Friday, January 18, 2019

Mary Oliver, RIP


The poet Mary Oliver died on Thursday at the age of eighty-three.  The New York Times obituary addresses her poetry, her popularity among readers and the way critics have disagreed about the quality of her poems.

My favorite is The Forest, part of a longer poem, published in her New And Selected Poems. Volume One.  I believe that it reflects

...that what lay beneath her work’s seemingly unruffled surface was a dark, brooding undertow, which together with the surface constituted a cleareyed exploration of the individual’s place in the cosmos.

The Forest

At night
under the trees
the black snake
jellies forward
rubbing
roughly
the stems of the bloodroot,
the yellow leaves,
little boulders of bark,
to take off
the old life.
I don't know
if he knows
what is happening
I don't know
if he knows
it will work.
In the distance
the moon and the stars
give a little light.
In the distance
the owl cries out.


Saturday, January 12, 2019

Tammy Bruce's Ode To Traditional Masculinity


Tammy Bruce, a guest on Fox & Friends, a right-wing political television show, gave such a brilliant example of everything that can go wrong when we debate concepts such as femininity and masculinity that I am going to dedicate a whole post to her utterances. (1)


Thursday, January 10, 2019

Short Posts 1/10/19. Trump's Shutdown as a Game of Chicken, Higher Marginal Income Tax Rates And The Flu



1.  I believe that Trump sees his government shutdown as a game of chicken.  The big problem for a narcissistic man is that he is playing it against a woman, Nancy Pelosi.  He can't lose, because then he would lose face.  And, possibly, other parts.  That the shutdown causes real suffering to many is not something Trump can relate to, sigh.

2.  His immigration speech the other day was an odd one.  He read it quite fluently, if we ignore the sniffing, and what he read was clear enough.

Wonder who wrote the speech?  Stephen Miller is one possible guess, but Miller (the fascist architect of the current immigration policies) would never include the bits about emotions and the heart and all that crap, because he doesn't know what those things might be.  Neither would Trump, of course, so I smell a new speech writer.

As an aside (because truth now is just an aside in these debates), the speech was based on two major factual errors which this Vox piece spells out.

It was also based on the familiar be-very-very-afraid trick which the Republicans have successfully exploited for a few decades now.  What's hilarious is that we are told to be very very afraid of migrants from South America (foreigners bring disease and crime and cost us money and jobs), but not of some very powerful foreigners, such as Vlad (the Impaler) Putin, though the latter has most likely caused a lot of damage to this country (and democracy) by his shenanigans.

3.  Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez' suggestion that annual incomes above ten million dollars should be taxed at marginal tax rates rising to seventy percent created the expected reactions from the wealthier pundits of the right.

Sean Hannity, in particular, worried about all the toys that he and his friends might lose if her awful proposal actually became reality:

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): Now she wants to confiscate what would be the equivalent, if you lived in her state of New York, of 85 cents of every dollar. Well that means the rich people won't be buying boats that they like recreationally, they're not going to be taking expensive vacations anymore and they probably won't be investing their money in America anymore because it won't be profitable for them.

Hannity doesn't understand marginal tax rates!  Ocasio-Cortez' proposal would tax incomes above, say, ten million dollars per year, at a higher tax rate, not all the income that someone who makes more than ten million dollars per year earns.

If the seventy-percent top rate was applied to income above ten million dollars, the first dollar that would be taxed at that rate would be the first someone earns after already having earned ten million that year.  The dollars earned earlier would have lower marginal tax rates.

So it wouldn't be true that the effect would apply to "every dollar," as Hannity argues.

Hannity's argument in that above quote is something he elaborated on later:

You know, and people got mad at me, they said, "Hannity, you were talking about, well, rich people won't buy boats" -- no, rich people won't go to restaurants, because they won't have the money. Rich people won't invest in companies, that means they're not going to hire people.
Rich people are not going to remodel their homes, they're not going to build new homes -- who benefits? The contractor, the electrician, the plumber, the -- the carpenters, they're the ones that benefit, when rich people spend money on their homes.

