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Democrats Missed A Chance To Draw A Line In The Sand On Sexual Misconduct

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At about 11:15 this morning, an hour or so after Leeann Tweeden published an allegation that Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota had groped and kissed her without her consent in 2006, I assumed that Franken was headed toward resignation. I didn’t necessarily expect Franken to resign immediately or without putting up a fight. But barring some highly exculpatory evidence, I expected Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and other prominent Democrats to be pushing Franken out the door.

Here’s why I thought that. First, the timing. The accusations against Franken came in the midst of a major scandal involving Roy Moore, the Republican nominee for Senate in Alabama, who has been accused of sexual misconduct toward multiple girls and young women. And it comes on the heels of scandals involving sexual assault or sexual harassment by some of the biggest names in Hollywood and the media business: Harvey Weinstein, Roger Ailes, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K., to name some of many examples. It also comes about a year after Donald Trump was elected president even though he was accused of sexual misconduct by many women and was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by their genitals. The conduct Franken is accused of is just the sort of behavior that he has condemned, potentially making he and other Democrats look hypocritical.

Second, there was the photograph that Tweeden published with her article. It appeared to show Franken groping Tweeden’s breasts while she was sleeping — not providing a lot of room for “if true” statements about Franken’s conduct.

And third, there was political expediency. If Franken were to resign, it probably wouldn’t cost Democrats a Senate seat. Instead, an interim replacement would be named by Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton — a Democrat who would almost certainly appoint another Democrat. Then, a special election would be held next year to elect someone to serve the final two years of Franken’s term, which expires after the 2020 election. Next year’s midterms are likely to be blue-leaning (perhaps even a Democratic wave election), and Democrats are likely to hold Senate seats in states as blue as Minnesota under those circumstances. And Democrats have a deep and relatively diverse bench in Minnesota, with plausible candidates including State Auditor Rebecca Otto, Attorney General Lori Swanson, Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison, Tim Walz and Collin Peterson, former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and others.1

In other words, I thought the Democrats had an opportunity to maintain the moral high ground without having to pay a political price for it. They could keep the pressure up on Moore, who has put Republicans in a no-win situation in Alabama. And they could help to establish a precedent wherein severe instances of sexual harassment warrant resignation. In the long run, that might create more of a problem for Republicans than for Democrats, because the overwhelming majority of sexual harassment is conducted by men, and there are 265 Republican men in Congress compared with 164 Democratic ones.2

Instead, Democrats basically punted on the question. Here’s what Schumer said, which echoes the statements made by many other Democrats:

Almost all of these comments said that sexual harassment must be taken very, very seriously. But the remedy they propose for Franken — referring the allegations to the Senate ethics committee, a step that Republican leader Mitch McConnell, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Franken himself have also called for — isn’t particularly serious. Unless, that is, the committee process led to Franken’s expulsion. But there have been many ethics investigations and very few expulsions — none since 1862 — and none of the statements made by Schumer or the other leaders raised the possibility of expulsion.

Moreover, it’s not quite clear what behavior the ethics committee would actually be investigating: Franken hasn’t really denied Tweeden’s claim that he kissed her without her consent, and there’s already photographic evidence that appears to show he groped her. It’s possible the investigation could turn up evidence of similar incidents involving Franken and other women. But if Franken is a repeat offender — as so many sexual harassers are — that’s all the more reason for Democrats to want him out of office now instead of dragging the party through the mud.

Of course, what might be politically expedient for Democrats isn’t necessarily expedient for Schumer — or for McConnell, or for the White House, all of whom may be acting out of a sense of institutional self-preservation. If there’s a precedent that sexual harassment is grounds for removal or resignation from office, then a lot of members of Congress — including some of Schumer’s colleagues and friends — could have to resign once more allegations come to light, as they almost certainly will. President Trump’s conduct could also come under renewed scrutiny, as could the conduct of former presidents Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. Politics is a male-dominated institution, and a conservative3 institution, and conservative, male-dominated institutions have pretty much no interest in flipping over the sexual harassment rock and seeing what comes crawling out from underneath it.

When we were thinking through the Franken story in FiveThrityEight’s internal Slack channel today, most of the men in our office thought that Franken was in deep trouble (“I think he’s toast,” I wrote at 11:07 this morning). Most of the women thought he’d hang in and survive. We’re less than a day into the story, but no surprise — it looks like the women will be right.





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mrobold
3 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Google Assistant can now broadcast messages through your Google Home devices

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Last month, Google announced that users with Google Assistant would be able to broadcast messages via Google Home devices, and now that time is here. Google has begun rolling out an update that will allow you to use your Home devices as an intercom system within your apartment or house (or office, if you hate your co-workers).

You can use Assistant on your smartphone to send messages to all Assistant-enabled speakers within your home, and with certain commands, like announcing it’s time for dinner, the Assistant will ring a dinner bell on every speaker. You don’t even have to be home to broadcast; the feature will work from anywhere with a cell connection, which is a nice touch.

