Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Election Day, November 5th, Live-Blogging with Doc Smith

On Election Day, Tuesday the 5th of November, I will once more be live-blogging (right after I, myself, vote) the entire day and doing television commentary in the glorious Tri-Cities (Fox Tri-Cities and WCYB, naturally!) -  tune in for the Electoral frivolities all darn day, and particularly in the heat of the night. 

The Good Doctor on his way to the
"inter-netting computing device" for election day. 
And start thinking of discussions, questions, and comments you'd like to share with me and all the folk in Internetland - I'll be taking them here and at AaPS's Facebook and Twitter pages, and by e-mail at eds9g-at-uvawise.edu!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Brinksmanship in America – the 2013 Government Shutdown

I have gotten a lot of requests for something like this.  So, without further ado. . . 

The Author

So, the pundits, of which I suppose I am one, want to know the answer to the $24billion dollar question: who “won” the government shutdown. 


The people (read normal people – read non-politicians/political sciences/bureaucrats/lawyers/journalists/economists) want a boxing match.  They want a narrative.  They want this whole darn mess simplified so that they can exert some ownership and control over it. 

The problem is, of course, that trying to make it simple is talking about something that it was not. 

So, here goes. 

1. Who Where the Players and What Were They Playing At?

Well, let’s see. 

The President / You have President Obama and his staff – they got the Affordable Care Act  (ACA) passed by the last Congress and, frankly, they see it as one of their greatest accomplishments, if not the key accomplishment of their tenure.  So you know – they weren’t particularly likely to just roll over on attempts to get rid of it.

Congressional Tea Party Republicans / These are the new kids on the block (as opposed to the New Kids on the Block).  A recent movement that has, of course, taken the nation by storm – fractured, only moderately well organized, but passionate and a powerful combination of grassroots angry people (a combination of disaffected libertarians, social conservatives, nationalists, neo-isolationists, environmental-skeptics, and so forth – notably dominated by Baby Boomers) funded by powerful political action committees with deep pockets springing from anti-regulation corporate and private interests.  In the past two congresses they have become increasingly a force – especially in the always more volatile House of Representatives. And this is important – the freshman and sophomore congressmen and women of the tea party faction are politically motivated, feel morally justified, are passionate and are, frankly, often a bit politically naïve – the combination is a heady one – a sense that they have more power and influence then they really do – mistaking the ability to disrupt with the ability to reorganize.   Regardless, they had a simple goal – stop the ACA before it came into force.  Why?  Because of this equation:

Add democracy (a political system in which the majority of people, who are always poor or middle-class, have disproportionate influence if so moved) to a promise of a good being distributed universally.  Assume that within short order (two to six years) all of the poor and most of the middle-class will derived an understanding of the good and if not benefit from it at least come to include it as a fundamental part of the home economics.  Now, try to repeal it. 

If you said, um, you couldn’t – well, you’d be right.   The Tea Party folk knew that they had to stop ACA or else assume it is going to be around for a while – at least until you get a majority in both houses and the presidency in the hands of the Republicans.  And frankly, that is likely to be too late – like it or not, the generalities observed in the other nations with universal access make this clear.

Congressional Non-Tea Party Republicans / It isn’t that Republicans who are not in the Tea Party faction like the ACA – most of them don’t – they either think it is in general a bad idea or, at the least, needs serious renovation. But most of the non-Tea Party GOPers know that trying to win this fight under this distribution of power with this strategy is, well, unlikely to work.  Why?  Well, besides the simple fact that the democrats have the Presidency and one house of Congress – which to the strategic mind tells a lot of the tale, most of these folk were politically active during the last Republican attempt at a government shutdown. That didn’t work. And that undermined, rather than bolstered, Republican power.  So why did many of them go along with the Tea Party faction?  Well, because the Tea Party has those deep pockets and grass roots. And because the Tea Party faction is more than willing to go up against its factional competition within the GOP.  Indeed, one wonders how much the non-Tea Party folk are quietly pleased with this – they got to look good to their base, but they also have allowed the Tea Party to weaken their own power relative to the other factions. 

