Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why do Democrats love tax increases?

So the Democrats got a substantial tax increase on the wealthy at the beginning of the year. That should be enough for the fiscal health of the country, right?

Not according to most of the Dems out on speaking tours these past few weeks. From Obama on down, they are saying that the federal government needs even more revenue. If that's true, we have to wonder why the Dems didn't get that extra revenue in the fiscal cliff negotiations. Here some speculative ideas about why the Dems want that revenue:
  1. The Dems want to set the precedent that all deficit reduction will be a mixture of spending cuts (cuts below the current baseline, which is in an upward trajectory) and revenue increases.
  2. Dems want to kill off the GOP preferred method of deficit reduction, which is by spending cuts only, with no revenue increases except from economical growth.
  3. Dems want to force the GOP to capitulate to the Dem's preferred deficit cutting approach, and thereby humiliate the GOP.
  4. Dems don't want to be humiliated by the GOP if it ends up that government can be cut significantly without huge gaps opening up in the social safety net.
  5. Dems are concerned about the growth of income inequality and the reduction in broad, well-paying employment, and they want to even out the inequity using taxation to supporting public provision of standard benefits.
  6. Dems are protecting their loyal constituencies of government workers and those who received federal benefits.
  7. Dems honestly believe that the cuts will be devastating to government services that we depend on, so the sequester is too deep.
  8. Dems always want to raise taxes and spend more on government programs, and they don't even remember why.
Obviously I don't know the talking point reasons the Dems give for needing higher revenue, and I'm getting more and more exasperated as I try to figure out the reason. If you're wondering why I can be so nasty to the Dems just 4 months after supporting Obama's reelection, I'll remind you that the GOP proposals were even more dangerous and ridiculous.

I may be getting the government I voted for, but I never had a chance to vote for the government I really want. (That's true for lots of people--just ask a libertarian.)


Friday, February 22, 2013

What not to say, conservatives

The conservatives are trying to have a constructive discussion about how to improve their campaign message. They've mostly decided that their ideals are correct (a premature conclusion), but they sorely need to tweak the message.

To the world outside the conservative bubble, this looks suspiciously like denial, or yet another plan not to change anything. (Some are hoping it's a sign that the GOP has entered the first phase of death.  Let's see, the phases are "denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance," right? Somehow I think breathing will stop before 'bargaining' begins.)

However, according to RedState, some tweaks to the message are still out-of-bounds. RedState derides a young conservative for deriding Rush Limbaugh, while ignoring the constructive ideas in the 10-page article. According to RedState "Thou shalt not publicly castigate Limbaugh." I can be certain this applies to Limbaugh and not every Republican because another headline on the same day was "I am very disappointed with Governor Rick Scott."

Another post on the same topic meanders around to giving Karl Rove the benefit of the doubt concerning his mission to nominate better (less verbally vulnerable) candidates. RedState must have rethought their initial attack on this project, which they labeled as anti-grassroots. So Karl Rove has qualified permission to speak.

The most reasonable post they had on messaging was from February 2012. It is specific in its critique of the 53% meme:
What we’re essentially saying is that the income taxation model is unfair to 5.3 out of 10 of us and so we are going to stand toe to toe against the 4.7 other people and totally say that to them.  And we don’t care if it alienates them because screw them, they aren’t paying taxes anyway and on top of that, we can win even if it’s only with 53% of the vote, so who needs ‘em? 
What should the attitude and the message be? This much more appealing one:
We’re just one society, and it’s all overtaxed and you could afford to do more if you kept more of the money that’s being taken from you.
So what is the lesson for conservatives who want to learn how to deliver the message better? It's hard to suss out. Part of the message seems to be that Limbaugh can say anything stupid or obnoxious, and you must put up with in reverent silence. For all others, check with RedState to find out how far you can go.


Thursday, February 21, 2013

Countdown to sequester

Despite the [hollow] protests on each political side, the sequester is very likely to occur. That's because the sequester isn't going to be that painful, and there's no better deal on the horizon that can pass the House and Senate.

The GOP may complain about the deep cuts to defense, but they're on the record for wanting even deeper spending cuts. If all those cuts came out of entitlement programs, the GOP would actually be in more trouble. A lot of seniors would be furious over cuts in Social Security and Medicare that became noticeable, maybe even painful. Having a balanced sequester, for all the GOP bluster, is a boon to the GOP.

