From Rick Santorum, telling a campaign crowd that a vote for Mitt Romney is no better than a vote for Barack Obama:

If you’re going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk with what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate of the future.

Did Santorum really mean this? Or did he mean that voters will perceive Romney as an Obama-lite? Given the context, I suspect the former, but it doesn't really matter. What matters, yet again, is that Santorum is taking a beating from conservatives over this remark. The same people who mostly gave Eric Fehrnstrom a pass for the original Etch A Sketch comment are now going after Santorum for taking advantage of it. The clear message is: we're now in general election mode. No serious criticism of Romney from the right is allowed. It's over.

See also the sort-of-endorsement of Romney from conservative icon Jim DeMint and the tepid-but-real endorsement from Jeb Bush. The establishment is speaking. It's over.

Which is great! Unlike all those mythical campaign reporters who are supposedly so riveted by this year's Republican spectacle that they want it to go on forever — who are these people, anyway? — I've had way more than enough. It's over, and I'm glad it's over. Maybe we can actually talk about something other than candidate gaffes and other assorted campaign atrocities for a few months. Please?

Mitt Romney aide Eric Fehrnstrom is getting knocked around pretty badly for his ill-conceived Etch A Sketch comment. And it was pretty ill-conceived! But if you want an example of truly wretched political spinning, check out Meghan Snyder, press secretary for Rep. Jim Jordan of the Republican Study Group. Yesterday, after about the millionth congressional hearing on Solyndra, Jordan said, "What I hope happens is we stop doing these kind of things ... this whole cronyism approach to the marketplace. Ultimately, we'll stop it on Election Day, hopefully. And bringing attention to these things helps the voters and citizens of the country make the kind of decision that I hope helps them as they evaluate who they are going to vote for in November."

Steve Benen pounced: "In other words, Republicans haven't uncovered a 'scandal'; they've uncovered a game to play. For those who figured out months ago that this was a manufactured outrage, Jim Jordan just confirmed it."

I was all ready to think that Steve was being unfair. What Jordan meant was that the "whole cronyism approach to the marketplace" would end on election day because Republicans would win and put an end to it. Nothing wrong with that! But then I clicked the link and read Meghan Snyder's attempt to put her boss's remarks into context:

If you step back a little bit and look at the quote, he's discussing how these Oversight investigations are bringing to light things like, especially in this one, the cronyism of the market place. How he intended it and I believe maybe if you flip the coin you can kind of see, is he's explaining the purpose of Oversight Committee, which is bringing this to light for Americans. A lot of these people vote, and therein maybe lies the mix-up of how it was perceived by your story and maybe another one.

We're just saying this is our purpose and voters see it. Maybe they'll put an end to it on Election Day. But to say that elections drive the Oversight Committee, we believe is incorrect. It's the purpose of the Oversight Committee to conduct these investigations.

Has Snyder been taking lessons from Sarah Palin? Holy cow.

The New York Times reports that young people don't really lust after cars anymore. So Chevrolet has hired MTV Scratch, a consulting subsidiary of Viacom, that helps companies connect with kids:

The five-year strategic vision that Scratch has developed for Chevrolet, kept quiet until now, stretches beyond marketing to a rethinking of the company’s corporate culture. The strategy is to infuse General Motors with the same insights that made MTV reality shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” breakout hits.

OK. But in the entire story, this is the only concrete example of what MTV Scratch has brought to the table:

Last summer, Mr. Martin and his team temporarily transformed part of the G.M. lobby into a loftlike space reminiscent of a coffee shop in Austin or Seattle, with graffiti on the walls and skateboards and throw pillows scattered around.

....On a recent Tuesday morning...a couple of car executives huddled around a “persona board” in the color and trim laboratory. They studied a collage loaded with images of hip products like headphones designed by Dr. Dre, a tablet computer and a chunky watch. The board inspired new Chevrolet colors, like “techno pink,” “lemonade” and “denim,” aimed at “a 23-year-old who shops at H&M and Target and listens to Wale with Beats headphones,” said Rebecca Waldmeir, a color and trim designer for Chevrolet. This rainbow of youthful hues will be available on the Spark this summer.

