The political-economy debate-du-jour is whether Texas under Rick Perry is a job-creating powerhouse, or a dystopian charnel house where low-skilled workers go to be chewed into spiritual mulch on an endless low-wage conveyor belt that only ever leads to another McJob.
A post at the Political Math Blog does probably the best job of sorting out the competing claims. You really need to read the whole thing, but to pull out some of the more notable findings: Texas has created a lot of jobs, and its unemployment rate has risen largely because those jobs are attracting lots of people to move into the state. The jobs aren't particularly low-wage, and they aren't all in the energy sector. Democrats trying to push the line that the Texas economy isn't that great aren't going to get very far. It's pretty great (relative to the suckage in the rest of the country). That's why people are moving there.
The question remains, however: can we really credit Perry? I'm skeptical, for a few reasons:
High oil prices mean high living in Texas. The state is no longer as dominated by the energy sector as it was before the collapse in the 1980s, but it's still got a lot of energy firms, and skilled energy workers. Unless Rick Perry has been sneaking out at night to sabotage Iraqi oil pipelines, or sell automobiles and diesel generators to Chinese families, he can't really take credit for this.
The state's housing sector didn't boom or bust along with the rest of the country's. There have been a lot of posts over the past few days attributing this to a peculiar quirk of Texas mortgage law: unlike the rest of the country, Texans essentially cannot do cash-out refinancings for more than 80% of the value of the home. The law, enacted in the wake of the 1980s oil bust and the S&L crisis, undoubtedly helped keep things sane, but it's not necessarily the whole story. Nearby Oklahoma City also largely escaped the housing bubble, so this may be more of a regional story than a regulatory story. But either way, Rick Perry didn't personally pass Texan mortgage regulations, and he did not choose to locate Texas next to Oklahoma.
The governor of Texas isn't that powerful. In general, Texas has a weak state government, and my understanding is that the power of the executive is further diluted because powers that are normally concentrated in the office of the governor are actually spread out over a handful of elected officials. So even if awesome policy was responsible for how well Texas is doing, you couldn't give all the credit to Perry.
No governor is really that powerful. Economic growth is complicated. Sure, tax and regulatory policy help--and you'll be unsurprised to learn that I think Texas has about the right take on these things. But low taxes and a light regulatory touch do not, by themselves, produce economic growth. (Witness Texas in the 1980s.) And even if it were that simple, the governor of a state is not Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise--he does not simply point his hand at his underlings and say "Make it so!" Institutional inertia is a force more powerful than even the steely will of your favorite politician. A governor can make a difference, even a sizable one, at the margins. But he cannot single-handedly turn a state government around, much less the rest of the state.
I think that the Texan policies conservatives tout are probably contributing to growth, and not just in the form of beggar-thy-neighbor competition. Anyone who thinks that that's all there is to state-level tax policy needs to acquaint themselves with the concept of deadweight loss. Nor am I impressed with the much cited evidence that an unusually high percentage of Texans are uninsured: Hispanics and young workers are much more likely than other groups to lack insurance, and even most legal immigrants cannot qualify for Medicaid within five years of their arrival in this country, while with limited exceptions, illegal immigrants generally can't qualify at all (Obamacare doesn't much change this). Texas isn't really to my taste, but from the evidence of all the people voting with their feet, it seems to be a pretty good place to live.
But though I think the state has a pretty good policy environment, that's the beginning of the story, not the end of it. There are a lot of reasons for Texan growth, and very few of them can be laid at the feet of the governor. For which we should really thank God. If states really could be boosted into the stratosphere, or driven into the ground, merely by changing the occupant of the governor's office, we'd have to live with the constant risk that our fellow voters would elect an idiot, and destroy our lives. Thankfully, the government isn't quite that powerful.
Five times a day for the past three months, an app called WeCroak has been telling me I’m going to die. It does not mince words. It surprises me at unpredictable intervals, always with the same blunt message: “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.”
