Before I get to the debate, I have to highly recommend you check out the latest from the Fact Checker titled Obama’s whopper of a claim on tax cuts:
The president’s Labor Day speech in Detroit featured an assertion that contained a number of warning signs that it might be an errant fact: “biggest middle-class tax cut in history.”
First of all, anytime a politician claims he or she has done something historic, watch your pockets. That’s usually a dubious claim.
Then, “biggest” can mean all sorts of things. If we are talking about dollars, then are they inflation-adjusted or measured against the overall economy? Raw dollar figures are essentially meaningless without that context.
Finally, the “middle-class” modifier. What’s the definition of “middle-class”? There are many ways one could slice and dice that classification.
Clearly the president wants to demonstrate he’s a tax-cutter. And certainly White House officials have been frustrated that the $116 billion Making Work Pay tax cut was largely unnoticed by Americans.
We decided to put the president’s claim to the test.
Read the full piece for results of the test. On to the debate (which I, admittedly, did not watch — so feel free to correct or update in the comments), which was apparently a fight between Romney and Perry with the moderators occasionally seeking to liven things up with random questions to Ron Paul. As Peter Suderman summarized it:
It wasn’t quite two-men-enter-one-man-leaves, but it sometimes felt like it. As the GOP field’s newest entrant and arguable front-runner, Perry duked it out, going gov-o-a-gov-o with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, his closest competition in the polls.
One key difference? Social Security. Perry doubled down on his assertion that the program was a “Ponzi scheme,” even if Karl Rove says otherwise. Pressed by the moderators, Perry declined to get technical, or philosophical: “I think any of us that want to go back and change 70 years of whats been going on in this country is going to have a tough time,” he said. “Talking about what folks were doing in the 30’s and 40’s is a nice intellectual conversation.” But intellectual conversation apparently wasn’t on Perry’s to-do list.
Romney, who, with his substantially more polished answers and handy data points, frequently appeared to be running for president of people who speak in complete sentences, had a somewhat different opinion about the program: Sure, Social Security has long-term funding difficulties—but none that can’t be solved with a little technocratic gimmickry. “It’s a program that’s working for millions of Americans,” he said, shortly after agreeing that its finances were broken. But the people, they like it: The GOP nominee, Romney insisted, “has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving it.” Mitt Romney wants you to know that he is prepared to be that nominee!
The other candidates on stage came prepared to say things as well, if that’s what getting enough votes to win the GOP nomination requires. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s opening bid included the following statements: “I have a plan!” and “I’ve done things!” Both true, I’m sure. Jon Huntsman seemed friendly, and orange. Ex-Godfather’s exec Herman Cain touted his own plan, a 9-9-9 pizza deal to save the economy. Bachmann, who earned executive experience as foster mother to 23, fretted that she was “very concerned about parental rights,” and, in the midst of a long rant about ObamaCare, also found time to say, rather emphatically, that “Kids. Need. Jobs.” Newt Gingrinch namechecked Art Laffer, Ronald Reagan, and himself, then proposed making English America’s official language. He also said he’d fire Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke today if given the opportunity. Huge applause! Almost as big as Perry’s death penalty line. (Let’s hope no one suggests executing Bernanke.)
Sometimes the moderators amused themselves by asking Rep. Ron Paul what this whole libertarianism thing is all about. They asked about drug regulation, and airline safety, and a slew of other lazy libertarian gotchas. Paul did his best to explain in 90 seconds why federal regulation of the drug industry isn’t always so hot, and, by the way, neither is the long-lost drug war. Somewhere in the middle of the night, he stopped to offer a half complaint about President Ronald Reagan—the debate’s namesake and ghost-host (it was held at the Reagan Library). “The message of Reagan was great!” said Paul. “But the consequences,” including huge deficits…well, not so much. The moderators, however, tended to ignore his responses, preferring instead to run Paul through endless variations on the same question: Really? You believe that? Are you actually serious?
Carl Kelm discussed the debate in today’s Political Diary:
NBC News and Politico, the co-hosts of last night’s GOP debate in Simi Valley, Calif., clearly wanted the candidates to tussle. And it was just as clear that the candidates didn’t need much prodding.
Rick Perry and Mitt Romney were placed next to each other at the center of the stage and lavished with the most attention. Mr. Perry, in particular, was continually tested by both the moderators and his opponents. “I kind of feel like a piñata here,” he said at one point.
