfortunately, I need to work, eat, and maintain my human relationships, so hibernation isn't an option, damnit!

The bottom line is that I'll be trying to ignore all the weasly, intricate, obscure, legalistic positions that the GOP takes as it tries extract itself from its own labyrinth. I won't be analyzing those GOP positions. I'll just be waiting for the end. That is all.


Photo of Boehner and congressional GOP leadership

Best Line: "Right now, [Boehner] is hoping to lead his fractious GOP to an orderly surrender" -- Dana Milbank. So true. I wish Boehner success.

Extra. I found this tax-vote-avoidance method a few days ago. It's worth reading, but I'm not looking at any others. None, I tell you!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Must see TV: Changes at Fox News

This post is prompted by articles about Fox News temporarily sidelining Karl Rove and Dick Morris. Hooray!

I've been expecting some changes in Fox News. The spark for this thought was a comment on Plain Blog:
...Limbaugh's show will embrace diversity iff he can add at least one new diverse listener for each angry white guy that leaves in disgust. -- CSH
I replied that it was possible for Fox News, but highly unlikely for Limbaugh. The path for Fox News would be more anchors like Shep Smith and different marching orders for most of the Fox talking zombies, who are too numerous to name.

Orders from the Top
That Fox News runs on marching orders dictated on high is well documented, besides being obvious from viewing. (Just one example from my viewing: Joe Trippi, a Democratic campaign manager, talked about the Romney campaign without ever mentioning doubts about whether Romney tax reform math actually adds up. Why would he pass up that opportunity, except that he can't if he wants to keep his regular paid gig?)

Fox News blew their election predictions. Their followers, naturally, are angry for being misled, especially since they were pancaked by election reality. The head of Fox News, Roger Ailes, is not going to take the fall for this when he has massive numbers of talking heads that he can blame.

How did he choose Karl Rove and Dick Morris? I'm not sure. Karl Rove famously had a meltdown in election night and questioned the calling of Ohio. But note that Megan Kelly, not exactly the most independently minded host, pushed back hard, allegedly on orders from Roger Ailes.

I don't know what Dick Morris's particular offense was, unless it was always being a grotesquely inflated hateful windbag. In this appearance on Hannity on Nov. 12, you can see Fox backing away from Dick Morris.

The Real Fox News
Is Fox News starting its makeover? I'm guessing yes, but it's just a hunch. If their audience comes to realize that Fox is nothing but unreliable propaganda that leaves them unprepared for reality, that audience is likely to desert Fox in significant numbers. That is not a good business model, and the Fox broadcasting empire is principally about profit, not political ideology.

How do I know this? Because I saw their lineup of programs from the very beginning. It was low-brow and profitable, definitely far removed from any lofty ideals. I remember Married With Children. Its high purpose was to earn money, and that's what Fox News is for too. Anyone who thinks Fox News is just an extension of the Republican Party is forgetting first principles.


Update 12/6/12. The Fox chief White House reporter says that some of the Fox guys have pushed the Benghazi too far. He also says that he personally doesn't follow marching orders. Um, yes to the first, LOL to the second.

This is a comment I published on Atlantic yesterday:
But I also have a pet theory that Fox needs to steer its viewers and the conservative center of gravity to a more realistic place. If they don't, the Republicans will keep losing elections and Fox will lose influence and viewers. Rebranding is not necessary for just the GOP, it's also necessary for Fox News. 
Update 5/10/16. Since this is in my top 10, it's still viewed fairly regularly. Therefore, it makes sense for me to point out that my prediction was way off. The fare at Fox News hasn't changed--still fodder for the angry conservative.  

Constituent parts of the GOP

Months ago I tried a thought experiment--trying to classify the different constituent parts of the Republican Party. I never wrote it up, but it was an interesting exercise is species classification, which is always one of the first steps in a scientific understanding of the natural world.

