NOV
29
2012
The Bursting Of The Southern Strategic Bubble

Those of us on the left have been indulging in our share of Schadenfreude since the reelection of Barack Obama–or, more specifically, the defeat of the Republican party and the associate shadow-money campaign newly authorized by Citizens United. The wailing and gnashing of teeth on conservative media, all looking for something to blame, seems to point to a recognition that something was wrong in the narrative conservatives had been telling themselves about the country for the last few months, years, and possibly decades.

It recalls the same sort of recognition that swept through the financial establishment four years ago. I never thought I’d like to see the day Alan Greenspan would use the words like

“[The] modern risk management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed…

in his explanation of the financial meltdown. Watching GOP strategists sputter on Fox and in print leaves the same impression, that they understand that a generational shift has occurred, marking the death of the Southern Strategy as a viable national campaign tactic for the GOP.

These are merely iterations of a larger fractal pattern of disintegration. Since the end of the Cold War and the beginning of globalization, American institutions (like Lee Atwater’s government-by-race-baiting) and American capital have sought growth by leveraging existing assets rather than bother with creating real value. Under Bush I, I recall watching as we sold off factories and shed union jobs while American auto workers flipped Japanese cars over in the streets. And under Clinton, they decided the short-term steroid shot of deregulation was enough to get us out of a recession, and it worked. And so we became addicted to financialization, because we had sold off the tools to manufacture a real economy to buy overvalued financial instruments.

Matt Taibbi recently noted that with the rise of junk-bond trading in the 1980′s, all of a sudden the ability to make stock deals became more valuable than the ability to build a company, in real dollar terms. The financialization of American (and global) capitalism has, at its base, an important assumption: perceived value is real value. Rather than relying on dividends to make money, Reagan’s deregulatory program (updated by his successors continuously over the next two decades) and new technologies made it possible to leverage relative value of the companies themselves via stock trading, potentially making far more than any dividend.

When executives can pay themselves in stock, the incentive to game the system with numbers becomes not only irresistible, but necessary to compete against other firms in the financial markets. There are the numbers for the quarterly reports and then there are the real numbers. There’s mark-to-market value and there’s a bank balance in the Caymans. Bifurcating public from private was merely about splitting off bullshit from truth; when perception is the actual good being traded there is no objective reality, or not for very long, anyway.

Mitt Romney embodied this so-called ‘engine of growth.’ A brave new world where perception actually is money, where stock prices move more on rumor than truth. And as long as we had real wealth lying around to be exploited, the games kept making money. Romney’s leveraged buyout firm* borrowed money to buy companies, then saddled those companies with long-term debt to cover not only the purchase price but hefty ‘management fees.’ His earnings, which he still receives to this day, were couched in a myriad of tax-evasion algorithms, smuggled past international borders and tax brackets. And you can profit from this vampiric scheme by trading company stock! His positions and their positioning weren’t flip-flops, per se, but were agile responses to the market. And the donors needed to be reassured that their investment was going to return the end of their Obama nightmare, produced and distributed by the right-wing echo chamber.

The same mechanism that allowed homes to be overvalued, junk-filled MBSes to gain real monetary value despite the fundamentals, quarterly earnings reports to be redacted after they’ve served their illusory purpose, is the prime candidate not for Romney’s downfall, but his obliviousness. And watching Karl Rove’s sputtering meltdown on Fox News underscores the crash of a very real market—the post Citizens United vote-buying market. Rove’s portfolio famously yeilded a 1.26% return on a $104 million-dollar investment on the part of conservative moneyed interests.

In retrospect it should have seemed obvious that a man like Romney ran on a platform that required heavy suspension of disbelief. I liked to call it the “magic Republican” theory, which Romney himelf explained to donors:

They’ll probably be looking at what the polls are saying. If it looks like I’m going to win, the markets will be happy. If it looks like the president’s going to win, the markets should not be terribly happy. It depends, of course, which markets you’re talking about, which types of commodities and so forth, but my own view is, if we win on November 6th there will be a great deal of optimism about the future of this country. We’ll see capital come back, and we’ll see—without actually doing anything—we’ll actually get a boost in the economy. If the president gets reelected, I don’t know what will happen. I can never predict what the markets will do. Sometimes it does the exact opposite of what I would have expected.

Conservatism, in essence, is the same kind of scam as financialization; trading on a promise of past greatness that never was, leveraging some warm-and-fuzzy memories—or in many cases, second-hand memories—of American greatness passed down by crotchety old white folks. It can be like it was, but better this time! And so that ruthless Republican campaign operative, Lee Atwater, had the brilliant stroke of leveraging the distant memories of Southern plantation life into an electoral strategy that defined the GOP’s national appeal for the whole of my lifetime and perhaps yours. For conservatives, American greatness is a birthright in every sense;

“Remembering is a type of forgetting,” Milan Kundera once wrote.

As I was writing this post, The Nation kindly unearthed the original audio from Atwater’s infamous 1981 interview, to wit:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a by-product of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”

The GOP has been dog-whistling for generations. There’s just one problem: there are now generations of GOP pups who think the dog whistles are music. They don’t get that you’re not supposed to believe in the words (take, for example, “states’ rights”) so much as the racist sentiment behind them. Welfare for the urban poor is bad, welfare for corporations is good. States’ rights are paramount unless they have to do with gay marriage or drug legalization.

There’s a particularly obnoxious strain of Republican racism (the type preferred by Breitbart and Tucker Carlson, et al) promotes the idea that the Republicans are the party of Lincoln and the only people who are racists are Democrats for supporting affirmative action. Theirs is an America where Crayola still sells “flesh” colored crayons and being white and male and Christian is the national default. They accuse the president, of all people, of being “divisive” and waging some kind of race and class warfare. How are the Democrats divisive when Romney’s support is 91% white? When the Republican campaign spoke rather plainly about their absolute need to get more than 61% of the white vote? Obama’s coalition of support was diverse in every conceivable way.

Every nation, including America, is a story we tell ourselves. This is the triumph of Anderson’s “print capitalism” — countries are built by a shared culture. As the modern European powers emerged, the principal medium was the novel, a shared literature. As newer nations coalesced, radio and eventually television became the principal unifiers of nations, the enablers of a shared narrative that bound people together enough to believe they have a shared history with other citizens we’ll never meet.

A nation-state like ours, though, may be unprepared for the disruptions of new media. Instead of a shared media environment controlled or at least largely influenced by a single national government, there is now unprecedented choice in entertainment and even news, all of which presents a unique challenge to any national project. With the internet, you can now completely envelop yourself in a shared solipsism, a virtual echo chamber in the cloud, where you can more freely associate than anyone ever dreamed.

The irresistable force of delusion can, on occasion, run into an immovable object in reality. An unfavorable election result, for example, or an overhyped IPO fallen flat.

*At Romney’s Bain Capital, they practice a management philosophy called “Six Sigma” which focuses on a numbers-driven approach to achieving excellence or some such double-talk. One of the most accurate gripes with Six Sigma is its focus on arbitrary numbers, and it was also one of the hallmarks of Romney’s “I’m a numbers guy” campaign. For example, the insistence that we must be spending 4% of GDP on defence. Why not 4.1%? Or, heavens forbid, 3.95%? I dunno, it sounds like a real number—5% would sound too arbitrary, 3% insufficiently manly.
AUG
22
2012
Something That’s Been Bothering Me For a Few Years Now…

Christine O’Donnell went on TV with her usual claptrap about how Obama is a Marxist and Soledad O’Brien (who is on a huge streak of calling Republicans out in exasperation lately) rolled her eyes. In the clip, we don’t see the subject get pressed too much further, but this has been annoying me for a long time.

These nostalgic Reagan-worshippers just can’t seem to let go of the last time they thought America was in control of the world again. As Reagan joins the assembly of conservative saints along with Ayn Rand and Mother Theresa, all that he opposed is bad, all that he stands for is good. (Besides arming mujahideen in Afghanistan, but you’re not allowed to talk about that any more. Let’s just all agree that Obama is a Muslim, OK?)

Socialism! That’s what my generation remembers as the bogeyman from that show on TV where what sounded like an aging Bullwinkle would get up in a president mask and intone against the Evil Empire and so on.

The Tea Party loves to talk about socialism. To wit, quoth Ms. O’Donnell:

“We’re a free-market economy that’s supposed to empower the individual, let each person use their gifts, use their rewards to create a better life for themselves, instead of what Barack Obama is posing, one that punishes hard work. A tax code that reduces everybody to exactly the same…”

No one else has the intestinal fortitude to say this, but what O’Donnell is describing is closer to socialism than capitalism. The key phrase here is ‘hard work.’

To begin with, no Republican politician seems to know what socialism or even Marxism is, so they assume nobody else does. As far as I can tell, socialism covers anything that is less friendly to rich people than Reaganomics. For the right, socialism has no definitions, no credoes, no theories, no working examples, and is lurking in the dark–waiting to eat your children at night.

That’s why when pressed, Republicans regularly fail to explain what it is that they oppose, other than Obama or “liberals” or “progressives” and other devil-worshippers. This isn’t an economic argument, but a series of ad hominems.

Let’s be very, very clear. Socialism does have a credo:

“From each according to ability, to each according to work.”

Note that this is a little different than the Communist credo, “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” Socialism is more concerned with the people owning the means of production than necessarily ensuring an equality of outcomes. It does try to limit the development of gross inequalities, though. “Redistribution of wealth” from rich to poor–during peacetime, anyway–is something that really only works on a capitalist society that has embraced some measure of ‘social democracy,’ which is a mixed economy with government services supported by progressive taxation.

With all this in mind, we can clearly see that ours is neither a purely capitalist nor in any way socialist economy; we have a social democracy whose social benefits are being threatened by the tremendous tax cuts pushed through in the years before and after the turn of the millennium. Wealth can also be redistributed from the commonwealth to private hands. It usually doesn’t turn out well.

Here’s the sticking point: our tax system actually does penalize (hard) work. But that’s not an Obama-instituted change; that happened most recently and shamelessly when capital gains taxes were slashed almost in half–between 1998 and 2003, that rate went from 28% to 15%. This is how a millionaire like Mitt Romney gets away with paying less than 15% in federal income tax while middle-class families might end up paying over 15%. Wages–money you make from actually working–are taxed on a totally different schedule that includes a top marginal rate of 35%. Reagan, by the way, hacked and slashed the top marginal rate on income from 70% all the way down to to 28%, culminating just after Black Monday happened on Wall Street; Bush’s slashing of capital gains preceded the collapse of 2008.

To quote the New York Times,

There was, in fact, only one time that capital gains were taxed at the same rates that were paid by people who earned their money by working. That was during the years 1988 to 1990, as a result of the Tax Reform Act of 1986 — a law championed by President Ronald Reagan.

To be sure, he changed his mind about unearned income in 1988. After Vice President George H. W. Bush, then campaigning to succeed Mr. Reagan, endorsed lowering capital gains taxes, the president allowed that might be a good idea. Mr. Bush and the Congress did lower them after he was elected.

In fact, someone who actually works for a living (regardless of how ‘hard’ they work) is being penalized for not investing instead of working a regular job. And investing is a totally passive way to make money; in fact, it’s such an easy job that it seemed not to make much difference whether Mitt Romney was actually ‘working’ at Bain Capital for three years as CEO. On the other hand, if the cleaning staff went on strike, people would notice. Mitt made $21.6 million in 2010; the average custodial worker in Boston makes about $29,000 a year.

If income was commensurate with work in this country, that would mean Mitt worked about 745 times harder literally doing nothing (passive income, remember?) than the guy who cleans his toilets. Even if we were to assume that executives work, let’s say, twelve-hour-days, Mitt would have made his janitor’s salary in a single day with 20 minutes to spare.

Even within the world of executives, anyone who has ever started a business can tell you that you can work extremely hard at an enterprise only to have it fail (leaving debt instead of income).

In a capitalist system, you are compensated for how hard your money works, not how hard you do. There are plenty of working-class people with more than one job who, for some reason, have yet to become millionaires despite the hard work and long hours. Not to mention the fact that small investors (and many large ones) who poured capital into the stock market in hopes of gaming the tax system have lost huge since gambling with securities (note the ironic name) became government-subsidized. Bubbles need cash influxes from small, less savvy investors, otherwise they don’t happen!

If O’Donnell, Obama, or any other politician wanted to actually reform the tax code to reward hard work (and not, say, try to make everyone ‘the same’ in some other way than “protected by the law”), they could achieve that goal very simply. End the corporate and capital gains taxes and have all income be taxed under the same schedule. Federally mandate sick and paid family leave to American workers, who work longer hours for lower benefits than any other industrialized country–and take the fewest vacations. Raise the Federal minimum wage, because nobody works harder than the people at the bottom of the corporate ladders. And if you want to get down to the nitty gritty, offer immigrant workers (who work harder than everybody else) a path to citizenship.

Stay tuned for more of my Summer Of Long-Standing Grievances.

JUL
18
2011
Are Marginal Academics Going Crazy?

The Wall Street Journal’s most popular article today was an editorial by one Professor Michael J. Boskin entitled, “Get Ready for a 70% Marginal Tax Rate,” and it was a doozy. It hearkened back to bygone days at university, when we carelessly tossed haphazardly written bullshit under the professor’s door a minute after the deadline, filled with neat little tricks and techniques designed to give the appearance of substance to whatever flimsy excuse for an argument we had to present that week.

Maybe it’s because Boskin’s article reads like a sophomore homework assignment. “First, as college students learn in Econ 101, higher marginal rates cause real economic harm,” he tells us. (I guess they don’t teach history students the same thing.) Good, we’ve established an axiom. But Professor Boskin, how can we tell?

The combined marginal rate from all taxes is a vital metric, since it heavily influences incentives in the economy—workers and employers, savers and investors base decisions on after-tax returns.

So, the metric for how much higher marginal tax rates are affecting the economy is… the combined marginal rate? Leaving aside the circular logic for the moment, questions arise: how are these tax rates combined, and what is a marginal tax rate, anyway?

The current top federal rate of 35% is scheduled to rise to 39.6% in 2013 (plus one-to-two points from the phase-out of itemized deductions for singles making above $200,000 and couples earning above $250,000). The payroll tax is 12.4% for Social Security (capped at $106,000), and 2.9% for Medicare (no income cap). While the payroll tax is theoretically split between employers and employees, the employers’ share is ultimately shifted to workers in the form of lower wages.

Later, he gives us a sample question, assuming taxes will be broadly increased across the board:

It would be a huge mistake to imagine that the cumulative, cascading burden of many tax rates on the same income will leave the middle class untouched. Take a teacher in California earning $60,000. A current federal rate of 25%, a 9.5% California rate, and 15.3% payroll tax yield a combined income tax rate of 45%.

How does that work? Well, I got out a calculator (you can, too! it’s interactive!) and checked the professor’s math:

60,000×(1−(.095+(.153÷2)) = 49,710

49,710÷60,000 = 82%, or 18% tax rate before federal taxes

Federal taxes take 25% off the rest, leaving 62% of 60,000;

100-62 = a 38% effective tax rate.

How did he get to 45%, I hear you cry? Well, 60,000×(1-(.095+.153))×.75 ends up being a 43.5% effective rate, which is 45% if you round up to the nearest odd number, for some reason. But that would mean Boskin is counting the full payroll tax, half of which is paid by the employer, entirely as lost income in terms of the total tax bill. Why, by those standards, the teacher is actually making $64,590 a year (instead of $60,000 as stated). Also, our teacher takes no deductions whatsoever.

With failures in math and logic, the bigger problem lies in the fact that nowhere does Boskin say what “marginal” tax rates actually are and how they might differ from the other tax rates he yammers on about throughout the piece. Marginal taxes are those paid on the portion of income above a series of cutoffs. So, for example, California’s citizens face a haunting marginal tax rate (on wages only, not capital gains) of 44.1% including state and federal taxes; but that’s the most anyone can pay in taxes anywhere in the state (barring property, sales and other sin taxes, of course). Now I bet you’re wondering, how many people actually pay that rate? Well, here’s a look at income inequality in the United States:

Top Percent Share Of Total Pre-tax Income 1913-2008

Source: Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, “Income Inequality in the United States, 1913-1998,” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 118(1), 2003. Updated to 2008 at http://emlab.berkeley.edu/users/saez.

The bottom 99% receive between 76-79% of the wages (which is what we’re talking about here) and the same source as the graph above says that in “9 out of 10 households — income [is] below $104,696” and that the average income for these bottom 90% is $30,374 (which includes capital gains). By smoothly transitioning from the injustice of taxing the absolute richest people in the country–a.k.a. the “marginal tax rate”–to the inflated woes of a poor beleaguered California public servant (who is making, one might point out, just about twice the average for the bottom-90% bracket) and threatening Wall Street Journal readers with a projected 70% marginal rate on wages, Boskin has all the bluster he needs to distract from the argument’s essential flaws. One that jumps out at me is the following paragraph:

Nobody—rich, middle-income or poor—can afford to have the economy so burdened. Higher tax rates are the major reason why European per-capita income, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, is about 30% lower than in the United States—a permanent difference many times the temporary decline in the recent recession and anemic recovery.

Besides the intentionally misleading wording that leaves the reader to decide whether the OECD specifically blames higher tax rates in Europe for the comparative difference in per-capita income with the U.S., or whether they just operate a website that features statistics for the whole of the European Union (or maybe even all of Europe as a continent), the truth is that the rich can be so burdened. Not only can they be so burdened, but the idea that lower taxes on the extremely wealthy somehow translate into economic benefit for the rest of the economy is flat wrong. You can see exactly how flat I mean:

Average After Tax Income by Income Group 1979-2007
Source: Congressional Budget Office, Average Federal Taxes by Income Group, “Average After-Tax Household Income,” June, 2010.

You see, no matter what the after-tax income of the top marginal earners, since 1979, it hasn’t made one lick of difference in real take-home pay for the rest of us. On the other hand, the wealthiest 5% now make what the wealthiest 1% used to make way back then, and the top 1% themselves are taking in money on what, to the rest of us, looks like a vastly distorted curve.

1979, it turns out, was not only the year Reagan began to return our country to greatness by running for president, but also the year average wages basically stopped growing. Here’s the best part. Baskin acknowledges this problem, and then waves it away as if trying to swat a persistent mosquito:

Some argue the U.S. economy can easily bear higher pre-Reagan tax rates. They point to the 1930s-1950s, when top marginal rates were between 79% and 94%, or the Carter-era 1970s, when the top rate was about 70%. But those rates applied to a much smaller fraction of taxpayers and kicked in at much higher income levels relative to today.

There were also greater opportunities for sheltering income from the income tax. The lower marginal tax rates in the 1980s led to the best quarter-century of economic performance in American history. Large increases in tax rates are a recipe for economic stagnation, socioeconomic ossification, and the loss of American global competitiveness and leadership.

Back to the history books: in the 50′s and 60′s, when we were doing the exact opposite of “economic stagnation, socioeconomic ossification, and the loss of American global competitiveness and leadership,” marginal tax rates were between 94% and 70%. Not to mention the entire article is a long strawman directed at imagined increases in taxation connected to the weight of our deficit, $1 trillion of which were awarded as tax breaks to the wealthy in the last 10 years–and look how well that turned out.

So Boskin fudges the facts and the figures and the history and drips a little Milton Friedman blood on the altar of no-taxes. Who is this guy, anyway? Only last year, Boskin issued a screed on the same WSJ editorial page savaging the totalitarian impulse to destroy the truth with faulty numbers:

Politicians and scientists who don’t like what their data show lately have simply taken to changing the numbers. They believe that their end—socialism, global climate regulation, health-care legislation, repudiating debt commitments, la gloire française—justifies throwing out even minimum standards of accuracy. It appears that no numbers are immune: not GDP, not inflation, not budget, not job or cost estimates, and certainly not temperature. A CEO or CFO issuing such massaged numbers would land in jail.

Well, at least his motives are purely scientific–Boskin is, after all, a humble Stanford economics professor. It’s not like he’s in that rareified top echelon of earners who are actually paying the top marginal tax rate, he’s just a neoclassical economist with a real ideological fervor, right? Wrong.

Boskin happens to be a member of Exxon Mobil’s board of directors and has been for over 15 years. He also sits on the boards of Oracle, Japan’s Shinsei Bank, and European telecom giant Vodafone. He also happens to be the Friedman chair and a fellow at conservative think-tank The Hoover Institution, named after one of America’s favorite presidents (definitely in the top 100). So, this guy knows a thing or two about corporate number-crunching. And, history!

In Argentina, President Néstor Kirchner didn’t like the political and budget hits from high inflation. After a politicized personnel purge in 2002, he changed the inflation measures. Conveniently, the new numbers showed lower inflation and therefore lower interest payments on the government’s inflation-linked bonds. Investor and public confidence in the objectivity of the inflation statistics evaporated. His wife and successor Cristina Kirchner is now trying to grab the central bank’s reserves to pay for the country’s debt.

Most interestingly, Boskin was once head of the Boskin Commission, which convinced the government that… here, I’ll just let Wikipedia explain, it’s easier:

Its final report, titled “Toward A More Accurate Measure Of The Cost Of Living” and issued on December 4, 1996, concluded that the CPI [Consumer Price Index] overstated inflation by about 1.1 percentage points per year in 1996 and about 1.3 percentage points prior to 1996.

The report was important because inflation, as calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is used to index the annual payment increases in Social Security and other retirement and compensation programs. This implied that the federal budget had increased by more than it should have, and that projections of future budget deficits were too large. The original report calculated that the overstatement of inflation would add $148 billion to the deficit and $691 billion to the national debt by 2006.

I guess Stanford’s Irony Department is really great.

OCT
18
2004
Republican Sex Scandal Sampler

I was going to say something about the whole Bill O’Reilly lawsuit and pursuant scandal, but more sober reflections reminded me that I ought to respect O’Reilly’s innocence until proven guilty. What’s indelibly funny, whether the allegations are true or not, are the things O’Reilly allegedly said as per the defendant. The Smoking Gun has got this covered in spades. I can’t even reprint what O’Reilly supposedly said for fear of inviting a horde of perverts from Google looking for “falafel loofah mitts.”

From the way O’Reilly misquotes people on his show, I was really tempted to quote from his detective novel sex scenes, but actually, I have an even better idea I’ll tell you about in a minute.

Next up in our sampler is the flack Kerry’s getting for his comment about Mary Cheney, the lesbian daughter of Dick Cheney:

KERRY: We’re all God’s children, Bob. And I think if you were to talk to Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian, she would tell you that she’s being who she was, she’s being who she was born as.

The next day Lynne Cheney (and our right wing punditry) excoriated Kerry for… umm…

“Now, you know, I did have a chance to assess John Kerry once more and now the only thing I could conclude: This is not a good man,” she said at a rally outside Pittsburgh. “Of course, I am speaking as a mom, and a pretty indignant mom. This is not a good man. What a cheap and tawdry political trick.”

What was that trick again? Mary is part of Cheney’s campaign staff. Her last job was at the Coors Brewing Co. as the ‘gay and lesbian corporate relations manager.’

How dare Coors bring up the fact that Mary is a lesbian! That’s a cheap and tawdry political trick! And as for Dick Cheney repeatedly bringing up his daughter’s sexual preference on the campaign trail? You guessed it–proof that Dick is not a good man.

What’s apparent is that Lynne considers the word “lesbian” to be an epithet and discussion of her sexuality to be an insult. To wit, a 2000 interview with ABC via Salon:

On Sunday, the issue of Cheney’s sexuality took an odd twist, when her mother Lynne denied ABC’s Cokie Roberts’ assertion that Mary Cheney has “declared that she is openly gay.” An irritated Lynne Cheney shot back: “Mary has never declared such a thing. I would like to say that I’m appalled at the media interest in one of my daughters. I have two wonderful daughters. I love them very much. They are bright; they are hard-working; they are decent. And I simply am not going to talk about their personal lives. And I’m surprised, Cokie, that even you would want to bring it up on this program.”

OK, so far, nothing new. But did you know, speaking of novel sex scenes, that Lynne Cheney’s 1981 masterpiece, Sisters, includes a lesbian sex scene? Is this the smoking gun which proves homosexuality is hereditary? Just kidding–the truth is that I couldn’t give a flying fuck if homosexuality is a choice or not. That’s a debate for religious people.

Rounding out our scandalous sex sampler: Antonin Scalia comes out for orgies to reduce stress, and Alan Keyes (of whom we can only conclude that he is not a good man) goes after gay parents, having already bashed Mary Cheney for being a lesbian:

U.S. Senate candidate Alan Keyes told a rally Saturday that incest was “inevitable” for children raised by gay couples because the children might not know both biological parents. “If we do not know who the mother is, who the father is, without knowing all the brothers and sisters, incest becomes inevitable,” Keyes told the Marquette Park rally held to oppose same-sex marriages.

Keyes, although he may be a bit fuzzy on probabilities, makes an excellent point. This is why I assume he will join the burgeoning national movement to end adoption on these exact grounds.

JUL
18
2003
Iraq: the Ideal Conservative Country

I was reading this Salon article about the chaos in Iraq and how the terrible planning of the neocons in the White House made this quagmire possible.

Then my mind wandered back to that O’Reilly-Franken-Ivins forum (which you can download here in mp3 format). What, I hear you cry, could the connection possibly be? Here, let’s start off with the quote by Bill O’Reilly that keeps repeating in my head:

Bill O’Reilly: The difference between Ms. Ivins and myself is that I don’t think the government can help you all that much in your life, all right? I don’t believe that all the big government programs, that are set up to benefit the folks, most of them never get to the folks. I was a high school teacher, I know where the money goes, it doesn’t go to the kids. You want more money? fine. It ain’t going to the kids. It’s discipline, it’s structure, it’s paying the teachers a better wage, it’s training the teachers better, all of those things. So, I see the world as a world that self-reliance matters. That’s what should be taught, all right? That’s where I’m coming from. You know, we talk about the tax and the deficit, well, you know, the left now is screaming, the deficit, the deficit, the deficit, I’m looking at them going, look, you guys are driving the big government programs ever since the Great Society of 1964. I mean, those are massive spending programs, many of which failed dismally, and the corruption, here in California, for example, in the MediCal program, is astronomical. It’s a giant waste. Safety net yes, nanny state, no. All right? And I don’t believe in income redistribution, all right, I don’t believe in taking money from me, all right, who started out–[garbled interruptions]– who started out with nothing, all right, and then giving somebody else, and then not regulating what that person does with it…

We see here that O’Reilly is staking out a classic American conservative vision–taxes are fundamentally, philosophically illegitimate and that government programs are intrinsically wasteful and unnecessary.

This kind of thinking is wilfully naive. Whenever people say something like this, the first thought that pops into my head is, “have you ever lived in a country that doesn’t have a government?” Only softies who live in governed countries could possibly take for granted the idea of government’s necessity (and the corresponding necessity of taxes).

The thing is, we know O’Reilly doesn’t fully believe his own bullshit. He condemns big government spending programs and throwing money at problems, yet in the same rant he says we should pay teachers more, provide them with more training, and establish a “safety net” (The key to unlocking this self-contradiction, I believe, is that the only thing he really means is, “I don’t believe in taking money from me.” Not in my backyard and neither in my checkbook!).

What does this all have to do with Iraq, I hear you cry? Reports on life in Iraq now do sound terrible; violent crime, riots, looting, no water, no electricity, massive unemployment, foreign companies coming in to take oil profits, etc. But you could easily put a positive conservative spin on it–this is a country with no taxes, no economic regulations, and the overwhelming majority of families own firearms (as mandated by old Ba’ath party policy). Fundamentalist religious influence on politics has never been greater.

The U.S. is doing its part, too–I call it blitzkrieg privatization. Since Saddam’s corrupt Ba’ath state basically ran everything, the fall of the government has resulted in chaos and disruption of previously state-owned utilities and oil fields. But don’t worry, American private enterprise will be airlifted in on a white helicopter soon.



telegrams lost
 
ASTOR PL OPERA HOUSE RIOTS MARK FIRST TIME ARMY CALLED TO CULL CITY\'S WHEAT FROM LOW-BRED DRUNKEN FILTHY IGNORANT SHAKESPEARE-LOVING CHAFF

NOTICED @DalaiLama HAS OVER ONE MILLION TWITTER FOLLOWERS BUT DOESN\'T FOLLOW ANYBODY BACK STOP HEY EVER HEARD OF A LITTLE THING CALLED KARMA

@KeithOlbermann IDEA: RETURN TO AIR WITH HEARTFELT APOLOGY INDICTING @FoxNews AND HAVE BEN AFFLECK DELIVER IT AS YOU

WHEN WE FOUND GRANDPA MISSING WE FEARED WORST STOP THEN FOUND SILVERWARE AND LIQUOR MISSING STOP AT LEAST HE\'S COMPOS MENTIS

@MoRocca: HIPSTERS ON A PLANE STOP THE HORROR STOP THE HORROR

♺ @MoRocca: So many identical MacBooks on airpt sec conveyer belt. Waiting 4 Mac mix-up romantic comedy w/ Justin Long. Title?

@ZODIAC_MF SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON SON

RT @ZODIAC_MF: POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP POP

@EmilyEDickinson WHY CAN EVERYTHING YOU WRITE BE SUNG TO THE TUNE OF GILLIGAN\'S ISLAND STOP WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL US

DADDY WENT AND LOST HIS LEG STOP THE POOR INVALID IS A TERRIBLE POKER PLAYER


 
AUG
22
2012
Something That’s Been Bothering Me For a Few Years Now…

Christine O’Donnell went on TV with her usual claptrap about how Obama is a Marxist and Soledad O’Brien (who is on a huge streak of calling Republicans out in exasperation lately) rolled her eyes. In the clip, we don’t see the subject get pressed too much further, but this has been annoying me for a […]

SEP
30
2011
The Revenge of Icarus

In the summer of 2008, I wrote a short story that was intended to be a comment on what I thought was a coming depression, where overvalued assets would ruin the wealthy and force all those paper millionaires into destitution. I got some positive feedback from a literary agent, who thought I could turn it […]

JUL
18
2011
Are Marginal Academics Going Crazy?

The Wall Street Journal’s most popular article today was an editorial by one Professor Michael J. Boskin entitled, “Get Ready for a 70% Marginal Tax Rate,” and it was a doozy. It hearkened back to bygone days at university, when we carelessly tossed haphazardly written bullshit under the professor’s door a minute after the deadline, […]

MAY
12
2011
Protected: ZKY Teaser

There is no excerpt because this is a protected post.

MAY
06
2011
Meet The New Boss, Same As The Old Boss

I’ve decided to resurrect my dear old blog, now a rambunctious and neglected eight-year old–today! On May 6th in 2003, I decided to start a blog instead of sending my friends links to stuff via Instant Messenger. Back, then, I had to carry these posts uphill both ways; I built my own blog software and […]

SEP
22
2009
This Ought To Be A Healthy Debate

So the President unveiled his health plan(s) to what I thought was an incredible display of bravery on the Republicans’ part, and I’m jealous. I remember what it felt like to torture the substitute teacher from the back of class, yelling out “you lie!” and holding up signs and so forth. These people are really […]

AUG
20
2009
According To My Careful Prosthesis

Like you, I was very concerned about the well-being of crazy right-wingers this summer. Their favorite party out of office, a Democratic super-majority in the Senate, the stock market dragging its feet—how were we, as a nation, going to keep these people off the streets? By staging a gigantic nation-wide debate about healthcare, that’s how. […]

MAY
06
2009
Web 2.1

Usually I talk about politics here, with slight detours into science or arts or things like that, but on the sixth anniversary of Casual Asides, I’ve decided to turn to the foundational element of this blog: technology—specifically, the World Wide Web. Six years is a long time on the Internet, and even longer in the […]

MAY
04
2009
Why Doesn’t Somebody Pull Out A .45 And–Bang!–Settle It?

A modest proposal for extreme and Constitutional gun control: The right is losing a considerable amount of ground in the culture wars—every poll released in the last year shows America lurching to the left on traditional issues for conservatives from gay marriage to economic regulation to opening relations with Cuba. But there is one issue […]

APR
05
2009
The Democracy of Racism

Later this month in Geneva, the United Nations will be holding what it calls the Durban Review Conference (a.k.a. “Durban II”) to “evaluate progress towards the goals set by the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance in Durban, South Africa, in 2001.” Part of the agenda at Durban II will be […]

OCT
27
2008
How Can America Break Free Of The Two-Party System?

The economic turmoil of the past year hasn’t just thrown Wall Street into disarray—it’s causing ideological havoc in Washington. The two major parties are just as confused by the crisis as the rest of America, and party lines are becoming blurred just at the point where the Democrats seem poised to steamroll the Republicans on […]

OCT
08
2008
If You Plant Ice, You’re Gonna Harvest Wind

A few years ago, I bet a friend that the Dow Jones Industrial Average, an index of the leading American companies’ stock prices and one of the most celebrated economic indicators on Wall Street, would dip below 10,000 ‘points’ as a result of the oncoming credit crisis. Today I called him at work and said, […]

SEP
16
2008
Drill Up, Stupid

The component of the price of oil due to speculation was always kind of an unknown quantity. At the height of the oil bubble this summer, with prices at $150, someone suggested to Congress that up to a third of the price was actually due to market manipulation (a.k.a. “speculation”) by financial institutions, many of […]

JUN
21
2008
Top Ten Myths About Ecology

Since I spent most of my last appearance on Sirius’ Blog Bunker and all of the previous post talking about oil without too much emphasis on the greenhouse gas part of the equation, I think it behooves us all on the left side of the political spectrum to deal with the fallacies of global warming […]

JUN
20
2008
Driving Like Jehu

What drives oil prices? Everyone has a theory that suits their ideological niche—Democrats blame lack of regulation, Republicans blame too much regulation, and the rest of us wonder why prices aren’t higher than they are already. Earlier this month, Congress got an earful from a variety of oil experts on both sides of the ideological […]

JUN
01
2008
I Don’t Believe In Bullshit

In 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther, began a new era in Christianity by declaring his independence from what he saw as the excesses and iniquities of the Roman Catholic Church. Having kicked off the Reformation by nailing an itemized list of complaints to a church door, Luther challenged not only the orthodoxy of […]

MAY
06
2008
Knock On Wood

It’s Casual Asides’ 5th anniversary. Consider (with the new word count feature at the bottom of each post) that at this point, I’ve written about 260-odd posts and hundreds of thousands of words, enough to fill a decent sized book. That’s gotta be worth something, right? I pause here to consider that although I like […]

MAY
03
2008
Bulls in the China Shop

It’s hard to watch the news lately, because it’s just an interminable vivisection and slow broil of the Democratic candidates, thanks to Hillary’s stalwart refusal to do the math. C’mon, folks, it’s all on CNN’s delegate counter game, which has helpfully added a feature which lets you see exactly why Clinton needs a 66% margin […]

MAR
09
2008
Any Minute Now, Amos ‘n’ Andy Broadcasts Will Reach Planet X!

Dear readers, exciting things are happening. Here’s a quick review of the past few months. That Book I’m Always Talking About For the last two years, I’ve been writing a non-fiction book—it’s what I’m doing when I’m not posting here. When people ask me what the book is about, I usualy say something like, “it’s […]

DEC
05
2007
Casual Policy Suggestions

It’s time for me to tell you what’s good for you, besides the obvious—cod liver oil, plenty of sunshine, and switching to a ‘light’ cigarette. Start Snitching The greatest thing about the immigration debate today is that everyone involved in debating it in the media is totally full of shit. You have your Lou Dobbses, […]

NOV
06
2007
Why I Am A Pacifist

I missed the anti-war rally last weekend. I’d call it a peace rally, but nobody’s really for ‘peace’ anymore; the majority of the country still thinks the war in Afghanistan was justified, and they’re even receptive to bombing Iran. Even the majority of the country who is now against the Iraq war isn’t really against […]

OCT
13
2007
Fall Behind

Dear readers, you may be wondering what I’ve been up to, since lately dispatches are few and I never call anymore. Well, I’ve been working on a book. If you want a copy of the proposal, e-mail me and I’ll send it to you. For the purposes of this website, the proposal is to be […]

AUG
29
2007
The Rotting Corpse of King Croesus

Now that News Corp has all purchased the Wall Street Journal and late capitalism is experiencing yet another paroxysm—er, market correction—I think it behooves us all to consider the fate of the lowly Glass-Steagall Act of 1933. You see, way back in the 1920′s the market was booming—everybody was getting rich speculating in the market […]

AUG
20
2007
Everyone But Thee And Me

Welcome to another edition of actual casual asides, seasoned as usual with gotchas and I-told-you-sos. Ask Not For Whom The Bell Tolls… The United States and our allies have no rational interest in disclosing how many people we’ve killed in Iraq and Afghanistan if that number is inclusive of civilians. “We don’t do body counts,” […]

JUL
31
2007
The World Would Swing, If I Were King

The foreign policy spat between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton couldn’t have been scripted better for the mainstream media. It’s also the reason why watching politics in America drives me crazy. The great triangulation has begun. Lyndon Johnson had the Texas two-step, and the Clintons have the Sister Souljah moment. It’s one of their ways […]

JUL
17
2007
Is Virginia As Lost As Anbar?

Sometimes, it’s too easy. What kind of idiot protests that the surge is working? “AJStrata,” for one, who wrote this charming piece of tripe which I cannot help but “fisk.” So, let’s get into it: The signs abound that Iraq is stabilizing. The massacres of Muslims that al-Qaeda and the Mahdi Malitia [sic] inflict are […]

JUL
12
2007
A Rose By Any Other Name

Sometimes I wonder how many times I can restate essentially the same points about Iraq. I’ve been doing it for over four years now. I suppose I should derive some satisfaction from the fact that the majority of Americans are now against the war. Unfortunately, that’s like the majority of Americans being against the Big […]

JUL
05
2007
Oh, Pobrecito!

When will Americans learn that prison just isn’t fit for rich people? Apparently, it was these last few weeks. First there’s the Paris Hilton in-and-out again with the overcrowded California correctional system. When asked why Hilton was being released a second time before her setnece had been served, an official mumbled somehing about ‘health concerns’ […]

JUN
29
2007
Homework Over Summer Vacation

There’s been so much stuff going on in the past month, both in the world and my own life, that I feel like I fell behind in the news somewhere around the beginning of June. Hence, no posts; I’ve been working on some other things. But There are some things I’d like to address, briefly: […]

MAY
28
2007
They’ve Plucked, They’ve Sown, They’ve Hollowed Him In

The thrashing of Iraq continues. Today is Memorial Day, when America traditionally celebrates the deaths of its military men and women by going to the beach and wearing funereal shades of white and so forth. Speaking of symbolic dates, I propose a new slogan for the anti-war marchers for the summer season: “Out By September […]

MAY
18
2007
Change A Light Bulb, Save Darfur

I can’t quite put my finger on why I’ve singled Republican Presidential candidate Duncan Hunter out as my bête noire, but I have, so deal with it. Hunter isn’t as dangerous to civil rights as, say, Sam Brownback, or as connivingly amoral as Rudy Giuliani, but there’s something about him that just rubs me the […]

MAY
10
2007
If The Hoods Don’t Get You, The Monoxide Will

As I mentioned earlier, the Democrats don’t have enough backbone to do.. well, nothing, and let the Iraq war end in 180 days. So, they’re going to continue to fund the war in some fashion, likely by insisting on “benchmarks,” which is now the catchphrase du jour . As with everything else about the American […]

MAY
06
2007
Four More Years

Today is this blog’s fourth birthday, and as you can see, I’ve done a bit of a redesign. The old design was intentionally cluttered, because that’s how my desk looks. But I figured that, as I say at the bottom of all my e-mails, “non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitam,” which means not to multiply […]

MAY
03
2007
Ask the Cop in The Woodpile

Yesterday as I was watching Fox News, I heard a small but sharp explosion and the clatter of plastic shrapnel. The batteries in my VCR remote, which I last remember replacing sometime in college, decided that they’d had enough. A cursory examination of the debris showed the batteries were supposed to expire in 2012, with […]

APR
26
2007
Cannon Fodder

C-SPAN is getting better and better with the Democrats putting the investigations front and center. I have to say it’s thrilling to watch Republicans squirm after years of this bullshit going the other way. Kucinich, bless him, is even going after Dick Cheney with articles of impeachment. I am a big fan of this approach, […]

APR
14
2007
Gender Divides

There are a few topics I try to avoid on this blog; Israel, monetary policy, cats. But I suppose the most glaring omissions are feminist concerns (closely followed by Darfur, a topic about which I have long struggled to write without much success). I’m not going to offer some lame excuse like “I just don’t […]

APR
11
2007
Barbarians at the Logic Gates

Let me state at the outset that I am a huge, huge fan of both Tim O’Reilly and Jimmy Wales. I own several O’Reilly books, and obviously I use wikipedia all the time. I respect them immensely, and we should all bow before their superior technological wisdom. Except in this case: A widely forwarded New […]

APR
10
2007
Ultimately, The Buck Stops Nowhere

Four years into the occupation in Iraq and it's still going on, despite the mounting frustrations of all involved. My writing on the subject has begun to resemble a post-mortem on a still-living body. I felt like I was beating a dead horse in 2005

APR
10
2007
Round and Round

Being philosophically-self aware is a very special kind of hell. The simpler your thinking, the more complicated your life becomes. While other people have no problems with the inherently self-contradictory, people like me get stuck on little details like how the entire world has obviously gone totally batshit. I had this problem with the war […]

APR
08
2007
Start The Selective Outrage Machine

I know I’ve ragged on Pope Benedict before for being a Nazi, but I do feel compelled to quote his Easter speech yesterday morning: How many wounds, how much suffering there is in the world! Natural calamities and human tragedies that cause innumerable victims and enormous material destruction are not lacking. … I am thinking […]

APR
05
2007
Kill Your Idols

Oh, Christopher Hitchens. I used to be your biggest fan. I hate Mother Theresa and Bill Clinton just like you. I even forgave your support of the war in the early days of the invasion, because I knew you sympathize with the plight of Kurdistan. But you don’t return my e-mails or call. And then […]

MAR
30
2007
An Unpublished Hermit's Letters, Vol. 4

I'm in the middle of this really long, drawn out criticism of Christopher Hitchens' "I wasn't right, but I wasn't wrong" piece on Slate from last week, but it's taking way too long to pen and you, dear readers, are probably wondering what the hell is going on. So, I substitute a letter I wrote […]

MAR
15
2007
When You Hit 18, Stick to Civilian Life

I'm back from the valley of the shadow of blog death with an old favorite

JAN
16
2007
The Way To Win At Gambling Is To Leave When You're Ahead

Right off the bat, I'm going to make an embarrassing admission–several, actually. Earlier, I quoted Clausewitz as saying block|Clausewitz also said, the best way to attack a powerful enemy is to attack the weakness in their greatest strength.|block Clausewitz did not say this. Al Ries and Jack Trout said it. "Who?" I hear you cry. […]

JAN
09
2007
Dashing The Troops Against Iraq With Surging Tides

So the President is planning a surge, is he? All the warning signs are there–Dad’s friends on the Iraq Study Group embarrassed him, and he knows he has to announce some kind of change, so why not go for broke and double down on America’s military future? So The SurgeTM gets floated in some neoconservative […]

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