Calling Boehner’s Bluff

In his facebook feed, John F. nicely analogized Boehner’s tax increases are off the table for dealing with the budget deficit:

All options for putting out the fire are on the table, except water. I will not yield on this.

Nice.  This morning, Chait did a nice job of gaming out Obama’s optimum strategy for dealing with Boehner’s bluff on the debt ceiling.  The logic seems impeccable to me– I’m going to be really curious to see if Obama follows a strategy along these lines.  Chait:

It seems to me that Obama’s play here is clear: He needs to ask Boehner to spell out his demands. What’s the exact bill that Boehner demands as a condition for not crippling the U.S. economy? If he wants to make demands, he needs to write out those demands.

I don’t think Boehner will do it. Boehner got through the government shutdown by cutting billions, not trillions, which allowed him to focus on small-bore programs and programs that only benefit the poor or vulnerable. But if he wants to cut trillions, then he faces real political peril.

Boehner is trying to get around this problem by doing two things at once. He is placating his base by using a hostage strategy to force Obama to make concessions he doesn’t like. But he also wants Obama to lend him cover to make highly unpopular spending cuts. Obama would be crazy to go along with that. If Boehner wants to take hostages and demand some Medicare cuts, then he needs to say what those cuts are. if he wants to make a deal, then he needs to let the hostage go.

But if he wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage for a budget deal, then Obama should force him to say exactly what he needs in order to raise the debt ceiling. If he refuses to say, Obama needs to tell Wall Street that the negotiations are dead until Boehner puts something specific on the table. If Boehner puts a real plan on the table, Obama can go to the public and say this is what the Republicans are demanding. Allowing Boehner to simultaneously make exorbitant demands, refrain from spelling out those demands, and try to gain bipartisan cover for those demands would be a preposterously weak move by Obama. He can’t possibly be that weak a negotiator. Can he?

Can he?  I damn sure hope not.  Though, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out he is.

Chart of the day

I used to be all about raising the retirement age on social security as it seemed like an obvious and easy solution, especially as our life-spans have increased.  I think I could still get behind maybe a year or two, but that’s it, and definitely just maybe.  First, as pointed out earlier in the Alan Simpson nuttiness, much of the improvement in life expectancy has come from dramatic improvement in childhood diseases– expectancy once you’ve reached 65 has not gone up nearly as dramatically (a mathematical point Simpson seems incapable of understanding).  Anyway, the whole thing prompted Ezra to post this very useful chart on the problems with raising the retirement age:

If you are in the bottom half of earners, life expectancy has hardly budged.  Ezra:

As the graph atop this post shows, the life expectancy increases we’ve seen have not been shared equally; the richer and whiter you are, the more your life expectancy has stretched. So raising the retirement age inflicts a double-blow on lower-income Americans: They already work more physically demanding jobs and die younger than the rich, but now they’re being told to work those jobs longer because people who aren’t them have seen large increases in life expectancy.

Thus, raising the retirement age is actually quite regressive.  Okay, count me against.

Bin Laden and Obama in 2012

Really smart post by Nate Silver about how getting Bin Laden may affect Obama’s re-election chances.  It should be required reading for every political journalist (and Fully Myelinated reader, for that matter).  Here’s the good stuff:

Things won’t look quite this neat in practice, however. Imagine, for example, that within the next couple of weeks, Greece defaults on its debt and this sets off a major, 2,000-point selloff in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This negatively affects Mr. Obama’s numbers. If so, the trajectory of his approval rating might look something like this:

If this scenario transpires, pundits will no doubt conclude that the “Bin Laden bounce” has been short-lived. What they can’t know, however, is what Mr. Obama’s numbers would have looked like had he not caught Bin Laden. Perhaps they’d be even worse still — and look something like the red line in the chart below.

It’s also possible that Mr. Obama will get some good news instead. Perhaps NATO forces will capture Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. Perhaps he will “win” the confrontation with the Republicans over the federal debt ceiling. And then, once we reach the second half of the year, the economic figures come in a little stronger than expected. If so, the trajectory of his approval rating might look like this:

In this scenario, the conventional wisdom would be just the opposite. Killing Bin Laden would be regarded as the turning point of Mr. Obama’s entire presidency, and the bounce would look as though it had never faded — when in reality, killing Bin Laden will have been a relatively minor factor, and Mr. Obama’s approval rating would have been bound to improve with or without it:[emphasis mine]

Short version: whatever happens you can pretty much count on pundits to misinterpret the impact of Bin Laden.

Social Security and innumeracy

All the usual suspects are writing about Alan Simpson’s embarrassing (to him) comments on Social Security and his jaw-gaping ignorance of even the most rudimentary understanding of statistics.  I like Drum’s take the best:

Hilariously, though, Social Security scold Alan Simpson simply has no clue about this. Ryan Grim asked him about it recently:

HuffPost suggested to Simpson during a telephone interview that his claim about life expectancy was misleading because his data include people who died in childhood of diseases that are now largely preventable….According to the Social Security Administration’s actuaries, women who lived to 65 in 1940 had a life expectancy of 79.7 years and men were expected to live 77.7 years.

If that is the case — and I don’t think it is — then that means they put in peanuts,” said Simpson. Simpson speculated that the data presented to him by HuffPost had been furnished by “the Catfood Commission people” — a reference to progressive critics of the deficit commission who gave the president’s panel that label.

