MAY LOOK LIKE PLUTOCRAT BIAS: Tax cuts si, haircuts no!


Part 1—May look like billionaire bias:
In this morning's New York Times, a delusional column appears.

The column was written by Patrick Stewart, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas. He quickly describes his hallucinations, speaking in praise of the "gotcha questions" at the October 28 GOP debate.

Professor Stewart seems to need help. This is what he thinks he saw when he watched that two-hour evasion of substance:
STEWART (11/9/15): You would think people running for office would be happy to get all that free media attention. Yet many Republicans have condemned the debates, especially what they call “gotcha” questions. In a letter to NBC News after the recent CNBC debate, Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, wrote that moderators had “engaged in a series of ‘gotcha’ questions, petty and meanspirited in tone, and designed to embarrass our candidates.”

Yes, some viewers tune in to compare policy positions and review candidates’ experience. But many more tune in for the spectacle of “presidential survivor” in which the most quick-witted, social-media-savvy candidate moves to center stage. More important, the probing questions and the frenzied media coverage they drive are good for democracy. By knocking candidates off their talking points, these questions make the endless cycle of debates worth watching for citizens—and possibly even revelatory.

The gotcha questions—the Republican candidates define that term very loosely to include challenges on experience, policy positions and the ability to do elementary (but not Common Core) arithmetic—are in the mind of the beholder. More accurately, they are often in the excuses of the unprepared or poorly performing candidate.
Based on that passage, we think we can say the following things about the professor's delusions:

Professor Stewart seems to think he saw "probing questions" at that debate. He seems to think those probing questions extended to the candidates' "policy positions," even to their "ability to do elementary arithmetic."

Based on the questioning at the debate, the professor apparently thinks the challenge concerning basic math involved the candidates' budget proposals. He seems to think he saw the candidates "knocked off their talking points" by the moderators' probing questions.

The hallucinations continue. The professor seems to think that those probing questions have produced "frenzied media coverage" in the twelve days since that debate. As part of this delusional package, he thinks the moderators' questions "make the endless cycle of debates worth watching for citizens—and possibly even revelatory."

Question: Did anything like that actually happen concerning those budget proposals? That question is highly significant for an obvious reason.

The candidates who stood on that stage have brought forth the craziest set of budget proposals in the nation's long history. One day before the October 28 debate, one of the candidates, Candidate Kasich, said exactly that, in a highly unusual, impassioned press event.

"Crazy," Kasich repeatedly said, referring to the budget proposals of Candidates Carson and Trump. And make no mistake:

Judged by any normal standard, crazy is exactly what those budget proposals are. This leads us to our questions about the professor's health.

The professor thinks he saw probing questions about policy matters at that recent debate. He thinks those questions knocked the candidates off their talking points. He seems to think that this has have led to frenzied media coverage.

Did anything like that actually happen with respect to those "crazy" budget proposals? Has anything like that actually happened in the twelve days since the debate?

In our view, nothing like that actually happened, in the debate or since, concerning those budget proposals. Consider:

At the debate, Candidate Rubio was asked about the distributional benefits of his tax cuts—tax cuts which total an astonishing $6.1 trillion over ten years. In response, Rubio dissembled in an embarrassing way, after which he was thanked by moderator John Harwood.

Since the debate, how much discussion have you seen of Rubio's blatant dissembling? We've seen zero discussion of that, or of the trillions he would distribute in tax cuts. We've seen much more discussion of the $133 he once spent at an upscale barbershop.

Also, consider this:

Candidate Carson offered the gibberish shown below during that strange debate. It was part of his apparent claim that federal revenues wouldn't be reduced by a single tax rate of 15 percent:
CARSON (10/28/15): Let me just say, if you're talking about an $18 trillion economy, you're talking about a 15 percent tax on your gross domestic product. You're talking about $2.7 trillion.

We have a budget closer to $3.5 trillion. But if you also apply that same 15 percent to several other things, including corporate taxes, and including the capital gains taxes, you make that amount up pretty quickly. So that is not by any stretch a pie in the sky.
Do you have any idea what that means? Frankly, we do not.

Last Tuesday, Josh Barro actually addressed that gibberish in the New York Times, or at least he tried or pretended to do so. We've seen no one else make the attempt.

