Sunday, February 12, 2023

Cut the Baby in Half!

Hey, half a baby is better than none!

The above cartoon got me to thinking about today's politics.  Today, so many, particularly on the right, argue that "bipartisanship is dead!" but at the same time, holding out for "my way or the highway."  Negotiating with the far-right is like trying to negotiate with the Taliban or ISIS.  "Well, if you all just surrendered and converted to Islam, then we can talk!  If that is not acceptable to you, we offer an alternative - you could all just die!  Wait!  Why are you walking away?  I am trying to negotiate in good faith here!"

And sadly, that is the tactic of fundamentalist Muslims - or for that matter, fundamentalists of any religion or stripe.  Heads I win, tails you lose.  Hey!  That's fair!  After all, we flipped a coin over it!

But there is a method to this madness.  Back in the olden days, when both political parties talked to one another, each had somewhat reasonable positions, albeit they disagreed with one another.  When compromise occurred, it truly was a compromise that both parties could live with - neither went away totally unhappy.

Back in the 1970's, a bipartisan effort created the Environmental Protection agency - signed into law by President Nixon (who proposed the law in the first place).  Both parties realized that we couldn't choke to death on our own pollution - many cities were clouded with noxious fumes - much as China is today.  Rivers ran with toxic metals, and lead fumes filled the air.  We realized something needed to be done, and we buckled down and did it.  LA still has smog, but overall, our rivers and air are cleaner.  If not for the EPA and the air pollution regulations, many cities would have become unlivable by now.

Today?  There are people pushing to abolish the EPA and bring back leaded gasoline (people who inhaled too many lead fumes, apparently!).  They don't "believe the science" about pollution, and want to go back to the days when you could just dump your old motor oil in a nearby stream to get rid of it.

Similarly, in the 1980's, we discovered that a hole was forming in the ozone layer in Antarctica.  Chlorofluorocarbons were eating away at the ozone (as a former HVAC tech, I am responsible for part of this!).  No one said, "I don't believe the science!" or tried to duck out on the deal.  Rather, in 1990, the clean air act was amended by Congress and signed into law, to eliminate the offending refrigerants.

And it worked.  The ozone hole is shrinking and it is believed that it will be gone within a decade or two.   Funny thing, when people actually work together to solve a problem, the problem can be solved.  It does involve sacrifices on the part of everyone.  But today, we have new "ozone-friendly" refrigerants and no one seems to care what kind of refrigerant you use, as cars running R-12 went to the junkyard years ago, or were converted to R134a - as I did with my old Mercedes.

If this was tried today?  Well, you would hear howls of protest, much as we have about LED light-bulbs and low-flush toilets (Thanks, Trump!).  Funny thing, though, you can still buy incandescent bulbs at the local lumberteria.  Not many people want them, though.  I guess a few folks cling to them as some sort of "sovereign citizen" protest.  But once you get beyond the learning curve, you realize they last a lot longer (not as long as advertised, though!) and save money overall.  I don't miss burning my fingers on incandescent bulbs, one bit!

I think something changed in the last two decades, and folks like Roger Ailes and Roger Stone (those Rogers - gotta watch out for 'em!) figured out that if you compromised from a reasonable position, you never get ahead.  Think of it this way - two teams are each in their respective end zones.  If they "compromise" they end up on the 50-yard-line, halfway down the field.  But if one team starts from a position at their 20 yardlinethen a compromise brings them to their opponent's 40 yard line.  If you could start at the 50 yard line, well, you'd be in a position to kick a field goal after a "compromise."

Maybe that is a bad metaphor, but it works in the real world.  I took a course in Real Estate Law, thinking it would be helpful for managing my tiny real estate empire.  The course was taught by an attorney who represented a commercial builder in DC - who built numerous office buildings and financed them with their own S&L.

He told us that in the beginning, they would propose a new office building and get push-back from "community organizers."   They would have to compromise on the size and height of the building, to appease the community organizers and let the zoning board claim they accomplished something (and get re-appointed or whatever).  Back then, they had all sorts of regulations, real and informal, such as "no building can be taller than the Capitol" or something like that.

But of course, if you can add a few floors or reduce set-backs or tear down an historic structure, you can make a helluva lot more money.  So the builder quickly learned (neural networks, again!) to ask for 50% more than what they wanted in terms of building size, height, setbacks, and whatnot.  They expected pushback from "community organizers" or the zoning board itself, and then would "settle" for less than they asked for - which was often more than they wanted.

They also discovered that "community organizers" could be bought with a "contribution" to their cause, and of course, a very public apology and reduction in their original plans.  Everyone goes home a winner!  City councilmen get re-elected on the platform that they "took developers to task!" and "community organizers" raise more money (and give themselves a raise) and the developer builds a monstrosity that is wildly profitable.

If you start at the 0 yard line, you only get half of what you want.  If you start at the 50 yard line, you may get all you want - and more.

That, in short, is how politics are played today, which is why political parties court their outliers - the Republicans in particular.  They hold out the antics of "Our Miss Margie" Green or failed restaurateur (no beer!) Laura Boobert as an example of their starting point for negotiation and then refuse to budge from extremist positions.

It is a tactic that can backfire, however.  During the Obama administration, the GOP tried to hold the "debt ceiling" (itself an artificial construct) hostage to "demands."  Obama tried to negotiate in good faith, only to find himself kneecapped in the process.  Lesson learned: Never negotiate with terrorists and hostage-takers.  The next time around, Obama simply sat it out and let the GOP take credit for shutting down the government or crashing the economy.  By "negotiating" you only end up taking responsibility when it all falls apart.

And of course, Biden was there, watching and learning.  So I wouldn't expect to see him "negotiate" with Congress to do their job in raising the debt ceiling.  And by the way, debt ceilings have to go up, over time, if nothing else because of inflation, which has raged in the last year as corporations make huge profits from price-fixing everything from eggs to gasoline.   You can't claim there are "shortages" when you are cutting salaries and making record profits - something isn't right, the "free market" is being hijacked.

But I digress.

The other point is, of course, that much of this "debt" was accumulated during the Trump era, which to be fair much of it was CoVid-related.  I'm sorry I closed my practice and wasn't eligible for a six-figure "PPP loan" that was later forgiven.  Funny thing - a lot of people in Congress got them. Funny, too, that the "Trump tax cuts" were permanent for the very rich, but had a built-in expiration date (2021) for the middle-class.  People are wondering why their tax refund is less and blaming Biden for it.

But then again, people are idiots.

Compromise is a good thing, when both parties are willing to negotiate in good faith.  But when one party plays "heads I win, tails you lose!" it isn't compromise - it is merely deception.