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Would the real "real median household income" please stand up?

by New Deal democrat

Would the real “real median household income” please stand up?
Real median household income is among the most important measures of economic well-being.  So why do three surveys compiled from 3 different sources give 3 very different results?

Let me point out initially what real median household income is NOT.  It is NOT real wages.  Real median household income is compiled by the Census Bureau for all households headed by a person age 16 or older. NOT just wage/salary earners. Households consisting of two retirees are included.  Households headed by somebody in college are included. Households headed by one or two unemployed person are included.  So, real median household income does not tell you what is happening with salaries and wages. It is in no way “proof” that real wages and salaries have been declining. In fact, real wages and salaries have been essentially stagnant since the turn of the Millennium.  Rather, calulated from the monthly housheold jobs survey (more on that below) it tracks pretty closely with real median weekly wages adjusted for the employment to population ratio, as shown in the graph below that was created for me by Doug Short (I am using several more of his graphs later on in this post as well):


First off, here ere is median annual real household income as calculated by the Census Bureau, based on the data series Income and Poverty in the United States. It was last updated in August 2015 for 2014:

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Dealing the Woman’s Card—Clinton’s. And Mine. And Dealing the Man’s Card—Bernie Sanders’s. And Donald Trump’s.

There are limits to the analogy between Clinton’s 2008 primary contest with Obama and Sanders’s primary contest now with her.  Clinton doesn’t get that.  But she needs to figure it out because the differences matter.

There are limits to the analogy between Clinton’s 2008 primary contest with Obama and Sanders’s primary contest now with her.  Clinton doesn’t get that.  But she needs to figure it out because the differences matter., Me, Angry Bear, yesterday

Later yesterday I posted a short follow-up, saying:

When I wrote this post today I wasn’t aware of this piece by Jonathan Cohn (a longtime favorite of mine, dating to his time at The New Republic).  It was published early this morning but I just learned of it (h/t Paul Waldman).  But it makes the same key point that I do in mine.

Which is that Sanders supporters will know that their vote for Clinton in November will mean something much more than just a vote for Clinton or a vote against Trump.  Most of us will be out en force on election day, voting not because of Clinton but because of Sanders.  And voting, really, not for Clinton but for Sanders.  As well as for progressives in the down-ballot contests.

The movement has taken hold.

Which managed to garner some attention to my first post, since I’d linked to it, and spurred the following in the comments thread to it this morning:

Beene

April 28, 2016 7:57 am

People if you take nothing else from the above article. Except that change is possible if you help Bernie and Warren when they ask for help for explicit people; reform of the democratic party is possible.

If you believe that the common belongs to the nation and those who benefit should be taxed according to assistance they have received as a member of this nation. But, dino’s like the Clintons’ or Obama are no better than having a republican, as the goal is not the common good.

 

EMichael

April 28, 2016 9:26 am

” But, dino’s like the Clintons’ or Obama are no better than having a republician, as the goal is not the common good.”

It is hard to imagine the stupidity required to write that sentence.

Prompting this lengthy comment from me:

You know what’s sort of funny to me about this thread?  I had forgotten this until this weeks’ Woman’s Card contretemps—specifically Clinton’s “Deal me in” response to Trump—reminded me of it.  Clinton responded with something like “If equal pay, and guaranteed paid family leave, and affordable preschool, and women’s healthcare are playing the Woman’s Card, deal me in.”  Ah; then I remembered the moment when I concluded that Clinton really DOESN’T have a core, or much of one anyway: When at the first debate last fall, after Sanders mentioned his proposal to tax everyone’s income at (I think) $1.54/a week (it was well less than $2.00) to pay for guaranteed paid medical and family leave, Clinton used, for the first of many times during the fall and very early this year, her rebuttal line that she wants to raise middle-class incomes, not lower them.

Until that moment I had thought that the one thing that really WAS her core politically was the panoply of traditional women’s issues, including guaranteed paid family leave.  Guess I was wrong about that, I said to myself.  So, apparently, did a good swath of other progressives.

She was raked over the coals for that—a stunning, dumbfounding comment from a Democratic candidate for president—yet she kept repeating it until the polls showed Sanders effectively even with her in Iowa and leading her in New Hampshire.  I remember the dismay and anger from commentators and others.  Several pointed out that that comment was straight from the Republican Party playbook.  And that apparently Clinton thinks FDR and LBJ wanted to lower incomes because, well … Social Security and Medicare.

Clinton thinks her problem in not being a natural politician is simply that she’s cold and stiff in her physical presence and speaking style.  She doesn’t recognize—and either do her campaign folks her feed her these sound bite lines she adopts—that her biggest problem, by far, is fondness for sound bites that are actually appalling.  Her husband raised taxes.  Guess he wanted to lower incomes rather than raise them.

