Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Short: Be tough... and evasive

"KILL, KILL, KILL." That's not exactly how this commentary starts, but it gets close:
"...The president who came into office speaking in lofty terms about bipartisanship and cooperation can only cement his legacy if he destroys the GOP."
The author (John Dickerson, whose reputation hasn't reached my not-completely-politically-obsessed person) wants the president to show up the GOP for being extreme. That sounds familiar somehow...

He also suggests this:
"...he can force Republicans to either side with their coalition's most extreme elements or cause a rift in the party..."
I don't think the GOP is going to help quite so readily in its own destruction. They may have learned to keep their heads down, which is what the Dems have been doing for over a year now. Even in this rah-rah piece, the author doesn't recommend specific policies that Obama should fight for. About that, he stays mum.

I wonder how it works when both sides decide to keep quiet and only speak when the other guys act crazy. It may be quiet for so long that we'll be begging those politician to propose something. Well, other people might beg, but not me. I want to see how this plays out.


Media watch: Breaking story on Democratic senator

It looks like there is a very nasty scandal about to break around Democratic senator Bob Menendez (NJ). The FBI has raided a major donor to the senator, and there are reports that Menendez stayed at a mansion owned by the donor located in the Dominican Republic.

So far, the only major news outlet running the story is Fox News (best write-up by the Philly affiliate), but Daily Caller has been on the prostitution angle of the story since November.

What else is the media saying about Menendez? Huffington Post leads with Menedez' partial denial. I'm reminded of other partial denials, like Anthony Wiener not being able to categorically say it wasn't him in the crouch shot. Of other mainstream outlets, only New York magazine has a story, and it's negative, though it lacks the punch of the Fox story because of the absence of details about the connection between Menendez and the FBI target, Dr. Salomon Melgen.

I wonder whether this story will again show that the MSM is slow to jump on stories about Democrats. However, there is a big difference between being slow and completely ignoring a story. I think the MSM is slow to pick up some stories, but does follow them when there are hard facts about a newsworthy person or situation. I'll have to see how soon this is on CNN, and the major networks and newspapers. It should be soon (just long enough to do fact-checking), or it's a whitewash.

Senator, how much longer do you have?

Same day update. Now is running a story.
Day 2 update. Heard the story on NPR in the afternoon. Lots of details, including flights on private planes, donations, prostitution accusations.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Short: The continuing slide of Sarah Palin

I try hard to stay positive even in criticism. Maybe that's why I don't write too often about the latest outrage. I certainly try not to crow over someone's fall. But the latest story about Sarah Palin has been a while in the making.

Sarah Palin will no longer be a Fox News contributor. I've watched a few of her appearances, and I was surprised by how Fox treated her. They would start the interview, she would prattle on mostly about tactical issues, then Fox would cut to some real news and leave her waiting for 20 minutes or more. It's not that she deserves any better. I've never heard her say anything new and insightful. Her speeches and observations always been a chewed-up mess of pre-digested talk radio rhetoric.

So Fox News gives Sarah Palin the heave-ho by way of an insulting contract offer. She says contradictory things in her brief interview published online: conservatives must widen their audience, but then she praises Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, and These are not commentators who are broadening the audience for conservative ideas. Mark Levin and are proven conservative fabricators who will lie endlessly if they perceive political advantage. Of course they supply conservative spinners like Sarah Palin with a lot of material, so she better be grateful.

For Fox News, it's reasonable to flush out the stable, but I doubt the replacements are better. I'll have to watch to see.


P.S. I wish Fox News would flush Juan Williams too as another commentator who spits out only warmed-over analysis. I haven't missed him on NPR in the least.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Short: Massacre averted

One component of gun reform that I'd like to see (based on my experience in mental health) is hotlines for reporting violently obsessed people and mandates for mental health professionals to report their concerns. Get the names into the databases so guns and ammo can't be sold to these worrisome people. Currently, our restrictions due to mental instability are not nearly tight enough. Yes, there is potential for abuse, but there can be an appeals process where a person can demonstrate their sanity and stability.

Here's a story of a family in Florida that reported a family member for having a dangerous arsenal and dangerous delusions. Thank God for the family's actions and for the police SWAT response. But it doesn't take a genius to guess this kicker:
"...the vet may walk out of the crisis stabilization unit after his mandatory seven days and demand that police return his weapons. The judge is not even sure that the state officials... can pull his concealed weapons permit."
There isn't a litmus strip that gun dealers or gun license processors can use to determine that a gun owner will cross the line and become a criminal. We need to use less certain criteria that will sometime deprive non-criminals of access to guns. Why can't we, and the NRA, live with that?

