Kevin Drum

John Kasich Wants to Slash Everything Except the Pentagon

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 11:38 AM EST

How would John Kasich cut spending? Answer: his father was a mail carrier blah blah blah. OK, but did you want to name any specific steps, sir? Why certainly:

We would move the Medicare system from a 7 percent growth down to about a 5 percent growth. And I have a whole series of ways to do that. In Ohio, we reduced Medicaid funding for the poor from 10 percent to 2.5 percent, didn't cut one benefit or didn't take anybody off the rolls. Why? Because we're innovators. I've been an innovator my entire career. And I really don't care what special interests or lobbyists have to say. I have a job to do when I take over a public office. Now, we freeze non-defense discretionary for eight years. We also put an increase in defense spending. Our tax cuts balance out. And at the end of the day, we will get to a balanced budget.

So here is Kasich's plan: cut Medicare, cut Medicaid, cut domestic discretionary spending, and increase defense spending. And we already know he wants to cut Social Security. So his plan is to cut every single aspect of domestic spending and increase defense spending. And this guy is the moderate in the field.

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Trump, Carson Duel For Title of Least Prepared Commander-in-Chief

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 11:27 AM EST

One of the highlights of last night was watching the outsiders talk about foreign policy. Gerard Baker asked Ben Carson if he approved of President Obama's decision to send special ops teams into Syria. Here's his answer, in all its glory:

Well, putting the special ops people in there is better than not having them there, because they — that's why they're called special ops, they're actually able to guide some of the other things that we're doing there. And what we have to recognize is that Putin is trying to really spread his influence throughout the Middle East. This is going to be his base. And we have to oppose him there in an effective way.

We also must recognize that it's a very complex place. You know, the Chinese are there, as well as the Russians, and you have all kinds of factions there. What we've been doing so far is very ineffective, but we can't give up ground right there. But we have to look at this on a much more global scale. We're talking about global jihadists. And their desire is to destroy us and to destroy our way of life. So we have to be saying, how do we make them look like losers? Because that's the way that they're able to gather a lot of influence.

And I think in order to make them look like losers, we have to destroy their caliphate. And you look for the easiest place to do that? It would be in Iraq. And if — outside of Anbar in Iraq, there's a big energy field. Take that from them. Take all of that land from them. We could do that, I believe, fairly easily, I've learned from talking to several generals, and then you move on from there.

Translation: I have no idea what to do in the Middle East. And even though I've been running for president for a year, I'm too lazy to learn even the first thing about it.

Then there was Donald Trump's even more gloriously ADD response to a question about how he'd handle Russia:

Well, first of all, it's not only Russia. We have problems with North Korea where they actually have nuclear weapons. You know, nobody talks about it, we talk about Iran, and that's one of the worst deals ever made. One of the worst contracts ever signed, ever, in anything, and it's a disgrace. But, we have somebody over there, a madman, who already has nuclear weapons we don't talk about that. That's a problem.

China is a problem, both economically in what they're doing in the South China Sea, I mean, they are becoming a very, very major force. So, we have more than just Russia. But, as far as the Ukraine is concerned, and you could Syria — as far as Syria, I like — if Putin wants to go in, and I got to know him very well because we were both on 60 Minutes, we were stablemates, and we did very well that night. But, you know that.

But, if Putin wants to go and knock the hell out of ISIS, I am all for it, 100%, and I can't understand how anybody would be against it....They blew up a Russian airplane. He cannot be in love with these people. He's going in, and we can go in, and everybody should go in. As far as the Ukraine is concerned, we have a group of people, and a group of countries, including Germany — tremendous economic behemoth — why are we always doing the work?

I'm all for protecting Ukraine and working — but, we have countries that are surrounding the Ukraine that aren't doing anything. They say, "Keep going, keep going, you dummies, keep going. Protect us..." And we have to get smart. We can't continue to be the policeman of the world. We are $19 trillion dollars, we have a country that's going to hell, we have an infrastructure that's falling apart. Our roads, our bridges, our schools, our airports, and we have to start investing money in our country.

....I don't like Assad. Who's going to like Assad? But, we have no idea who these people, and what they're going to be, and what they're going to represent. They may be far worse than Assad. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. Look at the mess we have after spending $2 trillion dollars, thousands of lives, wounded warriors all over the place — who I love, OK? All over.

We have nothing. And, I said, keep the oil. And we should have kept the oil, believe me. We should have kept the oil.

