Thursday, November 24, 2011


I am grateful for protesters.

I am grateful for fact-checkers.

I am grateful for the right to vote.

I am grateful for freedom of expression.

I am grateful for the ability to reason.

I am grateful for diversity.

I am grateful to those who challenge my beliefs & positions.

I am grateful for the countless ways in which science has enriched my life.

I am grateful for the patience of science in addition to its beauty.

I am grateful for having discarded religion.

I am grateful for a lot of things, but on the whole I think I'm more worried about the world in general than I ever have been, and--at the risk of further hyperbole--I do believe the upcoming elections will be some of the most significant of our generation.  Each of the above points reflects in some way the foundations of my concern.

So for my American friends this Thanksgiving, as we spend time with family or friends or by ourselves, let us each reflect for a moment on what we're truly grateful for.  If you're the type to have a blessing of some sort before your meals, please try to work in something for which you're grateful that actually gives some credit to people on earth, here and now, doing real work to help make the world a better place.

For my friends elsewhere, have a great day.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ramblings: Regressive taxes, 9-9-9, Eric Cantor Scared to Face #OWS Protesters?

A few days ago, when I heard that Eric Cantor was going to speak at Wharton (topic: income inequality LOL), my initial response was to tweet that he should listen at Wharton, not speak. The Norquist-pledge-influenced policies he advocates, among other things, would produce a far more regressive (that means tough on those with low-income, Fox viewers... not EVIL) tax system in which it would be even more difficult to get ahead, because it is designed to constrain the ability of people with ability to succeed.

There are only so many hours in a day. When you're only able to earn minimum wage, or slightly above that, every cent you earn tends to go toward basic survival needs: food, shelter, clothing, transportation. Thus, any tax which affects those basic needs will hit the low-income sector much harder, proportionally speaking.

What regressive tax policies accomplish is basically twofold: they force low-income earners to devote more of their lives to earning money, because a disproportionate amount of their income (read: ALL) is affected. Secondly, they enable those with much higher incomes the opportunity to have more of their income come from sources that are taxed at even lower rates, if at all, because the higher income groups are affected comparably little by regressive policies. And if they are Eric Cantor's regressive policies, then those higher earners are much more likely to wind up paying even LESS in taxes.

Here are some basic, simple numbers to consider: if a family of four spends $2400 per year out of pocket on groceries ($200/month), that $2400 in spending is not currently subject to taxation in the form of sales taxes, etc., because groceries aren't taxed.

However, you have amazingly short-sighted people like Herman Cain pushing a plan which would instantly tax that $2400 at 9%. So the effect would be that these hypothetical families of four would have to find $216 per year from somewhere, in order to continue feeding themselves.

This doesn't sound like much, but you must think in terms of the *effective* tax rate on families with different incomes. The family of four whose after-tax income is, say, $20000 per year will feel a 1% increase (again, simply put). The family of four whose after-tax income is $3000 per year will feel a 7% increase. This is what results from a regressive tax policy.

The idea of Eric Cantor, one of the Princes of regressive tax policy, speaking AT WHARTON on the topic of income inequality, evidently inspired too many OccupyWallStreet protesters that our esteemed Majority Leader couldn't handle the pressure.

Brad Dayspring's form-letter excuse, which had no basis in reason, didn't help. Oh, what? The speeches at Wharton aren't public?? Well then, we have to cancel on principle.

Or, the fact that this speech--like pretty much every other speech at Wharton--would have been open to the public (including #OWS protesters) was too much for Team Cantor to handle...

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear 53% "Movement": Read Closely

So I heard today about a so-called "53% movement" - a fledgling organization from our buddies on the Right that claim to represent the 53% of Americans who actually pay taxes.  They have set up a Tumblr very similar to that of the #OccupyWallStreet folks, shown here, in which photos of real people are coupled with their stories.

Hey, fair enough, right?  Tumblr whatever you want.  However, when you read through some of these pictures, you start to see that the similarities are more striking than the differences.  Firstly, a few differences: while there might be a sound bite or two from some of the #OWS crowd to the effect that they "deserve" a handout, or are "entitled" to being supported by the rest of society, almost none of them seem to be coming at this indignantly - ie, "how DARE the 1% not support us entirely when we have bad fortunes or we are actually taken advantage of???".

