Archive for the ‘With Democrats Like These Who Needs Republicans?’ Category

Game theory problem for Democrat in unsafe districts, who are already refusing to pass Obama’s extremely modest jobs bill. Let’s assume the following game grid.

 BILL PASSES  +5%  -1%
 BILL FAILS  -5%  -5%

So I’ve based these guesstimate numbers on evidence gleaned from Nate Silver about how the health care reform and bailout bills hurt Democrats. I also assume that Democrats benefited from an overall improvement in the economy thanks to the stimulus. Without the bailout package, the economy would have probably tanked further, thus totally dooming Democrats’ 2010 election hopes. (That’s why “Bill Fails” leads to a continued decline in vote share.) Silver writes:

There are inherent limitations to this sort of analysis. It does seem fairly clear, however, that individual Democrats who voted against the health care bill — and the bailout extension – overperformed those who did in otherwise similar districts who voted for them, and it seems probable that these votes also damaged the electoral standing of Democrats over all.

If this is the case (and there are plenty of reasons why it might not be), then this game would suggest that the ideal situation for Democrats would be voting against the bill, but somehow getting the bill passed anyways. Yet, this is almost certainly impossible. If even Democrats don’t support the bill, it immediately falls into the Bill Fails category, thus hurting all Democrats.

Basically, the collective-action problem here causes Democrats to vote “no,” hoping that the bill will still pass. This leads the bill to probably not pass (or get watered down substantially), which leads to a worse economy and all Democrats getting boned. Thus, the least bad scenario would be to vote yes and accept the 1% decline in exchange for the expected effects of the added stimulus to the economy. But no one can do it because everyone fears wipeout in November.

And yet, they fail to realize that if Obama does not perform well in November, NONE OF THEM WILL EITHER.

And thus, the story of how Democrats shot themselves in the foot/arm/face. Again. As always.

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The New York Times Magazine printed a chat dialogue this past weekend between Michael Ignatieff, David Rieff, James Traub, Paul Berman, and Ian Buruma, about the aftermath of 9/11 and its effect on foreign policy.

The chat, between liberal writers (mostly reporters), gives a fair view of the chats inside the salons of liberal intelligentsia. As such, it also epitomizes everything that is wrong with the liberal response to 9/11.

From the outset, the discussion is entirely between well-to-do, white, male, Western writers, none of whom speak Arabic or have spent an extended time in the Middle East or Central Asia (despite all being “experts”). This is not merely a cosmetic criticism — any discussion about post-9/11 foreign policy is almost meaningless without someone from the Arab/Muslim (not interchangeable, I know) world, which is actually targeted by our wars. Here are a bunch of armchair intellectuals trying to fumble with what the “Arab Spring” “means” — without talking to any Arabs! Many more Iraqis and Afghans have died than coalition forces, and yet, here we are debating if we maybe should have done things differently.

Beyond that initial complaint, the discussion largely centers on the competence and scope of our interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, the only participant in the discussion who seems to think that American intervention for “liberal” causes was largely a bad idea is Buruma. This excerpt is typical:

MALCOMSON: In terms of what should be done now, two questions: Do you (each) believe that the Western or American public, having financed and fought most of this since 9/11, is eager to engage in further advancement of liberal arguments? If not, does that matter? And relatedly, President Obama has to figure out what to do himself, pretty practically. (He makes little public reference to 9/11, interestingly.) Where do you see whatever lessons we might have learned in the past decade taking policies in the near future?

TRAUB: On the first question, this is what troubles me about David’s response. There is a big difference between humility and despair. I think we have learned a lot about limits. But I don’t think the lesson is: We can do nothing to shape better outcomes in the world; we only make things worse. I would say that the American people, far from being interventionist, as they were in the aftermath of 9/11, are now heavily isolationist. How does one find the language that justifies a significant and positive American role in the world? Obama is searching — not so successfully, right now.

