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How to Win the War on Inequality

If only Ted Cruz and Rand Paul would pick up Thomas Piketty’s book. Failing that, Hillary Clinton should heed his findings about wealth and inequality—and take on the crisis head on.

So Republicans are going populist, or at least two of them are, reports The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy. And perhaps it’s only in the sense that unlike Mitt Romney and many in the House GOP, they’re not speaking of working people with contempt. Well, it’s a start. But I wish they’d pick up copies of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Oh, of course Ted Cruz and Rand Paul would find ways to pooh-pooh the book’s findings and conclusions, but it’s nice to think of them merely having to immerse themselves in empirical reality for a few hours instead of the magical economic fairy tales that undoubtedly constitute their usual diet.

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Drew Angerer

If you’ve not heard of Piketty or Capital, it’s certainly the economic book of the year, and probably of the decade so far. (You can read Paul Krugman’s rave in The New York Review of Books here.) I admit I’ve only waded into it so far, but I went to see the author, a French economist, speak at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington to a room full of people who braved a hideous, monsoon-ish rain Tuesday morning. (The video of the event is here.) What Piketty has done, my economist friends tell me, is nothing short of revolutionary and deserves to change the way we think about wealth and inequality. Much more important, it also deserves to alter what we do about them.

Here’s the story in a ridiculously small nutshell. Thirty scholars collected data from 20 countries over about 100 years. Piketty pored over the data trying to pinpoint salient reasons for our insane levels pf income inequality, which is worse in the United States, where the richest 1 percent own nearly 40 percent of the wealth, than in most other advanced countries but hardly endemic to America.

Not a month goes by without a GOP racial gaffe, racist vitriol fills conservative websites’ comment sections, and the party refuses to take on the issue. Of course Steve Israel’s right.

Some time back, whenever a big racial controversy erupted, I trained myself into the habit of reading about it at FoxNews.com, just for the unbelievable comment threads. Let’s put it this way: If my friends and I went out to a bar and started playing a “let’s write the racist FoxNews.com comment thread” drinking game, our efforts couldn’t begin to approach what I read there.

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Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

I wasn’t alone. Liberal websites started feasting on these threads. And so, a couple of years ago, Ailes & Co. got wise. Stories about race were, at least in my disheartened experience, closed to comments.

Fox acted, I recall, back in February 2012, when the thread on Whitney Houston’s death made even many conservatives a little jumpy. Here’s a taste: “Whitney is just an inferior lo w life ni gg er that needed to go, no tragedy, no loss…” “Any death is a tragedy you heartless bastard…” “not nignogs their death is a plus…”

Rad-Con

What Plantation Is He Living On?

The Heritage Foundation chief’s ludicrous claim about who ended slavery in America is just his latest effort to destroy the federal government—past or present.

I once had this idea for a play about God, a comedy, in which the audience would be introduced to a series of casuists and charlatans and braggarts and bloviators, and they’d be carrying on, lecturing away on topics large and small with serene self-confidence. There’d be the sound of thunder and perhaps a puff of smoke, and from the wings, God would appear. He or She would, over the course of the three acts, take on numerous corporeal forms—white man, black woman, Asian man, Arab woman, et cetera—but in each guise would admonish the speaker: “No, asshole. You’re totally wrong. How do I know? Because I’m God, and you’re wrong.”

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The Daily Beast

The idea came to me, of course, because of life’s endless pageant of moments when one wishes life really worked that way. But I don’t know if I’ve ever wished it more than I did two days ago, when Jim DeMint, the ex-senator and Heritage Foundation head who defines the words casuist and charlatan and braggart and bloviator and about 262 others that are worse, said that the federal government of the United States did nothing to end slavery. The salient words:

Well the reason that the slaves were eventually freed was the Constitution, it was like the conscience of the American people. Unfortunately, there were some court decisions like Dred Scott and others that defined some people as property, but the Constitution kept calling us back to ‘all men are created equal and we have inalienable rights’ in the minds of God. But a lot of the move to free the slaves came from the people, it did not come from the federal government. It came from a growing movement among the people, particularly people of faith, that this was wrong. People like Wilberforce who persisted for years because of his faith and because of his love for people. So no liberal is going to win a debate that big government freed the slaves. 

