Policy Götterdämmerung

What the Republicans are about to pass is just so amazingly bad and depressing, I’ve had a hard time bringing myself to write about it.  You know I’m not about hyperbole, but this is truly, epically bad public policy about any way you possibly look at it.  Parts of various good takes:

1) Dylan Matthews with 7 stats that explain how bad it is:

According to the Tax Policy Center (whose analysis does not include the health care changes in the bill), fully 61.8 percent of the total federal tax change under the bill will go to the top 1 percent in 2027, its 10th year of implementation. They would get an average tax cut of $32,510, and the top 0.1 percent (who make at least $5.1 million a year) would get $208,060 back on average.

That’s because the wealthy disproportionately benefit from cuts to the corporate income tax, and corporate tax cuts in the bill are permanent. However, individual cuts expire at the end of 2025. Meanwhile, certain tax hikes for individuals, like a change in the inflation measure used to adjust tax brackets, remain permanently. The result is a substantial across-the-board tax increase for Americans not rich enough to own stock, financing large corporate cuts that benefit the rich…

But within the 10-year window, the Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated the bill costs more than $1.4 trillion. That undercounts the likely real cost, if all the other provisions are actually extended, considerably. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget estimates that the true cost if everything is made permanent (as Republicans are promising) is $2.2 trillion over 10 years, and more after that.

Now, maybe you think that the deficit is currently too low, because interest rates on federal debt remain pretty low, the economy isn’t growing particularly fast, and adding some grease to the wheels to get things moving a bit faster would be a good idea. But even in that case, it’s worth asking whether a $1.4 trillion to $2.2 trillion expansion of the federal debt for the purpose of lowering corporate tax rates is the best use of that money from an economic growth perspective, compared to expanding subsidies for parents to help them work and raise kids, or investing in infrastructure.

2) A historian’s take in the Post:

“There are two ideas of government,” William Jennings Bryan declared in his 1896 “Cross of Gold” speech. “There are those who believe that if you will only legislate to make the well-to-do prosperous their prosperity will leak through on those below. The Democratic idea, however, has been that if you legislate to make the masses prosperous their prosperity will find its way up through every class which rests upon them.”

That was more than three decades before the collapse of the economy in 1929. The crash followed a decade of Republican control of the federal government during which trickle-down policies, including massive tax cuts for the rich, produced the greatest concentration of income in the accounts of the richest 0.01 percent at any time between World War I and 2007 (when trickle-down economics, tax cuts for the hyper-rich, and deregulation again resulted in another economic collapse).

Yet the plain fact that the trickle-down approach has never worked leaves Republicans unfazed. The GOP has been singing from the Market-is-God hymnal for well over a century, telling us that deregulation, tax cuts for the rich, and the concentration of ever more wealth in the bloated accounts of the richest people will result in prosperity for the rest of us. The party is now trying to pass a scam that throws a few crumbs to the middle class (temporarily — millions of middle-class Americans will soon see a tax hike if the bill is enacted) while heaping benefits on the super-rich, multiplying the national debt and endangering the American economy.

3) Greg Sargent:

Now Trump and the politicians, working together, are set to pass a tax plan that will lavish enormous benefits on people like Trump — and in key ways further rigs the system on their behalf.

In a big speech yesterday about the plan, Trump declared that “this is going to cost me a fortune” and added: “I have some very wealthy friends” who are “not so happy with me.” But as Kessler’s fact-check shows, this is nonsense. Both GOP plans repeal the estate tax or make the exemption vastly larger (which would benefit Trump’s family after he shuffles off to account for his life to his maker). They repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is designed to ensure that the rich pay at least something. They both give preferential treatment to “pass-through” income, the vast bulk of which goes to the top 1 percent, and Trump owns an untold number of pass-throughs.

We don’t know precisely how the final plan would apply to him now, but this is because Trump has not released his tax returns (his argument is basically, “I’ll lose out bigly, believe me”). But based on 2005 Trump tax returns that have leaked, Kessler shows, under the plan Trump would have saved anywhere from $35 million to $42 million that year.

