Sunday, September 29, 2013

Everyone says "Let's run the experiment."

Soon we will see what a government shutdown looks like in the 2010's. I can't remember clearly what the last one was like in the 90"s except that one of the big complaints was that you couldn't get a passport for the overseas trip you wanted to take. Ah, those were good times, not like our lean times now.

The Tea Party has so completely snowed itself that it thinks it will win this standoff. Establishment Republicans are very nervous, but they have to do it or every single one will have a ferocious primary challenger. They're more scared of the Tea Party than of the electorate as a whole.

The Dems need to show they can hold on. They don't show much apprehension about the shutdown. They were issuing all kinds of warnings about the sequester, but not a peep about this shutdown. That's confidence.

Fox News thinks THERE'S STILL A CHANCE!!!! Wow, that's desperation. Actually, it was House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy: "You assume they won’t vote for it. Let’s have that debate." LOL. Sure, the Senate Dems will vote for it... when 'it' is GOP capitulation.

Image: shutting down in 3..., 2...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Short: But what is the alternative to...

What are the alternatives to Obamacare? I ask this question regular. What would have been the alternatives to the stimulus or alternative composition of the stimulus? Who were the alternatives to Mitt Romney? I definitely asked that question.

But here's a question I didn't ask: If you're a Republican, what alternatives do you have? There aren't many Republicans making good policy suggestions, but you don't just want to fold. Ted Cruz is offering an alternative, and he's one of the few doing it. At least that's what Bernstein writes.

There is something to this argument. However, a big reason that there aren't more Republicans making suggestions is that either:

  1. The GOP have pretty much run dry on ideas.
  2. Republicans with ideas are staying mum because they don't want to draw the attention and ire of the very vengeful Tea Party. 
  3. (Holding place for other possibilities. I'm sure there are others that I can't think of.)
So maybe I have to disagree with Bernstein. Maybe the biggest problem isn't that the GOP isn't offering any alternative ideas to Cruz's approach. The problem is the Tea Party will rip apart anyone who offers a different idea. They are the equivalent of a Somali militia, I guess... maybe... really? I'm afraid maybe it's true.


Extra. The Economist is kinder. They compare the Tea Party to the Students for a Democratic Society or Joe McCarthy. The author wants to compare them to some unnamed totalitarians (Stalin, anybody?), but doesn't want to get spammed be inflammatory.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Roundup: Still no Tea Party Plan

So the House surprised watchers by sending a hopeless funding bill to certain dismemberment in the Senate. The Senate even has a timetable for the dismemberment (Cruz yaks on Tuesday through Wednesday noon, cloture vote Wednesday, strip out Obamacare defunding Friday or Saturday, pass it, send it back to House for possible rinse and repeat). The Senate, anticipating the reaction from the House, might make it a short term funding bill only through November or December.

What is the Tea Party plan now? I went looking for it, inspired by Bernstein's very detailed guess about what would be happening in the House concerning the continuing resolution and debt ceiling votes (worth reading).

So this is what I found.

HotAir is telling its TP audience that Boehner's response will be a bill to delay Obamacare. HotAir warns that there will be a shutdown, but that will just light a fire under the lazy Senate.

Several voices are telling Tea Partiers that it's hopeless. Since they lost the election, Obamacare is going ahead and it can't be defunded. When John McCain tells them, the TP is defiant. Erick Erickson at RedState is defiant. He seems to think Cruz has a plan, but forgets to say what it is. At Breitbart, a columnist with that reality message is labeled a progressive, and the message is derided. Elsewhere at Breitbart, it's hooray for Cruz.

There are no signs that the Tea Party has a plan and even realizes the need for a plan. There's no discussion that "we do this, then they'll do that, then we'll counter with this." Nothing like that at all. These people are absurd in their lack of awareness that other people exist and have power. How did they get to be so oblivious? Jennifer Rubin, who is usually worthless, explains that they wrongly extrapolate their media share.

