A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

“Death, fire, and burglary make all men equals.” —Dickens

People Who Discriminate Against Chick-Fil-A Are So Intolerant

by evanmcmurry

Here’s the National Review‘s take on the Chick-Fil-A controversy. Dial down the “sexual revolution = totalitarianism” hyperbole—though I guess since both sides of that equation are inflated, they are mathematically equal—and NR actually has a point:

Let’s be clear about the mayor’s intent. No one has credibly accused Chick-fil-A of discrimination in employment or in it services. Every customer gets served, regardless of sex, race, creed, sexual orientation, or any other factor. Chick-fil-A stores comply with all applicable local, state, and federal nondiscrimination laws. Yet the mayor believes the business has no place in his town because of the constitutionally protected speech, ideas, and gifts of its executives and leaders.  

I’ll give ’em that. Chick-Fil-A isn’t implementing any discriminatory policy, near as I can tell*. The uproar seems to be about owner Dan Cathy’s public denouncement of same-sex marriage in a recent Baptist Press article, an opinion he apparently backs up with donations to anti-gay marriage organizations. If you don’t like that, which you shouldn’t, do what the Muppets did and withdraw your support, in your case by not eating there. Banning a company from a municipality over its owner’s views is impractical and reactionary.

But here’s where NR loses me:

Unless our nation has truly entered a post-constitutional age, [Menino’s] intolerance won’t prevail in federal court.

Man, you gotta have a corkscrew to twist those actively prohibiting same-sex marriage into the victims of intolerance.

* Here’s the only quote from the Baptist Pressunnecessarily ugly website that could potentially indicate a policy of actually coercing employees based on an anti-gay marriage stance.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

So whatever “anything we possibly can to strengthen families” means.

Mass shootings and gun sales

by pdxblake

According to the Denver Post (ht NPR),

“Between Friday and Sunday, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation approved background checks for 2,887 people who wanted to purchase a firearm — a 43 percent increase over the previous Friday through Sunday and a 39 percent jump over those same days on the first weekend of July.”

Which of course answers Jon Stewart’s alarm over the conservative push-back against gun control.  It is definitely NOT time to talk about gun control, say the pundits, well at least until they get back from the gun store.

American Exceptionalism, From Stalin To Palin

by evanmcmurry

Frank Rich’s cover story on the factitious concept of American decline is worth a read (long article short: American exceptionalism is being sold to the country as a blind for the fact that rocketing inequality has made economic exceptionalism unattainable). Most interesting, he links to this Atlantic piece that should (but won’t) shut up anybody who uses the term “American exceptionalism”:

In 1929, Communist leader Jay Lovestone informed Stalin in Moscow that the American proletariat wasn’t interested in revolution. Stalin responded by demanding that he end this “heresy of American exceptionalism.” And just like that, this expression was born. What Lovestone meant, and how Stalin understood it, however, isn’t how Gingrich and Romney (or even Obama) frame it. Neither Lovestone or Stalin felt that the United States was superior to other nations — actually, the opposite. Stalin “ridiculed” America for its abnormalities, which he cast under the banner of “exceptionalism”…As the Great Depression enveloped the United States, Stalin’s argument — if not his bluster — seemed well grounded. “Exceptionalism was a disease, a chronic disease,” wrote communist S. Milgrom of Chicago in 1930. “The storm of the economic crisis in the United States blew down the house of cards of American exceptionalism,” the American Communist Party declared at its convention in April 1930.

D’oh. Conservatives believe the phrase to have been coined de Tocqueville. But even this should be problematic for them, as equality was half of de Tocqueville’s American equation, the part that regulated the freedom half and kept it from creating the vastly unjust society that Rich and others contend we’ve become. Sample chapter from Democracy in America: “Why Democratic Peoples Show a More Ardent and More Lasting Love for Equality than for Freedom.” Plus he was a French aristocrat.

Rich goes on to show how the use of the term in the modern conservative sense didn’t even exist before the 1980s and didn’t gain its current feverish prominence until Sarah Palin started using it toward the end of the 2008 campaign to mean “what Obama is not.” The only president to have used the term in the 83 years since Stalin invented it? Obama.

