Someone Has To Say It: Might As Well Be Me May 16, 2013Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Politics, Scandals.
Tags: bag-a-bagger, irs, sacked, taxes, tea baggers, tea party, tyranny
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I’m glad the IRS went after the fucking Teabaggers. Given that their whole raison d’etre is demolishing the governmental “tyranny” of taxation, seeing it as nothing more than a handout to those 47% of entitled moochers who have the temerity to need things like welfare, unemployment, food stamps, Medicaid, and child care, and given the wide-ranging infusion of soft money fostered by the Supreme Court’s “Citizens United” decision, it doesn’t take a CPA or actuary to figure out that Tea Party groups might be inclined to play fast and loose with the tax code.
In respect of full disclosure, I didn’t say it first. Peter S. Tillman on Huffington Post points out that the Tea Party deserved the extra scrutiny. But he constructs a compelling argument. And now that the chief of the IRS has been sacked, it’s beginning to look, against all cynical common sense, that it’s possible that no one at the White House actually ordered or urged the bag-a-bagger campaign. It’s not inconceivable that ambitious staffers at the IRS were just trying to harvest low-hanging fruit.
Not that it’s going to stop any congressional investigations, hearings, or demands for impeachment. Obama, even if he was involved, would hardly be the first (or second or thirtieth) president to use the power of the presidency to go after political foes…BUT YOU’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET CAUGHT. So we’ll just have to see how this plays out.
Bill Maher And Tax Protests March 18, 2013Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Entertainment, Politics.
Tags: bill maher, election results, karl rove, taxes, the middle
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Regarding my blogmate’s post: Maybe Liberals Can Get Along….
Listen, even geniuses get some stuff wrong. Look at how Karl Rove did on calling election results. Maher is also aggressively militaristic and he and Mark Steyn could do shots while discussing Islamofacism. But he exemplifies something that used to be common and is now missing in American politics: Liberals who still hold some conservative positions and conservatives who don’t check off every box on the GOP bullet points list. There used to be a little area called “the middle”. Where’s that now?
Cliff Notes January 2, 2013Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Economics, Politics.
Tags: averted, compromise, fiscal cliff, harry reid, john boehner, payroll, taxes
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Ok, so we averted certain economic apocalypse. I didn’t really understand the fine points before the deal and I’m not much clearer now that the crisis is past. What I’m fairly certain of is that something positive was accomplished. The way I know this is by the piercing wails of pain and anguish eminating from the Right. Charles Krauthammer, just as an example, calls the deal “a complete rout by the Democrats.” That seems a bit over the top, but by current standards, anytime the Republicans have to compromise in even the most miniscule fashion, they view that as a crushing defeat. My favorite quote from the New Year’s weekend comes from Speaker John Boehner, who according to nearby reliable witnesses, told Senator Harry Reid while in the White House lobby, “Go fuck yourself.” Perversely, my estimation of the Speaker has actually gone up a notch.
It’s good to see that our legislators are actually capable of compromise, even if getting them there requires a little “enhanced negotiation”. Make no mistake, this is a compromise, and the nature of compromise is that everyone walks away a little unhappy and a little unsatisfied. The deal is nowhere near perfect. The wealthy will finally have to chip in a little more, but the definition of wealthy will be families making over $450,000 rather than the $250,000 the president wanted. He had to compromise. But the rich won’t be hurt too terribly. The tax rate on dividends and capital gains will be only 20%, which is half of what it would have been if the rates had returned to the Clinton era levels. Again, a compromise.
The headline says that folks making under $250,000 won’t see a tax increase. The fine print says that the payroll tax will revert to it’s previous level, which means that someone making as little as $30,000 will see an extra $50 taken out of each monthly paycheck to go toward Social Security…and by strict semantic standards, it’s not really a “tax”…but that’s still $600 per year that folks who need it badly will have to do without.
One group came out of this deal very cleanly, and that’s my colleagues with M.D. after their names. We’ve got some very accomplished lobbyists on the payroll. Doctors were going to get hit with a 27% decrease in Medicare reimbursement, a decrease that’s been threatened on a yearly basis for more than a decade. With the compromise including a “doc fix”, there will be no change in compensation. That doesn’t seem fair. Average physician incomes range between $315,000 (radiologists) and $156,000 (pediatricians). That’s not exactly Trump money or Romney money, but if we had to throw another two or three percent in the pot, no one would have to trade in their stethoscope for a cardboard sign on a street corner.
Crisis averted…for now.
