Monday, November 29, 2010

Lies, Liars, and Tax Policy

There is an excellent post at, called Taxes: Myths and Realities. There is a lot in it, so I will just hightlight and paraphrase portions. Be sure to read the whole article. Lots of links too.

1. "President Obama's tax cuts benefitted more than 95 percent of Americans."

Teabaggers have mindlessly brayed that President Obama has raised their taxes, and don't Dems realize you can never raise taxes in a weak economy? In reality, 95% of Americans received a refund of nearly $3000, a 10% increase from the previous year. Moreover, the Obama tax cuts concentrated on working poor and the middle class. Families in the bottom quintile received an average cut of $604 from the 2009 tax cut legislation. The same group received an average of $22 from the Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2006, despite Bush's repeated insistance that they were a boon for all Americans.

Is it necessary to point out that the bulk of Obama's tax cut went to the middle class, which will mostly spend it, and Bush's cuts, which went overwhelmingly to the rich, who mostly save it?

2. "Conservative tax policies helped the rich the most, and left everyone else poorer."

This has become indisputable. When conservative economic policies are in place, wealth is distributed upwards. See their links and then read The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett to understand why inequality is so pronounced in the US, and why it is hurting us.

3. "It's the wealthy and corporations, not working Americans, who avoid taxes."

Right again; I really need to develop this single issue, that the wealthy, especially the super-wealthy, have untold numbers of ways to avoid taxes not available to others, because it is one that most Americans don't really understand, and for an entire generation we have listened to Republicans howl about high taxes, welfare queens, and how lazy, indolent, slackers are sucking big bucks from the wealthy, who, of course, earned it all fair and square through pluck and diligence. 
This is some serious bullshit, but it points to the ability of Republicans to creat a politically advantageous framework; that real Americans, the ones from the heartland, are hardworking, sensible, and vote Republican. The poor and disadvantaged are actually lazy and dishonest, don't you see? They are just gaming the system, and wouldn't you know it, they usually vote Democrat. 

Nice framing, except that it is nonsense. As the site says, with data from the Government Accountability Office, "A whopping two-thirds of American corporations and foreign corporations doing business in the United States pay absolutely no federal income taxes—despite taking in $2.5 trillion in sales."

Meanwhile, here is David Stockman, Reagan's budget director. He is effectively acknowledging the unsustainability of Reaganomics, especially the obsession over tax cuts, an idea which has infected Republicans ever since.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

They Will Never Be Satisfied

President Obama continues to get very little credit for what his administration has accomplished. He has lost some support with progressives because he has yet to make good on issues that matter to them, including DADT, overturning heavy-handed Bush-era policies such as indefinite detentions, Guantanomo, domestic wire-tapping, and that little thing called the (two) wars. Jobs continue to concern us all. And Wall Street reform, so proudly hailed by the White House, will do little to curtail the dysfunctional personalities that flock to finance, where greed, aggressiveness, and a sociopathic disregard for the welfare of others are so obscenely rewarded.

And yes, Obama, and numerous other Dems crapped out on health care reform. Although Fox News won't mention it, public support for a public option was very high during the negotiations. Support dropped only when it became clear that we were geting the shitty version, the one that allowed the insurance companies to continue to rip us off.  More than a few progressives now believe the White House never was committed to a public option. So there are reasons why many progressives, myself included, are ambivalent about his tenure so far.

Conservatives have no excuses for their animosity, other than to admit their addiction to partisan politics leaves them no choice but to continually confirm they are intellectual prostitutes.  And confirm they do: They look especially ridiculous as they howl that Obama has shackeled business, that the mini-reforms on Wall Street will destroy wealth, or that our deficits keep spiraling out of control.

The President deserves some perspective in light of the steaming pile that Bush handed him in January of 2009, coupled with the abject refusal of Republicans to offer anything other than exactly the policies that got us here.  Deregulate Wall Street? Tax cuts for millionaires? Attack the deficit by hobbling social security? That's why they are intellectual prostitutes.

Have a look at the chart below. It shows some data you will never hear from Mitch McConnell.

Right, five straight quarters of growth. The White House had the economy expanding after only six months. Don't think Obama was the reason? You can sure as hell bet the Bush or McCain White House would have stepped up to take credit. As it is, many in the media act as if the recession began when Obama took office and that eight years of Bush mismanagement never happened.

Now watch the video of Chris Hays sitting in for Rachel Maddow. Record profits for corporate America, rising stock prices, out-sized bonuses. They even got their auto industry back. It's all there.

This is a big fat Happy Thanksgiving for corporate America. Instead they whine. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Updates on GM

GM has gone public again, and with significant investor interest. Many in the media seem to have forgotten how close to disaster GM came, and how dramatic the fallout would have been, at GM as well as its massive supply chain. 

There is a excellent write-up by "thebigotbasher" on GM's coming out party at The Conservative Lie. Give it a read. I'll just amplify here that Republicans are pretty miserable shits for trying to talk down GM's prospects. It seems clear they do not want to see GM succeed, at least for the next two years, because that success story will be forever linked to President Obama. They have been howling about Obama's heavy socialist hand on GM for months. They, of course, are suggesting that government do nothing, and let the magical free market pass its verdict on GM, and Chrysler as well. They do this because GM's failure will be forever linked to Obama. Dick Cheney, who is so often wrong, was not wrong in 2008 when he urged Republicans to get behind a bailout. He knew, and publicly stated, that if GM went under with Bush in the White House, the Republican Party would be seen as the party of Hoover.

Speaking of (mostly)Republican disparagements on GM, Jay Bookman suggests conservatives might want to issue a recall of their past public statements. He has an excellent compendium of quotes from critics who were convinced that govenment aid to GM was complete heresy. Here are just a few:
    “Every dollar spent with GM is a dollar spent against free enterprise.” -talk-show host Hugh Hewitt

    “Now the government has forced taxpayers to buy these failing companies without any plausible plan for profitability. Does anyone think the same government that plans to double the national debt in five years will turn GM around in the same time?”– U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C

    “I see no hope whatsoever for the situation. I think the $50 billion might as well be kissed goodbye. I would expect that this is just the beginning.”– conservative policy consultant Wendell Cox
You might think Republicans would have a bit more confidence. When Chrysler needed government support in the 1980s, far-left socialist Ronald Reagan was there. Chrysler recovered, paid back its loans, and was viable for a generation.

There is so much more on this, including the caveat that it remains to be seen how GM will ultimately turn out, but I got to get out of here for now. 

Gotta get a bird.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Health Care May Get Worse Before It Gets Better

I see where our beloved health care industry, the world's best most profitable, gave $86 million to the US Chamber of Commerce trying to defeat last year's health care legislation. I guess they have to protect that gravy train.

Meanwhile, yet another study has been released which lays bare our deficient health care. Reuters reports that a study by the Commonwealth Fund shows ..."that while Americans pay far more per capita for healthcare, they are unhappier with the results and less healthy than people in other rich countries."

The Fund's data also revealed that 20% of adults in America had significant problems paying medical bills. Only 2% in Britain and 9% in France reported similar problems.

The single biggest difference, it strikes me, between health care in the US and elsewhere in the OECD is that in the United States, health care is compelled by conservative economic doctrine to be a profit center. And if doctrine is not enough, what with all those pesky socialists, powerful interests, with their lobbyists and paid-for politicians, will work to make it happen, on their terms. Elsewhere in the OECD, the focus is on low cost health care for all, not profits. Yes, I know; it drives conservatives wild--it can't work if someone isn't making money off of it.

Thus, the primary purpose of the health insurance industry is to turn a profit, not to care for the sick. Only this would explain why a nation can so ineffectively care for millions, especially the poor and others who cannot get insurance.  What we have had are highly profitable insurance companies that were able to cherry pick their customers, and ignore or abandon those who threaten profits.

Health care reform was supposed to address at least some of the most egregious aspects, all of which the health care industry fought like crazy to protect. Current legislation is deeply flawed, but hey, it was a start. The egregious, and some might say inevitable flaw, is that taxpayers will now pay for those previously rejected, which is ok, but without cost controls on the insurers, which is not. Lots of new customers and no one saying you can't raise your premiums. That single condition explains why the health care bill ultimately passed.

And with Republicans, fortified with a gaggle of ignorant and strident teabaggers, about to take back control of the House, I am not expecting any progress.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Evidence Tax Cuts at the Top Don't Work

Democrats, at least some of them, and many in the progressive blogosphere, have been making a set of arguments on tax cuts, and why they should not be extended to the very wealthy. It is very simple, though it clearly makes little difference to Republicans set on rewarding their benefactors. The evidence against tax cuts may be on our side; the power to implement stupid policy is clearly on theirs, especially if President Obama, in his obsessive quest for bipartisanship, wilts in the face of the constant right-wing haranging.

Yet more evidence of the ineffectiveness of marginal tax-rate reduction comes from Moody's Analytics, an outfit that has long served hand in glove with Wall Street. As reported in Bloomberg, Moody's Analytics recognizes that Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 largely resulted in increased savings for the very wealthy. As Chris Cornell, an economist who researched the issue for Moody's, states, “I would tend to wonder how much the tax cut actually influences spending behavior...Spending by the top 5 percent of households seems much more closely tied to business-cycle issues than it does to tax-cut issues.”

Of course, Chris; wealthy households have far more than they know what to productively do with already. Giving them a tax break just compounds the effect.

Despite this, Republican leaders, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell in particular, continue to make the case that we must plunge ourselves further into debt roughly $700 billion so that rich people will have even more.  And they do this while howling that we must cut the deficit. That's chutzpah.

I suppose they deserve some sort of credit. No matter how inane their arguments may be, no matter the evidence that contradicts them, and no matter how blatant their class-warfare rhetoric may sometimes be, they remain consistent on some level. They know how, as Matt Taibbi puts it, "to set big groups of voters off angrily chasing their own tails in response to media-manufactured nonsense, with the Tea Party being a classic example of the phenomenon."

And they know Wall Street, having thrown shitloads on money at Repubicans, expects a return on its investment. And they know how to deliver, don't they?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Wage Theft

Wage theft, the systemic cheating of workers' pay by corporate America, does not get much coverage in our corporate-owned press. It should.