Told that the data came directly from the Social Security Administration, Simpson continued to insist it was inaccurate, while misstating the nature of a statistical average: “If you’re telling me that a guy who got to be 65 in 1940 — that all of them lived to be 77 — that is just not correct. Just because a guy gets to be 65, he’s gonna live to be 77? Hell, that’s my genre. That’s not true,” said Simpson, who will turn 80 in September.

Simpson is a guy who’s taken very seriously on Social Security issues inside the Beltway. He’s studied it for years. And yet, as he makes clear later in the interview, he simply had no idea any of this was true. No idea. And he doesn’t believe it, even though this stuff is Social Security 101.

This is the kind of thing that explains why so many people think Social Security is some kind of fiscal time bomb. They just flatly don’t understand the arithmetic. The plain fact is that Social Security is only modestly underfunded and can be fixed with a basket of quite moderate changes over the next 30 years or so. Anyone who understands the numbers knows this. People like Alan Simpson don’t. But guess who gets the most press coverage?

Exactly the problem.  The media establishment actually looks to Simpson as a guy who understands social security.  This is not an ideological bias of the mainstream press, but simply a bias towards anybody who argues that we need to dramatically cut social security as a prerequisite for being a “serious” politician.  Yet, one of these “serious” thinkers does not even understand the basic math underlying the situation.  Depressing.

Who needs traffic engineers when you’ve got Republican legislators?

I woke up to read this in my morning paper:

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a proposal to rip out part of an Asheville road, and to re-engineer a growing list of highway projects that some legislators don’t like.

The projects – four, at last count – all feature new center medians that are designed to limit left turns.

Retailers along these roads want to keep it easy for their customers to come and go. They worry that new restrictions on left turns will be bad for business…

“They would have to drive down Winstead to one of the busiest intersections in our city, Sunset Avenue, and then make a U-turn,” said Lisa Tharrington of Rocky Mount, who has operated Superior Dry Cleaners on Winstead Avenue since 1986.

Hey, why worry about what the traffic engineers who designed these medians think.  The dry cleaners are upset!

DOT engineers say these medians reduce rear-end collisions and other crashes related to left turns on busy roads. And with fewer cars stopping to turn, they say, traffic flows more smoothly.

“It’s all about safety,” said Terry Gibson, the state highway administrator. “We’re looking at areas where we can correct accidents that are occurring today.”

Oh, and about all that “economic damage” from U-turns, why worry about academic studies that have already addressed the issue?

Some studies suggest that these medians do not cause the serious economic problems feared by merchants. The latest one was written by a research team at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill.

Their report confirmed that traffic flow is improved and accidents are reduced. And in surveys of business people and customers, the researchers found little or no overall economic harm after the no-turn medians were installed.

“It was not what I expected,” said Christopher M. Cunningham of NCSU, the lead author. “There were not significant changes between business before and business after.”

Oh, and why we’ve got a state budget shortfall to worry about, what an extra $800,000 to make a dry cleaner happy:

DOT said it would cost an estimated $797,500 to replace the median with a center turn lane on the Asheville project.

So, on what level does this make any sense?  Then again, I guess you could say that for most of what our Republican legislature is up to.

Pew typology

Pew has come out with their latest political typology.  I gotta say, it’s a lot of fun to play around with.  You will be shocked, shocked to learn I was categorized as “solid liberal.”  Here’s the visual for (not my answers), but where “solid liberals” come out compared to the general public:

Couple thoughts about why it’s good to be a liberal…  how could you not believe that government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public good?!  Of course we can disagree on levels of regulation, but as for the basic need for regulation, the evidence is overwhelming and incontrovertible.  Yet, apparently only 47% agree with the statement.  I also think that when you consider all the ridiculous ideas people have about government, it clearly does a much better job than people give it credit for.  Then again, there’s an entire political party dedicated to arguing otherwise.

Chait uses the typology to do a nice analysis on the importance of social issues and partisanship.  (Probably what I should’ve done, as I’m the actual political scientist).

Immigration, citizenship, and public opinion

Interesting post by Yglesias on where the public really stands on the issue of illegal immigration.  First, the data:

And the commentary:

Undocumented workers are easy for opportunistic politicians to attack and demonize since they’re violating the law, and people don’t like that. But by the same token, politicians who want to resolve US-Mexico migration in a humane way continue to have ample space to craft a solution oriented around the idea that people that people who want to work in the United States should be permitted to do so legally.

Now here’s the thing, though, what this poll fails to capture is both the intensity of opinion and the actual political dynamics.  First, I’d bet a good sum of money that those opposed to any path to legal citizenship feel much more strongly about the issue than those in support.  As I like to say and my PS 201 students quote back to me on their final (which they took yesterday)– an intense minority beats an apathetic majority every time.  Additionally, in the real world, we don’t actually have calm discussions about “background checks, pay fines, and have jobs.”  Instead we have demagogues talking about aliens who are here illegally coming to take your job and change the culture of our country.  Lots of things get more public support when explained in a nice, calm, reasonable manner.  Problem is, in a real-world policy debate, the discussion in the Pew question is shouted out by fear of “illegals!”.  Lots of policy in this country– including immigration– would be more efficient and more sensible if it was based on response to reasoned thought about issues as the way they are phrased in Pew questions.  Alas, that’ s quite far from reality.

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