Posted tagged ‘GOP Fail’

Thrice Before Cock Crow

July 31, 2016

Donald Trump, back when life was just tyrants and skittles:

“I do have a relationship, and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today,” Trump told Roberts, when asked about his relationship with Putin. “He’s probably very interested in what you and I are saying today and I’m sure he’s going to be seeing it in some form. But I do have a relationship with him and I think it’s very interesting to see what’s happened…

…I mean look, he’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and what he’s representing,” Trump said. “If you look at what he’s done with Syria, if you look at so many of the different things, he has really eaten our president’s lunch, let’s not kid ourselves.”

Donald Trump this morning:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Russia. You made a lotta headlines with Russia this week. What exactly is your relationship with Vladimir Putin?

TRUMP: I have no relationship with Putin. I have no relationship with Putin.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But if you have no relationship with Putin, then why did you say, in 2013, “I do have a relationship,” in 2014, “I spoke–”

TRUMP: Because he has said nice things about me over the years. I remember years ago, he said something, many years ago, he said something very nice about me. I said something good about him when Larry King was on. This was a long time ago. And I said, “He is a tough cookie,” or something to that effect. He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together, by the way, not together together…

To his credit, The Clinton Guy Shocked By Blowjobs (™ Charles Pierce, but too damn good not to steal) pressed the Incompressible Jizztrumpet* just a wee bit on that bit of revisionist Trumpismo:

STEPHANOPOULOS: But– I– I just wanna clear this up. Because you did say, on three different occasions, you had a relationship with him. Now you say there’s none.

TRUMP: Well, I don’t know what it means by having a relationship…

Stephanopoulos asked Trump three times in all to square that circle, and by interview’s end, the mangled apricot hellbeast seemed to realize he had a bit of a problem, leading to this weak finish to the line begun above with “Well, I don’t know…”

I didn’t meet him. I haven’t spent time with him. I didn’t have dinner with him. I didn’t– go hiking with him. I don’t know– I– I wouldn’t know him from Adam except I see his picture, and I would know what he looks like.

rembrandt peter christ

Beyond looking on in awe at the sheer speed and volume of Trump’s lies (a strength to date, but, I’m coming to think, a growing liability in the general election phase), there’s the meat of the interview, and his attempt to have it both ways on the Ukraine and Crimea:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Then why did you soften the GOP platform on Ukraine?

TRUMP: I wasn’t involved in that. Honestly, I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Your people were.

TRUMP: Yes. I was not involved in that. I’d like to — I’d have to take a look at it. But I was not involved in that.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you know what they did?

TRUMP: They softened it, I heard, but I was not involved.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They took away the part of the platform calling for the provision of lethal weapons to Ukraine to defend themselves.

Why is that a good idea?

TRUMP: Well, look, you know, I have my own ideas. He’s not going into Ukraine, OK?

Just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right?

You can mark it down and you can put it down, you can take it anywhere you want.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he’s already there, isn’t he?

TRUMP: OK, well, he’s there in a certain way, but I’m not there yet. You have Obama there. And frankly, that whole part of the world is a mess under Obama, with all the strength that you’re talking about and all of the power of NATO and all of this, in the meantime, he’s going where — he takes — takes Crimea, he’s sort of — I mean…

STEPHANOPOULOS: But you said you might recognize that.

TRUMP: I’m going to take a look at it. But, you know, the people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that, also.

Now, that was under — just so you understand, that was done under Obama’s administration. And as far as the Ukraine is concerned, it’s a mess. And that’s under the Obama’s administration, with his strong ties to NATO.

So with all of these strong ties to NATO, Ukraine is a mess. Crimea has been taken. Don’t blame Donald Trump for that.

The key soundbite, of course, is “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were.”

There’s more:  Stephanopoulos’s failure to press Trump on taxes (the Weasel-headed Fucknugget trotted out the audit excuse again, and Stephanopoulus let it pass); Trump’s claim he has no business ties to Russia, no debt, the claim “I’m so liquid, I don’t need debt,” and the truly bold lie, “If I need debt, if I want debt, I can get it from banks in New York City very easily.”  Err, not so much. Note also that Trump’s sole remaining big-bank lender isn’t exactly robust.)

