Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Discontent, Fear and Jaundice

Here's three ads from Carly Fiorina, the Republican challenging Senator Barbara Boxer's seat.

This one is titled "Work." It was posted in May, and it was running all the time on TV back then:

I refer to it as the "jaundice ad." I think some of the people look pretty ghoulish with that yellow/rose filter. I suspect it, and the soft-focus effect, is to make Fiorina look more vibrant and young. But what sticks with me is (sorry) bad teeth and creepy eyes. I'm supposed to take advice from them, these "regular zombie Americans," to vote for a Republican?

"Jobs" was also playing all the time in May:

Yes, we all remember all those great jobs – as in zero net job creation – with tax cuts to the rich (like Fiorina) under Bush. The Dems have worked to pass legislation to help small businesses, and have been blocked by the GOP. Fiorina favors standard GOP sound bites with little reality behind them.

This one's called "Safe," and played 'round the clock in June:

It's obvious that this is a very short, out-of-context excerpt of Boxer, and she has more to say about national security than this. However, what she does say is exactly in line with what the Pentagon has stated:

Climate change and energy are two key issues that will play a significant role in shaping the future security environment... While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world."

"Terrorism kills – and Barbara Boxer's worried about the weather" is childish and really insults viewers' intelligence. It's inept McCarthyism. This ad targeted low-information conservatives and conservative-leaning voters, or maybe her team actually thought this crap (that worked pretty well in 2002 and 2004) would still play with other voters. If there were any doubt before that Fiorina wasn't wooing the reality-based community, these three ads clinched it.

California Midterm Money 2010

If you don't live in California, you're lucky you miss the election year onslaught of political ads. Normally, it's ballot measure ads around the clock, but this time, the candidate ads have been non-stop all year. I thought I'd try to look at some of the ads in a few posts before the election is over, in, um, two days. First though, I thought it'd be useful to look at the money.

The spending has been insane, and in the race for governor, it's been extremely lopsided. On 10/22/10, the Fresno Bee reported:

Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman spent nearly $23 mil- lion the first 16 days of October, bringing her record-breaking spending total to $163 million for the campaign, according to finance reports filed Thursday.

Democrat Jerry Brown, meanwhile, had spent $14.6 million between Oct. 1 and 16, more than half of the total $25.3 million his campaign has spent this year.

Brown had $11.6 million in the bank for the final push as of Oct. 16, while Whitman reported $12.4 million on hand with about $1.9 million in debts.

Whitman, a billionaire former CEO of eBay, has put $141.6 million of her own money in the campaign. In all, she has raised $173 million.

Brown has raised nearly $38 million for the campaign.

The Senate race between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina is a little harder to tally. From a 10/22/10 article:

Republican challenger Carly Fiorina added $1 million from her personal fortune to her campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, pouring in money for the final days of a tightening race...

The loan, made Thursday, brings Fiorina's total contributions this year to $6.5 million...

Boxer campaign manager Rose Kapolczynski said Fiorina is using the golden parachute she received when she was ousted from HP "to try to buy a seat in the Senate." Overall, Boxer has raised $26.4 million compared to $17.9 million for Fiorina...

National Republicans have not been so reticent in talking about their plans for the Senate race. They've promised to spend nearly $4.8 million in California in coordination with the Fiorina campaign. Fiorina's efforts are also being helped by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has spent more than $4.5 million on television ads critical of Boxer...

According to quarterly campaign reports filed Oct. 15, Boxer had about $6.5 million cash on hand compared to $1.8 million for Fiorina, who is receiving significant help from independent groups.

Since then, there has been a flurry of spending. Campaign finance reports based on the first two weeks of October show Boxer spent $5.3 million, leaving her with $2.3 million cash on hand.

Fiorina spent $2 million during the same period, leaving her with $1.3 million. Adding Fiorina's latest loan, she should now have roughly the same amount as Boxer.

However, the key difference is outside money. From Southern California Public Radio back on 10/12/10:

The prospect of unseating three-term Sen. Barbara Boxer has led business groups and social conservatives to invest heavily in California's U.S. Senate race over the past six weeks.

About $4 million has been spent on ads and election activities that help Republican challenger Carly Fiorina, the former chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard Co.

By comparison, outside groups have spent about $121,000 helping Boxer, who started the race with a huge cash advantage in her campaign account.

What about the polls? On 10/27/10, TPM reported:

The new CNN poll of California provides further corroboration that Democrats Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer are on track in their respective gubernatorial and Senate races.

The gubernatorial numbers: Brown 51%, Republican Meg Whitman 44%. In the previous poll from a month ago, Brown led by 52%-43%. The TPM Poll Average has Brown ahead by 49.0%-41.3%.

The Senate numbers: Boxer 50%, Republican Carly Fiorina 45%. In the previous poll from a month ago, Boxer led by 52%-43%. The TPM Poll Average has Boxer ahead by 47.4%-43.4%.

The survey of likely voters has a ±3.5% margin of error.

538 currently has Brown up by 8 points and Boxer up by 6 points. But we'll see come Tuesday. The outside money factor is troubling, and that's a national issue. Transparency on who's funding all those ads would be a big help. Meanwhile, the Mercury News has more on Whitman, her eBay past and her diminishing prospects despite the staggering amount of money she's spent. When the dust has settled, I'll be interested to see if Meg Whitman winds up with an even worse dollar-to-vote ratio than Rudy Giuliani in the 2008 presidential primaries.

CA Ballot Propositions 2010

Yes, it's that time again if you live in California (unless you already voted early). Which ballot propositions are good, and which are horrible? And what about all the other races?

If you didn't receive the state's official Voter's Guide, which has arguments for and against the propositions, you can view or download PDF versions in several languages here.

Liberal site Calitics has a list of statewide endorsements and the Courage Campaign has a progressive voter guide.

The Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle also have voter guides and endorsements. (Not everyone's in agreement on every candidate or measure, obviously.)

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tax Cuts to the Rich Don't Raise Revenues

The economic and fiscal policies of movement conservatives have been proven disastrous and do not work as advertised. Like many core conservative positions, they have little to no basis in reality. None of these factors have dissuaded conservatives from stridently fighting for them, though.

One of the most pernicious and destructive of these falsehoods is the position that tax cuts – specifically, tax cuts for the rich – raise government revenues. In July, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and several leading Republicans claimed that the Bush tax cuts increased revenue, even thought the facts say otherwise. McConnell and the Republicans also strangely neglected to mention that "two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1 percent of U.S. households."

The media rarely fact-checks conservatives on any of their fantastical economic and fiscal claims. They've actually been a bit better than usual challenging the GOP push to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans, which is horrible policy. Of course, that hasn't stopped Republican leaders like John Kyl, Mitch McConnell, John Boehner and Paul Ryan from deceptively shilling crap like this.

Whether movement conservative policies are called supply-side economics, Reaganomics, the Laffer Curve or trickle-down – they simply don't work as claimed. Yet these notions are articles of faith, core dogma, for modern conservatism. It's one of several reasons it's hard to take modern conservatives seriously. Different policy ideas are fine, but different realties are not. How can we discuss economics or fiscal responsibility seriously when one side simply ignores the data and doesn't give a damn about the truth?

Currently, the very same conservatives (Republicans and the Democratic Blue Dogs) who were screaming about the deficit and the debt are pushing to extend the Bush tax cuts for the richest Americans, even though those cuts would add roughly 700 billion to the deficit over the next decade alone. (The tax cuts for the remaining 98% are also an issue, although it's important to remember that tax rates for the rich are at historic lows.) We'll consider how much of the conservative line is hypocrisy, dishonesty, ignorance or evil later on. But first, I wanted to look more closely at some of the data covered briefly in "Attack of the Plutocrats." ("The Persistence of Ideology" gives more context, as does "The Social Contract", if more tangentially.)


Do tax cuts pay for themselves, or raise revenues? Specifically, we're looking at the supply-side tax cuts favored by Republicans, which go disproportionately to the wealthy. Let's start with the Reagan tax cuts. Here's a chart from Paul Krugman:

As Krugman explains:

A couple of points. First, the Carter years, contrary to legend, were not a period of economic stagnation and falling revenue because high tax rates were strangling the economy; there was a nasty recession starting in 1979, largely thanks to an oil shock, but overall growth was respectable and revenue growth reasonably high.

Second, the revenue track under Reagan looks a lot like the track under Bush: a drop in revenues, then a resumption of growth, but no return to the previous trend.

This is exactly what you would expect to see if supply-side economics were just plain wrong: revenues are permanently reduced relative to what they would otherwise have been.

Let's move on the administration of George W. Bush. According to Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, Dick Cheney said, "Reagan proved deficits don't matter." That attitude was certainly reflected in the Bush economic approach. Here's a lecture slide from Karl Smith. (Click it for a larger image; it's a bit hard to see at this size.) Here's the Bush tax cuts:

Interesting how that chart compares to Krugman's, huh? As Smith explains:

It's particularly telling that after an adjustment the new revenue curve tracks the old revenue curve at a lower level. Precisely what one would expect if you were taking a smaller fraction of the same pot.

