Russell George Lies About IRS and Nobody Cares

J. Russell GeorgeWhen a man tells me that he was a Democrat in the 1980s, but that he “saw the light” and became a Republican, it doesn’t make me feel better about him. It isn’t because I’m a liberal and he is moving against the light so to speak. It is that since the 1980s, the Republican Party has been making a beeline to crazytown. So someone who once was a Democrat and who became and continues to be a Republican, must have taken an even more extreme route. It doesn’t bode well for such a person’s mental state.

But that is just what Russell George claimed at yesterday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. He said it as a way of deflecting the quite reasonable suspicion among Democrats that he—at the bidding of Darrell Issa—created a scandal out of the IRS’s normal procedures for checking nonprofit group applications. The evidence now is unequivocal: the IRS did not target conservative groups; they targeted clearly political groups on the right and left. But somehow, all of the information about the targeting of liberal groups was absent from George’s report to the committee. Funny that.

The only real revelation at the hearing was a clear lie told by George. His spokesman Karen Kraushaar had previously reported that the inspector general was asked by Issa to “narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations” for his audit. Now George claims that Kraushaar “misspoke.” But the fact remains that his report did indeed focus on Tea Party organizations and he filtered out all information that didn’t reinforce Issa’s predetermined narrative about the evil Democratic president using the big bad bureaucracy to go after the poor defenseless conservative groups.

Now, some Democrats are saying that George ought to resign. Virginia Representative Gerry Connolly said, “I would start by getting a new inspector general. He has so compromised his credibility with at least half of us that it makes it almost impossible for him to go forward with his job.” That’s about right. The first time he came before the committee, he effectively lied—whether because of partisan loyalties or incompetence. This time, he was just trying to cover his ass. He should go.

But the real villain here is Darrell Issa. It is clear what he was up to. The man cannot even pretend to be looking for the truth. He’s only interested in his naked partisan agenda. What’s so annoying about it is that he is successful. For months, he managed to drag Obama, the Democratic Party, and the IRS through the mud. He managed to get the last IRS chief Steven T. Miller fired. Issa got major stories everywhere. And now that all of his nefarious actions are crumbling, where is the press?

Mostly there is little coverage. Much of what is around is pathetic. Josh Hicks at the Washington Post offered up this deceptive and irrelevant headline: IRS Inspector General Russell George Was a Democrat. The focus of the article is on George and hardly at all how he defended himself, much less the clear evidence of his misbehavior. Politico (linked above) did as good a job as I found. As for TV news, well, that’s not my thing, but I haven’t seen any coverage. Even on MSNBC, there was nothing on All In and The Rachel Maddow Show. There was a justified hit piece of Darrell Issa on The Last Word, but it didn’t even mention George.

I know what many people will say about this absence of coverage: the story is over. No one cares. But is that really how our news is supposed to work? While we don’t have any facts, we get blanket coverage. People and institutions that did nothing wrong are slandered with innuendo. And then when all the facts come out, long after the damage has been done, the press just drops it. Is that really what we give special protections in the Constitution for? So our media can report rumor and gossip and avoid anything tainted by facts? If that’s the case, we really are lost.

Ballerinas and Degas

Edgar DegasComposer Richard Leveridge was born on this day in 1670. Founder of the gun company, Samuel Colt was born in 1814. He was a deeply moral man—moral in the sense that he didn’t believe in anything but a buck. He sold guns to both the North and South in the lead up to the Civil War. But he died young of gout. I assume it was painful. Another person with significantly less blood on her hands, Lizzie Borden was born in 1860. The great Chinese painter, Xu Beihong was born in 1905. I don’t know how to classify his work, but it is really good. George McGovern was born in 1922. Although a politician, he was a decent human being who deserves to be remembered. And Richard Jordan was born in 1938. I don’t think he was a great actor, I just liked him up on the screen.

What is wrong with today? Could I find no one alive today who was interesting to me? Well, to give you some idea, Jonathan Bernstein, who always wishes a birthday, put up Rick Ankiel. For those who do not know (I didn’t!) he’s a baseball player. So no. I really couldn’t find anyone interesting. So there.

The day, however, belongs to a very interesting man. The great impressionist painter Edgar Degas was born on this day in 1834. The main thing that people notice about Degas is that of the impressionists, he is technically better than all of them, other than (perhaps) Gustave Caillebotte. He was also quite a fine sculptor. But the truth is that I don’t know why I love his work. He clearly had a good eye and a sense of the loneliness that is life. Also: he loved dancers. According to Wikipedia, over half of all of his works depict dancers. But what I most admire are things like The Absinthe Drinker:

The Absinthe Drinker

Happy birthday Edgar Degas!

It Was Unions Who Forced Business to Pay More

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias is showing real signs of cognitive dissonance. He wrote a very perceptive but confused article this afternoon, Companies With “Cash on the Sidelines” Should Pay Their Workers More. Let me explain what he’s talking about before getting to the dissonance. Corporations are currently sitting on piles of money. Conservatives claim that they do this because the future is uncertain and that the problem is all this government regulation. Their theory is that the government needs to provide regulatory “certainty.”[1] That theory is just silly. For one thing, the future (including regulation) is always uncertain. That’s why business is hard. What’s more, “regulatory uncertainty” is rarely mentioned by businessmen themselves as a cause for not spending, and it is pretty clear that those few who do mention it are just conservative ideologues who have been trained by right wing media to do so. The truth is what the vast majority of businessmen themselves say: they aren’t investing because there isn’t enough demand for their products.

Yglesias understands this very well. In his article, he points out that the companies should be doing something with their assets. Just sitting on them makes no sense. What does make sense is to pay workers more:

Back in the day when we had labor unions in the private sector this would go without saying. If profits soar, people are going to say “give us some of the money or else we’re going on strike and the profits will vanish.” That doesn’t mean the management has to give in, but they have to come up with something to say in response. “No, we won’t give you the money because we’re doing blah blah blah with it and that’ll be better for the long run because such and such.” That’s management. You’ve got money, you come up with something to do with it. This idea that somehow the United States Congress needs to step in and create “certainty” so that you know what to invest in is ridiculous. Either come up with an investment, or cough up the money.

But why should companies do that? It’s their money, after all. It makes no sense to sit on the sidelines and claim that businesses ought to be—What?!—nicer to their employees. That isn’t the way that our economic system works. There are really only two options that will help this system. First, the government could tax assets that companies just sit on. That would have two benefits. It would encourage businesses to invest and hire. And it would give money to the government to redistribute. (This would almost certainly have to go along with an individual wealth tax, otherwise, the companies would just pay their top managers huge bonuses.) Second, we could have a regulatory framework that supported rather than suppressed labor unions.

I’m in favor of both, but clearly having strong unions is critical to having a reasonably egalitarian country with a large middle class. But here’s where Yglesias’ cognitive dissonance comes in. He has never been all that big a supporter of unions. Now, he isn’t like some conservatives who think that unions are evil incarnate. But he seemingly never misses an opportunity to slap down the who idea of them: teacher’s unions suck because they are public; unions are unpopular; the decline of unions is inevitable. It isn’t that Yglesias necessarily thinks this is a good thing. Not at all. I’ve just never gotten the idea that he cares about—for that matter knows about—labor unions.

It is all very fine to stand around and wish that we were all one big happy family singing Kumbaya. But as Yglesias reminds us again and again: the world doesn’t work that way. What we need is for business and labor to be equal players in the economy. But since the Taft–Hartley Act, labor has had far less power. And since Reagan, there has been an effective open season on their existence at all. Doug Henwood, in arguing against Yglesias, put it well, “The ‘what about the taxpayers?’ lament is straight out of the Reagan playbook—from which it’s clear that a lot of Democrats are taking instruction these days.”

At this point, political reform is blocked by sociological issues. The first issue, which I don’t think plays a role with Yglesias, is resentment. My sister told me that she was in the car with her husband when they drove past a group of BART strikers. She said, “We should honk.” Her husband scoffed at this and made some comment about how overpaid they are. The interesting thing here is that both my sister and her husband are union members. In particular, he makes a lot more money than I ever have. What’s more, he makes way more than those striking BART workers, but given the coverage of the strike, I can understand where he got the misinformation. But whether union or non-union, there are a huge number of workers who resent unions because they think union members are getting an unfair advantage.

The other problem is apathy. That’s what you get from people like Yglesias. His father might have been in the WGA, but that’s about the extent of his experience with unions. I know what it’s like to work at jobs of the kind that Yglesias and all of his friends have. It’s really nice. In general, you are well compensated and people are nice. You are in the upper-middle class, if not in the upper class. Why would you want to be in a union? Of course, I’m sure that Yglesias has a fairly good idea what it’s like to work, say, framing a house. But I don’t think he has much of an emotional connection to it. So it’s easy for him to have airy thoughts about companies using their money to pay their workers more while not caring too much about the demise of unions.

I most definitely don’t think Yglesias is a villain in all of this. But his article was uncharacteristically facile. And it fits into a broader narrative of disregard for what economics means to actual people.

[1] Although this is what conservatives say, it is not what they mean. Businesses would be just as certain if the government stepped in and said, “Corporate taxes will be 90% now and forever more.” So what conservatives mean is basically no regulations. It is rather annoying. It’s one thing to be for that, but it is quite another to hock a theory you don’t actually support.

Update (19 July 2013 4:35 pm)

It just occurred to me why so many labor unions voted for Reagan in 1980: self hatred—or more accurately, hatred of other people’s unions. My experience is that people in unions tend to be conservative. In fact, not that long ago, I almost came to blows with a union man over Occupy Wall Street. This is yet more evidence suggesting that the Democratic Party really needs to focus on economic issues. And by focus, I mean, focus on liberal ideas. The New Democrats have been very focused on conservative ideas for two decades now.

Why That Town Sucks

This TownWashington insider Mark Leibovich has written what is apparently a breezy and funny indictment of the insular political culture, This Town. And it is apparently stirring things up. Yesterday, Mother Jones reported that Politico—more or less the official news source of insular Washington political culture—has published 17 articles on the book. These articles are both positive and negative. It seems that Politico understands that the book is an attack on its very being, but is also so narcissistic that they just love reading about themselves.

This morning, Jonathan Chait wrote an article discussing this very dynamic, Politico Is This Town. It’s a good article and I encourage you to read it. But what I found most interesting is what Chait had to say when he got a bit sidetracked. He noted that although Leibovich completely nails this power culture, he doesn’t really analyze it. So Chait provided his own, which will sound awfully familiar to readers of this blog.

Basically, in Washington social circles certain things are just known. There is no need to think about issues. It’s like fashion, everyone just knows that Peter Pilotto is very “in” this year. And that’s why, for years when unemployment was over 8%, all anyone in Washington (and pretty much in the media) could talk about was the federal debt. This is my argument against Fox News. I don’t mind that it is biased; every source of news is. The problem is that it pushes the idea (widely accepted by its audience) that they are getting fair and balanced information. People who get their news from Fox don’t even have to think about their views because they only hear news to justifies what they already believe. Well, the exact same thing is going on in Washington, except the effects are less visible and infinitely more damaging.

Chait wrote:

This Town groupthink is also shot through with sublimated class bias. The ideology of This Town is left of center on social issues and slightly[1] right of center on fiscal issues, reflecting the general disposition of the business class. It dismisses social conservatism and economic populism as self-evidently stupid.

This gets us to the whole idea of the Overton window: the window of acceptable policy debate. A good example of this was single payer healthcare reform. Many liberals were very unhappy that it got no traction in 2009. But the truth was that it couldn’t get any traction; it was outside the Overton window; all the people in the mainstream press understood that it was not serious. And what made it “not serious”? The power elites in Washington, of course. The people who dismiss economic populism as stupid do the same thing with healthcare. And we are all worse off for it.

Mark Twain may have said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” It’s frightening to think that our policy making is based upon cocktail party chatter. “Did you read that new Niall Ferguson article?!” Whenever I waste some time watching one of the Sunday morning political shows, I’m amazed at how much uncontested nonsense is spoken. That’s why when someone like Paul Krugman shows up, there is a feeling of anxiety. Here’s a guy who knows we he’s talking about, who doesn’t form his opinions on the basis of party invites. But the solution for the Washington insiders is always the same. They don’t consider the new ideas. They just wait until the outsider invasion is over so they can go back to thinking their comforting thoughts—the thoughts that everybody knows.

[1] I have a real problem with Chait modifying “right of center on fiscal issues” with “slightly.” That just goes to show how effective Washington groupthink is. No centrist commentator in Canada or Europe would look at American conventional wisdom on economic issues and say that we were “slightly” to the right. And Chait is supposedly a liberal! If he really thinks that our barely progressive tax system (including all levels of taxation) with our excessive level of inequality and pathetic social safety net is only slightly to the right of center, then he’s a lot more conservative than I thought.

Paper Has a Great Future

Toilet PaperWilliam sent me the commercial below called “Emma.” It deals with the idea of the “exciting” paperless future. I’m agnostic on this issue. I’ll read anything in any form. Just the same, being agnostic tends to put me off the chart in terms of our new technological frontier. For a very long time, I have stayed out of the Windows-Mac wars. While it is true that I have major problems with the company Apple, I like their products just fine. It doesn’t matter to me what computer I use: they are all just tools.

The biggest problem with the new technology is that it has been commoditized from the beginning. I go to one or more libraries several times per week. Libraries are one of the greatest things ever. Yet if the idea were being developed today, it would never happen. The publishing companies would scream about how the libraries were stealing money by systematizing the use of a single book for perhaps hundreds of readers. Indeed, you may have noticed that for most books you get on your Kindle, you can loan them to a friend precisely once for two weeks. And that’s if you are dealing with a liberal publisher; some don’t even allow that! So the new technological frontier is really only for the wealthier classes. And regardless, it is designed (Designed!) to maximize profits and minimize community.

A hard copy book is the essence of freedom—or at least the closest we ever come to freedom. You can do whatever you want with that book. You can sell it or loan it to a friend. When you read it in public, you share it with others. You can store it in the attic and know that people a hundred years from now will have the technology to read it. Increasingly, our electronic content not only locks us into specific technologies, it locks us into our own worlds. And it limits us in more ways than it frees us.

Bear in mind that the main problem here is not really the technology. If content were easily transferable, it wouldn’t matter so much. This website, for example, is not only available here; you can look at through time at the Internet Archive. And when Dean Baker released The End of Loser Liberalism, he did so in various formats that will be available indefinitely. So it isn’t technology that is holding us back.

The problem is that the companies who distribute content have more power than they ever have. And that power is used to hinder communication. It is very much like insurance companies whose primary function is to limit healthcare. Look, I’m not a fool. I understand that the book is a technology. I understand that profits have only ever been the purpose of business. But we do not in live a free market “paradise.” There are rules as to how business is done. And when those rules are set by the people who have a vested interest in destroying our culture, we have a problem. And we have a problem.

But this commercial is really great:

Why We Homeschool

MomTeachingDaughterThere are lots of things we think we would never do, until…

Before having a child, and even when my son was young, I believed I would never homeschool. In fact, I used to be critical about parents who did. But then my son went to school, and the dread of sending him to school every day greatly overpowered any fear I had of homeschooling.

Looking back on it now, it makes me sad about how wrong it went, because my son was so excited to start school. I have a couple of photos of my adorable, bespectacled and smiling son, standing outside the school where he’d be attending kindergarten. On that first day, we had orientation to learn about the school and the teacher to which my son was assigned. It turned out this teacher used a discipline technique that included a poster that looked like a big traffic light and clothespins with each child’s name on one of the clothespins.

In the beginning of the day, the clothespin would be in the green portion of the traffic light. If a child behaved perfectly, his or her clothespin stayed in the green zone all day, a full school day, by the way. If not, it moved into the yellow zone. After a couple of warnings, it moved to the red zone where it stayed the rest of the day without any hope of returning to the green zone.

About 70% of the time, my son would come out of the classroom at the end of the day, hunched over, with a very sad face and his knuckles practically scraping the ground, and he would say to me, “I got another red today!” He also told me the teacher said his behavior was “ridiculous.” This was because he wanted to explore the room during the first couple of days in class and wasn’t able to sit in circle time. Also, he used to be very social and wanted to chat and play with the kids in his math group instead of actually doing the developmentally-inappropriate math they were requiring him to do. My son wanted to have fun in kindergarten. Go figure!

In addition to the traffic light discipline technique, my son was forced to sit on a bench during the short recess because of his difficulty paying attention in class. Obviously this was counterproductive. After finding out about this, I went into research mode. I found information about learning styles. You know, the idea that different kids learn in different ways, kinesthetic, auditory, and visual. Keep in mind my son didn’t have a diagnosis, yet. Though I knew my son was different from most kids, I denied that my son had ADHD, despite my husband’s having taken stimulants as a child.

I tried discussing what I’d discovered with my son’s teacher. Instead of her being open-minded, she became kind of defensive. Granted, the packet of information I presented her with might have been a bit overwhelming. In any case, her response was extreme, in my opinion. She said in an unnecessarily stern voice, “I’ve been teaching for a long time. I know what I’m doing. Your son just needs to learn to sit still, be quiet, pay attention, and follow directions.”

Because I had no luck improving the situation by way of the teacher, I decided to meet with the principal and vice-principle. I told them what our experiences had been so far. Rather than trying to support my son in his education, they defended the teacher’s draconian methods. They told me that other parents would “love” for their child to have my son’s teacher. Okay, so that wasn’t helpful.

The next stop was the school psychologist. Though she was kind and sympathetic, there was no support from the teacher or the administration. In the short, two-and-a-half weeks my son was at the school, he became extremely defiant. Admittedly, he already had a stubborn personality, but it became several times worse. Not only this, he was beginning to have violent outbursts, both at home and at school. Clearly, things were getting out of control.

One day my son awoke with a mild fever and was ill for a few days. Though my son was not feeling well, physically, he actually seemed happier. As for me, I didn’t have that feeling of dread that came with taking him to school every day, wondering what would happen there. It started to occur to me that maybe the people who homeschool weren’t wrong. I knew I could look for an alternative, but we couldn’t afford a private school, and what if the next public school was just as bad, or worse? I couldn’t take that chance.

Since my son was already a good reader, and since school is not a requirement until a child turns six in our state, I figured I could homeschool him through kindergarten, at least. We also found a local charter school that had an independent study program. My son began participating in that, and we also began attending a couple of park days with different homeschool groups. It’s really amazing all the resources that are actually available to homeschoolers, now. Mostly, the academics for that year consisted of reading lots of story books, playing age-appropriate math games, and going on field trips and visits to the library.

It is surprising how quickly so much damage can happen to child in such a short period of time, but it did. After leaving school, it took many months before the violent outbursts stopped. Then it took much longer for the extreme defiance to diminish. We’re still working on the little bit of defiance here and there, but it’s pretty close to that of a typical kid. I’m good with that, for now. I find he tends to show me more respect when I show him respect and speak with him like the person he is. There’s more to this story, of course.

(Image courtesy of and David Castillo Dominici)