All of which is to say that while Capt. Khan’s parents make the overarching argument against Trump the person as president, this Russia stuff, and the question of who owns Donald Trump is the drip, drip, drip tale that reminds us that Trump the policy-maker poses a clear and present danger to American and global security.

In IOW, my friends, this interview is the sound of a story with legs.

*I find as I check the source that I misquoted yesterday’s invective.  It was Cheeto-faced, ferret wearing shitgibbon, not as I had it:  “Cheetos-faced, ferret-topped shitgibbon.  The singular cheeto is clearly better, but I think ferret-topped scans better, so there.

Image: Rembrandt van Rijn, St Peter’s Denial, 1660.  It will reward you to click on the link and look at a full rez version of this painting.  Jesus being led away in chains on the right whilst Peter goes “No, no, no….” in glorious chiaroscuro.

Republican Health Care Plan (Die Sooner) Implemented Via Shutdown — Salmonella Outbreak edition

October 9, 2013

Ok.  That title is a bit of hyperbole (you think?–ed.).  No deaths have yet been reported from this:

This evening, the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the US Department of Agriculture announced that “an estimated 278 illnesses … reported in 18 states” have been caused by chicken contaminated with Salmonella Heidelberg and possibly produced by the firm Foster Farms.


The news and its context (and lots of links, now updated) comes from the invaluable Superbug blog written by the equally prized Maryn McKenna (known to her friends as the internet’s Scary Germ Girl, perhaps for books like this one.)*

That’s not the punch line, though.  Something else makes this latest demonstration of the risks inhering to the US food supply system so infuriating and so scary — something with a distinctly GOP reek wafting through it:

 [The Food Safety and Inspection Service] is unable to link the illnesses to a specific product and a specific production period,” the agency said in an emailed alert. “The outbreak is continuing.”

This is the exact situation that CDC and other about-to-be-furloughed federal personnel warned about last week.

As Maryn emphasizes:  we are confronting a potentially deadly public health crisis with legally enforced ignorance:

 At the CDC, which operates the national foodborne-detection services FoodNet and PulseNet, scientists couldn’t work on this if they wanted to; they have been locked out of their offices, lab and emails. (At a conference I attended last week, 10 percent of the speakers did not show up because they were CDC personnel and risked being fired if they traveled even voluntarily.)

To mix metaphors — when you have a political party determined to spin the cartridge on the whole country, eventually the hammer will find a loaded chamber.

Go read the whole of Maryn’s reporting.  This isn’t skittles. It’s illness and misery, the possibility of life-long diminishment…and maybe deaths too, as always with the most vulnerable, kids and the elderly, squarely in the cross hairs.

Even if, as I deeply hope, the current outbreak passes with minimal harm to our fellow citizens, that just means we got lucky.  As long as Republicans see the shut down as a game in which they must put “points on the board” we’re on the hook for the news we know will come.

To take it one step further:  the dominant view within the modern Republican party is one that in essence denies the existence of society.  In the Tea Party view — the one shaping the entire party’s vision — the US is and must be a nation of individuals, atoms; there is no concept that we might act in concert to ends other than those we can address one by one.

From that perspective deciding we don’t need food safety inspectors makes sense.  It’s my job or yours to make sure we cook that chicken breast all the way through, that we sterilize our cutting boards, that we never forget to soap off our knives between cuts, that we never eat with friends less cautious than ourselves. (I’m following Maryn’s argument here, btw.)

One could choose to live that way.  Kids would die, from time to time, and maybe grandpa too, before he needed to go.  Such deaths would be the price of my freedom, a definition of liberty renders every other person around me a kind of ghost: there, but not so much so that I need act as if they are just as real as me.

That’s what’s at stake in the current impasse in Washington.  I don’t want to live with ghosts. I want friends, I want colleagues, I want a society — civilization.  Hell!  I want chicken inspectors, and it’s a privilege, not a burden, to live within a system that’s figured out how to  have them.  That the Republicans don’t seem to get that is why the current version of the party (no longer) of Lincoln must be ground into the dust.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

Update:  Per Mike the Mad Biologist, this news:

A sweeping salmonella outbreak has become so serious that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called back 10 furloughed staff members to monitor this and other outbreaks.