 A different Miami arsenal

GOP disconnect from success

It's going to be slow on the political fronts for a while, but I like that because it gives me more time to reflect. So I started wondering whether a lot of libertarian made good on their threat to stay home in November. I couldn't find anything definitive. Supposedly the "white" vote was lower, but no one can be sure why. Obama had very good GOTV (get out the vote) operations, which the Dems hope he'll keep stoked in the future.

I found a very interesting conservative blogger in my search for info.  He likes to dig into the demographics, but yet he fell for the same tales that other conservatives swallowed--that the polling data was skewed, that Romney had a great ground game (with lots of contacts with potential voters), that people couldn't possibly want four more years of Obama. So there's an interesting mix of hard realism about the fight in Ohio and an optimistic prediction of 331 electoral votes for Romney, including Pennsylvania. His write-up on white voters made me want to read more, so I dug into his general posts and his columns. Unfortunately he makes the usual partisan mistake of underestimating the weaknesses of his side (vague numbers and policies) and overestimating the faults of the other side (terrible economic policies).

When you read about demographics, you'd think the GOP couldn't win another presidential election. Yet the GOP has clear majorities in 27 state capitols compared to Democrats with 19 states. At the state level, the GOP is stronger on reform and budget restraint.

You would think the general electorate would want some of that in the federal government, wouldn't you? I do, so I'm not writing off the GOP nationally. However, they have to figure out how to translate policy success at the state level to the national level, and they haven't done that yet. Not even close.


Good posts:
  • Real Clear Politics on demographics.
  • Allahpundit on lessons from the exit polls, like the economy isn't so bad and young people like Obama.
  • Gawker on why it's not just demographics, but also policy preferences that contribute to voting patterns.
  • A mea culpa from Dick Morris. But why would anyone believe a former Clinton adviser who got caught with a prostitute and now bashes the Clintons and Dems non-stop for fun and profit? That's not analysis, it's vendetta.
  • 2012 vote totals by state. Good for seeing how close Ohio actually was.
  • A belated find--analysis of which whites didn't vote.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Rant: Justified resentment in the gun debate

I like to launch into my rants, but just note this is a two-parter.

I hate that we have a flood of guns in this country. This country is so inundated with guns that we have shootings in elementary schools, for God's s sake. This is absolutely crazy that you can't trust that your children will be safe despite the amazing safety conscientiousness of the schools.

It's no surprise that a smart guy like neuroscience graduate student James Holmes is able to put together a deadly arsenal. But people without a lot of skills like Jared Loughner and Adam Lanza, or the shooter in my hometown, Jiverly Wong, have had the examples, guns, and ammo available so they could execute mass shootings too. There's something incredibly wrong in society that so many people have the same dream--to shoot as many people as possible, and they also have the means to fulfill the dream. If the NRA and gun owners don't think that is a huge problem that they have hugely contributed to, they are in denial and many innocent lives are lost due to that denial. Stop it already!

Now for the liberals' turn. I hate that liberals try to impose a gun-free utopia despite all the evidence that crime and criminals have no intention of disappearing or disarming! They deny the existence of the responsible gun owner, and the legitimate right to own guns for hunting, self-protection, and sport. Their dreams that there will be no guns has spawned the fear and hyperbolic rhetoric among NRA-types that the government would confiscate guns, and therefore you had better arm yourself to the teeth. This would have been a time to take a "live-and-let-live" approach, but liberals didn't. Their advocacy backfired in a huge way because they wanted to impose values rather that let the world be what is truly is--diverse.

But now I have a third target--the NRA and the gun manufacturers who preyed on gun owner worries to ramp up sales. Enjoy your blood-stained profits.


Update 5/6/13. A very long personal explanation of why gun owners don't and shouldn't trust gun control advocates. 

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Good news from the GOP, Part 2

I didn't get to say this in the previous post, but the GOP's offer to delay the debt ceiling vote for three months seems very significant to me. Obviously the three months aren't significant, but the possibility of a positional or tactical change in the GOP is.

The change I sense is that the GOP is trying to scale back its demands. That's not surprising since they lost the election. However, they didn't scale back their demands in December, or on the basis of pollling all during 2011-2. At first after the election, they still tried to maintain the Bush tax cuts, then tried to maintain all the tax rates, before they finally gave in. Then they vowed to get as many spending cuts as they could in exchange for raising the debt ceiling.

A common thread here is what I'll call a "maximalist position." The GOP seems to aim for the biggest payoff they can get. That's normal, I suppose, but contrast that with the Dems, who gave in on tax increases in August 2011, and readily allowed the higher threshold for tax increases during the fiscal cliff negotiations. The Dems haven't held up for the maximum return.

Why are the GOP working to hard to extract the maximum they can from their position? I have a theory. Most of the GOP converted very late to fiscal conservatism, like in the second half of 2008. Having wasted so much time, including their own period of political hegemony (House, Senate, presidency), they had to quadruple their efforts to cut back government.

