Elections are about choices, and 2012 looks to be a big one.
It's not just a philosophical debate over the proper size and role of government. It's an economic one about stimulus versus austerity. President Obama thinks we need to make smart investments -- just don't call it stimulus! -- to get the economy moving again. Governor Romney thinks we need a smarter tax code -- just don't ask what deductions he'd eliminate -- and less spending to get the economy moving again.
In other words, Romney seems to subscribe to the doctrine of "expansionary austerity" -- that prosperity is just a few spending cuts around the corner. It's an idea that has failed rather spectacularly in Europe the past few years. And it's one that even the orthodox International Monetary Fund has warned against, at least for now.
But that seems to be news to Mitt Romney's top economic advisers. Glenn Hubbard, a professor at Columbia University and a veteran of the Bush administration, recently took to the pages of the Financial Times to apparently argue that trimming the deficit will spur growth. Emphasis on apparently. Here's what Hubbard said:
Gradual fiscal consolidation may also be stimulative in the short term. Research by Hoover Institution economists concludes that reducing federal spending relative to GDP to pre-financial crisis levels over a decade would increase GDP in the short and long term. This outcome reflects lower future tax rates and the boost from lower interest rates to investment and net exports.
Plentyof people considered this a loud (and perhaps wise) defense of austerity. It's not.
How would less government spending translate into more spending overall? The question answers itself: If the other parts of the economy subsequently spend more. Those other parts of the economy are the private sector and net exports. And what would make them spend more? Answer: Lower interest rates. When borrowing costs are lower, the private sector is --tautology alert -- more willing to borrow and invest. Think about it this way. If the cost of capital is low, the return on capital doesn't have to be that high for companies to want to invest. Lower interest rates also tend to mean a weaker dollar -- and a weaker dollar is good for trade.
That leaves one big question. Why would interest rates fall when the government spends less? There are two stories here. First, there's less "crowding out". When the government competes with the private sector to borrow money, the private sector ends up paying more to borrow. Less competition from the government means paying less to borrow. And second, the Federal Reserve might be more likely to do more if Congress does less. There are plenty of examples of this kind of austerity working -- like the United States in the 1990s.
But there's a problem. Interest rates have neverbeenlower. Cutting spending won't lower interest rates any further. For one, there isn't any crowding out now. The private sector would rather sit on cash than borrow. For another, the Fed isn't likely to do all that much more given its current paralysis. Austerity will shrink the economy in the world we live in now.
Hubbard is smart. He knows that austerity won't work without lower interest rates. And he knows that interest rates couldn't be much lower than they already are. In other words, he knows that cutting the deficit too much too soon would be a very bad idea today.
Don't let the rhetoric confuse you. Romney might say he's an austerity candidate, but his top economic advisors quietly admit that this might not be wise.
It's almost like Romney might flip flop on this if he wins.
President Trump, forced to choose between working with business leaders and espousing white identity politics, has chosen the latter.
Updated on August 16 at 3:59 p.m.
While Donald Trump is on vacation, there are major renovations going on in the West Wing. Perhaps they’ll alter plans and include a portcullis and a moat, because the White House is under siege.
The president is once again facing loud denunciation (though so far little else) from members of his own party. Vice President Pence is cutting short an overseas trip and returning home to an administration in crisis. And Wednesday afternoon, the president announced he was pulling the plug on a manufacturing council and a strategy and policy forum, both comprised of business leaders, after a spree of defections in reaction to Trump’s handling of violence in Charlottesville.
The legend of the Confederate leader’s heroism and decency is based in the fiction of a person who never existed.
The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.
Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.
The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.
If the president is concerned about violence on the left, he can start by fighting the white supremacist movements whose growth has fueled its rise.
In his Tuesday press conference, Donald Trump talked at length about what he called “the alt left.” White supremacists, he claimed, weren’t the only people in Charlottesville last weekend that deserved condemnation. “You had a group on the other side that was also very violent,” he declared. “Nobody wants to say that.”
I can say with great confidence that Trump’s final sentence is untrue. I can do so because the September issue of TheAtlantic contains an essay of mine entitled “The Rise of the Violent Left,” which discusses the very phenomenon that Trump claims “nobody wants” to discuss. Trump is right that, in Charlottesville and beyond, the violence of some leftist activists constitutes a real problem. Where he’s wrong is in suggesting that it’s a problem in any way comparable to white supremacism.
Charlottesville marks a new era of even bolder assertion of the right to threaten violence for political purposes.
It could have been so much worse.
Like ISIS attackers in Europe, the Charlottesville murderer used a car as his assault weapon. But Charlottesville this past weekend was crammed with anti-social personalities carrying sub-military firearms. It could just as easily have been one—or more—of those gun-carriers who made the decision to kill. If so, Americans might this week be mourning not one life lost to an attack, but dozens.
As recently as 2009, the nation retained a capacity to be shocked when individuals carried weapons to political events. Such was the case in Phoenix, Arizona, on August 18, 2009:
A man toting an assault rifle was among a dozen protesters carrying weapons while demonstrating outside President Obama's speech to veterans on Monday, but no laws were broken. It was the second instance in recent days in which weapons have been seen near presidential events.
Anti-Semitic logic fueled the violence over the weekend, no matter what the president says.
The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was ostensibly about protecting a statue of Robert E. Lee. It was about asserting the legitimacy of “white culture” and white supremacy, and defending the legacy of the Confederacy.
So why did the demonstrators chant anti-Semitic lines like “Jews will not replace us”?
The demonstration was suffused with anti-black racism, but also with anti-Semitism. Marchers displayed swastikas on banners and shouted slogans like “blood and soil,” a phrase drawn from Nazi ideology. “This city is run by Jewish communists and criminal niggers,” one demonstrator told Vice News’ Elspeth Reeve during their march. As Jews prayed at a local synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel, men dressed in fatigues carrying semi-automatic rifles stood across the street, according to the temple’s president. Nazi websites posted a call to burn their building. As a precautionary measure, congregants had removed their Torah scrolls and exited through the back of the building when they were done praying.
Antifa’s activists say they’re battling burgeoning authoritarianism on the American right. Are they fueling it instead?
Since 1907, Portland, Oregon, has hosted an annual Rose Festival. Since 2007, the festival had included a parade down 82nd Avenue. Since 2013, the Republican Party of Multnomah County, which includes Portland, had taken part. This April, all of that changed.
In the days leading up to the planned parade, a group called the Direct Action Alliance declared, “Fascists plan to march through the streets,” and warned, “Nazis will not march through Portland unopposed.” The alliance said it didn’t object to the Multnomah GOP itself, but to “fascists” who planned to infiltrate its ranks. Yet it also denounced marchers with “Trump flags” and “red maga hats” who could “normalize support for an orange man who bragged about sexually harassing women and who is waging a war of hate, racism and prejudice.” A second group, Oregon Students Empowered, created a Facebook page called “Shut down fascism! No nazis in Portland!”
The scientists are all talking like it’s a sure thing.
On August 21, the “moon” will pass between the Earth and the sun, obscuring the light of the latter. The government agency NASA says this will result in “one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights.” The astronomers there claim to have calculated down to the minute exactly when and where this will happen, and for how long. They have reportedly known about this eclipse for years, just by virtue of some sort of complex math.
This seems extremely unlikely. I can’t even find these eclipse calculations on their website to check them for myself.
Meanwhile the scientists tell us we can’t look at it without special glasses because “looking directly at the sun is unsafe.”
More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis.
One day last summer, around noon, I called Athena, a 13-year-old who lives in Houston, Texas. She answered her phone—she’s had an iPhone since she was 11—sounding as if she’d just woken up. We chatted about her favorite songs and TV shows, and I asked her what she likes to do with her friends. “We go to the mall,” she said. “Do your parents drop you off?,” I asked, recalling my own middle-school days, in the 1980s, when I’d enjoy a few parent-free hours shopping with my friends. “No—I go with my family,” she replied. “We’ll go with my mom and brothers and walk a little behind them. I just have to tell my mom where we’re going. I have to check in every hour or every 30 minutes.”
Those mall trips are infrequent—about once a month. More often, Athena and her friends spend time together on their phones, unchaperoned. Unlike the teens of my generation, who might have spent an evening tying up the family landline with gossip, they talk on Snapchat, the smartphone app that allows users to send pictures and videos that quickly disappear. They make sure to keep up their Snapstreaks, which show how many days in a row they have Snapchatted with each other. Sometimes they save screenshots of particularly ridiculous pictures of friends. “It’s good blackmail,” Athena said. (Because she’s a minor, I’m not using her real name.) She told me she’d spent most of the summer hanging out alone in her room with her phone. That’s just the way her generation is, she said. “We didn’t have a choice to know any life without iPads or iPhones. I think we like our phones more than we like actual people.”
Frederick Douglass’s 1866 essay for The Atlantic on how Congress can cope with a chief executive who refuses to recognize the rights of all citizens
By December of 1866, the Civil War was over, but the conflict that would define the nature of the United States of America was not close to finished. Encouraged by President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat sympathetic to their aims, the former Confederate states had eagerly subjected the newly freed slaves to the Black Codes, laws confining them to inferior status and second-class citizenship, denying them votes, citizenship and even freedom of movement, while armed groups of whites attacked them with impunity. In vetoing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, Johnson insisted that the law protecting the freedmen’s rights was in fact “made to operate in favor of the colored against the white race.”
In a rebuke to Johnson, his party fared poorly in the November 1866 election, and the newly strengthened Republicans vowed to protect the freedmen's rights. Before the new Congress took office, the former slave and abolitionist orator Frederick Douglass urged the Republican Party to defy the president by protecting the fundamental rights of black Americans and shielding them from the violence of the former Confederates.
President Trump’s remarks on the deadly white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville have sparked widespread outrage. But the White House is asking congressional Republicans to follow his lead.
Every day, the White House communications office sends official talking points to Republican members of Congress. These communiqués help the GOP stay on the same page (and, in the Trump era, help the embattled president’s allies come up with arguments in his defense).
On Tuesday evening, a few hours after the president’s inflammatory press conference defending white nationalist protesters in Charlottesville, the office issued an “evening communications briefing,” which was passed along to me by a Republican congressional aide. It encourages members to echo the president’s line, contending that “both sides … acted inappropriately, and bear some responsibility.”
You can read the talking points in their entirety here. The links in the text are the White House’s. The briefing goes on to include a transcript of the president’s question-and-answer session with reporters at Trump Tower, followed by commentary on other issues.