I’ve debated here in AB threads several times with people who disagree with me that Clinton simply is not very bright.  That she’s so fond of this kind of thing—the asinine, self-defeating sound bites and sleights of hand that have been a hallmark of her campaign—is what I’m talking about.

NYT columnist Charles Blow has a good column today in which he calls Clinton a waffling contrivance.   Perfect!

But all that said, the bottom line is that EMichael is, extremely obviously, exactly right.  Why would anyone who is appalled by Citizens United and the Voting Rights Act opinion—two Supreme Court opinions that, unlike most of their other truly awful ones, most ARE aware of—think the outcome of the election between Trump and Clinton doesn’t matter?

I know that most people have no clue that most of the really important stuff that happens in federal courts happens at the district court (trial court) and circuit court (appellate court) levels. Much less do they know the genuinely appalling effect of the complete takeover of the entire civil and criminal justice systems, state and federal, by the Conservative Legal Movement.  Even less do they know the extraordinary breadth and reach of what this has affected.

Nor do they know that, finally—finally—in the last three years, thanks mostly to the decision by Harry Reid to kill the filibuster for circuit and district court nominees, the makeup of those courts has changed significantly and VERY meaningfully.

So, yeah, I repeat what EMichael said:

“”But, dino’s like the Clintons’ or Obama are no better than having a republician, as the goal is not the common good.”

“It is hard to imagine the stupidity required to write that sentence.”

Indeed.

Indeed.

I’m a Card Carrying Woman, but I prefer Sanders’s Man’s Card to Clinton’s Woman’s Card.  And Clinton’s Woman’s Card to this: Trump’s fiscal, healthcare and environmental positions will be drafted by the Club for Growth and the Koch brothers’-sponsored so-called think tanks and lobbyists.  Just as his actual policy proposals published on his campaign’s website were.

____

UPDATE: Greg Sargent has an up-to-date summary of efforts at a Clinton/Sanders rapprochement.

And Alexandra Petri discusses her own Woman’s Card.  Hilariously.

Added 4/28 at 11:24 p.m.

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The USA is not in a liquidity trap any more

This post is related to the debate about fiscal policy and medium run growth which has become entangled with the Sanders or Clinton debate (which I will attempt to avoid). Some extremely Keynesian economists (DeLong, Pro Growth Liberal,, Menzie Chin, Paul Krugman, and (warning pdf) C and D Romer have expressed skepticism about the possibility that fiscal stimulus could cause US GDP to return to the pre-2008 trend.

They have focused on estimates of potential output and the output gap. Basically there are two arguments one is that simple extrapolation of the pre-2008 trend would give an over optimistic guess of potential output, because the rate of true technological progress has exogenously decreased. The other is that low demand has had permanent negative effects. The evidence for either (or both) is that measured total factor productivity growth has been very slow.

The conclusion is that it is unwise to try to calculate the output gap by trying to guess the trend in potential output. Alternatively, the output gap can be calculated by attempting to measure slack directly. The standard measure of slack is the unemployment rate which is now normal. Another is the ratio of employment to prime age (25-54) population which is very low. I’d add that the ratio of vacant jobs to employment is very high, the quit rate is normal and real wages have begun to grow. The pattern is very confusing and it is possible for the same person to reach very different conclusions on different days.

The point (if any) of this post is that I don’t think this matters much. The argument that fiscal stimulus will not cause higher output in the medium term is that, if output surpasses potential output inflation will accelerate and the Fed will raise interest rates cancelling the fiscal stimulus. The argument is based on a prediction about monetary policy.

I don’t think we need to estimate the output gap to predict the Fed’s response to fiscal stimulus or the Fed’s response to rapid GDP growth and declining unemployment. The Fed Open Market Committee (FOMC) has already raised the target federal funds rate up to the still very low 0.25%-0.5%. They have made it very clear that they are considering further rate increases. It could not be more clear that markedly reduced unemployment will convince them to raise interest rates.

The US economy is not at the zero lower bound anymore. This just means that the FOMC no longer wishes it could achieve a negative federal funds rate, that is, the interest rate is above zero so the zero lower bound isn’t binding. This is a statement about what the FOMC will do not what it should do.

Unless there is a political revolution including repeal of the Federal Reserve Act, the possible effects of further fiscal stimulus are limited.

Some people on twitter have the impression that Krugman and C Romer have suddenly ceased to be Keynesian, but they haven’t changed at all. Their views on fiscal policy depend entirely on whether the ZLB is binding (and always have). Krugman has never been what he calls (with the diplomatic tact for which he is famous) a vulgar Keynesian.

