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“There Was One Clear Loser”: Reality Takes A Beating In Latest Republican Debate

Early on in last night’s debate, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson was asked whether he’d support an increase in the minimum wage. The retired right-wing neurosurgeon began his answer by saying, “People need to be educated on the minimum wage,” which quickly became one of the more ironic comments of the evening.

“Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. It’s particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, and that’s because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down.

“You know, I can remember, as a youngster – you know, my first job working in a laboratory as a lab assistant, and multiple other jobs. But I would not have gotten those jobs if someone had to pay me a large amount of money.”

The assertion that minimum wage increases are always followed by an increase in unemployment is wrong. Carson’s claim about unemployment among black teens is even further from the truth. And as for the minimum wage when Carson was younger, in 1975, when he was 24 years old, the minimum wage was $2.10 an hour – which is $9.29 when adjusted for inflation, more than two dollars above today’s wage floor.

It was, alas, that kind of event. There’s always considerable chatter about who “wins” or “loses” these debates – most pundits seem to think Marco Rubio excelled, though I’m starting to think some of them are just using a computer macro to save time – but there was one clear loser last night: reality.

At another point last night, Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal, reminded Carly Fiorina, “In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you’ll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?”

If anything, Baker’s numbers were tilted in the GOP’s favor, since Obama’s totals are dragged down by including the early months of his presidency, when the economy was in free fall. Nevertheless, the point is accurate – since World War II, more jobs are created under Democratic presidents than Republicans – prompting Fiorina to reply, “Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats.”

She’d just been reminded of the opposite, which made the exchange a little unnerving. I kept waiting for one of the candidates to drop the pretense and declare, “I reject this version of reality and replace it with one I like better.”

Around the same time last night, Marco Rubio insisted the United States is in the midst of “an economic downturn,” which is bonkers. The economy added over 270,000 jobs last month, the unemployment rate is down to 5%, and we have the strongest economy of any democracy on the planet.

Some dissembling is expected in events like these, and I hardly expect GOP presidential hopefuls to celebrate Obama-era progress, but for two hours last night, viewers were treated to a rare sight: a view of current events distorted by a funhouse mirror.

Towards the end of the evening, there was also this amazing exchange between Maria Bartiromo and Rand Paul:

BARTIROMO: Senator Paul, you were one of 15 Republicans to vote for an amendment which states that human activity contributed to climate change. President Obama has announced an aggressive plan to cut carbon emissions. At the same time, energy production in America has boomed. Is it possible to continue this boom, and move toward energy self-sufficiency, while at the same time pursuing a meaningful climate change program?

PAUL: The first thing I would do as president is repeal the regulations that are hampering our energy that the president has put in place.

She had just noted that energy production has boomed in the Obama era, which led Rand Paul to denounce the regulations that have prevented a boom in energy production.

I can appreciate why “Presidential Candidates Lie To Win Votes” is a dog-bites-man headline, but last night wasn’t so much about dishonesty as it was about feeling stuck in a “Twilight Zone” episode. Jon Chait concluded, “In a debate where chastened moderators avoided interruptions or follow-ups, the candidates were free to inhabit any alternate reality of their choosing, unperturbed by inconvenient facts.”

It was hard to know whether to be annoyed or terrified.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, November 11, 2015

November 12, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Austerity’s Grim Legacy”: Deficit Fetishism Was Both Wrongheaded And Destructive

When economic crisis struck in 2008, policy makers by and large did the right thing. The Federal Reserve and other central banks realized that supporting the financial system took priority over conventional notions of monetary prudence. The Obama administration and its counterparts realized that in a slumping economy budget deficits were helpful, not harmful. And the money-printing and borrowing worked: A repeat of the Great Depression, which seemed all too possible at the time, was avoided.

Then it all went wrong. And the consequences of the wrong turn we took look worse now than the harshest critics of conventional wisdom ever imagined.

For those who don’t remember (it’s hard to believe how long this has gone on): In 2010, more or less suddenly, the policy elite on both sides of the Atlantic decided to stop worrying about unemployment and start worrying about budget deficits instead.

Some of us tried in vain to point out that deficit fetishism was both wrongheaded and destructive, that there was no good evidence that government debt was a problem for major economies, while there was plenty of evidence that cutting spending in a depressed economy would deepen the depression.

And we were vindicated by events. More than four and a half years have passed since Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles warned of a fiscal crisis within two years; U.S. borrowing costs remain at historic lows. Meanwhile, the austerity policies that were put into place in 2010 and after had exactly the depressing effects textbook economics predicted; the confidence fairy never did put in an appearance.

