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A Property Tax Primer (or Why Prop 1 Opponents Don’t Know What They’re Saying When They Say Property Taxes Are Too High)

One of the most frustrating things about covering property tax measures like Seattle’s Proposition 1 is that most people don’t understand the way property taxes work.

From a budget writer’s perspective, the property tax is the best tax ever, because if done correctly, it almost always brings in exactly the amount of money projected. That’s because, unlike the stupid, stupid sales tax, budget writers don’t actually set a rate and just cross their fingers hoping that the money comes in; they request a specific dollar value—for example, about $95 million a year over nine years for Proposition 1’s “Let’s Move Seattle” transportation levy—and then the county assessor adjusts the property tax rate annually based on current assessed value (subject to statutory limits) in order to generate the requested revenue. If property values rise from year to year, the rate goes down; if property values fall as they did when the real estate bubble went pop, the rate goes up. But if passed, Prop 1 is almost guaranteed to generate that $95 million a year.

Over the long run, nominal property values will almost certainly rise. So while the voters guide projects a tax rate of $0.62 per $1,000 of assessed value in year one, even a relatively modest 5 percent average annual rise in home values would leave the rate at about $0.39 per $1,000 of assessed value by year nine.

But unfortunately for city budget writers, as reliable as the property tax is, it is subject to two very important limitations. The first is known as the “statutory dollar rate limit”: the City of Seattle’s property tax authority is limited to $3.60 per $1,000 of assessed value. That is the maximum theoretical rate the city can levy without voter approval. But thanks to the second limit, known as I-747’s “101 percent limit” (or more accurately: “Tim Eyman’s Revenge”), the city’s actual regular levy authority falls far short of the statutory dollar rate limit.

Under the growth limit factor first enacted in the 1970s, and then punitively reduced to 101 percent under Eyman’s I-747 (and later reinstated by a cowardly legislature after the state supreme court tossed out the initiative), the dollar value of property taxes collected may not exceed 101 percent of the taxes collected in the highest of the three most recent years, plus an allowance for net increased property value in the district resulting from new construction.

Seattle property tax rates

Don’t know about you, but my property taxes aren’t so bad.

I know—that’s very complicated. But suffice it to say that thanks to the 101 percent limit, revenues generated from Seattle’s regular levy generally don’t even keep pace with inflation, let alone rising property values. As a result, the actual maximum regular levy rate available to the city council has been steadily falling as I-747’s 101 percent limit has ratcheted down revenue growth.

Fortunately, state law does allow for “lid lifts,”* enabling the city to raise revenues in excess of the 101 percent limit, but within the $3.60 statutory cap, subject to voter approval. That’s what Prop 1 is—a lid lift—as was the expiring “Bridging the Gap” it replaces. When you add up Seattle’s regular levy together with its various lid lifts, Seattle is currently levying a combined rate of just over $2.62 per $1,000 of assessed value. Add on Prop 1’s proposed $0.62 per $1,000 and our combined rate would still come in below the $3.29 per $1,000 we paid as recently as 2013! And our current combined rate of $9.27—city, county, schools, state, everything—is our lowest combined rate in six years.

Compared to the rest of the nation, that’s pretty damn low, ranking Seattle’s effective rate at 38th out the 51 largest cities in each state and the District of Columbia. (Also, we don’t have an income tax. So I suppose yay for our low taxes, if you’re into that sort of thing.)

And it’s not just our property tax rate that’s held relatively flat. According to data compiled by the Seattle Times, the property tax bill on a median Seattle home climbed from $3,214 in 2005 to $4,022 last year—an increase of $808, or 25.1 percent. But inflation increased almost 22 percent over the same period, resulting in a negligible increase of only about a hundred bucks in real dollars.

How is this possible? How could Seattle’s property tax hold steady in both rate and real dollars even in the face of skyrocketing home values and a seemingly endless parade of voter-approved levies?

Well, one reason this sounds so counterintuitive is that while everybody makes a big deal every time we put a new levy on the ballot, nobody sends you as much as postcard when these levies ultimately expire—and voter-approved lid lifts (typically 6 to 9 years) are expiring all the time! For example, sure, “Let’s Move Seattle” would add an additional $275 a year to the property tax bill of the median Seattle homeowner, but only after “Bridging the Gap’s” $130 a year levy expires. That’s not nothing. But it’s not really a $275 increase.