But this is not just about Trump. The Senate tax plan is basically a huge permanent corporate tax cut, tailored to fit within deficit and procedural constraints by setting the benefits for the working and middle class to expire, making it possible to pass entirely on party lines a large permanent tax cut overwhelmingly benefiting the top 1 percent, facilitated by a tax hike later for as many as 50 percent of less-fortunate taxpayers. This sort of legislative chicanery is, at bottom, just what Trump decried — very wealthy donors benefiting from politicians cleverly gaming the system on their behalf. It’s the very scam Trump vowed to put to an end. [emphases mine]

4) Michael Tomasky:

I’ve been writing about American politics for a quarter century now, and I have read in considerable detail about every major tax bill that Congress has passed in probably the last 80 years. And I can tell you that nothing remotely like this has ever happened. In terms of both process and substance, it’s utterly without precedent.

The process, I’ve written about before. To push through legislation like this with literally zero hearings in the House and one in the Senate, which took testimony from one witness, is a mockery of democracy. No one can defend this. It’s a disgrace.

And as for the substance—well, it’s dreadful, and it’s tied to the process, of course, because a package of lies and giveaways like this could never survive a transparent legislative process.

This bill goes far beyond what all past Republican tax bills have done. In the past, Republican plans took care to ensure that the middle class got a tax cut, too. The rich got far more of course, but as long as the middle class got something they could sell it as a middle-class tax cut.

Now, even that thin pretense is dead. This will raise taxes on millions of middle-class people, as earners making $40,000 to $50,000 will by 2027 be paying $5.3 billion more while millionaires will pay $5.8 billion less. Republicans just no longer give a crap. They’re like the family alcoholic who used to at least try to hide it, sneak his nips in the attic, but now no longer even bothers trying to hide.

5) Love Chait’s broader take:

To the outside world, it might seem bizarre that Ryan would tolerate the slow transformation of his party into authoritarianism and naked racism, only to rise up in righteous indignation over a defection on a tax bill that nonetheless passed easily. Ryan is a man of principle, and his principles are shared by many if not most members of his party’s elite. Their fixation with cutting taxes and their tolerance for the president’s abuses of power are both expressions of these principles. We need to understand these beliefs and what they imply.

In addition to their belief in the curative powers of supply-side economics, and their desire to reward their donor base, conservatives consider redistribution a monstrous moral evil. Tax cuts represent a victory in a cause far larger than squeezing out a couple tenths of a percent of economic growth or another private jet for their rich friends. This belief pops up when wealthy conservatives compare progressive taxation to the Nazi persecution of the Jews — a belief they share, despite the inevitable backlash, with surprising frequency…

What are they telling us with these comments? They are revealing that there is something more than dollars and sense at stake. They believe a political system that allows the majority to vote themselves a raise by taxing a minority is a form of persecution.

Economic libertarianism is the quality that most sharply distinguishes the modern Republican Party from conservative parties in other democracies. Economic libertarians consider the free market to be the sole fair arbiter of the distribution of wealth. If I have earned 100 times the average wage through acts of capitalism between consenting adults, the theory goes, then I am entitled to keep it. For hard-core economic libertarians, this absolute right to property supersedes all other rights…

Liberals have had trouble grasping the willingness of conventional Republican politicians like Ryan to cooperate with Trump’s repeated violations of democratic norms. Why violate a core ideal like the sanctity of the republican form of government, they wonder, for a meager reward like tax cuts?

From the standpoint of a Paul Ryan, however, he is not selling out. He is advancing his highest ideals of public service. The tax bill, protecting the makers from the predations of the takers, represents one of the great triumphs of freedom of his adult life.

6) So much for everybody’s favorite maverick, McCain.  Jennifer Rubin:

Today he largely eviscerated his own message and plea for Senate comity when he announced that he’d support a partisan tax bill that is every bit as contemptuous of regular order as was the health-care bill. He said in a statement: “I believe this legislation, though far from perfect, would enhance American competitiveness, boost the economy, and provide long overdue tax relief for middle-class families.” Of course, he could have demanded a better, bipartisan bill produced through regular order — and kept his reputation as a man above partisan politics intact.

