Stalemate

A chess match ends as a win, a loss or a draw.  A draw can be agreed to by the persons playing the white and black pieces.  Certain situations are deemed a stalemate, which is a draw by definition.  No one wins.  The rules defining a stalemate have application to real life.  If one player on either side is not in checkmate, but has no legal moves, the game is a stalemate and drawn.  If both players have moved fifty times without a pawn moving or a capture being made, that’s a stalemate.  If a position has been repeated three times with every piece on the exact same square for both sides, that’s a stalemate and drawn.  It matters not if the positions are repeated sequentially, so long as they are reproduced exactly.   Only the side in the weaker position poised for a loss would declare the repeated position and draw.

“If a tie is like kissing your sister, losing is like kissing your grandmother with her teeth out.”  George Brett

At the end of drawn out, bitterly contested campaigns, we find ourselves shell-shocked weary with virtually no change in the balance of power in Washington.  Hundreds of thousands of words have been and will be written about changing demographics, debate performances, issues false and true, ground games and early media blitz bets placed in swing states.  The essential question, however, is where do we go from here?  Can the Republicans tweak their base and make inroads into the new demographic coalitions of Latinos, single women, citizens of Asian origin and other minorities?  Have we reached a “tipping point” such that those relying on government and “in the wagon” outnumber those contributing to tax revenues and “pulling the wagon”?

“When the people find they can vote themselves money–that will herald the end of the republic.”  Ben Franklin

Can we avoid repeating our exact position or making fifty moves with no progress to break the potential of stalemate?  Will common sense prevail over ideology and a compromise be crafted to avoid the “fiscal cliff” of large across the board tax increases and devastating cuts to our defense that the Congressional Budget Office tells us will script us directly into over 9% unemployment and a new recession?  Other than a textbook definition, did we ever truly climb out of the last one with the prolonged anemic “recovery”?  Will the now assured full implementation of Obamacare with its assured tax increases and enormous expenditures make cutting our deficit structurally impossible over the next decade and trip us into a recession anyway?  What the hell was David Petraeus thinking?  So many questions to answer, we can be easily overwhelmed.

“A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”  Attributed, but not fully documented, to the late former minority leader, Senator Everett Dirksen

There is some certainty in the real numbers, however, and they are worth understanding as we discuss everything else.  Let them speak for themselves.  The deficit that deeply troubles so many of us and will beggar the future of our children can be grasped quite easily with a minimum of sophisticated fiscal knowledge by using this table from a Wall Street Journal article:

U.S. Deficit Growth (from US Treasury Dept and CBO records)
Total federal revenue, outlays and deficits,
fiscal years 2007-2012, in billions of dollars.
Year           2007        2008        2009        2010        2011        2012
Revenue  $        2,568  $    2,524  $    2,105  $    2,163  $    2,302  $    2,449
Spending  $        2,729  $    2,983  $    3,518  $    3,456  $    3,599  $    3,538
Deficit          ($161)       ($459)    ($1,413)   ($1,293)    ($1,297)    ($1,089)
% of GDP           -1.2%        -3.2%      -10.1%      -9.0%       -8.7%        -7.0%

Let these numbers roll around the back of your head for just a little while.  As revenues dropped (and are now just starting to recover), spending exploded and set a new benchmark frozen at an unprecedented level. No serious attempt has been made to curtail the profligacy of Washington as they buy our votes and the campaign contributions of special interests. Our deficit in the Obama years as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (the sum of our total economic activity as a nation) has never been less than double the worst year of the Bush administration, which was fighting the same two wars.  And the actual dollars of deficit have never been less than double the worst of the Bush years.

The Republican caucus insists on paring back the out of control spending; President Obama’s supporters such as those in the public unions and MoveOn.org insist on reducing the deficit by raising taxes.  His proposal in last year’s debt ceiling negotiations was to raise them by about $82 billion a year, which is still only 7% of last year’s deficit.  This week he has upped the ante to double that with no mention of trying to reduce spending.  Stalemate.  Many believe he would be content to let the economy go over the fiscal cliff and blame the Republicans for the new recession while satisfying his left base which demands higher tax rates and very few cuts.  Next year he could negotiate from the now higher rates.  Stalemate, and playing political brinksmanship with our fragile economy.

Unsustainable is a clichéd buzz word, but sometimes clichés are the best we can do.

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2 Comments

Filed under Politics and government

2 responses to “Stalemate

  1. Where are we going? Excellent question, Jack! Of course, no one knows the answer, although a glimpse at our present direction and speed would indicate that the most likely destination appears far from pleasant and that our arrival is imminent. Rather than pouring out my own personal opinions, I will instead allow the inimitable Neal Peart to stand in and offer one of many possible futures. (And for any progressive rock fans who might be checking in, here’s a link to a performance of the song on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hn1iIbIzfWw)

    The Trees
    Lyrics by Neal Peart
    Recorded by Rush (with music by Alex Liefson and Geddy Lee) and released on their Hemispheres album in 1978. Although Peart has repeatedly insisted that the song contains no hidden meaning, upon reflection one cannot help but view it as an allegory.

    There is unrest in the forest
    There is trouble with the trees
    For the maples want more sunlight
    And the oaks ignore their pleas

    The trouble with the maples
    (And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
    They say the oaks are just too lofty
    And they grab up all the light
    But the oaks can’t help their feelings
    If they like the way they’re made
    And they wonder why the maples
    Can’t be happy in their shade

    There is trouble in the forest
    And the creatures all have fled
    As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
    And the oaks just shake their heads

    So the maples formed a union
    And demanded equal rights
    ‘The oaks are just too greedy
    We will make them give us light’
    Now there’s no more oak oppression
    For they passed a noble law
    And the trees are all kept equal
    By hatchet, axe and saw

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  2. Gabe

    looking at the federal budget actuals, there are two line items where we see significant increases since 2007: military defense and welfare. its interesting that we’ve seen an increase in military spending given Obama’s image as a peacekeeper and conflict resolver in the media (after all, he is a nobel peace prize winner) however, I doubt a Republican administration would have saved any money here… in fact, let’s be honest, they probably would have spent more. the welfare increase is mostly unemployment benefits. this number is telling in my opinion. one would expect unemployment claims to rise during a recession but the fact that they have not decreased yet indicates that the stimulus approach does not work. would a republican administration have fared better here? perhaps, but not likely. both sides of the aisle have terrible investment track records. I feel that until we take away the blank check given to the federal government by the federal reserve, neither party will be able to balance the budget. spending is just too easy.

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