So are there any indications of what the Tea Party will do next? No. However, the ball will soon be back at the House, so the House leadership is trying to figure out its next move. They haven't ironed it out yet, as time ticks away to October 1. Politico reports the next House bill might delay the implementation of Obamacare. That would be another hopeless volley, and shutdown would follow. Perhaps the Washington Post report is more accurate--that the House might do something with a debt-limit increase and lots of sweeteners for GOP causes. It's not reported what the plan for funding is.

So it's all as clear as mud right now, 4.5 days away from the end of statutory funding. Thank you, Tea Party.


Same day update: A preview of the proposal from the House shows one aspect of the Tea Party plan. They plan to make the fight as bloody as possible in non-contact politics. See the likely new demands. The Tea Party will be stabbing and nicking anyone who isn't a complete supporter. And they've invited their ravening friends to watch.

Update 9/27/13. Still no plan. House GOP to meet Saturday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Rant: The stupid strategies of the Tea Party

OK, the last post was the polite version, asking the Tea Party to please, please use their power for good, reasonable purposes. This post is the rant.

The Tea Party really deserves the comparisons to a child having a tantrum. Why? Let's look at its strategies:
  1. If you're a Republican, do what we want, or we'll run a Tea Party challenger against you the next chance we get. (This is a very effective strategy for the Tea Party so far.)
  2. If you're a Dem in the federal government, we'll, um, um, wait until you fold. (Not so effective.)
  3. If you're a voter, you don't matter if you're not Tea Party. (Not so effective.)
That's it-- that's the entire Tea Party playbook. Just look at what happened when the House GOP actually caved to the Tea Party demand and passed a continuing resolution with no funding for Obamacare. The Tea Party guys in the Senate had no plan! They had to figure it out the next day.

What is their plan for when the Senate strips out the defunding for Obamacare? Is it "Don't Blink?" Is it "wait for the other guy to cave?"

What is their plan if the Dems refuse to go along, there is no continuing resolution, and the government goes into shutdown? They haven't prepared a plan. They haven't told the public what to expect--which services will continue and which won't. What is their plan when offices of their members of Congress are deluged with angry callers? They have no plan.

That is how paltry and stupid the Tea Party is when it comes to planning. You are fucking kidding me! The Tea Party is amazingly stupid, yet they have a lot of support among traditional Republicans. The lesson here--there are way too many stupid Americans. This is embarrassing for me and my country.

Yeah, I know they feel the same way about me and millions of others. I don't know what to do. Sigh.


Missing: Real fiscal negotiations

. . . chasing a fetish instead
For some unknown reason, the GOP decided to forego fiscal negotiations in the run-up to the appropriations for next year, and focus only on defunding Obamacare. They turned Obamacare into a fetish and focused all their energies on it.

Obamacare is certainly not the only political fetish. In fact, politics is full of fetishes. Each party tries to raise up their fetishes and burn those of their opponents. Here are a few fetishes off the top of my head: assault weapons ban, balanced budget amendment, green jobs, DADT, "real Americans," ...

Actually, I ran out of fetishes sooner than I would have thought. To me, a fetish is a practically useless but politically powerful piece of policy or jargon. In actuality, it doesn't matter, but politicians latch onto it for political grandstanding. Obamacare doesn't really fit this definition, since it will have real consequences, but it has been turned into a fetish because politicians have inflated its symbolism to a great degree.

Negotiate or bust
So, back to the point. Instead of doing some horse-trading on funding this and that, cutting hither and thither, the GOP has wasted months on Obamacare. They did manage to pass a bill in the House cutting 5% from the food stamp budget, but that's it. Maybe someone in the GOP (not you, Rand Paul) remembered to make up a prioritized list of other cuts, and will whip it out after the Obamacare offensive is defeated. If not, the GOP will yet again be caught out with no negotiation strategy. This happened in December '11, Feb '12, Dec '12, and March '13. When will the GOP learn?