7) A handy chart from CBPP:

Senate Tax Bill More Skewed to Top Than Bush Tax Cuts -- Even Without Counting Its Health Coverage Effects

7) And, a way under-covered story.  This is also backdoor ACA repeal and could have large, very negative consequences for American health and health care.  Sarah Kliff:

Repealing the individual mandate would cause premiums to spike, millions to lose coverage

The Senate bill includes a provision to repeal the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that nearly all Americans carry insurance coverage, known as “the individual mandate.”

Republicans see it as a winning move. The individual mandate is very unpopular. And repealing it will save more than $300 billion — which can pay for big tax cuts for corporations and the very wealthy.

The best economic evidence we have shows that if the individual mandate disappears, premiums go up and millions of Americans lose coverage. The Congressional Budget Office pegs the decline in the number of insured at 13 million.

8) And let’s wrap up with a few good tweets:

Seriously, this is just horrible, horrible policy.  Unless, as Chait so aptly points out, your overarching political value is making life easier for rich people.  Even then, it’s short-sighted as they’ve got to live in a country with the rest of us.  Ugh.  Ugh.  Ugh.

You’re spending too much time with your kids

Maybe.  Especially if you are a college-educated American woman.  Pretty cool set of charts in the Economist:

Among the many notable features is the the increasing gap by education in every country.  Quantity of parental time does not necessarily equal quality.  Back in the 70’s and 80’s, my super-awesome mom just sent me out to play.  Lots less of that today.  That said, insofar as parental involvement helps kids (and this is presumably a rough metric of parental involvement), this suggests the rich (college-educated) getting richer.

Also, what is up with Denmark?!

Today’s Republican Party in one headline

Just now in NYT:

Senate Tax Bill May Add Breaks for Rich to Gain Support

The Republican tax bill hurtling through Congress is increasingly tilting the United States tax code to benefit wealthy Americans, as party leaders race to shore up wavering lawmakers who are requesting more help for high-earning business owners.

On Monday, as Republican lawmakers returned to Washington determined to quickly pass their tax overhaul, senators were in feverish talks to resolve concerns that could bedevil the bill’s passage. With pressure increasing on Republicans to produce a legislative victory, lawmakers are contemplating changes that would exacerbate the tax bill’s divide between the rich and the middle class.

As for all those “real” working class Americans who support Trump, I’m sure they love it, too ;-).  Since minorities are less likely to be wealthy than white people, they can be happy that it suits their ethnocentric nationalism.

Race, history, and Trump

Adam Serwer’s long essay on race, history, and how we got here with Donald Trump is really, really good.  I think it goes a little far in arguing that the media was all “economic anxiety!” as I did read plenty of coverage of what social science has definitively revealed (and Serwer nicely summarizes), i.e., it’s racism (or, racial resentment, as I like to say), stupid.

So many different aspects of this are worth addressing (really, just read it), but I couldn’t help thinking a lot about the fact that “racist” seems to mean very different things to liberals and conservatives today, and that’s a big part of the problem.  Liberals are well aware of structural racism and see how things like Voter ID laws, birtherism, and Muslim bans are, at their core, a furtherance of racially-motivated attitudes.  But for many conservatives, as long as you don’t go around saying the n-word and are nice enough to the minority people you encounter, than, obviously, you are not a racist:

The reason many equated Clinton’s “deplorables” remark with Trump’s agenda of discriminatory state violence seems to be the widespread perception that racism is primarily an interpersonal matter—that is, it’s about name-calling or rudeness, rather than institutional and political power. This is a belief hardly limited to the president’s supporters, but crucial to their understanding of Trump as lacking personal prejudice. “One thing I like about Trump is he isn’t afraid to tell people what the problems in this country are,” said Ron Whitekettle from Lancaster. “Everything he says is true, but sometimes he doesn’t say it the way it should be said.”

Anyway, so much good stuff in here.  Do read it when you get a chance.

Photo of the day

So many times I’ve been to zoos and the like and if they had wolves, they were always lying, sleeping at the far end of their enclosure.  Never had a good look at a wolf.  This past weekend, the wolves were up and about at the Western North Carolina Nature Center and it was amazing.  Came right up to the glass and looked right at us.  So, so cool.

