Here's how the Bowles-Simpson, Obama, and Republican fiscal cliff plans match up
If you're reading this, it's probably too late to save yourself. We're already over the fiscal cliff plan cliff. That's a lot of cliffs, but it's not nearly as many cliffs as there are plans. From Domenici-Rivlin to Bowles-Simpson to just Bowles, there's a dizzying array of blueprints. It's bad enough that 25 percent of respondents told PPP polls they had an opinion about the Panetta-Burns plan. There is no Panetta-Burns plan. (At least not yet.)
It's not hard to imagine what Panetta-Burns would look like, if it actually existed. Like all the other debt plans, it would include the $1 trillion in discretionary spending savings from the Budget Control Act (BCA), aka the debt ceiling deal, and the $800 billion in savings from not fighting the wars anymore.
But you know what they say: the first $2 trillion is the easiest. It's the next $2 trillion or so where things get tricky. That's where the "plan" part of the plan comes in. The Center for American Progress and Domenici-Rivlin have both offered good blueprints, but let's focus on Bowles-Simpson as a model, because of its totemic status inside the Beltway. The chart below, courtesy of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, looks at the savings from Bowles-Simpson over the next decade that haven't already been enacted -- in other words, excluding the BCA. (Note: All amounts are in billions).
That's a lot of new taxes. Bowles and Simpson get their $2.6 trillion in new revenues by first assuming the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire -- that adds $800 billion or so to their baseline -- and only then embarking on the "fundamental tax reform" of lowering rates and broadening the base. And boy, do they broaden the base. Bowles-Simpson would turn the mortgage interest and charitable giving deductions into 12% nonrefundable credits, phase out the employer healthcare exclusion by 2038, tax municipal bonds, cap tax-preferred retirement contributions to $20,000 or 20 percent of income and eliminate all other tax expenditures. Oh, and they would tax capital gains and dividends as ordinary income. Even with a top marginal rate of 28 percent, that's a lot more money coming into the IRS -- especially compared to President Obama's plan.
As you can see in the chart below, which is scaled to the Bowles-Simpson chart, Obama raises just over 60 percent as much revenue as those centrist, Gangnam-style dancing deficit cutters. Shariah socialism ain't what it used to be.
Obama would actually raise $1.6 trillion in new revenue, but that nets to $1.4 trillion after you include the $200 billion or so of additional stimulus he wants -- everything from extending unemployment insurance and the payroll tax cut to new infrastructure projects and mass refinancings. The $1.6 trillion in new taxes would come exclusively from high earners, and it would come in two steps. First, it would let the Bush tax cuts for the rich expire, and then it would limit the size of deductions they can take. This is about as much money as Bowles-Simpson would raise from the rich, with their plan getting $1.25 trillion from the top 1 percent and $220 billion from the rest of the top 5 percent. On the cuts side, most of Obama's cuts come in healthcare spending, and most of those come from letting Medicare negotiate better drug prices and limiting payments to facilities like nursing homes, as Sarah Kliff of the Washington Post points out.
The Republican plan is about the same size as Obama's plan, but tilted more towards spending cuts -- and vagueness. The chart below, also scaled to the Bowles-Simpson one, breaks down Boehner's counteroffer.
This looks like a real plan, but it's more like a facsimile of a sketch of a real plan. Republicans say they're willing to increase revenues by $800 but they aren't willing to say how exactly. A $50,000 deduction cap like Romney proposed during the campaign would get them most of the way there, if they kept rates where they are now. But Republicans don't want to keep rates where they are now. They want to cut rates. That likely takes their tax plan into the realm of mathematical impossibility, as Greg Sargent of the Washington Post points out. There's not much more specificity on the spending side. Republicans wants $600 billion in healthcare cuts, but they've only identified $100 billion or so of them -- that's how much money the Congressional Budget Office estimates raising the Medicare age to 67 would save over the next decade.
The chart below puts all of this together into one chart to rule them all, breaking down each of these three plans side-by-side. Let's see if we can make out the glimmer of a grand bargain.
There are three big questions, or stumbling blocks if you prefer, here.
1. How much revenue? Taxes will go back to their Clinton-era levels for everybody if January 1 comes and there is no deal. (Actually, they'll be a bit higher for high earners thanks to the 3.9 percent Obamacare surtax on capital gains). Will the Republicans really block a bill that extends the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of households? And if not, will they sign off on cutting deductions for top earners?
2. Any more discretionary cuts? Republicans want more discretionary cuts. Obama thinks the BCA had all the discretionary cuts we need.
3. Which inflation? Republicans want to use smaller, chained CPI to calculate, among other things, Social Security benefits. In other words, cuts. The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has tentatively endorsed this as part of a broader debt deal, so it's possible Obama might sign off on this.
It's not too hard to see the outlines of a grand bargain. A deal that raises $1.2 trillion in revenue -- halfway between Obama and Republicans, cuts $400-500 from Medicare between lower drug prices and means-testing, and adopts chained CPI for budget and benefit calculations -- without cutting discretionary spending anymore -- could get the job done.
Call it Panetta-Burns.
Bonus chart time! Here's the quick side-by-side of the Bowles-Simpson, Obama and Republican plans, scaled, of course.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
Some conservatives are defying expectation and backing the Vermont senator.
When Tarie MacMillan switched on her television in August to watch the first Republican presidential debate, she expected to decide which candidate to support.
But MacMillan, a 65-year-old Florida resident, was disappointed. “I looked at the stage and there was nobody out there who I really liked. It just seemed like a showcase for Trump and his ridiculous comments,” she recalled. “It was laughable, and scary, and a real turning point.”
So she decided to back Bernie Sanders, the self-described “Democratic socialist” challenging Hillary Clinton. MacMillan was a lifelong Republican voter until a few weeks ago when she switched her party affiliation to support the Vermont senator in the primary. It will be the first time she’s ever voted for a Democrat.
If you want to annoy a scientist, say that science isn’t so different from religion. When Ben Carson was challenged about his claim that Darwin was encouraged by the devil, he replied, “I’m not going to denigrate you because of your faith, and you shouldn’t denigrate me for mine.” When the literary theorist Stanley Fish chastised atheists such as Richard Dawkins, he wrote, “Science requires faith too before it can have reasons,” and described those who don't accept evolution as belonging to “a different faith community.”
Scientists are annoyed by these statements because they suggest that science and religion share a certain epistemological status. And, indeed, many humanists and theologians insist that there are multiple ways of knowing, and that religious narratives exist alongside scientific ones, and can even supersede them.
Nobody’s focused on winning the peace. That’s a big problem.
In August 1941, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met off the coast of Newfoundland to outline a shared vision for the post-World War II era. The British prime minister was so thrilled to see the American president that, in the words of one official, “You’d have thought he was being carried up into the heavens to meet God.” The two countries issued the Atlantic Charter, which sought “a better future for the world” through the principles of self-determination, collective security, and free trade. The United States hadn’t even entered the war yet, but it was already focused on winning the peace. The endgame was not just the defeat of the Axis powers, but also the creation of a stable global order, in which World War II would be the last world war.
Why are so many kids with bright prospects killing themselves in Palo Alto?
The air shrieks, and life stops. First, from far away, comes a high whine like angry insects swarming, and then a trampling, like a herd moving through. The kids on their bikes who pass by the Caltrain crossing are eager to get home from school, but they know the drill. Brake. Wait for the train to pass. Five cars, double-decker, tearing past at 50 miles an hour. Too fast to see the faces of the Silicon Valley commuters on board, only a long silver thing with black teeth. A Caltrain coming into a station slows, invites you in. But a Caltrain at a crossing registers more like an ambulance, warning you fiercely out of its way.
The kids wait until the passing train forces a gust you can feel on your skin. The alarms ring and the red lights flash for a few seconds more, just in case. Then the gate lifts up, signaling that it’s safe to cross. All at once life revives: a rush of bikes, skateboards, helmets, backpacks, basketball shorts, boisterous conversation. “Ew, how old is that gum?” “The quiz is next week, dipshit.” On the road, a minivan makes a left a little too fast—nothing ominous, just a mom late for pickup. The air is again still, like it usually is in spring in Palo Alto. A woodpecker does its work nearby. A bee goes in search of jasmine, stinging no one.
The Speaker’s reformist ambitions fall victim to his need to manage the media cycle.
Before taking the speakership last month, Paul Ryan made a promise to fix a “broken” House of Representatives and return the chamber to “regular order.” Eschewing the centralized authority of his predecessor, John Boehner, Ryan promised to put legislative power back in the hands of rank-and-file members—something key House constituencies had been clamoring for.
Under regular order, House bills go through an often-lengthy process from subcommittee to the floor; they are vetted, debated, and amended before receiving a final up-or-down vote. A return to regular order is one of the few areas with serioussupport from both ultraconservative Freedom Caucus members and progressive reformers in the House. After all, legislators on both sides of the aisle want a chance to be heard, offer amendments, and share expertise. Ryan concurred: “The committees should retake the lead in drafting all major legislation. When we rush to pass bills, a lot of us do not understand, we are not doing our job.”
Why trying to think like the Islamic State is so hard—and risky.
In killing 130 civilians in Paris—the worst such attack in France since World War II—ISIS has forced us to contend, once again, with the question of the “rationality” of self-professed ideologues. Since it wrested the world’s attention with its capture of Iraq’s second-largest city in June 2014, the extremist group has prioritized state-building over fighting far enemies abroad. This is what distinguished ISIS: It wasn’t just, or even primarily, a terrorist organization. It had an unusually pronounced interest in governance. As Yale University’s Andrew March and Mara Revkin lay out in considerable detail, the group focused its energy on developing fairly elaborate institutional structures in the territory it controlled within Iraq and Syria. ISIS wasn’t simply making things up as it went along. It may have been mad, but there was a method to the madness.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Prosecutors indict a Chicago police officer for first-degree murder and release a “deeply disturbing” video of the shooting.
Updated at 1:25 a.m on November 25.
The city of Chicago released the dashcam footage of Laquan McDonald's final moments Tuesday evening, one day earlier than they had originally announced. City officials gave journalists a link to a third-party site where they would have a one-hour window to download the six-minute and fifty-three-second video clip. (City officials bizarrely cited “limited bandwidth” as the reason for for the time limit.) The website crashed almost immediately, but DNAinfo Chicago uploaded the entire video to YouTube.
The clip begins with a 45-second disclaimer then shows the police vehicle on which the dashboard camera was mounted travel to the scene. Five minutes and fifteen seconds pass before McDonald first appears, walking in the middle of a mostly empty city street near two other police vehicles. McDonald is walking at a brisk pace while carrying something in his left hand. (Police reports say it was a knife.)
Tardigrades are sponges for foreign genes. Does that explain why they are famously indestructible?
The toughest animals in the world aren't bulky elephants, or cold-tolerant penguins, or even the famously durable cockroach. Instead, the champions of durability are endearing microscopic creatures called tardigrades, or water bears.
They live everywhere, from the tallest mountains to the deepest oceans, and from hot springs to Antarctic ice. They can even tolerate New York. They cope with these inhospitable environments by transforming into a nigh-indestructible state. Their adorable shuffling gaits cease. Their eight legs curl inwards. Their rotund bodies shrivel up, expelling almost all of their water and becoming a dried barrel called a “tun.” Their metabolism dwindles to near-nothingness—they are practically dead. And in skirting the edge of death, they become incredibly hard to kill.