"You left poor Behemoth, betraying him for a glass of brandy -- though it was very good brandy!"

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

  Book now out

Email me at address on right to find out how you, too, can get it for a bargain basement price.

Well, not exactly bargain basement.

Monday, January 29, 2007

  Historical Parallels

I've been meaning to post this little description of Nicholas II from the textbook I've assigned this semester.* It's ... uncanny.
Here it is, to save future Bush historians much time:

Nicholas's intellectual limitations and restricted social outlook might not have mattered so much had he relied on some of the talented and far-sighted nobles and bureaucrats who gained prominence during the last decades of the Russian Empire. But as often happens with weak leaders, Nicholas distrusted individuals brighter and abler than himself. Instead he dependended on relatively incompetent advisers and officials who mirrored his own conservative opinions.

Although occasionally charming and by nature gentle and kindly, [okay, it isn't an exact fit, but keep reading] Nicholas was weak-willed and stubborn. He often acted from instinct and intuition and then stuck to his position even when proven wrong, a trait that resulted in erratic decision making.

There's more, but you get the idea.

-- Stu

( * John M. Thompson, A Vision Unfulfilled [D.C. Heath, 1996])

Thursday, January 25, 2007

  Richard Cohen agrees

THIS is funny:

Little said he hasn’t yet settled on his material for the April correspondents’ dinner. He has a vast repertoire of voices. His Web site features a hundred and sixty-three impersonations, including those of eight cartoon characters, three Muppets, and a hundred and fifteen people who are dead. These include Red Skelton, Broderick Crawford, Telly Savalas, and Maurice Chevalier.

And, among all these puppets, corpses, and animation, the Clenis is definitely still funny:

Talking about the dinner, Little posed a question: “Do you think I could do a little sexual material?” He explained, “Sometimes I get a little too sexual.”
Asked for an example, he offered this joke: “Bill Clinton and his pal George Bush senior were sitting around, and Clinton says”—here he switches to Clinton’s voice—“ ‘George, have you ever tried Viagra?’
“ ‘I can’t say,’ ” Little’s George H. W. Bush answers. “ ‘I don’t even know what the hell it is.’
“ ‘Mr. President,’ Clinton says, ‘it gives you great staying power.’
“ ‘Really?’ Bush says. ‘Can I get it over the counter?’
“Clinton answers, ‘I suppose you can, if you take two or three of them.’
“That’s a funny joke,” Little said.

It shoooore is. And so is this:

He promised to use mostly political material, though, along these lines: “They said we’re going to send jets to Israel this year, but what the hell would they do with a bunch of football players?” Iraq jokes, however, are out. “I do have a funny line on that,” he said, and he began to imitate the current President: “George W. Bush here. I tell you, I’m between I-raq and a hard place.”
Little paused, and said, “That’s funny. But, believe me, you won’t hear the word ‘Iraq’ out of my mouth the whole evening. They know I’m a safe bet over there at the White House.”

Oh dear is that going to be one long night of unselfconscious self-parody ...

-- Stu
  A Revival:

For personal amusement purposes only, I will, shortly, be reviving this much-beloved and desperately missed blog.

Try to contain yourselves.

-- Stu

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

  Please come follow me to my new home:

Monday, July 05, 2004

  Kerry Picks Jesus Christ as VP Running Mate; Bush Campaign Responds

[reposted from my dKos diary]

A Bush administration spokesperson responded today to presumed Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's surprise announcement of Jesus Christ, a carpenter from Nazareth, as his running mate:

The Democratic Party is offering us a ticket that includes two ultra-liberal politicians out of touch with mainstream American values. We didn't think it was possible, but John Kerry has chosen a running mate even more radical and wild-eyed than himself. Just look at some of the recent statements made by this Jesus Christ character.

First, he offers a pathetically weak response to the terrorist threat that hovers over America today. When asked for what he believes we should do, he actually said, "But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also." Is this the man we want next in line to the position of Commander-in-Chief? A man who not only opposed the removal of Saddam Hussein, but whose ludicrous response to the terrorist threat is to "Love your enemies?"

And he has made quite clear his antipathy toward Americans who take pride in their religion. He is adamantly opposed to prayer in schools and at other public functions. His proposals make even the ACLU look like a bunch of moderates: "And when thou prayes, thous shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward."

He has literally suggested that religious Americans should be forced into dark closets: "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly."