If this sounds like I'm trying to mock the GOP (and I think it could be interpreted that way), you'll have to take my word that I'm not mocking them. I sincerely believe there was a realization among conservatives that they had slept through their chance to streamline government, but they were awake now, and want to make up for that missed opportunity.

So small government talk went into overdrive. Maintaining the Bush tax cuts and lowering government spending were twin objectives. However, on the spending side there had been a lot of ground lost, with the budget doubling between 2000 and 2009. That can largely explain the desperation of the GOP to fight all spending and to emphasize spending cuts.

My theory has its flaws. Many Republicans don't seem to mind defense spending, and even supported higher defense spending. Increased spending on Medicare wasn't attacked, and savings were criticized instead. The GOP may want spending cuts, but not enough to actually detail what they should be. Frankly, there are a lot of holes in my theory. Perhaps fiscal discipline is only a campaign cry for the GOP. However, there is something about the intensity of the desire to cut spending that this theory captures.

In contrast, some conservatives, in particular Charles Krauthammer, are talking about lowering their sights and trying for fewer cuts. Part of the idea is partisan, to let the Democrats run wild and expose how much they'd love to spend. But another thread may be that some in the GOP are recalibrating what they can achieve, and backing away from the maximalist position. Perhaps if they try to do less, they'll actually succeed in gaining more of their agenda in the near future and in future elections. That would be ironic, to achieve more by aiming for less.


Extra. Another time I thought the political scene was changing. I was wrong then, but it was fascinating how much did change, but not as I predicted.

Open thread: Let's have a Constitutional convention

If any topic deserves its own thread, it's this one. Should we have a constitutional convention, or not?

Of our regular commenters, @truth and Anastasios are for it due to a range of issues including the current dysfunction/gridlock in government and the many unsettled questions that have built up. I'm highly opposed because I fear the unintended consequences of changing a form of government that has evolved over time and served us well.

Here's a review of most of the comments so far, starting with the comment that raised the issue.

Truth > Spin
"I now think we need to address structural issues before we can effectively deal with policy matters in a manner befitting their seriousness. The system has too many points of leverage that are captured by fragmented interests and they have every incentive to maintain the status quo. It used to be that gridlock eventually gave way because the benefit of action outweighed inaction. Today, it is more the case that the benefit of inaction is greater.

I don't think replacing the current crop of people will do the trick. The problems are too endemic and part of how we nominate and then elect Members of Congress.*

As such, I think we need to have a serious national debate over some changes the Constitution and think it is time that a convention to do so be convened.

The other thing I'll add to what you wrote is that not only does someone willing to work with the other side risk being betrayed by the other side later, but they also risk being attacked by purists from within their own party for the heresy of such efforts. I recognize that this has more recently been true within the GOP, but the same thing occurs on both sides.

* For the most part, this criticism is aimed at the House, although the Senate could use a good tune up, too."

"Hold it right there!!! I learned something very long along--that a constitutional convention is VERY risky, and I don't want to be messing with those risks right now.

I am very risk averse, particularly downside risks. I don't know what what we have to gain with constitutional changes, but we have a lot to lose, namely checks and balances. There is no way I'd call for a convention without some blueprints available and a strong belief that it will be better. The change that I'll be convinced without seeing those blueprints--zero."

"...I agree with Truth that the Madisonian system is dysfunctional and ultimately unworkable, and we would be far better off with the much more intelligent Parliamentary systems one sees in Europe and Canada."

"I don't want to monkey with the Constitution and add in things that were never there. That would be horrible, and we know who does that..."  [a joke]

Truth > Spin
"So are you a Strict Constructionist then in interpretation? Or do you want the document to live only via the readings of Senate confirmed wise men (and Latinas)? ...Don't you think we could all benefit from deciding for once and for all (until next time) whether the Constitution protects the right for private, individual citizens to own firearms and to what degree, if any, that can be curtailed?

Or how about whether indefinite detention of suspected terrorists or evil doers is allowable?

Or whether a fetus can be terminated, and under what conditions?

Don't you think we could all use some black and white on those and other matters? ...

I understand the risks, but my view is that the risk of continuing as we are is greater. I'd accept some bad outcomes from my perspective in order to gain some certainty and the chance to gain positive outcomes. I think too that the process of a convention itself could be a boon to civic engagement and thought."

Good news from the GOP, Part 1

So while I was writing that the GOP was pretty quiet about their debt ceiling strategy, they were in Virginia discussing and changing that very strategy. I won't spend a lot of time discussing the new offer, but it's roughly this:
  • The GOP will vote to extend the debt ceiling for three months.
  • The intention is that during that period, the president will present his budget, and the House and Senate will debate it.
  • If no budget is passed after three months, the Congress members no longer get paid.
That plan doesn't sound like much, but it's still quite a step forward for the GOP. For one thing, they recognized that they had a problem many weeks before breaching the debt ceiling.