What I'm seeing are hundreds of people with stories reflecting a solid work ethic, if not always coupled with a more traditional strategy of get diploma - get hired - work steadily and improve your career.  Statistically speaking, these letters reflect Group A (#OWS) which tends to have had bad experiences, vs. Group B (#53%) which tends to have been at least somewhat successful in their efforts. Both sides have in common a strong work ethic and a strong desire to get ahead for themselves.

[What we REALLY need is a control group of some sort... or at least, an idea of whether anyone from either side EVER was in a position where they wound up paying no taxes at all.  I should point out that unemployment benefits ARE subject to various forms of taxation, including federal income taxes.]

Furthermore, looking at research, both second-hand and original, it is obvious that our tax system is untenable.  However, please remember that one of the most important--and most often unmentioned--taxes to wealthy individuals is the capital gains tax rate - NOT the income tax rate.  It is quite possible to earn substantial amounts of money, tax free (think municipal bonds, which, by the way, also pay a VERY healthy return with very little downside risk) if your nest egg is large enough.  If it isn't, an entry-level financial advisor could point you in the right directions to combine a tax-free income portfolio along with the proper real estate investments, such that even if you DID report a six-figure income, your deductions and the nature of that income would reduce your tax liability to virtually zero.

A napkin-sketch outline of how capital gains rates help enable many wealthy people to be taxed at MUCH lower rates can be found here.

In contrast, I am seeing a great deal of "stop whining" and "don't come crying to us for a handout" stories on the #53% site.  Here are two examples:


I'm going to go on the assumption that this guy is actually trying to MAKE puppy eyes in an attempt at irony.

And then there are examples like this one, which to me looks exactly like many of the #OWS pictures, except that she hasn't yet had substantial misfortune:
So what are the real differences?  Neither side is against wealth, in and of itself.  Neither side is against success, in and of itself.  Neither side wants to see people penalized for being successful.

One side paints themselves as hardworking, bootstraps kind of people... and so does the other (except one side hasn't yet had catastrophic financial problems, and the other has.  So, as people, what are the differences?

This is something neither side is talking about, and they should, if they want to sound serious.  The #OWS group differentiates themselves from the top 1% of earners/wealthy in the US - their main point doesn't seem to be the fact that almost half of Americans pay no taxes.  The #53% group, by definition, claims to represent the 53% of Americans that pay some sort of taxes.

Now, remember that taxpayers who either owed no tax or were entitled to refunds (ie, the 47%) come from all areas of the income curve.  There are billionaires in there (be honest - even if a billionaire DID wind up owing $100,000 in total taxes, does that qualify as being reasonable if their total income was $30 million?)... there are zero-income people in there... there are couples with families earning $150,000 per year in there.  There are multi-millionaires who derive almost all of their income from post-tax, untaxed investment vehicles.  It all comes down to the type of income and the deductions.  Thus, it all comes down to the tax code.

What I see the #OWS side as wanting, most of all, is a threefold solution that involves strong accountability (and, yes, jailtime if warranted) for individuals on Wall Street who blatantly abuse regulatory loopholes, flagrantly defy best ethical practices, and sneer at their detractors secure in the knowledge that they're "too big to fail."  Next, they'd like to see some substantial restructuring of various elements of our system, including healthcare, the social safety net, and tax policy.  Lastly, they'd really like it if they weren't painted as non-taxpaying, wanting-a-handout, lazy jerks who just want to slide through life at the expense of their neighbors.

What I see on the #53% side is an undeveloped, reactionary group whose primary purpose seems to be the painting of the #OWS folks as part of the 47%, AND painting them as a group of whiners because they aren't being supported by Uncle Sam. I also see them sharing success stories involving a great deal of struggle and hard work - this is really cool!  But the fact that you've struggled and worked and done your best for years is NOT THE POINT, 53% people.  Every one of the #OWS people did the best they could with what they had, too.

The point is that it is so depressing when you do the best you can, year after year, and wind up losing your job for basically no other reason that some assholes on some asshole exchange recklessly (and deliberately) invested in assets they knew they weren't allowed to, for the sake of a short-term profit, and then are never prosecuted, never held to account, and on top of that their asshole firms with their asshole CEO's with their asshole golden parachutes get bailed out via carte blanche, enabling them to continue playing their asshole games for another 5 years, after which the whole asshole process will repeat itself.

Dear 53% - you'd be more honest if you joined the #OWS folks.  At the minimum, you wouldn't come across as being (in many ways) just as snide and asshole-esque as those people on Wall Street.

