Tag Archives: politics

The Trump Rules

So, I’m sure you’re aware that Donald Trump made a joke about murdering Hillary Clinton yesterday. Then, he walked it back and lied about what he’d said, pretending that he’d merely suggested that “second amendment people” could vote as a bloc and defeat Clinton…somehow…after she’d already been elected…or something.

The only exceptional thing about this is how unexceptional it is. For any other candidate, talking about murdering their opponent would be the end of the road. For Trump though? He’s held to a lower standard by the media. He’s allowed to lie and lie and lie at historic levels and no one cares. Again, if Clinton were anywhere near as dishonest as Trump, she’d likely have dropped out of the race by now. For some reason, we accept a lower standard of integrity from Trump.

I remember the 2008 election when Obama was derisively referred to as “the first affirmative action president” as though he didn’t deserve his victory. But Obama was put through the ringer the same as anyone else and it was clear that trying to belittle him with references to “affirmative action” was just thinly-veiled racism.

But The Donald? This guy is being held to a lower standard than any candidate we’ve seen in my lifetime. He isn’t being held accountable for what he says because, well, “that’s just Trump, he says what he thinks.” Which is true, sure, but what he says is idiotic at best and monstrous at worst.

I doubt that Trump’s calling for the death of Hillary Clinton will make more than a few ripples and I expect it to be largely forgotten in a few weeks. It’s Trump, after all. We expect less of him, and boy howdy, does he ever deliver.

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Republican Debates: Good television, good work from Fox, unfortunate group of candidates

Well, that was surprisingly diverting, wasn’t it? I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t expecting the aggressive nature of the questioning. It wasn’t anything remotely resembling a debate, but it was interesting and, in the end, I think a very profitable evening for the GOP. I think Fox did a good job working with a group of candidates ranging from mediocre to bizarre. Yeah, I said it: Fox did a good job.

Megyn Kelly was the biggest winner, in my not even a little bit humble opinion. She’s the only Fox employee who can ask tough questions of Republicans and get away with it (who can forget her withering remarks to Karl Rove on election night?). The tactic of asking difficult questions of the candidates this early in the campaign cycle is, in my opinion, a slyly clever strategy. It gets the candidates’ weaknesses out in the open so they aren’t subject to “gotchas” when it’s time to take on the Democrats.

Interestingly, many of the candidates took issue with the line of questioning after the debates. The Trump, Paul, Cruz, Christie, and Walker fans all felt like their candidate had been singled out for especially rough treatment. Of course, there’s this weird tendency for pro-establishment candidates (and conservatism is nothing if not pro-establishment) to try to run as maverick outsiders, so maybe they were just trying to position their candidate as “they guy the insiders are afraid of!” If so, it came off as a little disingenuous. I hate to invoke bogeymen at this early stage, but if you’re financed by the Koch’s? You ain’t an outsider and no one’s afraid of your candidacy.

Don’t ask me to tell you which candidate “won.” They debate format was so scattershot and each had such different agendas that trying to declare a winner seems like a pointless exercise. For the most part, they stayed in character: Trump blustered. Paul raged. Kasich and Carson were calm and reasonable. Jeb! was Jeb minus the exclamation point. Huckabee and Cruz both sounded reasonable while saying some seriously batshit stuff. Christie was the Jersey Giuliani. Walker acted like “being selfish” is a family value (he scares me more than any of ’em.)  They were very much themselves. Everyone appealed to the people who already liked them. I doubt any of them made inroads with people who weren’t already behind them.

The ratings for Fox last night were fantastic. They should hope with all their might that Trump sticks around because he brings an audience if nothing else. I think it was a good night for the Republicans. They got challenged a little more than they expected, but they had a huge number of eyeballs and none of them flubbed their lines enough to drive away their supporters. Sure, it was a terrible debate (as far it being an actual “debate” is concerned) and I agreed with approximately nothing that was said, but I think they achieved their goals.

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Jeb! Bush May Be The Best Gift To Unions We’ve Had In Years

You’ve probably seen the Jeb!* Bush quote making the rounds on the Interwebs this week, but let me go ahead and drop it in here just to make sure we’re all on the same page:

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours” and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut that we’re in.”

Wow. He packed a whole heap o’ wrongness into one statement, didn’t he? Where to start? So many choices!