The Dems also complain, but about the broader effect of the cuts. It's bad for defense, they say (but most liberals are happy to give defense a good trim), but look at what it will do to food inspectors and air traffic controllers and first responders! Excuse me, but I think almost all first responders are paid for at the state and local level, so a 2.3%, 4%, 7% or whatever reduction at the federal level is minimal. But we do like all those spiffy uniforms at our press events.

Dems are pressing for more tax increases, but the GOP isn't going to give them that. So the Dem proposal is dead on arrival. The GOP wants to cut everything but defense, but that's dead on arrival for non-blue-dog Dems.

One thing to remember is that this sequester was the best deal available, in that each side got what it really wanted back when it was negotiated in August 2011. The GOP got no tax increases. That is still the top priority for them, so that leaves little room for them to strike a new deal. The Dems caved on no new revenue (and just had to be patient for the Bush tax cuts to expire), but they got to direct where the cuts occurred. To Dems, it's still the best mix of cuts. They have no incentive to let the GOP change that mix.

By the way, the sequester doesn't even cut spending. It just slows the increase in spending. Per the CBO, the spending for 2012 was $3.538 trillion. For 2013, it's projected to be $3.553 trillion with the effect of the sequester. So if we're cutting the budget in some places, it must be growing like weeds somewhere else. Maybe that indicates we have a big job to do on that "somewhere else." That's sure to be fun with this Congress.



A nascent thought - the one-day-a-week furlough for civilian defense workers will keep those workers off the unemployment rolls. That's a good move now, but will it establish a 4-day work week for federal workers?

A funny twist on the serenity prayer: "...politicians are finding the strength to accept the things they cannot change, and change the things they cannot accept. That means accepting the sequester but changing who gets blamed for it." --Atlantic Wire writer Elspeth Reeve

GOP disarray over the sequester:
  • Boehner - It's all Obama's faaaauuullltttt!
  • Reaction to Boehner - what a whiner and idiot.
  • Plain blog - those incoherent GOP arguments.
  • RedState - yes, the cuts are unbalanced, but let's cut anyway. Plus, Obama's on the run!
Up Next: Look for a post soon on the next crisis point - the next Continuing Resolution, which we need by April 1 March 27.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The only fan of the sequester

It's hard to be for the sequester if you're an elected official. After all, the sequester will send pink slips to somewhere around 600,000 employees in defense-related jobs, both in the Defense Department and Defense contractors. If you have a military base or a military contractor in your district, you can hardly support the sequester. So politicians don't express enthusiasm for it.

So who is this lonely fan of the sequester? Howard Dean, expressing his support from the safety of private citizenship with no official post in government or the Democratic Party. I loved some of the Dean quotes:
About defense cuts: "This is a chance to cut Pentagon spending. We haven’t done it for 30 years... This would not be my favorite timing. I don’t think this is a great solution. I just think it’s the better of any of the ones that are on the table... There are going to be some jobs lost. The fact of the matter is that we will not get this chance again."
About Medicare cuts: "I’m not in the least worried about Medicare provider cuts... Whether this comes from drug companies or provider cuts, we’re going to do those anyway as soon as they get around to doing what really has to be done, which is paying by the patient, not by the procedure." [Wow--how clear and how true]
About the risk of recession: "It will be a short term, light, small recession. Look, we’re in deep trouble financially in this country... You can pay me later or you can pay me now, but paying later is going to be much worse and it’s going to hit much more vulnerable people than this does."
The GOP is generally pro-sequester at this point because it's better than the other alternatives currently being floated. Those alternatives are objectionable because they contain tax increases and fewer spending cuts. However, the GOP can't be whole-hog supporters due to the military jobs in each district, as I said above. Some are trying to connect the sequester, and subsequent job losses, to Obama. The usual phrase is the sequester is "the president's idea."

I'm confident that the sequester will happen. I'm also a fan for reasons similar to those of Howard Dean, though I support broadly cutting jobs in the federal workforce, not just in defense. I also think we shouldn't miss this chance, and I'm willing to weather the consequences. Think of the sequester as the cuts we should have had in the 90's and the 00's, but didn't. We shouldn't put them off any longer, or it's "going to be much worse" as Dean says.


Short: The slow-motion tragedy of Adam Lanza

I think the shooting of 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School could have been prevented, but I'm less sure after reading this long piece. It focuses on the struggles of the Lanza family in dealing with Adam Lanza's severe behavioral/neurological problems. After reading it, I wonder whether we, even with our best efforts, can prevent some of these tragedies. I would hope that we can (and we probably are) but the failures are a reminder of the uncertainty in our efforts.

