Yglesias Called Mike Lee Tax Plan

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias is gone—having moved on to work for Ezra Klein’s Project X. I’m sure he will be back soon with his usual interesting take on politics and economics. But I was reminded of something he wrote back in September, Mike Lee’s Tax Plan Looks Like Smoke and Mirrors to Me. Senator Lee had come out with a revenue neutral tax plan that cut taxes on the middle class by raising them on the wealthy. Or so it seemed.

As Jonathan Chait reminds us, “Conservative reformers swooned—here, finally, yet again, was the policy seriousness the party had been waiting for. Reihan Salam praised the plan as ‘genuinely new thinking.’ Ross Douthat called it a ‘noteworthy breakthrough’ and hailed it in two other columns.” You have to wonder if these intelligent conservatives get tired of constantly having to pretend that the conservatives they champion are somehow really trying to do what they claim instead of what they are really trying to do: take from the poor, give to the rich, and obscure the fact that they are doing so.

Even Josh Barro wrote, FINALLY: A Republican Tax Plan That Doesn’t Suck. I really wonder about Barro. Just the other day he was out apologizing for Ryan’s poverty report, pointing out the three decent things that are in it, because no one else will. It has to be exhausting. And it is plain that he knows what’s going on. He knows what Ryan is actually doing. I just hope Barro is being well paid. (It’s doubtful.)

But at that time when Barro and Salam and Douthat were wanking off to the cause, Matt Yglesias called it:

So all in all the Lee plan would reduce taxes on middle-class parents, and raise taxes on upper-middle-class people who own expensive homes in high-tax states.

People like me, in other words. Except Josh Barro, in the course of gushing over the plan, confessed that despite being an affluent childless person his taxes would fall under Lee’s plan. So I ran it with my numbers and found the same thing. If I weren’t married, Lee would saddle me with a small tax hike thanks to the reduced value of the mortgage tax deduction. But I am married, so my wife and I—the very picture of Blue America decadence in Logan Circle with no kids—are in line for a tax cut.

Now if it’s actually true that you can meet all of Mike Lee’s goals consistent with giving me a small tax cut, then good for him. But I’m suspicious that what we’ve got here is simply a tax plan that doesn’t add up.

Well, it doesn’t.

The Tax Policy Center is out with a report on Mike Lee’s tax plan, Preliminary Analysis of The Family Fairness and Opportunity Tax Reform Act. “TPC estimates that the plan would reduce tax revenues by $2.4 trillion over the ten-year budget period, 2014-2023…” So it isn’t revenue neutral. And while it lowers taxes on people in pretty much all income groups, it reduces taxes on the wealthy the most. So it’s basically just the Bush tax cuts again. Of course it is! The Republican plan is always the same: cut taxes on the rich and throw a few crumbs to the rest so they don’t squawk.

But don’t worry. I’m sure Josh Barro can come up with three things that are good about Lee’s tax plan, just in case MSNBC wants to do a segment on it.

Meanwhile, I await Matt Yglesias’ return.

Paul Ryan Weeps for School Lunches

Paul Ryan - Eddie MunsterPaul Ryan was at CPAC today, and he’s been getting a lot of attention for a story he told about a young man who didn’t want to get a free hot meal from the school but would rather have his parents pack him a brown bag lunch. “He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.” To Paul Ryan, we are depriving this boy of the dignity of his parents work. Or something.

There are a couple of things that really strike me about this story. First, when I was a kid, I was one of those kids with brown bags. And I really didn’t like it. I would much rather have gotten a hot lunch. It wasn’t about the love that my mother was supposedly giving me; it was about the taste of food. Mom was a fine cook, but there is only so much you can do with a sandwich. It got boring.

I also know kids. What this young man is probably getting at is the fact that his friends have brown bag lunches. He’s feels like the oddball, because he isn’t like them. He would feel the same if he were the one with the brown bag when all his friends got hot lunches. Of course, it could well be that this young man doesn’t have any parents close by. He might be a foster kid. Certainly the line “someone who cared for him” makes it sound like the kid is missing a whole lot more than lunch. Regardless: his complaint is not about the fact that he gets a state-paid lunch but that he isn’t getting one from mom. Even as it stands, the story does not say what Ryan claims it does.

But let’s think about this from a conservative perspective. A stay-at-home mom is one who can make a lunch all the time. Do you know who doesn’t have time to make lunch for the kid every night? A mother who works three minimum wage jobs just to get by. Most mothers who are on welfare are still required to go to welfare-to-work programs thanks to that icon of liberal beneficence Bill Clinton. Generally speaking, the problem with parents making their kids’ lunches is not lack of money; it’s lack of time. And conservatives (whether Republican or Democratic) want nothing so much as to force the poor to have no time for anything but work.

As we saw throughout the 2012 election, conservatives are all for the dignity of motherhood. As long as the mother in question is rich. Back then, Ann Romney was very upset when Hilary Rosen said that she had never had a job. How could she say that? Was motherhood not a job?! Well, as far as conservatives are concerned, it isn’t if you are poor. Paul Ryan has been especially clear about this. They need the “dignity of work.”

So if the little boy was asking for anything, it was that his parents be rich. Or that his mother at least be allowed to stay home and take care of her children. But conservatives don’t care about that. Least of all does Paul Ryan. He’s not for a guaranteed income. He’s not for raising the minimum wage. He’s not for decreasing welfare-to-work requirements. What he wants—what all conservatives want—is for the poor to just go away and not bother them anymore. Death is a poverty plan. I just wish conservatives would admit that that is the only one they support.

Michelangelo and Male Beauty

MichelangeloLast year, I focused on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, so I’ll be moving on. That’s kind of odd, because I’m not a huge fan of hers, although I do admire her work. But I am a big fan of Michelangelo who was born on this day in 1475. Last year, I wrote of him, “I still remember when I saw David for the first time in Florence. Up to that time, I had no idea that art could be that powerful.” Of course, I had seen pictures of it before. But as with most great art, representations of it are not the same. And for one thing, it is big—17 feet tall. It’s also quite clear where his sexual interests lay: with men. It is the ultimate representation of male beauty.

In fact, when he was 57, Michelangelo met Tommaso dei Cavalieri, who was 23 at the time. He wrote many explicit poems to the younger man and the two of them were friends until Michelangelo’s death 31 years later. Did they have a sexual relationship? We don’t know. Does it matter? Well, it has to a lot of people since then who have found it embarrassing. To me, it doesn’t matter in the least, except that I hope the great old man got a little in his golden years. But for those who hate the idea of homosexuality, it seems silly to care. I don’t care if artists I admire lived exemplary lives. It’s nice, of course. I prefer that “my” artists are decent people. But there is no indication that Michelangelo was anything but a nice guy. And even if Cavalieri wasn’t sexually interested, it still must have been flattering to be so admired by the great artist.

Michelangelo's David

Happy birthday Michelangelo!

Free the Gnomes!

Protest Gnome - Stop Oppressive GardeningI’ve been reading Terry Eagleton’s newest book, the wonderfully funny and perceptive, Across the Pond. I’m sure I’ll write about it later. But I wanted to discuss something I learned in it. “Some years ago, there flourished briefly in Britain a Gnomes Liberation Movement, whose project was to abduct ornamental gnomes from people’s gardens and return them to their owners on the payment of a ransom of candy.” That sounded just too charming. It sounds like Halloween, but better. I had to find out more.

Alas, I think that Eagleton is mistaken. I have not found anything so whimsical as gnome for candy hostage taking. But there really is a gnome liberation movement. It started in France in the late 1990s as Le Front pour la Libération des Nains de Jardin. This literally means “Front for the Liberation of Garden Gnomes,” but is generally referred to as the Garden Gnome Liberation Front (GGLF). In one year, they were responsible for 150 gnome rescues. Of course, the “gnome slave industry”-controlled media refer to it as “theft.”

This was followed in 1998 but the Briey mass suicide. One morning, the people of that city woke to find 11 gnomes hanging by their necks off a bridge. Close by was note that read, “When you read these few words we will no longer be part of your selfish world, where we serve merely as pretty decoration.” Many people believe this was not actually a mass suicide, but a staged protest by the GGLF.

Then, in 2000, the GGLF was back. France had its first ever garden gnome exhibition in March of that year in a suburb of Paris. As CNN reported at the time, it was “a hit with the public as chic Parisians develop a taste for kitsch culture.” That’s right: “kitsch culture.” The servitude of gnomes meant nothing to these people!

Gnome Slave MarketGnome Slave Market

The movement expanded to Italy where it took the name Movimento Autonomo per la Liberazione delle Anime da Giardino (Independent Movement for the Liberation of Garden Souls) or MALAG. This arm of the GGLF started a Gnome sanctuary in Barga. They wrote, “These intrepid gnomes have found a green wooded valley, far away from all the problems and pollution of modern life and have started to rebuild their lives with their new found freedom.” The group also released a number of photos of abused gnomes in captivity. (Note: these photos may not be suitable for children or other sensitive people.)

And then, in 2008, a “53-year-old Gnome russler” was arrested in Brittany, France for helping 170 Gnomes escape their captors. Of course, the authorities called it “theft.” This seems to have been the end of the civil disobedience actions of the GGLF. Since then, all of the gnome liberation forces have combined under Free the Gnomes who lobby for gnome freedom. For example, when a gnome is found in captivity, activists will send a letter:

Gnome Slave Owner,

We deplore your treatment of gentle woodland creatures, and your total disregard for the basic principles of liberty.

Your moral bankruptcy is evidenced by your acts of wanton recklessness and the deliberate use of coercive force and terror tactics against gentle and innocent creatures.

It has come to our attention that a Gnome is being held captive in your garden. We do not, as a rule, negotiate with terrorists, however, we request that he be released immediately. Already your actions have prompted copycat offenses, which we have witnessed, including the deplorable use of a Gnome as a hood ornament.

We understand that you probably were not responsible for the innocent Gnome’s original capture but rather purchased him from a Gnome slave trafficker like a garden center or craft show. Please understand that we are not holding you responsible for the state of Gnome slavery in America.

We are, however, asking you to put an end to your involvement. Do the responsible thing; free your Gnome today.

I take it as a given that none of my readers hold gnomes captive. But if you know anyone who does, your path should be clear. Stop oppressive gardening. Free the Gnomes!

Same Sex Marriage Becoming Non-Issue

Same Sex Marriage - Homer - SimpsonsEd Kilgore wrote an interesting article this morning, Self-Isolation of White Evangelicals on LGBT Issues. It is based upon the WaPo/ABC poll about attitudes toward same sex marriage. As you may have heard, 59% of Americans believe that same sex couples should be allowed to marry. This is not much less than double the 34% who don’t.

I used to think there is a natural evolution on the issue: an increasing number of people just don’t care. I thought that anyone who honestly considered the issue outside political hysteria would quickly come to the conclusion that other people’s marriages really have no effect on their lives. But it is hard to come to that conclusion now because the number of people who think gay couples ought to be able to adopt children is actually higher, with 61% support. Those against are the same: 34%. The only conclusion I can come up with is that people now know enough gay people that they realize that they are just like everyone else.

But what about that 34% of the nation who still think that gays and lesbians are some kind of social disease? It would be easy to assume that they are just the religious troglodytes. This is true and not true. And because I still largely think of myself as culturally Catholic, I was very pleased to see that Catholics are even more evolved on the issue of same sex marriage than Americans generally. White (that is, most) Catholics support same sex marriage by 70%-26%. The people who really don’t support marriage equality are white evangelicals, who opposite it by 28%-66%.

Obviously, this is a huge problem for the Republican Party. Just look at this trend:

Same Sex Marriage Support Trend

Normally, a political party would have reversed course on an issue like this. But normally, an issue wouldn’t be so concentrated. It seems that overwhelmingly, it is the Republican base that is committed to opposition to same sex marriage. This stops the Republican Party from moderating on this issue. This is hardly surprising, of course. The Todd Akins of the party didn’t come out of a vacuum.

What’s more interesting is what this says about the future of the Democratic Party. As I’ve discussed a lot around here, increasingly the Democratic Party is only liberal in terms of social issues. And same sex marriage has been the number one signaling issue the Democrats have that allows them to say, “We are the liberal party!” But let’s say that reproductive and same sex rights went away tomorrow. What would the Democratic brand be? Sadly, it would be: 4.6%. That’s the difference between the top marginal tax rate the Republicans want (35%) and the Democrats want (39.6%). In other words, the Democratic brand is, “We’re not quite as bad on economic issues as the Republicans.”

As a result of this, I’m glad that the same sex marriage issue is going away. It will put more pressure on the Democratic Party to think about economic issues from a liberal perspective. But I’m not fooled. We have long, long, long way to go.