Media Obama Race War

Beyond the “race card”

Charles Blow recently had some terrific things to say about race in the New York Times. In summary, people should stop “playing the ‘race card’ card”–trying to shut down dialogue about race because they see it as a facade for excuse-making. While it can’t be disproved that someone, somewhere deflected legitimate criticism by accusing her accuser of racism, it’s surely not the imminent threat to healthy dialogue its made out to be. Anyway, that’s Mr. Blow’s excellent point, expertly advanced in his article. Mine is different.

There are all kinds of silly ways conservatives attempt to shut down dialogue. Of course, as curator of a site called ThisWeekInStupid, I worry constantly about painting with too broad a brush. Not all conservative arguments fall into the categories described below. However, I’d like to coin a few new terms to describe some of the most ridiculous conservative arguments.

Playing the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card.” When cons play the “stop playing the ‘Bush card’ card,” they attempt to blunt criticism of GOP policies or defenses of liberal policies by asking liberals to pretend the world was created in 2009. No one is responsible for the rise of ISIS because there was no 2008. Budget deficits started in 2009. Obama should stop making excuses for the economy because it’s not like anyone else cratered the housing and credit markets. In one survey 20% of Americans faulted Obama more than Bush for the poor response to Hurricane Katrina in 2006. That’s some weapons-grade self-deception. Expect to see a lot of railing against the ‘Bush card’ in 2016 whether Jeb gets the nomination or not.

Playing the “Neville Chamberlain” card. In my experience, you cannot engage in a conversation about Khomeini, Putin, Kim Jong-Il, Obamacare or the Denver Broncos without someone invoking Hitler.  Ben Carson if no one else. And, whether he’s mentioned by name or not, the specter of Neville Chamberlain and his policy of Nazi appeasement will, inevitably, haunt the discussion. To listen to players of the Neville Chamberlain card, you’d think that, without their constant vigilance, we’d have a world war every other year (perhaps in off-Olympic years?). Don’t want to put troops in Ukraine? You’re probably the kind who would have just let the Nazis walk in to London. Worried about collateral damage from air strikes against Iran/Syria/Libya/North Korea/Belgium? You appeasing pantywaist. Neville Chamberlain would be proud.

Playing the “free speech” card. You can read literally thousands of pages of whining by conservative pundits and politicos that conservative viewpoints are not heard and that this is a grievous blow to the First Amendment. When college students protested the invitation of Condolezza Rice to speak at commencement, that was the “PC police” out to throw a wet blanket over the discussion. But all viewpoints do not get equal time. Stupid doesn’t get the same respect as rational debate. You have the right to spout whatever ridiculous nonsense you want on your blogs and cable channels, but it is not limiting free speech when I call it out as ridiculous nonsense. If your views are valid, let’s have a discussion. But stop playing the “free speech” card and explain to me how to distinguish your ignorance from garden variety bigotry and selfishness.

I respect your conservative views. I do. Just kidding. I can’t really pull that off. These days it seems to me the Republican platform is equal parts racial ignorance and denial, poor arithmetic and the mistaking of the 1980s movie Red Dawn for a documentary. But I’m glad to explain all of that to you, and to hear your responses. But as soon as you pull out the Neville Chamberlain card, I’m outta here.

#BecauseMath Elections Obama

Is Voter Fraud a Good Investment?

Today, we’re indulging a conservative fantasy. Let’s examine what it would take to swing the 2012 election with fraudulent votes. The vote in Florida came down to 78,000 votes–a fairly narrow margin. If I were the Obama campaign looking to steal the election, that’s the easiest state to flip. Now, the problem is that penalties for voter fraud are severe–3 1/2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine. But, depending on how I do it, it can be hard to detect. The best way might be to find people who are dead or moved away, but not removed from voter roles, then impersonate them. It wouldn’t be reasonable to get away with it all 78,000 times. You should probably pad that by at least 20%. Let’s say you make 100,000 attempts.

