Michael Kinsley: Troll

Well, we now know why Michael Kinsley wrote those pieces he did last week: he was trolling. He reveals himself rather quickly:

One [article I wrote last week] was a defense of people’s right to oppose gay marriage. It charged that dissident voices on this subject were being suppressed (although I myself am very much in favor). I was expecting a hailstorm, but the reaction was almost disappointingly calm and reasonable.

There was actually quite a bit of criticism. Given he goes on to cite Scott Lemieux of Lawyers, Guns and Money later in the article, I have a hard time believing he didn’t read this. Or he didn’t see this article that is prominently displayed on Gawker right now. However, what is clear is he this month’s troll of Paul Krugman.

None of the arguments he makes are new. We have a “where is your plan,” “I’m the real liberal trying to save social programs,” “look, he contradicts himself,” and all the logical fallacies we are accustomed to. Joe Scarborough was beating this drum last month and Mary Matalin and George Will have made it their mission in life to stump Krugman on This Week, so no treading on new ground here. We do get a photo of Krugman in a white tie at some fancy setting with what I assume is a European monarch just to prove Krugman is an out of touch elitist (unlike man of the people Michael Kinsley).

I never understand this fascination people have with trying to prove Krugman wrong. Yes, he can be a bit prickly (I had some hard feelings towards him during the 2008 Democratic Primary) but he is sincere and makes sure all his facts are straight before talking. The fact this is an exception and not a rule tells less about Krugman and more about other pundits.

Krugman trolling isn’t anything new and after Kinsley is done, there will be someone else to do it next month. Why Chris Hughes fired Timothy Noah (who wrote a book on income inequality, one of the biggest issues of our time) and keeps giving space to some 90s wash-out doesn’t reflect well on the New Republic.

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The Great Denial

Michael Kinsley has two pieces out defending conservatives. The first attacks Paul Krugman and his columns against austerity and the second goes after those who got Ben Carson removed from speaking at Johns Hopkins Medical School because of homophobic remarks he made. In both columns he defends conservatives from what he considers unfair attacks. Putting aside how wrong he is, Kinsley is just another symptom of what is the greatest problem with journalism-The Great Denial.

The Great Denial is the refusal to accept the Republican Party and the conservative movement are as radical as they really are. If you believe this, as Kinsley does, then guys like Krugman and those Hopkins activists are just as much a problem as the Tea Party. Problem is, they’re not.

Do austerity supporters just disagree on what is “premature” austerity? Nope. Ever since The Great Depression, conservative economists have argued for using bad economic times to push their tough policies on the general public. Is Ben Carson calling for raising taxes on the rich, increasing support for the poor, nurturing the planet, and repealing Section 14(b) of the Taft-Hartley Act? Nope. Carson first got noticed for calling for a flat tax at the National Prayer Breakfast and believes evolution is a hoax. These are not reasonable people trying to have a serious discussion only to be insulted by mean liberals. These are radicals who want to undue the economic and social gains of the 20th Century.

Because of The Great Denial, you cannot say these this. If you do, you’re out of the club and just another mean-spirited liberal (look at the careers of Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein). So you make up liberal straw men to burn.

What’s amazing with Kinsley’s second column is gay rights are on the ascendent. Most Americans support gay marriage and that number keeps going up. Maybe in 2006 or 2008 you had to hide your support for gay marriage to be elected in Ohio or Florida but in the last election we had statewide candidates in both states win on a pro-marriage platform. There is little need to compromise with anyone who doesn’t support full marriage equality.

Also, Kinsley doesn’t address how marriage equally has gotten more powerful-by calling conservatives out. After all the attention the Mormon Church got from backing Prop 8 in California, they have pulled out of funding anti-gay marriage campaigns, virtually insuring victory for equality backers. Image matters, and by calling prominent marriage opponents bigots, gay rights activists have seen major victories.

If we could get full employment in a year by shaving off Paul Krugman’s beard with broken glass to appease the austerity freaks, I’d break a few bottles myself. However, if the Obama Administration has proved anything, it’s those chanting for more austerity don’t care about the economy or jobs-they are just rich folks trying to horde money. If their vision of how America should be is unappealing to most Americans, that’s their problem. Denying this wouldn’t make them any nicer.

