Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.”
Today is another slow news day, and that could be bad news for some folks in Norfolk, Nebraska. Dakinikat alerted us to the story yesterday, and now it’s in the process of going viral. So far the headlines on the story seem highly understated. From the Lincoln Journal-Star: Obama float at Norfolk parade sparks controversy.
It was the parade float that elicited the loudest cheers Friday at Norfolk’s Fourth of July parade. The crowd lining the streets clapped and laughed as the flatbed truck went by.
But one loud voice rose above the rest: “This is not OK,” Glory Kathurima said. “That’s not OK.”
She kept repeating herself as the float passed, she says. She started to raise her phone to take a picture of the blue truck with the outhouse on its flatbed, along with a dark figurine in overalls propped up by a metal walker.
And nailed to the sides of the wooden privy, two signs in all-black capital letters: “OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY.”
Kathurima’s daughter Malaika saw the disrespectful depiction of the President of the United States, and asked her mom, “Mommy, what does that mean? What’s so funny?”
Kathurima moved to Nebraska from Kenya when she was Malaika’s age and became a naturalized citizen a few years ago. She’s raised her daughter in Norfolk and has found ways to explain the meaning of skin color. She’s turned on the TV and pointed to President Obama, showing Malaika that there was someone that looked like her — half Kenyan, half American.
“I’m angry and I’m scared,” Kathurima said. “This float was not just political; this was absolutely a racial statement.”
If a 9-year-old can see the problem, you’d think the parade organizers in Norfolk would have at least foreseen what the reaction to the float would be from normal people across the country. But apparently they didn’t.
Parade committee member Rick Konopasek said the float wasn’t meant to be any more offensive than a political cartoon would be….
“We don’t feel its right to tell someone what they can and can’t express,” he said. “This was political satire. If we start saying no to certain floats, we might as well not have a parade at all.”
Konopasek and parade announcer Wally Sonnenschein said the outhouse float was the most popular one in the parade, and the three judges awarded it an honorable mention.
“It’s obvious the majority of the community liked it,” Konopasek said. “So should we deny the 95 percent of those that liked it their rights, just for the 5 percent of people who are upset?”
Konopasek and Sonnenschein actually claimed that the float demonstrated the freedom of speech and independence that the country celebrates on the Fourth of July, and that “the man who built the float has been a longstanding member of the community, and people shouldn’t be quick to judge him for expressing his opinions.” How odd then that the “man who built the float” didn’t put his name on his handiwork and he is still anonymous, according to Omaha.com.
A Fourth of July parade float that depicted a figure standing outside an outhouse labeled the “Obama Presidential Library” has created a stir on social media and is also receiving criticism in Norfolk, Nebraska.
The float, in Norfolk’s annual Independence Day parade, was on a flatbed trailer being pulled by a blue pickup truck. The figure was dressed in overalls and standing next to a walker outside of the outhouse. The hands and head of the figure were greenish and appeared to be zombielike; the hands were pressed against the sides of the figure’s head. Miniature American flags were atop the float and on the truck.Neither the float nor the pickup identified a sponsor; a sign in the windshield said it was entry No. 29.
Why isn’t “the man who built the float” expressing pride in his creation?
Actually the design of the float wasn’t original. I’ve seen this depiction of Obama before. From Huffington Post:
The presidential library outhouse comparison has become somewhat of a conservative meme in recent years. A similar structure was on display at Montana’s state Republican convention in 2012. And last fall, an outhouse with a “presidential library” sign drew criticism in a small New Mexico town.
It will be interesting to see how this story plays out in the next few days. Certainly if this is not racism per se (I think it is), it demonstrates a shocking lack of respect for the office of the Presidency. Will Norfolk parade officials continue to defend the float? Will “the man who built the float” come forward and defend what he did? Stay tuned.
In other news,
In his latest column, E.J. Dionne calls attention to “an article in draft” by Joseph Fishkin & William E. Forbath called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution” (PDF). The article addresses the issue of economic inequality, and is the basis for a planned book by Fishkin.
Dionne writes that Tea Partiers and other “conservatives” constantly talk about the Constitution to justify their extreme views on multiple issues. Dionne argues that “progressives” should “think constitutionally” too, and “challenge conservative claims about what the Constitution really demands.”
