Romney's secretly taped comments weren't just embarrassing for the 47% comment. They also revealed a faith-based economic strategy
Mitt Romney has a secret economic plan. It's magic.
As far as backhanded compliments come, the conceit that Romney has a secret economic plan is up there. The idea is that Romney is too smart and too ideologically flexible, and his stated plans too vague and too mathematically incoherent for there not to be another plan -- a real plan. Josh Barro of Bloomberg View has speculated that Romney might actually go big on mortgage refinancing and bigger deficits -- thanks to unfunded tax cuts -- to get the economy moving again. It's certainly plausible. Romney adviser Glenn Hubbard has endorsed refinancing, and, as a practical matter, it's almost impossible to close enough loopholes to pay for Romney's proposed tax cuts.
But is the secret economic plan real or is there really no secret economic plan? Let's go to the tape. Here's Romney talking about what he thinks will happen to the economy, courtesy of Mother Jones.
If it looks like I'm going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president's going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy. It depends of course which markets you're talking about, which types of commodities and so forth, but my own view is that if we win on November 6th, there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We'll see capital come back and we'll see -- without actually doing anything -- we'll actually get a boost in the economy.
In other words, Romney's secret economic plan to jumpstart the recovery is ... winning office. That's it. He thinks markets are scared of Obama, and an Obama loss would be enough to send markets racing up. This is aggressive nonsense. As Brad DeLong points out, the S&P 500 is up 10.9 percent since Romney said this, "despite" Nate Silver of the New York Times estimating Obama's odds of securing a second term jumping from 60 to 75 percent. There's just little reason to think that uncertainty, rather than lack of demand, is what's holding the economy back. Small businesses have consistently ranked "poor sales" -- i.e., poor demand -- as their biggest problem. Not so for uncertainty -- evidence of which is much harder to come by. The index conservatives like to tout as proof of uncertainty's insidious grip on the economy really only shows uncertainty's insidious grip on conservative thinking. As Mike Konczal of the Roosevelt Institute has pointed out, it's a fatally flawed measure that counts Republican talking points as proof of those talking points.
But let's play Devil's advocate. Maybe uncertainty is driving demand down. The economy is in the doldrums because investment is in the doldrums -- it's possible fear over potential tax increases and Obamacare regulations is keeping businesses from investing. How would we explain that real private fixed nonresidential investment has actually come back a bit, but real private fixed residential investment has not? The simplest explanation isn't the president, it's the housing market. The chart below takes a look at this latter measure since 1995. The collapse ended, but the recovery never began.
(Note: The yellow dot marks when Obama took office).
It's hard to tell a story about why uncertainty would hurt residential investment, but not nonresidential investment. It's not hard to tell a story about why a housing bust would hurt housing investment -- and drag down overall demand. Indeed, a paper by Michael Bordo and Joseph Haubrich of the Cleveland Fed found that housing recessions typically lead to slower recoveries for this very reason. Higher inflation, refinancings, or writedowns would speed up this deleveraging proces. A Romney -- or Obama -- victory alone would not.
Romney's magical thinking is the consequence of Republican obstruction. From the beginning, Republicans have been quite candid that their number one goal is making sure Obama is a one-term president. From the stimulus to Fed appointments to the abortive American Jobs Act, they have tried to block anything that might help the economy -- while decrying it all as dangerously outside the mainstream. There's a problem. It's not. The Obama administration has just followed textbook economics -- spending more and cutting interest rates amidst a slump -- much as a hypothetical McCain administration likely would have followed textbook economics. After denouncing these policies for years, the Republicans can't very well run on them. So they blame those policies for creating uncertainty, evidence be damned.
As for doing nothing, that's exactly what we've tried for the past two years. It hasn't worked. Now, eventually it will "work" -- in other words, housing will come back at some point, no matter what we do or do not do. It already might -- with the Fed giving it a kick as well. But believing that our problem is we have the wrong person doing nothing is strange.
This wasn’t terribly surprising. When Streep was asked, last year, in the course of promoting her extremely feminist film Suffragette, whether she is herself a feminist, the actor replied that, no, she isn’t. Instead: “I am a humanist,” she said. “I am for nice, easy balance.”
Einstein’s gravitational waves rest on a genuinely radical idea.
After decades of anticipation, we have directly detected gravitational waves—ripples in spacetime traveling at the speed of light through the universe. Scientists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometic Gravitational-wave Observatory) have announced that they have measured waves coming from the inspiral of two massive black holes, providing a spectacular confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, whose hundredth anniversary was celebrated just last year.
Finding gravitational waves indicates that Einstein was (once again) right, and opens a new window onto energetic events occurring around the universe. But there’s a deeper lesson, as well: a reminder of the central importance of locality, an idea that underlies much of modern physics.
Today’s empires are born on the web, and exert tremendous power in the material world.
Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t had the best week.
First, Facebook’s Free Basics platform was effectively banned in India. Then, a high-profile member of Facebook’s board of directors, the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen, sounded off about the decision to his nearly half-a-million Twitter followers with a stunning comment.
“Anti-colonialism has been economically catastrophic for the Indian people for decades,” Andreessen wrote. “Why stop now?”
After that, the Internet went nuts.
Andreessen deleted his tweet, apologized, and underscored that he is “100 percent opposed to colonialism” and “100 percent in favor of independence and freedom.” Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO, followed up with his own Facebook post to say Andreessen’s comment was “deeply upsetting” to him, and not representative of the way he thinks “at all.”
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface so-called "nail houses."
