Kevin Drum

The 21st Century Sure Has Been a Great Time to Be a Corporation

| Thu Jan. 14, 2016 1:20 AM EST

This is apropos of nothing in particular. I was just noodling around on something else and happened to run across this data, so here it is. The economic recovery of the Bush years might have been pretty anemic for most of us, but it was sure a great time for the corporate world: Between 2001 and 2006, pretax profits went up 3x and after-tax profits went up even more. These profits dipped during the Great Recession, of course, but they've fully recovered since then. All in all, since the start of the 21st century the income of ordinary folks has declined about 5 percent, but after-tax profits in the nonfinancial sector have gone up nearly 4x. Nice work, business titans!

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Come On, Folks, Give Nikki Haley a Break

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 8:04 PM EST

My Twitter feed has been alight with mockery of the latest from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley: "We've never, in the history of this country, passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion," she said at a press conference today. What an idiot!

But, you know, always click the link. Here's the full quote:

When you've got immigrants who are coming here legally, we've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let's not start that now.

This still isn't quite correct: After World War I a series of immigration restrictions were passed that explicitly favored northern European whites; limited immigration of Southern and Eastern Europeans; and banned Asian immigrants almost entirely. Still, Haley can be forgiven for not knowing about this or other examples of restrictive immigration laws. It's not especially common knowledge these days. In any case, she obviously wasn't pretending that Jim Crow and its ilk never existed.

So let's dial down the faux outrage. Haley was doing the Lord's work here, criticizing Donald Trump's call to bar Muslims from entering the country. In fact, given the context, she might have meant to refer not to immigrants at all, but merely to people visiting the country on ordinary visas—in which case she didn't really say anything wrong at all. Either way, though, she did nothing worse than betray an incomplete knowledge of American history while talking off the cuff. It's hardly a big deal.

Wheaton College: Still Standing Despite a Bit of Mild Criticism

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 5:43 PM EST

Perhaps you remember the case of Larycia Hawkins. She's the professor at Wheaton College who declared on her Facebook page that Muslims and Christians worship the same god. Wheaton College follows the "evangelical Protestant tradition," which apparently has different thoughts on this matter, and as a result Hawkins is in the process of being fired.

Over at National Review, David French says that this ought to be entirely uncontroversial:

But this is Christian higher education, and the Left is taking direct aim at Christian academic freedom and institutional liberty. In 2014, it launched an ill-fated attack on Gordon College’s accreditation, and last month the LGBT Left issued a report loudly condemning Christian colleges for having the audacity to exercise their statutory and constitutional right to opt out of Title IX. So it should come as no surprise that the Left is rallying around professor Hawkins, trying to pressure Wheaton into yielding on its statement of faith.

I read this over lunch, and with nothing more pressing on my mind than eating a slice of pizza, I decided to click those four links to find out just what kind of pressure the Left was bringing to bear. I urge you to click yourself to check my work. The first three go to a trio of little-read diaries at the Huffington Post. Here are the most impassioned statements I could find in each of the three:

Letter endorsed by Su'ad Abdul Khabeer and 26 others: In our view, the measures taken by Wheaton administrators...dampen the spirit of free inquiry so crucial to the academic environment; ultimately depriving the student body of the benefit of a deeply dedicated educator....[We] call upon her employers to renew their own commitment to the principles of tolerance and academic freedom.

Ken Wilson: There's a way out of this morass. But it requires a commitment to the apostolic counsel of Romans 14-15. In a nutshell it boils down to this: we're going to disagree over highly contentious issues....In the meantime, we can feast ourselves on the rich fare of mere Christianity. In a community shaped by Romans 14-15, there would be plenty of room for Julie Rodgers and Dr. Larycia Hawkins at the table.

Pamela A. Lewis: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God? To the extent that Christians and Muslims come from the same Abrahamic tradition, yes they do....However, when it is a question about what these faiths call God and how they worship God, there are significant differences with respect to rituals and patterns of devotion....Whether or not Professor Hawkins has violated Wheaton College's Statement of Faith will be decided by Wheaton College. But I am with those who believe that she was moved by her understanding of Christ's commandment to love and stand with the vulnerable and the stranger, whoever they may be at the moment.

That's...not...really very fiery stuff. I imagine the administrators at Wheaton College can still sleep nights. The fourth link goes to a pretty straightforward CNN story in which Hawkins herself is critical of Wheaton's actions, which is hardly surprising since she's the one being fired.

So where do these milquetoast statements leave us? French acknowledges that so far, "the Left has merely used its powers of persuasion to try to move Wheaton from its statement of faith." But what about tomorrow? "Schools that don't conform to leftist orthodoxy may soon consequences far worse than a barrage of negative news coverage."

Maybe so. But it's always worth clicking the links. If this is the best that the big, bad Left can do—and I assume French would have linked to worse if it existed—I think Christian colleges are probably not in any imminent danger. It's pretty stunning sometimes just how little criticism it takes to bring out the victim in us all.

Quote of the Day: Mitt Romney Says Voters Are Tired of Romney-esque Message

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 3:13 PM EST

This is...interesting:

Mitt Romney, the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, has been encouraging party leaders to develop better policies to address wage stagnation. For instance, he supports raising the federal minimum wage, a departure from Republican orthodoxy.

As a party we speak a lot about deregulation and tax policy, and you know what? People have been hearing that for 25 years and they’re getting tired of that message,” Romney said in a recent interview. He added, “I think we’re nuts not to raise the minimum wage. I think as a party, to say we’re trying to help the middle class of America and the poor and not raise the minimum wage sends exactly the wrong signal.”

It's always easier to say something like this when you're not running for president anymore, isn't it? Still, he's got a point. With the average working-class Republican family paying roughly zero percent in federal income taxes and probably never coming into personal contact with a federal regulation in their lives, this message may indeed be getting a little long in the tooth.

Chart of the Day: TV's Schoolboy Crush on Donald Trump Gets Ever More Pathetic

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 3:02 PM EST

Jim Tankersley reminds me that it's been a month since I took a look a how television was covering the GOP campaign. It's a sad story. After briefly finding solace in a few other candidates, TV is back to mooning over Donald Trump, desperately hoping he'll return their adoring gaze. His daily mentions, once down to a mere 30 percent of all coverage in November, went back up to 50 percent in December, and then shot up to 80 percent when he made up a lie about Muslims dancing in the streets after 9/11. That was all it took. TV news remembered exactly what it is they love so much about Trump: the fact that he treats them like whores who care about nothing but ratings. Ooh baby, it hurts so good. Ever since, he's been back to 60 percent of all mentions, with everyone else duking it out for whatever crumbs are left over.

Donald Trump Sure Does Like People Who Make the Trains Run on Time

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 1:17 PM EST

What does Donald Trump think about dictators and autocrats? Well, they're bad guys, he admits. But that's not all. Let's roll the tape:

North Korea: You've got to give [Kim Jong-un] credit: how many young guys, he was like 26 or 25 when his father died....he goes in, he takes over, he's the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. This guy doesn't play games and we can't play games with him.

Russia: I'll tell you what, if Putin likes me....If he says something positive, that's a good thing, that's not a bad thing. And: It is always a great honor to be so nicely complimented by a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond. And: You’re saying he killed people, I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? And: He's running his country, and at least he’s a leader. I think our country does plenty of killing also.

Iraq: Look at Iraq....[Saddam Hussein] would kill the terrorists immediately.... I'm not saying he was a nice guy, he was a horrible guy, but it was a lot better than it is right now.

China: When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength.

Egypt: Egypt is turning into a hot bed of radical Islam. The current protest is another coup attempt. We should never have abandoned Mubarak.

Syria and Libya: Assad is a bad man. Gadhafi was a bad man. Mubarak had a terrible human rights record. But they were assisting us — at least Gadhafi and Mubarak — in fighting radical Islamic terrorists.

Trump sure does seem to admire anyone who can make the trains run on time, doesn't he?

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I'm Sick of Conservatives Being Such Babies

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 12:22 PM EST

Last night President Obama noted the unremarkable truth that the United States can't try to rebuild every country that falls into crisis. "It's the lesson of Iraq," he said. Over at National Review, Bing West was not amused:

That is insulting to all who fought. What does Mr. Obama say to the families who lost a loved one: they died in a quagmire that weakened us? The lesson of Iraq is that after American troops achieved stability, Mr. Obama quit, leading to a larger war and more American deaths.

Jesus, this pisses me off. Are conservatives ever willing to take responsibility for anything? They destroy the economy and then spend eight years bitching and whining because it's taking Obama so long to dig out of the hole they dug. They sit around spouting tough talk about their "Axis of Evil" but do nothing to stop North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear programs—and then go ballistic when Obama finally does something about it. And after merrily dragging us into the stupidest and most disastrous war in recent memory, they've spent every year since then desperately trying to pin blame for the aftermath on Obama.

They're like small children, ruining everything they touch because the world is a big playground that they govern with their guts instead of their brains. Then they throw temper tantrums when the adults come along and try to clean up the messes they've made.

Calling Iraq by its true name is no insult to anyone. The insult is that people like Bing West were willing to throw American troops into a killing field because they had to take out their post-9/11 rage on someone, and Iraq was handy. It's time to grow up, Bing. You can't remain a child forever, blaming your mistakes on everyone but yourself.

Yep, The Economy Really Is Starting to Deliver Higher Earnings

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 11:31 AM EST

Paul Krugman posted an interesting chart today, which I've simplified on the right to show only household income. It comes from Sentier Research, which tracks income in a more timely manner than the Census Bureau (though they use Census data). I noted the other day that if you looked at total worker compensation (including things like health insurance), then we'd finally seen a fairly healthy upward trend in 2015. But according to Sentier, even if you look only at ordinary cash income, we've pretty much recovered from the Great Recession. Household income has grown at the rate of 3-4 percent annually for the past two years. It took a long time to get there, but the recovery really does seem to finally be showing up in higher earnings.

This helps explain the sharp upward tick in Gallup's poll about personal satisfaction that I wrote about yesterday: it's because the economy really did start performing better for a lot of people in 2015. Now it's time to try to persuade everyone that the country really isn't going to hell in a handbasket even if Fox News and MSNBC spend every primetime evening telling us otherwise.

Iran Releases American Sailors

| Wed Jan. 13, 2016 10:58 AM EST

Am I the only one this morning who senses that conservatives are pretty disappointed that Iran released our sailors quickly and without any fuss? Maybe I'm just being hypersensitive....

We Are Happier Than Ever, We Are Angrier Than Ever

| Tue Jan. 12, 2016 2:14 PM EST

In a Gallup poll released last week, 85 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with how things were going in their personal life. That's close to an all-time high:

At the same time, only 20 percent are satisfied with how things are going in the United States. That's not an all-time low, but it's in the ballpark:

By historical standards, a 6-point increase in personal satisfaction over the course of a single year is pretty huge. If you look at the past three decades, it represents two-thirds of the range from all-time low to all-time high.

But that hasn't translated into any change in satisfaction with how things are going for the country. A corresponding increase would be something like 40 percentage points. In reality, satisfaction went down in 2015 by about ten points.

There is a story to be written about this massive disconnect. Normally, satisfaction with the country goes up as we recover from recessions. And we have recovered. Employment is up. Inflation is low. Gas prices have dropped. Taxes haven't changed for anyone even close to middle class. Broadly speaking, things are going pretty well.

The usual response at this point is to say that despite all this, wages are stagnant. And that's true. But wages have been pretty stagnant for a long time. What's more, over the past year we've actually started to see them rise a bit. Not a lot, but some.

So what's the deal? Satisfaction with the country started to show normal signs of increase in 2009, but then it suddenly collapsed—and it's stayed low ever since. Why? Has satisfaction with the country become unmoored from economic conditions? Is it all about other hot buttons these days? Are conservatives unhappy because gays are getting married while liberals are unhappy because income inequality is increasing? Have we all somehow conspired to be massively dissatisfied with the state of the country because our side continues to fail to get everything we want? Or what?

We don't live in nirvana. We never have. But by most standards, things are going pretty well. For liberals, we have gay marriage, Obamacare, and better Wall Street regulation. For conservatives, we have Citizens United, continued low taxes, and total control of Congress. For everyone, crime is down, school test scores are up, and terrorists continue to kill virtually no one here in America.

I honestly don't get it. America isn't a utopia, and America isn't a dystopia. It's recovering pretty decently from a huge recession and personal satisfaction with life is high. On other fronts, lots of things are going well and a few aren't. Same as always.

So why all the anger? Can it really be laid at the feet of the media? What's going on?