Translation: Russia! North Korea! Iran! Ukraine! Syria! ISIS! Germany! Ukraine again! Assad! Libya! Iraq! Oil! Keep the oil! But we should let other people handle all this because our roads are falling apart.

Republicans can't seriously be thinking about nominating either of these guys, can they?

Carly Fiorina Creates Whole New Debate Technique

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 10:31 AM EST

This was my favorite moment of the debate last night:

BAKER: In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?

FIORINA: [Looks like a deer in headlights.] Well, first of all, I must say as I think about that question, I think about a woman I met the other day. [blah blah blah, playing for time, hoping everyone will forget the question.] Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats.

This is a brand new technique. Normally, when candidates are faced with a tough question, they ignore it and answer a different question. Fiorina tried to do this at first. But then she decided on a new tack: answer the exact opposite question. Baker cites numbers to show that Democrats are great at job creation, so Fiorina acknowledges that yes, he's right, things have gotten much worse under Democrats.

Will this bold ploy catch on? Baker certainly didn't challenge her on it. I expect to see other candidates give this a shot in future debates.

Here's Why I'm a Bad Debate Watcher

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 1:12 AM EST

Not that anyone cares, but I think I realized tonight why I have such a hard time judging political debates. There are two reasons:

  • The candidates frequently drift off into mini-stump speeches. When that happens, I tune out. I've heard it all before. But for ordinary viewers, this might very well be the part of the debates that makes the most sense to them.
  • The big "moments" also don't do much for me. But that's the stuff that ends up on a 24/7 loop the next day on cable news. By not paying much attention to these highlights, I'm missing out on the things that drive a lot of the post-debate reaction.

This is all in addition to the obvious fact that I react more to policy stuff than to affect and demeanor. Put it all together, and I'm hopelessly out of touch with the common man. Sad but true.

Trump, Guns, and Golf

| Wed Nov. 11, 2015 1:02 AM EST

Hey, did Donald Trump ever sign that executive order allowing guns at all his golf resorts, like he promised to do? Just wondering.

We Are Live Blogging the GOP Presidential Debate in Milwaukee

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 8:34 PM EST

After a while, these debates all seem to blur into one another. But let's take a crack at evaluating tonight's performances.

John Kasich was very aggressive tonight, barging in and demanding time frequently. At times, he took a moderate stance, suggesting that the others were nuts. At other times—on foreign policy, for example—he was trying to sell himself as the toughest guy on stage. It's a high-risk-high-reward strategy, which is probably appropriate for him right now. Overall, I'd say he benefited a bit, though it's a little hard to say for sure. There were clearly a couple of points when the crowd wasn't with him.

Ben Carson sort of faded into the woodwork. He didn't really address any policy issues at all. He mostly just offered a gauzy vision of making America better and then rambled a lot. He's going to have to defend his assertion that he could take out ISIS "fairly easily," and that might not go well for him. Not a good night for him.

Donald Trump was fairly restrained. He had the best impromptu line of the night when he asked Carly Fiorina, "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?" Probably not fair, but a good barb nonetheless. On another subject, his mini-fight with Bush was, perhaps, the first time he's really articulated his vision of staying out of the Middle East and letting everyone else fight it out for us. I'm not sure how that will go over.

Jeb Bush was, as usual, unremarkable. I don't think he made any big mistakes, but I don't think he helped his cause either. He tried to sound tough on foreign policy, but his actual proposals were tepid. And he was overtly dovish on immigration, which might not help him either.

Ted Cruz was his usual blustery self. I'd sure like to know the fifth agency he wants to eliminate, though. Overall, he said nothing new or memorable.

Rand Paul was....Rand Paul. Meh.

Carly Fiorina was in fine fettle. She apparently decided before the debate to mention "zero-based budgeting" and "three-page tax plan" every possible chance she got. I think she even shoehorned it into a question about foreign policy. I'm just not sure this works, though. Zero-based budgeting was a conservative hot button 30 years ago, but nobody much cares about it today. And the three-page tax plan just isn't going to resonate if she continues to refuse to say what would actually be in this plan.

Marco Rubio was pretty controlled, and got his points across regardless of what the moderators asked. His machine-gun style doesn't do much for me, but I suppose it might seem knowledgeable and high-energy to some people. However, one of these days he might actually have to answer that question about his child tax credit being a new entitlement. Luckily for him, that stuff all bogged down in a discussion about "refundable" tax credits, which I doubt many people understood.

