So I finally got around to reading this weekend's big Washington Post tick tock about last year's debt ceiling negotiations. Jon Chait goaded me into it by writing a post saying that everyone was missing the real bombshell in the piece. Yes, the deal traded $800 billion in tax increases for $1.7 trillion in spending cuts. Nothing new there. Yes, the deal got derailed after the "Gang of Six" unveiled a more ambitious proposal that suggested Republicans could live with more than $800 billion in tax increases. Nothing new there either. The real news, he says, was that the $800 billion in revenues was mostly just a phantom in the first place, and Obama was willing to sell out the left by accepting this:

In Boehner’s offer Friday night, the taxes came with strings attached. The Republicans wanted Obama to give up plans to raise the tax rate paid by the wealthiest Americans, now set at 35 percent. Instead, they wanted that rate to go down....Another key caveat: Much of the $800 billion would have to come from overhauling the tax code — not from higher tax rates. The Republicans believed lower rates and a simpler code would generate new revenue by discouraging cheating and spurring economic growth. If the White House would agree to count that money, the Republican leaders said, then they might have a deal.

That last condition was a problem. For years, Democrats have mocked the Republican argument that tax cuts pay for themselves by boosting the economy....So there were issues to work out that Sunday but also reason for optimism. In its counterproposal, the White House appeared to accept the $800 billion tax offer and a lower top rate....When Boehner brought up economic growth, arguing that his caucus would not accept tax increases under any other terms, the Republicans saw Geithner as receptive, Jackson said. “It was literally one of the last things discussed when they came in on that Sunday. And Geithner said, ‘Yes, we accept that,’ ” Jackson recalled. “We viewed it as a breakthrough.”

On this point, the two sides are in dispute. Geithner and other administration officials say it never happened. They strenuously deny agreeing to count revenue from economic growth, a process known as “dynamic scoring.” Treasury spokeswoman Jenni LeCompte said the Republicans “were kidding themselves” if they thought the White House would concede that point. “That’s always been a total non-starter for Secretary Geithner and this administration and always will be,” she said.

Meh. The story doesn't say that Obama accepted the notion that the new revenue would mostly come from dynamic scoring. It says the two sides disagree about who accepted what. Big surprise. And anyway, even this isn't new. Here's Jay Newton-Small a few days after the deal fell apart:

Late last Sunday morning, House Speaker John Boehner and his No. 2, majority leader Eric Cantor, found themselves in White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley’s West Wing office talking with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner about how tax reform, if done right, could produce $800 billion in new revenues over the next 10 years through growth and by closing loopholes. Sensitive to an anti-tax promise taken by most of the House Republicans, the negotiators felt this would be a way to raise revenues without breaking the pledge.

In other words, Cantor was hellbent on raising revenue without breaking the Republicans' no-higher-taxes pledge. Instead, some of the additional revenue would come via higher growth and some would come from broadening the tax base by closing loopholes and reducing tax expenditures. Did they end up agreeing on this? Nobody knows.

To be honest, I'm not sure there's anything new in the WaPo piece. There are a few details here and there, and a bit more recreated dialog, but nothing substantive. It's the same story we've heard from the very beginning: It was a lousy deal; the revenue increases were dubious; it got derailed after the Gang of Six released its plan and Obama asked Boehner for more revenue; and it got scuttled completely when Boehner refused to accept Obama's offer to go back to the original deal. Unless I'm missing something, we already knew all this.

Earlier today, David Axelrod described Mitt Romney's wall-to-wall advertising campaign in Illinois as a Mittzkrieg. The Romney campaign immediately cranked up the high dudgeon meter to 11:

At a time when there is so much talk about the need for civility in political discourse, it is disturbing to see President Obama's top campaign advisor casually throw Nazi imagery around in reference to a Republican candidate for President. Holocaust and Nazi imagery are always inappropriate in the political arena. Axelrod should apologize for his offensive language.

We call on Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, to publicly rebuke Axelrod for his language. We hope that the National Jewish Democratic Council will join us in denouncing Axelrod's comment, as they have frequently denounced Holocaust imagery in politics in the past.

That's it. I've had enough. I officially declare that it's now OK to use World War II imagery anytime you want. It's OK to make Nazi references. It's OK to compare people to Hitler. Go ahead! You have my blessing.

This whole thing is ridiculous, and I'm sick of it from all sides. WWII references are handy shorthand because everyone immediately understands them. There's nothing wrong with this. If you go overboard, people will mock you. If your analogies are wrong, people will correct you. If you literally say that someone is as bad as Hitler, you will be called an idiot. (Unless, of course, you're really talking about someone as bad as Hitler. But that's a pretty short list.) But the mere fact that you used a WWII/Hitler reference? Not an issue any longer.

It's probably still wise to take it easy on Holocaust imagery. But merely making a comparison of some modern-day event to something that happened in WWII, or something that Hitler did, or some well-known practice of Nazi Germany? If it's the obvious analogy to use, then use it. And let's all quit the pearl clutching, OK?

I got an iPad last week, and I intend to use it primarily as a book reader. Naturally I wanted to download a book and try it out, so I bought Matt Yglesias's new Kindle single, The Rent is Too Damn High. So far, I'm very pleased with the book-reading abilities of the iPad1, but I wonder if publishers are setting too high a price for these miniature volumes? Matt's book is $3.99, and in one sense that's cheap. It's about the price of a magazine, and has a roughly similar amount of content. On the other hand, you could also say it's more similar to a single magazine article — a long one, granted — and people aren't generally willing to pay four bucks for one article.

Unless you're a big name, or you happen to generate some serious buzz, it seems as if these kinds of books might do better as impulse buys. Maybe 99 cents, or $1.99. On the other hand, the real investment here is time more than money, and for anyone willing to spend three or four hours reading something like this, three or four dollars shouldn't be much of a hurdle.

I guess I'm not sure. Maybe all I really wanted was a chance to write the headline for this post. But I'm curious to get some feedback. Has price ever deterred you from downloading any Kindle singles? Or is this a non-issue?

1My big problem with the original Kindle was that it sucked for nonfiction books. Tables, charts, and images of all sorts rendered so badly as to be nearly illegible. But the Kindle app for the iPad appears to have solved this problem. My test case was A Farewell to Alms, and although some of the images were surprisingly low-res, they were all readable. And the tables were all readable too: columns actually lined up properly and pages are big enough to have enough to room show the entire thing. So far, so good.

1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

Ed Kilgore writes a post today mocking right-wing fear of betrayal by insufficiently dedicated conservative judges, a brand of paranoia that got its start with Eisenhower's appointments of Earl Warren and William Brennan to the Supreme Court:

These disasters (from a conservative point of view) were hardly isolated. Richard Nixon appointed Roe v. Wade author Harry Blackmun; Gerald Ford's brief presidency produced long-time Supreme Court liberal John Paul Stevens, and Poppy Bush put the ultimate Stealth Liberal, David Souter, on the High Court, an act for which the later nomination of Clarence Thomas was a very loud apology. Worse yet, St. Ronald Reagan was responsible for Sandra Day O'Connor, and depending on where Anthony Kennedy lands on a series of big upcoming cases, his appointment, too, could wind up earning a conservative Day of Infamy.

You'd have to say everything about Mitt Romney makes him suspect as the kind of Republican president who might make an insufficiently right-wing Court appointment. And this is precisely why I'd bet the farm (if I had one) that by the time November rolls around the Federalist Society wing of the conservative movement will have extracted so many private and public blood oaths from Romney on the subject that should he even think about a less-than-orthodox nominee, Satan would appear in the West Wing and snatch Mitt right down to hell.

It's actually sort of unfair to ridicule this. The truth is that by 1990 conservatives had very good reason to be tired of "conservative" Supreme Court nominations that turned out to be either moderate or downright liberal. Souter was the last straw, especially since his nomination was viewed as caving in to liberal attacks on a genuine conservative, Robert Bork. If the shoe were on the other foot, liberals would feel the same way. I would, anyway.

In a way, though, that's why I think Ed is wrong in his conclusion. The Bork/Ginsburg/Thomas trifecta, combined with a long history of moderate appointments, came to a head in the early 90s. Since then, there's been no daylight among Republicans on the need to nominate only absolutely reliable conservatives to the Supreme Court. Romney may indeed make both public and private promises on this score, but he won't need any coaxing. Even moderate Republicans are pretty much on board with the movement conservative agenda on Supreme Court nominees.

There is, in a way, a broader unfairness here too. We tend to mock conservatives for endlessly keeping the culture war alive, but the truth is that it was we liberals who started it. We're the ones who, among many, many other things, banned school prayer, legalized abortion, fought for gender equality, and are currently pressing to legalize gay marriage. You'll be unsurprised to learn that I think we were right to do all these things and right to keep fighting for them. But make no mistake: we're the ones demanding change, and we're the ones who keep fighting for it. Every time I hear some liberal complaining about the way that conservatives keep turning everything into a new front in the culture war, I feel a twinge of chagrin. Why are we complaining? We're the ones who really own the culture war, and we should be proud of it. It was a war worth starting and a war worth winning.

Via Ryan Avent, the European econ blog site Bruegel highlights this rather astonishing fact:

As Ronny Patz noted in a recent post [], European blogs are still very much “unconnected”. That is, they use hyperlinks far less than their American counterparts or do it and in a way that doesn’t create two-way debate. In brief, Europe has bloggers, but no blogosphere: it lacks a living ecosystem to exchange and debate. Of most leading European blogs, only 1 in 5 were linked to other online content. This is a pretty striking number but one that is somewhat consistent with the use that Europeans make of blogs (ie. just another media but not an interactive one).

The Bruegel folks suggest there are both institutional reasons for this (European economists mostly publish in their home country newspapers) and cultural reasons (European economists don't like to argue as much as American economists). And language plays a role. Still, it's very peculiar. Can it really be true that European economists aren't much interested in publishing online even after years of seeing how vibrant the American econ blogging scene is? Do they really shy away from arguing with each other? "European economists seem to prefer spreading knowledge rather than stirring debate," say the Bruegel bloggers.

That's.....admirable, if true, I suppose, but it doesn't quite smell right. I don't know anything about European economists in particular, but it's certainly never been my experience that Europeans in general are more reticent than Americans. They always seemed to me like they had plenty of opinions and just as much love for bar stool arguments as Americans.

I wonder if there's more to this?

The LA Times reports on the latest front in campaign fundraising:

A "super PAC" that has spent more than $35 million on behalf of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has accepted donations from federal contractors despite a 36-year-old ban against such companies making federal political expenditures.

....Several contributors — including a Florida aerospace company that has contracts with the Defense Department, and a Boston-based construction company that is helping build a Navy base — are taking advantage of a legal gray area created by the Supreme Court's 2010 ruling in the Citizens United case, which said that independent political expenditures could not be regulated based on who was making them.

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that corporate donations to campaign Super PACs were legal because there was no reason to think they led to "corruption or the appearance of corruption." This was a remarkably specious argument in the first place, but now we're apparently going to test it to destruction. Romney's Super PAC is essentially arguing that even contributions from federal contractors don't have the slightest taint of corruption to them. Both federal law and common sense have disagreed for more than 70 years, but we live in a brave new world, and common sense is no longer as common as you might think.

Via Paul Krugman and Reed Abelson, here's a chart from the National Institute for Health Care Reform. Over the past decade, the number of Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance has dropped from about 70% down to nearly 50%. Note that this is for the non-elderly only, so it's not due to the aging of society or the growth of Medicare. This is working-age people only. As Krugman says, our weird employer-based health insurance scheme is "coming apart at the seams."

Most Americans simply have no clue how bizarre it is that we rely on employers to provide health insurance for most people. We've all grown up in this sytem, so it seems completely normal. But it's not. It happened through a weird combination of historical accidents, and it makes no sense. Why should an airplane manufacturer also be in the healthcare business? Why should you lose your health insurance if you get laid off? Why should your choice of doctor be limited by your employer's choice of insurance carrier? (And why should it change whenever your employer decides to change carriers?) Why should your boss be allowed to dock your paycheck if you don't get the medical "counseling" he deems necessary? (Yes, this is real. And it's rapidly making its way to a corporation near you.)

It. Makes. No. Sense. And dozens of countries around the world have shown that there are better, less expensive, more universal ways of providing medical care. It is truly a mystery that we still put up with the archaic, Rube Goldberg mess that passes for health insurance in this country. If the red trendline I added to the NIHCR chart turns out to be accurate, maybe we won't for too much longer.

Felix Salmon writes today that the power of the financial industry goes beyond mere lobbying:

One of the themes running through Noam Scheiber’s new book is the idea that professional technocrats have a tendency to take at face value much of what they’re told by Wall Street. Bankers are very good at capturing/flattering mid-level political operatives.

Yep. But this goes beyond mere regulatory capture. Here's a blast from the past: my take on regulatory capture in "Capital City," two years ago:

[The story of the finance lobby is] about the way that lobby—with the eager support of a resurgent conservative movement and a handful of powerful backers—was able to fundamentally change the way we think about the world. Call it a virus. Call it a meme. Call it the power of a big idea. Whatever you call it, for three decades they had us convinced that the success of the financial sector should be measured not by how well it provides financial services to actual consumers and corporations, but by how effectively financial firms make money for themselves. It sounds crazy when you put it that way, but stripped to its bones, that's what they pulled off.

....Their real power lies in the fact that they've so thoroughly changed our collective attitude toward financial regulation that sometimes they barely need to lobby in the traditional sense at all....Unlike most industries, which everyone recognizes are merely lobbying in their own self-interest, the finance industry successfully convinced everyone that deregulating finance was not only safe, but self-evidently good for the entire economy, Wall Street and Main Street alike. It's what Simon Johnson, an MIT economics professor and former chief economist for the IMF, calls "intellectual capture." Considering what's happened over the past couple of years, we might better call it Stockholm syndrome.

More here from me and David Corn at about 5:00 mark. As near as I can tell, not a lot has changed since then.

From Jeffrey Henig, a professor of political science at Teachers College in New York City:

It's never just about the cupcake.

This might become my favorite new catchphrase to describe fights ostensibly about X that everyone knows are really about Y. Click the link for context.

On the left, Inkblot is giving us his sad face because the food bowl is empty and it's getting close to dinner time. Don't worry: his hunger was assuaged a few minutes later. On the right, Domino is batting away at a piece of string. You'll have to take my word for it, since the string isn't in the picture. But she's watching it intently.

Have a good St. Patrick's day, all. Feed your cats some green cat food tomorrow.