In the May issue of the Boston University Law Review, Joseph R. Fishkin and William E. Forbath of the University of Texas School of Law show that at key turning points in our history (the Jacksonian era, the Populist and Progressive moments and the New Deal), opponents of rising inequality made strong arguments “that we cannot keep our constitutional democracy — our republican form of government — without constitutional restraints against oligarchy and a political economy that maintains a broad middle class, accessible to everyone.”
Their article is called “The Anti-Oligarchy Constitution,” though Forbath told me that he and Fishkin may give the book they’re writing on the topic the more upbeat title “The Constitution of Opportunity.” Their view is that by empowering the wealthy in our political system, Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United directly contradict the Constitution’s central commitment to shared self-rule.
“Extreme concentrations of economic and political power undermine equal opportunity and equal citizenship,” they write. “In this way, oligarchy is incompatible with, and a threat to, the American constitutional scheme.” …. they make a similar critique of what they call an excessively “court-centered” approach to constitutionalism. “Constitutional politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries” was very different and the subject of democratic deliberation. In earlier eras, they say, the Constitution was seen as not simply permitting but actually requiring “affirmative legislation . . . to ensure a wide distribution of opportunity” and to address “the problem of oligarchy in a modern capitalist society.”The authors remind us of Franklin Roosevelt’s warning that “the inevitable consequence” of placing “economic and financial control in the hands of the few” would be “the destruction of the base of our form of government.” And writing during the Gilded Age, a time like ours in many ways, the journalist James F. Hudson argued that “imbedded” in the Constitution is “the principle” mandating “the widest distribution among the people, not only of political power, but of the advantages of wealth, education and social influence.”
The idea of a Constitution of Opportunity is both refreshing and relevant. For too long, progressives have allowed conservatives to monopolize claims of fealty to our unifying national document. In fact, those who would battle rising economic inequalities to create a robust middle class should insist that it’s they who are most loyal to the Constitution’s core purpose. Broadly shared well-being is essential to the framers’ promise that “We the people” will be the stewards of our government.
Fishkin’s proposed book sounds like a worthwhile companion to Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
A somewhat related article from Raw Story by Bill Moyers and Co., July 4th note to tea partiers: Your politics would baffle the Founding Fathers.
Editor’s note: These days, if you see a protester donning a tricorn hat and waving a Gadsden Flag, it’s a safe bet that he or she is a Republican activist who’s furious about “death panels” or the prospect of the government meddling in the Medicare program. But the tea party movement isn’t the first to claim itself to be the true defenders of the Constitution, or to enlist its Framers in a political cause. Throughout American history, activists across the ideological spectrum have insisted that the Framers would roll over in their graves upon encountering the perfidy of their political opponents.
The reality is that the Framers disagreed about almost everything, and produced a Constitution that was filled with expedient compromises. As Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard University, pointed out in her book, The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, “Beginning even before it was over, the Revolution has been put to wildly varying political purposes.” Between 1761, when the first signs of discontent with England became apparent in the Colonies, and 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified, Lepore wrote that Americans debated an “ocean of ideas” from which “you can fish anything out.”
One of the few areas where the Framers approached a consensus was a belief that their Constitution shouldn’t be fetishized. According to Lepore, it was none other than Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the arc of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human.”
Read an excerpt on Constitutional originalism from Jill Lepore’s book at the Raw Story link.
From NBC News: Pope Francis Meets Abuse Victims, Begs Forgiveness for Church.
The pontiff invited six victims of abuse from Ireland, Germany and Britain to attend an early-morning private Mass at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the residence next to St. Peter’s Basilica where he lives.Francis called the abuse a “grave sin” decrying how it was hidden for “so much time” and “camouflaged with a complicity that cannot be explained.”
“I ask for the grace to weep, the grace for the Church to weep and make reparation for her sons and daughters who betrayed their mission, who abused innocent persons,” the pope said in his homily. “I beg your forgiveness, too, for the sins of omission on the part of Church leaders who did not respond adequately to reports of abuse.” ….
Francis strongly praised the victims’ courage in speaking up and shedding “light on a terrible darkness,” telling the mass he is deeply aware of their deep and unrelenting pain.
“Sins of clerical sexual abuse against minors have a toxic effect on faith and hope in God,” he said, adding that the victims’ willingness to come to the Vatican “speaks of the miracle of hope, which prevails against the deepest darkness.”