Of course, trying just to prevent tragedies isn't enough. What we really need to do is to build lives that are safe and fulfilling and happy enough, not just for ourselves but also more generally in our society. That means doing good in small ways in our daily lives, but also making good decisions in the huge national and global issues. Ouch, that's sounds like too much responsibility. Maybe I'll try to do a lot of good in the small things, but let evolution be the ultimate arbiter on the big ones. In that way, I won't get overwhelmed and give up on both fronts. I should probably go do something worthwhile right now.


Update 11/26/14. Here is a summary of a report on Adam Lanza's mental history. It faults his mother for not taking important measures in light of his mental situation and its deterioration.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Grand political strategies of our times

Hat tip to commenter Anastasios for this topic. He wrote:
The GOP thinks that they are well-entrenched in the House and time will eventually bring them back into power with a well-timed recession or a major Dem mistake... The Dems acknowledge the mid-term danger but believe the GOP is slowly being throttled to death by demographic and social change, and that by about 2030 the left will have grown strong enough that the dreams of conservatives will be forever dead... In any case, neither side is trying to get things done, but to set agendas for when their expected futures come about. Whatever happens with the sequester and the budget is merely a blip in the sweep of the longer-term strategies they are pursuing... At this point I don't think either party finds it in their interest to minimize problems. [Emphasis added by MP.]
I don't know whose agenda the future will favor, but his point spurred me to think about grand political strategies of the recent past.

 The Permanent Republican Majority

Back in 2001, or even earlier, Karl Rove envisioned a permanent Republican majority. That wasn't so long ago, but I still had to remind myself how it was supposed to come about. In a nutshell, the GOP would build a coalition of reliable, motivated supporters who would vote in larger percentages than the general public. This coalition was conservative (social, fiscal, and foreign policy) with pro-business and evangelicals being in the forefront.

Rove was very solicitous of the concerns of evangelical and conservative groups. But he also needed to make sure that the GOP blind-sided by bread-and-butter concerns, so education and Medicare were also on the radar. I recall reading the Medicare Part D came about because Rove didn't want the Dems to have the lack of medication coverage as an issue.

Of course this dream didn't survive the debacle of the Iraq war, with all lives lost, money borrowed and wasted, and arrogance that it was going well. The dream, already dead, was killed even deader by the financial crisis of 2008. No wonder I had to research to remind myself how 'the permanent Republican majority' was supposed to work.

The Obama plan?

This is much more speculative (meaning I have no data to help me determine either way), but perhaps Obama has a similar plan for a permanent Dem majority. The Dems tend to be favored when turnout is high, which means that they gain the most from turning irregular voters or non-voters into regular voters. Obama's 50 state strategy and local campaign offices that stay open and active through the off-years are aimed at this pool of irregular voters. I think the major drives to sign people up for food stamps and Medicaid also aim to turn irregular voters into regular voters.

If Dems can keep these voters coming to the polls, and sign up even more, they will have an electoral advantage. There's little the GOP is doing to woo these voters away, and they don't have an equivalent pool to tap. Lots of people think the GOP is screwed. So it would seem unless the Dems revert to being their own worst enemies through overreach.


I can't end this reflection without mentioning the Clinton strategy of triangulation. Under this strategy, Clinton negotiated a successful reform of welfare. He also avoided the fate of many old-line Democrats (turned out of office in 1994), and won reelection in 1996. Though it wasn't a 'grand' strategy, it worked well for Bill Clinton. Hillary wasn't so lucky or adept, and the Dems gave the nomination in 2008 to someone friendlier to the traditional left.

Successful planning

I notice that political strategies don't have as long a shelf-life as their supporters hope. I also notice that I can talk about strategies without talking about principles or deeply held values. Of course, deeply held values probably don't have a long shelf-life either as political strategy, or a successful strategy at least.