Yet there’s growing evidence that we critics actually underestimated just how destructive the turn to austerity would be. Specifically, it now looks as if austerity policies didn’t just impose short-term losses of jobs and output, but they also crippled long-run growth.

The idea that policies that depress the economy in the short run also inflict lasting damage is generally referred to as “hysteresis.” It’s an idea with an impressive pedigree: The case for hysteresis was made in a well-known 1986 paper by Olivier Blanchard, who later became the chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, and Lawrence Summers, who served as a top official in both the Clinton and the Obama administrations. But I think everyone was hesitant to apply the idea to the Great Recession, for fear of seeming excessively alarmist.

At this point, however, the evidence practically screams hysteresis. Even countries that seem to have largely recovered from the crisis, like the United States, are far poorer than precrisis projections suggested they would be at this point. And a new paper by Mr. Summers and Antonio Fatás, in addition to supporting other economists’ conclusion that the crisis seems to have done enormous long-run damage, shows that the downgrading of nations’ long-run prospects is strongly correlated with the amount of austerity they imposed.

What this suggests is that the turn to austerity had truly catastrophic effects, going far beyond the jobs and income lost in the first few years. In fact, the long-run damage suggested by the Fatás-Summers estimates is easily big enough to make austerity a self-defeating policy even in purely fiscal terms: Governments that slashed spending in the face of depression hurt their economies, and hence their future tax receipts, so much that even their debt will end up higher than it would have been without the cuts.

And the bitter irony of the story is that this catastrophic policy was undertaken in the name of long-run responsibility, that those who protested against the wrong turn were dismissed as feckless.

There are a few obvious lessons from this debacle. “All the important people say so” is not, it turns out, a good way to decide on policy; groupthink is no substitute for clear analysis. Also, calling for sacrifice (by other people, of course) doesn’t mean you’re tough-minded.

But will these lessons sink in? Past economic troubles, like the stagflation of the 1970s, led to widespread reconsideration of economic orthodoxy. But one striking aspect of the past few years has been how few people are willing to admit having been wrong about anything. It seems all too possible that the Very Serious People who cheered on disastrous policies will learn nothing from the experience. And that is, in its own way, as scary as the economic outlook.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columist, The New York Times, November 6, 2015

November 9, 2015 Posted by | Austerity, Economic Recovery, Financial Crisis | , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Retreating Entirely Into Their Own Little World”: GOP Debate Flat-Earthers Would Rather Just Talk Among Themselves

The defining essence of today’s Republican Party is that it lives in its own reality with its own set of “facts.”

You know this well enough. On the planet most of us inhabit, huge tax cuts for the rich hurt the economy and compound the deficit. The Earth is warming, and man-made carbon emissions have a lot to do with it. Evolution is a fact that happened and is still happening. On GOPEarth, tax cuts for the rich help the economy and reduce the deficit. The Earth isn’t warming, and even if it were just a little, it’s nothing to do with us. Evolution is just a theory.

It’s all fantasy, and all promulgated partly out of deluded belief but mainly for the benefit of Republican politicians’ benefactors and shock troops—in the three cases above, for the über-rich, for energy and oil companies, and for religious-right voters. And because of the way discourse in a democratic society works, if one party decides that it believes and wants to peddle empirically untrue things, well, provided it gets enough people to believe and repeat those things, the rest of us have no choice but to take those arguments seriously and engage them and quarrel with them. So we waste a lot of time in this country “debating” things that in every other advanced democracy in the world are settled matters of fact.

But now Reince Priebus may be doing those of us on mother Earth a favor. With his astonishing admission Monday that anyone allowed to ask a question of a Republican presidential candidate at a debate ought to “care or give a rip about the Republican Party,” the GOP chairman is unwittingly hastening the arrival of the day when the flat-earthers can just talk among themselves and the rest of us don’t really have to pay attention.

It’s an incredible statement in the way it imposes a precondition of support for the party before a person is even allowed to ask a question. Now, there may be a reasonable role for ideological journalists to be on a debate stage. I’d love to participate in a Democratic debate. But not so I can lob them softballs. Rather, I’d ask them tough questions that it would never occur to Anderson Cooper to ask, because I’m immersed in liberal thought and policy debates in a way he isn’t, and I have a pretty strong sense of what kinds of questions might get them off their talking points. So there’s a role for that. But that of course is not what Priebus meant. He meant lickspittles.

