Political MoJo

Chart: The Typical White Family Is 20 Times Wealthier Than the Typical Black Family

| Thu Oct. 2, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We're still posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day over the next week. Yesterday's looked at how top tax rates dropped as top incomes rose.

Today, a closer look at how income inequality splits along racial lines. Whites' average household income is 56 percent larger than that of African Americans and 39 percent larger than that of Hispanics. But the discrepancy is even greater when it comes to wealth: The median white family holds nearly 20 times more assets than he median black family and 74 times more assets than the median Hispanic family.

Source: Income by race: US Census; wealth by race: Edward N. Wolff 

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

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How Kansas Is Selling Sam Brownback's Failed Trickle-Down Tax Cuts

| Wed Oct. 1, 2014 4:38 PM EDT

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's reelection campaign is in serious trouble. The latest poll has the incumbent Republican losing to his Democratic opponent by 4 percentage points.

As I explained in our November/December issue, Brownback's woes can largely be traced back to the drastic tax cuts for the wealthy that he pushed through the state legislature. Kansas' tax rate for top earners dropped from 6.45 to 4.9 percent, with further future cuts baked in. The cuts were even more generous for business owners, entirely wiping away their tax burden for pass-through income.

Brownback sold his tax cuts on supply-side promises of unbounded future growth, but the results have been less than stellar: While the state's unemployment rate, like the national jobless rate, has dropped over the past few years, Kansas' economic growth has lagged behind its neighbors'.

Despite these disappointing results, the state has settled on enticing out-of-state businesses with its low tax rate. Check out this full-page ad from the Kansas Department of Commerce, scanned from an issue of the US Small Business Administration's magazine Small Business Resource by a reader:

That ad's pitch—"one of the most pro-growth tax policies in the country" leads to "a perfect state"—lines up with the theories of free-market economist Arthur Laffer, the grand poobah of Ronald Reagan's trickle-down economics. Brownback cited Laffer's work to justify his cuts. During the thick of the legislative debate, he flew Laffer in for a three-day sales pitch, costing the state $75,000.

When I called Laffer in August, he excitedly proclaimed that Brownback's cuts would prove a resounding success. "I'll make you a very large bet that Kansas will improve its relative position to the US over, let's say, eight years, hands down. I'll bet you with great odds," he told me. "I feel very confident that what Sam Brownback has done is and will be extraordinarily beneficial for the state of Kansas."

As Laffer saw it, low tax rates would entice out-of-state residents and businesses to relocate. Laffer himself had moved to Tennessee sight unseen nine years ago, fleeing from California because of the Volunteer State's lack of income tax. "In someplace like Kansas, I don't think the income tax makes any sense whatsoever," Laffer said. "That's what we're trying to move toward in Kansas. The income tax is a killer."

Except that magical migration hasn't developed yet. In August, the state added just 900 jobs, with a tepid growth rate of just half a percent for the full year. Maybe I should have made that bet with Laffer.

Chart: As Top Tax Rates Dropped, Top Incomes Soared

| Wed Oct. 1, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We're still posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day over the next week. Yesterday's looked at how the top 1 percent of Americans have captured half of all income.

Today, let's talk taxes. In the past few years, we've heard a lot about overtaxed "job creators" and freeloading "takers." But consider this: As the income rates for the wealthiest have plunged, their incomes have shot up.

Source: Tax rates: The Tax Foundation; top incomes: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Second Healthcare Worker in Texas Tests Positive for Ebola

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 5:24 PM EDT

Update 7, October 15, 8:20 a.m. EDT: A second hospital worker who treated the Dallas Ebola patient has tested positive for the disease.

Update 6, October 12, 2:50 p.m. EDT: A hospital worker who treated the Dallas Ebola patient has contracted the disease.

Update 5, October 8, 11:25 a.m. EDT: According to Texas Health Services, the Dallas Ebola patient, Thomas Eric Duncan, has died.

Update 4, October 3, 12:57 p.m. EDT: Howard University Hospital in Washington, DC, has a patient in isolation with symptoms "that could be associated with Ebola," a hospital spokeswoman said in a statement. The patient, who is in stable condition, recently returned from Nigeria, the spokeswoman said.

