Kevin McCarthy: "I'm Not the Guy"

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 1:14 PM EDT


North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones (R) sent a letter to the No. 4 House Republican saying any candidate for leadership who has committed any "misdeeds" since joining Congress should "withdraw" from the contest.


House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy on Thursday abruptly dropped out of the race to replace John Boehner for speaker, a stunning move that further complicates an already chaotic House leadership contest....Said Rep. John Fleming (R-La.), a member of the conservative Freedom Caucus: “I was shocked just like everyone else…he said something to the effect of I’m not the guy.”

Ummm....WTF? I will put off further comment until I pick up my jaw from the floor.

UPDATE: From no less a conservative icon than Erick Erickson, we get this:

There’s a guy out in America who has emails for a massive number of members of Congress and the email addresses of highly influential conservatives outside Congress.

A few days ago, he emailed out to 91 people, including these members of Congress, an email with a series of links to stories alleging a relationship between Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-NC) of North Carolina. It is worth nothing that the two deny a relationship.

But the email began circulating pretty heavily. Conservatives were buzzing about it. The first line pointed to the current scandal about Denny Hastert and concluded suggesting that if the rumor about McCarthy and his personal life were true, he was a national security risk.

Okey dokey.

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We Get It: Paul Krugman Has Been Right All Along

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 11:46 AM EDT

Here is Paul Krugman just in the past month:

  • It’s now seven years since I warned....
  • Who could have predicted such a thing? Well, me....
  • Many of us warned from the beginning that the multiplier was probably much larger....
  • Those of us who took our Hicks seriously calling the big stuff — the effects of monetary and fiscal policy — right, and those who went with their gut getting it all wrong....
  • As I’ve been trying to point out....
  • As I’ve written many times....
  • Attacks on Keynesians in general, and on me in particular....
  • Here’s what I wrote three years ago....

And that's not even counting his print columns, which I didn't have the patience to plow through. I'm a pretty big fan of Krugman, but even for me this stuff has long since gotten old. Maybe it's time to go cold turkey on the whole "I was right" meme and just concentrate on the economics.

Quote of the Day: Japanese Mathematician Discovers Marvelous Brain-Altering Proof

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 11:10 AM EDT

From Davide Castelvecchi, writing about an impenetrable 500-page mathematical proof that might change the field forever if it's verified:

But so far, the few who have understood the work have struggled to explain it to anyone else. “Everybody who I'm aware of who's come close to this stuff is quite reasonable, but afterwards they become incapable of communicating it,” says one mathematician who did not want his name to be mentioned. The situation, he says, reminds him of the Monty Python skit about a writer who jots down the world's funniest joke. Anyone who reads it dies from laughing and can never relate it to anyone else.

Apparently Shinichi Mochizuki essentially invented a whole new branch of arithmetic geometry in order to complete his proof of the abc conjecture. So you have to learn a whole new field of math and then work your way laboriously through the actual proof. There are, according to Castelvecchi, something like four or five people in the whole world capable of doing this. Good luck, guys!

Image vs. Reality, Vladimir Putin Edition

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 10:31 AM EDT

The LA Times writes today about Russia's intervention in Syria:

The outcome of Vladimir Putin's bold military gamble in Syria is far from clear, but in the short term, one loser seems certain: President Obama.

....The White House has been poised for weeks to quietly shift more U.S. military support to seasoned Kurdish militias and other rebel fighters in northern Syria. But at this point, any change in policy will appear to be in response to Putin's muscular moves, not a new initiative to help solve the multi-sided conflict.

Putin is "bold" and "muscular." Obama is a "loser." Well, this piece is labeled as analysis, so I guess that's fair enough. But I hope that future articles continue to report the reality—that Obama has been planning for a while to shift his strategy in Syria—rather than merely parroting the tired judgment that he "appears" to be responding to the muscular Putin. In any case, let's continue:

Middle Eastern allies who have chafed at Washington's reluctance to plunge into the 4-year-old civil war have been impressed by how the Russian president has come to an ally's defense, even if they don't like his goals or his ally, Arab officials say.

Seriously? Sure, many of our Arab allies have been urging us for a long time to be more militantly anti-Assad. But are they really impressed by Putin's actions? He's allowed his "ally" Assad to twist in the wind with no apparent concern at all since 2011, and then after four years he finally enters the conflict in a small way—mainly because he was about to lose Assad for good. So far, he's launched a few air sorties and some cruise missiles. Are our Arab allies really that easily impressed? Onward:

From the White House's perspective, the problem is not only that Russia is propping up a leader who they insist must step down as a part of a political deal to end the bloodletting. It is also that Putin's moves seem aimed at emphasizing American hesitation and signaling a lack of respect for the former Cold War foe.

....Over the last week, Moscow has seemed indifferent to the risk of a confrontation with Washington as Russian forces repeatedly attacked Syrian rebels armed by the CIA and allied spy services.