Second—and this is a concept that many folks find difficult to wrap their minds around—your property tax bill doesn’t necessarily rise or fall with your home value. Rather, your property tax bill mostly rises or falls when your home value rises or falls relative to median value. Again, this is the way property taxes work: we levy a dollar amount, not a set rate. Prop 1 is asking for $95 million a year. If Seattle home prices rise 10 percent, Prop 1 still only raises $95 million—we’ll all still collectively pay the same amount, just at a lower rate. However, if your home’s value rises faster than median, while my home’s value rises slower, your share of that $95 million will go up while mine goes down.

Again, I know, it’s all very complicated. But the point is, if you oppose Prop 1’s $930 million “Let’s Move Seattle” transportation levy because you think it’s filled with pork (or filled with the wrong pork), well, I suppose there may be coherent arguments to make against the measure. But if you oppose Prop 1 because we’re “piling one pricey property tax levy on top of another,” then you’re not being honest either to yourself or to your readers.

 


* There is also the option of rarely-used voter-approved “excess levies,” which get around the statutory cap entirely, but since they are limited to 1 year, they’re not really practical for dealing with anything but an emergency.

Our economy needs more people like Ahmed

ahmed

Ahmed arrested for being inventive while Muslim

By now you’ve probably read the story of Ahmed Mohamed, the Muslim teen who was arrested in the town of Irving, Texas for bringing a homemade clock to his school. That’s right: he had the curiosity, skill, creativity, and ambition to build something and he was rewarded by being marched out of school in handcuffs. Ahmed Mohamed represents everything that is right with America; his arrest represents everything that is wrong.

Here’s the 21st century reality: inclusion strengthens our country, our institutions, and our economy. In our modern technological economy, growth and prosperity are created through a virtuous cycle between innovation and demand. Innovation is the process by which we solve all human problems, and thus raise living standards. Consumer demand is the mechanism through which markets distribute and incentivize innovation. And it is economic inclusion—the full, robust participation of as many people as possible—that drives both innovation and demand.

Innovation is an evolutionary process and, just like in the biological world, diversity is the key to evolution. The more cognitive diversity we have—the more people simultaneously approaching the same problem from as many different backgrounds and perspectives as possible—the greater the rate of innovation. It’s not how hard you try; it’s how many different ways you try to solve a problem that leads to success. Innovation is driven by differences, not sameness.

The evidence is clear: diversity does not hinder growth—it supercharges it. That has always been America’s competitive advantage: we have the most diverse workforce in the world, and for all our problems, we do a better job of integrating diversity than anyone else. Diversity is America’s most valuable resource; it is what makes us the most innovative nation on Earth.

The trouble is that there are places in America that continue to fight to exclude people rather than include them. Put another way: there are places in America that arrest Ahmed for being a curious amateur engineer, rather than applaud him. And towns like Irving that exclude citizens on the basis of race and religion and fear are putting us is in danger of falling into an economic death spiral. Make it clear that people like Ahmed aren’t welcome, and they will flee, taking with them people and companies that value diversity. Left behind will be an increasingly homogenized, narrow, and less competitive population, electing the same kind of leaders who support the same kind of laws that chase even more smart people away, creating a “brain-drain” death spiral that degrades the ability of that place to compete, innovate, and solve problems. If you punish curious people for creating things, they’re not going to stop creating things; they’re going to go create things someplace else: a place that welcomes, rewards, and celebrates the qualities that make them unique.

The good news: America is a big place. There are lots of cities and states here that are fighting to include people rather than exclude them, and those places are kicking the daylights out of exclusionary places. Maybe after Ahmed finishes up his visits to the White House and the Facebook campus, he’ll consider moving to Seattle or San Francisco or New York City or any of the countless places in America that reward inventors and innovators. Our economy needs more people like Ahmed.

 

Sorry, but Better Overtime Standards Will Not Result in the End of the World

How many hours have these medical professionals worked?

How many hours have these medical professionals worked?

Yesterday afternoon, NPR ran a report on the Department of Labor’s proposed revised overtime rules. The piece dwells for far too long on employer interests and spends not nearly enough time thinking about the benefits for workers.

The story opens with an interview with Vicki Shabo, the vice president of the National Partnership for Women and Families. Shabo defends the overtime rules, highlighting the two probable outcomes of raising the overtime threshold for employees making $23,660 a year to $50,440. “Either people will get an increase in their wages and will be paid for the overtime hours that they’re working,” Shabo says, “or they won’t be forced to work overtime hours without pay anymore.” Yup! That’s the general idea.