Now, imagine you could find people willing to do this 100,000 times and could identify the correct names. It could be the same person several times, but not several thousand times. Probably, you need 10,000 people. Easy enough to find 10,000 true believers to each make 10 attempts.

With 100,000 attempts, you’d be wise to assume some of these will be not only thwarted, but reported to the elections commission.

If you catch 1 in 100 at $10k/count that’s $7.8M, or 84% of all Obama campaign spending in Florida. So, if you’re going to use voter fraud to flip an election, you’d better have legions of people willing to go to jail for you and either a mound of cash or a willingness to cancel all your ad buys, signage and get-out-the-vote efforts and go whole hog for voter fraud! Good luck!

America Economics Obama Taxation

All those things you hope the GOP will do? They can’t do them

Ben Howe says today’s GOP is different from GOP circa 2006–that we should stop holding the budget-busting, war-mongering actions of Bush-era Republicans against today’s fiscally responsible, TEA party Republicans. This is not your father’s GOP. This idea is getting some traction. There is some wishful thinking out there that this time your vote for Republicans will mean smaller government despite the fact that the last Republican President to reduce either federal spending (adjusted for inflation and population) or the budget deficit was Eisenhower.

There’s a part of me that would like to believe in the sincerity of GOP rhetoric. I do worry about a government that allocates fully a quarter of everything produced in the country. But, I’m skeptical not just because the faces at the top of the GOP have not changed. I believe people can change. The problems is the incentives for GOP legislators have changed very little since 2006. When a politician (of any persuasion) pays lip service to a policy you like, it’s important to consider how the stake holders feel about it and how they’re liable to react politically. Here are three good conservative ideas which the GOP has no chance, or indeed intention, of accomplishing.

Raising the retirement age (or other Social Security fixes). You know and I know that it’s ridiculous to pretend people aren’t staying healthy longer or that Social Security isn’t approaching a precipice. Without any changes, the trust fund (i.e. the surplus accumulated by payments into Social Security, also the money loaned to the treasury to fund our government these 20 years) is predicted to be exhausted in 2033. At that point (or some time before), Social Security must either cut benefits by an average of 23% or begin collecting more money. To listen to them, you’d think the GOP were making this top priority. But today’s Republicans have no hope, or even inclination to make substantive changes to the Social Security. The reason for this is that Republican electoral success increasingly relies on strong majorities among retirees to compensate for their poor showing among younger age groups. The Democrats enjoy an advantage among registered voters in every age category except the over 65 crowd. Candidates on the Left who openly advocate raising the retirement age or trimming benefits regularly face attacks from the Right. Most of us remember Mitt Romney’s criticism of the President’s 700 billion dollar reduction in Medicare spending. The Washington Post highlighted more such attacks against Democratic candidates by Karl Rove’s American Crossroads. Until Republicans find a demographic to replace retirees, all Republican entitlement reform is dead on arrival. You heard it here first, when it comes to fixing Social Security, the GOP will sell you, hard-working taxpayer, out to their AARP base in a heartbeat.

Eliminating mortgage interest deductions. This is a great Republican idea. The mortgage interest deduction is a giveaway to home owners and shifts the tax burden to poorer renters. It drives up home prices, complicates tax filing and distorts the market unnecessarily. But the GOP can’t do it. They take too much money from the people most harmed by this policy. The third largest individual donor to Mitt Romney, post TEA party revolution candidate for President, was Texas real estate developer, Bob J. Perry. He gave $15 million to the Romney campaign. Real estate interests gave three times more money to the Romney campaign than to the Obama campaign. Aside from investment professionals, real estate was the industry most supportive of Romney’s candidacy. The National Association of Realtors is a powerful organization which spends $40 million on lobbying every year. They support candidates on both sides including GOP House Candidate Mia Love and Democratic Senate candidate Mary Landrieu. Until money no longer rules politics, the mortgage interest deduction is here to stay.

