A Flea in the Fur of the Beast

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

Showing the impact of Obama and Romney’s tax plans (CHART)

by pdxblake

This is the clearest visual description of the difference between Romney and Obama’s tax plans.  Unlike most charts, this one from Naomi Robbins at Forbes (refining a chart from Ezra Klein) modifies his chart so that the horizontal axis so it is scaled correctly. What it shows is how narrowly Obama’s tax cuts affect the wealthy (the parts of the blue towards the right are very narrow meaning very few people are affected).  Romney’s plan gives a ton of tax cuts to the highest income people and the cost is borne across a large number of low income Americans.  I don’t think that’s fair, and this should be what the election is about, not selectively editing quotes about whether or not you did or did not build that.

Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day: When Free Speech Is A Trap (UPDATED)

by evanmcmurry

Hooray for conservatives and their Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day. They have every right to support an establishment that shares their values, as Dan Cathy has every right to proclaim those values, and so on. Freedom, etc.

I’ll only point out that, up until now, Chick-Fil-A still could have scooted out of this thing intact. The chain got a heap of bad press due to the scandal, and likely lost a small consortium of occasional customers who stopped in at a Chick-Fil-A twice a year because it was there when they wanted lunch. Count me among them; I rarely ate at Chick-Fil-A, mostly because I rarely came across them, but I remember them from high school, thought their sandwiches were fine, and was fully aware of and unbothered by their Christian values, as those values seemed to be expressed entirely in positive form, i.e., charity, helping their employees pay for college, and so on. I’m probably never going to eat at a Chick-Fil-A again after this, but let’s face it: I was worth about $18 in revenue to the restaurant over the course of the next decade, so no big loss. If they lost the 5% of their business that was like me, they’d be fine, and Chick-Fil-A would live on in the popular consciousness as That Chicken Place That Is Kinda Conservative But Also We’re Hungry.

Today, though, thousands and thousands of people are conspicuously and forthrightly patronizing Chick-Fil-A because it does not support gay marriage. Again, they have every right to do so, but they’re actively cementing in the public mind the association between the restaurant and the stance. There’s no more sequestering Dan Cathy’s views from the restaurant’s views; there’s no more pretending this was an off-handed remark that got blown out of proportion; there’s no more acting like this was a false controversy ginned up by the lamestream media. Chick-Fil-A, as of today, is Pollo de Bigot, a chain that aggressively disputes the notion that same-sex couples should have the same rights straight couples do.

Conservatives will think this is great. But you know who probably doesn’t think it’s great? The entire gaggle of executives and vice-presidents and board members and investors, most of whom probably don’t give a good goddamn about same-sex marriage, and who just want Chick-Fil-A to be a successful company. As Jonathan Merritt informed us in what now appears to be an unofficial coming-out statement, one of the chain’s primary markets is college campuses, where support for same-sex marriage intersects a tendency to act on political beliefs. Chick-Fil-A will make hundred of thousands of dollars today, and get some more active customers out of the gimmick, but the overall effect will be to widen the impression of the chain as an actively anti-gay company beyond the likes of me, who don’t matter, and into the millions of college students who might be spending $18 a week at the place. These are young customers who could have formed lifelong habits of going to Chick-Fil-A*, but who now have a very serious and compelling reason to go find another chain that’s just as good (or bad). Today’s stunt could create a years-long boycott-by-attrition that will cost Chick-Fil-A millions in lost profits down the road.

Dan Cathy probably thinks today is wonderful; Michelle Malkin and her ilk definitely do. But I bet there are a lot of people in Chick-Fil-A’s corporate headquarters who are watching the attention the restaurant’s getting today and seeing depleted profit margins five and ten years from now. And nobody will be able to blame that fate on the persecution of Chick-Fil-A, or the PC mob; Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day is nothing if not free speech as grand spectacle. But if this entire ordeal shows anything, it’s that the freedom of free speech can also be a trap: it was precisely the freedom to express his opinion that allowed Dan Cathy to start this mess, and it’s conservatives’ unchecked ability to amplify that opinion that could seal it.

* Gross, I know. But you had your munchie fast food joint when you were a sophomore, so don’t judge.

