Posts tagged ‘Ross Douthat’

Two Things

I guess you could say two things that I think really count. I could write about the chaos in the White House where we find nepotism gone awry, but that is being adequately covered. I could write about “white lies” (Hope Hicks) and her failure to answer questions that the Republicans will just blow over and now her sudden departure.  But the media is all over those items.  Guns are getting crazy, but the kids from Parkland may be taking them on and it is spreading, and guns are just the tip of the iceberg. We may have reached a tipping point and not just in global warming. See where Dick’s Sporting Goods saw the light? Walmart is now right in there. So I am going to write about two of my favorite not so headline issues, the economy and religion, and note that both issues are fraught with hidden bias.

Let’s start with the easier one, economics. Paul Krugman wrote a blog (NYT took over his blog as I guess they want to own everything he says) about what we all know to be true, the tax cut was is not a flow down to workers. That effect is negligible, most of the money is being used for stock buybacks, not investment in capital, and was as we knew it was, a big corporate give away.

The numbers we have so far show that the much-hyped bonuses are trivial – less than $6 billion, or 0.03% of GDP – while stock buybacks have been more than $170 billion. And many of those bonuses would probably have happened anyway, whereas stock buybacks are running far above historical levels.

But he made a very easy to follow (which for economists is rare) argument about how the economy works with tax cuts and the simplified model goes like this:

Whatever the number [salary increases], however, it’s about the long run. It requires a chain of events: lower taxes -> higher investment -> higher stock of capital -> higher demand for labor -> higher wages. And this chain of events should take a number of years, probably decades, to fully work itself through. Even in the most favorable analyses, there is no reason to expect any wage gains in the first few months after a tax cut.

And note this caveat: “How much of a trickle-down effect depends on a bunch of technical factors: what share of corporate profits represents monopoly rents rather than returns to capital, how responsive inflows of foreign capital are to the U.S. rate of return, what share of the capital stock is even affected by the corporate tax rate.” So why am I boring you with all this economic talk?

Well Paul, a much smarter man than I, has it right, but does not put enough emphasis on the statement “what share of corporate profits represents monopoly rents…“. Rents in economic speak are profits derived from a product that you do not improve on (no further capital investment) but makes more profit because you have cornered the market. Profits on a monopoly. Think real estate. It gets scarcer, you can raise the rent making more money by no additional investment by you. In the corporate world that means no new jobs. You are extracting money from the economy with no investment in capital or labor to create anything.

What is happening I believe, which is changing economics, is that monopoly rents, whether it be Facebook, Microsoft, or big Pharma (just examples) is where we are going and driving more and more economic inequality. That coupled with finding ways to reduce labor costs and mechanize to maximize share holder earnings (profits) dooms any tax cut to corporations to help wages or spark capital investment. My point is simple. The basic models still function, but some of the variables in that market have changed and have more impact than in the past.  The old ideas about cause and effect may have been changed so that all roads leads to more economic inequality no  matter how much you believe in your ideology and maybe it is time to change the rules.

Okay, so much for economics, what about religion? Monday I used other’s writings to slam Ross Douthat’s position on hating liberals  (make no mistake, his passive aggressive writing about liberals should not be misinterpreted) and their allegiance to humanistic secular approach to science and data.  Well today New York Editor, David Leonhardt took me on (figuratively since I am nobody in particular). It went like this:

The benefits of faith. In his Sunday column this week, Ross Douthat issued something of a challenge to secular liberals. They think of themselves as empiricists, Ross wrote, but they’re actually close-minded about several powerful forces for good, starting with religion.

“When people and societies are genuinely curious,” he continued, “they are very reasonably curious about everything, including things happening in their bodies and their consciousness and more speculative realms.”

The column reminded me of a pattern that, as a secular liberal myself, I’ve long found inconvenient: Religion is correlated with a lot of healthy behaviors and positive outcomes. All else equal, religious people have higher educational attainment, earn more money, use drugs and alcohol less and commit fewer crimes, according to a long line of social-science studies (that have frequently been done by secular liberals).

The question about these findings is the old correlation-causation question: Does religious faith lead to these healthy behaviors? Or is something else, independent of faith, causing them?

He then goes on to describe a study where 15 weeks of classes were given to more than 6,000 very poor Filipinos, some of whom received a version that combined religious teachings with advice on health and employment and others received only the nonreligious parts. By comparing the different batches of students, the economists hoped to isolate the effect of religion. After some time the religious groups were doing better. So religion is good right?

No study is definitive. But I do find the overall evidence of religion’s ancillary benefits to be strong. That evidence hasn’t made me personally religious. I’m still quite comfortable with my secularism. But the evidence has made me more humble and open-minded about how the world can go about solving some of its problems.