Reducing agricultural subsidies. No one but the recipients of farm subsidies thinks they’re a good idea. The Department of Agriculture directly pay about $19 billion each year to American farmers, large and small, in the form of subsidies to crop insurance premiums and direct crop price support. Recipients include Jon bon Jovi, Rockefeller heirs and 1500 residents of New York City. Subsidies to US farmers harm third world agrarian economies which could be lifting themselves out of poverty while providing cheaper groceries for American consumers. Countries around the world hold this up as an example of the US’s protectionist trade policy and our hypocrisy as we ask countries like China to open their markets to foreign goods. Cutting these subsidies gets some play on conservative talk radio and in conservative think tanks. But it’s a non-starter among Republicans who actually govern. President Obama’s 2014 budget includes some cuts to these which Republican lawmakers have resisted. The Republican Study Committee recently uninvited the influential conservative Heritage Foundation to its meetings over Heritage’s support for reducing farm payments. Again, Republicans have both a demographic and a fund-raising problem. They enjoy broad support from rural communities and states whose voters, even when they don’t receive subsidies themselves, identify with the image of the struggling Midwest farmer. It also brings in the dollars. Campaign contributions by agribusiness has increased five-fold since 1990 with 71% of contributions going to Republicans. An estimated $150 million is spent on lobbyists for agricultural industries every year. In 2007, facing reductions to farm subsidies spearheaded by Democrats, 3000 lobbyists flew to Washington and killed changes to the farm bill. The farm lobby has even helped write provisions that enable US farmers to trade with embargoed countries like Iran.

Don’t misunderstand me. Democrats also are crazy to oppose these sensible proposals and electing Democrats is only slightly more likely to make these reality. But they have other policy objectives that are both possible and sensible like immigration reform, expanded infrastructure spending and health care reform. In the GOP playbook, I see only stupid ideas (aggressive foreign policy, balanced budget amendments, etc.) or smart but impossible ideas like those above. A realist must confront the fact that America can expect more of 2003 from today’s GOP. What Republicans can do is start wars. It’s a thing they believe in and that their base can get behind. It plays well with their demographics and brings in campaign contributions from military contractors. As previously discussed, in Republicanland, the Law of Unintended Consequences doesn’t apply to foreign policy, so there’s very little downside.

Meet the new boss…


Economics Obama

Liberal Schizophrenia

Obama’s first 6 years have been characterized by government gridlock, budget deficits and, depending on your perspective, steady but slow economic recovery. Democrats, as the Party that still believes public policy should be tied to objective reality, need to get our collective head straight concerning what this experience tells us about deficit spending and economics. Most people, by now, are aware that there are Austrian, Keynesian and Monetarist schools of economic thought. In summary which is sure to keep me out of any institution that studies economics, Austrians favor almost no government intervention to smooth the business cycle, Keynesians advise running deficits during a recession and surpluses during a boom and monetarists (like Milton Friedman) focus on monetary policy, striving to preserve the supply of money in the economy by printing money during a recession (when the money supply naturally shrinks) and taking it out of circulation during a boom. For a much clearer summary, watch Tyler Cowen’s videos on the topic.

Now, from the Republicans I hear two assertions which are consistent with each other, although tenuously tethered to reality.

  1. Obama’s Presidency has been marked by runaway spending and debt and
  2. Recovery has been tepid

For Republicans, who don’t pay much attention to economics (“ivory tower eggheads”), this all makes lots of sense. Government spending hurts the economy by crowding out private investment (except for military spending, because how better to boost recovery than by blowing stuff up?). So, Obama’s tax-and-spend liberalism is responsible for our current “malaise.”

Liberals, on the other hand, try to challenge both points, contending that

  1. Obama is not a big spender and
  2. Recovery is robust

But, taken together, these are entirely inconsistent with our Keynesian perspective. To Keynesians like Greg Mankiw, Paul Krugman and ThisWeekInStupid, cutting spending during a recession is exactly the wrong idea. If Obama and his mixed Congress had been cutting spending, we would expect it to slow the recovery. So, to claim both of the above is playing right into Republican hands.