Once again, Putin is the Donald Trump of world leaders: lots of showmanship and media attention for a very small price. It's impressive in a way. But the simple fact remains: Putin hasn't really done very much, and the fact that his Syria offensive seems aimed mostly at tweaking Obama is a show of childishness not strength. On Wednesday he even boasted that Russia's cruise missiles "hit all the targets," something the US hardly needs to bother with since everyone already knows we have plenty of cruise missiles that have a long history of hitting their targets.

Finally, we end with this:

Putin's gamble may accomplish several of his goals: increasing Russian influence in the Middle East and on the world stage, building his image at home, and shifting Western attention from his intervention in Ukraine.

But many analysts believe that neither Putin nor anyone else can wrest military victory from the bitter cauldron in Syria. And many expect Obama, who has made that argument since the conflict began in 2011, to continue to move cautiously. Obama "has been pretty good about resisting pressure to get in deeper," said Kupchan. "I don't think he's going to react to Putin's gambit by upping the ante."

Maybe we should have started with that? Putin is essentially engaged in a PR campaign. Obama isn't taking the bait because he knows perfectly well it's a fool's errand. I hope everyone in Washington keeps that firmly in mind as Putin continues his Trump-esque rampage across the media landscape.

Old White Businessman Thinks Ben Carson Would Be a "Real Black President"

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 10:11 AM EDT

This morning, medial mogul and News Corp. overlord Rupert Murdoch was forced to retreat from a tweet he sent out last night addressing his notion of who does and does not qualify as a "real black president." That tweet, which also appeared to endorse Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, looked like this:

The message sparked a wave of backlash on social media condemning Murdoch for inappropriately criticizing President Barack Obama—the first black president of the United States—and his work to address racial issues. In an attempt to justify his offensive remarks, he referred to a recent New York magazine profile looking back at the president's legacy in the African American community. But, to no one's surprise except perhaps Murdoch's, the explanation did nothing to lessen the ridicule and the outrage.

Hours later, and with a heavy meditation on the space key, Murdoch apologized.

Looks like Murdoch, a noted Donald Trump detractor, is going to have to rethink how he attempts to advance Carson's presidential aspirations. It might also be helpful to remember who the sitting president actually is.

Drunken Vegetarians Are Sometimes Secret Meat Eaters

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 9:55 AM EDT

A lot of people do things they regret when they are drunk. Maybe it's getting tanked and then incoherently divulging secret feelings for a colleague. Perhaps it's the slurred, eyes-shut karaoke rendition of Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You." Or it could be that after being sucked into an alcohol-fueled gluttonous rampage, the favorite option is diving face first into a meaty meal—even if you happen to be a socially conscious vegetarian. 

According to a new study conducted by, a discount code company based in the United Kingdom, more than one-third of vegetarians have become nonvegetarians after a night of drinking. When Drunk Hungry hits, they are quick to ditch their diets—and convictions.

And, these drunken, carnivorous vegetarians aren't even honest about falling off the wagon. Close to 70 percent have kept their boozy burger-eating a secret. The next morning they go right back to pretending to be full-time vegetarians—at least until the next happy hour.

While most respondents did say they stand by their vegetarian principles even when they are crocked, George Charles, the founder of VoucherCodesPro, told the Morning Advertiser he was surprised by the results. He emphasized that people should offer more support for their drunken vegetarian buddies in times of temptation: "I think it's important," he says, "for friends of these vegetarians to support them when drunk and urge them not to eat meat, as I'm sure they regret it the next day!"

Friends don't ever let friends go on drunken meat binges they will regret.

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Quote of the Day: "The Republican Party Left Me"

| Thu Oct. 8, 2015 12:17 AM EDT

From former Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, in his new memoir, The Courage To Act:

[I] lost patience with Republicans’ susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right. I didn’t leave the Republican Party. I felt that the party left me.

This is, of course, a deliberate echo of Ronald Reagan's famous line about the Democratic Party leaving him. And it's hard to blame Bernanke. The know-nothing wing of the Republican Party rebelled against the TARP rescue package at the height of the economic meltdown. They howled that low interest rates would lead to imminent hyperinflation. They resolutely refused to consider fiscal stimulus despite Bernanke's repeated pleas (see helpful illustration below from 2011). They wanted to audit the Fed. They wanted to end the Fed. They wanted to put us back on the gold standard. When Bernanke told them that spending cuts would lead to higher unemployment, Rep. Kevin McCarthy refused to believe him. Now he's about to become Speaker of the House.

Bernanke was no leftist, he was just a mainstream economist—and a cautious one. It didn't matter. Republicans didn't want to hear anything that interfered with their hard-money frenzy, even from one of their own. So they abandoned him.

Ben Carson Apparently Doesn't Know What the Debt Limit Is

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 8:35 PM EDT

Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Ben Carson:

Ryssdal: As you know, Treasury Secretary Lew has come out in the last couple of days and said, "We're gonna run out of money, we're gonna run out of borrowing authority, on the fifth of November." Should the Congress then and the president not raise the debt limit? Should we default on our debt?

Carson: Let me put it this way: if I were the president, I would not sign an increased budget. Absolutely would not do it. They would have to find a place to cut.