Steven Greene

Getting health care 180 degrees wrong

I guess it doesn’t really surprise me anymore how completely, amazingly wrong-headed the Trump administration can be on policy matters, but still…

If there’s one thing I like to get through to my students on health care policy (okay, maybe 10 things) , it’s how the perverse incentives of fee-for-service medicine drive up our medical costs.  Among the less well-known, but important aspects of ACA is programs that try and move away from this.  Of course, Trump and his minions are trying to undo that so doctors can get richer and we can all waste more money.  NYT:

or several decades, a consensus has grown that reining in the United States’ $3.2 trillion annual medical bill begins with changing the way doctors are paid: Instead of compensating them for every appointment, service and procedure, they should be paid based on the quality of their care.

The Obama administration used the authority of the Affordable Care Act to aggressively advance this idea, but many doctors chafed at the scope and speed of its experiments to change the way Medicare pays for everything from primary care to cancer treatment. Now, the Trump administration is siding with doctors — making a series of regulatory changes that slow or shrink some of these initiatives and let many doctors delay adopting the new system…

The efforts to chip away at mandatory payment programs have attracted far less attention than attempts by President Trump and congressional Republicans to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, but they have the potential to affect far more people, because private insurers tend to follow what Medicare does. That in turn affects the country’s ability to deal with soaring health care costs that have pushed up insurance premiums and deductibles.

The administration has proposed canceling or shrinking Medicare initiatives that required doctors to accept lump sums for cardiac care and joint replacements, two of Medicare’s biggest cost drivers.

Ugh.  And all the storm and bluster aside, this is about doctors (and hospitals) getting rich (er).

This news came out the same week as the death of noted health care economist, Uwe Reinhardt.  Sarah Kliff’s excellent appreciation features this pertinent explanation of health care costs:

I wanted to take today’s VoxCare to tell you about a Reinhardt paper I think anyone interested in health policy ought to read. It fundamentally shaped how I think about the biggest problems in American health care — and the right solutions to fix them.

The paper is called “It’s the prices, stupid!” It is co-authored with Gerald Anderson, Peter Hussey, and Varduhi Petrosyan.

The thrust of the argument is this: America does not have an overuse problem when it comes to medicine. We do not go to the doctor more than people in other countries — we actually go to the doctor a little bit less.

The reason that American health care is so expensive is that, each time Americans do go to the doctor, we pay outlandishly high prices. We’re not consuming lots and lots of health care. We’re just paying higher price tags.

This is a fundamental fact about American health care that often gets lost in our debate. We have a lot of discussions about “waste” in American health care or “overuse” in our fee-for-service system…

What Uwe Reinhardt taught me about American health care is exactly the title of his paper: It’s the prices, stupid. And that has shaped what I decide to report on. It is why I tackle projects that try to bring more transparency to American health care pricing, and the reason I think it’s important to tell the stories of the medical bills my readers send me.

These aren’t one-off, sad stories. These are, as Reinhardt rightfully spent his career arguing, small windows into the systematic way the American health system charges sky-high prices

There’s so much wrong with our health care system, but we actually know what the right steps to take are.  The ACA was a few baby steps in the right direction.  Alas, Trump’s minions (I’m 100% sure Trump himself is beyond clueless on the policy details) want to lead us in precisely the wrong direction.

Put the laptop down

From my perspective, the evidence for the negative impact of laptops in the classroom has already been sufficiently compelling that I banned them years ago (though, I make sure to explain to my students why).  A recent piece in NYT summarizes the latest research on the matter, and the case is only more compelling.  In fact, a colleague whose class I recently reviewed (and suggested he needed to ban laptops), is now convinced.  There’s a lot of solid research on the matter now:

But a growing body of evidence shows that over all, college students learn less when they use computers or tablets during lectures. They also tend to earn worse grades. The research is unequivocal: Laptops distract from learning, both for users and for those around them…

In a series of experiments at Princeton University and the University of California, Los Angeles, students were randomly assigned either laptops or pen and paper for note-taking at a lecture. Those who had used laptops had substantially worse understanding of the lecture, as measured by a standardized test, than those who did not…

The strongest argument against allowing that choice is that one student’s use of a laptop harms the learning of students around them. In a series of lab experiments, researchers at York University and McMaster University in Canada tested the effect of laptops on students who weren’t using them. Some students were told to perform small tasks on their laptops unrelated to the lecture, like looking up movie times. As expected, these students retained less of the lecture material. But what is really interesting is that the learning of students seated near the laptop users was also negatively affected.