But Shabo’s is the only positive voice to be found in the piece. After that, it’s all human resource managers speaking on behalf of business interests. We’re not against business here at Civic Skunk Works—hell, our co-founder is a wealthy venture capitalist—but the thing to remember about business is that business always advocates for fewer expenses, usually by threatening workers with unemployment and doom. They always explain that they’d love to pay their workers what they deserve, but to do so would destroy their livelihoods, thereby leaving everyone unemployed. The sky is always falling when it comes time to pay employees their fair share.

This Chicken Little tactic dates back at least to the adoption of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938, which for the first time instituted national standards for overtime and the minimum wage. At the time, Georgia Representative Edward Cox warned that the adoption of overtime would “destroy small industry” and beckon “the destruction of our whole constitutional system and the setting up of a red-labor communistic despotism upon the ruins of our Christian civilization.” A representative for the National Association of Manufacturers warned that fair treatment of workers would lead the US in “the direction of communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.” And representative Arthur Phillip Lamneck said the regulations set forth by the Fair Labor Standards Act would “create chaos in business never yet known to us,” because it “is utterly impractical and in operation would be much more destructive than constructive to the very purposes which it is designed to serve.”

Well, that sure is hyperbolic, isn’t it? Surely, nobody is still using this kind of antiquated fear-mongering anymore, right? Let’s look at the arguments set forth in the NPR report.

Nancy McKeague is head of HR at the Michigan Health and Hospital Association, which we are informed is a non-profit that “employs 107 people, more than half of whom are currently salaried, and some of whom put in extra hours, especially during emergencies.” When it comes to overtime, McKeague warns that “It only takes one bus accident, or one fire or something like the Ebola crisis.” To what, exactly? It’s unclear! But the menace sure does come across, doesn’t it? You thought Rep. Cox’s threats of “communistic despotism” were bad? McKeague seems to be implying that if more employees earn overtime, Ebola might just kill us all. (Additionally, McKeague’s claims are ridiculous on their face; the MHHA represents community hospitals in Michigan, it’s not a community hospital; it’s unclear exactly why they need to work overtime during emergencies besides serving in a PR role. Her employees are presumably not emergency responders themselves.)

McKeague further complains that the revised overtime “rules will also require her to review tasks associated with every job to see whether the position qualifies for overtime.” But isn’t that just part of the job of being an HR manager? Presumably, McKeague already reviews the tasks of each employee to see whether they qualify for overtime, because that has been the law since 1938. And while it’s true that with more employees qualifying for overtime, McKeague will have to “spend more administrative time on things like clocking employees in and out,” again, that’s her job. As an FLSA-exempt manager, if she’s unwilling to put in additional overtime for free, perhaps she should hire an assistant?

The report moves on to Cecilia Boudreaux, a “human resources director for the Regina Coeli Child Development Center, a Head Start program in Robert, LA.” Boudreaux says “26 of her 35 salaried employees would qualify for overtime pay,” which means “she’d have to furlough employees. Or convert some salaried positions to hourly, then cut the hourly rate, which she dreads doing.” This is the same prophecy of doom that’s been promised since 1938: if businesses are required to pay their employees for time worked, business will fail and workers will be unemployed. But then if Boudreaux were to lay off or cut hours for all her employees, who will do the work? It’s not as though Americans are going to stop needing child care; we’re still breeding with alarming regularity. The demand is still here, and someone will have to provide it.

And Boudreaux’s argument suffers from several gaping holes. First of all, Boudreaux could just hire part-time workers to handle the excess workload. Her Center is not going to be subject to these rules overnight; there’ll be plenty of time for them to prepare and reallocate resources to ensure that all the work is covered. Secondly, the Department of Labor’s list of overtime-exempt employees [PDF] seems to include Head Start teachers. According to the most recent DoL papers, the Fair Labor Standard Act overtime rules state that “Teachers are exempt if their primary duty is teaching, tutoring, instructing or lecturing in the activity of imparting knowledge, and if they are employed and engaged in this activity as a teacher in an educational establishment.” This includes Head Start, which is categorized under the FLSA as a pre-school.