On the surface, the Republican anger over the debates is about a series of somewhat picayune questions about format, like these, which were set forth in a letter from GOP lawyer Ben Ginsberg to the networks (Will you commit that you won’t “show an empty podium after a break/describe how far away the bathrooms are”?)

While Donald Trump, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, and John Kasich all said Monday that they would not sign the letter, even I would agree that Republicans have a couple of legitimate gripes on some of these format questions.

The format of having the top 10 (or 11) candidates debate and leaving the others to the kids’ table has been ridiculous from jump street. Lindsey Graham and Rick Santorum, both of whom have actual policy knowledge, aren’t any less serious than Chris Christie and John Kasich just because they’re a point or two behind them but within the margin of error. From the start, it should have been two groups of eight or nine, randomly drawn from a hat (although, interestingly, the campaigns did not agree Sunday that this should be the practice going forward).

They’re right that the CNBC debate was chaotic. And they’re right that questions aren’t fairly distributed. Underlying these two problems, especially the latter one, is a hard economic fact that the networks won’t acknowledge and which Republican free-marketeers are unlikely to condemn. These debates, especially with Donald Trump in the picture, are far less about civic edification than they are about ratings and the ad rates that can be charged when Trump-scale audiences tune in who naturally enough want to see more of Trump than they do of Mike Huckabee. Did CNN expand that GOP debate to three tedious hours so the public would learn more, or so that the network could rake in one extra hour’s worth of ad revenue? Let’s not kid ourselves.

But at bottom, the Republican complaints about the debate process aren’t really about these format issues. They’re about GOP resentment that the questioners don’t share the candidates’ ideological presumptions and don’t see the debate as a PR opportunity for the party; which is to say that they’re about this insular reality that Republicans and conservatives have created for themselves in which everyone who doesn’t reflexively agree with a long list of litmus-test assumptions about the world, many of them provably untrue, is a liberal and an enemy of freedom and all the rest.

So now, with Priebus’s words Monday, they’re edging close to retreating into that reality in a way that would have been unimaginable a few years ago but that we may yet see. Picture this: Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. In 2019, Republicans start contemplating running against her and start thinking about primary debates. First off, they may not even have them at all (a blessing in a way, though not really a triumph for democracy). But if they do have them, is it far-fetched to think that there will be only two, and that they’ll be limited to, oh, the Christian Broadcasting Network and the Tea Party Network? After all, remember, it’s C-effing-NBC they’re mad at—the network that helped create the Tea Party! Remember also that Fox made them furious back in the summer, when Fox moderators asked tougher-than-expected questions. Pretty soon their own mothers won’t even be allowed to ask them questions (especially Jeb Bush’s).

Priebus doesn’t seem to have thought through one basic fact: If the Republican Party really sues the political media for a debate divorce, then the political media will be under decreasing obligation to take the party’s barmy positions seriously, and they can talk on their networks about their world, and the rest of us can talk in every other outlet about the real world. It’s sad, but not as sad as having to take all their whining seriously.

 

By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, November 3, 2015

November 4, 2015 Posted by | CNBC Debate, GOP Primary Debates, Reince Priebus | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Governing-By-Crisis Has Gotten Even Worse”: The Risk That America Will Default On Its Debts Is Now Higher Than Ever

It’s tempting to say that the upcoming need to increase the debt ceiling is another depressing iteration of the governing-by-crisis that we’ve gotten used to over the last five years since Republicans took control of the House. But it isn’t. It’s worse. The chaos that is the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives is about to have some very serious effects on the entire country.

Why is this crisis different from those that came before it? In all of the government shutdown/debt ceiling crises of the last five years, we knew how they would end: eventually, after putting up a show of fighting against that dastardly Obama administration, John Boehner would allow a vote on a bill to either fund the government or raise the debt ceiling, knowing that it would pass only with the votes of Democrats plus a few dozen Republicans sane enough to want to avoid catastrophe. The conservatives would cry “Betrayal!” but the crisis would be over.

But now even that may not be possible. Here’s the latest news from Politico this morning:

House GOP leaders initially planned to vote on a red-meat proposal Friday pitched by the Republican Study Committee to increase the debt ceiling while imposing new limits on executive-branch power. That measure stood no chance of passing the Senate, but would at least show effort.

Yet when House Majority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) team tested Republican support for the legislation, it fell far short of the needed 218 votes, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) postponed any floor action.