Deja vu

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Merry-go-round of irony and lies

First horse on the merry-go-round: Brietbart's story that Chuck Hagel took funding from a group called "Friends of Hamas."
  •  Second horse: Lots of conservative news sources pick up the story.
Third horse: "Friends of Hamas" doesn't actually exist.
  • Fourth horse: Is the editor-in-chief, Ben Shapiro, who published the story, still at Breitbart? Or was he fired like the NBC producer who was caught doing misleading edits on the Zimmerman 911 tape? Of course he's still at Breitbart. Scruples are for sissies, as are truth and accuracy.
Fifth horse: Breitbart tells the Washington Post 5 ways to clean up its act, like no longer publishing false charges and mysteriously removing them. Also, not publishing fraudulent stories about racist statements by an Ag Dept official Palin going to Al-Jazeera.
  • Sixth horse: How can Breitbart complain about WaPo when they just days ago inflated this fake story about Hagel? Well, it was attributed to a "Senate source [that] told Breitbart News exclusively."
Seventh horse: Didn't something similar happen when Harry Reid "heard" some story that Romney hadn't paid any income tax one year? Oh, that's probably another politically convenient fabrication.
  • I'm feeling sick. Stop this ride. Yes, stop the lies and hypocrisy.

Update 2/20/13. The ride is still spinning. The inadvertent source of the rumor has been self-identified. He emailed a question to an unnamed "Republican aide" and less than 24 hours later it morphed into a headline at Ben Shapiro at Breitbart continues to practice "do what I say, not what I do" by claiming that [HORRORS!!!] the source, reporter Dan Friedman, knew he was wrong before he published his piece claiming to be the unwitting source. Shapiro, are you saying that's wrong? My heavens, I never would have known that from your example.  Just to say it again, the conservative media can gripe all it wants about the MSM, but until it follows more of the same rules of good journalistic practice, it won't gain credibility. As this case illustrates, again...

Friday, February 15, 2013

Short: Why I'm writing more about the GOP

I struggle to write about the Democratic side of the political equation lately. Their positions and proposals are so stale that I just roll my eyes and shut down: sure, more spending on education! Too bad we haven't figured out how to reduce our $800 billion deficit a little bit more before we add on a few wishlist items.

The latest disappointment: Senator Tom Harkin, an unreformed tax-and-spend liberal, is repeating that the government doesn't have "a spending problem." Almost all Dems wisely stopped saying that in August 2011, but some are trotting it back out. With nearly $3T in spending each year, $17T in debt, and a bumper crop of retirees on the way, we absolutely have a spending problem that we better do something about. (By the way, this news item came to my attention via the conservative blogosphere. MSM FAIL, again.) I don't know when I'll hear something realistic from a Democrat again. Maybe when they finally propose a budget that can get 51 votes in the Senate, then they'll return to fiscal reality. Obviously I'm not holding my breath.

The GOP, at least some of them, are grappling with budgets and electoral fallout. They're the ones who acknowledge that the sequester will happen.

It's glaringly obvious that either of the political parties can lose sight of reality and start believing that their spin is truth. The Dems went from triple crown winner in 2008 to half-lame handicapped donkey in 2010. The GOP got punished in 2012. Won't someone learn from these last three years? If you go too far from  sensible, centrist policies, the American electorate is ready to slap you down. Please, dammit, learn this!


Short: The Chuck Hagel Theater Company

So the Senate didn't get to vote on the Chuck Hagel nomination for Defense secretary because of a filibuster by Republicans. But there's going to be a second vote later in February, and some additional GOP senators have indicated that they would no longer support a filibuster then. More boring Washington political theater--yawn.

If only I could filibuster the senators to prevent them from turning these nomination votes into stupid partisan exercises. To be clear, I think nominations hearings are a good idea and should be a time for searching questions. But the votes should be "yes" unless the nominee is unfit in some way.

Many conservatives seem to know how this will play out, and realize it's not worth the fight. Some, like Erick Erickson of RedState, are still hoping to defeat the nomination. Others foolishly believe that they have won some sort of victory in the recent vote--they are in for a nasty surprise called reality. But I bet these fools have been tumbled by reality before.

 Still waiting for the evidence...

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Unfair Tax

[From my backlog of interesting topics. It's not particularly newsworthy now, but it's still a worthwhile topic, so I finally finished it.]

What is the Fair Tax?

It's the politically expedient label for a consumption tax. It's also a misleading label because nothing about this tax makes it 'fairer' than other forms of taxes. However, that's not the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the term. No, the first thing you're likely to think is that you want a taxation system that is 'fair' and especially one that is fairer than what we have now.

When you look beyond the branding, what is clear is that it is a tax designed to change our economic fundamentals. It taxes consumption, but leaves labor, investment, savings, and business untaxed. This means that the tax falls heaviest on those who consume the most. Unless basics are exempted, this means it will be a heavy burden on those who just barely scrape by. This doesn't sound particularly 'fair' to me.