The last source for the NPR report is Tony Murray, a—yep, you guessed it—HR director for Diamond B Construction in Louisiana. Murray says the proposed rule change would push workers back from salary to hourly, which would hurt their “flexibility…including the ability to go to soccer tournaments or work late to make up for doctor’s appointments.” Murray argues that employees who would be eligible for overtime under the increase are millennials, and that’s a problem because “Millennials take into account more than anything workplace flexibility.”

Sure, millennials are super-trendy right now but this is maybe the most asinine argument in the whole piece, save McKeague’s absurd Ebola threat. There is nothing in the new overtime rules that would remove flexibility for employees. It would simply require employers to pay time and a half for time worked over forty hours. The only way schedules at Diamond B Construction would become more rigid, denying employees from going to soccer tournaments or doctor appointments, would be if Diamond B enacted stricter scheduling rules. There’s nothing in the proposed regulations that would force employees to clock in for eight straight hours a day, under penalty of death or unemployment or falling sky or anything along those lines.

I’m not mad at NPR for running such a lopsided story, just a little disappointed. Rather than talking to three self-interested HR professionals (who really are spokespeople for employers), why not stick to one and then interview more workers, or someone from the Department of Labor? You have to expect business will try to protect its interests by any means necessary—because it always does—up to and including ludicrous threats of Nazism or an Ebola epidemic. But we don’t have to expect the public to fall for these threats every time.

Omigod, Omigod! An Automated Restaurant! The End Is Nigh!

Is Eatsa really the "restaurant of the future," or just a high-tech throwback to the automat of the past?

Is Eatsa really the “restaurant of the future,” or just a high-tech throwback to the automat of the past?

Okay, I’m a little late on this post as I’ve been deeply immersed in something else, but I just couldn’t let slip by this credulous piece in the New York Times touting the jobless “Restaurant of the Future“:

The restaurant, Eatsa, the first outlet in a company with national ambitions, is almost fully automated. There are no waiters or even an order taker behind a counter. There is no counter. There are unseen people helping to prepare the food, but there are plans to fully automate that process, too, if it can be done less expensively than employing people.

For optimists, it’s a way to make restaurant-going more efficient and less expensive. For pessimists, it’s the latest example of how machines are stealing people’s jobs. Either way, it’s like heaven for misanthropes, or those who are in too much of a hurry to chat with a server. … It might be a harbinger of a future in which eating out no longer involves waiters.

Oh please.

Microwave quinoaFirst of all, I already have a glass-faced cubby that serves me hot food when I tap on it. It’s called a “microwave oven.” So if I want to wolf down something fast, cheap, and machine-made, I can simply pop a frozen entree into and out of the office microwave in less time than it takes me to ride the elevator down to the lobby—and with a helluva lot more variety than Eatsa’s menu of “eight quinoa bowls.” (Seriously. All Eatsa serves is quinoa.)

Second, apart from its touch-screen ordering kiosks and its Star Trek chic sensibilities, there’s nothing particularly futuristic about Eatsa’s automated restaurant. If anything, the whole concept comes off as downright nostalgic to those of us who fondly remember the old Horn & Hardart Automats.

The Horn & Hardart Automat: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

The Horn & Hardart Automat: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Horn & Hardart opened its first restaurant in Philadelphia way back in 1888, and its first Automat back in 1902; the last Automat closed in New York City in 1991. During the concept’s 89-year run, millions of New Yorkers and Philadelphians made a daily routine of purchasing freshly prepared meals through the futuristic chrome-and-glass-doored cubbies at their local Automat. According to Smithsonian magazine:

It was once the world’s largest restaurant chain, serving 800,000 people a day. It was Horn & Hardart, and its cavernous, waiterless establishments represented a combination of fast-food, vending and cafeteria-style eateries. These restaurants, with their chrome-and-glass coin-operated machines, brought high-tech, inexpensive eating to a low-tech era. Making their debut in Philadelphia in 1902, just up the street from Independence Hall, and reaching Manhattan in 1912, Horn & Hardart Automats became an American icon, celebrated in song and humor. With their uniform recipes and centralized commissary system of supplying their restaurants, the Automats were America’s first major fast-food chain.

Yeah, so, given the long successful history of automated restaurants (conveyer belt sushi, anybody?) I fail to see what’s so revolutionary about Eatsa. Or threatening, for that matter. And I hardly see it as a harbinger of anything.