Headsplit: It’s The Republicans Fault December 31, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Economics, Politics.
Tags: debt, deficit, elections, fiscal cliff, primary, republicans, taxes, tea party, wealthy
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From Robert Creamer on Huffington Post:
The One and Only Cause of “Fiscal Cliff” Economic Crisis: Republicans Fear Tea Party Primaries
Other times, economic crises result when asset bubbles burst, or financial markets collapse. That was the case of the Great Depression – and more recently the Great Recession.
The economic crisis of the moment – the “fiscal cliff” – does not result from any of these factors. In fact it is not a real “economic crisis” at all, except that it could inflict serious economic hardship on many Americans and could drive the economy back into recession.
The “fiscal cliff” is a politically manufactured crisis. It was original concocted by the Republican Senate Leader, Mitch McConnell as a way to get past the last crisis manufactured by the Republicans – the 2011 standoff over increasing the Federal Debt Ceiling.
Theoretically, “the cliff” – composed of increased taxes and huge, indiscriminant cuts in Federal programs – would be so frightening to policy makers that no one would ever consider allowing the nation to jump.
Now, America is on the brink of diving off the cliff for one and only one reason: many House Republicans are terrified of primary challenges from the Tea Party right.
That’s right, if your tax bill goes up $2,200 a year, or you’re one of the millions who would stop receiving unemployment benefits, the cause of your economic pain is not some a natural disaster, or a major structural flaw in the economy. The cause is Republican fear of being beaten in a primary by people like Sarah Palin, Sharon Angel or Richard Mourdock – funded by far Right Wing oligarchs like Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers. It’s that simple.
Most normal Americans will have very little patience with Republicans as they begin to realize that GOP Members of Congress are willing to risk throwing the country back into a recession because they are worried about being beaten in low turn out primaries by people who do a better job than they do appealing to the extreme right fringe of the American electorate – and to the far Right plutocrats that are all too willing to stoke right wing passion and anger.
Nate Silver, of the New York Time’s 538.com, argues in a recent column that one of the reasons for this phenomenon is the increasing polarization of the American electorate. That polarization translates in to fewer truly “swing” Congressional seats and an increasing number where Members are more concerned with primary challenges than they are with losing in a general election. He concludes that at this moment the number of solidly Republican seats is larger the number of solidly Democratic seats.
This, he argues is partially a result of redistricting by Republican legislatures that packed Democrats into a limited number of districts in many states. But he also contends it results from increasing polarization of the electorate in general. And it is due to the fact that solidly Democratic urban areas have very high concentrations of Democrats, where Republican performing areas tend to have relatively lower concentrations of Republicans. These reasons help explain why, even though Democrats got more votes in House races this cycle than Republicans, Republicans still have more seats in the House.
Increased political polarization in the United States is not a result of some accident or act of God. In 2006, political scientists Nolan McCarty, Kevin T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal published a study of political polarization called Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches. Their study found that there is a direct relationship between economic inequality and polarization in American politics.
They measured political polarization in congressional votes over the last century, and found a direct correlation with the percentage of income received by the top 1% of the electorate. It is no accident that the years following the second World War, a period of low political polarization, was also a period that economist Paul Krugman refers to as the “great compression” — with robust economic growth for most Americans and reducing levels of economic inequality. In other words, it turns out that if you want less political polarization, the best medicine is reducing income inequality.
Of course, one of the other major factors feeding the GOP fear of primaries is that, because of the Citizens United decision, far right plutocrats can now inject virtually unlimited amounts of money into primary races. Unlimited independent expenditures have so far been much more successful in unseating incumbent Republican Members of Congress than it has been winning General Elections.
In the end, of course the relatively more diluted presence of Republicans in Republican districts – and the country’s changing demographics — may allow Democrats to win many currently Republican seats. What’s more, Republican near term concern about primary challenges – and the stridency it breeds — may alienate increasing numbers of moderate Republican leading independents. We’ve already seen this effect in the Presidential and Senate races and it would not be surprising that by 2014 many of the primary obsessed Republican incumbents are hoisted on their own petard in the General Election. Just ask Tea Party Members of Congress who were defeated in 2012, like Alan West and Joe Walsh. But in the near term, at least, there is also no question that many occupants of Republican seats appear far more concerned with primary challenges than they are with general elections.
If House Speaker Boehner is to be successful passing any form of compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – either before the end of the year or after – he will need to convince Republican Members of the House that he is doing them a favor by bringing a bill the floor that can pass even with many Republicans voting no. That, of course requires that the deal is good enough to allow many Democrats to vote yes.
