Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Of Barbarians and Mad Men

One of my favorite shows of all time is Star Trek the original series. And one of my favorite episodes from that series is "Mirror, Mirror." That was the episode where Kirk and the landing party exchange places with another Kirk and landing party in an alternate universe who just happen to be beaming up at the exact same time. The alternate universe is violent and barbaric and Kirk and his landing party must do their best to convince their polar opposites on the alternate Enterprise that they are one of them while at the same time preventing the slaughter of the entire population on the planet below.

Eventually both landing parties are returned to their respective universes.  In the closing scene, Kirk and McCoy are talking to Spock about their experience on board the alternate Enterprise.

Kirk: How did you spot our counterparts so quickly?

Spock: It was far easier for you as civilized men to behave like barbarians than it was for them as barbarians to behave as civilized men.

Oh, that Spock. Always had a knack for nailing it on the head. I'll explain why in a little bit.

The fiscal cliff deal that Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell hammered out last night appears to have enough for both sides of the political aisle to like and dislike. In fact, if you look at it objectively, the deal heavily favors the White House and Democrats.

Here are some of the highlights:

* The Bush tax cuts will be extended for all individuals earning under $400,000 and couples earning under $450,000. Everything above those amounts will return to Clinton-era tax rates. The White House and Democrats wanted the thresholds at $200,000 and $250,000 respectively. Republicans wanted all the Bush tax cuts extended.
* The sequester that was set to kick in on January 1 will be delayed two months while both sides come up with less draconian cuts. For now, there are no spending cuts in this deal.
* Social Security is off the table. No recalculating cost of living increases for seniors.
* The estate tax will increase from 35 percent to 40 percent. It had been scheduled to go up to 55 percent in 2013.
* Capital gains and dividend tax rates will go from 15 percent to 20 percent.
* Unemployment insurance benefits are extended for the next twelve months with no offsets. It had expired over the weekend.
* The Medicare "Doc Fix" is extended for one year.
* The Alternative Minimum Tax will now be permanent.
* The farm bill is extended for one year.
* The payroll tax holiday expires.

The bill will more than likely pass the Senate. Assuming the House doesn't screw it up, it could be signed by President Obama before the stock market opens on Wednesday. On the whole, I can live with the higher amounts. That was never the sticking point as far as I was concerned. Unlike many progressives, I always figured the $250k line was negotiable.  In deed, the fact that Biden got as much as he did in this package is actually quite impressive. The Vice President earned his pay on this one.

My one complaint?  The debt ceiling is NOT included in the deal.

As I mentioned in November, it was essential that Obama get the debt ceiling off the table if he was going to avoid the circus we witnessed in 2011. So long as he was going to cave on revenue, why he didn't demand a debt ceiling extension is beyond me. Does anyone with half a brain doubt that the GOP will resort to the same sort of hostage taking come February, especially since it proved so effective the last time around?  The President can say all he wants that he won't submit to them, but the simple truth is that he just did.

Yes, agreeing to increase the tax cut threshold by $200,000 isn't the same thing as negotiating spending cuts with a gun pointed at your head. I get it; Obama gets it; most sane people get it. That's the problem.  We're not talking about sane people here. Remember these are the same nincompoops who all thought to a man and woman that defaulting on the good faith and credit of the United States was no big deal. They were prepared to let the country default on its debt over some ridiculous ideology that only a twisted person would follow.

My gut tells me that for all the celebrating and chest thumping at the White House over this deal, by the end of February they are going to rue the decision not to demand an extension of the debt ceiling. Obama's dilemma is that he still thinks he's dealing with rational people.  He isn't.  These people are lunatics.  They've already proven it once. What's to stop them from trying it again?

It is high time that this president got it through his thick, pragmatic skull that his opponents are not of this universe. In the alternate reality that these Republicans live, logic and reason are not part of the equation.  Like the fictional characters in that Star Trek episode it is impossible for them to behave appropriately. Like the proverbial old dog, they cannot learn new tricks.

The sooner Obama accepts this fact the smoother his second term will go. As Mr. Spock would say,  "It's the logical thing to do."

Links: http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57561465/its-official-deal-reached-on-fiscal-cliff/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/31/fiscal-cliff-deal_n_2348269.html

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