UPDATE (7:02): As I was saying:

NYU head spokesman John Beckman hinted yesterday for the first time that the fast-food shop may not be on the NYU campus for much longer.

Chick-Fil-A President Dan Cathy’s comments “are out of step with NYU’s views on this matter,” Beckman said, according to the Daily News. The school’s University Senate will “reexamine” this fall whether to keep the chain on campus.

“The University Administration will ask the University Senate to take up the issue of Chick-fil-A’s status on campus again when it reconvenes this fall to make a recommendation on how to proceed,” Beckman said, according to FOX. (via Metro)

What Romney’s And Obama’s Tax Returns Tell Us About Who They Are (Besides Rich)

by evanmcmurry

Here’s a graph, via Lee Drutman of the Sunlight Foundation, of the incomes and tax rates of recent presidents, dating back to Reagan:

Long graph short:

1) This election is between the two richest candidates in the modern era; none of the previous presidents come close to Obama in income, let alone Romney, who single-handedly extends the income axis of the graph by 400%. If you were so inclined, you could see this election as just one rich man versus another.

2) Romney paid the lowest taxes of any of the presidents; his highest reported rate, 15.4%, is still a tenth of a percentage point lower than the next lowest rate, paid by B41. By contrast, Obama paid far and away the highest tax rate, paying 32.6% in 2009 and 33.7% in 2007. More simply: Obama made 1/4 of what Romney did, but paid double the tax rate. Part of that is due to the nature of the men’s income: Obama’s was straight income, Romney’s was from investments. But Romney also has offshore accounts, etc., designed entirely to avoid paying taxes (tax avoision being the legal version of tax evasion). Obama paid what he owed; Romney paid as little as possible.

If this is an election between two rich men, it’s an election between two very different kinds of rich men.

John Rocker: Why’s Everybody Holocausting Heteros All The Time?

by evanmcmurry

God bless the management at World Net Daily for having the editorial fortitude to grant disgraced steroid-shooting, gay-hating, poor-people-bashing, Jan-Brewer-lusting John Rocker a column. There are just too many metaphors, too many active verbs, running loose out there. Somebody, a hero—John Rocker—needs to collect them all every couple of weeks, the way the rest of us sweep our floors.

And so, in a column titled “The Myth of Free Speech,” J-Rock comes takes on “media”—his lack of article, not mine—for curtailing free speech, “our first and perhaps most important freedom”:

Technically, as our Founding Fathers intended, we are all given the undeniable right to voice our thoughts and opinions freely without fear of scorn and/or ridicule derived from non-agreement. I supposedly have the same right to express myself as you do. In a perfect world, my rights should be no different from yours. I’m quite certain that given the current stage of the world’s social climate, however, anyone ascribing to the ridiculous notion that our world is perfect is kidding himself. Our “perfect” world was replaced many moons ago by the defective reality in which we are all forced to reside – and one of the most blatant areas to view the erosion of perfection is seen in the lack of ability many in this great country have to speak freely without fear of chastisement.

Plus fags on the L train. Also, quick poll—when do you think Rocker would date the end of “our perfect world,” 1964 or 1863?

Why is J-Rock having a sad? Because Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy is totally being persecuted for his beliefs. And lest you think “persecuted” is too strong of a word:

Let’s face it, some have the ability to wage verbal holocaust and go virtually unscathed in the court of public opinion, while similar thoughts or opinions voiced by one whose existence does not grant them immunity will most likely be subjected to scorn and public rebuke from all sides until penance has supposedly been paid.

Tell you what: if it’s a word that belongs in an article about the oppression of white males, it’s “holocaust.” (Also, holocaust, the word, not the event, means “sacrifice by fire,” so even if you take out the historical connotations, “verbal holocaust” makes no sense; don’t worry, Fitzgerald got it wrong The Great Gatsby, so you’re in fine company.) Anyway, Rocker’s got metaphors to mix, at least until some homo takes away his right to do that, too:

Undoubtedly, the conservative, heterosexual, white male gets and most likely will continue to get the proverbial short end of the stick when it comes to speaking freely. Those who fall into this unfortunate category had better watch their backsides with both eyes when discussing any topic with a script of politically correct verbiage that must be followed.

You hear him, media? Backside, both eyes!

Media have an obligation to report without the inclusion of bias, not to use their public forum to promote a social or political agenda when words are spoken they deem to be inappropriate and have come from someone to whom they have not granted asylum.

But Rocker is free to use his column—Excuse me, Rocker is free to use column to push whatever political agenda he wants.

To comprehend why a group would band together at a certain level against an individual or group who does not share the same ideals is to understand basic human nature. To have media and politicos incite such sanctions, however, on the basis of differing opinions, is quite another.

I know, for a second I thought he was talking about homophobia. He’s not.

Does he end by quoting Voltaire? You know he does.

One area where government could be spending and isn’t

by pdxblake

One of the most depressed sectors of the economy for the past few years is construction, and so, you might suppose that the government would use the people sitting out of work for public spending projects to stimulate the economy (while doing needed construction work now that costs are likely to be low).   Alas, that is not how things are done because, well, “socialism!” (or something, I’m not sure what passes for reasons for Congress not to pass infrastructure spending bills, like the stuff in Obama’s American JOBS Act).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the trajectory of construction spending over the past 2 decades.

Source: Calculated Risk blog

Long-term unemployment, a national tragedy (bring on the Aliens!)

by pdxblake

Brad DeLong is one of economics’ longest running bloggers and has a capability for putting out posts that far outstrips my own (and sometimes my ability to keep up with his posts).  Today (via Business Insider) he wrote an important post that should be keeping policy makers awake at night (if they had not already come to the same conclusion) about the impacts of long-term unemployment on future economic growth.  I have no doubt that many within the Obama White House do not share the opinion that reducing long-term unemployment is important, but somehow the Republicans by their actions seem to believe that political wins are more important than what Brad DeLong describes in relation to the current Great Recession and the latter-day Great Depression:

But, while we are not at that point today, the Great Depression is no less relevant for us, because it is increasingly likely that long-term unemployment will become a similar impediment to recovery within the next two years.

At its nadir in the winter of 1933, the Great Depression was a form of collective insanity. Workers were idle because firms would not hire them; firms would not hire them because they saw no market for their output; and there was no market for output because workers had no incomes to spend.

By that point, a great deal of unemployment had become long-term unemployment, which had two consequences. First, the burden of economic dislocation was borne unequally. Because consumer prices fell faster than wages, the welfare of those who remained employed rose in the Great Depression. Overwhelmingly, those who became and remained unemployed suffered the most.

Second, reintegrating the unemployed even into a smoothly functioning market economy would prove to be very difficult. After all, how many employers would not prefer a fresh entrant into the labor force to someone who has been out of work for years? The simple fact that an economy had recently undergone a period of mass unemployment made it difficult to recover levels of growth and employment that are often attained as a matter of course.

The important thing to remember is that there is no one cause (like a lack of specific skills, or difficulties of one industry specifically to grow because of government regulation) that can be blamed for widespread long-term unemployment:

Even today, economists can provide no clear explanation of why the private sector could not find ways to employ the long-term unemployed in the near-decade from the winter of 1933 to full war mobilization. The extent of persistent unemployment, despite different labor-market structures and national institutions, suggests that theories that pinpoint one key failure should be taken with a grain of salt.

At first, the long-term unemployed in the Great Depression searched eagerly and diligently for alternative sources of work. But, after six months or so passed without successful reemployment, they tended to become discouraged and distraught. After 12 months of continuous unemployment, the typical unemployed worker still searched for a job, but in a desultory fashion, without much hope. And, after two years of unemployment, the worker, accurately expecting to be at the end of every hiring queue, had lost hope and, for all practical purposes, left the labor market.

The cure, for now as it has been since the recession started has been stimulative monetary and fiscal policy in whatever quantity is needed to spur growth in demand, something which was only tried in small measure (fiscal policy) or in fits and starts (monetary policy).  This, DeLong argues, has been in adequate and warns could have terrible consequences that will be much harder to deal with in the future:

I have been arguing for four years that our business-cycle problems call for more aggressively expansionary monetary and fiscal policies, and that our biggest problems would quickly melt away were such policies to be adopted. That is still true. But, over the next two years, barring a sudden and unexpected interruption of current trends, it will become less true.

The current balance of probabilities is that two years from now, the North Atlantic’s principal labor-market failures will not be demand-side market failures that could be easily remedied by more aggressive policies to boost economic activity and employment. Rather, they will be structural market failures of participation that are not amenable to any straightforward and easily implemented cure.

It would be a grim legacy for the Republicans if their obstructionism continued to push the country–totally unnecessarily–into a situation where a demand shortfall had permanently scarred a large portion of the employable population in the US.  The obstructionism has been particularly noticeable since the Republicans took over the House in 2010, but was influential earlier when they still held a large enough minority in the Senate to block anything objectionable to their ideology by abusing the filibuster (remember their goal stated by Mitch McConnell in 2010, but evident beginning on November 5, 2008, was to make Obama a one-term president).

It is more than a pity, it is a disgrace, that one political party will push against everything from an adequately sized stimulus in the midst of a crisis to monetary policy stimulus (see, Perry, Rick) in an anemic recovery that was likely to happen in absence of a strong, forceful and long-lasting push from all sectors (public and private) to make the recovery as strong as possible to keep the stalking horse of long-term unemployment at bay.  Maybe we need to put into place Paul Krugman’s Alien Invasion idea (and this clip includes an example of the stupid ideas idea the other side, represented by Art Laffer, are proposing (they only really have one idea) to “incentivize the suppliers”, i.e. give more tax cuts to the rich).

That Jonah Lehrer Sure Is Making Print Journalism Make Bad

by evanmcmurry

Next time your friend/relative/coworker/whoever quacks about the blogotwittosphere degrading standards of truth in journalism, you mind remind them of this point:

Old school journalists sometimes complain that these days anybody can start a blog and declare herself a journalist without going through the school of hard knocks–no gruff city editor playing drill sergeant, etc. And it’s true that some journalistic virtues have become rarer. But I don’t think accuracy and honesty are among them. It’s apt that Jonah Lehrer’s fabrications happened in a very old and non-interactive medium–a book, which, even when in electronic form, has no comment section.

I’ll add that Lehrer’s previous indiscretions happened at the New Yorker (albeit in their online section), which is hardly amateurjournohack.com. (On the other hand.)

You could make the argument that blogging, etc., has lowered overall standards to the point that new media is corroding once venerable institutions, I guess. (This strikes me as oddly similar to the very strange anti-gay marriage argument that links same-sex marriage to increases in out-of-wedlock births as part of a general erosion of traditional family values.)

But I don’t buy it; Jonah Lehrer’s transgressions could have been committed at any point in the last century. If anything, as Michael Moynihan, the journalist who caught Lehrer’s false Dylan quotes, theorized, the prominence attributed to Lehrer by his books and gigs, the false glow that allowed him to get away with this for so long, might have been the very thing that prompted him to cheat in the first place. In other words, it was the big print gigs, not the small blogging gigs, that got him into trouble. An alternate theory, advanced by Hamilton Nolan, was that Lehrer didn’t understand the procedures of blogging, and may have screwed the pooch by condescending to the form.

Also, the article Moynihan was writing when he started digging deeper into Lehrer’s book? It was for Tablet, a “daily online magazine.” In this case, the online-onlys had the facts, and the printing press had the fabrications; any way you shake this thing, the supposedly-trustworthy print side of things comes off bad. Remind the “wah-Twitter” crowd of that, please.

Enter Ted Cruz

by evanmcmurry

Tea party insurgent Ted Cruz beat establishment(?) figure David Dewhurst in a Texas Senate run-off. As the Atlantic points out, this doesn’t mean squat for the make-up of the Senate, as Texas was sending a Republican no matter what. Here’s what does matter:

Whether there are significant policy differences between [Cruz and Dewhurst] is a matter of some debate. The New York Times noted, “The two candidates differ little on major issues — both call for repealing Obama’s health care law, balancing the budget, abolishing the Department of Education and ending abortion.” But Dewhurst skeptics contend that he has been too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Dewhurst is an establishment figure—of a Rick Perry administration, one of the most extremely conservative of the country; when the establishment figure calls for abolishing the DOE, the word has lost all meaning. But Dewhurst’s mere presence in the political system as lieutenant governor necessitated that he occasionally speak in complete sentences to Democrats, and that was enough to get him on the tea party’s hit list.

Whether intransigence was once a tactic of the tea party’s to effect their policies of severe cuts to social services, or whether it was always a cover, is a matter of debate. What’s clear is intransigence is now an end in and of itself. The Texas GOP is sending a Senator to Washington with the express mandate of not participating in the legislative process except to ruin it.

Also: leading by example.

The private sector is fine (by the standards of the Bush recovery)

by pdxblake

Paul Krugman points us to Angry Bear blog, which brings a graphical look at the current recovery in comparison with recoveries in the 1990s and the Bush recovery, which the very same conservatives who are criticizing the recovery under Obama heralded as a “goldilocks” recovery (that was the specific term used by uber-idiot Larry Kudlow).  The one difference in this chart from other comparisons is that it excludes the private sector, which should be the preferred measure of those who think everything the private sector does is good and everything the public sector (i.e. the government) does is bad for the economy.

What does it show?  It shows that the current recovery in the private sector is slightly stronger than the Bush recovery, although weaker than the 1990s (when, ahem, tax rates on the wealthy were higher than they are today).  This chart shows in very clear terms that Obama’s supposed suppression of the private sector is nothing but hot air (for anyone who may have not already caught on).

The difference between this chart and data showing this recovery is weaker than the Bush Administration is due to lower government spending.  The Bush Administration increased government spending and employment significantly as a result of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, and that boosted the recovery compared to now, when the stimulus has worn off and state and local governments have cut spending and shed employment throughout.

There are some important questions to address about how to increase the growth rate (and in particular employment growth) back to 1990s level, but the starting point for this discussion should be that cutting the public sector (in the guise of freeing business to grow) is not the way to do it.

Pouring Out A Bottle Of Bitters For Gore Vidal

by evanmcmurry

Remember him as he was: frothing with rage:

Q: At the age of 82, you will be publishing your new collection of essays this week, which seems likely to confirm your reputation as one of America’s last public intellectuals. Why do you think that critics have traditionally praised your essays more than your fiction, which includes “Burr,” “Myra Breckinridge” and 20 other novels? That’s because they don’t know how to read. I can’t name three first-rate literary critics in the United States . I’m told there are a few hidden away at universities, but they don’t print them in The New York Times .

Are you saying your novels have been critically neglected? I don’t even read most reviews, unless there is a potential lawsuit on view. I’ve never had much attention paid by critics — nor has anybody else in the United States of America, as Mr. Obama likes to call it.

And what about Mr. McCain? Disaster. Who started this rumor that he was a war hero? Where does that come from, aside from himself? About his suffering in the prison war camp?

Everyone knows he was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. That’s what he tells us.

[…] So what does that have to do with the U.S. Naval Academy down in Annapolis? The service universities keep track of each other, that’s all. They have views about each other. And they are very aware of social class and eventually money, since they usually marry it.

[…] How did you feel when you heard that Buckley died this year? I thought hell is bound to be a livelier place, as he joins forever those whom he served in life, applauding their prejudices and fanning their hatred.

You live in California , where last month the State Supreme Court overturned the ban on same-sex marriage . As someone who lived with a male companion for 50-plus years, do you see this as a victory for equality? People would ask, How could you live with someone for so long without any problems of any kind? I said, There was no sex.

Were you chaste during those years? Chased by whom?

Are you a supporter of gay marriage? I know nothing about it. I don’t follow that.

Why doesn’t it interest you? The same reason heterosexual marriage doesn’t seem to interest me.

If we look at the situation apart from you — It’s my interview, so we’ve got to stay with me.

[…] What do you think is your own best novel? I don’t answer questions like that. Ever. And you ought not to ask them.

Well, it was a great pleasure talking to you. I doubt that.