I guess it’s a start, but I agree with victims advocates who say it’s too little, too late. What concrete actions is the Church going to take to identify abusers and potential abusers before they act out? Child sexual abuse is a systemic problem that has continued for centuries. It’s difficult to see how it can be overcome with apologies and meetings with a few survivors.
I’ll end with a fascinating story from New Scientist, via Raw Story: Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France.
The oldest confirmed case of Down’s syndrome has been found: the skeleton of a child who died 1500 years ago in early medieval France. According to the archaeologists, the way the child was buried hints that Down’s syndrome was not necessarily stigmatised in the Middle Ages….
The new example comes from a 5th- and 6th-century necropolis near a church in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France. Excavations there have uncovered the remains of 94 people, including the skeleton of a young child with a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones. These features are common in people with Down’s syndrome, says Maïté Rivollat at the University of Bordeaux in France, who has studied the skeleton with her colleagues….
Oldest case of Down’s syndrome from medieval France – life – 04 July 2014 – New Scientist#.U7qdknlOXEd <!—->
Rivollat’s team has studied the way the child with Down’s syndrome was buried, which hasn’t been possible with other ancient cases of the condition. The child was placed on its back in the tomb, in an east-west orientation with the head at the westward end – in common with all of the dead at the necropolis.
According to Rivollat, this suggests the child was treated no differently in death from other members of the community. That in turn hints that they were not stigmatised while alive.
Another researcher of Down’s Syndrome in ancient history, John Starbuck of Indiana University, says drawing cultural conclusions from the method of burial is very difficult. Read more at the link.
What stories are you following today? Please post your links in the comment thread.
Whatever happened to the American dream? Did it ever exist in reality?
We baby boomers can look back to the post-WWII years, when the economy was humming along and the GI Bill made it easier for our dads to get college degrees, find good jobs, buy houses for their families.
In those days, one salary was enough to support a couple and several kids. My dad did it on a college professor’s salary. It was a struggle early on, but those government programs for veterans gave us a push into the professional class.
Eisenhower was President then–a Republican who wouldn’t even recognize his fellow Republican today. Later on, after John Kennedy was murdered and Lyndon Johnson was brought down by the Vietnam War, Richard Nixon presided over the end of the good times. After about 1973, it was over; and since then, wages have essentially remained stagnant.
That was when we entered a new America, in which it took two salaries to support a family. Women went to work, not just because they wanted to, but to keep their families afloat. Children went to day care. So many thing changed. What happened to the American dream? Were those post-war years just an outlier, a brief period of prosperity that meant nothing in the greater scheme of things?
Yesterday, I read a piece by Joseph Stiglitz–in Politico of all places–that addressed some of these questions: The Myth of America’s Golden Age: What growing up in Gary, Indiana taught me about inequality. Stiglitz was born in 1943. Growing up in the industrial “company town” of Gary, he was able to observe the underside of the “golden age” of capitalism–“discrimination, poverty, and bouts of high unemployment.” The big steel companies deliberate brought in desperately poor African Americans from the south in order to keep wages low–to divide and control the work force. Stiglitz writes that he never bought into the notion of the free market as the answer to all ills.
Nearly half a century later, the problem of inequality has reached crisis proportions. John F. Kennedy, in the spirit of optimism that prevailed at the time I was a college student, once declared that a rising tide lifts all boats. It turns out today that almost all of us now are in the same boat—the one that holds the bottom 99 percent. It is a far different boat, one marked by more poverty at the bottom and a hollowing out of the middle class, than the one occupied by the top 1 percent.
Most disturbing is the realization that the American dream–the notion that we are living in the land of opportunity–is a myth. The life chance of a young American today are more dependent on the income and education of his parents than in many other advanced countries, including “old Europe.”
Stiglitz points to Thomas Picketty’s research as evidence. Picketty’s work shows that capitalism leads inevitably to inequality. The post-war era of my childhood and early adulthood was an “aberration.”
Today, inequality is growing dramatically again, and the past three decades or so have proved conclusively that one of the major culprits is trickle-down economics—the idea that the government can just step back and if the rich get richer and use their talents and resources to create jobs, everyone will benefit. It just doesn’t work; the historical data now prove that. [....]