The Dems, of course, like spending as much as they can get away with, so they aren't taking up the slack and suggesting their own cuts. Nancy Pelosi says there's nothing more to cut, but also that the Dems will work with the GOP to make government more efficient and end duplication of services. Her negotiation strategy is "you go first." This cynical strategy isn't good for the country at all, but those hopeless Republicans don't have anything better.

I hope we can get back to the situation in 2011 when the Tea Party was pushing for some real cuts, and they weren't going to back down. That was a realistic goal and it worked.

Right now they're engaged in a folly, and they seem to be throwing more energy at it than they had in 2011. Why are they flushing away their power on an unattainable goal? The only answer I have is that they don't know and don't care what is achievable and what isn't.

Perhaps we were damned lucky that they focused on budget cuts in 2011 and not Obamacare. Maybe it was just dumb luck, and not any wisdom at all. If the Tea Party chooses its goal irrationally, they are going to be a bull in a china shop until they're shot down. On the basis of 2013 vs. 2011, I'm not ready yet to declare the Tea Party totally irrational, but that's definitely on the list of possible explanations.

So, to the Tea Party, please go back to demanding some fiscal restraint. Show that your 2011 rational choice wasn't an aberration.


Extras. The food stamp cut mentioned above was 5% of a $80 billion budget that's doubled since 2008. The stimulus increased the grants, but that is also due to end, which may mean the total cuts are larger, perhaps on the order of 10%. The Dems are screaming about "food insecurity," which means one person in a household skipped as few as one meal a month due to food availability. Fetish, anyone?

Bernstein: GOP is "post-policy"--they have no proposals. Josh Barro complains about the lack of rational healthcare reform ideas among the GOP. Yeah, I noticed that.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Is Obamacare ALREADY a train wreck?

Everyone has heard this. Obamacare is a train wreck. Well, I don't take anyone's word for it. As I frequently tell other internet commenters, your assertion doesn't make it true. So what is the evidence that Obamacare is already a train wreck, even before exchanges crash, subsidy costs balloon, and healthcare providers are so pissed off that they give surly care?

The evidence:

  1. In a Gallup poll of small employers, 40% are holding back on hiring because of concerns about the employers mandates in Obamacare. Well, maybe this is true, or maybe it's like the polls showing how many people thought that Obama wasn't born in the US. Some of the respondents will have political reasons for complaining about Obamacare. Refuting data: see the graph below showing trend in full time employment. Or maybe the sluggish job growth is due to a combination of Obamacare and poor sales and demand. On the whole, I think there's some validity to this complaint.
  2. People are losing their satisfactory healthcare plans and being dumped into exchanges or forced to pay more for plans they don't want. This is true, but for how many? This tweeter says "After over 5 yrs of no group health ins I finally get a job that offers it and here's the thanks I get [a cancellation notice]. If you think about it for a minute, that tweet isn't a slam-dunk against Obamacare.
  3. Here's a rehash of reasons from Heritage Foundation, including job losses due to taxes on medical devices and lower Medicare reimbursements. They mention less than 3000 jobs lost, not a horrifying number considering that the US lost 524,000 jobs in December 2008
No, Obamacare isn't a train wreck at this point. It's not as though no one knows how to implement it, what the rules are, or when they will have that information (might describe Dodd-Frank, but not Obamacare). It may turn out to be a train wreck, but it's politically motivated jumping-the-gun to call it a train wreck at this point.

Image: oops, lost the link
Graph above:

Extra. Obamacare will explode medical spending, just like Medicare did. I have a few obvious questions about this, including asking about the effect of covering mostly the healthy instead of the elderly. But the kicker in this article is that Medicare didn't positively affect mortality rates. Um, does that means Medicare is an expensive failure? Please defund Medicare immediately and see how that turns out.

Short: The shooter's Navy career

Here's a fairly detailed description of the Navy Yard shooter's career in the Navy. Elsewhere I read that around 25% of recruits have a similarly poor discipline record (sorry, can't find the link).