Health Care Reform

Will Sebelius Laugh Last?

Yes, there was utter failure, but there was also one hell of a recovery. As time goes on, she'll get less blame for the former and more credit for the latter.

It was always going to be a tough job, Health and Human Services secretary under this president. Even so, I’d bet Kathleen Sebelius was plenty shocked at the whole business.

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Jim Young/Reuters

True, she was only a second-string nominee, after Tom Daschle had to bow out because of those tax problems. But Sebelius still should have had little to fear. After all, she’d been the Democratic governor of a ruby-red state, Kansas. In a state where Republicans outnumbered Democrats roughly two-to-one, she won reelection in 2006 with 57 percent of the vote. She got one of the state’s prominent Republicans to switch parties and run with her for lieutenant governor.

So yes, it must have shocked when only eight Republicans voted to confirm her, while 31 voted against. Four-to-one against?! What had she done that was so bad? The answer was: nothing. Oh, Republicans invoked her “ties” to a Wichita doctor who performed abortions. But really, it was what she was going to do. She was going to be a point person on health-care reform, and they needed to ding her.

Women Problem

Blunder Reveals GOP’s Dark Heart

It’s not Kirsten Kukowski’s fault she only had gibberish to spout about workplace gender fairness. It’s the fault of her party and its culture—and the GOP will pay for it with women.

Just a wild guess, but I have a hunch that Kirsten Kukowski is glad Tuesday is over. Kukowski is a press aide at the Republican National Committee. I do believe I’ve spoken with her on an occasion or two, something to do with credentials. She seemed nice enough.

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And so I almost felt a little sorry for her Tuesday as I watched her performance on Jansing & Co. on MSNBC, hurtling herself into enemy territory, burdened with the task of defending her party’s record and posture on women. Kirsten, I’ve been there. All of us who’ve done television have—those moments when you know you’ve got nothing, so you keep talking and talking, saying nothing, larding your sentences down with “you know”s and “uh”s, wondering if the viewers can see your face turning red, praying that any second now you’ll hear the host say, “Sorry, we’re out of time.”

OK, I don’t feel sorry for her. She made her bed, as they say. Besides which, knowing she was appearing on the liberal cable channel and would surely be asked the obvious question of what the Republican Party’s women-centric policy ideas consisted of, she damn well should have had a better answer than that we should study “corporate best stand...best practices. How are, are some of these large companies going about, um, you know, paying men, paying women? And, and let’s have this conversation and be transparent about the need, um, to close this gender gap, but I think it’s the way the Democrats are going about it and it’s just in a dishonest fashion.”

Even as they publicly decry the president’s health care law, the moves they’re making behind closed doors reveal they may be resigned to its existence.

It’s not all that often that the lead piece on the Drudge Report attacks Republicans, so it’s worth a little savoring when it happens, and this one is especially delectable. The link was to an AP story reporting that two weeks ago, House Republicans stealthily voted for a measure that changed an aspect of the Affordable Care Act.

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J. Scott Applewhite/AP

What? I know. In other words, Congress amends bill it passed a few years ago. In a normal moral universe, this would scarcely qualify as news. But when we speak of the House of Representatives, we are in the modern Republican Party’s moral universe, and there, the rules are different.

You see, by agreeing to amend Obamacare, Republicans are acknowledging the law’s existence and legitimacy. The only things they’re supposed to be doing with Obamacare are burning copies of it on the Capitol steps and voting to repeal it. But here they’ve done the exact opposite. And what made it even worse was the way they did it. The change was very quietly tucked into a larger bill, the Medicare “doc fix,” which helps payments to doctors who serve Medicare patients keep pace with inflation. Only House majority leadership—the Republicans—can do that. And then, to make matters still worse, the yellow-bellied quislings passed the thing by voice vote, so no one had to be on the record.

Rich Rules

A Revealing Week for Republicans

The McCutcheon decision, Paul Ryan’s budget, and Obamacare deniers all say what the GOP can’t: We protect the well-off from redistribution of their wealth to those who don’t deserve it.