And remember also the primary difference between yourselves and the #OWS people: you haven't yet been victimized by that 1%.  Yet.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Dear Right Wing: Capital Gains are Different Than Ordinary Income

Very simply put, if a person has no ordinary income (such as from wages), instead deriving their income from investments (dividends, capital gains on the sale of assets), then talking about tax brackets is irrelevant.

The top capital gains rate has been at 15% for roughly 10 years. This is why many extremely wealthy people clock in at an effective tax rate of under 20%, if they pay taxes at all. If they earn $2 million in a year, and only $250,000 of that is in the form of wages, then only 12.5% of their income is subject to payroll withholding as well as ordinary income tax rates. These rates are applied to their AGI (adjusted gross income), which is the $250,000 minus any qualifying deductions they claim (mortgage interest, charitable giving, standard deductions, all as applicable).

There have been a number of periods in recent history where the top tax rates (and cap gains rates) have been at least twice as high as they are at present, yet the economy was booming, employment was a more tolerable 4-6%, etc. GDP steadily rising, new companies *voluntarily* forming, creating jobs, etc etc.

It really pisses me off when the Right continually claims that raising taxes and closing loopholes would kill jobs. Shows that they either don't understand taxes or are intentionally misleading their listeners about how taxes really work.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Steve Jobs dead: just the PR for now

I can't believe it, but I have to. I can think of few other people who in such a short period of time affected the way most people on Earth interact with one another.

Here's the press release announcing his passing:

CUPERTINO, Calif.—(BUSINESS WIRE)— We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.

Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.

His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Right-Wing Proves You Can't Win

In a coordinated display of stupid, our right-wing friends are again demonstrating that you just can't win with natural disasters:

George Will writes: "synthetic hysteria" is the best descriptor of the media hype preceding and accompanying hurricane Irene's progress toward and then up the east coast.

A disparate yet closely-aligned set of bigots says: gay marriage caused hurricane Irene.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sigh. Cantor spokesman @BDayspring blocks dissenting twitter followers.

I don't follow all that many people on twitter, just because I like to be able to keep up with what's going on, and tweetspam flying by just makes my eyes cross. As such, I'm pretty aware of who I haven't heard from in a while.  Sometimes people go on vacation or otherwise take a break from the 'nets, but those are the rare cases.  People blocking you from following them, however, sometimes takes a little while to notice.

Here's the background:

Back in mid-August, one of the people I started following was House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's spokesman, Brad Dayspring (@BDayspring).  As the alert reader will imagine, I have many differences of opinion with the gentleman from Virginia, and his spokesman, by definition, is no different.  So, like any twitter follower who follows people with whom he or she disagrees, I occasionally reply to tweets that I feel are lacking in intellectual honesty, and especially if those tweets are designed to defend or hypocritically obfuscate destructive economic or social policies.

During the ensuing three weeks or so, I replied directly to nine of @BDayspring's tweets.  I referenced Cantor himself in several others as well.  On September 2nd, I blogged about his amazingly irresponsible and reckless disaster relief funding offset idea, writing among other things:

"Here's a pro-tip [for Cantor]: you should probably go ahead and add disaster relief funding to the list of uncuttable programs [like veterans benefits and homeland security]. At least that way the people who are currently digging out of previous disasters will know that you won't completely screw them over to score ideological brownie points with the extreme side of your party."

I, like many others, joined in choruses of derision, accusing Cantor of holding disaster victims fiscally hostage when he reiterated a position he also held back in May to the effect that additional disaster relief funding for agencies such as FEMA should be directly offset with cuts elsewhere in the Federal budget.

Here are two representative replies I made to @BDayspring during this outcry:

September 2nd:
@BDayspring And your boss's plan to help disaster victims in his own district: Operation Fiscal Hostage. #shameful
August 25th:
@BDayspring Can anyone tell me the last time a House Majority Leader held his own constituents hostage over disaster relief funding? Anyone?

ThinkProgress posted a clip of a hallway press conference at the American Action Forum on September 13th in which Cantor seemed to be confused about the best way to walk back his earlier position and try to avoid looking and sounding like a hypocrite:

And to shed some light on the hypocrisy of this whole thing, there is his diametrically opposing stance from back in 2004, when it was apparently OK to fund first and ask questions later.  In August of 2011, Dayspring released an email to the press which did very little reassure any actual disaster victims.  Seems to me that a disaster is a disaster and lives are lost & destroyed regardless of the government's balance sheet.