To activate the feature, just say “OK Google, broadcast”...

Continue reading…

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mrobold
6 days ago
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Wait...every speaker? I can't target one? Dammit.
Orange County, California
freeAgent
5 days ago
Yeah...this is definitely not as well developed as the Echo. Yet.
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Why isn’t the Indian caste system more protested in the United States?

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About one-sixth of India is Dalits, or “Untouchables.”  And while Western criticisms of caste segregation are a long-standing observation about India, I hardly hear serious complaints over the last two decades or so.  In contrast, the apartheid system of South Africa met with demonstrations, boycotts, campus activism, frequent dialogue, and so on.  Why don’t we see some modified version of the same for the Indian caste system?  No matter how you compare its relative oppression to that of South Africa, it still seems like a massive system of unjust and opportunity-destroying segregation, and an efficiency-loser as well.  Here are a few hypotheses, not intended as endorsements but rather speculations:

1. The caste system is simply too difficult for most Americans to understand, whereas apartheid could be represented more readily in what I dare not call simple black and white terms.

2. Most of the Indians who migrate to the United States are higher caste or at least middling caste, and they sway American opinions of India in a way that South African migrants to the USA never did.

3. Libertarians don’t want to focus on the caste system because it persists without active government support being the main driver.  Democrats don’t want to focus on the caste system because Indian-Americans are often leading supporters and donors.  It doesn’t feel like a Republican issue either.  So who is there to push this one for domestic ideological reasons?

4. Talking about the caste system makes harder the (justified, I should add) program of raising the status of non-minority whites in America.

5. Talking about the caste system would focus light on caste-based discrimination in the United States, and distract attention from other domestic issues.

What else?  Overall I find this a disappointing topic to ponder.  Perhaps all politics, like envy, really is local after all.

I am indebted to Sujatha Gidla for a useful conversation on this topic.  My formal Conversation with her will be up in a bit, I still recommend her book on caste, Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India.

The post Why isn’t the Indian caste system more protested in the United States? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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mrobold
8 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Could the Republican tax plan lead to bipartisan results?

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That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one bit:

If the bill succeeds in limiting these deductions, a logic is set in motion for future tax reforms. Let’s say the Republicans eliminate tax deductions for new mortgages above $500,000. That would become a sign that the homeowner and real-estate lobbies are not as strong as we might have thought. The next time tax reform comes around, legislators will consider lowering the value of the deduction further yet. After all, the anti-deduction forces won before and, in the new battle, those who expect to have future mortgages above $500,000 don’t have a stake anymore.

In other words, any squeezed deduction will remain a vulnerable target for more squeezing, or even elimination, over successive reforms.

And then:

The exact treatment in the House plan seems to be in flux, but the top rates from President Barack Obama’s tax reform are likely to stick in some manner. There even seems to be a rateof 45.6 percent on some earners, in the range of $1.2 million to $1.6 million a year. That is a far cry from Jeb Bush’s call in the Republican presidential primaries for a 28 percent top marginal rate, in the tradition of President Ronald Reagan. Some well-off Californians could possibly face a total marginal rate, all taxes considered, of over 62 percent.

You will recall that the Republican Party had in the past pressed strongly for reductions in the capital-gains rates, but that isn’t on the agenda now. Take that as a sign that Obama’s boost to those rates will stick.

If you solve for the equilibrium over time, maybe maybe you will get:

If we look at the Republican plan as a whole, it appears to be a recipe for a future tax code with many fewer deductions, lower corporate rates, higher income tax rates for the wealthy and a continuing inheritance tax. I’m not saying that the exact mix will or should make everyone perfectly happy, but is this not what a bipartisan tax reform compromise might look like?

My fear, of course, is that those deductions will not survive the next stage of the process.  Stay tuned…

The post Could the Republican tax plan lead to bipartisan results? appeared first on Marginal REVOLUTION.

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mrobold
8 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Steph Curry and Steve’s Bike Shop

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Here’s the PR statement put out by the Republicans:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act includes specific safeguards to prevent tax avoidance and help ensure taxpayers of all income levels play by the rules under this new fairer, simpler tax system. Our legislation will ensure this much-needed tax relief goes to the local job creators it’s designed to help by distinguishing between the individual wage income of NBA All-Star Stephen Curry and the pass-through business income of Steve’s Bike Shop.

Is it true that Steve creates jobs while Curry does not?  Not really.  In a sense both people create jobs.  Because of Steve and Steph, some cashiers have jobs at Steve’s bike shop and some concession stand people have jobs at the Golden State arena.  So certain specific jobs are created by their actions.

On the other hand, neither cause the job total in America to be higher than otherwise.  Those employed at the bike shop and basketball arena would have jobs somewhere else if not for Steve and Steph (due to monetary offset.)

The real argument for the lower pass through rate (if I understand it correctly) is that capital income should not be taxed at all, and a portion of business income is capital income.

