Oil and Water: Mixing Sanity With Politics
Does "Trickle-Down Economics" Make Any Sense?
Published on August 30, 2012 by guest author: Cabot Nunlist

Cabot Nunlist has been writing regularly on important policy issues, and his essays are being reposted on Rule of Thumb.

OK, after a couple days off, I'm back ... this time to talk about taxes. For now, let's isolate the issue of taxation and deal with the spending part of the equation in a post later this week. So, I'm sure everyone reading this has heard of "trickle down economics" or the non-derogatory term for it: "supply side economics." The principle here is that lower overall taxes on the wealthy will stimulate job creation, promote economic growth, and result in a rising tide that lifts all boats. A review of the last 50 years of the American economy does not bear this out: In most cases, the highest growth rates corresponded to years when taxes on the wealthy were (relatively) high. Since the Bush tax cuts went into effect in 2001, we have suffered through a lost decade in terms of equity markets, low interest rates that eat away at savings (when combined with inflation) and a jobless rate that has essentially been trending higher ever since the dot com bubble burst.

So why is this happening? These low taxes should have helped, right? Well, they have certainly concentrated the wealth into an ever-smaller group. The top 1 percent now earn 25 percent of the income earned and control 40 percent of the wealth. If you take it out to the top 5% the numbers are even more lopsided. See the link here for the numbers.

And it's not just individuals - businesses are sitting on a record amount of cash but they are not hiring. Why not? Simple - there is no conspiracy here - there is simply a lack of demand because most people borrowed against their homes, on their credit cards, etc. to get by and can't spend. That's not even counting the unemployed or underemployed. So without the spending, there is no demand, and without the demand there are no more jobs. So, to get the economy going again, empirical and historical evidence suggests we need to improve demand.


Skinny-Dipping Reflections
Published on August 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Apparently some people are outraged because one year ago, a bunch of GOP Congressmen went for a late night swim in the Sea of Galilee (where Jesus walked on water!), and at least one of the swimmers, Rep. Kevin Yoder, was nude. None of this, in my opinion, is a very big deal. But it is hilarious. The story in Politico even includes the classic sentence "alcohol may have played a role."

OK, where to begin. First of all, I love the idea that a late-night swim is considered so aberrant that it requires an explanation, and a finger-wagging one at that: Alcohol may have played a role! Sure, I suppose. Or maybe it was hot out, and after a long day people felt like swimming! I mean, whatever. It's not like any of this is a very big deal. As Cord Jefferson put it in Gawker, "Some people are mad that these people got a little tipsy and went swimming while on a trip paid for by taxpayer money. If that's the case, let's be more mad that they stayed in the swank Scots Hotel, where rooms can run upwards of $1,000 a night, than that they went swimming naked, which is free." I agree with Cord: I don't want to live in a country where skinny dipping is viewed as a problem. Personally, I've always viewed it as a rite of passage - one of those things you do when you work at summer camp or go to college. 

Helpfully, Gawker has also posted a skinny dipping etiquette guide, some of which I agree with, and some of which I don't. The first question, "Do I have to skinny dip?" is answered properly, with a simple, "You do not." Of course you don't! Nobody should be forced to skinny dip! I also agreed with the response to the question, "Can I just stay on land and watch?": "No, you cannot. Staying on the sidelines and watching makes you a perverted potato. ... Active participation is the price you pay for witnessing skinny dipping antics. You want to watch people have sexy fun while you do nothing? Watch a porno."

I will quibble with the idea that skinny dipping is all about watching sexy people frolic in the water. Sometimes it is, but sometimes you're just swimming. I mean, I can't think of anything less sexy than watching GOP Congressmen go skinny dipping.

Anyway, thank God for August. It's a slow news month, and that's how we end up with a news cycle dominated by a skinny dipping scandal. Hurrah!


The Horrible School Bus
Published on June 24, 2012 by Sara Foss

Like any halfway sane human being, I feel sorry for Karen Klein, the Rochester-area bus monitor forced to endure horrible taunts from cruel middle school boys. People across the country have responded to Klein's story with outrage, but school buses have always been horrible places - big, wheeled circles of hell. There's a reason one of the covers for the Judy Blume book "Blubber," about an overweight girl bullied by her classmates, depicts a distraught child standing in the middle of a school bus, while her fellow students laugh and point fingers at her.

I was fortunate to avoid riding a bus to school for most of my childhood, as we lived close enough to my elementary and middle schools that I could walk. But then we moved to a new town, and I had to take a bus. This news was almost as awful as being told we were moving; not only would I have to attend a school where I didn't know anybody, I would also have to take the school bus. It was one indignity too many. I imagined getting on the first day, and being bullied before I even got to my new school, where I would no doubt be bullied even more.