I found the avowed secular liberal to be illogical. First did he read Socrate’s listing of some of the other things religion has brought us in pain, suffering, and blocking progress? If you are burned at the stake for your heresy you might not be so sanguine about religion. Certainly religion does have beneficial effects. The belief that Jesus is your savior and he will forgive you and give you strength has helped untold thousands redeem their lives. It has also created a moral certitude that has tortured or killed untold millions. I would not argue that a belief can not give you strength and comfort, but a belief is not a truth.

The other problem here is define religion. Is that a belief in some mystical fairy godfather who you should thank for your home runs, praise when you are not drowned in a flood, but nor held responsible for others who did die, or is religion really more about an adherence to a strict moral code? That last one defies explanation when you consider Trump and Evangelical Christians.

I believe that one could argue that during the development of mankind, religion was a necessary part of socializing and allowing people to live together. But science has undone many of the mystical fantasy beliefs that explained what was at that time unexplainable. It has raised real questions about some of the moral and ethical values of religious writings. What is left, I believe, is something that for our future is the only path forward, not a religion with its moral certitude and cruelty (whose God, whose truth), but a moral philosophy open to the testing of its truths, and change when they don’t stand up. Oh, if only Muslims could evolve like many religions have in the modern world. No, their religion is designed so it is almost impossible. Well for that matter, oh could Evangelicals just evolve although there are some cracks when they have friends who are gay and start wondering how they are so evil. You know, that reality thing instead of God’s law defined by who again?

Discussing religion with the majority of people is a loosing battle because indoctrination from birth provides biases that can live in deep denial. Maybe there is some Supreme Being, but that raises the question where did he come from, and who is his god. And of course the one thing we know is empirically, good people die sad deaths and bad people live on. See Trump in the White House. Good or bad is up to us, not some Supreme Being.

I would argue that if the study were done again and the religious training were substituted with a moral philosophy that included the belief that we are all in this together, kindness and charity is the guiding principle, and we are connected and give one another strength (Yo! This could be any number of religions, especially Christianity without Jesus), you would get the same result. Science, data, and rational thought guide our moral beliefs, and inform our philosophy. Maybe there is a force out there, but to assume that religion is the only path to a better society, well that is just not science or rational thinking. I would also argue that even we atheists can and do have a moral philosophy that allows us to be way more Christian than most of the Christians I see in Washington today.  Just saying.

Are We A Legitimate Democracy Anymore?

Well, we never were. We were and are a representative democracy as distinct from a pure democracy, but the point is still the same. Is our government illegitimate? Sure it follows the “rules”, but does it represent the people anymore? And I don’t ask this in some esoteric way, what I am asking is that has the majority of Americans recognized that what we call the American system of government does not represent or respond to them any more? And if the answer is yes, and I think it is, are we not setting up the conditions for the failure of America or violence to arise? I think we are close. Look at the number of people who don’t bother to vote anymore.

We have a system of government established by our Constitution. It tells us how to elect Congressmen, Senators, and Presidents. It sets up a Supreme Court that adjudicates laws and the Constitution. It balances powers between the three branches of government so no branch can get out of control. And yet many of us think the system has gone off the rails.

We have a President and a Congress that does not represent the will of the people. How do you explain the Healthcare repeal and replace that only had a 17% approval rating and yet almost passed except for the political courage of three Republicans? How did the Supreme Court back in 2000 stop the vote count and anoint George W. Bush president? How did the Senate block even considering a nomination by Barack Obama to that same court? How did a President so profoundly unfit for the job get elected by a minority of Americans? How does legislation favored by a majority of Americans (immigration reform for one) and would have passed if brought up, not get a hearing?

All this comes to mind as I read an op-ed by Ross Douthat in the NYT called the Empty Majority. Ross, a conservative, was asking how the present-day Republican Party is so successful at getting elected when “it is a majority party that behaves like it’s in the political wilderness, an election-winning machine that has no idea what to do with national power…The same feckless G.O.P. that exists in a constant state of low-grade civil war controls not only Congress and the White House, but most statehouses and state legislatures as well. All of the contemporary Republican Party’s critics — left-wing and centrist and conservative — keep saying that the G.O.P. is broken and adrift, and years of government shutdowns and Obamacare debacles and everything about the Trump era keep proving us correct.” And yet they keep getting elected.

He goes on to try to explain it in terms of the incompetence of the Democrats (true), “a party that’s terrible at governing can still win elections if the other party is even worse at politics.” And then he leaves us with this:

So that leaves the Democrats as the only people with the power to put an end to the current spectacle of Republican incompetence and folly. All they need to do is persuade Americans that they have more to fear from conservative hackwork than from a liberalism in command of politics as well as culture.

