29 December 2012

On the Economics and Politics of Deficits

Economics and Politics by Paul Krugman - The Conscience of a ...
Grand Bargain or Great Scam.

28 November 2012

‘Romney is Wall Street’s worst bet since the bet on subprime’

By Ezra Klein , Updated: 
Chrystia Freeland is editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and author of “The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else.” We spoke Tuesday about how the plutocrats she reported on for the book were handling Mitt Romney’s loss. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

27 November 2012

Revenge of the Reality-Based Community

My life on the Republican right—and how I saw it all go wrong.

I know that it’s unattractive and bad form to say “I told you so” when one’s advice was ignored yet ultimately proved correct. But in the wake of the Republican election debacle, it’s essential that conservatives undertake a clear-eyed assessment of who on their side was right and who was wrong. Those who were wrong should be purged and ignored; those who were right, especially those who inflicted maximum discomfort on movement conservatives in being right, ought to get credit for it and become regular reading for them once again.

26 November 2012

Number of the Day: 250,000

That is the number of bicycles sold by Walmart on 23 November 2012.

That's right; Walmart sold a quarter of a million bicycles in one day.

via Marketplace.

23 November 2012

Why rich guys want to raise the retirement age

by Ezra Klein

If you’re the CEO of Goldman Sachs – if you have a job that you love, a job that makes you so much money you can literally build a Scrooge McDuck room where you can swim through a pile of gold coins wearing only a topcoat – then you should perhaps think twice before saying this:
You can look at the history of these things, and Social Security wasn’t devised to be a system that supported you for a 30-year retirement after a 25-year career. … So there will be things that, you know, the retirement age has to be changed. Maybe some of the benefits have to be affected, maybe some of the inflation adjustments have to be revised. But in general, entitlements have to be slowed down and contained.
That’s Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, talking to CBS. And he’s not saying anything that people, particularly wealthier people with desk jobs, don’t say all the time in Washington and New York. So I don’t want to just pick on him. But the cavalier endorsement of raising the retirement age by people who really love their jobs, who make so much money they barely pay Social Security taxes, and who are, actuarially speaking, are ensured a long and healthy life, drives me nuts.

If you want talk about cutting Social Security, talk about cutting it. It’s a reasonable point of view. You’re allowed to hold it.

21 November 2012

Monopoly Is Theft

The antimonopolist history of the world’s most popular board game
The players at Table 25 fought first over the choice of pawns. Doug Herold, a forty-four-year-old real estate appraiser, settled on the car. The player across from him, a shark-eyed IT recruiter named Billy, opted for the ship and took a pull from a can of Coors. The shoe was taken by a goateed toxic-tort litigator named Eric, who periodically distracted himself from the game on a BlackBerry so that he “could get billable hours out of this.” The dog was taken by a doughy computer technician named Trevis, who had driven from Canton, Ohio, as a “good deed” to help the National Kidney Foundation, sponsor of the 25th Annual Corporate Monopoly Tournament, which is held each year in the lobby of the U.S. Steel Tower in downtown Pittsburgh. On hand for the event, which had attracted 112 players, divided into twenty-eight tables of four, were the Pittsburgh Steelers’ mascot, Steely McBeam, who hopped around the lobby grunting and huzzahing with a giant foam I beam under his arm; three referees dressed in stripes, with whistles around their necks; and a sleepy-looking man, attired in a long judges’ robe and carrying a two-foot-long oaken gavel, who was in fact a civil-court judge for Allegheny County donating his time “to make sure these people follow the rules.”

19 November 2012

Who Voted for Mitt Romney, Continued


Paul Krugman: The Twinkie Manifesto

The Twinkie ... will forever be identified with the 1950s... And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.

18 November 2012

A Malevolent Forrest Gump

September/October 2012
Strom Thurmond's loathsomeness on race obscures his larger role: he was there at all the major choke points of modern conservative history.

By Michael O'Donnell

Strom Thurmond’s America
by Joseph Crespino
Hill and Wang, 416 pp.

Like many artists and most bigots, Strom Thurmond was highly productive early in life. By the age of fifty-five, the humorless South Carolina reactionary had run for president as a Dixiecrat, secured election to the U.S. Senate, penned the neo-confederate “Southern Manifesto” denouncing Brown v. Board of Education, and performed the longest one-man filibuster in the Senate’s history: a ghastly King Lear with pitchfork and noose, in which Thurmond denounced the 1957 Civil Rights Act as the death of liberty. (It ended when he grew hoarse and sat down.) When Lyndon Johnson pushed the much toothier Civil Rights Act of 1964 through Congress, he again did it over Thurmond’s filibuster. The following year, Thurmond fought the Voting Rights Act. His political idols were John C. Calhoun, Robert E. Lee, and Spiro Agnew. In his most famous speech, Thurmond pledged in 1948 that there were not enough troops in the Army to force “the southern people” to “admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.” But apparently they were allowed into “our” beds: in 1925 the twenty-two-year-old Thurmond sired a child with a sixteen-year-old African American family maid. His illegitimate daughter remained anonymous until her father’s death in 2003.

