1.15.2016 | The GOP's topsy-turvy economics

Stop me if you've heard these before: "taxes are too high" and "wages are too high." Repeat a lie often enough, and it becomes the truth.

Republicans have a point on one front—maybe: corporate taxes are too high, globally speaking, at least in terms of the fixed number. But corporate tax collections are at historic lows, and profit margins aren't suffering. Corporations are paying lower taxes than ever on the money that is paid to them inside the United States. Libertarians and liberals alike find common agreement that this kind of "corporate welfare" is harmful to free markets.

We didn't hear this at Thursday's Republican debates, because except for maybe Rand Paul (who wasn't invited on the main stage this time around), the GOP isn't a party that is interested in practicing free market capitalism. They pay lip service to it, but the favors to their corporate patrons they espouse stand in the way of offering Americans access to a truly free, vibrant, competitive market that delivers consumers the benefits that capitalism can bring when it's left unrestrained by factors that limit new market entrants.

Another topic from the last #GOPdebate before this one was the minimum wage. "Too high," Donald Trump said, a comment he walked back later. But you don't hear Republicans out on the campaign trail stumping for a rise in the minimum wage either, and no candidate on stage supported one.

These statistics speak to a larger feeling in the economy: that it's stopped working for ordinary people. You'll hear Republicans and Democrats both make this claim. One party would like to pretend this trend began in 2009. It's not just wages, either—incomes began falling in 2000, and haven't fully recovered since.

Another thing you'll hear about is the national debt—because of it, "we can't afford" this or that. Balderdash. There's plenty of money circulating through the economy in one of the world's wealthiest nations. The problem, again, is tax collections, a problem President Obama referenced in Tuesday's State of the Union (#sotu).

If you look at what's actually driving the national debt, it's not "out-of-control spending," which you'll hear Republicans harp on again and again. Government spending under Obama actually grew at its slowest rate since the Eisenhower administration. And the biggest driver of debt is the Bush tax cuts—that's right, taxes are too low.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows us what #fiscal trends are driving the growing national debt and shrinking #deficits, issues that will figure prominently in #election2016

Posted by Political Window on Friday, January 15, 2016

If you notice, our media doesn't report on these topics. Possible reasons range from the fact that they're dry and boring, to the fact that the same corporations that engage in these tax-dodging methods also own the media (6 companies control information in this country, down from 50 in the 1980s).

If America's ready to elect a socialist president, maybe it's time to speak openly about these pressing issues facing our country. As Hillary Clinton put it, we must save capitalism from itself.


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12.19.2015 | The militia is broken

It's never the right time to talk about gun control, so why not today? That was my thought when I started promoting #gunsense on Twitter following the #SanBernardino mass shooting (it's been called a terrorist attack, but let's be honest about what it really is at its most basic level). It sparked an incredible debate unlike any issue I've engaged on publicly before. I learned a lot, and got some insight into America's gun culture: why it is the way it is, and why the debate is so intractable.

One of the biggest takeaways was learning that, under current law, all Americans are part of the militia. U.S. Code (10 USC 311) states that there are two parts to our militia: organized (our military), and unorganized (the public, consisting of all able-bodied Americans). #Gunners, as I call them, kept telling me their right to bear arms was inviolable for this reason and so could not be encroached on for any reason. At first I believed them. But there are two parts to the Second Amendment's single sentence, and one half of it refers to a "well-regulated militia." I just couldn't believe that our Founders would have enshrined such a dangerous inviolable right in our Constitution at the expense of public order and safety.

Ben Franklin spoke of trading essential liberty for temporary safety. As it strikes me, limiting magazine sizes and banning weapons that make it easier for novices to kill large numbers of people is trading a nonessential liberty for permanent safety—in state after state, and country after country, after gun laws are passed, violent gun deaths go down. This is mostly due to suicides—but mass shootings, as in Australia's experience, become much rarer and less deadly too. On the other side of the equation, Switzerland—which requires gun ownership for national security reasons—has a similar mass shooting problem and is an outlier among major countries for gun deaths and gun homicides.

As I dove deeper into the Constitution, I discovered that Congress does indeed have authority over the militia. I was told that only the states do, but once again #gunners were reading only one half of the idea. The Founders wisely divided militia power between the states, the people, and the federal government. This was meant to prevent one from having too much power over the other—and it's why we will often hear #gunners speak openly of insurrection and treason. But in this clause (A1 §8 c16), Congress was clearly given authority over all the militia, not just the portion under control of the states. It's right there in the first part of the sentence.