However, it's a good exercise to ask why we tax what we tax. Is it a historical fluke, or maybe a reasonable system that evolved by trial and error? This prompted me to think about the nature of taxation. In pre-modern times, the taxing authority would take a share of your goods, or would demand a share of your labor, or might take one of your children. In the 1800's, liquor taxes and custom taxes were the biggest share of federal taxes.

I can see certain advantages to taxing income. It is a monetary exchange, so money is changing hands anyway. That's a convenient place to exercise a tax. Work payrolls are less cyclical than consumer spending, so tax revenue will be less affected in recessions. Perhaps there are other good reasons to tax income. However, the point is that the so-called "fair tax" isn't obviously a good tax. To make a determination of whether it's a good tax, you have to look beyond the label, and see how the tax functions. You also have to compare it to the alternatives. When I do that, the 'fair tax' has a lot of problems. We need to take a good, hard look at it, not just jump on the bandwagon.

This one (and a bunch more) for the tax collector

Success against nasty infections

I work in healthcare, so this topic is on my mind all the time. People go into hospitals where they are exposed to and infected by some very nasty bugs. These bugs, as biological things, evolve. However, they also do it very quickly because they have rapid reproduction rates. So they've been evolving to survive our arsenal of antibiotics, and they can be very hard to kill.

These infections, sometimes called superbugs, aren't new. I'm pretty sure that my mother-in-law died from one in 1998 (but I was a layman then). However, there has been a lot of attention to these superbugs in the past decade. That's part of the reason we have anti-bacterial wipes at the entrances to our supermarkets and anti-bacterial gel dispensers in hospitals.

I have a particular sensitivity on this issue, because healthcare personnel have been blamed for the spread of the superbugs. Supposedly we don't wash our hands often enough or well enough. Being among those personnel, I know that I don't wash as much as expected because I don't have time when I'm caring for over a dozen patients an hour. Telling me to "make time" assumes I can manufacture extra minutes, which I assure you I CANNOT.

So I'm intrigued by this news story of an approach that has reduced hospital based infections by over 60%. But get ready--it's not easy and it doesn't involve hand washing. To do this, the pilot project used:
  • Robots that spray hydrogen peroxide.
  • The hydrogen peroxide disinfects the surfaces of the hospital room.
  • It takes 30 minutes of spraying, not counting the setup time.
  • The ventilation system has to be closed off and door to the room taped shut because...
  • Humans can't breathe or open their eyes in the room during the disinfection process.
This is what it takes to make a large dent against these superbugs. I'm relieved to find out that loading another requirement on overworked staff wasn't the solution. But just try telling that to the administrators who don't work on the units and don't directly care for those 12-20 patients an hour. One thing this study tells me is that the infection problem wasn't due to staff, but was due to the surfaces in the hospital. It takes a whole lot of effort to get those surfaces safe.

One of the most well-known articles on the subject, published in the Atlantic, tells the story of how a TV executive's father died from several of these infections. (Here's a shorter youtube version if you don't have time for a multi-page article.)

The author describes a lot problems, not many solutions, and puts faith in the idea that health care needs to be overhauled to become responsive to patient needs. How exactly do we do that? Clearly, I'm not a fan of this author's sincere but ultimately incoherent ideas. As a country, we obviously have to overhaul our health systems. This robot story shows just one small aspect of the changes we need, and also shows how complex the situation is. Don't kid yourself that it's not.

Hail our robot saviors

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Checking up on media watchdogs

As a little project a couple weeks ago, I compared conservative media watchdogs with liberal media watchdogs. This wasn't an exhaustive review because I don't have the time or the constitution, so I looked at the most well-known sites.

Media Research Center/NewsBusters critique the liberal bent of mainstream outlets like CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, and the biggest target, MSNBC.The general complaints that MRC makes is that the MSM is biased in its coverage, highlighting negatives of the GOP/conservatives and burying the negatives on the Obama/Democrats/liberals. Benghazi is a specific example, with little time spent holding the administration up to a penetrating examination.

