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Archive and Forwarding Issues

[ 1 ] April 16, 2010 |

As you may have noticed, we have been unable to migrate our older archives to the new site. Accordingly, I have restored the old site as an archive, and ended automatic forwarding to the new site. This should not affect RSS feed subscribers (let me know if it does). This means that we now once again have access to our old archives, but it also means that you will no longer be automatically forwarded from the old URL to the new URL. Thus, we ask that you adjust your links and bookmarks to reflect the new configuration.

Thank you again for your patience.


More on America’s flat tax structure

[ 13 ] April 16, 2010 |

Citizens for Tax Justice has a breakdown of the effective tax rate paid by various income groups, taking all federal and state taxes into account. Some highlights:

(1) Outside the poorest 20% (average cash income $12,400) every other subgroup in the survey pays essentially a flat tax. For instance, those averaging 66K a year pay 28.5% of their income in taxes, while those averaging $1.3 million a year pay 30.8%

(2) This means, of course, that the percentage of taxes collected very closely reflects the percentage of income received by each group. For instance the fourth 20% of income earners (60th-79th percentile of income) received 18.9% of the total income of the U.S. population, and paid 18.9% of the total taxes.

(3) The bottom 99% of income earners paid an effective tax rate of 28.2%, in comparison to an overall national tax rate of 28.6%.

(4) If the data had been broken down into smaller increments, we would see that the super-rich actually pay considerably less than the national average effective tax rate. The 400 richest taxpayers in America in 2007 paid 16.7% in federal taxes, as compared to 18.0% for all taxpayers in 2009. In other words at the very top end the system is actually regressive.

Friday Blog Maintenance/Daddy/Cat Blogging

[ 7 ] April 16, 2010 |

Three things:

1. Yes, the download times and the load errors are extremely troubling and deeply irritating. Be assured that we’re as bothered as you (more so, even!) and that we’re working hard on solving the problems.

2. I’ve received a number of messages indicating displeasure with the white background. As soon as the new header is finished, we’ll be adjusting the colors.

3. Friday Daddy and Cat Blogging!

Come Back Right Brothers, All Is Forigven

[ 18 ] April 16, 2010 |

One might think that the contest for the worst crime against aesthetics to have been committed in the name of of the teabaggers has been definitively ended by Victoria Jackson (clearer audio here for any masochists out there.) And yet, I’m not sure — while it certainly doesn’t qualify as “so bad it’s good,” there is something so baldly nutty about the thing as to make it 1 part endearing to 499 parts appalling. So Kevin is onto something by finding something even worse from washed-up* never-was lite-country hack Ray Stevens. And, yet, I’m afraid I’m going to have to say that Kevin has the right church but the wrong pew; while its awfulness is beyond debate, and its ressentiment is a good example of Perlstein’s point, “Caribou Barbie” at least has some measure of internal coherence. So I have to declare this the true exemplar of teh suck:

What makes it such a definitive tea party anthem, in addition to the abject making-Weird-Al-look-like-mid-70s-Richard-Pryor horribleness, is that his only specific criticism of the “tax and spend special interest scam” that is health care reform is that he believes that the gubmit should be keeping its grubby paws off of his taxpayer-funded healthcare. Hence, it’s definitive!

*I was going to say that this was a career nadir, but in fairness his teabagger stuff has to be considered an improvement over “Everything is Beautiful” and “The Streak.” Given this rate of improvement, another few centuries and he might write something listenable and/or funny.

Moneyball and Force Structure

[ 0 ] April 16, 2010 |

Over at ID, I respond to some noodlings on baseball and naval force structure.

Soviet Era Query

[ 17 ] April 15, 2010 |

I’m in the midst of Charles Tripp’s excellent A History of Iraq, and I’m curious about the Russian interest in Persian Gulf stability during the war. The Soviets played footsie with the Iranians in the wake of the Revolution, but by 1982 sided decisively with Iraq. By 1988, the Soviets were joining the US in flagging Kuwaiti oil tankers to immunize them from Iranian attack. On the one hand, I can certainly understand Russian preference for Iraq. Iraq was ideologically much more congenial to the USSR than was Iran, and revolutionary Islam presented a substantial threat to Soviet operations in Afghanistan and in the Islamics Republics. However, I think it’s been established pretty decisively that low oil prices in the 1980s were a disaster for the USSR. Shouldn’t the USSR have had an interest in seeing the conflict become as destructive and wide ranging as possible, in order to drive up oil prices? Does anyone have a sense of whether the Soviet leadership thought about this question?

More on the Mistrals

[ 10 ] April 15, 2010 |

Michael Cecire responds to my article about the sale of four Mistral class amphibious assault ships to Russia, but unfortunately misses most of the point:

Certainly, there is no question that the Russian navy has qualitatively declined since the demise of the Soviet Union. And to be sure, even the comparatively advanced Mistrals do little to address the imminent shortfall in Russian surface warfare assets, such as cruisers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes. From this perspective, the Mistral does little to shift the balance of power.

But the question remains, Why would Russia seek to acquire amphibious vessels instead of filling the other glaring gaps in its naval forces? The answer is not just a function of rehabilitating the Russian shipbuilding industry or engaging in far-flung humanitarian operations, but rather lies in Russia’s great-power aspirations: Moscow cannot hope to reacquire its long-sought return to global power without first securing dominance throughout the Eurasian space, and particularly in its so-called “near abroad.”

Cecire gets two points wrong. First, he misinterprets the relevance of the Mistrals to Russia’s long term naval plan, and more generally of amphibs to the modern naval force construction. The Mistrals aren’t simply part of a Russian reconstruction of Soviet naval power; they are elements of a new configuration of naval power, a configuration that has become very common across the international system. Amphibs, as I have argued elsewhere, are the new dreadnought; they are the new currency by which naval power is measured. Russia, like New Zealand, South Korea, Turkey, Malaysia, and Italy, wants the ability to project power and influence in multilateral operations, and amphibious warships buy that capacity.

The second and more important point is that Russia does not need amphibs in order to intimidate Georgia. Let’s be as clear about this as possible: The single factor that prevented a Russian conquest of Georgia and a consequent deposition of Saakashvili’s regime was Russian forbearance. Georgian military capability proved utterly incapable of resisting the Russian Army. There is no indication whatsoever that the Georgian military will be able to resist Russia more capably in the future. Indeed, Russian ownership of South Ossetia means that Georgia is geographically vulnerable to any concerted Russian land assault. Cecire argues that a Black Sea based Mistral would enable Russia to conquer Georgia in the winter months as well as the summer, but this is unconvincing; any scenario in which Russia could intervene in Georgia would require substantial land forces, and the Russian Army has significant, longstanding winter and mountain warfare capabilities. The only thing that could possibly change this equation is a NATO political commitment to Georgia’s defense, the wisdom of which I’ll decline to discuss at the moment. Four things that do not change the power equation between Russia and Georgia are the four Mistrals that Russia will be buying from France.

Militarily, the Mistrals are irrelevant to Russia’s relationship with Georgia or with any other part of its near abroad. The Mistrals might briefly hasten Russian conquest of Georgia or one of the Baltics, but the outcome of such a conflict would depend entirely upon factors other than the presence of the warships. Politically, the Mistrals are significant to Russia’s relationship with its near abroad insofar as they suggest that at least one major Western power is interested in pursuing good military and political relations with Russia. This isn’t irrelevant, but it does suggest that the focus on the ships themselves is misplaced. Moreover, the fact that the Mistrals aren’t important to the military relationship between Russia and Georgia doesn’t mean that the Russians are good people interested only in sunshine, flowers, and puppies. It means merely that these specific concerns about Russian behavior are overblown.

2010 NHL Playoff Preview

[ 8 ] April 15, 2010 |

With the Imperial Grand Poobah-Elect of the Liberal Elites Who Discuss Literatchoor Association having already weighed in, it makes me feel embarrassed that my more modest responsibilities have delayed by own picks by a day. But they’re now below the fold! I promise the picks are in good faith, and since I foolishly told Plumer that Phoenix and Colorado were “patsies” I don’t have much choice…
Read more…

Libertarianism, proprietarianism, feudalism

[ 0 ] April 15, 2010 |

I have a weird sort of idea that I should somehow avoid letting my snark:serious post ratio exceed 1:1, so I’ve been feeling mildly guilty about this little indulgence with nothing to balance it out. I’ve got a post about the whole ‘liberaltarian’ thing in the works, but until then, I recommend this post by John Holbo, who has a similar guilty conscience about snark, but with considerably more follow-through.

(I was looking forward to Jacob Levy’s response, but it appears we’re going to have to wait for the book)

Death, Taxes and GOP rhetoric

[ 6 ] April 15, 2010 |

This Arthur Brooks WSJ article illustrates most of the classic tropes of Republican anti-tax rhetoric:

(1) Talk only about federal income taxes, which — subject to a few marginal exceptions such as the currently non-existent estate tax — are the closest thing we have to a progressive tax. The vast majority of taxes people pay are either flat (state, sales, capital gains) or regressive (social security).

(2) Focus on marginal rates rather effective rates. I’m semi-rich, i.e., what the GOP considers “middle class,” and this year my effective tax rate (the actual percentage of my total income I paid in federal income tax) was less than one-third of my marginal rate (the percentage of my income I paid on the last dollar I earned).

(3) Treat taxes as an artificial intrusion on “the market,” which is conceptualized as some kind of natural fact along the lines of the laws of thermodynamics. “If you think spreading money around by force seems like an odd definition of fairness, you’re not alone,” Brooks writes. Taxes, you see, are imposed by the government via the threat of state violence, and are therefore at least implicitly of questionable legitimacy. Meanwhile, employment contracts which pay CEOs salaries equal to the combined income of 500 of their employees are apparently wholly voluntary social arrangements, rather than mechanisms that deploy the threat of state violence, aka “the rule of law,” to avoid not spreading money around “by force.”

This kind of selective blindness allows for statistics such as the claim that “60% of Americans consume more in government services than they pay in taxes.” Such statistics are based on the idea that Bill Gates and a single mother living below the poverty line are consuming precisely the same amount of government services in the form of the existence of courts of law, legislation, police protection, and indeed the entire structure of the contemporary regulatory state. So since Gates isn’t eligible for food stamps, that means he’s consuming less in government services than someone living below the poverty line.

In 2007 — the latest year for which the relevant numbers are available — the 400 richest American taxpayers paid an effective federal income tax rate of 16.6%. Consider that the working poor pay an effective federal tax rate in social security taxes alone nearly equal to that (when the employer contribution is factored in). Really rich people, of course, don’t pay social security taxes in any meaningful economic sense.

The Viability Scam

[ 2 ] April 15, 2010 |

See Amanda and Lindsay on the new anti-abortion law enacted by the Nebraska legislature. As I used to write about a lot in the vast majority of the archives that inevitably haven’t been migrated to the new blog, both anti-choicers and “centrists” have been fond of quoting Sandra Day O’Connor’s assertion that Roe‘s trimester framework “is clearly on a collision course with itself” because the point of fetal viability is being transformed by science into a significantly earlier point in pregnancy. The problem with this argument is that there’s scant evidence that this is actually true, and the fact that anti-choicers and centrists both strongly favor regulations that make it harder to obtain first trimester abortions makes it clear that they don’t take their own pseudo-scientific assertions seriously either.

Politics and Sports Fans

[ 24 ] April 14, 2010 |

This chart is certainly interesting:
There are some no-brainers, including most notably the Republican preference for the PGA Tour. Nascar’s position as a heavy Republican/medium turnout sport is also pretty unsurprising. I’m somewhat troubled by the strong Democratic skew of WWE, but not even mildly surprised by the low turnout of wrestling fans. College football and basketball stay Republican by virtue of the higher incomes of college graduates.

Regarding the big sports, I’m a bit surprised by how close football and baseball are to the axis, and also fairly surprised by the NBA’s position as a strong Democratic sport. In the latter case, I’m guessing that the fan base must trend urban and African-American, which would then have to overwhelm the relatively high cost of tickets. Baseball has a much whiter fan base, but much lower ticket prices.