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February 20, 2015

isis gets buuurned

It staggers me that, after nearly fifteen years, conservatives still fundamentally do not get the current modish flavor of terrorism.  At the heart of this burgeoning Do You Love America litmus test is criticism of President Obama for being reluctant to characterize Al Qaida, ISIS, etc. as faith-based zealots bent on a global war of faiths.  Obama is of the opinion that these terrorist organizations are masquerading as Jihadists, and have concrete goals that have nothing to do with the Koran or any tenet of faith.  But, in order to (i) successfully recruit soldiers with sufficient motivation, and (ii) goad the West into behaving such ways as to achieve such concrete goals and goose recruitment, these terrorist organizations claim and publicize a religious motivation and purpose.

For example, bin Laden's stated goal was to rid the Arabian peninsula of Western influence.  But what if his actual, unstated goal was to destabilize the Arabian peninsula to the point that Sunni interests could grab some regional power?  And, with the invasion and long occupation of Iraq, did the U.S. not do a firecracker job of destabilizing the region?

You know, Bill O'Reilly might insist that this is some sort of Holy War, and that's exactly what ISIS wants us to think.  So there's that.

I mention this only to set up this epic burn on ISIS types contained in this article, concerning the efforts of Muslim leaders in the U.S. to combat the appeal of ISIS recruiters.  Says D.C. Imam Suhaib Webb:

He said that in more than 15 years as an imam, he had encountered only five Muslims considering whether they should join violent militant groups, and that none of them had actually left the United States to fight. "They were all males," said Imam Webb, and "they all had daddy issues." He added, "They were not really drawn to this on theological grounds."

And that is how you combat the appeal of ISIS, and this sort of terrorism in general — you deny their stated goals and you disrespect them.  After all, all they are is a bunch of sociopaths with daddy issues.

I mean, come on, it's only common sense: how do you stop a terrorist?  By refusing to be terrorized.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:30 AM

February 18, 2015

the inequality pushback is ridiculous

There's a pernicious little meme that's starting to make the rounds, and I predict by the weekend it will have hardened into an Agreed Truth.  This will be a bad thing, because this meme is a truly twisted bit of tortured logic and data-picking and false equivalencies.  I first encountered it yesterday, in this gullible little bit of writing with the headline "Inequality Has Actually Not Risen Since the Financial Crisis."  Well super news for the oligarchy, innit?

This is all premised on one think tank (widely thought of to be assiduously non-partisan) study, which shows that the wealthy took a bigger proportionate hit than everyone else, and are recovering from such hit at a slower rate.

Let's assume that this is true; I am not an economist nor have I been invited to a think tank ever.  Let's look at the numbers quoted:

The average pretax incomes for the top 1/10,000th of earners peaked at $39.4 million in 2007, according to Mr. Saez's data, which is adjusted for inflation. It then plummeted to $21 million in 2009 - partly because the stock market crash reduced gains from stock sales - before rising back to an average of $29.2 million in 2012 and 2013.

(Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013? It's more meaningful than the data for only 2013, because changes in the tax law accelerated some stock sales into 2012. So looking at the data for 2013 alone makes the decline in inequality look even larger than it truly is.)

Needless to say, $29.2 million is a whole lot of money, but it represents a major decline - 26 percent - from the 2007 level. No other income group has experienced such a large decline.

Couple thoughts on that.  First of all, "Why am I using an average for 2012 and 2013?" is the wrong question.  The better question is, why are you using the top .0001% of earners?  That is not a percentage usually cited (the "one percent" is quite popular, as I've sure you've heard), and its randomness gives the impression of data-picking to some extent, as if in order to best demonstrate the point being made, such a tiny tranche was required.  A quibble.

More importantly, if you want to claim some sort of systemic solution to inequality because really rich people made a couple million dollars less than they did last year or the year before, then you are making quite a leap, a leap that could be mistaken for something monstrous like stupidity.  "No other income group has experienced such a large decline."  OK, swell.  But some of these other income groups experience things like living paycheck to paycheck and food insecurity that make that large decline like a ploy of someone desperate to victimize the wealthy.  The narrative of the inequality issue is that since the Reagan administration the robust growth of the lower and middle classes stopped, while the top percentiles of the scale have experienced unprecedented and, until 2007, unabated growth.  It may be factually correct to assert that inequality has stopped or something, but the fact of the matter is that it's the answer to the wrong question.  A blip in the one percent's march to world domination does not restore us to an equitable place in society. 

Also, the article is speaking of income, not wealth (or, better yet, income and wealth combined.  To deliberately obfuscate the role of wealth in inequality is the act of someone trying to have a dishonest conversation.  Hamilton Nolan addresses this issue quite nicely.

And then you get a real beaut of a paragraph, like this one:

If anything, these pretax data exaggerate the level of inequality, as Mr. Rose notes in his paper, published by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a Washington research group. The rich pay a higher average federal tax rate than the middle class and the poor. (The stories you hear about wealthy investors paying little in taxes are real but not the norm.) And unemployment-insurance payments and other federal benefits help the middle class and poor more than the rich.

Emphasis mine, naturally.  Because I'm not sure how you can say something like, "The Social Safety Net benefits those who need it more than those who don't," and then not perish of terminal assholery.  But that casual dick-move aside, to slip a little the-inequality-wasn't-that-bad-anyway into you the-inequality-is-over article goes a long way to revealing the motive of the author.

So I guess take a second and feel bad for the riches, I guess, since they so desperately want to be pitied (as long as it does not interfere with the virtue bestowed upon them by their wealth, of course), but when you encounter this pushback against inequality out in the wild, be armed with the knowledge that such pushback is a pile of hooey.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:48 AM