The problem: They had no rationale for holding up a debt ceiling increase because they had no alternative plan on the table. So far, their new strategy is about as thin as it was before. The president will have to present his budget, which has almost no chance of passing, and then... Well, that's where the current non-plan looks like the previous non-plan.

So it's best for them to punt for a few months and build a strategy that they can present. Nonetheless, the Republicans have recognized the problem and seem to be working seriously on it. That's usually the hardest step. I'll be watching for them to deploy the rest of their new strategy.

The new GOP strategy? Obama's budget? Something even better?

Extras. And here are some suggestions for the GOP from its own camp:
  • Allahpundit sees the three-month as same-as-now.
  • Our commenter, Truth > Spin,  pointed to this idea-- Hennessey's shrinking-room suggestion.
  • Krauthammer recommends going with small demands so the Dems can't say no.
  • The statement by Eric Cantor, who seems to be the point person for the change.

Preview of Part 2 -- I'm not completely sure. More ideas are percolating, some of which have already been written, edited out, and are likely to be tossed. But it was important to me to post about this significant development before it got any later.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Obama's budget dilemma

Obama has a constitutional requirement to submit a budget. It makes sense, but I didn't realize this was a constitutional requirement. [Correction, it's not a constitutional requirement--see comments below.]

So many times the budgets have been DOA (dead on arrival), so they didn't matter. The budgets were ridiculed, often well-deserved, and the real deals were worked out as continuing resolutions (CR). We've been funding our federal spending with continuing resolutions are several years in a row, and we've probably done that before under other presidents too. Big deal, what's the difference, meh...

This time the GOP is trying to make this budget matter. Their new stance is that the budget has to be something that can pass, so it will have to include enough cuts to satisfy the GOP-controlled House, and Obama will have to name the cuts.

Last year Obama offered a ridiculous, partisan budget which didn't receive a single vote (if that right-wing talking point is true). By the way, it didn't matter because the debt ceiling deal of August 2011 had settled the spending questions: there was going to be a CR describing the federal expenditures for 2012. It was settled, minor squabbles aside.

Obama's Challenge
So, this year Obama has to decide:
  • Is he going to present another partisan budget that goes nowhere, or
  • Is he going to present a real budget that can be the basis of negotiations?
I don't know which Obama is going to choose. I can tell you one thing, though, I'm not holding my breath waiting for the second/better option. Obama has disappointed when it comes to forward thinking.

Equal Opportunity Challenge
It's really too bad. I believe that the first party that develops a reasonable budget wins big for being realistic and credible leaders. They have a great chance to guide our governmental focus for the next generation. Yet no one is leaping up to do it out of fear of  'owning the cuts' and taking the backlash.

I don't think that's what will happen. The backlash won't land on the reasonable, it will land on the most unreasonable. The Dems won the 2012 election because they negotiated in 2011, and they showed that they were ready and willing to settle on a reasonable compromise. In the 2012 campaign, they sounded like they weren't going to reverse that compromise in 2013 if reelected.

The Republicans have yet to show that they will negotiate. They end up in negotiation, but too late, only after the Dems show they won't simply capitulate. It's no wonder the GOP didn't win the presidency. Who wants to give too much power to people like that?

So, Mr. Obama, please recognize that you can take that big step and grab the mantle of a reasonable, clear-thinking leader. You'll never have a better chance to do this, because, ha!, you've already been reelected. Do it. Lead on this one.

(Still not holding my breath. It's less than a 50% chance. Lots of room to be pleasantly surprised,  though.)

Hasn't happened yet. Will it?

Charlie Brown, Lucy, and that football

Ok, guys, we are going to talk about Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football. It's a useful analogy, in that it captures quite beautiful what the GOP feels. They are deeply aggrieved that they sometimes vote for tax increases, but the promised spending cuts don't show up--again and again. [Just an aside to remind us all to thank Charles Schulz for capturing this kind of frustration perfectly. Great work! Enjoyed and remembered by millions. Brilliant in its simplicity.]

I'm going to grant as a truth that Democrats haven't followed through on promised cuts. I don't actually know that they made promises, but I can be damned positive that spending cuts were never more than isolated and therefore never reflected in the bottom line. If I'm wrong about this, I don't mind being corrected as a side discussion. However, the main point is that spending seems only to go one way, but some of us want to find the reverse gear and learn how to use it... and others of us don't seem to be interested in learning that gear.