Good for Barro! For our money, he worked a bit too hard to avoid describing that bafflegab (which he quoted) as simple gibberish. But in the process, he noted another problem with Carson's policy presentations that night:
BARRO (11/3/15): Becky Quick, one of the moderators, asked how [Carson] planned to finance the government with a 10 percent tax based on tithing, even though that would bring in less than half as much revenue as the federal government collects today.

Mr. Carson disclaimed that idea. “Well, first of all, I didn’t say that the rate would be 10 percent,” he told Ms. Quick.

Well, actually, he did.
At the first Republican debate, he described the plan as follows: “You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one.” But anyway, Mr. Carson now doesn’t think a 10 percent rate is workable, and said the rate would have to be closer to 15 percent.
Rather plainly, Carson did seem to have prescribed a single, 10 percent tax rate. He seemed to do so at the first GOP debate! And it was on TV!

That said, with what "probing question" was Carson confronted when he denied that he'd said such a thing? "I understand that," Quick instantly said, affirming his bogus statement.

Candidate Carson's budget gibberish bordered on the less-than-sane at that recent debate. But if you think you saw him challenged by the moderators that night, you're as delusional as the professor seems to be.

Nor has Carson been challenged on his bafflegab or his budget nonsense in the twelve days since that debate. Our journalists have been talking about who he did and didn't attempt to stab in the 1960s, not about his crazy budget proposal or his budget bafflegab.

Can we talk? Those candidates have offered the craziest budget proposals in the history of the republic. Meanwhile, that debate was staged by CNBC, a cable channel which is alleged to specialize in financial/business/budget affairs.

The stage was set for a major battle, even an Armageddon. But despite the professor's column, that battle never occurred.

All this week, we'll look at the way those moderators, and the rest of the press, have avoided discussing the craziness of those budget proposals. And uh-oh! Because the craziness of those plans concerns their giveaways to the massively wealthy, we'd have to say that this silence may start to look like an expression of plutocrat bias.

Our journalists discuss the hundreds of dollars spent at a barbershop. They avoid the trillions handed to millionaire and billionaires in those budget plans!

Those plans are "crazy," Kasich said. The numbers strongly support that claim. When journalists refuse to discuss this particular version of The Crazy, a cynic will say that they may be expressing a tilt toward plutocrat bias.

Tax cuts si, haircuts no? What explains that puzzling tilt? We'll puzzle about that all week long. But the tilt is pernicious, widespread.

Tomorrow: The refusal to focus, challenge, confront


  1. Of course the ultimate delusion was Bob Somerby changing his theme from liberal bias to plutocrat bias, a term he never used before, then suggest it was "astounding" that Kevin Drum and Ezra Klein did not recognize or talk about plutocrat bias in articles they wrote before Somerby coined the term.

    1. Yes, the problem is all Bob Somerby. Yes, Somerby has been insisting that this exact phrase be used, "plutocrat bias".

      I agree with Somerby that few pundits want to discuss the details of Republican tax plans. I also agree that failure to discuss these plans benefits the rich, because the proposals all favor the wealthy.

      I think, in addition to wishing to serve the interests that pay their salaries, pundits don't wish to discuss things that confuse readers/viewers and don't wish to bore their audiences. People in general don't like to expend mental effort on thinking about things that are hard to understand. They don't understand budgets and taxes. They pay other people to think about such things. Those who do make the effort to learn math and think quantitatively have an enormous advantage in life over those who don't. None of the Republican candidates wants to seriously grapple with our nation's finances and they especially don't want to talk about such things to voters -- so they present easy to understand sound bites about plans that sound good to voters but otherwise make no sense at all. It isn't that they are crazy -- it is that they are not trying to communicate to an audience that doesn't want to know how our nation pays its bills.

      The quote by the professor (Somerby's tone is derisive) includes a sarcastic reference to Common Core. That reflects how everyone seems to think about the hard work of evaluating candidate tax plans. Somerby seems to think pundits should be delving into the details and showing how unworkable the various plans are. He could do that himself but chooses not to. So does everyone else. Is it any surprise that no one understands enough about finances to recognize the craziness of the proposed plans? Kasich did and he "lost" the debate. Who willingly abuses audience attention by telling people what they do not wish to hear? It doesn't take a plutocrat to buy off such a media. The public speaks loudly and it doesn't want to hear about budgets and taxes or any other boring math stuff.

