Sunday, December 25, 2016
A day late from the usual Sunday, but having missed last week, I
figured the exercise would be worthwhile. Like our trash collection,
we're running a day late this week.
Growing up we always had a special
dinner on Christmas Eve, then gathered around the tree in the living
room and opened presents. I gave up on shopping and presents after my
parents died in 2000 -- partly, I suppose, because we moved to Wichita
in 1999 to be closer to my family, but after doing serious shopping I
got sick and missed that last Christmas. We tried to keep the tradition
going, but it fizzled out when my brother and his family moved away.
The only thing I kept was the Christmas Eve dinner, which I've ever
since subjected my sister and her son to. I rustled up a bit pot of
paella last night, with a lobster, some shrimp and scallops instead of
the usual clams. I figured I'd do some tapas on the side, but didn't
come up with much: potatoes with tuna and egg, a white bean salad, a
pisto (onions, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, cooked down to a paste),
sauteed mushrooms in garlic sauce, some olives, a loaf of "bake it
yourself" garlic bread. Per a tradition that only started after we
returned to Wichita, I made date pudding (topped with caramel sauce
and whipped cream) for dessert. I was feeling pretty depressed, but
the sensation vanished as soon as I started cooking. That's pretty
much all I have to show for 2017, but it feels like I'm accomplishing
something when I do it.
Biggest story from the last couple weeks were the Republican tax
bill: a massive giveaway to corporations, proprietors who can take
advantage of the "pass-through income" provisions, and to the growth
and consolidation of aristocracy, and eventually a drain on the
economy and an excuse for cutting back on actually useful services
the government provides. But also very important are the end of FCC
"net neutrality" rules and the latest round of sanctions against
North Korea. Of course, the latter could instantly jump to the head
of the list.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important political stories of the week
[Dec. 22]: Congress passed a major tax cut; The government won't shut
down for Christmas; Affordable Care Act signups remained robust;
Republicans turned on Robert Mueller; and
The 4 biggest policy stories of the week, explained [Dec. 15]: A
Democrat won a Senate election in Alabama: Doug Jones; Republicans
wrote their tax bill; Sexual harassment accusations kept rolling
Congress; Net neutrality.
Other Yglesias pieces:
The real cost of the Republican tax bill: Argues that the models
showing revenues down by $1-1.5 trillion will likely be proven low,
not least because IRS enforcement under Trump is likely to be slack.
I would add that actual revenues in Kansas have consistently fallen
short of expectations, because the Brownback cuts allowed unanticipated
The tax cut expectations game.
What "affordable housing" really means.
We're witnessing the wholesale looting of America:
Throughout the 2016 campaign, the political class talked a lot about "norms"
and how Donald Trump was violating them all. He brushed off fact-checkers,
assailed the media, went on Twitter tirades against his critics, and dabbled
in racism. Since taking office, his norm busting has spread. Members of
Congress who under other circumstances might be constrained by shame, custom,
or the will of their constituents have learned from Trump's election that
you can get away with more than we used to think.
Norm erosion is real, and it matters. . . . These scholars are all
considering deep, long-lasting differences in cultural norms, but we also
know from experience that norms can sometimes shift dramatically in unusual
circumstances. Sometimes a blackout or other disaster prompts a few people
who would ordinarily be too cautious to break store windows in broad daylight
to become more brazen. And the normal course of ordinary life flips into
reverse, as those with some inclination toward bad acts recognize a moment
of impunity and grab what they can, while those who would ordinarily be
invested in upholding order are afraid and stay inside. The sheer quantity
of bad acts makes it impossible for anyone to hold anyone accountable. Soon,
a whole neighborhood can be in ruins.
Or a whole country. . . .
It takes a lot more than Donald Trump to orchestrate the kind of feeding
frenzy that's currently playing out in Washington. Nothing about this would
work if not for the fact that hundreds of Republican Party members of
Congress wake up each morning and decide anew that they are indifferent to
the myriad financial conflicts of interest in which Trump and his family
are enmeshed. Moral and political responsibility for the looting ultimately
rests on the shoulders of the GOP members of Congress who decided that the
appropriate reaction to Trump's inauguration was to start smashing and
grabbing as much as possible for themselves and their donors rather than
uphold their constitutional obligations.
Why Trump's tax cuts won't be repealed.
Republicans are on tilt with their super-unpopular tax bill.
Collective ownership of the means of production.
Dean Baker: Bubbles: Are They Back?
Should we be concerned about a bubble now? Stock prices and housing prices
are both high by historical standards. The ratio of stock prices-to-trend
corporate earnings is more than 27-to-1; this compares to a long-term
average of 15-to-1.
House prices are also high by historic standards. Inflation-adjusted
house prices are still well below their bubble peaks, but are about 40
percent above their long-term average.
Baker also wrote:
Diverting Class Warfare Into Generational Warfare: Round LVIII; e.g.:
It is also important to understand that government action was at the
center of this upward redistribution. Without government-granted patent
monopolies for Windows and other Microsoft software, Bill Gates would
probably still be working for a living.
We spent over $450 billion on prescription drugs in 2017. Without
government-granted patent monopolies we would probably have spent less
than $80 billion. The difference of $370 billion is equal to an increase
of a 5.0 percentage point increase in the Social Security payroll tax.
But the generational warriors don't want anyone talking about how much
money our children to pay drug companies with government-granted patent
Baker is a bit confused about Microsoft -- patents played at most a
small role in building its monopoly -- the late 1990s antitrust case
which Microsoft lost covered much of this -- but copyrights are essential
for maintaining it.
Zack Beauchamp: We are sleepwalking toward war with North Korea.
Sean Illing: How the baby boomers -- not millennials -- screwed America:
Interview with Bruce Gibney, author of A Generation of Sociopaths: How
the Baby Boomers Betrayed America, which looks to be pretty awful. I
don't doubt that various age cohorts grow up with different experiences,
but there has always been more variation within a generation than change
from one to the next. It's not that Gibney is unobservant -- he identifies
Ronald Reagan's 1980 election as the turning point from which today's rot
stemmed -- but he pairs his superficial groupings with clichéd analysis
and bogus measures (especially the growth of debt). Gibney, like so many
reactionaries from the 1950s on, blamed postwar affluence for breeding a
generation of selfish ingrates who lack the social solidarity bred in
their parents by depression and war. As Gibney puts it:
I think the major factor is that the boomers grew up in a time of
uninterrupted prosperity. And so they simply took it for granted.
They assumed the economy would just grow three percent a year forever
and that wages would go up every year and that there would always be
a good job for everyone who wanted it.
This was a fantasy and the result of a spoiled generation assuming
things would be easy and that no sacrifices would have to be made in
order to preserve prosperity for future generations.
Gibney's argument might be more interesting if he focused on things
that were truly new and widespread, like that "boomers" were the first
cohort to grow up with television and its mass consumer advertising,
with news presented more in images than in words, with world travel
reduced from months or weeks to hours, with science promising greater
control of nature but also raising the spectre of extinction. Maybe
some people responded to such sweeping change by becoming sociopaths,
but (for a while, at least) the opposite seemed to be happening: in
the late '60s and early '70s, the "boomers" were in the forefront of
movements for the environment, sexual equality, for consumer rights,
for civil rights and against war. You can argue that the new left was
too individualistic and too nonchalant about power, and that those
weaknesses made it easier for conservative reaction to seize power --
and beset the country with all the ills Gibney decries. But the fact
that Bill Clinton, GW Bush, and Donald Trump were all born in 1946
doesn't make them representative of a generation. Indeed, they were
clearly exceptional, carefully selected by unrepresentative powers.
Nothing actual in this piece about "millennials" -- one's political
hopes for them (e.g.,
Steven Olikara: Here's one reason to be optimistic about politics:
Millennials in office) lie not in generational change but in
the fact that thanks to the conservative reaction they've been so
severely screwed. But that only changes if they recognize the real
Ezra Klein: "An orgy of serious policy discussion" with Paul Krugman.
Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real,
powerful set of ideas. Good explanation of the word, if you wind
up stuck needing to use it.
Kevin M Kruse: The Second Klan: Review of Linda Gordon's book,
The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan and the American
German Lopez: The past year of research has made it very clear: Trump won
because of racial resentment: Three charts here, mapping the tendencies
of people "least satisfied" with economics, "most sexist," and "most denying
of racism" to vote for Trump. The latter two are highly polarized, as well
they should be: Trump was blatantly racist and sexist, especially compared
to his opponent, and his campaign actively polarized people on those issues,
so of course sexists and racists (not uncommonly the same people) voted for
him overwhelmingly. Still, to say he won because he appealed to racism you
have to quantify how large that voter share was. Given that racists were
already highly aligned with the Republican Party it's hard to see a lot of
movement on that score, not that were was none. "Economic dissatisfaction"
is another story: that the "least satisfied" tilted toward Trump at all
is the surprise -- really, a complete breakdown in the Democratic Party's
messaging, all the more damning given how easy it should have been to
depict Trump as the poster boy for exorbitant greed and privilege. The
underlying facts have never been in doubt. That we keep rehashing them
has more to do with politics. Sanders supporters were quick to identify
the failed economic hopes of the white lower classes because that's one
thing their program addressed and could convert into the additional votes
necessary to beat Trump and the Republicans. Diehard Clinton supporters
like the racism narrative, because it shifts blame from the candidate to
the "deplorable" voters.
Premilla Nadasen: Extreme poverty returns to America.
Rebecca Solnit: Don't let the alt-right hijack #MeToo for their agenda.
Matt Stoller: What is net neutrality? It protects us from corporate
Matt Taibbi: Bob Corker Facing Ethics Questions? What a Surprise:
"The Tennessee senator's financial success has been one of Washington's
open questions for years." Corker flip-flopped on the tax bill, first
voting against it because it would increase the deficit, then voting
for it even though its impact on the deficit hasn't changed (but the
joint committee added a break on real estate taxes that evidently saves
Corker millions of dollars). More on Corker:
Mary Papenfuss: #CorkerKickback Turns Up the Flame Under Senator for
His Tax Vote Switch. Paul Krugman, in
Passing Through to Corruption, also mentions Corker:
Senator Bob Corker, citing concerns about the deficit, was the only
Republican to vote against the Senate version of the tax bill. Now,
however, he says he will vote for a final version that is no better
when it comes to fiscal probity. What changed?
Well, one thing that changed was the insertion of a provision that
wasn't in the Senate bill: Real estate companies were added to the
list of "pass-through" businesses whose owners will get sharply lower
tax rates. These pass-through provisions are arguably the worst feature
of the bill. They will open the tax system to a huge amount of gaming,
of exploiting legal loopholes to avoid tax.
But one thing they will also do, thanks to that last-minute addition,
is give huge tax breaks to elected officials who own a lot of income-producing
real estate -- officials like Donald Trump and, yes, Bob Corker.
Todd VanDerWerff: Disney acquiring Fox means big, scary things for film
and TV: "Here are five reasons the deal is terrifying -- and only
one of them is increased media consolidation."