*You can get the word directly from Maryn via my conversation with her on the Virtually Speaking Science podcast.

Image:  Vincenzo Campi, Chicken Vendors1580.

Why We Can’t Have Nice Things…Part (n)

August 1, 2013

Via TPM, exhibit A:

As expected, Senate Republicans filibustered legislation Thursday to simultaneously keep the federal government open and invest in infrastructure and housing projects — a significant setback for efforts to bridge budget disagreements and avert a shutdown this fall.

The vote was 54 in favor, 43 against, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward. The only member to cross party lines was Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who helped write the bill and urged colleagues not to block it — to no avail.

Six Republicans voted with Democrats on the higher spending levels when the bill was before the Appropriations Committee: Sens. Collins, Thad Cochran (MS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mark Kirk (IL), John Hoeven (ND) and Jerry Moran (KS), who chairs the Senate GOP’s election arm. But a concerted whipping effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) compelled all but Collins to vote to filibuster the transportation, housing and urban development bill.

At a Capitol press conference immediately after the vote, Democrats, flanked by construction workers, fumed over the filibuster, accusing McConnell of arm-twisting his members and letting concerns about his reelection drive the outcome. The vote comes one day after House Republicans abruptly pulled THUD legislation from the floor, which cuts deeply into housing and transportation programs, after deciding it lacked the votes to pass.



Who needs a government shut down when you can just, shut down government?

Exhibit B:

Yesterday’s abrupt decision to yank a bill to fund the Departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development off the floor, in addition to similar snags for the farm bill and a health care bill pushed by Majority Leader Eric Cantor earlier this year, amounts to a series of recent setbacks for a party struggling to adhere to spending levels outlined in Paul Ryan’s budget.

Asked by a reporter if he was concerned that his party’s recent stumbles on bills funding the government may instill a notion that his caucus is unable to govern properly, Boehner said he was “not the least bit concerned” about perception.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) didn’t mince words after Wednesday’s THUD bill failure, however, lashing out at leadership for pulling the bill.

“I am extremely disappointed with the decision to pull the bill from the House calendar today,” Rogers said in a statement. “The prospects for passing this bill in September are bleak at best, given the vote count on passage that was apparent this afternoon. With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago.”

I don’t think this ends well for the Republicans as a party or for McConnell himself.  I even think the MSM is beginning to notice what’s actually going on in Washington.  But we’re all collateral damage until this hash gets settled.

Image:  Alessandro Magnasco and Clemente Spera, Bacchanalian Scene,  c.1710

Will No One Rid Me Of This Vexatious Solon?

February 21, 2013

I’m guessing that most of those who read this blog will already have heard about John McCain’s latest descent into former decency:

Constituents at a town hall hosted by Sen. John McCain Wednesday in Phoenix cheered after the Arizona Republican told the mother of an Aurora, Colo. shooting victim that an assault weapons ban could not get through Congress.

“My 24-year-old son, Alex, was murdered in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.,” Caren Teves said. “These assault rifles allow the shooter to fire many rounds without having to reload. These weapons to do not belong on our streets.”

“I can tell you right now you need some straight talk. That assault weapons ban will not pass the Congress of the United States,” McCain responded. The video, posted Thursday by Phoenix’s KTVK, showed the line drawing applause and cheers from the crowd.

YMMV, but from where I stand, it takes a special sort of person to tell the mother of a murdered child that they need “straight talk.”  And by “special” I mean…

…you know what I mean.

He’s got the self-righteous condescension act down, certainly.  I have no doubt that Ms. Teves has an abundance of experience of blunt reality, but John McCain still found it in him to set her straight. That’s impressive — albeit in a wholly unimpressive frame.

So far, we’re on familiar territory. John McCain is no maverick, never has been.



But for all that I didn’t catch the next level of wretchedness in this encounter until dinner time, when I told my son about it.  He listened, and then asked the question so obvious that I’m still wondering why it didn’t occur to me first:

Would McCain, my twelve year old wondered, would he have told a man that he needed some straight talk about his murdered son, and the implications of that death?

Who can say?  It’s a counterfactual, meant to stimulate thought, not to secure a certain answer.

But damn, that’s an instructive question.