Rethinking Robert Rubin

By William D. Cohan on September 30, 2012

Bill Clinton has a favorite Robert Rubin story. It’s 1999, and the Cabinet has gathered to discuss the business of the American people. Except no one can focus because the impeachment crisis is raging, and even the most veteran Washington power players are, for lack of a better term, freaking out. “It was amazing what he did,” says Clinton of Rubin, his then-Treasury Secretary. “He often didn’t say much, and I was stunned when he wanted to speak. He just sat there and in about three minutes summed up the whole thing in a very calm way, and had an incredibly positive impact on the attitude of the Cabinet. He said, ‘What we’ve got to do is get up tomorrow and go back to work, just like we did today, make good things happen, and trust the system and trust the American people. It’s going to be fine.’ And oh my God, you would’ve thought that somebody had gone around and lifted a rock off everybody’s shoulders.”

17 November 2012

From the 47% to gifts': Mitt Romney's ugly vision of politics

via Wonkblog by Ezra Klein on 11/15/12

During the campaign, Mitt Romney repeatedly promised seniors that he'd restore President Obama's $716 billion in Medicare cuts. He promised them that, unlike Obama, he wouldn't permit a single change to Medicare or Social Security for 10 years. He promised them, in other words, political immunity. While the rest of the country was trying to pay down the deficit and prioritize spending, they'd be safe.

Buying an education system

By Kevin Keller, Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, November 15, 2012
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 17:11

Art Pope is attempting to buy education and politics in North Carolina, according to the North Carolina State University Student Power coalition. Art Pope, Fayetteville native and CEO of Variety Wholesalers, has provided millions of dollars in funding for conservative politicians and educational grants throughout North Carolina.

In a true David and Goliath story, the NCSU Student Power coalition is attempting to counter Pope's influence on the education system of North Carolina and empower students to control their education.

16 November 2012

The Real Romney

Another secret recording shows what Romney really thinks about minorities, birth control, and public assistance.

By William Saletan

Six months ago at a high-dollar fundraising dinner, Mitt Romney was secretly recorded as hecriticized the “47 percent” of Americans “who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it.” Romney told his donors: “My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

Public perceptions of freshwater macro


Cato scholar and Forbes writer Timothy B. Lee is hardly what you'd call a liberal. Nevertheless, he's written a scathing column on conservatives' "Reality Problem". He mentions Nate Silver denialism, climate change denialism, and evolution denialism, but this part especially caught my eye:
On macroeconomics, a broad spectrum of economists, ranging from John Maynard Keynes to Milton Friedman, supports the basic premise that recessions are caused by shortfalls in aggregate demand. Economists across the political spectrum agree that the government ought to take action counteract major aggregate demand shortfalls. There is, of course, a lot of disagreement about the details. Friedman argued that the Fed should be responsible for macroeconomic stabilization, while Keynes emphasized deficit spending. 
But rather than engaging this debate, a growing number of conservatives have rejected the mainstream economic framework altogether, arguing—against the views of libertarian economists like Friedman and F.A. Hayek—that neither Congress nor the Fed has a responsibility to counteract sharp falls in nominal incomes.
Basically, Lee is saying that freshwater (or "New Classical") macro is essentially a political shibboleth - an intellectual excuse for conservatives to oppose government action, rather than a serious attempt to model economic reality.

The political culture that is Uruguay

Marginal Revolution — Small steps toward a much better world.
Laundry is strung outside the house. The water comes from a well in a yard, overgrown with weeds. Only two police officers and Manuela, a three-legged dog, keep watch outside.
This is the residence of the president of Uruguay, Jose Mujica, whose lifestyle clearly differs sharply from that of most other world leaders.
President Mujica has shunned the luxurious house that the Uruguayan state provides for its leaders and opted to stay at his wife's farmhouse, off a dirt road outside the capital, Montevideo.
The president and his wife work the land themselves, growing flowers.
This austere lifestyle – and the fact that Mujica donates about 90% of his monthly salary, equivalent to $12,000 (£7,500), to charity – has led him to be labelled the poorest president in the world.
…His charitable donations – which benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs – mean his salary is roughly in line with the average Uruguayan income of $775 (£485) a month.
In 2010, his annual personal wealth declaration – mandatory for officials in Uruguay – was $1,800 (£1,100), the value of his 1987 Volkswagen Beetle.
The article is here, and for the pointer I thank Adam Dayan.

Sent with Reeder

Republicans Want 'Stuff' Too

Ta-Nehisi Coates : The Atlantic
Mitt Romney variates on a theme:
A week after losing the election to President Obama, Mitt Romney blamed his overwhelming electoral loss on what he said were big "gifts" that the president had bestowed on loyal Democratic constituencies, including young voters, African-Americans and Hispanics.

