According to Intelligence reports, Russian hackers influenced the U.S. Presidential election by hacking and leaking Democratic emails.  The Russians also sought to influence the election in a number of other ways, all of which fall broadly under the label of “propaganda.”

Moreover, the goal of all these operations, the reports say, was to help Trump’s campaign and hurt Clinton’s.

All this has left many of the Republicans–normally National Security hawks–in a bit of a quandary. Most of them seem to (at least implicitly) subscribe to the following view:

“Yes, it is bad that Russia hacked communications belonging to one of our political parties.  And yes, we should probably stop them from doing that in the future.

But, since there is no evidence that Russia tampered with the actual vote totals, it in no way casts doubt on the election or makes it illegitimate. The people voted in a fair election, and Trump won enough electoral votes to win the election.”

The argument can be distilled down to “it’s not our fault if people voted for us on the basis of foreign propaganda.”

There seems to be a sort of “gentleman’s agreement” among the major powers of the world that they won’t interfere in each others’ elections.  But, to quote the movie Lawrence of Arabia: “There may be honor among thieves, but there’s none in politicians.” So ti’s not really surprising that the agreement got violated.

Hillary Clinton said she believed Russia carried out this operation because Putin had “personal beef” with her. Apparently, Putin blames her for interfering in Russian elections in 2011, and took this opportunity to get revenge.

This makes me wonder: would the Russians have conducted an operation like this no matter who Clinton’s opponent was? Or was it motivated by Trump’s business ties and friendly stance toward the Russians?  In other words, were the Russians primarily trying to hurt Clinton, or to help Trump?

That may seem like a distinction without a difference, but I think it is a question worth asking.

For the past week, all any one is taking about is Niall Ferguson’s Newsweek article on the case against re-electing President Obama.  There has been a lot of arguing between Ferguson and many high-profile bloggers about various points in the article which are either false or misleading.  There is also the revelation that Newsweek does not actually fact-check their articles.  I think that aspect of it has been pretty well hashed-over, so I’m not going to spend much time on it.

What I want to address is why Ferguson thinks Romney would be any better.  Because, the question is not “is Obama the best candidate for the Presidency,” but  “is he better than Romney?”  Ferguson’s reasons for favoring Romney seem to rest largely on the fact that his V.P. is Paul Ryan.  Big deal.  The Vice-Presidency is practically worthless except in the hands of somebody with vast experience with how Washington works and tons of connections within the political arena.  But I don’t think Romney wants to market Ryan as “the next Dick Cheney”.

Then, of course, there is the problem that Ryan is not really all he’s cracked up to be, as documented by Ferguson’s arch-nemesis, Paul Krugman.  I’ll address that in a minute but first let’s allow, for the sake of argument, that Paul Ryan is, as Ferguson writes “truly sincere about addressing this country’s fiscal crisis.”  He’s still just the Vice-President.  Arguably, he could do more to implement his budget schemes in his current position as Congressman than as Romney’s back-up.

But here is where things get problematic:  Ferguson’s argument is that the economy has sucked under Obama.  That’s true.  There’s no two ways about it, as they say.  And while that’s not completely or even mostly Obama’s fault, his administration has definitely made some mistakes on that front.

So, is the Romney/Ryan ticket likely to do a better job or a worse job?

Ferguson describes Ryan’s plan, kind of assuming that his plan is what Romney will pursue:

Replace Medicare with a voucher program for those now under 55 (not current or imminent recipients), turn Medicaid and food stamps into block grants for the states, and—crucially—simplify the tax code and lower tax rates to try to inject some supply-side life back into the U.S. private sector. Ryan is not preaching austerity. He is preaching growth.

“Growth”, eh? Well, to get growth, you need a multiplier effectThe estimated values for multipliers on tax cuts range from 1.29 to 0.27, according to Mark Zandi, Chief Economist at Moody’s, in a study cited by Wikipedia. The same study estimated the multipliers for government spending increases ranged from 1.73 to 1.36.  These are the different effects a change in tax cuts or spending have on growth of domestic output. (GDP)

If you notice, the number 1.36 is greater than the number 1.29.  That means that if you multiply the same number by both, you get a greater answer from the number that’s greater.  The spending increase number is greater than the tax cut number.  I realize this is difficult to understand.  Apparently, a Harvard professor and the Republican candidate for Vice-President can’t follow it.

Alright, so I’m being a sarcastic jerk.  There is an alternative explanation: that everything we thought we knew about basic macro-economics is wrong, in which case all bets are off.  We may as well just go back to the barter system.  Neoclassical synthesis?  No thank you!  The Republicans seem beholden to a school of thought which, rather than having a macro-economic model and a micro-economic model, simply extrapolates the principles of classical micro to describe the macro.

Remember what Ferguson wrote, about “supply-side life”?  Well, that’s a swell plan if you’re facing a supply side recession, as we were in the 1970s.  But we’re not facing that now.  We’re facing a demand-side recession.  How do I know this?  Because there has been a decrease in GDP and low inflation–almost deflation.  If it were a supply-side issue, there would have been a decrease in GDP and a rise in the price level–aka “stagflation“.  Meaning, the supply-side stuff advocated by Ronald Reagan that worked to an extent in the early ’80s won’t work now.

(Not that I suppose you care, but here is a graph of what the present problem is.  It’s lousy quality, and I just sketched it without using any numbers or anything, but I couldn’t find any public domain graphs of an Aggregate Demand decrease online.)

