January 11, 2011
ANNOUNCEMENT: MAMP Expressly Refuses to Capitalize on Shooting Spree in Tucson

Some bipartisanship groups, such as No Labels and Third Way, have referred to the recent shootings in Tucson as a “real opportunity" to tone down the rhetoric in Washington. We at Middle Americans for Modest Prosperity, however, reject this blatant politicization of a national atrocity. Unlike these other “agree-to-disagree” groups, MAMP believes that it is distasteful to use such a tragedy to advance any agenda. This is just another example of how MAMP advocates the middle way in a responsible way. We hope that you will consider this when choosing which bipartisanship advocacy group to support. We believe the choice is clear: choose MAMP, the group that doesn’t use tragedies to advance an agenda.   

January 3, 2011
New Think-Tank Announcement: Middle Americans for Modest Prosperity

As you might have noticed, I took a little hiatus. That’s because I’ve been deeply involved in the start up of an exciting new think-tank: Middle Americans for Modest Prosperity. Essentially, we plan on politely challenging the current think-tank hierarchy, which, like our political landscape, is overly polarized on idealogical grounds.

At MAMP, we believe that the right thing to do is just as often the hard thing to do, so we’ll be advocating for the tough choices. We also believe that a country that works best is a country that works together. That’s why we eschew tidy labels. No thinking person completely agrees with either of the political parties. And hardly anyone is entirely liberal or conservative. Most of us are an exotic blend of fervently held, sometimes contradicting beliefs.

At MAMP, we don’t believe in pithy slogans. We believe in hard work and teamwork. We believe in giving it 110% for the greatest country on earth. We believe the early bird gets the worm. And we believe that you can chant U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! in any Burger King line in this country and the salt-of-the-earth people in that line will start chanting right along with you.    

Also, fuck the No Labels people. They claim to believe in “problem solving” and “bipartisanship” and “agreeing to disagree.” But really, they’re just a bunch of coastal elites asking their yokel relatives to sit quietly in the corner while the adults have their wine-tasting/circle-jerk. Their entire platform is just a bunch of impossible-to-disagree-with platitudes that masquerade their patently naive belief that, so long as the super-serious, ivy-league-educated dick ticklers get along like they did back at freshman orientation, we’ll be able to solve all of America’s problems.

It’s condescending. And they are assholes.

If you want a truly independent, Middle-American view, then you will support Middle Americans for Moderate Prosperity. 

December 14, 2010
OP-rEDux: In the Middle, Our Eyes Are Watching the Next Income Bracket

  • David Brooks wants America to teach the rest of the world how to be middle-class.  
  • William McGurn says that Republicans should start making moral arguments in favor of lower taxes on the rich. After all, he argues, we all hope to be rich one day, and when we are, we’ll want the government to keep its greedy hands off our money.
  • Michael Gerson wants Obama to defend social mobility, not income equality.

December 13, 2010
OP-rEDux: In the Middle, We Share Sacrifices, Not Feelings

The basic structure of this feature is that we first take a bunch of opinion pieces …

  • Mixing it up a little, Reasonable Republican Ross Douthat argues that we need some extreme leadership — like what we get from Tom Coburn, for instance — because in the future, we’re going to have to stop doing the popular thing and start doing the painful thing. 
  • Paul Krugman says that the economy needs continued support, not a jump start. 
  • Robert J. Samuelson thinks people have become too risk-averse. 
  • Worrying that people are worrying that America is in decline, E.J. Dionne Jr. wants Obama to challenge us to be a better nation, and specifically, a better nation than China or India.
  • Tim Pawlenty, who is currently Governor of Minnesota and who, in the future, will be discussed as a strong candidate for Sarah Palin’s Vice President, argues that the government overpays its workforce. He’s wrong, of course, but we can admire his willingness to make the hard sacrifices.

… and then we mash them all up:

Look, we all know what’s on the horizon: Difficult Choices. And not to minimize their sacrifice — which was, of course, immense — but the difficult choices ahead will take more courage than that demanded of even the Greatest Generation. Sure, they fought bravely against the Nazis. But, really, fighting Nazis was kind of a no-brainer. The only other option at the time was to not fight Nazis. And do you know who didn’t fight Nazis? Other Nazis.  