I loved going to the Automat as a kid—there was something really empowering about dropping the coins into the slot and choosing my own food. But ironically, most of my experience with the chain was at the Philadelphia area’s last surviving Horn & Hardart: a full service restaurant at the Bala Cynwyd Shopping Center, just across the city line. My grandmother used to take us there, and I always ordered the creamed spinach. It wasn’t as fun as the Automat, but I sure did love their creamed spinach.

The point is, for all its huge success (and any business that lasts more than a century has to be considered hugely successful) Horn & Hardart never came close to destroying waitering as a profession. The Automat remained a very popular dining option for decades, but just one option out of many, and even during its heyday, full service restaurants continued to thrive—some of which were operated by Horn & Hardart. And anybody who believes that this time it’s different—that this time technology has finally advanced to a state where we no longer need mere human beings to take our order or serve our food—just doesn’t understand the social dynamic of dining.

Look, I enjoy a bargain as much as the next guy (honestly, more than the next guy), but while I could certainly get all my meals from my microwave oven, and I could drink much cheaper alone at home, I usually don’t. Because I enjoy the experience of dining out. It’s far from efficient or cost effective, but that’s part of the pleasure. And so just like we still have live theater, and movie theaters, and TV despite the dramatically greater efficiency and lower consumer cost of each successive medium, fine dining establishments and automated quinoa cubbies and everything in between will continue to coexist as long as we have human beings.

“A future in which eating out no longer involves waiters?” That’s not dining. That’s eating.

But there’s another point about this robots-are-coming meme that I think Eatsa founder David Friedberg gets exactly right. Even if the Eatsa concept proves popular, and cheap automated quinoa becomes a national lunchtime craze, it wouldn’t portend a jobless future for “low-wage” workers:

“There’s rarely been a technology shift where people didn’t complain about technology replacing people’s jobs,” [Friedberg] said. “The reality is the economic growth from new technology has always resulted in new economic activity and job descriptions.

“We can sit and debate all day what the implications are for low-wage workers at restaurants, but I don’t think that’s fair. If increased productivity means cost savings get passed to consumers, consumers are going to have a lot more to spend on lots of things.”

Exactly.

Now excuse me—I need to go replicate a cup of tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to Call for Statewide $15 Minimum Wage

Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo is going to be the first governor to call for a statewide $15 minimum wage today. Vice President Biden will be on hand to show his support for the proposal.

Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress writes:

A wage hike would need to be passed by the state legislature, where the state senate is Republican-controlled. But if his proposal were to become reality, that would give New York the country’s highest state minimum wage. A $15 minimum wage is also under consideration in Oregon, and California voters may weigh in on that wage level next year. New York’s minimum wage is currently $8.75 an hour and will rise to $9 by next year.

Cuomo was not an early supporter of $15, but his opinion has shifted as New York has embraced the new minimum-wage thinking that’s sweeping the country. In addition to New York’s recent push to raise the minimum wage for fast-food workers, the New York Times last week published a stirring editorial in favor of the $15 minimum wage.

It’s important to remember that this is a beginning, not an ending. If history is a guide, state Republicans will likely push back hard on Cuomo’s proposal. And business owners will employ the same old trickle-down scare tactics that they dust off every time something like this happens. Our friend Invictus today published a beautiful post explaining why the most recent iteration of fear-mongering—that if we raise the minimum wage too high, robots will take minimum wage jobs—is bunk. As for the rest of the claims, Civic Skunkworks cofounder Nick Hanauer explained in a CBC interview earlier this summer that it’s all the same nonsense:

The fundamental law of capitalism is that when workers have more money, businesses have more customers and need more workers… [There’s been] essentially 100 years of wealthy owners telling workers that if wages go up, employment will go down, but in fact it never happens.

The only thing that’s really true about the claim that when wages go up, employment goes down, is that if people like me can get people like your listeners to believe it’s true, it will work out really, really well for people like me. The truth is that this claim really isn’t a description of reality. It’s more of a scam or an intimidation tactic. It’s essentially a threat that powerful people use against not powerful people to scare them away from higher wages.

As the media focuses on New York in the days and weeks ahead, keep an eye out for those arguments. You’ll see the same threats and scams coming from minimum-wage opponents that we’ve always seen. By properly labeling these intimidation tactics, we rob them of their power; as New York is hopefully about to learn, there’s nothing to fear when it comes to the $15 minimum wage.

