Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Annals of Newt

You know that $500,000.00 Tiffany's line of credit that everyone's favorite joke of a presidential candidate, Newt Ginrich, spent the last few weeks playing down? Well apparently there's another Tiffany's line of credit he totally forgot to mention, and this one was good for a cool million. So gone are the days of Pat Nixon's "respectable cloth coat." $30,000 diamond tennis bracelets are what the smartly dressed Republican wife is wearing these days.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Not Afraid to Lie

I'm conflicted about writing about Bristol Palin. After all, I do believe that the children of politicians should not have to bear the consquences of their parents sins. But when the twenty year old children of politicians chase fame by appearing on reality shows and write vicious "memoirs" that slander others and are carefully crafted to polish the political family's image at the expense of the truth, it seems to me they invite closer scrutiny. Such is the case with Bristol palin and her new book: Not Afraid of Life. The memoir includes some startling accusations (including rape) and claims that must elicit, at best, skepticism. The younger Palin claims, for instance, that she lost her virginity unwittingly to the man who would later become her finacee, when the two were on a campign trip and she passed out from too much alcohol. She remembers nothing of the incident. Furthermore, she makes the hardly believable claim that she was on prescription birth control when she became pregnant and that the pil was prescribed for her due to menstrual cramps (wouldn't want anyone to think that family values icon Sarah Palin condoned her unmarried daughter's sexual activities). Couple these claims with the younger Palin's recent plastic surgery, which was paid for by her insurance company because she found a doctor who would sign off on it being "medically necessary" and a picture begins to emerge of a young lady who lies almost as frequently, publicly and badly as her mother.

(Correction: this post originally claimed Bristol Palin was 26)

Monday, June 20, 2011

Shorter John McCain

"There is substantial evidence that everything bad in the world is caused by people whose demonization furthers my political ambitions."

Christopher Hitchens Reads David Mamet... you don't have to.

Here's a taste of what Hitch has to say:

Propagandistic writing of this kind can be even more boring than it is irritating. For example, Mamet writes in “The Secret Knowledge” that “the Israelis would like to live in peace within their borders; the Arabs would like to kill them all.” Whatever one’s opinion of that conflict may be, this (twice-made) claim of his abolishes any need to analyze or even discuss it. It has a long way to go before it can even be called simplistic.

...and also:
[Mamet] shows himself tone-deaf to irony and unable to render a fair picture of what his opponents (and, sometimes, his preferred authorities, like Hayek) really believe. Quoting Deepak Chopra, of all people, as saying, “Our thinking and our behavior are always in anticipation of a response. It [sic] is therefore fear-based,” he seizes the chance to ask, “Is it too much to suggest that this quote contains the most basic prescription of liberalism, ‘Stop Thinking’?” On that evidence, yes, it would be a bit much.

The entire review can be found here.

Friday, June 17, 2011

No, We Are Not Greece...

Regardless of what the Right might want you to believe, the U.S. is in no real immediate danger of collapsing due to eccessive debt obligations:

An investor now has to pay about $2 million annually to insure $10 million of Greek debt over five years, compared with about $50,000 on the same amount of United States government debt, according to Markit.

For folks whose actual money is on the line, U.S. debt remains a far safer bet than Greece... really, there's no comparison. Indeed, we are seen as 1/40th as likely to default as Greece.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


As a followup to my previous post: here is MIT Economist Brad DeLong explaining just how difficult it would be for the U.S. to acheive 5% economic growth:

For one thing, we'd need a significant increase in the number of Americans in the workforce, but:

The American working-age adult population in 2020 will on average be older than it was in 2000--and older people are less likely to want to work. Americans will spend more time in school in 2020 than they did in 2000--and adults who are in school aren't working. We won't see 64.7% again--not without big changes like raising the Social Security retirement age a lot, which aren't on Pawlenty's menu.

Nor will population growth help much here:

The Census projection sees the 18-and-over population growing at 0.88% per year, and the 18-to-64 population growing at 0.23% per year...