We, however, face a more complicated set of options. Very soon, we will have to choose whether we will cut spending, increase taxes, or (God forbid) both to avoid bankrupting the greatest government on earth. That’s right! One day, in the not-too-distant future, someone is going to have to stand up to petulant old people and tell them that they can’t get government-sponsored health care when tax rates are at zero. 

These difficult choices are going to require sacrifice. And because this isn’t a war, we’re all going to have share in the sacrifice.

For the rich, this means increases to their taxes, which is unpopular. Among the rich. For government workers, this means that they should get paid less than other workers. Even though they already are paid less. We should pay them lesser. 

And for Middle Americans, this likely means that we’ll have to pay more to get less from our government. But hey! At least we’re not redistributing wealth.  

December 10, 2010
Krugman v. Krauthammer: Not The Deal Anyone Is Happy With

It’s a special thing when our joint namesakes, Paul Krugman and Charles Krauthammer, write their Friday column on the same topic. When they do, we take the opportunity to see who’s right. 

Today’s topic: the tax cuts! Horrible idea for the left or horrible idea for the right?

Charlie goes first:

In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than his $814 billion 2009 stimulus package. It will pump a trillion borrowed Chinese dollars into the U.S. economy over the next two years - which just happen to be the two years of the run-up to the next presidential election. This is a defeat?

If Obama had asked for a second stimulus directly, he would have been laughed out of town. Stimulus I was so reviled that the Democrats banished the word from their lexicon throughout the 2010 campaign. And yet, despite a very weak post-election hand, Obama got the Republicans to offer to increase spending and cut taxes by $990 billion over two years. Two-thirds of that is above and beyond extension of the Bush tax cuts but includes such urgent national necessities as windmill subsidies.

As is his wont, Krauthammer exaggerates the numbers. There won’t be a trillion Chinese Dollars pumped into the economy as a result of this deal. According to Janet Hook and John McKinnon over at the Wall Street Journal, the cost of the bill is $858 billion. (I know that he can be allowed some leeway with rounding, but $142 billion is still a lot of money.) Also, I don’t know how he substantiates his claim that 2/3 of the $990 billion in increased spending and tax cuts “is above and beyond extension of the Bush Tax cuts.” I’m not exactly sure what he means by that; in any event, it’s contradicted by this graph.

But Krauthammer is right that there is a lot of stimulus in this deal that the Democrats otherwise should not have expected. That’s a good thing for the left, right?

Not according to Paul. While there is stimulus in the deal, it’s not the right kind and it doesn’t come at the right time:

Republicans got what they wanted — an extension of all the Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthy. This part of the deal was bad all around. Yes, some of those tax cuts would be spent, boosting the economy to some extent. But a large part of the tax cuts, especially those for the wealthy, would not be spent, so the tax-cut extension increases the budget deficit a lot while doing little to reduce unemployment.

In return for this bad stuff, Mr. Obama got a significant amount of short-term stimulus. Unemployment benefits were extended; there was a temporary cut in the payroll tax; and there were tax breaks for investment. 

Unemployment benefits aside, all of this is very much second-best policy: consumers would probably spend only part of the payroll tax break, and it’s unclear whether the business break would do much to spur investment given the excess capacity in the economy. Still, it would be a noticeable net positive for the economy next year.

But here’s the thing: while the bad stuff in the deal lasts for two years, the not-so-bad stuff expires at the end of 2011. This means that we’re talking about a boost to growth next year — but growth in 2012 that would actually be slower than in the absence of the deal.

Riffing on the President’s hostage-taker analogy from his piss-off-everyone news conference, Paul goes on to argue that Obama is giving the Republicans even more hostages at the end of 2011. Because the “good stuff” expires exactly when the President needs it to keep going — i.e. in a Presidential Election Year — he will be under intense pressure to give more concessions to the Republicans in exchange for extending the stimulative parts of the deal. (Elsewhere, though, Ezra Klein argues convincingly that Obama can at least get an extension of the payroll tax holiday on the cheap because Republicans won’t want to raise taxes in an election year.)

So, who’s right? They both are! The tax cut deal is horrible for the left and the right. 

You know what’s popular? Tax cuts! You know what else is popular? Government Spending! Wouldn’t it be great if we could get both? Well, when you have two sides negotiating with an eye only toward reelection, you can!