In fairness, the story does mention in passing possible changes to dashboard technology (you need MTV Scratch for that?) and dealership structure (good luck!). But it's all pretty hazy except for the new colors. I dunno. I'm 53 years old, and even I'm not feeling the hipness. More like the stink of fear.

From Brad DeLong and Larry Summers in "Fiscal Policy in a Depressed Economy":

Even without hysteresis effects—even with η = 0—expansionary fiscal policy still might be a good idea in a depressed economy. With η = 0, (9) becomes:

(10) ΔV = [μ - ξ(1 - μτ)]ΔG

For a multiplier μ = 1, then expansionary fiscal policy is a good idea unless ξ ≥ 1.5, unless raising $1.00 in extra tax revenue reduces incomes by more than $1.50.

In English, they're asking whether running a big deficit is good not just for the economy today, but also for the economy in the future. The usual view is that it's not: stimulus might get you back to trendline growth faster, but that's all. DeLong and Summers, however, suggest that staying in a recession too long can have permanent effects on the long-term trendline thanks to "the shadow cast by the downturn through discouraged workers, lost skills, broken organizations, and missing investment on future productivity." If so, then a stimulus that gets us out of a recession faster might improve long-term growth and therefore pay for itself.

But it all depends on the famous Keynesian multiplier, which tells us whether a dollar of government spending produces more than a dollar of total spending in the national economy. In normal times, they say, government spending has no net effect. The multiplier is usually around zero because the Fed will push monetary policy in a tighter direction if it sees the government goosing the economy too hard. But these aren't normal times. The Fed has made it clear that monetary policy will stay loose for at least the next couple of years. There will be no countervailing action, and the Keynesian multiplier won't be zero. It will be perhaps 1.0, or more pessimistically, 0.5.

If the multiplier is 1.0, "The long-run Treasury borrowing rate needs to be above [] 9.5%/year in nominal terms for fiscal expansion to be a bad deal." And even if the multiplier is only 0.5, treasury rates would need to be above 5.75% for deficit spending to be a bad deal. Right now, of course, treasury rates are far lower than either of these numbers, which means that federal deficit spending is self-financing. "There are no costs. No future tax increases are needed to amortize the extra debt, because economic growth does it on its own." Put another way: "Expansionary fiscal policy passes its benefit-cost test as long as raising $1.00 in extra [future] tax revenue reduces incomes by less than $10.00." And even the most rabid supply-sider doesn't think that raising taxes has an effect anywhere near that big.

In fact — and this is equation 10 above — even if you assume the multiplier is zero, additional spending is a good idea unless $1 in future taxes reduces incomes by more than $1.50. This is highly unlikely. So spending money now is a good deal for both the present economy and for the trajectory of the future economy:

How could this argument go wrong?

The fear is that expansionary fiscal policy will lead to a collapse in confidence in the government and a spiking of interest and inflation rates to previously-unseen values: that larger deficits this year will cause Alfred Marshall’s Confidence Fairy to flee and the Bond Market Vigilantes to arrive.

Since austerity is more likely to erode the government's fiscal room to maneuver than temporary expansion, this seems backward. If the logic of this argument is correct, then it is a failure to engage in expansionary fiscal policy right now—a failure to speed recovery and so reduce the long-term shadow cast on future productivity by the downturn—that is the real threat to long-run fiscal stability.

I'm left with only one question: how much spending? Surely the multiplier isn't a constant, but declines as spending increases. So where does it cross the line into being counterproductive? What's the point at which current-year spending starts to increase the long-term deficit instead of reducing it?

Republicans have so many dumb inside jokes and weird paranoid theories that it's hard to keep track of them. There's the teleprompter jokes, a never-ending source of inane merriment. There's the dustup over dust. Lately there's been some weird uproar over kids working on family farms. And of course, there's Newt Gingrich mocking President Obama's idea of getting fuel from algae.

There aren't enough hours in the day to look into all this stuff. I mean, 90% of these things turn out to be a crock, so the ROI on devoting time to checking them out is pretty low. In particular, I've just been too lazy to check into the whole algae thing. I mean, it's not as if biofuels in general are some kind of outlandish science fiction pipe dream, but algae? Beats me.

Luckily, our own James West has a quick five-minute video that will get you up to speed. Aside from learning that Australians apparently pronouce algae with a hard g, I also now know whether algae is coming to a gas pump near you anytime soon. Click the link and you'll know too.

Thanks to the fact that we won World War II, the United States traditionally gets to pick the president of the World Bank. The deadline for nominations is Friday, and one question on everyone's mind is whether Obama will nominate a non-American for the first time ever. Via Ezra Klein, Nancy Birdsall explained last month why this is unlikely even though there are some pretty good non-American candidates available:

Can the Obama White House in an election year, facing a Congress suspicious of a globally honored president, eschew pushing through its own American candidate? And anyway would a non-American at the helm in the World Bank be able to raise the resources on Capitol Hill that have already been committed in principle by the United States for the next several years? The election year timing puts the White House in an especially unenviable position. There is a risk that the World Bank could become a highly partisan, U.S. hot-button issue, as the UN has too often been.

Fine. But Hillary Clinton and John Kerry don't want the job. Everyone thinks Larry Summers would be a disaster. The White House doesn't like Jeffrey Sachs. Susan Rice doesn't have a high enough profile. So who?

I recommend Tim Geithner. He's got a high profile. He's accustomed to inside politicking. Obama likes him. And it would get him out of the Treasury Department. What's not to like?

Conservative Supreme Court justices really, really hate the idea that we live in the 21st century:

Defendants in criminal cases have a constitutional right to a competent lawyer's advice when deciding whether to accept a plea bargain, the Supreme Court ruled, providing a significant expansion of rights that could have a broad impact on the justice system.

"Ours for the most part is a system of pleas, not a system of trials," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said for the majority in a pair of 5-4 decisions. Noting that about 97% of federal convictions and 94% of state convictions result from guilty pleas, Kennedy wrote that "in today's criminal justice system, the negotiation of a plea bargain, rather than the unfolding of a trial, is almost always the critical point for the defendant."

The ruling drew a sharply worded dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, who took the unusual step of expressing his disagreement in the courtroom...."Until today, no one has thought that there is a constitutional right to a plea bargain," Scalia [said].

Well, there's still no constitutional right to a plea bargain. It's at the discretion of the prosecutor, the same as it's always been. But Kennedy has this one right: in 1787, the "criminal prosecutions" mentioned in the Sixth Amendment were all jury trials. In 2012, virtually all criminal prosecutions are plea bargains. Like it or not, times have changed, and for the vast majority of defendants it's the plea bargain that's effectively their trial.

What's more, this case sets a pretty low bar for "competent" representation. Reading further in the LA Times piece, I see that in one case a guy turned down a plea deal because his lawyer told him he couldn't be convicted of attempted murder since he had shot below the waist. That's the kind of thing that might be a funny line if it were delivered by a breezy Bill Murray in a lawyer version of Stripes, but not so funny when it's real life and puts a guy in prison for 30 years.

This case really seems to capture the bankruptcy of judicial originalism in a nutshell. Scalia and his fellow conservatives just can't stand the idea that constitutional rights are necessarily going to evolve as the nature of society evolves. So they stamp their feet and pound their fists and insist that, by God, a trial is a trial even if only 3% of modern-day defendants ever actually get one. Their starry-eyed attachment to a gauzy vision of 18th-century virtue is puerile at best and actively malign at worst.

Felix Salmon says Twitter is going to get more annoying:

During SXSW, for instance, there was a steady drumbeat of people on my timeline complaining about all the tweets from SXSW. (I was there, and even I got annoyed by the endless banal SXSW tweets; I’m sympathetic to their plight.)

We’re going to have to live with many more annoying tweets going forwards, if things like Amex’s “tweet your way to savings” campaign take off. The VentureBeat headline is “American Express transforms Twitter hashtags into savings for cardholders,” but another way to put it is that American Express is trying to make money by getting people to spam their friends with hashtags like #AmexWholeFoods which have no value to the reader whatsoever.

And then there are people like Porter Versfelt III, who will get annoyed if I dare to express a personal opinion on Twitter. For Mr Versfelt, I have a “core purpose” on Twitter, which is to provide him with financial news, and anything I do outside that purpose is annoying.

Meh. The same thing happened to blogs too. When I post anything less-than-totally-serious, I routinely get complaints that I'm ignoring world poverty in favor of fluff. Other bloggers routinely get complaints that they post way too much on some hobbyhorse or another. And the world is full of comment spam and cyborg-like corporate blogs.

To a large extent, I think this is inevitable for any platform, and demonstrates less that a platform has gotten annoying and more that the rest of us take the complainers more seriously than we should. Felix probably finds Porter Versfelt III annoying. I would too. But really, who cares? He's one guy. He doesn't like something. Big deal. And yet, for some reason people who say annoying things stick with us more than their sheer numbers justify. I'm don't know why. I'm sure there's some nifty ev psych explanation related to survival on the veldt.

Here's my suspicion about Twitter: as it matures, we're all going to start following fewer people, not more. I'm already pretty astounded at the fact that people routinely follow 200, 500, sometimes a thousand or more feeds. That's crazy. I follow 171 feeds at latest count, and even at that I can only dip into my Twitter feed now and then to see what's going on. I can't even make a pretense that I'm truly paying attention to everyone I follow. If I were smart, I'd probably try to keep myself limited to no more than a hundred feeds, and rotate 20 or 30 of them out on a regular basis.

This, again, is similar to the evolution of political blogs, I think. Back in the day, lots of early adopters followed dozens of bloggers. As time went on, and as content got a little more homogenized, that number went down. Today, I suspect that outside of a small hardcore set of readers, most people have settled down to three or four favorite political blogs. If you pick the right ones, you won't miss much.

This is just a guess. Maybe I should put my money where my mouth is and prune down my Twitter feed list today. If I do, don't take offense if I unfollow you. It's all in the cause of science.

As you know if you haven't been vacationing on Mars over the past year, in 1983 the Romney family took a car trip to Canada with the family dog, Seamus, riding in a pet carrier on the roof. Romney planned out the trip and made only a limited number of stops, but at some point on the trip Seamus became incontinent, forcing Romney to take an unscheduled break to hose Seamus down.

Walter Shapiro writes today that he sees "no larger presidential significance in Romney's actual treatment of Seamus." And yet:

What gives the Seamus story legs (four) is the inadvertent glimpse it offers of Romney's rigidity. For all the natural parental annoyance with the constant are-we-there-yet demands and the bodily needs of five boys on the trek to Canada, it is a rare father who would so zealously limit bathroom and food stops. Remember: The Romneys were not exactly desperate refugees racing to get across the Canadian border before they were stopped by the authorities. They were an affluent American family on vacation, but with all the spontaneous joy of an automotive assembly line. Seamus was collateral damage. What matters is the suck-it-up discipline that Mitt Romney tried to impose on his family.

People are not cyborgs—they have human needs, including a propensity for rest stops and, in politics, healthy egos. But an awareness of these personal factors does not seem to be part of the Romney repertoire.

Give me a break. I would guess that nearly every family that's ever taken a long road trip has tried to stick to a schedule and keep stops to a minimum. Was Romney a little stricter than average? Maybe. Does this offer a glimpse of Romney's "rigidity"? Please. The Seamus story came from Tagg Romney, and he doesn't suggest that any of the Romney kids felt especially downtrodden during the ride. Romney was just an ordinary guy trying to cram a 12-hour trip into a single day and he didn't want it to turn into a 14-hour trip. Shapiro had it right when he said this story has "no larger presidential significance." He should have stopped right there.

I wish we could give stuff like this a rest. I know we won't, but I can dream, can't I?

From Erik Fehrnstrom, a top aide to Mitt Romney, on whether his guy has tacked too far to the right to beat Obama in November:

Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch — you can kind of shake it up, and we start all over again.

Here's the interesting thing about this comment. It's provoked loads of mockery from liberals. It's provoked a bunch of attacks from the other candidates. But among the conservative commentariat, it's mostly just been sighs. I haven't seen much outrage along the lines of "This just goes to show what a fake Romney is." It's mostly been disbelief that Fehrnstrom could say something so dumb; wan defenses that he wasn't really saying anything we didn't know already; and explanations that obviously Fehrnstrom was talking about campaign mechanics, not issues.

Conclusion: we are finally at the point where nobody on the right really wants to say anything bad about Romney. He's got the nomination sewn up, and it's time to start circling the wagons.

In other words: It's over, Rick. Time to pack it up.