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A beautiful essay by Jonathan Cohn

When I wrote this post today I wasn’t aware of this piece by Jonathan Cohn (a longtime favorite of mine, dating to his time at The New Republic).  It was published early this morning but I just learned of it (h/t Paul Waldman).  But it makes the same key point that I do in mine.

Which is that Sanders supporters will know that their vote for Clinton in November will mean something much more than just a vote for Clinton or a vote against Trump.  Most of us will be out en force on election day, voting not because of Clinton but because of Sanders.  And voting, really, not for Clinton but for Sanders.  As well as for progressives in the down-ballot contests.

The movement has taken hold.

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There are limits to the analogy between Clinton’s 2008 primary contest with Obama and Sanders’s primary contest now with her. Clinton doesn’t get that. But she needs to figure it out because the differences matter.

We got to the end in June, and I did not put down conditions. I didn’t say, ‘you know what, if Senator Obama does X, Y, and Z, maybe I’ll support him.’ I said, ‘I’m supporting Senator Obama, because no matter what our differences might be, they pale in comparison to the differences between us and Republicans.’ That’s what I did.

At that time, 40 percent of my supporters said they would not support him. So from the time I withdrew, until the time I nominated him — I nominated him at the convention in Denver — I spent an enormous amount of time convincing my supporters to support him. And I’m happy to say the vast majority did. That’s certainly what I did and I hope that we will see the same this year.

– Hillary Clinton, at an MSNBC town hall-style event, Apr. 21

That is true.  Six days after she lost the California primary to Obama in early June 2008 she made a gracious speech strongly endorsing Obama and urging her supporters to support him, and repeated it in a primetime speech at the Convention.

Which almost certainly is what Sanders will do, almost exactly.  But what he also will do is attempt to play a role in the drafting of the party platform.  And when he endorses Clinton and then campaigns for her he will point out both that Trump’s actual fiscal-policy and healthcare policy proposals, published on his website, are geared toward gaining favor with the Republican Party elite, especially the donors who have been (very) effectively financing the so-called think tanks that draft and dictate Republican Party dogma and have been doing so for several decades now.

And Sanders also will remind the public that he remains a senator, as does Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown and three or four others–among them now Chris Murphy of Connecticut, he made clear a day or two ago in an eloquent statement–who comprise the Senate’s contingent of what’s often referred to as the Warren wing of the Party.

Which is why it is so off-base, so missing the point, for Clinton and many pundits to claim that Sanders’s primary campaign and his decision to remain an active candidate seeking additional elected delegates in the remaining primary and caucus states endanger Clinton’s, and the down-ballot candidates’, chances in the general election.  Because of critical distinctions between the nature of Obama-vs.-Clinton in 2008 and Clinton-vs.-Sanders now, the very opposite is likely true: There were few significant distinctions between Obama’s and Clinton’s domestic-policy proposals, but fairly large distinctions between some of Clinton’s and some of Sanders’.

The main policy distinction between Clinton and Obama in 2008 was on foreign policy. Clinton as a senator had voted in favor of the Iraq war authorization.  Obama, not yet a member of Congress, nonetheless had publicly voiced opposition to it.  The virulently angry Clinton supporters—the 40 percent of her backers who, if the poll she referenced was accurate, thought in June 2008 that they would not vote for Obama that November—almost certainly were mostly middle-aged women, many of them upscale career women like her, and older women, who were angry at Obama for halting the road to the presidency for a woman.  They were not, suffice it to say, pro-Iraq war voters; instead, for them the chance to see woman elected president was paramount. Policy differences, such as they were between two candidates, were secondary.

As Paul Krugman often reminds, the key domestic policy difference between Obama and Clinton was Clinton’s support of an individual mandate to obtain healthcare insurance as a key part of her detailed healthcare-insurance proposal, and Obama’s rather craven opposition to the mandate in his own proposal.  As someone who supported John Edwards in 2008 until it became clear that the race was between Clinton and Obama, but who remembers well that it was Edwards who brought healthcare insurance into the primary contest, proposing a plan that Clinton quickly adopted almost in full as her own because Edwards was gaining media and voter admiration for making it an issue—and who was not pleased that Obama needed to be prodded to propose his own plan and then proposed one that clearly was weaker than Edwards’s and Clinton’s—I seriously considered switching my allegiance to Clinton rather than to Obama.

The deciding factor for me then in choosing Obama?  That I didn’t want another triangulator as a Democratic president, and figured that while Clinton surely would be that, Obama only might be one.  He wasn’t particularly specific about most domestic-policy positions, something that annoyed ad concerned me.  But he was promising change.