Rodney King, R.I.P.
Published on June 17, 2012 by Sara Foss

Confronted with the horror of rioting and death, Rodney King said something that always made a lot of sense to me.

"Can we all get along?" he asked.

I used to keep the text of his remarks on my wall. It's a question I don't think we ask enough. I mean, why can't we all get along?

King's beating at the hands of the L.A. police sparked outrage over police brutality, and although his life was a struggle, I'll always admire the quiet dignity of his words. Here's his obituary from the A.P.

Quiet in Wisconsin
Published on May 29, 2012 by guest author: A Espeseth

It has felt a little quiet in Wisconsin these past few months.

With the recall election pitting the state’s current governor, Scott Walker, against the Democratic candidate, Tom Barrett, occurring in early June, you would think things would be abuzz. Since spring of last year, I had been very active in the effort to push for a recall of Governor Walker and it was an astonishing moment when nearly a million signatures were collected through a public-generated campaign to spark this special election.

But since that moment, I’ve felt I know little about what’s going on. Once the signatures were gathered and it quickly became apparent that a recall election was going to happen, I sat back and took a deep breath. But maybe I’ve sunk too deeply into the couch cushions. Maybe my partners in this effort have, too.

With two young kids and a job, I have my hands full these days. I became more than a little involved in the recall campaign because its importance, in my mind, placed it nearly on par with that of raising children and keeping up with work responsibilities. I felt that the opportunity for equity in life, liberty and happiness was at stake for the majority of Wisconsinites, and that standing by and watching wasn't an option. Many of those I know – even with other critical responsibilities nagging – felt the same way and took some part in – some extra action toward - propelling the effort and keeping energy up.


The Taxman Cometh
Published on April 18, 2012 by Sara Foss

I kind of enjoyed paying taxes this year.


I explain why over at the DG.

Wearing a Hoodie
Published on March 25, 2012 by Sara Foss

I wore my hooded sweatshirt the other night when I went out to eat with my family. My sister's boyfriend wore a hooded sweatshirt, too.

"We're lucky nobody tried to kill us," I told him.

But nobody looked at us askance for wearing hooded sweatshirts, perhaps because we are white people from New England. However, according to Geraldo Rivera, wearing a hooded sweatshirt is asking for trouble - if somebody shoots you while you're wearing one, it's your own damn fault for dressing like a thug. Of course, Geraldo Rivera is an idiot, and would rather blame a hooded sweatshirt for the death of Trayvon Martin than talk about something like racism or whether Stand Your Ground laws make any sense. Yup, blame the victim and his scary hooded sweatshirt.

I wore my hooded sweatshirt the other night because I was cold. But on Sunday churchgoers wore hooded sweatshirts to honor Trayvon Martin. You can read about that here.


But Who Will Protect Us From George Zimmerman?
Published on March 21, 2012 by Sara Foss

After learning about the tragic shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teenager who was gunned down after leaving a convenience store with Skittles and iced tea, I asked whether it would be OK for me to declare myself a neighborhood watch captain, arm myself and shoot anyone I deemed suspicious. Wouldn't the world be a better place if I did that?

Well, no, it wouldn't - I was being sarcastic. There are a lot of things to object to in the story of Trayvon Martin, and a lot of the discussion has centered on Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law, which gives people who feel threatened the right to use force without first making an attempt to retreat. (Emily Bazelon explains the law's history in Slate.) Trayvon's killer, self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, wasn't charged by local police, presumably because no one witnessed the attack and because he claimed self-defense. But recent reports suggest that the local police are a bunch of bumbling fools, and left a whole lot of questions unasked. Fortunately, ThinkProgress has compiled a list of 20 facts about the Martin case, for people who might not realize what an outrage it is.


Mitt Romney's Dog
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

New York Times columnist Gail Collins is obsessed with Mitt Romney's dog.

She's written about how he once strapped a dog carrier to the roof of his car, loaded his Irish setter Seamus into it, and drove to Canada on vacation, stopping to clean off the car when the dog soiled itself, about 50 times.

I read a lot of media criticism, and media critics have generally criticized Collins' dog obsession. They say Romney's treatment of Seamus on that long-ago road trip is trivia, and should be irrelevant when considering whether he would make a good president. For the most part, I agree with this, but when I mentioned the Romney dog incident to my family, they were aghast. "Why haven't we heard more about this?" my mother wanted to know. Everyone seemed to agree that there had to be something seriously wrong with anyone who would strap their dog to the roof and drive to Canada. They didn't think this detail was trivial at all. They thought it was revealing. 