Ironically enough, the final proof debunking this very Republican idea of trickle-down economics has come from a Democratic administration. President Barack Obama’s banks-first approach to saving the nation from another Great Depression held that by giving money to the banks (rather than to homeowners who had been preyed upon by the banks), the economy would be saved. The administration poured billions into the banks that had brought the country to the brink of ruin, without setting conditions in return. When the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank engage in a rescue, they virtually always impose requirements to ensure the money is used in the way intended. But here, the government merely expressed the hope that the banks would keep credit, the lifeblood of the economy, flowing. And so the banks shrank lending, and paid their executives megabonuses, even though they had almost destroyed their businesses. Even then, we knew that much of the banks’ profits had been earned not by increasing the efficiency of the economy but by exploitation—through predatory lending, abusive credit-card practices and monopolistic pricing. The full extent of their misdeeds—for instance, the illegal manipulation of key interest rates and foreign exchange, affecting derivatives and mortgages in the amount of hundreds of trillions of dollars—was only just beginning to be fathomed.
I can’t quote any more, but I hope I’ve whetted your appetite enough that you’ll go read the whole thing. While you’re at that link, you might also take a look at this article by “zillionaire” Nick Hanauer, The Pitchforks are Coming for Us Plutocrats. Here’s just a small taste–it’s a long read.
The most ironic thing about rising inequality is how completely unnecessary and self-defeating it is. If we do something about it, if we adjust our policies in the way that, say, Franklin D. Roosevelt did during the Great Depression—so that we help the 99 percent and preempt the revolutionaries and crazies, the ones with the pitchforks—that will be the best thing possible for us rich folks, too. It’s not just that we’ll escape with our lives; it’s that we’ll most certainly get even richer.
The model for us rich guys here should be Henry Ford, who realized that all his autoworkers in Michigan weren’t only cheap labor to be exploited; they were consumers, too. Ford figured that if he raised their wages, to a then-exorbitant $5 a day, they’d be able to afford his Model Ts.
What a great idea. My suggestion to you is: Let’s do it all over again. We’ve got to try something. These idiotic trickle-down policies are destroying my customer base. And yours too.
It’s when I realized this that I decided I had to leave my insulated world of the super-rich and get involved in politics. Not directly, by running for office or becoming one of the big-money billionaires who back candidates in an election. Instead, I wanted to try to change the conversation with ideas—by advancing what my co-author, Eric Liu, and I call “middle-out” economics. It’s the long-overdue rebuttal to the trickle-down economics worldview that has become economic orthodoxy across party lines—and has so screwed the American middle class and our economy generally. Middle-out economics rejects the old misconception that an economy is a perfectly efficient, mechanistic system and embraces the much more accurate idea of an economy as a complex ecosystem made up of real people who are dependent on one another.Which is why the fundamental law of capitalism must be: If workers have more money, businesses have more customers. Which makes middle-class consumers, not rich businesspeople like us, the true job creators.
Is it possible that because these articles appear in conservative Politico, even a few powerful people in Washington might read them and stop for a moment to think about what what is really happening to America?
Also in the news today:
This is a six-month report card time, and it’s failing grades for all of Washington. President Obama’s approval rating stands at 41% in our recent NBC/WSJ poll, his fav/unfav is upside down (at 41%-45%), and a majority of Americans (54%) no longer think he’s able to lead the country and get the job done. Republicans and Congress are in even worse shape. The GOP’s fav/unfav in the NBC/WSJ poll is 29%-45% (versus the Democratic Party’s 38%-40% score). Just 7% of the country has confidence in Congress (compared with 29% for the presidency and 30% for the Supreme Court, per Gallup. And when it comes to congressional productivity, the 113th Congress (2013-2014) has passed just 121 bills into law — fewer than at this same point in the historically unproductive 112th Congress (140 bills into law). Maybe it doesn’t FEEL worse, because there hasn’t been an epic showdown or confrontation like the government shutdown. But the numbers tell a different story — it has gotten worse.
From James Risen at the NYT, scary revelations about the murder of 17 civilians by Blackwater thugs in Iraq in 2007: Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.
“The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves,” the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” he said, adding that the “hands off” management resulted in a situation in which “the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control.”
I have a few more links, but I’m going to put them in comments; because I’m having terrible issues with WordPress today. I hope you’ll also post your thoughts and links in the thread below.
Have a Stupendous Saturday!