You see, even though government spending is evil, it’s not so evil that the Republicans won’t wink at it in exchange for tax cuts for the wealthy. And even though it’s dangerous to our long-term fiscal stability to have government programs that aren’t paid for, it’s not so dangerous that the Democrats won’t wink at tax-cuts for the rich in exchange for getting the programs they like. So who loses? Everyone! Well, not everyone. The rich won’t lose because they never lose.

So the answer to this question is really the answer to every question: Be rich. 

December 10, 2010
OP-rEDux: In the Middle, We’re Still Talking About the Tax Cuts

Yes, but what do the elite think?

  • Gail Collins, exhausted with the Senate, tolerates the Obama tax cuts.
  • George Will asks his boyfriend, Mike Pence, to run for Congress because he stood up to Republicans when they were expanding the government. 
  • Karl Rove thinks that Obama has to do a better job of lobbying for his tax cut deal. 
  • According to E.J. Dionne Jr., Obama is taking the pissing-off-both-sides approach to the center.  
  • Having already been compared ad-nauseum to Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Obama is now being compared to George Bush the First, courtesy of Jon Meachum.
  • Don’t be fooled, warns Daniel Henninger — even though he just agreed to the extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy and chastised the “sanctimonious” left, Obama is still a “Class Warrior.” 

Roll it, Pat it, and mark it with a B:

Who is Barack Obama? A centrist who is disappointing the base that got him elected? A Class Warrior who is delaying his fight against the rich for another day? Jimmy Carter? Bill Clinton? George H.W. Bush? Mao Tse-Tung? The fact is that, no matter how much we know about his life, we don’t know anything at all about the man until we know who we can compare him to. And the right comparisons make all the difference because, if Obama’s the wrong prior president, then he doesn’t stand a chance against some wingnut congressman who is really good at saying no to poor people, even when his party isn’t.     

December 8, 2010
OP-rEDux: In the Middle, We Like Our Taxes Like We Like Our Like our Junkies: With Lots of Cuts, and More Obnoxious the Richer They Get

Here is how your opinions in the middle are made. First, start with a whole bunch of extreme opinions ….

  • Just when you think a column about Palin shooting a caribou couldn’t possibly be about Obama’s deal with Republicans on the tax cuts, BAM! Maureen Dowd makes it a metaphor for the tax cut deal! I’ll let you guess who the Caribou is.
  • Thomas F. Cooley and Lee E. Ohanian think that the Bush tax cuts weren’t deep enough in the first place. They argue that the 37% average rate on taxable capital from 1990 to 2003 was just too high. High rates reduce the incentive to save and invest, which in turn explains why the economy was so disastrous between 1990 and 2003. 
  • Ruth Marcus thinks that the tax deal could pave the way for an overhaul of the tax system.    
  • America reminds Thomas Friedman ”of a working couple where the husband has just lost his job, they have two kids in junior high school, a mortgage and they’re maxed out on their credit cards. On top of it all, they recently agreed to take in their troubled cousin, Kabul, who just can’t get his act together and keeps bouncing from relative to relative. Meanwhile, their Indian nanny, who traded room and board for baby-sitting, just got accepted to M.I.T. on a full scholarship and will be leaving them in a few months.” Time to play a matching game! Who’s who in Friedman’s mini-allegory: 

        Dad                                                                                      Congress

        Mom                                                                                 Unemployed

        Kids                                                                                    Foreigners

        Kabul                                                                                  Foreigners

        Nanny                                                                                 Foreigners

  • Harold Meyerson thinks that the tax cut deal simply maintains the status-quo, which of course stinks.  

… then you mash them all together in a tube:

In every deal, both sides get some wins and losses. What did the Republicans win? Not much, if you consider that their ultimate goal is to eradicate every tax paid by the rich. What did the Democrats win? Not much either, when you consider their leader will be metaphorically shot like a Caribou. What do we in the middle get? Well, expanding on Tommy’s metaphor, I think the American people are primarily worried that Kabul might have knocked up the Nanny, as it were.

But what’s the upside? Well, at least things aren’t too different? And who knows — maybe they will be better in the future? At a certain point, though, you have to worry that clumsy, not too-well-thought-out comparisons between the American People and an American Family won’t even include a foreign-born nanny to begin with. 

November 30, 2010
OP-rEDux: Who Had the Laziest Response to the WikiLeaks Leak?

