Sunday, March 25, 2012

Paul Ryan's Strange "Plan"

OK, we've all heard about the evils of loopholes in the tax code.  Most of us figure those are most often used to the greatest benefit by those who are wealthiest.  Tax shelters, special trusts, special deductions/exceptions, etc., are vehicles traditionally enjoyed by higher-income earners.  Certainly you need a fair bit of dough at the start: the financial professionals & specialists who are fluent in these loopholes don't manage money or give advice for free.

This isn't to say that low-income folks can't utilize loopholes, and several come to mind, but it would seem that Ryan is targeting the larger aggregate number in his budget.

At least, that's the way Paul Ryan described it in several interviews in the last few days.  Try, as I did, to follow this reasoning:

Speaking on CBS Face the Nation, Ryan explained, “We’re proposing to keep revenues where they are, but to clear up all the special interest loopholes, which are uniquely enjoyed by higher income earners, in exchange for lower rates for everyone... We’re saying get rid of the tax shelters, the interest group loopholes and lower everybody’s tax rates.”

Ummm, let me get this straight.  This budget is allegedly revenue neutral, presumably in terms of revenue as a percentage of GDP, as opposed to a grossly irresponsible actual-dollar number.

Also, the idea is to lower the tax rates on everyone.

Also--this is very interesting--Ryan seems to be indicating that he has set his sights on loophole-related benefits specifically enjoyed by "higher income earners."

So a revenue-neutral, multiple-year budget proposes to drop personal and corporate tax rates by ~30% in many cases and accomplish this by offsetting the loss of revenue simply by closing loopholes that are primarily enjoyed by high-income earners?

When pressed for details, Ryan passes the buck to Ways & Means.  Sigh.

The only way this would make sense at all is if the spending side of the balance sheet changed drastically.  Remember, even if Congress undid all the Bush tax cuts on the top income-earners, the extra revenue would only be something in the $200billion range annually.  Ryan's budget eventually balances, roughly in 2040 or something, so I guess that's fine.

Anyway, my point here is to point out this disconnect.  We've seen more coherent arguments from Mr. Ryan in the past, regardless of whether you agree with his strategies.  We've seen more solid numbers.  Is he really jumping in front of Ways & Means on this, or is this obfuscation intentional?  Are we waiting to see how the plan will get attacked before they defend it with specifics?

I suppose time will tell.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Live Free or Die

Sweet! The New Hampshire legislature upheld same sex marriage by a hefty margin.

A memorable photo of NOM's Brian Brown crying after the vote is below, for your enjoyment, but I wanted to being up two particular pieces of Brown's BS (har har) about this particular vote.

On Monday, Brian Brown appeared on Thomas Roberts' MSNBC show, and said the following:

"The people of New Hampshire did not want same sex marriage. Again, this was bought and paid for by a lot of [out-of-state special interest] money, and the fact is that many of those legislators who voted for [same sex marriage two years ago] are now out of office. The people voted in the ballot box and had a historic change there where the Republicans took over. 119 legislators were booted out, and they were booted out because they took it upon themselves to redefine marriage. This bill will allow the people to have a vote through a referendum and will right this great wrong that was put on New Hampshire, not coming from the people, but again coming from out of state interest groups who tried to buy and pay for same sex marriage in New Hampshire."

I could use this moment to point out the irony that NOM is an "out of state interest" which pours money into all sorts of campaigns in order to influence individual elections, state referenda, legislation, and so forth. If it is OK for one special interest group to do their thing, it is OK for their opposition, too.

However, what I find really telling is the second half of NOM's press release, issued a few hours after the vote:

"The only time gay marriage activists are able to win is when they can bypass the people and get activist judges or legislators to do their bidding, usually after plying them with large campaign contributions.

This is a sad day for New Hampshire families who in 2010 had elected what they thought was a solid pro-marriage majority. They were once again let down by politicians who promised them one thing and then left them at the altar when the vote was on the line. These legislators will be held accountable."