It’s too bad Dakinikat is so busy today, because there’s an economics food fight brewing. Perhaps she’ll still find time to comment on the controversy later the evening after she returns home with her newly adopted canine family member, Temple. Meanwhile, I’ll do my best to describe the dispute over Thomas Picketty’s conclusions about wealth inequality, published in his book Capital in the Twenty-first Century.
At the Financial Times, Economics Editor Chris Giles has claims to have found problems with Picketty’s work: Piketty findings undercut by errors.
Thomas Piketty’s book, ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, has been the publishing sensation of the year. Its thesis of rising inequality tapped into the zeitgeist and electrified the post-financial crisis public policy debate.
The data underpinning Professor Piketty’s 577-page tome, which has dominated best-seller lists in recent weeks, contain a series of errors that skew his findings. The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The central theme of Prof Piketty’s work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the first world war. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty’s original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Prof Piketty, 43, provides detailed sourcing for his estimates of wealth inequality in Europe and the US over the past 200 years. In his spreadsheets, however, there are transcription errors from the original sources and incorrect formulas. It also appears that some of the data are cherry-picked or constructed without an original source.
In one specific example, Giles says the corrected data do not show significant growth in Europe since 1970. In a second article, Giles goes into more detail. In addition, he argues that the U.S. data doesn’t support the conclusion that a greater proportion of the wealth is controlled by top 1% than in recent decades. He does admit to the top 10% controlling a greater share of wealth than previously.
An investigation by the Financial Times, however, has revealed many unexplained data entries and errors in the figures underlying some of the book’s key charts.
These are sufficiently serious to undermine Prof Piketty’s claim that the share of wealth owned by the richest in society has been rising and “the reason why wealth today is not as unequally distributed as in the past is simply that not enough time has passed since 1945”.
After referring back to the original data sources, the investigation found numerous mistakes in Prof Piketty’s work: simple fat-finger errors of transcription; suboptimal averaging techniques; multiple unexplained adjustments to the numbers; data entries with no sourcing, unexplained use of different time periods and inconsistent uses of source data….
A second class of problems relates to unexplained alterations of the original source data. Prof Piketty adjusts his own French data on wealth inequality at death to obtain inequality among the living. However, he used a larger adjustment scale for 1910 than for all the other years, without explaining why.
In the UK data, instead of using his source for the wealth of the top 10 per cent population during the 19th century, Prof Piketty inexplicably adds 26 percentage points to the wealth share of the top 1 per cent for 1870 and 28 percentage points for 1810.
A third problem is that when averaging different countries to estimate wealth in Europe, Prof Piketty gives the same weight to Sweden as to France and the UK – even though it only has one-seventh of the population.
Get even more detail and charts here: Data problems with Capital in the 21st Century.
The Pushback So Far:
Great buzz in the blogosphere over Chris Giles’s attack on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. Giles finds a few clear errors, although they don’t seem to matter much; more important, he questions some of the assumptions and imputations Piketty uses to deal with gaps in the data and the way he switches sources. Neil Irwin and Justin Wolfers have good discussions of the complaints; Piketty will have to answer these questions in detail, and we’ll see how well he does it.
Krugman suggests that Giles may be doing something wrong.
I don’t know the European evidence too well, but the notion of stable wealth concentration in the United States is at odds with many sources of evidence. Take, for example, the landmark CBO study on the distribution of income; it shows the distribution of income by type, and capital income has become much more concentrated over time:
It’s just not plausible that this increase in the concentration of income from capital doesn’t reflect a more or less comparable increase in the concentration of capital itself….
And there’s also the economic story. In the United States, income inequality has soared since 1980 by any measure you use. Unless the affluent starting saving less than the working class, this rise in income disparity must have led to a rise in wealth disparity over time.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum notes that
Giles’ objections are mostly to the data regarding increases in wealth inequality over the past few decades, and the funny thing is that even Piketty never claims that this has changed dramatically. The end result of Giles’ re-analysis of Piketty’s data is [below] with Piketty in blue and Giles in red. As you can see, Piketty estimates a very small increase since 1970.
R.A. at The Economist: A Piketty problem?