Sending these notices is WeCroak’s sole function. They arrive “at random times and at any moment just like death,” according to the app’s website, and are accompanied by a quote meant to encourage “contemplation, conscious breathing or meditation.” Though the quotes are not intended to induce nausea and despair, this is sometimes their effect. I’m eating lunch with my husband one afternoon when WeCroak presents a line from the Zen poet Gary Snyder: “The other side of the ‘sacred’ is the sight of your beloved in the underworld, dripping with maggots.”
The president is the common thread between the recent Republican losses in Alabama, New Jersey, and Virginia.
Roy Moore was a uniquely flawed and vulnerable candidate. But what should worry Republicans most about his loss to Democrat Doug Jones in Tuesday’s U.S. Senate race in Alabama was how closely the result tracked with the GOP’s big defeats last month in New Jersey and Virginia—not to mention how it followed the pattern of public reaction to Donald Trump’s perpetually tumultuous presidency.
Jones beat Moore with a strong turnout and a crushing lead among African Americans, a decisive advantage among younger voters, and major gains among college-educated and suburban whites, especially women. That allowed Jones to overcome big margins for Moore among the key elements of Trump’s coalition: older, blue-collar, evangelical, and nonurban white voters.
Brushing aside attacks from Democrats, GOP negotiators agree on a late change in the tax bill that would reduce the top individual income rate even more than originally planned.
For weeks, Republicans have brushed aside the critique—brought by Democrats and backed up by congressional scorekeepers and independent analysts—that their tax plan is a bigger boon to the rich than a gift to the middle class.
On Wednesday, GOP lawmakers demonstrated their confidence as clearly as they could, by giving a deeper tax cut to the nation’s top earners.
A tentative agreement struck by House and Senate negotiators would reduce the highest marginal tax rate to 37 percent from 39.6 percent, in what appears to be the most significant change to the bills passed by each chamber in the last month. The proposal final tax bill would also reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, rather than the 20 percent called for in the initial House and Senate proposals, according to a Republican aide privy to the private talks.
If Democratic candidate Doug Jones had lost to GOP candidate Roy Moore, weakened as he was by a sea of allegations of sexual assault and harassment, then some of the blame would have seemed likely to be placed on black turnout.
But Jones won, according to the Associated Press, and that script has been flipped on its head. Election Day defied the narrative and challenged traditional thinking about racial turnout in off-year and special elections. Precincts in the state’s Black Belt, the swathe of dark, fertile soil where the African American population is concentrated, long lines were reported throughout the day, and as the night waned and red counties dominated by rural white voters continued to report disappointing results for Moore, votes surged in from urban areas and the Black Belt. By all accounts, black turnout exceeded expectations, perhaps even passing previous off-year results. Energy was not a problem.
Russia's strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He's really just a gambler who won big.
I. The Hack
The large, sunny room at Volgograd State University smelled like its contents: 45 college students, all but one of them male, hunched over keyboards, whispering and quietly clacking away among empty cans of Juicy energy drink. “It looks like they’re just picking at their screens, but the battle is intense,” Victor Minin said as we sat watching them.
Clustered in seven teams from universities across Russia, they were almost halfway into an eight-hour hacking competition, trying to solve forensic problems that ranged from identifying a computer virus’s origins to finding secret messages embedded in images. Minin was there to oversee the competition, called Capture the Flag, which had been put on by his organization, the Association of Chief Information Security Officers, or ARSIB in Russian. ARSIB runs Capture the Flag competitions at schools all over Russia, as well as massive, multiday hackathons in which one team defends its server as another team attacks it. In April, hundreds of young hackers participated in one of them.
There’s a fiction at the heart of the debate over entitlements: The carefully cultivated impression that beneficiaries are simply receiving back their “own” money.
One day in 1984, Kurt Vonnegut called.
I was ditching my law school classes to work on the presidential campaign of Walter Mondale, the Democratic candidate against Ronald Reagan, when one of those formerly-ubiquitous pink telephone messages was delivered to me saying that Vonnegut had called, asking to speak to one of Mondale’s speechwriters.
All sorts of people called to talk to the speechwriters with all sorts of whacky suggestions; this certainly had to be the most interesting. I stared at the 212 phone number on the pink slip, picked up a phone, and dialed.
A voice, so gravelly and deep that it seemed to lie at the outer edge of the human auditory range, rasped, “Hello.” I introduced myself. There was a short pause, as if Vonnegut were fixing his gaze on me from the other end of the line, then he spoke.
Young kids might be smarter and more empathetic than adults think.
In The Emotional Life of the Toddler, the child-psychology and psychotherapy expert Alicia F. Lieberman details the dramatic triumphs and tribulations of kids ages 1 to 3. Some of her anecdotes make the most commonplace of experiences feel like they should be backed by a cinematic instrumental track. Take Lieberman’s example of what a toddler feels while walking across the living room:
When Johnny can walk from one end of the living room to the other without falling even once, he feels invincible. When his older brother intercepts him and pushes him to the floor, he feels he has collapsed in shame and wants to bite his attacker (if only he could catch up with him!) When Johnny’s father rescues him, scolds the brother, and helps Johnny on his way, hope and triumph rise up again in Johnny’s heart; everything he wants seems within reach. When the exhaustion overwhelms him a few minutes later, he worries that he will never again be able to go that far and bursts into tears.
So many people watch porn online that the industry’s carbon footprint might be worse now that it was in the days of DVDs and magazines.
Online streaming is a win for the environment. Streaming music eliminates all that physical material—CDs, jewel cases, cellophane, shipping boxes, fuel—and can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 40 percent or more. Video streaming is still being studied, but the carbon footprint should similarly be much lower than that of DVDs.
Scientists who analyze the environmental impact of the internet tout the benefits of this “dematerialization,” observing that energy use and carbon-dioxide emissions will drop as media increasingly can be delivered over the internet. But this theory might have a major exception: porn.
Since the turn of the century, the pornography industry has experienced two intense hikes in popularity. In the early 2000s, broadband enabled higher download speeds. Then, in 2008, the advent of so-called tube sites allowed users to watch clips for free, like people watch videos on YouTube. Adam Grayson, the chief financial officer of the adult company Evil Angel, calls the latter hike “the great mushroom-cloud porn explosion of 2008.”
Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?
No man can serve two masters, the Bible teaches, but Mike Pence is giving it his all. It’s a sweltering September afternoon in Anderson, Indiana, and the vice president has returned to his home state to deliver the Good News of the Republicans’ recently unveiled tax plan. The visit is a big deal for Anderson, a fading manufacturing hub about 20 miles outside Muncie that hasn’t hosted a sitting president or vice president in 65 years—a fact noted by several warm-up speakers. To mark this historic civic occasion, the cavernous factory where the event is being held has been transformed. Idle machinery has been shoved to the perimeter to make room for risers and cameras and a gargantuan American flag, which—along with bleachers full of constituents carefully selected for their ethnic diversity and ability to stay awake during speeches about tax policy—will serve as the TV-ready backdrop for Pence’s remarks.
In analyzing Doug Jones’s surprise win, the pundit-in-chief misconstrues the race and elides his own role in Moore’s defeat.
Doug Jones’s victory in the U.S. Senate race in Alabama on Tuesday poses a quandary to Republicans at all levels—but to none more than President Trump. The results of the race demonstrate the limitations of both his political power and of his self-appointed role as pundit-in-chief. He is more interested in being right than in winning—but on Tuesday, he did neither.
The president offered a series of somewhat contradictory responses to the race between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Late Tuesday, he tweeted:
Congratulations to Doug Jones on a hard fought victory. The write-in votes played a very big factor, but a win is a win. The people of Alabama are great, and the Republicans will have another shot at this seat in a very short period of time. It never ends!