Kevin Drum - November 2010

The Rescue of Ireland

| Thu Nov. 18, 2010 9:20 AM PST

Here is your unsurprising news of the day:

Irish officials acknowledged for the first time Thursday that the country was seeking aid from international lenders to end the debt crisis that has hurt confidence in its long-term finances and renewed doubts about the stability of the euro....“We’re talking about a very substantial loan for sure,” Patrick Honohan, governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, said earlier in a radio interview on the Irish state broadcaster RTE, and such a rescue would be “in the tens of billions” of euros.

Gee, who could have guessed that Ireland was going to take a bailout even though they kept saying everything was fine? My only real question at this point is whether anyone actually believes this loan is ever going to be paid back. I'm pretty skeptical. Then again, a few weeks ago I read that the final debt payment from World War I had finally been paid off, so I suppose maybe this stuff should be thought of on a century-long timescale. Perhaps by 2110 we'll all be pure energy creatures and won't care about money anymore. That should solve Ireland's problem nicely.

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Quote of the Day: Partisan War

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 10:55 PM PST

From Thomas Mann, not exactly a partisan diehard, on the next two years:

There is simply no basis for meaningful bipartisan leadership meetings today. Republicans are determined to defeat Obama in 2012; they have no interest in negotiating with him in order to provide him any sort of victory. This is a partisan war and the Republicans are playing to win. The only question is how long it will take Obama to accept this reality and act accordingly.

Good question! My guess is....about 21 months.

Sarah P. and the Left

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 8:28 PM PST

This is a genuine question. Robert Draper has a long profile of Sarah Palin in the New York Times Magazine this week, but although it's interesting here and there, I can't make sense out of this passage:

I brought up her past efforts at bipartisanship [as governor of Alaska] to Palin. “I was so innocent and naïve to believe that I would be able to govern for four years and if I ever moved on beyond the governorship I could carry that with me nationally,” Palin said. “And it was proven when John McCain chose me for the nomination for vice president; what it showed me about the left: they go home. It doesn’t matter what you do. It was the left that came out attacking me. They showed me their hypocrisy; they showed me they weren’t willing to work in a bipartisan way. I learned my lesson. Once bitten, twice shy. I will never trust that they are not hypocrites until they show me they’re sincere.”

What does this mean? Wouldn't you expect the left to attack a Republican vice presidential candidate? Bipartisanship isn't really a factor in a political campaign. Do you suppose she's referring just to attacks from Democrats that she had worked with in Alaska? Or to all Democrats? Or just certain bloggers? Or what?

DADT Not Dead Yet

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 5:48 PM PST

Greg Sargent reports that repeal of DADT is still possible:

Very plugged in staffers who are actively involved in counting votes for Senators who favor repeal tell me [] they've received private indications from a handful of moderate GOP Senators that they could vote for cloture on a Defense Authorization Bill with DADT repeal in it — if Dem leaders agree to hold a sustained debate on the bill on the Senate floor.

Here's why this is important: It throws the ball back into the court of Senator Harry Reid and the White House. It means the onus is on them, mainly on Reid, to agree to a two-week Senate debate on DADT, including allowing amendments....The GOP Senators who are in play, according to these staffers, are Richard Lugar, George Voinovich, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. A spokesman for Lugar, Mark Helmke, tells me that Lugar would vote for cloture if Reid staged "ordered debate on a number of issues in the bill."

There are, obviously, lots of things that are potential agenda items for the lame duck session. And I'm no vote counter. Still, I favor trying to do a deal on DADT because I think it's achievable. As Greg reports, there are several senators willing to deal on DADT, though the price is high. Conversely, I suspect that the DREAM Act simply doesn't have the votes to pass. The same may now be true of New START following Jon Kyl's entirely unsurprising decision to withdraw his support. Ditto for a tax bill.

But DADT is achievable. There may be other ways to cut a deal, but if a two-week debate turns out to be the only avenue open to us, then that's the avenue we should take. Call Harry Reid and tell him so.

Professional Humiliation

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 5:25 PM PST

Via Andrew Sullivan, Seth Masket makes a pretty good point about the backlash over TSA's new airport scanners. He's not especially opposed to the backlash per se, but:

Passengers are not being hauled out of their homes or tortured or placed in prison without access to legal counsel — things that actually have happened to American citizens in recent years in the name of security. Nor are people being turned away from the polls or told they can't unionize or being beaten by police officers — also things that have happened to real live Americans in recent years. What's going on in the airports is simply a form of government humiliation that has hit the professional class.