In a conference call on Wednesday afternoon with his national finance committee, Mr. Romney said that the president had followed the "old playbook" of wooing specific interest groups -- "especially the African-American community, the Hispanic community and young people," Mr. Romney explained -- with targeted gifts and initiatives...

"With regards to the young people, for instance, a forgiveness of college loan interest, was a big gift," he said. "Free contraceptives were very big with young college-aged women. And then, finally, Obamacare also made a difference for them, because as you know, anybody now 26 years of age and younger was now going to be part of their parents' plan, and that was a big gift to young people. They turned out in large numbers, a larger share in this election even than in 2008." 

The president's health care plan, he added, was also a useful tool in mobilizing African-American and Hispanic voters.
There was a great deal of talk after the election of the "fever" breaking around the GOP, and the party coming to their senses. Perhaps Bobby Jindal's aggressive rebuttal evidences some of this. 

At any rate, I think it's worth noting that all political parties organize around their interests, around pay-outs, as Romney calls them. Mitt Romney, for instance, represented a coalition whose stated interests lay in expanding the policies of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, outlawing national protection for abortion, doing nothing about climate change, and decreasing the tax burden on the "makers."

This is interest-group politics. It is not a nefarious evil. It is the practice of American democracy. At least that's what it is when taken up by interest groups who are predominantly white, predominantly male, and rooted, electorally, in the old Confederacy. When the practice is taken up by a coalition of women, gays, the young and people of color, many of them tax-payers, it is suddenly deemed a "pay-out" or "stuff," as it was so recently put. 

But they too want "stuff." They want the right to discriminate against gay families. They want the right to enact poll-taxing. They want the law to force all pregnant women into labor. That many Americans disagree can only be the result of Chicago-style bribery. I win or you cheated.

14 November 2012

Unusual Sticky Price Story


The New Flyover Country

Politics | Mother Jones
President Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney by assembling a coalition of unprecedented diversity—in an electorate that was 72 percent white, 44 percent of Obama voters were not. But in the dull lexicon of Washington political reporters, a rich, NPR-listening white liberal remains the favored stereotypical shorthand for a Democratic voter.
For example, in an otherwise interesting piece about the right's media bubble, Politico describes Obama's coalition as more ominvorous in its media appetites because "there are as many, if not more, NPR-oriented liberals as MSNBC devotees on the left; the Democratic media ecosystem is larger and more diverse." So when summing up the media appetites of the most diverse electoral coalition in American history, Politico's two examples are liberals who watch NPR and liberals who watch MSNBC. That's when they're being polite. If they're trying to affect a derisive tone they might go with "the coffee-drinking NPR types of Seattle, San Francisco and Madison, Wis."
The NPR stereotype itself is overblown—liberals make up 36 percent of the NPR audience, while 39 percent consider themselves moderates and 21 percent conservatives. NPR's audience is more highly educated than the country as a whole, but the candidate who won Americans without a college degree was Barack Obama. In real life, NPR's journalism just also isn't liberal.
More importantly, the notion that people with liberal or left-of-center views are all NPR devotees is a right-wing meme the mainstream media has mindlessly parroted for years. I suspect why this happens because the upper-middle-class liberals in the DC metro area are the Obama voters Beltway reporters frequently come in contact with. That's why much of the national media's image of the quintessential Obama voter remains some yuppie with a taste for gourmet coffee. There is no room in that political shorthand for the retired black Marine in Ohio who knocked on doors for the Obama campaign, or the Latina mom who stood in line for hours—at three different times—just to be able to cast a ballot. The working-class people of color who now make up much of the base of the Democratic Party often seem as invisible to political media as they were to the Romney campaign, which the New York Times described as being shocked that the Obama operation turned out "voters they never even knew existed."
You can almost understand the Romney campaign's surprise. The national media doesn't talk to these voters much—they work hard and play by the rules but were never the group that politicians used to refer to as "working hard and playing by the rules," because before Obama, only white people were described that way. Political consultants never refer to them in cute, condescending shorthands like "soccer moms" or "NASCAR dads." They may drink beer, but they're never the folks who the reporters mean when they talk about "Joe Sixpack." They drive our buses, care for us when we're sick, clean our hotel rooms, teach our children, cook our meals, answer our noise complaints, and much more. Their political views aren't discussed or explored so much as summed up as a matter of "demographics," as though their votes were settled by genetics rather than individual agency. They are the new "flyover country," except they're not so much flown over as invisible to the people who rely daily on their labors. The political press often lacks the vocabulary to describe them, and until last week they could be safely disregarded.
That's no longer true. But a political press used to communicating the soul of America in tired metaphors meant to paint a superficial portrait of a certain kind of working-class white voter from the South or Midwest is ill-equipped to tell you about them. References to NPR and lattes won't cut it, not that they ever did.
Sent with Reeder

13 November 2012

Paul Ryan: How Dare Those African- and Hispanic-Americans Vote!