I think there are probably narrow, specific, uses where laptops can enhance a classroom.  But as for a general purpose tool for note-taking, they clearly need to go.

Quick hits (part II)

1) Kind of fascinating to see NYT run a health column about sodium and high blood pressure and get so much wrong.  Unlike most on-line comments (which are a cesspit), NYT readers are an impressive lot and these comments are actually far more informative than the article.  Including linking to this earlier NYT piece which is far more accurate on the matter.

2) It seems crazy that we should need an Op-Ed to argue that we should not be criminally charging sexual assault victims with lying.  But we do.

3) Yes, it is overblown in conservative media, but, damn, sometime PC liberalism really does run amok at universities.

4) Jeffrey Toobin on the cultural legacy of Charles Manson:

Manson died on Sunday—remarkably, he was eighty-three years old. His era had long passed by the time of his death, but his legacy was surprisingly durable. In media, in criminal law, and in popular culture, Manson created a template that, for better or worse, is still familiar today.

5) Honestly, the case for Lena Dunham as a racist is the reason that conservatives think liberals are way too ready to cry racism.

6) Jon Bernstein on the case for superdelegates:

So why keep them? Supers have several practical functions. Their votes for the winner of the primaries and caucuses extends the delegate lead, adding both legitimacy and certainty to the nominee. That’s something they’ve done in close contests, such as the 2008 cycle. 2 But they’re also a fail-safe if something goes wrong. The proportional system of delegate allocation makes it possible that the winning candidate will fall just short of a delegate majority if one or more spoiler candidates hang on and accumulate delegates even after they no longer have a chance to win. Supers, if that happens, would presumably put the plurality winner over the top, avoiding an ugly and counterproductive deadlocked convention.

Both of those possibilities are more likely than usual in 2020, a year without any obviously strong Democratic frontrunners (Sorry, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders: Party actors and voters are not rushing in large enough numbers towards either of you to clear the field). It’s likely the Democratic field will wind up more similar to those of 1976, 1988, or 2004, with no clear early leader and at least a possibility that multiple candidates will remain viable well into the primaries and caucuses.

7) So, we know that lots of mass murderers have a red flag of domestic abuse.  What’s really interesting is that offenders who choke and strangle their victims are basically waving a bright red flag that we really ought to be paying attention to.

8) For some reason, I always find the subject of how sporting events (in this case NFL games) are assigned to different regional affiliates to be really interesting.

9) This big NYT feature on the problems with the NYC subway system is pretty amazing.  And not in a good way.

None of this happened on its own. It was the result of a series of decisions by both Republican and Democratic politicians — governors from George E. Pataki to Mr. Cuomo and mayors from Rudolph W. Giuliani to Bill de Blasio. Each of them cut the subway’s budget or co-opted it for their own priorities.

They stripped a combined $1.5 billion from the M.T.A. by repeatedly diverting tax revenues earmarked for the subways and also by demanding large payments for financial advice, I.T. help and other services that transit leaders say the authority could have done without.

They pressured the M.T.A. to spend billions of dollars on opulent station makeovers and other projects that did nothing to boost service or reliability, while leaving the actual movement of trains to rely on a 1930s-era signal system with fraying, cloth-covered cables.

They saddled the M.T.A. with debt and engineered a deal with creditors that brought in quick cash but locked the authority into paying $5 billion in interest that it otherwise never would have had to pay.

In one particularly egregious example, Mr. Cuomo’s administration forced the M.T.A. to send $5 million to bail out three state-run ski resorts that were struggling after a warm winter.

And, my God, the pay!

Subway workers now make an average of $170,000 annually in salary, overtime and benefits, according to a Times analysis of data compiled by the federal Department of Transportation. That is far more than in any other American transit system; the average in cities like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington is about $100,000 in total compensation annually.

The pay for managers is even more extraordinary. The nearly 2,500 people who work in New York subway administration make, on average, $280,000 in salary, overtime and benefits. The average elsewhere is $115,000.

New York is more expensive than most other cities, but not by that much. The latest estimate from the federal Department of Commerce said the region’s cost of living was 22 percent higher than the national average and 10 percent higher than the average for other areas with subways.