Romney On Gun Control Is As Good As You’d Think

by evanmcmurry

For fuck’s sake:

ROMNEY: I still believe that the Second Amendment is the right course to preserve and defend and don’t believe that new laws are going to make a difference in this type of tragedy. There are–were, of course, very stringent laws which existed in Aurora, Colorado. Our challenge is not the laws, our challenge is people who, obviously, are distracted from reality and do unthinkable, unimaginable, inexplicable things.

As Weigel points out, “This is the opposite of true.” Colorado has a bevy of legislation making James Holmes’ arsenal legal and accessible.

We’ve all been wondering how Republicans were going to spin a tragedy that practically demands more stringent gun laws. I guess the answer is they’re going to simply say those laws are already in place, and didn’t stop anything, so laws must not work*.

Note, also, that Romney tries to dig his way out of his patently false assertion by pivoting to what I was talking about yesterday: if the gun lobby seriously believes people kill people, it should be leading the charge to reduce shooting incidents via mental health reform, right? But Romney doesn’t get anywhere closer to this point than mentioning people “distracted from reality” before scooting away. He doesn’t want to be the one advancing mental health reform. He’s got Obamacare to run against.

* This ended up being Russell Pearce’s argument after he walked back his atrocious “Where were the heroes of 9/11?!?!” Facebook post. Long Pearce short: gun control laws kept everybody else in the theater from packing, so they couldn’t stop the dude with the body armor. You’re through the looking glass when you’re blaming non-existent gun control laws for mass shootings.

Romney’s Obama Attack Ad Featured A Small Business Owner Who’s Benefitted From Government Loans And Contracts

by evanmcmurry

Mitt Romney’s narrative is having a sad 24 hours. Yesterday, MSNBC found a clip of Romney voicing, almost word for word, the “you didn’t build that line” over which he’s attacking Obama. Romney was talking about Olympic athletes, Obama about small businesses, but the two lines celebrated the exact same notion of cooperation as a precondition for individual achievement.

Now it’s come out that the small business owner so outraged in Romney’s attack ad against Obama—“My father’s hands didn’t build this company? My hands didn’t build this company? My son’s hands aren’t building this company?”—has actually received multiple federally-funded loans and contracts. Via Jake Tapper:

The New Hampshire Union Leader’s John DiStato today reports that in 1999 the business in question, Gilchrist Metal, “received $800,000 in tax-exempt revenue bonds issued by the New Hampshire Business Finance Authority ‘to set up a second manufacturing plant and purchase equipment to produce high definition television broadcasting equipment’…” In addition, in 2011, Gilchrist Metal “received two U.S. Navy sub-contracts totaling about $83,000 and a smaller, $5,600 Coast Guard contract in 2008…”

The businessman, Jack Gilchrist, also acknowledged that in the 1980s the company received a U.S. Small Business Administration loan totaling “somewhere south of” $500,000, and matching funds from the federally-funded New England Trade Adjustment Assistance Center.

Gilchrist, of course, feels totally entitled to this money:

“I’m not going to turn a blind eye because the money came from the government,” Gilchrest said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m getting some of my tax money back. I’m not stupid, I’m not going to say ‘no.’ Shame on me if I didn’t use what’s available.”

I’m sure everybody on food stamps is still a Taker, though.

Ordinarily, when a narrative fails as spectacularly as Romney’s is right now, it’s a matter of bad messaging, or timing, or whatnot. But in this case, Romney’s attack is failing because it’s flat out wrong. Obama’s point—that individual economic achievement is only made possible through community endeavor, so that continued economic success requires replenishment of community resources in addition to individual incentives—is true. It’s not true in the “revenue increases are necessary to balancing the budget” way, in which the complexities of the argument can be spun by a cynical opponent; it’s True true, so much so that Romney once endorsed it, and can’t find a counterexample that won’t blow up in his face. Too bad the debate Romney’s losing is central to his economic philosophy.

Ari Fleisher: The tax system isn’t fair because the 1% pay too much

by pdxblake

Bush’s former press secretary Ari Fleischer is out with an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal showing he has lost none of the skill at lying that he displayed while working for Bush.  His op-ed concludes with the idea that:

[Obama]’s right that the system isn’t fair, but not because the top 1% pay too little. It is because they pay too much.

His evidence?  Congressional Budget Office data that he describes:

There’s also another way of looking at fairness, and that’s the tax burden. Here, consider the top 20% of income earners (over $74,000). They make 50% of the nation’s income but pay nearly 70% of all federal taxes.