If you haven’t done so yet, I urge you to take three minutes here with me to reflect on this unusually revealing week. Three big developments—the Obamacare enrollment deadline, the Paul Ryan budget, and the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon decision—return us to first principles, so to speak; remind us of what our two parties (and the philosophical positions behind them) are really and truly about. And they remind me, at least, of why the Republican Party, on a very basic level, can’t ever be truthful with the American people about what matters to it most at the end of the day.

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Matt McClain/Getty

So what is it that matters most to the Republican Party? A lot of things do, and for different Republicans, the answer will be different: abhorrence of abortion, disgust at social relativism, hatred of big government. These things matter. But they don’t, in my view, matter most. What matters most, especially to elected Republicans in Washington (that is, more so than the rank-and-file), is this: Protect the well-off from redistribution of their wealth to those who don’t deserve it.

On what basis do I make this claim? Well, I’ve been watching Republicans on Capitol Hill pretty closely for many years now. There are, Lord knows, a number of topics on which they are not exactly what you’d call amenable to compromise. The climate-change denialism, the constant attempts to chop away at reproductive rights (which are constitutional rights), et cetera.

ROUGH CUTS

Paul Ryan: Still a Total Jerk

With the release of his bizarre budget this week, the congressman from Wisconsin proves once again that he’s a wishy-washy wonk unworthy of sainthood.

Remind me not to get in a foxhole with Paul Ryan. At the first sign of trouble, he’ll pack up his gunny sack and head for base camp, running into the latrine to hide.

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The Daily Beast

Or so I conclude from the budget he released this week. Remember how last year Ryan was reinventing himself as the true friend of “the poors,” as we ironically say in liberal blogland? Aside from being stunned that all those skewed polls turned out to be exactly on the money and he and Mitt Romney lost, he was also, we were told, chagrined and maddened that he came away from the 2012 campaign with a reputation as a pitiless Randian with a hole where his heart used to be.

So he set out last year to prove us all wrong. He hired a disaffected ex-Democratic wonk as his top social-policy guy. He was getting the great press you’d expect out of Politico, which loves Republicans Who Confound Liberals (“The new Paul Ryan,” last December 10; “Is Paul Ryan the GOP’s Next Jack Kemp?”, December 12; someone was asleep at the wheel on December 11 I guess). America would soon see the revealed truth: Government keeps poor people poor, bleeds them of the pluck and spunk needed to liberate oneself from the dependent-American community. St. Paul would save them.

ENROLL WITH IT

Obamacare Crosses the Finish Line

As the final figures roll in, the conventional wisdom still calls it a disaster. Yet far more people say they can live with the law than back repeal. How dare they!

Brace yourself, friends, for the new hate-and-snicker-fest on the right about the Obamacare numbers. It started over the weekend—actually, it’s been more or less ongoing since last fall—but it’s going to crescendo now that the enrollment deadline has been reached. Six million, eh? Bah. A million below expectations, they’ll say, and in any case a fake number. That’s what Wyoming Senator John Barrasso said Sunday on Fox; the administration is “cooking the books.”  He didn’t reveal how he knows this, but of course he wasn’t pressed on the point.

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BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/Getty

As of Sunday morning while Barrasso was speaking, the enrollment figure was edging close to 6.6 million, and by midnight tonight it might well hit 7 million. Conservatives will say it’s all a big con. Two criticisms have some merit. First, it’s certainly true that signing up isn’t the same thing as paying premiums on a month-to-basis. So we’ll have to see about that over time. Second, the percent of enrollees who are young and healthy is apparently a little lower than the most optimistic hopes (it's around 27 percent).

Those are open questions that can’t be answered for a while. But they provide no basis on which to doubt the raw numbers. There was a similar late rush on Romneycare, when nearly 7,800 Bay Staters signed up in the last month before the deadline, around twice as many as during a typical earlier month. And they certainly don’t demonstrate fraudulence. Unless the photographers who snapped these photos that appear on the White House blog are working under the same orders from Pyongyang as the people who allegedly concocted Barack Obama’s birth certificate, there’s nothing fraudulent going on here, either: What you see here, instead, are long lines of people waiting to enroll at sign-up centers in cities across the country.

