Saturday, February 04, 2012
The emphasis on private sector jobs is for two reasons.
(1) Republicans frequently claim that a job on the government payroll isn't a "real" job, but mere make-work -- even if it produces useful goods or services, such as the roads and bridges built during the New Deal.
(2) The austerity-driven cuts in public sector jobs, particularly at the state and local levels, have been a significant drag on on the economy and employment.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Is Charles Krauthammer Truly Or Only Pretending to Be Thick As Two Short Planks?He concludes a rant against the White House's feud with Fox News (which is foolish of the Obama Administration, undeniably) with this:
Defend Fox from the likes of Anita Dunn? She's been attacked for extolling Mao's political philosophy in a speech at a high school graduation. But the critics miss the surpassing stupidity of her larger point: She was invoking Mao as support and authority for her impassioned plea for individuality and trusting one's own choices. Mao as champion of individuality? Mao, the greatest imposer of mass uniformity in modern history, creator of a slave society of a near-billion worker bees wearing Mao suits and waving the Little Red Book?Here is the relevant part from a transcript of Ms. Dunn's graduation speech:
The White House communications director cannot be trusted to address high schoolers without uttering inanities. She and her cohorts are now to instruct the country on truth and objectivity?
A lot of you have a great deal of ability. A lot of you work hard. Put them together, and that answers the "Why not?" question. There's usually not a good reason.
And then the third lesson and tip actually come from two of my favorite political philosophers, Mao Zedong and Mother Teresa -- not often coupled with each together, but the two people that I turn to most to basically deliver a simple point, which is, you're going to make choices. You're going to challenge. You're going to say, "Why not?" You're going to figure out how to do things that have never been done before. But here's the deal: These are your choices. They are no one else's.
In 1947, when Mao Zedong was being challenged within his own party on his plan to basically take China over, Chiang Kai-shek and the Nationalist Chinese held the cities, they had the army, they had the air force, they had everything on their side. And people said, "How can you win? How can you do this? How can you do this against all of the odds against you?" And Mao Zedong said, you know, "You fight your war, and I'll fight mine." And think about that for a second.
You know, you don't have to accept the definition of how to do things, and you don't have to follow other people's choices and paths, OK? It is about your choices and your path. You fight your own war. You lay out your own path. You figure out what's right for you. You don't let external definition define how good you are internally. You fight your war. You let them fight theirs. Everybody has their own path.
And then Mother Teresa, who, upon receiving a letter from a fairly affluent young person who asked her whether she could come over and help with that orphanage in Calcutta, responded very simply: "Go find your own Calcutta." OK? Go find your own Calcutta. Fight your own path. Go find the thing that is unique to you, the challenge that is actually yours, not somebody else's challenge.
What Krauthammer considers unintentional "inanities" was actually a deliberate provocation on Dunn's part. She knew that Mao is usually dismissed as an evil dictator and thus must have done everything wrong. But she was referring to him -- and moreover coupling him with Mother Teresa, the standard example of goodness for everyone except Christopher Hitchens -- in order to make a point about the quality in both of them that made them exceptional, for evil and for good respectively.
It's really sad that Krauthammer assumes that anything too subtle for his understanding must be "inanities." However, it's cheering that Ms. Dunn has higher expectations for high school graduates' grasp of rhetoric.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
Medal of Honor to James Earl RayWhile any transcript produced by Rush Limbaugh himself is suspect, I do think Jack Huberman may have been in error in his claim that Limbaugh at one point said, "You know who deserves a posthumous Medal of Honor? James Earl Ray. We miss you, James. Godspeed."
The only person I can find who actually has said that James Earl Ray deserved the Congressional Medal of Honor was J.B. Stoner, a later-disbarred Georgia attorney who briefly represented Ray after his assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The quote was noted in the Report of the Select Committee on Assassinations of the U.S. House of Representatives:
[James Earl Ray's brother Jerry Ray] went to work in 1969 as a bodyguard for J.B. Stoner, leader of the National States Rights Party. The committee found it significant that he chose to work with the leader of an organization, which, shortly after Dr. King's death, had declared in The Thunderbolt, the party newspaper, that:The man who shot King was actually upholding the law of the land and enforcing the injunction of the U.S. District Court of Memphis which had forbidden King's marches. The white man who shot King ... should be given the Congressional Medal of Honor and a large annual pension for life, plus a Presidential pardon. (209)
Wednesday, October 07, 2009
Slate ShakeAlthough I find the demands for bridal virginity as appalling as Timothy Noah does, he's nonetheless being willfully stupid about why artificial hymens are considered a threat to conservative Muslim values.