Treason was never a Second Amendment right. George Washington himself used the national guard to put down two rebellions (the Whiskey Rebellion and Shays's Rebellion). And putting down rebellions is an enumerated power of Congress. Also an enumerated power: providing for the militia's discipline. This is the key phrase that puts the militia under Congress' control, and refers to the well-regulated militia mentioned in the Second Amendment. Unlike the other rights in the Bill of Rights, this one was never meant to be beyond the reach of law.

Some of the debate gets hung up on semantics—#gunners say "discipline" means only training, and that "regulated" in the 18th century only meant "properly working." But even under those narrow defintions (one of which ignores the Latin root of regulate—regulare, "to rule"), a properly working militia must be willing to submit to Congress's rules for participating in the militia. In my view (and the Supreme Court's), that means that we can impose rules on obtaining weapons, and determine which weapons are in "common use" (a phrase that appears in the Heller decision), ensuring that the most dangerous ones are only in the hands of trained professionals. That training can be for formal military service, or for simply owning a gun like Japan does.

Let's be clear: this is not the total disarmament that #gunners fear and is unconstitutional besides. The hashtag is called #gunsense rather than gun control because the volume of the debate often obscures any chance for progress on #gunlaws at all. The Second Amendment was never a prescription for lawlessness (Georgia's restatement of the right later on in their state constitution made that explicitly clear: "the General Assembly shall have power to prescribe the manner in which arms may be borne")—and no right is absolute besides.

My hope is that we can move past some of these sad divisions and come together around some common-sense requirements that limit—but not eliminate—access to guns in the interest of public safety. And it is within our power, as other nations have demonstrated (and even states within our union), to reduce #gundeaths and prevent the worst tragedies from being so deadly.

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10.31.2015 | The GOP, pacifiers, and security blankets

I don't blog very often these days because the 140-character limit of Twitter means limited attention spans, and who cares what some random guy has to say on the Internet anyway? But I'm coming out of semi-retirement to point out that this toxic environment of anti-intellectualism may finally be taking its toll on our political process, and it makes me worry about the future of our country for the first time in the better part of a decade.

Remember when we mocked Sarah Palin for dodging a "gotcha" question? It was either that or Tina Fey's impression ("I can see Russia from my house!") that sank her in the polls, but now we have the leader of a national party invoking "gotcha questions" unironically to punish a media corporation, not just a news division, for having reporters with the audacity to challenge candidates on their weak points, and to do so with an air of confidence rather than ingratiation ("snarky and condescending," GOP chairman Priebus whined).

Stephen Colbert made a point on his show that the debate was conducted "without a shred of respect." OK? So? The press's responsibility is to the voters, not the candidates. They're not president yet. We're seeing whether they should be. You can't do that if you coddle the candidates, especially when they are engaging in bombastic and bullying rhetoric on the campaign trail. The biggest bullies are often the first to scream loudest about how they are the victims, it seems. Part of journalism's historic duty is to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

The fact is, this is part of the presidential vetting process. Maybe we forgot what an oppositional press looks like, if we ever had one. Treating presidents with respect and deference to begin with is probably a bad idea to begin with—we're not a monarchy—but to be frank and direct when questioning people who are running for president is absolutely essential to an open democracy and having informed voters go to the polls to determine our future.

This is bigger than any one party or ideology. This is about the media's role in fomenting and shaping the course of discussion to help determine where candidates, and indeed political parties, are headed: toward the truth or away from it. By piercing the GOP's ideological bubble, CNBC debate moderators took a lot of undeserved flak and did a service to our country. My fear is that future debate moderators will be cowed into silence, afraid of offending candidates on stage and sticking to safe topics and campaign talking points that serve no one—we've been here before, and the results were not pretty.

By threatening to withhold its debate from NBC News, a division that had nothing to do with the CNBC debate, the GOP is promoting a culture of fear in media organizations, not respect. Excluding networks to extract more favorable coverage is behavior more consistent with dictatorial regimes than an open form of government. This smacks of a deliberate attempt to muzzle NBC, and other networks may follow. I am saddened to see few Americans stand up to this kind of media intimidation. We'll see how the future debates go. I'm not terribly hopeful.

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3.15.2015 | Information density

Just a shoutout for a concept that seems to be overlooked these days as modern designs charge ahead with white space, large input fields, and full-screen media. Between that and retina displays it seems we are seeing less than ever more clearly.

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