Republicans Pushing Debt Ceiling Again

Bruce BartlettI haven’t been writing about the upcoming Debt Ceiling fight, but it hasn’t been far from my mind. The Republicans only pushed it off for a few months to allow them to regroup. They most definitely have not given up on the idea. In fact, their belief that they won the Sequester fight has only made them more aggressive. As I’ve noted many times before, the only way to negotiate with Republicans is from a position of strength. Any show of weakness or openness to compromise is met with ever greater demands.

On a recent radio interview with Sean Hannity, John Boehner said, “Do you want to risk the full faith and credit of the United States government over Obamacare?” Boehner seems to live in a land where it is always “opposite day.” He isn’t risking the full faith and credit of the US government; Obama is by not giving Boehner everything he wants. Mitch McConnell is saying much the same kinds of things.

Bruce Bartlett has an article on the Economix Blog arguing that Obama needs to be prepared to use the 14th Amendment clause, “The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned.” He provides the history of this clause and it is fascinating.

Basically, after the Civil War, a lot of Democrats wanted to just default on the loans the government had taken out to fund the war. Most of these loans were to average people who would have been hurt. The nation changed the Constitution to stop this from happening. Does this really apply to what is happening now? Bartlett thinks so:

The purpose of the debt provision of the 14th Amendment was to say that national debt was beyond the realm of politics. In the words Jack Balkin, a Yale law professor: “It was stated in broad terms in order to prevent future majorities in Congress from repudiating the federal debt to gain political advantage, to seek political revenge or to try to disavow previous financial obligations because of changed policy priorities.”

Republican threats to hold the debt limit hostage to their agenda today present precisely the sort of political situation contemplated by the authors of the 14th Amendment.

The question is whether Obama will really do it. As I have documented before, Obama caved on his “No Debt Ceiling Negotiation” stance. At this point, we may have no other option.


I wrote this back in December:

Now I feel more certain than ever that these negotiations will move into January. The problem is that Obama’s last offer will be the starting point for Boehner next year. So we’ll get something like, “You use chained-CPI, raise the Medicare eligibility age, and raise the top tax rate to 37% for incomes over a million dollars. In return, we won’t fight you on the debt ceiling for a year and half. Deal?” And Obama will take it.

And Boehner will again pull the ball away. And why shouldn’t he? The Republicans can just wait a month and use the debt ceiling to force Social Security to be privatized, raise Medicare eligibility up to 90, and repeal Obamacare. What’s the president going to do? Fight? We’d all be very curious to see what that looks like.

Conservatives Never Learn

Paul KrugmanThis morning, Paul Krugman wrote another article trying to understand why conservatives and moderates who are shown to be wrong time and again never reflect that maybe “all the people they know” just don’t know very much. The specific target is John Hinderaker at Powerline Blog. Yesterday, he was channeling Chicken Little over an immanent economic crisis. Krugman disagrees of course, but also points back to 2005 when Hinderaker mocked Krugman for saying there was a housing bubble.

I went over and looked at that article, That Hissing Sound Is Krugman. In the article, he doesn’t argue against Krugman. He just claims that Krugman is not making an argument—or at least that he doesn’t understand it. This is odd, because the argument for the housing bubble was pretty simple: home prices have always risen at the rate of inflation; at that time, home prices were rising substantially faster than inflation. There was no underlying reason for prices to rise so fast other than that there was a bubble.

The basis of Hinderaker’s argument is just that Krugman is a partisan. He writes:

Well, if we believed anything Krugman writes, we’d be worried all the time. Or at least until we have a Democratic administration, when everything will be rosy again.

So, not only is Hinderaker wrong about the housing bubble, he’s also wrong about Krugman. He should have left out that second sentence. Of course, I don’t think Krugman is pessimistic necessarily; it is just that in these times the rational, knowledgeable position is pessimistic.

But what is really great about John Hinderaker is that he is just as clueless as Krugman says. After being totally wrong about the housing bubble, Hinderaker added the following update to his original article today:

Wow. I see Krugman is at it again, nearly eight years after the fact! It’s time to move on, Paul.

No argument. No admission of being wrong. Just a statement that we need to move on. And as the years go by and there is no economic crisis, Hinderaker will again say it is time to move on. We don’t want to spend any time thinking about how wrong we’ve been! That might cause us to rethink our conservatism.

Tobias Smollett Day

Tobias SmollettBack in 1860, William Jennings Bryan was born on this day. He has a bit of a bad reputation because he was on the wrong side of the Scopes Trial. But the truth is that he was a good strong progressive. I don’t doubt that today he would accept evolution. Sadly, he died just after “winning” that trial in 1925.

It seems most days are good days for Nazi birthdays, and today is no exception. Hitler’s architect Albert Speer was born in 1905. He spent most of his life after World War II arguing that he didn’t know about the genocide. I tend not to believe him, but I will allow that he wasn’t the evilest of men. Speaking of the evilest of men, Adolf Eichmann was born in 1906. I will give Eichmann this: at least he had the good taste to get captured so we could hang him. (I know, I know: I don’t believe in capital punishment. But if anyone does deserve it, it is Eichmann.)