The debate’s early exchange on job creation — in which Mr. Perry said Mr. Romney created fewer jobs than Michael Dukakis, and Mr. Romney fired back that Mr. Perry created fewer jobs than George W. Bush — was perhaps the night’s most memorable scrap. The most impactful, though, may have been their discussion on Social Security. Mr. Perry reaffirmed the position he laid out in his book “Fed Up!” that Social Security is essentially a Ponzi scheme, to which Mr. Romney retorted, “our nominee has to be someone who isn’t committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security.”
By deciding to embrace his previous comments on Social Security, Mr. Perry showed himself willing to gamble on authenticity and boldness. Of course, doubling-down doesn’t always produce a winning hand. Moreover, Mr. Perry refused to remain above the fray, despite his status as the new front-runner. He routinely traded barbs with his rivals regardless of their position in the polls. Sparring with Mr. Romney is one thing, but mixing it up with Ron Paul? Perhaps Mr. Perry sees himself as the GOP’s alpha male, never backing down from a fight.
The Texan also revealed a willingness to alienate the Republican establishment, including Karl Rove and Dick Cheney. With so many GOP leaders and donors still making up their minds, that’s a risky strategy.
Still, it’s worth mentioning that Paul Ryan and Chris Christie have gotten so much attention, in part, because there is a hunger among top Republicans for someone to tell tough truths, especially on entitlement reform. Mr. Perry said that “it’s time to have some provocative language in this country,” and he seems more than willing to show the way.
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While the Republican debate was primarily an occasion for Mitt Romney and the GOP field to probe Rick Perry, it also marked an opportunity for two second-tier candidates, Michele Bachmann and Jon Huntsman, to re-establish themselves. Neither did enough.
Ms. Bachmann, who at one point looked like conservatives’ choice to square off with Mr. Romney, faded into irrelevance in this debate. It’s true that she got roughly half as many questions as Messrs. Perry and Romney, but it’s also true that she made little of the questions got. Mr. Perry’s rise has eclipsed the Minnesota congresswoman, and the debates probably represent her best chance to reclaim her old spot in the polls.
Mr. Huntsman had a better night and did a decent job of touting his record as a former governor of Utah. “We’ve got to remember that to beat President Obama, we have to have somebody who’s been in the private sector, understands the fragility of the free-market system, has been a successful governor as it relates to job creation, and knows something about this world,” he said. He also delivered winning answers on health care and energy policy, though we’d add that attacking fellow Republicans as anti-science isn’t the best way to win over primary voters.
The bigger trouble for Mr. Huntsman is that a solid performance simply isn’t sufficient. Running to Mr. Romney’s left was a strategic miscalculation that has left him with only a very slight chance of victory.
For more on the debate, check out the WSJ’s coverage here and here. On that whole Social Security issue, Shikha Dalmia explained how it is not actually a Ponzi Scheme….it is much worse for three reasons:
One, a Ponzi scheme collects money from new investors and uses it to pay previous investors—minus a fee. But Social Security collects money from new investors, uses some of it to pay previous investors, and spends the surplus on programs for politically favored groups—minus the cost of supporting a massive bureaucracy. Over the years, trillions of dollars have been spent on these groups and bureaucrats.
Two, participation in Ponzi schemes is voluntary. Not so with Social Security. The government automatically withholds payroll taxes and “invests” them for you.
Three: When a Ponzi scheme can’t con new investors in sufficient numbers to pay the previous investors, it collapses. But when Social Security runs low on investors—also called poor working stiffs—it raises taxes.
Ron Paul, like many small-l libertarians, was indeed an early and enthusiastic supporter of Ronald Reagan’s presidential ambitions…in 1976. By 1988, when Rick Perry was still a Democrat who supported and endorsed the-then Blue Doggish Al Gore, the initial libertarian enthusiasm for “Reagan’s message of smaller government and lower taxes” had disintegrated into acute alienation over the Great Communicator’s tangible record of growing government, debt, and foreign entanglements.
Rick Perry and his supporters this week are firing back at Paul’s Reagan-repudiating record, quoting from his 1987 resignation letter from the Republican Party and other comments from Paul’s 1988 Libertarian Party run for president. These gotcha attempts actually bolster Paul’s credentials as a limited-government conservative, and highlight an important libertarian critique of Reagan (and by extension, the modern GOP) that has mostly been washed away by decades of Republican nostalgia for The Gipper.
