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The Morning Grumpy – November 23rd

23 Nov

I have a voracious appetite for internet memes, video, podcasts, news, and analysis. Each morning I’ll share several links that you can consume during your “morning grumpy”.

1. The internet moves pretty fast. On Monday night, Fox News blonde-of-record, Megyn Kelly sat in on the Bill O’Reilly Condescension Hour to discuss the pepper spraying of peaceful protesters at UC Davis this past weekend. Here’s what she had to say:

As legend has it, Helen of Troy’s face launched a thousand ships and as the Internet legend now goes, Megyn Kelly dismissively saying that pepper spray “Is a food product, essentially” has launched a thousand memes. Here’s a few of our favorites:

2. On the flip side, Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone discusses the UC Davis incident, which should serve as a rally point in the continued evolution and growth of the Occupy movement.

What happened at UC Davis was the inevitable result of our failure to make sure our government stayed in the business of defending our principles. When we stopped insisting on that relationship with our government, they became something separate from us.

And we are stuck now with this fundamental conflict, whereby most of us are insisting that the law should apply equally to everyone, while the people running this country for years now have been operating according to the completely opposite principle that different people have different rights, and who deserves what protections is a completely subjective matter, determined by those in power, on a case-by-case basis.

3. David Frum seems to have unwittingly moved into the roomy business class section of American politics known as the “sensible middle” where you’ll also find such luminaries as Andrew Sullivan and Jon Huntsman. Ten years ago, they were  right wing republicans. Now? Even though their politics have barely changed, their party has moved so far to the fringe that they are now seen as “centrists”.  Like Sullivan, Frum is troubled by this ideological shift and believes that the Conservative movement has lost touch with reality.

Extremism and conflict make for bad politics but great TV. Over the past two decades, conservatism has evolved from a political philosophy into a market segment. An industry has grown up to serve that segment—and its stars have become the true thought leaders of the conservative world. The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so that they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much. As a tool of political mobilization, it backfires, by inciting followers to the point at which they force leaders into confrontations where everybody loses, like the summertime showdown over the debt ceiling.

But the thought leaders on talk radio and Fox do more than shape opinion. Backed by their own wing of the book-publishing industry and supported by think tanks that increasingly function as public-relations agencies, conservatives have built a whole alternative knowledge system, with its own facts, its own history, its own laws of economics.

Until the republican pendulum swings back from the fringe, our politics will be paralyzed. I’d postulate that one of the worst things that could happen would be for Romney or Huntsman to win the republican presidential nomination in 2012. Either candidate would most likely lose in the general election as they will struggle to motivate their red meat starved base. The result? A demand by the base to become more dogmatic in future elections (see 2008, after Obama won), resulting in even greater conservative obstinacy until 2016.

The base demands a right wing talk radio/Fox News candidate in 2012. If they get what they want and lose, the Republicans may be forced to consider a return to moderation or at least reason and sensibility. As Mondale’s failure in 1984 ultimately begat Clinton’s third way politics in the 1990’s, so will a Bachmann/Cain/Gingrich/Perry general election failure in 2012 bring us a Jon Huntsman in 2016.

4. Paul Krugman believes the optimal marginal tax rate for top earners is 70%

In the first part of the paper, (the authors) analyze the optimal tax rate on top earners. And they argue that this should be the rate that maximizes the revenue collected from these top earners — full stop. Why? Because if you’re trying to maximize any sort of aggregate welfare measure, it’s clear that a marginal dollar of income makes very little difference to the welfare of the wealthy, as compared with the difference it makes to the welfare of the poor and middle class. So to a first approximation policy should soak the rich for the maximum amount — not out of envy or a desire to punish, but simply to raise as much money as possible for other purposes.

Using parameters based on the literature, the research suggests that the optimal tax rate on the highest earners is in the vicinity of 70%.

I read Krugman’s analysis, the abstract of the original research and dug into some of the data models, but let’s be honest, much of it is too complex for someone who is not learned in economics. It’s interesting and should be a valuable addition to our national discussion on progressive tax policy and government spending. However, I wonder how many Americans hear “top marginal tax rate of 70%” and think a person’s entire income is taxed at 70%. Probably a lot. Then, I get sad.

5. How do we defend the Earth from asteroids? I’m glad you asked! This delightfully nerdy and humorous presentation from TEDx Boulder gives you the details. As an engineer and geek, I found this fascinating.

Quote Of The Day: “If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.” — John F. Kennedy

Song Of The Day: “Where Were You?” – The Mekons

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