January 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


A new study says much of the rise in inequality is an illusion. Should you believe it? (Dylan Matthews, 1/10/18, vox.com)

Gerald Auten and David Splinter, economists at Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis, used the same IRS tax data as Piketty, Saez, and Zucman. They found that the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income rose from 8.4 percent in 1979 to 10.1 percent in 2015 -- an increase less than a third as large.

What looks on paper like a big increase in inequality in the 1980s and onward, Auten and Splinter argue, is really just money being shuffled around in response to Ronald Reagan-era changes to tax law. In 1980, the top individual income tax rate was 69.13 percent; by 1989, it had fallen by more than half, to 28 percent.

In the 1960s and 1970s, companies usually reinvested their profits rather than giving raises to executives -- the high tax rates meant those salaries would be largely taxed away. Reinvesting the money ultimately benefited shareholders in the company by increasing the company's value, and benefiting shareholders means benefiting rich people. Owning corporate shares was much rarer for middle-class people in the '60s and '70s before the rise of 401(k)s and IRAs.

After the tax cuts, companies started directing more money to raises. Rather than exploding actual inequality, Auten and Splinter write, the Reagan tax changes mostly shifted money that used to go to rich people through stocks so that it instead went to rich people in the form of salary.

That looks like a big increase in the rich's slice of the pie on paper, because the higher salaries show up on tax returns, but the increasing value to shareholders doesn't, at least until the shares are sold.

Auten and Splinter argue that the salary boost is largely an illusion. These compensation changes and other measurement issues, they find, account for 85 percent of the apparent rise in the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income since 1960.

...as we universalize and broaden stock ownership, should we bring back confiscatory rates at some threshold?

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Israel is paying its citizens to help deport asylum seekers (Rosie Perper , 1/10/18, Business Insider)

Israel will offer a cash reward to civilians who temporarily join a new government unit created to deport its asylum seekers, Haaretz has reported.

The Population and Immigration Authority published a notice on Sunday that it will offer up to a 30,000 shekel bonus ($8,700) to citizens who become "inspectors" for the unit that manages asylum requests. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


ISIS Declares War on Hamas, and Gaza Families Disown Sons in Sinai (IYAD ABUHEWEILA and ISABEL KERSHNER, JAN. 10, 2018, NY Times)

The video exposed new levels of enmity between Hamas and the Sinai branch of the Islamic State, injecting another layer of instability into an already volatile region. And it has roiled Gaza, prompting two families whose sons are shown in the video to disown them.

The video accuses Hamas of betraying Palestinians by imprisoning extremists in Gaza, failing to prevent the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and being supported by Iran.

It urges attacks on Hamas's members, courts and security positions, as well as on Shiites and Christians in Gaza, according to the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic State propaganda.

Tensions have long simmered between the two groups, even as common interests have led to cross-border cooperation in the past, particularly in arms smuggling, according to officials and experts in the region. But in declaring war against Hamas, the Sinai group has surrounded itself with enemies -- Egypt, Israel and now Hamas -- and given Hamas a common cause with Israel.

One of Hamas's main crimes, Islamic State argues, is its participation in Palestinian elections, which the Islamic State views as putting man-made law above God's law.

...was failing to comprehend the difference between Islamicists and Islamists, the latter being democratic political movements and the inevitable governors of Muslim societies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Mueller adds veteran cyber prosecutor to special-counsel team (Matt Zapotosky, 1/10/18, Washington Post)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes.

Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller's team in early November from the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel's office. [...]

Mueller's work has long had an important cybersecurity component -- central to the probe is Russia's hacking of Democrats' emails in an effort to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system and help Trump win. The original FBI counterintelligence probe was launched in part because a Trump campaign adviser was said to have told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails that could embarrass Democrats, and in July 2016, private Democratic messages thought to have been hacked by Russia began appearing online.

Mueller also is in possession of information from Facebook about politically themed advertisements bought through Russian accounts.

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump's team conspired in Russia's hacking effort to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Trump Is Intelligent, But Not Fit Or Level-Headed (Quinnipiac University Polling, 1/10/18)

President Donald Trump is intelligent, American voters say 53 - 44 percent, one of his lowest scores since Inauguration day, but voters say 69 - 28 percent that he is not level-headed and 57 - 40 percent that he is not fit to serve as president, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.  [...]

President Trump's grades on most character traits are down significantly since his first post-inaugural poll January 26, 2017, as voters say:

63 - 34 percent that he is not honest;
59 - 39 percent that he does not have good leadership skills;
59 - 38 percent, that he does not care about average Americans;
59 - 39 percent that he is a strong person;
65 - 32 percent that he does not share their values.

...wealth is not a function of intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


U.S. import prices barely rise (Lucia Mutikani, 1/10/18, Reuters) 

U.S. import prices recorded their smallest increase in five months in December and underlying imported price pressures were muted amid declining costs for food and consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


The ideological roots of Israel's troubles (Ryan Cooper, January 10, 2018, The Week)

As Tony Judt wrote over a decade ago, the idea of a particularly Jewish homeland is rooted in nationalist ideology from the late 19th and early 20th century. This ideology that has been progressively discredited since that time. The modern nation-state often retains some nationalist flavor, but the standard basis of nations today today is citizenship defined through membership in national institutions, not ethnicity, religion, or race. "Israel, in short, is an anachronism," he put it. [...]

The major problem with Israel is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is a tyrannical domination of a subject population, the source of endless conflict, and arguably the greatest long-term threat to Israel's security (despite its military superiority). If the problem can't be resolved, the international animus it inspires will continue to fuel the pressure for boycotts and sanctions, and will someday probably lose Israel free access to America's United Nations Security Council veto.

In all the territory controlled by Israel, there are over 6.2 million Palestinian Arabs, and about 6.5 million Jews. The Israeli birthrate is high, but the Palestinian birthrate is higher. Someday soon, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israeli-controlled territory.

This leads directly to the dilemma of liberal Zionists: If Israel wants to remain democratic, it can either divest itself of the occupied territories, and thus retain its Jewish majority, or it can become one single state that is half Jewish and half Arab. The former is all but impossible to imagine, given the total collapse of the peace process. The latter would mean abandoning the idea of a particularly Jewish nation.

If Israel continues the occupation without giving Palestinians full citizenship, it will have abandoned democracy. This seems the most likely outcome. Indeed, by most definitions of the term Israel has been a de facto apartheid state for decades now -- in the 2015 election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu overtly promised that he would prevent the formation of a Palestinian state while he was prime minister. The demographic balance tipping to an Israeli minority would merely check one of the last boxes on the apartheid checklist.

Ignoring your friend's problem doesn't make it better.