Ryssdal: To be clear, it's increasing the debt limit, not the budget, but I want to make sure I understand you. You'd let the United States default rather than raise the debt limit.

Carson: No, I would provide the kind of leadership that says, "Get on the stick guys, and stop messing around, and cut where you need to cut, because we're not raising any spending limits, period."

Ryssdal: I'm gonna try one more time, sir. This is debt that's already obligated. Would you not favor increasing the debt limit to pay the debts already incurred?

Carson: What I'm saying is what we have to do is restructure the way that we create debt. I mean if we continue along this, where does it stop? It never stops. You're always gonna ask the same question every year. And we're just gonna keep going down that pathway. That's one of the things I think that the people are tired of.

Ryssdal: I'm really trying not to be circular here, Dr. Carson, but if you're not gonna raise the debt limit and you're not gonna give specifics on what you're gonna cut, then how are we going to know what you are going to do as president of the United States?

It sure sounds as if Carson doesn't know what the debt limit is, doesn't it? Kai Ryssdal tries manfully to get a straight answer out of him, and after the fourth try Carson rambles into a long disquisition on the infinite-time-horizon fiscal gap, at which point Ryssdal finally gives up. I guess I don't blame him.

On the other hand, I'll give Carson credit for something Ryssdal doesn't: telling him what he'd cut in order to balance the budget. Carson is pretty clear about this: he would cut the government across the board by 3-4 percent via the simple expedient of keeping spending flat for everything. In real terms, this gets you to Carson's 3-4 percent decrease. He says he'd do this for three or four years, and boom! Balanced budget.

Ryssdal badgers Carson about this, but doesn't ask the obvious follow-ups: You'd cut Social Security 3-4 percent each year? Medicare? Defense? Veterans? If the answer is no—as it probably would be—then you ask Carson how he's going to balance the budget with just the stuff that's left over.

In any case, it's pretty scary that a guy this ignorant of the basics of governance is doing so well in the Republican primary. Not surprising, maybe, but still scary.

Hillary Clinton Announces Opposition to TPP, But Her Reasons Are Pretty Weak

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 6:12 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton, who was once a fan of the TPP trade deal, announced today that she's now opposed to it. That's fine. But her reasons seem less than compelling:

In her statement, Clinton said she is "continuing to learn about the details of the new Trans-Pacific Partnership, including looking hard at what’s in there to crack down on currency manipulation, which kills American jobs, and to make sure we’re not putting the interests of drug companies ahead of patients and consumers."

She had said months ago that the currency provision would be a key test for her.

The pharmaceutical provisions are indeed a point of considerable controversy, but the final draft of the agreement weakens them compared to what the US was asking for back when Hillary was involved. As for currency manipulation, TPP doesn't address that at all.

So one provision she mentions has been improved, and the other does no harm because it's not addressed. If the deal looked OK a year ago, it should still look OK today. Likewise, if it looks bad today, it should have looked bad a year ago. So what really changed? Bernie Sanders, most likely. Just as the Republican side of things has been buffeted by the Trump Effect, the Democratic race has been been influenced by the Bernie Effect—which is just what he wanted, since I don't think he entered the race because he truly believed he had a chance to become president. He just wanted to move the conversation to the left, and he's succeeded at that.

New Dietary Guidelines Won't Include Sustainability

| Wed Oct. 7, 2015 4:36 PM EDT

When the USDA's Dietary Guidelines are released later this year, they're sure to make waves in the nation's food economy. Updated every five years, the rules—the government's official line on what Americans should eat to stay healthy—inform decisions on everything from agricultural subsidies to government food assistance programs to school lunch.

Tuesday's announcement was a "shameful abnegation of political responsibility," said Earth Institute's Jeffrey Sachs.

But there's one thing the new guidelines won't touch: the health of our environment.

In a statement posted Tuesday on the USDA website, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwel announced that the guidelines will not include recommendations about how to choose foods with the lightest impact on the planet. The dietary guidelines, they wrote, are not "the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation."

The decision came despite the fact that in its February report, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee—the team that reviews scientific and medical evidence and offers advise on what should be included—highlighted the ties between environmental impact and healthy eating. "Access to sufficient, nutritious, and safe food is an essential element of food security for the US," the report stated. "A sustainable diet ensures this access for both the current population and future generations."

As my colleague Maddie Oatman noted when the committee released its recommendations, those ideas didn't go over well with Big Ag backers. Industry groups sent letters to Secretary Vilsack arguing that environmental impact is outside the scope of the Dietary Guidelines and spent millions of dollars trying to dissuade the USDA from including sustainability in its update.

Director of the Earth Institute Jeffrey Sachs, who is a Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, called Tuesday's announcement a "shameful abnegation of political responsibility," after heralding the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report as a key breakthrough.

"For US government officials to suggest that this chapter should be deleted would be to argue for deleting science itself; a shameful abnegation of political responsibility in the face of lobbying pressure," he said in a press release. "Secretaries Burwell and Vilsack will be remembered for whether they stand up for science or for corporate lobbies."