How to not negotiate the debt ceiling

Loved this piece from Matt Miller telling Obama what he should do about the debt ceiling.  Maybe I’m missing something, but it seems to make a lot of sense:

To listen to the GOP, in other words, you’d think they support budgets that don’t add much to the debt at all. This is demonstrably, laughably, even shockingly false. But only a president can emblazon this fact on America’s consciousness and move it to the center of the conversation. Once you do, it will force Republicans to alter their calculations in the current showdown.

The way to do this is to propose (in a bipartisan spirit, if you’re feeling sly) that the debt limit be raised just by the amount it would take to accommodate the debt Republicans voted for in Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget last year — $6 trillion over the next decade

As you cross the White House lawn to the helicopter, take one question on the debt ceiling and say : “Given that Republicans all voted for $6 trillion in new debt in their budget last year, I think most Americans would agree its hypocritical for them not to raise the ceiling now.”

● Go to the press room by surprise one day and make a brief statement: “As we proceed in these talks and the debt ceiling comes into focus, there’s one thing people need to understand: Republicans voted last year to add $6 trillion in new debt over the next decade. I’m prepared to honor their debt target, and if they pass it today, we can all join in reassuring world markets that the debt limit won’t be used for anything that resembles blackmail.” Take no questions.

It’s impossible to overstate the impact a few such presidential utterances would have on media coverage. The major newspapers would all do front-page analyses of the debt in the GOP budget and echo your point that it thus seems the height of hypocrisy to use the debt ceiling as a negotiating ploy.

When Paul Ryan replies that “our $6 trillion in debt is better than the $7 or $8 trillion the president wants,” he’ll have conceded the point. Fox News’s Chris Wallace, Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly will ask GOP leaders “What gives?” Boehner and McConnell will be left saying “. . .but we need leverage.” They’ll be playing on your turf.

I think Miller may possibly overstate the media angle, but a very simple line, repeated ad infinitum– the Republicans already voted to increase the debt by $6 trillion– could presumably go a long way.  That and no bargaining.

Two words

I noticed this morning that NPR has taken to referring to the “so called” fiscal cliff.  Good for them.  They also ran an excellent story yesterday about what a misnomer “fiscal cliff” is.   This isn’t about liberal or conservative, this is just good solid journalism.

The biggest news story of the month?

The Federal Reserve’s announcement today that it will actually target lower unemployment and allow inflation over 2% to achieve that goal is a really big deal.  This is surely far more important to our economic growth than whatever deal Obama reaches with Republicans on the fiscal cliff.  (I’m actually proud of myself that I understood that this was a big deal before Ezra and Yglesias told me so– mostly because they’ve done a great job educating me on the issue). The Fed’s mandate is actually to keep unemployment low as well as worry about inflation.  It’s great to see that they are finally taking that unemployment part seriously.  Neil Irwin at Wonkblog:

This is a big deal. The Federal Open Market Committee has abandoned its practice of talking about its future policy in terms of the calendar, such as pledging low rates until 2014, and instead making clearer 1) That the path of monetary policy will depend on the economy, not some arbitrary date, and 2) What exact economic conditions it would need to see to change course.

Perhaps more notable, the Fed is explicitly stating that it can envision letting inflation float above—but only a bit above—its 2 percent target as a price for getting the job market back on track.

And Yglesias:

This is huge. With today’s policy announcement, the Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee has stopped screwing around and started doing real expectations-based monetary easing…

As I explained yesterday, this kind of strategy should be partially successful in getting corporate cash off the sidelines in a way that “certainty” and “confidence” won’t. The higher inflation target makes cash-like safe liquid investments look slightly less reasonable than they did yesterday, while the faster real growth implied by the unemployment target makes real investments in increased capacity look better.

Short version: if you care about the overall health of the American economy, this is very good news.

I was also curious to see the media coverage– the Post and Times both gave it fairly good mainpage placement and font size, though nothing to really suggest how important this is.  Every other news source?  Well, it cannot compare to a shooting in a mall.