    2. You have to wonder about these folks. Their press is a joke, but what *really* gets their goat is Bob Somerby.

    3. Gee Drum Major and Corby. did anyone say Somerby was a problem, much less "the" problem? Did anyone say a word about the press? The comment you guys respond to said Somerby was delusional and your responses seem to be Rubioesque efforts to dodge that issue.

    4. What is delusional to me about this piece is that Somerby seems to think Stewart is referencing only the CNBC debate.

      Clearly Stewart is talking about all of them.

      Of course Somerby might not be delusional for making it appear that way. But if not, then he seems deceptive.

    5. Did Somerby cover any of the other debates?

  2. Loved Patrick Stewart on Star Trek.

    1. Love the movie Idiocracy. We are there ahead of schedule.

    2. Idiocracy is the ultimate liberal elitist kind of movie.

    3. Corby didn't seem to object to @ 10:45 enjoying a joke at someone's name. Guess it struck him as adult enough to provoke a joke in return.

    4. @10:45 didn't make a joke about Patrick Stewart's name. He confused a professor with an actor. My remark obliquely commented on 10:45's tragic ignorance.

    5. Professor Dr. Corby doesn't get jokes.

    6. You aren't as funny as you think you are.

  3. In order to evaluate media bias, you need to compare how the media treat both parties. Yet, Prof Stewart ignored the obvious point that questions asked of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were a lot different from those asked of Republicans, in tone and in content.

    1. Ezra Klein did an intersting comparison of the questions asked of the Democrats and Republicans at all of the previous debates. Of course he didn't attack the media for plutocrat bias, so he is not as honest as Bob.

    2. It may just seem that way to you, David, because almost everyone on that stage from your party is batshit insane and should be treated thusly in adult society.

      “There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.” ― Isaac Asimov

    3. It is also nurtured by the conflation of education/knowledge with upper class status and church-control education present in Europe since the Middle Ages. Since our country's founding, some have tried to widen access to education (decoupling it from church and privilege) while others have sought to limit political access to just those with property (and thus also basic education). So scorning education has seemed to be a way to knock down hereditary privilege and broaden political access. That continued through waves of immigration, except that the immigrants themselves quickly recognized that the way to improve their status was to get educated. I see attacks on public schools as an attempt to control access to privilege by limiting knowledge and opportunities for upward mobility. I see it as no accident that the right has been trying to dominate education while the left has tried to broaden access and social inclusion, encompassing immigrants. This current election is an extension of three hundred plus years of wrangling over these same issues.

      Somerby is a bit confused when he attacks professors while simultaneously decrying public ignorance and the know-nothing stance of the Republicans. Most (not all) professors want what he wants -- a better life for their students, wider access to higher education, support for schools, and a level playing field for all. Plutocrats and the media don't want any of that.

    4. Let me state my broad point, which may be Bob's point as well. The moderator bias in that CNBC Republican debate was glaringly obvious. Yet there's an effort by some liberals to disappear the obvious bias. The Times' decision to run this dumb article was part of that campaign to deny the obvious.

    5. You and Somerby clearly disagree about what type of bias was being displayed.

      While elections need to be fair, I don't see any reason why moderators need to be unbiased. A serious candidate should be able to handle whatever type of question is asked. I agree with those who have asked how these candidates will deal with hostile questions from Putin or the White House Press Corps, if they cannot handle the basic things they were asked at the last debate.

    6. What scares me about the GOP candidates is the substance of what they are advancing - cut taxes drastically, especially for the richest, abolish the estate tax, and substantially increase defense spending (except for Paul) - abolish the IRS, reduce the 70,000 page tax code / regulations (if that's how many pages it is, which I doubt) to 3 pages, and somehow this will result in a balanced budget.and lead us into a shining era of prosperity. Also the go to war with Iran tenor of their positions. The moderators at the debate did ask some aggressive, gotcha style questions, which often were kind of dumb. I don't watch MSNBC, but I imagine their main qualification is that they're telegenic. The whole debate system is a long long way from perfect. D in C, the constant whining that the MSM is biased is simplistic and unintelligent. The moderators were inept, not biased. I've known many former Republicans who have switched because the party has gone so far off the deep end over the past several years and getting worse and worse. Not you though, eh?

    7. AC/MA -- I agree with you. As an actuary, I am particularly concerned about fiscal reality. The Dem proposals to increase benefits in the face of huge and (according to official projections) growing deficits are also fiscally nuts, but less so.

