Media

Trump: Gish Galloping the Media

What is the media to do with Donald Trump? On one hand, they have to cover him. after all, he has been the leading Republican candidate for over three months. He is leading in all the polls, nationally, in Iowa, South Carolina, New Hampshire. Ratings go up with every appearance.

On the other hand, Trump spews lies with every appearance. When he is called on a lie, rather than admit to it, he doubles down, repeating it and, occasionally, adding specific details that are also lies. the latest example occurred on This Week where George Stephanopoulos showed a clip of him claiming to have seen thousands and thousands of Arab Americans in Jersey City, New Jersey cheering on 9/11 after the attacks on the World Trade Center. Stephanopoulos pointed out that there was absolutely no evidence that such a thing had happened and asked if Trump had misspoken (lied). Trump doubled down:

It did happen. I saw it… It was on television. I saw it. George, it did happen. There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something… It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.

All Stephanopoulos had time to do was lamely repeat that the police said it didn’t happen.

Of course, various media watchdogs like the Washington Post’s Politifact point out Trump’s lies after the fact, but the damage has already been done. One reason Trump is able to outmaneuver moderators like Stephanopoulos is that he is a master of the debating technique known as the Gish Gallop:

The Gish Gallop, named for the Creationist Duane Gish, is a technique of drowning an opponent in such a torrent of small arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer or address each one in real time. More often than not, these myriad arguments are full of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments — the only condition is that there be many of them, not that they be particularly compelling on their own. They may be escape hatches or “gotcha” arguments that are specifically designed to be brief, but take a long time to unravel.

In the amount of time available on a network program like This Week, the Gish Gallop allows prevaricators like Trump the opportunity to make one outlandish claim after another with relative impunity.

It is beginning to dawn on the pundants that Trump has a good chance of winning the Republican nomination. Highly respected political scientist, Alan Abramowitz, thinks he has a reasonable chance to do what Paul Krugman calls the “Trumpthinkable”.

Trump isn’t only leading in national polling. He’s leading in every state poll I’ve seen. He seems to be ahead in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina, Nevada. Voters say he’s a strong leader who will shake up Washington, and that’s what they want. He’s the leader on big issues like immigration, terrorism, the economy. And the Washington Post/ABC News poll found a plurality — even more voters than actually support him — think he’s the candidate with the best chance of winning in November.

So, how do we account for Trump’s outlandish claims and lies? Abromowitz believes that, ironically, they cause him to gain in popularity with the Republican base. Even though the Republican establishment has started to realize a Trump nomination might guarentee a Democratic victory in November, the base isn’t buying it. They view the over-the-top rhetoric as evidence Trump is a fighter who will not back down and who will speak his mind, qualities the feel are needed in a leader. According to Abromowitz,

There have been very clear signals already from the Republican establishment, from Fox News, from conservative pundits — it’s been clear they think this is really bad for the Republican Party, but it hasn’t worked so far.

There have been repeated moments when Trump said something outrageous and there were predictions that this is the beginning of the end of Trump, and then he does better. This goes all the way back to his attacks on John McCain’s war record and his sexist attacks on Megyn Kelly. These things don’t seem to hurt him. Among his supporters, they take that as a sign that this is a guy who speaks his mind, says a lot of things they agree with — and besides which, who do you trust, Donald Trump or the mainstream media that is telling you he’s lying?

Poll watchers with outstanding predictive records, like Nate Silver, are convinced Trump will certainly fade and that the media should quit “freaking out” about these early poll numbers. Silver seems to be the voice of reason, but with each passing week the Trump phenomena continues to gain momentum while other early front runners like Jeb Bush and Ben Carson do fade.

It certainly has the makings of an interesting Presidential race for the pundants and comedians. For the average American, maybe not so much.