Brad DeLong
Igor Volsky watches the train wreck:
In his first interview since losing the election, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) wouldn't admit that voters rejected his economic vision and instead chalked up President Obama's victory to a large turnout of the "urban vote." "I don't think we lost it on those budget issues, especially on Medicare, we clearly didn't lose it on those issues," Ryan to local station WISC-TV. "I think the surprise was some of the turnout, some of the turnout especially in urban areas, which gave President Obama the big margin to win this race."
But Ryan's post-election analysis contrasts sharply with his view of the race before Election Day. Throughout the campaign, Ryan — who was selected for the ticket because of his budget plan — insisted that the race presented voters with a "choice" between two different economic paths for the nation and repeatedly tried to sell the merits of his proposal on the stump. Republican lawmakers bragged that should the GOP ticket win, "they can justly claim a mandate" to push through Ryan's initiatives...
So now it is unfair and unexpected for "urban" voters--that is, African- and Hispanic-Americans--to have turnout levels that are even within shouting distance of white Republican turnout levels?
Everybody who worked for, raised money for, or voted for this clown should be really ashamed of themselves.
If you love America, please don't do it again.

12 November 2012

Gary Johnson and the dangers of common-sense economic policy

Ezra Klein
Last month, I was giving a talk at a college campus and got buttonholed by a local congressional candidate. He was running, he said, as an independent. The incumbent Republican was the most right-wing guy in the entire world. He was going to beat him, he swore.
Then he handed me a small card that outlined his political platform. Bullet point #1: Cut federal spending to 15 percent of GDP.
President Obamas budget calls for spending $3.8 trillion in 2013. The House Republican budget wants to spend $3.5 trillion. Bringing spending under 15 percent of GDP would mean bringing spending down to about $2.3 trillion in 2013.
Weve not seen federal spending come in beneath 15 percent of GDP since 1951 prior to the introduction of Medicare and Medicaid. The kind of cuts wed need to get it back there would be disastrous, and in the current economic environment, theyd likely be depression-inducing (just ask Greece, which is trying something similar).
However right-wing the incumbent Republican in this district was, he wasnt that right-wing. The House Republican budget doesnt envision federal spending below 15 percent of GDP ever. And yet this guy saw himself as an independent. A moderate. A candidate who would save the public from the crazy ideologues currently running Washington. Promising to cut federal spending by $1.2 trillion in 2013 didnt sound radical. It sounded like good old common sense.
I was reminded of this conversation when I read Josh Barros analysis of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnsons economic plan.
Ive been on some panels with Johnson. He comes off a nice, sober, sensible guy. He talks a lot about being a businessman, and hes eloquent on the failures of the two major parties.His campaign sells him as a politician who simply brings a common-sense business approach to governing.
Heres what that means, though: Johnson supports a metallic currency standard and massive, rapid spending cuts. He wants to balance the budget not five or ten years down the road, but in 2013. He thinks, without obvious evidence, that were in the midst of a monetary collapse, and that TARP, the stimulus and the Federal Reserves emergency measures were all bad ideas.
As Josh Barro explains, this platform means that if Johnson had been president in 2008, he would have allowed the U.S. financial system to collapse and the country to fall into depression. And if he became president now, he would do his best to strangle the tepid recovery we are enjoying and turn it into another severe recession.
When politicians begin telling me that their policies are just common sense, I begin getting nervous.A common-sense approach to how the world works would rule out quantum physics. A common-sense approach to how medicine works would rule out chemotherapy. A common-sense approach to transportation would rule out getting on a heavy metal tube that some lady in a blue uniform assures you can fly.
No one ever promised that the way the world works would accord with our intuitions. And the same goes for economic policy. Almost all of the worst economic ideas out there are sold on the basis that theyre just common sense. Some of them, in fact, are just common sense. Thats what makes them so dangerous. Life would be a lot easier if bad ideas never appealed to anybody, but thats not how it works.

Legalize Marijuana

Economics and Ethics
Jonathan B. Wight
They don't call it a "weed" for nothing. Marijuana outperforms corn in surviving the drought, according to law enforcement officers who can now spot the green plant amidst the water-starved brown fields of Indiana. If there weren't already a myriad of other reasons for considering legalizing (or at least de-criminalizing) marijuana, here's one more reason: it provides a diversified crop for our farmers, and one that is resistant to drought.
Hemp (a cousin to the marijuana plant) was an important cash crop during Virginia's colonial times and could be again today. Hemp is a strong fiber; more than 100,000 pounds of hemp were used to rig the sails of the USS Constitution, America's oldest warship. Legal marijuana would provide an economic boost to farmers and also needed revenue to government, which could tax it.
Legalization would free up law enforcement and courts to focus on more serious crimes. It would reduce the incomes of violent gangs who currently sell the product on black markets, which by their nature degrade the status and respect for law and its officers.
Think of the ban on trade with Cuba alongside the ban on marijuana: both are bad policies and both hot political potatoes. Neither law is rooted in pragmatic cost/benefit analysis but rather what appears to be prejudice and ideology. It's the notion that "if we give an inch, they'll take a mile."
America didn't use that metaphor when we engaged in dialog and rapprochement with China. America similarly repealed Prohibition's ban on alcohol. Marijuana does pose health hazards, but cigarettes and alcohol pose equal or larger health hazards yet they remain legal and regulated.
It is no surprise that many economists (including Nobel laureates) support legalization. Finally, on November 6 voters in Colorado and Washington legalized personal marijuana consumption. Let's hope the Feds respect the states' rights on this.

