GOP Silence and Braying Shows They Got Nothing

Reed RichardsonRight after the first Republican debate, Reed Richardson tweeted out that there were six important issues that simply weren’t mentioned: income inequality; minimum wage; climate change; voting rights; parental leave; and mass shootings. Last night, he tweeted again, “So, tonight CNN only got to two — minimum wage & climate change — of these six issues ignored by Fox News.” The context is an interesting one. I didn’t watch the first debate. But I watched last night’s debate, and I was shocked at how much they went on about the same things over and over again.

This morning on The Majority Report, Sam Seder mentioned that if a space alien came down to earth and his introduction was just the Republican debate, it would conclude that the world was on fire. The rhetoric was so extreme — and not just about the Middle East. It was extreme about everything. And I’ve got to wonder how effective it is. I understand that the Fox News and Rush Limbaugh fanatics eat it up. But I think people who aren’t that into politics just see it as bizarre. Things aren’t great, but no one is afraid to get in the car and drive to pick up some ice cream at the super market.

Listening to the Republicans made me think that they are a lot like police officers: always and everywhere very afraid. One of their favorite lines is about how the United States is not respected and not feared. This is meant to be an attack on Obama. But we would have to be a pretty fragile country if one president could destroy our standing in the world. Of course, they don’t care one piece of used chewing gum about how American is perceived in the world, they just want something to complain about because they are running against the current president’s party. But this is all so lame.

There’s also the constant contradiction: America is the greatest nation the world has ever know; and it is terrible, fragile, basically the new Soviet Union. I wrote about this earlier this year, What Is This “America” Conservatives Love? Because it certainly isn’t the aspirational America that I love. It isn’t even the “my country, right or wrong” America. Instead, it is some gauzy notion of “America” that never existed and never could exist. It’s an America where they get everything they want and they don’t have to compromise with anyone else.

But what the Republicans decide to talk about does tell us something. The only reason that minimum wage was brought up was to allow Scott Walker and Ben Carson to argue over it. And even there, Carson hedged. It’s not clear how much he might be willing to raise it. But whatever it is, he wants to then tie it to inflation and never discuss it again. Wages traditionally went up at the rate of productivity growth — not inflation. So Carson’s idea is to effectively make the minimum wage irrelevant within a couple of generations.

The broader issue is that Republicans don’t want to talk about economics because they know that the economy isn’t that bad. And most of all: it is great for the rich, which is the only group that the candidates really care about. So of course they are going to avoid the issue. They only talk about the economy in the same gauzy way they talk about “America.” At the same time that Ben Carson seems to think that keeping up with inflation is good enough for the American worker, the rest of them think raising the worker up is all about increasing productivity — even though we’ve seen rising productivity for the last 40 years without wages going up for most people.

Hillary Clinton put out a great ad mocking the the Republican debate on these issues. It’s well worth watching. And it shows just what the Republican Party has to offer to the average American family: nothing.

If Oncologists Were Economists

Paul RomerThe x-ray shows a mass that is probably cancer, but we don’t have any good randomized clinical trials showing that your surgeon’s recommendation, operating to remove it, actually causes the remission that tends to follow. However, we do have an extremely clever clinical trial showing conclusively that Botox will make you look younger. So my recommendation is that you wait for some better studies before doing anything about the tumor but that I give you some Botox injections.

—Paul Romer
Botox for Development

The Narrative of Jeb Bush’s Tax Cut Plan

Jeb BushMatt Yglesias is more angry than I think I’ve ever seen him, Why is the Media More Interested in Hillary’s Email Than in Jeb’s Profoundly Dishonest Tax Pitch? It’s understandable, “The formative experience of my political life was the 2000 presidential campaign, in which the media mercilessly persecuted Al Gore over a series of trivial exaggerations and now-forgotten pseudo-scandals while giving George W Bush a pass on the fact that the central premises of his economic agenda were lies.” And he’s afraid that the same thing is going to happen in this presidential campaign.

It’s not surprising that it goes like this. The Hillary Clinton email “scandal” is like a good true crime story. What classified information got through? Who knew about it? Were laws broken? And then there is the larger narrative about the Clintons and how they just can’t be trusted. I’m sure in the minds of some conservatives, Bill Clinton’s two very conservative terms as president were just a ruse, to allow Hillary to become president so she could turn the country into the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the details of tax “reform” are boring. It’s all about math and facts. Who’s interested in that? Of course, if reporters were not so incredibly lazy, they would find that there is a really interesting narrative in Jeb Bush’s tax plan. In fact, I think it is much more interesting that the email narrative — even if you grant that the email story is compelling. Here’s the narrative: Jeb is pushing a tax plan that would both increase the deficit and cut the taxes of the rich. He claims that this will cause the economy to boom. But this is exactly what his brother said. The taxes of the rich were cut, but the boom never came.