So, what was it that prompted Brad Dayspring to block me?  It wasn't when I called his boss's new U-turn policy shameful; it wasn't when I (along with many others) accused his boss of holding his own constituents hostage to a cruelly misguided ideology.  No, this was my last tweet to him on September 18th, which conveniently includes a quote of his original:

"@BDayspring: Remember when LL Cool J was a rapper?” // Remember when Cantor didn't hold disaster victims fiscally hostage?

Apparently that was the final straw, because I haven't seen another tweet from Mr. Dayspring since that time, and am now unable to follow him. Surely it wasn't my hijacking of a tweet about LL Cool J that got Brad's knickers in a twist.  Perhaps it actually caught his attention, and then he bothered to look at my other postings, concluding that I wouldn't notice if he blocked me.

Putting one's fingers in one's ears to avoid dissension is probably the most childish response to said dissension.  Nine tweets in 3 weeks from a guy with ~75 followers is apparently intolerable... to the spokesman for the United States House of Representatives Majority Leader.

The really funny part of all this is that I'm still able to follow Eric Cantor himself.  Perhaps even funnier is the fact that, unlike YouTube, Twitter is ever so helpful, allowing me to see everything that goes on, retweet at will, and even address Brad directly, and he can't do anything about it.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dear Rick Perry: You Can't Be A Nuanced Hardliner

So it was interesting to see how Perry took the frequent attacks last night, in particular with regard to Social Security. It has been fascinating to watch his evolution on this issue. For examples:

In his book Fed Up!, published 11 months ago, Perry describes Social Security as "the best example" of the government trashing its Constitutional duties and thus "violently tossing aside any respect for our founding principles." We see here a Perry who is standing on more of a 10th Amendment footing, referencing the "boundaries to government" that the founders were so keen to erect. As elsewhere in the book, Perry uses his ideological filters in an attempt to make the case that Social Security is unconstitutional.

In December 2010, he seemed extremely worried about what he called "$106 trillion" in the combined "unfunded liability [sic]" of Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. "That's the reality of where we find ourselves today." So it isn't just a question of leaving it to the states on principle, it is also simply a question of an enormously underfunded program.

In the GOP presidential debate on September 7th, 2011, Perry said of Social Security that it is a "Ponzi scheme" and a "monstrous lie" by which we are giving the fiscal finger to young people in this country, because they know they'll be paying into a system that they'll never be able to draw on. So it isn't just a budget burden; it isn't just unconstitutional; it is also borderline illegal in addition to being just plain dishonest.

But last night, Mitt Romney challenged him with a direct question, which led to an interesting back-and-forth:

Romney: "Do you still believe Social Security should be ended as a Federal Program as you did six months ago when your book came out, and return [Social Security] to the states, or do you want to retreat from that?"
Perry: "I think we ought to have a conversation--"
Romney: "I think we're having that right now, governor. We're running for President."

This was on the heels of another dodge by Perry, in which his earlier aggressive language had softened to a more generalized, subdued disdain for the decisions of past progressive-minded administrations.

FFS, Perry, either be hardline or don't. If you start moderating your positions, and trying to pretend to understand the importance and usefulness of nuanced positions, you'll start to sound more and more like Obama in your approach, if not in your politics.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hey Eric, Why So Hypocritical?

I'm pleased to see various Republicans taking a stand against House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's hypocritical stance on emergency funding for victims of the recent east-coast earthquake and Hurricane Irene.

For example, New Jersey governor Chris Christie was speaking at a town hall the other day, sharing the stage with HS Secretary Janet Napolitano and FEMA head Craig Fugate.

In a clear dig at the way debt-ceiling talks went recently, Christie said, "You're going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt-limit thing where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks and you expect the citizens of my state to wait?"

He certainly raises good points, especially the part about waiting:

“They’re not gonna wait, and I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t. I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”

(As an aside, I'd be curious to see if anyone has ever checked into whether a fast, intense funding response is actually cheaper than one which drags out for weeks of hostage negotiation-style bickering. But I digress...)

Eric Cantor isn't on to anything new here. In 2004, Texas Republican Congressman Jeb Hensarling introduced an amendment which would have forced Congress to find discretionary spending to cut in order to fund a $10.9 billion disaster relief emergency bill following a series of hurricanes and violent storms, including one which hit Cantor's own district.

