Friday, August 3, 2012

Chronicling Mitt's Mendacity, Vol. XXVIII

Steve Benen notes at Rachel Maddow's Blog another 26 of Mitt Romney's lies from the past week. This is Benen's 28th installment in the weekly series.

2 studies suggest how much more of the wealth pie the rich take nowadays.

Two studies released over the past few days both beg a simple question: what happened/happens to the money? In both cases, the answer is the same: it’s going to the wealthy.

In one study, Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a think tank that leans left, created a definition of a “good job” and then added up all the jobs that met that definition 30 years ago and all those that do today. 

We should all wonder about the criteria by which CEPR determined if a job was good or not. By clever criteria selection, it’s possible to fix an argument one way or the other.

While I don’t think CPR is fixing anything with the criteria it selects, you be the judge:
·         Make at least $18.50 an hour, or $37,000 annually (the median hourly pay in 2010, which means that in 2010, exactly half of all employees made more and half made less than $18.50 an hour).
·         Get any employer-sponsored health plan, no matter how paltry, for which the employer pays some portion, no matter how small, of the premium.
·         Have an employer-sponsored pension or retirement plan.

Using these criteria, CEPR found that the share of all jobs that could be considered as “good” fell from 27.4% in 1979 to 24.6% in 2010 despite the fact that gross domestic product increased by 63% per person. Americans were being 63% more productive and yet it wasn’t leading to better compensation. In fact there was a decrease in “good” jobs.

What happened to all the money produced by the additional GDP?

The answer, of course, is that rich folk got more, as avariety of studies have shown us over the past few years. The wealthiest 1% and 5% of Americans get a bigger slice of the wage and wealth pie than 30 years ago, leaving less for the rest of us.

Where’s the money going? We could ask the same question about a study conducted by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, which found that if Mitt Romney’s proposed tax plan were enacted that it would cut the taxes of the wealthiest 5% of the population while raising taxes for everyone else.

This study, too, rests on assumptions that are open to question. The assumptions in this case fill in the blanks where Romney has been fuzzy on the details of his tax plan. But let’s assume that the highly reputable Tax Policy Center got the Romney details mostly right.   We’re left with the same question and the same answer:

What happens to the money? It’s flowing to the wealthy from everyone else.

Because they are based on assumptions, these studies prove nothing, but they certainly do suggest that over the past 30 years the wealthy have perpetrated class warfare against the rest of the country.

The study on Romney’s tax plan also indicates that the wealthy are ready to continue their assault. For 30 years, tax policy has been one of the weapons of choice in the economic war against the non-wealthy. Other weapons have included privatization of government functions, cutting of social welfare programs such as support for education, suppression of the minimum wage and anti-union policies.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Romney’s foreign faux pas suggest a lack of presidential timber.

By Marc Jampole

Of the four highly reported mistakes that Romney made on his foreign trip, two seem to have been calculated in advance, one rightly and one wrongly.

When I say calculated rightly, I don’t mean that Romney said the right thing, but that it worked to attract or solidify votes.  Romney’s comments about the superiority of Israeli culture leading to its higher standard of living were incorrect and odious in light of the restrictions under which Palestinians have lived in the occupied territories.

But Romney’s subtly racist remark plays into a myth of Jewish voters and another myth of many voters of all persuasions (except Islam). Jews are taught from a young age that they are the chosen people, chosen to be, as Isaiah put it, a “light unto the nations.” Romney’s talk about cultural superiority is something that Jews everywhere will take for granted. The superior culture remark also reflected the views of many Americans, expressed vehemently by Samuel Huntington, that we are in a cultural war with Islam and that our western (Christian) civilization is superior, as demonstrated by our standard of living.  Again, I reject this thinking, but at the same time I understand that a large number of my fellow citizens share these wrong-headed notions and Romney has made himself a more attractive candidate to them.

On the other hand, Romney’s distancing from his wife’s Olympic sport had the opposite effect than intended. Romney wanted to rid himself of his image as a patrician of wealth who can’t relate to the average Joe-and-Jane. Instead, he portrayed himself as an insensitive husband, the type that won’t take his wife to a “chick flick” for her birthday or go to the garden show displaying her orchids.  Instead of portraying the image of a warm and loving husband, he ended up looking like a complete dolt to both men and women.

That leaves us with the two foreign faux pas that I believe Romney did not say on purpose; of course we’ll never know for sure: His whining concerns about security and his revelation that he had been to a secret meeting. Both of these mistakes show a certain lack of what used to be called “presidential timber.” Have you ever noticed that ex-presidents mostly say good things about the current office-holder or they keep their mouths shut?  Romney is the former leader of the Olympics and while there is no written law, most ex-leaders will support the current regime, unless a complete disaster occurs, which clearly has not happened in the very well-run London games. When caught in what I think was an unguarded moment, Romney chose to be competitive, not presidential. It’s something that none of our recent presidents would have done.

Not knowing or forgetting that he had attended a secret meeting reveals a lack of knowledge in the customs of the host. It was a mistake in etiquette, and again, presidents of companies, charities, business associations and countries don’t tend to make those kinds of mistakes.  Presidents know the custom in advance or they tend to understand what it is from the subtle cues of others.

Romney has frequently shown himself to be out of touch with the American public, and those who have commented always link this inability of Romney to connect with his life of luxurious wealth. But complaining about a non-existent security problem of your former enterprise and not following the proper etiquette of your hosts (which others through the years have managed to figure out) have nothing to do with being wealthy. Presidents and other leaders tend to have more money than anyone else, and so any behavior that we classify as “presidential” has qualities of wealth attached to it. Being presidential is a kind of grace that makes everyone feel at ease and important.  From Reagan through Obama, all of our recently elected presidents have had it, and curiously, none of the candidates they defeated had it, except for Al Gore who actually won the popular vote.  

We like our leaders to look and act like leaders. Romney may look presidential, but he is having extreme difficulty playing the part.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Hacker wants to cripple students by denying them basic tools of a complex society

By Marc Jampole

That Andrew Hacker would advocate ending the requirement to study algebra to get a four-year college degree is mildly surprising. There has been no hint of such anti-intellectualism in his many fine essays on demographics, race and the education system in the New York Review of Books and elsewhere throughout the years.  On the other hand, he has not been afraid to express a controversial opinion, usually backed by a slew of empirical evidence.

That he would use cheap and transparent propaganda tricks to advocate anything, let alone the deep-sixing of algebra, as he does in his article in last Sunday’s New York Times opinion section, is both shameful and disappointing. The article makes a shambles out of truth by defining algebra by its hardest and most advanced features.

Hacker sprinkles his article with examples of “algebra” as proof that it’s just too hard for most kids:

·         (x² + y²)² = (x² - y²)² + (2xy)²
·         Vectorial angles and discontinuous functions
·         Quadratic equations
·         Fermat’s dilemma (I think he means Fermat’s Last Theorem)

Hacker is right to say that no one except engineers, scientists and the occasional financial analyst will need to know any of his examples, which are all very hard. But correct me if I’m wrong, these are all subjects for the second year of algebra (I think the first year includes some simple quadratics).

But let’s take a look at what else Hacker wants to keep children from learning (except the lucky few who will get technical degrees):

·         X + 5 = 10
·         2X – 3 = 5
·         .08x = 80
·         a/b = c/d, so ad = bc

That’s all math from the first year of algebra and all necessary for most people in our technology-oriented society.
The uses for my first three examples come every time we buy anything, be it in a supermarket, department store, laundromat or stadium. These basics of algebra allow us to figure our taxes and balance our checkbook.
The last example is particularly noteworthy, because since I began working at my first job running a closed circuit television studio for a subsidiary of the old Ma Bell in Seattle and writing/directing such classics as “Safe Pole Climbing,” not a week has gone by when I have not needed this basic equation.

Here is a classic example: I am billing an employee’s time at $65 an hour and paying her a total compensation of $38,000, meaning I break even once she has billed 11 hours to clients every week. To what level do I have to raise her rate to get the same break-even point if I increase her total compensation to $45,000?  In the basic equation a/b = c/d, so ad = bc: a is what she makes, b is her hourly billing rate and c is her new compensation.

Let’s plug it in:

$38,000 times d = $65 times $45,000
And now solve, using the simplest of algebra that is taught about a third of the way through the first year (and a calculator for the arithmetic!):

38,000d = 2,925,000
d = $76.97, which I would round up to $77/hour or down to $75/hour.

In one form or another, week after week for decades I have faced a problem that this equation helped me to solve—as a university instructor of foreign languages, as a television news writer and reporter, as a would-be Hollywood screenwriter, as a marketing manager, as a public relations executive.

Hacker draws a picture of algebra that has nothing to do with the real-world needs of people.

I won’t dwell on the fact that learning mathematics is good for young brains because it entails developing a new way of thinking—similar to studying Chinese or Spanish—since Hacker freely admits it himself and proposed an algebra-free math curriculum for the liberal arts type that focuses on finding the mathematical beauty in the visual arts, music and poetry.

I don’t think it’s unfair to ask college or even high school students to pass a first-year algebra class. The key word is “pass.” Getting a C because the last few weeks got a little rough is no shame. It just means that someone shouldn’t consider going into any science or technology career, as the kids best suited to those careers whiz through algebra, trigonometry, calculus and beyond. And it probably also means that you’ll have a deficit in one area when competing against those who excel in higher math courses in liberal arts fields such as writing, law, business administration, sales, human resources and even the visual and performing arts. For example, my understanding of physics, which hinges on an understanding of the rudiments of calculus—has helped me win the advertising and public relations work of many technology companies.

There are plenty of fields that don’t require that someone got through trigonometry, and many of them pay very well.

But the world has become too complicated for anyone who can’t figure out that two cans of beans that are $5.00 each cost $10.00 total. That’s 2X = ?, if X is $5. And that, Mr. Hacker, is algebra.

Let’s close with a  slight subject change: Unfortunately, many non-college jobs pay very little money and much less than what they used to pay, which is why contemporary parents are in a panic to get their kids into the colleges associated with success in the high-paying fields. These parents would be better off campaigning for a higher minimum wage, laws that help unions organize and other laws that raise salaries so that one can attain and maintain a middle class lifestyle whether one is a Harvard-educated lawyer or a community college trained security guard.