I mean, not only is he delivering a clearly anti-Christian message, but what kind of liberal fancy-pants northeastern middle-eastern elitist talks like this? The American people are tired of effete out of touch polticians talking down to them with "thy" and "thine," and who is this guy to be talking about thy Father? Does he think he's the messiah?

Oh, but there's more, much more. His fantastic pronouncements on economic policy leave one scratching one's head as well. One wonders whether he studied with Professor Karl Marx. He is clearly hostile to the entire capitaist free market system, to the businessmen and women who are the bedrock of this country, and the right of all Americans to make their fortune. Here are just a few of his choice quotes:

"If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me."

Now sure, nobody has anything against charity, but Mr. Christ makes clear that he considers being wealthy almost sinful. Some of this stuff really sounds almost Communist:

"Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven. And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

And sometimes, he seems to be openly engaging in the kind of class warfare that will not resonate with ordinary Americans.

"And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."

Heck, he's declared open season on the small businessmen and women who make up the backbone of this great nation. I read you a recent report from the Gospel of St. Matthew, which I need not remind you is itself part and parcel of the liberal media:

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. And said unto them, "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves."

So honest bankers and merchants are nothing more than thieves, according to Mr. Christ, whose shrill statements and wild-eyed, criminal disruption of these small businesses should on their own be enough to disqualify him from any position of responsibility, much less the vice-presidency.

John Kerry has again shown his true colors by choosing this radical long-haired hippie as his running mate. We are confident that the American people will reject this man as out of touch with main-stream American values, and Vice-President Cheney is especially looking forward to the debate so that he might show the radical differences between their views.

When asked for a response, a spokesperson for Jesus Christ released the following statement.

Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.

Thursday, June 24, 2004

  John Gorenfeld, Moon the Messiah, and the Media Echo Chamber

[Reposted from my diary at dKos]

I've been thinking about how the story that John Gorenfeld has been following for months concerning politicans' close ties to the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, and in particular the bizzarre ceremony this March where Moon was crowned messiah, has suddenly burst into the open in the past several days. It has been a fascinating process to watch, because I have been following it closely since Gorenfeld's first piece that appeared in Salon last September detailing Republican's close ties to Moon and some of the more outrageous things Moon has said and done. Since then I have checked his blog regularly, and Atrios frequently posts links to John's latest updates.

Before this week, John couldn't get anyone to bite on this story. No one was interested. He would frequently post in the Atrios coments section describing his frustrations, and people would throw out suggestions to him as to who might be interested. The mainstream media was completely silent and utterly indifferent. Even those in the know didn't know -- I just did a search through the diaries at dKos, and the story kept coming up anew every couple weeks.

Then came his article in the Gadflyer a couple of weeks back, and it started to pick up some steam, you started to see articles here and there. But what really sent it over the top was this week's Salon piece. Suddenly it hit the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from which it spread to the Knight-Ridder wire, the Chicago Tribune, and, today, the front page of the Washington Post.

All of the sudden you can't miss the story -- even if you don't read, since it was apparently on ABC and CBS news. And Gorenfeld, who couldn't get anyone to pay any attention to him, is suddenly in hot demand. He is mentioned in the WaPo story, quoted in the NY Times (the Gray Lady, natch, pulled up the rear, just putting out the story in tomorrow's edition), and the moment I knew this was the tipping point was when I heard him being interviewd on All Things Considered.

The point of my going through all of this chronology is that it is an incredible case study in how the media echo chamber works, and therefore an experience very much to be learned from. The media in our country has lost its bearings, it has no sense of what makes a story important per se. The mainstream media couldn't get itself to touch this story, and John Gorenfeld was just some outsider, who maybe had a piece or two in Salon, but that wasn't enough to get them to pay attention.

Then there is a combination of events, a perfect storm: the Moon the Messiah ceremony is just so incredible, that it begins to pick up steam. Gorenfeld is on Air America and other radio outlets, he has the piece in the Gadflyer, and a couple of papers start to talk about it. Then this week's Salon article comes out, the WaPo finally jumps, and all of the rest of them follow like sheep. Unbelievably so. Newspapers and broadcast media outlets alike only became convinced that it was a story when they read about it in the Washington Post and Knight Ridder.

What's also interesting is how the story gets reported in the same way. Some of the details John G has been stressing concerning the utterly insane nature of Moon's speeches (in particular the Stalin and Hitler reference) have been getting picked up by these stories and reported as is. But the SCLM (the WaPo article in particular) has focused on the Democrats that were at the meeting and almost completely elided the fact that the overwhelming majority of Moon's support goes to Republicans, his recent courting of African-American Churches and the Congressional Black Caucus notwithstanding.

Still, annoying though this is to a certain extent, at least associating with Moon is on its way to becoming politically radioactive, which is needless to say how it should have been all along and has been, I think, one of Gorenfeld's goals in pursuing this story with such tenacity. It will be interesting to see what the fallout is. Will Moon money be dirty money? Will people begin to call for politicians to stay away from this sexually obsessed, homophobic, anti-semitic megalomaniac? I emailed the ADL shortly after the first Salon piece appeared last September asking why they hadn't demanded that politicians renounce all ties to this man who has suggested that the Holocaust was just retribution for Jews killing Christ -- as they've done with great energy vis-a-vis Farrakhan. I received no response. It will be interesting to see whether they will be more vocal now that the story can no longer be ignored.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

  Political Taboos, pt. 2: Payroll Tax Reform

[reposted from my diary at dKos]

Part two of my series on "taboos" in American political discourse will argue for the need to reshift the tax debate from income to payroll taxes. Previously I have posted an introduction to the series and an entry on the need to eliminate agricultural subsidies. All posts in this series will also be reposted on my occasional blog begemot. The topics in this series are taboos not in the sense that they cannot be discussed at all, but that they are not currently the subject of serious legislative initiatives (as far as I'm aware). The series, for the most part, does not blame Democrats for not raising these issues, some of which are more politically feasible than others, but does argue that these issues should be considered more seriously -- at least after November's elections if not before. The usual caveat applies that I am not a specialist in any of the subjects I am posting on but have attempted to research it more or less thoroughly in order to produce an informed argument.

I will argue in the current entry that shifting the tax debate to reforming payroll taxes is both a moral imperative and in the best interests of the Democratic Party in both the short and long run. Payroll taxes are regressive taxes which affect lower income Americans to a far greater extent than upper income Americans. Most lower income Americans pay more (sometimes significantly more) in payroll taxes than in income taxes. While the Republicans have made cutting income taxes, repeatedly, incessantly, and without regard for the consequences, one of the centerpieces (if not the centerpiece) of their political program, the have, unsurprisingly, entirely ignored payroll taxes.

As Paul Krugman (who else?) argued way back at the beginning of the Bush mal-administration,

When it comes to tax cuts, however, Mr. Bush's people ignore the payroll tax — that is, they propose no cut in the tax that is most of what most families pay, while demanding a large cut in the income tax, which falls mainly on the affluent. And they want to eliminate the inheritance tax, which is overwhelmingly a tax on the downright wealthy.

Moreover, as Krugman has argued more recently (the NY Times, annoyingly and pointlessly makes their archived version of this article for pay only), the recent tax cuts for the wealthy are possible in part because of the increase in payroll taxes foisted on us 20 years ago at the behest, among others, of Alan Greenspan.

The payroll tax is regressive: it falls much more heavily on middle- and lower-income families than it does on the rich. In fact, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, families near the middle of the income distribution pay almost twice as much in payroll taxes as in income taxes. Yet people were willing to accept a regressive tax increase to sustain Social Security.

Now the joke's on them. Mr. Greenspan pushed through an increase in taxes on working Americans, generating a Social Security surplus. Then he used that surplus to argue for tax cuts that deliver very little relief to most people, but are worth a lot to those making more than $300,000 a year. And now that those tax cuts have contributed to a soaring deficit, he wants to cut Social Security benefits.

The point, of course, is that if anyone had tried to sell this package honestly — "Let's raise taxes and cut benefits for working families so we can give big tax cuts to the rich!" — voters would have been outraged. So the class warriors of the right engaged in bait-and-switch.

This represents an enormous opportunity for progressives to wrest the tax issue away from those who would use it to benefit the very wealthy and to show how it should be used instead to help out the hard working middle class.

In a recent issue of Atlantic Monthly, Maya MacGuineas, director of the Fiscal Policy Program at the New America Foundation, argued extensively and persuasively for the need for radical tax reform.

Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes, also regressive, have grown to the point where they are the largest federal taxes that most American families pay. Though the basic structure of the federal payroll tax has hardly changed in fifty years, its rate has been raised repeatedly. Today it is 15.3 percent, and all earners, whether they make $25,000 a year or $250,000, pay it on the very first dollar of earnings. But the 12.4 percent Social Security tax applies only to wage earnings below $87,900—meaning that the $25,000-a-year earner (every dollar of whose income is taxed at 15.3 percent) pays a higher effective tax rate than the $250,000-a-year earner (most of whose income is exempt). And investment income and employer benefits—which accrue disproportionately to high-income earners—go completely untaxed, making the system still more regressive. People who live entirely off inherited wealth pay no payroll taxes at all.

In a recent op-ed piece, MacGuineas and New America Foundation president Ted Halstead urge Kerry to consider making abolishing the payroll tax one of his fiscal priorities:

Although you'd never know it from listening to our political leaders, the largest tax now paid by over 70 percent of working American families is not the income tax but the payroll tax. No tax does more to discourage job creation or to reduce take-home pay for low- and middle-income workers. Likewise, nothing could do more to boost both than repealing it outright.

Unlike income taxes, the payroll tax kicks in from the first dollar earned and applies only to wages. It is split equally between employers and employees (except in the case of independent contractors, who bear both parts of the burden). While income taxes have been cut many times in recent decades, payroll taxes have risen steadily: from a tenth of the federal budget in the 1950s to over a third today.

The New America Foundation is not the only progressive group arguing along these lines. An organization called "Get America Working!", which includes Robert Reich on its board, is equally vocal on this issue:

Payroll taxes do more damage than any other tax -- to the economy, social well being, the environment and income distribution. Payroll taxes have grown from 2 to 34 percent of Federal revenues, a gigantic accidental national increase in the price of hiring people. Now 80 percent of American taxpayers pay more in payroll taxes than in income tax.


The payroll tax is far more regressive even than it appears. The Social Security (largest) component applies only to wages up to $80,400 but not beyond. A family with two $50,000 earners pays more than another with one salary of $300,000 and investment income of $650,000.

Less obvious is the fact that low wage (i.e. little bargaining power) workers usually pay the "employer's" half of the tax. Their employers simply hold down wage increases until they have shifted the tax's cost to the workers. The opposite is true for highly skilled workers. The result: low wage workers pay the full tax and highly paid workers effectively pay little or nothing. That today's over $550 billion payroll taxes are so perfectly regressive – twice over – helps explain America's worsening income inequality.

[See also this GAW Chart on the rising U.S. reliance on payroll taxes.]

The possibility has not escaped Democrats, although they have so far not made it the centerpiece of their fiscal agenda. Of the Democratic candidates for president only Carol Mosley Braun, as far as I'm aware, addressed the issue on a consistent basis. (See for example her comments last summer on the News Hour.) Howard Dean flirted with the idea in January, but, to the disappointment of some of us supporters, never officially announced a plan including payroll tax reduction. Kerry has included payroll tax relief for new hires for small business in his extremely sophisticated plan for job creation but has, as far as I can tell, not addressed the issue of payroll tax relief more directly and comprehensively.

The main issue, of course, is how to make up the income that would be lost in cutting or eliminating payroll taxes. MacGuineas and Halstead propose a progressive national consumption tax which would also encourage savings. However, the idea of instituting an entirely new federal tax strikes me as particularly politically impossible. More realistic would be the possibility of extending tax credits or relief for social security taxes and making this up by repealing some of Bush's income tax and inheritance tax cuts for the very wealthy. This idea was proposed by Robert Reich who imagined the following scenario:

Starting as soon as possible, you'll be relieved of payroll taxes on the first $20,000 of your annual income. The tax holiday will last two years. Ballpark cost to the government: $700 billion. We'll pay for it by repealing Bush's estate tax cut, which will also cost around $700 billion. Are you with me? All we have to do is convince Democrats it's a smart move and strike fear in the hearts of enough Republicans to get it passed and signed

John Mattar of Democratic Underground proposed a very similar plan and also added the necessity (I would say moral imperative) of repealing the cap on contributions in order to make the social security tax less regressive:

Citizens for Tax Justice estimates that the elimination of the "earnings cap" would generate an estimated $52.8 billion in additional annual revenue (year 2000). That could pay for a full rebate of the payroll tax for up to 34.4 million workers earning $20,000 each year .

Can it be done? As with my previous post, this is an issue that I think truly can be drawn into the national political discourse. It is one that is both morally and fiscally imperative and also could provide potential enormous political advantage to the Democratic Party. Let's work to get this one on the table.

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