The dismissive tone of McCain’s answer was obvious, of course.  But I didn’t at first quite hear the gender condescension.  If McCain’s questioner had been a 6′ 5″ guy with muscles and facial hair, would he have so blithly offered “straight talk?”

Maybe.  But I can’t convince myself that the president-of-the-Sunday-morning-shows would have let it fly quite so readily.

In any event, my takeaway from this (besides that I am, as usual,  proud of my son) is it sure took guts for John McCain to bully Caren Teves to make a few points at a town hall, didn’t it?  In that context, ISTM that the defining quality of all those few, unhappy few members of the GOP’s should-no-better faction  (and yes, I’m looking at you, Lindsay Graham, et al.)… is that core property of the sane-ish rump of the national party is cowardice.

It’s ugly as hell to watch, but I am comforted that these are the markers of an institution far down the oblivion express.  I share John’s weariness at having to whack the same damn moles day after day — but I am increasingly confident that it hurts them more than it hurts us.

And with that — it’s time to return to the last of the wine to wash down an excellent (and on-sale) rib-eye.

Image:  Alfred Bierstadt, Study of Wild Horses, before 1902


Kindermord, GOP Style*

February 13, 2013

What is it with the folks over at the GOP command bunker?

The State of the Union response gig is a fool’s errand.  Nobody really cares about it; the media resents having to halt whatever self-amuse may be hair-ifying their palms; and the atmospherics of the actual speech are going to suck. No matter how much they may try (and they usually don’t very much)** you can’t win a visual comparison with a presidential address before a joint session of Congress.

Going up on the teevee after the President on such occasions is a necessary evil for the out-party, something that somebody has to do.  There’s a ton of pressure, and the near-certainty of losing the comparison with the act you’re attempting to follow

So:  do you put the rookie talent you’re trying to nurture into a role where merely avoiding embarrassment is a triumph?  Or do you choose someone who’s been to the dance before?


If you’re the GOP, you burn Bobby Jindal four years ago, and now you toss Marco Rubio into a steaming pile of that which emerges from the south end of a north-facing horse.

Seriously — this makes no sense.  In both cases two men that the Republican party at least seems to think are potential major national players were tossed into a structurally difficult task at the very beginning of their big-league political careers.

Both did worse than I think their handlers may have expected, but where was the sense in taking the risk at all?  It’s years yet –at least a couple, before the public presidential race kicks in.  There’s no conceivable benefit to the individuals or the party that could flow from a speech in these circumstances that will matter in any deep way either to the actual political process in the here and now, nor to presidential politics coming down the pike. Doesn’t it make more sense to send up there somebody who has been up and down the course a couple of times and can be trusted to come home with as few bogies as possible?

I know, I know.  In both the Jindal and Rubio examples there is a party motive: the attempt to portray the Republican gerontocracy as something other than old and pale.  But, to continue to mix metaphors, this is a case of eating your seed corn.  Jindal is still a figure of fun; Rubio took a real blow last night, IMHO.  It just seems like crappy long-term political management to me.  Which, of course, is just fine, coming from that side of the aisle.  Long may such fecklessness wave!

*Grim origin-event for this title.

**That said, you can do better or worse, and last night’s GOP set was truly horrendous.  My wife, a two-time Emmy award winning designer (bragsplaining, I know), wondered if the folks in the Republican brain trust have even heard of the concept of  production values.  Bad camera line, crappy camera-subject geometry, and cliched, busy visual design.  I know how hard it is to make a single-camera shot against a backdrop sing.  But it is a mere matter of professional skill to do it not-awfully.  Rubio, for all his own sins, was ill-served by those who should have taken much more care.

Image: Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Dance at Bougivalbetw. c. 1882 adn 1883.

Department of Really Stupid Analogies, GOP Fail Edition

September 12, 2012

You remember those tweets from the US embassy in Egypt suggesting that religious intolerance is not, in fact, an American value?  This is what Republican Senate number 2 and all-round waste of carbon John Kyl had to say about them:

“It’s like the judge telling the woman who got raped, ‘You asked for it because of the way you dressed.’ OK? That’s the same thing. ‘Well America, you should be the ones to apologize, you should have known this would happen, you should have done — what I don’t know — but it’s your fault that it happened.’ (via TPM)


That’s a pretty impressive statement, taken all in all.  Economical. In just two sentences it manages to sideswipe rape victims* while asserting that US personnel in the midst of a street riot were actually complicit in their own vulnerability — all from the enviable safety of a seat in the Senate.