And there is little to suggest that productivity growth can make up for this:

We just had such a transient early-recovery spike: 5 quarters during which productivity growth averaged 6.1% rather than 2.7%. We are unlikely to have such
a spike again in the next ten years. Subtract out the excess productivity growth above trend of this spike and we have a forecast of labor productivity growth over the next ten years of not 2.5% per year but 2.2% per year. Now that is significantly better than the 1.7% per year of 1981-2011--or the 0.9% per year of 1981-1995. But it doesn't get you to 5% per year.

All in all, a sober analysis by someone who knows what he's talking about rather than just promising every voter a pony and a gingerbread castle with a chocolate draw-bridge and a gumbdrop doorbell.


He's being hailed as one of the "serious" GOP candidates this coming election season (in contrast to the crazies like Bachmann, the celebrity candidates like Sarah Palin, or the novelty candidates like Herman Cain), but one look at his economic proposals should belie any claim to seriousness. Pawlenty's economic "plan" consists of little more than continued gutting of regulations and a lowering of effective tax rates, then crossing your fingers and hoping for a miracle in the form of 10 years of steady economic growth at a rate that hasn't been seen in country since we were massviely ramping up our military industrial production to fight Tojo and the Nazis:

Let’s start with a big, positive goal. Let’s grow the economy by 5%, instead of the anemic 2% currently envisioned. Such a national economic growth target will set our sights on a positive future. And inspire the actions needed to reach it. By the way, 5% growth is not some pie-in-the-sky number. We’ve done it before. And with the right policies, we can do it again.

Between 1983 and 1987, the Reagan recovery grew at 4.9%. Between 1996 and 1999, under President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress the economy grew at more than 4.7%. In each case millions of new jobs were created, incomes rose and unemployment fell to historic lows. The same can happen again.
Growing at 5% a year, rather than the current level of 1.8%, would net us millions of new jobs. Trillions of dollars in new wealth. Put us on a path to saving our entitlement programs. And balance the federal budget.

How do we do it? In short, we create more economic growth. By creating more economic freedom. We should start by overhauling the tax code. Its currently an anti-growth, nine thousand page monstrosity. That’s chock full of special deals for special interests. It’s main goal, seems to be to generate campaign contributions. Not jobs.

I think my favorite part of Pawlenty's ridiculous proposal is the notion that if you just tell people to grow the economy at 5%, by gosh they'll do it! Thus the Paulenty Plan is one part Supply Side Vooodo, and one part Maoist Great Leap Forward. It's also amusing that, as evidence that 5% growth over 10 years is possible, he references two substantially shorter periods of less than 5% economic growth. Paul Krugman, for one, points out that we haven't seen this level of economic growth since the Second World War (a period diuring which corporate tax rates ran as high as 95%, BTW), and former White House deputy Press secretary Bill Burton delivered the most fitting reaction to Pawlenty's plan when he mocked it thus:
“Do you think Goolsbee and Sperling are sitting around the White House like, ‘Oh, why hadn’t we thought of that?’” Burton said of Obama’s economic advisers. “I mean, it’s not just pie in the sky. It’s a whole floating bakery.”
But almost as sad as Pawlenty's economic plan is his response to his critics:
Obama's economic team doesn't have a plan, so their spokespeople attack ours. The idea that they don't believe in the American people enough to say that we can grow the economy at 5% GDP really says everything.

This statement reminds me of nothing so much as the courtroom scene in Animal House, where the Delta House defense attorney, in a singular act of disingenuous sophistry, interprets the school's proposed sactions against his fraternity as an attack on the United States of America:
Otter: Ladies and gentlemen, I'll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests - we did.
[winks at Dean Wormer]
Otter: But you can't hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg - isn't this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen! [Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]

So with a disingenous rhetorical twist, criticism of Pawlenty's absurd economic plan becomes a lack of faith in the American people. It's enough to make one wonder why Pawlenety settled for just 5% economic growth? Does he himself not have enough faith in the American people to expect 10% annual growth? And if 10% is possible then why not 20%? Oh, ye of little faith!

This sort of thing makes for a funny movie, all right, but it's just pathetic (and potentially dangerous) demagoguery coming from a candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Political Decadence

Andrew Sullivan asks the question "At what point do we decide that a political system has become decadent?"

For Sullivan it was the moment that Congress assented to torture in 2006 and Sarah Plain was nominated for VP in 2008. I'll give a slightly longer answer with a more historical perspective, focusing on what I feel was the watershed event that led us to our current, dysfunctional political reality:

I suspect that the decline of the political process in this country can probably be traced back to George Herbert Walker Bush's defeat in the 1992 elections, not so much the fact of his defeat as the interpretation that was attached to it. This was widely interpreted as Republican voter backlash for Bush's broken pledge not to raise taxes. Bush did so, of course, because he saw looming catastrophic debt on the horizon if revenues weren't raised to tame the budget deficit. Nonetheless, Republican politcians got the message their core constituency was sending: don't raise taxes or we'll vote you out of office. This is the point at which the GOP adpoted a strategy of simply denying reality when it didn't suit their narrative. George H.W. Bush lost his job by being honest and doing something that was necessary but unpopular. The GOP resolved to not repeat that mistake. To justify the anti-tax stance demanded by their core voters while pretending to care about our mounting national debt, the GOP adopted the dogma that reductions in tax rates always pay for themsleves by fueling economic expansion. This is patently untrue, as any honest assesment of the data will show, but you'll never see a GOP pol on T.V. assert otherwise. From here on out the GOP became a party where ideology always trumps pragmatism. Meanwhile, the rise of Fox News gave the GOP a popular outlet in which to promote an alternative narrative of events that was completely divorced from reality. And so taxes must be lowered to pay off the debt, waterboarding is no longer torture, global warming is a hoax, or at the very least a subject of scientific dispute, and illegal immigration is the single greatest threat to our nation after Al Quaeda. It's what Sullivan and other heretical conservatives have been calling "epistemic closure," and I'd say that it's the greatest threat to our national unity since the Civil War. If you and I can longer agree on the basic facts underlying our national predicament, how are we supposed to work together, to compromise in order to find a solution? When both parties are inhabiting the same epistemic universe, you can reduce the national debt by reaching a compromise where you raise taxes more than the GOP would like and cut spending more than the Democrats would like. But what happens when one party holds to the dogma that raising taxes will counteract the spending cuts, so the only effective solution is spending cuts and tax cuts? No compromise is possible then, and the system begins to break down.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


An Episcopalian congregation in Maryland has decided that it would rather join a church that tolerated, enabled, and covered up rampant paedophilia in its ranks than remain with a church that condones gay marriage and the ordination of women.

Choosing between the twin evils of civil rights and paedophilia must be tough, no?

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Bypass Road Around Reality

Two must-read editorials in the Times today.

The first is a piece by Paul Krugman detailing how the mainstream media and the commentariat is colluding with the GOP in an attempt to silence those who would state the plainly obvious truth that the Ryan "Medicare reform" plan replaces the current medicare insurance system with a system of vouchers to buy private insurance (though I prefer to call them gift certificates).

The next one is by Nobel Prize winning economist Peter Diamond, and details his dismay at being denied a seat on the Federal Reserve by Republican politicians who did so under the laughable pretense that he was unqualified for the position.

A common thread joins these two columns: American politics has become a completely subjetive, relativistic, perspectivistic exercise. When it becomes unacceptable to call a voucher program a voucher program, when a Nobel prize winning economist can be deemed unfit to serve as a government economist, we have entered a twilight-zone in which there is no such thing as objective "truth" or "falsity." There are only things that are true for you, and things that are true for me. It's ironic, really: my vivid recollection of the 1980s academic culture wars were of conservative "textualists" battling liberal "deconstructionsts" over the question of whether there was such a thing as "truth." Conservative textualists took a roughly "Kantian" position, arguing for objective, eternal, reality grounding truths that no amount of disingenuous sophistry could undermine. Liberal de-constructionists followed the Nietzschean tradition, arguing that "truth" was a concept that was intimately intertwined with and irrevocably bound to relations of power. From the current state of politics and our intellectual tradition, I think we can come to two conclusions: (a) the textualists won the argument, and (b) the deconstructionists were right.