Across China, where new developments are keeping pace with the rapidly growing economy, reports continue to surface of so-called "nail houses." These properties, standing alone amid the ruins of other buildings, belong to owners who have stood their ground and resisted demolition. Defiant property owners say the compensation being offered is too low. Some of them have remained in their homes for years as their court cases drag on and new construction continues all around them. A few homeowners have won their fights, but most have lost. Meanwhile, these nail houses have become powerful symbols of resistance against the world's fastest-growing major economy.
The number of American teens who excel at advanced math has surged. Why?
On a sultry evening last July, a tall, soft-spoken 17-year-old named David Stoner and nearly 600 other math whizzes from all over the world sat huddled in small groups around wicker bistro tables, talking in low voices and obsessively refreshing the browsers on their laptops. The air in the cavernous lobby of the Lotus Hotel Pang Suan Kaew in Chiang Mai, Thailand, was humid, recalls Stoner, whose light South Carolina accent warms his carefully chosen words. The tension in the room made it seem especially heavy, like the atmosphere at a high-stakes poker tournament.
Stoner and five teammates were representing the United States in the 56th International Mathematical Olympiad. They figured they’d done pretty well over the two days of competition. God knows, they’d trained hard. Stoner, like his teammates, had endured a grueling regime for more than a year—practicing tricky problems over breakfast before school and taking on more problems late into the evening after he completed the homework for his college-level math classes. Sometimes, he sketched out proofs on the large dry-erase board his dad had installed in his bedroom. Most nights, he put himself to sleep reading books like New Problems in Euclidean Geometry and An Introduction to Diophantine Equations.
Most people know how to help someone with a cut or a scrape. But what about a panic attack?
Here’s a thought experiment: You’re walking down the street with a friend when your companion falls and gashes her leg on the concrete. It’s bleeding; she’s in pain. It’s clear she’s going to need stitches. What do you do?
This one isn’t exactly a head-scratcher. You'd probably attempt to offer some sort of first-aid assistance until the bleeding stopped, or until she could get to medical help. Maybe you happen to have a Band-Aid on you, or a tissue to help her clean the wound, or a water bottle she can use to rinse it off. Maybe you pick her up and help her hobble towards transportation, or take her where she needs to go.
Here’s a harder one: What if, instead of an injured leg, that same friend has a panic attack?
When four American women were murdered during El Salvador’s dirty war, a young U.S. official and his unlikely partner risked their lives to solve the case.
On December 1, 1980, two American Catholic churchwomen—an Ursuline nun and a lay missionary—sat down to dinner with Robert White, the U.S. ambassador to El Salvador. They worked in rural areas ministering to El Salvador’s desperately impoverished peasants, and White admired their commitment and courage. The talk turned to the government’s brutal tactics for fighting the country’s left-wing guerrillas, in a dirty war waged by death squads that dumped bodies in the streets and an army that massacred civilians. The women were alarmed by the incoming Reagan administration’s plans for a closer relationship with the military-led government. Because of a curfew, the women spent the night at the ambassador’s residence. The next day, after breakfast with the ambassador’s wife, they drove to San Salvador’s international airport to pick up two colleagues who were flying back from a conference in Nicaragua. Within hours, all four women would be dead.
Ben Stiller’s follow-up to his own comedy classic is a downright bummer, no matter how many celebrity cameos it tries to cram in.
You don’t need to go to the theater to get the full experience of Zoolander 2. Simply get your hands on a copy of the original, watch it, and then yell a bunch of unfunny topical lines every time somebody tells a joke. That’s how it feels to watch Ben Stiller’s sequel to his 2001 spoof of the fashion industry: Zoolander 2 takes pains to reference every successful gag you remember from the original, and then embellish them in painful—often offensive, almost always outdated—fashion. It’s a film that has no real reason to exist, and it spends its entire running time reaffirming that fact.
The original Zoolander, to be fair, had no business being as funny as it was—it made fun of an industry that already seems to exist in a constant state of self-parody, and much of its humor relied on simple malapropisms and sight gags. But it was hilarious anyway as a candid snapshot of the fizzling-out of ’90s culture. Like almost any zeitgeist comedy, it belonged to a particular moment—and boy, should it have stayed there. With Zoolander 2, Stiller (who directed, co-wrote, and stars) tries to recapture the magic of 2001 by referencing its past glories with increasing desperation, perhaps to avoid the fact that he has nothing new to say about the fashion industry or celebrity culture 15 years laters.
And why stopping it requires that governments get out of the way
As it stands, the international coalition is far from winning the information war against the Islamic State. Its air strikes may be squeezing the group in Iraq and Syria and killing many of its leaders, but that has not halted the self-proclaimed caliphate’s ideological momentum. Indeed, at the end of 2015, it was estimated that the number of foreigners travelling to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria—predominantly the Islamic State—had more than doubled in the course of just 18 months. What’s more, while these figures may be striking, sheer numbers are less important than intent when it comes to the organization’s actual threat to the world. As we have already seen, it takes a very small number of people to unleash great terror, whether in Iraq, Syria, or elsewhere.
The bureau successfully played the long game in both cases.
The story of law enforcement in the Oregon standoff is one of patience.
On the most obvious level, that was reflected in the 41 days that armed militia members occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns. It took 25 days before the FBI and state police moved to arrest several leaders of the occupation and to barricade the refuge. It took another 15 days before the last of the final occupiers walked out, Thursday morning Oregon time.
Each of those cases involved patience as well: Officers massed on Highway 395 didn’t shoot LaVoy Finicum when he tried to ram past a barricade, nearly striking an FBI agent, though when he reached for a gun in his pocket they finally fired. Meanwhile, despite increasingly hysterical behavior from David Fry, the final occupier, officers waited him out until he emerged peacefully.