With the GOP fracturing (to what extent we don't know yet), it's apropos to talk about the constituent parts, which may soon be warring factions:
  1. The country club set of monied executives. They want a good business environment and as low taxation as they can get away with.
  2. The middle class/working class allies of the executives. They want a good business environment for the jobs it entails. They are pro-business and pro-development because they are pro-jobs.
  3. The social conservatives who are pro-prayer, pro-life, and anti-modernism. They got lip service during most of their association with the GOP, especially at the federal level. A lot of the establishment treated them as patsies, but enough patsies can take over large swathes of the party.
  4. The traditionalists who are fearful or resentful of the changes that started in the 60's and were embraced by the Democrats.
  5. The foreign policy hawks who want America safe and ascendant in the world. 
  6. The fiscal conservatives who want the government to restrict its purview to the areas where it is necessary and effective, and thus stop wasting money on other areas. This isn't a philosophical viewpoint was much as a practical view.
  7. The anti-tax brigade that don't care whether government could do something well--they just want to pay the least tax they can.
  8. The libertarians who want a small federal government focused only on its limited constitutional role.
  9. The haters who are in the GOP because they hate the Democrats for assorted reasons. (The Dems have their hate wing too. I'm not just picking on the GOP.)
I think that covers it. I'm not planning to use this classification in any particular way, such as trying to figure out rivalries and internal jockeying. It really was just an exercise in trying to understand an unfamiliar clan.


Breaking: Major fissures in the conservative world

Is the US conservative universe collapsing? There are certainly a lot of odd tremors:
  • A major leak from Fox News--a high-level Fox contributor visited David Petraeus in Afghanistan with a message from Roger Ailes advising Petraeus on how to deal with his boss (otherwise known as the president). We lowly peons can listen because someone made a digital recording which has been leaked to Bob Woodward. I wonder what other vile secrets will be escaping the Fox vaults next.
  • Fox has exiled Karl Rove and Dick Morris from their Fox News pulpits, at least temporarily. Another interesting Fox leak.
  • A group of fiery no-compromise congressmen have been removed from their committee posts. This is a message to Tea Partiers and Ron Paul supporters that compromise will happen, so get out of the path of the speeding bus.
  • Key senators aren't backing Boehner's inadequate but significant offers to raise taxes. DeMint is icy, McConnell is non-committal.
I'm not predicting the end of US conservative or any such nonsense, but there appears to be increased seismic activity. I expect a major shake-up, and I can't see the hard-liners, no-compromise guys winning. However, they may put on one hell of a show while they're going down.

Image: hshdude@flickr

Extra: More great images here, but too much for this post.

Same day update. Oops, I forgot about Dick Armey leaving FreedomWorks in a huff. FreedomWorks had a major role in training conservatives in grassroots organizing, though it wasn't in on the very beginning of the Tea Party.

Update 12/6/12. Jim DeMint is leaving the Senate and going to the Heritage Foundation where he hopes to be more successful at conservative messaging. Or maybe he's tired of being in the minority and all that blasted compromising that has to be done.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Last outpost of sanity: Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson has stated on the 700 Club that the Earth isn't 6000 years old and that doctrine wasn't divinely inspired. He also said:
"If you fight revealed science, you're going to lose your children. I believe in telling them the way it was."
What, no more tying yourself in knots to argue for the "young Earth" and against evolution? I'm hoping this is the start of a major trend among evangelicals. I'll have to check back in a decade or two and see if the creation science wars are over.

Snide aside: Robertson should call Marco Rubio and tell him it's OK to say the earth is very old. However, Pat Robertson is still a false prophet, as are most other preachers according to the Google search auto-completion truth-o-meter.


Monday, December 3, 2012

Negotiation box scores

The Atlantic Wire had a neat summary of the negotiation offers, and I think I'll steal the idea. It'll be fascinating to see the evolution of the offers through these summaries. Here goes:

Boehner/Ryan 11/14/12
  • New revenue only through GDP growth.
  • All the spending cuts in the Ryan 2012 budget. (source)
Boehner 11/15/12
  • Ok, maybe some new revenue.
  • All the spending cuts in the Ryan 2012 budget. (source)
Obama 11/29/12
  • $400 billion in entitlement cuts.
  • $1.6 trillion in tax revenue.
  • $50 billion stimulus program. (source)
Boehner 12/3/12
    • $800 billion in tax revenue.
    • $600 billion in Medicare and Medicaid cuts.
    • $300 billion in savings from programs like farm subsidies.
    • $200 billion to slow growth of government, including Social Security.
    • $300 billion cut to federal agency budgets. (source)

    The first partially serious offer is Boehner's on 12/3. By the way, Boehner's new revenue would come only from high earners, according to the Washington Post. Look for more box score updates!