Bottom line: I'd guess that Rubio, Fiorina, and Kasich might benefit a little from their performances. Bush, Cruz, and Trump probably stayed even—though Cruz's bluster might have gone over better than I think. Carson might dip a bit. Paul will stay the non-factor he's always been.

The moderators were OK, but boy did they maintain the reputation of Fox for going easy on Republicans. They didn't push at all on anything that might have hurt any of the candidates. And despite Bartiromo's promise, none of them even remotely tried to challenge the candidates on their tax plans. They basically asked how it would add up, and then let their answers stand without comment.

Transcript here.

OK, I'm up for this. Are you up for this? Sure you are! Together, we can get through the full two hours. We can do it! We can!

11:18 - And that's a wrap.

11:17 - Trump: I'm spending my own money in this campaign. Actually, no, he isn't.

11:14 - Carson: fight political correctness!

11:13 - Jeb wants to rebuild the VA.

11:12 - Fiorina: America will literally collapse if Hillary Clinton becomes president.

11:11 - Kasich worries about his children and grandchildren if Hillary Clinton is president.

11:10 - Time for closing statements!

11:09 - Trump: bring back profits from overseas with a tax holiday. Paul: drill, baby, drill. Bush: natural gas is great.

11:04 - Cruz also says Hillary sucks.

11:01 - Bartiromo: Hillary Clinton has an impressive resume. Audience boos. Not really sure what the question is, but Rubio says Hillary sucks and this election is about the future.

10:59 - Hey, I thought Donald Trump had personally guaranteed this debate wouldn't go over two hours. What's the deal?

10:58 - Fiorina: Dodd-Frank is socialism. Freddie Mac was responsible for housing bust. Etc.

10:54 - Kasich: Put a sock in it, Cruz. Real executives need to make decisions, not philosophize. Kasich says he wouldn't bail out banks, but would help the hardworking folks who put money in the bank. Big boos!

10:51 - Cavuto: Just to be clear, if Bank of America were on the brink, would you let it fail? Cruz: Yes. Also: we need fewer philosopher kings at the Fed. And the gold standard would be great for working men and women!

10:50 - Cavuto: Would you go after Wall Street crooks like Bernie Sanders? Freudian slip, I guess. Cruz would "absolutely" go after them. We need less cronyism. Blah blah blah.

10:48 - Kasich: too much greed on Wall Street.

10:46 - Question to Carson about big banks. This ought to be good. Answer: shouldn't allow banks to "just enlarge themselves at the expense of smaller entities." Low interest rates are bad. We need less regulation. Hurts the poor and middle class because it raises the cost of a bar of soap by ten cents. Baker: OK, but would you break up the big banks? Carson: I wouldn't allow them to get big in the first place. But, no, I wouldn't tear down banks that already exist.

10:40 - Bush thinks we should raise capital requirements on banks. He says we've reduced them. This is totally wrong.

10:37 - Kasich winds up with yet more whining about not getting enough time. Put a sock in it, John. Besides, what about Ted Cruz? He seems to have virtually disappeared for the past half hour.

10:36 - Kasich: If anyone cyberattacks us, they should know we will destroy their means to perform cyberattacks. Not really clear what this means. Then a tour of the world showing what a tough guy he is.

10:32 - Rubio: Putin sucks. Obama sucks. Blah blah blah, machine gun speech about all the terrible people in the world. Big cheers.

10:31 - Trump to Fiorina: "Why do you keep interrupting everyone?"

10:28 - Fiorina says she's met Putin not in a green room, like Trump, but in a private meeting. Yee haw!

10:26 - Bush says Trump is full of shit. Trump says we have no idea who the rebels are. Look at Libya. Look at Iraq. He almost sounds like a Democrat. Almost.

10:24 - Trump is now in full ADD mode on foreign policy. Syria! China! Putin! Ukraine! Germany! But we can't be policeman of the world.

10:22 - Bush says America needs to lead in the Middle East. But his plan is distinctly small-bore: no-fly zone, support the rebels, think about the refugees.

10:18 - Carson: we have to oppose Putin in Middle East. But it's very complicated. Carson's plan for ISIS: We have to make them look like losers. We do that by taking their oil fields and then destroying them. "We could do this, I believe, fairly easily." Carson says he learned that from "several generals." Names, please!