It's easy to attack the amount of coverage of an issue because there isn't going to be clear-cut answer. It's always a judgment call whether to give the news story 30 seconds or 5 minutes, and the choice can always be attacked. However, when does coverage become overkill or beating a dead horse? My personal opinion is that the conservative media inflated the errors in Benghazi, especially the error identifying the type of attack on the consulate. Conservative media and GOP congressional leaders ignored an important piece of context (the riots going on in Egypt), and beat the drum over supposed lies, which wereunderstandable misperceptions and were corrected.

However, like police wearing down a suspect, the GOP won't stop when they have the administration in their sights. Without doubt, a Dem-controlled house has done the same to a GOP president. It would be great if this particular brand of bad behavior ended. It won't, but luckily the majority of the public doesn't buy it no matter which party is using the tactic.

A better critique was this post about a Fox News host complaining about the fawning White House press corps. The press corps fails not because it doesn't badger endlessly as conservatives would have them do, but because it doesn't probe deeply at all, and doesn't ask inconvenient questions nearly often enough.

Many of the other posts on Media Research Center/NewsBusters are shallow boosterism (George Will/Hannity/O'Reilly schools so-and-so) or about picayune errors perpetrated against conservative heroes by mainstream reporters who are assumed to be biased.

On the liberal side, Media Matters is somewhat better than these conservative counterparts, with less boosterism and less targeting of small fry. Often Media Matters typically points out what conservative commentators have said without elaboration. Occasionally they exhaustively run down a false conservative talking point to its origin, as with this Benghazi lie about real-time video of the attack.

Repeating a non-fact is an equal opportunity mistake, but I see it more among the conservative media. A recent example is the use of a hypothetical example in an IRS publication--it was inflated into an announcement that the Obama administration knows that health insurance will cost $20K a year. Then the false info spread around to many conservative sites.

I like watchdogs that show you 'who said what,' and then let the overt misstatements speak for themselves. I also like watchdogs who point out the patterns of bias. Most of all, I want links so I can check these stories myself. Both Media Matters and NewsBusters do well on that score.

I wish I could find a site that watched the conservative, mainstream, and (further) left media equally. But I'm not surprised such a site doesn't exist. Who could stand to do all that?

Monday, February 11, 2013

No-budget Obama

I hope you noticed this: Obama doesn't want the sequester to go ahead as is, but he isn't offering a replacement plan. That's the job for Congress. I guess Obama's job is to give lofty speeches and run our foreign policy. But his job evidently doesn't include providing meaningful leadership on difficult domestic issues.

His budget is AWOL too. So far, he seems to favor more revenue--from closing tax loopholes this time-- and unspecified cuts. It's disappointing that Obama can't state any cuts, even for the good of the country. He doesn't name cuts because they would automatically become incorporated in any future deal, and Obama doesn't want to give up any ground that isn't part of a package. There's a certain sense to this in an adversarial negotiation, but it's sad that other factors aren't a larger consideration, such as good budgeting and leadership on issues.

I don't think the sequester is horrible, largely because I'm for restraining government spending, but in gentle ways that are less likely to send us into another recession. However, Dems apparently have a different opinion. It is so damn hard to get Dems to agree to cuts that we ought to take the sequester as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and also as an experiment to find out how painful cutting actually is. This is something we have never tried at the federal level, while it's common at state, town, family, and personal level. I'm unconvinced that it's too dangerous to run this $85 billion experiment (the savings in the first year, or appoximately 0.5% of GDP).

Obama claims that the sequester should be replaced by a balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases, but this ignores something very important. The sequester was the cut-only piece of deficit reduction passed in August 2011. The end of the some of the Bush tax cuts, passed Jan. 2013, was a tax-increase piece of deficit reduction. Between the two, that is balanced deficit reduction. If the sequester is to be replaced, it should be replaced with cuts. It's also pretty obvious that the GOP agrees with that, so only a new menu of cuts has any chance of passing. 

With no viable alternative on offer, I think that finally the cuts will happen, starting shortly after March 1. That's a long time coming.

Cuts are coming

Extra: Spinning the sequester for future electoral gain

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Seeking new conservative voices

With the failure of the conservative message in the 2012 election, I wondered who was going to rise in the GOP/conservative circles. Of course I'm not the only person wondering. It's a topic all over the conservative blogosphere.