Winters of Delay

baltimore-cover-finalAs the Baltimore “riots” were reported on the 24/7 news channels, I immediately thought of the title of Henry Giroux’s latest collection of essays, The Violence of Organized Forgetting.   According to Giroux,  the media suffers from purposeful amnesia. Instead of context and analysis, we see the same looped video and hour after hour of “commentary”.  Print media does a somewhat better job of providing some historical context. For example, Time magazine points out that the same neighborhoods in Baltimore where the riots are taking place today are pockmarked with destroyed or boarded up buildings from the 1968 riot after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Of course, few people today read Time or any other print media.

Rather than asking why black neighborhoods like those in Baltimore have been marginalized and ignored while two generations of young black Americans grow up without equal opportunities and equal justice, pundits on Fox and CNN debate the appropriate punishment for the “thugs” who steal and destroy property. As long as most Americans get their news from television news and social media, the purposeful amnesia and organized forgetting will continue.

As I think about the history of Baltimore and previously forgotten “riots”, including the 1968 riot over Dr. King’s assassination, I recall King’s comments made almost 50 years ago.

I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so in a real sense our nation’s summers of riots are caused by our nation’s winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice in progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention.

Those words resonate as much today as they did then.  A riot is the language of the unheard. It seems to me, it is the obligation of the media to give voice to the unheard. The media response to Baltimore reminds us once again that injustice is not likely to be reported until somebody riots.

 People who remember court madness through pain,  the pain of the perpetually reoccurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence- James Baldwin

Music Uncovered

As the world of popular culture celebrates the 50th anniversary of the British invasion, including the arrival of The Beatles, there has been little, if any, discussion of the artists who wrote and performed the music the groups from the UK imitated or copied when they “invaded” American music. These artists, playing what was referred to as rhythm and blues, were black. Consequently, their music never crossed over to a white audience. In many cases, the music was actually banned from the radio. It was banned, not simply because the performers were black, but because the performances were considered too lascivious for the delicate ears of white American youth.

An example of a black entertainer who was responsible for some of the greatest rhythm and blues music, and whose music was ignored until covered by white artists, was Hank Ballard. During the 1950s Hank Ballard and the Midnighters made numerous recordings that were popular on the black nightclub circuit, but unknown to the white mainstream. His recording of Work with me Annie reached number one on the R&B charts but was banned by the FCC from radio airplay for its obvious sexual overtones.

The great Etta James recorded the answering song, Wallflower, which also was an R&B hit.

But, it was not until Work with me Annie was rewritten as Dance with me Henry, and recorded by the white vocalist Georgia Gibbs, that it reached number one on the national charts. White audiences would have seen the sanitized version on shows like the popular Your Hit Parade. Here is a hilarious rendition by Gisele MacKensie from May 7th 1955 when Dance with me Henry was number four on the national hit parade.

Hank Ballard and the Midnighters followed up Work with me Annie with Annie had a Baby and Annie’s Aunt Fanny, both of which made clear Annie wasn’t a ballet dancer.

In 1959 Hank Ballard and the Midnighters wrote, choreographed, and performed The Twist. But, because the group was too black, the song was covered by Chubby Checkers, who, although black, was, as his phony stage name implies (get it- Fats Domino- Chubby Checkers), a chubby, cuddly, non-threatening black man. What resulted was a dance craze that swept the nation and made Checkers a super star.

Below is an amazing episode from the very 1960s popular quiz show, To Tell the Truth, where two contestants lie in an attempt to convince the panel they are the contestant telling the truth. The fact that the panel, made up of nationally famous white media stars (including Johnny Carson in this episode), have absolutely no idea who Hank Ballard is, shows just how invisible the real black artists were. The other two contestants are black, but are conspicuous in their “clean cut”, i.e. white like, demeanor. The panel ignores Hank, asking him only one question about the origins of Rock and Roll. He answers that Rock and Roll is just another name for Rhythm and Blues, but none of the panelist seem satisfied with the answer. Kitty Carlisle is the only one to choose the real Hank, and that was because she saw him moving his body when the music was being played.