This is the old assertion that rich people are job creators, and if they are not allowed to keep a lot of their money then they will stop creating jobs!  So trying to tax high incomes is no different from shooting ourselves in the foot (feet?).

But reality is quite a bit more complicated than assuming that jobs come only from the consumption and investment of the very rich.

One complication is that the marginal propensity to consume is probably a lot lower for the very rich* than for the rest of us, and this means that raising the top marginal tax rates would not cut the consumption by the very rich as much as Hannity fears.  This means that fewer jobs would be lost.

A second complication, and one which links to the previous one, is that Hannity's argument doesn't take into account the additional tax revenues Occasio-Cortez' proposal would create.

They would not just vanish into the empty air, but would ultimately  be spent or invested, preferably in the domestic economy, and the individuals whose paychecks, say, will rise because of that might also decide to remodel their houses, go out for a meal, or buy a small rowing boat.

Those individuals are likely to earn less, on average, than the folks who make more than ten million per year.  This means that their marginal propensity to consume is going to be higher, the demand for goods and services will rise**, and new firms might be created to take advantage of that demand.  They are also many more in numbers than the super-rich.

Whether raising the top marginal tax rates would produce enough money to finance various governmental policies is, of course, an empirical question, and to answer that properly requires actual research.  Sean Hannity's arguments are not that.***

4.  The iatrogenic illness I caught in December from my general practitioner turned out to be something more than just a bad head cold.  I spent about two weeks in the zombieland where the "me" that usually exists seemed to have gone to sleep, replaced by a zombie Echidne with no creativity except in making long lists of what hurt and where.

I think I had the flu, given the symptoms, but perhaps because I did get vaccinated the way it passed was odd.  Usually the flu symptoms start, one's condition deteriorates quite rapidly in the next day or two, the illness reaches its peak and then recovery takes place at some fairly constant daily rate.

But my most recent experience was nothing like that.  I felt the same level if discomfort and pain every single day, until, suddenly I woke up almost completely healthy.

But weak and feeble.  I made the mistake of trying some rather strenuous exercise on Monday and almost fainted.  So this is the long explanation why my research for this post might have mistakes I don't spot.
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*  This is just a fancy way of saying that how much someone would spend out of the "marginal dollar," the "last" dollar added to your most recent paycheck depends on how big your paychecks are.  The bigger they are, other things constant, the smaller the percentage of that dollar people will spend.

** Thus, the poorer people are also job creators, because they consume goods and services in the marketplace and thereby become the customers that firms need to, say, expand their hiring of workers.

*** The real, hidden, arguments against higher marginal tax rates view them as governmental theft.  Those arguments are based on the belief that the rich truly deserve their higher incomes because they work so much harder than the poorer people and/or because they are so much more creative and productive than the poorer lot.

Should the rich have inherited their position, the argument just moves back one generation and maintains that the income was initially earned by hard work and great genius and those who created it had the right to pass its fruits to their children.

This way of thinking doesn't ask how the enterprises of the wealthy, for example, have benefited from public infrastructure investments, the creation of the Internet, the tax-payer subsidized education of the workers of those enterprises and so on.  Instead, it assumes that the wealthy earned their higher incomes with zero help from anyone else.



Monday, January 07, 2019

The Hillarization of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Not Going Well.



The attempts to Hillarize* Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are wonderful to watch.  The right-wing apparatus tries everything they can think of, but the usual approaches don't work quite as well with her as they work with older women, largely, because she is too young to have a lot of life history which can be mined for any minor infraction.

So the (hidden) focus now seems to imply that she has stepped out of the proper role of attractive young women which is to be eye-candy while staring adoringly at older powerful male politicians.

That's the best way to understand** why the right-wingers think that a video of her dancing while in college would matter or that her old nickname (Sandy) would matter.  Those things are supposed to embarrass her now because they are the types of things eye-candy-hotties are expected to do.

This Boston Herald opinion piece is a good example of the way Ocasio-Cortez is currently being Hillarized.

But she has learned the lesson from the past and refuses to silently accept the Hillarization.  We shall see if it works, though I hope that it does.

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*  "Hillarization" is my cumbersome term for what the right-wing media did to Hillary Clinton over several decades by creating a loudspeaker which spewed nonstop information and misinformation about her perfidies and her sins, whether real or imaginary.

This approach creates the impression that something must be very wrong with a woman who receives such long-term treatment, even if actual data didn't support that conclusion.  Because all this worked so well with Hillary Clinton, it is now applied to other female Democratic politicians.

An important aspect of the Hillarization of female politicians is that the sins deemed important in the process are much milder and even insignificant if they applied to a male politician and that they are frequently about the kind of subtle violations of gender roles which would only matter when the object of criticism is a woman.

**  It's not the only way.  Some argue that the right-wing tries to label her as unauthentic, another device that the Hillarization process utilizes.  But I find the "eye-candy running wild when it's supposed to stay put and silent" theory the clearest explanation for what the right-wing tries to accomplish.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Likable Enough? On The Hillarization of Elizabeth Warren.



Did you know that likability is a tremendously important characteristic in American politics?  Politicians shouldn't run if they are not likable.  It's not possible to win, say, the presidency if a politician is not deeply likable:

In one of his first tweets of the new year, President Donald Trump attacked retired four-star Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal after he criticized the President on Sunday.
"'General' McChrystal got fired like a dog by Obama," Trump tweeted Tuesday morning. "Last assignment a total bust. Known for big, dumb mouth. Hillary lover!"

Oops.  I forgot to specify that likability is a tremendously important characteristic in American politics, but mostly for female politicians.  Hillary Clinton struggled with her likability rating.   Sure, she had experience and brains.  But she lacked that something — je ne sais quoi — that all charismatic politicians must have.  Trump has it in shitloads! 

It's being likable.

Drat.  I veered off the script again and forgot that male politicians don't have to be terribly likable.  Their likability rating is measured differently, because it's base value (zero point) is set far lower than the equivalent base value for female politicians. 

A guy is likable enough if he doesn't decapitate babies on television with his bare teeth, pretty much. 

But from a gal so much more is demanded!  She must not remind any man of his nasty female ex, she must not remind anyone of their angry mother, she must not remind anyone of the cold bitch at the bank who refused their mortgage applications. 

She should be warm, empathetic, sympathetic, but not emotional or weepy.  As an aside, she should also be attractive, but not blatantly sexy, strong, but without a grating voice or any shrillness or hectoring, and she should always place other people's needs ahead of her needs.  If she fails in that then she is overly ambitious and unlikable.

Sigh.  All this is because of the sex roles almost all of us have grown up with.  Women, as a class, are expected to demonstrate certain characteristics.  Leaders, as a class, are expected to demonstrate a different set of characteristics. 

These two sets don't quite coincide.  Powerful women must walk a tightrope strung between two end-points, one having to do with traditional female characteristics which make a woman likable but certainly not a public leader, and the other having to do with traditional leadership characteristics which make a woman powerful, but not necessarily likable:

It is widely accepted that women should be nurturing, deferent, kind and warm. Men, in contrast, are valued for being confident, in control and outspoken. The problem for women is that the qualities essential to being a successful leader, such as assertiveness and directness, are contrary to predominant norms of femininity. Because of this, women leaders are often penalized. They may be disliked by their colleagues, or their communication style critiqued, which can result in their being fired or missing out on important promotions or assignments.
Walking that tightrope can be pretty tricky*.

Why this outburst from me?  Because Elizabeth Warren has thrown her hat in the ring concerning the 2020 presidential races, and the almost-instant response has questioned her likability:

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.
She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?
Bolds are mine.