Why is Curry the only person mentioned in the GOP document, and why in a less than favorable way?  I’m not sure.  In my view, Steph Curry is far more valuable to society than Steve (for standard diamond/water paradox reasons).  But I’d guess that many GOP voters resent the high incomes earned by African-America athletes, especially those who don’t seem grateful to America.  This is probably why Trump keeps picking a fight with the NFL—he knows it appeals to his base.  It’s all part of our stupid culture wars.

Some have argued that high wage earners often benefit from government subsidies, such as government funding of sports arenas.  That’s true, but businesses also get massive government subsidies, and only a very tiny share of Steph Curry’s income is due to these subsides; it mostly reflects his extremely high productivity (which leads to big TV ratings).  I have no problem with taxing high wage earners like Steph Curry at a 50% or 60% rate, but let’s not kid ourselves and claim that businesses are somehow more virtuous that high wage earners.  Productivity is productivity, whether from white businesses or African-American workers.  And Steph is way more productive than Steve.

PS.  It’s not good when the very first bullet point in your PR document is inaccurate:

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act delivers tax relief at every income level – while maintaining the top 39.6% tax rate on high-income earners.

This post explains why.

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mrobold
8 days ago
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Orange County, California
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Wait, did Bernie Sanders win the election?, by Scott Sumner

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Let's go back a couple years to see just how radically this country has changed. Jeb Bush is running for president, proposing a tax reform with a top marginal tax rate (MTR) of 28%. Marco Rubio is proposing a top rate of 35%, and that's viewed as being pretty mean to the rich:

A revised 15%/35% structure would likely leave everyone unhappy: Those who are currently taxed at the top rate of 39.6% (taxable income in excess of $413,200 if single, 464,850 if married jointly) will not be thrilled at their rate dropping a mere 4.6%, particularly when previous plans by Bowles-Simpson and Romney had proposed a top rate ranging from 25-28%.
So even the bipartisan Bowles-Simpson budget reform plan called for a much lower top rate.

The eventual GOP nominee (Trump) called for a top rate of 25%, far below the 43.4% top rate enacted by President Obama. After winning all the branches of government, you'd sort of expect the GOP to propose at least a token reduction in the top rate.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that the GOP plans to raise the top federal income tax rate to 49.4%:

The House GOP's reform proposal for individual taxes is a mess, but now we learn it also includes a stealthy 45.6% marginal tax rate on some high earners. This dishonest surcharge betrays the GOP's purposes of growing the economy and simplifying the code, and Republicans ought to kill this gift to the left that will be slapped on more Americans when Democrats return to power.
[I added the additional 3.8% income tax to the regular income tax, something our media always forgets to do.]

Now let's consider a wealthy person in California. Under Obama, that person faced a top rate of roughly 50%, combining state and federal incomes taxes. Under the new GOP plan, the top rate for Californians would soar to 62.7%, a rate one associates more with Thomas Piketty or Bernie Sanders, rather than the Ronald Reagan GOP. (The UK has a top rate of 45%, for instance.) Pinch me, is this really happening?

One of my commenters, who likes the proposed tax bill, specifically approved of the fact that it slashes taxes for businesses while raising them on high wage earners, which he suggested were largely "parasites". I think it's a silly to argue that business owners are somehow better than high wage earners, but let's say that this view is out there in America.

One thing that some commentators noticed about the past election was that lots of working class people identified more closely with populist billionaires than with highly educated professionals (who they regarded as snobs). Now the GOP is producing a tax plan that slashes the MTR for working class people and also for billionaires like Trump, while raising rates on very highly paid professionals. Coincidence?

We've had a lot of discussion of the fact that both the rich and the poor increasingly vote against their interests. Maybe not their actual interests, but against what intellectuals regard as their interests. One famous example is the book "What's the Matter with Kansas?". You could ask the same about the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Consider this possibility. If people in California and New York keep voting Democratic, even though many would benefit from lower taxes on the rich, then eventually the GOP starts to write them off, and no longer legislates in ways that favor those groups. I wonder if this is starting to happen already.

In politics, things never stand still. When I was young, West Virginia was extremely Democratic and California was Republican. Given how these two states now vote, the GOP increasingly wants to "deregulate" industries like coal and "regulate" industries like high tech. The policies follow the voters, not the other way around.

What about the flip side of this? Will the Dems move in the other direction? I'm not sure, but it's clear that if they don't then highly paid professionals and tech firms are going to start getting hit from both directions, and their situation is likely to become much less pleasant.

In other words, maybe we are about to have two socialist parties, one leaning liberal and the other nationalistic.

PS. An article in Forbes denied the existence of this top rate increase. But after reading all five pages, all the author did is convince me that he doesn't understand the distinction between marginal and average tax rates.

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mrobold
14 days ago
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Orange County, California
freeAgent
15 days ago
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Los Angeles, CA
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