Sure the Democrats are idiots and have a philosophy of a herd of cats. But Obama gave us a steady ship even while the Republicans took both houses of Congress. And the thing that Congress wanted had very little to do with what the American people really wanted as shown in poll after poll on the issues. So Douthat did not really answer the question which is my fundamental question that started this blog, is our government legitimate any more. But we are saved by his readers who answered that question:

The big issue that Mr. Douthat ignores here is that the Republicans are not actually the majority party. Yes, they hold the large majority of offices at federal and state levels. But such results do not reflect the will of the majority. For example:

– Trump, of course, lost the popular vote by at least 3 million, and the GOP has lost the popular vote in six out of the last seven elections.

– The Senate is not a majoritarian body, as states like Wyoming and the Dakotas each have as many Senators as California.

– The House is gerrymandered beyond recognition, as are many of the GOP-run state legislatures throughout the country.

– The GOP has engaged in comprehensive voter suppression efforts for the past 10 to 20 years to limit voting by Democratic-leaning populations, which skews the results of elections even in districts that are not gerrymandered.

– The dismantling of campaign finance reform by the Supreme Court has given billionaires and millionaires a massively outsized voice in our political system in comparison to that of average voters.

All of this adds up to a system where conservative Republicans have been able to take virtually all of the reins of power despite not having the support of the majority of Americans. The result is a party that doesn’t have to figure out how to govern in a way that is responsive to the voters but, instead, can create the type of dysfunctional mess we are witnessing today.

Has our system of rules become either obsolete (the electoral college and Senate representation) in reflecting the nation, or bent by money, gerrymandering, and voter suppression to create a system that no longer is the legitimate representative of the people? I think we ought to think long and hard on this one. As Republicans game the system for power, they may be setting up the chaos and violence they say they so abhor. We have entered dangerous times when the majority in power do not represent the majority in the country.  Rember what our own Declaration of Indepence told us:

“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Are we getting there?

By George I Think They’ve Got It!

Frank Bruni, NYT columnist and liberal, had a long column this morning on my favorite topic, Cheeto-head isn’t shrewd or strategic, he is really just a petulant child:

For all of the negative news coverage that he receives, there has also been a strand of analysis that insisted on, or at least sought, a silver lining to the golden-haired huckster. It reflected all the rationalizations that I heard from Americans who had voted for Trump or were willing themselves to see some upside to his election:

The tweets weren’t merely splenetic. They were strategic, providing distractions when he needed them most. He was amoral, sure, but that was part and parcel of his craftiness, which could do the country some good. He was a liar, yes, but the best deals and the bent truth often went hand in hand — and he was a deal maker above all. He flouted norms, but that might be precisely the purgative our politics needed.

Commentators strained to spot and savor any flicker of something more dignified. Remember the accolades for his address to a joint session of Congress? All he’d done was the commander-in-chief equivalent of chewing with his mouth closed.

…And when I picture him at that Time magazine dinner, with a portion bigger than anybody else’s, I don’t see him on a throne. I see him in a highchair, keeping his audience guessing about just how much ice cream he’ll fling against the wall.

Frank is talking about the reporter dinner where Cheeto-head got served something better than anyone else including two scoops of ice cream instead of the one everyone else got on their dessert.  But the point is there is nothing strategic in his wild outbursts.  They are not to unbalance his opponent for strategic advantage.  They are just wild outbursts.  That ought to really work well when we have a real crisis not caused by Cheeto-head himself.

But wait!  Conservatives are also joining the wake up call.  Here is Ross Douthat, conservative columnist for the NYT:

The reaction to the sacking of James Comey is the latest illustration. Far too many observers, left and right, persist in being surprised at Trump when nothing about his conduct is surprising, persist in looking for rationality where none is to be found, and persist in believing that some institutional force — party elders or convention delegates, the deep state or an impeachment process — is likely to push him off the stage.

…Childish behavior can still lead to abuses of power, of which the Comey firing will not be the last. But liberals need to accept that the strongest case for removing Trump from office is likely to remain a 25th Amendment case: not high crimes and misdemeanors, not collusion with the Russians, but a basic mental unfitness for the office that manifests itself in made-for-TV crises and self-inflicted wounds.

Here is Charles Sykes, conservative talk show host, on what has become of the Republican Party to be able to support the unsupportable:

Rather than defend President Trump’s specific actions, his conservative champions change the subject to (1) the biased “fake news” media, (2) over-the-top liberals, (3) hypocrites on the left, (4) anyone else victimizing Mr. Trump or his supporters and (5) whataboutism, as in “What about Obama?” “What about Clinton?”

