Having it Both Ways on the Tax Deal

There are two conflicting stories that the progressive left is telling on the tax deal that Obama and Republicans made:

1)  The Republicans were holding us hostage.

2)  We could have gotten a better deal.

One of these must be false.  If tax cuts for high-income Americans are unpopular, and Democrats could indeed have gotten more out of the GOP by forcing them to stand in the light next to the upper-class tax cuts, then Republicans were never really holding anyone hostage.

If, on the other hand, the Republican position was politically advantageous, and Democrats were faced with a disaster if they opposed, then yes, they were being coerced– vote for this thing you don’t like, otherwise you’re going to lose in 2012.

So which is true?

If anything, the truth is that Democrats could have gotten a better deal.  Republicans, most notoriously John Boehner, were not at all willing to fight over the upper-income tax cuts.  They said as much themselves.  If Obama had really wanted to, he could have gotten tax cuts on the lower and middle class without having to give them to the upper class.  Republicans were not ready to kill policies that both Republicans and Democrats support just for the hope of obtaining concessions– if you’d come to them with a yes-or-no vote on extending tax cuts on the lower tax brackets, you’d have seen a lot of yes votes.

But to think of things in terms of whether or not Democrats could have wheedled more concessions from Republicans on taxes is a little simplistic.  Political compromise is not a zero-sum game, and there was a lot more in this deal than just the Bush tax cuts.  Though in the electoral sense Republicans and Democrats do face a zero-sum game (for every seat you control, that is one less seat that I control), it is possible for both Democrats and Republicans to come out ahead, policy wise, by finding a middle ground.  Had Democrats insisted on getting two policy points for every one that Republicans got, a lot less would have been agreed on and both sides would have fewer points total.

Some on the far left and far right have some very skewed policy preferences, and will see the pros of the deal outweighed by the concessions that were made.  But to the political center, this looks like win-win.

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We Got ‘im

Breaking News:  Julian Assange has been arrested.

Here’s hoping he fights the extradition to Sweden tooth and nail– that would give Eric Holder more time to assemble U.S. charges against him.

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A Win for Moderates

Steve Kornacki at Salon beats me to the punch:  Obama made the right decision in compromising with the GOP, and for their part, the GOP hammered out a smart compromise.  The Republicans agree to three intelligent things: ratifying START, getting a DADT repeal through Congress, and unemployment benefits to help stimulate the economy, and Obama agrees to something also pretty smart: keeping the upper bracket tax rate low while the economy recovers.  Both sides get stimulative tax cuts for those making under $250,000 per year and a payroll tax holiday.

Just as it warmed my heart to see financial reform pass Congress and ObamaCare make it through, the temporary extension of the Bush tax cuts is further evidence in my book that when push comes to shove, our leaders in Washington are good at finding the middle road where both sides agree to drop their stupid policies to get the smart ones through.  The only really ugly part of the deal is where both sides agreed to split the difference on the estate tax– I’d prefer to see something much higher get levied against inheritances than what ultimately made the cut.

Kornacki tries to make the case that the compromise will be good, politically, for Obama.  I have no idea if that’s true– certainly David Paul Kuhn makes a pretty solid case for the opposite, and the mind of the progressive left voter is a mystery to me.  In any case, the deal is a good precedent– perhaps next we can swap votes on ag subsidies, the Dream Act, or earmarks.

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Megan McArdle on WikiLeaks

That libertarian amazon over at The Atlantic has stolen my heart for the umpteenth time.  Though a strong advocate of transparency, McArdle recognizes the lunacy of Julian Assange’s ideology for what it is and takes the words right out of my mouth.

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Normal kids want ponies: Julian Assange wants an international license to rape women

The Globe and Mail posts an interesting twist on Julian Assange’s egomania.

Apparently, Mr. Assange is threatening to release his full collection of unredacted files if the Swedish government brings him in for the two counts of rape he faces in that country.

I have to wonder… why did Mr. Assange decide to stop there?  I mean, once you get in the business of extorting personal favors from governments, you might as well go whole hog.  Personally I’d ask for money, but since Mr. Assange seems to eschew such material things, his first demand will probably be for more Swedish women to rape.  But then again, why even ask?  Just go over there and take it.  If Sweden’s willing to give you immunity on past rapes, why wouldn’t they cave on future ones as well?

Clearly, the two Swedish women whose consent Mr. Assange didn’t much care for were asking for it.  After all, if they didn’t want to be raped, they’d have their own cache of informants and human rights activists to hold hostage and counter-lobby with.

Remember: if you defend yourself from rape prosecution by holding a gun to the head of a scared dissident, you’re not a contemptuous scumbag… you’re a hero of radical transparency!

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Nuclear Intuition

The good folks at Information is Beautiful have an interesting post on nuclear weapons.

I’ll give you a few moments to hop over and catch the author’s error.

Did you find it?

That’s right: the area of a circle is not equal to its radius.

IiB went on Wikipedia and found the distance at which a Mark-53 nuclear bomb can send out an overpressure wave of 5 psi (roughly what it takes to knock down most buildings) and then took this distance, which Wikipedia calculates to be 14.9km (Personally I calculate a slightly different number), and treated it as if it were the area of destruction.

As most of you can figure out for yourselves, the area of a circle with a radius of 14.9 km isn’t 14.9 km^2– it’s just a shade under 700 km^2.