What’s worse — well not quite, because telling our diplomats in the midst of conflict that they’re craven wussies is pretty far down the WTF scale — but what’s further proof of Kyl’s unfitness for the job he holds is this sentence, which immediately followed the nonesense above:

You know, for a member of our State Department to put out a statement like that, it had to be cleared by somebody. They don’t just do that in the spur of the moment.

Uh, no, as Andrew Sullivan pointed out earlier today, quoting emails from readers in the diplomatic world:

I work in [a State Department office] where we deal with information security directly. (Please don’t name that office, but it just goes to show Kristol’s completely random Hail Mary on this one.) Do you know how many tweets there are from diplomatic missions? Almost all posts have a Twitter feed now, and they are most likely only cleared by public diplomacy Foreign Service Officers. That means it’s a local issue, has nothing to do with “State Department” officials in charge at home. I know for certain we do nothing of the sort, clearing them in this office…


I’m a former US Foreign Service officer and can tell you that the statement by the US Embassy in Cairo – which, frankly, seems perfectly OK to me to begin with; what’s really so offensive about it that the Obama administration has to “distance” itself from it? – almost certainly wasn’t cleared with DC, because otherwise it wouldn’t have been issued for another day or two! It would have spent that time bouncing back and forth from the Egypt desk up to the Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs and over then to Public Affairs and God knows who else getting massaged, tweaked, edited and finally OK’d. The reason embassies have Public Affairs officers is so they can handle this sort of statement on their own….

To recap:  Kyl blames the victim, then tries to expand the indictment to the Obama administration in a charge that cam be immediately shown to be a lie.  Proof, yet again, that the Republicans are no longer a political organization.  They are a claque of power-seekers attempting to complete the coup-under-the-cover-of-law that has been slow rolling through our government since Bush v. Gore.

Kyl himself is a small man in a job way too big for him.  But he’s merely echoing Mitt Romney-the-Unready, another small (and shrinking) figure who, nonetheless, retains a better-than-I’d-like chance at the top job. Which would, on the evidence of the last 20 hours or so, be even worse for the country than it had formerly appeared.  And even if (when) Romney loses, the GOP will remain a party-against-country ball-and-chain on the Republic.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est.

*You can read his statement as saying that the judge is committing a wrong in saying “you asked for it” — but the framing evokes the opposite.  It’s a variant on the old rhetorical trick “I would never say that my opponent enjoys the carnal knowledge of his barnyard animals — but I do believe those are hog swill stains on his overalls bib….”  John Kyl would never say that a rape victim deserved what she got, but my oh my was that a short skirt….”  Perhaps I’m being unkind. Don’t think so.

Image: William Hogarth, The High Court, c. 1758 — and yes, I know I’ve used this before, but it just works here, alright?

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est — Climate Science edition

June 1, 2011

Among the ritualized horrors of the Great People’s Cultural Revolution in China were the criticism-self-criticism sessions mandated for those insufficiently committed to the program.  These public auto da fé sessions reached the highest level of Chinese governments, up to and including Deng Xiaoping.

I trust I won’t be accused of Godwinization (not that I care, to be sure) if I marvel a little at what amounts to a detectable echo of such formalized self effacement in today’s Republican party.  The overt and paralyzing violence of the Red Guards is not there of course, which makes this not a comparison, but a reference.  But still, it’s hard not to recall those days watching leading members of what used to be a party capable of actual governance abase themselves before the inquisitors who now dominate the Republican Party’s election process.

Case in point:  several of the current candidates for the Republican nomination for President used to be able to hear and process scientific information that led them to the conclusion that human activities are affecting the climate, and that such anthropogenic climate change is a very dangerous thing.

Now, this isn’t new.  The know-nothing (and or bought-and-paid-for-by-Big-Oil) wing of the party has spent years trading in bad science to prevent this realization from becoming a true bi-partisan consensus.  The success of this effort was manifest last year when every GOP Senate candidate in the midterms declared his or her disbelief in the threat posed by climate change. That’s 37 candidates and 37 who think we should just burn up all that dinosaur wine as fast as we can get our hands on it.*

All of which is to repeat the obvious: climate denialism is dogma for the Republican party.