Mr. Samuelsen rejected the idea that subway workers were overpaid, arguing that it is a dangerous job in which assault is common. “We earn every penny that we make,” he said. “This is New York City. This isn’t Mayberry. It costs $700,000 to buy a house in Brooklyn. What do you want us to make? Fifteen dollars an hour?”

10) Dave Leonhardt on how America is an outlier in driving deaths:

But it’s not just speed. Seatbelt use is also more common elsewhere: One in seven American drivers still don’t use one, according to the researchers Juha Luoma and Michael Sivak. In other countries, 16-year-olds often aren’t allowed to drive. And “buzzed driving” tends to be considered drunken driving. Here, only heavily Mormon Utah has moved toward a sensible threshold, and the liquor and restaurant lobbies are trying to stop it.

The political problem with all of these steps, of course, is that they restrict freedom, and we Americans like freedom. To me, the freedom to have a third beer before getting behind the wheel — or to drive 15 miles an hour above the limit — is not worth 30 lives a day. But I recognize that not everyone sees it this way. [emphasis mine]

Which is part of the reason I’m so excited about driverless technology. It will let us overcome self-destructive behavior, without having to change a lot of laws. A few years from now, sophisticated crash-avoidance systemswill probably be the norm. Cars will use computers and cameras to avoid other objects. And the United States will stand to benefit much more than the rest of the industrialized world.

Until then, be careful out there.

11) And the six main causes of automobile accidents in Slate.

12) On how to raise girls and boys to counter-act gender stereotypes.  I especially liked the part about parenting boys:

What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls — fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home. While parents and other adults teach girls to protect themselves against the Harvey Weinsteins of the world, that doesn’t do much to stem the tide of Weinsteins. Raising our boys differently would.[emphasis mine]

Parents should also shift the ways they teach girls to protect themselves. When we’re young, many of us were told to tell Mom and Dad if anyone ever touched us in a way that felt icky; as we grow up, we are armed with pepper spray and rape whistles, with instructions to always carry cab fare, not leave our drinks unattended at a bar, that no should mean no.

This is an understandable impulse, and some of the advice is good. But what girls don’t learn is how to be the solo aviators of their own perfect, powerful bodies — to happily inhabit their own skin instead of seeing their physical selves as objects to be assessed and hopefully affirmed by others; to feel entitled to sex they actively desire themselves, instead of positioned to either accept or reject men’s advances. Nor are we allowed full expressions of rage or other unfeminine emotions when we are mistreated. No wonder we try to politely excuse ourselves from predatory men instead of responding with the ire that predation merits.

One of the most important ways to move forward at this moment is to simply be aware that these assumptions and prejudices exist, and to deal with them head-on instead of pretending they aren’t there. Here, daughters of conservative men are at a particular disadvantage: Three-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.

Photo of the day

Had an amazing time visiting Catawba Falls near Asheville yesterday.  Soooo cool.  My photos cannot come close to doing it justice.  I do love using slow shutter on waterfalls, though.  So…

Quick hits (part I)

1) Apparently, not only does Portugal provide a nice lesson in drug legalization it also provides an object lesson in what happens when you don’t have net neutrality.

2) Farhad Manjoo says it’s time for twitter to radically re-think its rules to make the service better and get rid off all the trolls, Russian bots, etc.:

It ought to consider a radical, top-to-bottom change like this: Instead of awarding blue checks to people who achieve some arbitrary level of real-world renown, the company should issue badges of status or of shame based on signals about how people actually use, or abuse, Twitter. In other words, Twitter should begin to think of itself, and its users, as a community, and it should look to the community for determining the rights of people on the platform.

Is someone making a positive contribution to the service, for example by posting well-liked content and engaging in meaningful conversations? Is an account repeatedly spreading misinformation? Is it promoting or participating in online mobs, especially mobs directed at people with fewer followers? Did it just sign up two days ago? Is it acting more like a bot than a human? Are most of its tweets anti-Semitic memes? Can the account be validated with other markers of online reputation — a Facebook account or a LinkedIn profile, for instance? And on and on.

Twitter should not just embrace such reputational guidelines, it should make them transparent and meaningful. If you’re new to Twitter, or if you’ve repeatedly flouted its community rules, your rights on the platform would be circumscribed.