Let’s start with the idea that American workers need to be more productive. The New York Times noted:

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent…

Worker productivity is already at a high-water mark. Call me crazy…wait, no, call me “someone who can recognize really obvious things,” but if the premise is that the economy stinks and productivity exceptionally high, then “more productivity” may not be the right answer.

Now, is “workforce participation” at an all-time modern low? Well, only if you narrowly define “modern” as “post-1977.” Otherwise, no. Now, it is trending downward, so even though Jeb!’s statement is false, it hints at the truth.  If productivity is up, then each worker is doing more work per hour which tends to reduce the need for more workers. There are strong reasons to suspect that productivity and workforce participation are inversely related.

He then applies the Limbaugh-esque conclusion that the solution is to “work more hours.” That is, of course, the opposite of what the situation he’s describe calls for. If workforce participation is already too low (and I agree that it is), then asking the people who are already in the workforce to work more is going to reduce the amount of work available. This is not terribly complicated.

The best bit, the cherry on top, is the claim that increased productivity will lead to more income for their families. You’d think so, but you’d be oh-so-very wrong. Let me complete that quote from the New York Times:

From 1973 to 2011, worker productivity grew 80 percent, while median hourly compensation, after inflation, grew by just one-eighth that amount, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal research group. And since 2000, productivity has risen 23 percent while real hourly pay has essentially stagnated.

That makes sense if you think about it in a capitalist mindset (and it would be un-American to do otherwise): If one worker can now do twice as much work, and there’s no increase in demand, it makes no sense to pay them twice as much. The smart move is to ask one worker to do the work of two, and then fire the second. This is super-duper important: Increased productivity, in a vacuum, decreases workforce participation and does not increase earning power. It’s great for the job creators, but the job doers kind of take it in the shorts.

Look at it this way: Let’s say you are a wheat farmer and someone comes up with a process that doubles everyone’s yield. So hurray, everyone produces twice as much wheat. Unfortunately, there’s not need for twice as much wheat, so all you’ve accomplished is cutting the price you get for your wheat in half, thereby getting paid the same amount for producing twice as much.

Now, it’s entirely possible that Jeb! is sending a coded message to the captains of industry that he “gets” it and he’s on their side. I honestly don’t think it’s anything that sinister; I think it’s just an incredibly tone-deaf and naive bit of campaigning. It’s disappointing in the sense that he’s supposed to be the moderate, level-headed one, and he’s prescribing a cure that would have seemed needlessly cruel in a Dickens novel.

The good news is that most every news outlet has picked apart Jeb!’s plan and said that this is pretty much the opposite of what a good policy would look like. The question is: What would a good policy look like? It would encourage more people to work, it would protect jobs against the temptation to cut them when productivity increased, and it would reduce, not increase, the hours each person worked. And, it would increase demand by increasing the amount of money in the hands of the people who will spend it, rather than increase the wealth of those who won’t. That, my friends, is what unions do. It doesn’t necessarily follow that if Jeb! is wrong, unions are right. But it makes a whole lot of sense, doesn’t it?

* I hate that we have so many Bushes in the American political scene that we have to specify which one we’re talking about. Please let’s not have Chelsea Clinton go into politics as well.

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Catching up: Ted Cruz, political mastermind

Ugh.

It’s been an ugly couple of months, hasn’t it? The bad news kept piling up and, frankly, it started to get to me. I still can’t get my head around why it’s somehow ok for police officers to kill black people. I just can’t go deal with it right now. So, instead, I’m just going to focus on one tiny thing to get it out of my mind.

Remember when Ted Cruz said “net neutrality is Obamacare for the internet“? I can’t get that one out of my head. It stands out as one of the stupidest things to come out of a politician’s mouth…er…keyboard….in a year filled with worthy candidates. He gets bonus points because of the brevity, don’t you think? It’s not quite “The Golden Girls were Kristallnact for television” but it’s pretty damned stupid.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think Ted Cruz is a stupid man. I don’t think that at all. I don’t know him personally but he doesn’t strike me as a stupid man. Cruz’ tweet reminded me of the first Bush-Kerry debate. There was a question regarding America’s allies and our, let’s say “unpopular” excursion into Iraq. Bush’s response to the question was simply “You’re either for us or you’re against us.” Kerry replied by saying that it wasn’t that simple, that different nations had different political realities at home and, while they were our allies, they couldn’t always engage in every military action at the drop of a hat (and that’s very much a paraphrase). When asked if he wanted to rebut, Bush leaned towards the camera and said “You’re either for us, or you’re against us.”