An Alert Update Plus Some Thoughts on Fear

UPDATE

Another friend, not the one who sent me the original ALERTS TO THREATS IN EUROPE I posted yesterday, decided to update the list to include America.

The Americans are on “Be Alert for Unspecified Awful Things”  a status they have maintained since, well, forever. This is frequently raised to “The Sky Is Falling” just to justify their insane arms expenditures. When concern over dwindling oil supplies threatens the alert level becomes “Lets Attack”  eventually followed by the highest level which is “We Need To Rebuild The Country We Just Destroyed.”  Rumor has it that there is a level called “Let’s Try Peace “but it has never been considered.

I think you will agree it is at least as clever as the Cleese original. But, after chuckling over it  for a few minutes, I started to think about the deeper truth. It really does describe the political process that has dominated America at least since 9/11. American politics is dominated by a “Culture of Fear”. We are asked to be on constant alert for any number of awful things. The media, of course, is implicated in the whole process.

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It is a mistake to think the manipulation of fear for political purposes is new in American politics, however. It is probably more accurate to say it has been the norm for most of our history. Noam Chomsky has explored what he calls the, “…resort to fear by systems of power to discipline the domestic population” and traces the American version back, at least, to John Quincy Adams. Chomsky uses historian William Earl Weeks to make his point.

Weeks describes in lurid detail what Jackson was doing in the “exhibition of murder and plunder known as the First Seminole War,” which was just another phase in his project of “removing or eliminating native Americans from the southeast,” underway long before 1814. Florida was a problem both because it had not yet been incorporated in the expanding American empire and because it was a “haven for Indians and runaway slaves… fleeing the wrath of Jackson or slavery”.

There was in fact an Indian attack, which Jackson and Adams used as a pretext: US forces drove a band of Seminoles off their lands, killing several of them and burning their village to the ground. The Seminoles retaliated by attacking a supply boat under military command. Seizing the opportunity, Jackson “embarked on a campaign of terror, devastation, and intimidation,” destroying villages and “sources of food in a calculated effort to inflict starvation on the tribes, who sought refuge from his wrath in the swamps”. So matters continued, leading to Adams’ highly regarded State paper, which endorsed Jackson’s unprovoked aggression to establish in Florida “the dominion of this republic upon the odious basis of violence and bloodshed”.

These are the words of the Spanish ambassador, a “painfully precise description,” Weeks writes. Adams “had consciously distorted, dissembled, and lied about the goals and conduct of American foreign policy to both Congress and the public,” Weeks continues, grossly violating his proclaimed moral principles, “implicitly defending Indian removal, and slavery”. The crimes of Jackson and Adams “proved but a prelude to a second war of extermination against (the Seminoles),” in which the remnants either fled to the West, to enjoy the same fate later, “or were killed or forced to take refuge in the dense swamps of Florida”. Today, Weeks concludes, “the Seminoles survive in the national consciousness as the mascot of Florida State University” — a typical and instructive case…

…The rhetorical framework rests on three pillars (Weeks): “the assumption of the unique moral virtue of the United States, the assertion of its mission to redeem the world” by spreading its professed ideals and the ‘American way of life,’ and the faith in the nation’s “divinely ordained destiny”. The theological framework undercuts reasoned debate, and reduces policy issues to a choice between Good and Evil, thus reducing the threat of democracy. Critics can be dismissed as “anti-American,” an interesting concept borrowed from the lexicon of totalitarianism. And the population must huddle under the umbrella of power, in fear that its way of life and destiny are under imminent threat…

The main difference between then and now is that the powers that be are more sophisticated in manipulation. Below is the trailer to a documentary, “Culture of Fear” that features interviews with Chomsky and other experts.

Here is the link to the full documentary  http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/culture-of-fear

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq,  it is critical that we remember exactly how Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neoconservative cabal played the politics of fear to get the war they wanted.  Over the last week or so we have been subjected to a series of mea culpa apologies from media pundits and so-called journalists rationalizing away their role in cheerleading the invasion. Everyone from David Frum, author of the “axis of evil” phrase, and Andrew Suulivan on the right, to Jonathan Chait and Ezra Klein on the left have offered “yes, but” apologies. Quite honestly, I am not interested. I agree with Charlie Pierce, they should all just go away. They really have lost all credibility for me.

As long as I am talking about documentaries, I have to include the BBC series, The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear. It explores the history and background of both radical Islam and the Neo-Conservatives. Originally produced in 2004, it was never broadcast in the United States. Fortunately, it is now available on You Tube. Here is part one with links to parts two and three below.

The Power of Nightmares Part Two

The Power of Nightmares Part Three

Dim Bulb Award for March

dim-bulb Sometimes I have to hunt around a bit to find a candidate for the Dim Bulb Award. Other times, it just falls into my lap. Such is the case with The Award for March. One simple criteria for the award is when a particular display of dimness attract national attention.

Brent Crane’s ignorance in using the example of Rosa Parks to champion states rights serves as more evidence to the rest of the country that elected Idaho politicians are a collection of rubes who have recently fallen off the turnip truck. Here, for example, is the response from Wonkette under the headline,  Hero GOP Idaho Legislator Will Sit At Front Of Bus For States Rights and Freedom From Healthcare

Oh, state legislature debates in Idaho must be veritable Lincoln-Douglas dialogues, right? They’re likely all super-erudite and engage in thoughtful research before….fuck, we can’t even keep up this pretense for the rest of this sentence. We are totally gonna generalize and say that on the basis of this one GOP guy in Idaho, their GOP is mindnumbingly dumb. How dumb, you ask breathlessly? Dumb enough to use Rosa Parks as an example of why states rights matter.

The No. 3 Republican leader in the Idaho House says he made a “slight mistake” when he described Rosa Parks as a champion of states’ rights.

“One little lady got tired of the federal government telling her what to do,” Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane of Nampa said during Wednesday’s debate on Gov. Butch Otter’s bill establishing a state-run health insurance exchange. “I’ve reached that point, Mr. Speaker, that I’m tired of giving in to the federal government.”

What is this we don’t even…Did the number 3 Republican Leader in the Idaho House, a position that no doubt brings with it an unlimited amount of hookers, blow, potatoes, and militias, ever actually, you know, pay attention in school? Did he absorb even the tinest idea about how the civil rights movement worked and that it was actually a challenge to the horror of states’ rights and created a federal superstructure that actually trumped the racist fuckwit ideas of individual states? Nope!

Crane told me he received no feedback about his error until I inquired Thursday. “I had people say, ‘You did a great job in your debate.’ People understood the point I was trying to make. And I’m sorry if it was an oversight. Obviously, I didn’t do my research.”

Did Crane know the historical context before he Googled “Rosa Parks” on the House floor in preparation for his debate?

“I’m sure we went over that in history class in high school and possibly in history in college, possibly,” said Crane, who graduated from Nampa Christian High School and has a bachelor’s in political science from BSU.

Possible in history in college, possibly. Well-spoken AND on top of his facts. We could go on AND ON AND ON about how dumb this is, but seriously? It isn’t like you Wonklanders need an explanation of 8th grade civics to know this is jaw-droppingly dumb. You Wonklanders may, however, appreciate some friendly advice that perhaps political science at BSU should not be your major if you actually would like to learn some political science.

Hats off to you, though, Mr./Ms. Idaho Statesman reporter who has to cover this jerkwad. We’d advise you, in the future, to make good use of the Molly Ivins quote about a Texas legislator in reference this human pile of derp: “If his IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day.”

This was not the first time Crane let loose a jaw-dropping quote making him the object of national derision. In 2011, while debating a bill outlawing abortion after 20 weeks,

The Idaho bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, told legislators that the “hand of the Almighty” was at work. “His ways are higher than our ways,” Crane said. “He has the ability to take difficult, tragic, horrific circumstances and then turn them into wonderful examples.”

