The Logical End of Things

Horror movies are stupid. There’s no reason those pleasant young kids should explore that empty old house on that hill, or that the sweet young thing, the one with the killer body and the blond hair, should open that one door. Those kids should score some beer and party, or just sit around and whine about how unfair life is, like normal teenagers. And yes it’s dark and it’s raining on that lonely road in the woods, and in the distance there’s that one light in that one window of that old castle on the mountaintop in the distance, but even in Transylvania there’s probably a bed and breakfast just down the road, with free w-fi too. Don’t be stupid. Forget that house on the hill. Don’t open that innocent-looking door. Don’t knock on the massive wooden door of that old castle either. Additionally, by the way, don’t mess with mummies. But no, that’s what they do, and that’s the convention of all horror movies. The audience knows, anyone with half a brain knows, that something very bad is going to happen. Everyone knows exactly what’s going to happen – characters will die grisly deaths, one by one. That’s the enduring appeal of these movies – not that the characters die gruesome deaths, but that what happens is so inexorably inevitable, as long as you don’t apply anything like logic. It’s thrilling to know that horror simply has to happen, even if there’s no reason at all that it should, and perhaps this confirms everyone’s deepest fear of the real truth – if things are going well, they’ll fall apart, and if things are going badly, they’ll get much worse. Horror movies confirm that, in a deliciously thrilling way, even if they make no sense at all. The concept is true. The rest is just fluff and nonsense.

One shouldn’t open doors. There’s always a monster behind the door. That’s the lesson, but here we are entering the second week of the government shutdown, which clearly won’t end soon, and facing the United States choosing to default on its debt, collapsing the world’s economy, with John Boehner playing the part of the ditzy teenage girl who somehow just had to open that innocent-looking door, but his position is simple. The Democrats have devised a way for thirty or forty million more Americans to have the chance to buy low-cost subsidized health insurance from private-sector parties, and then they got that passed into actual law – and that’s somehow the end of the world, so it will be a shutdown and then ruin until Obama does one simple thing – he gives up Obamacare, and everything like it. All social spending would be a place to start, so it’s time to talk.

That’s the door that Boehner opened, and there was a monster behind it. Those who lost the elections about such things, and the legislative battles about them, and the Supreme Court decision about this matter too, don’t get to make demands, threatening ruin. What part of “losing” don’t they understand? Obama won’t talk. Boehner opened the wrong door.

Boehner will eventually have to give in, but then in the tradition of all horror movies, things must get worse, and this weekend they did just that:

House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday flatly refused to schedule votes for full government funding or to raise the debt ceiling without concessions from Democrats, asserting that the House couldn’t and shouldn’t take either step without addressing problems with the new healthcare law and the nation’s debt crisis.

In an exclusive interview on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos,” Boehner said he does not know how and when the current standoffs will end.

But he made clear that, in his view, President Obama and Democrats in Congress are to blame for both the government shutdown and the possibility that the United States will default on its debt. The speaker reiterated his demand for negotiations with the president to find a path forward on both fronts.

Yes, he made things worse. The shutdown will not end, and we will default on our debts, unless the Republicans get what they couldn’t get legislatively, or in the courts, and what they could get the country to vote for in the last two presidential elections, and all he wants is the president to negotiate the terms by which the Republicans get what they couldn’t otherwise get:

“The American people expect in Washington when we have a crisis like this that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation. And I told my members the other day that there may be a back room somewhere, but there’s nobody in it,” said Boehner, R-Ohio.

“We’re interested in having a conversation about how we open the government and how we begin to pay our bills. But it begins with a simple conversation.” …

If the government shutdown lasts longer, and if the nation defaults on its debt, Boehner said blame should fall on the president: “I’m willing to sit down and have a conversation with the president. But his refusal to negotiate is putting our country at risk.”

He’ll burn down the house unless he gets what he couldn’t otherwise get. Why does Obama want him to burn down the house? He’s poured gasoline on everything and he’s holding the match, and Obama won’t talk to him, to stop him. It really is a horror movie, but at least he doesn’t have a chainsaw – although that metaphor works too.

Chuck Todd and his team at First Read add another dimension:

As conservative Republicans continue to demand concessions from President Barack Obama’s health-care law as the price to end the government shutdown, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was asked a simple question on Sunday: Why not accomplish this instead by winning elections?