Now, you might regard Bush’s statement as similar to what you might expect from someone whose brain had been replaced Doink-It. I know that’s how I reacted. But let’s be perfectly honest here: George W. Bush is not and was not a stupid man. He said profoundly stupid things because he believed that his supporters were profoundly stupid and that they would respond to his profoundly stupid statements.

You know what? He was right, and he won the election.

And as for Ted Cruz? It’s the same playbook. Ted Cruz is a not stupid. He’s just counting on 51% of American voters being stupid.

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Mitch McConnell urges Obama to move to the left?!?

You’ve probably seen one of the many, many articles which list ways in which President Obama has governed to the right of President Reagan. This point of view is a little skewed in that what qualifies as the center in American politics has moved so far to the right over the last 30 years that an absolute comparison like this doesn’t tell the whole story.

On the other hand, though, it’s hard to argue that the policies espoused by President Obama are really so different than those embraced by the American right, or, at the very least, by President Bush. So, while I think it’s a little disingenuous to argue that Obama is right of Reagan, I think it’s fair to say that he’s governed from a center-right position.He’s not a liberal. He’s certainly not a radical. He’s about as far from being a Marxist or even socialist as you can get.

The incoming Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) had this to say about our center-right President:

I had maybe naively hoped the president would look at the results of the election and decide to come to the political center and do some business with us,

You know Mitch, I totally agree with you. I would love for President Obama to move to the left of where he’s been been his first six years. Nothing would make me happier than to see Obama stop offering up conservative policies that McConnell’s party has opposed on the principle of “we have no principles” and instead move to the center (or even, *gasp*, the left!).

But, ya know, after six years? I’m not holding my breath.

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“It’s only bad when the other side does it. I’m cool with it when it’s our guy.”

This.

Liberals who criticize the policies of a Republican president and then defend the same damn policies when a Democratic president is in charge are my sworn enemies. Few things are more damaging to liberalism than liberals defending bad actions by their leaders. Nothing undercuts your credibility like this kind of hypocrisy.

This is doubleplus true during the Obama administration. More than any President since Reagan, Obama was elected with a mandate to reverse the course set by his predecessor. I loved candidate Obama, but Obama-the-president has been a huge disappointment in foreign policy*, economics, civil liberties. He’s extended the Bush policies rather than undoing the damage.

So, the president has failed to live up to his promise. The very last thing we need are liberals stepping up to defend his record. Instead of blaming the president for his failures, they’re blaming the people who called attention to those failures. I know the other side does that all the time, but I don’t care about them. I don’t identify with their tribe, so their actions, as infuriating as they may be, don’t represent me.

But when my people, the people who supposedly represent my views, let me down? I’m not going to make excuses for them just because they’re on my “team.” I’m going to call them out and let them know they’re in the wrong. If I don’t, then what the hell do I stand for?

* Remember when Obama won the Nobel peace prize for, and I’m not making this up, “not being George W. Bush?”

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The Mechanic Who Hated Cars

In American terms, I don’t describe myself as a “Democrat.” The Democratic* party has been a source of disappointment after disappointment, culminating in the Mother of All Disappointments, Barrack Obama. Now, to be fair, here’s a list of his accomplishments thus far.

As you can probably guess, I think this list is far too generous. TARP was already moving when he took office. He hasn’t so much advanced gay rights as he has sort of stayed out of the way. He hasn’t shut down Gitmo. Instead of ending U.S. torture, he’s outsourced it. Legislation to prevent another banking crisis has been passed…and then not funded. The watchdog department hasn’t been staffed and the one person who could have led the charge, Elizabeth Warren, was exiled.

And listing government transparency as an accomplishment is some sort of sick joke. Seriously. He’s been worse than Bush. Hell, he’s been worse than Nixon in claiming state secrets.

I’m torn on the health care reform thing. What we have now is marginally better than what we had. But, it’s not a lot better and I’m concerned that enacting crippled legislation like the ACA will create enough of a backlash that real health care reform will be pushed back by decades. If you understand math, single-payer is the way to go.