10:16 - Is anyone ever going to ask Fiorina to describe her tax plan? Come on. It's only three pages long!

10:14 - Paul thinks Congress should have the ability to amend treaties. This would, of course, make it impossible to negotiate treaties.

10:11 - Trump says TPP is worst trade deal ever. We should sign deals with each country separately instead. Baker: Is there anything in particular you dislike about TPP? Trump: It doesn't do anything about currency manipulation. China is killing us! Rand Paul points out that China isn't part of the deal.

10:10 - Kasich tries to barge in. Baker finally shuts him up. Kasich is whining a lot tonight.

10:09 - Trump: We need a big military so no one will mess with us.

10:09 - Now Fiorina goes into yet another riff about zero-based budgeting and the three-page tax code. Jesus.

10:07 - Now everyone wants to chime in to show that they want a kick-ass military too.

10:05 - Now Rubio and Paul get into a fight. Somehow this ends up with Rubio saying he wants to spend more on defense, unlike Paul, who's a big wimp. Then a riff about having the most powerful military in the world. Huge cheers.

10:04 - Baker asks Rubio if his child tax credit is just a new entitlement. Rubio doesn't really respond. He just natters on about how important the family is.

10:03 - Jeb Bush delivers some argle bargle about needing a better economy.

10:00 - Cruz would cut five agencies: IRS, Commerce, Energy, Commerce, and HUD. Paging Rick Perry!

9:56 - Rand Paul wants a flat tax. Ted Cruz wants a flat tax. Cruz promises that his plan totally adds up and it abolishes the IRS. The result will be incredible economic growth.

9:52 - Cavuto wants to know which tax plan God would prefer: Trump's or Carson's? Carson sort of rambles on about proportionality and putting more money in people's pockets. Also: his plan will include some kind of rebate for poor people. I believe this is news.

9:49 - The moderators are fulfilling their assigned roles and asking softball questions almost exclusively. Bartiromo said she was going to get to the bottom of all the tax and budget plans, but so far she's done virtually none of that.

9:45 - Fiorina: Nobody can possibly understand Obamacare. Follow-up: What's the alternative? Fiorina: high-risk pools. Obamacare is helping no one and crushing small business. We need free market health care. Also: again with the three-page tax code. Fiorina is really obsessed with this tonight.

9:42 - Cruz delivers pretty good line about elite opinion on immigration being different if it was bankers or journalists crossing the Rio Grande. Probably so!

9:40 - Rubio delivers stock speech about taxes, regulations, energy, and Obamacare.

9:38 - Bush has Kasich's back. We can't just ship all the illegal immigrants back. Big cheers (!).

9:37 - Trump: I'm rich, I don't need to listen to Kasich. Big boos (!).

9:34 - Finally, Kasich starts a fight with Trump over immigration. Then he defends Ohio's honor.

9:32 - Carson: I'm an honest guy. Trump: Immigration is bad.

9:27 - Very subdued debate so far. Everyone seems to have decided that fighting each other just makes the whole field look like children. I wonder how long this will last?

9:26 - Rand Paul goes through a riff on the Fed that I honestly didn't understand. Plus: we should all move to cities and states with Republicans in charge.

9:23 - Fiorina: We need five things. Zero-based budgeting. Three-page tax code. Total review of all regs. Pass the REINS Act. Hold government officials accountable for their performance. Big applause.

9:20 - What specific regs would Bush cut? Answer: repeal every rule Obama has put in place. Internet. Clean power. Water. Repeal 'em all.

9:17 - Cruz says keys to economic growth are tax reform, slashing regulations, and sound money.

9:14 - What would you cut from the budget? Kasich tap dances. Doesn't mention a single thing he'd cut. Follow-up: he'd cut Social Security. And Medicaid. Freeze nondiscretionary spending. Increase defense spending. So: cut basically all domestic spending and increase defense spending.

9:10 - Rubio: if we raise the minimum wage, people will be more expensive than machines. We need more welders and fewer philosophers. (No, I don't get it either.)

9:08 - Carson: people need to be educated on the minimum wage. Wages are too high. Lower wages will create more jobs. High wages create dependency, or something.

9:06 - Trump opposes $15 minimum wage because....we don't win anymore. Also: wages are too high. People are just going to have to buck up.

9:04 - Could Jeb Bush possibly look less enthusiastic during the introductions?

