Weekly Roundup 9/19/2011

Ever-increasing tax benefits for U.S. families eclipse benefits for special interests
Lori Montgomery, The Washington Post, Sept. 18, 2011

Synopsis: With President Obama set to announce a tax increase for millionaires as part of a plan to rewrite the U.S. tax code, Post congressional correspondent Lori Montgomery details the costly tax benefits that flow not mainly to corporations but to middle-class families. Tax breaks such as the exemption for employer-provided health insurance and the deduction for home mortgage interest cost the government more than $1 trillion a year; corporate tax breaks total only $93.5 billion. The number of broad tax breaks has nearly doubled since the last major rewrite of the tax code in 1986, Montgomery writes. And many are considered politically untouchable.

Takeaway: “The big money is in the middle-class subsidies,” an economist told Montgomery. “You’re not going to balance the budget by eliminating ethanol credits. You have to go after things that really matter to a lot of people.”

For CQ Researcher coverage of related issues, see Marcia Clemmitt, “National Debt,” March 18, 2011,
http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2011031800; Kenneth Jost, “Campaign Finance Debates,” May 28, 2010, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010052800; and Thomas J. Billitteri, “Middle-Class Squeeze,” March 6, 2009, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2009030600.

--Kenneth Jost, Associate Editor


Rick Perry, Uber Texan
Gail Collins, The New York Times, Sunday Review, Sept. 18, 2011

Synopsis: By any definition, Rick Perry is a piece of work. To put a finer point on it: He’s a West Texas piece of work, and that’s saying somethin.’ (I’ve been there, my wife’s people are from there, so I know a little about the breed.) It’s a good bet that we are going to be hearing a lot about Rick Perry in the months ahead, and one way to begin learning about him is by reading clever writer extraordinaire (and card-carrying liberal) Gail Collins, the former editorial editor of The Times. Life revolves around Texas, Collins notes, and, correspondingly, about belittling the federal government. Collins writes: “We have had several Texas presidents, but none so deeply, intensely Texas as this guy would be. (Walking on the stage with the other debate candidates, Perry is so much broader of chest and squarer of shoulder and straighter of spine than the rest of the pack that he looks as if he might have been stuffed.) Dwight Eisenhower, who was born in Texas, moved out before he was 2. Lyndon Johnson had long since become a man of Washington when he entered the White House, though he worried that Northerners would make fun of his twang — which they sort of did. George H. W. Bush was basically an Easterner who had moved to Texas for his job. His son was much more of a Texas product, but his parents sent W. off to boarding school to erase some of the evidence.”

Takeaway: Collins notes “the real question isn’t how Texas is doing but whether Perry’s experience there has led him to think about the federal government at all, except as a sinister force that can be identified as the villain when anything goes wrong.”
She ends by commenting: “Having an interest in national government that’s mainly limited to disliking it might work fine if you’re the governor of a state that has always regarded itself as “low-tax, low-service” anyway. It’s a little more problematic if you’re the guy in charge of keeping the dollar stable, the food supply safe and the national defense ready.

We could live with a president who named his boots ‘Freedom’ and ‘Liberty.’

“Not sure about one who has contempt for the job he’s running for.”

For related coverage, see Kenneth Jost, “Campaign Finance Debates,” CQ Researcher, May 28, 2010, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010052800; and Thomas J. Billitteri, “Government and Religion,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 15, 2010, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2010011500.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor


Bubble Boys
Christopher Beam, New York Times Magazine, Sept. 11, 2011

Synopsis: Just like in ancient times – in Information-Age terms, that’s the 1960s and ‘70s – young computer hackers today spend countless hours trying to turn their individual passions into high-functioning software code. And that hobbyist mindset may still be one of the best resources for achieving advances in computer technology, even in the days of mega-companies like Microsoft and Apple. Having just finished my report on “Computer Hacking,” I’m fascinated by the complex changes in our world that the digital age may be accomplishing almost entirely without our notice. This piece provides an intriguing window into the widening opportunities for invention that a networked digital world provides for the most technologically savvy among us.

Takeaway: “Coding isn’t about making money or scratching some OCD [obsessive compulsive disorder] itch. It’s about doing what you love and, yes, changing the world. Engineers shopping their talents talk about impact; they say they want to work wherever their contribution will make the most people happiest…. The result is that in order to recruit young talent, companies try to seem smaller while getting bigger.” Google, for example, “seduces free spirits by famously letting employees spend 20 percent of their time on projects they are passionate about—some of which turn into major Google products, such as Google News and Gmail.”

For more, see my Sept. 15 report, “Computer Hacking,” http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2011091600

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer


Coming Apart
George Packer, The New Yorker, Sept. 12, 2011

Packer, a staff writer for the magazine who covered the early years of the Iraq War, has produced the most original take on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 that I’ve seen. The site of his reporting is the town of Mount Airy, N.C., known to many vintage TV fans as the inspiration for Mayberry, the fictional site of the endearing “Andy Griffith Show.” Now, Packer writes, the town has become another deindustrialization site, its textile mills closed, its population down and its remaining citizens desperate for work. A sizeable number of them are veterans, Packer notes. Job hopes soared when an ex-military contractor in Iraq opened a factory to upgrade Humvees with armor – to shield troops from the roadside bombs that Pentagon planners hadn’t foreseen. The contractor’s design got high marks, Packer reports, but Congress and the Defense Department still haven’t issued any contracts to re-armor existing Humvees. And the Mount Airy company can’t afford the contingent of lobbyists his competitors can deploy. For Packer, the tale reflects a massive failure of the Bush administration to mobilize the country to fight the post-9/11 wars. “Without a draft,” he writes, “the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been fought by less than 1 per cent of the population. The Pentagon, which wanted to keep those wars limited and short, avoided planning for large-scale manufacturing, even after its necessity became obvious.” The Obama administration has only belatedly awoken to the need to offer employers incentives to hire vets, Packer writes. His tone throughout resonates with barely restrained anger.

For background on some of the issues Packer examines, see: Kenneth Jost, “Remembering 9/11,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 2, 2011, pp. 701-732, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2011090200
; Peter Katel, “Reviving Manufacturing,” CQ Researcher, July 22, 2011, pp. 601-624, http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2011072200.

--Peter Katel, Staff Writer