I don’t think this is an issue of reporters not wanting to wade into the questions of policy. After all, both stories are about policy. It’s the same as with Al Gore: the reporters just think it is fun to go after Hillary. The question is not about whether it was smart for her to have her own email server; it is about whether she is a liar. Will one of them get their Perry Mason moment and be elevated to the stature of Woodward and Bernstein?! Oh happy day!

There’s also a bit of the expectations game going on. Everyone takes it as a given that the Republicans will push for regressive tax cuts that don’t do what they claim. But this kind of cynicism does not serve the American public well. The public apparently doesn’t know that Republicans do the same thing every time they get into office unless they are constantly reminded. And doesn’t this sum up the mainstream media? Because the Republican Party is so horrible, it isn’t reported on because it is “dog bites man”! It doesn’t matter that Jeb Bush’s plan would greatly hurt America in an absolute sense; in a relative sense — compared to his brother — it wouldn’t be that bad. This is just nonsense.

Yglesias put together a list of things that we could do rather than cut taxes (mostly on the rich) as Bush wishes to do. It is worth listing. For one thing, in the article, it isn’t clear. We could do all of the following, all combined, for the price of Bush’s tax cut:

  • Create subsidized job opportunities for 80,000 adults per year ($10 billion)
  • The Center for American Progress’ plan for high-quality day care ($40 billion)
  • A bipartisan plan to boost the EITC to help the working poor that’s held up in Congress because of disagreement on how to pay for it ($60 billion)
  • Barack Obama’s proposal for universal preschool ($75 billion)
  • Eliminate the Highway Trust Fund fiscal gap ($168 billion)
  • Hillary Clinton’s plan for debt-free college ($350 billion)
  • A national high-speed rail network ($500 billion)
  • End sequestration, and adopt the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s wish list of domestic discretionary funding increases ($1.9 trillion)
  • End hunger globally ($300 billion)

So there’s you’re narrative: Jeb Bush is pushing a tax “reform” plan that is focused on cutting the taxes of the very rich. His brother did this and it did not bring prosperity. Instead of doing this, we could instead do all kinds of other great things that would not only make the nation and the world better — they would also stimulate the economy more.

Carly Fiorina and the History of the $10 Bill

Carly FiorinaI didn’t pay as close attention as I should to of last night’s debate. Who am I kidding? I shouldn’t have paid any attention to it. Other than Trump who was hilarious — and I mean that mostly in a good way — it was really aggravating. But probably the worst of the night was Carly Fiorina. At first she seemed really prepared — very corporate. I could see how she did well in that world. But she quickly slipped on that account. And the content of what she said was just ignorant and crazy. I’m talking Ted Cruz’s dad level of ignorant and crazy.

She said something that blew me away. She mentioned that in the Planned Parenthood “sting” video was “a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.” I literally couldn’t believe my ears. I figured that I had to have misheard it. Certainly, I would have known about such a thing. And she wouldn’t say something that was utterly wrong. It was only much letter when I asked someone on Twitter and was referred to a Sarah Kliff article that was written in response, Carly Fiorina Is Wrong About the Planned Parenthood Tapes. I Know Because I Watched Them.

This is the right wing echo chamber in action. Fiorina made a point of mentioning that President Obama should watch all 12 hours of the video. This seems calculated to me. She’s sending out that the message that what people have seen isn’t nearly as bad as it gets. It’s really bad in those 12 hours. But she knows that almost no one is going to watch the videos. And certainly, there isn’t a Sarah Kliff at Fox News putting out an article telling conservatives that actually this isn’t true. That would make the ridiculous amount of time and demagoguery spent on the Planned Parenthood issue seem stupid.

Hamilton is a fairly recent addition to the $10 bill.

There was another Fiorina moment that really struck me. That was when the candidates were asked what woman they would like to see on the $10 bill. Just as Ben Carson can say things that the white Republicans have a hard time with, Fiorina can say things that the men have a hard time with. So she said, “I wouldn’t change the $10 bill or the $20 bill. I think honestly it’s a gesture. Don’t think it helps to change our history.” Of course, this makes no sense at all.