Hensarling defended his Cantor-like approach in 2004 on the floor of the House, sounding eerily familiar in the context of recent events:

“Many, many members have come to the floor to decry deficit spending. It will be interesting to see how many of them truly want to do something about it and support this amendment... Mr. Chairman, the true question before us is, who will tighten their belt to pay for this $10.9 billion of hurricane damage? Families, or government? I vote for the government."

Although Hensarling's amendment would have ensured that none of the discretionary cuts could affect veterans, the military, or Homeland Security, well over 100 of his fellow Republicans (including Cantor) voted against it, along with pretty much every Democrat. This puts one of Hensarling's comments in some perspective, as he said, "opponents of this amendment will argue that it will gut vital government programs. I simply reject that notion.”

As a demonstration of a complete reversal of Cantor's 2004 stance, look at this heavily nuanced (read: heavily non-committal & uncertainty-provoking) excerpt from an explanatory email from his spokesman, Brad Dayspring, which tries to link the larger debt issue with emergency spending, EXACTLY the approach Cantor rejected in '04:

"People and families affected by these disasters will certainly get what they need from their federal government. The goal should always be to find ways to pay for what is needed or to find offsets whenever possible, that is the responsible thing to do. Is the suggestion that Congress should completely ignore the $14 trillion debt and make no effort to try to pay for things? That seems quite extreme. People also expect their government to spend their dollars wisely, and to make efforts to prioritize and save when possible. They aren’t and shouldn’t be considered mutually exclusive concepts."

Oh, but they ARE, Brad. They are. When your boss holds disaster relief funds hostage, even based on the principles of fiscal responsibility (har har), he crosses a line with disaster victims, and shows the cruel side of being out of touch with folks back home.

As it is, Cantor has suggested cutting first responders as a possible way to fund FEMA emergencies, which is just stupid beyond belief. He also claims that the funding for this relief was already approved and paid for with cuts elsewhere, but fails to explain that those cuts affected tornado and other disaster relief programs by reassigning those funds to Irene and earthquake relief efforts.

Nice going, Eric. Next time I'm in therapy because my back is all messed up, I'll quit that therapy altogether in order to get a needed root canal done. I hope you get voted out for this issue alone.

Oh, and here's a pro-tip: you should probably go ahead and add disaster relief funding to the list of uncuttable programs. At least that way the people who are currently digging out of previous disasters will know that you won't completely screw them over to score ideological brownie points with the extreme side of your party.

By the way, pointing this out to Eric Cantor's spokesman might get you blocked on Twitter.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

How fast are they working?

I'm collecting clips, quotes, and miscellaneous tidbits from various and sundry right-wing revisionists about how the hurricane Irene preparations, evacuations, and states of emergency were over-the-top, unnecessary, and wasteful. Specifically, if anyone has seen examples of fox news or their friends trying to paint reasonable foresight as media "hype", scaremongering tactics, etc.

I have collected around 15 examples, and will be putting them in a video, but if you've seen anything especially interesting, especially in local news, please let me know in comments, or share/PM them to me on my YouTube channel bushonomics.

I knew that, because the Obama administration and various governors actually took Irene's potential seriously--announcing states of emergency early for example--that our friends over at fox would do everything they could to paint preparedness as stupidity and precaution as silliness.

This is of course an attempt to paint Obama as just as ineffectual as Bush was before/during/after Katrina's aftermath. This of course is a steamng pile of bull feces. If enough of us point out that it is better to be safe than sorry, we might (slightly) diffuse this particular effort at revisionism.

Thank you for your help.

Monday, August 22, 2011

First Lady Marcus and his closet full of BS

As I understand things, Marcus Bachmann believes that gay men should only be allowed to marry females... Although he doesn't bother to specify whether the females in question must themselves be not-gay.

This is a small step along a progression that we've been seeing in the right wing for over a decade:

- Marriage is only between members of the opposite sex.

- The whole point of marriage is to produce children. Gay couples cannot do that.

- Homosexuality is a lifestyle choice, just like one chooses to eat only organic foods, or opts to develop one's career before starting a family, or other such elective life choices.

- If we allowed gays to marry, they would indoctrinate their children into the "gay lifestyle."

- Marriage is between *one* man and *one* woman.

Every single one of these talking points derives from a biblical proclamation made over 2500 years ago. For people that wear their evangelical stripes with pride, it isn't surprising that they don't acknowledge that Jesus said exactly zero about homosexuality. They'll quote new testament verses that vaguely support the notion that Jesus' arrival on the scene signaled a selective continuation of various old testament laws, but not others.