Italics mine.

Deficit Fantasies

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 2:17 PM PST

Chris Beam says a bipartisan effort to reduce the deficit is probably doomed. So the only answer is a partisan effort to reduce the deficit:

Any serious effort to do Something Important—eliminating the debt, for example—is more likely to succeed by exploiting partisanship than by trying to overcome it....Say Democrats take back the House in 2012, and Obama wins a second term. With majorities once again in Congress, Obama could tackle the deficit with a Democratic set of solutions: chop military spending, impose a gas tax, raise taxes on the rich. Or say Republicans take the presidency in two years, along with the Senate. They could implement all the policies liberals hate, like slashing domestic spending, raising the retirement age, and flattening the tax code.

Have we forgotten about the filibuster already? This idea would be lovely if either party manages to win 60 seats in the Senate — or close to it — but that seems pretty unlikely in the near term for either side. This strikes me as little better than a fantasy.

On a related note, has Slate really decided to make it almost impossible to cut and paste text from its site? What is this Meebo thing that takes over when I try? And why did it crash my browser the last time I used it? Are they trying to get people to link to them less?

UPDATE: Turns out you can turn off the Meebo thing. Problem solved.

UPDATE 2: Armando suggests that you could pass all the stuff Chris Beam talks about via reconciliation. Maybe so, though I'm not sure of all the details. But I might have dismissed this too quickly.

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Good News and Bad on Social Changes

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 1:10 PM PST

Over at the mothership, Stephanie Mencimer takes a look at the latest release of the biennial American Values Survey and notes a disturbing finding:

Tea party critics won’t be surprised to hear that 61 percent of people who identify with the movement said discrimination against whites "is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities."....That view was shared by only 28 percent of Democrats and about half of independents. Republicans were closer to the tea party on that question, with 56 percent agreeing that discrimination against whites is a big problem.

This perception, of course, drives a tremendous amount of resentment against liberal elites who are viewed as responsible for this state of affairs. And mockable though it may be, mockery won't make it go away. I'm not sure what will.

However, the AVS also has some good news. As the chart on the right shows, over the past five years 19% of Americans report that their views on gay and lesbian rights have grown more supportive. That's a pretty massive sea change, all things considered, and something that the tea partiers have little chance of stopping. The full report is here.

Inflation, Lovely Inflation

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 12:19 PM PST

Paul Krugman points out today that core inflation is at its lowest level since recordkeeping began in 1957. But that's a lot clearer in chart form, isn't it? So here it is:

This, of course, explains the Fed's quantitative easing program. For a variety of good reasons, the Fed primarily uses core inflation to measure price levels in the economy, and core inflation dropping to 0.6% has put the economy at risk. So we want more inflation, and we can get it with very little prospect of future trouble. For comparison, here's a chart showing inflation in Great Britain recently:

Ryan Avent writes:

The Bank of England is in a tricky position. It likely feels that prices haven't risen more based on market belief in the Bank's credibility, but each month that the Bank doesn't clamp down on inflation that credibility erodes a bit. The Bank is reluctant to supress price increases just now, however, because of the substantial fiscal tightening that's looming just over the horizon. On the one hand, this is a tricky position for a central bank to be in. On the other hand, it's the rare rich world country that wouldn't trade places with Britain. The last two quarters have produced surprisingly strong growth, giving both the Bank of England and the government more of a cushion to address other policy goals.

Tricky indeed, but take a look at the graph. When did inflation start rising in Britain? In the middle of 2009. And when did growth start surging? About two quarters later. Analysts claim that Britain is now "overshooting" its inflation target, but if this is the result of overshooting then maybe we could use a bit of the same ourselves?

Not everyone feels the same way, of course. The result has been a strange-bedfellow war against the Fed, described well today by Noam Scheiber. It's yet another example of the rich enlisting the poor to support policies designed to safeguard the rich. So far they've been pretty successful.