First, history is continuing on. Just because Hamilton isn’t going to be on the $10 bill, doesn’t mean we are erasing him for history. If the United States exists for the next 10,000 years (which I’m sure most conservatives believe), maybe Ronald Reagan would be seen as the father of our country. There wouldn’t be much difference in time from that vantage point between Washington and Reagan. So to equate changing who’s on our money with changing history is just stupid.

But more than that, Hamilton is a fairly recent addition to the $10 bill. Now, it can get confusing to talk about paper currency. There are Demand Notes and Treasury Notes and silver certificates — to name but a few. But taken all together, there have been over a dozen people featured on the $10 bill — including Pocahontas and Lewis and Clark. Currency changes over time.

This is one thing that really bugs me. People are so ignorant of history. It isn’t even the point of not knowing what has happened before. That is somewhat forgivable, given that so much happened before. But most people I run into have no idea that anything has ever changed. Alexander Hamilton is on the $10 bill now so he must always have been on it. It’s nonsense. But when public figures — people who want to be president — show this same ignorance, it’s stunning. Fiorina should have been laughed off the stage. But instead, I’ll bet that most conservatives were cheering, “Right on! Screw those PC people who were changing the $10 bill every couple of years in the 1860s!”

The initial reaction seems to be that Fiorina “won” the debate. But I think she showed herself to be at least as bad as Donald Trump. In the Republican field, however, they are two of a kind: ignorant but forceful. And that’s what passes for knowledge in the Republican Party.

Morning Music: Road

Pink Moon - Nick DrakeNow we come to Nick Drake’s last, shortest, and (if you ask me) best album, Pink Moon. Okay, it is kind of bleak if you pay attention. But it is so beautiful. On this album it is hard not to hear an unnerving personalizing of the material. Supposedly, he was not depressed when he wrote and recorded this album. But I know from my own depression that it informs the way that I see the world when I am not suffering from it.

Consider today’s selection, “Road.” It has an incredibly great guitar part and not many lyrics. But the lyrics that are there seem telling, “You can take a road that takes you to the stars now; I can take a road that’ll see me through.” No one can say what it means, but it is the case that not long after finishing the album, he found he couldn’t deal with the world and returned to live with his parents for what turned out to be the rest of his life.

Anniversary Post: Emperor Norton

Norton I, Emperor of the United StatesOn this day in 1859, Joshua Abraham Norton named himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States.” He is generally remembered as Emperor Norton. In 1849, he inherited what would be well over a million dollars today. So he left his home in South Africa and moved to San Francisco. He went into business. And he did okay. He invested in real estate and greatly increased his fortune.

But then, he saw an opportunity to corner the market on rice in San Francisco. China had placed a ban on the exportation of rice. So he bought a huge amount of rice from Peru — worth roughly one-tenth of his entire fortune. But it wasn’t all the Peruvian rice that was being brought to San Francisco. So instead of rice prices going way up, they plummeted — to a quarter of what Norton bought them for. But instead of just taking his licks and moving on, he decided to fight.

He tried to nullify the contract. And he had some success in the lower courts — probably because they were easier to buy off. From 1853 to 1857 he fought the sale, all the way to the California Supreme Court, where he lost. Along the way, he lost his entire fortune. He filed for bankruptcy in 1858. And in 1859, having decided that the United States was a failed enterprise, he announced that he was emperor:

At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of SF, Cal, declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these US; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.

—NORTON I, Emperor of the United States.

He became something of a pet to the city. He didn’t have any real power, but he has taken care of — financially and emotionally. He issued his own currency, which people accepted even though it was worthless. And he was generally listened to seriously, as when he dissolved Congress later that same year. He was also very protective of his adopted city. In 1872, he issued the following edict, “Whoever after due and proper warning shall be heard to utter the abominable word ‘Frisco,’ which has no linguistic or other warrant, shall be deemed guilty of a High Misdemeanor, and shall pay into the Imperial Treasury as penalty the sum of twenty-five dollars.” He seems like a real life Ignatius J Reilly from A Confederacy of Dunces.

Norton $10 Note

After a 21 year reign as the most harmless emperor in history, he died. Wealthy businessmen chipped in and provided him with a fine funeral, and it is estimated that as many as 10,000 people attended — at a time when the population of the city was less than a quarter million. He was a truly remarkable man.