So no, I’m not a huge fan of Obama. He ran on a platform of “change” and, in my opinion, he hasn’t delivered. There’s been far too much “more of the same.” That said, I’m still glad I voted for him. As disappointing as he’s been, all you have to do is look at the Republicans to realize how much worse it could have been.

This gem from pundit Erick Erickson says it all:

We must deny them the opportunity to fix the law (the Affordale Care Act) itself. Let the American people see big government in all its glory. Then offer a repeal.”

The implicit nihilism is kind of stunning, don’t you think? It’s the Republican philosophy in a nutshell: Govern as badly as possible. If something works, break it. If something’s broken, ensure it doesn’t get fixed and then yell about how terrible government is.

Why on earth would anyone ever elect these people? Seriously, electing Republicans is like hiring a mechanic who hates cars. If nothing’s wrong, he’ll break it, tell you how dumb you were to buy a car, and then take your money anyway. Of course, to make this analogy work, the mechanic also happens to own every single mode of transportation other than cars, right?

* Please don’t say “the Democrat party.” It makes you sound like an eight year old who’s trying to make up annoying names and failing badly.**  Don’t be that guy.

** Either that, or it makes you sound like a Freeper. You REALLY don’t want to be that guy.

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Gun Groups Show A Modicum Of Good Taste (And Wishful Thinking) On The Anniversary of Sandy Hook

This is good news, I guess. The 2nd Amendment rights groups that designated 14 December as “Guns Save Lives Day” have decided to move their celebration to the 15th of December. They’d originally settled on the 14th because that’s the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shootings. If that sounds a little tone-deaf or even perversely obtuse to you, I can assure you that you’re not alone.  They seemed genuinely shocked to receive so much backlash for creating an event celebrating gun ownership as something that protects human life on the same day as a recent massacre.

Obviously, the date selection wasn’t coincidence. Their stated reason for selecting the anniversary of Sandy Hook was to preempt what they assumed would be an outpouring of anti-gun sentiment on that date. In fairness, it’s perfectly understandable why they’d make that assumption. The anniversary of a massacre is a pretty damned appropriate time to make a statement about factors that contributed to the massacre. It also seems like a really inappropriate time to make a statement in favor of one of those factors.

So, the gun groups have decided to kick their event back a day. The event’s founder, Alan Gottlieb, explains why:

“We will not politicize the day, and we hope (gun-control advocates) will not politicize and push their anti-civil rights agenda on the 14th,” the group’s founder and executive vice president, Alan Gottlieb, told the New Haven Register.

“We’re going to show that we are sensitive.”

Ah, I see. After selecting an explicitly politicized date to hold an explicitly politicized event, the organizer has decided to move it because of the shitstorm he created by selecting such a wildly inappropriate date for his gun-fest. And, since he’s decided to move his event, he’s asking others, whose statements might be a little more suited to the occassion, to also hold off from making politcal statements. That’s a reasonable expecectation, right?

If my eyeroll was visible through your computer screen, I apologize. At least I kept a straight face. Sort of.

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Everything You Need To Know About The “Job Creators”

or “Do the Right Thing as a 22 Minute Cartoon”

I know this isn’t exactly new, but it will be timely as long as we continue to deify the wealthy as the Source Of All Jobs. How about a little love for the Job Doers, eh?

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17/10/2013 · 3:46 am

Thomas Sowell Tries To Prove A Falsehood (and does better than I would have expected…but still fails)

(by the way, if you’re looking for a better analysis of the causes of the shutdown, The Edge of the American West has this recent post which lays out a more convincing case than Sowell does. oh, and I apologize for the formatting. There’s something seriously wrong with this style sheet but I’m not sure exactly what and I’m not sure how to fix it.)

This piece by Thomas Sowell has been making its rounds on the Interwebs a lot lately. It’s being presented as a clear-headed, rational explanation as to why the government shutdown is the fault of the Democrats. Like most attempts to prove something that are not actually true, I’m not swayed by his argument. I am, however, impressed by his use of the forms of logic to make his argument and, because of that, I’ll spend a little time pointing out why his argument is specious rather than dismiss it out of hand.

