How OWS is winning

In one of my more prescient bits of political analysis recently, I weighed in on an on-line discussion for my public policy class about Occupy Wall Street.  The gist of the discussion was that the movement was a loser because they could not agree on concrete proposals, much less push them through to actual policy.  I argued that the movement would have it’s greatest chance for success by simply changing the political narrative in this country.  Dare I say, “Mission Accomplished.”  When Paul Ryan feels the need to give speeches defending the Republicans on the issue (naturally, the only way to do so is with lies and half-truths), OWS has already won.  Here’s EJ Dionne on the matter:

But what’s most instructive is that Ryan would not have given this speech if the Republican Party were not so worried that it is losing control of the political narrative. In particular, growing inequalities of wealth and income — which should have been a central issue in American politics for at least a decade — are now finally at the heart of our discourse. We are, at last, discussing the social and economic costs of concentrating ever more resources in the hands of the top sliver of our society.

Ryan offered the classic defense of inequality, arguing that what really matters is upward mobility, and that the United States has more of it than those horrible welfare states in Europe. “Class is not a fixed designation in this country,” he declared. “We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.”

The only problem is that upward mobility has declined as inequality has grown, and social mobility is now higher in Europe than it is in the United States. That’s shameful. And don’t believe me on this: Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum brought this up at a recent debate, backed by a study from the Economic Mobility Project.

It’s hard to justify more tax cuts for the wealthy in a country that is becoming more rigidly stratified by class. And if it is class warfare simply to acknowledge the facts, does this make Santorum a class warrior?

Yep.  Santorum is basically an idiot, but you know what they say about broken clocks.  Nonetheless, good for him.   Regardless of anything else, shifting our larger political discussion from short-term deficits (which really aren’t a big deal– I did say short term) to structural and growing inequality (which is a big deal) is a huge victory for the OWS movement– whether that’s what they intended or not.

Bad polling and the estate tax

For some odd reason, the “Under the Dome” column in yesterday’s N&O went ahead and basically printed a press release from the Pope Foundation’s Civitas Institute.   Anyway, it was really just absurd Estate Tax Spin.  Via Civitas:

Two-thirds of voters oppose the estate tax in North Carolina, according to a new poll released today by the Civitas Institute.

When a North Carolina resident dies, the state government levies a tax of up to 16 percent on assets above $5 million and everything else the deceased owned. The tax is levied in addition to the Federal estate tax of 35 percent.  Sixty-six percent of voters oppose this practice while 25 percent said they support it.  Seven percent said they do not know or have no opinion.

Civitas tries to (or at least typically, it seems to me) play themselves as a fair-minded polling organization, but yet we get this:

“Voters across North Carolina widely recognize the inherent immorality of turning revenue department officials into grave robbers [emphasis mine].  Hopefully, state lawmakers will recognize the near-universal opposition to the state death tax and act to end this gruesome practice,” said Civitas Institute budget and tax policy analyst Brian Balfour.

Yowza– that’s strong language.  Not exactly designed to place a lot of confidence in Civitas’ polling.  Need I mention that 2/3 while a strong majority hardly represents “near-universal” opposition.  More importantly, though, I strongly, suspect that if voters actually understood what was going on with the estate tax, the numbers would look like this.  The polling question:

“When a North Carolina resident dies, the state government levies a tax of up to 16% on assets above $5 million which includes businesses, homes, farm animals, bank accounts and everything else the deceased owned. The tax is levied in addition to the Federal estate tax of 35%. Please tell me if you support or oppose this practice?”

My guess is that most people here something like, “North Carolina resident…dies… tax…homes… bank accounts… everything else(!)”  What if you asked a question and laying out the tax and said quite clearly: “this tax would only apply to North Carolina residents who have more than $5 million when then die.”  Or better yet, “the less than 1/4 of 1% of NC Residents…”  I’m confident the poll results would be dramatically different.   It’s also worth noting that a very substantial portion of the estate tax captures unrealized Capital Gains that would otherwise never be taxed.  If you bought $1000 of Apple stock in the 1990s’s that was worth $100,000 today, you’d owe taxes on it if you sold it.  However, if you never sold it, but passed it on to your heirs, that $99,000 capital gain is untaxed.   Taxing such gains is mostly what the estate tax is about.  There’s plenty of myths (you’d simply never believe which political party tends to spread them) about the Estate Tax and the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities nicely takes on the key ones, if you are curious.


Not so smart

Really fun excerpt from the new book, You Are Not So Smart over at the Atlantic.  Love this bit about experiments with wine tasting (mostly because I pretty much hate the taste of all wine):

In 2001, Frederic Brochet conducted two experiments at the University of Bordeaux.

In one experiment, he got 54 oenology (the study of wine tasting and wine making) undergraduates together and had them taste one glass of red wine and one glass of white wine. He had them describe each wine in as much detail as their expertise would allow. What he didn’t tell them was both were the same wine. He just dyed the white one red. In the other experiment, he asked the experts to rate two different bottles of red wine. One was very expensive, the other was cheap. Again, he tricked them. This time he had put the cheap wine in both bottles. So what were the results?

The tasters in the first experiment, the one with the dyed wine, described the sorts of berries and grapes and tannins they could detect in the red wine just as if it really was red. Every single one, all 54, could not tell it was white. In the second experiment, the one with the switched labels, the subjects went on and on about the cheap wine in the expensive bottle. They called it complex and rounded. They called the same wine in the cheap bottle weak and flat.

I’m guessing I’ve read 75% or so of the material in here in other books.  That said, I love the examples in the excerpt (there’s some more really good ones) and will probably give it a try.

Colbert on Alabama’s immigration law

Nice video from Stephen Colbert on the impact of Alabama’s new immigration law on farming.  Guess what?  Americans don’t want to do back-breaking work in the fields all day.  Even with unemployment at 9%.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Data? We don’t need no stinkin’ data!

George Will was never the great intellectual many have believed him to be (seriously, you go around in a bow time all day and see how much smarter people think you are), but this is just sad.  Either he’s actually gotten dumber or he’s decided he’s got to channel the anti-intellectual Republican zeitgeist to stay in the good graces of conservatives.  From his latest column:

Republicans may have found their Michael Dukakis, a technocratic Massachusetts governor who takes his bearings from “data” [emphasis mine] (although there is precious little to support Romney’s idea that in-state college tuition for children of illegal immigrants is a powerful magnet for such immigrants) and who believes elections should be about (in Dukakis’s words) “competence,” not “ideology.” But what would President Romney competently do when not pondering ethanol subsidies that he forthrightly says should stop sometime before “forever”? Has conservatism come so far, surmounting so many obstacles, to settle, at a moment of economic crisis, for this?

Seriously?!  Scare quotes around “data”?  I like Brian Beutler’s take:

Yes, data. Conservatives don’t like Romney in part because he lets facts and events influence his views. This is unacceptable. So as Republicans come around to the idea that he may be the party’s best hope in 2012, conservative hold outs are trying to prevent the Romney consensus from taking hold.

Wow, that’s really saying something about the ideology of a movement when even the supposed intellectuals in your movement seem to think that data-based thinking and competence are bad things.

Does Cain actually need an organization?

The Atlantic’s Chris Good makes the case that in the modern Tea Party era, Herman Cain doesn’t actually need an organization to win the Republican nomination:

That’s an embarrassing revelation for the Republican Party’s 2012 poll leader, but here’s the thing: Cain might not actually need a campaign.

Cain’s operation may be disorganized and unprepared, but if we’ve learned anything from recent GOP primaries, it’s that you don’t actually need a developed campaign staff in order to win — particularly if you’re a tea partier.

The 2010 elections saw tea-party Senate candidates defeat established opponents (the Mitt Romneys of the midterm election year) without much organization at all. They rode their images to victory, and, while they lost against Democrats in November, they proved that conservative primary voters will see the tea-party bat signal and turn out to vote for a candidate they may know little about.

Take, for example, Christine O’Donnell. She emerged from nowhere to win Delaware’s Senate primary over the longtime favorite, then-congressman Mike Castle, and she did it without much of a team around her…

Or take Alaska’s Joe Miller. Less than two months before his August primary against Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R), he was paying nine people to work for his campaign…

These candidates didn’t win by out-organizing their opponents; they won by attracting voters to a basic image.

If Cain enters the early states with momentum, having cast himself as the leading conservative alternative to Romney, he may not need a real campaign organization to ask Republicans to show up and vote for him. They could very well show up for him anyway.

Still don’t see that as all that likely, but Good does make a good case.  If this does pan out, I’m going to have to significantly re-write my lecture notes on presidential primary campaigns.  Especially the parts that emphasize the importance of organization.

Parenthood in one handy chart

Regular readers know my love for being a parent (and I’d have to be insane to have four kids if I didn’t love it).  Came across this great chart via FB that pretty much sums up parenting as I see it:


That one percent makes all the difference.


Edwards and Ensign

So, I was interviewed by a reporter for Politico the other day about John Edwards attempts to get the ridiculous campaign finance charges against him dismissed on the basis that the original US Attorney on the case, George Holding, was making the prosecution for politically-motivated reasons.  My basic response: of course he was, welcome to life.  Spent at least 10 minutes on the phone with the guy and not one single quote in a 3 on-line page article.  As if I didn’t have enough reason to dislike Politico.  I’m quotable, damnit!

Anyway, yesterday the judge decided that a trial will proceed.  Just seems like a huge waste of the government’s time and money.  Edwards is a cad, not a crook.   I had not thought, though, of the most obvious reason the government should not be prosecuting Edwards: John Ensign.  Via TPM:

Lawyers for former Democratic presidential candidate and Senator John Edwards have a question for the Justice Department officials prosecuting his case: what ever happened with that whole John Ensign thing?

During a hearing in federal court in North Carolina Edwards lawyer Abbe Lowell cited the $96,000 check that Ensign’s parents gave to his mistress as a severance payment, the Associated Press reports. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismissed the case against Ensign against the recommendation of its general counsel because they found the payment was just a gift.

Does seem like quite a precedent.  Alas, we’ll be hearing more about this in the Spring.

Chart of the day

Chait’s fabulous post on Paul Ryan’s inability to actually grapple with inequality as it actually exists in America (as opposed to in his Ayn Rand-ian alternate universe) is well worth extended excerpts here.  And maybe I will.  For now, though, this chart he links to really gets to the heart of the matter:

In short: the low-testing rich kids are just as likely to graduate from college as high-testing poor kids.   That’s just a depressing indictment of the role of wealth in America.



Unintended consequences of re-defining personhood

So, in its effort to completely eliminate abortion (and even some popular forms of birth control), Mississippi has its citizens voting on an amendment to define legal personhood as beginning at conception.  Slate editor David Plotz responds with a rather interesting list of questions that would seem to follow from such a re-definition.  Some of my favorites:

1. If you are legal person at fertilization, does that mean you could drink at 20 years and three months? Could you drive at 15 and three months? Could you vote at age 17, and collect Social Security at 64?

3. Could you get a tax deduction for your dependent embryo?

5. Could you arrest women for smoking or drinking while pregnant? Could the state file a child abuse case against a mother who didn’t wear a seatbelt or otherwise endangered her fetus?

6. Would you be an American citizen if you were conceived in Mississippi but born elsewhere? Could there be “anchor babies” whose parents come to the United States, have sex, and then return home to Mexico for their baby’s birth?

8. What about freezing fertilized embryos? Would that be allowed? And why? If you’re freezing an embryo indefinitely, isn’t that effectively imprisoning it? We don’t freeze people.

11. If a woman eats food contaminated by Listeria and miscarries, could the agribusiness be prosecuted for murder?

13. How would it affect the census?

Most all of these are actually genuine issues that could be legally raised if personhood was so re-defined.  Even if you are opposed to legal abortion, this strikes me as a solution that creates far more problems than it solves.   And, while this might pass Constitutional muster with Mississippi voters, I seriously doubt it would do so with the slightly higher Constitutional standards of the US Supreme Court (in part, for the intractable issues raised here by Plotz).

Cainmentum rolls on

John Dickerson makes the case that Hermann Cain really can/does present a real long-term threat to Romney.  Not a bad argument, I so want it to be true, but I just don’t think it is.  Here’s the crux:

Cain is no longer flavor of the week—he’s a regular menu item…

What allows Cain to sustain? (Besides easy rhymes?) He’s not from Washington. It comes up time and again in conversations with his supporters. Polls show his strength is with Tea Party voters who are the most anti-Washington in the electorate…

That’s all charming, but with a party so determined to beat President Obama, and with such good chances to do so, can this Cain flirtation blossom into something real? Won’t people start to focus on electability and turn to Romney? The answer (at least as Cain’s people see it): Electability may not be the liability the political elites might think. And actually, the political elites don’t think Cain has an electability problem: 74 percent ofRepublican insiders in a recent Huffington Post poll think Cain can beat Obama…

Perhaps the thickest part of the cushion for Cain is that his conservative voters don’t have anywhere else to go. Michele Bachmann was eclipsed by Perry. That isn’t going to happen to Cain. There aren’t any eclipsing figures left.

I do like this conclusion:

The really exciting thing about the Cain campaign is that while on the one hand he is defying gravity, the candidate and his staff are constantly ordering in more anvils. Cain is running to replace a president who was criticized for having no experience, but Cain himself practically brags about how little knowledge he has with the issues of the day, saying he’ll rely on advisers and smart people. As the clock ticks toward the start of the voting season Cain will spend this Friday and Saturday in the electorally meaningless Alabama. In keeping with the “The More Unconventional the Better” theme, the campaign put out a video of the campaign chief of staff Mark Block making a pitch for Cain while enjoying a cigarette and blowing the smoke into the camera. It was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Sort of like the Cain campaign.  [emphasis mine]

Does history suggest Cain will crash, Icarus-like, to earth.  Indeed.  Yet, there’s a reason we have the word unprecedented.  Cain’s genuine success would, in fact, be unprecedented.  But so would a Black president virtually nobody had heard of 5 years before his election.  Sure, more often than not history and our knowledge of how politics works is a very useful guide.  But not always.  That’s part of the fun of politics.  Herman Cain is fun right now.  As a Democrat, I hope he stays that way– because there’s no way he beats Obama.

Yes, government does create jobs

Not a surprise to liberals (or other people who actually have a data-driven approach to understanding policy), but, yes, of course government can help create jobs.  What do you think hiring a teacher or firefighter is.  Not a job?  But beyond that, like any good investment, good investments undertaken by governments (and please don’t tell me governments can’t– when’s the last time private industry built a highway) result in jobs.  From North Carolina’s Progressive Pulse:

The evidence from credible economic research demonstrates that using state and local tax dollars for public investments in education, transportation, public safety, and health helps to create jobs and increase household income by reducing business costs and increasing worker productivity.  [emphasis mine]

The majority of credible studies have found that reducing state and local taxes has, at most, a small positive impact on job creation and economic growth and only in cases when tax cuts haven’t adversely impacted public services. Because of balanced-budget requirements, however,  state and local tax cuts almost always must be paid for with cuts to public investments that support jobs and strengthen the state’s economy.

Furthermore, most studies have shown that the modest benefits of state and local tax cuts on economic growth take a long time to materialize and mostly result from large firms relocating from other states. In contrast to tax cuts, increasing public investments creates jobs and generates better economic outcomes for individual states and the nation as a whole.  [emphasis mine]

I get so tired of hearing GOP politicians drone on with “the government never created a job” when it is such a baldly absurd statement.  It would be nice for a journalist to call them on this sometime.  Just a simple, “seriously?!”  Alas, that might be the dreaded liberal bias.  I’m sure the truth is somewhere in between this false statement and reality.

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