Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dancing On The Ceiling

Now, I don't know why we have a debt ceiling law, and I don't know what having one is supposed to accomplish. I can't say whether it's good or bad, should remain or be removed from the books. But it doesn't take a genius, nor an econ major, nor a person with a kindergarten education to understand that if the US defaults on its debt for the first time in history, it will have repercussions around the world, will ruin our standing, and (this part takes some level of understanding, I guess) immediately add 100 billion to our annual deficits. (That could happen without default, if credit ratings go down as people see our fundamental inability to govern ourselves.)

So the fact that enough Congressional Rs (and that expert at bankruptcy, Donald Trump) think causing default is perfectly fine leads to an obvious conclusion: the country is at the mercy of idiots. Of people who are too dumb to understand and too hidebound to care. In that sad reality, the rules of negotiation simply don't apply. A piece in the NYT by a psych professor says as much:

DESPITE all the bluster about an impending default on the government’s debt, most observers in Washington and on Wall Street still believe the two parties will reach a crisis-averting agreement.

That’s because the practice of American politics assumes that all players will negotiate according to predictable patterns — that they will realize they can get more from compromise than by demanding everything and winning nothing.

Under that assumption, President Obama is right to keep pressing for a compromise, because eventually the Republicans will fall in line. But as two wildly different fields — game theory and the study of elephant mating patterns — show, there are limits to the usual assumptions: sometimes players simply refuse to play the game, and when that happens, the best advice for their opponents is to do the same....

Unfortunately, even the author can't come up with a sensible solution. His mind, it seems (and not unlike mine), is blown. Tossing his hands in the air, he concludes:
In the 1983 movie “WarGames,” an errant military supercomputer has a final moment of lucidity in which it notes, “The only winning move is not to play.” The president is best advised to do the same: declare that the other side has foregone all pretense at rational legitimacy, and simply proceed to govern as best he can for the good of the country.

Sort of says it all, really. "As best he can." How? Facing these guys in Congress, and, unlike them, recognizing there's a Constitution and there are certain assumptions about governance in a democracy, what's a president to do?

And that's the point: one side is beholden to a group of people with whom negotiation makes no sense, to whom the very essence of democracy is meaningless. In our system, with a divided government, all options are gone when one party is literally insane.

The only solution is for people to wise up and vote to put Democrats back in control. Failing that, of course, they could find and elect reasonable Republicans. Slight problems, though: first, there are damn few reasonable ones left, and, second, Republican voters will never elect them. Not until, in concert with their global warming denial, hell freezes over.

One thing the president could have done, however, is, in his recent speech to the public, laid out much more clearly what the competing visions for our country are, what the consequences to our future would be were Republican cuts with no revenue increases to become law; and to have demonstrated the level of detachment from reality being shown by congressional teabaggRs. In asking the American people to let their representatives know what they think, he was still operating on the assumption that someone on that side of the aisle actually gives a shit.


Sid Schwab said...

A reader emailed a comment to me, that he found was too long for the blogger limits. So I'm reprinting it here, in a few parts:

It appears to me that Obama is no longer the spokesman for the Dim-O-cratic party, but is firmly entrenched in a position of compromise. If "we" are going to afford the Rape-Public-Cons an opportunity to present their fantasy whenever Obama speaks to the virtues of compromise, then it is more than appropriate to demand an opportunity to allow the Dim-O-Crats to present their side - since this is a point of view NOT presented by Obama.
As an undergraduate, I attended a lecture offered by the then president of the Univ of Michigan. He had been a labor negotiator earlier in his career and related a story from the initial talks between the UAW and one of the big three automakers.
In his talk, he noted that the point was made at the outset of the negotiations that every three years these two parties sat down for weeks at a time to haggle over minor details and negotiate mostly pay raises wherein much time and energy was expended to arrive at a point that had been easily identifiable early in the talks.
So he suggested that a great deal of wasted efforts could be completely avoided by simply cutting to the chase at a very early stage in the discussions. He realized that the UAW was asking for an increase of $10 per hour and the company was holding firm at a pay increase of ZERO. And it was obvious that this impasse would hold for many weeks until they finally agreed to meet in the middle.
As obvious as this was to all present, he suggested that instead of all the posturing and wasted resources for the next two months, why not immediately cut to the chase and simply agree on the pay increase of $5 per hour and be done with it. Of course, this undercut the positions of many who were deeply invested in the process, itself, and what resulted was the UAW taking his (management's) offer before some mediation board and which (also invested in the process) held that the pay increase of $5 per hour represented management's opening offer and this was the position from which the talks must BEGIN.....

Sid Schwab said...


As idiotic as this is, it is precisely what is happening with Obama. Obama is speaking as if he is the voice of negotiation, yet this is also being characterized as the voice of the Dim-O-Crats and as such he is being forced to negotiate between the Rape-Public-Con extreme position and the previously negotiated compromise "centrist position" - NOT the Dim-O-Cratic opposition - on the other side of the fence from the Rape-Public-Cons, but actually the fence, itself.
Obama is his own worst enemy in that he forever allows himself to be negotiating from the middle to the extreme right - a position which cannot help but to shift the entire argument to the right from there.
Oh those clever Rape-Public-Con strategists! It's so very sad, but so brilliant. And this says volumes about the absence of any serious, high-level, Dim-O-Cratic negotiating strategies. The floor is anything but level - and by not pointing that out, the Dims just seal their own fate.
Upton Sinclair is reputed to have remarked that "When fascism comes to America, it won't be wearing jack boots, but will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross."
Fascism is here and there's no turning back until the rest of us are willing to REALLY put things on the line as they have in Northern Africa. And I don't think it is being overly paranoid to suggest that virtually ALL of our correspondence is being reviewed - Big Brother IS also HERE as an anticipated part of that fascism.
On top of that, with "the media" solidly under the ownership and control of the plutocracy, it is virtually impossible to organize and conduct ANY sort of EFFECTIVE resistance to any of this. I hate to be the voice of surrender, but I simply cannot see any way to conduct a real opposition campaign -other than as unorganized (and therefore, inherently ineffective) individuals - and we all know how that would work. Divide & Conquer.

Sid Schwab said...


Personally, I am ready to give up. My vote is simply to exit.
In A People's History of the U.S., Howard Zinn made the point that new world Indians simply refused to be enslaved and solved that problem by refusing to reproduce and by committing mass suicides. In so doing, they refused to play the game of being the slaves of the invading Europeans. I think we need to do something very similar. When a call for boycotts and general strikes don't cut the mustard, it is simply time to end ones participation in the greater game.
This was a major contributor to my decision not to reproduce. And now I must get myself the hell outta Dodge to let them shoot one another without my help.


Sid Schwab said...

R.F: It's hard to disagree with anything you said. We've come to a point where one side is willing, as is being said, to kill the hostage; and they know that no matter how much venom they spew about liberals, liberals in fact are too responsible to let the hostage die.

Ironic, huh? The party that claims sole possession of patriotism and love of country is willing to destroy that country to pursue their own selfish interest. And their ace in the hole is their certainty that their characterization of liberals as America-haters is exactly the opposite of truth, and they count on it to succeed in their destruction.

And you're right: when one side is insane and murderous, there's no way negotiation or compromise have any meaning at all.

Sid Schwab said...

P.S: I've had more than one visit to my blog from Homeland Security.

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