Recycled Genius

RecycleSomeone on Twitter just reminded me of a very interesting article I wrote over three years ago that looks at the two famous movies lines "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" and "Are you talking to me?" I think my analysis is very interesting, Are You Talking to Napalm in the Morning?

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Anniversary Post: Battle of Triangle Hill

Battle of Triangle HillOn this day in 1952, the Battle of Triangle Hill was ended. It had been going on for a month and a half and the end result was: nothing. No territorial gains on either side. Well, nothing! Thousands dead. It's kind of like the war as a whole. It ended pretty much where it started. Yet when I was growing up, it was presented as a war that we had won. That was when we were still fighting the Vietnam War and victor was just another bombing raid away.

It's surreal to look back and see how in grammar school, we were all taught these lies of American supremacy. I'm sure that the Soviet Union was not teaching its children any more propaganda than we were getting fed. I mean, what was the War of 1812? It was at best a standoff, and that's just because England was involved in a far bigger fight. It's all so crazy. Most of our wars ended in muddles. Yet today, conservatives look back on World War II as though it were the way wars are supposed to be. And let's be frank, if it weren't for Stalin, that war in the Pacific would have ended in a muddle.

The entire history of humanity shows that we should do everything we can to avoid war. The world is too filled with people like Michael Gerson who want war at all cost — but for other people. So keep the Battle of Triangle Hill in mind the next time you think we ought to go to war. It is the perfect reminder that war accomplishes very little but death.

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GOP Will Never Support Good Tax Reform Ideas

Josh BarroJosh Barro wrote a really interesting article about a week ago, The Tax Code Can Be Simpler. But Not Three Pages. It leads off with Carly Fiorina's idea that the federal tax code could be replaced with three pages. This is in reference to the Hall-Rabushka legislation which, at 1,120 words would fit on three pages. It is also a flat rate tax plan, of course.

Before getting into it, I have a question: would Americans care that the tax code just got much smaller if it meant their taxes went up? Way up?! Indeed, other than demagoguing politicians, I don't know anyone who cares what size the tax code is. That's something for bureaucrats to worry about. The rest of just know the small bits of the tax code that we have to know. And if our taxes are really complicated, we get a professional. No one cares if the tax code is "73,000 pages." (In fact, the tax code itself is 3,728 pages — but anyone who listens to Carly Fiorina for facts deserves the ignorance they get.)

Fiorina is not pushing Hall-Rabushka because it is "simple"; she's pushing it because it is a flat tax.

But the thing about the tax code is that it is as complicated as it needs to be. Barro quoted Columbia Law School tax professor Michael Graetz saying, "The minute it’s passed, I’m going to call my dean and tell her to pay me only in goods." Because in order to keep the tax plan to 1,120 words, there are no taxes on benefits. There is nothing about bartering. There is also, of course, nothing about enforcement. What happens if you just won't pay your taxes. Oh, detail, details!

But that's the point. I know lots of conservatives who are outraged about the carried interest loophole. How can it be that hedge fund managers can take what is clearly earned income and have it be taxed at capital gains! Very simple: the tax code allows it. But these are the very same conservatives who rant about the number of pages in the tax code — not because they care but because demagogues like Carly Fiorina have made them think that it is a great concern. Do you really doubt that after Hall-Rabushka was passed that every CEO in the nation would see their salaries go down to $1 per year? Of course they would! They'd do everything to avoid paying taxes, just like they do now.

Carly FiorinaThe rest of Barro's article is about how the tax code could be simplified and made fairer. Hooray! That's true. I think some of the ideas are great like having the IRS automatically fill out people's forms and then letting the tax payer make changes. But this is the fundamental problem with the so called reformacons like him: all they do is give cover to the truly vile plans of the conservative movement. If the tax code is actually going to be made simpler, it isn't going to be done so by Barro's party: the Republicans. I don't see the Democrats doing it either, but they stand a much better chance of doing so.

Tax "simplification" and tax "reform" are just euphemisms on the right for changing the tax code so the middle class pays more and the rich pay less. Fiorina is not pushing Hall-Rabushka because it is "simple"; she's pushing it because it is a flat tax. As the Tax Policy Center put it, "The family exemptions make the flat tax progressive for low-income households. But at the high end of the income distribution, the tax is regressive, just like sales taxes and VATs." In other words: middle class tax hike, upper class tax cut.

I'm all for discussing better ways to run the country. But I find it vaguely offensive when Josh Barro does it. The truth is that his actual policy positions put him well inside the Democratic Party. Yet he still carries the intellectual water of the Republicans. So candidates like Fionia can run around talking about how "conservatives" have all these great ideas for tax reform. Great propaganda! But they will never get into any Republican tax proposal.


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Why Is David Brooks Rich? Because He's Moral!

David BrooksI read three articles last night about David Brooks: one by Martin Longman and two by Matt Bruenig: one more recent (Why Not Shame David Brooks for Divorcing?) and another that I want to focus on, On Civility. I didn't know that Brooks had divorced a couple of years ago. And it isn't the point it. No one actually thinks that people they know should suffer through bad marriages. And no one pretends to know what David Brooks has really gone through in life. I'm sure he's like everyone with his good days and bad days and secret horrors.

The problem is that David Brooks has made a career of telling vast classes of poor people that if only they would act more like middle and upper class people — people like him — then they wouldn't be poor. The one core principle of David Brooks is that economic inequality is due to cultural inequality. His is the more intellectual sounding version of, "If those kids would just pull their pants up, everything would be fine!" Or if you want to go back five decades, "If those kids would just cut their hair!" Although Brooks would never admit it, it is poor shaming. People like Brooks never want to admit that their success has anything to do with luck.

The truth is not just that we can't be uncivil to David Brooks because he's an actual man. I don't know David Brooks. For all I know, he's a computer program — the newest version of CleverBot.

Bruenig's argument in the earlier article is that it is uncivil to shame David Brooks. He's a human being. He has feelings. But he and his conservative colleagues Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat are never attacked for their incivility toward the nameless poor. In fact, all three men are held up as "moderates" because they are for things like paternity leave. But that is all part of the underlying philosophy that people aren't poor because of their situations in life and social factors that have working against them long before they were even born. No, it is because they don't have those middle class mores.

This is also the beat that uber-racist Charles Murray has been on for years. When he isn't telling us people are poor because they are stupid, he is telling us that they are poor because of their cultures. This is the state of sociology in the conservative world. Correlation does not imply causation, unless that correlation can be used to justify the same old policies you always want — namely those that continue to enrich your social class at the expense of others'.

But the situation is worse than even Bruenig indicates. The truth is not just that we can't be uncivil to David Brooks because he's an actual man. I don't know David Brooks. For all I know, he's a computer program — the newest version of CleverBot. The truth is, because of my "colorful" life, people have had no problem being uncivil to me — in much more intimate circumstances than David Brooks has to put up with. The truth is that we can't be uncivil to David Brooks because he is one of society's winners. And to attack him would be to attack the whole society.

On the other side of it, attacking the poor is to protect the whole society. It is a way of saying that the society is great. The problem is that these poor people just can't get it together. It's like Singapore, which is generally thought the cleanest city in the world. Yet it still has rats. That's what the poor are to these apologists for the perfection that is the American economic system.

The argument of these social conservatives is that people are poor because they don't stay married and get a good education. But David Brooks is now divorced. What's more, he isn't that educated — as you can tell by the depth of writing. But he must be moral and educated enough — he's rich! I have a PhD in physics, I am divorced, and I am poor. Aha! That must be related. David Brooks only has a Bachelor of Arts, is divorced, and is rich. Aha! That must not mean a thing.


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Morning Music: Food Glorious Food

Oliver!When I found myself listening to Adam Sandler, I figured it was time to listen to Thanksgiving music. He really is one of the most annoying people on the planet. So let's try to forget about him as quickly as possible. In 1968, the musical Oliver! was released. It is one of the better filmed musicals. The truth is that musicals don't translate well to the screen. This is because musicals are odd art forms regardless. It's one thing if people are going to stand in front of you and sing and dance. But film is static. Who are these people singing and dancing for? Obviously, it works best when it is something like Pal Joey, where the numbers are part of the story.

Anyway, Oliver! was directed by Carol Reed, who directed one of my all time favorite movies, The Third Man. And I would rather watch any of that than anything from Oliver! but we do have a schedule, and we must stay on it. Plus, the song "Food Glorious Food" works rather well. And it is a wonderful illustration of inequality of the most unfair kind. This Thursday, I will be eating very well, just as I do every day. But perhaps the universe will equalize things a bit by killing me off soon in a most painful way.

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Anniversary Post: Lucy

LucyOn this day in 1974, Lucy — or as her friends know her, AL 288-1 — was discovered. She is our best representative of Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid that lived between three and four million years ago. Her fossilized skeleton is thought to date back to about 3.2 million years ago. What is most interesting about her is she seems to have walked on two legs. At the same time, she had a small skull, like that of non-hominid apes. Thus, we believe that humans walked upright before we developed our ridiculously large brains.

I find this kind of stuff fascinating. We humans are so focused on our brains, but they really are part of a larger evolutionary picture. If not, why don't all animals just get bigger and bigger brains? Being smarter is not necessarily an advantage. We can see that in our own world. There's the question people like me hate, "If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?!" I also relate it to VHS and Betamax. The latter actually had a better quality, but the former was good enough — along with some features that made it more useful. That's how I think of rich people who started poor: generally smart enough with the right skills for making money — rarely brilliant.

So why bipedalism and then increased brain size? It appears to be because freeing up the hands led to building of tools. And in that, being smarter was a major advantage. So evolution selected for bigger brains only after our ancestors started walking on two legs. As I said: fascinating.


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Racism So Profound It Is Invisible

Yasser LouatiI suspect that I am too lose with my definition of racism. By it, pretty much everyone — very much including myself — is a racist. And that makes the word useless. My interest in this has been to allow people to see their own blind spots. But perhaps that time is over. Still, I'm really not that interested in the Mississippi Burning form of racism, because it is something that is largely dead. And I want to avoid the situation where we define racism as some old man using the term "negro" — which doesn't mean much in itself other than the speaker being out of it.

This bothered me last year with Cliven Bundy. He famously said, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the negro." I'm afraid that what most offended people was his use of the word "negro." But that was more a function of him being in his late 60s than anything else. Yet I don't think there would have been nearly as much of an uproar if he had said, "I want to tell you one more thing I know about the African American." But it should have! Because in that statement is the most clear example of racism that you will find: African Americans aren't some arbitrarily defined group; they are this one monolithic thing.

But at least when it comes to African Americans, we have a chance of seeing it. Someone like Bundy might say that, but you wouldn't have anchors on CNN saying something like that. Yet when it comes to Muslims, you see this without a hint of realization. Treating members of a religion that is over a billion and a half strong as a monolith is perfectly fine. Here are John Vause and Isha Sesay interrogating civil rights leader Yasser Louati. Louati even starts by noting that there were Muslim victims of the attack. But the anchors aren't interested in that. Vause follows this by asking him, "Why is it that no one within the Muslim community there in France knew what these guys were up to?" It's almost unbelievable:

What's also interesting in this segment is the discussion of why it is that the Muslim community is not denouncing these attacks. This is something I hear from conservatives all the time. It doesn't matter how quickly and forcefully and loudly Muslims denounce such attacks. The fact is that it isn't presented much on MSNBC, much less on Fox News. Therefore, it doesn't exist. There might have a been a billion Muslims mourning the 9/11 attacks, but it was video of two dozen of "those people" dancing that got rerun over and over again on the television.

But in this case, we aren't talking about some ignorant television viewers. We are talking educated, intelligent news presenters who are at the top of their fields. They aren't being told to present Muslims in this totally bigoted way. It just comes naturally. Yasser Louati is a Mulsim! In France! Why didn't he stop the attack?!

Can you imagine two CNN anchors asking Obama why no one in the "black community" didn't stop some crime committed by an African American? Of course not! It would be outrageous. In fact, it would be silly — as if all African Americans had a secret handshake and a special Facebook Black where they communicated.

This, my friends, is the face of racism at its most pure. In a form that will make people look back in two decades with horror. How could they not have seen it? But they don't. This form of racism is so common that people haven't even learned to spot it.


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NSA Is Collecting Any Data That It Can

Andrew FishmanMy first wife was a privacy fanatic. And like most privacy fanatics I've know, she had nothing worth hiding. She had a boring life. (She married me!) I, on the other hand, have lived a very colorful life — often in a very public way. So I've long ago given up on the delusion that I had much in terms of privacy. I find myself in a curious position of now living a very boring life, but not caring too much about this issues on a personal level. But in terms of politics, I care a great deal.

Andrew Fishman and Glenn Greenwald wrote a really good article this last week, Overwhelmed NSA Surprised to Discover Its Own Surveillance "Goldmine" on Venezuela's Oil Executives. What it shows is that the NSA collects so much data that it doesn't even know what it has. It reminds me of the ozone hole.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it.

NASA was collecting data of total column ozone levels in Antarctica. The geophysicist Joe Farman and his little team from Cambridge were studying ozone levels at the south pole and they noticed a huge decrease. But they were really skeptical. They knew that NASA had been studying this stuff for decades. Why hadn't anyone published it?! Well, the reason was a kind of computer bug. The scientists at NASA wrote some code that said, "If ozone levels get below a certain level, put it aside for humans to look at it." The humans never looked. After "Large Losses of Total Ozone in Antarctica Reveal Seasonal ClOx/NOx Interaction" came out, NASA found that they had an enormous amount of data that showed the ozone hole and its increasing trend.

In general, it is not a good idea to collect data just to be collecting it. This is something I've ranted about for years with video stores that want your Social Security number. Why? No reason. They are just collecting every kind of data they can think of — just in case. But with the NSA, you have to wonder, shouldn't they be doing targeted investigations? It isn't a good idea to just collect everything they can so later they can say, "Oh yeah, the information on that terrorist attack was in our archives."

Glenn GreenwaldBut what really bugs me is that in this case, the NSA has been collecting data that can only be described as corporate espionage. Ever wonder about that? Why we hate certain questionable regimes like Venezuela while we love truly horrible regimes like Saudi Arabia? It's all about our government working in the interests of huge corporations. ExxonMobile is making billions in Saudi Arabia. But ExxonMobile was thrown out of Venezuela. Thus: Venezuela is bad.

At least the NSA isn't spying on us, right? Well, no. The NSA says that it only collects metadata -- basically the public information of our email and phonecalls. But that means nothing. This revelation about corporate espionage isn't the first. Previously, the NSA was caught spying on Brazil's oil company, Petrobras. Before that, the NSA said, "The department does ***not*** engage in economic espionage in any domain, including cyber."

It seems that the NSA sees part of its job as being lying to the American people. So I think we have to assume that the NSA does, in fact, read every email we send — that they know exactly what you read on every website and when. Which, as I've noted, is probably not a big deal. But it does mean that if the government ever decides it doesn't like you, you are toast. But fear not: this is the behavior of a dying empire. Your great great grandchildren won't have to worry about the NSA, because the United States of America will be a backwater, having lost relevance because it focused on maintaining its power by any means necessary rather than improving the lives of its people.


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Morning Comedy: Bob's Burgers

Bob's BurgersYes, eventually we might get to some Thanksgiving music. But for now, I'm sticking with comedy. This is from the most recent Thanksgiving episode of Bob's Burgers. Thanksgiving is Bob's favorite holiday. Yet every year it is destroyed for him because he is living in a situation comedy. Actually, this episode turns out the best of any of them. Right now, you can watch the whole episode (which you should do): Gayle Makin' Bob Sled.

We learn in this episode that Linda's sister Gayle has been dating Phillip (Mister) Frond. But he dumped her, and she fell down and broke her ankle and now Bob has to go pick her up and of course everything goes wrong. In this scene, we see Bob pulling the wounded Gayle in a kid's pool as he calls Linda and explains to her how to cook the turkey. He had previously called and told her that she would have to baste it. He explained how to baste and Linda responded, "That's what basting is?!" Yes, like most things involved with cooking, it's very easy. But this scene is much more tense:


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Anniversary Post: Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda GalaxyOn this day in 1924, the universe got a whole lot bigger. Until Edwin Hubble published his findings, it was believed that the Milky Way galaxy was the entire universe. Andromeda had been known of for thousands of years. But it was thought to be a nebula inside the Milky Way. Hubble showed that it was far too distant for that and was rather a galaxy like our own. It was truly one of the days the universe changed.

When I was young, I had what is probably a typical view of the universe: there are stars, and around them are plants; stars swirl around in galaxies; and galaxies are just these things that hang out. But it is all a whole lot more messy than that. In fact, the universe seems to be like a fractal: it's kind of the same at whatever scale you observe it. There are, for example, about three dozen galaxies that we know are satellites of our own. In about four billion years, the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies are going to "collide." They won't really collide, because like most of the universe, they are almost all empty. But the two will go on to form a new galaxy, that we've already named: Milkomeda. Check out this great animation that NASA created of this interaction:

Based upon this, you can see why people have a hard time not believing in a multiverse. And I don't doubt that at some point we will find a way to show this indirectly. Maybe a better understand of dark energy will imply other universes. Or maybe, it is all just a delusion of the singularity of my consciousness. In which case, I don't know why you're even reading this. Oh, that's right: you aren't. A better question: why am I not happier? As singularities go, this consciousness is just meh.


Filed under Anniversaries, Science & Data

Two Serious Errors in Griftopia

GriftopiaAs I mentioned earlier in the week, Republicans Call for Most Oppressive Government, I've been listening to the audio version of Matt Taibbi's 2010 book, Griftopia. And although I think it is a great book, there were two things in it that really stood out as being totally wrong. It's five years later, and I would guess that Taibbi has since been educated on the topics. They are both bits of conventional wisdom that usually get taken as fact without any thought. As a result, it is a good idea to go over them and discuss them. Taibbi is very much a liberal, and if he thinks these things are true, there are doubtless a lot of other liberals who don't even think to question them.

Social Security Trust Fund

At one point in the book, he was talking about the rise in the payroll tax. It touches on one of my own favorite articles, Reagan's Legacy: Tax Cuts for Rich, Tax Hikes for the Rest. Taibbi was talking about how Alan Greenspan headed the commission that recommended raising the payroll tax. But then the extra money didn't go to social security. It was just loaned out to the federal government for deficit spending. Well, yeah; so what?!

Matt TaibbiI hear people make this argument all the time: there is no trust fund! It's just a bunch of worthless paper! This just isn't true. No one would say such a ridiculous thing about an investor who had a lot of money invested in treasury bills. They would say such a person was a prudent investor. They would call someone who stored cash under their bed a loon, yet that is what they are expecting with Social Security. The extra money that the Social Security Administration (SSA) was taking in had to be stored somehow. What were they supposed to do?

The payroll taxes went up in 1984, as a result of the Social Security Reform Act of 1983. If the SSA had invested the money in gold, it would have done well that year because gold was at an all time low. But for the money taken in in 2012, the trust fund would have lost almost 40% of its value. Looking at the long view, if all the trust fund were invested in 1980, it would now be worth 37% less. The Social Security trust fund is invested in a mix of treasury securities. But if you just look at 30-year securities, you see that they have done much better than gold.

And clearly: the SSA wouldn't have been holding actual gold. It would have been holding "worthless" paper that said that it owned gold. It could have been holding on to actual cash, but there are two problems with this. First, it is worth a whole lot less now because of inflation. And second, there isn't enough cash to do this. In 2011, there was $2.6 trillion in the trust fund. There is only $1.2 trillion in circulation. You can't just have trillions of dollars sitting around because there aren't trillions of dollars in existence. And if there were, it would be very bad. Money is supposed to be moving around. If it isn't, it is indeed "useless."

Strong Dollar

Taibbi also claimed that Greenspan was wrong to say that it didn't matter if the international value of US currency went down. Okay, on this one, Taibbi is half right. It does matter because we live in a global economy. Just the same, the vast majority of what we spend our money on is stuff that is right here in the US: houses, food, healthcare. There is a downside when the value of the dollar goes down. But there is also an upside. Taibbi doesn't talk about this at all. And that is a very big problem.

What most people need are jobs. When the dollar is too valuable, it makes imports too competitive. That means that Americans are put out of work because the things they make cost too much. There is obviously a balance that we want to achieve. But certainly over the last several decades, the problem has been that the American dollar is worth too much, not that it is worth too little.

What's especially bad about this is that Taibbi is making the argument for the rich. If you have a lot of money, the more each dollar is worth, the better. But most people do not have a lot of money. In fact, most people live paycheck to paycheck. Their biggest concern is that they will lose their jobs. Making our steel and lumber and cars more expensive to export is not good for such people.

Sobering Conclusion

Matt Taibbi is a really smart and knowledgeable guy. If, after researching the 2008 financial crisis, he still manages to push two very tired, very wrong conservative talking points, what hope has the average American of understanding what's really going on? Both of these points are commonly made on Fox News and the crazy editorial page of The Wall Street Journal. The decades long conservative disinformation campaign has been highly effective. We really need to push back against it — hard. I think Matt Taibbi needs to write a book about both these things to atone for his sins.

In the mean time, you might read The End of Loser Liberalism (Free!) and Social Security: the Phony Crisis.


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'American Exceptionalism' as Conversation Stopper

Lane KenworthyThe Sociologist Lane Kenworthy wrote a very interesting article a few months back (via Mark Thoma), America Is Exceptional... and Ordinary. He framed it interestingly, "To some, 'exceptional' doesn't just mean different; it means best. To others it means worst. As we'll see, America is both." But I do think that's where he gets the idea wrong. "American exceptionalism" is not about how we compare to other countries. The point is that America should never be compared to other countries. And this is why in general, the idea of American exceptionalism is not used by those complaining about the country. They are interested in comparing so the whole conception of exceptionalism gets in the way of seeing America clearly.

But Kenworthy presents a lot of data. It all compares the US to the other advanced economies that we normally think of ourselves as being comparable to: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland. And much of the data is damned sobering. Americans like to make a big deal of us being the richest country — but that's mostly due to our size. We aren't even the richest per capita — that title goes to Norway.

Our poor are worse off that most of the other countries... Our incomes are by far the most unequal. And interestingly, ours is the only one that has seen that inequality go up substantially since the 2008 financial crisis.

When you look at per capita GDP growth, you see that over the last 35 years, we've done pretty much exactly as well as other countries that haven't seen their workers' rights savaged and who haven't seen their income inequality skyrocket. These are also countries that manage to provide healthcare to all their citizens. Perhaps the most amazing thing at the last Republican debate was that Donald Trump said what is only too clear that Republican elites believe: that in order for America to be competitive, the middle class must see its standard of living drop: "wages too high."

Our poor are worse off that most of the other countries: Norway, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Finland, the Netherlands, Australia, Germany, Belgium, France, Ireland, and Sweden. Our incomes are by far the most unequal. And interestingly, ours is the only one that has seen that inequality go up substantially since the 2008 financial crisis. In 1980, we were by far the best educated country, but now eight countries beat us. And they beat us not because we are doing worse, but because they have continued to improve while we've allowed ourselves to stagnate. Because you know what we learned at that time: "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."

College Completion

We spend roughly twice what all the other countries do on healthcare. And we manage to do this without even covering all of our people. In 1980, we spent the most on healthcare, but we were still part of the pack. At that time, we were in the middle of the pack in terms of life expectancies. Now that we are spending vastly more on healthcare, but our life expectancy has dropped to dead last. That doesn't mean our life expectancies haven't gone up. It is just that the other countries have seen theirs go up a lot more. Those countries, it would seem, do not think that government "is the problem."

When you look at what percentage of us work (between the ages of 25 and 64), we are in the bottom half. Those other countries generally make it easier to be unemployed. According to conservative dogma, they should have a lot more people unemployed. But they don't. We tax (and spend) very little, yet this hasn't caused companies to go crazy hiring people. So much for supply side economics! I assume our poor employment numbers have something to do with a lack of demand. The middle class isn't getting its fair share of the economy, so it can't buy stuff that others would make. And the reason the middle class isn't getting its fair share has a lot to do with the abysmal shape of our labor unions — only Korea is worse.

We're the most religious country by a wide margin, but that is going down. We are the most punitive, and that is still going up (but at a reduced rate). In this land of immigrants, we are only in the middle of the pack when it comes to the foreign-born share of the population. And listening to the Republican presidential debates, you don't get the impression that we are moving in a positive direction. And don't believe what Republicans sometimes say about just being against illegal immigration; the truth is, Conservatives Hate All Immigrants.

Although Lane Kenworthy started his article saying that the US was exceptional in both good and bad ways, almost all of the data indicate that it is exceptional in bad ways. But as I said: it doesn't matter. When people talk about "American exceptionalism" they use it in the same way they use "support the troops." It is a way of stopping people from talking about the issues involved. The true "American exceptionalism" that they are pushing is the idea that America is the best by definition. And that is pretty much the only way that America can be the best. In almost every other way, we look pretty bad.


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Morning Comedy: Thanksgiving

PortlandiaThis week is Thanksgiving. When I was a kid, I didn't think much of it as a holiday. Now, it is one of my favorites because it is an excuse to cook in a very ostentatious manner. Of course, I'm spending this Thanksgiving with my younger sister who is kind of a vegetarian, so I won't be doing a prime rib. Instead, it will be a couple of very nicely treated chickens. So I thought that we would do a week of Thanksgiving songs.

But given that at the moment I don't know how many Thanksgiving songs there are, I figured I would hedge and start the week out with this sketch from Portlandia. I'm pretty sure someone mentioned this to me recently in the comments. And frankly, I'm very pleased whenever I'm able to rip off one of my readers for an article.

This is a very funny sketch that speaks both to the over-concern of many people about animals and also my odd love of chickens. Because, frankly, I'd love to see one chicken with its wing around another chicken.

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