In other news from earlier this week, the Prop 8 case appears likely to continue in California:
Earlier in the day, we previewed (here) Tuesday’s arguments at the California Supreme Court over whether the supporters of Proposition 8 have standing to appeal Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 ruling that the marriage ban is unconstitutional.
As we noted in the earlier post, the standing issue is complicated. But it’s tremendously important to the fate of Proposition 8, the measure passed nearly three years ago that bans same-sex marriage in the Golden State.
On Tuesday, the California Supreme Court heard arguments on the issue — essentially whether the backers of Proposition 8 have enough of a stake in the matter to defend it in court. According to this article from the the LA Times, the court signaled a willingness to rule that the Prop. 8 backers can stay in the case — and therefore that the appeal can continue.
George Will’s latest column is on a somewhat obscure legal issue, but is, as usual, a must-read:
Liberal certitudes continue to dissolve, the most recent solvent being a robust new defense of a 1905 Supreme Court decision that liberals have long reviled — and misrepresented. To understand why the court correctly decided Lochner v. New York and why this is relevant to current arguments, read David E. Bernstein’s “Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform.”
Since the New Deal, courts have stopped defending liberty of contract and other unenumerated rights grounded in America’s natural-rights tradition. These are referred to by the Ninth Amendment, which explicitly protects unenumerated rights “retained by the people,” and by the “privileges or immunities” and “liberty” cited in the 14th Amendment. Progressivism, Bernstein argues, is hostile to America’s premise that individuals possess rights that pre-exist government and are not fully enumerated in the Constitution. This doctrine stands athwart liberalism’s aspiration to erase constitutional limits on government’s regulatory powers.
Want to know exactly how bad the TSA has gotten? If you are groped to the point of a clear sexual assault by a TSA official, and have the temerity to complain about it, you could well find yourself a defendant in a lawsuit brought by the TSA officer:
On March 31st of this year, Amy Alkon — a writer who blogs at the Advice Goddess Blog — was sexually assaulted in front of dozens of witnesses. . . .
Amy — who refused to be scanned — was instead forcibly groped by a TSA employee. Unlike most Americans, she didn’t take it quietly. She expressed her feelings of violation and humiliation, in person at the time and in writing later[.]
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Despite the wide audience she enjoys, Amy’s story could easily have been lost in the din of routine TSA excess. But because Amy didn’t take it quietly — because she called the TSA employee out for her assault, and because she wrote about it — now she’s facing a legal threat.
The TSA agent — one Thedala Magee — has demanded that Amy pay her $500,000 for Magdee’s distress at being called out.
And we wonder why people hate lawyers so much.
To end on a happier note, check out Katherine Mangu-Ward’s post about microlending site Kiva from earlier this week, complete with the video below (click here to view the video in Vimeo):
Microlending site Kiva.org makes it ridiculously easy for (comparatively) rich folk to loan money to (comparatively) poor folk halfway around the world who want to buy a cow or open a business. The loans are paid back on a set schedule—at an astonishingly high rate of almost 99 percent—at which point lenders can take their money and go out to dinner or plow it back into another business.
Here’s a spiffy animation that tracks Kiva loans as they fly back and forth across the globe—starting with just seven tiny fireflies drifting from the Bay Area to East Africa and back again in 2005, then an explosion of light in late 2006 when the site gets national publicity from Frontline. Watch it on full screen if you can.
The Land of Enchantment made the pages of the Washington Post yesterday with news that a new ghost town may be headed our way:
New Mexico, home to several of the nation’s premier scientific, nuclear and military institutions, is planning to take part in an unprecedented science project — a 20-square-mile model of a small U.S. city.
A Washington, D.C.-based technology company announced plans Tuesday to build the state’s newest ghost town to test everything from renewable energy innovations to intelligent traffic systems, next-generation wireless networks and smart-grid cyber security systems.
Although no one will live there, the replica city will be modeled after a typical American town of 35,000 people, complete with highways, houses and commercial buildings, old and new.
Pegasus Global Holdings CEO Bob Brumley says the $200 million project, known as The Center, will be a first of its kind in the U.S., creating a place for scientists at the state’s universities, federal labs and military installations to test their innovations for upgrading cities to 21st century green technology and infrastructure in a real world setting.
It will also enable them to rub shoulders with investors, meaning it could ultimately draw enough new businesses to give the state a technology corridor like that in California’s Silicon Valley or Virginia’s Reston, Brumley said.
Read the whole story here.