Buying Civilization

I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

This week everybody was talking about Margaret Thatcher’s life and death

The Iron Lady hasn’t been prime minister since 1990, so you might think the old wounds would have scabbed over by now. Apparently not. After Thatcher’s death was announced, “Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead” went to #1 on iTunes-UK. Not to defend her, but do I have to point out how sexist that is? If she were male, maybe opponents could be satisfied with Elvis Costello’s “Tramp the Dirt Down“.

When her death was falsely reported in 2008 and plans for a 3-million-pound state funeral came out, Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle commented:

For 3 million, they could give everyone in Scotland a shovel, and we would dig a hole so deep that we could hand her over to Satan personally.

To put her impact in American terms, Thatcher was the anti-FDR. By the time she left office, the union-dominated Britain of the 1970s was as hard to remember as the Roaring Twenties were when Roosevelt died in office in 1945.

She inspired the Reagan Revolution in the US, and symbolized the plutocratic and plutolatric trends that today make the US and the UK (plus Italy, for some reason) the rich countries with the greatest inequality and the least economic mobility.

I guess that’s hard to forget.

and taxes

It’s April 15, time for my annual attempt to popularize the term work penalty — the extra tax you pay because you work for a living rather than having money that works for you: How Big Was Your Work Penalty in 2012?

Of course, we can’t tax wealthy heirs, and we can’t tax their dividend or capital gain income because … well, just because. They’re “job creators” or something. There’s a word for this, plutolatry. It usually means “worship of wealth”, but it could also mean “worship of the rich”. I’m looking for ways to work it into conversations, like I did in the previous section.

Another Tax Day point worth making: Americans would save a lot of time and money if the IRS would use the information it has and just mail us a bill. If your tax situation was simple, you could pay the bill and be done with it, but if you wanted to itemize or claim some complicated tax break, you could file a return the way you do now.

Why doesn’t that happen? Two reasons: The tax-prep industry makes money from the current arrangement, so they lobby Congress to keep things the way they are. And anti-tax conservatives want Tax Day to be painful so that the public will resent paying taxes.

and Obama’s budget

which included a proposal to figure the cost-of-living adjustments to Social Security using the stingier chained CPI. I discuss this in Four Things I Know About Social Security. #3 is “Chained CPI is a way to cut Social Security benefits, not a way to measure inflation more accurately.”

and (oddly) a C&W song

For some reason I haven’t fathomed, this week all sorts of people were moved to comment on Brad Paisley’s new song  “Accidental Racist” (performed with black rapper L L Cool J). The song has a why-can’t-we-all-just-get-along theme, but annoys blacks and liberals by (among other things) making a false equivalence between whites judging a black man by his gold-chain bling and blacks not forgiving whites for the iron chains their ancestors wore.

In my terminology, Paisley is expressing privileged distress: His song’s main character (never assume a song is autobiographical) suffers because blacks now feel empowered enough to object to racist crap (like a confederate-flag t-shirt) that he used to get away with. He then imagines that his suffering is comparable to what blacks suffer from racism, so he’s ready to call it even and wipe the slate clean.

The debate basically amounts to: Yeah, the song raises the race issue in a pretty clueless way, but if it were any more clueful, Paisley’s fans wouldn’t listen to it and so wouldn’t be thinking about overcoming racism at all. Half a loaf.

While we’re on the subject of racial cluelessness, Rand Paul spoke at historically black Howard University. Paul treated the Republican Party’s dismal performance among black voters as some of kind of mystery. He reviewed the party’s stellar racial record from Lincoln through the 1950s, and then skipped completely over the last 50 years, when Republicans courted the racist Dixiecrats who were leaving the Democratic Party after it embraced the Civil Rights movement. (Charles Blow filled in that history for Paul. I reviewed it in detail in December.)

Jon Stewart summarized:

You can’t just yada yada yada the last 60 Republican years: “A Republican freed the slaves, gave black people the vote, yada yada yada, and now all blacks vote Democratic. I mean, what the hell?”

Josh Marshall commented on Paul’s shock that his audience already knew the history he was trying to tell them and still wasn’t sold:

When you look at who’s the bamboozled and who’s the bamboozler in this part of the GOP subculture you see that it’s not so clear cut. … The GOP is so deep into its own self-justifying racial alternative reality that there’s some genuine surprise when the claptrap doesn’t survive first contact with actual black people.

and you also might be interested in …

An unplanned consequence of putting armed police in public schools: Incidents that used to send you to the principal’s office now send you to court. The NYT reports:

Joshua, a ninth grader who lives south of Houston, got into a brief fight on a school bus in November after another boy, a security video showed, hit him first. The principal called in the school’s resident sheriff, who wrote them both up for disorderly conduct.

Charges were eventually dismissed, but Joshua had to find a lawyer and miss class for two court appearances. “I thought it was stupid,” he said.


Harvard’s Jal Mehta proposes a really radical change in education policy: Train teachers rigorously and well, and then let them do what they’re paid to do.


Show this to the next person who tells you about “liberal media bias” on climate change.

Number of climate scientists participating in discussion: zero.


Exxon’s pipeline spill in Arkansas is much smaller and less messy than a Keystone XL spill would be. Imagine this in your back yard.


Yet another sad story about a teen rape victim getting hounded by her peers.

You’ve got to wonder if this is finally the right place for a “Just Say No” approach. As we saw in the Steubenville case, a lot of teen guys seem not to realize (at least not until after the fact) that it’s wrong to take advantage of a girl who can’t resist. That’s why I like this video:

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  • By The Yearly Sift: 2013 | The Weekly Sift on December 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    […] states seized their chance to resume suppressing the non-white vote. Pop culture gave us “The Accidental Racist“, Miley Cyrus twerking (which led me to write about when and why borrowing from ethnic […]

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