Rand Paul: Not Anti-Drug War

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There was a conservative guy I knew, who, when I brought up gay marriage, he would always try and dodge the question by saying “it should be decided by the states.” I then brought up my cousin, who is in a committed relationship with a woman from Spain. Were they a straight couple, her immigration status would be fairly clear cut-they get married and she would get a green card and a path to citizenship. However, while she did eventually get a green card, it was a long and tenuous process that involved them living on the other side of the country for years. This conservative never gave me an answer as to whether or not my cousin’s family should get the same treatment as a straight couple would.

I bring this up because the common consensus is “Rand Paul wants to end the drug war.” His stance over allowing decriminalization was brought up in his speech to Howard University as an example of minority outreach. A common libertarian line used against Obama and the Democrats is they want to end the Drug War, which has been overwhelmingly harmful to minority communities, while the Democrats want to keep it going. However, that’s only part of the story.

There are two big flaws in the Rand Paul plan to decriminalize drugs. The first is Senator Paul is calling merely for an end to federal involvement in the drug war. In his world, states would be allowed to make their own decisions.

While he has called for a more compassion with regards to drug sentencing, leaving it to states would create a whole mess of trouble. It doesn’t seem particularly fair if California and New York become Amsterdam while Paul’s own Kentucky keeps drugs illegal. It also would raise some questions-what would the standard be for regulating and taxing narcotics? What about moving them across state lines? Suppose a flight from San Francisco to New York made an emergency landing in a state where drugs are illegal, would passengers who brought drugs be arrested? Could the state’s Air National Guard scramble fighter jets to bring down the plane? The reason we have a national government is to sort these things out.

The second issue goes to the reason he got into so much trouble in 2010-his belief about government regulation of the private sector. If you remember, he got into trouble for claiming the Civil Rights Act shouldn’t have infringed on private businesses that discriminated. So, even if drugs were legal in all 50 states, what about companies who forbade drug use outside of work? What if all the companies in the US got together and fired anyone who smoked weed outside of work? What if they only fired black or Hispanic employees who did this but not white ones? What if they chose to use it as a firing offense on libertarians but not liberals? Paul has stated he doesn’t want the federal government interfering with business practices. It doesn’t seem particularly liberating if you can’t get a job merely because you smoke weed.

If Paul wants to work with other lawmakers to deal with our absurd War On Drugs, I’m all for it. However, it should be noted if you think marijuana is a substance less harmful than alcohol and should be taxed and regulated as such while more harmful narcotics should be dealt with as a health issue and not a criminal one, Paul is not on the same page-like everything else, he just doesn’t want the federal government involved.

Who’s Right? Who Cares-Hypocrisy, Gay Rights, and the Wheels Of Inevitability

Lest I be accused of being a hypocrite, I’ve always held one belief-I don’t care what a politicians motives are, I care what they do. So, with Republican Senator Rob Portman supporting gay marriage, I’ll chalk that up as a victory. I have many family and friends who are gay and I see what not having the same legal rights as straight couples does. One more vote for gay marriage is a good thing.

That being said, I hardly consider Portman a profile in courage. His support has to do with his son being gay. Before then, he had no problem supporting gay marriage bans as recently as 2010. Only after his son came out did he decide to support his marriage equality-and even this took two years. Last year, he was a possible Vice Presidential nominee and, given Romney’s campaign was more anti-gay rights than Bush’s 2004 campaign, he couldn’t possibly expect to be on the bottom of the ticket with a position drastically different than the guy at the top. Once again, I’m glad there’s another vote for marriage equality in the Senate. I just don’t want to praise the guy.

With this in mind, the false equivalency of Obama and Portman Glenn Greenwald has made really does piss me off. In one tweet, Greenwald brings up the two flaws his arguments constantly have. The first is the obsession with Obama and ignoring all the other factors at play. It’s true, as mistermix said in the article I just linked to, Obama’s decision was largely based on political calculations. However, how did it get to the point of Obama endorsing gay marriage and bringing his party with him? It took decades of campaigning from gay rights activists. They weren’t just let into the party-they had to kick down the damn door. It wasn’t that long ago when Democrats just wanted any issue involving gay rights to just go away. It took relentless campaigning and lobbying and organizing to get their message across. The Wheels of of Inevitability didn’t just roll in on gay rights-there were plenty of set backs along the way (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was a direct violation of Clinton’s campaign promises, Proposition 8 succeed when 6 months before the vote it was going to go down in flames). Yet those activists who campaigned for gay rights didn’t give up the struggle-they kept on slogging away till one political party lived up to its legacy when it came to civil rights. Obama has always claimed to be a supporter of gay rights-his supporters forced him to live up to that. Portman’s only concern is about the well-being of his family. Beyond that, he could care less.

The second mistake Greenwald consistently makes is his obsession with hypocrisy. In his tweet, he’s trying to make it sound writers like Markos Moulitsas, Scott Lemieux, Charlie Pierce, Paul Krugman and others sound like hypocrites applying one standard to Portman and another to Obama. The answer to that is…so? Hypocrisy doesn’t prove your opponent is wrong-just inconsistent.

The fact is this-we have one political party that support gay rights and another one that doesn’t. Sure, you’ll get a handful of people who will endorse gay rights but never anything that will bring about change-just today, Speaker Boehner announced his position won’t change on gay marriage. Gay rights was hard fought with the Democrats. The question is-do you want to fight for change or just sit on the sidelines and heckle at those that do?

Showing Your Work: Who really got Iraq or the market crash right?

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One thing I remember from high school math is to always show your work. The teacher wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing and not merely guessing (or cheating). For example, if the problem was-

3x+2=14

You couldn’t merely write

x=4

You had to show-

3x+2-2=14-2

3x=12

3x/3=12/3

x=4

You get the idea.

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the Iraq War, I’m quite afraid we’re going to get a lot of people showing us the answer they wrote at the time and claiming they have been vindicated. However, what they won’t show is how they got their answer.

As I look back on the war, I remember the problem a lot of anti-war folks ran into. They began to focus on the tactical mistakes of the war. The problems were-

  • the mission wasn’t international (no UN Flag, not even the backing of NATO)
  • we didn’t have enough troops
  • we made horrible political decisions like firing all Baath Party and firing the army and them replacing them with political hacks from the Republican Party

James Fallows wrote yesterday about how his arguments before the war, while critical, accepted the war was going to happen. Many pundits and policy makers can point to statements they made showing skepticism of how things would play out.

However, all this obsession with tactics underwrote what was the key problem-was invading Iraq necessary? Was Iraq a threat? Is preventative war a good policy? These are much more pressing concerns than troop levels or the members of the occupational authority. As Stephen Walt wrote last year, even with better planning, we probably would have still lost the war. However, now, as back then, no one is really discussing these things.

This reminded me of an article by the normally good Hamilton Nolan about Stanley Druckenmiller and his call for cuts to the social safety net. He cites as Druckenmiller’s authority-

Stanley Druckenmiller predicted the last financial crash (the collapse of the housing bubble) years before it happened

I have seen this many times over the last couple of years. Often I hear some pundit saying or being introduced with “I predicted the housing bubble burst.” Rick Santelli was the worst last week when he claimed Alan Greenspan predicted the burst. However, to quote Jeff Madrick’s Age Of Greed

The bursting of the housing bubble…did not alone nearly bring the nation to the cusp of full-fledged depression. The decline in housing prices would have resulted in reduced consumer spending and a substantial recession in the United States, as many economists had warned, but not the economic catastrophe of late 2007 and 2008. It was the house of cards built on Wall Street greed, unchecked by Washington regulators, that created the nation’s credit crisis…and caused the most severe recession in the United States since the Great Depression. (p.371)

In the case of Druckenmiller, he doesn’t blame regulation, he blames interest rates being too low for the crash and calls on workers to suffer for the sins of Wall Street.

We keep seeing this with people who got the public policy so wrong the last decade-blame some smaller tactical error everyone can agree was wrong (not enough troops to occupy Iraq, giving money to homeowners who couldn’t pay it back), ignore the larger problems with their world view, and keep on giving advice as if nothing happened.

This lack of accountability has led to the people who got things completely wrong to still hold positions of key influence. Kevin Hassett wrote a book before the Dot-Com bubble crash predicting the Dow Jones would reach 36,000 and he was a senior adviser to the Romney campaign. Dan Senor failed miserably in Iraq yet that didn’t prevent him from coming up with foreign policy for Romney. To be bi-partisan, both of Obama’s Secretaries of State and Defense voting for the Iraq War (though they later admitted to their mistakes) and, while Obama’s Treasury Secretary Jack Lew believes we need to deal with unemployment, one cannot blame people for being skeptical about his priorities given he worked for Citibank in the lead up to the crisis.