Romney Is President


IT makes sense that Mitt Romney and his advisers are still gobsmacked by the fact that they're not commandeering the West Wing. (Though, as "The Daily Show" correspondent John Oliver jested, the White House might have been one of the smaller houses Romney ever lived in.) Team Romney has every reason to be shellshocked. Its candidate, after all, resoundingly won the election of the country he was wooing. Mitt Romney is the president of white male America.
Maybe the group can retreat to a man cave in a Whiter House, with mahogany paneling, brown leather Chesterfields, a moose head over the fireplace, an elevator for the presidential limo, and one of those men's club signs on the phone that reads: "Telephone Tips: 'Just Left,' 25 cents; 'On His Way,' 50 cents; 'Not here,' $1; 'Who?' $5."
In its delusional death spiral, the white male patriarchy was so hard core, so redolent of country clubs and Cadillacs, it made little effort not to alienate women. The election had the largest gender gap in the history of the Gallup poll, with Obama winning the vote of single women by 36 percentage points.
As W.'s former aide Karen Hughes put it in Politico on Friday, "If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue."
Some Republicans conceded they were "a 'Mad Men' party in a 'Modern Family' world" (although "Mad Men" seems too louche for a candidate who doesn't drink or smoke and who apparently dated only one woman). They also acknowledged that Romney's strategists ran a 20th-century campaign against David Plouffe's 21st-century one.
But the truth is, Romney was an unpalatable candidate. And shocking as it may seem, his strategists weren't blowing smoke when they said they were going to win; they were just clueless.
Until now, Republicans and Fox News have excelled at conjuring alternate realities. But this time, they made the mistake of believing their fake world actually existed. As Fox's Megyn Kelly said to Karl Rove on election night, when he argued against calling Ohio for Obama: "Is this just math that you do as a Republican to make yourself feel better?"
Romney and Tea Party loonies dismissed half the country as chattel and moochers who did not belong in their "traditional" America. But the more they insulted the president with birther cracks, the more they tried to force chastity belts on women, and the more they made Hispanics, blacks and gays feel like the help, the more these groups burned to prove that, knitted together, they could give the dead-enders of white male domination the boot.
The election about the economy also sounded the death knell for the Republican culture wars.
Romney was still running in an illusory country where husbands told wives how to vote, and the wives who worked had better get home in time to cook dinner. But in the real country, many wives were urging husbands not to vote for a Brylcreemed boss out of a '50s boardroom whose party was helping to revive a 50-year-old debate over contraception.
Just like the Bushes before him, Romney tried to portray himself as more American than his Democratic opponent. But America's gallimaufry wasn't knuckling under to the gentry this time.
If 2008 was about exalting the One, 2012 was about the disenchanted Democratic base deciding: "We are the Ones we've been waiting for."
Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change. He has not led the Obama army to leverage power, so now the army is leading Obama.
When the first African-American president was elected, his supporters expected dramatic changes. But Obama feared that he was such a huge change for the country to digest, it was better if other things remained status quo. Michelle played Laura Petrie, and the president was dawdling on promises. Having Joe Biden blurt out his support for gay marriage forced Obama's hand.
The president's record-high rate of deporting illegal immigrants infuriated Latinos. Now, on issues from loosening immigration laws to taxing the rich to gay rights to climate change to legalizing pot, the country has leapt ahead, pulling the sometimes listless and ruminating president by the hand, urging him to hurry up.
More women voted than men. Five women were newly elected to the Senate, and the number of women in the House will increase by at least three. New Hampshire will be the first state to send an all-female delegation to Congress. Live Pink or Dye.
Meanwhile, as Bill Maher said, "all the Republican men who talked about lady parts during the campaign, they all lost."
The voters anointed a lesbian senator, and three new gay congressmen will make a total of five in January. Plus, three states voted to legalize same-sex marriage. Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, told The Washington Post's Ned Martel that gays, whose donations helped offset the Republican "super PACs," wanted to see an openly gay cabinet secretary and an openly gay ambassador to a G-20 nation.
Bill O'Reilly said Obama's voters wanted "stuff." He was right. They want Barry to stop bogarting the change.

David Frum Becomes the New Grand Archon of the Order of the Shrill!

