Kevin Drum - June 2012

The War Against the Young

| Tue Jun. 26, 2012 2:05 AM EDT

David Frum writes that the Great Recession has hit the young the hardest but that older Americans don't care. They just want to protect their own lifestyles, and they'll get their way by ruthlessly voting their self interest:

The economics blogger Steve Randy Waldman memorably and bitterly articulated the meaning of these grim facts. The long slump has revealed the preferences of the aging polities of the Western world. “Their overwhelming priority is to protect the purchasing power of incumbent creditors. That’s it. That’s everything. All other considerations are secondary” — including economic recovery.

We could jump-start the economy with a massive jolt of monetary and fiscal stimulus, but such a policy would risk inflation and pose a threat to retirement savings. So we don’t do it. We could borrow money to finance infrastructure programs that would set people to work now and enrich society over the long haul — but that borrowing would have to be serviced by taxes to which older Americans fiercely object. So we don’t do that either.

....The old have always grumbled about the young. No doubt Cro-Magnons complained that their kids didn’t appreciate their effort to put a nice, dry cave above their heads. Yet we seem today to hear a new bitterness in the attitudes of the old, a special glee in reproaching and denouncing the young. In 2012 job seekers outnumber jobs offered by a margin of 3–1, down from a post-Depression record of 5.5–1 in early 2009, with the ratio worst among the youngest workers. As young job applicants collect rejection slips, the leading conservative policy intellectual, Charles Murray, has publicly urged his fellow older Americans to regard unemployed young men as “lazy, irresponsible, and unmanly” and to publicly revile them as “bums.”

Here's a similar sentiment from another observer, trying to predict what politics will look like a decade from now:

At the same time that the generational fight over values starts to cool off, the generational fight over resources will heat up. Partly this will be because of the increase in the elderly population. Partly it will be because of slower growth and the increasing stagnation of the working class. And partly it will be because the [Republican and Democratic] parties will be increasingly split by age group.

Oh wait — that was me. I think Frum is a little more apocalyptic about this than I am, but generally speaking we're on the same page. Both the boomers and the generation before them were enormously lucky to have started their careers in the postwar world, roughly from 1950 through 1980. Good jobs were plentiful; retirement benefits — both public and private — increased steadily; and a variety of factors kept middle-class growth high. But the beneficiaries of this good fortune, like all beneficiaries of good fortune, became convinced that they had done well solely through hard work and native talent. If today's kids aren't doing as well, it must be because they're dumber and lazier.

But they're not. They just aren't as lucky. And the competition between the generations is likely to heat up as time goes by. Welcome to our future.

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Romney to Base: I Hate Obama As Much As You Do

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 9:47 PM EDT

For the second time, Mitt Romney's campaign has dispatched one of its buses to make obnoxious noises at an Obama fundraiser:

Romney's campaign bus circled Obama's fundraiser at Boston Symphony Hall Monday night several times, according to Romney deputy press secretary Ryan Williams and verified by several onlookers who said it was honking its horn as it passed. Williams told BuzzFeed that the bus made "a few" laps before local police closed the roads around the venue before Obama's arrival. They plan on bringing the bus back after Obama leaves to attend another fundraiser.

The fundraiser was inside the hall, the bus didn't interrupt anyone trying to speak, it didn't block any entrances, and it didn't harass anyone trying to get in. As near as I can tell, the only real purpose of this was to demonstrate to Romney's base that he holds Obama in the same contempt they do, and he's delighted to resort to sniggering junior high school displays to prove it. Welcome to Romney 2012.

Still four months to go. Why is God punishing us like this?

Why I Hate Social Media, Part 387

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 8:15 PM EDT

The latest from Facebook:

Facebook has introduced its latest social media innovation — changing the email addresses posted by users on their profiles, en masse and without warning.

In the change, which took effect on Monday, Facebook abruptly replaced the details users had elected to associate with their account with addresses using a "@facebook.com" convention.

I'm sure this will shortly be followed by yet another faux-tearful apology and a promise to do better. "We just wanted to make our user experience better. We had no idea that when people chose an email address, they actually wanted that to be their address forever."

Jesus. Isn't Mark Zuckerberg rich enough that he doesn't need to keep pulling sleazy stunts like this?

Quote of the Day: Why Republicans Like Voter ID Laws

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 4:55 PM EDT

From Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, telling a friendly audience about the state legislature's accomplishments this year:

Voter ID, which is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.

Apparently this drew a "loud round of applause," and why not? Photo ID laws like Pennsylvania's are mainly about politics, and everyone knows it. They suppress turnout primarily among minorities, the poor, and the young, and those are well-known Democratic-leaning constituencies. In a close election, Pennsylvania's law might very well allow Romney to win the state.

Anyway, it's good to hear someone admit this. Usually they're smart enough to pretend that voter ID laws are about preventing voter fraud.

(Via Steve Benen.)

Chart of the Day: September Best Month to Put Your Money Under a Mattress

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 2:16 PM EDT

UPDATE: It turns out there's nothing to this after all. Joshua Hedlund has the whole story here.


Here's the weirdest chart you're likely to come across today. It comes from a paper by Luc Laeven and Fabián Valencia and shows the starting month of all modern banking crises (i.e., those after 1970). By a huge margin, banking crises mostly start in the second half of the year, and the overwhelmingly most dangerous month is September.

Greg Ip tentatively suggests this might have something to do with the fact that October 30th marks the fiscal year-end for American mutual funds, but he's not really convinced, and I don't think I am either. Perhaps we could get a better answer if we grouped crises not by month, but by astrological sign. Are all those September crises in Virgo or Libra? Inquiring minds want to know.

UPDATE: I suppose there are lots of other things that show a similar pattern and thus might be related, but a reader sends along this one, which is sort of interesting. Maybe it's all about the oil!

Save the Planet: Tint Your Car Windows

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 12:36 PM EDT

I'm feeling a little under the weather today—don't ask, you don't want to know—though on the bright side Kaiser Permanente tells me that I passed my recent stress echo with flying colors. So I guess my heart will continue beating properly for another few years anyway. Still, I'm afraid I just can't spend the entire day blogging about the Supreme Court. Can't. Do. It. So instead, here's a bit of trivia from Climate Progress:

On this first day of summer, many car owners are likely to experience the following scenario: enter your car to leave work for the day and the temperature is sweltering—much hotter than outside. The ignition, steering wheel, and seat surface are almost too hot to touch. You roll down your windows or turn on the air conditioner (or both) to get some air moving to quickly mitigate the sauna-like conditions…This is more than just a nuisance on hot days. Of the oil consumed by U.S. passenger vehicles, 5.5 percent is used for air conditioning.

The article goes on to talk about a bunch of high-tech/low-energy ways to keep cars cooler, but they missed my favorite one: window tinting. Here's my story.

Last year, Marian decided to buy a Prius. This was, unfortunately, right after the earthquake in Japan, and Priuses were in short supply, making it a seller's market. Not only were no discounts available, but dealers were charging well above list price. However, because Toyota doesn't allow dealers to just baldly mark up their cars above list, they instead loaded a bunch of accessories onto every car on the lot and then charged highway robbery prices for them. So here's the way car shopping worked: Instead of going to several dealers and dickering over price, we went to several dealers and compared the crap that they added to the car. At one dealer it was LoJack and a chassis "undercoating." I practically laughed at that one. I didn't realize anyone still had the balls to try selling undercoatings anymore, especially in Southern California. At another dealer, it was a (supposedly) super-duper GPS and a few other doodads. Then, finally, we found a dealer who had added only one thing to their cars: window tinting. And they were only charging about twice what it was worth, which really wasn't bad under the circumstances. So we bought one of their cars.

All I can say is that I was mightily impressed. This wasn't dark tinting like celebrities get so you can't see into their cars, it was just a modest gray tint. But it lowers the temperature of the car by a good 5 or 10 degrees when it's sitting out in the sun. It's really a big difference, much bigger than I would have guessed. I'll never get another car without it. And if I'm helping save the planet at the same time, that's a pretty nice bonus.

Front page image: ronfromyork/Shutterstock

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A Hodgepodge From the Supreme Court

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 11:09 AM EDT

So we have three Supreme Court rulings today. In a nutshell:

  • The court mostly overturned Arizona's immigration law, but let stand the provision allowing police to ask for immigration papers if they have a "reasonable suspicion" someone is in the country illegally.
  • The court stuck down a Montana campaign spending law, essentially reaffirming Citizens United.
  • The court banned sentences of life without parole for minors.

Can we read any tea leaves here? Probably not. The immigration ruling was a patchwork compromise. The campaign spending ruling is conservative but unsurprising. The sentencing ruling is basically liberal, but also unsurprising given past rulings. There's not much insight here into how they might rule on Obamacare. But we'll know soon enough anyway.

UPDATE: More on the Montana campaign finance law here from Andy Kroll.

The Future of Cyberwarfare

| Mon Jun. 25, 2012 10:40 AM EDT

Tyler Cowen has a question:

Didn’t it just come out in The Washington Post that the United States helped attack Iran with Flame, Stuxnet and related programs? If they did this to us, wouldn’t we consider it an act of war? Didn’t we just take a major step toward militarizing the internet? Doesn’t it seem plausible to you that the cyber-assault is not yet over and thus we face immediate questions looking forward? Won’t somebody fairly soon try to do it to us? Won’t it encourage substitution into more dangerous biological weapons?

I do understand that these are fairly superficial questions and that I do not have the expertise to write a detailed and insightful blog post on these topics. Still, it seems odd not to mention them at all. While I read in limited circles, I do not see many writers devoting much attention to the matter. Shouldn’t this have set off a large-scale national debate?

My take is this: we've all but declared war on Iran already, and everyone knows it. We've assassinated their scientists, imposed crippling sanctions, and essentially declared that we're ready to mount a massive air strike against them in the near future. Under those circumstances, a bit of cyberwarfare hardly seems like a huge escalation.

What's more, we all assume that other countries, China especially, are already hard at work on digital weapons. Our intelligence services have been warning about a "cyber Pearl Harbor" since before 9/11. It's not a taboo area. So when the open secret that we're working on this stuff becomes an even more open secret, hardly anybody really cares about this non-news.

They probably should, though.

Optical Illusion of the Day

| Sun Jun. 24, 2012 2:48 PM EDT

Via Alex Tabarrok and Geekolinks, I have to admit that this is one of the damnedest illusions I've ever seen. What's really surprising is that if you cover up 90% of the white line in the middle and let only a tiny part show, the illusion still works. The top looks darker. The fact that both halves are the same color (which, by the way, I confirmed in Photoshop) isn't apparent unless you cover it up completely.

Chris Hayes Wins the Wonk Marathon

| Sun Jun. 24, 2012 1:25 AM EDT

The New York Times profiles rising Sunday TV prodigy Chris Hayes today, and includes this biographical tidbit:

At a table of wonks, Mr. Hayes, who studied the philosophy of mathematics at Brown, came off as the wonkiest as he deconstructed the budgetary implications of tax arbitrage.

That may be the coolest, and least likely, field of study of any TV host ever in history. I am in awe.