Bill de Blasio Is Mean to the Rich

Bill de BlasioMatt Yglesias brought my attention to this really bizarre article at Bloomberg, Wealthy New Yorkers Call De Blasio’s Tax Plan Offensive. Yglesias says much of what needs to be said, but I wanted to add a couple of things.

In New York, Bill de Blasio wants to raise taxes on incomes over a half million dollars per year in order to pay for universal preschool. That was all well and fine when de Blasio wasn’t going to become mayor. But now that this is almost certain, the rich are shocked—Shocked I tell you!—that he would treat them so ill. Kathryn Wylde, for example, said, “It shows lack of sensitivity to the city’s biggest revenue providers and job creators.” Right there, you know you are talking to someone with her head up her ass. “Job creators”? Really?! Are we really still on that, because as I’ve written before, the job creator is a myth.

But this isn’t just about protecting the mythical job creators. The rich are attacking from all sides. They also claim that de Blasio shouldn’t even be talking about it because it will never get through the legislature. So taxing the rich lacks sensitivity but also will never happen. But wait, there’s more! Michael Steinhardt, while agreeing that income inequality is “troubling,” says, “perhaps even more so is the thought that more government spending is the way out of our problems.” So that lacks sensitivity, will never happen, but really shouldn’t happen.

So how big a tax increase is this? Well, as you can imagine, it’s enormous. It is the kind of thing that will likely shut down the whole New York Stock Exchange. Currently, income over $500,000 is taxed at 3.9%. De Blosio wants to change it to 44%! Wait, that’s not right. It’s 4.4%. Hold on there! That’s not much of a tax increase. That’s a 0.4 percentage point change, or a 12% increase that doesn’t apply to a whole bunch of money. But I can see why billionaire hedge fund managers would be upset. What I can’t see is why the rest of us should give a shit.

But don’t worry! Bloomberg tells us why this is unwise and unfair. You see, the rich already pay a large share of the taxes. They don’t explain that this is yet another example of just how unequal and unfair our economic system is. These people pay so much in taxes because they earn such unreasonable salaries. And this is understood by George Soros at least. He said that the idea “is sound public policy and will have a powerful impact on reducing inequality.” But some rich supporters are not so unreserved:

Former Citigroup Inc. Chairman Richard Parsons said that he’d “gladly pay higher income taxes if all of the increase went to fund early education.” At the same time, Parsons said, he harbors doubts about de Blasio’s appreciation of “the importance of the business community and more significantly, what it will take to keep business thriving.”

I have a couple of problems with this. First, is he saying that his support is only if the money goes to this cause? That sounds awfully elitist to me. I just pay my taxes every year. They go to all kinds of stuff I don’t agree with. That’s the deal, although I suspect that Parsons is correct to think that he can negotiate about this stuff. The rest of it is “job creator” bullshit. Oh yes, we all have to get down on our knees for these business people or they won’t “create” jobs for us.

Matt Yglesias points out that this goes right along with the needs hierarchy. The rich already have all the material things they could want. What’s left? Respect! They want everyone fawning all over them telling them how great they are. The problem from my perspective is that I’m a lot more concerned about people who are having troubling getting by than I am about the very tender feelings of the rich. And I have a solution for the problems of the rich: they could do things that would make the rest of us respect them. But I’m not holding my breath. (Most likely, tomorrow, I will have an article on that very subject!)

NBC Affiliate Whitewashes Police Beating

Long Beach PoliceYou may have heard about the video of the Long Beach police officers beating a prone man. Well, last night, NBC Los Angeles came to the rescue… of the police department. In a story that is shocking in its bias toward the LBPD, reporter Kim Baldonado does everything but accuse the victim, Porfirio Santos Lopez, of pedophilia.

We learn for example, that Lopez was drunk and, according the the police, admitted to being on methamphetamine. I don’t doubt that this is all quite true, but it bugs that such information would normally not be publicly available. But when the police department needs a cover, well, any information can be released. But the main thing is that this information doesn’t matter. I think everyone that sees the video assumes that the police were at least somewhat justified in starting their beating. The question is why did they continue to beat him when he wasn’t resisting.

Similarly, the story goes on to show a confrontation between Lopez and two other men before the police arrived. This is even worse. I suspect that the police wouldn’t have even collected this information if they hadn’t been covering their asses. And so they’ve used the footage for its primary purpose: to release it to the TV news to try to justify their actions. But again: it is irrelevant. We get it: Lopez should have been arrested. The question is whether he should have had bones broken and teeth knocked out.

These kinds of situations are typical and I doubt these cops are any worse than any other cops. Yesterday, while waiting for a bus, I was nearby when a woman was hit by a car. Witnesses quickly called 911, and very quickly a police car and fire truck arrived and tended to the injured woman. I was sitting on the curb behind the bus shelter in the parking lot. Another police car was coming to the scene through the parking lot. Another car was in front of it. The officer got impatient and raced past the car going roughly 40 miles per hour. I thought, “That’s just what we need: another pedestrian hit by a car.”

The point is that there was no rush for that particular cop to get to the scene. He was just keyed up with adrenaline (Which is much like methamphetamine, right?) and thus behaving irresponsibly. I’m sure that was what was going on with these cops in Long Beach. So I have no problem with reporting that explains the situation that these officers found themselves in. Generally, being a cop is a very boring but easy job. Situations like this one are hard and it isn’t surprising that cops sometimes screw up. But blaming the victim for the bad behavior as if of course they should have beat him to death is wrong. That isn’t journalism; that’s propaganda.

Afterword

If I’m very lucky, this embed will work:

Answering Chris Hayes’ Syria Question

Chris HayesChris Hayes asked a question. Am I a liberal who just throws up the possibility of a negotiated settlement to the Syrian civil war so that I don’t have to deal with it? It is a good question that I’m sure Hayes is asking of himself as much as liberals in general. I can’t speak for him or any other liberal, but I can speak for myself. I don’t think it is true. There are a few issues here.

The first issue is that fundamentally, I’m with Alan Grayson. This isn’t our fight. It is horrible. It is a tragedy. But there are all kinds of those all the time and there is no reason why we ought to involve ourselves in this one especially. I just absolutely, positively don’t believe it when politicians claim that this thing has crossed the line. Pain does matter. I care how people die. But in this case, there is a 1 to 100 ratio of the deaths we are supposed to care about versus of the deaths we apparently don’t give a shit about.

The second issue is that if we really care about relieving suffering, there are much better things we can do. As Matt Yglesias has pointed out, we could do something about malaria. Money alone would do wonders, but I always wonder what we could do if we spent as much money developing malaria drugs as we do developing them for erectile dysfunction. We could also—and Chris Hayes mentioned this—allow more Syrians to move to the United States. But it appears that we don’t so much want to do anything for the Syrians as to the Syrians.

The third, and most important, reason for not bombing Syria is that it will make a negotiated settlement less likely. If we actually succeed at doing damage to the Assad regime, it will make a negotiated settlement less likely. Look: I don’t like Assad, but I have no problem with him staying in power if it will put an end to the killing and chaos. As it is, if the rebels won, Syria would just start another civil war as the various factions fought for control. And it seems to me especially probable that the groups most likely to win that conflict would be even worse than Assad.

So that is my answer to Chris Hayes. I don’t think by not going to war in Syria that everything will be wonderful. But I think it is (1) not our problem; (2) not a good use of our resources; and (3) likely to make a good resolution less likely. This is no liberal happy horseshit. I hope for a negotiated settlement. But even without that, our bombing will only make the situation worse.

Afterword

Rachel Maddow asked her own question. Basically: if all the people in the world who are against Assad are not for this bombing campaign, why are we? That’s an easy one: this is all about internal American politics. I still don’t think that Obama especially wants to attack Syria. He just backed himself into a corner. This is only an issue in the US because we are the only people who care if Obama is seen as “weak.”

See my article Goodbye Mr. Chris for more of my thoughts on Mr. Hayes!

On Edward Dmytryk

Edward DmytrykOn this day in 1824, the Austrian Romantic composer Anton Bruckner was born. Here is a bit from his Symphony Number 8, which is quite powerful and pleasant compared to most work of that period:

Inventor Lewis Howard Latimer was born in 1848. Horror film director Roy William Neill was born in 1887. The great French composer and one of Les Six, Darius Milhaud was born in 1892. Here is his absolutely delightful Suite per Violino, Clarinetto e Pianoforte. Really, you should listen to it; it charming in the way that seems to have been limited to French composers of the first half of the 20th century. It really was a wonderful period. But enough reading, listen!

Historical novelist Mary Renault was born in 1905. Biologist Max Delbruck was born in 1906. He determined that bacteria developed resistance to viruses as a result of advantageous genetic mutations. The great novelist Richard Wright was born in 1908. Really annoying radio personality Paul Harvey was born in 1918. Now we are stuck with his even more annoying son. Artificial intelligence pioneer John McCarthy was born in 1927. The great National Park Service photographer Jack Boucher was born in 1931.

Comedian Damon Wayans is 53 today. And Beyonce is 32.

The day, however, belongs to the great film director Edward Dmytryk who was born in 1908. There are many things to like about him. One is that he made wonderful films. Crossfire and The Caine Mutiny stand out, but there are many others. He also did prison time because of the Hollywood blacklisting for contempt of Congress. What I most remember him for is the books he wrote on filmmaking that taught me most of what I know about the art. They are really good books. You can get them all together (but I think it is out of print) as On Filmmaking. Here is the trailer for Caine:

Happy birthday Edward Dmytryk!

Food Stamps or Voting—It’s Your Choice!

Food StampsThere is a point at which villainy becomes humorous and that happened today with a report at Huffington Post, Food Stamp Fliers Threaten To Name People On Government Benefits. According to the article, someone in Portland, Oregon has put up fliers that read, “There are twenty seven people in this neighborhood who vote and receive food stamps. The names of these people are being posted where they can be seen by taxpayers and the neighborhood can decide who is truly in need of food.” Ah yes, the defenders of tax payer money!

If you aren’t clear what these people are getting at, last month, there were similar fliers that read, “Benjamin Franklin said ‘when the people find they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.’ Some of us in the neighborhood wish to save this democracy and to stand in the way of those who would destroy it.” So the problem is that those who are getting public assistance are able to vote themselves money. Therefore: we must stop the poor from voting!

Note how this is exactly the same argument that Dave Rubin made about drug testing the poor. “Well, I guess if they’re getting government money it isn’t asking too much to make them pee in a cup!” Or just not be allowed to vote. The thing about people who make these arguments is that they never want to go after the rich who get public funding. They might grouse a bit when they hear about some corporate boondoggle of a government contract on the TV box. But it takes the outrage of a family of four getting a hundred bucks a week in food to get them out on the street with their fliers.

We don’t know exactly who the people are who are putting out these fliers. But clearly this is the Tea Party mentality—right down to the founding father quote.[1] It goes deeper than that, however. Remember: the Tea Party did not burst on the scene after all our military interventions. It did not burst on the scene after the financial crisis and the huge TARP bailout of the banks. No, no, no! It burst on the scene after Rick Santelli’s CNBC rant. And what was that about? A homeowner refinance program that was a fraction of the cost of TARP. That’s the Tea Party mentality. It’s basically “Get the poor!” in a tricorne hat. (“Poor,” of course, can be replaced by whatever racist epithet the person likes.)

Of course, one thing we know about the Tea Party is that its membership is old. That is most likely due to the demographics of Fox News, which was singularly important in publicizing the movement. All the news that’s fit to create! But that means that the people in the Tea Party are much more likely to be on various kinds of subsidies like Social Security, Medicare, and even Disability. What’s more, as a more wealthy group, they are far more likely to have had their homes subsidized with the enormous mortgage interest deduction. None of these handouts are considered handouts by the Tea Party members.

There is a tendency to portray the Tea Party as a well educated group. The demographics do bear this out. But education in this country is more something you are born with. For example, you are more likely to graduate from college if you are born stupid and rich than if you are born smart and poor. Regardless, I know lots of smart and educated people who simply cannot see past their petty prejudices and generalized rage. And that’s what leads to people putting up fliers complaining that people who get food stamps shouldn’t be able to vote.

Afterword

A common apologia of conservatives who are on welfare is that “they paid into” whatever program it is: Social Security, Medicare, and so on. But these fliers mention SSI, the disability program. People paid into those as well. In fact, anytime any of us pays any taxes, we are paying into all of these programs. That’s how a society works. But this all shows the lie of the “we paid into it” defense. That isn’t what they mean. What they mean is “we are different.” The programs that benefit them are programs that “good” people take advantage of and programs that don’t are those for “bad” people. It’s as simple as that: in and out group. They are in and those people on food stamps and disability are out.


[1] For the record, I cannot find this quote anywhere. It seems to be apocryphal. It is however, huge with Tea Party people. Just google the phrase.

Corporations Already Control Both Parties

Chamber of CommercseEverybody’s talking about what I think of as a pretty pathetic New York Times article by Eduardo Porter, Business Losing Clout in a GOP Moving Right. Ed Kilgore notes, “Even if Corporate America does lose a few political battles, it is doing quite well in the war.” Jonathan Chait writes, Republicans and Business Are Getting Along Just Fine. And, as usual, Dean Baker calls it right that business doesn’t need to spend money on politicians since they already get pretty much everything they want.

I have a slightly different take on this. Or perhaps it is better to say that I have a deeper take, because they are all right. There is no fundamental economic difference between the two major political parties. They both believe above all that the business community should pull its pants down so that they can give it a great big smooch. The only real difference between the parties is that the Democrats want to keep more or less the current bad status quo and the Republicans want to make things even worse. All the business lobby cares about anyway is keeping taxes on the rich low and destroying all regulations. Democrats are pretty much on board with that and the Republicans are very much on board with all that.

This is all about the Overton Window. The economic debate in this country is pathetically limited and skewed ridiculously far to the right. Republicans now want to take our economy back to the Gilded Age and Democrats are too afraid to even consider Clinton era policies that were themselves far to the right. Or even worse. Obama wants to reduce the corporate tax rate from 35% to 28%. And the Republican proposal is to reduce it to 25%. Wow! Three percentage points is the difference between the Republican and Democratic positions. (Note: the effective corporate tax rate—what they actually pay—is about 15%. That is down from 50% in the 1951.)

And it isn’t like all of these policies are just theoretical the way social conservative policy is for those pushing it. Corporations are doing really well. As Dean Baker says, “After-tax corporate profits are at their highest level in the post-war period.” So what do they have to complain about? They have effectively co-opted both political parties and are getting almost everything that they desire. It seems only that Democrats are a little cheaper to buy than Republicans, thus the business community gives twice as much to Republican candidates as they do Democratic candidates.

There is one bad aspect of this for Republicans, however. Since Democrats are only marginally worse at pushing the business communities perceived interests (I think they are often wrong and don’t do what is best for their long term interests), the Republicans really could lose support from them if they did something stupid like make the government default by not raising the debt ceiling. That extra three percentage points of corporate taxes might be a small price to pay for the insurance of having politicians who aren’t bat shit crazy. From my perspective, it hardly matters. Whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge, we see the same thing (from Chait):

Corporate Profits vs. Wages

The Austerity Ruse

Olli RehnThis morning, Paul Krugman correctly noted, The Austerian Mask Slips. In it, he referred to an article yesterday by Simon Wren-Lewis, France and the Commission. The European Union has a Fiscal Compact that requires all countries to reduce their budget deficits to 3% in the next two years. France is in the process of doing this.

Now I don’t think this is a good thing. For the umpteenth time: an economic downturn is not the time for governmental austerity. Most of France’s budget deficit is from the economic downturn, not from increased spending. Pro-growth policies will fix the budget problems. Austerity policies do not work that well because they reduce demand and thus economic activity. I’m not an economist, but I understand this because I took Econ 101. Also: I don’t have an ax to grind.

But okay, France is doing what the Fiscal Compact wants. So the austerity crowd should be cheering, “Hooray for France!” But no. The European Commissioner for Economic and Monetary Affairs, Olli Rehn is not happy at all. You see, France is not closing its budget deficit the right way—the way that Rehn wants it to be cut. France has been raising taxes rather than making savage cuts to government spending. Rehn said, “Budgetary discipline must come from a reduction in public spending and not from new taxes.”

This is pure bait and switch. It is also something that I’ve been writing about for a while as it relates to the United States. People like Olli Rehn are not interested in budget deficits. They just use the idea of budget deficits because it is a way to sell what they really want: low taxes on the rich and small governments. What choice do they have? People really like government programs and they really don’t care about the taxes of the rich.

It is also the case that this idea of low taxes and small government is a really bad idea. It dates back to a time when the world was much simpler. There are very good reasons why governments are bigger and it has nothing to do with resentment of the rich. In fact, the rich have their money thanks to the stability that our governments provide. It reminds me of Daniel Davies principle of good ideas and truth:

Good ideas do not need lots of lies told about them in order to gain public acceptance.

Due to their great power and their aggressive use of lies, the austerity crowd has been able to test their ideas for the last five years. And their ideas have failed miserably. But we continue to hear them pushed with the usual Milton Friedman to Chile refrain, “There just hasn’t been enough austerity!”

But more and more, we see examples like that from Olli Rehn. As Krugman noted: the mask slips. They show what they are really all about. And it has nothing to do with deficits.