  • A strong front runner, David Brooks leans heavily on moral indignation and praise for old media — which has some ethics, goddamn it — in arguing that diplomats should be able to talk behind each other’s backs. 
  • Anne Applebaum writes the same column as David’s, less the praise for old media and adding in some nice rhetorical flourish: “in the name of ‘free speech,’” writes Anne, “another blow has been struck against frank speech.” Look, Annie, these are goosebumps.  
  • Richard Cohen uses the occasion to complain about how George W. Bush was a big liar. I think Ricky has special software that turns the news of the day into a “Bush was an asshole” column.  
  •  Bret Stephens is also stuck in 2004: he uses the occasion to complain that John Kerry is a flip-flopper! What, Bret, you couldn’t work in a Swift Boat reference?  
  • According to Fouad Ajami,”[t]he founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is no Daniel Ellsberg,” who leaked the Pentagon Papers. Rather, the recent leaks are mere voyeurism and reflect our present time, where ”all discretion and privacy are now things of the past.” This piece would have definitely taken the prize for laziest column had he mentioned reality television, facebook, or just “the internet.” But because Fouad showed a little self-restraint here the award for laziest column goes to:
  • Dana Milbank! He picked one of the leaked cables at random, proclaimed it a masterpiece of writing, and centered his whole column on the excesses described therein. Congratulations, Dana! You have the laziest response to WikiLeaks.

November 26, 2010
There’s Nothing Like Compromise for the Holidays

Earlier in the week, John Dickerson over at Slate anticipated most of the debates that likely cropped up at your family’s table over the Thanksgiving Holiday. He gave the pros and cons for each argument. But he didn’t really give a middle option. As many of these issues won’t be settled any time soon, and as we have many more family gatherings to look forward to between now and the New Year, I’m going to propose a compromise to settle each issue in Dickerson’s “Turkey Tussle.

1. TSA Pat-Downs

Loyal readers of Parles Krughammer know that this issue was definitively settled by Rep.-elect Allen West (R-Fla.) when he proposed that we should reject racial profiling in favor of “trend analysis" — and the trend seems to be Muslimy.  

But if your sister’s liberal, hungover kids back from their private college and your Uncle Bobby —whose Ford F-150 is wallpapered with bumper stickers questioning the President’s patriotism, birth place, and religion — can’t agree on trend analysis, maybe they can agree on Security Pajamas!    

Here’s how it works: You have changing rooms before and after a security checkpoint. In the first one, passengers change into a tasteful pair of pajamas and put their clothes into a basket that goes through the X-ray machine. Then, on the other side, the passengers change back into their clothes and return the pajamas. 

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Won’t the terrorists just take the bomb from their clothes, store it in the pajamas, and then put it back in their clothes in the second changing room? That’s why the pajamas are crotchless. 

2. Extending the Bush Tax Cuts

The debate here is over who should continue to get a tax cut. The liberals want to extend the tax cuts only for those making under $250,000/yr. The conservatives want to extend them for everyone or else no one at all. 

Really, though, the only fair way to pick who among us should bear an increased tax burden is a lottery! Those with the winning tickets get their tax break extended for another 10 years. If you didn’t win, you can always play next decade. And if the government sold tickets for the lottery, we could go a long way toward reducing the deficit. That’s right, you two knocked out birds! It was only one stone!  

3. Ratifying the START Treaty

They say that ratifying the New START treaty is important to our relationship with Russia. So, what I say is that we go ahead and ratify it, but then take some symbolic steps toward undermining US-Russo relations. For instance, à la “Freedom Fries,” we start calling vodka, Kahlúa, and cream a “White Freedom.” And you know War and Peace? Let’s start saying it was just a so-so novel.  

4. Cutting the Deficit

The deficit is a simple math problem. We just need enough spending cuts and tax increases to get us even. So, what I propose is to go about it Red-Rover style. The Republicans and Democrats will line up on opposite sides of the room. They will flip a coin to see who goes first. Say the Republicans win. They will call out: “Red-Rover, Red-Rover, send social security on over.” And then social security will be cancelled forever. On the Democrats’ turn, they’ll call out: “Red-Rover, Red-Rover, send Defense Spending on over.” And then only homosexuals will be allowed in the Army. 

5. Will Palin run for President/Can Obama win in 2012

Palin shouldn’t run for President. She should run for Vice-President. Your thinking: “Yeah, she already did that once, and it didn’t work out.” This time, though, Palin should run as Obama's Vice President.