Which is a problem when one wants to be President, is a Republican, and has a history of some sanity on this issue.

Hence the crit/self-crit fandango now shaking out over on the GOP side of the Presidential campaign:

WASHINGTON (AP) — One thing that Tim Pawlenty, Jon Huntsman, Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have in common: These GOP presidential contenders all are running away from their past positions on global warming, driven by their party’s loud doubters who question the science and disdain government solutions.

All four have stepped back from previous stances on the issue, either apologizing outright or softening what they said earlier. And those who haven’t fully recanted are under pressure to do so.

It must hurt, somewhere, to be an intelligent person, with a record of diverse experience and some knowledge of how the world actually works. Remember, all of them, even Newt, were able to make sense of this issue up until very recently

And anyway, whether or not I’m right in crediting this crowd with the capacity for sentience — what’s striking is that they can’t help themselves now.  They have nowhere to go if they want to be president.  They have to deny what they know to be true.

It didn’t always used to be this way — and not even that long ago:

Over the last few years, Gallup polling has shown a decline in the share of Americans saying that global warming’s effects have already begun – from a high of 61 percent in 2008 to 49 percent in March. The change is driven almost entirely by conservatives.

In 2008, 50 percent of conservatives said they believed global warming already is having effects; that figure dropped to 30 percent this year. By contrast, among liberals and moderates there’s been relatively little movement, and broad majorities say warming is having an impact now.

Now?  Well let’s just say that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” lives on as a GOPer fratricidal application:

“Republican presidential hopefuls can believe in man-made global warming as long as they never talk about it, and oppose all the so-called solutions,” said Marc Morano, a former aide to Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, one of the most vocal climate skeptics in Congress.

The political significance of all this?  If Palin runs this will be a key line of attack on all of those candidates the party establishment would hope could beat her. Go read the article and see how Pawlenty especially, but also Huntsman and Romney have huge vulnerabilities here. (About Newt, who cares?).

But the politics interest me less here than what the whole miserable farrago tells you about the trouble the country faces.  Facts, data, bodies of evidence are all malleable inconveniences to those who control the crucial levers of Republican primaries and party gate-keeping.  For all that “science” is an abstraction, or at best a house with many mansions — we live in a world and a time in which the tools of science are all we have to make sense of just about any decision we need to make as a society.

But the Republican Party as an institution has decided that it needs no stinking scientific badges, thank you very much.  Climate science has been subjected to the same myth making that harmlessness of tobacco smoke possessed for so long (see the Oreskes and Conway book also linked above); it is succumbing to the same noise machine that tells us over and over again the lie that we have the best health care system in the world; it is falling to the same people who think unobtanium and a perpetual motion machine really could happen in this world, and not merely in Ayn Rand’s fevered brain.

And that’s disastrous in a two party system in which the GOP will always have a share of power, and, every two or four years, has a shot at a most/all of it.

They cannot govern.  Or rather, they can govern, but given the accumulation of willed blindnesses in the face of an ever more complicated reality, they cannot do so in a way that serves the interests of the United States (or the world).

I do know there are Republicans who can read and calculate and think — but their party has left them, and I don’t think it’s coming back.

Factio Grandaeva Delenda Est**

*And yes, you pedants, I do know that oil does not derive from dinosaur caucuses.  I just recall reading that phrase in Semi-Tough when I was a mere lad, and have always liked it since.  So there.

**Just to jog memories from an old thread:  that’s the best I could come up with (with help from the commentariat) to get to Cato the Elder’s cry:  Carthage The Republican Party Must Be Destroyed.

Images: Francisco de Goya, A Tribunal of the Inquisition, 1812-1814

Joseph Wright of Derby, A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on the Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in place of the Sun, c. 1766.

Give The Man One White Chip*

April 15, 2011

Via the NYT we learn what constitutes “big” to a Republican congressman.  (No, children…don’t go there.)

(Hell.  This is the internet.  Go there if the spirit moves you.)

