We’re going to need a bigger chart

Love this from David Leonhardt and friends comparing Trump’s provable falsehoods versus Obama:


Photo of the day

Pretty cool theme for a recent Atlantic gallery– hopeful images:

A couple kisses next to a bonfire on the Poniente beach celebrating the summer solstice in Gijon, Spain, on June 24, 2017. 

Eloy Alonso / Reuters

American oligarchy

You know inequality in America has gotten bad when Putin’s Russia is our only peer.  Check this out from an excellent article in the Times:

Damn.  As the chart shows, the trend is pretty universal in OECD nations, but particularly bad in America.  Not entirely, but to a significant degree, this is about policy choices.  It doesn’t have to be this way, e.g., see Denmark, Netherlands, Japan.

What I really like, though, is the articles attempts to consider various hypotheses and explain what’s going on.  They conclude, it’s not: trade, decline of unions, rise of information technology, or immigration.  Rather:

Almost all of the growth in top American earners has come from just three economic sectors: professional services, finance and insurance, and health care, groups that tend to benefit from regulatory barriers that shelter them from competition. [emphasis mine]

The groups that have contributed the most people to the 1 percent since 1980 are: physicians; executives, managers, sales supervisors, and analysts working in the financial sectors; and professional and legal service industry executives, managers, lawyers, consultants and sales representatives.

Without changes in these largely domestic services industries — finance, health care, the law — the United States would look like Canada or Germany in terms of its top income shares…

The United States also stands out in terms of how much money its elite professionals earn relative to the median worker. Workers at the 90th percentile of the income distribution for professionals make 3.5 times the earnings of the typical (median) worker in all occupations in the United States. Only Mexico and Israel, which have very high inequality, compensate professionals so disproportionately. In Switzerland, the Netherlands, Finland and Denmark, the ratio is about 2 to 1.

This ratio, the elite professions premium, is very highly correlated with income inequality across countries.

So, how is this policy, you ask:

Problems cited by these analysts include subsidies for the financial sector’s risk-taking; overprotection of software and pharmaceutical patents; the escalation of land-use controls that drive up rents in desirable metropolitan areas; favoritism toward market incumbents via state occupational licensing regulations (for example, associations representing lawyers, doctors and dentists that block efforts allowing paraprofessionals to provide routine services at a lower price without their supervision).

These are just some of the causes contributing to the 1 percent’s high and rising income share. Reforming relevant laws can make markets more efficient and egalitarian, and in contrast with trade, immigration and technology, the political causes of the 1 percent’s rise are directly under the control of citizens.

And the downside?  These super-rich really believe in spending their money to protect their undeserved wealth (yes, undeserved, compared to pretty much every other modern nation) and they have super compliant legislators in Republicans (and too many Democrats who count on their fundraising checks) to help protect them.  As you know, I’m not the biggest Bernie fan, but he’s definitely right about stuff like this and it’s really going to take some kind of revolution to break the stranglehold.

And on the bright side

Actually had a bit of an argument with my wife yesterday as she was ecstatic about Moore’s loss, and I could not help but be frustrated by how disturbingly close he came.  That said, there’s definitely plenty of bright side and Moore’s loss does represent the continuation of some important ongoing trends.

Ron Brownstein brings the demographic analysis likes nobody, and it is definitely the bright side:

Jones beat Moore with a strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans, a decisive advantage among younger voters, and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. [emphases mine] That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and nonurban white voters.

This was the same equation that powered the Democratic victories in the Virginia and New Jersey governors’ races. The consistency of these results suggests that Democrats are coalescing a powerful coalition of the very voters that polls have shown are the most disenchanted, even disgusted, by Trump’s performance and behavior as president.

That points to a clear near-term threat in 2018 for Republicans. It also crystallizes the risky long-term trade Trump is imposing on his party: He is improving the GOP’s standing among groups that are almost all shrinking in the electorate, at the price of alienating groups that are growing…

Moore’s own words and actions provided plenty of provocation for minorities, Millennials, and college-educated whites. But these key groups moved the same way in November’s major elections. In both the New Jersey and the Virginia governors’ races, Democrats won about 70 percent of Millennials and half of college-educated whites, and they enjoyed solid turnout and preponderant margins from nonwhite voters. In all three states, the core Trump groups of older, blue-collar, evangelical, and rural whites remained loyal to Republicans (although Moore’s margins with those voters eroded slightly relative to Mitt Romney’s in 2012). But they couldn’t match the impassioned turnout among the groups hostile to Trump.

“Anti-Trump fever is now so strong among Democrats, young voters, and independents that the GOP is likely to face a surge in turnout on the Democratic side that will make the 2018 midterms lurch toward the demographics of a presidential year,” says longtime GOP strategist Mike Murphy, who advised Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he first won his Alabama Senate seat, in 1996. “That is a looming disaster that could well cost the GOP control of the House. We are in a Trump-driven worst-case situation now.”

From his mouth to God’s ears ;-).  Of course, November 2018 is a long way off and lots can happen between now and then.  But based on what we know now it is looking to be a very, very good Democratic year.  And, to an important degree, that can actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  We’ll see the best, most-qualified Democrats run for office where ambitious Republicans will wait for a better time and those on the margins may just retire.  We’ve actually already seen that happen and it very well may accelerate.  So, yeah, there’s some very real bright side here, but I’m still worried as hell for the health of our democracy.

Minor consolation

Okay, I am really, really pleased that Doug Jones won.  And it does make it that harder for Republicans to get some of their planned awfulness through the Senate.  And, yet.  I still feel somewhat sickened that a man so abominably unfit to serve, was in a hair’s width of winning a Senate seat.  And the only thing that stopped him was multiple, credible allegations of being a serial sexual predator in his past.  If not for that, the people of Alabama would have elected an unreconstructed, unapologetic, bigoted, dishonest, sexist, xenophobic, authoritarian theocrat with literally no respect for the rule of law of the Constitution.  That we had to be saved from that by his ephebophilia (not pedophile, damnit, I wish people would get that right!) is ultimately pretty depressing to me.  As I saw somebody mention, Trent Lott basically got run out of the Senate for saying things were better under Jim Crow.  Moore, meanwhile, praised the days of slavery and thinks we’d be better off without the amendments after the 10th (i.e., those that, among others, gave rights to Blacks and women).  So, sure I’m celebrating Jones’ win, but it is pretty damn muted.  These are not great days for America.

What the no good, horrible tax bill says about our democracy

Surprise– it’s not good. Very nice piece in Vox from political scientists Paul Pierson and Jacob Hacker:

Massively unpopular bills used to be unicorns. You didn’t see them. And for an obvious reason: They could cost politicians their jobs. But now we’ve seen two unicorns in the first year of our all-Republican government. What gives? …

So give Republicans credit: Alienating a substantial majority of citizens while adding at least $1 trillion to the deficit isn’t easy. A trillion dollars in borrowed money should buy a lot of good will, especially when you can rely on a conservative media echo-chamber to back you up and your voting base is inclined to support you no matter what.

So what’s going on? The answer can be broken down into two parts: motives and means. Republicans are advancing these initiatives because they really, really want to and because they think they can...  [italics in original]

Republicans have celebrated and promoted a vicious circle in which economic inequality grows, empowering the wealthy, who are then rewarded with policies that further concentrate income and wealth. While Democrats are often torn between their business-oriented contributors and their less affluent voters, the GOP shows no such ambivalence. Indeed, a surprising number have suggested that donors are driving the GOP tax train. As Rep. Chris Collins of New York put it, “My donors are basically saying ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” [bold is my emphasis]

Lots of politicians have some unpopular policy wishes. What’s different now is that the GOP is emboldened to act on them.

Yet if the aspiration to cut taxes on the rich has become a constant, the capacity to deliver these benefits in the face of intense popular disapproval now seems to be supercharged…

Surely, leaders in the past sometimes wanted to pursue unpopular aims, but didn’t for reasons of political survival. So why are Republicans seemingly unfazed by the unpopularity of their initiatives?

This distribution of Republicans voters means that the pivotal seats that determine control of Congress are significantly more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole. While a truly massive Democratic surge could overcome these advantages, Republican leaders are betting they can weather a more typical electoral storm.

Their confidence is bolstered by their faith in what political scientists call “negative partisanship.” Voters haven’t just become increasingly partisan; their political preferences are increasingly driven by hatred or fear of the other party. Moreover, such tribalism appears far stronger on the GOP side. In 2016, tens of millions of Republican voters cast their ballot for a presidential candidate they acknowledged was unqualified for the job, mainly because they couldn’t bring themselves to vote for his opponent. Today, most Alabama Republicans seem willing to stick with Roy Moore for the same reason.

For Republicans, negative partisanship provides another layer of cover for pursuing unpopular policies: If voters can be mobilized by animus to the other side, you don’t need to attend to their specific policy preferences.

Which brings us to a third potential source of Republican insulation: They’ve gotten very good at distracting voters. Research on public opinion suggests that voters have relatively short memories and that voter attention is critical to vote choice. What voters are focusing on when they head to the polls may matter more than their more considered thoughts about the issues…

Finally, the growing role of big money in American politics has not simply increased Republicans’ desire to pass tax cuts. It has also increased their ability to do so, since these actors play a fundamental role in bankrolling and organizing GOP campaigns. Donors, lobbyists, and corporate-backed groups have not always played nice with each other, nor does money dictate campaign outcomes. But these actors were able to coordinate effectively in 2014 to help Republicans take the Senate and hold the House.

And if there’s one thing these groups agree on, it’s backstopping politicians who vote for tax cuts for the wealthy…

What we do know is that Republicans expect that they can stick it to voters and still hold onto power. Whether or not they’re correct, they’re sending an alarming message about the fragile state of American democracy: For the people currently wielding power in Washington, the preferences of the American people count for very little.

So, yeah, that’s depressing.  Of course, if Republicans actually lose the House in 2018 and for redistricting in 2020, that will show there is at least a modicum of accountability for egregious political behavior.  And that some rich people care about more than tax cuts.  Here’s hoping.

A Moore reminder

Even if Roy Moore had never looked at a woman other than his wife, he is an absolutely reprehensible man who is patently unfit for a town council, much less the US Senate.  NeverTrump conservative David French reminds us of all this in the National Review:

Let’s review the facts: Moore believes he’s a law unto himself. For those unfamiliar with Moore’s history, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane. He’s been removed from the Alabama Supreme Court twice. The first time, in 2003, he defied a federal court order requiring him to remove a granite Ten Commandments monument — a monument he’d commissioned — from the Alabama Supreme Court building. The second time, he was suspended without pay after issuing an order to Alabama probate judges declaring that they had a “ministerial duty” not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. He issued this order six months after the U.S. Supreme Court decided, in Obergefell v. Hodges, that the Constitution protected a right to same-sex marriage. There are multiple ways to lawfully protest federal court orders. There are even lawful ways to change or reverse odious Supreme Court precedents. But the very instant that we permit any judge to actively defy the constitutional order simply when he — in his subjective wisdom — believes a superior court has overstepped its bounds is the instant we begin to lose the rule of law. Ironically enough, those who support Moore because they hate “judicial supremacy” are endorsing the most dangerous form of judicial supremacy possible: a judge who actively defies controlling authority on the basis of his will alone…

Moore is a vicious constitutional and historical illiterate. One could write thousands of words on Roy Moore’s countless stupid and vile statements. Let’s consider only a few. For a man who professes to be a student of the Constitution, he’d happily violate its express terms. In a 2006 op-ed, he wrote that Muslim representative Keith Ellison “cannot swear an oath on the Quran and an allegiance to our Constitution at the same time.” Article VI of the Constitution directly, unequivocally, and unambiguously says otherwise. It prohibits any “religious test” as a “Qualification to any Officer or public Trust under the United States.” Keep in mind, this is a man who’s built his entire public personae around the false idea that he’s a guardian of the original meaning of the Constitution…

But then there’s Roy Moore. He is the stereotype. “You could say” America is the “focus of evil in the modern world,” Moore opined earlier this year. The reason? “We promote a lot of bad things” like “same-sex marriage.”

Last month, he refused to debate his Democratic opponent. The reason? “”We’ve refused to debate them because of their very liberal stance on transgenderism and transgenderism in the military and in bathrooms.”…

The GOP will enjoy its majority in the short term with or without Moore. It will confirm judges between now and 2018 with or without Moore. It cannot, however, continue to drift toward vile, malicious ignorance and hope to remain the majority party. Moore won’t overturn Roe, but he will continually embarrass its pro-life opponents.

Indeed.  To some degree, I see Roy Moore as a win-win.  He makes it actually possible Democrats could win a Senate seat in Alabama and (temporarily) shrink the Republicans tiny margin in the Senate.  But, even if he wins, he is a disgusting, rotting carcass of an albatross around the neck of the Republican Party who serves as a daily reminder of the ethical and moral rot now embodied by so much of the party in their embrace of Trumpism.  But, lest I be too pleased about that, Jennifer Rubin with a very worthwhile take:

That all might sound enticing for Democrats. Watching the other party snared in a trap of its own making surely would be cause for schadenfreude among some Democrats. It is not an outcome they should root for, however. In the category of putting “country before party,” no decent American should cheer a character like Moore’s elevation to the Senate. No lover of liberty and believer in equal justice should welcome the return of a pre-civil rights mentality. Rather they should pray for and give thanks if Doug Jones is the winner, a small sign that Trump has not entirely destroyed our political culture. Having pulled off an historic upset, Democrats will be entitled to gloat, encouraged to try killing the awful tax bill and determined to root out Trumpism root and branch in every corner of the country.

Yep.  I would certainly never celebrate or gloat over his election, but in doing– I think– long term damage to what the Republican Party has become, his election might be a good thing.  But, yeah, there’s certainly some real damage to basic democratic principles and the rule of law should he be elected.  The fact that Moore is on the cusp of a Senate seat is very much lose-lose for our country.

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