Mr Giles’s analysis is impressive, and one certainly hopes that further work by Mr Giles, Mr Piketty or others will clarify whether mistakes have been made, how they came to be introduced and what their effects are. Based on the information Mr Giles has provided so far, however, the analysis does not seem to support many of the allegations made by the FT, or the conclusion that the book’s argument is wrong.
There are four important questions raised by the FT‘s work. First, which data are wrong? Second, how did errors in the work, if they are errors, come to be introduced? Third, how do the errors affect the specific points made in the relevant chapters? And fourth, how do the errors affect the fundamental conclusions of the book?
Mr Giles focuses on wealth inequality, to which Mr Piketty turns in Chapter 10 of his book. Mr Piketty has not published nearly as much research on the question of wealth inequality, and it seems that much of the analysis in Chapter 10 was done specifically for the book, based on others’ research. Mr Piketty’s wealth-inequality analysis certainly matters as a component of the book’s argument, but it is not accurate to say, as Mr Giles does, that the results in Chapter 10 constitute the “central theme” of the book.
Are the data wrong? Mr Giles identifies discrepancies between source material cited by Mr Piketty and the figures that appear in the book. He identifies cases in which Mr Piketty appears to have chosen to use data from one source when another would have made more sense. Further, the calculations in Mr Piketty’s spreadsheets (which have been available online since the book’s publication) seem to include adjustments in the data that are not adequately explained, and some figures for which Mr Giles cannot find a documented source. Finally, Mr Piketty has made choices concerning weighting of data used in averages, and assigning of data from one year (1935, for example) to another (1930) when such assignments seem unnecessary or inadvisable.
The author concludes that, unfortunately, ideology will determine how many people respond to the Giles critique. Much more extensive analysis at the link.
Here is Picketty’s–presumably preliminary–response to Giles in a letter to the Financial Times:
Let me also say that I certainly agree that available data sources on wealth are much less systematic than for income. In fact, one of the main reasons why I am in favor of wealth taxation and automatic exchange of bank information is that this would be a way to develop more financial transparency and more reliable sources of information on wealth dynamics (even if the tax was charged at very low rates, which you might agree with).
For the time being, we have to do with what we have, that is, a very diverse and heterogeneous set of data sources on wealth: historical inheritance declarations and estate tax statistics, scarce property and wealth tax data, and household surveys with self-reported data on wealth (with typically a lot of under-reporting at the top). As I make clear in the book, in the on-line appendix, and in the many technical papers I have published on this topic, one needs to make a number of adjustments to the raw data sources so as to make them more homogenous over time and across countries. I have tried in the context of this book to make the most justified choices and arbitrages about data sources and adjustments. I have no doubt that my historical data series can be improved and will be improved in the future (this is why I put everything on line). In fact, the “World Top Incomes Database” (WTID) is set to become a “World Wealth and Income Database” in the coming years, and we will put on-line updated estimates covering more countries. But I would be very surprised if any of the substantive conclusion about the long run evolution of wealth distributions was much affected by these improvements.
I thought this was important:
…my estimates on wealth concentration do not fully take into account offshore wealth, and are likely to err on the low side. I am certainly not trying to make the picture look darker than it it. As I make clear in chapter 12 of my book (see in particular table 12.1-12.2), top wealth holders have apparently been rising a lot faster average wealth in recent decades, at least according to the wealth rankings published in magazines such as Forbes. This is true not only in the US, but also in Britain and at the global level (see attached table). This is not well taken into account by wealth surveys and official statistics, including the recent statistics that were published for Britain. Of course, as I make clear in my book, wealth rankings published by magazines are far from being a perfectly reliable data source. But for the time being, this is what we have, and what we have suggests that the concentration of wealth at the top is rising pretty much everywhere.
In Other News:
There has been a mass shooting in Southern California–this time perpetrated from behind the wheel of a car. From the LA Times, 7 dead in drive-by shooting near UC Santa Barbara.
The shootings began about 9:30 p.m., a sheriff’s spokeswoman told KEYT-TV. It wasn’t clear what the attacker’s motivation might have been.
An 18-year-old Newport Beach man who was visiting Santa Barbara described a confusing scene as the shots rang out.
Nikolaus Becker was eating outside The Habit, 888 Embarcadero Del Norte, near the scene when the first set of shots was fired about 9:30 p.m. At first he thought it was firecrackers. A group of three to five police officers who were nearby started to casually walk toward the sounds, said Becker, but ran when a second round of shots broke out.
“That’s when they yelled at us to get inside and take cover,” Becker said.
The BMW took a sharp turn in front of The Habit, Becker said, and moments later a third round of shots was heard. Becker and his friends moved toward the restaurant’s kitchen but were told to wait in the seating area by employees.
He estimates there were at least 13 to 15 shots total at three locations. The locations were about 100 yards from one another.
The shooter, whose motivation is unknown, was found dead in his BMW. It’s not yet clear if he shot himself or was killed by sheriff’s deputies.
In another gun-related story, TPM reports that some gun nuts are reconsidering their campaign of carrying long guns into public places: Scaring The Crap Out of People Oddly Not Winning Fans.
Open Carry Texas and a group of other aggressive gun rights groups have issued a joint statement telling their members, Dudes, let’s stop taking our guns to restaurants. It’s freaking people out and making them hate us.
Read the full statement at TPM.
Soon-to-be former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling has signed over the team to his wife and wants her to negotiate the sale.
Shelly Sterling, who previously shared ownership of the beleaguered NBA franchise with her estranged husband, is now in talks with the NBA over selling the team, the source said.
The NBA banned Donald Sterling for life from all league events after an audio tape became public that caught him on tape uttering racist comments to his assistant V. Stiviano. He told her not to post photos of herself with black people on Instagram — such as Magic Johnson — or bring them to his basketball games.
But the NBA isn’t buying it. From ESPN: Why the NBA won’t allow Shelly Sterling to control the Clippers.
At first glance, Donald Sterling’s gesture may seem like serendipitous news for the NBA. Taking him at his word, Donald Sterling has agreed to leave the league without a fight and has signed off on the sale of his team. Digging deeper, however, reveals possible ulterior motives on Sterling’s part to delay and potentially block the sale of the team. Do not forget a crucial point: capital gain taxes. As first reported by SI.com, the Sterlings have significant incentives under capital gain tax law to avoid the sale of the team and keep it in the Sterling family. Doing so, would save them hundreds of millions of dollars. Also, contrary to some reports, the Sterlings are unlikely to benefit from the “involuntary conversion” tax avoidance provision of the Internal Revenue Code. The bottom line is if the Sterlings have to sell the Clippers, they will probably pay hundreds of millions in state and federal taxes.
Along those lines, Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver does not accomplish the NBA’s goal of ousting the entire Sterling family on June 3. As explained in a previous SI.com article, the NBA interprets its constitution to mean that ousting Donald Sterling on June 3 would also automatically oust Shelly Sterling as co-owner, with the Clippers then falling under the control of commissioner Adam Silver. Donald Sterling’s proposed maneuver risks the prospect of Shelly Sterling undertaking a slow-moving effort to sell the team. A sale process that takes months or years would clearly aggravate the NBA, which wants to erase the Sterling family name from the league as quickly as possible. A protracted sale of the Clippers by Shelly Sterling might also constitute a potential rationale for players to boycott NBA games.
Even of greater risk to the NBA, what is to stop Shelly Sterling from deciding to keep the Clippers? She could plausibly reason, on various grounds, that now is not the right time to sell the team. Also, her instruction from her husband to sell the team would not be legally binding; it would be a mere suggestion the moment she takes over the team.
Read much more at the link.
I’ll end with a long article that I haven’t gotten to yet, but I’m hearing it’s a must read: The Case for Reparations, by Ta-Nehisi Coates at The Atlantic. Here’s the tagline:
“Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”
What else is happening? As always, please post your links in the comment thread.
Good Morning and Happy Easter
(Cute illustration eh? Little fucking rabbits…or should I say little rabbits fucking? Well, about to at least.) Oh my, that is a bit too sordid for an Easter Morn, is it not? I don’t know, everything is still a bit hazy since Bebe got back from Chicago. I have a couple of extra teenage “other people munchkins.” Friends of my son spending the entire long weekend with us…lets just say the big ham is already gone, and it is now 2 am Saturday night.
Quick links to headlines:
While CNN has the figure up two : Death toll from South Korean ferry sinking rises to 52
This next article from the Irish Times is big news: Third mate was steering ferry for first time ever before capsize
In the grocers corner, NY Times: General Mills Reverses Itself on Consumers’ Right to Sue
Enjoy your bacon and OJ now, because that stuff is going to get even more expensive: The 10 Fastest Rising Food Prices – 24/7 Wall St.
