Monday, December 31, 2012

Jonathan Chait is surprised at Obama's negotiating over taxes:

Some weeks ago Chait argued that Obama had learned his lesson during the 2011 debt ceiling fight and would bargain tough with Republicans this time over the fiscal cliff (sorry, can't find the link to that essay).

At the time, it seemed a little naive of Chait, since Obama has repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to "pre-concede" to Republicans. Frequently, the only thing stopping a bum deal from going through was Republican opposition - usually from hard-line Tea Party types.

Now the focus is on the fiscal cliff and tax rates. Chait has written that Obama should take advantage of his tactical position, let the Bush rates expire, and work from there.

But that's not what we've been reading lately. Chait now reassesses:

Why Is Obama Caving on Taxes?

The discouraging thing about the “fiscal cliff” negotiations is not that they have gone into the eleventh hour, or that they may go into the new year, or even that they won’t resolve the long-term budget deficit. It’s that President Obama has retreated on his hard line on taxes. ...
Now, by all accounts, Obama is prepared to extend the Bush tax cuts up to $400,000 a year. Or maybe more. ...

The erosion signals not only a major substantive problem in its own right, but it also raises disturbing questions about Obama’s ability to handle his entire second term agenda.

The odd thing about the retreat is that Republicans had all but conceded eventual defeat on the issue. ...

What happened? The administration’s line seems to be that Senate Democrats undercut, or were going to undercut, Obama’s position. ...

... if Obama fears trying to hold a line that Senate Democrats have abandoned, it’s just as likely they fear the same about him. Obama’s history of foolish negotiating with the Republican Congress gave Democrats every reason to fear he might fail to hold firm on his own line — the burden lay with Obama to prove otherwise. And two weeks ago, when Obama made a concession to Boehner that he would let the Bush tax rates stay in place on income up to $400,000, he gave them every reason to doubt him.

... the effect of Obama’s concession to Boehner — which of course went unrequited — was to reset the tax debate at a new, more GOP-friendly level.

Worse, exposing Obama’s willingness to move his seemingly unmovable demand emboldened Republicans to demand even more. If they could push the line to $400,000, why not $500,000? Maybe cut Social Security too?The negotiating style Obama has displayed in these instances is what poker players call “tight-weak.” A tight-strong player avoids throwing in his chips, saving them for a big hand, which he plays aggressively in hopes of a huge win. A loose-weak player plays lots of hands, bluffing frequently. Tight-weak is the worst of all worlds — when you have a weak hand, you lose, and when you have a strong hand, you fail to maximize your position.

... the tax cuts are the one area where he enjoys overwhelming leverage over the Republicans. Their only threat is to block extension of tax cuts on income under $250,000, a wildly unpopular stance countless Republicans have acknowledged they could not sustain for long without courting an enormous public backlash. This is the hand where Obama needed to collect all the chips.

Instead he is allowing Republicans to whittle down the sum by essentially threatening to shoot themselves in the head. And this is the most ominous thing about it. The big meta question looming over Obama’s term is whether he has learned to grapple with Republican political hostage-taking. Hostage-taking is not simply aggressive or even irrational negotiating. It is the specific tactic of extracting concessions by threatening to withhold support for policies you yourself endorse, simply because your opponent cares more about the damage. Republicans agree that the debt ceiling must be lifted, but forced Obama to offer them policies he opposed because they believed he cared more about damage to the country than they did.

Obama claims, and seems to genuinely believe, that he won’t let Republicans jack him up over the debt ceiling again. But if Republicans could hold the middle class tax cuts hostage, they’ll try to hold the debt ceiling hostage. Indeed, they will probably discover other areas of traditionally routine policy agreement that can be turned into extortion opportunities.

Obama may think his conciliatory approach has helped avoid economic chaos. Instead, he is courting it.
This episode is not over yet, but it does appear that Obama's Ahab-like obsession with cutting a deal makes him a poor bargainer. There have been a number of theories as to why this is so. They are mostly psychological profiles, and somewhat speculative. But the bottom line is that Obama does not come off as a strong fighter for core Democratic party principles. It's been a source of frustration for liberals, and will likely be that way for the next four years.

UPDATE: Chait Tweets:

. I thought I had a good read on Obama, but this deal will make me admit I badly overestimated him.


Friday, December 21, 2012

What will the NRA do?