Brad DeLong
David Atkins observes:
Frum on Morning Joe: a remarkable 15 minutes of television: Former Bush speechwriter David Frum made a remarkable appearance on Morning Joe.... He begins with this:
Mitt Romney's message is "I am going to take away Medicare from everybody under 55, I'm going to cut Medicaid for everybody but about a third, and I'm going to do that to finance a giant tax cut for me and my friends, and the reason I'm doing that is because half the country contribute nothing to the national endeavor."
Then about four minutes in, something even more attention-grabbing after Scarborough bloviated about Thatcher and Reagan appealing to the common man:
Since the loss of the election, we have heard an enormous amount of discussion from Republicans on television and newspaper columns about immigration as an issue... but all of us who are allowed to participate in this conversation, we all have health insurance. And the fact that millions of Americans don't have health insurance, they don't get to be on television. And it is maybe a symptom of a broader problem, not just the Republican problem, that the economic anxieties of so many Americans are just not part of the national discussion at all.
I mean, we have not yet emerged from the greatest national catastrophe, the greatest economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And what are we talking about? The deficit and the debt. And these are important problems, but they're a lot easier to worry about if you are wealthier than you were in 2008, which most of the people on television now are again, if you are securely employed, which most of the people on television now are. But that's not true for 80% of America. And the Republican Party, the opposition party, needed to find some way to give voice to real urgent economic concerns held by middle class Americans. Latinos, yes, but Americans of all ethnicities.
None of the panelists on Scaraborough--not Joe himself, not David Gregory, not Chuck Todd, none of them--dared to answer Frum's devastating indictment of them. Not of the Republican Party, but of them. It was uncomfortable, and then blithely ignored.
After five full minutes of inside-baseball speculation on Republican leadership games during which Frum looked like he might pull a Howard Beale... he finally got a chance to speak again
I believe the Republican Party is a party of followership. The problem with the Republican leaders is that they're cowards.... The real locus of the problem is the Republican activist base and the Republican donor base. They went apocalyptic over the past four years. And that was exploited by a lot of people in the conservative world. I won't soon forget the lupine smile that played over the head of a major conservative institution when he told me that our donors think the apocalypse has arrived.
Republicans have been fleeced and exploited and lied to by a conservative entertainment complex.... Because the followers, the donors and the activists are so mistaken about the nature of the problems the country faces the nature--I mean, it's just a simple question. I went to Tea Party rallies and I would ask this question: "have taxes gone up or down in the past four years?" They could not answer that question correctly. Now it's true that taxes will go up if the President is re-elected. That's why we're Republicans. But you have to know that taxes have not gone up in the past. And "do we spend a trillion dollars on welfare?" Is that true or false? It is false. But it is almost universally believed.
That means that the leaders have no space to operate.
And to think that the guy who coined the phrase "axis of evil" is now the moral conscience of the Republican Party.
How low they have truly fallen.

Uganda and anti-gay law: This (again) is why you don't put basic human rights to a vote.

Economics and Ethics
Mark D. White
KadagaMy stomach turns at the news that Uganda is set to pass a law that imposes life sentences and sometimes the death sentence for homosexual acts:
KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Uganda's anti-gay bill will be passed before the end of 2012 despite international criticism of the draft legislation, the speaker of the country's parliament said Monday, insisting it is what most Ugandans want.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga told The Associated Press that the bill, which originally mandated death for some gay acts, will become law this year.
Ugandans "are demanding it," she said, reiterating a promise she made before a meeting on Friday of anti-gay activists who spoke of "the serious threat" posed by homosexuals to Uganda's children. Some Christian clerics at the meeting in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, asked the speaker to pass the law as "a Christmas gift."
This is John Stuart Mill's tyranny of the majority at its ugliest: a majority of citizens using the machinery of government to negate the rights of the minority.
Many Americans rejoiced at the success of same-sex marriage referenda in last Tuesday's election, and certainly there was tremendous cause for celebration. But why should gays and lesbians have had to wait for a majority of the electorate to "come around" and "grant" same-sex couples the same access to civil marriage that straight people have? Before this election all same-sex marriage referenda were voted down--a far cry from what Uganda is doing, to be sure, but the spirit is the same, a majority deciding what rights a minority may have.
As I've argued several times on this blog (here and here, for instance), it is a poor validation of basic human rights to have the majority of the electorate vote for them (as encouraging as it may be in reflecting changing attitudes). Gays and lesbians shouldn't have to have their basic rights be "granted" to them by the electorate. They should be recognized as having existed all along by the only institution that can do that: the courts.
The court in Brown v. Board of Education didn't say that "now" segregation is wrong--it said it had always been wrong. The court in Loving v. Virginia didn't say that "now" laws against mixed-race marriage are wrong--it said they have always been wrong. And when the Supreme Court decides that same-sex couple should have the right to marry, they will not say that "now" same-sex couples have that right, but that they have always had that right--and it just took a while for the law to catch up. 