Take a moment to enjoy the abject silliness of calling a legislator an activist [**face palm**]... OK, all set?

So, which is it, Brian? Was it the Democratic majority a few years back that accepted "large campaign contributions" from out of state interests? Or was it the current Republican majority being "plied" with same?

Let us walk through several permutations here... Watch closely, now:

1. Brian is wrong on both counts, or is misinformed, or is lying: in both instances, legislators voted as they felt their constituents wanted, and same sex marriage just wasn't all that important an issue to them, "out of state interest money" or not. His interpretation of the 119 seats changing hands in the most recent NH elections actually had very little to do with same sex marriage.

2. Brian is correct about the Democrats but not the Republicans: the Dems voted in favor of it two years ago because they were "bought and paid for"; the Republicans voted for it this week because... Well, for some reason not tied to money, right? In Brian's world, Republicans are on his side, by and large, so this must be a real shock to him. More importantly, it is always easier (and more preferable) to accuse your opponents of being for sale in office.

3. Brian is correct about the Republicans but not the Democrats: the Dems voted for same sex marriage a couple years back because that is what Democrats do; the Republicans voted for it this week because... Well, for some reason not tied to money, right? See #2.

4. Can he possibly be correct about both [insert a "having it both ways" joke here]? Is it possible that the money interests won both votes, one from a Democratic majority, the other from a 70%+ Republican majority? If so, some clever bugger has finally figured out the magic formula that would compel any legislature, regardless of party makeup, to enact same sex marriage legislation. Highly unlikely.

The common element here is the constituency. If marriage truly were the issue, this vote would at least have been much closer than 211-116. Remember, he claimed a causal relationship between the marriage issue and the election in which a third of the NH legislature seats switched due to voters "booting" out the same sex marriage supporters. Since the results were essentially the same, Brian is therefore wrong about same sex marriage being a major issue for NH voters. They just don't seem to care about it.

Keep in mind that he made two claims: he tied the previous election results to the issue of same sex marriage, AND implied that "out of state interest money" was the main driver two years ago. So... what does that mean for all those Republicans who voted to uphold same sex marriage this week? Are they ALSO "activist" legislators taking "out of state interest money" while being "plied" with large campaign contributions after taking a seat from a Democratic predecessor who had been "booted out" because they, too, did exactly the same things two years ago in voting for same sex marriage equality?

We are seeing what will hopefully be a string of rebukes of Brian Brown, NOM, and all their cohorts. Their problem is that they have won so frequently (at least with the popular referenda) that they aren't prepared to cushion their talking points in case they lose. Sure sure, judicial "activism" still has some tread on the tires, and of course you can always hypocritically blame "out of state interests" for exerting inappropriate influence.

The real challenge is ensuring that you aren't also using those same insulting, hypocritical, dumbass labels for your own friends, especially not the friends you helped get elected before.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Job Creators: Apparently Don't Need All Those Tax Breaks

With several months of solid jobs gains, and an unemployment rate that is holding steady, if not falling, it is beginning to seem obvious that companies and job creators will hire when the demand is there for their products. This in spite of all the GOP rhetoric in the last few years that the ONLY way to encourage job creation was further tax breaks for the top income earners and for corporations.

We are seeing, again, a refutation of Chicago-school supply-side economics. Now, I'm sure that our friends on the right will claim that the current economic turnaround is actually a vindication of the prudence of extending the Bush-era tax cuts, and that the stimulus was actually just a huge waste of money that has had little to no positive effect on the American economy.

Tell that to auto workers, infrastructure workers, and all the folks in those supply chains whose jobs were saved or created in large part by the stimulus.

The do-nothing Republican House has finally seem to come to the conclusion that stubbornness and entrenchment will not help them claim any credit. For anything. Indeed, if one intentionally does nothing, instead pandering to a failed philosophy that would ultimately result in no minimum wage, no social safety net, even more income inequality, and of course fewer rights for women, minorities, union workers and the LGBT community as a whole, one has nothing to take credit FOR.