I’m a “modern green”(e)

I’ve long considered myself an environmentalist– first joined WWF and Nature Conservancy back in college.  Commentary on global warming denialism aside, though, it is pretty obvious that environmental issues are not a major focus of mine.  I pay attention to the big stuff, but I was quite intrigued to read about the schism in the environmental movement in this Slate piece from Keith Kloor.  I discovered I’m definitely a “modern green” or “eco-pragmatist” rather than a “traditional conservationist.”  Why? In part because I think we need to embrace nuclear power as cleaner energy and genetically-modified foods to feed more people more efficiently.  The heart of this seems to be a debate over the very meaning of nature:

Leading the charge is a varied group of what I call modernist greens (others refer to them as eco-pragmatists). They are people with deep green bona fides, such as the award-winning U.K. environmental writer Mark Lynas, whose book The God Species champions nuclear power and genetically modified crops as essential for a sustainable planet.

Another is Emma Marris, author of the critically acclaimed Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World. She argues that “we must temper our romantic notion of untrammeled wilderness” and embrace the jumbled bits and pieces of nature that are all around us—in our backyards, in city parks, and farms.

This broader ecological view rankles traditional conservationists, who have long held that the best kind of nature is that which is protected and left to its own devices. At an Aspen Environmental Forum this summer, Marris annoyed eminent conservation biologist E.O. Wilson by talking about expanding our definition of nature, perhaps even to include invasive species. “Where do you plant that white flag you’re carrying,” Wilson asked.

Okay, I love EO Wilson and think I’d go with him here, but I do agree that the traditional conservationist approach is increasingly problematic for our 21st century world.  Here’s the part of the modern green argument that really appeals to me:

Besides, there’s a growing scientific consensus that the contemporary human footprint—our cities, suburban sprawl, dams, agriculture, greenhouse gases, etc.—has so massively transformed the planet as to usher in a new geological epoch. It’s called the Anthropocene.

Modernist greens don’t dispute the ecological tumult associated with the Anthropocene. But this is the world as it is, they say, so we might as well reconcile the needs of people with the needs of nature. To this end, Kareiva advises conservationists to craft “a new vision of a planet in which nature—forests, wetlands, diverse species, and other ancient ecosystems—exists amid a wide variety of modern, human landscapes.”

Kloor also links to a really interesting piece that makes a compelling argument that all too many environmentalists are embracing anti-science positions that makes them just as bad as the global warming denialists (well, not really as bad, since their heart is still very much in the right place, but in the rejection of science for ideological reasons).

Anyway, I was not surpised to learn that Greenpeace adopts a lot of the anti-science line (I’ve never donated to them), but a little distressed to discover that The Sierra Club also seems to let ideology trump science.  I got the sense that the Nature Conservancy probably holds values pretty similar to my own, but it did get me wondering where a committed eco-pragmatist should be donating their environmental contributions (right now I give to WWF, Nature Conservancy, and Audubon, and others on a less regular basis).

How China is destroying the world

The excellent 60 minutes this week also had a great piece on endangered tortoises in Madascar.  I listened to this via podcast, but actually went back to watch on-line, as I was so intrigued by the description of these amazing creatures.   Unfortunately, as with most seriously endangered species where the problem is not just habitat loss, a huge issue was illegal Chinese demand for live tortoises and as well as their shells.  After listening, I got in the car and caught a few minutes of Diane Rehm, also about illegal wildlife trafficking.  Primary culprit?  Chinese demand.  And, I recalled a great piece from the Times a few months back that I had meant to write about here about how Chinese demand for ivory was wiping out huge numbers of African elephants.

1) This sucks.

2) No matter what conservation measures we take, as long as ordinary Chinese citizens believe the most ludicrous things about shark fins, tiger bones, elephant tusks, turtle shells, etc., and the Chinese government takes no meaningful enforcement steps, these animals are almost surely doomed in the wild because there is so much money at stake.

3) Just focusing on conservation without finding some way to do more about Chinese demand strikes me as pretty much as hopeless as our supply-side war on drugs.

I don’t know what it is we need to be doing better, but I find the whole thing both infuriating and depressing.

%d bloggers like this: