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Hillary Fudges on the Minimum Wage

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 2:40 PM EDT

I didn't see last night's debate, but I noted this in the transcript this morning:

BLITZER: If a Democratic Congress put a $15 minimum wage bill on your desk, would you sign it?

CLINTON: Well, of course I would. And I have supported supported the fight for 15. I am proud to have the endorsement of most of the unions that have led the fight for 15. I was proud to stand on the stage with Governor Cuomo, with SEIU and others who have been leading this battle and I will work as hard as I can to raise the minimum wage. I always have. I supported that when I was in the Senate.

SANDERS: Well, look...

CLINTON: But what I have also said is that we’ve got to be smart about it, just the way Governor Cuomo was here in New York. If you look at it, we moved more quickly to $15 in New York City, more deliberately toward $12, $12.50 upstate then to $15. That is exactly my position. It’s a model for the nation and that’s what I will do as president.

This is a pretty obvious evasion, and I'm sorry to see it. Here's her official position:

Hillary believes we are long overdue in raising the minimum wage. She has supported raising the federal minimum wage to $12, and believes that we should go further than the federal minimum through state and local efforts, and workers organizing and bargaining for higher wages, such as the Fight for 15 and recent efforts in Los Angeles and New York to raise their minimum wage to $15.

Blitzer's question was clearly about raising the federal minimum wage to $15, and Hillary immediately said she'd support that. But she doesn't. She supports a $12 federal minimum wage. Pretty obviously, though, she wanted the TV audience to take away a different impression.

I hate to see pandering like this. Hillary's position on the minimum wage is perfectly reasonable: a federal minimum of $12. States and cities have always been able to enact higher minimums if they want, and the president has no say over that. So why not say so? Would she really lose that many votes? My guess is that none of the hardcore $15 folks are voting for her in the first place.

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Donald Trump Continues to Know Nothing About the Bible

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 1:43 PM EDT

Oh look. Donald Trump has a new favorite Bible verse:

WHAM 1180 AM radio host Bob Lonsberry asked the Republican front-runner if he had a favorite verse or story from the Bible that’s impacted his thinking or character.

“Well, I think many. I mean, you know, when we get into the Bible, I think many. So many,” he responded. “And some people—look, an eye for an eye, you can almost say that. That’s not a particularly nice thing. But you know, if you look at what’s happening to our country, I mean, when you see what’s going on with our country, how people are taking advantage of us, and how they scoff at us and laugh at us.”

“And they laugh at our face, and they’re taking our jobs, they’re taking our money, they’re taking the health of our country,” he continued. “And we have to be firm and have to be very strong. And we can learn a lot from the Bible, that I can tell you.”

I'll say one thing for this: I actually believe it. It's entirely plausible that this really is the biggest lesson that Donald Trump has taken from the Bible. I even predicted it six months ago.1

Sadly, Trump misinterprets this admonition the same way most people do. It was meant to stop endless feuds among his people. If you lose an eye, Yahweh limits you to gouging out the other guy's eye in retribution. You can't just go ahead and massacre his entire family.

Still, this should go over OK. As near as I can tell, an awful lot of supposedly devout Christians really do think this is the main lesson of the Bible, right along with getting rich, keeping out immigrants, and fighting welfare programs for the poor. It was a nice, safe choice.

1Sort of.

UC Davis's Effort to Scrub Its Pepper-Spraying Incident From the Internet Worked Pretty Well—Until Reporters Found Out About It

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 12:26 PM EDT

In an embarrassing revelation, the Sacramento Bee reports that UC Davis has spent $175,000 trying to scrub the internet of references to its infamous 2011 pepper spraying incident. So how did that go? Aja Romano says not so well—and there's a lesson to be learned from this:

As Gawker has been quick to point out, the efforts of both consulting firms failed miserably. As of this morning, "pepper spray" was the second autofill search result I received when I typed "UC Davis" into Google.

In all fairness, while it may suck for UC Davis to be perpetually judged for the actions of one man at an event that took place five years ago, the failure of its efforts to eradicate an unflattering reputation from the web perfectly encapsulates a crucial point about the nature of the internet. More specifically, it speaks to the internet's ability to dismantle privilege and serve as an essentially egalitarian space where having power doesn't necessarily mean you can drown out the voices of the many.

....This is a real and significant question, particularly for victims of revenge porn — people who've had images of themselves distributed online without their consent....Notably, many of the methods that UC Davis's consultants used to try to bury the university's pepper spray incident are the same methods that women are told to use when they're fighting back against revenge porn: creating positive content, "Google-bombing" positive search results, and strengthening one's online "brand" are all go-to strategies for cleaning up a negative internet past.