May Keynesianism forever be the foundation of modern economic thought. That, and a judicious sprinkling of socialism :)

Monday, March 12, 2012

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another

Hmmm, the economy is recovering relatively well.

A year ago--and before then--it was a complete disaster - it was alleged that Obama was intentionally destroying it.  Private-sector jobs were being added at an "anemic" rate, and indeed the numbers seemed tenuous and fragile.

When those numbers started looking better and better, the talking points changed.  Obama was mysteriously no longer intentionally trying to ruin the economy... but the recovery was just "not fast enough" and would have been much faster if the GOP had had its way. That talking point has an expiration date, too, since most of the metrics are looking pretty good, and appear to be accelerating.  We've heard the BS about the "actual" unemployment rate, we've heard the BS about Obama's alleged promise that the unemployment would never be above such-and-such a level, we've heard the BS attacks on the BLS charts, and all the rest.

Since the economy is no longer a viable talking point, the GOP is looking for any other possible things to kvetch about.  How about gas prices?  They are once again going up alarmingly fast, just as they did a few years ago.  Fueled by speculation and global uncertainty, they are topping $4.00 per gallon in much of the country now.  I find it interesting that the GOP folks are focusing on Obama being at fault, when a fair bit of the price of a gallon of gas is actually the result of taxes, not oil prices.  In many areas, as much as 20-25% of what we pay at the pump goes to localities, counties, cities, states, and the feds to fund transportation and other projects.  Am I the only one that doesn't see the irony in the GOP's lack of anti-tax rhetoric here?

For a party that used to spend most of its time talking about lowering taxes across the board, it seems a bit strange that they would spend 100% of their time complaining that there isn't enough drilling going on, when oil prices aren't the only driver of gas prices: something politicians actually CAN change (as opposed to the world oil market) is the taxation per gallon.

Keeping in mind that in we can really only influence one of them, why don't Republicans try to tackle both sides of the equation? 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

November in Blue

Here's hoping the elections of 2012 will serve as a massive repudiation of the GOP's ineptitude and encouragement of do-nothing partisanship; religious tyranny; support for candidates and policies that promote inequality and division; efforts to disenfranchise citizens; marginalization of minorities, both racial and social; the list goes on...

Here's to a blue map in November. Rawr.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Please, Super Tuesday, Don't Depress Me

The long and short of it is as follows:

If Romney comes out as a clear winner, then the others will stick it out until the bitter end, with Ron Paul angling for a VP spot (highly unlikely, as far as I can tell).

If Santorum comes out (har har) as a clear winner, then the same applies.

My preference would be to see a massive win for Romney. The fact that he is the most "electable" does not, to me, guarantee that he will be elected; rather, it means that he has the best shot of a group of candidates who will lose to Obama, absent some major disaster that unsettles his presidency during the next 8 months.

The reason I don't want to see Santorum win is simple: I would really like it if my fellow Americans united as a group to make a clear statement that such a candidate belongs on the fringes, that such a candidate should never be able to muster more than a single-digit level of support, that in fact we don't have over 1/3 of voters backing a guy who wants to march women's issues back decades.

Can you imagine Santorum the president meeting with European leaders? What must they think of him? Is that highly important to me? Well, maybe not highly important, but let us remember that the president is our representative to the world. I'd hate to think that international diplomacy would be defined as the conversations that occur between bouts of snickering.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Of All the Flip-Flops

I say cut Romney some slack on the Blunt Amendment thing... It was a garbled, quickly-spoken question to a guy that does interviews as often as the rest of us blink. Sure, Mitt could have asked Heath to clarify the question, just to make sure that it was clear, but he didn't.

But not so much on the other bit about presidential candidates staying out of married people's bedroom decisions. Actually, I meant husband and wife. Actually actually, I meant a married man and woman's contraceptive decisions.

What I really mean is that everyone seems to be glossing over the fact that Romney worked his answer into a sorta kinda "pro 'traditional' marriage" thing. That's the bigger issue here.