2012 - %3, September

Letting the Bush Tax Cuts for the Rich Expire Won't Hurt Job Growth

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 12:15 PM EDT

Via Jared Bernstein, here's an interesting study from Owen Zidar at UC Berkeley. He examines the conclusions of Romer and Romer that tax increases hurt job growth, and concludes that once you tease apart the effects of tax changes on the rich vs. tax changes on the middle class, it turns out that tax changes on the rich have essentially no effect on job growth:

Figure 4 shows that there is not a relationship between tax changes for the top 10 percent and employment growth over a 2 year period. Overall, when considering all exogenous tax changes in the post-war period that went to the top 10 percent, the line that best fits the data is fairly flat and insignificant.

Figure 5, however, shows a substantially stronger relationship for the bottom 90 percent....Since tax changes for the top 10 percent are often correlated with tax changes for the bottom 90 percent [], the apparent slight relationship between tax changes for the top 10 percent and output growth seems to result from tax changes for the bottom 90 that have a stimulative effect and occur at the same time.

The two charts below show Zidar's results, and they're of more than just academic interest. If Barack Obama wins reelection, he'll have far more leverage to raise taxes on the rich than he's had before, because he can simply let the Bush tax cuts expire completely and then go back to Congress in January and propose new tax cuts that include only the middle class. Republicans can refuse to pass them, but that's a huge political loser since Obama will almost certainly be able to portray this as holding middle class tax cuts hostage to tax cuts for the GOP's rich pals. That leaves only the usual tired top-marginal-rate-trickle-down economic argument, and Zidar's results suggest that Obama doesn't need to worry about that either. Eliminating the Bush tax cuts on the rich probably won't affect job growth much at all.

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Mitt Romney Rebukes the Premise Behind Romneycare

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

Mitt Romney isn't just downplaying his signature accomplishment as governor of Massachusetts, he's developed a sudden amnesia about the policy problems that lead him to implementing it. 

During a 60 Minutes interview on Sunday, CBS' Scott Pelley asked Romney: "Does the government have a responsibility to provide health care to the fifty million Americans who don't have it today?"

Romney responded: "Well, we do provide care for people who don't have insurance, people—we—if someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care." Romney later repeats usual refrain that what worked for Massachusetts won't necessarily work everywhere else.

As Maddowblog's Steve Benen points out though the "emergency room care" line is a go-to talking point for conservatives, this kind of last-resort care raises costs for everyone else and simply doesn't provide the kind of treatment that really sick people need. Romney knows this—at least he did.

As Sam Stein and Amanda Terkel at the Huffington Post note, Romney recognized this as recently as 2010, when he said on MSNBC's Morning Joe: "It doesn't make a lot of sense for us to have millions and millions of people who have no health insurance and yet who can go to the emergency room and get entirely free care for which they have no responsibility." 

This isn't just a minor point: It's one of the major reasons both the Massachusetts health insurance law and the Affordable Care Act include an individual mandate. In Romney's memoir, No Apology, he calls the realization that emergency room care substantially raises costs an "epiphany." From page 171 (italics original, bolded mine):

After about a year of looking at data—and not making much progress—we had a collective epiphany of sorts, an obvious one, as important observations often are: the people in Massachusetts who didn't have health insurance were, in fact, already receiving health care. Under federal law, hospitals had to stabilize and treat people who arrived at their emergency rooms with acute conditions. And our state's hospitals were offering even more assistance than the federal government required. That meant that someone was already paying for the cost of treating people who didn't have health insurance. If we could get our hands on that money, and therefore redirect it to help the uninsured buy insurance instead and obtain treatment in the way that the vast majority of individuals did—before acute conditions developed—the cost of insuring everyone in the state might not be as expensive as I had feared.

That was then. Now Romney seems fine with notion of people waiting until they need to go to the emergency room to get care. Perhaps the sequel to No Apology should be titled "I'm Sorry for all the Stuff I did That Conservatives Don't Like."

Civics is Alive and Well in American High Schools

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:32 AM EDT

Tom Edsall quotes some guy complaining that people are stupid these days because high schools don't teach civics anymore. "The students don’t know about civics, they don’t know about our history, our government, our constitution. Politicians say they are going to give people things for free to get elected." Atrios comments:

It's certainly possible it's true in some sense, in that there's no course of study actually called "civics" but it'd be nice if Edsall provided some judgment about whether this guy is just mainlining Limbaugh or if he has an actual point.

Say what? No course of study called civics? I took senior-year civics from Mr. Avis back in 1976 because I had to if I wanted to graduate, and the California minimum course requirements continue to include "a one-semester course in American government and civics." Ditto for Pennsylvania. Here's a PDF describing the civics requirement in detail for all grades, including high school.

Looks to me like civics is alive and well, and continues to be called "civics." So what's the problem?

"Romney's Balls" Found...at Scott Brown Presser

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 10:20 AM EDT

A Massachusetts Democrat sends along this photo, from the Boston Herald, of top Mitt Romney adviser Eric Fehrnstrom lurking behind the scenes at a campaign press conference for Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) on Friday in Boston:

Mark Garfinkel/Boston HeraldMark Garfinkel/Boston Herald

Two things: 1) "Lurking Fehrnstrom" should be a meme. 2) Fehrnstrom's appearance at the presser (he was at the Thursday debate, too) comes at a time when Brown himself is going out of his way to distance himself from Fehrnstrom's other big client, Mitt Romney. Brown distanced himself from Romney's 47-percent remarks, and (briefly) hedged on whether he was even going to vote for his former governor in November. But it's a lot tougher to distance yourself from Mitt Romney when Romney's right-hand man is hanging out in your office.

Aside from that, it's noteworthy that Fehrnstrom is still multi-tasking this late in the race, even as his top client, Romney, is finishing up his worst month of the campaign. As Jason Zengerle put it in a profile for GQ, "If Karl Rove was Bush's brain, then Fehrnstrom is Romney's balls." So why are Mitt Romney's balls chilling at a press conference about Elizabeth Warren's ancestry?

New Obama Ad in Ohio Rips Romney on "47 Percent" Claim

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 9:05 AM EDT

The Obama campaign is out with a new ad in Ohio, a critical battleground state, hammering Mitt Romney for his dismissal of 47 percent of Americans as Obama-backing "victims" who leech off the government. Last week, Mother Jones broke the story of Romney's "47 percent" comments, publishing leaked video of a private fundraiser, held in Florida last May, where Romney made the remarks.

The Obama ad uses the leaked video showing Romney saying "my job is not to worry about those people"—by which he means the 47 percenters. The ad's narrator then asks: "Doesn't the President have to worry about everyone?"

Days after Romney released his 2011 tax returns showing he paid a rate of 14.1 percent, the new Obama ad also rips Romney for paying far less in taxes than middle-class Americans, and for refusing to release more than two years' worth of returns. "Maybe instead of attacking others on taxes," the narrator says, "Romney should come clean on his."

The ad comes as Romney begins a bus tour of Ohio this week. Democrats will hold events highlighting Romney's 47 percent remarks during a parallel Ohio bus tour of their own. "Mitt Romney is either massively insulting half of Americans or he's massively out of touch with our lives—and while he tours Ohio, the DNC and Ohioans are going to call him out for it," the Democratic National Committee said.

Obama supporters are also using Romney's controversial remarks as a fundraising tool, blasting the video around to current and potential donors, Reuters reports. Ted Strickland, the former Ohio governor and now Obama campaign co-chair, said: "If we can't win this election [after the 47 percent video], God help us."

A Beautiful Book of Glam, Proto-Punk, and Bubblegum 45 RPM Record Sleeves

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

It's been 30 years since Glam, Proto-Punk, and Bubblegum burned up the music charts. Even then it was a brief flareup, especially in the US where Gary Glitter and his ilk were mere hemorrhoids on the Billboard Top 100, quickly extinguished by whatever new tune the Eagles, Led Zepplin, the Jackson Five, or the Carpenters cranked out. Nonetheless, the recently published book Wired Up! pays tribute to these lost soldiers in the rock 'n' roll war with beautiful, faithful reproductions of sleeves of 45s released in Europe from 1970-1976.