These were Bob Schieffer's remarks on CBS This Morning on Thursday, Dec. 20:
I think one of the things this hinges on, what tact the National Rifle Association will take tomorrow when it holds its news conference. Somehow or another it seems to me this debate has to focus on putting common sense back into all of this. We don't ban cars, we have speed limits. There's a reason you can drive 75 miles an hour in the open desert and a reason we drive 25 miles an hour when we're in a school zone. It seems to me, if we could approach this in that way we could do something to at least make it harder for deranged people to get their hands on such weapons with such killing power. I'm waiting to see what the National Rifle Association will take tomorrow. If they bend somewhat I think they can play a very constructive role. But I think we're going to have to see what they say.
Now that the NRA has spoken out, calling  for armed security guards in schools and decrying "gun free zones", let's see if ol' Bob Shieffer will say if that's a "common sense" approach to the issue or not when he interviews someone from the NRA this coming Sunday.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remember this:

Rumblings about a potential deal Obama may strike with Republicans:


On Tuesday afternoon, HuffPost asked White House Press Secretary Jay Carney what Democrats who promised not to touch Social Security would tell their constituents if they voted for Obama's proposal.

"Let's be clear: This is something that the Republicans have asked for and as part of an effort to find common ground with Republicans, the president has agreed to put this in his proposal," replied Carney. "He has agreed to have this as part of a broad deficit reduction package that includes asking the wealthiest to pay more so that we can achieve the kind of revenue targets that are necessary to a balanced approach to deficit reduction."

They asked for something.  Common ground.

What emerges could end up being extremely volatile. Expect a war between the "establishment" and the rest of us.


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bad logic:

I have been following this closely, particularly the reaction and arguments from the "pro gun" side. They are literally insane, in that their reasoning is entirely fallacious. One of their favorite tricks is to examine a particular case (like the one in Connecticut) and either claim that gun restrictions could have been evaded, or alternatively, that there is a scenario where Rambo steps in and stops the crime. But in life things are rarely so cleanly cause-and-effect, which is why aggregate numbers (aka statistics) are the proper way to determine what works or not. The record is clear. In places (like Australia) where semi-automatic rifles and pistols are banned - along with a substantial buy-back program - homicides decline substantially.


Friday, December 14, 2012

This was posted on July 20 of this year:

Garance Franke-Ruta on the recent news:
The age of new media being now well-established, it goes a little something like this:

First we get the shaky camera phone videos and the tweets. Then the distraught eyewitness interviews and 911 call recording. Quickly, the shooter is identified. Politicians issue statements of shock and sorrow. The shooter's parents, if interviewed, are confused and abashed or else hide. The social media forensics begin. People with the same or a similar name as the shooter are harassed. There is speculation he is part of a right-wing group, or an Islamic terrorist, or a former Army veteran. The FBI and the armed forces check their records and issue denials or confirmations. Calls for better gun control efforts are issued once again. Defenders of the Second Amendment fight back immediately, or even pre-emptively. The victims of the shooting are blamed in social media for being where they were attacked. More eye-witness interviews. The shooter's parents are castigated. Survivors speak. Warning signs are identified as the alleged shooter's past is plumbed. We ask if violent movies are to blame for his actions. Or cuts to mental-health services. And talk about what kind of country we are, if we have culture of violence. The death toll fluctuates. International voices from countries where guns are heavily regulated shake their heads at us. People leave piles of flowers and teddy bears at the shooting site. There are candlelight vigils, and teary memorials. Everyone calls for national unity and a moment of togetherness. Eventually, the traumatized community holds a big healing ceremony. It is moving, and terribly sad, and watched by millions on TV or online. A few activists continue to make speeches. The shooter, if still alive, rapidly is brought to trial. There is another wave of public discussion about our failures, and the nature of evil. Politicians make feints at gun-law changes, which fail. And then everyone forgets and moves on. Everyone, that is, except the survivors.
Until the country want's to push back against the NRA and others in that camp, this will continue.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Illinois ban on carrying concealed weapons overturned:

By the Seventh Court of Appeals.  From the Sun Times: (emp add)

"We are disinclined to engage in another round of historical analysis to determine whether eighteenth-century America understood the Second Amendment to include a right to bear guns outside the home," Judge Richard Posner wrote in the court's majority opinion.
"The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as inside. The theoretical and empirical evidence (which overall is inconclusive) is consistent with concluding that a right to carry firearms in public may promote self-defense," he continued.

The evidence is inconclusive, so let's conclude something!


No "false equivalency" at CBS Evening News:

No equivalency at all.  In a report on Michigan's Right to Work law, there was this graphic.

That came from the National Institute for Labor Relations Research, a staunchly anti-union organization (and they say so on their website).

But no equivalent graphic of income or benefits from a pro-union outfit.


Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Right wing radio on unions:

Earlier this year (and the year before that) the right wing radio campaign was against public employee unions.  The gripe was that those people were getting a lot "more" than they otherwise deserved to get because they could use union power to cut a favorable deal.

But today, in the wake of Michigan's Right To Work law, the argument is that unions are bad for the people in the unions, and that they shouldn't have to pay $200 in dues (or whatever amount), that the unions don't deliver the goods, etc.

On the one hand, unions empower workers to get too much. On the other hand, being in a union means getting screwed.