9:00 - And we're off. But first, an inspiring video.

8:58 - Tonight features 90-second answers from the candidates. Substantive!

8:57 - Everybody is already at their podiums. I miss having them walk in and wave.

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Maybe Conservatives Have a Point About the War on Christmas

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 7:44 PM EST

Joshua Feuerstein has earned 15 million views for his viral Facebook video claiming that "Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups." And you know, the guy has a point. We liberals have been mocking the "War on Christmas" for years, but this time maybe we've finally gone too far. Take a look at last year's cup and this year's cup and you be the judge.

Let's Get the Ben Carson Story Right

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 5:07 PM EST

I just finished a Twitter conversation about Ben Carson's Yale psychology test story, and I want to pass along a point that I think too many people don't get. The core of Carson's story isn't really about how he endured the hoax test longer than anyone else. It's about how he was more honest than the others. Here's the relevant section of Gifted Hands:

As I stared at the questions, I couldn't believe them either. They were incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

...."Forget it," I heard one girl say to another. "Let's go back and study this. We can say we didn't read the notice.".... Immediately three others packed away their papers....Soon half the class was gone, and the exodus continued.

....Within half an hour from the time the examination began, I was the only student left in the room. Like the others, I was tempted to walk out, but I had read the notice, and I couldn't lie and say I hadn't. All the time I wrote my answers, I prayed for God to help me figure what to put down. I paid no more attention to departing footsteps.

Suddenly the door of the classroom opened noisily...."What's going on?" I asked. "A hoax," the teacher said. "We wanted to see who was the most honest student in the class." She smiled again. "And that's you."

But why would the hoaxsters tell him he was the most honest person in the class? To them, it was just a prank. The bit about honesty derives solely from Carson hearing the conversation behind him. This is, however, the core of his story—and no matter what else we find out, it's almost certainly been invented out of whole cloth.

Which is, of course, pretty ironic.

Chart of the Day: Civil Asset Forfeiture Is a Moral Abomination

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 3:37 PM EST

I have never understood why civil asset forfeiture doesn't inspire more outrage. For liberals it's a plain-and-simple civil liberties issue. For conservatives, it's an out-of-control big government issue. There should be almost unanimous agreement that it's a horrific, unconstitutional practice that should be halted immediately. If police suspect that money or property has been used in the commission of a crime, they should be the ones that have to go to court to prove it. They should not be allowed to simply seize the assets and then force the victim into a Byzantine and expensive maze to get them back.

This seems self-evident. And yet, nothing other than small tweaks to the system ever get done. It's considered tough on crime, I guess, and that makes conservatives love it and liberals afraid of it. Or something.

But guess what? A few years ago the practice started getting more publicity—books, videos, training sessions, etc.—and it took off. And why not? Budgets were tight, and police departments are allowed to keep a portion of all the money they seize. How fast did it grow? A rough guide to the value of civil asset forfeitures is the net assets in the Assets Forfeiture Fund maintained by the Department of Justice. After 20 years of relatively slow growth, it suddenly exploded, going from under $1 billion in 2006 to $4.5 billion in 2014. This chart comes from "Policing for Profit," recently released by the Institute of Justice:

This is by no means a total measure of civil asset forfeitures. As the report notes, "deriving similar totals at the state level is impossible because most states require little to no public reporting of forfeiture activity." But a pretty good guess is that it amounts to $300-400 million every year.

It's a disgrace. At the very least, victims should have the right to a quick, cheap adjudication in which the police would have to present compelling evidence in order to keep the assets they've seized. But really, there's no reform that can possibly make it right. I've heard all the defenses of the practice, and they don't change the picture by much more than a hair. This is something that should be stopped, period.

Maybe We Should Dial Down the Cheering For Missouri's Football Players

| Tue Nov. 10, 2015 1:47 PM EST

Here is Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post today:

Too often college athletes wind up in the news for reasons other than how they played—and not in a good way. But we can thank black players on the University of Missouri football team for giving us some off-field action to cheer about.

I've read at least a dozen versions of this sentiment, and I'd like to suggest that everyone reflect on this a bit before buying into it. A bunch of football players announced they'd no longer play until the university president resigned. After two months of inaction over accusations of racism on campus, he resigned almost immediately.

So, sure, good for them. But are we really happy that college football players apparently have this much power? Do we want to encourage it? We might all want to give this a bit of thought before we start cheering too hard.