Philip Roth is 80 today. He’s been spouting a lot of nonsense recently, but he was very important to me when I was younger. Burt Metcalfe, the MASH TV series writer, is 78. There are Hollywood birthdays today: Glenn Close, Harvey Weinstein, and Bruce Willis. If you want more details, go over to IMDb! One birthday today shocked me: Sirhan Sirhan is 69 today. I thought he died years ago.

And finally, the man of the day: Tobias Smollett was born in 1721. He wrote the fourth real English translation of Don Quixote. It is one of two mid-18th century translations (the other being Charles Jervas), both of which are quite readable today, even without modern editing. However, Smollett has the advantage of being edited by Carole Slade for the Barnes & Noble Classics edition. As I’ve written before, this edition is worth its price just for Slade’s notes. Give it a read!

I claim this day, 19 March, as Tobias Smollett Day. Hallmark may start printing the cards!

My Hero Phil Davison

Oh My God!This is a blast from the past. I just came upon it. Two and a half years ago, Phil Davison spoke to the Stark County (Ohio) Republican Party Executive Committee. He wanted to be the Republican nominee for Stark Country Treasurer. When I first wrote about this, I did not embed the video for whatever reason. But here goes. This is only five minutes and I really hope that you will watch it. It is amazing to behold.

Here was my reaction at the time:

So Phil: if we are ever in the same town, I would definitely like to take you out for a beer. To be honest, you could use it! This may be the opportunity you are waiting for! Forget that treasurer business. Forget about infestation. I’m talking about the opportunity to drink beer with me in a well fumigated bar where we can watch football—not touch-football—winner take all, football! Let me repeat that so there is no miscommunication: if we are ever in the same town, I would definitely like to take you out for a beer and watch non-touch football in a well-fumigated bar! In all honesty, I think it would be fun. Because, like it or not: you are a nut. (And I mean that in the best way!)

Thank you very much!

Phil Davison was not given the nomination.


Here is the Volkswagen commercial that used Davison and other internet spazzes with Jimmy Cliff doing a really great version of the Partridge Family’s “Come On Get Happy!”

Tricky Apes

Chimp at typewriterI mentioned the song “The Walls Came Down” to a friend of mine. It got me thinking about Jericho and so I did a little research and I found that the wall of Jericho is extremely old: 9,000 BC. That’s really interesting, because the events in Joshua are supposedly less than 2,000 BC. What’s more, I read that the wall was primarily for flood control. I also read about the great archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon who had done the most important digs there. This kind of stuff fascinates me, so I went looking for any documentaries on the archaeology of Jericho.

It didn’t go well. Almost everywhere I looked, I found videos where people were trying to prove that the events depicted in Joshua are true. There are two problems with this. First, I’m interested in the earlier settlements. Second, honest (non-apologetic) digs have shown that Jericho was not populated at the time of Joshua; at best, there was a small number of squatters, but certainly no city.

This is a big problem with religious dogma: it limits what you can think. These people can’t just enjoy the wonderful stories that archaeology can tell us. They must shoehorn the data in pre-existing narratives. I’ll admit, it is pretty cool when history and literature do intersect as in, for example, the Iliad. But it isn’t necessary: either for the story or the place.

My searches for documentaries led me to Netflix where I found a History Channel production of Ape to Man. But I was immediately annoyed because the description alerted me, “This film is: controversial.” After watching it, I can tell you the only controversial thing about Ape to Man is that it doesn’t accept the biblical dogma that the earth is only 6,000 years old. But then, I’ve found that the History Channel often panders to biblical fundamentalist. It is but one of very many problems with the network.

The documentary itself wasn’t bad. It can be forgiven getting some things wrong. As they even note in the video, the field moves so fast that things are always changing. Now, for example, it isn’t generally believed that humans drove the Neanderthals to extinction. But one thing that always seems to be present in these documentaries is a very pro-human take on the competition of the two species. Humans had more complex social groups or humans had better communication skills or humans had something else. That’s the reason that the Neanderthals went extinct. Never mentioned is that humans very nearly went extinct. To me it is just dumb luck.

Most of what is wrong with us as a species comes from our unjustified belief that we are some quantum level above the rest of the universe. That’s why many people deny natural selection. But even among those who do accept it, there is a tendency to think that we are special because we build houses, drive cars, and watch television. We really aren’t. I was thinking about this earlier. The first settlement of Jericho was right around the time of the Neolithic Revolution: when humans started to farm. We did that for 2,000 years before we invented pottery—8,000 years ago. At that time, the people making pottery were like the people designing rockets for NASA today. If we survive another 8,000 years (which I highly doubt), it is unimaginable what we will be doing. And we will look back on who we are now as apes with a few tricks. Of course, that’s what we are now and what we will be then.


They blew the horn, and the walls came down!