Cruz’s response to CNN’s Candy Crowley: “We did have an election, and Republicans won a majority of the House of Representatives. And the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the principle responsibility for appropriations for spending.”

Chuck Todd and his team take issue with that:

What Cruz neglected to mention in his answer is that, under the Constitution, any appropriations legislation must pass both the GOP-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate and must be signed into law by the president.

He also didn’t mention that – in that same election – Obama convincingly won re-election to the White House, Democrats picked up two additional Senate seats and eight House seats, and they won the popular House vote by a 49 percent to 48 percent margin.

In this modern era of politics – which includes the incredibly close 2000 presidential race and another close contest in 2004 – the 2012 election produced a clear-cut outcome.

The point here is that elections have consequences:

It’s how Democratic victories in the 1930s paved the way for Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, how Dem victories in the 1960s led to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs, how Republican victories in the 1980s resulted in Ronald Reagan’s tax cuts, how Democratic majorities in 2006 and 2008 led to Obama’s health-care law, and how the GOP’s midterm wins in 2010 extracted spending-cut concessions from Obama the following year.

Yet what’s extraordinary about this current political fight is that Republicans are seeking another round of concessions – over the president’s signature domestic achievement – after losing the last election, which was viewed in part as a referendum on the health-care law.

“It’s as if Ted Cruz slept through the entire 2012 cycle,” a senior Democratic aide tells First Read. “It’s not like Obamacare, spending and debt weren’t major issues in 2012. They were central – and we won.”

Ah, but horror movies have nothing to do with logic, even if the logic here is clear:

In the U.S. system of government – with its checks and balances – major legislative change comes in two forms. One, when one political party controls most, if not all, of the branches of government (see the New Deal, Great Society, Obama’s healthcare law). Two, when divided government reaches good-faith compromise (Social Security changes in the 1980s, welfare reform in the 1990s).

This is new, as there really is no history of that sort of legislative compromise “being dictated by the terms of the side that had lost” the previous election:

The losing side has certainly blocked the majority creating new laws (like George W. Bush’s Social Security effort in 2005, Bill Clinton’s second-term agenda and Obama’s cap-and-trade legislation). However, it hasn’t rolled back major laws, especially without controlling all the branches of government.

The reason: Elections have consequences. Or at least they used to.

No, we’re in a horror movie now, where no one expects sense, and Kevin Drum sees that:

So Republicans have settled on their messaging, and it’s this: Democrats are refusing to negotiate. We keep offering compromise after compromise, but Democrats won’t listen to any of them.

Will this work? The truth of a proposition has little or nothing to do with its psychodynamics, so I suppose it has a chance. But it certainly shows a considerable contempt for the intelligence of the voting public. After six months of (a) refusing to meet with Senate Democrats to discuss the budget and (b) gleefully telling anyone who would listen that the shutdown and/or debt ceiling would be their ultimate leverage to force President Obama to agree to their laundry list of demands, you’d think it would be a hopeless task to pretend it was Democrats who wanted this fight all along. Add to that the fact that Democrats have already given in, completely, to Republican demands on spending levels, and you’d think it would be flatly impossible to pretend that Democrats were the ones refusing to negotiate.

Ah, but nothing is impossible in a horror movie:

The fact that this is a cynical ploy doesn’t mean it won’t work. Ironically, given that Karl Rove is opposed to this strategy, it reminds me of his well-known – and frequently successful – tactic of turning an opponent’s strong points against him. Republicans are pretty universally known as the party of intransigent zealots, so let’s claim that it’s really Democrats who are the intransigent zealots! And we’ll do it by continually offering the same concession – i.e., nothing – in return for an ever-changing set of demands and pretending that this represents a sincere search for compromise. It’s so crazy it could work!

Actually that’s the plan, which Salon’s Brian Beutler calls the dumbest extortion plot ever:

Republicans say shutting down the government is really bad. But they won’t reopen it unless they get some kind of Obamacare scalp from President Obama. So as bad as a shutdown is, it’s worse than the alternative of not shutting down services, furloughing hundreds of thousands of people, but not getting a unilateral concession, even a trivial one, from Obama.

The only way to rationalize the GOP’s parallel debt limit threats is with the same logic. Defaulting on the debt and tanking the economy would be terrible, Republican leaders agree, but worse would be to avoid another global recession and get nothing from Obama.

Faced with this logic conservatives counter that Obama’s unwillingness to “negotiate” – i.e., discuss the amount of cash he’s willing to hand over – makes him just as craven and reckless. If default is so terrible, wouldn’t it be preferable to let Republicans take a whack at his healthcare law in order to avoid it?


The whole point of Obama’s refusal to negotiate is that what Republicans are actually demanding is to fundamentally alter the power balance between the legislative and executive branches of government. If Obama caves and offers concessions to Republicans in exchange for a debt limit increase, it will clearly weaken the presidency. By contrast, if Republicans “cave” and increase the debt limit cleanly, Congress will lose none of its fundamental power.

Moreover, senior administration officials are confident that if Obama establishes the precedent that the president should yield concessions to the opposition on a threat of default, eventually the opposition will demand something so impossible that a default will happen anyhow. Taking a hard line now is the only way to prevent that.

This is why the term “extortion” is appropriate. If Obama were to veto debt limit increases until Congress appended a tax increase and a universal gun background check rider, he’d be guilty of the same. But to the frustration of some liberals he’s not. And in this case it’s not because he’s weak or a bad negotiator.

There really was a monster behind that door:

As this shutdown proves, once parties start making demands they can be very, very difficult to back away from. To paraphrase one Republican, it’s easier to get into a shutdown than to get out of one. The same dynamic applies to a default. But the consequences of a default are much more dire.

No one is talking about that, except people like Richard Bove, the vice president of research at Rafferty Capital Markets, who sees something worse than the Great Depression happening when we default:

“The first thing you have to do is look at who holds the debt,” Bove says of the $16.7 trillion of bonds the U.S. currently has outstanding. “The first, biggest owner (of U.S. debt) is the social security fund, so you’d have all of these people who are receiving social security payments who now have to question whether they’ll get their payments.”

Clearly, that would cause a huge disruption to millions of Americans. But Bove says that is only the beginning since the second biggest holder of Treasuries (at about 12% of the total) is the Federal Reserve, which has “91% of its assets backed by U.S. government debt.”

If the value of those assets were to decline, which they indisputably would in a default, Bove says the net effect would be that “we have nothing of value backing the dollar.”

They’re actually “Federal Reserve Notes” as well as the number one asset of choice held in the reserves of governments and businesses all over the world. A plunge in Treasuries would also devalue the dollar, which would instantly make everything we buy more expensive, and in turn destabilize countries and economies all over the world.

“Eleven-percent of all U.S. debt is owned by the Chinese,” he says. “That $1.4 trillion represents about a third of the reserves of the People’s Bank of China, so what we’ve now said to the PBOC is, ‘Watch out, we may hit the value of a third of your assets and you can’t do anything about it.'”

They won’t be happy about that, and then it gets worse:

As Bove explains, money market funds, which are used by virtually every person with a savings or investment account, are also “heavily loaded with Treasuries.” So are most bond funds and so-called balanced funds (growth and income funds). A default on U.S. debt would not only cause money funds to “break the buck” –not be able to pay 100-cents for each dollar invested)– but would also cause forced selling by countless other funds that are mandated to immediately sell any asset that has defaulted.

“That could easily put $750 billion of Treasuries on to the market” Bove says, inferring that interest rates would also spike and normal borrowing/lending transactions would end.

Speaking of banks, the U.S. banking industry holds over a trillion-dollars-worth of Treasuries and another trillion dollars of government issued mortgage-backed securities, Bove says. If those bonds were to go down in value, he says the banks would also have to “write down the value of those assets and, in essence, wipe out their equity.” It would make the banks insolvent.

The collapse of our economic system, and the world’s, and the geopolitical chaos that would follow, are the real monsters behind the door that Boehner opened, when ted Cruz told him to – because it would be cool or something, and there might be something wonderful behind that door. These guys don’t watch horror movies. The audience is always screaming at the sweet young thing up on the screen – DON’T OPEN THAT DOOR!

She always does. Then she dies, and in this case this would mean political death:

The government shutdown is already hurting the GOP in battleground congressional districts, according to new polling in two dozen districts currently controlled by Republicans.

The surveys, commissioned by the liberal group Political Action and conducted by Public Policy Polling, suggest that the government shutdown may already be having a bigger impact than most analysts realize.

“Democrats must pick up 17 seats to win control of the House. These poll results make clear that if the election were held today, such a pickup would be well within reach,” said pollster Jim Williams. “The surveys challenge the conventional wisdom that gerrymandering has put the House out of reach for Democrats.”

That’s not bloody and gruesome like in the horror movies, but it is gruesome enough politically, as is this development:

Veteran Republican fundraisers are increasingly alarmed by the defiant stance of hardline conservatives amid the federal government shutdown, prompting fears that many key donors may be restrained in their giving going into the 2014 midterms.

The growing unhappiness among longtime GOP check-writers and party elders underscores the deepening divisions over the ascendant tea party wing, which fueled this past week’s shutdown and is demanding Democratic concessions in exchange for reopening the government and raising the nation’s debt limit.

The tensions bubbled up this past week at a three-day gathering in Washington for backers of American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, the GOP-allied groups founded with the help of strategist Karl Rove that pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into the past two elections.

In between private sessions at the Four Seasons hotel with GOP stars such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, many attendees expressed concern about the strategy of tying funding of the government to measures that would stymie the president’s health-insurance initiative.

This really is the dumbest extortion plot ever, and it wasn’t just this meeting:

The frustration was evident this past week not just at the Crossroads conference but also throughout the party’s high-end donor class. While grass-roots activists cheer the unyielding positions of conservative House Republicans, some of the GOP’s top fundraisers are watching the situation with growing dismay.

“I oppose Obamacare as much as anyone else does, but this is not the way to repeal it,” said Bobbie Kilberg, a longtime GOP donor and fundraiser in Northern Virginia.

“The fact is, donors have had it,” Kilberg added, saying she will not give donations to groups raising money broadly for House or Senate Republicans. “I will only give to individual candidates who get it.”

Meanwhile, in Manhattan:

One top party fundraiser said the Wall Street financiers and corporate executives he counts on for support are “having fits” over the GOP’s brinkmanship strategy, especially related to a potential default if Congress does not agree to raise the debt ceiling later this month.

“The donors I raise money from understand the vital importance of credit markets and are upset that the U.S. credit system is being put at risk,” said the fundraiser, who requested anonymity because of his position in the business world.

Many veteran GOP donors also take a particularly dim view of freshman Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a tea party favorite who helped lead the shutdown strategy.

This item goes on to tell of all the Tea Party folks saying screw the Wall Street crowd, we can raise our own money, maybe not as much, and we’re not sure how yet, but screw those Wall Street guys, which just had to happen. Open that innocent-looking door, to a wonderful shutdown and then an even more wonderful default, and a three-headed monster jumps out, the current Republican Party. There’s the Ted Cruz freedom-from-everything wing, who want no government at all. There’s the Wall Street wing, worried about the financial system, and their portfolios. Those two groups have decided they despise each other. The Jesus wing of the party is standing off to the side at the moment, wondering why no one’s talking about abortion and gay marriage. Luckily, the fourth wing, the national-security hawks, always urging war, disappeared long ago, thanks to the second George Bush and his amazing Iraq adventure. But no one’s happy.

One shouldn’t open doors. There’s always a monster behind the door. That’s the lesson here, but now we’re all in their horror movie, not just watching, and that’s not thrilling at all.


About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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One Response to The Logical End of Things

  1. Ted Cruz’s (et al) claim about Congress reflecting the will of the “American People”, thus denying the reality of who won the 2012 election; who controls the Senate; and who won the popular vote, doesn’t surprise me. It is the constant theme of the “bunch in the bunker” of political war. It’s hard to miss it: the blowhard who shouts down any opposition; who absolutely refuses to listen; who argues in headlines, unfazed by any context or facts. Doubtless in his very darkest moments, even Hitler thought he could still win WWII by tossing everything at the Allies at the last minute. This is just how it is. We’re the ones who have to do the heavy lifting and not give in to this sanctimonious minority of blowhards. Ain’t easy, but somebody has got to stand up to them, and it is us, not anybody else.

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