Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job

2006/08/29 at 12:09

Over at Making Light, Teresa Nielsen-Hayden has a long post about the Bush administration’s poor showing in New Orleans a year after Katrina. This is my favorite part of this excellent post:

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said, “The president has set the federal government on the course to fulfill its obligations.” You know the guy in the meeting who, when asked to report on the progress he’s made on his part of the project, says “I’ve made some preliminary phone calls”? You know how that actually means he hasn’t done a damned thing since the previous meeting? “Setting the federal government on the course to fulfill its obligations” is just like that.

I think this guy used to work with me! Ha!

My new bumper sticker

2006/08/29 at 09:17

I finally designed a replacement bumer sticker for my passé “Compassionate Liberal”:

They are available for public purchase at Cafepress.com (and I didn’t add any markup, so I don’t make anything off of purchases).

War on Terror in a nutshell

2006/08/14 at 09:19

From Kung Fu Monkey:

FDR: Oh, I’m sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear but fear itself, and right now we’re coming to kick your ass with brand new destroyers riveted by waitresses. How’s that going to feel?
CHURCHILL: Yeah, you keep bombing us. We’ll be in the pub, flipping you off. I’m slapping Rolls-Royce engines into untested flying coffins to knock you out of the skies, and then I’m sending angry Welshmen to burn your country from the Rhine to the Polish border.
US. NOW: BE AFRAID!! Oh God, the Brown Bad people could strike any moment! They could strike … NOW!! AHHHH. Okay, how about .. NOW!! AAGAGAHAHAHHAG! Quick, do whatever we tell you, and believe whatever we tell you, or YOU WILL BE KILLED BY BROWN PEOPLE!! PUT DOWN THAT SIPPY CUP!!

Profiting from disaster

2006/07/17 at 12:47

According to the Wall Street Journal, some companies rushed to grant stock options to executives in the days after the September 11 attacks. The company’s stock price had fallen after the attacks and the options were pegged to the current stock price. When the stocks recovered, the executives would profit. Just slimy.

Growth, what growth?

2006/07/14 at 13:29

Over at The American Prospect’s blog, Ezra Klein takes a closer look at U.S. economy growth. In 2004, the economy grew by a respectable 2.4%, but real income growth was as follows:

  • Richest 1%: 12.5%
  • Everyone else: 1.5%

Klein observes:

In fact, it’s no longer just the middle class and the poor who’re falling behind. The distribution has grown so uneven that the 95th percentile is making meager headway — even the merely rich are falling behind. It’s the richest of the rich making headway. But they now account for so much wealth and holdings that their acceleration can effortlessly outweigh everyone else’s deterioration. Add in that the reliable income growth conveyors of yesterday, like education and hours worked, no longer heavily correlate with income increases (earnings dropped for college graduates in 2004) and you’ve got a real problem on your hands…

America first?

2006/05/25 at 16:00

Apparently, this list of reasons why America actually sucks is making the rounds on the internet. I’m the first to question unbridled ‘America is Number One!’ jingoism, but I’m highly suspicious of this list for several reasons:

  1. It was created to prove a point, so the data is necessarily selective
  2. The sort of short bullet points that the list employs is subject to gross oversimplification
  3. Many of the points in the list are not given comparative to other countries (e.g., “Our workers are so ignorant and lack so many basic skills that American businesses spend $30 billion a year on remedial training” So, how does that compare globally?)
  4. I frankly question the veracity or quality of some of the data (e.g., “Yet Americans work longer hours per year than any other industrialized country, and get less vacation time.” I recall seeing a chart of average work hours, and South Korea led every other country by several hundred hours. Apparently, the South Koreans have some really bizarre ideas about the average work week)

I would really like to see someone pick apart the list. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time or inclination.

The quiet majority of believers

2006/05/10 at 16:53

In a nice essay in Time Magazine, Andrew Sullivan argues that we should not let the politicized Christian right co-opt the term ‘Christian,’ as their belief in the intermingling of politics and religion reflects neither the true message of Christ nor the beliefs of most Christians. Instead, he coins a new term for them–‘Christianist’–defined as follows:

Christianism is an ideology, politics, an ism. The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Muslims are those who follow Islam. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque. Not all Islamists are violent. Only a tiny few are terrorists. And I should underline that the term Christianist is in no way designed to label people on the religious right as favoring any violence at all. I mean merely by the term Christianist the view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.

The high cost of the Iraq war

2006/04/26 at 07:43

In a short report (audio only) this morning about the high cost of gasoline, the KUT reporter interviewed a UT economics professor who estimates that the instability and uncertainty caused by the war in Iraq accounts for about $7-10 of the rise in the cost of a barrel of oil.
So, the American taxpayers aren’t the only ones paying for the war. Oil consumers the world over are paying the price as well.

The hard facts about hybrid autos

2006/04/19 at 21:08

As I’ve expressed before, I’m skeptical of the current craze for hybrid cars. As I understand it, they were initially developed for their low emissions; better gas mileage was a bonus. But now, a lot of people are buying them for their general ‘green’ fuzzy feelgood value.
This New York Times editorial confirms my suspicions regarding some people’s relatively unconsidered reasons for buying hybrids:

Lately, people have been calling me and telling me they’re thinking about buying the Lexus 400H, a new hybrid SUV. When I tell them that they’d get better mileage in some conventional SUVs, and even better mileage with a passenger car, they protest, “But it’s a hybrid!” I remind them that the 21 miles per gallon I saw while driving the Lexus 400H is not particularly brilliant, efficiency-wise – hybrid or not. Because the Lexus is a relatively heavy car and because its electric motor is deployed to provide speed more than efficiency, it will never be a mileage champ.

The article also offers some useful advice on when a hybrid is and isn’t a good choice. For example:

Indeed, [with highway driving] the [Prius’] gasoline engine worked so hard that we calculated we might have used less fuel on our journey if we had been driving Toyota’s conventionally powered, similarly sized Corolla – which costs thousands less.

The article concludes with a warning about the government’s current penchant for supporting hybrid purchases:

So the ideal hybrid car is one that is used in town and carefully disposed of at the end of its days. Hybrid taxis and buses make enormous sense. But the market knows no such distinctions. People think they want hybrids and they’ll buy them, even if a conventional car would make more sense. The danger is that the automakers will co- opt the hybrids’ green mantle and, with the help of a government looking to bail out its troubled friends in Detroit, misguidedly encourage the sale of hybrids without reference to their actual effect on oil consumption.
Pro-hybrid laws and incentives sound nice, but they might just end up subsidizing companies that have failed to develop truly fuel-efficient vehicles at the expense of those that have had the foresight to design their cars right in the first place. And they may actually punish citizens who save fuel the old- fashioned way – by using less of it, with smaller, lighter and more efficient cars. All the while, they’ll make a mockery of a potentially useful technology.

So, I’m definitely going to hold onto my eight-year-old Corolla. She’s homely but she gets the job done quite efficiently.

An effective flat tax

2006/04/19 at 09:33

As a firm believer in progressive taxation, I find this article really disheartening. The heart of the matter:

A decade ago, when publishing magnate Steve Forbes ran for president, he vowed to deliver a new era of prosperity with just a simple change in the federal income tax: Instead of people with more money paying higher rates, all would pay the same “flat” tax rate — unleashing “the fantastic growth waiting to burst forth in our economy.”
Forbes’ “flat tax” plan was dismissed as simplistic by many mainstream economists and viewed with horror by the legions of special interests that benefit from all the deductions and loopholes that flat tax advocates would eliminate.
But this weekend, as millions of Americans faced the perennial deadline for filing their federal tax returns, most of them were operating in something very close to the world Forbes and other flat-tax visionaries proposed. Without any fanfare or philosophical debate, millionaires and middle-class Americans now pay taxes at almost the same rates.*

In addition to outlining briefly the history of U.S. federal taxation and explaining how we’ve gone from sharply progressive taxation to the current situation, the article asks the most important question: What have we gained from this change?

Advocates of the flat tax have long argued that it would stimulate economic activity and thus ultimately benefit everyone. Bush shares that view, though he has not officially advocated a flat tax.
And in recent years lower tax rates do seem to have contributed to healthy economic growth. The economy has been producing goods and services at a rising pace since the end of the 2001 recession. Unemployment is a low 4.7 percent.
But the health of the economy as a whole has not translated into gains for most workers. Because of global competition, the decline of manufacturing, weaker labor unions, immigration and other factors, most workers have not been able to obtain higher pay.
Instead, “flatter” income tax rates have contributed to an economic landscape that David Kelly, economic adviser to Putnam Investments, likens to an hourglass. Some from the traditional middle class are rising into the top, while others are being squeezed out into the bottom.
Average family net worth has continued to grow, in large part because of rising home prices, but at a rate that sagged from 29 percent between 1998 and 2001 down to 6 percent between 2001 and 2004. And for most Americans, whatever nominal pay increases they got in the last three years were more than offset by higher costs of things such as health care.
Meantime, the disparity between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has grown.

Okay, so that bit is not a direct cause and effect analysis, but the general gist is that this flattening of effective taxation rates has been one contributing factor to the trend of the rich getting richer of the last few years.
* The article mentions income tax, dividend taxation, and social security and medicare taxes, but it’s a little too general on the details for me. I’d like to see a more detailed breakdown on the types of taxes paid by each income group.