Think about it — it’s a win/win. Palin desperately needs more experience and credibility before she can become president. And that’s exactly what she’ll get if she is the VP. To win reelection, Obama desperately needs to demoralize the Tea Party. And that’s exactly what will happen if they catch their secret girlfriend with a black guy. Not that I’m saying that the Tea Party is racist; they aren’t. They don’t hate all black people. They hate one black person. Because he’s black. And the President.     

6. Trying terrorists in federal court

Why don’t juries work on terrorists? Because there is a possibility that a jury might not convict a terrorist of being a terrorist. So, if you want to try terrorists in federal courts, you have to make it a crime to acquit a terrorist. And it can’t be one of these slap-on-the-wrist kinds of crimes, either. If you acquit a terrorist, you are guilty of being a terrorist. 

7. Ground Zero Mosque

A Ground Zero Mosque is such a ludicrous idea that it is hard to believe that anyone even came up with it. Nonetheless, this is America, and even Muslims have a right to worship. They just shouldn’t shove our faces in it.

So, I propose a two-part solution. First, the buildings’ 13 stories can’t all be dedicated to a mosque. That would be obscene. The Pope’s house isn’t even 13 stories tall. Thus, the majority of the floors should be used as something else — like, say, a community center. Also, the building obviously can’t be at Ground Zero. They should put it at least 2 blocks away.    

8. Does the GOP have a mandate

Yes. But only to reduce taxes, reduce the deficit, and reduce the size of government. But not by cutting Medicare. Or Medicaid. And not by cutting out the popular parts of the new health care reform law — like the part that makes it illegal for insurance companies to deny coverage based on a preexisting condition. We like that. And don’t touch social security or defense spending. 

So, essentially, they have the same mandate they’ve always had: Tax less! Spend Less (on other people)! 

9. Should Obama cooperate or fight with the GOP

No. He should cooperate or fight with the Democrats. That way, the people who actually care about where he stands will know where he stands. 

November 24, 2010
OP-rEDux: In the Middle, We’re Not Afraid of Foreigners; We’re Afraid of Their Differences

The punderati punderates … 

  • Maureen Dowd makes fun of the government for negotiating with a fake Taliban leader. You don’t get it, Maureen. If we negotiated with the real Taliban leader, that would be negotiating with terrorists.   
  • If you ask Thomas Friedman, the reason we have an unemployment problem in this country is because of all these damn kids and their texting! Now, if that sounds to you like an exhaustingly silly argument to make, don’t worry. He doesn’t make it. Instead, he just complains about how people with funny names like Zujaja Tauqeer are winning the Rhodes Scholarship.
  • Harold Meyerson thinks we should be more like Germany, whose economy is dominated by the “mittelstand.” This is what they call their “family-owned small and mid-size manufacturing firms.” Good point, Harry. But we should start by getting those damn cell-phones away from our kids when they should be studying. That is, unless you want your foreign-sounding middle-class dominated by foreign-sounding Rhodes Scholars!
  • Jimmy Carter — who, the byline helpfully points out, was the 39th President of these United States — thinks we should negotiate with North Korea. But Michael J. Green and William Tobey over at the Wall Street Journal disagree. They think that “[t]he focus right now should be on containment, interdiction and pressure.” Quick-hit compromise, guys: taking a page from our strategy in Afghanistan, we’ll get someone disguised as a North Korean to negotiate with! And then when negotiations break down, we’ll bomb the shit out of them. That way, everyone wins.
  • Joseph R. Biden, Jr. — who, the byline helpfully points out, is the current vice president of these United States — argues that ratifying the New Start treaty — which has been criticized for potentially reducing our nuclear arsenal — is important to our improved relationship with Russia. Sure, Joe, if we just lose those few extra pounds of warheads, everything between us and Russia will be great. Before you know it, the once beautiful U-S-A! will be completely emaciated, standing in front of the mirror in our bra and panties, pinching our skin and bones, and wondering if we’re still too fat for our new boyfriend.     

I think they’re all a little right, and here’s how:

When dealing with people who are different, you never really know what you’re going to get. You often have to ask yourself, Is this even the right foreigner? As we learned in Afghanistan, you can’t always be sure. That’s why you need to slap that phone out of your daughter’s hand and focus on growing our economy at home. Sure, it’d be nice to negotiate with outsiders. We’d love to have a good relationship with a nice, new country. But before you can love somebody else, you have to love yourself. Nukes and all.