Pause for a moment to consider what these men are asking God to protect them from: a cheap, mass-produced insert that releases fake blood. It's the technical equivalent of a Halloween gag. But to them, this is no gag. It's an offense against God.As the men he's quoting state quite clearly, they're not worried about a "gag"; they're worried that removing one of the most serious and immediate consequences for pre-marital sex -- the discovery on a woman's wedding night that she is not a virgin -- will reduce the incentive for women to remain virgins until that night. Unlike the idiotic American conservative argument that the HPV vaccine would encourage sexual promiscuity (because what I'm thinking about in weighing whether to take off my pants with a guy is whether I'll someday get cervical cancer), there's much more proximity and probability between the sex and the consequence with a missing hymen. Most women will never get cervical cancer, even if they screw 50 different guys over a lifetime. They'll get HPV, it will be dormant and will never affect them. The point of having a vaccine is that we don't know which women will have an active HP virus that ends up causing a devastating cancer when they're 50-year-old menopausal grandmas.
In this way, the artificial hymen serves as a useful test of religious idiocy. If a $30 item that leaks fake blood violates your faith so profoundly that you must ban it, then what you have isn't really a faith. It's a fetish. And your fetish won't survive globalization.
In contrast, if I live in a culture where every woman is expected to be a virgin in the marriage bed, I know that my lack of hymen will come up in the next few years unless I intend to remain unmarried. It's far more certain than the pre-Pill biological rationale for remaining a virgin (fear of pregnancy), and that rationale did motivate some women to refuse premarital sex. The fear of being shamed and abused for my lack of virginity is a strong incentive to retain it in the face of temptation. So even though it's tempting to mock assholes who think their civilization rests on the wisp of flesh blocking most (not even all) virgins' vaginas, they do have the behavioral analysis right: take away a probable, proximate consequence for an action, and that action will become less costly and thus more common.
The conclusion of this critique of L.A.'s temporary ban on building new fast-food joints in certain poor neighborhoods isn't as strong as the author probably believes:
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents part of South Los Angeles and is a proponent of the ban, unwittingly put the issue into sharp relief. The Times quoted him as saying that his district needs more sit-down restaurants, supermarkets, and other sources of fresh food and produce.Well, if the fast-food restaurants aren't in that community to compete for rental space, employees and customers, that might make it easier for a supermarket to open and thrive. People who need to grab a quick bite won't have the option of McDonald's, so perhaps they'll stop in the deli section of a grocery store and get a turkey sandwich instead of the bacon cheeseburger that would have been dinner otherwise. People have a limited amount of money for food, and especially in a low-income community, every dollar that goes to fast food is a dollar that can't go to fresh food.
"We are the most underserved community in L.A. for everything but fast food. There are a parade of people who have to leave the 8th District to purchase their basic food and household needs," he said.
He didn't explain how banning fast-food restaurants would solve that problem.
Dahlia Lithwick is in good form on this report from the Supreme Court arguments over a federal prohibition on depictions of real, live animals' being abused or killed. However, she too quickly dismisses the comparison to the ban on child pornography. Contrary to Lithwick's assertion that child pornography is "roped off as a whole class of speech that is unprotected under the First Amendment," the Supreme Court has said that where the manufacture of the pornography does not involve an actual child -- where it uses youthful-looking adults, or is produced through technological manipulation -- it is protected by the First Amendment. Banning child pornography is constitutionally permissible only where an actual child was exploited.
Similarly, the animal cruelty depiction statute requires that "a living animal is intentionally maimed, mutilated, tortured, wounded, or killed" in the depiction. Ben & Jerry cartoons, and their more realistic counterparts, are safe from this law. And just as people who want to bring child sex up for discussion can do so visually by using youthful adults to play Romeo and Juliet, or can draw young girls having sex, Justice Scalia's bullfighting advocate can read from Hemingway while showing a realistic-but-not-real video of a bullfight.
Thursday, October 01, 2009
Amazon OopsEvidently there was some confusion about which "Sarah Palin in a partly-unzipped fleece against a blue sky with fleecy clouds" picture to use for the book cover.
The one Harper-Collins picked is much more flattering, though it omits Palin's signature can-do up-do in favor of the softer style preferred by the GOP image consultants.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Resolution: No More BettingI picked up a bad habit from my husband, which is to challenge people who are convinced they are right about something that is empirically provable (either now or in the future) to a bet. The habit is a bad one for many reasons, and on a practical level it hasn't always worked out even for my husband, as he's soon due to pay up on a bet he made with one of my friends in 2004, that in five years Iraq would have the highest per capita GDP of any country in the Middle East besides Israel. Never make bets like that with someone who works at the State Department: yes, it's predictive, but there's still some major asymmetry of information that's all to the benefit of Foggy Bottom.
More importantly, such bets are a really obnoxious thing to do. It's a dick-waving move that tends to shut down conversations, which is generally a negative even when it's stupid people who are talking. Nonetheless, it's fun to watch the slightly smarter stupid people rapidly back away from a bet when they realize they're in over their heads, usually defending their retreat with some variation on "I didn't realize you were so mean!" Still, such writhing of the stupid is a cheap amusement that I will hereafter try to deny myself.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
You Pick Them Cherries, GirlA summer intern at the Wall Street Journal produced a fawning interview with Gov. Rick "Goodhair" Perry about how totally awesome Texas is, especially compared to California. It's all about as silly as you would expect from the above description, with some extra win in Gov. Perry's admiration for the elderly's opposition to government insurance, because "They like what they got right now, they like their access to health care." (At least Sen. Chuck Grassley will acknowledge that the elderly are attached to their own socialized medicine: "I think that Medicare is part of the social fabric of America just like Social Security is. To say that I support it is not to say that it's the best system that it could be.")
Even by the standards of just-graduated-from-Dartmouth Wall Street Journalism, however, the interview is sadly lacking in factual rigor. For example, one of its major themes is that Texas's success compared to California is in large part attributable to its having a business-friendly climate due to tort reform.
Six years ago, Mr. Perry's state underwent a critical tort reform that was codified in the state constitution. The payoff is that Texas is now outpacing California economically. According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, between 1997 and 2006 Texas' economy grew an average of 4.3% while California's grew at a rate of 3.7%. But as of 2002 (to 2007), with tort reform in place, Texas' annual economic growth jumped to 5%, while California's remained essentially the same at 3.6%.Of course, tort reform wasn't in place as of 2002. I don't think anyone who might still be reading this blog today was reading it in 2003, but back then I was spending a lot of time bitching about Prop. 12, a proposed amendment to the Texas constitution, which was touted mainly for its ability to bypass a state Supreme Court ruling so the legislature could cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice suits, but would also allow the legislature "after January 1, 2005, to limit awards in all other types of cases."
In other words, if someone wants to see the effect that tort reform had on Texas's business climate, she couldn't start measuring until 2005 at the absolute earliest. The data for 2002-2004 are irrelevant.
And then there's also the criticisms from the right, for whatever that's worth.
Countless Screaming ArgonautsChristopher Beam trots out the standard "it's economically irrational to vote" argument on behalf of Meg Whitman, who currently seeks to be the Republican candidate for California's next gubernatorial election despite not having registered to vote until 2002. She's apparently been eligible since 1978, which makes the non-standard, Whitman-specific part of Beam's article particularly stupid:
Whitman has an even more compelling reason not to vote: Until 2008, she was CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. She can influence the lives of Americans a lot more in an hour of work at her desk than in an hour spent at the polls -- not to mention the time it takes to become a truly informed voter. "Perhaps society's best choice is for her to keep working and let the other people go vote," says economist Alexander Tabarrok of George Mason University. "That could quite possibly be optimal." Considering her other platforms—speeches, letters to the editor, meetings with other executives and politicians—voting is probably near the bottom of the list of ways she can influence public debate.This is not an inherently terrible argument. My dad didn't vote for several years after he got his U.S. citizenship because of the time expenditure on voting itself, and more importantly, because jury pools were drawn from voter rolls, and he didn't have the time to serve on a jury. Considering that he was a medical practitioner in a rural area, serving a mostly elderly population with serious health problems, I think he probably did more good -- and good that the average person couldn't do -- by staying at work rather than spending his time on those general civic duties.
However, my dad has been in that role for as long as he's been eligible to vote. In contrast, Whitman has not been the CEO of eBay since 1978. If she were the type of person who took her civic responsibilities seriously, she would have registered to vote at some point, perhaps while she was at Harvard Business School. (If Bush graduated from HBS, it couldn't have been so demanding of one's time that there was none left for voting.)
But I've never found even the standard "voting is irrational behavior" argument convincing, and Beam presents it especially poorly.
The other response tends to be: What if everyone thought that way? But everyone doesn't think that way, and they're not likely to start. For the sake of argument, say they did. Say everyone in the United States stayed home on Election Day. In that case, says economist Gordon Tullock, "I would vote."Of course, you don't necessarily know which elections are likely to have such low turnout that a few votes might make a difference. I saw this play out at law school with a Student Senate election in which a few student organizations ran a write-in slate of candidates, unbeknownst to much of the student body, and succeeded in an upset victory because Senate elections had extremely low turnout and most people assumed that the people who had won the year before would win again.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Gateway =/= TunnelWhile Steve Chapman is right to call out the government on its sloppy use of statistics with regard to teen smoking, I don't think he makes a definitive case against the FDA's ban on non-menthol flavors in cigarettes. The question is not what teen smokers are smoking once the habit is established, but rather what they smoked when they first began smoking.
I'm among the two-thirds of people who tried smoking as teenagers but never acquired a smoking habit, and if the cigarette I was offered hadn't tasted so unpleasant, I might have given smoking a better shot. (Yes, I was aware of all the reasons not to smoke, but occasional, artful smoking does look cool, even if the discolored teeth and blackened lungs of a pack-a-day habit don't.) It's like my bias against beer: tastes nasty, no thank you.
As I've done with wine, moving incrementally from ultra-sweet moscato d'asti and eiswein (justly called "dessert wines") to subtler and less overtly sweet options, I suspect teen smokers might be doing with flavored cigarettes: using them to get accustomed to smoking, and then moving on to the more sophisticated Marlboros, Camels and Newports.
Via DailyDish, which I'll now be turned off reading for another three months because Andrew Sullivan won't stop embarrassing himself.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Is "Bill Wilson" a Name Associated with Jewish People?I am a little puzzled over the latest rightwing-generated dust-up, which is Americans for Limited Government's claim after ALG sent a mass e-mail under the name of its president, Bill Wilson, an NBC "Dateline" producer responded with "Bite Me, Jew Boy!"
So far as I can tell from Googling, Mr. Wilson is not Jewish, and so the reply seems a non-sequitur. ALG's assumption is that the producer, Jane Stone, must have been intentionally responding to the person whose address was used to send the e-mail, ALG director of media outreach Alex Rosenwald, whose name is one traditional for Jews. But this seems like a peculiar assumption. If the message irked Ms. Stone, surely the correct person toward whom to direct her ire was he who purportedly created it: Mr. Wilson. On the other hand, if she simply wanted to get off the list (as NBC claims she actually sent the message "Take me off this list!"), Mr. Rosenwald as director of media outreach would indeed be the correct person to email.
These conventions of online technology often go misunderstood by folks on the right. For example, the conservative website Big Government's rundown of the above events concludes,
I am told by fellow right-leaning journalists that getting rude and offensive emails from reporters in the mainstream media is a fairly common occurrence.The link for "an electronic nastygram" is to a Newsbusters article by Seton Motley, who apparently doesn't understand the concept of blocking people on Facebook despite being a Facebook user himself. According to Newsbusters,
It happened to me last fall when an occasional writer for the New York Times named Dan Mitchell sent me an electronic nastygram after I appeared on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” in a package about ACORN. I understand the newspaper disciplined Mitchell.
We may never know. Mr. Vadum's reply was blocked by the sender: Dan Mitchell (The New York Times Company). Screen captures of the Mitchell missive and the Times Company block are also available on the CRC's website.
How do I know Dan Mitchell is a reporter for the New York Times? Because when I attempted to block Mr. Mitchell from communicating with me, this helpful information box popped up (another screen grab)On the other hand, I don't know how many far-right writers will be eligible to continue their work if there's a requirement that they both understand the technology they are discussing about and be literate.
Monday, September 21, 2009
What do the House and Senate health care reform bills say about an individual mandate?The WSJ has been running arguments about why health care reform legislation is unconstitutional if it includes an "individual mandate," on the premise that there's no commerce here that Congress would be regulating, and therefore it goes beyond even the broad reading of the Commerce Clause ("The Congress shall have power ... To regulate commerce") from the Supreme Court precedents of Wickard and Raich (Congress can regulate homegrown wheat and pot consumed at home).
HR 3200, the House bill that has been reported out of four committees and is the proposal that has gotten the most attention, says,
TITLE IV—AMENDMENTS TO INTERNAL REVENUE CODE OF 1986
Subtitle A—Shared Responsibility
PART 1—INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITY
SEC. 401. TAX ON INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT ACCEPTABLE HEALTH CARE COVERAGE.
(a) IN GENERAL.—Subchapter A of chapter 1 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by adding at the end the following new part:
‘‘PART VIII—HEALTH CARE RELATED TAXES
‘‘SUBPART A. TAX ON INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT ACCEPTABLE HEALTH CARE COVERAGE.
‘‘Sec. 59B. Tax on individuals without acceptable health care coverage.
‘‘(a) TAX IMPOSED.—In the case of any individual who does not meet the requirements of subsection (d) at any time during the taxable year, there is hereby imposed a tax equal to 2.5 percent of the excess of—
‘‘(1) the taxpayer’s modified adjusted gross income for the taxable year, over
‘‘(2) the amount of gross income specified in section 6012(a)(1) with respect to the taxpayer.
‘‘(1) TAX LIMITED TO AVERAGE PREMIUM.—
‘‘(A) IN GENERAL.—The tax imposed under subsection (a) with respect to any tax-payer for any taxable year shall not exceed the applicable national average premium for such taxable year.
‘‘(B) APPLICABLE NATIONAL AVERAGE PREMIUM.—
‘‘(i) IN GENERAL.—For purposes of subparagraph (A), the ‘applicable national average premium’ means, with respect to any taxable year, the average premium (as determined by the Secretary, in coordination with the Health Choices Commissioner) for self-only coverage under a basic plan which is offered in a Health Insurance Exchange for the calendar year in which such taxable year begins."
If someone has "gross income" for a year -- that is, if the person is not just living off the cash money stuffed under his mattress -- then he inherently has engaged in commerce. He has been paid for employment, or received dividends from stock ownership, or otherwise done something to result in income, and the something that results in income will come under "commerce." It therefore is a small step from the FICA taxes on employment-specific income, which for the last two generations have been used to fund Social Security and Medicare, to this new tax that will fund health care for those who choose not to buy insurance to cover themselves.
The editorial linked above by David Rivkin and Lee Casey ignores HR 3200 and focuses instead on the Senate "bill" (in a sad attempt to make it accessible to the kind of people who are convinced anything 1000+ pages long must be evil, it's written more like a proposal than concrete legislation) championed by Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus. Rivkin and Casey say,
In United States v. Lopez (1995), for example, the Court invalidated the Gun Free School Zones Act because that law made it a crime simply to possess a gun near a school. It did not "regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity." Of course, a health-care mandate would not regulate any "activity," such as employment or growing pot in the bathroom, at all. Simply being an American would trigger it.
Health-care backers understand this and—like Lewis Carroll's Red Queen insisting that some hills are valleys—have framed the mandate as a "tax" rather than a regulation. Under Sen. Max Baucus's (D., Mont.) most recent plan, people who do not maintain health insurance for themselves and their families would be forced to pay an "excise tax" of up to $1,500 per year—roughly comparable to the cost of insurance coverage under the new plan.
But Congress cannot so simply avoid the constitutional limits on its power. Taxation can favor one industry or course of action over another, but a "tax" that falls exclusively on anyone who is uninsured is a penalty beyond Congress's authority.
Here's Baucus's markup:
Excise Tax. The consequence for not maintaining insurance would be an excise tax. If a taxpayer‘s MAGI is between 100-300 percent of FPL, the excise tax for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or an individual claimed as a dependent) is $750 per year. However, the maximum penalty for the taxpayer unit is $1,500. If a taxpayer‘s MAGI is above 300 percent of FPL the penalty for failing to obtain coverage for an individual in a taxpayer unit (either as a taxpayer or as an individual claimed as a dependent) is $950 year. However, the maximum penalty amount a family above 300 percent of FPL would pay is $3,800.
It's less explicit than HR 3200, but it looks to me like this is still a tax that falls solely on income, and thus on commerce.
What do people who think Wickard and Raich were sound decisions (I already know what the conservatives and libertarians think, thank y'all) think of this?