There's a problem here: "As of this morning," the reason that pepper spraying showed up so widely was because of reports that UC Davis tried to scrub the internet of references to pepper spraying. That put it back in the news. But how about before the SacBee report? I did a Google search that excluded stories about the $175,000 scrubbing effort in an effort to recreate UC Davis's internet presence as of a few days ago. Here it is:

Unless I missed something, the top 50 hits didn't include a single reference to pepper spraying. Every reference you see in a normal search is there solely because of the SacBee report.

Now, there's no telling how much of UCD's success was due to the scrubbing effort, and how much was due to the simple passage of five years. Still, it's likely that the scrubbing was responsible for at least some of it, and that's good news for revenge porn victims: the advice they've been given really does seem to work. Granted, it's probably less effective if you don't have $175,000 to spend on it, so Romano's point about money having power on the internet is still valid. Nonetheless, it's still the right basic approach. After all, it sure seems to have worked for UC Davis.

1For the record, my search term was: "uc davis" -scrub -175 -175K -175,000 -google -image -consultant -online

We Need to Quit Trying to Cut Middle-Class Income Taxes

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 11:48 AM EDT

The boffins at the American Enterprise Institute have created an online tool that allows you to investigate the effects of various kinds of tax policy. This sounds like a lot of fun, though I haven't tried it out myself. But Jim Tankersley has:

To break it in, one of AEI's economists, Alex Brill, used the Center's modeling tools to probe our question about middle-class tax relief. He compared several proposals, taken from the current presidential campaign, to see which ones helped the most middle-class taxpayers.

....Brill examined three methods of reducing taxes for middle-income filers, each of which would amount to about a $95 billion tax cut in its first year. One would double the standard deduction that Americans are allowed to claim on their income taxes. One would expand the 10 percent tax bracket to allow more income to be taxed at that low rate, and one would expand the 15 percent tax bracket for the same reason. (Under our progressive income tax system, your income — minus deductions — is taxed at 10 percent for the first chunk of money you earn, and then the next chunk is taxed at 15 percent, and so on, up to a top rate of nearly 40 percent for the highest-earning filers.)

There's a big problem with this: Middle-class Americans barely pay any federal income tax as it is. They're on the hook for payroll taxes, and they pay a smallish share of various other federal taxes (corporate taxes, excise taxes, etc.), but income taxes? The chart on the right is taken from data compiled by the Tax Policy Center, and it's pretty clear: the average middle-class taxpayer forks over only 4.3 percent of their earnings each year on their Form 1040. Even upper-middle-class taxpayers pay less than 10 percent. You have to get to an income above $200,000 before you pay even 15 percent.

Needless to say, most Americans have no clue about this. If you ask someone in the middle, they probably figure they're paying 20 percent or more in income tax. This is what gives groups like the tea partiers such power: they're convinced that they already pay mind-boggling rates of income tax that are then thrown away by corrupt politicians on welfare programs for the undeserving. But they don't. Most of them barely pay a dime for these programs.

There are several takeaways from this:

  • We should quit trying to cut middle-class income taxes. They're already really low.
  • If we want programs like pre-K and universal health care, the middle class will have to help pay for it. It can't all come out of the pockets of the rich.
  • Conservatives need to stop saying that 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes. That number is strictly for federal income tax. If you include payroll taxes, state taxes, sales taxes, and so forth, everyone in America but the very poorest pays into the system.

Thus endeth our federal income tax lesson for the day.

Competition Comes to the Cable Industry

| Fri Apr. 15, 2016 10:41 AM EDT

Competition!

President Barack Obama will publicly back regulators’ efforts to open cable set-top boxes to competition, as he issues an executive order Friday designed to stimulate market competition across the private sector.

The order will task federal agencies with identifying markets that the government might be able to help overhaul to the benefit of consumers and businesses. White House officials said federal action can do for the set-top cable box what regulators did for landline telephones more than 30 years ago. Back then, many Americans paid the phone company not only for their landline connection, but for renting the physical phone itself.

Good for Obama. The cable industry is one of the least competitive in the country—and, not coincidentally, one of the least loved. This action won't open up the cable infrastructure itself to competition, but at least it will open up one small part of it.

Like Ma Bell a few decades ago, you can expect the cable companies to issue dire warnings about the vast technical difficulties of making sure cable boxes work properly with their delicate lines, but don't believe it. It's all just hogwash. The technical specifications for interconnection aren't rocket science, and they can be reasonably regulated the same way phone equipment is.