Boehner will get political cover for that kind of maneuver if a bill passes out of the Senate with bi-partisan support. But even then, he will certainly weigh whether he risks his otherwise certain re-election as Speaker on January 3rd if he acts before the country goes over the cliff at midnight, December 31.
Of course the many Republicans that will never support any form of tax compromise don’t justify their position by explaining they are more concerned with primaries than they are of general elections. In fact they generally fall back on one of three myths that are themselves utter nonsense.
Myth #1 – You shouldn’t tax the wealthy because they are “job creators”. The plain fact is that no one invests money in any business if they do not think there are customers with money in their pockets to buy the products or services they produce.
Customers with money in their pockets are “job creators” – and the root of our current economic problems can be traced directly to the fact that everyday consumers are receiving a smaller and smaller percentage of the national economic pie and as a result have less ability to to buy the increasing number of products and services our economy can create. In fact, wages and salaries now make up the lowest share of the nation’s gross domestic product since the government started keeping records in 1947. And corporate profits have climbed to their highest levels since the 1960′s.
Over the last two decades, per capita Gross Domestic Product has gone up; productivity per hour of work has gone up; but the median income of ordinary Americans has remained stagnant. That is only possible because all of the growth in our economy has been siphoned off by the top 2% of the population.
And it has meant that everyday people haven’t had the money in their pockets to buy the increased numbers of goods and services that are the consequence of that increased productivity. Stagnation and slow economic growth has been the result.
Henry Ford had this right. For the economy to grow over time, workers need to be paid enough to buy the products they produce.
If you want the economy to grow, the fruits of economic growth must be spread equally throughout the economy – if not consumers won’t have the money to buy and, as a consequence, investors won’t invest.
Higher taxes on the wealthy – including higher estate taxes on fortunes left to the sons and daughters of multi-millionaires – are not “bad” for the economy – just the opposite. They help address the economic inequality that is the core problem in our economy.
Myth #2 – Our biggest problem is the federal deficit. This is just flat wrong. It is the economic equivalent of the medieval view that you should “bleed” patients when they are sick.
We have learned from centuries of economic history, that when an economy is recovering from a recession, the right medicine for sluggish economic demand is more fiscal stimulus – and in the short run that does not mean lower deficits.
More economic stimulus, of the type that the President proposed in the American Jobs Act over a year ago, puts money in people’s pockets who can then spend it on more products and stimulate more investment. Austerity and reducing national debt will yield the same outcome we have recently seen in Europe – another recession. And that is exactly what the deficit hawks are likely to get if America slides of the fiscal cliff and stays there.
Right Wing deficit hawks are fond of warning that if we don’t cut the deficit, the country could turn into Greece – or some other European country that can’t pay it’s bills. They ignore the fact that right now U.S. Treasury Bonds are considered the safest investments in the world, and interest rates are at a record low. They also ignore the fact that, unlike the Europeans, the American Federal Reserve can monetize the federal debt and assure that U.S. bond holders are always paid — unless, of course, the Republicans refuse to pay the debts that we owe, which would be like committing economic Hara-Kiri.
In fact, the quickest way for America to become like Europe is a precipitous reduction of the federal spending. Ask the Brits how that worked out.
Finally, of course, let’s remember that the way to reduce the deficit is not an inscrutable mystery. When Democrat Bill Clinton was President he did it, just a few short years ago. The recipe for success involved two factors: increasing revenue, especially from the wealthy, and growing the economy.
Today we would have to add, the need to control the spiraling increase in health care costs. While ObamaCare will make big steps in that direction, much more will be needed. Shifting costs to seniors and other consumers by cutting Medicare or Medicaid benefits is not controlling health care costs – it is simply shifting them from government to individuals. And what is needed is not more de-regulation of for-profit health care companies. In fact we ultimately need to follow the model of the Canadians – and most of the other industrial nations in the world – and provide a universal Medicare coverage to all Americans. Our system of private health insurance is simply too expensive. Americans, after all, pay 40% more than any other country per capita for health care and have outcomes that rank only 37th in the world.
Myth #3 – Government is always bad and- as Grover Norquist argues – must be shrunk so it can be drowned in a bathtub.
Let’s ignore for a moment the fact that while Republicans talk about small government, they inevitably expand it when they control the White House – mostly in the form of larger military budgets.