The Recession: Aggregate Demand decreases, causing decrease in price level and GDP

So, Paul Ryan–and, Ferguson would have us presume, Romney–are bringing supply to a demand fight.  Their plan is to cut taxes and reduce spending, when what they should be doing is increasing spending and leaving taxes alone until the economy has recovered, at which point they could reduce spending and raise taxes to start dealing with the debt problem.

That is why, even though Obama has messed up his handling of the economy, it would not be smart to vote him out because of it.  His replacements would be even worse.

Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan said one of his favorite bands is Rage Against The Machine.  The band’s guitarist, Tom Morello, wrote a response to him in Rolling Stone, saying that Ryan’s beliefs are antithetical to what the band believes, and what their lyrics say.  But, Morello notes, Ryan says “he likes Rage’s sound, but not the lyrics.”

I’ve never understood that.  I don’t know much about music, so I just listen to it as background to the lyrics.  If I like the lyrics, I’ll like the song.  If I don’t, I won’t.  That doesn’t mean I don’t care at all about the music, but it’s definitely a secondary element for me.

That said, it’s easy to like music that is ideologically opposite from oneself.  I like a lot of Marty Robbins‘s songs, even though he was a hardcore conservative.  I think Warren Zevon was a conservative as well, but he’s still one of my favorite singer/songwriters ever.

Anyway, Paul Ryan says he likes RATM’s “sound”.  I’ve only heard a few songs by them, and they seem like the sort of thing he would like.  Too much random loud noise and screaming of the lyrics for my taste; makes them hard to understand.  It’s too bad, because the lyrics themselves are pretty good.  If Ryan is just in it for the “sound”, I’d have to say he’s lucky he still has his hearing.

As Morello is winding down his article, he writes:

But Rage’s music affects people in different ways. Some tune out what the band stands for and concentrate on the moshing and throwing elbows in the pit. For others, Rage has changed their minds and their lives. Many activists around the world, including organizers of the global occupy movement, were radicalized by Rage Against the Machine and work tirelessly for a more humane and just planet. Perhaps Paul Ryan was moshing when he should have been listening.

I think Morello is making a mistake here, because I suspect that most of the band’s success comes from those same “moshers”.  Morello shouldn’t insult them, even if he is understandably upset that one of them is a candidate for national office despite not listening to the band’s message.

While we’re on the subject, why are so many irrelevant details of Paul Ryan’s life making the news?  First there was the thing about his clothes, now it’s his musical tastes.  People are also excited about his hobby, bow-hunting. (Ugh!) Although at least that’s tangentially related to his policy decisions, because one of his major achievements is lowering taxes on arrow makers.

The New York Times has a bizarre fluff article about Paul Ryan’s fashion sense.  This isn’t really my area of expertise–he wears dark suits, like every other male politician–but the article does raise a lot of interesting questions about attractiveness and its relevance to politics.

I think that politicians in general are better looking now than they were before the advent of television and high-quality photographs.  You can’t go around looking like  Martin Van Buren and expect to be President anymore.

Martin Van Buren (Image via Wikipedia.)

Admittedly, not everyone in politics nowadays is pin-up material.  Actually, even people like Ryan, Obama, Palin and all the other supposedly attractive pols are just slightly above-average-looking people.  None of them would turn heads on the street.  But by the standards of the political arena, they look like movie stars.  I suspect this is because to be a major figure in politics, you usually have to be fairly old and spend a lot of time sitting around indoors.  This lifestyle isn’t conducive to getting on People magazine’s “Most Beautiful” list.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two consecutive Republican Vice-Presidential nominees have been relatively young and physically fit people.  They know how much looks matter in politics.  The NYT article referenced above makes it sound like only the Republicans do this, however.  Not true.  Why, the Democrats were perhaps the first beneficiaries of the attractiveness bias, in that it provided JFK the critical edge he needed in a close race against the haggard-looking Richard Nixon.

It’s not the same thing as the “charisma” that I write about so much–both Romney and Ryan are good-looking, but not at all charismatic–but it’s related.  And if you can’t get a charismatic politician to run for your side, getting a nice-looking one is probably the next best thing.

It’s been said that “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people”.  Well, now it’s coming to be Hollywood for slightly above-average looking people.  Eventually, political strategists will decide the best thing to do is put forth incredibly telegenic puppet candidates, and having the real nitty-gritty work of running the country done behind the scenes by people who look like Karl Rove or James Carville.  Or maybe that’s already going on.

Official Portrait of Congressman Paul Ryan

No doubt you are all reading about the big political announcement of the day. Everyone is talking about it.

I am referring, of course, to William Russell Sype’s announcement of his candidacy for President in 2016.  As long-time friends of my blog, he and his campaign manager P.M. Prescott will have my support.  I will not even expect him to appoint me Chairman of the Federal Reserve in exchange for my endorsement. (hint, hint.)

But there is actually another political announcement in the news today.  Apparently, the candidate the Republican Party Doesn’t Want But Thoroughly Deserves has gone and picked Paul “Andrew” Ryan as his running mate.

Yes, the man who said “The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand,” is now running for Vice-President.  That statement, on the face of it, would probably have made Ayn Rand ill, since saying “public service” to an objectivist is like saying “it” to the Knights Who Say “Ni”.  But, perhaps they would be willing to make an exception for someone willing to attack the irrational values of charity from within, a la Darth Sidious.

In my opinion, this does not really change anything about the campaign, although it does excite the base.  The Democratic base, that is, because I think they dislike Ryan more than the Republicans ever really liked him.