Clinton fails at her own (rather large) risk to recognize the differences between the 2008 primary contest and this one, and why Sanders’ campaign is helping her own chances in the general election—a well as those of down-ballot candidates.  To illustrate the key differences between then and now, I’m selecting excerpts from two campaign reports, one by Baltimore Sun political reporters Kate Linthicum and Chris Megerian, from April 24, the other a lengthy Campaign Stops blog post by New York Times correspondent Emma Roller. Both reports are from

Linthicum and Megerian write from the campaign trail in Reading, PA:

In recent months, Bernie Sanders has transformed Dennis Brandau from a guy who hated politics into a first-time voter. On Tuesday, the 29-year-old line cook will proudly cast a ballot for the Vermont senator in Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary.

But the bruising campaign this year also has turned Brandau into a fierce opponent of the Democratic front-runner, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He says he has a hard time imagining backing her this fall if she wins the nomination.

“I don’t know if I can vote for her,” Brandau said. “I don’t even want to hear her talk.”

Sanders’ chances of winning the nomination have dimmed since his 16-point loss to Clinton in last week’s New York primary. Polls show he faces an uphill race in several of the five Eastern states that vote on Tuesday, as well as in California’s June 7 primary.

Some of his supporters remain so steadfast, however, that a #BernieOrBust movement has picked up momentum on Twitter. So has an online pledge for supporters who vow to vote for Sanders as a write-in candidate if he loses the nomination.

Roller reports, also from Reading:

KEITH MANDICH had been to this theater before, to see John Mellencamp.

Now Mr. Mandich, a retired steelworker, was back in downtown Reading, Pa., to see another guy he thought of as a hero for working-­class America: Senator Bernie Sanders.

In his bid for the Democratic nomination, Mr. Sanders has nurtured vocal support from young, college-­educated liberals. But he also has fervent support from people who remember the era of well­-paying union jobs at manufacturing plants — and who are very aware of how far we are from that time.

“I just like Bernie because he’s old like me,” joked Mack Richards, 70, another retired steelworker at the Reading event. Pennsylvania is among the five states holding a primary on Tuesday, and it has the most delegates at stake. Since neither party has locked up its nominee yet, the state’s white working­class voters have more of a voice in the primary process than they have had in years past. In 2008, they were considered Biden voters — the white working-­class denizens of Scranton, Pa., and places like it — whom Joe Biden, Scranton’s own, was supposed to win over for Barack Obama.

This time around, the fight for these voters has focused significantly on a somewhat unlikely contender for juiciest campaign issue: international trade deals and their repercussions.

Any presidential candidate on the stump knows how to work a good metaphor into a speech, and Mr. Sanders knew to use the very ZIP code he was rallying in.

“In many ways, what is happening here in Reading, what has happened over the last several decades, is kind of a metaphor for what’s happening all over this country,” Mr. Sanders told the crowd. “We have seen a city which once had thousands of excellent-­paying jobs lose those jobs because of disastrous trade policies.”

He went on to list corporations, including the Dana Corporation, that had shut down plants in Reading and moved overseas. Mr. Mandich, the Sanders supporter and Mellencamp fan, said that he was laid off from his job at the Dana Corporation, which manufactured automobile frames, when the company closed its Reading plant in 2000. The Dana Corporation was one of the companies that supported the Clinton administration’s effort to pass the North American Free Trade Agreement, which activists and liberal economists argue did more harm than good to the United States economy.

Kevin Wright, a high school physics teacher in line to see Mr. Sanders, saw parallels between the populism on the left and similar sentiments on the right. “We’re the response to the Tea Party,” he said.

His sister, standing next to him, laughed nervously. “Careful!” she warned.

“The Tea Party has taken over the Republican Party,” Mr. Wright continued. “I think our movement’s stronger, and has more numbers, and is more rational and grounded in reality. And you can see that just based on the people here.”

The crowd in Reading skewed a bit older than a typical Sanders rally — possibly because it took place on a weekday afternoon. Fritz Von Hummel, 55, a self­-employed appliance technician who was laid off from his previous job in November, canceled a couple of appointments to come to the event. He said he had not had health insurance for the past seven years because he could not afford it, and he was eager to talk about the shortcomings of President Obama’s signature health care law.

“I’m just furious with the situation the way it is,” he added.

Roller went on to report from a Trump rally a few miles away.  Some of the people she spoke with there echoed refrains similar to those of the Sanders’ supporters.  Here article is titled “CAMPAIGN STOPS: Pennsylvania, Where Everyone Is ‘Furious’.”  The Linthicum and Megerian piece is titled “Voters’ ‘Bernie or Bust’ efforts persist despite Sanders’ vow not to be another Ralph Nader.”