In short, unless you think the economy was permanently damaged, all the way up until 2008, from the dot-com bubble in 2001 then you should expect tax receipts to return to the baseline.

After all they are pretty smooth in the wake of the larger early 90s recessions. You should also note that there is no huge boom from the housing bubble. No, for the most part federal receipts track the long run trend growth in the economy.

Lastly, the core argument here is that supply side didn’t work. Are you really going to tell me that the mildest recession in post-war history was so bad that it lead to persistent underperformance of revenue even though in a counterfactual world revenue would have surged above trend growth?

Smith adds in an update:

...The issue here is that suppose the Bush tax cuts had no effect at all on long term revenue. For example, increases in tax rates were exactly balanced by increases in GDP or decreases in tax avoidance.

So then we might think the decline in revenues was caused by Sep 11th or the Dot-Com burst. In that case we would expect to see a drop in revenues followed by a return to trend as the economy recovers. At a minimum we should expect post dip revenue to grow faster as the economy tries to return to trend.

We don’t see that. We see a permanently lower trend.

Given that this is exactly what you would expect from reducing the percentage of the economy which taxed, I think its pretty strong evidence that this is what happened.

In short, the claim that the Bush tax cuts had such strong secondary effects of boosting GDP and tax compliance that they outweighed the primary effect of reducing taxable income is a complex one. Generally, in science we would expect someone to assemble a strong empirical case for such a claim.

When the empirics match the much simpler, more basic, more parsimonious explanation, that’s pretty damning for the complex claim.

So, the style of tax cuts endlessly favored by Republicans, those that overwhelmingly favor the already rich, do not "pay for themselves" and do not raise revenues. More precisely, the Reagan tax cuts and the George W. Bush tax cuts (which overwhelmingly favored the already rich) did not raise revenues. Claims to the contrary are false. (The Kennedy tax cuts remain a source of debate, but weren't skewed quite as heavily toward the rich.)

A different case can be made for tax cuts targeted at the middle class and the poor, and perhaps for small businesses, because of such cuts' stimulative effect. (We'll return to this later.) Meanwhile, there may be levels of taxation so steep that the Laffer curve would actually apply and higher taxation would lead to decreased revenues. However, we're nowhere near that point in the United States. Not all tax cuts are created equal. It's a standard conservative tactic to obscure this. It's also standard for conservatives to ignore essential context when discussing "fair" tax rates: the massive income and wealth inequity in the United States.

It's worth repeating two CBPP charts featured in the Plutocrats post:

Overwhelmingly, the money that exploded the deficit and debt went to people who were already rich and to military spending.


On deficits and the debt, the record is even more stark. The above chart, by Doug Short, shows federal debt as a percentage of GDP. (Similar takes can be seen here and here.) And here's the national debt by president:

Bill Clinton was partially lucky because of the tech boom. Meanwhile, his economic team of Larry Summers and Robert Rubin practiced a form of Reaganomics, and played an important role - along with Alan Greenspan, Phil Gramm and Bush's economic team – in creating the conditions for the economic collapse. (See Robert Scheer's Great American Stickup for more.) Still, it's important to remember that George W. Bush inherited a budget surplus and a fairly healthy economy, while Obama inherited a massive deficit and debt, and an economic recession. Furthermore, Obama's spending to date has mainly been responsive, while that of Reagan and George W. Bush was absolutely reckless.

Reagan and the Bush the Younger both cut tax rates for the rich while increasing military spending. Reagan almost tripled the national debt, while George W. Bush nearly doubled it once again, adding roughly 5 trillion to it.

It should be hard to spin this, but conservatives keep trying, and often go unchallenged. Karl Rove routinely, shamelessly accuses Obama of fiscal irresponsibility. To do this, he ignores the mess the Bush administration (including Rove) left for Obama - the debt, the deficit and the economic meltdown. He also counts some of Bush's last deficit against Obama. Most of all, he likes to discuss federal deficits as a percentage of GDP, which – coupled with amnesia - is about the only way he can make Bush look better than Obama. It's a fairly common conservative trick these days, generally accompanied by an attack on government spending. Paul Krugman has demonstrated why it's deceptive (one, two and three). From link number two:

As Krugman comments, "Government spending has continued to rise more or less on its pre-crisis trend. Revenue has plunged, because the economy is deeply depressed." Moreover, while the stimulus bill was too small, it did some good, and without that spending, the economy would be even worse.

Krugman also shows that "increased government spending" really doesn't tell the story (from link three):


On unemployment, the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the annual average unemployment here and a more detailed breakdown here. Unemployment hasn't always been awful under Republican presidents since 1980 (although it’s worth noting that conservative David Brooks has lied about Reagan's magic economic powers on unemployment).

However, the picture is more dire when it comes to job creation and real wages. George W. Bush especially looks horrible on this front. The Washington Post supplied the chart above, in Neil Irwin's article, "Aughts were a lost decade for U.S. economy, workers":

The past decade was the worst for the U.S. economy in modern times, a sharp reversal from a long period of prosperity that is leading economists and policymakers to fundamentally rethink the underpinnings of the nation's growth.

It was, according to a wide range of data, a lost decade for American workers. The decade began in a moment of triumphalism -- there was a current of thought among economists in 1999 that recessions were a thing of the past. By the end, there were two, bookends to a debt-driven expansion that was neither robust nor sustainable.

There has been zero net job creation since December 1999. No previous decade going back to the 1940s had job growth of less than 20 percent. Economic output rose at its slowest rate of any decade since the 1930s as well.

Middle-income households made less in 2008, when adjusted for inflation, than they did in 1999 -- and the number is sure to have declined further during a difficult 2009. The Aughts were the first decade of falling median incomes since figures were first compiled in the 1960s.

And the net worth of American households -- the value of their houses, retirement funds and other assets minus debts -- has also declined when adjusted for inflation, compared with sharp gains in every previous decade since data were initially collected in the 1950s.

"This was the first business cycle where a working-age household ended up worse at the end of it than the beginning, and this in spite of substantial growth in productivity, which should have been able to improve everyone's well-being," said Lawrence Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank.

According to conservative dogma, giving money to the rich creates jobs, but the Bush years absolutely repudiate that. Keep in mind that those tax cuts are still in place – yet companies still aren't creating jobs now. In fact, back in July, The Washington Post reported that "Nonfinancial companies are sitting on $1.8 trillion in cash, roughly one-quarter more than at the beginning of the recession." And that's not counting the financial companies, which have generally made out like bandits. (Maybe it's time to try a real jobs program instead, huh? And maybe focus on the middle class?)

Reality-Based Disagreements

Reality-based conservatives on the economy do exist, but they have next to no influence in the current Republican Party. For instance, conservative Bruce Bartlett believes that supply-side tax cuts under Reagan helped combat the stagflation of the 70s, while Paul Krugman disagrees – but Bartlett also feels that the GOP has gone way too far and largely abandoned fiscal responsibility. If Bartlett and Krugman defined the typical discourse, we wouldn't be in such trouble. Of course there's room to debate among people committed to the social contract, interested in fiscal responsibility (not the same thing as fiscal conservatism) and concerned about competent governance. However, modern conservatives have shown precious little interest in reality. As Jonathan Chait recently summed up:

In 1993, conservatives unanimously predicted that Bill Clinton's tax increase on incomes over $200,000 would slow growth, reduce tax revenues, and likely cause a recession. Instead, of course, the economy boomed and revenue skyrocketed. Then George W. Bush cut upper-bracket tax rates, and conservatives predicted that this would cause the economy to grow even faster. Instead, the economy experienced the first business cycle where income was lower at the peak of the business cycle than it had been at the peak of the previous business cycle. It is rare that events so utterly repudiate an economic theory.

None of this evidence has penetrated the conservative mind to the slightest degree. Reading the right-wing press, it is exactly as true today as it was 18 years ago that reducing Clinton-era upper-bracket tax rates holds the key to economic growth. (The latest Weekly Standard editorial: The best place to combine fiscal rectitude and pro-growth economics is the tax code. "After repealing Obama-care, the second agenda item for the new GOP Congress is extending current tax rates.")

Chait wrote this because of an incident with the GOP's candidate for Senator of Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey:

Mr. Toomey says he favors making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent for all Americans — which would add $700 billion more to the deficit over 10 years than the plan advocated by President Obama to let the lower rates expire for the rich. But he also expresses a desire to reduce the deficit.

At the ironworks shop, Mr. Toomey brushed aside a question from a local reporter who pointed out that real income for American workers dropped after the Bush tax cuts, saying he did not believe the data.

Of course, Toomey can't have both, and his dishonest or delusional stance dominates in his party.

Fantasy and Bullshit

Tax cuts to the rich don't raise revenues. Tax cuts to the rich don't create jobs. Tax cuts to the rich that aren't off-set – and they were not under Reagan and George W. Bush - explode the deficit. They accomplish virtually nothing economically but funneling even more money to the rich, and increasing America's already obscene wealth inequity.

One might be able to quibble with those statements on the margins, but there's no doubt that conservative economic and fiscal policies simply do not work as advertised - and that conservatives continue to shill them regardless. As the chart above, from Tim Noah's excellent series on wealth inequity shows, all Americans have benefited economically under Democratic presidents, but really only the rich have benefited under Republican presidents. And as we examined in more depth in the Plutocrats post, the Reaganomics of the past 30 years have really only benefited the rich and the superrich, and have increased wealth inequity in America back to Gilded Age levels.

As we also considered in that post, some conservatives may sincerely believe all the crap they're shilling, some certainly know it's crap, but the majority are probably bullshitting – meaning they don't care if it's true or not. That said, bad faith is more common than not. It's common for conservatives to pretend that any plans to raise taxes on the rich means taxes will go up for the middle class. It's also common for them to ignore how unequal conservative tax plans are, as seen in this graphic (covered in an earlier post):

There's absolutely no good reason why Republicans couldn't give the middle class and poor tax cuts without giving the richest brackets massive tax cuts, but strangely, they never do. It's not as if they pitch their plan honestly, either, delineating who will get what. No Republican anywhere has said anything like, "Yes, we're giving the $30-40,000 bracket an average cut of $894, and we're giving the 1 million plus bracket an average cut of $103,835, but we believe this will help the economy." Such honesty has never happened – nor has any Republican added, "True, this may seem unfair, and this sort of tax cut for the richest Americans has never helped the overall economy in the past, but we feel good about it this time."

Most of all, conservatives withhold essential context by never discussing how massively unequal income and wealth are in America. Because income and wealth are so concentrated at the top, any realistic discussion of taxes must address this. If over 50% percent of national income is earned by the top 5 percent of the population, and 93% of the wealth is held by the top 20%, then it stands to reason that the tax rates for the top 20%, 10%, 5%, 2%, 1% and 0.1% should be much steeper than for the bottom 80%. A few extra tax brackets at the top would be a big improvement.

So why do conservatives routinely spout falsehoods about economics? I'd say there are several reasons, although they're certainly not mutually exclusive.

1. Personal Gain. They and their pals, being rich, will personally benefit and become even wealthier due to trickle-down policies.

2. Political Gain. Rich campaign donors will be happy with them if they funnel them even more money. (This may also help them land a cushy lobbyist or consultant gig after they leave office.)

3. Ideology. Running up the deficit and debt is a deliberate strategy of fiscal recklessness (sometimes called "starve the beast") which will then be used to justify to cutting the social safety net and other programs conservatives don't like. (This strategy depends on no one in power pointing out how despicable this is – but it's worked for about 30 years.)

4. Ignorance. Christine O'Donnell parrots the GOP party line on completely eliminating the estate tax. It's horrendous economic policy that would give another massive windfall to the wealthiest Americans and increase the deficit. O'Donnell's stance is probably why she has some rich supporters. Regardless, it's doubtful she understands the economics of it.

5. The Blithe, Reckless Bullshit Factor. This is the catch-all and probably the most dominant element. The GOP leadership knows this crap sells, both to their rich donors and to the rank-and-file conservatives they're hurting with these policies. The Democrats don't push back against the conservative leadership much, and the so-called liberal media rarely does.

There's plenty of evidence – besides the Bruce Bartlett article above – that conservatives are arguing in bad faith on economic issues. They either know they're being destructive and evil, or they just don't care. Unfortunately, the party that's actively screwed over the middle class for thirty years might regain power again in the midterm elections, and it'll be business as usual again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Joan Sutherland – "Spargi d'amaro pianto"

Coloratura soprano Joan Sutherland, one of the great bel canto singers, died last week. The New York Times has an excellent obituary. Her most famous role was probably Lucia in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor, which has a famous, showcase mad scene. (As we've covered before, mad scenes were all the rage in 19th Century opera.). As the video's narrator explains, this is the final section of that scene. This 1972 performance has better audio than most of the other clips available. This Who's Afraid of Opera? version has low audio, but is more complete. Meanwhile, this 1988 version has slightly muddy audio, but does feature the lengthy ovation she received at the end, which was likely not only for that performance, but for her entire career - she was in her early 60s at the time and retired shortly thereafter. The Wikipedia entry linked above lists and/or links her extensive discography, and her pairings with Luciano Pavarotti are especially worthwhile. RIP.

Eclectic Jukebox

Maddow versus the CW on the Midterms

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

If you follow politics a bit, you're bound to get exposed to the Beltway Conventional Wisdom. If you follow politics closely, at some point you'll notice that the Beltway Conventional Wisdom is often badly wrong - and impervious to facts or reason. Rachel Maddow is doing some superb work in fact-checking and investigative reporting, and this segment, about the Beltway CW on the upcoming midterms, is exceptional. I'll add one point many liberal bloggers have noted - voters don't care that much about the deficit, except as a proxy for jobs and economic growth, which they consistently pick as far more important.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

John Lennon

It would have been John Lennon's 70th birthday this past Saturday, 10/9/10. Here's two of my favorite Lennon songs, "Across the Universe" and "Watching the Wheels," although it would be easy to post a few dozen more. Fresh Air compiled some good Lennon-related interviews, and Weekend Edition Saturday had a great segment with David Sheff, who interviewed and hung out with Lennon over the course of three weeks shortly before Lennon was tragically murdered:

"When I arrived, it was a time when he just had so much to say," Sheff says. "He would talk and he would stand up; at one point, he was almost climbing on the refrigerator talking about something."

Lennon would have turned 70 on Oct. 9. Sheff says he can't imagine the singer at such an age. But Lennon, he adds, lived for the future. The singer told him that while he liked The Beatles' song "Yesterday," he was glad he had never written it.

" 'I don't believe in yesterday,' " Sheff says, quoting Lennon. "Life begins at 40, or so they promise. And I believe in what's going to come.' That's one of the last things he had said to me."

Eclectic Jukebox

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It Gets Better

10/11/10 was National Coming Out Day this year. As the Human Rights Campaign explains:

It’s a day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people to be open and honest about our lives. It’s a day for all fair-minded people to stand by your LGBT friends and family and speak out about your support for equality.

With the recent tragic suicide of Tyler Clementi, Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" project is especially timely:

I'd say "It gets better" hold true for most kids, certainly those who don't conform to the expectations of their school, home or community. However, The Trevor Project, a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline and resource for LGBTQ youth, relays the findings of a Massachusetts Youth Risk Survey from 2007, that "lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are up to four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers." While things have gotten much better over the past 30 years, there's no good reason for them to still be that bad. I won't bother to link the despicable taunting of Clementi by some right-wingers; they were deliberately trying to be assholes, and they succeeded. I'd rather focus on the people who believe in shared humanity and compassion. Ellen Generes sums it all up well:

Update: Dan Savage had a good interview on NPR. His explanation of how the project started relates to aimai's comment about Olbermann and pitchforks in the thread below:

I had heard about the suicide of Justin Aaberg in Minnesota, and then this fall, early September, Billy Lucas in Greensburg, Indiana. And it was really in reaction to Billy Lucas's suicide. And he was not openly gay, but he was perceived to be gay as, you know, many victims of anti-gay bullying are not gay.

And I was really heartbroken and had the reaction that so many gay adults have when we hear these stories, is I wish I could have talked to that kid for five minutes and been able to tell him that it gets better.

But I would never get permission to talk to these kids or an invitation to talk to high school or middle schools. And it occurred to me that I was waiting for permission that I didn't need anymore because of YouTube and Twitter and Facebook, and I could record a video with my husband. We could talk about having survived bullying and our lives now and offer these kids hope.

And really, you know, and what's subversive about it is we're making an end run around a lot of these kids' parents, who don't want them to talk to openly gay adults or know that they can lead a successful, rewarding, content and happy life as an openly gay adult, their teachers, their school administrators and their religious, quote-unquote, "leaders" who don't want us to reach out to their kids and never have.

And we're done waiting for permission or an invitation, and we're going to address these kids and talk to these kids and give them hope whether their families, churches and schools like it or not.

NPR has a few angry comments on their site about the "like it or not" bit, which is utterly unsurprising. Let's break this down. One, sexuality is an important subject, especially for teenagers, but some parents are uncomfortable discussing it. Okay. But it's time to get over that, or sign that permission slip for the school to have those discussions (in a reality-based curriculum). Teenagers are becoming adults, capable of making their own choices, and it's their maturity, not their immaturity, that unnerves some adults. Let's be honest – it's not as if most social conservatives unnerved by homosexuality are really comfortable talking with their kids about heterosexuality either. That unfortunate, delusional "abstinence-only" sex ed approach in Texas has accomplished little other than increasing the teen pregnancy rate. And even if some social conservatives don't like the idea of homosexuality, it does exist.

Two, Dan Savage and Jewel and other people making these videos aren't going to make anyone gay. Mild homophobia is one thing and may be manageable, but organized homophobia is largely based on a deep-seated, irrational, fearful belief in the "Gay Cooties Theory." This entire project is based on compassion.

Three, and most importantly – we're talking about some adult's disapproval weighed against a teenager killing him or herself. That's not remotely a hard call. And in a situation where a gay kid has killed him or herself - even if their parents were/are homophobic - even if they've gone so far as to disown their kid - after the kid's committed suicide, most parents would still rather have their kid back alive. (Unfortunately, I know of a situation precisely like that, and I'm sure there are many more. It makes me sad, and it makes me angry, because it's all so pointless.) Given those realities, I feel it shows tremendous restraint to put things the way Dan Savage did. It's one thing to say, "These are our ways," but when kids are dying unnecessarily as a result of those ways, it's time for some reflection. Obedience is the wrong metric here. This is about suicide prevention and compassion.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Wall Street Crybabies

It's hard to keep track of all the atrocious examples of whining by the rich and entitled, although comparing raising their taxes to Hitler invading Poland still deserves special status.

This American Life, which is always good, aired a great episode for 9./24/10, "Crybabies." If nothing else, listen to the first segment, because it superbly documents this appalling mentality of persecution by some of the most privileged:

Act One. Wall Street: Money Never Weeps.

Ira with Planet Money economics correspondent Adam Davidson on why—even after everything President Obama has done to save Wall Street, actions which have led to record profits and bonuses—Wall Street seems ungrateful. Adam and producer Jane Feltes head out to a Wall Street bar where they're told by three finance guys that there's no reason to thank the President for saving their jobs. Planet Money is a co-production of This American Life and NPR News. (14 minutes)

The cognitive dissonance is really pretty impressive. The Wall Street guys they talk to claim both that the government had to bail out Wall Street, and that they weren't helped. As Ira Glass observes, "At no point will they cop to the point that they benefited from the government's actions."

Tax policy shouldn't be driven solely by vindictiveness. Taxing the rich fairly – which would mean at a much higher rate – is good, even essential, policy. It's also good politics. However, considering there's been a vicious, callous class war waged by a significant number of the rich on the bottom 80% of America, turnaround would be more than fair play. And if one was tempted to think that important economic and fiscal policies somehow shouldn't be enacted because the rich and wealthy are so tremendously nice and caring as a class already, listening to these tremendously self-entitled assholes should kill that notion pretty quickly.

(The same epsiode ends with a darkly comic fable from David Sedaris. It reminded me of an old Brecht aphorism, actually, but to quote it would spoil the story.)

Update: Per request, here's that Brecht passage.


Extending the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Explained

Austan Goolsbee (Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers at the White House) does a great job here explaining the difference between the Democratic and Republican tax plans:

I would have liked him to go more into detail, or mention that extending the Bush tax cuts for the richest 2% of Americans is estimated to cost close to 700 billion in the first decade alone, and more after that. But still, this is very well done. It's brief, accurate and clear. The White House and the congressional Dem leadership should do much, much more of this, especially on economic and fiscal issues.

(Incidentally, the YouTube comments are pretty frightening. The internet factor undoubtedly increases the crackpot factor. But while there have always been zealots and idiots who feel that progressive taxation is theft, and even bigger crazies who feel that all taxation is theft, it's disturbing to hear such opinions so often, and with so little pushback.)

C&L has a little more, and The Washington Post provided the same information in this chart:

I've gone over most of this stuff in more depth in my plutocracy post, but let's not forget the massive increase in income inequity over the past 30 years, nor the bad faith and rank hypocrisy of conservative deficit hawks.

All this is why it's unconscionable that the Democrats chose to adjourn without taking a vote on the middle class tax cuts. Despite it being good policy, and good politics, they didn't. I can only conclude it was a mix of gutlessness and corruption. Currently, we have one party, the Republicans, who are unabashedly, recklessly, nihilistically plutocratic, and another party, the Democrats, who are partially so. However, while the Democrats are disappointing, we've seen the dire effects of Reaganomics over the past 30 years, and the reckless Reaganomics of the Bush era created "the worst [decade] for the U.S. economy in modern times."

Apart from a few apostates, Republican politicians split into two camps. Camp One believes in funneling money to the rich, railing against spending and the deficit in Washington, and hypocritically taking credit for government largesse in their home states. Camp Two believes in funneling money to the rich, railing against spending and the deficit in Washington, but also actually believes in destroying the social safety net and other essential government programs. In other words, they're all plutocrats (or plutocrat suck-ups), and they're all reckless and nihilistic. However, they vary somewhat in their level of evil and crazy. Eric Cantor and most of the GOP leadership falls in Camp One, while dishonest Randian zealot Paul Ryan falls in Camp Two. The tea party rank and file, most of whom aren't that bright or honest, mostly fall into Camp One. They say they want to slash government programs, but they don't really want the ones that benefit them touched. The tea party political candidates and master puppeteers (Dick Armey and the rest) mostly fall into Camp Two. The candidates are primarily sincerely crazy zealots, while Armey and his fellow wealthy "men of the people" are pure, conniving, I'll-screw-my-country-over-for-a-buck evil.

Bernie Sanders and some other members of the Democratic caucus understand all this. It's ridiculous that all of them don't, and aren't fighting back against it – but then, it's utterly disgraceful that the conservatives (the Blue Dogs and the entire Republican Party) favor policies that screw over 80% of their own constituents. I've said it before, but if both parties merely competitively pandered to the middle class, America would be in immensely better shape.

In any case, I hope Goolsbee and the White House continue with these videos. They should have started months or years ago, frankly. The Democrats have essentially ceded the ground on these economic issues for decades (as Digby's often noted), and accepted the dangerous lie that Reaganomics have benefited America as a whole. But well done on this video. This sort of thing is much needed, so keep them coming.


Monday, October 04, 2010

Too Dumb for the Death-Eaters

I'm overdue for a longer post on the increasingly ridiculous Republican candidate for Senator of Delaware, Christine O'Donnell - you know, the woman who's anti-masturbation, anti-sex, anti-evolution, a frequent liar, believes in scientists creating mice with human brains, and who dabbled in witchcraft. But she is the comedy gift that keeps giving, and this item demanded immediate attention.

Starting a political ad like this is a sign that you're in deep trouble:

This comes via TBogg, who writes:

In the ad Christine O’Donnell immediately sets America’s Tea Bag Fevered Mind at ease by pointing out that she is totally “not a witch”; a statement normally found by the first or second line in every candidates online bio. Right after they don’t mention being born in Kenya. In Christine O’Donnell’s mind, this whole “witch” misunderstanding is really the only impediment to her getting, like 107% of the vote so she just had to come out and say it and, wow, is that a load off her chest, and so it is smooth sailing and happy days are here again and we all can breath a sigh of relief that the anti-masturbating, deadbeat, resume-padding, evolution-denying, Fear of A Braniac MiceMen Planet, daughter of a part-time clown is not a witch.

As commenter Lesley notes, "Strangely she picked a murky blue backdrop and a black dress. What’s missing? A pointy hat." Seriously, why didn't they go with some bright, sunny backdrop and a different look altogether? I suppose this look is supposed to make her look "serious," but it strikes me as a bad choice.

O'Donnell's denial reminds me of an infamous but possibly apocryphal LBJ story, about:

...how Lyndon Johnson first got elected to Congress in 1948 when his opponent was a wealthy and politically favoured pig farmer: 'Lyndon was running about 10 points behind, with only nine days to go... He was sunk in despair. He was desperate... he called his equally depressed campaign manager and instructed him to call a press conference at two or two-thirty ( just after lunch on a slow news day) and accuse his high-riding opponent (the pig farmer) of having routine carnal knowledge of his barnyard sows, despite the pleas of his wife and children... His campaign manager was shocked. 'We can't say that, Lyndon,' he said. 'It's not true.' 'Of course it's not,' Johnson barked at him, 'but let's make the bastard deny it.'

The big difference, of course, is that it's O'Donnell who's smeared herself, over and over again.


Sunday, October 03, 2010

Right-Wing Radio Duck

Wow. This is an extremely impressive remix by Jonathan McIntosh, as "Donald Duck Meets Glenn Beck in "Right Wing Radio Duck"":

Very well done. My only criticism is that it could use a slight filter on the Beck audio to make it sound like it was coming from the radio, especially to better match cartoons of that era. Just a touch would do, because Beck needs to be recognizable as Beck. Still, tremendous and creative work went into this. Bravo!

On the YouTube page, McIntosh is claiming fair use of the Disney material and gives more detail for that. I hope that holds up, because Disney is notoriously litigious about such things. If nothing else, enjoy this while you can. (Hat tip to Rick Perlstein.)