For the anti-anti-Trump pundit, whatever the allegation against Mr. Trump, whatever his blunders or foibles, the other side is always worse.

But the real heart of anti-anti-Trumpism is the delight in the frustration and anger of his opponents. Mr. Trump’s base is unlikely to hold him either to promises or tangible achievements, because conservative politics is now less about ideas or accomplishments than it is about making the right enemies cry out in anguish.

…As the right doubles down on anti-anti-Trumpism, it will find itself goaded into defending and rationalizing ever more outrageous conduct just as long as it annoys CNN and the left.

In many ways anti-anti-Trumpism mirrors Donald Trump himself, because at its core there are no fixed values, no respect for constitutional government or ideas of personal character, only a free-floating nihilism cloaked in insult, mockery and bombast.

By George, I think they’ve got it!  And on that note I will leave you with a link to Laurence H. Tribe’s call for Cheeto-head’s impeachment. Laurence Tribe is a Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School, so he ought to know something about the subject. Here is his conclusion:

It will require serious commitment to constitutional principle, and courageous willingness to put devotion to the national interest above self-interest and party loyalty, for a Congress of the president’s own party to initiate an impeachment inquiry. It would be a terrible shame if only the mounting prospect of being voted out of office in November 2018 would sufficiently concentrate the minds of representatives and senators today.

But whether it is devotion to principle or hunger for political survival that puts the prospect of impeachment and removal on the table, the crucial thing is that the prospect now be taken seriously, that the machinery of removal be reactivated, and that the need to use it become the focus of political discourse going into 2018.

I can’t help but think that if you buy Charlie Sykes’ description of the new Republican Party where there are no principles just anti left anything, then Ross Douthat may have our only way forward, the 25th Amendment.  The guy is bat shit crazy.

Why Can’t Republicans See the Light?

One of the things that has alway really puzzled me is why we can’t have a rational discussion about politics.  Facts really are facts and if we applied the scientific method to much of our policy decisions, then truth would win out.  Said another way, “Try it Mickey, You’ll like it.”  As an example, why could we not have had a public option with Obamacare?  If conservatives are right and it would drive up costs and fail, then we would know.  But we could not even try it.  Why is that?

We have the Kansas non-miracle as a test case in Republican economic ideas and it failed miserably.  In case you forgot, the Governor and the Republican legislature cut taxes and regulations and the school system went broke.  Tax cuts did not pay for themselves.  We have the New Jersey mess where their infrastructure is a mess because of the no new taxes pledge and finally they are raising the gas tax.  In Louisiana, we have the economic wreckage left behind by Bobby Jindel and no one is asking why.  But the cause is clear, low taxes and few regulations is not the cureall to the economy and bankrupts the states.

Climate change is another one.  Most of us with working brains see the obvious and believe scientists.  We also know that we may not be able to stop it, but we can slow it down and better prepare for it, while creating jobs.  So why don’t we?  Why don’t coastal states like Florida and North Carolina start preparing for more massive storms and higher sea levels?  Why do they pass laws or inact policies aimed at denying climate change?  What is it that closes their minds to facts and science?  Why has rational argument become a waste of time?

Well I think there is a hint in couple of places.  One is the term conservative itself.  If you are conservative you want to go slowly.  Okay, I get that, many changes could have unintended consequences, but we are not talking go slowly, we are talking no movement at all.  Then there is the economic angle and who benefits.  Take a single payer medical insurance system.  The rest of the modern world has shown us it benefits its citizens who have better health outcomes than we do at a lower costs. That is just a fact.  But those who make lots of money in the private insurance game would be the big losers, so if they own conservatives, and conservatives serve their economic interests, not the general public, I can see why they might not even want a test case.  They can’t afford to have it succeed.

But I think the real problem was identified in an op-ed this morning by Ross Douthat (conservative) who still has a semi-functioning brain and is trying to explain why some intellectuals are trying to justify Donald Trump with either he is a controllable conventional Republican or he is just the bull in the china shop necessary to shake up the party:

Those arguments seem at first blush to be in tension. On the one hand, many of the pro-Trump thinkers seem to believe that for all his distinctive vices, Trump would probably end up governing largely as a conventional Republican. Believing as they do that liberal ideas are dangerous or destructive, these conservatives see the 2016 election as a straightforward lesser of two evils situation, in which the Republican nominee’s indecency is preferable to the damage that a Hillary Clinton presidency would all but guarantee.

But then you also have others who are attracted to Trump precisely because he isn’t a conventional Republican. Reagan-era conservatism had its time and failed, these Trump-supporting intellectuals suggest, and the time has come to roll the dice, to embrace a change agent even if he seems gross and seedy and bigoted, because the alternative is staying on a fatal course.

