2012 - %3, February

People Have Surprisingly Strong Opinions About South Dakota

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 2:36 PM EST

Ed Kilgore points me today to a quirky new PPP poll that asks people if they have favorable or unfavorable views of the various states. Hawaii gets the highest number of favorables and Illinois gets the lowest. However, if you look at the delta between favorable and unfavorable, my poor home state ranks last (27% favorable vs. 44% unfavorable). It turns out that a lot of this is driven by partisan animus:

Democrats’ favorite states include Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Colorado, and New York, and their least favorites are led by Texas, Alabama, and Mississippi. Republicans love Alaska and Texas, and absolutely hate California, followed distantly by Illinois and Massachusetts.  So the greatest partisan gap is for California, which Democrats like 91 points more than Republicans do, followed by Texas, which is favored more by Republicans by 82 points.

Black voters dislike 10 of the 14 Southern states.

Frankly, I'm surprised so many people even have opinions at all. I mean, Hawaii, sure. Everyone loves Hawaii. But 51% of the respondents expressed an opinion about South Dakota. Who the hell has an opinion about South Dakota? Beats me. In any case, the chart below shows all 50 states ranked by the number of people who feel favorably toward it. How did your state do?

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Does Money Corrupt the Political Process?

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 2:07 PM EST

In Citizens United, the Supreme Court ruled that the only justification for limiting campaign expenditures was "corruption or the appearance of corruption." And since independent expenditures, including those from corporations and unions, don't have any kind of corrupting influence, there's no justification for limiting them.

Many of you will have two responses to this:

  • Really? That's what Citizens United said? I never heard about that.
  • Really? That's ridiculous. How can the court just unilaterally declare that unlimited money doesn't lead to corruption?

Both of these are legitimate reactions. The first because the court's handwaving on corruption got a lot less attention than all the fuss over Citizens United granting corporations free speech rights on a par with individuals. And the second because the court didn't really bother justifying its belief that independent expenditures don't corrupt the political process. It just said there wasn't enough evidence of corruption to survive strict scrutiny and left it at that. However, Rick Hasen notes that a recent case involving a Montana law that limits campaign expenditures prompted a statement from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggesting that she wants to use the case to expose this for the specious reasoning that it is:

The Montana court [] upheld a state ban on corporate campaign spending, finding that Montana's history of corruption justified the ban…Everyone expects the Supreme Court to reverse the Montana case, likely on a 5-4 vote. But the big question is how the court will do so.

…Justice Ginsburg agreed that staying the Montana ruling was the right course, because lower courts are bound to apply Supreme Court precedent even if it is wrong; it is for the Supreme Court to fix its own wrong precedents. But then she added these words in a statement for herself and Justice Stephen Breyer with respect to the stay: "Montana's experience, and experience elsewhere since this Court's decision in Citizens United…make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations 'do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.' A petition [to hear the case] will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway."

…The statement in Citizens United that independent spending cannot corrupt or undermine the public's confidence in the electoral process is a fiction which defies common sense. In fact, the greatest danger of super PACs is not that they will influence the outcome of elections, but that contributions to these groups will skew public policy away from the public interest and toward the interest of the new fat cats of campaign finance. The public, too, seems greatly concerned about money this election season.

It's probably unlikely that the Montana case will lead to a reversal of Citizens United. But at least it will force the court to tackle the least defensible part of its reasoning head on.

Chart: Iran Easily Tops America's "Enemies" List

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 1:45 PM EST

After conducting a poll over the course of four days in early February, with a random sample of 1,029 adults from all around the United States, the Gallup Poll has determined Americans are still freaking out over Iran.

In Gallup's annual World Affairs poll, respondents were asked to pick "the country they consider to be the United States' greatest enemy." Topping the list was Iran (32 percent of those surveyed nominated the Islamic Republic), followed by China (23 percent) and North Korea (10 percent). None of the other nations on this edition of America's enemies list crack the double digits. Here's the full chart, courtesy of Gallup Politics:

Iran's threat level jumped seven percentage points since early 2011. And as Gallup notes, the Iranian regime has enjoyed its top boogeyman status for a few years running:

The contour of responses to this "greatest enemy" question has changed substantially over the seven times Gallup has asked it since 2001. Americans most frequently mentioned Iraq as the United States' greatest enemy in 2001 -- before the U.S. invaded the country and removed Saddam Hussein from power -- and in 2005, when it tied North Korea. Iran has topped the list in each of the five surveys since.

At this point, it would be odd if Iran hadn't claimed the #1 spot. High-ranking officials in Tehran routinely make grandiose but empty statements threatening large-scale ground assaults on Western territories. Iran's nuclear program—and a potential Israeli airstrike—is the hot-button foreign policy issue of the year. Most of the Republican presidential candidates—when they're not riffing on urgent foreign policy matters like stemming the tide of Hezbollah colonization in Latin America or attacking Castro—frequently reach for "Bomb Iran!"-type rhetoric. American media has been abuzz with talk of war—some coverage has been measured and levelheaded, and some, well, not so much. And the whole covert-war-with-Iran thing hasn't exactly helped to ease tensions.

Justified or not, it isn't hard to grasp why Americans are pissed off at the Iranian government these days. What is difficult to understand is how Japan got voted on to this list.....just a single percentage point shy of Russia and Pakistan.

Industrial Production in Europe is Either in Freefall or It's Not

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 12:06 PM EST

I just happened to see these two charts back-to-back this morning, so here they are in one spot. The first shows that industrial production in Europe is continuing a steep decline. The second shows that industrial orders have picked up a bit after a big fall in September. So which is more important? More informative? More predictive? Is Europe crashing or is Europe stabilizing a bit after a scary spell last year? Is the difference an artifact of a decline in exports? Exchange rate woes? Something else? As usual, it would be great if we just had another few months of data. It always is. 

No, American Corporations are Not Being Crushed Under the IRS Jackboot

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 10:59 AM EST

James Pethokoukis is the latest conservative to demand that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner resign. Finally, something left and right can agree about! Lefties all hate Geithner too.

So what's his offense this time? Answer: a plan for cutting corporate income tax rates that's far too timid. Here are a few of the eight reasons this is a terrible idea:

The Obama-Geithner plan would lower the statutory corporate tax rate to 28 percent from 35 percent....So instead of having the second highest corporate tax rate in the world, the United States would probably be fourth behind Japan, France, and Belgium.... To pay for the lower tax rate, Obama would eliminate "dozens of tax loopholes and subsidies"....Obama and Geithner apparently still don’t understand how harmful corporate taxes are....Obama and Geithner apparently still don’t understand who bears the burden of corporate taxes. It’s workers....Obama and Geithner would take the top individual tax rate to 40 percent, leaving a 12 percentage-point gap with the corporate tax rate. This creates a huge incentive for tax sheltering.

Wow! That's quite a bill of particulars. But you know what's amazing? In this entire thousand-word blast Pethokoukis apparently doesn't have room to explain the distinction between statutory tax rates and effective rates. But it only takes a sentence or two, so here it is. The statutory rate is the top rate in the tax table. Right now it's 35% for corporations. The effective rate is what corporations actually pay after their accountants are done combing the tax code for deductions and loopholes. The former is one of the highest in the world. That latter has been falling for years and is now one of the lowest.

That's right! The actual federal income tax paid by corporations is one of the lowest in the world. Even if you think statutory rates are more important, surely this is germane to the conversation?

I say this as someone who's on record as favoring a complete abolition of the corporate income tax — primarily because tax receipts from corporations are so low that I'm not sure they're worth the bother anymore. Of course, I also acknowledge the need to make up the revenue elsewhere, since I don't believe the supply-side fairy will magically do this for us. This would indeed create tax sheltering issues that might be insurmountable. Or might not. But in any case, you need to make up the revenue. It won't happen automatically, no matter how often Arthur Laffer pretends it will.

UPDATE: Pethokoukis hauls out several strained studies that try to prove American corporations actually pay some of the highest taxes in the world. Sorry. The only way to do an apples-to-apples comparison is to look at corporate tax revenue as a percent of GDP and to let a neutral party apply a consistent methodology. The OECD does exactly that every year. Here's a chart showing the corporate tax burden from 1982 through 2005. The United States is a little below the middle of the pack.

And here's their latest chart. Our corporate tax burden has fallen dramatically since 2005, and if you read all the way to the end you'll now find the United States at the very bottom.

Shrimp's Carbon Footprint Is 10 Times Greater Than Beef's

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 7:00 AM EST

"Shrimp lovers don't need to crash a fancy party to enjoy premium, seasoned-to-perfection shrimp," announced a Taco Bell press release last year. The chain was heralding its "Pacific Shrimp Taco," which featured a half-dozen "premium shrimp" for just $2.79.

Marketing campaigns like Taco Bell's, along with Red Lobster's periodic "Endless Shrimp" promotions, crystallize shrimp's transformation from special-treat food to everyday cheap fare. What happened? The answer lies in the rise of factory-scale shrimp farms over the last generation. Twenty years ago, 80 percent of shrimp consumed here came from domestic wild fisheries, with imports supplying the rest. Today, we've more than flipped those numbers: the United States imports 90 percent of the shrimp consumed here. We now bring in a staggering 1.2 billion pounds of it annually, mainly from farms in Asia. Between 1995 and 2008, the inflation-adjusted price of wild-caught Gulf shrimp plunged 30 percent.

It turns out, not surprisingly, that plates mounded with cheap shrimp float on a veritable sea of ecological and social trouble. In his excellent 2008 book Bottomfeeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood, the Canadian journalist Taras Grescoe took a hard look at the Asian operations that supply our shrimp. His conclusion: "The simple fact is, if you're eating cheap shrimp today, it almost certainly comes from a turbid, pesticide- and antibiotic-filled, virus-laden pond in the tropical climes of one of the world's poorest nations."

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We're Still at War: Photo of the Day for February 22, 2012

| Wed Feb. 22, 2012 5:57 AM EST

Col. Joseph Wawro and Command Sgt. Maj. Wylie Hutchison, the commander and senior noncommissioned officer of the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Dragon Brigade), 1st Infantry Division, visit with soldiers of Company A., 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4IBCT , during a training mission at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., on February 14, 2012. The Dragon Brigade is preparing for their deployment to Afghanistan later this year. (US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Tiffany Monnett, 4IBCT PAO)

Chart of the Day: The Rise of the Machine

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 8:51 PM EST

Ezra Klein directs our attention today to the chart on the right, from a mobile analytics company called Flurry. Their basic story is simple: the blue bars show how much of our media consumption time is spent on various platforms (TV gets 40% of our time, print gets 6% of our time, etc.), while the green bars show how much money advertisers spend on these platforms. The verdict is clear: mobile devices command 23% of our time but are getting only 1% of the advertising dollars.

Now, this data comes from a company that has a vested interest in hyping the mobile audience, so obviously you want to take it with a grain of salt. By way of comparison, Josh Marshall recently told us that TPM gets about 20% of its hits from mobile devices, and this is from an audience that's very tech savvy and very mobile-friendly. But if it's only 20% for TPM, the number for the population-at-large isn't likely to be more than 10%. Or maybe even 5%.

(Of course, there's a difference between hits and time spent. Maybe mobile users spend a lot more time per visit than web users or radio listeners. But I'd need to see some evidence for that.)

In any case, clicking through to various links, it appears that there are about 100 million smartphone users in the United States and they spend about an hour a day on various apps (that's not including phone, text, and email). Of that, about 80% of the time is spent on games and social networking. So even if the mobile market isn't quite as large as Flurry would like us to believe, it's a pretty big and growing market any way you slice it.

But now I'm curious: How much time do you spend with your mobile phone? And what do you spend that time doing?

"Heartlandgate" Takes a Turn for the Surreal

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 4:09 PM EST

The case of the stolen documents from the climate deniers at Heartland Institute continues to get weirder. On Monday evening, scientist and cofounder of the California-based environmental group Pacific Institute Peter H. Gleick announced to the world that he was behind the acquisition and dissemination of the Heartland documents that drew so much attention last week.

In a piece published on the Huffington Post, Gleick said he received the "strategy memo" (which Heartland says is fake, while admitting that the rest of the docs are legitimate) in the mail from an anonymous source. He then posed as someone else to solicit additional information from Heartland, which he says was a "serious lapse of my own professional judgment and ethics." He also offered his apologies, attributing it to his exhaustion at the ongoing battles over climate science:

My judgment was blinded by my frustration with the ongoing efforts—often anonymous, well-funded, and coordinated—to attack climate science and scientists and prevent this debate, and by the lack of transparency of the organizations involved. Nevertheless I deeply regret my own actions in this case. I offer my personal apologies to all those affected.

Calling what Gleick did a poor choice would be an understatement, of course, and he's been condemned by others in the environmental world for it already. Stealing or acquiring people's email by deceit is illegal and unethical, no matter who's doing it. 

And it's not going to please Heartland, which was already raising money to sue the pants off anyone and everyone who had written about the documents. Over the weekend, Heartland issued "cease and desist" letters to a number of parties that had posted the documents online, seeming to miss the irony inherent in that, given its own role in promoting emails pilfered from climate scientists. Heartland put out a statement Monday night pledging to seek legal enforcement against Gleick and accusing him of having authored the memo that it says is fake. From Heartland president Joseph L. Bast:

We are consulting with legal counsel to determine our next steps and plan to release a more complete statement about the situation tomorrow. In the meantime, we ask again that publishers, bloggers, and Web site hosts take the stolen and fraudulent documents off their sites, remove defamatory commentary based on them, and issue retractions.

Needless to say, this is getting ugly. And it's not likely to end well for anyone, considering that a drawn-out legal process would mean that both the plaintiff and the defendant will have access to all kinds of information through the discovery process. And as Heartland has made abundantly clear, it has a lot of internal stuff it doesn't want getting out there in the public eye.

Romney Set to Release New Tax Plan

| Tue Feb. 21, 2012 3:44 PM EST

Larry Kudlow has some news today:

Team Romney tells me there will be a bolder tax-cut plan released either at the debate tomorrow night (if Mitt gets it in) or more formally at his Detroit Economic Club speech on Friday. I’m embargoed from releasing details until tomorrow. But I can say that the new plan will be across-the-board with supply-side incentives from rate reduction, and that it will help small-business owners as well as everyone else.

Exciting! Presumably Romney has taken my criticism of his earlier plan to heart: it's just not friendly enough to the super rich. "Sure, he lowers tax rates on millionaires by 9 percentage points, and you may think that's a pretty sweet deal for the rich. But come on. Newt Gingrich would lower them by 24 percentage points. (No, that's not a typo.) Rick Perry lowers them by 20 percentage points. Herman Cain lowers them by 15 points. Frankly, Romney is hardly even trying here."

I have no doubt that "bolder" in this this context means "more tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy," so apparently Romney is going all in. Should be great stuff. I can hardly wait.