3) I gotta say, these four “well-being workouts” sound pretty good to me.  Already onto the gratitude thing.  And totally used the “respond constructively” when talking with my wife today.  Really going to work on that one.

4) SACS, the organization that accredits colleges and universities in the Southeast (including my own), has shown itself to be almost as much of a joke as the NCAA, when it comes to the fake classes at UNC scandal.  I honestly waste countless hours every year due to NC State jumping through hoops for SACS (my job to jump through the hoops for the PS department).  I’m so bringing up this article next time accreditation comes up at our college meeting.

5) I really need to read this book by a Political Scientist on the origins of human civilization (or, at least, DJC needs to read it and let me know if I need to).

James Scott

I’d say two things. The first is that once we had sedentary agriculture, we then had investment in land and therefore property that could be taxed. We then had the basis for inherited property and thus the basis for passing wealth from one generation to another.

Now, all that matters because it led to these embedded inequalities that were enforced by the state protection of property. This wasn’t true for hunter and gatherer societies, which regarded all property as common property to which everyone in the tribe had equal access. So the early agricultural societies created the basis for systematic class distinctions that could be perpetuated between generations, and that’s how you get the kinds of massive hierarchies and inequalities we see today.

6) The war we have on the poor is one of the most disgusting aspects of modern America.  Now, we’re even making it harder for poor people to vote.  Ugh.

7) Pretty much every single survey of actual economists finds almost perfect consensus that the Republican tax cut plan is bad for the economy.  Not that they care.

8) Tim Wu on how the courts will need to save net neutrality.

9) Derek Thompson on the Republican war on college, “For the cost of cutting corporate income taxes, the U.S. could provide universal pre-K and make tuition free at public colleges for nonaffluent students.”

10) Really enjoyed this essay on the “politicization of junk” (though, I quite like Papa John’s pizza and it’s sweet sauce and chewy crust):

By Monday, after Keurig’s executives had seen the plastic bits of their machines strewn across social media, the company’s C.E.O. circulated a memo to employees, which was leaked to the Washington Post, in which he wrote that “the decision to publicly communicate our programming decision via our Twitter account . . . gave the appearance of ‘taking sides’ in an emotionally charged debate.” In other words, someone at Keurig had messed up by telling the world that the company felt some concern about running ads between segments in which a TV host appeared to be coming to the defense of an alleged sexual predator.

You could smell the brand fear in the statement, that special tang that a company gives off as it watches some evocative skirmish in the culture war dice up its demographic and carve off a portion of its customer base. Yet, with this statement, in which Keurig seemed to lament its temporary display of empathy and humanity, the company executed what has lately become a common corporate double blunder: enraging a very vocal handful of social-media users on one end of the political spectrum; then, mistaking that cohort for a larger subsection of its customers, rushing to placate the extremists, and, in so doing, alienating a group far larger than the one it initially offended.

Before Keurig, it was the pizza company Papa John’s that, by its own doing, managed a version of the identity-politics double screwup. The company’s founder and C.E.O., John Schnatter, attempting to justify a bad quarterly earnings report, blamed decreased Papa John’s sales on the poor ratings performance of the N.F.L., with which it advertises, specifically criticizing the league commissioner for allowing the player protests during the national anthem to continue…

Trump, meanwhile, that brazen purveyor of American crapola—of mail-order steaks and lousy wine and bullshit diplomas—has recognized this as well, managing the Presidency as an extension of the Trump brand, in which all attention is good attention, and rallying his supporters to demonstrate their affection for him by patronizing certain companies, and their disdain for his detractors by boycotting Starbucks, or boycotting Nordstrom, or boycotting the N.F.L. In his Keurig video, Snoop Bailey is selling something, too. Before he busts up his coffeemaker, he touts the qualities of the golf club he’s using, and then later instructs his viewers to buy a competing brand of coffee, one that’s owned by military veterans. What looks at first like a strange act of suburban rage is really just another commercial.

11) This article on trying to take on the problem of sexual harassment is really good.  It is hindered by the fact that the French see Anglo culture as too prudish.  They are right.  Alas, that has led them to be wrong about sexual harassment.