People make mistakes. Even the most brilliant minds get things wrong. However, it’s important we know your though process going into a decision. Showing us your model or your hypothesis is important. This means if you’re correct, we can and try to apply your methods to dealing with other problems. If you’re wrong, we can look over where you went wrong, and try to get it right. However, pundits and policy makers don’t seem to be interested in showing their work. To them, it’s about covering their own behinds and making sure they keep raking in the money or winning elections.

The Internet Can’t Overcome The Laws Of (Political) Science

Brendan Nyhan does God’s Work by shooting another 3rd Party Fantasy.  What amazes me is how veteran reporters don’t even understand the basics of Political Science 101-

I always love the groups that plan to overtake the 2 Party system with “The Internet!”  Usually, this is going to involve some sort of internet primary to select the candidates and then (A LOT) of internet fundraising.  Usually these groups turn out to be a scam.

If you want 3rd Parties, you need to replace our current system with some form of proportional representation.  The classic example of this would be the Netherlands, where when they wrote their constitution in the 1870s, they made sure Protestants, Catholics, liberals, and socialists would have some form of representation in government.  Of course, this idea is about as popular as an STD (just ask Lani Guinier).

Of course, the biggest problem I’ve noticed with 3rd Parties comes from a conversation I had with my cousin.  He said Michael Bloomberg should run for President on a 3rd Party Ticket.  I said “great, you willing to knock on doors in Ohio for him?”  He replied he wasn’t.  Nothing can substitute the machinery you need to run for office.  Not even the cocked up fantasies of hack reporters…

You Claim To Be A Player: Rubio Is A Symptom

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I have a challenge.  Name me one Republican economic proposal that doesn’t involve cutting taxes, deregulating business or busting unions.

Name one.

Can’t?  Don’t feel bad.  Neither can I.  Honestly, I doubt even the Republicans can.

A lot has been made about Senator Marco Rubio’s water break in the middle of his State of the Union response.  To be fair, I mocked him on Twitter for that.  There is comparisons between that speech and the one Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal gave in 2009.  One speech people are forgetting is when Paul Ryan gave the response in 2011.  As then Congressman Anthony Weiner stated he needed a drink after that speech it was so depressing.

There are many reasons to complain about President Obama.  I do.  However, what ever you may say about his proposals, you must admit he is a public servant trying to implement what he feels are the best public policies to solve real problems.  The same cannot be said of any policy maker in the Republican Party.

Rubio, like Ryan and Jindal, is a rising star in the party.  While everyone conceded giving the response to the State of the Union is hard, people were genuinely hyping up Rubio.  The greatest was when former McCain adviser said Rubio was modern because “he knows who Tupac is.”  Tupac died 17 years ago.  I doubt Wallace wanted to talk about how Rubio defaulted on his mortgage during his Senate campaign or how he tells Catholics, Evangelicals and Mormons he belongs to their church depending on the audience.

The reality is you can’t find any good candidates in the rigid doctrine that is conservatism.  In order to be a conservative, you have to believe the world is falling apart.  You have to think everyone outside the US is depressed because their big intrusive government is destroying your dreams.  You have to believe in Obama’s America, jack-booted government thugs are coming to take your money and your guns and are destroying your vary way of life.  It requires you to ignore the last 30 years when your ideas were implemented and failed disastrously.

More importantly, it requires you not to care about anyone else.  One of the least talked about incidences in the State of the Union was Speaker John Boehner’s response to Desiline Victor.  Victor was the 102 year old African American woman who waited 6 hours in line to vote last year.  Having lived in a time when women and blacks were not allowed to vote, it is quite shocking she had to wait that long.  She received the standing ovation she deserved from the Democrats in the chamber.  What did she get from the highest-ranking Republican?  Nothing-he just sat there, not giving a damn.  She wasn’t going to vote Republican, why should he care?

As much as we may dismiss critiques of style in speeches, style comes from substance.  Even after electoral defeats, Republicans refuse to believe people have rejected their world view.  Instead, they crawl deeper into their bunker, living in a world where everything is falling apart.  If I lived in that world, I’d need a drink too…