The Republican Debate Was Alternately Horrifying and Boring

All right, fine. This guy won. Are you happy?

All right, fine. This guy won. Are you happy?

I stand by my prediction from this morning: tonight’s Republican debate was all about fear. Candidates proposed war with just about every country we’re currently not friendly with, including Russia. They implied that terrorists and criminals were behind every rock and around every corner, ready to leap out and take everything we hold dear. They accused all refugees and Muslims and immigrants of being criminals or murderers or worse. It was a horrifying display.

Even stranger, tonight’s debate was a bizarre blend of deadly dull and horrifying—there was a point when the candidates were jostling over who would be most eager to kill innocent children that I felt an alarming blend of boredom and shock that I’ve never quite felt before. I guess you can get used to anything.

So if you’re still keeping track: Trump and Cruz probably “won” the debate, insofar as they projected their message of fear and hatred as clearly and as relentlessly as possible. Marco Rubio sweat it a little bit; he’s not going to lose his favored son status with the establishment, but a few Rubio fans might have walked away from the debate on shaky feet. Jeb Bush had the best debate of his campaign, but it won’t matter. His stammering closing statement was still ugly, and he didn’t make a case for why anyone should pass Rubio over for him. Christie was strong enough to pick up a point or two in New Hampshire. Rand Paul was about as good as he’s ever been, but it won’t help him at all, either. Kasich, Carson, and Fiorina all failed to justify their continued existence on the debate stage.

But really none of that matters. What matters is that the candidates didn’t discuss the economy at all. They barely mentioned climate change, or guns. They talked about Americans feeling unsafe, but they didn’t talk about any shooting besides San Bernardino. After a while, it turned into one long beige blur, intermittently anchored by a horrifying statement or two.

There’s only one more of these debates before the Iowa caucuses. This is a relief. I don’t know how much more of this acrid bile I can swallow before my insides get hollowed out.

The Winner of Tonight’s Republican Debate Will Be…

DTC-ODTRH-GD-2You’ll probably scroll past a lot of previews for tonight’s Republican presidential debate on Facebook and Twitter today. They’ll theorize about how many candidates will try to attack Ted Cruz (many of them) and who will “win” (probably Rubio) and who will “lose” (probably Paul and Bush) the debate. This is fine. I like to speculate about presidential debates as much as the next person—probably more.

But the thing is, we’ve long since passed the point where this kind of speculation was useful. There have been four Republican debates so far, and they’ve all roughly followed the same pattern: Trump starts with a bang and disappears for the middle part of the debate after humiliating one or two of his opponents. Rubio follows his script and is praised for it. A few of the fringe candidates get to say a thing or two. Jeb Bush flails around and is visibly uncomfortable. Maybe Cruz does a little better or a little worse, depending on the day. This pattern is probably not going to change on any significant level between the last four debates and now.

But here’s what has changed. In the month since the last debate, we have seen the Paris and San Bernardino terror attacks. We’ve seen that Republicans are interested in changing the conversation from economics to terror, because they believe they have a better shot at winning that way. Donald Trump has led the field on a ridiculous escalation of anti-Muslim statements that eventually led to a proposed unconstitutional (and unenforceable) ban on all Muslim travel into the US. In the time since the last debate, Trump has also proposed an automatic death penalty for all convicted killers of police officers.

Since we’ve already established that the Republican presidential field is taking its orders from Trump, and since this debate is hosted by Wolf Blitzer, who is one of the least capable TV news hosts in the business, this means only one thing: the big winner at tonight’s Republican debate will be fear. Out-and-out fear mongering will rule the day. I expect to hear ludicrous statements about terrorism, about crime, and about the left taking guns away from normal hard-working Americans. Tonight’s debate should be a free-for-all when it comes to amping up the panic. Trump will take the lead, probably when he’s asked about his proposal to ban Muslim travel to the US, but everyone will follow suit. They’ll depict the Middle East as the staging ground for our impending armageddon. They’ll claim that the world is two seconds away from ending and that only they can save us.

This is the oldest trick in the Republican playbook. Barry Glassner’s excellent book The Culture of Fear uncovered all the ways politicians and the media conspire to terrify the populace, because frightened Americans are easily controlled Americans. In economic matters, that kind of fear-mongering is most commonly phrased as “if you raise taxes on the rich, you’ll lose your job.” But when it comes to international relations, the formula is even simpler: “if you elect a Democrat, we’re all going to die.” Expect to hear a lot of that talk tonight.

We’ll be live-tweeting the Republican debates tonight on our Twitter feed. Hopefully, we’ll be able to identify the fear-mongering for what it is. The best antidote for this kind of scary talk is a one-two punch of identifying it for what it is and passing along information that proves it wrong.

Daily Clips: December 15th, 2015

American kids are graduating from high school at record rates: 

The U.S. high school graduation rate reached another record high in the 2013-14 school year, with teens graduating at 82 percent, the U.S. Department of Education announced Tuesday.

Further, the achievement gap in graduation rates between black and white students and white and Hispanic students continues to narrow.

Debates help fuel strong interest in 2016 campaign: So says Pew Research, noting how “74% of Americans say they have given a lot or some thought to the candidates, higher than the shares saying this at comparable points in the past two presidential campaigns.”

For comparison, “in December 2007 – the most recent election in which there were contested nominations in both parties – just 43% reported watching any of the debates.”

Justice Ginsburg’s ominous warning about creeping corporate power: I must admit that before I read this article, I had never heard of DIRECTV v Imburgia. This Supreme Court case was the first divided decision of the current SCOTUS term.

On the surface, not very much is at stake in DIRECTV. The company allegedly charged early termination fees that violate California law. If the plaintiffs win, they get their fees back. So this is hardly a case where some innocent’s life or livelihood is at stake.

However, “if you’re a business looking for new ways to squeeze money out of your consumers without having to worry about whether doing so is illegal, than you had a very good day in the Supreme Court on Monday.”

Silence from Republicans on the Paris agreement: Sorry Marco Rubio et al, you’re going to have a hard time convincing the American people that you are the “party of the future” when you still doubt man-made climate change.

These outdated opinions on climate also do not sit well with the American public. According to the New York Times’ Editorial Board, “about two-thirds of Americans want the United States to join an international pact to curb the growth of greenhouse gas emissions.”

I’ll be keeping my eye on this issue at the fifth GOP debate tonight. My guess? CNN barely spends any time on the subject and when it is brought up, candidates refer to the agreement as “job killing.” Have the GOP’s tactics really become this one dimensional/predictable? I fear so.

Dumbest headline of the day:

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Remember when 2016 was supposed to be about the economy?

The American economy, while certainly not perfect, is at least performing better than most expected. (Remember when Mitt Romney promised to bring unemployment down to 6 percent by 2016?)

In fact, the very existence of our economy also flies in the face of Republican forecasts about Obama’s tyrannical rule of America. Here’s a brief refresher of what the GOP predicted a couple of years ago:

  • Obamacare will “destroy our economy…It’s going to push us into a total economic collapse.”
  • The 2009 stimulus bill is “affirmatively job killing” and “about to get worse.”
  • The US is about to go through “the Great Depression times 100.”

Clearly, none of those statements were 1) true and 2) ever came to transpire. So, it should come as a surprise to no one that the GOP has pivoted from the economy as the “central issue” of the 2016 election and now gone full terrorism-mode. Donald Trump and his dire rhetoric has dragged his competition down to his level (or the base’s level). Therefore, Republican candidates have been forced to talk non-stop about the threat of terrorism, in order to appear “presidential.” As a result, economic discussions have largely been thrown to the wayside.

Unfortunately, the GOP’s incessant chatter on the subject of terrorism has greatly impacted the American psyche. According to a recent Gallup survey, Americans now see terrorism as the number one problem facing the country. As Politico notes:

The share of Americans worried about terrorism has not been this high since the mid-2000s, when 19 percent said it was the most important issue after the 2004 Madrid train bombings and 17 percent in the wake of the 2005 London bus and subway bombings.

Notably, the survey showed that the economy’s importance in the minds of Americans has fallen to an eight year low.

9 percent of Americans named the economy in general as the most pressing issue facing the country, while 21 percent mentioned some aspect related to the economy, the lowest share for those issues since 2007.

This survey goes to show that Republicans have so far been successful in diverting our attention away from the economy. Will this last? I doubt it. Don’t be surprised when Hillary Clinton, like her husband, reminds the American people that 2016 is all about the economy, stupid.

Today, the City Council Is Considering a Bill That Would Let Rideshare Drivers Unionize

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Corey Fedde at the Christian Science Monitor says:

Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien has proposed a bill to help Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize in Seattle. The proposed bill would provide a route to collective bargaining and could have dramatic impact on the ride-service and taxi industries. If passed, Seattle would be the first city in the nation to legally mandate the right to unionize for drivers using ride share web applications.

The bill is being discussed today in Council chambers. This is a big deal. Mike Isaac, Nick Wingfield, and Noam Scheiber explain why it’s important in the New York Times. They open their story with a driver named Don Creery who invested in a new car because his work for Uber and Lyft was paying so well. Of course, things went awry:

Since then, Uber and Lyft have cut the rates they charge passengers for rides and ended the incentives used to recruit drivers. Mr. Creery said he now has to drive 10 to 12 hours a day to make the amount of money he once did working six to eight hours.

It’s because of experiences like Creery’s that the bill is being disussed. Civic Skunkworks co-founder Nick Hanauer was quoted in the same New York Times article, calling the bid to unionize a “step in the right direction in terms of trying to bring some sanity and balance to these new business models.”

Of course, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know that Hanauer and SEIU 775NW president David Rolf also proposed another solution for the problem of the sharing economy. It’s called a Shared Security System, and it would ensure that workers in the sharing economy would enjoy the same benefits and pay as workers in more traditional circumstances. This isn’t a punitive measure for businesses in the sharing economy, it’s a way to resolve problems of staffing in an equitable manner, leveling the playing field for all employers so that sharing economy businesses can quit racing to the bottom and really get down to the business of innovation.

But Hanauer is right; this move to permit unionization is an excellent first step down the path to responsible employment in the sharing economy. All eyes are on the council today—here’s hoping they make the right choice.

Daily Clips: December 14th, 2015

Congress could renew solar & wind tax credits: The renewable energy sector may be getting a wonderful present this holiday season. Congressional Democrats may be open to lifting the US crude oil export ban in exchange for long-term extensions of the wind and solar tax credits. These tax credits are set to expire at the end of 2016 and so renewing them would provide a greater sense of stability to the renewable energy sector.

Environmentalists will most likely not celebrate this development, however this agreement could “actually be a huge boost to the renewable industry in 2017 and beyond, and thus actually help continue accelerating the switch to renewables long term.

Hillary Clinton is whitewashing the financial catastrophe: So says William Greider at The Nation, who was not impressed by Clinton’s recent op-ed about “reining in Wall Street.”

Clinton’s brisk recital of plausible reform ideas might convince wishful thinkers who are not familiar with the complexities of banking. But informed skeptics, myself included, see a disturbing message in her argument that ought to alarm innocent supporters.

Those are some strong words. Greider believes Clinton’s op-ed also redefined the financial crisis of 2008 and deflected “the blame from Wall Street’s most powerful institutions, like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, and instead fingers less celebrated players that failed.” He contends that she did this in order to reassure her allies on Wall Street that “she will not come after them.”

Americans see terrorism as the number one issue: Remember when the 2016 election was going to be about the economy? Yeah, those were the days. Turns out, you can’t run a very effective campaign when oil is under $40 a barrel and unemployment is at 5%.

On Sandy Hook anniversary, US activists call for gun restrictions: Today marks the third anniversary of the Sandy Hook massacre, and yet our gun laws still remain stubbornly weak and feckless. What an exceptional country we are.

You Should Be a Candidate

I was a skeptic about Gawker’s recent refocus on politics, but I’ve enjoyed what they’ve done so far. This piece, by Tom Scocca, is the best political piece that I’ve read there:

You can run for office, too. Yes, you. Why not? Why worry about how to send a message as a passive consumer of politics, when you can be an active participant? Democracy isn’t people arguing about how best to vote between foreordained options. Democracy is people running for office. You are a person.

Scocca’s mainly agitating for people to run for Congress, and primarily in places where candidates are uncontested, but it’s true on every level. Politics works better when more people are involved. The conservative side of the spectrum enjoys a full complement of potential candidates, from the humblest of local posts to the highest office in the land. Until we see more progressive volunteers, we’re not going to get the kind of progressive candidates that we need.

Speaking of running for office, the newest episode of former Mayor Mike McGinn’s podcast, You, Me, Us, Now features an interview with three first-time city council candidates who lost their races. Michael Maddux, Tammy Morales, and Jon Grant discuss the various problems they encountered as they tried to face off against better-funded candidates. It’s an interesting conversation, and it also makes clear the fact that none of these candidates are polished, perfect robots who come from some political factory somewhere. They’re people, same as you and me, and they care enough about the way things are going to take a stand. That’s all it takes. As these candidates proved, you don’t have to win to cause change——sometimes getting involved is all it takes to help alter the conversation.

Daily Clips: December 11th, 2015

I’ll never get sick of watching Colbert and Stewart together. Long live the dynamic duo.

A brokered convention? Here’s an interesting discussion between FiveThirtyEight’s team on the likelihood of the GOP turning to a brokered convention (if you are unsure what that means, click on the link). Nate Silver puts the odds of such a convention at 10%, while their senior political writer, Harry Enten, says “the Eagles had only a 12 percent shot to beat the Patriots last week, according to our Elo ratings. I put a contested convention on about the same plane as that.”

Jeb!’s tax plan loses trillions and worsens inequality: Jared Bernstein looks at the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Jeb Bush’s proposed tax cuts, pointing out that “the bad stuff in the plan far outweighs the good.”

The Bush plan:

  • Lowers tax rates on both individuals and businesses (on both earnings and investment income)
  • Repeals the estate tax
  • Increases the Earned Income Tax Credit
  • The bulk of the tax cuts go to the wealthy (surprise): 39 percent to the 1 percent, 10 percent to the middle fifth, and 2 percent to the bottom fifth. In other words, regressive.

US consumer spending gauge rises strongly: It’s the most wonderful time of the year…According to Reuters, “retail sales excluding automobiles, gasoline, building materials and food services increased 0.6 percent after gaining 0.2 percent in October.”

“It dismisses any concerns of a potential slump in household spending after a couple of weaker months in August and September,” said Steve Murphy, U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.