Now, the U.S. government is 12 days from reaching the debt limit without a clear plan of what to do.

Boehner, McCarthy and other GOP leaders are refusing at this point to move ahead with a “clean” debt ceiling bill insisted on by President Barack Obama. Senior leadership aides said they couldn’t find the 30 Republican votes needed to join with all 188 Democrats to pass that proposal — a bleak indication of the current state of play.

So there aren’t even 30 Republicans in the House willing to keep the United States government from defaulting on its debts. How did we get here?

First, let’s establish some context, since it’s been a while since we had a debt ceiling crisis. For some idiosyncratic historical reasons, the United States has a statutory limit on how many bonds it can issue to pay for what Congress buys, meaning that after it passes a budget, Congress has to pass an extra bill allowing the government to pay for that budget (the only other industrialized country that has a debt ceiling is Denmark, which might dim Bernie Sanders’ affection for the place, though theirs is set so high it doesn’t become a political football). For almost a century, debt ceiling increases were an occasion for brief political theater, as members of the party out of power would make some floor speeches about the administration’s outrageous spending, and then the bill would pass extending the ceiling for a year or two, because even the most committed opponents of the administration weren’t so deranged as to actually want to risk the United States government defaulting on its debts. But that was before the Tea Party came to town.

If a new bill raising the ceiling doesn’t pass by November 3rd, we will default. The Obama administration, as it always has, insists upon a “clean” debt ceiling increase — just increase it, and then we can argue about our other policy disagreements without threatening the full faith and credit of the United States. Republicans, however, see this as a great opportunity for blackmail.

So why are we even more likely now to fail to pass an increase than we were when we had this same crisis in 2011, then again in 2013, then again in 2014? Look at what’s going on in the House. Conservatives there are feeling emboldened because they just got rid of John Boehner, as they had wanted to do for so long. They feel strong and empowered, so naturally they believe that this is a battle they can win, even if they’ve lost before. And they’ve upped their demands.

Now they want not just general budget cuts in exchange for raising the ceiling, but cuts specifically to Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. That demand was contained in a document the House Freedom Caucus put out recently, and the conservative Republican Study Committee’s proposal would raise the ceiling in exchange for $3.8 billion in cuts to those programs over the next decade, along with a freeze on all regulations until Barack Obama leaves office. If they think Democrats would ever accept those terms, they’ve lost their minds. But they seem serious.

But it isn’t just this recent revolt. As Jackie Calmes and David Herszenhorn of the New York Times recently pointed out, today’s House is even more conservative than it was when we came so close to defaulting before:

The legislative math has only grown more difficult. When Congress last voted in February 2014 to suspend the debt limit, 28 House Republicans joined nearly all Democrats in support; 199 Republicans were opposed. Now there are fewer Democrats in the House and if all 188 of them voted for an increase, Republican leaders would need 30 votes from their side for a 218-vote majority — two more than last year.

Yet nine of last year’s 28 Republican supporters have left Congress and at least three of their Republican successors — Representatives Dave Brat of Virginia, Steve Knight of California and Mark Walker, Republican of North Carolina — are almost certain to be opposed.

Also, 14 Democrats who voted to increase the debt limit are gone, replaced by Republicans, some of whom are likely to vote no.

That’s why they can’t even find 30 Republicans to vote for a clean increase. Then there’s the question of the next Speaker, who will be the one actually shepherding this crisis if Republicans stick to their schedule of electing the new Speaker next week.  While Paul Ryan hasn’t said publicly what he thinks ought to be done, he voted against the increase last year. This topic surely came up when he went to the Freedom Caucus to win their support. What did he tell them? They fervently want to use the threat of default to extort the administration into satisfying some of their policy goals. Is one of Ryan’s first acts a Speaker going to be turning his back on them? Don’t bet on it.

All this suggests that every force involved is propelling Republicans not just toward forcing a crisis, but forcing an actual default. At some point, they might realize that “Republicans are holding a gun to the head of the American economy and they’ll fire unless we let them slash Social Security and Medicare” isn’t exactly a winning political message to send. But who knows how much damage will be done before they realize that?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, October 23, 2015

October 25, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republican Caucus, Paul Ryan | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Taking Stock Of The Global Dysfunction On The Right”: Raising The Debt Ceiling Won’t Prove House Republicans Are Sane

After House Speaker John Boehner announced his decision to resign at the end of October, and then more urgently when the Treasury Department alerted Congress that the deadline to increase the statutory debt limit had advanced to the beginning of November, a sense of dread momentarily overwhelmed official Washington.