It’s also not reality. A clear-eyed assessment reveals that spending has been unprecedented. US national debt as a fraction of GDP reached levels not seen since World War II  reaching 122% of GDP in 2012. We at ThisWeekInStupid are not deficit hawks, but this is a lot of money by any accounting. Often I see liberals pointing out that big spending had begun by the time Barack Obama took office. After all, the debt-busting 2009 budget was signed by George W. Bush, based on his recommendations in February 2008 and, since fiscal 2009 begins in October 2008, almost one-third of the budget was spent before Barack Obama was inaugurated. Some even use this fact to claim that Obama has been reigning in the runaway spending of the Bush administration. This is cynical and transparently false. The 2009 budget should only be used to demonstrate that bipartisan economists agree that a boost in government spending, even deficit spending, was the right prescription in 2008.

Barack Obama could have recommended less spending in the years following. To his credit, he did not. Democrats should embrace the fiscal policies of Barack Obama, including his deliberate deficit spending, and continue to emphasize that a slow, steady recovery is exactly the kind that tends to last. Obama is a Keynesian big spender, which is exactly why we can expect better times ahead.

Faith Foreign Policy Obama

Leadership…it’s all about posture!

A special midweek stupidity update. I’m aware that not everyone reading this post is a Christian. But, a solid majority of people tweeting and retweeting this graphic are's about posture’s about posture

As a Christian myself, I’ll admit to being quite pleased with ThisWeekInStupid’s response below:

I think you may be right
I think you may be right


Have a good week and don’t forget to follow ThisWeekInStupid on twitter.

Foreign Policy Obama

The President’s failure to act has made troubles worse

Mitt Romney, bolstered by the recent praise from the Right on his prescience in identifying Russia as “our primary geo-politcal foe,” thought he’d weigh in on, well, everything. He did it in the Wall Street Journal here. As someone interested in Ukraine before it was cool and as self-appointed liberal liason to the Right, I’ve read a lot of conservative commentary on Ukraine. And this is not the dumbest, but it’s up there. Mitt, to his credit, doesn’t spend a lot of time, as others have, extolling Putin’s acumen in out-maneuvering Obama. This is an ignorant point of view. In fact, what Russia has done is further de-legitimized the UN Security Council–one of the last remnants of a world in which Russia could diplomatically influence other nations. What’s more, there are legitimate legal challenges to Russia’s permanent membership on the council. I’m neither an international law nor diplomacy wonk, but the idea of a formal challenge to Russia’s permanent membership would have more sticking power now than at any time. Those with a sense of irony, might propose that the permanent seat of the dissolved USSR (which seat Russia now occupies) should be rotated among the former Soviet Republics–Ukraine, Georgia and the Baltic states, for example. There’s a certain delicious parallel between this and Putin’s abandonment of the Budapest memorandum on the grounds that it was signed by a different Ukrainian government.
Further, if 4 of the 5 nations on the Security Council (the US, Britain, China and Russia) feel justified in waging wars over the objections of the majority of the security council membership, then a diplomatically and economically isolated Russia can do very little for its allies out of the immediate reach of it’s tanks and bombs.
And we haven’t even begun to discuss the economic costs to Russia, estimated at $400bn this year. That’s 20% of GDP or $2800 from every Russian (whose average salaries are just $800/month). And that’s before figuring losses due to any sanctions. I’m with (gulp) Ted Cruz on the idea of expanding natural gas shipments to Europe to increase these costs. Contrary to popular belief, Putin is no king. He has political rivals and has a parliament to wrangle. Anyone paying attention understands that this is a big tragedy for Vladimir Putin at home and abroad. Last November, he had an ally on his huge southern border and some semblance of legitimacy in the world.
But we were talking about Mitt Romney. His piece did have one thing in common with the rest of the neo-con idiocy out there. Mitt asks the question
Why are America’s hands so tied?
which ought to be rhetorical to anyone not in a coma last decade, and yet Mitt weaves some yarn about how, if we’d just been more willing to arm Middle Eastern freedom fighters, things would have been fine.
The 80’s called, Mitt. They want their foreign policy back.