Thank You, Paul Allen, for Standing Up to the NRA on Behalf of Endangered Species

Yes on I-1401For decades, the National Rifle Association has relied on its deep pockets to frighten lawmakers into surrendering to its legislative agenda. But like most bullies, once you call the NRA’s bluff, there’s not much left to back up all the bluster. As Joel Connelly reports on SeattlePI.com:

After going after entrepreneur Nick Hanauer during the Initiative 594 battle last year, [NRA Olympia lobbyist Brian] Judy has now drawn a bead on Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, who has championed Initiative 1401.  The initiative would prohibit the purchase, sale or distribution of products from much-poached land and sea creatures, including elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, sea turtles and sharks.

At an NRA-sponsored event in Federal Way, Judy boasted that I-1401 is only on the ballot “because we were successful defeating Legislation in Olympia,” before going on to attack Allen as a “huge billionaire.” The NRA had also killed universal gun background checks in the legislature before voters overwhelmingly approved I-594 at the ballot. Judy was forced to disappear for the final months of that campaign after being caught on tape ridiculing me as a “billionaire plutocrat” who supported “the same policy that got his family run out of Germany by the Nazis.”

That’s just offensive. But I understand Judy’s frustration. The NRA had grown accustomed to getting its own way by virtue of dramatically outspending its opponents. But they can’t possibly outspend a hugely passionate billionaire advocate like Paul Allen backing a hugely popular measure like I-1401.

So my prediction is that, apart from a few brash words, the NRA will back down—just like it did against I-594. And when Allen has finished trouncing the NRA by a wide margin and throughout the state, he may want to add one more endangered species to I-1401’s list: the paper tiger.

Seven Things We Learned at This Morning’s Rand Paul Seattle Rally

Rand Paul at Town Hall Seattle, August 26, 2015.

Rand Paul at Town Hall Seattle, August 26, 2015.

1. Seattle is not the friendliest territory for Republican presidential candidates. This was the first Republican rally either of us have ever attended inside Seattle city limits: in 2012 Romney was in Bellevue, Santorum was in Tacoma, Gingrich was in Federal Way, and Paul the elder was in SeaTac. And now, having seen the crowd Senator Rand Paul gathered in downtown Seattle, it’s clear why those campaigns chose non-Seattle locations. For one thing, nearly everyone in line at 7:30 seemed to be from somewhere else: Marysville, Redmond, Bremerton. For another thing, the Paul campaign couldn’t come close to filling Town Hall—campaign officials told Jim Brunner of the Seattle Times that they’d drawn a crowd of 700, but Paul later mentioned that there were 500 people in attendance, a much likelier total.

2. Privacy stole the show. For the most part, the (99 percent white) crowd at the rally was fairly groggy and subdued—understandable, perhaps, for a rally taking place at 8:30 in the morning. The only standing ovation Paul received was when he brought up the right to privacy. (This is to be expected in a tech-centric city like Seattle.) Perhaps the most rowdy moment of the event came when he reached into his pocket, held out his phone and proclaimed, “There is absolutely no reason why the government should be looking at your phone records.” A guy at the back promptly bellowed, “THAT’S RIGHT!”. The second-biggest applause line came when Paul said he wanted to stop the “billions” of Seattle’s tax dollars from going to Washington DC.

3. Paul railed against the GOP more than Dems. Paul placed blame on both parties for a “broken” Washington DC, telling the audience that “everyone in Washington ought to come home and we ought to start over.” But the majority of his contempt was aimed at the GOP establishment. He took shots at Christie (“a certain Governor from New Jersey”) on the matter of privacy and McCain (“the senator from Arizona”) on the war in Syria. He also called out Trump (“a guy with orange hair”), warning the audience that liberty-lovers could not let him “take over our party” because he’s not part of the Republican”intellectual tradition.” He claimed that the entire Republican Party had lost its way and that it was no longer “boldly for what it’s supposed to be for.” By this, he meant that Republicans “need to be the party of the entire Bill of Rights.”

4. Isolationism 101. Paul told the crowd, “If you’re eager for war there will always be a Bush or a Clinton for you.” He then proceeded to lay out an isolationist platform on foreign policy (even though he explicitly stated “this is not isolationism”). He focused primarily on the Middle East, where he argued that America shouldn’t be giving military aid to moderates in Syria. He also maintained we shouldn’t have waged “Hillary’s War in Libya”, because this act of gung-ho interventionism had unintentionally created a breeding ground for ISIS. In fact, he claimed that one-third of Libyans were now in support of ISIS. For the most part, his anti-war message fell flat. The audience couldn’t be bothered to clap on several occasions. It all seemed very banal.

