Daily Archives: 15 Jan 2015

Jeb Bush Is No Moderate

Eric AltermanAccording to the recent Times coverage, Bush is a “moderate” and “centrist” who wonders “whether he can secure the Republican nomination without pandering to the party’s conservative base,” as it explained in one story, and “whether he can prevail in a grueling primary battle without shifting his positions or altering his persona to satisfy his party’s hard-liners,” as it explained in another. Reporter Jonathan Martin adds: “Though [Bush] is deeply conservative on some issues such as taxes and abortion… he has pushed for an immigration overhaul that would include a path to citizenship for people who are here illegally.” In fact, Bush did do this, before changing his mind because of opposition from Republican crazies and deciding that “permanent residency” for unauthorized immigrants “should not lead to citizenship,” calling that “an undeserving reward for conduct that we cannot afford to encourage.” …

On economic matters, Bush endorsed Paul Ryan’s punitive budget that seeks to zero out virtually all federal assistance to the poor. He also supported George W Bush’s deeply unpopular plan to privatize Social Security. On social matters unrelated to abortion, Jeb sees “very strong justifications” for restrictive voter-ID laws that are transparently designed to reduce minority participation. He not only opposes gay marriage but says he “personally” believes that gay couples should be denied legal adoption rights; he also opposes all legal protections for LGBT people, calling them “special rights.” He happily signed the NRA’s “stand your ground” legislation, which led to the legal murder of Trayvon Martin. Regarding science, he has moved from the completely ridiculous position of disputing the fact of global warming to the only slightly less ridiculous one of questioning whether it is “disproportionately man-made” — a position that puts him at odds with approximately 97 percent of the world’s qualified climatologists. On Cuba, he has also sided with the crazies. The list continues almost indefinitely.

True, Jeb Bush may be a “moderate” or “centrist” in a context where one of America’s two political parties has all but gone insane. But without such context, those labels are a lie…

—Eric Alterman
A Great Newspaper’s Shame

States Screw the Poor and Middle Classes

Who Pays? - Institute on Taxation and Economic PolicyOne of the most loved policy ideas of conservatives is the flat tax. This is an idea that shows up from at least one Republican presidential hopeful each and every time we go through the process. And in many cases, the flat tax is the primary focus of the campaign. The most recent example of this was Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, which consisted of a 9% business transaction tax, 9% personal income tax, and 9% federal sales tax. This sounds to me very much like a 27% flat tax, which is undoubtedly a lot more than most people pay at the federal level. But it would thrill the rich in various ways such as destroying the estate tax and allowing the rich to spend huge amounts of money outside the United States without having to pay sales taxes.

The reason that conservatives are focused so much on federal taxes is because that’s the only level at which our tax system can have any amount of progressivity. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan was actually a whole lot more progressive than most such plans. This is because his plan would get rid of the payroll tax, which is the most regressive tax in the nation. But I always figured that once the details of the plan came out, it would be revealed that the plan was yet another giveaway to the rich.

At the sate and local levels, things are already to the liking of the rich — and thus the conservatives. I’m not sure just how true it is, but the conventional wisdom is that states must keep taxes down on the rich because they can so easily move to a low tax state. I’m sure this happens, but a much bigger issue seems to be companies running to low-regulation states. But this ends up with states providing only the most minor progressivity in their income tax code. For example, when I lived in Oregon, there were only two marginal tax rates: 7% and 9%. And that’s saying nothing of other advantages the rich have, the the regressivity of other less visible taxes.

Yesterday, the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP) released a report, Who Pays: A Distributional Analysis of the Tax Systems in All Fifty States. It provides a great interactive map that shows the percentage of income that families pay in taxes for each state. And it ain’t pretty. Consider Texas, for example. Families in the bottom 20% of earners pay 12.5% of their incomes in state and local taxes while families in the top 1% pay 2.9%. That’s right: the poor pay over four times as much in state and local taxes as the rich. But it isn’t just in the south or in red states. Washington state is even worse with the bottom 20% paying 16.8% and the top 1% paying just 2.4% — a seven fold difference. Even California — the best by far — taxes the bottom 20% of families 10.5% and the top 1% of them 8.7%.

So here is the average for all the states and the District of Columbia. Notice that at every level, the more you make, the less you pay. And the top 1% goes way down. I assume that we would see an even steeper decline for the top 0.1% and 0.01%. And it is these people who tend to pay very little taxes at the the federal level as well: they pay almost no payroll taxes and most of their “income” is taxed at 15% as capital gains.

Total State and Local Taxes Paid by Income Quintile

What I find most amazing is that this is something you never hear about on Fox News or any other conservative outlet. If fairness really was what was driving the conservative obsession for a flat tax, they would be appalled about the situation in the states. But the truth is that conservatives know exactly what is going on in the states. They know that taxation is regressive there, and they are fine with that. It is only the federal income tax that makes our overall tax system slightly progressive. And that’s why they want to create the flat or “fair” tax: because they know that will put far more of a tax burden on the poor than on the rich.

You really owe it to yourself to read the executive summary of the report. It lays out all you really need to know about the issue. For example, the reasons that the poor and middle class get taxed so much is not because of income taxes, which are usually slightly progressive. The regressivity comes in because of sales, excise, and property (think: car) taxes. Similarly, the states that advertise themselves for their “low taxes” are also the states with the highest taxes on the poor. For example, in Texas, your taxes really will be low (about 5%) if you are in the top 20% of earners. On the other hand, if you are in the upper middle class (second highest quintile), your taxes will be about the same as they are in California. And if you are middle class or below, California taxes you a lot less. So “low tax” actually means “low tax on the rich.”

Don’t expect to hear anything about this on the nightly news. But you will hear what happened on Wall Street today. We have to have our priorities. And our priorities are those of the rich.

Steve Scalise and the National Republican Party

Steve ScaliseI am on record about my own racist impulses. This is not as brave a statement as it may seem, because I think that all humans are racist — or perhaps “xenophobic” is a better term. But the truth is that there is a distinct difference between people who actively fight their racist impulses (or are at least embarrassed by them) and people who accept them as nothing more than a clear eyed representation of the truth. In my experience, this latter group is relatively small. And when I talk about our country being racist, I am not really talking about these people. All peoples have a small but significant fraction who are bigoted and hateful.

But this does create a bit of a problem when discussing someone like Louisiana Representative and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. You have probably heard about the controversy of him giving a speech to a White Nationalist group back in 2002. And before and after that time, he voted against establishing a Martin Luther King Jr Day. But this morning, Scott Wong at The Hill reported, Minutes Highlight Scalise Efforts to Kill Resolution Apologizing for Slavery. This was back in 1996 — a little more than three decades after the Voting Rights Act.

It’s worse than that, though. Scalise clearly doesn’t get it. According to a news report at the time, Scalise said, “Why are you asking me to apologize for something I didn’t do and had no part of? I am not going to apologize for what somebody else did.” No one was asking for him specifically to apologize. He was a representative of the state and such bills are symbolic like naming schools. But Scalise also doesn’t seem to have a clue about white privilege, which is doubtless why his claim not to have noticed that he was speaking to a racist group is credible.

But it turns out that this bill was originally meant to apologize for slavery. But another great Republican, David Vitter, got the author of the bill to change it from “apologize” to “regret”:

Vitter echoed Scalise in the meeting, arguing that an apology for slavery implied an “admission of guilt,” according to the minutes. The future US senator said “an expression of regret” was more appropriate.

Because, the state can’t admit it was guilty for allowing slavery! It had to admit only that, almost a century and a half after slavery, the state of Louisiana thought the whole thing “regrettable.” But even that was a bridge too far for Scalise. The whole thing is truly amazing. But sadly, it is not surprising.

The Republican Party is a racist organization. By that I don’t mean that like all of us, it has unfortunately and involuntary xenophobic tendencies. I mean that the party depends upon racism for its political power. That’s not to say that all or even most Republicans are especially racist — or overtly so. But it does mean that the difference between the Republican Party being a regional power and a national power is its appeal to overtly racist voters.

I don’t see how the House Republicans can continue to claim that Steve Scalise isn’t a racist after this report. Of course, I didn’t see how they could before this. I suspect that this report will mostly be ignored. The people who are willing to admit that Scalise is a bigot have long been convinced. And the Republican Party, with its large appeal to racists, is unlikely to change course. In fact, I expect to see the Republicans claiming that the “liberal” media is ganging up on poor Steve Scalise. And maybe they will have a point. After all, it’s been clear for almost two decades what Scalise is all about.

National Review: I’m Rubber, You’re Glue

Brendan O'NeillLast week, Brendan O’Neill over at the racist National Review argued, Islamophobia Is a Myth. It is charmingly subtitled, “Why do liberals fear the working class and ignore anti-Semitic murder? Because they are bigots.” It’s a curious argument. But it is also entirely typical of the magazine that Buckley built; it has a long history of claiming that other people are elitists; they, of course, are the friends of the working man!

Regardless, this twisted logic is exactly the same as the “black on black” crime canard, “We can’t even discuss the police killing black men until there is no black crime!” And speaking of which, I did a little back of the envelope calculation based upon the data I found in a really vile article. According to the data, which look legit, Jews were 40 times as likely to be the target of hate crimes as white people — weighted for their population. But Muslims were 10 times as likely. And notably, African Americans are 20 times as likely to be targeted for a hate crime. The writer of the article, of course, never took into account the populations of the groups.

But O’Neill’s argument doesn’t make any sense regardless of how much violence is directed toward Muslims and Jews. Since when do liberals ignore antisemitic violence, much less murder? What’s more, hate crimes against Jews was down very slightly since 9/11. They are up substantially against Muslims since 9/11 — and they were even higher for Muslims than they were for Jews in 2001. I know that I’m concerned about hate crimes against everyone. And I am particularly concerned about hate crimes against Jews. I also think that many of the people committing hate crimes against Jews are the same people who are committing them against Muslims.

O’Neill’s argument seems to be that concern is a limited resource. If we are concerned about a racist backlash against Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, that must mean we have reduced our concern about racism committed against Jews. That kind of limited supply of empathy and concern may be a defining characteristic of conservatives generally, and National Review writers specifically, but it isn’t the way liberls’ minds work.

O’Neill’s ultimate argument comes down to this, “[T]he idea that there is a climate of Islamophobia, a culture of hot-headed, violent-minded hatred for Muslims that could be awoken and unleashed by the next terror attack, is an invention.” It seems to be O’Neill who is the one who thinks the worst of working people, because I don’t imagine them as the ones going out attacking Muslims or Jews or anyone else. I imagine angry bigots who normally keep their hatred in check. But the idea that this does not get inflamed is refuted by this graph:

Anti-Islamic Hate Crimes By Year

What the article comes down to is a bizarre kind of apologetic. There apparently aren’t enough hate crimes committed against Muslims for O’Neill to care. The fact that there is a six-fold increase in the number of these hate crimes and actual data indicating that terrorist attacks can make them spike, doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter, because Muslims don’t matter to National Review. Similarly, Jews don’t matter to National Review. And the working classes absolutely doesn’t matter to National Review. They are all just props to be used to beat up on liberals. Their real beef is that liberals care about a minority group that conservatives want to marginalize. The William F Buckley of 1957 would understand completely.

Sofia Kovalevskaya

Sofia KovalevskayaOn this day in 1850, the great mathematician Sofia Kovalevskaya was born. She made important contributions to analysis and differential equations. We will not talk about her work in math. This is because I still greatly struggle with analysis. Her work with differential equations — notably, classical mechanics — I do understand, but it would be (1) a lot of work for me to write; and (2) boring for you to read. Luckily, she lived a colorful life.

She showed an aptitude for mathematics very young and so her parents encouraged it and hired her a tutor. But women weren’t allowed in university in Russia at that time, so she had to go out of the country. But that was more involved than you might think. She needed her husband’s written permission to do that, so she pretended to be the wife of paleontologist Vladimir Kovalevsky. (Despite never actually marrying, they spent the rest of his life together.) And the two of them were off to Germany and then England (where he hung out with Darwin and she hung with George Eliot) and then to France and back to Germany, where she received her PhD at the age of 24 from the University of Göttingen. She was the first woman in Europe to be given the degree.

She and Vladimir struggled for the next decade, doing things like building houses and electrifying street lights. In 1883, Vladimir committed suicide. But the following year, Sofia finally got an academic position in Sweden. Things were pretty good from then on, although not that good because she was a woman. In addition to her mathematics and physics work, she wrote plays, a novel, and an autobiography. And then she died of influenza at the age of 41.

Happy birthday Sofia Kovalevskaya!