Update 3, October 1, 6:50 p.m. EDT: Liberian officials identified the first person diagnosed with the Ebola virus in the United States as Thomas Duncan, a Monrovia resident in his mid-forties. Duncan had tried to help a woman sick with the virus find treatment two weeks ago, according to the New York Times. Unable to find a place in a local hospital, the woman's family took her back to her home, where she died a few hours later.

The story follows a pattern which the World Health Organization had warned of in a September 8 statement, which described how cars, sometimes packed with entire families, could cross Liberian cities in search of a place at a local hospital, only to return home for lack of space. "When patients are turned away at Ebola treatment centers, they have no choice but to return to their communities and homes, where they inevitably infect others, perpetuating constantly higher flare-ups in the number of cases," the organization said in the statement.

Update 2, October 1, 2:20 p.m. EDT: With the first Ebola patient to be diagnosed in the United States isolated in a Dallas hospital and in serious condition, officials are closely monitoring the people he came into contact with—including several children. The unidentified patient, who arrived in the United States from Liberia on September 20, fell ill and went to the hospital on September 26, but was released with a prescription for antibiotics. On Wednesday, the AP reported that the patient told the hospital he had come from Liberia before his release.

This is not the first time a commercial airliner has become a carrier for the virus. On July 20, a Liberian-American arrived in Nigeria's largest city, Lagos, and infected several people. The disease spread to another city, Port Harcourt, via one of the physicians involved in that patient's treatment. As of September 29, the CDC and World Health Organization reported 19 confirmed cases of Ebola in Nigeria, but said the virus was contained there.

Update, September 30, 6:15 p.m. EDT: According to officials from the Centers for Disease Control, the patient, a male, arrived in the United States from Liberia on September 20. He planned to visit with family members in Texas. He initially sought treatment at a hospital on September 26 but was sent home, and then was readmitted on September 28. Texas public health officials believe that the patient had contact with "a handful" of people while he was infectious, including family members. The officials are currently in the process of tracing those contacts. CDC officials do not believe that anyone on the flight with him has any risk of contracting Ebola.

During a press conference, CDC officials reiterated that Ebola is not transmitted through the air, nor is it possible to catch it from someone who has been exposed but is not yet displaying symptoms.

"Ebola is a scary disease," said CDC's Dr. Thomas Frieden. "At the same time, we are stopping it in its tracks in this country."

***

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has confirmed a case of Ebola in Dallas. While other patients have been flown back to the United States for treatment, this is the first time that a patient has been diagnosed stateside.

The patient is being kept in "strict isolation" at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. While hospital officials are not currently discussing which countries the patient has visited, no doubt US officials will be looking very closely at where he's traveled in the recent past, especially within the United States. The CDC will be holding a press conference on this at 5:30 p.m. Eastern. You can see it live here

Ebola has already infected more than 6,000 people—and killed more than 3,000—in West Africa. Quick action prevented the disease from spreading in Senegal and Nigeria, but the disease continues to wreak havoc in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea.

More Than 80 Percent of Teens Are Using the Wrong Birth Control

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 4:32 PM EDT

For the first time, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended long-acting reversible contraception, like IUDs and contraceptive implants, as "first-line contraceptive choices for adolescents." The guidelines, published in the journal Pediatrics on Monday, encourage pediatricians to discuss these long-acting options, known as LARC methods, before other contraceptive choices for adolescents because of the products' "efficacy, safety, and ease of use."

It's no secret that a lot of teens have sex; according to the report, nearly half of US high school students report having had sexual intercourse. Each year, 750,000 teenagers become pregnant, with over 80 percent of the pregnancies unplanned.

But the recommended AAP guidelines are a huge step away from the current practices of the 3.2 million teenage women using contraceptives; in fact, it seems that the frequencies with which teens use contraceptives are inversely related to their efficacy. Here's a breakdown of contraceptive use among today's teenagers:

  • Male condoms are by far the most frequent choice of contraception, with over half of teenage women reporting condom use the last time they had sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, condoms have an 18 percent failure rate.
  • The pill, used by 53 percent of teenage girls using contraceptives, has a 9 percent failure rate.
  • Contraceptive implants are small rods that, when inserted under the skin of the upper arm, release steroid hormones, preventing pregnancy for up to three years with a .05 percent failure rate. According to the Guttmacher Institute, implants and other hormonal methods, like hormonal patches or rings, are used by 16 percent of teens using contraceptives.
  • Intrauterine devices, or IUDs, are small, T-shaped devices that, once implanted in the uterus, can prevent pregnancy for up to 10 years with a failure rate of less than 1 percent. IUDs are one of the most popular contraceptive methods in other developed countries, but, largely due to misconceptions that developed in the 70s, they're used far less frequently in the US. Only 3 percent of teens using contraceptives rely on IUDs.

Following similar guidelines published in 2012 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the AAP report makes clear that teenagers using LARC methods should still use condoms to prevent STIs, and doctors should still talk to their patients about all contraceptive methods, tailoring "counseling and recommendations to each patient." The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover LARCs, including progestin implants and IUDs.

New Mexico AG Opens Criminal Investigation Into Missing Susana Martinez Emails

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 12:57 PM EDT
New Mexico AG Gary King, who is running for governor against Republican Susana Martinez.

The New Mexico Attorney General's office is opening a criminal investigation into missing and/or destroyed emails covering part of Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's tenure as a district attorney and also the tenure of Martinez's successor, Amy Orlando, a close friend of the governor. Complicating the investigation is the fact that New Mexico's AG, Democrat Gary King, is Martinez's opponent in this year's gubernatorial race. 

The investigation was triggered by an internal report released last week by the district attorney in New Mexico's Third Judicial District. As I reported, it found that many emails sent and received by staff members inside the Third Judicial District office were apparently "deleted and/or removed" during the period when Martinez and later Orlando headed the office. Those missing emails—which are state property—likely include messages to and from Martinez herself, who served as DA until she became governor in 2011.

Martinez handpicked Orlando as her successor, but her term was shortlived. In 2012, Orlando lost her DA election to a former FBI agent and federal prosecutor named Mark D'Antonio, who is a Democrat. It was D'Antonio who forwarded his office's findings to the AG for further investigation.

At a Monday afternoon press conference, King, the state AG, made a brief appearance in which he said that the disappearance of the emails in question "appears not to be the result of an inadvertent clerical error or policy but rather the planned intentional destruction of vital government records." Dave Pederson, the general counsel in the AG's office, downplayed the potential conflict of interest posed by King's gubernatorial run and said this case "goes way beyond simply pressing the delete button on certain emails or electronic files." According to the Santa Fe Reporter, Pederson declined to tell reporters which statutes may have been violated to avoid alerting potential targets.

Orlando is currently the general counsel at the state's Department of Public Safety (DPS). Her boss, DPS Secretary Greg Fouratt, dismissed the AG's investigation as "nothing more than a clumsy and amateur political stunt coordinated between a DA with what appears to be a personal vendetta and a gubernatorial candidate who's just a few weeks away from an election." Orlando herself slammed last week's report on the missing emails as an "amateurish political stunt on the eve of an election" that was filled with "baseless innuendos."

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Chart: Half of All Income Goes to the Top 10 Percent

| Tue Sep. 30, 2014 6:15 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Our last installment looked at stagnating middle-class incomes.

Today, we look at both sides of the income split and how they've traded places. For the first time in a century, the top 10 percent of Americans control more than half of all income. If this trend persists, predicts economist Thomas Piketty, their share will rise to 60 percent by 2030.

Source: Historic income share: World Top Incomes Database; future trend: Thomas Piketty (PDF)

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Chart: You're Working More But Earning Less

| Fri Sep. 26, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We'll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday's chart looked at the history of the 1 percent, from ancient Rome to today.

Today, another look at how middle-class incomes have been stuck in neutral while the rest of the economy has grown. In 2012, the median household income (adjusted for inflation) was the same as it was in 1996.

Sources: Household income: US Census; economic growth: St. Louis Fed; 1 percent: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel); corporate profits: St. Louis Fed 

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Sam Brownback's Administration Is Auctioning Off Some Incredibly NSFW Sex Toys

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 5:16 PM EDT

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback drove his state into the gutter with a string of income tax cuts that were among the largest in history. As I explained in my story on Brownback's struggling campaign, many typical Republican voters turned against the governor after it became clear that his trickle-down promises of wild economic growth looked a lot more like a sop to the state's richest denizens, such as Charles Koch.

State revenues have regularly come in below projections this year. The state legislature's nonpartisan numbers crunchers expect a $238 million budget deficit by summer 2016, and things will only grow worse as further tax cuts go into effect. How is the state going to make up the difference? Perhaps by getting into the sex toy business. From the Topeka Capital-Journal:

Kansas state government is on the verge of a financial windfall with the auctioning of thousands of sex toys seized by the revenue department for nonpayment of income, withholding and sales taxes, an official said Wednesday.

Online shoppers for adult DVDs, novelty items, clothing and other products can participate in a bonanza shopping experience resulting from the four-county raid on a Kansas company known as United Outlets LLC.

Owner Larry Minkoff, who was doing business under the Bang label, apparently resisted requests from the Kansas Department of Revenue for payment of $163,986 in state taxes.

...

The online site lists about 400 lots — individual lots can contain dozens of items — that include the Pipedream Fantasy Love Swing, books, hundreds of DVDs, sex and drinking games, a wide assortment of sexually oriented equipment, carrying cases for devices, the Glass Pleasure Wand, bundles of lingerie and the Cyberskin Foot Stroker.

Kansas officials explained to the Capital-Journal that this is the standard operating procedure when businesses can't pay off their tax debts, though the list of available wares is a bit more colorful than usual.

The full online auction is available here, (that link takes you to the entry landing page, but should you venture past that it becomes quite NSFW).

Online Auction
The "Booty Parlor Good Girl Bad Girl Wrist Cuffs," one of the few SFW images we could find in the auction Equip-Bid

The timing isn't ideal for Brownback, though, as he's been busy trying to capitalize on a racey scandal involving his Democratic opponent. Last week the Coffeyville Journal, a small-town, twice-weekly paper that lacks a website, revealed that in 1998, Brownback challenger Paul Davis had been at a strip club when the cops showed up in a drug raid. Davis, 26 at the time, counted the club owner among his firm's legal clients, though at the time cops busted down the door he was receiving a lap dance from a topless dancer.

Davis wasn't charged or implicated in the drug dealings, but Brownback's camp has been using the incident to smear the Democrat as out of step with heartland values. Now that the Brownback administration has gotten into the sex toys business, that could be a tougher sell.

Elizabeth Warren: Democratic Women Need a Seat at the Governing Table

| Thu Sep. 25, 2014 3:25 PM EDT

Ahead of the upcoming midterm elections, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass) issued a rallying call this week reminding progressives to back Democratic women.

“If you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re probably on the menu," Warren told the largely female audience at an event on Monday for Emily's List, a group supporting pro-choice candidates nationally. "Washington works for those who have power. And no one gives up power easily, no one…Nobody’s just going to say ‘women have arrived and let’s just move over'…We have a chance but we have to fight for it.”

Warren went onto urge donors to specifically vote for candidates in tough reelection campaigns, including Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C). Their opponents are former senator Scott Brown and GOP candidate Thom Tillis, respectively.

While Brown famously posed nude in Cosmopolitan many moons ago, he failed to receive the magazine's endorsement due to what editors deemed were murky views on female reproductive rights. Tillis has his own fair share of unclear, unpopular stances on abortion rights.

Warren's push this week is part of an overall strategy in her recent efforts to mobilize enough support to maintain Democratic control of the Senate this fall -- an outcome that appears increasingly unlikely, according to polling data.

Unsurprisingly, Warren left no hints on Monday as to whether she herself would run in 2016. Her speech follows praise from former president Bill Clinton, in which he said the overwhelmingly popular Massachusetts senator would play an "important part" of the Democratic future.