Debt ceiling win

So, it’s not over in the specifics, but Obama’s fingers in his ears, refuse to negotiate, strategy on the debt ceiling seems to have worked just as planned. Who better than Chait to break it down:

It’s over. House Republicans, following a literal and metaphorical retreat, haveannounced they plan to lift the debt ceiling without extracting policy concessions. Whatever mini-dramas may follow, the GOP leadership has both recognized the need to abandon their strategy of using the debt ceiling as a hostage and also to recognize this publicly.

The GOP announcement came wrapped in a face-saving demand that “if the Senate or House fails to pass a budget in that time, Members of Congress will not be paid by the American people for failing to do their job.” The point here is to let right-wingers believe, or at least claim, that they succeeded in extracting some concession in return for not playing Russian roulette with the world economy.

But it’s a superficial gesture…

The main credit here goes to the Obama administration for recognizing that enmeshing the debt ceiling with policy negotiations was a horrible idea that it had to stop dead in its tracks. To let debt ceiling hikes become contingent on fiscal policy agreements was to set up endless future crises that would eventually trigger default when one party or another held out for a little too much.

The whole key to making Obama’s extortion-squelching plan, and saving American government from endless cycles of hostage drama that would eventually end in a default, was to credibly insist that he would not trade anything for a debt ceiling hike. After he moved his red line on tax cuts, Idoubted that Obama could really make this stick. But he has…

Letting Republicans weaponize the debt ceiling in the first place in 2011 was one of the crucial errors of Obama’s presidency. He appears to have corrected it.

Short version.  You go Barack!  And, you go American democracy!  The idea that a political party would intentionally inflict a huge injury on the American economy to try and win a budget negotiation has hopefully been put to rest for a while.

The unstable status quo

Great column from Ezra Klein.  The nub of it is this:

For all the bitterness in Washington these days, it’s easy to miss the broad consensus that undergirds our contentious politics. Republicans swear to protect Medicare and Social Security, and most recognize they can no longer hope to repeal Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Democrats voted to make the George W. Bush tax rates permanent for almost all Americans.

This is not a stable peace. The Democrats have mostly won the debate over what the government should do, while the Republicans have mostly won the debate over how much the government should tax. Sadly, the two sides of that equation don’t come anywhere near to adding up. The war currently raging from cliff to cliff is about bringing taxation and commitments closer to alignment.

Ezra continues to review some worthwhile recent writings about how this sorry state of affairs has led to decidedly inefficient and sub-optimal policy solutions.  Short version: we’re not in a good place for making good policy.

Photo of the day

Recent Photo of the Day from National Geographic:

Picture of a lion sleeping in the grass in South Africa

Sleeping Lion, South Africa

Photograph by Ande Truman, Your Shot

This male lion rests in the soft grass on a gloomy day in South Africa.

Fecal transplant. Yes, fecal transplant.

As you likely know, I’m a huge fan of good bacteria (and take it every day, in fact).   One of my favorite books of recent years, Good Germs, Bad Germs, is very much about how the human body is much more ecosystem, than single organism.  And, those good bacteria in your personal ecosystem play a massively important role.  So, what to do if your ecosystem is out of whack and you’ve been colonized by a very harmful and resistant intestinal bacterial like C. Diff (which, recently, almost took the life of the wife of a very good friend)?  Well, just some yogurt or L. Reuteri capsules probably aren’t enough.  You really need a massive infusion of bacteria from a healthy ecosystem.  And how do you do that?  Yep, fecal transplant.  Just what it sounds like.  Thing is, it is amazingly effective for C. Diff infections.  Research on other problems is less clear at this point, but, treatment with healthy bacteria is clearly going to become more important in future intestinal medicine.  Here’s the deal:

Transplanting feces from a healthy person into the gut of one who is sick can quickly cure severe intestinal infections caused by a dangerous type of bacteria that antibiotics often cannot control.

A new study finds that such transplants cured 15 of 16 people who had recurring infections with Clostridium difficile bacteria, whereas antibiotics cured only 3 of 13 and 4 of 13 patients in two comparison groups. The treatment appears to work by restoring the gut’s normal balance of bacteria, which fight off C. difficile…

Researchers say that, worldwide, about 500 people with the infection have had fecal transplantation. It involves diluting stool with a liquid, like salt water, and then pumping it into the intestinal tract via an enema, a colonoscope or a tube run through the nose into the stomach or small intestine.

Stool can contain hundreds or even thousands of types of bacteria, and researchers do not yet know which ones have the curative powers. So for now, feces must be used pretty much intact.

Yuck, indeed.  But amazing medicine.  Here’s hoping that researchers can figure out and isolate the key bacteria so that treatments that take advantage of healthy bacteria  can become truly widespread.  Something tells me fecal transplant is never going to take the medical world by storm.

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