Well, it took me almost two months, but I just finished Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War.”  Brilliant.  So good.  Easily my favorite documentary series ever.  I only wish it had been there for me to watch 20 years ago.  It looks like it’s not exactly easy to stream now (I had it all saved on my DVR) but presumably it will be easier to watch in the future.  And if you haven’t watched it.  Watch it.  So eye-opening in so many ways and so moving.  Just great stuff.

Lies, damn lies, and Republicans on taxes

Hard not to just paste the whole Krugman column (so good and so on target), but here’s some extensive portions:

One thing you can count on in 21st-century U.S. politics is that Republicans will lie about taxes. They did it under George W. Bush, they did it under Barack Obama and they’re still doing it under Donald Trump…

So what’s different this time? As in the Bush years, Republicans are claiming to be offering a middle-class tax cut. But where Bush truly was cutting taxes on the middle class, just much less than he was on the wealthy, current Republican plans would raise those taxes on many lower- and middle-income families, even as they go down for the wealthy. [emphases mine] (Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, claims that only “million-dollar earners”would see tax increases. This is the opposite of the truth.)…

Oh, and a memo to journalists: If you play it safe by reporting this as “Democrats say” that middle-class taxes will go up, you’re misleading your readers: Those estimates come from the Joint Committee on Taxation, Congress’s own nonpartisan scorekeeper…

Not long ago, leading Republicans claimed to be deeply concerned about budget deficits. Only fools and centrists took the Republicans seriously. Still, the abrupt shift to nonchalance about adding trillions to the debt in order to cut taxes on corporations and the wealthy is causing a bit of whiplash even among cynics. How do they justify the shift?

Well, they don’t seem to have settled on a story. Mnuchin keeps asserting that tax cuts will pay for themselves, going so far as to claim (falsely) that Treasury has released a study showing this. Mick Mulvaney, the budget director, cheerfully acknowledges that they’re using gimmicks to pass a bill that permanently cuts taxes on corporations, and not to worry. Whatever works, it seems

Sorry, but this isn’t the righteous anger of a man falsely accused of wrongdoing [Orrin Hatch]. It’s the rage con men always exhibit when caught out in their con.

But what’s the con about? The very incoherence of the arguments Republicans are making for their plans shows that it’s not about helping the economy, let alone ordinary families. It really is about making the rich richer, at everyone else’s expense. If this be bull crap, make the most of it.

Paul Waldman also lets loose:

Orrin Hatch is sick and tired, and so am I. Hatch, however, has the benefit of knowing that his illness and fatigue will soon be relieved by the soothing balm of victory, as the Republican Party fulfills its most profound and deeply revered purpose and delivers a tax cut to corporations and wealthy people…

A logician might counter that Hatch’s experience of poverty during the Depression is proof of precisely nothing when the question is what’s in the GOP tax bill. But all the same, he’s sick and tired of hearing that Republicans favor the rich. How dare Democrats keep repeating that foul calumny?

It might surprise Hatch to learn that as a liberal, I’m also sick and tired of the charge that the Republican tax plan is a gift to those who need it least. But I’m sick and tired of being forced to say it over and over again, with little apparent effect. I’m sick and tired of pointing out the impossibly audacious falsehoods Republicans tell about taxes. I’m sick and tired of having what so often feels like an endlessly repeating debate that ends the way everyone knows it will. Let’s lay out the steps:

  1. Republicans lie about their tax cut plan.
  2. Republicans pass their plan.
  3. Their plan contains exactly what liberals and Democrats say it does.
  4. Their plan has none of the glorious trickle-down effects Republicans claimed it would.
  5. The next time Republicans take power, we repeat this whole cycle again.

If that’s not enough to make you sick and tired, what would be? …

But what really makes me sick and tired is that it won’t matter. One way or another they’ll assemble the votes, both because this is what they live for and because they’ve convinced themselves that if they don’t pass this bill then their base will abandon them and they’ll be wiped out in the 2018 elections. Then no matter what happens—an economic boom, another recession, or anything in between they’ll say that it proves that what we need is yet more tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations. And we’ll have to keep having this argument for the rest of our lives. 

Yep.  Still looking for any evidence that the preeminent policy concern of Republicans is anything other than tax cuts for rich people.  They just make it too easy.

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