Monday, January 14, 2013

Headline of the day:

At Politico: GOP looks for ways to stop the rape comments

Yes, that might help with the party's image.


Monday, January 07, 2013

Bob Sehieffer doesn't understand what's going on in Washington D.C.:

Which is why he hosts Face the Nation.

On Sunday, January 6, there was this exchange: (emp add)
SCHIEFFER: Well, let me tell you, here are the big dates that are coming. End of February, congress has to raise the debt ceiling to keep the country from going into default, as you say. On March 1, those draconian cuts in social programs and defense program goes into effect, unless you do something to put it off. 
PELOSI: Unless we do something, yeah. 
SCHIEFFER: And then on March 27, the government basically runs out of money. Why can't the congress solve these problems before we get up to those deadlines? Why do we go through this kind of exercise that embarrasses everyone? 
PELOSI: Well, you ask the Republicans because we always passed the debt ceiling when President Bush was president... 
SCHIEFFER: What has happened to Washington? 
PELOSI: I don't know. 
SCHIEFFER: It simply did not used to be this way. 
PELOSI: Absolutely not, no. 
SCHIEFFER: What do you think is wrong here? What happened? And what needs to happen?
Somewhat later there was Bob's opinion segment where he lamented the friendly relations between Ronald Reagan and Tip O'Neill, among others.

It's as if Schieffer is unaware of Mann and Ornstein's book ("It's Even Worse Than It Looks") detailing the radical rejectionism of Republicans in the last half-decade (at least). 

Howard Kurtz is aware of the book, but he played the innocent in an interview this same weekend. It was one of the very few times the duo have been invited to news programs since their book came out half a year ago.


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

The proposed estate tax:

During the Bush years the estate tax was 45+% with an exclusion of around $2 million. Now Obama claims a win with a 40% rate and exclusion of $5 million. How? By saying that the rate goes up from 35%.

But the 35% was Obama's policy when he agreed to a two-year extension of the Bush cuts in late 2010. So we are actually seeing the estate tax raised from Obama's low number. The "Bush rate" was always 45% or greater (excepting 2010 when there was no estate tax).

Talk about negotiating with yourself.

UPDATE: Here is how the White House is putting it:

• Raises tax rates on the wealthiest estates: The agreement raises the tax rate on the wealthiest estates – worth upwards of $5 million per person – from 35 percent to 40 percent, in contrast to Republican proposals to continue the current estate tax levels.



Taking today's story and replacing some elements, you might have a story from the future.

Vice President Biden's principal argument to Democrats on Monday night appeared to be that this deal was the best that could be negotiated on a bipartisan basis and that while it might not be popular, it was better than hitting the debt ceiling.

Coming out of the meeting with the vice president late Monday night, many Senate Democrats conceded they were displeased with aspects of the deal but agreed with the vice president's larger point.

"The disagreement on this provision and that provision and other provisions are large and wide, but the number of people who believe that we should hit the debt 
ceiling rather than vote for this is very small," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). "It's not that this proposal is regarded as great or is loved in any way, but it's regarded as better than hitting the debt ceiling."

Contrast with this:
To sell Senate Democrats on a controversial plan the White House negotiated with Senate Republicans to avoid the fiscal cliff, Vice President Joe Biden had to repeatedly reassure frustrated members of his own party Monday night that President Obama and Democratic leaders will not negotiate with the GOP to raise the debt ceiling in February or March.

“We also talked about something I feel strongly about is that we should tell the Republicans on debt ceiling we are not negotiating any political agenda in return for raising the debt ceiling,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told reporters in the Capitol after a long Democratic caucus meeting during which Biden pitched his deal. “That if they start doing that, we’re saying, ‘We’re not discussing it. … If you want to let the debt ceiling lapse, and we don’t pay our bills, that’s on your shoulders. We’re not negotiating cuts, revenues or anything else for the debt ceiling. That should just be done automatically. Don’t come and tie the two together because we’re not going to talk to you about that.’”
Which will it be?


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.