11 November 2012

A remarkable, historic period of change

Ezra Klein
Five days isn't a long time to digest a presidential election, all that came before it, and all that's likely to come after. But it's long enough to get a bit of perspective.
Max Weber wrote that "politics is the strong and slow boring of hard boards." It is not a vocation that rewards impatience. Progress is slow. It's tough. It requires compromises and is marked by disappointments. It's incremental even when it needs to be transformational. At least, that's how it usually is.

Step back and take an accounting of these last few years: The United States of America, a land where slaves were kept 150 years ago and bathrooms were segregated as recently as 50 years ago,elected and reelected our first black president. We passed and ratified a universal health-care system. We saw the first female Speaker of the House, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, and the first openly gay member of the Senate. We stopped a Great Depression, rewrote the nation's financial regulations, and nearly defaulted on our debt for the first time in our history. Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Maine, Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia legalized gay marriage, and the president and the vice president both proclaimed their support. Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana.We killed the most dangerous terrorist in the world and managed two wars. We've seen inequality and debt skyrocket to some of the highest levels in American history. We passed a stimulus and investment bill that will transform everything from medical records to education and began a drone campaign that will likely be seen as an epochal shift in the way the United States conducts war.
Americans of good faith disagree over the worth of these initiatives and the nature of these milestones. None of us know the verdict that history will render. But we can say with certainty that the pace of change has been breathlessly fast. We have toppled so many barriers, passed so many reforms, completed so many long quests, begun so many experiments, that even those of us who've been paying attention have become inured to how much has happened.
It is common, for instance, to hear pundits wonder why the president didn't invest in long-term infrastructure after the financial crisis or move Medicare beyond fee-for-service as a way to cut the debt, either forgetting or never knowing the stimulus was one of the largest one-time infrastructure investments in the nation's history and that the Affordable Care Act is the most ambitious effort to move American health care towards a pay-for-quality paradigm ever mounted.
The even more frequent complaint is that the pace and scale of change has been, if anything, insufficient. The stimulus should've been bigger, the health reforms more ambitious, the largest banks broken apart, the wars either finished more swiftly or expanded more decisively. All that may be true, but it doesn't obviate the remarkable pace and scale of the changes that have come.
More troublesome is that even once change has happened, it takes time for it to be felt. The health-care law, for instance, won't go into effect until 2014. And in some cases, the extraordinary efforts were meant to keep something from happening. Our success in stopping another Great Depression will be studied by economists for years to come, but in real people's lives, that work meant less change, not more, though we should be thankful for that.
Political journalism, meanwhile, is built to obscure change once it's happened. The demands of reporting the news require us to focus on what's being done, rather than what's been done (notice how, mere days after a presidential election, we have already moved on to talking about the Petraeus affair). The focus on conflict elevates voices that argue that we haven't done nearly enough, or that what we've done wasn't worth doing. The community of the media encourages a kind of jaded cynicism -- you're always safer pretending to have seen it all before than to never have seen anything like it.
There is a theory in evolutionary biology called "punctuated equilibrium." It holds that most species don't change much for long periods of time, but then they change dramatically, in rapid bursts, over geologically short periods of time.
Political scientists Frank Baumgartner and Bryan Joneshave argued that "punctuated equilibrium" describes the path of political systems, too. Typically, politics is held in stasis, with little progress being made in the slow boring of those hard boards. But when change does come, it's not a steady process of incremental advances but a breathless flurry in which the boards split all at once.
Whether we intended to or not, whether it was sufficient or not, whether we liked it or not, we have been living through a remarkable period of political change in these last few years. We have split so many hard boards that we're no longer surprised when they crack in half, and we mainly wonder why we haven't gotten through more of them, or why we didn't choose different ones. But viewed against most other eras in American life, the pace of policy change in these last few years has been incredibly fast. Historians, looking back from more quiescent periods, will marvel at all that we have lived through. Activists, frustrated at their inability to shake their countrymen out of their tranquility, will wish they'd been born in a moment when things were actually getting done, a moment like this one.

David Remnick on Al Gore, 2004

David Remnick in the New Yorker, September 2004:
In the summer of 2001, Gore had ended his silence and launched a public critique of the Bush Administration with a speech in Florida. However, after the terror attacks, he declared Bush “my Commander-in-Chief,” a gesture meant to promote unity and not offend the national mood. But by September, 2002, as the Bush Administration started its march toward a war in Iraq, Gore ended his discretion with a withering speech at the Commonwealth Club, in San Francisco, aimed at the Administration’s foreign policy. Gore, who was one of the few Democrats to vote in favor of the 1991 resolution in Congress endorsing the first Gulf War, now said that an American-led invasion of Iraq would undermine the attempt to dismantle Al Qaeda and damage the multilateral ties necessary to combat terrorism:

If we quickly succeed in a war against the weakened and depleted fourth-rate military of Iraq, and then quickly abandon that nation, as President Bush has quickly abandoned almost all of Afghanistan after defeating a fifth-rate military power there, then the resulting chaos in the aftermath of a military victory in Iraq could easily pose a far greater danger to the United States than we presently face from Saddam. 
Gore’s challenge to the Bush White House to present real evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 was, in both tone and substance, more critical than any speech yet delivered by the candidates in the Democratic field. Suddenly, the prospect of a Gore candidacy hit the media in a wave.
“I wasn’t surprised by Bush’s economic policies, but I was surprised by the foreign policy, and I think he was, too,” Gore told me. “The real distinction of this Presidency is that, at its core, he is a very weak man. He projects himself as incredibly strong, but behind closed doors he is incapable of saying no to his biggest financial supporters and his coalition in the Oval Office. He’s been shockingly malleable to Cheney and Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz and the whole New American Century bunch. He was rolled in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. He was too weak to resist it.
“I’m not of the school that questions his intelligence,” Gore went on. “There are different kinds of intelligence, and it’s arrogant for a person with one kind of intelligence to question someone with another kind. He certainly is a master at some things, and he has a following. He seeks strength in simplicity. But, in today’s world, that’s often a problem. I don’t think that he’s weak intellectually. I think that he is incurious. It’s astonishing to me that he’d spend an hour with his incoming Secretary of the Treasury and not ask him a single question. But I think his weakness is a moral weakness. I think he is a bully, and, like all bullies, he’s a coward when confronted with a force that he’s fearful of. His reaction to the extravagant and unbelievably selfish wish list of the wealthy interest groups that put him in the White House is obsequious. The degree of obsequiousness that is involved in saying ‘yes, yes, yes, yes, yes’ to whatever these people want, no matter the damage and harm done to the nation as a whole—that can come only from genuine moral cowardice. I don’t see any other explanation for it, because it’s not a question of principle. The only common denominator is each of the groups has a lot of money that they’re willing to put in service to his political fortunes and their ferocious and unyielding pursuit of public policies that benefit them at the expense of the nation.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2004/09/13/040913fa_fact#ixzz2BvRGB2rr

09 November 2012

I Understand That We Ought to Cut David Gelernter Some Slack...

Brad DeLong

But please, National Review, don't let him embarrass himself like this.
And, in case anybody should believe him, we have Wonkette's Doktor Zoom on the case:
NRO Has Smart Plan To Save America: Raze The Universities & Re-Educate All People In Glasses: The grownups in the spurned party… ask… themselves the Hard Questions, like "what aspects of our agenda may have proven unpopular with the electorate?" or "how might we best adjust our message to meet a changing electoral landscape?" Or, if they're the NRO's David Gelertner, they might ask, "Where did all these degenerate communist morans come from? Must be the colleges! They're full of radicals! Let's root out the colleges!" Mr. Gelertner recognizes that… we really are in the midst of a "slow-motion civil war." Except unlike crazy liberals who think it's time to cut the former Confederacy loose, Gelertner says that:
The blue states want to secede not from America but from Americanism. They reject the American republic of God-fearing individuals in favor of the European ideal, which has only been government by aristocracy: either an aristocracy of birth or, nowadays, of ruling know-it-alls — of post-religious, globalist intellectuals (a.k.a. PORGIs).
(He lets it go without saying that, at the top, there's a Black Elite Stalinist Socialist.)
So how did we reach this sorry state of affairs on our national Catfish Row?
As I've said before — many others have too — you can't graduate class after class after class of left-indoctrinated ignoramuses without paying the price. Last night was a down payment.
Yes. It is a science fact that only people who have gone to college become libruls. That there is some top-notch GOP-approved critical thinking. But be not afraid, America! There is still hope!
But we've won civil wars and preserved the Union before. We'll do it again — if we face up to the fact that we need to replace our schools and colleges now; the grace period has lasted a generation, but it's over. I know we can do it and I'm pretty sure we will do it. Americanism is too strong and brilliant and young to die.
Sounds like a pretty simple solution, then. All we need to do to extirpate liberalism once and for all is to completely replace all of the educational institutions in the entire nation with a system that is more in line with what David Gelertner likes. We can probably do that with no new taxes, too — we bet the American Enterprise Institute would fund the whole deal…

Noonan: 'People Are Afraid of Change' - WSJ.com

Noonan's thesis is only plausible if one takes 'change' to mean 'reversion to stale, discredited, and dangerous policies.'


Post-Election Roundup

Ta-Nehisi Coates' big picture review: Hippies Wander Into the Lions' Den, Maul Lions

Who voted for Mitt Romney? Funny you should ask... (Tom Scocca)

Also, Ezra Klein on the, uh, optics.

Paul Krugman, quickly

Greg Ip on the validation of macroeconomics

Ezra Klein's got a posse, and they have charts.

Randall Munroe delicately and patiently explaining in precise detail the dissonance between the 'numbers' guys and the diviners of 'momentum.'