But that is okay, because you probably will not be able to afford the bacon anyway…since you have to deal with this shit: After foreclosure crisis, renters suffer under Wall Street landlords | Al Jazeera America
The poster child for the foreclosure crisis has been a middle-income suburban family. But low-income urban renters also saw their buildings over-mortgaged at the height of the crisis, and now faceless hedge funds and nameless investors are replacing their desperate landlords — sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Six years after the foreclosure crisis helped tank the world’s economy, investors are snatching up “distressed” properties — those that are in foreclosure or facing foreclosure — and seeking to turn a profit on them. Advocates for affordable housing worry that this profit comes at the expense of tenants.
Joanna Paulino knows this all too well. She lives in a lower-income neighborhood in the Bronx borough of New York City. Her home is a prewar building, a once attractive structure like many others in the city’s outer boroughs. But after years of neglect, it is crumbling; there are more than 140 violations registered against the premises.
Pathetic and disturbing.
Over the last several months, Wall Street firms have snapped up an estimated 200,000 single-family homes with the intention of renting them out. The New York–based hedge fund Blackstone Group is now America’s largest landlord of rental homes after purchasing over 40,000 foreclosed single-family homes in 14 metro areas around the country, from Atlanta to Phoenix, to convert into rental properties. But certain investors are also snatching up “distressed” urban rental buildings like the one where Paulino lives in the South Bronx. Unbeknownst to many low-income renters, their buildings were over-mortgaged during the bubble. In New York, many of those buildings are due for refinancing now — making them vulnerable to acquisition by hedge funds.
“Since these buildings are so over-mortgaged,” said Harold Shultz, an affordable-housing expert who works with the Citizens Housing Planning Council of New York, “the likelihood is that they are not going to be able to be refinanced.”
Desperate landlords and banks are looking for new owners and investors. And Wall Street is ready to step in and help out.
These groups often purchase buildings sight unseen, with little knowledge of the conditions a foreclosed building might be in. Sometimes, especially in the case of apartments, foreclosures can take years to resolve.
So while old owners, banks and new owners or investors sort out the debt, buildings languish in disrepair. And when an agreement is eventually reached, there is no guarantee for tenants that conditions will improve.
I will use those last few stories to tie into the post that Boston Boomer wrote Friday: Friday Reads: American Oligarchy, South Korean Tragedy, and Hillary Under the Microscope | Sky Dancing
Where she focused her post primarily on the study results of Martin Gilins and Benjamin I. Page of Princeton and Northwestern Universities, and a recent article by Larry Bartels, a professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.
The word Oligarchy and its various forms were used heavily throughout. (I always have to sound out the word oligarchy in my head when I am reading that word to myself. Even then I am not confident my mind’s voice is pronouncing it correctly.) ;)
On Friday I found this op/ed while looking for cartoons and it struck a chord, but it did not give an answer: How Not to Talk About Wealth Inequality by Tina Dupuy
Have you heard we live in an oligarchy? Perhaps you’ve been told America is a plutocracy? Is that because of widespread demagogy?
Circumlocution: a big word meaning using unnecessarily lofty words to express an idea.
Welcome to the baffling world of liberal-speak.
Oligarchy, plutocracy and demagogy: The holy trinity of sesquipedalian polysyllable liberal loquaciousness.
This language liberals, in particular, have chosen to talk about elitism is, well, really snooty. When we talk about a tiny fraction of people having undue influence on our politics—we use words barely anyone understands.
Marinade in that irony. It’s like if we were broadcasting NASCAR only in Latin. Oligarchy? That sounds like a German cabbage dish. Demagoguery sounds like a flourish in square dancing. Plutocracy sounds like we should just be friends.
I write for a living and these words make my eyes glaze over. And they’re used all time, often by well-meaning liberal-types attempting to advocate for the have-less in this nation. Case in point: Paul Krugman. His columns “Oligarchs and Money,” “Oligarchy, American Style” and “Graduates Versus the Oligarchs”—do cover how economic policies favor a fraction of 1 percent of Americans but his go-to word is comprehended by even fewer.
Go see what else Tina has to say. One thing she does not mention is some examples of substitutes for Oligarchs, Oligarchy etc.
More on this after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »