The Republican Party’s hammer

I’m pretty partial to the expression, “when all you’ve got is a hammer, everything you see is a nail.”  That expression hits the nail on the head for the modern Republican Party.  All they’ve got is “tax cuts!”  Unemployment?  Tax cuts!  Struggling education system?  Tax cuts!  Headache?  Tax cuts!  Now, of course, tax cuts can be an appropriate policy just like a hammer can be a great tool.  But they aren’t a panacea and there’s a lot more to building a house than having a hammer and there’s a lot more to effectively running a government than just clamoring for tax cuts.

Great, great column by the N&O’s Rob Christensen (honestly, as relentlessly non-partisan a journalist as I know) today about how this tax cut obsession bodes very ill for North Carolina’s future.  The Tax Foundation has decided that NC has a horrible business climate based solely on tax rates.  And that’s what the NC Republicans keep trotting out.  That’s like judging a city’s desirability solely by swimming pools or libraries per capita.  Tells you something useful, sure, but there’s oh so much more.  You really should read the whole column, but here’s some good bits:

You can just picture all the smart boys and girls at the legislature, the governor’s office and the think tanks poised in front of their lap tops searching through the data to justify their contention that North Carolina’s climate is anti-business.

North Carolina was ranked as having “the top business climate” in the country displacing Texas in 2012, according Site Selection, the magazine of corporate real estate strategy and economic development. DELETE.

North Carolina ranked third best state for business by Chief Executive magazine in 2013 behind Texas and Florida. DELETE.

North Carolina ranked fourth in the country as the best state for business in 2012 behind Utah, Virginia an North Dakota, according to Forbes Magazine. DELETE.

North Carolina ranked fourth best in the country for business in 2012, according to CNBC, following Texas, Utah and Virginia. DELETE.

North Carolina ranked 44th in tax climate for business by the Tax Foundation. PRINT…

The Tax Foundation considers it [Wyoming] the perfect state as far as taxes. Rounding out its top five of the lowest tax states for business are South Dakota Nevada, Alaska, and Florida.

And what are the states North Carolina is trying to avoid? The worst state, according to the Tax Foundation, is New York, followed by New Jersey, California, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Now you may have varying ideas about those states. But few people would argue that Wyoming, South Dakota and Nevada are the nation’s economic engines and that New York, New Jersey and California are the nation’s economic backwaters…

The studies that placed North Carolina among the most attractive states for business included a number of factors: Cost of doing business, low unionization, regulatory environment, education, quality of life, transportation and access to capital.

Which is why the narrow-gauge focus on taxes has its drawbacks. If you cut taxes too deeply you can affect the other things that make North Carolina an attractive place to live and to work.

Spot-on.  And, classic Christensen, the overly narrow focus on taxes “has its drawbacks.”  Yeah, and drinking vinegar has its drawbacks.  It’s just stupid and completely non-nonsensical as any meaningful basis for understanding the attractiveness of a state.  That’s the drawback.  And, of course, it’s not just that cutting taxes too deeply “can” affect these other factors that make a state a place that people want to live and work; it absolutely will.  Do Republicans think that when our state’s education is the match for Alabama and Mississippi that high-tech businesses will want to locate here so they can have low taxes but then send their kids to piss-poor schools in culturally impoverished communities?

And I had not realized just how ugly this is for higher education:

But the state funding for the University of North Carolina is being squeezed like a lemon – from $2.7 billion in 2008-2009 to $2.5 billion in Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget. First it was the recession, now it is austerity measures. In one of the fastest growing states in the country, the UNC budget would normally have been expected to grow to $3.7 billion this year, based on the budget growth of previous years.

Big tax cuts would mean the squeezing is just beginning. Which may be why lawmakers are talking about shifting more kids to community colleges.

Community college is great and we should be building up the system, but from students who otherwise would not get higher education.  Not by taking students from four-year colleges.  That’s sure as hell not going to build the state in the future.   All-around, the whole approach is just breathtakingly short-sighted.  Depressing.

I love cetirizine hydrochloride

Or Zyrtec ™ as you probably know it.  One of my little quirks is that I pride myself on knowing the generic name for every medicine anybody in my family uses (believe me, that’s a lot) as well as the generic names for most common medicines.  Also, I never buy brand-name medication.  Never.  These two facts are related.  Really nice column by Yglesias on the matter:

The novel approach taken by Bart Bronnenberg, Jean-Pierre Dubé, Matthew Gentzkow, and Jesse Shapiro (PDF) was to study the difference in purchasing choices made by people in different occupations or with different levels of knowledge.

They show, for example, that high-income households are much more likely to buy name-brand headache remedies than low-income households. That’s an empirical finding that’s compatible with all kinds of different accounts: Poor people buy cheap stuff all the time while richer people prefer more expensive items, perhaps because they’re superior. The authors show, however, that while physicians have substantially higher average incomes than lawyers, they are also much less likely to buy name-brand headache medicine.

It’s not just physicians. Registered nurses have more modest incomes than doctors, but are shown to be farmore likely to buy generic pain relievers than other people with similar incomes. Most strikingly of all, professional pharmacists—the people who know which pills are which—are even less likely to buy name brand than are doctors and nurses.

This all strongly suggests that rich people avoid generics not because the pills are inferior, or even because they’re showing off, but simply because they’re careless. Prosperous people whose occupations give them health care expertise steer clear of expensive brands. Nonoccupational proxies for knowledge indicate the same thing. When you control for income, there’s a clear correlation between educational attainment and preference for generics. Among college graduates, health majors are more likely to buy generics than other science majors, who in turn are more likely to go generic with their headache remedies than engineers. Engineers, meanwhile, buy generics more often than people with nontechnical college degrees. By the same token, willingness to buy generic drugs is strongly correlated with ability to correctly identify the active ingredient in name-brand pills. In total, Americans waste about $32 billion a year in buying name-brand pills over the counter where generic alternatives are readily available.

As for the fact that rich people (the vast majority of whom are not medical professionals) are buying all the brand-name led on of my FB friends to comment, “rich ≠ smart.  Q.E.D.”

Yglesias also points out another important fact, “One moral of the story (Slate advertisers should pay attention) is that advertising works.”

And, as to the title of the post, I really do love Zyrtec.  All the time I see people suffering from allergies and I ask them if they are taking anything. Invariably, they seem to say Claritin (loratadine).  That stuff might as well be a placebo.  Truth is, the makers were so despereate to be able to claim “non-drowsy” that they weakened the efficacy until their were no somnolent side-effects.   Zyrtec meanwhile, has a small, but statistically significant, number of users that do get drowsy, but the upshot is that it works a whole hell of a lot better.

But while I’m at it, I should let you know that there’s a clear scientific consensus that if you are suffering from allergic rhinitis, that intranasal corticosteroids (e.g., Flonase–fluticasone proprionate) are far and away the best treatment.  And in my case literally changed by life.

Those no-good, lazy, unemployed freeloaders!

Or surely so it seems to the NC Republican legislators.  Of all the states with all the crazy conservatives, North Carolina is the very first to kick its citizens off of long-term federal unemployment benefits:

RALEIGH, N.C. — With changes to its unemployment law taking effect this weekend, North Carolina not only is cutting benefits for those who file new claims, it will become the first state disqualified from a federal compensation program for the long-term jobless.

State officials adopted the package of benefit cuts and increased taxes for businesses in February, a plan designed to accelerate repayment of a $2.5 billion federal debt. Like many states, North Carolina had racked up the debt by borrowing from Washington after its unemployment fund was drained by jobless benefits during the Great Recession.

The changes go into effect Sunday for North Carolina, which has the country’s fifth-worst jobless rate. The cuts on those who make unemployment claims on or after that day will disqualify the state from receiving federally funded Emergency Unemployment Compensation. That money kicks in after the state’s period of unemployment compensation — now shortened from up to six months to no more than five — runs out. The EUC program is available to long-term jobless in all states. But keeping the money flowing includes a requirement that states can’t cut average weekly benefits.

Because North Carolina leaders cut average weekly benefits for new claims, about 170,000 workers whose state benefits expire this year will lose more than $700 million in EUC payments, the U.S. Labor Department said.

And, why it is so important to kick these freeloaders to the curb?  Why, obviously, to jump-start the state’s economy:

Delaying would burden businesses and potentially increase the debt, said Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie. The cuts also will push people to find work faster, then move to a better job as the economy improves, she said.

Riiiiight.  Because all these people are living off a small portion of their potential earnings just because they’re not looking hard enough.  Unemployment insurance is just a “hammock” for the poor, as Paul Ryan would put it.  I’m sure the fact that there are three job seekers for every new job has nothing to do with the large number of long-term unemployed.  It’s just lazy freeloaders.

So, what do economists have to say about this?

And economist Larry Katz, whose 1980s research on the subject is frequentlycited by the right, says his previous findings about unemployment insurance extending the duration of unemployment don’t apply in the Great Recession. “I strongly favor extensions of UI benefits when the labor market is weak,” Katz told PolitiFact in 2009. Booting job-seekers from the support system does nothing to change the ugly reality that there are still three unemployed people for every job opening. That ratio of job hunters to available jobs is down from nearly 7:1 in mid-2009.

There’s being mean and  there’s bad policy– Republicans have hit the double with this one.

(Also, a nice N&O Op-Ed on this, too).

Photo of the day

Favorite photo I’ve taken so far this week.  Captures a great moment (Kim and my son Alex) in a great location:

IMG_1823 (2)

Supreme Court and intellectual consistency

Of course, I’m not the only one who noticed the seeming intellectual inconsistency on judicial activism in this week’s decisions.  Ruth Marcus has a nice column on the matter:

Indeed, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburgnoted in her dissent [on the VRA case], the majority was triply activist. It abandoned “its usual restraint” by considering a broad-based challenge rather than determining whether the law was constitutional simply as applied to the particular Alabama county involved. Likewise, Ginsburg said, the majority “veers away from controlling precedent” about treating states equally “without even acknowledging that it is doing so.” And, “hardly showing the respect ordinarily paid when Congress acts to implement” the guarantee of voting rights, “the Court does not even deign to grapple with the legislative record.”

Very true, but I really like where she tries to find the liberal consistency (and largely succeeds, I think):

In this sense, the liberal position on both voting rights and DOMA are linked, and impelled, by the Constitution’s solicitude for minority rights and individual liberty. I believe this is correct, but I also concede that this conviction cannot be disentangled from my conception of the Constitution and the sweeping protections it provides.

I have a harder time finding intellectual consistency in the conservative position in the two cases. On voting rights, the conservative justices are enormously deferential to states, and dismissive of congressional power, despite the explicit constitutional grant of authority to Congress. Yet they are respectful of congressional action, and happy to intrude on traditional state prerogatives, when it comes to same-sex marriage.

If there is a way to reconcile these results, I’m eager to hear it.

Here’s the reconciliation… those are the policy outcomes the conservatives prefer.  Nothing more.  Anything else is Constitutional hand-waving.  And on that note, Richard Posner  (and for the record, Posner is generally considered a conservative judge) follows in his son’s footsteps to show just how intellectually dishonest the VRA ruling was:

Shelby County v. Holder, decided Tuesday, struck down a key part of the Voting Rights Act (the part requiring certain states with a history of racial discrimination in voting to obtain federal permission in advance to change their voting procedures—called “preclearance”) as violating the “fundamental principle of equal sovereignty” of the states. This is a principle of constitutional law of which I had never heard—for the excellent reason that, as Eric points out and I will elaborate upon briefly, there is no such principle.

Maybe I’m a little obsessed with the Shelby County case, but that’s probably because it is honestly about as extreme a case of judicial activism– for either side– as you’ll ever find.  When liberals engage in judicial activism, it tends to be to extend principles in the Bill of Rights, i.e., making sure trials really are fair, that your right to remain silent is truly respected, etc.  I suppose it’s possible such rulings may go too far, but it’s too far in embodying clear Constitutional principles,.  Here the conservatives have simply over-turned a policy they don’t like and made up a heretofore non-existent Constitutional principle to do so (I’d argue there’s far more Constitutional basis for a right to privacy).

Judicial activism and ideological consistency

Vacation or not, I can’t not weigh in on the big Supreme Court decisions this week.  Honestly, what strikes me the most is the dramatic switch on judicial activism when it comes to the Voting Rights and gay marriage decisions.  I tell my students that, sadly, in recent years “judicial activism” has basically come to mean a court decision conservatives don’t like.  In common political usage, that’s pretty much the truth.  Now, in scholarly reality judicial activism essentially means using the power of the court (usually to extend principles in the Constitution) to overturn legislation by the duly elected representatives of the people (be it at the state or national level).

Now, there’s a very good argument to be made that, all else being equal, unelected judges should defer to the elected representatives of the people.  Nonetheless, through much of the 60’s, judicial activism generally proved to be a very good thing for American democracy.  All too often, states were willing to use the “tyranny of the majority” to deny the rights of minority citizens or to railroad those accused of crimes with limited concern for “due process of law.”  And in today’s DOMA decision, it’s not a hard call to say that Congress was denying the equal protection of gay Americans and it is up to the Supreme Court to step in and right this wrong.

For the most part, though, judicial activism has been the province of the court’s more conservative members in recent times as they seek to overturn liberal legislation that they don’t like (e.g., the 4 votes against the ACA).  The decision in the Voting Rights case is pretty much a textbook example of judicial activism– the 5 member majority asserting their judgment in place of the judgment of Congress and the President (not to mention a majority Republican Congress and Republican president who passed the recent VRA extension).  Now, one could argue they had to step in because the Southern states needing pre-clearance before they potentially discriminate against their citizens were being treated unfairly by Congress.  But this is not exactly some moral wrong visited on a group of citizens.

What was most striking to me was Scalia’s dissent in the gay marriage case which was basically a paean to judicial restraint, just a day after he signed onto the textbook activism of the VRA decision.  Scalia happily strikes down laws he doesn’t like right and left.  Yet, when he’s in the minority wanting to preserve a clearly discriminatory law, this is somehow a great injury to democracy.  I suppose all the Justices are guilty of this to some degree, but Scalia is truly in a class by himself and his dissent in the gay marriage case was just absurd.

I read a lot of different articles on the court the last few days, but the one that really stuck with me was Eric Posner’s takedown of John Roberts:

Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, the Voting Rights Act case, is a pretty lame piece of work. There is a longstanding constitutional norm of judges deferring to Congress. Courts strike down laws when they violate rights or exceed Congress’ power. But Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which requires nine states in the South (and other scattered places) to get approval from the Justice Department before changing their election laws, doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. It’s the type of legislation specifically authorized by the 15th Amendment of the Constitution, which says the right to vote “shall not be abridged” because of race or color. Roberts says that the singling out of Old South states, for what’s called “preclearance” by DoJ, makes little sense now that blacks are as likely to register to vote as whites in those states, or nearly so. But Congress passes hundreds of statutes that are based on weak evidence, and courts routinely uphold them. Roberts doesn’t even try to argue that the costs imposed on states by the preclearance part of the Voting Rights Act exceed the benefits for people who would otherwise be deprived of the vote, which is what would be minimally

Photo of the day (and an explanation)

There’s a reason for the non-existent blogging so far this week.  Been reading lots of interesting stuff I want to write about, but the fact that I’m at Topsail Island and want to enjoy the beach pretty much wins out.  So, rather than find a nice photo from one of my usual sources, here’s an Instagram  of Kim and Sarah from the beach house balcony:


Also, I love instagram now, but my friends (beagletime, aka JDW, aside) just don’t post enough photos.  If you are posting interesting things there, let me know (My instagram name is hankgreene).


%d bloggers like this: