Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, February 28, 2010 11:03 pm

Some pundit no one has ever heard of leaves the GOP

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 11:03 pm
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That’d be Michael Smerconish of the Philadelphia Inquirer, of whom I had never heard until the N&R started running his columns occasionally:

It took only the single tap of a computer key, and just like that I’d exited the Republican Party after 30 years of active membership. The context might sound impulsive, but I’d been thinking of becoming an independent for a long time. I just hadn’t expected that a trip to renew my driver’s license would mark the end.

Just before my photo was snapped, I was asked if I wanted to register to vote. For me, the question was borderline offensive. I first registered after turning 18 in the spring of 1980 and haven’t missed an election since. And I’m not just talking presidential races. I mean all elections. Congress, town council, school board, whatever.

“I’m already registered,” I offered. Next came the unexpected question of whether I wished to change my political affiliation. I’m not sure why that is asked of someone renewing a driver’s license, and I question whether it is even appropriate for most. But in my case, it was the only impetus I needed. …

The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests, dominated on social issues by the religious right, with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its parameters. Instead, the GOP has extended itself to its fringe …

Just for the record, I’m still a Republican and my driver’s license is good until 2018.

Smerconish goes on to claim that both parties “seek to advance strict ideological agendas.” In reality, as we have seen during the health-care debate, that’s far more true of Republicans than Democrats. Moreover, for better or worse, that trend accurately reflects the mood of the electorate. Most so-called moderates actually identify pretty strongly with one major party or the other right now; it would shock David Broder to know this, but the proportion of truly independent voters is in the mid-single digits.

The Democratic Wrestling Federation

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:45 pm
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When I was a kid, I watched Johnny Weaver on TV. Now, my kid watches “Thumb Wrestling Federation” on Cartoon Network. So why this parallel didn’t strike me before, I cannot explain. But Firedoglake contributor “hctomorrow” nails it:

Professional Wrestling is often misunderstood as being a ‘fake sport’, when in reality it’s a long running soap opera with most of the parts played by professional stuntmen. As such, it is an essentially static form of entertainment, where the same Manichean, Good vs. Evil, black and white struggle plays out, week after week, year after year. This is essential; delivering a consistent product brings in the advertisers (in both politics and wrestling, this means large corporations), who are buying a known quantity.

At the same time, in order to keep its audience, wrestling has to present the illusion of dynamism, or ‘change’ in the present parlance. Nobody wants to watch the exact same story all the time. So wrestling takes this static product and dresses it up in the paegentry of conflict, with most actors playing a rotating series of Good or Evil roles; in Wrestling terms, most wrestlers alternate between heroes (Faces) and villains (Heels).

So last week, what we saw with Senator Rockefeller, blatantly flip-flopping on his passionately stated (staged) support of the Public Option by refusing to pass it using reconciliation, that wasn’t a betrayal of the voters (audience), or of his principles; it was what is known to Wrestling fans as a ‘Face Heel Turn‘.

The only thing missing was a folding chair to the back of the Public Option’s skull.

What we do about this, I don’t know. The game is rigged against third parties. Ideas?

Prosecute ‘em all, and let the courts sort ‘em out

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 10:37 pm
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One “defense” offered by former Justice officials John Yoo and Jay Bybee to the offensive suggestion that they tried to circumvent ignored international law banning to approve torture basically amounts to, “Well, if you’re gonna go after us, you’ve got to go after everybody else who said it was OK, too!”

Guys, I’m more than fine with that. Heck, I’d even raise taxes to pay for it. Just sayin’.

Having legalized corporate election-buying, the Supreme Court now prepares to legalize political corruption

Why would Associate Justice Antonin Scalia ally himself with defense lawyers? Because it would give him the opportunity to rip up the so-called “honest services” law, which has been instrumental in prosecutions of such powerful people as lobbyist Jack Abramoff, Illinois governors George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, media baron/stockholder-screwer Conrad Black, Enron exec/stockholder-screwer Jeffrey Skilling, and former Alaska legislator Bruce Weyhrauch.

The Supreme Court: coddling white-collar criminals since 2010.

James Inhofe, likely abuser of process

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 10:25 pm
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Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma thinks not only that global warming is a fraud (despite zero evidence for believing it) but also that scientists supporting the theory should be criminally investigated.

And the thing is, if Republicans retake the Senate, Inhofe will once again be a committee chairman with subpoena power. The fact that he is batsh*t, in the pocket of Big Awl AND dumber than a box of rocks will be no protection.

The big picture, e-mail edition

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 10:04 pm
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When you’re doing journalism, there are basically three kinds of stories: stories about events, stories about patterns, and stories about systems. The best reporters don’t just write about events (although they both have to and, for very good reasons, frequently choose to), they also write about the patterns formed by those events and, at the top of the complexity scale, the systems that give rise to those patterns.

Which is why this point by Marcy Wheeler, which gets at something that has bugged me for several years, is so important:

At some point, people have to stop giving Bush era officials the benefit of the doubt. Every single major scandal of the Bush Administration — except, technically, the warrantless wiretap scandal, but if I were NARA I’d start asking about those emails — has included disappeared emails. I mean, it’s time to stop pretending this is anything but intentional.

Precisely. This institutional cover-up manifests itself in pretty much everything the previous administration touched, most recently coming to light in the Justice Department’s “investigation” of the John Yoo/Jay Bybee torture memos, which found that some key e-mails had gone missing.

But I guess it’s more important that we “move on” than that we hold anyone accountable.

17 million reasons why Jamie Dimon needs to STFU

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 9:58 pm
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The grossly overpaid CEO of JPMorgan Chase believes that the government has treated his company unfairly even while keeping it, you know, alive:

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, says he believes Washington has become increasingly erratic and unfair in its treatment of the banks over the last few months, and he now has some regrets about participating in the government’s Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“F.D.I.C. is going to cost us a lot of money. TARP cost us a lot of money. This bank tax, my first reaction was, ‘That will cost us a lot of money,’” Mr. Dimon said Thursday at the bank’s annual Investor Day conference in New York. “I think we are getting into the capricious, arbitrary and punitive behavior.”

So it wasn’t enough for us to keep his company running and his personal gravy train on the tracks. No, we have to do these things exactly the way he wants us to.

And Congress is a bunch of crooks, but MY congresscritter is OK.

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 9:33 pm
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Conservatives aren’t nearly as opposed to government spending as they say they are (or as the media think). At least, in the anonymity of a poll, that’s what they’re telling pollsters.

In 2008, the American National Election Study asked some people who identified themselves either as “conservative” or as “very conservative” whether they’d be in favor of cutting or eliminating federal spending on 12 programs, most of which usually are thought to be popular targets for conservative anti-spending types. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the least popular program was child care, with 75% of conservatives opposing cuts or elimination of spending for it. Even higher percentages opposed spending on the other programs:

So if large majorities of Americans favor spending on all these programs, can we please be mature grownups and talk rationally and intelligently and honestly about how we’re going to pay for them? Here’s a hint: bailouts for bankers, tax cuts for billionaires and a defense budget larger than the rest of the world’s combined aren’t going to do it.

UPDATE: This Jonathan Rausch article makes basically the same point:

[L]ike Wallace and his supporters 40 years ago, today’s conservative populists are long on anger and short on coherence. For Wallace, small-government rhetoric was a trope, not a workable agenda. The same is true of his Republican heirs today, who insist that spending cuts alone, without tax increases, will restore fiscal balance but who have not proposed anywhere near enough spending cuts, primarily because they can’t.

But Rush isn’t a racist. Really.

Filed under: Evil — Lex @ 9:12 pm
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Sorry, dude, but when you call a health-care reform bill that isn’t a civil-rights bill a “civil-rights bill”* AND call health-care reform “reparations,” you’re a racist. Even humans can hear that dog whistle.

*Yes, health care should be a civil right in the U.S., as it is in most other industrialized democracies. But it isn’t, and no legislation now in Congress would make it so.

