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Fleischer wants you to stop being a freeloader

[ 0 ] April 14, 2009 |

I see that one of those guys who used to earn a living lying for the Bush administration has revived the ancient Republican complaint that the nation’s top earners provide a greater percentage of tax revenue than everyone else. Though he offers the predictable suggestion that the tax code has prodiced a kind of ersatz Marxism, he’s kind enough to lard the argument with allusions to ponzi schemes, Bernard Madoff and the like.

Leave aside the obvious qualifier that former employees of the Bush administration — which projected, among other things, Madovian annual returns on the Iraq War while arguing that we could improve Social Security by anchoring its benefits to the stock market — are uniquely unsuited to the task of identifying and offering solutions to policy problems. At the bottom of it all, Fleischer’s argument is based on the nonsensical suggestion that because wealthy people are collectively paying a larger share of federal tax revenue, the tax code is somehow grossly unfair to the rich and dangerous to the economy as a whole. If Fleischer’s column provided the only data available on the subject, you might be forgiven for assuming that wealthy Americans had seen their individual incomes decline over the past few years and that the only means of avoiding the mass Galtification of the upper ten percent would be to start taxing the poor.

Fortunately, we have other sources of data from the CBO, from whom we might learn (.pdf) that since 1979, the share of overall federal income tax paid by the wealthiest decile has indeed risen from 48 to 72 percent. But that’s a meaningless figure in this discussion, since it doesn’t reflect anything about individual income and doesn’t reflect the broad array of tax cuts that the wealthiest Americans have enjoyed in recent years. I’d venture a wild guess that the experience of being rich is shaped not in the least by the fact that one’s class happens to be paying a larger share of federal income revenue; as an ideological device, however, Fleischer’s shocking revelations are useful if you’re the sort of person looking to justify additional tax cuts for upper-income earners.

One way to test Fleischer’s objections would be to ask ourselves how those top earners are in fact doing. By his account, they should be doing pretty badly, if they’re being hammered by such a grossly disproportionate tax code. From the same CBO, however, we also learn (.pdf) that the threshold separating the top ten percent from the rest of the nation has risen during that period from roughly $65,000 to just under $100,000 — a 50 percent increase that corresponds to the radical income growth among the wealthiest Americans over the past 30 years. Moreover, that growth in category income minimums hasn’t been matched by similar rising thresholds in the lower quintiles. During that same period, by comparison, the threshold dividing the first and second quintiles has risen from $16,900 to $18,900 (a 12 percent change). To evoke an image made famous by Fleischer’s old boss, it’s like someone decided to make the pie higher — but then got distracted after taking care of the top quintile. Meantime, as this chart (.pdf) from the Economic Policy Institute points out, the wealthiest 5 percent saw its share of national income grow from 15 to 21 percent between 1970-2004, a figure that helps explain the very piece of data that has Fleischer so upset in the first place.

I suppose I could have saved myself a lot of time here by just remembering that nobody gives a fuck what Ari Fleischer thinks. But now I’ve got lots more CBO data to use during the last week of my US survey — and if there’s anything guaranteed to plump up those student evaluations, it’s CBO data.

And When You Add in the Jersey, Butter-Braised Lobster Over Foie Gras, And A 2009 Escalade to Drive to the Game…

[ 0 ] April 14, 2009 |

To follow-up on Neyer’s excellent point about the idiotic Team Marketing Report, the one that he quotes (despite the large amount of discretionary purchases it includes) is actually a little more reasonable that the one reports typically cite. I can at least see an argument that a hot dog and a beer is a common enough purchase that it’s worth factoring in. But the usual index cited in the media includes “the cost of two beers, four sodas, four hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs and two souvenir caps.” Seriously, who the hell buys two programs? (If you go to games, when was the last time you bought one, apart from maybe a special event? Better stats and scoresheets can be had for free on the intertubes.) At any rate, baseball remains by far the most affordable sport, and as someone who attended a lot of games as a student cheap seats, bringing a sandwich, and perhaps even not getting a cap every time you go to the park works just fine.

Mark the Bird Fidrych

[ 0 ] April 13, 2009 |

It’s been a bad day for baseball, with the death this morning of legendary Phillies announcer Harry Kalas, and now the sudden passing of Mark Fidyrch. Fidyrch, who was only 54, was killed in an accident on his farm. I was 16 and a fanatic Tigers fan during the Bird’s brief flight across the national landscape. The Tigers were coming off the worst season in their history, and Fidyrch’s combination of brilliant pitching (158 adjusted ERA, not that we knew what that was back then) and totally unselfconscious antics — he talked to the ball before every pitch and had about 50 twitchy mannerisms that were all somehow endearing — remains one of my favorite baseball memories.

The Bird’s career was wrecked after just 35 starts by an undiagnosed torn rotator cuff, and a hard-headed analysis of his stats indicates he probably wasn’t destined for a Hall of Fame career — he only had 97 strikeouts in 250 innings in that magical rookie year. Still for a few months he was on top of the world, and somehow neither that experience nor his sudden fall seemed to have any affect on his personality, which appeared to remain immune to the contaminating power of fame.

Hail to thee blithe Spirit
Bird thou always wert . . .

Raptor Jobs PreservedStabbed in the Back

[ 0 ] April 13, 2009 |

Shorter Air Force Secretary Michael Donley and Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz: Robert Gates is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

Via Danger Room.

The Courts and Social Change

[ 0 ] April 13, 2009 |

As part of our interminable but hopefully interesting series about judicial review, it may be worth considering Gerald Rosenberg’s The Hollow Hope, invoked by Paul and now out in a new edition. It’s not, exactly, that I disagree with Rosenberg’s central argument. Indeed, if you boil down Rosenberg’s claim to its central essence — that the courts, acting alone against hostile and powerful social actors, cannot generate social change — I agree 100%. To the extent that Rosenberg definitively repudiates the excessive faith in litigation held by some law students who went to school in the shadow of the Warren Court, his book is valuable. To a political scientist, however, his claims that courts are severely constrained in their powers are much less surprising. Moreover, overly simplistic way in which he thinks about causation means that his argument is completely inadequate to prove his concluding assertion that the courts are “flypaper” that are almost always a waste of progressive resources.

Consider, first of all, the way in which Rosenberg attempts to measure the indirect impact of Brown. He argues — convincingly — the Little Rock crisis generated much more media coverage than Brown. But I assume by now many of you have already spotted the obvious fallacy: Little Rock and Brown were not independent events. Without Brown, Faubus wouldn’t have had to attempt to nullify federal law and force Eisenhower to send the Big Red One Screaming Eagles into Little Rock. And so while it’s true that the Civil Rights Act was much more effective at ending desegregation than Brown, it’s also highly unlikely that it would have had the necessary political support in 1964 had the Court not forced the issue. Rosenberg’s requirement that causation be immediate and direct is evidently going to produce false negatives.

Even more problematic, his assumption that institutions have power only if they force other institutions to do things they don’t want to do isn’t very appropriate to a separation-of-powers system, which almost always requires significant collaboration. Consider his striking graph showing that there was virtually no desegregation in the Deep South until 1965. This is an accurate inference as far as it goes — the courts aren’t going to have much of a direct impact in cases where their directives require ongoing enforcement by extremely hostile actors. But Rosenberg also shows (albeit much more quietly) that Brown did have an immediate and significant impact in border states where political elites were much less committed to apartheid. But, often, attempts to generate social change are much more analogous to the situation in the border states: you have some political elites committed to the status quo, some who are committed to change, and a crucial third group who don’t really care how a divisive issue is resolved as long as they don’t have to take responsibility for it. The fact that the political cover provided by courts in such situations doesn’t represent fully “independent” power is beside the point. The courts in such situations to do have real power, and do provide real leverage for groups seeking social change. (And, of course, in situations like #1 there probably aren’t going to be good short-term political options in any institutional forum. What exactly was the alternative to litigation in 1954 — lobbying the Alabama legislature? Hoping that Southern senators would generously agree not to filibuster?) To assess the power of institutions acting alone isn’t the right standard to apply to a Madisonian system.

And, returning to the issue at hand, same-sex marriage in many cases is going to be the second type of case — legislative majorities that would be unwilling to initiate same-sex marriage rights have proven willing to go along with judicial holdings requiring such rights. So far litigation has produced stable same-sex marriage rights in three states, and Iowa is overwhelmingly likely to be a fourth (and, at worst, will have same-sex marriage until 2014, with each passing year making repeal less likely.) While legislation without judicial intervention is come up with bupkis. To conclude that the courts are “flypaper” that generally cannot make a meaningful contribution to social change is therefore clearly erroneous.

The Way it All Went Down

[ 0 ] April 13, 2009 |

According to the New York Times, the kidnapping of Captain Richard Phillips was resolved thusly:

Just after dark on Sunday, snipers on the U.S.S. Bainbridge saw that one of the pirates was pointing an automatic rifle at Captain Phillips, and that the captors’ heads and shoulders were exposed from the capsule-like lifeboat. President Obama had previously authorized the use of force if the commander on the scene believed the captain’s life was in danger, so they fired, Admiral Gortney said. The lifeboat was about 100 feet from the Bainbridge when the shots were fired, a little after 7 p.m. Somalia time (seven hours ahead of Eastern time). The vice admiral said he did not know Captain Phillips’s location at the time the shots were fired, but given the length of the lifeboat, he was less than 18 feet from the snipers’ targets.

Some observations:

  • I’m no marksman, but hitting a pirate in the head on a moving platform at 100′ from a moving platform sounds ridiculously difficult. Kudos to the skill of the professionals on board USS Bainbridge.
  • Conservative hysteria aside, this is not a “walk the plank” scenario. If the USS Bainbridge executed the fourth pirate, who either surrendered or was conducting negotiations, then we’d have such a scenario. What went down, on the other hand, is much more akin to the resolution of a domestic hostage taking/kidnapping scenario.
  • I don’t feel at all bad for the pirates. They were given ample opportunity to surrender and face trial, and under the circumstances they certainly must have understood that maintaining ransom demands could be fatal. An understanding of why pirates act (both to survive AND to get rich) cannot preclude law enforcement activity.
  • I also wouldn’t have felt bad if the USN had guaranteed payment of the ransom, then simply arrested the pirates anyway. Payments to kidnappers and hostage takers in the domestic context is not seen as granting immunity; the police continue to investigate and conduct arrests even after the hostage is released. I don’t see why pirates should be treated with more courtesy.
  • Yes, Victor Davis Hanson is a silly, silly man. I shouldn’t have to point out the silliness of arguing that pirates thrive on feminist theory and unrelated apologies from President Obama, but for some reason people insist on taking this man and his ilk seriously.


[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

As I blame Strunk and White for adding a year to my dissertation (and thus taking a year of my life), I’m deeply sympathetic with this argument.

Lying Is Exhausting!

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

Apparently, America’s Moral Sage Rick Warren was too “exhausted” to appear on This Weak. This exhaustion seems to have been caused by his straining to come up with a good explanation for lying about his support for Prop H8.

I suppose it is a sign of progress that at least he feels to compel to lie about his support for enshrining bigotry in the California state constitution…

Quick Hits

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

1. Captain Richard Phillips is freed after a brief firefight. Fabulous news, indeed.

2. Aaron Harang goes nine, strikes out nine, allows three hits and no walks against the Pirates. Had fabulous seats, three rows up on the third baseline. Harang has thus far pitched 14 innings, allowing 1 earned run. The rest of the Reds staff has pitched 31 innings, allowing 25 earned runs.

Bush vs. effective public transit

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

Via DMZ, I learn that this year, the Metro shuttles that connected park and rides to Safeco field before and after Mariners games will no longer exist. The Mariners paid for some but not all of the cost and the riders paid three dollars. Congestion is pretty horrible before and after games.

Why has this ended? Because a private company put in a bid to provide the service, at roughly three times the cost, which the Mariners rejected as too expensive. But thanks to a Bush era change in FTA rules, as long as any private company puts in a bid to provide charter services for a public event, public transit agencies were prohibited from providing such services. The quality or the reasonableness of the bid notwithstanding.

The CEO of Starline, Gladys Gillis: “The Mariners want the taxpayer to pay for it.” This makes about as much sense as claiming downtown employers are soaking the taxpayers since Metro offers more and express buses during rush hour. The mission of Metro or any public transit agency is to provide affordable and efficient transportation to where people actually want to go, when they want to go there. Gillis’s argument is either an argument against the very idea of public transportation or it’s irrelevant. This regulation is a ham-fisted bit of ideological anti-government nonsense perpetrated by an intrusive and overbearing government regulation. As such, it nicely encapsulates the performative contradiction at the heart of modern conservatism. DMZ puts it nicely:

This is the whole point of public transportation. The system’s in place. The incremental cost for Metro, which has buses, drivers, maintenance, and all that infrastructure in place is low. For Starline, which has to pay people like Chief Executive Gladys Gillis to make objectivist arguments about the societal cost of bus systems, it’s higher.

A charter service put in a bid to provide this service for UW football games, but didn’t have enough handicap-accessible buses, so they subcontracted with Metro to provide the service. For attendees of the games, it appeared as if nothing changed, but UW was actually paying much more, and to a private company rather than Metro.

Original story about the regulation here. It’s not the most important thing in the world, but there’s really no defensible reason for the Obama administration to keep this rule in place.

With or Without Representation

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

In addition to the other absurdities (and what shocking bias that the Emm Ess Emm would…cover a presidential campiagn!), you have to love what Reynolds considers worthy of quotation:

Hundreds of Nebraskans chanted no taxation without representation in protest of increased government spending spawned by the stimulus bill at the state capitol Saturday.

Very compelling — it is just like the Revolutionary War!. Except that 1)this is would be taxation with representation, and 2)unless the teabaggers are composed of people making in excess of 250 grand a year, most of them are getting tax cuts. (I suppose you could make an argument that because of increased spending these tax cuts will just lead to future tax increases, but leaving aside the implausibility of attributing this line of reasoning to the teabaggers, it certainly never occurred to Reynolds when he was celebrating Bush’s deficit-funded upper-class tax cuts.) Jeebus, this is pathetic stuff.

As a bonus, it’s nice to get this compilation of Reynolds’s prescient, unbiased coverage of the 2006 elections. Sample shorter verbatim: “LARRY KUDLOW says that Bush is turning things around for the Republicans. It does look that way now…”

As Nathan Bedford Forrest Said, "A Foolish Consistency is the Hobgoblin of Little Minds"

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

Spencer handles the general idiocy of the Donnelly-Schmitt op-ed on the Gates defense budget...

Schmitt and Donnelly argue for a continuation of most of the programs Gates is cutting, and do so through some curious omissions and outright misstatements. The alternative to the F-22 Raptor jet is apparently “the 660 F-15s flying today, but which are literally falling apart at the seams from age and use” — not the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter that Gates and the generals are actually advocating as a replacement. Stopping the Army’s Future Combat Systems vehicle-modernization program means “future generations of soldiers will conduct mounted operations in the M1 tanks and Bradley fighting vehicles designed in the 1970s,” even though Gates said on Monday that he’s going to “reevaluate the requirements, technology and approach and then re-launch the Army’s vehicle modernization program.” And Gates is somehow “cap[ping] the size of the U.S. ground force,” even though Gates is seeking an extra $11 billion to expand the Army and Marine Corps. (I suppose, to be charitable, they could mean they want an even larger ground force, but that’s hardly clear from the op-ed, which implies that Gates is resisting the very expansion he’s funding.)

…and so I’d like to concentrate on a rather small point. Donnelly-Schmitt:

More often it rewards those who arrive on the battlefield “the fustest with the mostest,” as Civil War Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest once put it. If Mr. Gates has his way, U.S. forces will find it increasingly hard to meet the Forrest standard.

Some have suggested a certain impropriety in quoting one of the founders of the KKK, but whatever; if you’re quoting specifically on military issues, then Forrest is a reasonable authority. The more serious issue is that Forrest, of course, said nothing of the sort. A casual glance at his wikipedia page would have revealed this. Now, while you can hardly expect AEI hacks to have even the most tenuous grasp on history, you do sort of wish that the Wall Street Journal would have dome some elementary fact-checking. Then again, it was the editorial page…