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“Donald Trump Is Dead Wrong”: America Is A Fabulously Rich And Great Nation

America isn’t broke. Nor is it on the verge of a government debt crisis (whatever “crisis” even means for a nation whose debt is printed in a currency that is both its own and the world’s reserve). America is not in decay, and the last thing the U.S. should do is rashly withdraw from a dangerous world because of those mistaken beliefs.

This should be especially clear after the Belgium terror attacks.

Yet retreat is just what Donald Trump seems to be proposing. In an interview with The Washington Post editorial board Monday, Trump questioned the U.S. role in NATO and presence in Asia due to the financial burden they require:

I mean, we pay billions — hundreds of billions of dollars to supporting other countries that are in theory wealthier than we are. … When you look at the kind of money that our country is losing, we can’t afford to do this. Certainly we can’t afford to do it anymore…. I think we were a very powerful, very wealthy country. And we’re a poor country now. [Trump]

Looks like we finally found something Trump is in favor of off-shoring: America’s security.

Now, it’s certainly legitimate to evaluate the mission and cost of America’s overseas military commitments and posture. But that’s a different thing than scrapping our military alliances — or threatening to do so as some ham-handed budget negotiating tactic. Leading the free world, reassuring allies, and deterring aggression have little overlap with the skills needed to drive a hard bargain with a potential tenant in Trump Tower.

And yet, Republicans might give Trump’s defense policy ideas more of a hearing than they deserve because of their persistent debt fears. After all, it’s mainstream GOP economic thought that U.S. finances are precarious. How could they not be given the $19 trillion federal debt — $22 trillion if you include state and local government? These are figures Trump always mentions, as do many Republican politicians. They provide handy justification for arguing we can’t afford to invest in science, repair and upgrade our infrastructure, or bolster wages for low-income workers.

But here’s the thing: The U.S. is far from a poor nation. American households entered 2016 with a net worth of nearly $87 trillion, according to the Federal Reserve. To put that ginormous number in some context, China’s private wealth has been estimated at $23 trillion. Even if you factor in America’s debt-laden public sector and China’s large state-owned companies, the U.S. still has a $45 trillion wealth edge.

There are other ways of looking at national wealth that also show America’s riches. The value of U.S. intellectual capital has been estimated at around $9 trillion, with the value of the intangible assets — such as patents, copyrights, and general business methods — at nearly $15 trillion. And given Trump’s appreciation of brands — he generously values his own at $3 billion — you would think the businessman would appreciate America’s, which has been valued at close to $20 trillion.

Maybe all this wealth is one reason global financial markets don’t seem so worried about the U.S. debt. Well, that and the U.S. tax burden being one of the lowest in the developed world. The dollar is strong, and interest rates are low, as are inflation expectations. None of this is to say the U.S. should be a spendthrift in either defense or social spending. Without entitlement reform, Medicare and Social Security will require massive tax increases to keep their promises. Yet Trump would leave them untouched, vowing implausibly to fix their fiscal problems through higher economic growth alone.

The U.S. isn’t bankrupt. Our pockets aren’t empty. We aren’t a pauper nation.

But, of course, you can’t promise to make America great again without arguing that it currently isn’t.


By: James Pethokoukis, The Week, March 23, 2016

March 27, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Economic Policy, Foreign Policy, National Security | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Carson’s Admirable Qualities Don’t Extend To Politics”: Count Me Among Those Who Are Skeptical

To read Ben Carson’s memoir, Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story, is to enjoy an uplifting and inspiring tale of a man who overcame a traumatic childhood to become one of the nation’s leading neurosurgeons. That man is certainly worthy of widespread admiration.

But who is the guy taking his place on the campaign trail? Who is the man bashing Muslims, denouncing gays, and dismissing science? Who is the candidate engaging in all sorts of weird conspiracy theories? That Ben Carson deserves nothing but contempt.

Yet, the good doctor remains a leading Republican presidential candidate, either besting Donald Trump for the top spot, according to several polls, or coming in a close second. While he and Trump have managed to befuddle most professional prognosticators with their dominance of the Republican field, a new survey shows Carson has pulled off another equally surprising feat: He’s well-liked by Democrats and Republicans alike.

Indeed, according to Gallup, Carson is among the most popular of the presidential candidates of either party. Among all voters, regardless of partisan affiliation, he’s viewed favorably by 42 percent. Among Republicans, 67 percent have a favorable view, while a mere 8 percent dislike him.

That high esteem is certainly understandable for Dr. Carson, the surgeon, who embodies the quintessential American story of the self-made man. Through grit, hard work, and a deep-seated religious faith, he overcame poverty and teenage recklessness to graduate from Yale and the University of Michigan Medical School.

After a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the nation’s most prestigious medical facilities, he joined the faculty there, rising to become director of pediatric neurosurgery. His memoir was turned into a TV movie starring Cuba Gooding Jr., and the millions of viewers who’ve seen it probably count among his many admirers.

Besides that, if you’ve watched any of the GOP presidential debates, Carson’s low-key demeanor compares favorably to the boisterous braggadocio of The Donald, whose every sentence struggles under the weight of first-person pronouns and whose every pronouncement is a heroic tale of his own achievements and talents. If you’re watching the neurosurgeon next to the reality TV star and real estate mogul, you certainly come away with a more favorable impression of the former.

Still, candidate Carson holds some distressing views. He has declared that he doesn’t think it would be appropriate for a Muslim to hold the presidency of the United States — a bias that directly contradicts the U.S. Constitution, which explicitly states that there shall be no religious test for political office. He opposes same-sex marriage and has dismissed homosexuality as “a choice.” (For the record, he also disputes broad areas of scientific consensus, including evolution, global warming and archeologists’ views of Egypt’s pyramids.)

The good doctor is also given to outrageous rhetoric, comparing Obamacare to slavery, for example. In a recent interview, he claimed that limiting firearms in the United States could lead to the rise of a government like that of Nazi Germany.

Given Carson’s worldview, it’s perhaps folly to try to find, among his beliefs, those that are most outside the mainstream. But a leading candidate for that dubious distinction is Carson’s fixation on a John Birch-type figure named W. Cleon Skousen, who has been described by the conservative National Review as a “nut job.” Carson frequently quotes works by the late Skousen, who wanted to repeal the minimum wage, outlaw unions, eliminate anti-discrimination laws and repeal the income tax.

Leave aside, for a moment, the fact that Carson knows next to nothing about how the government actually works. Shouldn’t a candidate for president, especially one who is so widely admired, at least be comfortable with the social and civic mores of the late 20th century — if not the 21st?

Count me among those who are skeptical that Carson’s stock will remain high throughout the primary season. By the time he’s done with his candidacy, his poll numbers won’t be the only thing in decline. It’s likely his broad appeal will have evaporated, as well.


By: Cynthia Tucker Haynes, Pulitzer Prize for Commentary in 2007; The National Memo, November 7, 2015

November 8, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Discrimination, GOP Presidential Candidates | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“What Ben Carson’s Rise Says About America”: We’ve Reached The Point Where Ignorance Really Is Bliss

So it’s Ben Carson’s moment. He’s overtaken Donald Trump in a CBS/New York Times national poll and he’s ahead in Iowa now with the caucuses just three months away. The Times is writing nice profiles of him full of polite euphemisms like “lack of governing experience.” First we all got used to the idea that it wasn’t insane to think that Donald Trump could be the GOP nominee. And now we have to acclimate ourselves to the idea it could be Carson, too.

The only actual interesting thing about Carson is that he raises a question we rarely get the chance to contemplate: How can a man who is so obviously distinguished and brilliant in one field be such an across-the-board nincompoop in another? Because usually, if a man (or woman) is a good and knowledgeable and sure-footed doctor, or lawyer or department chair or any other position that could have been attained only through repeated displays of excellence and probity, then that person will also be a pretty solid human being across the board. He or she might be right wing or left wing, and he or he might have a weakness for French New Wave cinema or for Rock Hudson-Doris Day movies; but s/he won’t be an idiot.

But Carson is a political idiot. And it’s not all the Nazi and slavery talk, although those are certainly stupid and crude comparisons that can only be invoked by people who are dumb enough—and, I should add, insensitive enough—never to have given serious thought to the grisly particulars of what Nazism and slavery entailed. Whatever you think of Obamacare, you actually have to be a ghastly human being to compare it to practice in which horrors like this happened all the time, to many millions of people.

And these rants of his against political correctness! We’re getting to be like (again) Nazi Germany? Is he serious? Yes, he is. Imagine how ignorant of history a person has to be to think that today’s pc police, annoying as they sometimes are, can be compared to the SA or the SS? It’s insulting even to have to hear it.

So all that is plenty bad, but even more, I mean nearly everything else that comes out of this mouth. Just Google “Ben Carson ignorance” and you’ll see quickly enough that on subjects ranging from science to foreign policy to the Constitution to virtually any political or historical or policy topic on which he chooses to speak, he says something that has no basis in real-world fact.

How does a man who is (presumably, anyway) in his chosen realm a man of science and empirical knowledge and testing of hypotheses enter this other realm and become someone who just spends his time scouring the most lunatic right-wing websites there are and repeating back everything he reads there as if it’s true? That’s where that madness about how armed Jews could have prevented the Holocaust comes from—it started about 20 years ago, and there is nothing about it that’s true. But the notion lives a healthy life on right-wing and pro-gun websites and chat boards. Great weight is given in those circles to a supposed quote from Hitler extolling gun control. But as Alex Seitz-Wald showed in this Salon piece in which he quotes leading scholars, Hitler almost certainly never said it.

Now, none of this is shocking to you, if you follow these things at all. There are all kinds of matters on which conservatives have their own version of reality. I remember being astonished back when we were all first getting to know a certain half-term Alaska governor to learn, via some dodgy and weird creationistic answer she gave to some question, that there’s this excavation site in, predictably enough, Texas, called the Taylor Trail, where there exists “evidence” that man and dinosaur walked together. So this kind of thing goes on all the time out there in this big country of ours.

But what doesn’t go on all the time is that a man who gets his ideas about the world from conspiracy-theory websites is a leading presidential candidate—or that his idiot comments not only don’t hurt him but help him. I’d reckon some of you saw that poll last week asking Iowa Republicans whether X statement about Carson raised or lowered their esteem of him. His comparison of Obamacare to slavery was considered “attractive” by 81 percent of those polled, and gave just 16 percent the willies.

It’s one of the great cons of the year that Carson gets to be called “mild-mannered.” How many people who think that getting health insurance is worse than being held in bondage get to be called mild-mannered? And how arrogant a man must Carson be—what made him think he should be the president of the United States in the first place? There are lots of distinguished surgeons out there. So why him?

And now we have this debate coming up Wednesday. Carson did pretty badly in the first couple debates—he was unfocused and off-point and spoke in the kind of generalities that left you wondering what he really meant. But did it hurt? No, it helped him! Now, Trump and maybe some of the others are going to come after him. So we’ll see how he holds up.

But it hardly matters. If he misstates some facts, no one’s going to care. And if he pulls a big whopper—locating a country on the wrong continent, not knowing some obvious point of history—that too will just help him, because to the Carson people it will just be the liberal media piling on the poor man. We’ve reached the point where ignorance really is bliss.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Ben Carson, Donald Trump, GOP Primary Debates | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“The Senator Needs A New Hobby”: McCain Shows How Not To Argue About Wasteful Spending

It seems about once a year or so, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) publishes a report on “wasteful” federal spending that he’s eager to cut. The document invariably comes with a great deal of exasperation from the senator, who simply can’t understand why more lawmakers fail to take his findings seriously.

Last week, the Arizona Republican was at it again, writing a piece for Fox News, heralding his work as “a wake-up call for Congress about out-of-control spending.” Of particular interest, he noted “a $50,000 grant to investigate whether African elephants’ unique and highly acute sense of smell could be used to sniff-out bombs.”

The 19-page report (pdf) itself spends a fair amount of time on the bomb-sniffing elephants and the $50,000 grant from three years ago.

“While finding new ways to enhance our bomb detection methods is important, it is unlikely that African elephants could feasibly be used on the battlefield given their large size and sensitive status as ‘threatened’ under the Endangered Species Act.

“At a time when the defense budget faces serious cuts under the Budget Control Act of 2011, it is critical that Congress ensures our military branches spend their limited funds on worthwhile programs that effectively and efficiently enhance our military readiness.”

So, does McCain have a point? Not really.

Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog flagged this Associated Press piece from two months ago, which the senator’s report neglected to mention.

New research conducted in South Africa and involving the US military shows they excel at identifying explosives by smell, stirring speculation about whether their extraordinary ability can save lives.

“They work it out very, very quickly,” said Sean Hensman, co-owner of a game reserve where three elephants passed the smell tests by sniffing at buckets and getting a treat of marula, a tasty fruit, when they showed that they recognized samples of TNT, a common explosive, by raising a front leg.

Another plus: Elephants remember their training longer than dogs, said Stephen Lee, head scientist at the US Army Research Office, a major funder of the research.

Obviously, given elephants’ size, it’s unrealistic to think the animals would be brought to a minefield, but the AP piece noted that unmanned drones could “collect scent samples from mined areas,” and a trained elephant “would then smell them and alert handlers to any sign of explosives.”

A spokesperson for the Army research command added that the better elephants performed, the more researchers could “determine how they do it so that understanding could be applied to the design of better electronic sensors.”

Oh. So, for $50,000 – less than a rounding error in the overall military budget – we’re talking about research that could very well save many American lives on a battlefield.

This was one of the single best examples John McCain and his office could find of “wasteful” government spending.

As we’ve discussed before, part of the underlying problem here is that the Republican senator seems to think publicly funded research involving animals is, practically by definition, hilarious.

In 2009, for example, McCain used Twitter to highlight what he considered “the top 10 pork barrel projects” in the Recovery Act. In one classic example, McCain blasted “$650,000 for beaver management in North Carolina and Mississippi,” asking, “How does one manage a beaver?”