Let me attempt to summarize Sowell’s arguments so that I can address them clearly. If I understand it correctly, his contention is that:
  1. Spending bills originate in the House.
  2. The House has offered a bill that funds all of the government except for one program.
  3. This is legal and there are precedents for this action, thus there is nothing improper about it.
  4. The Senate has rejected this spending bill because the Senate wants a bill that funds all government programs.
  5. The “clean” bill requested by the Senate is tantamount to giving Harry Reid “everything he wants,” and there is no reason the House should do that.
  6. It is, therefore, the Democrats in the Senate who are to blame for shutting down the government.
This seems reasonable on its surface, but there’s a great deal beneath the surface that undermines his argument. Let’s look at it point-by-point:
1.Spending bills originate in the House.
Well, obviously, there’s no argument here. That’s how it works. But, we’re starting from a weird place. This whole business with the “debt ceiling” is fairly novel in modern times. There was a rule in Congress that any spending that had been authorized would automatically raise the debt ceiling by whatever was required to pay for it. This rule was repealed in 1995 by the Gingrich-led Republicans, which is what gave us the strange situation we’re in. More on that in a moment, but the point I want to make is that all the government spending, even the Affordable Care Act, has already been authorized by the House. This additional hurdle is new and invites no end of mischief…
2. The House has offered a bill that funds all of the government except for one program.
…and here’s where that mischief shows up. It sounds like a small thing, but there’s a world of possibilities in that “one program,” isn’t there? Replace “Affordable Care Act” with other programs and you can see very quickly how just “one program” can be a very big deal. Medicare? Veterans Affairs? Social Security? The U.S. Army? Saying it’s just “one program” implies that it’s a very minor thing to omit, but obviously, that’s not necessarily the case.  We’ll get to how big a deal this is shortly, but for now, I just want to point out that Sowell is trying to finesse a point that doesn’t support his argument.
3. This is legal and there are precedents for this action, thus there is nothing improper about it.
Yes, this is legal. There is no question about that. There are precedents for withholding funding to create de facto legislation, but there aren’t very many that are similar to this particular situation. This maneuver is typically used in the appropriations process, wherein bills that have been passed are funded. We are well past that phase and Congress has already funded the Affordable Care Act. This is something very different and there aren’t a lot of precedents for refusing to raise the debt ceiling to pay for programs that Congress has already voted to fund. There are, in fact, two of them: 1995 and 2012. In both cases, Republican majorities in the House used the debt ceiling as a means to try to cut the overall deficit. In neither case was a single program singled out. There’s no modern precedent for using the debt ceiling to try to eliminate a single program.
4. The Senate has rejected this spending bill because the Senate wants a bill that funds all government programs.
This is true. And, in fact, there is vastly greater precedent for this stance than the one that the House is taking.
5. The “clean” bill requested by the Senate is tantamount to giving Harry Reid “everything he wants,” and there is no reason the House should do that.
This is where Sowell starts to lose the plot. He paints an unencumbered spending bill as capitulation to the Democrats. What he doesn’t mention is that the Affordable Care Act is already the result of a tremendously hard-fought compromise. It is not, and has never been everything that Harry Reid or any Democrat wants. Giving Harry Reid (or, more honestly, people like me) everything he wants would be amending the ACA to include a conversion to single-payer in 2016. The degree of misrepresentation here utterly undermines Sowell’s argument.
6. It is, therefore, the Democrats in the Senate who are to blame for shutting down the government.
Since the each of the points of the argument are either flawed, misleading, or just factually incorrect, the conclusion does not stand. I cannot read Sowell’s mind, but I suspect his instructions were similar to those of John Yoo when he wrote the infamous torture memos. I imagine that his task was not to “examine both sides of the government shutdown and determine who should shoulder the blame.” It was “find a way to justify the conclusion that we’ve already reached.”
Of course, he couldn’t let it go without sticking a hyperbolic turd on the end of what was a reasonable-seeming essay:
None of this is rocket science. But unless the Republicans get their side of the story out — and articulation has never been their strong suit — the lies will win. More important, the whole country will lose.
The whole country will lose? Really? How do you figure? Is it because, horror of horrors, a program that was created by, passed by, and funded by Congress will go into effect? A program that, and I delight in pointing this out, is popular with Republicans so long as it isn’t called “Obamacare?” Besides, Sowell and his ilk are getting the Republicans’ side of the story out; it’s just that their story isn’t convincing. The primary reason that is isn’t convincing is that it isn’t true.
It’s a thankless task, but he does an better-than-average job of at least trying to cloak a falsehood in reason.

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15/10/2013 · 3:23 pm