The whole linked article is fun to read!  Korecki suggests that Warren shares too many attributes which sank Hillary Clinton, without noticing the most obvious of those shared attributes, their female sex.  She then gives a quick nod to the possibility that worrying about Warren's likability might be a sign of sexism, but then decides that "fair or not," Warren must overcome the wariness her candidacy is met with. 

I found all that hilarious, probably because the alternative reading of Korecki's work here would have left me despondent**.


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*  And the trickiness might differ, in complicated ways, between, say, white and African-American women.

** Both because she herself is adding bricks to the structure of Warren's supposed unlikability and because she appears unaware of the literature telling us that powerful women tend to suffer an unlikability penalty.












Sunday, December 30, 2018

The Global Gender Gap Report, 2018



The World Economic Forum has published an annual global gender gap report since 2006*.  Four sub-indexes are aggregated to get an overall measure about average differences between men and women in four areas:  economic participation and opportunity, health and survival, educational attainment and political participation.

The index has its problems.  For example, the health sub-index does not measure reproductive choice**.  But it also has certain advantages.  It compares countries with others of roughly the same income level, and because it has been published for over a decade, it lets us analyze progress (or lack of progress) over time.

The 2018 results are out.  Progress has not completely stalled, but it's very very slow.  At this rate the global pay gap between women and men, for example,  would take 202 years to close.  The largest gaps are found in political participation and economic participation and opportunity.  The remaining gaps in health and educational attainment are relatively small.

The ten most gender-equal countries, based on the aggregate index, are largely the ones you would guess to be found there, the Nordic countries.  Iceland leads the pack, followed by Norway, Sweden and Finland.  Nicaragua comes in fifth, Rwanda sixth, then New Zealand, Philippines, Ireland and Namibia.

The ten least gender-equal countries, based on the aggregate index are, starting from the tenth from the bottom and ending with the worst: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Syria, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen.***

United States comes fifty-first in the overall rankings.  This is a slight drop from the previous year, partly due to the Trump effect!

The United States (51) moves down two spots compared to last year. It records some modest improvements on the Economic Opportunity and Participation subindex—particularly with regard to wage equality for similar work—but a directional reversal in education and virtually no change on the Political Empowerment subindex, which stands at its lowest level since 2007, due, in particular, to a significant decrease in gender parity in ministerial level positions.

Bolds are mine.


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*  For a few posts of mine about the earlier reports, check this for 2009,  this for 2015, this for 2016 and this for a link to the 2017 report.  I have written more posts on the reports but Blogger will not allow me to search very far back in my archives.

** The Philippines, for instance, would probably drop from the top ten if reproductive health care services were included in the health sub-index.

*** There is an urgent need for much stronger feminist activism inside Muslim countries.  They tend to be the majority among the ten least gender-equal countries in this index, and this year is no exception.

As an aside, I checked if Yemen's position was caused by the horrible war raging there.  That does not seem to be the case as Yemen was also in the last position in the rankings of 2009, 2015 and 2016. 

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Season's Echidne Greetings



I have an iatrogenic illness.  Caught a bad head cold from my physician during a routine well-goddess-check visit.  Later I coughed so hard that I put my lower back out.  Now I slowly crawl and slither around the Snakepit Inc. hissing and swearing and planning a major malpractice suit.

The silver lining  to this depressing cloud* (other than the money I'm going to win in court for pain and suffering and for looking utterly ridiculous) is that I cannot vacuum even one single room. Or cook.  Or clean.**

I shouldn't whine and moan.  Other people have it so much worse.  They are not me, for one thing.

Anyways.  I wish you all wonderful end-of-year holidays in loving and peaceful company with a temporary amnesia concerning the fact that we are all tied to the seats in a bus careening toward the chasm while its driver yells gleefully "Look, Ivanka!  No hands!"



  

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*  Because of the mortar-like substance in my sinuses, coffee tastes like burned straw and chocolate — my beloved chocolate — tastes GRAY.

**  All that traditionally female party-work which doesn't count as real work but which often means that one feels like after a marathon when the festivities are supposed to begin.