      I see the debates as mainly a way to determine how qualified a candidate is to hold the office of President. The platforms, not so much. The Republican's crazy promises of big tax cuts and the Democrats' moderately crazy promises of big benefit increases are not going to happen, no matter who's elected. Fiscal realities will prevent either one from happening. But, Hillary or Trump or Carson, or Sanders or one of the other clowns will actually be the next President.

    8. "As an actuary ...."

      "As a comedian in all seriousness ...."

      - Bobby Bittman

    9. The USA is the richest country in the history of mankind. We have enough money to increase benefits.
      I'm old enough to remember how broke we were, and how there wasn't enough money to continue unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed. Then we turned around and blew more than $2 Trillion on a war of choice.
      We have enough money to do great things for the citizenry.

      DinC, you're confusing lack of political will with lack of money.

  4. Warning to casual readers of this blog: The comments here are not moderated and are infested with people who shift identity, adopting names they perhaps got from dogs fed urine cakes. These comments do not reflect the real problem, which is people who won't go away and a blogger who won't block them. This makes this comment box a barren place where your conversations can gain no purchase among the many who choose to remain anonymous.

  5. Tax cuts seen, Haircuts not.

    "Since the debate, how much discussion have you seen of Rubio's blatant dissembling? We've seen zero discussion of that, or of the trillions he would distribute in tax cuts. We've seen much more discussion of the $133 he once spent at an upscale barbershop.

    "Rubio's Tax Cut Is A Huge Giveaway To The Rich, And This Graph Proves It
    About half of the benefits would go to the wealthiest 5 percent of Americans."

    Huffington Post 11/5/15

    Rubio’s risible ruse: his tax cuts won’t pay for themselves
    Maddow Blog

    Marco Rubio's $6 Trillion Problem

    Marco Rubio’s tax plan gives a huge gift to the top 0.0003 percent

    Washington Post

    Marco Rubio (and every Republican) is hiding his tax cut's true effect on the poor

    Bob Somerby
    Making It Up for the Heck of It

    1. Thank you -- this covers the trillions, but where is the dissembling discussed?

    2. Makin It Up With BobNovember 9, 2015 at 5:15 PM

      "The trouble started in earnest at the last debate for Republicans presidential candidates – the ones pundits decided was a triumph for Rubio – when CNBC’s John Harwood pressed the Florida senator on his tax-cut plan.
      HARWOOD: The Tax Foundation, which was alluded to earlier, scored your tax plan and concluded that you give nearly twice as much of a gain in after-tax income to the top 1 percent as to people in the middle of the income scale. Since you’re the champion of Americans living paycheck-to- paycheck, don’t you have that backward?

      RUBIO: No, that’s – you’re wrong.
      It turns out, analysis from both the left and right scrutinized Rubio’s plan and found that he was completely wrong. I can’t say whether he was deliberately trying to deceive viewers or simply unaware of the details of his own policy, but in either case, the senator’s claims were false.

      In the days that followed, scrutiny of Rubio’s plan intensified. Vox’s Dylan Matthews talked directly to Rubio staffers and discovered that the senator’s plan includes even more generous tax breaks for the top 1% than Jeb Bush’s and Donald Trump’s plans. An analysis for Citizens for Tax Justice also found that the bulk of the benefits in the Rubio plan would go to the very, very wealthy.

      Indeed, New York’s Jon Chait added, “Rubio’s proposal deliberately provides some benefits to Americans of modest income, which means that its enormous tax cuts for the very rich come alongside some pretty decent-size tax cuts for the rest of us. All told, Rubio’s plan would reduce federal revenue by $11.8 trillion over the next decade. The entire Bush tax cuts cost about $3.4 trillion over a decade, making the Rubio tax cuts more than three times as costly.”

      The Maddow Blog

    3. Fakin It, Shakin It, Somerby StyleNovember 9, 2015 at 5:19 PM

      Marco Rubio and John Harwood's testy debate exchange on taxes, explained

      Updated by Dylan Matthews on October 30, 2015, 10:20 a.m. ET @dylanmatt

      "At Wednesday night's CNBC debate, moderator John Harwood confronted Marco Rubio on his $4 trillion tax cut plan, noting that while Rubio's rhetoric has focused on expanding opportunity to poor and middle-class families, his tax proposal would overwhelmingly benefit the rich."


    4. Hey @ 4:14

      Show us some haircut!