Focus for a moment on where Crane received his education in civil rights and American history, Nampa Christian High School. Then consider a bill just passed by the Idaho legislature today.

The House is now debating HB 286, the bill to give $10 million in tax credits for donations to scholarships to send Idaho kids to private schools, with the idea that the state would save millions if kids dropped out of public schools to enroll in private schools instead. Rep. Mark Patterson, R-Boise, told the House that his children attend private schools. “This levels the playing field and it’s a great step in the right direction,” he said.

Rep. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, countered, “I think the issue is not whether private schools are good for children in this state, because they are. I think the issue is this is policy that siphons money away from public and charter schools to be used for private schools. … We don’t give tax credits to adults who have no children, nor should we be giving tuition tax credits to those who have chosen an alternative to public education. It is their right and their choice, but the state should not subsidize that choice. We do not have enough money for public schools and public charter schools right now.”

Any question as to how Crane voted on the bill?  I didn’t think so.

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The Crane/Rosa Parks story gets a bit funnier (in a sad, pathetic way). In the Idaho Statesman article initially pointing out Crane’s flub, Dan Popkey included the photo below.

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Who is that somewhat blurry figure in back of Crane, you may ask? Yes, it is Congressman Raul Labrador. According to Popkey, Raul was less than pleased to be connected in any way with Crane.

Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador’s spokesman asked that a photo including Labrador alongside Idaho House Assistant Majority Leader Brent Crane, R-Nampa, be replaced on the Statesman’s website.

Crane, a top prospect for Labrador’s congressional seat should Labrador decided to run for governor against Otter in the 2014 Republican primary, is among Labrador’s closest friends. The photo was taken when Labrador was in the Idaho House in 2010. Also pictured is then-Rep. and now state Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Friday, Labrador’s spokesman in Washington, D.C., Michael Tate, sent me the following brief email:  “I noticed an article from you today featured a photo of Congressman Labrador in a story not about him. Politely wondering if you are able to use a photo in the story without my boss?”

Cosmic Coincidence

In a cosmic coincidence, the Russian meteorite that has reportedly injured more than 1,000 people is completely unrelated to the DA14 asteroid, which NASA says will pass close to the Earth later today.

A decade ago, we would have known about the Russian meteorite only by the results of the impact. Today, there are few places on earth without a witness with a video camera. Below is a video showing the flight of the meteorite from a number of different locations just before it smashed into the Ural Mountains.

Vision of Climate Change

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There are certain photographs that become iconic. They engender an immediate connection with an event, tragic or triumphant. They put the event in human terms, often showing a family, as in Dorothea Lang’s iconic photograph of Florence Owens Thompson and her children.  The photo became the most famous image of the Great Depression in the United States.  It has become an iconic image of resilience in the face of adversity.

See here for a list of 27 photos that also fit the description. Perhaps the most famous compilation is Life Magazine’s 100 photographs that changed the world.

I started thinking about other events or phenomena that might engender an iconic image for  future generations. Climate change is just such a phenomena. We appear to be at the point, finally, where it is generally understood that a scientific consensus has been reached identifying human activity as the major cause of climate change.

There is an overwhelming level of scientific consensus on human-caused climate change. Over 95% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that the earth is warming and that human activity is the cause. In spite of this agreement, only about 50% the general public think that scientists have reached a consensus on human-caused climate change. Two sources of the discrepancy are the unbalanced portrayal of the situation in the media, and the Manufactured Doubt Industry.

James Lawrence Powell did a meta-study of almost 14,000 peer reviewed scientific papers written from 1991 to November 2012. His pie-chart says it all.

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Of course, there are still morons like Henry Paine of National Review who, as part of the “manufactured doubt” industry, intentionally confuse climate with weather, but when, in his inaugural address, President Obama called for America to lead the world’s response to the threat of climate change, it became clear that it is time to find an iconic image worthy of Dorothea Lang.

We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity. We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.

Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires, and crippling drought, and more powerful storms. The path towards sustainable energy sources will be long and sometimes difficult. But American cannot resist this transition. We must lead it.

I am sure there are hundreds of photographs that could serve, but, for me,  the first image that came to mind was of the Holmes family huddled in the water as the Tasmanian wildfire raged around them.

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I feel that this picture has that same emotional impact as Lange’s photograph. It depicts a family, in this case a grandmother and her grandchildren, clinging to each other- resilience in the face of adversity.

What I find most amazing is that, unlike the posed Lang photograph, this picture was taken by the children’s grandfather in real time.

Here is how the UK’s Guardian newspaper described the photo.

These stunning pictures of five young children and their grandmother huddled together under a jetty in the Tasmanian town of Dunalley were captured by their grandfather Tim Holmes. The family was forced to stay in the water for several hours as homes around them were razed to the ground. The pictures, taken on 4 January have just been released

Mendive- “Maybe it was a poor illustration”

Yesterday I predicted that “Dim Bulb” Idaho Republican Rep. Ron Mendive’s stupid remarks comparing abortion and prostitution would get national attention. Sure enough, the Associated Press picked it up

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and added Mendive’s defense,

Mendive, who was first elected to the Legislature last year, said he posed the question because he was incensed by what he believes is a double standard.
“It was just a question,” he said. “I do believe it’s a double standard.”
Prostitution is a choice “more so than an abortion would be,” he said.
“Because (in an abortion) there’s two beating hearts. And then there’s one,” Mendive said.
Mendive said he didn’t intend to trivialize human trafficking, but he still stressed that he believes prostitution is often a choice that a woman makes about what she does with her own body. Asked if he stood by his words, however, he conceded, “Maybe it was a poor illustration.”

It didn’t take long for responses like this one from Natasha Burton at Cosmopolitan,

Well, here’s your daily WTF?! moment.

At a presentation held by the American Civil Liberties Union, Idaho representative Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, asked ACLU reps if their pro-abortion stance also means that they support prostitution. You know, because those things are so much alike.

Apparently, his (flawed) reasoning behind his query was that both abortion and prostitution are choices women make in regards to their bodies. Except that, he says, in the case of abortion, there are “two beating hearts” involved, whereas in prostitution there is only one. Thank you, sir, for that helpful analysis.

This isn’t the first time that an Idaho lawmaker has seriously shoved his foot into his mouth when it comes to women’s reproductive rights. Last year, Senator Chuck Winder told the Senate: “I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.” Seriously, dude? Wow. (Winder later claimed that he was “misunderstood.”)

Honestly, what is it with these guys? And why do they keep getting elected into major positions of power?

Well, I am not sure Mendive holds a “major position of power”, but other than that she is exactly right- what is up with these guys?  They always claim to be shocked at the reaction to their outlandish statements. Part of the reason is that they live in an echo chamber of right wing wackos and religious extremists. Their idiocy is reinforced by their circle of like minded idiots.

The Republican Party’s political advisers are starting to take notice of the serial stupidity of “these guys” when it comes to discussing rape. At the strategy planning get-together of House Republicans in Williamsburg, VA this week, GOP pollster Kellyanne Conway gave some blunt advise to the Congressmen, quit talking about rape.

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — It’s way past time: House Republicans need to stop talking about rape.That’s the message GOP lawmakers got here Wednesday evening from Kellyanne Conway, a top GOP pollster. Conway dispensed the stern advice as part of a polling presentation she made alongside fellow GOP pollsters David Winston — an adviser to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) — and Dave Sackett. The comment was described by several sources in the room. Conway said rape is a “four-letter word,” and Republicans simply need to stop talking about it in their races for office.

That advice ought to apply to all women’s issues: rape, abortion, contraception, etc. Those Republican “guys” need to realize that the only politically savvy thing for them to do is to shut up.