Now Ross, to his credit, argues against this nonsense.  Trump truly is unfit to be president.  But the bolded portion above, I think is the key insight, “liberal ideas are dangerous or destructive“.  I would ask, based on what evidence and of course that is the point, evidence is not necessary.  It is a belief much like a religious belief*.  It does not require examination.  In fact examination is heresy.   Extreme?  Think about that friend of yours who is going to vote for Trump or a third party because “Hillary is a liar”.  Okay, lied about what and if you get Benghazi or emails and you point out what was actually found by the investigators, they won’t have it.  When you point out that even if what they say is true (it is not) how does that compare to Donald’s trumps lies, xenophobia, racism, and nativism, much less his attack on women and they have no answer except “Hillary is a slime”?

We are not operating on a rational level, but an emotional one that is blocking all rational thinking.  I feel it, therefore it is.  It is what the Founders were fighting against when they established our Constitution with God not even mentioned, religion restricted, and the whole process based upon rational dialogue and compromise.  Compromise can’t happen with religious thinking and that is where we are with most Republicans.  There is a solution.  The LGBT community provided it.  When most of us, not the White Mob which is really a small minority, actually experienced gay people in our lives, our fear went away.  Our attitudes changed, and now at least legally, they are being treated as equals.  Change is possible.

How to apply this lesson to other obvious challenges like say global warming, economic policy, systemic racism (Donald Trump is the poster child for a racist who “is not a racist”), healthcare, or any other issues that face us is the real question? Clearly once a solution is applied and it works, people get used to it and emotion and fear no longer prevent its implementation.  And that my friends is the key to understanding modern day Republicans.  They know that and can’t afford to let us try new things because they know they will be relegated to the trash heap. We have had a Republican Party for the last eight years trying to prevent the rest of us from seeing the light.  Maybe it is time to throw them out and try some new things. 

Hillary Clinton is seen as politics as usual and slow change if any at all.  But actually if Hillary could implement many of her ideas, we would see rapid change.  So voting for Hillary is not really voting for more stalemate,  Voting for a Republican Congress is voting for more stalemate.  If people want real change they have to throw the Republicans out, not elect a Donald Trump.  And on that one, I have no clue how to get across to people locked in emotional thinking. I wish I did, because the solution to most of our problems are right there in front of us if we could only try them.  But Republicans have a new rendition on the Mikey thing:  “Mikey! Don’t try it!  You might like it and then where the hell would we be?”

*In a great op-ed last week Fareed Zakaria gave us this in explaining Republican behavior about Donald Trump:  “These dynamics have reminded me of Jonathan Haidt’s seminal book, “The Righteous Mind.” Haidt, a social psychologist, used exhaustive evidence to explain that our political preferences are not the product of careful analytic reasoning. Instead, they spring from a combination of moral intuition (instinct) and a tribal affiliation with people who we believe share these instincts. We use reason, facts and analysis to affirm our gut decisions.”  What he doesn’t say is then we carefull sift through reason, facts, and alyaysis to affirm our gut decisions.  That is the very opposite of the scientific method and why it was created.

The Donald or the Economy?

Actually I think Tom Friedman yesterday took care of the Donald who suggested jokingly to people who wouldn’t know a joke if it hit them in the head (Donald Trump) that they use their 2nd Amendment rights to deal with Hillary.  Who needs debate when you have guns?  Then of course there were the surrogates out trying to tamp down the fire.  What a craven bunch.  At this point it should be clear the man is a lunatic, and the Republicans who can’t seem to not hang on to him, unfit for office, any office on grounds of lack of judgement, much less principles.  But wait there is more!  The Donald said President Obama was the founder of ISIS and “crooked Hillary” was the co-founder.  Hmm.  Who invaded Iraq again?  Oh, my brain hurts.

As I noted yesterday, Susan Collins pulled the plug, but is still unclear why her party nominated him.  She is apparently unclear on a lot of things.  Asked who she will vote for, she wasn’t sure.  The safe bet for Republicans was a third Party candidate so they can claim there is still validity in their economic and social nonsense, just that Trump is unfit to serve.  Gail Collins came to the rescue:

Here’s the bottom line: There are only three things you can do when it comes time to elect a president. You can stay home and punt; you can choose between the two major party candidates; or you can cop out by doing something that looks like voting but has no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the race…The only third party that might have a line on all state ballots is the Libertarian, whose platform includes eliminating Social Security, ending gun control and wiping out drug laws.