    Sunday, December 2, 2012

    "You really should take Simpson-Bowles"

    During the campaign, the GOP complained that Obama really should have supported Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction report. They made this earnest suggestion while not supporting S-B themselves, but it was just perfect for the Dems.

    Of course it's chutzpah to tell your opponents what positions they should take, but not really surprising. Simpson-Bowles is the ugly girl with a great personality and much more good sense than all the boys and girls combined. Someone should be bringing her to the senior prom negotiating table, but not ME. She's just not right for me, because I need a girl with lower revenue requirements than 21% of GDP and a real overhaul of Medicare. Besides, if I bring Simpson-Bowles as an opening at negotiations, the end point is going to be much worse than S-B when negotiations are finished. [Odd that this problem wasn't on the radar when various GOPers remarked that Obama should have embraced S-B.]

    A few conservatives, such as this editor at Town Hall, are bucking this logic and pushing for the GOP to make S-B as their first serious offer. Currently, that's the outsider's position because the leadership isn't close to doing that.They're still in the faux outrage phase, "flabbergasted" that Obama as victor is less conciliatory than he was in August '11 or during the debates.

    Well, it looks like no one will take the sensible ugly girl to the prom. Instead, they'll be acting like adolescents, jumping off the fiscal cliffs, maybe shutting down government over debt ceiling increases, and trying the make hay with whatever opportunities they have.

    When it comes to the end of the Bush tax cuts, the truth is that no one has to do anything. They fade into the sunset all on their own. Each side will blame the other--"We wanted to save them, but those other scoundrels just wouldn't cooperate"--but neither will sacrifice a high card to prevent the tax rises. They will, however, try like hell to pin the blame on the other guys.

    The next real choke point will when we hit the debt ceiling in March, but there is also the funding bills for the government which will start in the spring, if I remember correctly from 2011. Maybe some smart young senator or Congressman will ask Simpson-Bowles to one of those lovely events. Maybe she'll be the date for the entire Gang of Six, and she'll finally achieve the popularity she deserves.

    Call me already--you know you need me!

    Saturday, December 1, 2012

    Short: Inside the fake hope of a Romney win

    I found it hard to believe that Romney conned himself into believing he would win. Here is a much-cited article about his campaign's own polling. Even according to his own polls, Romney wouldn't have won, but it would've been closer.

    Interesting reading, but it changes nothing. Individual polls aren't reliable, but aggregating helps. Getting out the vote, which Obama's organization did very well, is the best way to win in a close election. It also helps to have a larger potential base, that is, fewer people whom you've pissed off during the campaign.


    Screw the "greater good"

    That appears to be the position of the leadership of both parties. Neither party wants to risk the blame for the pain of budget cuts, so they're both saying "You first." 
    • The GOP is essentially making the same proposal that they did throughout 2011, but with a little more tax collected from high earners. For this paltry sacrifice, they want all their proposed spending cuts from the Ryan budget enacted.
    • The Dems want the top rate to rise, partially to humiliate the GOP with their tax pledges. When it comes to additional spending cuts, the Dems are making the paltry offerings.
    It looks like without a presidential election to force them into good behavior, our politicians revert to spoiled partisan children. They want what they want, and the other guys will just have to give in.

    Look at last year. A 2% tax increase was at stake, and the GOP caved after trying to get concessions for 2 months. Now a 4% tax increase is looming, but neither side is willing to bargain. Perhaps the threat needs to be bigger, like a full government shutdown, before these bitter opponents stop grandstanding.

    By the way, I'm not talking about just the GOP. The Dem offer is at the same level of blind stubbornness as the GOP position is. Did we just reelect this brats? I'm afraid so.

     Man the trenches!
    Image: wattwork.

    Extras. The Ryan budget cuts: broadly outlined without specifics (p.64). A thumb guide to the stages of negotiations.