2010 Lame Duck Session

I never thought the Bush Tax Cuts were a good idea in the first place. I can see how letting them expire right now might hurt an economy that is already fragile, but if they had expired, it woudn’t have bothered me a bit. I wonder if that’s the tactic Obama used with the Republican leadership in the negotiations leading to the Tax Cut Deal: “I’m happy to let all those tax cuts expire. And, of course, the people and the media will blame you, so there’s little downside for me. But I can be generous. If you want to keep tax cuts for you and me and our rich friends, all it will cost you is extending unemployment benefits, etc.”

Of course, I have no idea how it really went down, but in the end, the Republicans come off looking incredibly shallow and with few priorities. Congressional Republicans had been solidly against extending unemployment, for instance, because it would increase the deficit without offsetting spending cuts. Besides the fact that their tax cuts for the wealthy were not subject to such logic, as soon as they got those tax cuts, their opposition to unemployment evaporated. I feel pretty confident saying that deficit reduction is definitively not a Republican priority.

Starting there, and continuing with just about everythng else that has happened in the lame duck session, it really looks like the only thing the Republicans cared about was tax cuts for the wealthy. That’s it. Even making the President look bad, or keeping him from accomplishing anything doesn’t seem to have been as big a deal. I kind of wish we had figured this out sooner. If we had extended the tax cuts last year, maybe we could have gotten a health care bill with a public option instead of that odious individual mandate.

Ending “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” actually made a ton of sense. Once the Pentagon study came out showing that most members of the military didn’t think it would really hurt anything, further opposition was largely a product of prejudice or perhaps unwillingness to appear to be a flip-flopper. No other military that has tried it has had any serious problem, and those discharged under DADT were often exemplary soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen (airpeople?). That is, they weren’t a problem until someone outed them; their sexual preferences were the only cause for discharge. From a strictly pragmatic view, this was a good move. Also Republican opposition didn’t turn out to be as firm as they would have had us believe.

Which leads me to another lesson from this lame duck session. The Republican Party is not monolithically neolithic after all. This is good news! Even when the official party line is not reasonable, individual congressfolk and senators still can be. Of course, it still remains to be seen whether the “defectors” will be punished in the next election, but I’m encouraged. If we can get the moderate Republicans out to the ballot box next time in support of the people who were brave enough to take these more moderate positions, there might be hope for the GOP yet!


Thought Experiments require some Thought

I was reading yesterday’s letters to the editor and one of them really caught my attention. It’s the letter titled Profiling on this page. In it the letter writer poses his thought experiment about an armed robber with witnesses and video tape identifying him as a white male in his 20s driving a silver sedan. The question posed is whether the policeman on the beat should stop silver sedans randomly or target those driven by white males.

I don’t know, but I suspect the letter writer would say that if he were a white male 20-year-old in such a scenario, he would accept being stopped by a policeman and I have no reason to think he’s actually wrong about that. I doubt any of us would be happy at being stopped on suspicion of a crime we didn’t commit, but I would agree with the letter writer that targetting white males makes more sense than randomly stopping silver sedans.

Then comes the remarkable part. After claiming that the TSA’s “approach is to either stop silver sedans randomly so as not to discriminate based on gender or skin color, or to stop every silver sedan, regardless of who is occupying the vehicle” he makes the unwarranted jump to “Our intelligence agencies are quite capable of identifying the characteristics of potential terrorists.” The reason why this is remarkable? There is a huge difference between an identified perpetrator and a potential perpetrator.

To demonstrate this difference, let me propose my own extension of the thought experiment. Imagine now that there are a string of, let’s say 20, armed robberies in which each perpetrator was a youngish white male. The police ought to be quite capable of identifying the characteristics of armed robbers. So rather than just wait for each new robbery to happen, wouldn’t it make lots of sense to start stopping white males to prevent the crime in the first place? And would the letter writer be so willing to accept his fate as a white male so quietly?

I suspect not. The letter writer has drawn a faulty analogy, comparing two situations that are not very alike at all in support of his thesis in favor of racial profiling.