Government, as Congressman Barney Frank says, is the name we give to the things we choose to do together–and that includes many of the most important things we do in our economy. From fire and police protection to providing free public education and health care for all, to building public infrastructure, to creating the Internet – government does a better, more efficient, more equitable job in many economic arenas than the private sector.
To hear the Republicans talk you wouldn’t know it, but right now taxes are at their lowest levels since 1958.
Right now in America we need more government – more education, more roads and bridges, more mass transportation, more cancer research, more health care, more nutrition programs, more drug education and treatment – not less. More government shouldn’t mean more regulation of our freedom – it should mean that when we co-operate together we have the ability to achieve more than if everyone is left to sink or swim. Government action is necessary to provide the foundation from which each person can individually excel.
The question of the type of society we want in America was squarely on the ballot in the election last November, and voters overwhelming voted for a society where we have each other’s back – where we’re all in this together, not all in this alone.
Progressives need to make all of these arguments to win the battle for the future. But let’s remember that the unwillingness of most Republicans to compromise to avoid the “fiscal cliff” – or anything else – has less to do with their commitment to their ultra right principles than to the protection of their own political hides.
That being the case, there are only two ways to convince Republicans to compromise. One is to demonstrate that their obsession with primary challenges from the right will ultimately lead them to defeat in General Elections. The second is to defeat them so badly in the next General Election that they no longer have the power to impose the will of an extremist minority on the people of the United States.
A Little Aspirin For That Splitting Headsplit December 12, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Health Care, Politics.
Tags: Canada, congressmen, poverty, single-payer, taxes, victor david hanson, Warren Buffet
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Almost all who make over $250,000 would hardly worry about paying higher taxes if the federal government gave them the president’s deal and so paid all their housing, food, utility, entertainment, and transportation costs, and insured comparable health and retirement benefits.
Victor David Hanson, in the midst of an unending stream of verbal diarrhea, occasionally inadvertently says something that makes a modicum of sense. He’s right, of course, that no one making any amount of income, whether it be a poverty wage or Warren Buffet’s dividends, would be concerned about a little more taxation if they had the health plan of the President or our congressmen. Such a thing is possible, and it’s called Single Payer. It’s the sort of system that works well in places like Canada, and it’s a system that is advocated by tens of thousands of physicians right here in the US. In such a system, paying for health care would not fall disproportionately on small businesses or large businesses, for that matter. It would be shared and enjoyed by all Americans, with contributions depending on means, just like with our current system of income taxes…another thing guys like VDH seem to abhor.
Monday Quick Hits December 10, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Environment, Politics.
Tags: ann coulter, chicago, el tipping pointo, fiscal cliff, global warming, moron, snowfall, taxes
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I haven’t said a lot about the fiscal cliff because, in spite of some fairly extensive reading, I’m not sure I completely understand it. What I do understand is that the president, as he said repeatedly throughout a long year of campaigning, wants to balance the books not only with painful cuts to lots of important programs, but with mild increases to the taxes of the richest among us, and that the rank and file Republicans find the idea of a tax increase on Sheldon Adelson more repugnant than opening an abortion clinic at Rush Limbaugh’s studio. This has to do with one of those blood oaths they all signed with Grover Norquist, which is more than a little bizarre, since last time I checked, Norquist didn’t have the power to fire any of them, and judging from the November 2012 results, he doesn’t have the power to re-elect them either. So if Barack Obama is willing to make me wait until I’m 67, if I survive that long, to collect the Medicare benefits I’ve been contributing to for the last forty years, why can’t a few of the Teapublicans break with the herd and ask Warren Buffet to pony up .000001% of his net worth to help the cause? In the first place, it would be an acknowledgement that the other side did win the election, and in the second place, it would be a tiny step toward a little something we used to call “compromise”. That being said, I’m not holding my breath, and no matter what happens, I’m pretty sure that it will in one way or another come at a personal cost to me.
If I was one of those guys who likes to get his blood pressure stoked with stories of phony outrage and indignation, I’d be going after not just the usual suspects, but the prime suspect…Ann Coulter. But it would be tantamount to reinforcing the public tantrum of a frustrated toddler. When Coulter titles a piece, “El Tipping Pointo” and goes out of her way to elucidate how Mitt Romney didn’t really lose just so long as you only looked at the white vote, you know she’s just begging for the kind of attention that such obvious baiting is sure to bring. The reaction from my compatriots on the Left was swift and severe enough that I don’t feel the need to pile on. Aside from that, it’s only Monday, so we’ll have to wait for other nominees for “Moron of the Week” to come along before we declare a winner.