Ted Cruz
I already covered what was written at HotAir, but I thought one prominent voice was missing from their list: Ted Cruz, the Tea Party favorite who's the new senator from Texas.Ted Cruz is a staunch conservative, but also a smart one who sidesteps the gotcha questions. This is his statement on Akin and Mourdock's statements on pregnancies resulting from rape:
"I’m not going to engage in hypotheticals. I would note that it seems the media is never asking Democrats what their view is, of say partial-birth abortion …"
Cruz isn't likely to be caught on tape denying abortions to rape victims, though that is his stance. He also hones his message to the bare essentials, and thereby avoids those inconvenient, painful details, such as how many government employees would be added to the unemployment roles, or how voucherizing Medicare will affect the care provided. Though he wants to be a major voice, I'm not sure he'll succeed without grappling with at least a few of those messy details.

Erick Erickson
A stronger voice is Erick Erickson, the editor of He's just moved from being a commentator on CNN to Fox News. He should have a big megaphone there, but he's got quite an independent streak that Roger Ailes may not tolerate. And the simplest way to deal with independent speech is not to give it airtime.

Whatever happens on Fox, Erickson still has as a platform frequently listed among the top ten conservative blogs. I checked it out at length for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised at the clarity of the writing and the enforcement of civil conduct in the comments. Redstate had several interesting posts about how the GOP should deal with the reality shifts from the 2012 election. It was both strategic (new goals) and tactical, and much more intelligent than the equivalent on HotAir.

So I'll be reading much more Redstate, reading less from screaming reactionaries on HotAir, and still checking National Review to see whether they'll continue to ignore the war (or skirmishes) between the base and the GOP establishment in its Rovian avatar. I'll also read Keith Hennessey, a suggestion from commenter Truth > Spin, for an economics-based conservative view.


Update 2/15/13. Oh dear, Ted Cruz seems to be a jerk (term I prefer to the more usual epithet 'asshole'). Even RedState commenters think so.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Short: Rand Paul WIN!

Mitch McConnell now supports legalization for growing hemp in the U.S.:
"It turns out some long talks with his libertarian-minded colleague Rand Paul have led to McConnell’s coming out in favor of industrialized hemp." -- Atlantic Wire

The absence of coherent Obama criticism

I spend way too much time reading politics on the internet, but it certainly has broadened my thinking. I especially like the comments since there are a wider range of ideas, some wonderfully unfiltered. There are trolls too, but I occasional learn something from them.

One commenter was complaining that there are no Dems criticizing Obama from the right. That's a good point. Where are the Dems who are urging Obama to be more conservative, particularly more fiscally conservative?

I tried to remember any, and I couldn't. So I called my friend Google, who provided only one on-topic link to Dems criticizing Obama, though it's possible that both Google and I overlooked some. Here is the criticism, dating from April 2011:
The push-back has come in recent days from Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) ... and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)... Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) told constituents during the Easter recess that he would not vote to lift the debt limit without a "real and meaningful commitment to debt reduction."
Perhaps the deal of August 2011 blunted most of the criticism. It's also likely there are fewer moderate and conservative Democrats to apply the pressure. Kent Conrad chose not to run for reelection in 2012, but Joe Manchin and Mark Pryor are still in the Senate. Maybe the Dems have circled the wagons. That would make sense, especially in an election year, if you can get your sprawling party to do it.

Well, something is lost when there isn't criticism from the center. One trollish commenter pointed out that Bill Clinton "should have been criticizing Obama as an irresponsible big spender." You know, I find this believable, especially if it is softened somewhat. I can imagine Clinton thinking that we need to trim some of the federal safety net programs, encouraging people to be more independent, and states to experiment with ways to save money on Medicaid and similar programs. Obama has done the opposite, pushing food stamp and Medicaid sign-ups. (Bush had a program to encourage food stamp sign-ups too.)

So why isn't there more criticism of Obama from the center, or from the right side of the Democratic party? I don't know, but maybe the reasonable criticism was and is drowned out by the over-the-top criticism from outside the party. For example, Gingrich called Obama "the food stamp president," which has unpalatable racial tinges. Others who call Obama "a muslim, ...liar, a socialist, an idiot, a communist, the anti-christ,... evil (list courtesy Google auto-completion) do more damage to themselves and the GOP than to Obama.

Even Romney, who tried to be non-crazy in his charges, couldn't make criticism stick. I think there's a lesson here. You have to be credible in your criticism and not overreach, or you bring doubt onto your whole message. You can't say that Obama has ruined the economy, or it's all his fault the recovery is so weak, without a strong argument to support it. The majority just didn't believe it, and the GOP looked partisan, foolish, and dishonest.

Come on, let's have better quality in Obama criticism. We need it.