By now, just about everyone with a pulse and an interest in politics knows that the budget debate produced much more kabuki than actual cuts.  Rather the reverse in fact:

According to a Congressional Budget Office comparison, the bill would produce only $350 million in tangible savings this year, in part because cuts in domestic programs were offset by an increase of about $5 billion for Pentagon programs.


When projected emergency contingency spending overseas is figured in by the budget office, estimated outlays for this year will actually increase by more than $3 billion.

There are longer term effects that restrain spending.  Albert Einstein is said to have said that the only true miracle in the universe is compound  interest.  That’s apocryphal, of course, but it is true that cuts in baseline expenditures in discretionary spending will propagate through the years to come:

The agreement does put the brakes on what had been a steady growth in spending by federal agencies. Future savings would be greater as the cuts took hold — a point Republican aides emphasized by noting that the plan is estimated to cut spending by $312 billion over the next decade.

Sounds like a lot of money.  At least, so says those members of the GOP, who quail before the wrath of the pitchfork brigade that they’ve turned into their base.  Hence nonsense like this:

“Big stuff,” said Representative Tom Price, a Georgia Republican and leading conservative.

Yeah, I know.  A billion here and a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money.

Except that $312 billion, for all that it could buy is …


…a rounding error — or an example of the kind of numerical trick that confidence men use to gull the unwary, the inattentive, the numerically illiterate.

I’ve beaten the drum elsewhere for the importance of getting minimal quantitative reasoning into the electorate.  I’m not talking much math here.  I’d be happy if we got folks using arithmetic on a daily basis  to test claims like Price’s above.  If the country could do that, then there are lots of cons that would become brutally obvious, even to folks as frightened of numbers as tools of reason as our Village press corps.**

Hell, Price isn’t even trying to hide the tell:   that really big, scary number $312 billion. Sitting there, all by itself like a fresh cow patty steaming on a patch of meadow grass.   Everyone here knows what’s wrong with this:  it ain’t the numerator that matters.  It’s the denominator, dawgs.

And this is where both Obama and the Democrats, and the in-the-bag-for-big-money GOPers (most of the Congressional caucus) made marks of the Tea Party.  Even though we don’t know what the 2012 budget will be, much less spending levels of a decade hence, we can still construct a pretty good picture of the whole load of nothing going on:

Just work through a wholly unrealistically low set of assumptions on spending over the next decade.  Take level budgets from the FY 09 request — George Bush’s last budget — of $3.1 trillion.  That’s below expenditures by about a trillion, by the way, for a variety of reasons, and it is substantially under today’s numbers, which are, of course, the baseline for future cuts.  But hey — let’s make the GOP look as good as it can.

So multiply $3.1T by 10, and you get -the implausibly low figure of $31 trillion.

Price’s “big stuff” — $312 billion — is 1% of that fictitious total. One [more] minor war over the next decade and it’s gone.   A few disasters.  An economic downturn, with its upward pressure on social welfare expenditure.  And so on…

Big stuff.

Oh — by the way, I sent a draft of this post to an economist friend of mine  as a check against slips of my calculator or my logic (not an American, btw, so someone who can look at this with at least some a- or be- mused distance).  He reminds me that it is always useful to contextualize public finance numbers by a per-capita measure.  Given that the most recent population figures show the US as home to just a skosh over 310 million people, the projected budget reductions of $312 billion work out to no more than $100/person.  In my friend’s words:

I think most people can see that is not a gnat’s fart but it’s not going to solve anything. Put another way it’s of the order of 1/500 of GDP in round terms.

Consider this another episode in Percentages:  How Do They Work?…

Or else, see it as a reminder of what the GOP is really all about.  Hint:  it ain’t the deficit.

*This title comes from story I heard once, no vouching for its accuracy, about the time some industrialist — a metals guy — came to Detroit to announce his company’s entry into the car business.  He told the assembled automobile journalists about his plans, and his willingness to spend what it would take to compete.

He was, he said, prepared to invest $25 million in the venture.

From the back of the room, an old car hack piped up:

“Give the man one white chip.”

**Numbers as fashion accessory — as above — that’s fine.  But actually thinking with them…

Images:  Victor Dubreuil, Barrels of Money, c. 1897

Gerard van Honthorst, The Cardsharps, before 1656.