The Episode of the Platinum Coin

We first began to hear of the $1 Trillion Platinum Coin solution to the debt ceiling earlier this month from people like Joe Weisnethal at The Business Insider. Soon there was speculation from commentators at staid, reliable sources like The EconomistThe Atlantic, and The New Yorker.   The idea was that there was an obscure law that would effectively permit the Secretary of the Treasury to bypass the debt ceiling by minting its own money. Most of the discussion was about the legality of it all. It turned out that it was, in fact, legal.

The Secretary [of the Treasury] may mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the Secretary, in the Secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.

Now, if we still lived in a world of print journalism, the Platinum Coin solution might have remained an interesting idea. Not an idea to be taken seriously, however.

Of course, in the world of instantaneous internet communication what really happened is that the Platinum Coin story went viral and all sorts of people, including Nobel Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman,  were taking it very seriously. In fact, Krugman attacked comedian Jon Stewart for not taking the idea seriously followed by Stewart attacking Krugman for attacking him….
The whole farce ran its course when the Obama Administration was forced to state officially that it rejected the $1 Trillion Platinum coin solution.

The roller coaster ride that was the “episode of the platinum coin” is instructive. Ideas are floated, commented upon, and either accepted or rejected before most of us have had a chance to digest them, let alone think deeply about them. And, who do we look to for reliable information: a Nobel Prize winning Economist, or a comedian, or any of the other “voices” available to us on-line? I did a Google search for “the trillion dollar solution” and got 88,700,00 results in .19 seconds.

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A search for “Platinum Coin Debt Ceiling” resulted in 74,700,00 hits in .25 seconds.

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What do I do with that information glut? Back in the days of the Progressive Era there were journalists who served as “muckrakers”, exposing social ills to the general public. If public outcry reached a critical mass, legislation would result. But, the process would take years. Today the outcry is practically instantaneous and policy makers are forced to rush to judgement.
Update:  A colleague sent me this:
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The Federal Reserve, several decades ago, authorized the printing a $100,000 bill with Woodrow Wilson on the face. This bill wasn’t meant for public consumption. Instead, it was used by the Federal Reserve to settle internal accounts among government agencies and its member banks. It sounds like the same idea as the Platinum coin, just a different denomination. I guess even the craziest ideas are not new.

Why We Know the Republicans Don’t Care About the Deficit

The mainstream media refuses to point out the obvious- the Republicans don’t really care about lowering the deficit. They are ideologically committed to two things, lowering taxes on the wealthy and eliminating government programs, particularly those that help those who need help the most. If they were really interested in lowering the deficit, they would tackle the most important problem facing the economy, unemployment. Because, as the chart below shows (red line=budget deficit as % of GDP; blue line=unemployment), since WWII there is a strong positive correlation between the deficit and unemployment. As unemployment goes up, so does the deficit. As employment goes up, the deficit goes down. The reasons are pretty obvious. To a large extent, the deficit is a function of government’s inability to collect tax revenue from people without jobs. If you put people back to work, the government gets more revenue and the deficit lowers. Government spending that helps people survive while unemployed, helps them train for new jobs, and provides jobs through stimulus spending, shrinks the deficit. As the chart makes clear, since Obama became President in 2008, unemployment has fallen and the deficit has shrunk.

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So, although Obama’s policies have led to a slow lowering of unemployment and of the deficit, Republicans continue to argue that simply cutting government spending is guaranteed to lower the deficit and improve the economy. Again, there is plenty of empirical evidence that they are wrong. Consider the chart below. Subsequent to the 2008 crisis, David Cameron and the Conservatives have implemented an austerity program in the UK similar to what the Republicans advocate. As a result, they are in the midst of a double-dip recession while the Obama economy has been growing steadily.

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We are going to hear a good deal of evidence-free ideology from Republicans over the next few months. It would be nice if the media would counter with some fact-based reporting.