BURUMA: One way is to be concrete. I really don’t know what “advancing the liberal argument” means, except that it is supposed to make us feel warm all over. Are we talking about U.S. government policies? Fine. Military intervention, to topple regimes, the Napoleonic enterprise of revolutionary war, is almost always a mistake. Humanitarian intervention is the way this is phrased these days, but in fact this is often not so different from the Napoleonic way. There are things a powerful government can do to help democrats and liberals in other countries short of military force. Sometimes it is better to do nothing much at all. I believe that Obama’s relative passivity vis a vis the Green Revolution in Iran, for example, actually helped. It gave room for people in the Middle East to find their own way, without fear of being seen as America’s boys.

BERMAN: I think that “advancing the liberal argument” has a simple meaning. We should try to demonstrate the falsity of horrendous ideas — e.g., the false nature of Islamism. Islamism is not “the solution,” as it claims to be. It is a compilation of modern and ancient ideas, admixed with a great many horrendous European ideas. We should try to expose the nature of these doctrines. Very important, for instance, is to put up an argument against anti-Semitism, a key element in totalitarian doctrines, sooner or later. Women’s rights: another big theme.

Do these arguments mean nothing? We know very well that, in Iran, the universities are a center of resistance. Do people in other parts of the world listen to our own arguments? They do. They argue back. Exchanges go on. This — THIS — is the actual solution: the advancing of lucidity. I wish Obama did a bit more of it, given that, unlike Bush, he has the talent to do so. But it is not ultimately for politicians to do. This is something that intellectuals, writers, artists, journalists can do — something that quite a few NGO’s have been doing, with success too, as we have lately learned.

BURUMA: If only everybody in the world would read The New Republic, the world would solve all its problems.

Buruma’s snark at the end, although not entirely professional, was a necessary counterbalance to all the chest-thumping. In Berman’s world (and even Traub’s), the question about 9/11 has been all about us. It’s “what about America?” and “what should America do?” rather than considering what we have done and who it has affected. (Luckily Malcolmson addresses this point, if only briefly.) If only we intervened in the “right” way with the “right” types of force, we could succeed in winning hearts and minds. But this ignores entirely the question of our right to be in a war in the first place.

The discussants here fail to see 9/11 and our subsequent foreign policy in terms appropriate in scale for the event. Malcolmson goes so far as to compare the post-9/11 era to the Civil War — about as far from a comparable situation as one can get. 9/11 does not represent the potential end of the republic the way the Civil War did. The “existential threat” that 9/11 represented was never existential at all. 9/11 was al Qaeda’s best shot, and it was an attack on a symbol, not a military target — never a good strategic turn. (Attacking symbols rather than military targets was why the London Blitz failed… also, radar.) All the bloviating about “the threat to our way of life” as an excuse to go somewhere else and blow people up, and for what? Military responses to terrorism have almost always failed historically (see, for example, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand), and yet that’s exactly what we rushed to do.

I’ll end on a pacifist note. Every discussant here believes that military intervention is appropriate in a variety of circumstances, with differing beliefs on what those circumstances are. The pacifist voice has been consistently marginalized in “serious” foreign policy debates, and anyone who says anything resembling pacifism is treated as participating in an intellectual exercise rather than the real world. When discussing post-9/11 foreign policy, the debate is always about “how much” military force to use, rather than “whether” to use force at all. “Give peace a chance” may be derided as unrealistic and naive, but I’d note that nobody has actually tried it.

(Side note: Try as I might, I could not find any similar roundtable discussion by Arab-American or Muslim about the American response to 9/11. How strange.)

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You could reasonably make the argument that the new smog regulations that the Obama administration backtracked on might be costly for heavy polluters such as public utilities and manufacturers. Furthermore, you could argue that public utilities are already the target of extensive regulation, and that they are taxed highly, usually with separate state public utility taxes on top of federal.

But the Obama administration’s argument that the smog regulations would “hurt job creation” is just ludicrous. I mean, it doesn’t even begin to make sense.

First, it presumes that the reason companies aren’t hiring is because they don’t have enough money. This is patently false; companies have giant piles of cash and don’t know what to do with them.

Second, it presumes that the regulations themselves somehow constrict the companies’ ability to hire new workers. Yet, generally, payroll considerations have little or nothing to do with regulatory regimes, and any correlation is probably slim at best.