The remaining 30% of the tax burden is borne by 80% of the taxpayers, those who make less than $74,000. In short, this group’s share of taxes paid, 30%, is lower than the share of income they earn, 50%.

This is a frequent conservative dodge to say that the rich pay too much in taxes and if the rest of America wants government programs, well, we should dig into our pockets to pay for it instead of asking the rich to bail us out (oh, yes, the irony with the response to the financial crisis is rich).

Let’s start with an easy bogey about who we are talking here.  Let’s for a moment look at how much the top 1% of income earners make (they represent the area with the most outsized growth in income over the past 30 years).  The chart below shows that the top 1% have more income than the bottom 50%.

Source: CBPP

Breaking this down by share of total income:

Top 1: 20%
2-20th percentiles: 30%
21-50th percentile: 37%
51-100th percentile: 13%

Even within the top 20% of income earners, the bulk of the income is at the top: the top 1% are even richer than the rest of the top quintile (top 20%).  And it turns out that the growth of the 1% is the largest driver of inequality in the US over the past 30 years.  The chart shows the share of income going to the top 1%, compared with the Gini index, which is a measure of inequality (where at 0 everyone’s income is equal and at 1, one person has all of the income).  If anything this chart understates the rise in inequality since it only measures income, not wealth.

What does this have to do with the top 20% paying most of the the income taxes?  The role of the system of progressive taxation we have is that it is supposed to reduce before-tax inequality by providing assistance to the poorest, funded by everyone, but with a higher marginal tax rates for higher incomes (higher tax rates on every dollar above a certain threshold).  You can measure the progressivity of the tax code by looking at the percentage decrease in the Gini index from the before-tax income distribution to the after-tax income distribution.  The higher the reduction, the more progressive the tax code is.

The tax system was pretty good at narrowing the income distribution in 1980 when it lowered the Gini index by 10%.  The progressivity was decreased significantly from the application of supply side policies at the beginning of Reagan’s first term.  It declined all the way to the tax reform in 1986 (signed by the Socialist Ronald Reagan), which reversed the trend.  The Center for American Progress describes:

The 1986 reforms lowered the top marginal tax rate but also removed or reformed a host of provisions that allowed rich households to reduce their tax bills, and raised the tax rate on investment income. The combined effect was an increase in the effective tax rate for the richest 1 percent from 25.5 percent in 1986 to 31.2 percent in 1987, and small tax cuts for the bottom 60 percent of households.

Clinton added by raising taxes on the wealthy in his first term, but began the trend reversal by lowering the tax rate on capital gains (which mainly go to the wealthy) and the progressivity of the tax system began to suffer.  This of course was continued under Bush, and the full extension of the tax cuts in 2010 until the end of 2012 continued to chip away at the progressivity of the tax system as many wealthy people had tax losses from 2008 that significantly reduced their tax burden in 2009 (and could be carried forward into 2010).

So now here we are, with a tax system that is at its least progressive since 1992, when the country had just gone through 12 years of Reagan and Bush and we are at a crossroads.  Conservatives are complaining about the taxes on the rich (even as the 1% has its highest share of income; see this CAP report for further debunking of the “the rich are taxed too much”).  We have a choice about whether a progressive tax system where people pay higher tax rates as their income increases, or an alternate reality where the rich see their tax burden go down as social programs that help those with the lowest incomes get slashed.  I know which direction I want to go in.

Obama = Nixon

by evanmcmurry

Mitch McConnell, from a Dahlia Lithwick article about the DISCLOSE law:

This amounts to nothing more than member and donor harassment and intimidation, and it’s all part of a broader government-led intimidation effort by this administration. There are parallel efforts at the FCC, SEC, IRS, DoJ, and the White House itself to silence its critics. The creation of a modern day Nixonian enemies list is currently in full swing and, frankly, the American people should not stand for it. As I’ve said before, no individual or group in this country should have to face harassment or intimidation, or incur crippling expenses defending themselves again their own government, simply because that government doesn’t like the message they’re advocating.

Nixonian! The Obama administration is bad because…it’s acting too much like a former Republican administration. How long before Republicans accuse some future Democratic president of seizing too much executive power by calling him “Bushlike?” (via Slate)