Capital Offense

Snyder’s Trail of Crocodile Tears

The Beltway’s NFL owner can buy winter coats for Native Americans until the end of time, and it won’t change the fact that his team’s name is indefensible.

Some weeks ago, I was talking with a few neighbors of mine here in Montgomery County, Maryland. They’re older. Somehow Washington football club owner Dan Snyder came up in conversation. Turns out a few of them had kids who’d gone to high school with Snyder. Any juicy stories, I wondered. They shook their heads: No. In fact, they told me, when Snyder took over the team, and it said in the paper where and when he graduated, they asked their children. No one even remembered a Dan Snyder.

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George Gojkovich/Getty

That conversation explained a lot to me. He’s not a raging reactionary and A-league asshole. Well, he might be both of those things, but let’s say that he’s not chiefly a raging reactionary or A-league asshole. He’s chiefly a forgettable nonentity who got rich and figured out a way to buy the team he cheered for when he was a child. So this whole thing is a nerdy little boy’s fantasy. If you’re Snyder’s age (born 1964), you grew up going with your friends over to the schoolyard that’s about a short par five up the road from where I’m typing these words pretending to be Billy Kilmer and Larry Brown and Roy Jefferson and Chris Hanburger. And to you, the Redskins name was drenched in glory. Changing the team name would amount not merely to capitulating to liberal-harpie critics; it would take the fantasy he’s living and kill it cold.

So he’ll do everything he humanly can to preserve the offensive name, including this ridiculous initiative he announced this week: the creation of the Washington Redskins Original Americans Foundation. Original Americans. Love that. If it’s a good enough name for his foundation, maybe it’s a good name for the team, no? Better still, reverse the question, as other commentators already have: If the name Redskins is not offensive, why on earth did he not call this entity the Washington Redskins Redskins Foundation?

Bridgegate

Christie, Not Quite Dead Yet

Politically, this new report “clearing” Chris Christie is anticlimactic and largely irrelevant. I put the irony quotes around clearing because, well, what did you expect a report commissioned by Christie and conducted by a long-time aide to alpha dog Christie defender Rudy Giuliani (I refer to Randy Mastro) to conclude? That Christie should be indicted?

So that’s what makes it largely irrelevant. The feds are investigating, and theirs is the investigation that matters. The key question with respect to Christie will be whether the U.S. Attorney’s office turns up anything that corroborates the David Wildstein claim in this report that he told the governor about the “traffic study” (the report’s exact phrase) at the GWB in real time. Christie has claimed before that he didn’t even know that.

Today’s report says Christie “recalls no such exchange” and then rather comically adds that it “would not have registered with the Governor in any event because he knew nothing about this decision in advance and would not have considered another traffic issue at one of the bridges or tunnels to be memorable.” The credibility of that contention would depend on exactly what Wildstein told Christie and how he phrased it.

And the report is anticlimactic in political terms because the damage has been done. Nobody really believes that Christie didn’t know anything, not even most Republicans. That image he had before all this came to light is gone. You notice nobody calls him “GOP frontunner” anymore. Whereas he used to tie Hillary Clinton in polls or even lead her in some important swing states, he now trails her, usually by double-digit margins. In a recent Fox poll, Clinton bested Christie by 11 points, Jeb Bush by 13 and Ted Cruz by 16. He’s closer than that in some polls, but it’s a pretty representative margin.

Twisted

Obama Rage Costs Ukraine Billions

Agreeing to IMF reforms would have helped him. So now Republicans’ mission to weaken the president is spilling over into foreign policy, too.

You know those people who carry on all the time about how the United States looks weak to the world, and how we have to do everything we possibly can to help poor Ukraine stand up to the evil Vladimir Putin? Well, guess what they just did? They just made the United States look weak to the world—and they actually just reduced (yes, reduced) the amount of global aid that can flow to Ukraine to help it stand up to the evil Vladimir Putin.

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AFP/Getty

The deal was this: The Obama administration’s aid package to Ukraine placed before the Senate included some long-sought International Monetary Fund reforms.  These reforms, which the administration agreed to in 2010 with the leading nations of Europe, and which those nations have already signed off on, would have helped Ukraine get more money from the IMF after this quick tranche from the United States ran dry. It’s complicated, but in essence, the reforms shifted money from one narrow spending category to a broader one that could be tapped by countries for projects like building and sustaining democracy, of which Ukraine is in rather desperate need. So while there wasn’t a specific dollar figure on the table, the IMF reforms could potentially, a Senate Democratic aide explained to me, have led to several billion more in aid to the country.

What’s to object to? To Republicans, this: The reforms include an increase in the U.S. contribution quota to the IMF of $63 billion. They would also give more voice to emerging nations. Now, these two measures are offset by the facts that 1) the overall U.S. expenditure on the IMF wouldn’t go up, because the U.S. would be allowed to decrease other commitments by a like amount, and 2) the U.S. would still have enough voting shares at IMF meetings to retain the veto power it has currently.

Mitch McConnell is out with a new ad, celebrating America and denouncing socialism and highlighting the variouis glorious aspects of Kentucky life and heritage. Quick images flash by: A young Cassius Clay showing off his gold medal (a man McConnell surely came to despise in the 1960s). A thoroughbred horse stampeding across the Churchill Downs turn. A Louisville hoopster slamming one home. And two UK Wildcats embracing as they win what was evidently a big game, cuz there are streamers in the background.

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Alex Wong/Getty

Problem: They weren't UK Wildcats.

Bigger problem: They were Duke Blue Devils.

Hip Hop No Way

Disregard Rand Paul Hipster Hype

The likely GOP presidential candidate has anti-surveillance state libertarianism in common with Millennials. But that's about all.

I don’t know how many Berkeleyites Rand Paul really and truly impressed last week with his visit there. If he’s the GOP nominee in 2016 and ends up with more than 23 percent of the vote in Alameda County (Mitt Romney notched 18 percent), I’ll eat my copy of The Post-Modern Aura in Moe’s bookstore window.

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Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

But it’s clear that he charmed a different group, the one that might in fact have been the real target audience of the visit: The Washington media taste-makers and “thinkfluencers” loved it. All the signs of 2016 swoonfest are clear already. This insider media group is going to build this guy up, find him “interesting” and “fresh,” and they’ll promote him over that old hecate (as they see it) Hillary Clinton in much the way they once promoted George W. Bush over Al Gore as the superior person to have a beer with.

Marvel was the dominant emotion on cable TV last week during the discussions of Paul’s excursion to lefty land. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post effused in print Sunday about Paul’s performance, limning everything from his opposition to the surveillance state to his jeans to his hair to his accent. I forget exactly which one of those last three lent Paul a certain “stoner quality,” but it was one of them, or maybe all three of them, and in the context it was intended as high praise. Then Mike Allen gave Marcus’s column the in-crowd stamp of approval by featuring it prominently in his daily Playbook email. Allen has lately taken to referring to Marcus as Ruth “the Truth” Marcus, a moniker that surely makes the average Playbooker take her musings all the more seriously. Gee. If only my first name rhymed with integrity.

Calling Foul

Liberals’ College Hoops Pity Party

Think top college programs are just using up poor, helpless athletes then tossing them aside? One graduation statistic slaps away that argument.

One of the silliest arguments I’ve heard in recent years is this idea that college athletics represents some kind of indentured servitude. According to the website of the College Board, the average four-year cost at an in-state public school is about $74,000 in education, housing, and meals. For an out-of-state student at a public school, it’s a little north of $120,000. And at Duke and Stanford and all the other private institutions, the price tag averages $164,000. Student-athletes get those generous amounts in direct, in-kind compensation.

College Basketball

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty

If that’s servitude, sign me up.

Yes, these athletes—or a very small number of them anyway, at a comparatively small number of schools, in the marquee sports of men’s football and basketball—print money for their alma maters. I’m not against them drawing modest salaries, because it’s work and it takes up a lot of their time. A modest salary, and the Heisman-worthy running back should make the same as the pine-riding second-string punter.

About the Author

Author headshot

Michael Tomasky

The Daily Beast special correspondent Michael Tomasky is also editor of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.

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