Anyway, the Washington Post has written a piece about poor Seamus, and the role he's playing in the current campaign. Regular people who like dogs - which is a lot of people, by the way - don't think the story is trivia. Like my family, they think it's pertinent and worth talking about. Who knows? Maybe the media critics are wrong.

The New Misogyny
Published on March 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Is there a new misogyny?

Kathleen Geier thinks so.

Click here to find out why.

Are You a Trollop?
Published on March 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Mother Jones provides a helpful chart.

"Saving Face" in Pakistan
Published on March 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

One of the most moving moments of last weekend's Academy Awards ceremony occurred when Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy won the Oscar for best documentary short. Her film, "Saving Face," tells the story of a London-based Pakistani plastic surgeon, Dr. Mohammad Jawad, who travels to Pakistan to treat women who have been disfigured by acid attacks, which are typically carried out by abusive men.

Over at ABC News, Christine Amanpour interviews Obaid-Chinoy about her documentary. Click here to see what she has to say. Also, click here to visit the home of the Acid Survivors Foundation in Pakistan.

The White House War on Whistleblowers
Published on February 27, 2012 by Sara Foss

Last week White House Press Secretary Jay Carney expressed sadness over the death of journalists Marie Colvin and Anthony Shadid overseas, saying they had died "in order to bring truth."

This prompted ABC White House correspondent Jake Tapper to ask how the administration's praise for journalists working in foreign countries squared "with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistle-blowers to court?”

It's true. The Obama administration has been prosecuting whitleblowers aggressively - something that Obama indicated he wouldn't do when he was campaigning for office. 

According to David Carr at the New York Times:

"The Espionage Act, enacted back in 1917 to punish those who gave aid to our enemies, was used three times in all the prior administrations to bring cases against government officials accused of providing classified information to the media. It has been used six times since the current president took office.

Setting aside the case of Pfc. Bradley Manning, an Army intelligence analyst who is accused of stealing thousands of secret documents, the majority of the recent prosecutions seem to have everything to do with administrative secrecy and very little to do with national security.

In case after case, the Espionage Act has been deployed as a kind of ad hoc Official Secrets Act, which is not a law that has ever found traction in America, a place where the people’s right to know is viewed as superseding the government’s right to hide its business."

The Carr column, which you can find here, explains why the Obama's use of the Espionage Act is bothersome. The piece pairs well with this New Yorker article from May about the government's case against Thomas Drake, a former senior executive at the National Security Agency.

How Much Do You Know About Politcal Sex Scandals?
Published on February 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Atlantic presents a five-question quiz.

This Is What Democracy Looks Like
Published on February 22, 2012 by guest author: A Espeseth

Even as the Wisconsin protests in February and March of last year continued to gain momentum, achieving a recall election for the state’s sitting governor, Scott Walker, seemed to me a far off, dim hope. Gathering the 540,208 signatures needed to initiate a recall struck me as completely implausible. Strangely, it may have been witnessing the tens of thousands of people at the rallies that allowed me to imagine multiplying a population that size, and then trying to collect signatures from it. Of course I knew I didn’t have to collect half a million signatures by myself - at least, technically I knew that - but I still carried an oppressive feeling that I was alone in this fight.

Governor Walker had ignited the massive weekly gatherings and occupation of the capitol building shortly after he took office. With rapid passage, his budget bill all but dismantled public labor unions, cut off significant funding for public services, including education, and was just the beginning of enacting, without public debate, a lengthy list of policies detrimental to a wide swath of Wisconsin residents and their rights.

My sense of loneliness in the effort does seem hard to justify when surrounded by so many people willingly and vocally expressing the exact same frustrations and anger I felt. Perhaps it was my belief that this passion I was witnessing - even over so many weeks, and gaining strength at that – would dissipate as short attention spans inevitably drifted to new issues and lack of leadership and organization doomed any plans for the more directed protest of a recall campaign.

I had seen bad organization in political campaigns before. Actually, that’s all I’d seen. Not that I was an old hand at being involved politically, but the few for which I’d volunteered left me disillusioned that my efforts had in any way bent the trajectory of political space and time. I typically volunteered in order to channel my frustrations and angst into productive use. I wanted to make an impact on the outcome of a campaign that otherwise seemed to be teetering on the edge of failure. I knocked on doors, I called people - compete strangers to me - reminding them to vote.


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