Their mental gymnastics would make Mary Lou Retton hand in her medals:

What of the old testament dietary rules? Nah, that's not what Jesus was on about.

What about unclean vs clean animals? Nope, not that either.

What about animal sacrifice as a method of worshipping god? Nope.

What about polygamy? Nope - somehow, without saying shit about it, EVER, Jesus clearly mandated that monogamy was the sole acceptable option.

Anything on the rule that women weren't to speak in the temples? Nope - that's ok.

How about the rule that if a man's brother were killed in battle, the surviving brother must take his former sister-in-law as his wife? Of COURSE not.

What about the rule against homosexual behavior?

Hey you abominations, OBVIOUSLY this was Jesus' intention, and it was what he specifically implied when he said that he came not to undo the old covenant, but instead to fulfill it.

Well, unlike slave ownership and the mandate that a woman must be stoned to death if it is determined that she married after losing her virginity, it appears that anti-homosexual attitudes were silently sanctioned by the son of god, even though he never brought them up, and represents yet another instance of evangelicals forcing their selective biblical interpretations on the public they purport to serve, under a Constituton they swear to god to defend and uphold.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grover Norquist's Pledge Losing Adherents

In the last few weeks we have seen two Republicans, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (NE) and Rep. Charles Boustany (LA), break away from their adherence to the Norquist no-tax pledge. Citing the need to be flexible in their search for a compromise, they both acknowledged that the pledge is too constraining. Others, such as Sen. Tom Coburn (OK), have clashed publicly with Norquist over ideological differences in the interpretation of what, exactly, a "tax increase" is.

I don't think much of anyone who pledges not to do ANYTHING that might possibly be interpreted as a tax increase, and it is nice to see several defectors here. Apart from the dozens of polls that all show overwhelming support for a deal that includes some sort of increased revenues, there is also the common sense aspect: don't set out on a cross-country road trip with only enough gas to get halfway, and promise you won't purchase any more fuel but instead will drive more slowly, and therefore somehow complete the journey.

Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform in many ways represent the most dogmatic of the supply-siders, and their influence on Capitol Hill is substantial. When a group is willing to risk a United States credit default in order to hold to their viewpoint, and enough of Congress sides with them that it grinds an ordinarily straightforward process to a halt, that group is dangerous to the economy.

I am pleased to see these defections, and I encourage anyone who has a spare minute to contact any of the signatories of this blockheaded pledge and let them know how you feel.

Don't forget to CC Grover when you do.

Monday, August 15, 2011

"Governor" Palin? How about "Mayor"?

Do you think that if a governor chooses to end his or her term early, they should still have the privilege of being addressed as "Governor" such-and-such?

I realize that the tradition, generally speaking, is to retain the highest title one has held in government. Or at least to be referred to as "former (office title)" blah blah. In the case of the President (both current and former), there is even a special song that can only be played in certain contexts.

But if an officeholder elects to cut their term short, voluntarily, with no mitigating medical issues, for example, should they retain their former title? I'm not talking about a person who finishes a term (think Gerald Ford); nor am I thinking about a person who has become unable to serve for one reason or another.  Some offices are often left voluntarily and with honor, such as life-term judgeships.

For instance, in World of Warcraft, doing certain cool things earns you different titles like Battlemaster or Light of Dawn. Players can choose which title to display, or they can display no title at all.  Nice to have that flexibility.

Are ex-officeholders able to cycle through their titles like WoW characters? "No, Tom, tonight you may refer to me as Battlemaster Palin."  Or, "No, Megyn, I prefer to be called Twilight Vanquisher Palin."

I propose that if you ever run into Sarah Palin, you should use HER alternate title: Mayor.

I can hear it now...

"Mayor Palin! Mayor Palin! Can you tell us how you've managed to learn so little about American history during your PAC-funded bus tours, in spite of being at the historical locations themselves, having plenty of time to explore and learn, and of course having access to all the best tour guides and support?"

[And yet when she appears on a remote interview, she's almost always in front of some huge lake with lots of pine trees and snow in the background - hate to break it to ya, Mayor, but that's not what Chicago looks like]

Of course, this would be a breach of etiquette, and you probably wouldn't get invited back to any press conferences.  Nonetheless, allow me to draw a more precise comparison.  A friend of mine refers to his stepfather as "Dad" and his biological father as "the guy who ran out on my mom when I was 9 to live with some underwear model in Reno."