I could add public education, and most government investment in all things you care about.  I have always looked at libertarians as a crazy fringe of well off people.  Well off because their ideas only work if you can wall yourself off from everyone else.  Let people and the market place provide their own schooling except what happens to the poor kid whose parents dump him.  Who worries about him?  Oh right, religious organizations.  What happens when one religion dominates over another?  What happens when using your property rights you affect your neighbor’s property rights?  It goes on and on and becomes quite clear this is utopian madness.  The Greens?  Well they want to do away with vaccines, should I say anymore?

So with the Donald taken care of, craven Republicans identified, and third-party choices exposed for what they are, I will return to the economy.  Ross Douthat, the other conservative writing for the NYT, said this yesterday:

Long before Donald Trump, the Republican Party had an obvious problem. Its core economic agenda — tax cuts, free trade, deregulation and a promise to shrink the federal leviathan — was seen by many Americans, including many of the party’s own voters, as distant from their concerns and too skewed toward the rich:

Basically, reform conservatives tend to think that the Republican Party’s longstanding commitments to free markets, free trade and entitlement reform are all well worth preserving. But while pursuing this broadly Paul Ryan-ish agenda, we think the party needs to offer more direct support to working Americans who have struggled with stagnant wages and rising health care and education costs. And the obvious way to pay for this support, ultimately, is to be less monomaniacal about sweeping tax cuts for the rich.

Nice try Ross.  See, they still are stuck in the fiction about the market place.  In fact it is neither good nor evil, but it is not a solver of all problems because it focuses on short-term profits.  Health care provided universally by most of the world is cheaper and more effective than ours and none of them use private insurance.  Global warming is unaddressed unless government tips the profit scales because the market place goes to where it can maximize profits, not save the planet.  Just an example.

But the real flaw in the logic is that the market place is free.  The market place is chaos unless tamed by rules and what we are really talking about is whose rules to benefit whom.  While there is a glimmer here of recognition that the Holy Trinity of Republicanism (lower taxes, small government, and less regulations) might need some adjustment, they still have not faced up to a very gray world where their Holy Trinity gets it wrong most of the time.

Republicans still want their lower taxes, smaller government, less regulations as an approach to solve economic inequality when that very same approach has driven economic inequality.  Sadly the rules of how the market place functions has to change so that more of us benefit from growth and profit.  They aren’t there yet and only Progressives seem to be addressing this.  Just keep in mind that no solution is perfect and there are no easy answers (like all trade agreements are bad).  We need an open mind to look at every angle which right now is anathema to the Republican Party that has eschewed critical thinking for faith=based thinking. I would not be looking to them for solutions to anything.

Why is Conservatism Dead?

In an op-ed this morning, my other favorite conservative columnist, Ross Douthat makes an argument that Paul Ryan, while trying to do the right thing, made a mistake endorsing the Donald and should withdraw it.  No doubt that is true, but I want to show with some out of context quotes, how Republicans deceive themselves.  The first false implicit assumption is my favorite when he talks about the logic of Ryan in endorsing the Donald:

Better to keep some distance from Trump without actively opposing him: That way Ryan could “steer” Trump toward the wisdom of free-market conservatism, should he win the presidency, while maintaining party unity and saving House and Senate candidates no matter the outcome in November.

The part I am focusing on* is “the wisdom of free-market conservatism”.  There is no free market.  A market is created, set-up, and works by a set of rules, and who sets those up?  Government.  Think about it.  Who defines property?  Who establishes courts to resolve differences?  Who sets the standards for deciding who is right and wrong?  Who decides tax laws, or labor laws, or rules about unfair competition?  Government.  Who establishes clean water and air standards?  Who establishes fair safety and labor standards? Who sets up and enforces trade agreements?  Who establishes what are intellectual property rights, patents, and copyrights?  There is no such thing as a free-market.  So what he is really talking about is who sets the rules for the “free-market”.  They do not want a truly free-market because there would be chaos.  What they want is a market that operates on rules that totally favor their interests.  A free-market is one where they set the rules.  It is that simple.

Here is the next one:

The deeper problem is that Ryan’s reputation, his standing as a public figure, will not recover easily from what’s transpiring in presidential politics right now. 

The part I want to focus on here is, “Ryan’s reputation, his standing as a public figure…”.  The implicit assumption here is that Paul Ryan has a great reputation as a leader and thinker of the conservative movement.  He does, but it doesn’t stand close examination.  It’s a media narrative.  Here is where form over substance comes in to play.  Paul Ryan is very likable.  He sounds so reasonable and he became a darling of the press in his personna as a thinking conservative based upon his policy wonkness in his budget proposals.  Except those proposal were and are flim flam.  The press did not do their job. 

He talks about caring about the poor now, but his plan is the same old same old cuts to programs that “imprison them” or feed them depending on you political point of view.  The reality of his budgets are they do not add up as attested to by plenty of economists.  There is always the magic asterisk.  It is the same old cut taxes on the wealthy and pay for it by cutting government spending. 

Those are the facts  if you care to look them up.  See any old Republicans (except rich ones) turn down Social Security or Medicare?  Cash payouts to individuals are almost non-existant, and Food Stamps help primarily the elderly and kids.  Oh, and that Medicaid?  A large portion of those using that program are working people whose basic wage is not a living wage.  Those are facts.  Look them up.

I will finish with this one:

Every time Ryan talks about patriotism, every time he talks about conservative ideals…

What is implicit here is that only the good old Republican Party understands and owns patriotism.  That there are conservative ideals that if only put in place, we would be a moral country (Christian only) we could all love.  Sarah Palin had a version of this in her country values thing.  Here is the problem.  Conservative values means buying into a faith-based belief in smaller government, low taxes, and less regulation as an end in itself.  But the reality is they can also be a major problem if the problems we seek to solve don’t lend themselves to that theology.  And theology it is and that is its downfall.  It can’t grow and change as new circumstances present themselves which is why the Conservatives have become irrelevant except for the very wealthy.

On the patriotism thing, patriotism is love of country so the issue is define what makes up that country that you so love.  Is it dirt?  Is it mountains?  Or is it what makes those of us that inhabit that country special?  I would say the latter.  If you were listening to the Democratic Convention, Democrats made it clear that what makes us special is our diversity and a country where you are not limited by that diversity or social position.  Republicans, and their conservative ideals actually stiffle that diversity in their economic policies to not level the playing field or help those who are down and out.  They stifle it in their social policies by bringing conservative Christian religious ideas into government. In other words, it is progressive policies that advance what makes us freer and aids social mobility while Republican policies (conservative ideals) stagnate that social mobility and even encourage discrimination. 

So there you have it.  If you really want the short version, Republicans are in La La Land.  Their grasp on reality is tenuous and as they are challenged to face those realities, their denial becomes more desperate.  Thanks for pointing that out Ross.

*I am not going to coment on all this justifications.  They were unjustifiable.  The man is a danger to the country regardless of politics and the Republican Party shirk and continues to shirk its responsibility for rejecting him.

Shocked I Tell You!

So I pick up the NYT this morning and there is more Republican denial.  I mean it is getting pathological.  Here is what the article said:

Republican leaders adamantly opposed to Donald J. Trump’s candidacy are preparing a 100-day campaign to deny him the presidential nomination, starting with an aggressive battle in Wisconsin’s April 5 primary and extending into the summer, with a delegate-by-delegate lobbying effort that would cast Mr. Trump as a calamitous choice for the general election. 

…But should that effort falter, leading conservatives are prepared to field an independent candidate in the general election, to defend Republican principles and offer traditional conservatives an alternative to Mr. Trump’s hard-edged populism. 

And who are they considering?  

Among the recruits under discussion are Tom Coburn, a former Oklahoma senator who has told associates that he would be open to running, and Rick Perry, the former Texas governor who was suggested as a possible third-party candidate at a meeting of conservative activists on Thursday in Washington.

 But Wait!  It gets better.  Ross Douthat, the conservative apologist and columnist for the NYT wrote a column this morning about how Paul Ryan, the real savior and ideal of the Republican Party,, had refused to reject Trump.  But most of the op-Ed was about how Paul Ryan is the model to save the party:

Ryan is not some corrupt functionary, some time-serving Roman official eating grapes while the barbarians come over the wall. He is an intelligent, principled, ambitious, and effective political operator, with a clear vision for the party that he helps to lead.

…He’s a pro-immigration free trader, a supply-sider and an entitlement reformer. He favors optimistic rhetoric about the American promise, paired with warnings about the perils of identity politics and the enervating effects of the welfare state. He spent the time between his months on the Romney ticket and his ascent to the speakership in conversations with antipoverty activists, on a Kempian quest for a new, less polarizing welfare reform.

Really?  This is fantasyland.  As Paul Krugman wrote this morning in his blog about Ryan:

… His various budgets all have the same basic outline: huge tax cuts for the rich combined with savage cuts in benefits for the poor, with the net effect being to increase, not reduce the budget deficit. But he pretends that they’re deficit-reduction proposals by claiming that he will raise trillions in revenue by closing unspecified loopholes and achieve trillions more in unspecified savings. In other words, Ryan has been playing a con game in which he uses magic asterisks to mask a reverse Robin Hood agenda — take from the poor, give to the rich — as deficit hawkery.

It is this giant denial the Republicans are now involved in that is surreal.  Here is the reality:  Conservative economics do not work for anyone but the wealthy*.  Their massive tax cuts do not create jobs, and the only way to pay for them is to “reform” entitlements which is code for cutting them.  They have a revolt in their party because the faithful base understands these guys do not work for them.  A Colburn, Perry, or Ryan will just be more of the same failure.  Sadly, the base has been feed so much propoganda that they have no idea what is true anymore, so the Donald seems like the real thing to them.  They are morons.  They have been carefully crafted as morons for many years by the conservative noise machine.  Now they are running amok.

So in my mind, the crash is coming and it is going to be a major crash for the Republican Party.  The establishment guys either have to come to grips with the fact that the Republican Trinity (Small government, Lower taxes, Less regulation) is not a religion and in some cases is flat out wrong, or they become another fringe organization.  They have to recognize that their present configuration only benefits the wealthy and that reality is now out in the open.  When they do come to that reality, if they want to be part of the political process, they become moderate Democrats.  The Trump supporters, the other wing of the Republican Party, and really the whole party at this point, needs to be soundly defeated and rejected.  In other words.  The Republican Party ceases to exist after November unless they come into the 21 century.

*As economic inequality increases, which is a direct result of trickle down economics of the Republicans, the pie for disposable income gets smaller and eventually it will impact demand across the board, reducing economic growth.  But businessmen are fixed on the short term and support these politics while slowly killing the goose who is laying their golden eggs.

The Fog of … Being Republican?

Ross Douthat wrote this morning about the potential of a Marco Rubio presidency.  He noted that he had predicted Romney would rise from the polls back in 2012 and then made this statement which seems to be the mantra of denial of Republicans this year:

2016 is very different: The G.O.P. candidates are stronger overall, there’s no one with Romney’s hammerlock on money and endorsements, and Donald Trump and Ben Carson have more staying power than Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain.

It is the idea that the G.O.P. candidates are strong.  Um… Do any of them acknowledge global warming?  Do any of them have a budget proposal that does not cut taxes for the wealthy and run our deficit out of sight?  Have any of them tried to lead the Republican Party out of xenophobia about immigrants?  Do any of them have a spending plan for upgrading our infrastructure, college loans, investment in R&D?  They all want to dismantle Obamacare and have no plan for a replacement.  Oh, and lets get rid of all those pesky banking regulations.

Okay he is hedging his bet by saying they are stronger overall.  Meaning not as fruit cake as the last bunch with one semi-sane candidate, Romney.  Well, when you get over the mainstream media narrative about Trump being a smart businessman and Carson being a brilliant surgeon, like Bachmann and Cain, they are woefully ignorant of reality with just as loony ideas.

Really, this is truly a giant cauldron of smoke and mirrors politicians feeding the base alternate reality facts and trying to look presidential.  There is not one leader up there who has the nerve to stand up and point out that their core beliefs have failed our economy.  Trickle down doesn’t exist.  Economic inequality won’t be tamed by more subsidies to the “job creators”.  Investment in America won’t happen from the market place.

But the real obfuscation is Republican’s insistence that this is a strong field.  And the only ones they are tricking are themselves.  These people are nightmares using hate and fear to mobilize votes.  Step back a minute so you can see the self-delusion that is going on.  Conservatives, real conservatives from another era, were about being cautious, and their utmost driving principle was being economically sensible.  We need things, so let’s pay for things.  But this group denies we need things and then gives away the treasury to the rich.  Actually they are owned by the rich.  Instead of being cautious and careful, frugal with investments, they deny investments need to be made except if we call them tax cuts.

We are living in a time when the end results of Republican ideology has played out and Republicans are living in denial of that reality.  It doesn’t work except for the 1%.  In denying that reality, they have turned their party against data and facts.  So I guess it is no surprise that they can convince themselves that the present cadre of presidential candidates is strong because this group is the epitome of this denial.  Just what we need to lead this country into oblivion.

Oh, and I am not the only one on to this.  Here is one of the better reader comments to Douthat’s column:

Marco Rubio a first term US Senator will not be the nominee. This Republican field is particularly weak contrary to the consensus view Governors jindal, Walker, (now out) Christie are under water in their home states. First term Senators Cruz Rubio and Paul are no more experienced than Obama. Santorum, Pataki, Huckabee, and Graham are a joke and Fiorina already in free fall wrecked HP. Trump and Carson are sure general election losers and that leaves Jeb and Kasich, both of whom are viewed as either too moderate or too awkward to be nominated. So the party really has no one to turn too with both domestic and foreign policy creds who is not an off the wall wingnut.