Competition is good. Competition is good. Competition is good. The only people who don't like it are the monopolists who profit from extracting rents from the rest of us. Anything that increases it is a net positive benefit.

Bernie Sanders Just Went After Hillary Clinton at the Brooklyn Debate—and Then She Went Right Back at Him

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 9:26 PM EDT

The Democrats are debating for the n-millionth time tonight in Brooklyn.

Things started off combative!

Let's watch:

Bernie Sanders questions Hillary Clinton's judgment.

Hillary responds.

I said it was combative. I didn't say it was a GOP-esque knife fight.

Have a great night.

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Almond Bandits Have Gone High Tech

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 6:47 PM EDT

Well, here's a headline you don't see every day:

Republicans Apparently Think Zika Only Affects Blue States

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 2:52 PM EDT

Yesterday the CDC confirmed that the Zika virus does indeed cause birth defects. "There is no longer any doubt that Zika causes microcephaly," the CDC director announced. This confirmation of Zika's threat, said the New York Times, "may increase pressure on Congress to allocate more than $1.8 billion in emergency funding that President Obama requested for prevention and treatment of the outbreak."

Then again, maybe not. Here is Steve Benen explaining what's happened to the White House budget request so far:

Congressional Republicans responded to the request by telling the administration to use $600 million that had been allocated to combat Ebola. The trouble, of course, is that this money (a) is far short of the $1.9 billion needed, and (b) still being used to address Ebola in West Africa.

....Roll Call reported that Congress did pass a bill, intended to create incentives for drug makers to speed work on Zika treatments, but it allocates none of $1.9 billion the administration says is necessary. It’s reached the point at which the White House has stopped being polite and started getting real.

....In response, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky.) complained that the White House hasn’t given Congress enough information on what, specifically, the $1.9 billion would be used for, fearing that the administration’s plan amounted to the creation of a “slush fund” with money that “could be used for any purpose.”

Well, I think the money is going to be used to fight the spread of Zika. Jesus. The formal 25-page appropriations request is here, and it sure doesn't look like a slush fund. It looks like a detailed request for specific funding to fight the spread of Zika.

Does every single thing have to turn into a partisan food fight? If Rogers has different ideas about how to fight Zika, that's fine. Let's hear 'em. But this is precisely the kind of thing that everyone, liberal and conservative alike, agrees the federal government should do. So for God's sake, let's do it.

Trump Campaign Manager Won't Face Prosecution

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 2:24 PM EDT

Donald Trump's campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, will not be prosecuted for a battery charge in connection to former Breitbart reporter Michelle Fields, Florida prosecutors announced on Thursday.

"Although the facts support the allegation that Lewandowski did grab Miss Fields’ arm against her will, there is sufficient evidence to presume his innocence," Florida state attorney Dave Aronberg said in a press conference.

The decision not to pursue the battery charge should come as a major relief to Trump, who has been under fire for defending Lewandowski despite mounting evidence he forcibly grabbed Fields by the arm as she tried to approach the presidential candidate at a March 8 campaign event. Since the incident, both Lewandowski and Trump repeatedly denied Fields' accusation and attempted to discredit her as an "attention seeker" and "delusional."

But weeks later, surveillance footage that appeared to corroborate Fields' claims was released, prompting Jupiter, Florida, police to charge Lewandowski with simple battery. Even then, Trump continued to insist his campaign manager was innocent.

Despite Trump's public defense, recent reports say Lewandowski's role in the campaign has diminished.

"The crew's expanding," one source told Politico. "The inner circle is not what it used to be."

Dear Time Magazine: Cut the Crap, Okay?

| Thu Apr. 14, 2016 1:44 PM EDT

Sigh. Matt Yglesias draws my attention to this week's cover of Time, a Trump-friendly warning that we're all doomed thanks to the national debt. Matt takes apart this inane argument just fine, but I'll do it more quickly: You will never have to pay down this debt. Nor will your children. Or your grandchildren. Just forget about it.

And if we ever do have to pay some of it down? We'll get to pay it off over decades, just like any other debt. And the rich will pay a bigger share than you. But I guess "You might someday owe $145 per year" doesn't make a very good magazine cover.

I know the doomsayers don't care, but at the moment we're paying about 2 percent of GDP to service the national debt. The chart below shows how that's skyrocketed since—um, I mean, declined steadily since its height during the Reagan era. Pretty scary, isn't it?