Budget experts, economists, and anyone with a political memory going back at least four years were abruptly consumed with the likelihood that the responsibility for increasing the debt limit would fall to an untested new speaker—and, more troublingly, a speaker whose election would require him to placate House hardliners with dangerous promises.

The solution to the dilemma was obvious at the time, and remains so: An unencumbered Boehner could place legislation to increase the debt limit on the House floor, and it would pass. But until this week it was unclear how aggressively he intended to clean house before his departure, or whether he’d leave multiple obligations to his successor.

Though the speakership crisis and the debt-limit crisis remain unresolved, the sense of alarm has drained out of the story almost as rapidly as it emerged. Cooler heads have seemingly rescued the debt limit from conservative hostage-takers. And that has created a temptation to celebrate averted catastrophe as a triumph of political reality over right-wing fanaticism.

Succumbing to that temptation would be a huge mistake. It is crucial at this point to take stock of the global dysfunction on the right, and appreciate just how badly it has imperiled our system of government.

We owe the prospect of an uneventful debt limit resolution to a deus ex machina. Boehner’s heir presumptive, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, abandoned the race for speaker to the tune of Yakety Sax, denuding the House Benghazi Committee along the way and compelling Boehner to consider increasing the debt limit—either without precondition, or as part of a genuinely bipartisan agreement—before he leaves Congress.

Despite rumblings from the other chamber, this should go down fairly smoothly in the Senate. Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s chief deputy, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, said in a recent CNN interview that he’s “ready to raise the debt limit ‘until 2017’ in order to get the matter off the table during an election year. McConnell, sources say, feels the same way, and the two sides are discussing the possibility of raising the debt limit until March 2017, just two months after a new president and Congress are sworn in.” Crisis deferred.

Debt-ceiling dramas like this aren’t borne of necessity. They’re concocted to appease reactionaries in the House. In this way, they’re an artifact of the Tea Party insurgency five years ago, and the untenable promises GOP leaders made to conservatives after President Obama was first elected. The legislative landscape is littered with such artifacts—past hostage crises, consensus immigration legislation, even the Benghazi committee itself—and it’s our good fortune that several of them are now at the forefront of U.S. politics simultaneously.

The fact that Republicans revealed the Benghazi Committee to be an elaborate farce, just in time for Hillary Clinton to testify before it, and that the’re likely to extend the Treasury Department’s borrowing authority without incident, can both be construed as side-effects of overreach—a natural political check on extremism that prevents the legislature from becoming completely weaponized. “Whether or not Boehner actually ends up sparing us the needless drama of a protracted confrontation,” writes Greg Sargent at The Washington Post, “the fact that he’s looking to resolve this without one itself confirms how this will ultimately end, no matter what has to happen along the way. And there’s no need for anyone to pretend otherwise.” 

There’s something comforting about that interpretation, and at a general level, it’s basically correct. But it doesn’t account for the enormous role coincidence played in saving the country from another near-catastrophe, or outright default, in this particular instance.

It would thus behoove us to be mindful of how badly things could have gone if events had transpired slightly differently—if the debt limit deadline hadn’t budged, if McCarthy had succeeded Boehner, by promising confrontation with the White House—before moving on to the next big story. Republican dysfunction has never caused the U.S. to default, but it does create a much higher-risk environment. One plausible remedy lies in the hope that the confluence of events—the speakership crisis, the debt-limit drama, the Benghazi admissions, the Republican primary meltdown—will, in James Fallows’ words, eliminate “the discomfort of reporters, old and young alike, with recognizing that the United States doesn’t currently have two structurally similar political parties approaching issues on roughly comparable terms [but] one historically familiar-looking party, and another converting itself into something else.”

In an interview with Bloomberg View, the political scientist Thomas Mann—who, along with his coauthor Norm Ornstein, has been at pains for years to awaken the press to the reality of modern American politics—explained that “the solution … must focus on the obvious but seldom acknowledged asymmetry between the parties.”

Under quieter circumstances, that would be a pipe dream. Under the extreme circumstances of the moment, it’s a little more plausible. First, though, everyone must resist the temptation to disaggregate these stories and chalk them up individually to dramatic, but ultimately normal, politics.

 

By: Brian Beutler, Senior Editor at The New Republic, October 16, 2015

October 18, 2015 Posted by | Debt Ceiling, House Freedom Caucus, House Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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