Firefight

Filed under: Fun,Hooper — Lex @ 8:45 pm
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Hooper and friends in a laser firefight at his 9th birthday party at Laser-X, Saturday, 2/27/10.

Platform: Konica Minolta DiMage Z10
Aperture: f3.2
Exposure: 2 seconds (camera on flat surface); no flash; ultraviolet ambient light.

Things you learn while helping your kids with homework, cont.

Filed under: More fact-based arguing, please — Lex @ 8:04 pm
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Although people might be more likely to associate “sprawl” with Los Angeles than New York, LA actually is the more densely populated metro area.

Saturday, February 27, 2010 10:19 am

Birthday weekend!

Filed under: Fun,Hooper — Lex @ 10:19 am
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Birthday presents: WIN for Hooper.
Venison sausage biscuit for breakfast: WIN for Daddy.

More birthday hijinks to come …

Friday, February 26, 2010 6:31 pm

I have seen many bad comment systems over the years …

… yes, I have, but the Charlottesville Daily Progress Web site’s commenting system is the worst I have seen since the early days of the Web.

If you read an article and want to comment on it, you have to log in, which is fine. But when you do, it takes you back to the home page and only then, and only sometimes, to the original article. Sometimes, you have to log in twice.

When you click on “comment,” a different window opens with no place to leave a URL, not even an excerpt of the article text and no other comments. If you somehow manage to do something in a comment that violates their terms and conditions (using the word “hell,” for example), it just tells you you violated them but doesn’t tell you what exactly you did so you have to guess at what to fix. And it doesn’t allow any HTML. And in my experience, your comments can take more than a half-hour to appear, although the site doesn’t indicate that comments are moderated.

Epic Comment Fail.

Thursday, February 25, 2010 11:53 pm

Can you force a magazine out of business for gross unfamiliarity with a dictionary?

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns!,Journalism — Lex @ 11:53 pm
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I guess not; otherwise, Newsweek would be nothing but a memory.

Webcams, school computers and the tangled webs school officials weave

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 11:49 pm
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With the exception of the fact that he seems to think we prosecute people in this country for illegal electronic surveillance (Silly! That’s only if you DON’T work for a Republican White House!), my friend David Allen does an excellent job of enumerating the many laws that may have been broken by the Pennsylvania school system that apparently used webcams on school-issued computers to spy on students in their homes:

Let me throw some words out here:

  • 15 year-old
  • web camera
  • bedroom

OK, with that mix, what can possibly go wrong? Add to this a creepy IT guy who revels in secretly spying on people and you have a new episode of Family Guy.

Somehow, I don’t think people will be laughing much in the near future. We are talking about some serious criminal charges like illegal wiretaps, conspiracy, and criminal invasion of privacy. Should pictures turn up of naked teens, the child porn laws come in, and they are pretty Draconian (and rightly so). Of course, should the school be erasing logs, pictures, and other files relevant to this case, you can add obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Of course, if someone were sitting on any pix of naked teens, I think they’d be happy to cop to an obstruction charge after they destroyed the evidence.

To say that I do not know what school officials were thinking would be to fall victim to the fallacy of supposing they were thinking at all.

Lock him up

More evidence, were more needed, that Justice Department official David Margolis has crossed a line no lawyer should cross.

Who watches the watchers?

Related: During his tenure as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee between 2002 and 2007, Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas told the CIA that destroying evidence of crimes was just dandy with him. Have I mentioned lately how much I miss Nancy Kassebaum?

Memo to greedhead companies

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable! — Lex @ 10:43 pm
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When you’re doing Bad Things, and some blogger writes accurately about the Bad Things you’re doing, it might be tempting to sue the blogger to get him to shut up about the Bad Things you’re doing.

I get that. I do. But you really should ignore that temptation.

Why? Well, consider:

  • You lose in court.
  • Along with losing in court, you end up having to pay $50,000 to the lawyers of the guy you sued.
  • And now, many, many more people know about the Bad Things you’re doing. And most of them, who had no opinion of you one way or the other before, now think you’re a douchebag and won’t buy your product.

But, you know, other than that, no special reason.

Yass we can

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:23 am
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The Facebook page “Can  This Horse’s Ass Get More Fans Than Sen. Mitch McConnell?” had accumulated 8,188 fans this morning, more than twice as many as Sen. Mitch McConnell’s 3,202 fans. My inner 12-year-old thinks this is hilarious.

(In other McConnell-related Facebook news, “Impeach Mitch McConnell” has 345 members to “Thank you Mitch McConnell”‘s 125.)

Taking cat for a walk = fail

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 6:23 am
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Offered without comment …

Filed under: Aiee! Teh stoopid! It burns! — Lex @ 5:50 am
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… a comparison of the health-care reform proposal offered Monday by President Obama with the Republicans’ proposal from 1993, from Kaiser Health News, a service of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

OK, one comment: Today’s Republicans differ from 1993 Republicans in that they have a purity test so strict Ronald Reagan would flunk it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 11:18 pm

I couldn’t agree more

ICTJ: We need more investigation of John Yoo and Jay Bybee:

“A full accounting of US policy on torture following the attacks of September 11, 2001 is more important than ever,” said Hanny Megally, ICTJ’s Interim President. “The report is enlightening and chilling. It relates in detail how the lawyers tailored their memos to justify torture and to prevent accountability, marking a critical turning away from US respect for the rule of law. The United States will only manage to fully reverse this devastating policy and the actions it empowered by reaffirming accountability as an indispensable control on the abuse of power. This requires an independent investigation of the full story of US counterterrorism operations and abuses, prosecution of those most responsible for wrongdoing, continued reform of laws and institutions to prevent abuses in the future, and appropriate redress for victims of torture,” he concluded.

The director of ICTJ’s US Accountability Project, Lisa Magarrell, said that, “The OPR report conveys very clearly that the overriding concern of the White House at the time was not to ensure by careful, objective legal analysis that torture, cruel and degrading treatment of detainees were prevented and violators held to account, as both US and international law require. Rather, the authors of the torture memos went to great lengths to give the White House, CIA and others involved in counterterrorism operations advance legal cover and assurances that they could torture with impunity.” …

I have read the defenses of David Margolis’s report offered (or linked to) by several people who have corresponded with me about this. And for me it comes down to this: Yoo and Bybee, without any legal basis and while ignoring crucial precedent making waterboarding a crime, told the administration not only that it could do what it wanted but also that what it had already done in clear violation of the UN Convention Against Torture was OK.

The UNCAT’s language is simple, clear and unambiguous. It specifically rules out the defenses offered by Yoo and Bybee and their defenders. It explicitly bars treatment even substantially less severe than waterboarding. And, having been signed in ’88 and ratified in ’94 by the U.S., it is, under the Constitution, part of the “supreme law of the land,” not something that can be simply disregarded by a Justice Department bureaucrat.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to be having a hearing on this subject Friday. Chairman Pat Leahy is a former prosecutor. It would be nice to think that he’ll be asking the right questions, but then this is Leahy we’re talking about. And Greensboro’s own Howard Coble, also a former prosecutor, has been absolutely no damn help on this at all.

(h/t: Jill)

Just what I needed: another online time-waster

Filed under: Fun — Lex @ 11:07 pm
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Failbooking.com

What part of “Nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?; or, “You want [expletive] entertainment? I gotcher [expletive] entertainment RIGHT HERE!!”

Filed under: Sad — Lex @ 10:37 pm
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Killer whale kills trainer.

Yeah, all kidding aside, it’s sad — and horrific for the spectators who were there.

But the truth is, the more we learn about the behavior and intelligence of cetaceans (sp?) — and other large mammals, like elephants — the more disturbed I get about how we treat them. I love my bacon, but …. I suspect I’m on a journey here, and I’m open to the possibility that the end of the road may be someplace very different from where I am now.

A pound of flesh; or, Happy endings revisited

Paula Marantz Cohen revisits The Merchant of Venice and finds that today’s students look at Shylock, and at the good and bad of interpersonal relationships, in a way different from that of her students of a generation ago … and that neither generation really gets it right: “… if we want a happy ending, at some point we must draw a line and close our eyes to the injustices that it entails. We must accept accommodation to oppression and, in some cases, to evil itself.”

And now, having read this, I’m giving myself my first literature assignment in a generation: Compare and contrast Merchant with Better off Dead, emphasizing the parallels between Shylock and the paper boy.

Everything I ever needed to know about getting along with other people …

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 6:27 am
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… I learned from my dog.

Not-so-Victorian Victoria

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 5:52 am
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The Disarming of Cupid, by William Edward Frost, apparently one of Queen Victoria’s favorite paintings.

The queen, frequently portrayed as a “buttoned up, reclusive widow clad in black,” actually really enjoyed her some nekkididity and apparently tried very hard to get her husband, Prince Albert, to lighten up some before he died. Good for her. Good for him, too, if he had a lick of sense.

Monday, February 22, 2010 5:48 am

How to keep the sky from falling

Marshall Auerback is a Dirty F—— Hippie Denver-based global portfolio strategist for RAB Capital plc who has conceived the unlikely notion that if we want government to do something about unemployment it should just, well, hire people:

The U.S. Government can proceed directly to zero unemployment by hiring all of the labor that cannot find private sector employment. Furthermore, by fixing the wage paid under this ELR [Employer of Last Resort] program at a level that does not disrupt existing labor markets, i.e., a wage level close to the existing minimum wage, substantive price stability can be expected. A sizable benefits package should be provided, including vacation and sick leave, contributions to Social Security and, most importantly, health care benefits, providing scope for a bottom-up reform of the current patchwork health care system.

Government as ELR would not be introducing another element of intrusive bureaucracy into our economy, but simply better utilizing the existing stock of unemployed, who are now dependent on the public purse — especially the chronically long-term unemployed. The current system we have relies on unemployed labor and excess capacity to try to dampen wage and price increases; however, it pays unemployed labor for not working and allows that labor to depreciate and develop behaviors that act as barriers to future private-sector employment. Social spending on the unemployed prevents aggregate demand from collapsing into a depression-like state, but little is done to enhance future growth and demand, which can be done via the ELR by providing the currently unemployed with jobs, greater education and higher skill levels.

The ELR program would allow for the elimination of many existing government welfare payments for anyone not specifically targeted for exemption. It would also command greater political legitimacy, as society places a high value on work as the means through which individuals earn a livelihood. Labor would welcome the safety net of a guaranteed job, and business would recognize the benefit of a pool of available labor it could draw from at some spread to the government wage paid to ELR employees. Additionally, the guaranteed public service job would be a counter-cyclical influence, automatically increasing government employment and spending as jobs were lost in the private sector, and decreasing government jobs and spending as the private sector expanded. It would therefore remain a permanent feature of our economy. In effect, it would act as a buffer stock to put a floor under unemployment. The program helps maintain price stability whereby government offers a fixed wage that does not “outbid” the private sector, but simply creates a stabilizing floor and thereby prevents deflation.

A more or less “free market” system does not (and, perhaps, cannot) continuously generate true full employment. And no civilized nation should allow a large portion of its population to go without adequate food, clothing and shelter. One of the best features of the ELR program is that it creates a stock of employed people, rather than a buffered stock of unemployed, where social capital depletes rapidly, and several long-term social pathologies develop.

The way we’re approaching our labor force now isn’t working. It’s time to try something that can put as many Americans as possible into productive employment.

I know the philosphical arguments against this suggestion; indeed, I share some. But what are the practical objections, can they be overcome, and what would a rigorous cost-benefit analysis on this proposal and existing alternatives show us?

And speaking of banksters …

Filed under: I want my money back. — Lex @ 5:41 am
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… a meme has been circulating recently on Facebook urging us to require welfare recipients to submit to drug testing. I’ve announced there and here that I’ll support that right after we start drug-testing recipients of federal bailout money. All irony aside, I oppose drug testing in both cases, but the truth is that bailout recipients, as measured by their burden on the taxpayer, are a substantially bigger problem.

Economist Dean Baker points out (via Firedoglake) that the 18 largest banks, the “too big to fail” ones, are currently enjoying a lower rate of borrowing from the federal government (1.15%) than their smaller brethren and sistren (1.93%). That 0.78% difference amounts to a taxpayer subsidy of about $33 billion a year. That, he points out, is more than twice as much as the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program and about 20% more than the total we spend on foreign aid, even after all the direct bailout money is paid back.

Your tax dollars at work … helping the banksters to screw you even more.

How the other 400 live

Filed under: You're doing WHAT with my money?? — Lex @ 5:31 am
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Just in case you were wondering, David Cay Johnston has the scoop:

The incomes of the top 400 American households soared to a new record high in dollars and as a share of all income in 2007, while the income tax rates they paid fell to a record low, newly disclosed tax data show.

In 2007 the top 400 taxpayers had an average income of $344.8 million, up 31 percent from their average $263.3 million income in 2006, according to figures in a report that the IRS posted to its Web site without announcement that were discovered February 16. (For the report, see Tax Analysts Doc 2010-3372 .)

The figures came at the peak of the last economic cycle and show that widely published reports in major newspapers asserting that the richest Americans are losing relative ground and “becoming poorer” are not supported by the official income data.

The long-term data show that under current tax and economic rules, the incomes of the top earners rise when the economy expands and contract during recessions, only to rise again. Their effective income tax rate fell to 16.62 percent, down more than half a percentage point from 17.17 percent in 2006, the new data show. That rate is lower than the typical effective income tax rate paid by Americans with incomes in the low six figures, which is what each taxpayer in the top group earned in the first three hours of 2007.

Taxpayers on the 95th to 99th steps on the income ladder paid an effective income tax rate of 17.52 percent, according to calculations by the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit research group that favors less taxation and lower rates. Taxpayers in this category earned between $255,000 and $451,000 in 2007, compared with an average daily income of almost $945,000 for the top 400, who paid lower effective tax rates on average.

Payroll taxes did not add a significant burden to the top 400, not changing the rounding of rates by even one decimal. With payroll taxes taken into account, the effective tax rate of the top 400 would be 17.2 percent in 2006 and 16.6 percent in 2007, my analysis shows — the same as not counting payroll taxes. As a point of comparison, about two-thirds of Americans pay more in Social Security, Medicare, and unemployment taxes than in federal income taxes. …

Since 1992, the bottom 90 percent of Americans have seen their incomes rise by 13 percent in 2009 dollars, compared with an increase of 399 percent for the top 400.

The annual top 400 report was first made public by the Clinton administration, but the George W. Bush administration shut down access to the report. Its release was resumed a year ago when President Obama took office. The Statistics of Income Division at the IRS created the top 400 reports at the urging of Joel Slemrod, a business professor at the University of Michigan.

The top 400 reports understate actual top incomes because of deferral rules. For example, managers of offshore hedge funds who deferred their gains may not be counted in the top 400 reports, which are based on the figure on the last line of the front page of Form 1040.

At least three hedge fund managers made $3 billion in 2007. It is not known how much, if any, of their income they deferred.

But remember, kids, if we’re going to avoid economic DEE-zaster, we must cut the hell out of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid; we cannot raise taxes on the wealthy for that would be commiesociofascistictude.

Also, to avoid economic DEE-zaster, we must continue to tax income derived from work about twice as heavily as we tax income derived from wealth, or the commiesociofascistictudenoids will eat us in our beds or something, and if this means that you and I continue to subsidize the lifestyles of the banksters, well, is this a great country or what?

Sunday, February 21, 2010 1:41 pm

Why do most Americans hate America?

Filed under: Cool! — Lex @ 1:41 pm
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A CNN poll finds that 65% of Americans favored Mirandizing the crotch-rocket airline-bombing suspect — and 56% of Americans favor Mirandizing all terror suspects. I’m pleasantly surprised by that last figure. I would have figured a majority would have had a mental reservation along the lines of the ticking-time-bomb scenario or something.

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