While I’m sure the senator was delighted with his wit, in reality, $650,000 in stimulus funds hired workers to disrupt beaver dams, which in turn prevented significant flood damage to farms, timber lands, roadways, and other infrastructure in the area (which would have ended up costing far more than $650,000). The Arizonan neglected to do his homework, and ended up blasting a worthwhile project for no reason.

In 2012, he did it again with the Farm Bill. As Alex Pareene explained at the time, McCain isn’t “developing any sort of larger objection to the bill’s priorities or major components,” rather, “McCain just decided to single out the things in the bill that sound the silliest.”

[On Twitter], McCain counted down the 10 “worst projects” funded by the Farm Bill, except by almost any standard they were not at all the worst things funded by the farm bill.

Like No. 6, starting a program to eradicate feral pigs, which McCain clearly included because it involves pigs, allowing him to make a “pork” joke. Except feral pigs are actually a major (and expensive) threat to the environment and property and businesses. And, oh my, $700 million to study moth pheromones! What a waste of money! Except it’s funding the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative’s competitive grants program, and if you don’t think “grants for scientific research on agriculture” is something the government should be doing, you should make that argument instead of delivering scripted zingers about welfare moths on the floor of the Senate in a pathetic bid at getting some ink for your brave stand against wasteful spending.

What McCain may not realize is that he’s actually helping prove his opponents’ point. If these spending bills were so wasteful, he’d be able to come up with actual examples to bolster his argument, and the fact that he can’t suggests (a) these bills aren’t wasteful at all and (b) the senator needs a new hobby.

For the record, I don’t doubt for a moment that there’s some unnecessary spending in the federal budget, and responsible policymakers should make every effort to prevent waste. But the more McCain thinks he’s good at this, the more he proves otherwise.


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

May 12, 2015 Posted by | Federal Budget, John McCain, Scientific Research | , , , , , | 4 Comments

“What Makes Rand Paul Strange”: Throwing A Newt’s Eye Of Quack Science Into The Vat

Senator Rand Paul believes that vaccinating children should be up to the parents, an increasingly unpopular view after recent outbreaks of measles, mumps and other diseases. And throwing a newt’s eye of quack science into the vat, the Kentucky Republican promotes the myth that these shots put children at risk.

The political results have been toil and trouble.

It’s not easy being a politician and a principled libertarian. One who believes in the primacy of individual freedom often takes stances far from the mainstream. It is the true libertarian’s lot to be unconventional, to bravely accept unwanted consequences in the name of liberty. By not going that extra philosophical mile — and adding junk science to the mix — Paul comes off as merely weird.

He was already fighting blowback when he ventured into an interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans.

“Well, I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” he responded to a question about whether vaccinations should be voluntary. “I don’t understand … why that would be controversial.”

Does he not? Then he again gave credence to crazy talk of healthy children ending up with “profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated.

When the chat moved to taxes and Evans challenged some of his statements, he shushed her as though she were a little girl. “Calm down a bit here, Kelly,” he said.

Clearly, it wasn’t Kelly who needed calming.

By the end, Paul had accused Evans of being argumentative and blamed the media for distorting positions he had left purposely vague. Not his finest hour.

A real libertarian wanting his party’s presidential nomination has only two choices:

1) Come clean and acknowledge the cost side of your beliefs. If you think parents have the right not to vaccinate their children, agree that more Americans might come down with preventable diseases as a result. Provocative, perhaps, but honest.

2) If you don’t want that controversy tied around your neck, say that you have changed your mind on vaccinations and now hold that they should be required. Not totally honest but at least coherent.

Put into practice, libertarianism can make a mess. If parents have the right to endanger others by not getting their children immunized, why can’t individuals decide whether they’re too drunk to drive?

Paul does say that it’s a good idea to have one’s children vaccinated. Yes, and it’s a good idea to drive while sober.

Libertarian purity led Paul to question a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act some years ago. He argued that the law interferes with a private business owner’s right to discriminate.

Paul said he abhors racism, and we have no reason to doubt him. But his position, though principled, would have left the disaster of Jim Crow intact.

On MSNBC, Rachel Maddow asked Paul this: “Do you think that a private business has a right to say, ‘We don’t serve black people’?”

His answer meandered along a familiar path. Private individuals have a right to hold hateful views, Paul responded, but he resented the question because it implied that he shares them. Actually, the question could not have been more straightforward.

Paul gets credit for letting the liberal Maddow interview him. And his libertarianism on other issues — for example, his opposition to the war on drugs — serves him well.

But he does himself no good by continually throwing smoke bombs at questioners trying to pin him down — changing the subject and accusing them of mischaracterizing his position. If Paul thinks the price of individual freedom is worth paying, he should concede what that price is.

Otherwise, he ends up where he is, stirring a boiling cauldron of weird politics.


By: Froma Harrop, The National Memo, February 10, 2015

February 11, 2015 Posted by | Measles Outbreak, Rand Paul, Vaccinations | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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