Kevin Drum - 2012

Housekeeping Notice: Comment Registration Now Required

| Sat Feb. 4, 2012 9:00 PM EST

A little while ago I mentioned that we were thinking about requiring registration for commenters and asked for feedback. Some was positive and some was negative, but most of the negative feedback related to (a) having to use your real name or (b) being required to use a Facebook account.

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Friday Cat Blogging - 3 February 2012

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 4:03 PM EST

Normally, drinking out of human glasses is Not Allowed. But last night I mentioned that I still needed photos for Friday catblogging, so this morning an exception was made as Marian urged me to get my camera and come record the moment. So I did. The camera captured some excellent tongue action from Domino, who is, I'm sure, obeying the universal law of cat-lapping:

That comes to 3.43 laps per second for an 11-pound (5-kilogram) cat. Inkblot, who has a more mathematical bent, keeps his weight at precisely 18.12572 pounds, thus clocking in at a more leisurely 3.14159 laps per second. And that, my friends, is science.

I'm Getting Jobs Report Fatigue

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 3:35 PM EST

One of the things that's been niggling away at the back of mind lately is the (seemingly) increasing sameness of the blogs I read. More and more, as I plow through them in the morning, they're all filled with posts on the exact same four or five topics. I used to call them the "outrages of the day," though of course they're not all outrages. Some of them are just the ordinary news of the day.

This popped into my mind in a slightly different context today as I made my way through my RSS feeds and found post after post after post about the January jobs report. Some feeds had two or three or even four or five separate posts on the subject. It's gotten crazy.

Back in the day, blogs posted a bit here and there about monthly economic news, and of course specialty pubs like the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal would dive a little deeper into them and provide a bit of commentary and reaction. No longer. Now, the various reports are greeted every month by an enormous hail of blog posts diving ever deeper and deeper into the details behind the headline numbers. I wonder if it's time to ease up on this.

I appreciate detail as much as the next guy — more than the next guy, actually — but you know what? It's a jobs report for one month. There's only so much it can tell you. Diving deeply into it is sort of like trying to squeeze more significant digits out of a result than went into the inputs. You're just kidding yourself if you think this level of detail on a single month's data is really telling us anything.

Apologies if this seems Andy Rooney-ish. But seriously folks. I know it's an election year, but it's still only one month of jobs data. Give it the attention it deserves, but no more.

Mitt Romney's Terrible Economic Dilemma

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 1:29 PM EST

Greg Sargent points us to Mitt Romney's latest statement on the economy:

We welcome the fact that jobs were created and unemployment declined. Unfortunately, these numbers cannot hide the fact that President Obama’s policies have prevented a true economic recovery. We can do better. Last week, we learned that the economy grew only 1.7% in 2011, the slowest growth in a non-recession year since the end of World War II. As a result.....blah blah blah.

Alas, poor Mitt. Now he knows what it feels like to be Barack Obama. For the past two years Obama has basically been forced to say that, sure, the economy is bad, but it would have been even worse without his policies in place. That might be true or it might not, but it's sure not a vote getter.

Now Romney's on the other end of that argument. Sure, the economy is getting better, but it would be even better still without Obama's policies. Again, maybe that's true and maybe it's not, but no one cares. If the economy is getting better, then people are happy and they're going to vote for the guy in the White House. Romney had better figure out something better than that if he wants to have any chance of victory in November.

Komen Foundation Completes Its Triple Backflip

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 1:26 PM EST

When the Komen Foundation cut off its breast cancer screening grants to Planned Parenthood a few days ago, they said it was because of a new policy that bars grants to organizations under investigation. Then they backtracked, and said that it was actually because Planned Parenthood doesn't perform mammograms itself, but only provides referrals. Today, I guess we're back to excuse #1:

The Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure Foundation Friday announced it would revise a controversial new policy that barred the organization from funding Planned Parenthood....“Our original desire was to fulfill our fiduciary duty to our donors by not funding grant applications made by organizations under investigation,” a Friday statement said. “We will amend the criteria to make clear that disqualifying investigations must be criminal and conclusive in nature and not political. That is what is right and fair.”

Okey dokey. I guess the next step is to see if Komen actually continues their grants or not. More from Adam Serwer here.

Quote of the Day: The Rapidity and Volume of Electrons

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 12:53 PM EST

With 1.8 seconds to go in Wednesday's Kings-Blue Jackets game, the clock mysteriously stopped for about a second, giving the Kings just enough time to score a last minute goal and win the game. The Blue Jackets are understandably suspicious, but Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi explains it all here:

Those clocks are sophisticated instruments that calculate time by measuring electrical charges called coulombs.

Coulombs! Please go on, Mr. Science:

Given the rapidity and volume of electrons that move through the measuring device the calibrator must adjust at certain points, which was the delay you see. The delay is just recalibrating for the clock moving too quickly during the 10-10ths of a second before the delay. This ensures that the actual playing time during a period is exactly 20 minutes. That is not an opinion. That is science. Amazing device, quite frankly.

It's amazing, all right.

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Chart of the Day: Net New Jobs in January

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 12:10 PM EST

Today is new jobs day, and my usual chart is below. It shows the number of net new jobs created over the past few years; that is, the number of new jobs above the 90,000 per month needed just to keep up with population growth and tread water. In January, that amounted to 153,000 net new jobs, pushing the headline unemployment rate down to 8.3%. That's pretty good news. Brad Plumer has a useful warning about data revisions here. Jared Bernstein provides some context and details here. Matt Yglesias talks about what we need to do to keep the recovery going here.

Soaking the Poor, State by State

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 7:00 AM EST

You have heard, perhaps, that rich people in America are egregiously overtaxed. And the poor? They're the lucky duckies! Why, 47 percent of Americans pay no taxes at all!

(This is not true, of course. Many poor and elderly Americans pay no federal income tax, but they pay plenty of other taxes.)

Still and all, it's true that the federal income tax is indeed progressive. Conservatives are right about that—though it's not as progressive as it used to be, back before top marginal rates were lowered and capital gains taxes were slashed in half. But conservatives are a little less excited to talk about other kinds of taxes. Payroll taxes aren't progressive, for example. In fact, they're actively regressive, with the poor and middle classes paying higher rates than the rich.

And then there are state taxes. Those include state income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes, and fees of various kinds. How progressive are state taxes?

Answer: They aren't. The Corporation for Enterprise Development recently released a scorecard for all 50 states, and it has boatloads of useful information. That includes overall tax rates, where data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy shows that in the median state (Mississippi, as it turns out) the poorest 20 percent pay twice the tax rate of the top 1 percent. In the worst states, the poorest 20 percent pay five to six times the rate of the richest 1 percent. Lucky duckies indeed. There's not one single state with a tax system that's progressive. Check the table below to see how your state scores.

Report: Military Warns Israel Against Iran Strike

| Fri Feb. 3, 2012 2:04 AM EST

File this dispatch from Gareth Porter under "interesting if true":

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told Israeli leaders Jan. 20 that the United States would not participate in a war against Iran begun by Israel without prior agreement from Washington, according to accounts from well-placed senior military officers.

....Dempsey's trip was highly unusual, in that there was neither a press conference by the chairman nor any public statement by either side about the substance of his meetings with Israeli leaders. Even more remarkable, no leak about what he said to the Israelis has appeared in either U.S. or Israeli news media, indicating that both sides have regarded what Dempsey said as extremely sensitive.

The substance of Dempsey's warning to the Israelis has become known, however, to active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS, according to a military source who got it from those officers.

Hmmm. So a "military source" heard this from "active and retired senior flag officers with connections to the JCS" who in turn learned about this from....someone. I'm not going to pretend that this is the most confidence-inspiring sourcing I've ever run into, but that doesn't mean it isn't true. It might be!

Quote of the Day: "Democrats Piss Me Off"

| Thu Feb. 2, 2012 9:21 PM EST

From Kent, a Republican caucusgoer in Nevada, explaining to Dave Weigel why he hates Democrats:

If you're a Democrat, you are my enemy. Democrats piss me off. They've gotten extremely socialistic. Every time they get in, they raise taxes. They screw things up. I've got a jeep I've had for ten years; I pay $100 a year on the license plate. We just got a new Dodge; $600 to license it. You pay your money, they pass it on to the Mexicans, the colored people. Free education, handouts, all of that.

So there you go.