Tuesday, July 13, 2010

John Boehner: If I Ruled the World


Sen. Kyl: $678-billion tax break for rich should not be offset

By David Edwards and Daniel Tencer

johnkyl Sen. Kyl: $678 billion tax break for rich should not be offset

Sen. Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, believes that any extension to unemployment benefits "ought to be paid for." But when it comes to the $678-billion cost of extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, the senator says no offsetting is necessary.

In an interview with Fox News' Chris Wallace Sunday, Kyl argued that Congress and the Obama administration should extend the tax cuts enacted by President George W. Bush during his first term.

Extending the entire package of tax cuts would cost the US $2.2 trillion over the next 10 years. The Obama administration has argued in favor of allowing to expire at least the part of the tax cuts that applies to people earning over $250,000 a year. That portion is estimated to cost $678 billion over 10 years.

"Tell me, how are you going to pay that $678 billion to keep those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy?" Wallace asked Kyl.

"You should never raise taxes in order to cut taxes," Kyl said.


Are Low Taxes Exacerbating the Recession?


By David Sirota

The real problem facing the Greeks is not how to reduce spending but how to increase revenue collections.
As the planet's economy keeps stumbling, the phrase "worst recession since the Great Depression" has become the new "global war on terror" — a term whose overuse has rendered it both meaningless and acronym-worthy. And just like that previously ubiquitous phrase, references to the WRSTGD are almost always followed by flimsy and contradictory explanations.

Republicans who ran up massive deficits say the recession comes from overspending. Democrats who gutted the job market with free trade policies nonetheless insist it's all George W. Bush's fault. Meanwhile, pundits who cheered both sides now offer non-sequiturs, blaming excessive partisanship for our problems.

But as history (and Freakonomics) teaches, such oversimplified memes tend to obscure the counterintuitive notions that often hold the most profound truths. And in the case of the WRSTGD, the most important of these is the idea that we are in economic dire straits because tax rates are too low.

This is the provocative argument first floated by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer in a Slate magazine article evaluating 80 years of economic data.

"During the period 1951-63, when marginal rates were at their peak — 91 percent or 92 percent — the American economy boomed, growing at an average annual rate of 3.71 percent," he wrote in February. "The fact that the marginal rates were what would today be viewed as essentially confiscatory did not cause economic cataclysm — just the opposite. And during the past seven years, during which we reduced the top marginal rate to 35 percent, average growth was a more meager 1.71 percent."

Months later, with USA Today reporting that tax rates are at a 60-year nadir, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a Brookings Institution audience that "the rich are not paying their fair share in any nation that is facing (major) employment issues…whether it is individual, corporate, whatever the taxation forms are."



Political Animal

I've been marveling in recent months at the ways in which Republican lawmakers and candidates seem to actively dislike -- on a personal level -- those who've lost their jobs in the recession. It's kind of odd, given that the unemployed don't seem to have done anything to offend the GOP and earn the party's disdain.

In the latest example, we see Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett (R), the frontrunner in this year's gubernatorial race, arguing publicly that jobless workers in his state are choosing not to work, preferring to live on meager unemployment aid.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Corbett on Friday accused some jobless Pennsylvanians of choosing to collect unemployment checks rather than going back to work, prompting swift criticism from his Democratic opponent and one of the state's top labor leaders.

"The jobs are there. But if we keep extending unemployment, people are just going to sit there," Corbett told Harrisburg radio station WITF at a campaign stop in Elizabethtown. "I've literally had construction companies tell me, 'I can't get people to come back to work until . . . they say, "I'll come back to work when unemployment runs out." ' "

I obviously can't speak with confidence about what some guy told some other guy who in turn told Corbett. But the general argument is getting quite tiresome.

"The jobs are there"? No, they're really not. Nationwide, there are five applicants for every one opening, which is a terribly painful ratio. Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is currently at a 26-year high.

Corbett not only seems confused about economic conditions, but his animosity about the jobless' attitudes is awful. Yes, I can appreciate the fact that an unemployed worker who's exhausted his/her benefits will be more desperate to take any job than an unemployed worker who's still receiving public aid. But this dynamic matters a whole lot more when there are plenty of job opportunities for those who want them. That's just not the current reality.


The people should be able to gerrymander, not just the politicians


 My Photoby Mark Schaver

Legislative redistricting should be more open, two Brookings Institution fellows argued in a column in The Washington Post last week.

Politicians often use redistricting as an opportunity to cut unfavorable constituents and potential challengers out of their districts. Barack Obama, for example, learned the rough and tumble of redistricting politics when Rep. Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) carved Obama's Chicago home out of Rush's congressional district after losing a 2000 primary challenge to Obama, then a state senator.

Critically, these decisions are made with little or no public input or accountability. While Arizona and California are among the few states that give the public a chance to see and participate in how the boundaries are set, by using open redistricting commissions, most states gerrymander legislative lines behind closed doors. Figures from both major parties tilt the electoral playing field so much that one party is essentially assured of winning a given district, controlling the state legislature or winning the most seats in the state's congressional delegation. In other words, the democratic process is subverted. In this system, politicians select voters rather than voters electing politicians.

The column notes that most Americans are ignorant about the process and makes the case that with advances in technology, there's no excuse for not doing it out in the open.


In Memoriam, Dr. Hans Georg Behr


Dr. Hans-Georg Behr, noted neurotoxicologist and author, passed away on the evening of July 7 2010, at the age of 72.

In 2009 Dr. Behr was awarded the International Cannabis Cultuurprijs in recognition of his fight against the prohibition of cannabis and against the demonisation of people who enjoy it. Although poor health prevented him from attending the award ceremony, his sense of humour was unaffected.

"I am as happy as Charlie Chaplin when he was given an Oscar,"  joked Dr. Behr when he received the news.

Hans Georg Behr's work has not always been met with such appreciation. His book Von Hanf ist die Rede, Kultur und Politik einer Droge ('Hemp is the Question- the Culture and Politics of a Drug') was published in 1982 and remains a relevant and authoritative work on cannabis. In the storm of indignation which arose after the publication of his book, police searched Mr. Behr's home and found 0.318 grams of cannabis.

Dr. Behr, who had never made a secret of being a 'kiffer' (cannabis smoker), was dragged before the courts. The show trial which followed lasted for 52 days and ended with  the dismissal of the charges against him. Despite this experience, Dr. Behr  could laugh about the collective panic of the times:  "Until now I have not properly described the phobia about cannabis. I name it the distinct madness of the Germans. Paranoia Germanica."


Methane bubble "doomsday" story debunked

Methane bubble "doomsday" story debunked

For several days, bloggers and journalists have been passing around a news story about how the BP oil disaster will unleash a "giant methane bubble" and initiate a mass extinction. Yes, it's a myth. And we've busted it.

In this article, called "Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a 'world-killing' event," a guy named Terrence Aym takes some information he got from a "Mega Disasters" TV special on undersea methane bubbles and mixes it with comments about how there are "giant rifts" beneath the sea and an "information blackout." He proposes that a "twenty mile methane bubble" dislodged by the BP oil disaster will erupt from the ocean floor, causing tidal waves and giant explosions. The sad part about all this is that news organizations and blogs took the story seriously.

While it's true that there are methane bubbles (and methane ice) beneath the ocean floor, they are not about to erupt from Gulf and destroy all life on Earth. This morning I spoke with two Earth scientists, Dave Valentine of UC Santa Barbara and Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, who study methane and oil seeps from the sea floor. Valentine has just been out to the Gulf to study the methane levels there, and told io9:

During our recent cruise to the Gulf we observed significantly elevated levels of methane at water depth greater than 2500 feet, in the vicinity of the Deepwater Horizon spill site. While the total quantity of methane and other hydrocarbons is enough to cause problems with the regional ecosystem, there is no plausible scenario by which this event alone will cause global-scale extinctions.

So yes, there is a methane seep. No, it will not cause tidal waves or explode.


BP spills coffee

The Disappearing Intellectual in the Age of Economic Darwinism

We live at a time that might be appropriately called the age of the disappearing intellectual, a disappearance that marks with disgrace a particularly dangerous period in American history. While there are plenty of talking heads spewing lies, insults and nonsense in the various media, it would be wrong to suggest that these right-wing populist are intellectuals. They are neither knowledgeable nor self-reflective, but largely ideological hacks catering to the worst impulses in American society. Some obvious examples would include John Stossel calling for the repeal of that "section of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that bans discrimination in public places." And, of course, there are the more famous corporate-owned talking heads such as Glenn Beck, Charles Krauthammer, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh, all of whom trade in reactionary world views, ignorance, ideological travesties and outlandish misrepresentations - all the while wrapping themselves in the populist creed of speaking for everyday Americans.

In a media scape and public sphere that view criticism, dialog and thoughtfulness as a liability, such anti-intellectuals abound, providing commentaries that are nativist, racist, reactionary and morally repugnant. But the premium put on ignorance and the disdain for critical intellectuals is not monopolized by the dominant media, it appears to have become one of the few criteria left for largely wealthy individuals to qualify for public office. One typical example is Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, who throws out inanities such as labeling the Obama administration a "gangster government." Bachmann refuses to take critical questions from the press because she claims that they unfairly focus on her language. She has a point. After all, it might be difficult to support statements such as the claim that "the US government used the census information to round up the Japanese [Americans] and put them in concentration camps." Another typical example can be found in Congressman Joe Barton's apology to BP for having to pay for damages to the government stemming from its disastrous oil spill.

This "upscaling of ignorance" gets worse. Richard Cohen, writing in The Washington Post about Sen. Michael Bennett, was shocked to discover that he was actually well-educated and smart but had to hide his qualifications in his primary campaign so as to not undermine his chance of being re-elected. Cohen concludes that in politics, "We have come to value ignorance."


The Medium Is the Medium

Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students' test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the "summer slide" — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke's Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.


Harvey Pekar Dies; Authored 'American Splendor'

Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner and foster daughter DanielleComic version of Harvey PekarComic book writer Harvey Pekar was found dead Monday morning at his home in Cleveland. He immortalized that city in his work, which critics compared to that of Chekhov and Dostoyevsky.
The cause of death is not yet known, but Pekar suffered from prostate cancer, high blood pressure, asthma and depression. He was 70 years old.
Pekar was a shlub, as ordinary as a pair of old twill pants — the sort of thing he usually wore. But he translated his life into art: comic books, plays, an opera, even a movie. The 2003 film American Splendor was an adaptation of Pekar's autobiographical comic series of the same name; it revealed the darkly prosaic life of a file clerk who yells at old ladies in the supermarket, loses his keys, and feels rejected and alone.
His comic ideal was articulated in the film by actor Paul Giamatti, who portrayed Pekar: "There's no idealized sh - -. This is the real thing, man."

A handy visual guide to who plays who on the Simpsons