Perhaps referring to Sarah Palin as Mayor would emphasize the fact that we won't let it be forgotten that she abandoned an office of trust in order to shill for Rupert Murdoch, sell books, and take pointless "vacations" at the expense of her PAC.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wisconsin Recall Elections: Dems 2, Reps 4

The Democrats didn't do as well as they had hoped in yesterday's series of State Senate recall elections, winning 2 of the 6 races, and dropping the Republican majority in the State Senate to only 1.  A variety of factors were at play here, so it is difficult to paint this as black and white defeat for Democrats, as Fox Nation is already doing.

The amount of money that flowed into the state just for these recall elections was a staggering $30 million, compared with a total of $3 million or so spent on all state elections in Wisconsin last year.  In addition, recall votes, at least in my experience, tend to be tilted toward the incumbent (the "give 'em a second chance" rule) unless they've done a really bad job in the eyes of most voters.  Remember that each of these recall elections required the collection of around 15,000 signatures, so if a group is determined to get a recall vote on a ballot, it's not that difficult to do so.  There are two more recall elections coming up next week, in which two Democrats are being challenged.

The expected recall process for Governor Scott Walker is already getting cranked up.  Wisconsin law doesn't allow recall elections unless the incumbent being recalled has served for more than one year, so the recallers have to wait until January 2012 for their attempt.  Statewide, recall advocates will need to collect roughly 500,000 signatures in order for that to happen, and based on the amount of activity in the current process, I have the feeling they'll get it done.

Wisconsin Recall Elections

Wow! What a nailbiter this evening has been.

Looks like Democrats will be looking at one last race in order to claim a simple majority in the Wisconsin State Senate.

Many observers are looking to these recall elections as a predictor of the national races in 2012.  However, it is difficult to say how applicable the Wisconsin results will be, due to the enormous financial difference between these recall campaigns and the 2010 election season.

According to campaign finance watchdog groups in Wisconsin, the total spending on the recall elections has been approximately 10 times as much as the 2010 campaign spending across all races in the state.  It is obvious that people, including big donors, are focusing on these recalls, but whether such a huge financial focus will actually skew the results is anyone's guess.

In the short-term, we'll be talking about the individual races, their respective spending, the actions of the recalled candidates and why they got booted out.  In the medium-term, the focus will shift to an expected recall challenge to Gov. Scott Walker.  In the long-term, if Walker, too, is booted out, that will send a strong message to the national campaigns next year.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Bachmann: Queen of Rage?

Like many people who at least try to use their sense of reason from time to time, I don't like the vast majority of Michele Bachmann's positions, political & social views, hypocrisies, past statements about everything from US history to gay marriage (the list goes on)...

However, I do need to take objection to the following Newsweek cover:

This is exactly the type of thing that fuels the so-called "left-wing mainstream media hates conservatives" talking point that many of our friends on the right like to invoke every single time someone objects to something or someone conservative.

The Newsweek article itself shows some bias, but it comes across much more as a fact-finding and fact-checking document than a "time to bash another conservative" hatchet job.

However, people at magazine stands will see only the cover, and the Fox propaganda machine is already rallying forces to cry foul and do their exaggerated outrage routine about this.  In this particular case, though, I'll have to agree with them to an extent.  Calling her the "Queen of Rage" is, to me, irresponsible.  Making her sound like she's Harvey Beale or something just doesn't help, and it definitely provides fodder for the other side to use to distract people from the irrational positions she holds.

I'm looking forward to whether The Daily Show will have a segment about this.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

After the Day of Prayer and Fasting

Hallelujah, rattle your drawers and swing low, sweet chariot, comin' for to bring Texas rain.

Texas Governor Rick Perry called for prayers in order to ask for relief from a significant drought, the worst in Texas in over 100 years.  There were a few protesters here and there, but by and large the prayers were offered up without too many problems, and the level of participation was pretty good, according to organizers.

Of course, that was back in April 2011, when Gov. Perry called for and held a 3-day long prayer vigil to ask the gods for rain.  And because prayer always works, the drought ended, crops are booming, and everything is completely fine.  Thank gods for that!

Hah, just kidding.  Unfortunately, that 3-day vigil back in April appears to have had essentially no effect whatsoever, because the drought is still going strong.  Obviously Gov. Perry admitted it was a failure, because he felt compelled to set up another Pray for Rain thing, which drew 30,000 or so yesterday at Reliant Stadium.

This time, instead of doing a three-day Pray for Rain thing, they set up a one-day Pray and Fast for Rain and Our Economy thing.  People who seemed to be in trances dancing in the aisles, lots of arms raised in supplication, some fairly in-tune singing, and of course long lines at the food vendors in the stadium there.  I don't know about you, but I can't pray seriously without a beer and a loaded chili dog in my gullet.

Based on the record thus far, the score is Natural Processes 1, Pray for Rain things 0.

Give Gov. Perry some credit, though: it was a clever move to include economic recovery in the list of intentions, as it will be much easier to blame any minor improvement on yesterday's Pray & Fast for Rain thing.  It was doubly clever to keep the drought petitions local and economic petitions national, since Perry is one of the worst CEO's of Texas in history, and therefore that state is highly unlikely to hear any good economic news.

Anyway, gods as a group have a longstanding reputation for answering only really really VAGUE prayers.  The more specific you are, the more likely you'll get ignored; the more vague you are, the easier it is to take credit for anything you want.

This case won't be any different.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mr. Cantor, meet Mr. Arithmetic

Eric Cantor is of the opinion that any extension of unemployment benefits should be offset with equal cuts, usually targeting other social safety net programs.

Considering that unemployment benefits are the only form of government stimulus which directly affect people in an immediate economic crisis, and considering that the economic benefit they generate is almost twice the outlay, it seems a little stupid to fight them in ts way.

Many times, someone who is unemployed also qualifies for one or several different programs, such as AFDC, WIC, or food stamps. Making cuts in these programs in order to extend unemployment benefits doesn't give additional solace to the struggling unemployed person, because the extension gets used up when their other sources of assistance dry up or are otherwise eliminated.

For the majority of unemployed people in a recession, the issue isn't that they like living on their social safety net in lieu of getting a job. The issue is that a recessionary environment, among other things, means that the supply of jobs is much smaller than the corresponding demand.

This isn't a question of paying people not to work, unlike various farm subsidies, for example. This is an issue of basic arithmetic. At LEAST, if you're going to play the "no spending without equal cutting" card, don't routinely suggest making cuts from the same class of spending as you'd like to increase.

Your time will be better spent looking for ways to streamline agencies, eliminate waste, etc.

Of course, this is all assuming that revenues aren't in the picture. Cantor says that eliminating the Bush tax cuts will cause fewer jobs to be created. The studies show that using some of the revenue from those cuts to provide unemployment extensions as a bridge while the economy recovers is one of the most efficient uses of a stimulus dollar.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

After all the shenanigans, FAA is left out

I understand how exhausted members of Congress must be after having spent so much time and energy dealing with the whole debt ceiling/preserve stupid tax cuts process.

However, it would have been nice to see them link up their post-deal "it's all about jobs" rhetoric with simple action to keep the FAA in business.

With Congress in recess, there are currently some 4,000 FAA workers who have been furloughed, airport inspectors are working for no pay, and various projects are on hold, throwing roughly 70,000 airport construction workers into unemployment.

Well done, Congress. I think this is actually one issue where the majority of the blame can be evenly divided among everyone on the Hill, in spite of certain specific people who played a larger role in the process of inaction.

Reality will always win

Just a quick note to any ideologues who believe that a balanced budget amendment makes any sense: it doesn't. And here is why:

Requiring a balanced budget attempts to defy the reality that shit happens. What do you balanced budget enthusiasts propose to do when there is a major natural disaster? An earthquake a la Japan that cripples a region, affects local and regional economics, etc? How about if the US is attacked again? How about another major oil spill?

Assuming that you are willing to help, willing to earmark special funds and programs to help those communities recover and rebuild (and unfortunately that might be pretty far-fetched for many teatowelheads), where do you get that money? Do you propose maintaining massive rainy day funds? Or will you make a dollar-for-dollar tradeoff? Say, $1 billion to help out the victims of an earthquake in southern California, but $1 billion stripped from education funding?

The reality is that a truly balanced approach will take into account revenues as well as cuts and/or streamlining. Just so we are clear, "revenue" means "tax increases" and/or "closing of loopholes".

It amazes me that polls show that the citizens are tired of watching Congress work SO hard to keep irresponsible, unneeded, and regressive tax cuts in place while simultaneously threatening social safety net, quality of education, infrastructure, and a whole host of other projects which truly are investments in the future.