5. The Rand Paul at this rally was the presidential candidate Democrats were worried about last year. Which means that the Rand Paul at Town Hall was not the same Rand Paul who’s been presenting at the Republican debate and in the media for the last few months. He talked about race in a mostly non-terrible way, bringing up “driving while black” and the Japanese internment. (Though he was tone-deaf in some ways, assuring the audience that  you can be a minority not just by the color of your skin, but by “the shade of your ideology.”) And he’s basically right about the importance of civil liberties, although his Constitutional preaching, like his dad’s, can get pedantic and tiresome. His seemingly extemporaneous speaking style ranges on a scale from lecturing to scolding to sarcastic—exactly none of which are ideal for a presidential candidate. But on the issues, he didn’t sound at all like the other Republican candidates, which should work in his favor. (In a field that big, distinctive policy positions are a blessing.) It’s weird that when Paul talks to a mass-media audience he dials up the evangelical noise and dials down the talk about civil liberties; that obfuscation of his message is part of the reason why he’s been on the sidelines since he got into the presidential race.

6. Make no mistake: this was a libertarian rally. The people sitting next to us were proud libertarians first and Republicans second. (They seemed to indicate that Donald Trump was their second choice for president, because he would supposedly fill his administration with businesspeople. At least one of them was a big Glenn Beck fan, too.) It’s unclear if they understood that their libertarian beliefs only reinforce Republican trickle-down economics. Paul’s unspecific tax plan—eliminate the tax code and institute some basic tax you can fill out on a postcard—would greatly benefit the one percent and worsen income inequality. Out of the many issues he touched on, possibly the most untrue thing he said onstage at Town Hall was that he cared about poor people. Paul has adopted his dad’s claims of leading with reason, but he somehow can’t understand the simplest equation of them all: if you give money to the top one percent, they will only use that money to make more money. The trickling down of funds to the very poor will never come. You simply can’t care about the very poor in America and not want to address income inequality.

7. It was a terrible morning to glorify guns. At the exact same time that everyone on the internet was horrified by the latest in a seemingly unending string of mass shootings, Paul’s adulation of the 2nd amendment  felt awkward and dripping with an unpleasant machismo. ( “If you doubt me on the 2nd Amendment, come into my house unannounced,” Paul warned as the room applauded the thought of Paul shooting another person to death.) Before Paul took the stage, local politician Elizabeth Scott was proudly introduced as a member of the NRA. Meanwhile, on Twitter, people were scrolling past auto-play videos filmed by a man as he murdered two innocent people in cold blood. For a candidate who repeatedly claims to be uniquely in touch with reality, Paul is surprisingly out-of-step with an America that overwhelmingly favors commonsense gun safety laws. 

The Stock Market Tumbled and I Agree with Donald Trump—Is This the End Times?

If you’re like me, you woke up to a phone chirping with news alerts about the stock market’s freefall. And if you’re like me, you didn’t take those alerts as a sign that you should lose your mind and close out your 401(k). It’s easy to feel nervous when your future is on the line, but if you want to deal with stocks you have to be willing to accept the fact that one data point does not make for a trend. To keep your head in the right space, I’ve collected a couple of smart takes from today’s wild stock-market ride.

Tara Culp-Ressler at ThinkProgress explains:

Experts say that you should not rush to sell on a day when the headlines about the stock market seem particularly bad. The stock market is an avenue for long-term investment that can appear to be unstable on a day-to-day basis. It’s not a good idea to make financial decisions based on a few days of dire headlines, particularly if you’re invested in a diverse portfolio.

And Ron Lieber at the New York Times writes:

Nothing about the events of recent days suggests that the fundamentals of capitalism have changed. So neither should your confidence in very long-term ownership of the pieces of the for-profit enterprises that benefit from your fortitude….Most of us have to save somewhere, and history suggests that stocks are the most accessible route to get the returns you’ll need to retire someday. It would take decades of systemic economic erosion to prove otherwise, and a few days of market declines do not suggest that anything like that is upon us.

Bear in mind, though, that this doesn’t mean that Wall Street is perfect. In fact, I’m about to say something that might blow your minds: I agree with Donald Trump.

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