In fact, the area of destruction is likely to be much higher than this.  Nuclear weapons have two prominent effects: prompt radiation and pressure.  The pressure falls off with r-cubed, since it acts upon a volume.  The prompt radiation (angry photons falling on your city and heating it up) falls off only with r-squared, since it is acting upon a surface.  For large weapons, such as the B53, the radius of destruction due to the light of the bomb is greater than the radius due to pressure.  At 10 calories per square centimeter, most burnable materials will ignite.  Thus, the actual area of destruction, by my calculation, is at least 3,000 square kilometers– a factor of 200 different from the IiB’s figure.

With these numbers, the IiB’s point still stands– we cannot kill off the human race with our current stockpile of nuclear weapons.  But his bolder contention, that nuclear weapons are incapable of taking out even a small fraction of our ecumene is wrong.  If you detonated a B53 over London, there would be nothing left– the city would be engulfed in an all-consuming firestorm.

If the U.S. and Russia went to the mattresses, even though most of our nuclear weapons are not B-53 sized, we would annihilate each other.  A Russian arsenal of 5000 nukes would not just take out a small chunk of our 300m citizens, it would be enough to drop one nuke on every single U.S. city with more than 4,300 citizens, from New York, New York to Sparta, Illinois, and kill the vast majority of the 175m citizens living there.

It’s important to fight misconceptions over nuclear weapons– humanity would survive a nuclear war.  But let’s not kid ourselves– it would be a lot uglier than what IiB suggests.

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No Go, Kyoto

Walter Russell Mead harangues liberals on the abject failure of the environmental left.  Long story short: any foreign policy wonk worth a damn could have done the math and told them the framework they were using was a loser.

Wesley Pruden has a similar piece in WashPo today– it’s basically Mead’s piece, but all the analysis has been stripped out and replaced by gloating.

If you’re not in the mood for having your sympathies for the global warming fight be cruelly beaten by “I told you so” wielding conservatives, The Guardian has some talking points for you.

In any case, Cancun is DOA.

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Progressive Derangement Syndrome

Scratch what I said earlier about challenging Obama in the primaries being a silly idea.  It’s a CRAZY idea.

I wonder where the Washington Post finds people like Michael Lerner.

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Hillary 2012? GTFO.

The Philadelphia Inquirer has a particularly melodramatic article today on the need for Hillary Clinton to run for president in 2012.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen such baloney.  WashPo ran a more serious op-ed on the topic a couple weeks ago.  And I’ll admit, I’ve seen some analysis from Sean Trende over at Real Clear Politics that gives me some doubt as to whether Obama will win in 2012.  But I think any talk of Obama getting challenged or voluntarily stepping down ignores two patently obvious facts:

1)  Announcing that he will step down will not improve the chances of passing a Democratic agenda.  Who really believes that Republicans will suddenly give up their own political positions when they find out there is zero chance that they’ll have the same person opposite them at the negotiating table in two years?  In game theory, one-off games get a lot less cooperation than repeated games.

2)  Obama has pretty strong chances for re-election.  InTrade puts him between 50 and 60%.  That’s roughly par for the course (In the past 50 years we’ve seen 4 presidents, Johnson, Ford, Carter, and Bush I, fail to get elected to second terms, while 4, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush, did).

In short, Obama’s chances look fine, and quitting isn’t going to earn him anything in the way of political capital.  To bend a phrase, those who are trying to oust him from being a candidate in 2012 are bitter, clinging to their Hillary Clintons and I Told You So’s.

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Label or literature?

Was six dollars really worth six pre-made pancakes? Probably not. I don’t believe you can put a value on nutrition, but in this case, I was simply being a dumb consumer. I have started to truly care that one third of Americans will develop diabetes AND our generation is the first to have a shorter life expectancy than the one before us.

Maybe you don’t think these things are important. If that’s the case, I implore you to watch Food Inc. I have started to shop for organic foods, the officially healthy foods. But I scuba in murky water. I have the tools, my air, regulator, and bc- the food labels- but they can be really confusing. I guarantee that organic Twizzlers are not healthier than the original in any real way.
Have you ever read the ingredients off of a package of oreos? I have not, because the thought of what’s in them is too scary, even though I wouldn’t recognize a tenth of the chemistry jargon. Yet when I’m in the supermarket, my eyes scan for the words organic and free-range. It seems pretty straight forward. No pesticides or no harsh conditions, albeit a higher price. But as always, the market supply has met demand with a myriad of new, deceptive terminology, ready to please the consumer’s newly-surfaced guilt factor.

The cows that produced this milk roamed in actual pastures, no growth hormones. Rosie, this chicken was fed an organic diet. Picked fresh from the nutritious soils of the South yadayada. Well, awesome, we might think. It’s really nice to know where your stuff is coming from, and how it was made, but not how it felt, not what its name was. Food labels could replace television. While its important to appreciate where your meal came from where your protein came from, what can you actually quantize about a cow that was ‘kept from experiencing unnecessary fear?’
From the other direction, why aren’t pesticides on the food label? Is that not what ends up in our milk? Is that not in what we drink? Why doesn’t ‘risk of salmonella’ come after straight after high-fructose corn syrup on cookie dough. Diabetes should appear on the McDonald ingredient sheet. What actually IS hamburger filler, and why do we settle for factory-made food components?

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