However, I'm not going to put all the blame on the Dems though they thoroughly earned the nickname "tax-and-spend." The reason is, in a deal, both sides try to nail things down pretty well, with clear numbers in black and white in specific categories. It's kind of surprising that the GOP would make these deals and then find out they were snookered. I know it can happen, especially if you're negotiating up until the last minute instead of starting early. But starting early on legislation cuts into demagoguery time, and most politicians seem to treasure their demagoguery time. (I hope I'm not being too heavy-handed with the lesson here.)

So the Dems have tricked the GOP many times and never produced budget cuts. Why the hell haven't the GOP gotten wise? Why doesn't the GOP nail down those damn suckers before the votes? How many times are they going to be played the fool before people give up on them?

But here's an even bigger question--there were plenty of years when there was no Lucy holding that football. The GOP had the House and Senate, where all the legislation was written. Why didn't the GOP write those promised cuts into the legislation during those years? For that problem, there is NO LUCY TO BLAME.

Really, maybe Lucy is a red herring. Here's what I think: the GOP said it wanted cuts, but their behavior said otherwise. They were happy to accept promises instead of holding out for cuts, which indicates that appearances were more important to them than results.

Is the GOP finally ready to demand cuts? Maybe. In August 2011, they demanded, negotiated, and received specific cuts, though the bulk of the cuts were delayed until 2013. (Still a problem with acceptance of real cutting, it appears.)

Will the GOP ever get the cuts it wants? It definitely won't if it leaves the writing of the bills and the scrutinizing of the bills to others. But if you want something badly enough, you do what it takes. So bring on the sequester, and let's see the teeth start cutting! Bring on the GOP list for the next budget cuts! Nail those things down, and finally get some practice in making cuts stick. Quit kicking like Charlie Brown, and start kicking like pros.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Bad news for spending cuts, Part 2

Is the GOP still in disarray? They've been very quiet about their strategy related to the debt ceiling. Perhaps there are huddles going on right now, and in a few days or couple weeks we'll hear what the Republicans actually want. Right now, however, it's still unclear.

A GOP talking point after the fiscal cliff settlement was that tax increases outnumbered spending cuts by 41:1. Well, duh, it was a tax bill. The GOP couldn't get spending cuts into the bill because they had no leverage, and they wasted all the negotiation time haggling over tax issues, not spending. They could have tried to trade cooperation for some cuts, or a debt ceiling increase for cuts, but that wasn't their focus.

Now, they want to avenge their defeat, but their first plan sucks. They say they won't vote for a debt ceiling increase without an equal amount of spending cuts. However, they won't specify what spending cuts they want. There are some logical reasons for this:
  1. They don't want their name on painful, unpopular cuts.
  2. The Democrats will demagogue against cuts that the GOP proposes, and try to gain electoral advantage on the issue.
  3. It's the president's responsibility to provide a roadmap for the future spending.
However, logic isn't going to force Obama to take on these risks. He can run out the clock on the debt ceiling, and then there won't be any alternative on the table when we reach the debt ceiling. With no plan, the GOP will look rather bratty if they plunge us into default, so they definitely have an interest in coming up with one.

They also need to have a real plan, not a fuzzy plan like the Ryan budget. They can't propose Medicare vouchers because that's a non-starter. They will have to breathe deep and plunge into some real budgeting. Along with the blame, they would also pick up some credit.

I'd be surprised if Boehner or Ryan will do this. It's possible, but they haven't gotten much into the nitty-gritty before. Perhaps some senators will do it, though the gang of six or eight has been shrinking. Still, this seems like a potentially great project for some policy-oriented wonk, elected or not.

Perhaps in a few weeks we'll be flooded with plans, including a couple good ones. This SHOULD happen, because there's a veritable vacuum right now, and nature is supposed to abhor a vacuum. Just don't expect anything from Obama. He's obviously going to be involved in the negotiations (if any), and he'll take enough hits that way. He's got little to gain by going first on cuts, and he's not a visionary on these issues. Anyone waiting for his leadership is naive or has an axe to grind.

The GOP: Too scared to be scissors. The Dems: Paper all the way.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Leader of the opposition

Ed Morrissey of HotAir writes a couple of interesting columns on who will be the de facto leader of the Republicans. He correctly points out that Boehner and McConnell will be too busy and too tainted with deal-making, so he offers these names:
  1. Rand Paul
  2. Bobby Jindal
  3. Rick Perry
  4. Marco Rubio
  5. Chris Christie
These are mostly good picks in that they're likely to be visible leaders, if not the leader. (It makes me wonder who was the leader from 2009 to 2011 when the primaries started. Critics say it was Rush Limbaugh, and maybe it was. Luckily not anymore.)