Finally, while acknowledging the difference between climate and weather, my esteemed global warming doubter blogmate may have himself noticed that Chicago is approaching a very unusual record….most consecutive days without measurable snowfall. Must be El Nino or something.
Meanwhile, Governor Romney Shed Some Light On A Few Issues September 24, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Politics.
Tags: 14.1%, ER, Health Care, mormon church, Romney, taxes, uninsured
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Yep. We got to see his 2011 taxes, which came to 14.1%. It would have been less than 13%, but he had already declared that he’d never paid less than 13%, so he magnanimously didn’t declare his full charitable contributions (most of which went to the Mormon Church) thereby retroactively negating what otherwise would have been another incontrovertable bald-faced lie. What the hell, huh? What’s a million or two among friends? Meanwhile, he and the president played dueling interviews on last night’s “60 Minutes”. There we learned the heart of Mitt Romney’s health care plan for ailing and uninsured Americans. Contrary to what I’d previously posted, it’s actually not “Let ‘em die”. Nope. The man isn’t a complete heartless prick. He says you can always just go to the ER. There’s so much wrong with that idea that I can’t do anything but stand with my mouth agape and my eyes rolling back in my head. It’d almost be funny if the guy wasn’t dead serious (“dead” being the operative adjective). Just 43 days to go.
It’s Not As Close As The Righties Would Like To Believe September 11, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Politics.
Tags: business mogul, cakewalk, chastity belts, economy, gas, jobs, obama, polls, Romney, taxes
In the most recent Gallup and CNN polls after the Democratic National Convention (which in Cory’s post below was referred to as a fiasco (??)), Obama is leading Romney 52% to 46%. All the pundits over there on the right thought this election should have been a cakewalk. After all, conventional wisdom states that Americans vote with their wallets first. Jobs are down, gas is up, the incumbent ought to be handing out change-of-address cards. But the dumb bastards couldn’t keep their mouths shut and their chastity belts in their pants. At a certain point, even the thickest of individuals is bound to cop to the idea that the right has a lot more on its agenda than just putting people back to work, and aside from that, they may come to rue their decision to nominate a wealthy patrician business mogul whose dealings are so shady he can’t even release his tax returns. I’m not ready to release the confetti just yet, but if the Republicans still think this is going to be a cakewalk, they may just discover that someone spiked the cake with a box of Ex-Lax.
You Did This September 7, 2012Posted by Benjamin Wendell in Uncategorized.
Tags: convention, DNC, great depression, mitt romney, obama, RNC, sluggish recovery, speech, taxes, wealthiest
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Look, conventions don’t decide policy and convention speeches don’t win or lose elections, but the contrast between the speeches at the RNC and the DNC was stark enough that you have to wonder whether the momentum won’t swing wildly in Obama’s direction. I was personally moved by his speech last night, although I also tend to weep at some point during every romantic comedy I watch, so you probably can’t go by me. But it’s hard to imagine anyone anywhere anytime being brought to tears by any Mitt Romney oration. The cameras panning the crowd at the DNC during Obama’s speech told the story. There were tears and fist pumps and looks of outright awe. And you tell something just by looking at the crowd. The Democrats don’t have to create diversity by finding the odd black woman or hispanic man to appear at the dais. The Democrats have diversity. There were men and women of every color and creed in that crowd. There were old hippies, young staffers, veterans, cowboys, blue collar grunts, children, and possibly a couple of Martians. And I’ll tell you another thing, and I know it qualifies me as a pig and a chauvinist, but Democratic women are just plain hotter than their Republican counterparts…Michelle Obama is the most beautiful and stylish first lady since Jackie introduced us to pillbox hats.
The substance of the speech was solid and inspirational in spots. The unequivocal statements of support for abortion, contraception, and gay marriage were reassuring and clearly stated the differences from the “family values” folks at the RNC. The explicit promise that Medicare will not be reduced to vouchers and that Americans will not be left to the tender mercies of the insurance companies was something that people wanted and needed to hear, and Obama did not waffle or equivocate. And it was good that he restated a fact that Republicans hate to hear, that he had been handed an economic debacle, and it is unfair to expect that it could be reversed in four years alone…and that anyone who can do grade school arithmetic can figure out that the way to do it is not by giving lower taxes to the wealthiest individuals. Had Obama not done the things he did, instead of a sluggish recovery, we might very well have been plunged into the second Great Depression. Hope and change have not been deferred, just delayed.
All in all, a pretty good week for the Dems. Let’s see how Mitt stands up in the debates.