I myself think there’s little danger that most millennials like Dennis Brandau and perhaps-millennials but anyway youngish Sanders supporters like Kevin Wright and his sister won’t ultimately vote for Clinton.  I think they’re more likely to fear Trump than the middle-aged and elderly working-class Sanders supporters.  And I think that thanks in part to social media, they’re more likely to know or learn before November, simply from their web use, that Trump’s fiscal-policy platform is drafted by standard-issue Republican operatives, borrowing from Republican lobbyists and the Club for Growth/Koch brothers’ think-tank-payroll folks.

I think this is so even though Clinton effectively wrapped up the nomination by winning by 16 points in the New York primary in which only those who were registered as Democrats by early October 2015 were able to vote in that primary, and large percentages of young and younger New Yorkers were independents.  Clinton, understandably, doesn’t mention that publicly.  But it is a fact.

And what about the middle-aged one-time factory workers who support Sanders now?  And the middle-class white collar workers whose kids will borrow, or have borrowed, large amounts in student loans?  What about those who pay high healthcare premiums with out-of-pocket expenses that to Clinton may seem negligible but seem less so to the ones who pay these?

These are not people who are livid that Clinton is keeping a Jewish 74-year-old male from gaining the nomination.  They are people who care, deeply, about the policy differences between the two candidates.  And I’m pretty sure that many of them care, as I do, that Clinton keeps feigning ignorance about what people mean when they use the phrase “the establishment.”  And that Clinton has campaigned against Sanders largely using a playbook seemingly co-opted from a used-car-salesman sales manual, pre-lemon-laws.

I myself harbor not so much as a second of doubt that I will vote for president in November, and about whom I vote for.  It will not be the Republican nominee.  And I absolutely know that I will be joined in that by many, many millions of Sanders primary supporters.

And I dearly hope that Sanders will follow the playbook I say above that I expect him to.

And I will say this: Far from hurting down-ballot candidates’ fundraising chances for the general election, those of us who have contributed to Sanders’ campaign—we’ve done so through ActBlue.com—will continue to receive, as we already have, ActBlue’s solicitations for contributions to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  We’ll click the buttons and fill in the blanks, like we have done for Bernie Sanders.  We’ll do so upon our own accord, and also at Bernie Sanders’s urging.  We will be reminded that the Warren wing, the Sanders wing, of the Democratic Party badly needs to grow.  Into a majority in Congress.

Turns out that millennials already have figured this out, according to dramatic results of a newly released poll taken by the Harvard Institute of Politics.  And many progressive older folks know this, too.  At least those who aren’t New York Times op-ed columnists or the like.

____

ADDENDUM: Just want to add that once Trump chooses Scott Walker as his running mate–he seriously seems headed in that direction, and recently hired Walker’s campaign manager as his campaign’s deputy director or something–the Dems’ problems will take care of themselves, thank you very much.

Added 4/27 at 4:29 p.m.

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The Lesson of Carrier: America Needs a Real Socialist Agenda

by Peter Dorman (from Econospeak)


The Lesson of Carrier: America Needs a Real Socialist Agenda   

I just finished listening to the video clip that has been making the rounds, in which a spokesman announces to the assembled workers at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis that their jobs will be moved to Mexico.  It’s embedded in a long article in today’s New York Times that uselessly follows the framing of this and similar events in American political discourse: it’s about whether you are for “free trade” or not, how you feel about Mexican workers versus US workers, etc.  The whole discussion takes as given the way corporations in the US (and Mexico) are run and the purposes they serve.  It invites us down a rabbit hole that leads to nowhere useful—tariffs and other barriers, or whether we need more programs to redirect some of the “gains from trade” to unemployed workers in the form of checks and education subsidies.  Not that trade doesn’t matter, of course, but it’s really missing the point to think that the deindustrialization of America is the simple result of engaging in international trade.

You’ll get to the heart of the matter if you linger on a passage that comes near the end:

Over all, United Technologies [Carrier’s parent] earned nearly $7.6 billion last year, and $2.9 billion of that came from the climate, controls and security division that includes Carrier.  Those profits aren’t under pressure; in fact, margins in the unit have steadily expanded in recent years.

But that’s not good enough, said Howard Rubel, a senior analyst at Jeffries, who notes that United Technologies has vowed to cut at least a half-billion dollars in costs annually for the next few years.  “The stock hasn’t done well,” Mr. Rubel pointed out.

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Senate Finance Committee cuts tax return preparer regulation

by Linda Beale

Senate Finance Committee cuts tax return preparer regulation

As most tax practitioners realize, many people who hold themselves out as “tax return preparers” actually know nothing about the tax laws and may even assist their clients in cheating on their taxes by inventing home offices, travel-away-from-home expenses, or other fictional deductions.

The U.S. Department of Treasury sought to deal with this by amending regulations governing “practice before the IRS” in Circular 230 to require those who prepare returns for payment to acquire an identification number and pass certification requirements.  The ABA Tax Section has been supportive of these requirements, because it is clear that both individual taxpayers whose returns are not accurate and the U.S. government suffer when scams are perpetrated by shady tax return preparers.

But some of those regulated under Circular 230 objected and brought suit.  They got the D.C. Court of Appeals, in Loving, to hold that the longstanding provision that permits the Treasury to regulate tax practitioners that ‘practice before the IRS’ covered only litigation-like controversies.  This is, in my view, patently absurd.

If anything constitutes practicing before the IRS, the preparation of taxpayers’ tax returns must.  It is the core interaction of a taxpayer with the IRS/Treasury, and is something that we must do.  If an ‘adviser’ prepares the return for us, that adviser is representing us to the government.  That clearly should constitute “practice before the IRS.”

So once the Loving court ruled against the government on its ability to regulate these maverick ‘tax return preparers’ who do not have to know or follow the law, many tax practitioners and others pushed Congress for legislation to permit the Treasury to regulate tax return preparers.

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Denmark, the VAT Tax and Paul Krugman

So Sanders and Clinton are arguing about soda taxes — Clinton for, as a way to raise money for good stuff while discouraging self­-destructive behavior, Sanders against, because regressive. I have no illusions that rational argument will make much difference in the short run; we’re in that stage where anything Clinton supports is ipso facto evil. It’s like that point in 2008 when Obama supporters hated, hated the individual mandate that eventually became, as it had to, a central piece of Obamacare.

But anyway, it does seem worth pointing out that progressivity of taxes is not the most important thing, even when your concern is inequality. Notably, Nordic countries — very much including Denmark, which Sanders has praised as a model — rely heavily on the VAT, which is a regressive tax; but they use that revenue to pay for a strong social safety net, which is much more important.

If we add in the reality that heavy soda consumption really is destructive, with the consequences falling most heavily on low-­income children, I’d say that Sanders is very much on the wrong side here. In fact, I very much doubt that he’d be raising the issue at all if he weren’t still hoping to pull off some kind of political Hail Mary pass.

A Note on the Soda Tax Controversy, Paul Krugman, yesterday

One of the hallmarks of this Democratic primary season is the extent to which high-profile liberal baby-boomer political journalists and pundits have been willing to make what are, at least to me, transparently illogical arguments in support of Hillary Clinton.

One particularly annoying canard, offered originally by Jill Abramson in an op-ed published in The Guardian last month, is that Politifact found Clinton to be the most honest of the candidates.  Specifically, Abramson wrote:

As for her statements on issues, Politifact, a Pulitzer prize-winning fact-checking organization, gives Clinton the best truth-telling record of any of the 2016 presidential candidates. She beats Sanders and Kasich and crushes Cruz and Trump, who has the biggest “pants on fire” rating and has told whoppers about basic economics that are embarrassing for anyone aiming to be president. (He falsely claimed GDP has dropped the last two quarters and claimed the national unemployment rate was as high as 35%).

Referencing both the Abramson op-ed and the Politifact statistic that Abramson used, but dropping the qualifier “on issues” that Abramson had used, Nicholas Kristof wrote in his column last Sunday titled “Is Hillary Clinton Dishonest?”:

One basic test of a politician’s honesty is whether that person tells the truth when on the campaign trail, and by that standard Clinton does well. PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize­winning fact­checking site, calculates that of the Clinton statements it has examined, 50 percent are either true or mostly true. That compares to 49 percent for Bernie Sanders’s, 9 percent for Trump’s, 22 percent for Ted Cruz’s and 52 percent for John Kasich’s. Here we have a rare metric of integrity among candidates, and it suggests that contrary to popular impressions, Clinton is relatively honest — by politician standards.

Apparently it didn’t occur to either of these writers that the statistic was a mathematical function of the high number of statements of Clinton’s that fact-checking websites, including PolitiFact, are asked to and do fact check.  And that a high percentage of those statements are ones citing statistics of one type or another.

A review of a number of Clinton’s statements that PolitiFact examined shows that she usually is accurate when stating simple statistics but often misrepresents her opponent’s—Sanders’s—policies, statements or positions, sometimes explicitly, sometimes by clearly-intended inference.  An example of both in a single sentence was one I’ve mentioned in earlier posts: her recent statement that she “couldn’t believe” that Sanders opposes the Paris climate change agreement.  The express falsehood was that Sanders opposes the agreement.  The intended inference, clearly false, was that he opposes it because he thinks it goes too far.  Sanders supports the Paris climate agreement but thinks it doesn’t go far enough and believes much more is necessary.

A favorite tactic of Clinton’s in this primary campaign has been to rely upon the public’s presumption that her statements support (or at least are relevant to) the claim she’s clearly trying to make, in order to mislead by stating something that may be true—e.g., Sanders complained about the Paris agreement—but is irrelevant to her presumed point.  In that instance, Clinton slyly told her listeners that Sanders opposes the agreement because it goes too far.  These pundit apologists for Clinton fool mainly themselves with their obliviousness.  They get neither the substantive policy reasons for the strength and durability of the Sanders movement nor the nature of the distaste for Clinton herself among progressives.  Sleight-of-hand-as-prime-modus-operandi tends not to instill confidence about the general veracity of the hand-sleighter.  People do catch on when it’s a habit.

But Krugman’s Clinton-vs.-Sanders writings stake out a territory all their own.  They are rants notable less for their Clinton puffery than for their vitriol toward Sanders and his supporters, and sometimes include what seems to me real intellectual dishonesty.  That’s how I read his VAT tax remark in the excerpted post above.

It is, as Krugman says, worth pointing out that progressivity of taxes is not the most important thing, even when your concern is inequality.  And the Nordic countries’ strong social safety net, I agree, is much more important than the progressivity of the tax to fund it.*

But the Nordic VAT taxes are on all, or at least most, types of products.  The social safety net, or any one part of it, is not funded mainly by lower-income people by applying the tax only to a product or products favored more by lower-income people.  And since the gap there between lower and higher income people is tiny compared with the gap in this country, and since lower-income people have access to a full panoply of safety-net and other government programs and therefore can better afford to contribute substantially to the funding of the safety net, Krugman’s invocation of Denmark as a slam against Sanders for voicing objection to the soda tax proposed by Philadelphia’s mayor is a real sleight of hand.

Krugman links to a blog post from last Friday in the New York Times by Margot Sanger-Katz titled “A New Policy Disagreement Between Clinton and Sanders: Soda Taxes,” which reports:

Last week, Mrs. Clinton became the first presidential candidate to explicitly endorse a tax on sugary drinks. At a Philadelphia event Wednesday, she said a proposal there to use a soda tax to fund universal prekindergarten was a good idea.

“It starts early with working with families, working with kids, building up community resources,” Mrs. Clinton said, according to a CNN report. “I’m very supportive of the mayor’s proposal to tax soda to get universal preschool for kids. I mean, we need universal preschool. And if that’s a way to do it, that’s how we should do it.”

Yes, that’s a way to do it.  But of course there are other ways to do it, too.  One would be a small across-the-board sales tax increase, rather than a large one on this one product.  Another, albeit not one available to city mayors, of course is a slight income tax increase or a securities-transaction tax.

Clinton’s statement that “[i]t starts early with working with families, working with kids, building up community resources” strikes me as really troubling.  She’s running for president.  Does she really think the best way to fund universal preschool is to build up community resources?   How about building up federal resources, via a more progressive tax code, and funding universal preschool universally?  A municipal soda tax may be okay as a stopgap funding method.  But beyond that?  That’s it?

The issue of whether or not to tax soda pop as a way to discourage its use, especially by kids from lower-income families, is separate.  I think there are better ways to try to accomplish that goal, just as I think there are better ways to fund universal preschool.  But my concern here about Krugman’s post is his disingenuous use of Northern European VAT taxes in the service of another of his gratuitous attacks on Sanders and Sanders’ supporters.  Including me.

*Sentence rewritten for clarity and typo correction. 4/26 at 11:25 p.m.

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Internet shedding light on hidden history of Mormonism

The Mormon church reaches out over the whole world to get converts. Their missionaries present pamphlets about their history and doctrines. The pamphlets paint a picture of wholesomeness and purity. Yet the pamphlets are propaganda that distorts historical truth.

It is important to know the truth behind Mormonism because members of the church have become economically and politically powerful, for example, Glenn Beck and Mitt Romney. The internet now allows people to bring together all the historical documents to piece together the true history of Mormonism.

What is the basic image portrayed by the pamphlets?

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A young pure-hearted boy named Joseph Smith was disappointed by the churches of his day and asked God to know the real truth. Then one night an angel, named Moroni, visited him floating in the air surrounded by a bright light and gave him instructions to look for golden plates hidden in the forest. The angel visited him 3 times. He was supposed to translate the plates and restore the true church of God to the earth. He found the plates in the forest and eventually translated them. At one point, both God and Jesus appeared to him giving him blessings. The pamphlets show images of a noble-hearted Joseph Smith sitting at a table with the golden plates next to him while he translates them. The angel Moroni who had hidden the plates centuries before was his guide to translate the plates. The translation became the book of Mormon.

What do the historical records now show? (I am leaving out many details to keep this post short.)

Joseph Smith in his youth would put a stone into a hat. He had found this stone in a well. Then he would look at the stone with the hat closed around his face. Then he would tell people where hidden treasures were in the forest. He would receive money for this information. He would take people into the forest and point to a spot to dig. Upon not finding the treasure, he would say that the treasure had moved through the earth because someone had disobeyed the guidelines of the spirit. They would have to dig in another spot nearby. He was once charged with disorderly conduct because of these deceits.

Joseph Smith came from a family with a tradition of magical folklore. According to this folklore, an angel had to visit 3 times to be true. If not, the angel was not telling the truth. There were all sorts of angels purported to visit the people in that tradition. The angel Moroni came 3 times to satisfy that folklore tradition and the blessings of his folklore father who encouraged young Joseph Smith to bring him the plates. But Joseph said that the angel would not give him the plates.

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It turns out that the Joseph Smith did not translate the plates as shown in the pamphlets. He actually would look into a hat at the same stone he had used to find false treasures. Then he would speak the story while someone sitting near him would write down what he said. A few different people ended up writing his dictations. He would say the plates were still in the forest or in a nearby box while he saw words on the stone. He said that he was receiving the translation with the help of the angel Moroni.

Most Mormon temples put the angel Moroni on top. Was this angel real or a fictional character in a novel? Nobody but Joseph Smith ever saw the angel Moroni. Did he see it in his imagination, or was the angel real?

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In his youth, Joseph Smith would entertain his family and friends with grand stories of the past and a history of the Indians. They would all sit around and listen to him weave stories. They enjoyed his stories according to historical accounts. The book of Mormon also tells stories of the past and the history of the Indians. Joseph Smith had a talent for story-telling. Was he preparing stories that would eventually become the book of Mormon?

At the beginning of the book of Mormon, witnesses signed a document to swear that they had seen the golden plates. When some of these people were pressed later if they had seen the plates with their physical eyes, they said that they had seen the plates with their spiritual eyes instead, like seeing a city on the other side of a mountain.

Let me present another historical event… The book of Abraham written by Joseph Smith.

One of the canonized books of Mormonism is the book of Abraham. The story is that an actual Egyptian scroll made its way to Joseph Smith by a traveling salesman while he was living in Kirkland, Ohio. The scroll was torn a bit and missing some pieces. Followers of Joseph Smith knew he could translate the scroll since nobody in the world was able to translate that forgotten language. And Joseph had translated the plates. So Joseph Smith said he could translate the scroll. He talked with some friends with money and bought the expensive scroll. Then over the next few weeks, he wrote the translation of the scroll. The translation tells a grand story of Abraham and came to be called the book of Abraham.

Years later the Rosetta stone was found and scholars were able to translate ancient Egyptian. As it turns out, Joseph Smith’s translation was complete fiction and had no relation to the common funeral scroll. The actual scroll that he translated was eventually found in a museum. His wife, Emma, who had bitter memories of her husband’s adulterous relationships (more dark secrets of Joseph Smith) gave the scroll to a museum with a letter of its history.

A mormon missionary told me that the book of Abraham was a higher truth of the scroll. Joseph Smith had given us a higher understanding. So could it be that Joseph Smith’s translation was truer than the true translation?

Records of these historical accounts were scattered and unknown until the internet and computers allowed people to assemble them and develop a complete story of the truth (lies) behind Mormonism.

The leaders of the Mormon church are currently trying to hide and spin this history. They have too much invested to allow the church to collapse.

Some more history…

Blacks had been seen by the church as accursed by God since the 1840′s. The Mormon church decided to allow Black’s to be priests in the late 1970′s. That is a good thing, right? Well, at the same time institutions of discrimination were losing tax-exemption under Jimmy Carter, like Bob Jones University. The Mormon church was vulnerable to losing their exemption too.  A revelation from God was imminent.

“In 1978, the First Presidency and the Twelve, led by Spencer W. Kimball, declared they had received a revelation instructing them to reverse the racial restriction policy.” (source)

Money talks in the Mormon church. Their prophet and apostles of Jesus and God built a $5 billion mall. At the grand opening of the mall, the current prophet of God, Thomas Monson, said, “1 2 3… Let’s go shopping!” and cut the ribbon.

“When it came time to cut the mall’s pink ribbon, Monson, flanked by Utah dignitaries, cheered, “One, two, three, let’s go shopping!”

While watching a religious leader celebrate a mall may seem surreal, City Creek reflects the spirit of enterprise that animates modern-day Mormonism. The mall is part of a vast church-owned corporate empire that LDS leadership says will help spread its message, increase economic self-reliance and build God’s kingdom on Earth.” (source)

The church puts their apostles at the same level as the apostles of Jesus. Can we imagine the apostles of Jesus opening a mall and promoting shopping? Maybe they would have if it meant tax exemption.

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There are many many more hidden deceits in the history of the Mormon church that the internet is making known.

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