I don't think the Navy is at fault. The problem is that our society is more stressed than it had been, and more people are acting out in many ways. There won't be a quick fix for that, and a bandaid law probably won't have more than marginal effect. Still, I think we should try to improve the situation, with increased vigilance and reduced availability of guns. However, the best possible change, reducing the angry gun culture in this country, isn't likely to occur and certainly can't be mandated by law.

Can you pick out the bad ones?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Short: Who's selling out whom in the GOP?

I didn't notice last night, but there's a snafu going on in the GOP right now. It seems that after goading the GOP for months to defund Obamacare, and within hours of the House announcing that it would try to do so, Ted Cruz announced that the Senate won't go along with that.

This shouldn't have been news to anyone. Dems hold the majority in the Senate. There is no way on earth that they were going to pass a continuing resolution that defunds Obamacare. So why is this news to various GOP congressmen or GOP constituencies? Perhaps some operatives have been spinning a story and forgetting (wink, wink) to mention a couple details. And perhaps some incredibly foolish people in the audience didn't realize this.

Now a bunch of people are pissed, and others are trying to quell it. Here are some of the reactions from HotAir:
Strategic: "I don’t understand the anger and angst towards Cruz. What has he said that he hasn’t always said? And did he say he was caving himself? The reality has always been that only the House can defund ObamaCare. If the House doesn’t agree to a CR, then there’s no CR."
Pissed: "Vichy Republicans: If you do not stand firm against Obamacare, and try hard to stop it, I hope you have a job lined up after 2014." 
Even more pissed: "You lying sacks of %#^?~{€*?. You’re not getting money from me or my new generation of voters me and Mammy is influencing. We’re not walking door to door for you. We’re not working phones for you. We’re not supporting one freaking #^*+!{]~£ thing you push unless you DEFUND OBAMACARE and STOP PUSHING AMNESTY!!!"
Cruz lied? "I went to Cruz’ event in Dallas. They specifically said this was not true. They said if you shut the government down, the statutory spending in Ă˜bamacare does happen. However, if you defund the whole program, no spending on it happens at all."
Resolute: "We need to be their backbone – or broomstick if you will." 
Resigned: "Lord save us from this ridiculous soap opera. If there were really the votes to undo the ACA in a meaningful way — something I strongly favor, by the way — they could just repeal it. The idea that R’s, controlling one branch of Congress, can defund a law that they lack the votes to repeal is a fantasy." 
I think this disagreement will blow over... until the strategy fails, if it does as I expect it to. Then there will be more recriminations among the GOP. I'm not going to guess what those will be. I refuse to even try crawling up into those reptile brains.


Extras. A boring explanation of the plan using a checkbook metaphor. When you look at the details, is defunding even enough?

Tough sell: Obamacare isn't worth causing chaos

Conservatives have had an interesting line of argument: (bear with it... for now.)

  • They aren't the ones who want to shut down government.
  • They want government to keep going, but without Obamacare.
  • It's the Dems who are shutting down government just to preserve a program that Americans don't even like.
Well, that's how the argument goes. There is a simple, step-wise logic to the argument. It's actually the mirror image of the Democratic argument -- the DEMS aren't the ones who want to shut down government; the DEMS want government to keep going, but WITH Obamacare; it's the GOP who are shutting down...

See, the arguments are mirror images. They work for both sides or for neither, which is intensely frustrating and leaves me wanting to yell "But... but...."

So, if the shutdown happens, who will be successful in selling this argument which works for either side? I want that question to linger here for a while.


Let's assume that both the Dems and the GOP have their bases locked up.

  • For some low-information voters who haven't heard the argument yet, whichever side they hear first, they may believe. 
  • People who are really fearful of Obamacare will go with the GOP side.
  • People who have gotten used to the Senate being the more mature, moderate, and deliberative body will see what the Senate does, and go against the GOP crazies.
  • People who thought the issue was settled with the 2012 election will go against the GOP partisans who just... won't... get... the... message!
So, although the GOP was successful in making Obamacare somewhat unpopular, I don't think they were successful enough to get Americans to support chaos for the sake of blocking it. But we shall see.

