Photo of the day

From the Telegraph’s week in pictures:

A hot air balloon shares the evening sky with cranes as they make their way over the Town of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin

A hot air balloon shares the evening sky with a flock of cranes as they make their way over the town of Oconomowoc, WisconsinPicture: John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

It’s all about sex

Interesting article on the conservative backlash to Pope Francis inside the Vatican.  The reason I love Francis so much is that he seems so intent on living out Jesus’ message of helping the poor and oppressed as preached in the gospels instead of being narrowly concerned on morality as sexual morality.  Not surprisingly, the reason the conservatives are unhappy with Francis is that they are obsessed with sexual morality:

“We have a serious issue right now, a very alarming situation where Catholic priests and bishops are saying and doing things that are against what the church teaches, talking about same-sex unions, about Communion for those who are living in adultery,” the official said. “And yet the pope does nothing to silence them. So the inference is that this is what the pope wants.”

For what it’s worth, from what I can tell this is all about “saying” not doing.  That said, to me the real scandal is the number of Catholic priests, bishops, etc., who seem far more concerned with who is having sex with who than in helping people in need.  You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to know which of these Jesus talked a lot more about.

Trump and GOP economic policies

I’ve been meaning to write a post on this and failing, but Krugman really nails the key points today, so you should read his column.  Or, at least the parts I excerpt here:

Instead, Mr. Bush has chosen to attack Mr. Trump as a false conservative, a proposition that is supposedly demonstrated by his deviations from current Republican economic orthodoxy: his willingness to raise taxes on the rich, his positive words about universal health care. And that tells you a lot about the dire state of the G.O.P. For the issues the Bush campaign is using to attack its unexpected nemesis are precisely the issues on which Mr. Trump happens to be right, and the Republican establishment has been proved utterly wrong…

During the [2012] campaign , Mr. Romney accused President Obama of favoring redistribution of income from the rich to the poor, and the truth is that Mr. Obama’s re-election did mean a significant move in that direction. Taxes on the top 1 percent went up substantially in 2013, both because some of the Bush tax cuts were allowed to expire and because new taxes associated with Obamacare kicked in. And Obamacare itself, which provides a lot of aid to lower-income families, went into full effect at the beginning of 2014.

Conservatives were very clear about what would happen as a result. Raising taxes on “job creators,” they insisted, would destroy incentives. And they were absolutely certain that the Affordable Care Act would be a “job killer.” …

So what actually happened? As of last month, the U.S. unemployment rate, which was 7.8 percent when Mr. Obama took office, had fallen to 5.1 percent. For the record, Mr. Romney promised during the campaign that he would get unemployment down to 6 percent by the end of 2016. Also for the record, the current unemployment rate is lower than it ever got under Ronald Reagan…

I’m not saying that everything is great in the U.S. economy, because it isn’t. There’s good reason to believe that we’re still a substantial distance from full employment, and while the number of jobs has grown a lot, wages haven’t. But the economy has nonetheless done far better than should have been possible if conservative orthodoxy had any truth to it. And now Mr. Trump is being accused of heresy for not accepting that failed orthodoxy? [emphasis mine]

That!  Basically, Republicans always argue vociferously that Democratic economic policies will cause a huge economic disaster (exhibit A, Bill Clinton’s tax increase), but when empirical reality shows Republicans to be 180 degrees wrong, people still keep on listening to their economic pronouncements as if they have some credibility.  They don’t.

It’s not about how big or small

Loved this EJ Dionne column about the nature of government.  It’s really not about how big or how small government is, but what it does, and who benefits.  Conservatives would have you believe that every time government helps out the little guy, that is somehow “big government” but not so.  Even a free market economy has to exist with lots of rules and those rules matter a lot.  One can pretend that rules benefiting business are “small government” and “more freedom” but that doesn’t actually make it so.  Anyway, Dionne:

Many conservatives and most libertarians argue that every new law or regulation means that government is adding to the sum total of oppression and reducing the freedom of individuals.

This way of looking at things greatly simplifies the political debate. Domestic issues are boiled down to the question of whether someone is “pro-government” or “anti-government.”

Alas for the over-simplifiers, it’s an approach that misreads the nature of the choices that regulators, politicians and citizens regularly face. It ignores that the market system itself could not exist without the rules that government establishes, beginning with statutes protecting private property and also the various measures against the use of force and fraud in business and individual transactions.

More important, it overlooks the ways in which the steps government takes often empower citizens and expand their rights. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of work…

One of the most fascinating struggles, still ongoing, is over new regulationsthat the Labor Department is trying to establish to ensure that those who give investment advice to people with 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts base their judgments on the best interests of their clients. Along with defined-contribution retirement plans, they involve some $13 trillion in investments.

The Labor Department proposal would require investment advisers to abide by a “fiduciary” standard — meaning that the best-interest-of-the-client yardstick should be their sole criterion in offering counsel to clients. If this seems obvious, that’s not what the current law requires. As Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said in an interview, the standard now is only that an investment be suitable. “What the hell is ‘suitable’?” Perez asked, noting that he would hope for more than just “suitable” advice from his doctor…

The new rules, which are being heavily contested by parts of the financial industry, are an attempt to realign the incentives, Perez argued.

 The investment-rule battle is a near-perfect example of how the government is plainly promoting free markets — what’s more market-oriented than building an investment portfolio? — but is also trying to make sure that the rules regulating the investments tilt toward the interests of the individual putting money at risk…
As long as there are markets, government will have to establish rules determining how they operate. These necessarily affect the interests of market participants. Many of the choices are not between more or less government. They are about whether what government does provides greater benefit to workers or employers, management or unions, individual investors or investment firms. [emphasis mine]
“Which side are you on?” This question from the old union song is the right question to ask about government.
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