Third, and most importantly, it ignores any demand-side problems. The reason companies aren’t hiring is because they don’t have customers to buy what they want to sell. There’s an enormous gap in demand that is not being filled, particularly as government spending plateaus off or falls. Austerity basically sucks for everyone.

If the Obama administration doesn’t want to issue these anti-smog regulations for tactical reasons or for scientific reasons, that’s their choice. The Obama administration’s idiotic argument that this will “save/create jobs” only makes him look worse to liberals and will buy him exactly no good will from independents/conservatives.

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I read Calculated Risk (and you should too!) for its aggregation of various economic indicators and trends.

But every once in a while, Bill McBride will write some editorial comments and, well, this one’s short and depressing.

Basically, McBride lays out the terrible options the Obama administration is considering, namely literally nothing (passing things through Congress) or targeted tax incentives for hiring workers:

Tax incentives are the “bigger idea”? It sounds like the debate is between doing nothing and doing very little.

If I arrived on the scene today – with a 9.1% unemployment rate and about 4.6 million homes with seriously delinquent mortgages or REO – I’d be arguing for an aggressive policy response.

Indeed, it’s weird to think about this without the history of the stimulus, but if Obama stepped into office today, instead of in 2008, he would be calling for stimulus. So much for that ship.

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Look, I don’t care what words Mark Halperin says on TV. Whatever.

I even kind of agree with Halperin’s sentiment. President Obama, in calling out Republicans yesterday, behaved a bit like a dick — intractable, abrasive and unfriendly. But he should! Sometimes, the President has to act like a dick in order to assert his/her authority. If being a dick means accusing your opponents of insincerity and cravenness, then Presidents have a responsibility to do so when it comes to preserving the nation. Being friendly has gotten him a whole lot of nothing.

Truman was a dick to the steel industry, Joe Stalin, and Southern Democrats. Johnson was a dick to just about everybody, from hippies to Yankee Republicans to Southern Democrats to big city bosses. Being President sometimes means being a dick and getting what you want.

An appropriate (and thoroughly NSFW) video below:

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President Obama has released his long-form birth certificate.

Number of birthers this will appease: 0

News cycles that this will consume: A TON

Problems fixed by this: 0

Unfortunate precedents this sets: 1

President Obama, I hate to say it, but you’re doing it wrong. Appeasing the irrational person doesn’t make him or her more rational.

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UPDATE: Obama administration denies it all. But I would point out that this is exactly what happened with the public option. The Obama administration publicly stated that it would support a public option, then backed down, then got called on it, then vehemently denied backing down, then backed down in the end.

I would be surprised if a similar future did not await the tax cut sunset.


Just, wow. Just, no. Just, I don’t even, I don’t, I can’t, I… damn:

President Barack Obama’s top adviser suggested to The Huffington Post late Wednesday that the administration is ready to accept an across-the-board continuation of steep Bush-era tax cuts, including those for the wealthiest taxpayers.

That appears to be the only way, said David Axelrod, that middle-class taxpayers can keep their tax cuts, given the legislative and political realities facing Obama in the aftermath of last week’s electoral defeat.

And I just threw up in my own mouth.

There’s just nothing Democrats like more than coughing up the ball. You had a great issue! You could have had a great showdown in the Senate. “We’re trying to keep a middle class tax cut, while keeping taxes high on the super-rich! Republicans aren’t! See, they haven’t changed!” The debate itself would make the deficit hawks appear ridiculous, and open up the discussion of why the rich aren’t paying their share. Not to mention, the tax cuts will expire on their own anyways! They only get extended if the bill gets through both houses of Congress.

There’s an argument to be made that going against tax cuts is always stupid (an argument that is wrong, of course). But the tactical point is, the Obama administration just made clear that it gave up the tax cut fight for nothing. Do you think the Republicans will give one inch, back down one iota, hold back from gutting health care reform and financial reform one second? If you do, then the Stockholm Syndrome of the beltway is truly unstoppable. “Compromise” only works when the other side gives something back in return.

Nothing like this kind of news to wake you up in the morning. Bluuuuuuuuurgh.

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