Money, Meet Mouth

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 11:33 AM PST

Via dKos, this Politico story about the travails of tea party members of Congress really is spectacular:

A band of conservative rebels has taken over the House, vowing to slash spending, cut the deficit and kill earmarks. And of course they’d love a seat on the powerhouse Appropriations Committee so they can translate their campaign zeal into action, right?

Not really. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) was asked to be an appropriator and said thanks, but no thanks. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), a tea party favorite, turned down a shot at Appropriations, which controls all discretionary spending. So did conservatives like Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), an ambitious newcomer who will lead the influential Republican Study Committee.

....“Anybody who’s a Republican right now, come June, is going to be accused of hating seniors, hating education, hating children, hating clean air and probably hating the military and farmers, too,” said Jack Kingston (R-Ga.), a fiscal conservative who is lobbying to become chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “So much of the work is going to be appropriations related. There’s going to be a lot of tough votes. So some people may want to shy away from the committee. I understand it.”

Kingston said he’s approached Bachmann, King and Westmoreland about the committee, and they all told him they weren’t interested.

I can't even think of anything snarky to say about this. I'll just repeat what I've said before: not only do tea party politicians have no real interest in the deficit, they have no real interest in cutting spending either. They know perfectly well that most spending isn't waste and they know perfectly well that most spending is pretty popular. Voting against the occasional "welfare" proposal is fine, but the idea of actually being forced to vote against meaningful amounts of spending instead of just railing about it on Fox News is another thing entirely.

How long will the rank-and-file tea partiers continue to fall for this charade? Long enough, I suppose. The faux earmark ban should hold everyone at bay for a few weeks, and a well-considered selection of other meaningless symbolic votes should keep everyone on board as long as they're staggered appropriately throughout the year. It's a fine line to walk, but I guess I feel pretty confident that the Republican leadership can pull it off.

The Great Scanner Backlash

| Wed Nov. 17, 2010 11:00 AM PST

So how about those backscatter scanners? Everybody hates them. "Don't touch my junk" is about to be added to "live free or die" and "give me liberty or give me death" in the pantheon of great expressions of American rebellion. I wish I could join in, but unfortunately I'm already on record a year ago as not caring:

I'll defer to the experts on how and where these devices are best used, but privacy concerns strike me as daft. Yes, the machines show the shape of your body under your clothes. Big deal. That strikes me as way less intrusive than pat-downs, wands, bomb-sniffing dogs, hand inspections, and no-fly lists. If we put up with that stuff, why on earth would we suddenly draw the line at a full body scanner?

I still feel this way. In fact, I think it's a pretty good sign of a country gone insane that this — TSA screeners occasionally viewing a vague outline of your body — is what's finally driven everyone over the edge. Shoes, laptops, liquids, wands, special screenings, warrantless wiretaps, you name it. They annoyed us, but we accepted them. But this! Finally left and right can unite in outrage over government run wild.

Meh. The health concerns are pretty obviously bogus, just an excuse piled onto the bonfire to help the cause. It's the "porno scanner" aspect that has everyone upset. "Virtual strip searches" the ACLU calls them. Meh again. Are we children?

But fine. I'm a phlegmatic middle-aged man, and I understand not everyone feels as cavalierly about this as I do. I think it's crazy, but I get it. But craziness aside, I still want to know if the things work. That's about a hundred times more important than whether they confirm to a bored TSA screener that I really ought to lose a few pounds. And here's the thing: it sure seems as if they work. It's the very fact that they work that has everyone so outraged. They can show things an ordinary scanner can't. So I was interested in Noah Shachtman's take on this in the Wall Street Journal today:

The larger question is whether the TSA's tech-centric approach to security makes any sense at all. Even the most modest of us would probably agree to a brief flash of quasi-nudity if it would really ensure a safe flight. That's not the deal the TSA is offering. Instead, the agency is asking for Rolando Negrin-style revelations in exchange for incremental, uncertain security improvements against particular kinds of concealed weapons.

Wait a second. That's it? A bald assertion that the scanners offer "incremental, uncertain security improvements" and nothing more? No explanation of why these improvements are uncertain? No explanation of what they can and can't detect? What's the deal here?

Like I said, I think the privacy concerns are close to insane. But I do care about whether we're spending billions of dollars on technology that doesn't do us any good. Looking at the pictures the scanners produce, it sure seems as if they're more effective than standard screening. So can someone please explain why they aren't?