Congressional Democrats / The Congressional Democrats are in a pretty fair place – they support the ACA, by and large, and they probably saw exactly what the non-Tea Party GOP saw coming in terms of public backlash.  All they had to do was hold their ground and they had things pretty well clinched.  The question is, how inept will they be in spinning things properly in the build-up to the 2014 elections. 

2. So what happened?

Here’s the gist.  Congress has been playing kick the can. . . trying to use brinksmanship strategies to deal with, or rather not deal with, or perhaps kinda’ deal with the deficit. 

See, the US owes lots and lots of money.  And it has to pay out more money all the time.  This is a problem not only because we owe so damn much money, but also because are taxes are pretty low AND our income is low because of the Great Recession.  Which was caused, of course, by immoral, unregulated financial markets and the US simultaneously fighting two wars without raising – wait, pause and rewind – while actually lowering taxes.  Wonderful.  The thing is the debt is still growing because we refuse to do “math” and so we have to raise the debt ceiling, which imposed on ourselves ostensibly to force us to do the previously mentioned math, in order to keep borrowing money.  Cause we don’t do the math. 

Starting to be impressed at our own hubris?  Good. 

Well, here is the thing – not making payments on debt hurts your credit rating.  Which is bad.  Because people either (1) won’t loan you any more money or (2) will loan you more money, but will only do so with stupid-high interest (a technical term).  You know – like when you miss your credit card payment.  Except that it is for a balance of $17 billion.

So, the brinksmanship strategy of the 21st century is therefore a manufactured crisis taking advantage of an unhealthy economy, in theory to help the economy. 

Why?  Because the Tea Party folk couldn’t win using any other strategy within this Congress. It is an act of desperation, whether you agreed with it or not.  And it was largely preordained to fail. So, there is that.

3. Who won?

Nobody freaking won.  Are you kidding me? Consider:

Obama’s approval?  Down.

Approval of both parties, both Houses of Congress, and the Tea Party faction? Down.

America’s credit rating? In trouble – why?  Even if we did make the payment this time it is like, well, it is like someone who owes all that credit card debt called the company, talked for forty minutes about how they didn’t think they’d ever be able to make a payment because if they did then they’d have to get insurance which, of course, they had been told they’d have to get a couple years before, but then called back the next day and was like, oh, no problem, all is well, but I don’t want to refinance. 

Humanity? Lost.  Why? When the largest economy on earth becomes unstable, even psychologically it makes ALL OF THE OTHER ECONOMIES UNSTABLE.  ALL OF THEM.  Like Charlie Sheen, we may be winning and drinking tiger blood, but we’re also on house arrest. 

Oh, and then there is the taxpayer.  More nervous, more scared, injured because these reindeer games are playing with our property – and our debt, and, of course, they cost us our money.  How much?

Twenty-four billion dollars, US.  That is how much it cost. 

You know what?  No. No.  I’m going to write out the numbers.  Because that is worth seeing. . . regardé:


I’m not pulling this out of my hindquarters.  Oh no.  This is the number no less than Standard & Poor’s assigned to the Shutdown.  That is a lot of dough.  Kind of.  I mean, the Federal debt of the United States is already nearly  $17 trillion, so it could just whistling in the dark.  But I want to say it could have been better used.  Consider:

We could have provided veterans their medical benefits for five months.

Or have provided the Women, Infants, and Children program all its funding for a year.

Or we could have run the Federal Aviation Administration for a year and a half.

Or run the Environmental Protection Agency for three years.  

Or the National Endowment for the arts for twelve years.

Or the entire National Parks System for twelve years.  

Or the Federal contribution all forms of public broadcasting for almost 50 years. 

These are general estimates.  Don’t get hung up on the details.  You see where I’m going.

So.  That is the government shutdown of 2013 in a nutshell.  Do I understand it?  Yes.  Do I even understand and empathize with all the players?  Yes.  Should it have happened?  Nope.  And the only way to stop it from happening again is to (1) fix the budget (which means increasing taxes and lowering military and social welfare spending), (2) repeal the debt ceiling, and (3) pray the Tea Party Republicans start listening to their peers who were young and naïve themselves once – during the mid-1990s shutdown.