Rand Paul is certainly going to be the leader of the small-government libertarian pack. He has stayed almost constantly true to those principles. However, the libertarians aren't the dominant force in the GOP, so he couldn't be the dominant leader. His small-military views just aren't popular with most of the GOP, and they can't overlook that.

Bobby Jindal bucked a fair amount of the 2012 losing rhetoric, so it seemed that he was trying to make a name for himself as an intelligent reformer of the GOP. As a moderate, I like that, but I don't know if enough Republicans feel that way. Certainly the noisy ones don't. Nonetheless, he deserves to be on this list right now, but he could easily fall off by going too far or not far enough.

Rick Perry doesn't deserve to be on this list. He was a laughable candidate in 2011. Maybe the pain meds have worn off, but you can't fix stupid. He gives every indication of having been briefed on all of his opinions, rather than mulling them over and developing his own ideas. I think he's someone's marionette. If he can become a national leader, then I don't know anything about American politics.

Marco Rubio is certainly running for leader and running for president. However, Romney's campaign showed the weakness of choosing someone who is constantly running for office instead of being engaged in actual governing and problem-solving. Rubio is flash but no substance at this point. I don't think the GOP will go for a lightweight again.

Chris Christie has lately been reviled among many Republicans, so it's hard to imagine him rising above that to be a spokesman and leader of a large enough slice of the GOP. He's certainly got the verbal talent and a can-do record, but too many Republicans hate him right now, and that's not going to be easy to change.

Something missing from this list is the conservative-pragmatic governor archetype. I'm thinking Mitch Daniels, Scott Walker, John Kasich, and Rick Snyder. They've all dealt (cleaned up/reformed) at the state level with the kinds of problems the federal government faces--how to trim spending and reduce benefits for government workers without massive service cuts. Also important, they haven't tainted themselves with culture war rhetoric on abortion and contraception as Virginia governor Bob McDonnell has.

These governors are the solid, working leaders in each of their states, but who speaks for them nationally? If they did have a national champion, that would be a formidable leader. I'm going to be curious to see how this develops. The next few months will be worth watching.


Extra. Will we have new leaders in punditry? It's less important, but it would be such a relief.

Update 6/21/13. According to this column, Jindal has trotted out the typical GOP fallback position of bashing liberals. It looks like Jindal will put on any stance when it is expedient, including clear-eyed reformer. Too bad it was just an act.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Another obvious headline

Expert: Republicans Should Avoid Rape Talk

-- US News.

Can I get my "expert" certificate? Because I could have told them that.

 Oops, wrong certificate. It's around somewhere.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Mint-y fresh

I'm not going to say a lot about the idea of Obama having the Treasury mint a trillion dollar coin and thereby avoid the issue of the debt limit. I don't consider it a serious solution to a serious problem, and the debt ceiling deserves a serious solution. A sometime commenter here, swain, wrote this on Plain Blog:
The Trillion-Dollar-Coins plan is a bad idea... And it's very gimmicky.

But the bigger problem this plan gives the executive branch the power to mint as much money as it wants whenever it wants. The reason we have an independent Fed is because we know that's a really, really bad idea...
Suppose George W. Bush decided one day that he would exploit an obscure law, designed to print commemorative quarters for collectors, to instead generate $2 trillion in government funds.

Even if a literal reading of text of the law suggests this is possible, isn't it absurd? ... Regardless of the text, that's a VERY long ways from the legislative intent. No amount of sloppy wording can create a loophole that big...
We really don't want a President to decide to (mis)interpret an insignificant law to conclude they have unlimited authority to create infinite amounts of money...
And, I love Obama, but a President that tried to claim that power should be impeached... At some point you just have to say... Um. No.
I second that. We have to face up to the issues confronting us, not search for tricksy loopholes.

Postscript. Really, whoever thought of this, just go write a sitcom if you need an outlet for your wacky ideas.

The limits of leverage

One of the epiphanies I had about politics since I started writing this blog was realizing the importance of leverage. Specifically, the GOP could finally make the Dems cut government spending because they had the leverage of the debt ceiling.

Leverage Past
Back in the summer of 2011, it was clear to both the GOP  and the Dems that the GOP had the leverage.  However, then the Dems foisted a deal on the GOP that stole most of the leverage back, because the GOP no longer had the choke points of appropriation bills and debt ceiling increases.

Neither party was able to exert its will in 2012 because the absolutely necessary matters had already been decided. The next "must-legislate" moment wasn't coming until the end of 2012 with the expiration of the Bush tax cuts. Therefore, the prime focus of both sides were the campaigns for the control of the House, Senate, and presidency.

Back to the present. With expiration of the Bush tax cuts and new tax rates in place, it would seem that the Dems have no leverage anymore. But that viewpoint is incorrect.

No Monopoly on Leverage
Leverage is not being able to do everything you want. The GOP found that out in 2011. Few of the cuts were immediate, the Dems forced the Defense budget to bear a lot of the cuts, and the GOP weren't able to include provisions that made the Bush tax cuts permanent, which was high on their wishlist.

This wasn't a failure of leverage, but it shows the limits. Leverage doesn't ensure passage of a particular agenda when the House, Senate, or President is dead set against it. They all have veto power that they will use. You can get them to do something within the wide middle of political outcomes, but you can't blackmail them into capitulation. Bargaining and compromise is expected by the majority of the electorate. Drama and ultimatums are going to be punished unless they are dropped for last-ditch realism and compromise.

Leverage To Be?
So, how will leverage play out in the next choke point, the debt ceiling? I doubt the GOP will get all the cuts they want (but won't specify). They may get some additional cuts on top of the agreed level of cuts from the August 2011 deal. They won't get to exempt Defense or write their own script on where the cuts will occur.

If Obama says no to unreasonable demands, as judged by center of the country, he won't be blamed if government shuts down. If the GOP can put together a reasonable list of additional cuts (per the same judges), Obama will be blamed if he still says no. The important thing is taking the temperature of the center of the country and knowing what it is considered an unreasonable demand, then making sure you aren't on the wrong side of that fuzzy line if there's a stand-off.

However, I don't see the GOP accurately taking those readings yet. As a party, they never faced reality on the expiration of the tax cuts. McConnell saved them by starting real negotiations just four days before doomsday. That didn't give much time to cobble together a well-crafted program. The GOP looks likely to do just as poorly on the debt ceiling choke point.

The GOP hasn't done well with their leverage. They aim too high, shoot too much ammo, waste time, and then have accede to a lesser deal than if they had proposed a center-right solution in the beginning. There's no improvement in their game that I can see. If I was their coach, I'd throw in the towel.

Ideas, anyone?

That better be a new plan, son.

Not a good plan: Atlantic hostage post, National Review hostage post.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Short: Inside the failed House revolt was buzzing with rumors of an insurrection against Boehner before the vote on 1/2/13 that reinstated him as Speaker of the House. Here's a longer story about the planning the coup that didn't happen.

The silver lining of the continued stalemate three words: NO SOCIAL ENGINEERING.

No Democratic social engineering. No Republican social engineering. No big tax cuts blowing holes in the budget. No expensive new programs blowing holes in the budget.

What we'll have is minimal change in government. Gone is the ability to engage in any large-scale expensive wars. There won't be any half trillion dollar jobs program/stimulus. We'll have an incremental austerity because there aren't the votes for raising spending. We won't have huge spending cuts because there aren't the votes for that either.

We can probably remain in this state for quite a while. After all, what are the pressing national or international issues that require a major change? Our budget deficit is the biggest one I can think of. If the international financial systems go into another meltdown, that will be another, but it's not happening now. Neither is it clear that any regulation the US could pass would prevent it.

If this is an end to meddling government, I'm for it. If it's simply a vacation from meddling government, I'll take that too. However, I don't forget that huge government programs of yesteryear are cushioning the problems of today. We have programs that aid the elderly and sick, that protect our borders and international trade, that educate the next generation. I'm fine with stopping the fixing for a while, letting things settle, and see what, if any, pressing issues arise in a few years. Maybe there won't be big issues, maybe there will. Perhaps the best thing is to wait and see.

Tell me the truth--wouldn't you love a break from changes for a while too?

 Let's all give it a rest.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Lessons learned from the fiscal cliff

Prepare for a surprise. I'm not going say again how blind the GOP was to the situation, and they should wake up. I'm not going to check in on reactions. Instead, I'm going to reflect.

Obama was not gracious in victory, though he wasn't triumphant either, as some in the GOP claimed. The GOP has no right to criticize Obama's manners, which are 100 times better than the average GOP politician when he talks about Obama or other Democrats. Nonetheless, more thanks and more humility would have been appropriate.

A pretty good deal

There are many things I like about deal. Obama gave the GOP a good-sized fig leaf, and didn't go for as much "soaking the rich" as his left flank wanted. Obama held to his $400K number even though he could have tried to pull back to $250K. That is good.

Obama reportedly wanted a year delay in the sequester, but let it go for the realistic 2 months. That is good.
The government won't take a 55% bite out of estates, or any bite out of smaller estates. That is good. It is also balanced. Obama is living by his oath of a balanced approach, even if it costs him the votes of the most  liberal senators and he loses some from his loudest cheering section.

The next battle

I like the tone that Obama set in these negotiations. He didn't let the GOP's veto power intimidate him. If they had remained unreasonable, he wouldn't have caved. He would have let the tax increases happen. That is reinforcing the idea that actions will have their consequences, and the grown-ups aren't going to shield the children from learning their lessons.

Obama is taking a tough love approach. He has clearly put his marker down: the rest of the fiscal negotiations this year aren't going to be over-the-top partisan fights. I suspect he'll know what his best/final offer will be, and he won't go any further. Sometime (no link, alas) I heard him quote 2/3 spending cuts to 1/3 revenue increases. I think that's what he'll stick to.

In some ways, knowing someone's final number is good. But in running the US government, the idea that there is a non-negotiable final number--that may not work. The toll on the country may be huge while we're waiting for one side to cave to the other side's final offer.

Into uncharted territory

Obama  is also insisting on balance. This is trickier. If Obama is saying that there won't be anymore cut-only deals, he is taking a surprisingly tough line. This would still be new territory for Republicans if they have to vote for increases to a current tax rate.

On the flip side, pushing tax increases is very dangerous for the Dems. It plays into the stereotype that Dems don't know how to restrain spending or cut back--that they have only one response, which is to raise taxes. The Democrats have yet to show that they can trim spending in anymore than a marginal way. Since the bulk of the cuts associated with the 2011 debt ceiling fight haven't yet taken effect, real belt-tightening still hasn't happened. This country wants to try a decent dose of cuts, so let's do it.

A man with a plan

For the first time since the loss of the supermajority in the Senate in 2009, Obama seems to have a solid plan. If you look at the plans of the Dems and the GOP since the 2008 election, it's a mostly pitiful collection:
  • Dems 2009 - Pass as much of our wishlist as possible.
      • GOP 2009 - Non-cooperation with Dem program.
  • Dem 2010 - Lost the 60 votes in the Senate, what now?
      • GOP 2010 - Block everything and complain incessantly that the economy still sucks.
  • Dem 2011 - Oh shit, no House anymore. Negotiate so that the GOP gets only half of what they want.
      • GOP 2011 - Pass the GOP program in the House and cram it down the Dems' throats.
  • Dems 2012 - Campaign on a milder (balanced) Dem platform. Don't look crazy.
      • GOP 2012 - Campaign on a full GOP platform.
Obama's current plan is an extension of the campaign platform--Don't be crazy. Moderation. Balance. However, he has added resolve to stick to moderation. I don't know what the current GOP plan is. I don't think the GOP knows either.

I like Obama's position. There are lots of pointless arguments I could've avoided if only I'd stood my ground on a reasonable plan and said no to whining and demands.

However, it's important to remember resolve doesn't work if you're resolved to do something nuts. It can work for Obama because he has a solid program--a balanced approach to the fiscal problems of this country. If he moves too far to the left, leaving the center where he is right now, then his plan won't work.

The downside of Obama's plan

I'm not at all certain Obama will be able to enforce his doctrine that deficit reduction will be balanced from this point forward. Within the next two months, Obama and the GOP have to figure out two big issues:
  • Implement the sequester as is, or change the terms, which will probably mean moving the cuts around.
  • Raise the debt ceiling again.
The GOP is sure to demand more cuts. I don't know how Obama will handle that. If he pushes for additional tax increases, I think he will fail. It's too soon for more taxes.

However, if he can show that the 2011 deal, this recent tax deal, and an early-2013 deal taken together are balanced, then he may prevail. So far, this is what I think he's trying to do. He talks about the big numbers in the deals: $1.2 trillion in cuts, $600 billion in revenue.

These numbers are good landmarks, but there is another big number. The current projected deficit for 2013 is $970 billion [CBO projection, but with fewer revenue increases]. That's too large. We need to reduce the deficit faster, but it's not clear how we can do so. We can try to trim some more spending, but that has proved very difficult. More revenue increases are also unlikely. I think we're going to hope that the economy picks up and reduces the deficit that way. Maybe it will. We are due for an upturn.

My plan would be to implement the planned spending cuts or an equivalent starting no later than March, and then reassess in June as to whether we need to enact additional cuts/revenue increases to lower the deficit. Kick the can, hope for the best, and have a firm date for the next move. That's not the worst plan ever. Sigh. Good thing I'm not president.
Best of luck, Mr. President

Interesting context:
  • Obama's speeches on the tax deal: before the deal, after passage.
  • Who lost their cool in the negotiations: Boehner and Reid. Cool cats: Obama, Biden, McConnell.
  • Wall Street Journal's spit-and-bile reaction.
  • Rational conservative reaction.
  • My go-to conservatives (HotAir).
  • Liberals complaining - I'm too jaded to google for that.
Update 1/6/13. The fig leaf is still generous, but the revenue is probably higher because people between $250-450K are having their deductions limited. That can hurt more than a rate increase, but it's also one way to limit tax avoidance.