Who will end up in the dunk tank?
Addendum 9/29/13. The shutdown arguments of the Dems and the GOP are mirror-images, but this argument does favor one side.
  • The GOP argument
  • We really want to change US law.
  • We don't have the votes to do it.
  • We'll threaten shutdown, default, or havoc to get the changes we want.
  • Maybe we'll need a second amendment solution if that doesn't work.

  • The Dem argument
  • If you really want to change US law, put together the votes in Congress.
This shows how they aren't the same argument.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Save the country--defund Obamacare

This has been a mantra for conservatives for several years now: Obamacare will ruin the US. I won't repeat the nonsense of how Obamacare will cause the collapse of the US, or refute that nonsense here.

Though the GOP ran on this slogan, they didn't win. Certainly many GOP representatives and senators won election or re-election on that platform, but they lost the presidency and lost seats in the House and Senate. However, the campaigns were complicated with  fiscal issues, personality issues, abortion issues, psycho personal viewpoints on abortion,etc. It wasn't a clear referendum on Obamacare.

Finally we will have a one-on-one decision about Obamacare. It will be Obamacare vs. no Obamacare. Non-essential government will shut down on October 1, and it will stay that way until one side or the other capitulates.

Who will capitulate? Supposedly it will be the side that gets more blame from the general public. But there won't be a vote to determine that, so it will be whoever floods Congress with more calls. Ted Cruz has famously told conservatives "Don't blink," meaning don't capitulate, no matter what. I'm fairly sure he won't consider whether sentiment is running against the shutdown, but many in Congress will consider it. So soon we will see.

What's the likely outcome? As I noted, the last election wasn't a straight up-or-down decision on Obamacare, as it is now, so there is room for a different outcome.

Still, I'm going with the indicators from the 2012 election. Obamacare will survive. The kill-Obamacare-before-it-breathes forces will lose. If the shutdown lasts too long, the losers will pay an extra penalty for their stubbornness, and we should see that in the 2014 midterm elections.

One benefit of this showdown is that the test will finally be performed, and we will have an outcome. All those conservatives urging a tough stance on this issue will find out whether they are the majority or not. If they're wrong, I hope they will finally STFU.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Short: Why I love Plain Blog

The matchlight flares up blindingly.

Suddenly I see so clearly why I like (love?) the Plain Blog about Politics. Here it is:

  • It's based on data. In particular, the author (a PhD and professor) has a deep knowledge of US political history, and he takes a data-driven approach. 
This is a refreshing difference from the mostly ideological approach that political writers take.  Here's the author, Jonathan Bernstein, destroying the idea that a loss on the Syria vote will destroy the Obama presidency:
...there's one permutation that absolutely, no question about it, would destroy the rest of Barack Obama's presidency is: a disastrous war. Ask Lyndon Johnson or George W. Bush. Or Harry Truman...   
None of the other permutations [including losing a Syria vote] are anywhere close to that kind of threat to the Obama presidency. Presidents lose key votes which are then mostly forgotten all the time. They pursue policies which poll badly, but are then mostly forgotten, all the time. There are important things to say about all of that, because "mostly" isn't completely. But the first thing to get right when considering the effects of Syria policy on the rest of the Obama presidency is that the scale of a Vietnam or an Iraq (or a Korea, for that matter) overwhelms everything else we might talk about.
However, it wasn't reading the blog that brought on this epiphany. I was pursuing an argument on another blog where I'm trying to get a blogger to alter his view of Obama's fiscal program. How am I trying to do this? With data. 

Do your views conform with the data, or do you have to ignore the data (ignore facts) to maintain your political position? Everyone should be asking themselves that ALL THE TIME. Sadly, that isn't what happens.