Given that Wired Up! is a book of record covers, the most obvious way to approach this is by gawking at the outlandish, supremely ridiculous get-ups these bands wore. Hector, the band whose song the book is named after, wore bib overalls and striped shirts and painted giant freckles on their faces like lifesized Raggedy Andy dolls, finishing off the look with the obligatory platform boots. A number of bands opt for a glittery, mullety outer-space look, while others are just 1960s detritus washed up on the shore of the '70s—fried hippies and blitzed-out wannabe bikers.

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Is "Gangnam Style" a Hit Because of Our Asian Stereotypes?

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

ProTip: Dress classy; dance chessy. YG EntertainmentPro tip: Dress classy, dance cheesy, play into American racial stereotypes. YG Entertainment

If you haven't been following South Korean rapper PSY's meteoric ascent to transcultural ubiquity, allow me to get you up to speed: "Gangnam Style" is now the most-watched Korean pop music video on YouTube, and as of last Thursday, the most-liked of all time, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The song, which currently tops the iTunes charts in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and a half-dozen European countries, just jumped to the 11th spot on Billboard's Hot 100 after debuting at No. 64 hardly a week ago.

Since its release on July 15, PSY's addictive new single has been dissected, parodied, translated, and meme'd (Move over, #YOLO). It's inspired propaganda in North Korea, a gun fight in Bangkok, and this surreal moment on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Justin Bieber's manager promises to turn PSY into an American shining star. E! declares "Gangnam Style" is so in, it's already out. Like a knight in a one-button tuxedo, Jae-Sang Park, the 34-year-old father of twins, galloped into our cultural consciousness atop his invisible horsey and captured our hearts with his irresistible hook and four-step jig.

Short Takes: "The Waiting Room"

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The Waiting Room

OPEN'HOOD INC.

81 minutes

This engrossing, fly-on-the-wall documentary captures the faults of our health care system through the eyes of ER patients and staff at the public Highland Hospital in Oakland, California. Moving beyond grim statistics and talking heads, filmmaker Peter Nicks delivers an intimate look at what it really means to be uninsured in America. The patients' stories, notably the narrative of a young man with painful testicular cancer who found himself turned away by a private hospital, are beautifully interwoven, and the film's brutal honesty in matters of life and death strikes an emotional chord.

Quick Reads: "The Story of My Assassins" by Tarun J. Tejpal

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT

The Story of My Assassins

By Tarun J. Tejpal

MELVILLE HOUSE

To remedy a "journalism of public relations" in his native India, Tarun J. Tejpal cofounded a muckraking magazine whose exposés earned him an assassination attempt and six government bodyguards. In this fictional memoir, Tejpal's reporter-narrator investigates five men accused of plotting to kill him. What starts off as a repugnant protagonist's account becomes a gripping exploration of the country's underworld, from train station thugs to weapon-smuggling rings. With characters funny, flawed, and redeemable, Tejpal challenges our notions of hit man and target, and leaves us mulling over the gnarled and vibrant tapestry of modern-day India.

This review originally appeared in our September/October issue of Mother Jones.

SHOCKER: Fox News Misleads Audience on Climate Change

| Mon Sep. 24, 2012 6:00 AM EDT
UCS staff scientist Brenda Ekwurzel takes a red pen to misleading statements in a recent Wall Street Journal editorial.

Brace yourself for some shocking news: a new study on Friday found that the two major publications of Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation greatly mislead their audiences about climate change. The Union of Concerned Scientists combed six months of Fox News broadcasting and a year's worth of Wall Street Journal editorial pages for mentions of the science of "climate change" and "global warming," then compared each claim to "mainstream scientific understanding" of the topic at hand. Here's what they found:

Data from Union of Concerned ScientistsData from Union of Concerned Scientists