Appearances

If governments cannot be led to understand the ideas presented here, then their citizens may be denied vital health, education, and other benefits because they appear to be unaffordable, when in fact they are not.

— William Baumol, The Cost Disease (2012)

This week everybody was talking about the sequester …

… which I admit has gotten tedious. We’ve had so many of these artificial crises.

Oversimplifying only slightly, let’s review: Since the summer of 2011, Snidely Whiplash (the Republican majority in the House) has been trying to provoke the final showdown with Dudley Do-Right (President Obama) by tying Nell (the American economy) to the railroad tracks. Dudley showed up, but the fight keeps taking longer than either expected. So they keep agreeing to move Nell further and further down the tracks to give themselves more time.

At the end of each episode, they’re still fighting, the train is coming, Nell is struggling … but it gets harder and harder to take the whole melodrama seriously.

What the Republicans have been demanding since Episode 1 is spending cuts. OK, the sequester delivers spending cuts. But they’re really stupid spending cuts, so the Republicans are trying to convince everybody that it’s all President Obama’s fault. For some reason, few people are buying that line.

You might wonder why we need to keep having these artificial crises. Simple: so far the deficit isn’t causing any real problems. For four years now, Obama’s critics have been predicting inflation, high interest rates, a crash in the dollar, and “bankruptcy” because nobody would buy our bonds any more. If any of that were happening, nobody would have to gin up an artificial crisis.

Second, people who want to cut spending keep running into Truth #1 from my Six True Things Politicians Can’t Say: Most government money is well spent. For decades they’ve been building the myth that the government budget is this vast rat hole that consumes money and helps nobody. That makes for great rhetoric, but runs you into trouble when somebody wants you to cut some real waste, because the waste just isn’t there: Even the politically disastrous Ryan Budget had a whole bunch of blank spaces in it where the real cuts happened.

So instead we’ve wound up with across-the-board cuts. The idea is that if the CDC is spending billions of dollars, there must be waste in there somewhere. And the best alternative the Republicans have come up with is to give President Obama the power to specify the cuts instead.

Republicans giving Obama more power? Anything is better than having to take responsibility for foolish cuts.

but I wrote about Baumol’s cost disease

In a very interesting book, elderly economist William Baumol explains why long-term increases in government spending may not be the problem everyone seems to think it is. My review of his book is in What if there’s no spending problem?

and the Cruz/McCarthy similarity

Senator Cruz: Do you now or have you ever resembled Joe McCarthy?

The Cruz/McCarthy comparison started because of Cruz’s innuendo-laden attacks on Defense Secretary nominee Chuck Hagel. National Review delivered a characteristically mature I’m-not-but-what-are-you response:

Senator Cruz has ably and aggressively executed his duty as a United States senator to advise on and consent to a nominee to the momentous post of civilian head of the United States military. He has not, as Senator McCarthy was reputed to have done, slandered an honorable man by cavalierly associating him with an odious and politically radioactive “ism.” But we can think of some Senate Democrats and cable-TV hosts who have.

[Notice the “reputed to have done”. These days it’s controversial on the Right whether McCarthyism is anything to be ashamed of. Maybe Tailgunner Joe was just a maligned patriot.]

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker then pointed out that it’s not just this one incident. Cruz has a history of McCarthyism, most overtly in a 2010 speech he gave to the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, when he claimed that 12 members of the Harvard Law School faculty “would say they were Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.” Like McCarthy’s 57 Communists in the State Department, Cruz’s 12 seemed to be a number plucked out of the air, based on nothing.

Rachel Maddow covered this extensively Friday, and did something conservatives practically never do when they throw words like Marxist, socialist, and communist at President Obama — she defined her terms.

McCarthyism isn’t just a generic term for boorish behavior, for boorish right-wing behavior even. McCarthyism is a particular thing. It is making outlandish scandalous allegations against people in public life, and distracting from the fact that you have no evidence to back up those allegations by making the allegations really specific, which makes it seem like they must be coming from some factual basis, when in fact you are just making it up. After making the allegation publicly in a big showboaty way, you then demand that the person against whom you have made this allegation clear his name.

It’s not name-calling when you define the term in a precise and historically appropriate way, and then establish that it applies. At that point it’s just categorization: Cruz practices McCarthyism.

A Cruz spokeswoman answered Mayer’s article — not to Mayer, of course, or to Maddow, but to Glenn Beck’s The Blaze (which sees McCarthyism only as “a reference to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s notorious and aggressive pursuit of Communists in the 1950s.” As if the problem was that Cruz is pursuing Harvard Law School communists too aggressively.)

Senator Cruz’s substantive point was absolutely correct: in the mid-1990s, the Harvard Law School faculty included numerous self-described proponents of ‘critical legal studies’ — a school of thought explicitly derived from Marxism – and they far outnumbered Republicans.

So they had ideas “derived from Marxism”. But what about “the Communists overthrowing the United States government”? The Blaze makes this excuse for Cruz:

It’s not clear precisely what kind of Communist “overthrow” Cruz said the professors supported — an actual physical takeover or, given the academic setting, a kind of intellectual one with an emphasis on ideas.

So HLS professors had legal theories that reminded Cruz of Marx, and they were hoping those ideas would be adopted if enough people in our democracy came to support them. And so Cruz was totally justified in saying that they were “Marxists who believed in the Communists overthrowing the United States government.”

I’m glad he cleared that up.

and you might also be interested in …

Speaking of slandering Chuck Hagel, a reporter explains how he became the source for the Friends-of-Hamas rumor.


It’s hard to know what to do with the level of crazy that slithers just below the surface of the gun debate. It’s wild enough that the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre can’t talk about universal background checks (which the NRA used to support) without jumping straight to gun confiscation, which no one seems to be proposing, as best I can tell. (I haven’t even run into liberals fantasizing behind the scenes about gun confiscation. As best I can tell, there is no constituency for it.)

But then you run into discussions like this one on the Talk to Solomon Show on the Conservative Political Network. Here, gun confiscation is just the first step in a long series of speculations that seem to be based on nothing, leading up to a race war. The confiscation order is supposed to turn gun-owning white patriots into criminals who can then be killed in a series of Ruby-Ridge-like incidents. And here’s the ultimate phase of Obama’s fiendish plan:

I believe they will put together a racial force to go against an opposite race resistance, basically a black force to go against a white resistance, and then they will claim anyone resisting the black force they are doing it because they are racist.

A federal force of armed blacks is coming for your guns, and you’ll be called a racist if you resist. And you’re imagining this because … why, exactly?

This is a real challenge for democracy, I think. What can you do when one side just refuses to debate anything that’s actually being proposed?


The same people who will tell you that separation-of-church-and-state is bogus will also tell you that teaching kids yoga violates separation-of-church-and-state.


The Onion explains a great mystery: Chinese hackers have been been vandalizing the Drudge Report for 15 years.

“They make the whole site look like garbage, they publish all this incendiary trash, and meanwhile I have to sit here with my name on this thing—it kills me,” said the popular blogger


I would have made sure this report got out in time for Valentine’s Day:

Bottlenose dolphins call out the specific names of loved ones when they become separated, a study finds.



In These Times calls attention to the perennial problem of wage theft: What if your employer just doesn’t pay your wages?

One of the ways that we’ve been cutting “wasteful government spending” and “job-killing regulation” in recent decades is to severely cut back — or even eliminate entirely — the government offices a short-changed worker can complain to. Whatever you may think about President Obama’s proposal to raise the minimum wage, it’s not going to mean much if an employer can just refuse to pay.


A self-described white guy explains why there’s no White History Month.


And finally, a mind-reader gives a lesson in internet safety:

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