It isn't because of a lack of data. See for reams of documented cases of workers being cheated in sundry ways. In particular, see their document, Broken Laws, Unprotected Workers on their front page (click the link called "Download the national report here"). It shows why corporations hate unions; they want their workers cheap, disorganized, and unable to fight back.

America's favorite store, Walmart, has a lengthy rap sheet of charges, lawsuits, and fines levied against the giant retailer because it has cheated its workers out of their pay.

Sheesh, the pay and shitty benefits packages aren't low enough already? Al Norman has some good data on these criminals, Walmart executives, though I don't think you will see any of them getting busted on Cops.

As Al Norman Writes:

In December of 2008 Wal-Mart released a staggering list of 63 separate wage and hour lawsuits that had been settled by the company, at cost ranging from $352 million to $640 million, depending on various trial court approvals.

One month later, in January of 2009, Wal-Mart announced another $54 million settlement in a case from Minnesota, followed later by a $172 million settlement in California.

On May 12, 2010, Wal-Mart issued a press release explaining that it had settled two more wage and hour lawsuits, in the so-called Ballard et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores, and the Smith et al. v. Wal-Mart Stores cases -- both from California. The two cases, which were combined, affect more than a couple hundred thousand workers who had to wait years to get the compensation that Wal-Mart owed them.

Finally, have I look at the video below. Its called Wage Theft: The Crime Wave No One Talks About, featuring Kim Bobo, executive director of Interfaith Worker Justice.

Sweet Jesus, I hate these fucking criminals.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Republicans: We Should Keep Doing As Before

This is truly nutty. Republicans in the House kept howling about the budget deficit in the face of the much-needed, and undersized, stimulus package. Now they insist that extending the Bush tax cuts to America's wealthiest must take priority, even though it is undesputed that doing so will add dramatically to the deficit, just as Bush's original tax cuts did.

Back then, in 2001, some Republican ideologues insisted that massive tax cuts would not contribute to the deficit for reasons associated with supply-side doctrine. They were fantastically wrong in the 1980s when the concept first appeared with Reagan. They were hugely wrong again during Bush the Lesser's Reign of Error. Yet some Republicans will still announce that they are supply-siders.

Really? That is some powerful cognitive dissonance you got going there.

The official reason for extending the tax cuts is that they will create jobs. Right, the people at the very top, which are the ones who stand to benefit, already have a greater proportion of our national wealth than at any time since the Gilded Age. And yet the rich will rush out and hire someone if they can just get a tax cut.  They don't have enough money yet; is that it?

Republicans willfully ignore the preponderance of data that shows tax cuts for those already rich is a notoriously ineffective way to create jobs (unlike stimulus spending on infrastructure).  And they are asking us to forget how we got in the current mess in the first place. All those tax cuts created plenty of jobs during Bush's tenure, except that they didn't.

Instead Republicans shamelessly argue that we must reel in social security even though, by law, social security pays for itself, and cannot contribute to the national deficit.

See Sabrina1's excellent article, The Terrible Cost of the Bush Tax Cuts, for more on the legacy of the tax cuts, and links to analyses that explain why they are ineffective policy tools.   

One would be at a loss to explain their idiotic determination to implement such misinformed policies only if one believed the Republicans actually mean what they say. They don't: they are not interested in the deficit, job creation, or helping main street. And they don't give a damn about bipartisanship. Their overriding interests are to consolidate political power and to deliver on the wish lists of Wall Street in particular, and Corporate America in general. They may sound like hypocrites, thugs, and intellectual buffoons to some of us. They don't care.

Like I said, nutty times.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Reagan's Legacy II

Republicans continue to get hard-ons every time Ronald Reagan's name is mentioned. It is part of the authoritarian personality to show loyalty and demonstrate obsequiousness to authority figures, which, for Republicans, Reagan certainly is. Logical rigor, self-awareness of internal inconsistencies and a willingness to examine conflicting evidence are characteristics that don't rank very high, as the video below shows.

Have a look; it's Cenk Uygur, doing what so few in the mainstream media have bothered to acknowledge. 

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Two Years and It Has Come to This

Given a choice between voting and staying home, my argument continues to be that skipping the vote was a hugely counterproductive decision. A no vote for a Dem last Tuesday was a vote for Republicans. Even if you did not care for your particular pol, voting could have helped keep Dems in control of the House. That control is now gone. So for the 72% of registered Democrats that did not vote, thanks for nothing.

Mark Morford hits the non-voters hard in this piece. He shows particular irritation for the youngest voters, the 18-24 crowd, who made such a difference in '08. I share that view because on Tuesday we had stark and simple choices. Our preferred choices may not have been there, but we all still had a simple decision to make: Do you really want the Republicans back in power?

Having said that, I understand and share the concerns of the panel on the clip below. I especially enjoy Cenk Uygur. In the last 12-18 months Cenk has blasted Obama repeatedly over his failure to be more responsive to those who voted him into power as well as the agenda he, Obama, declared so often on the campaign trail. Progressives would likely have been far more patient with Obama if he had made it clear that he was truly working for them. Yet it is not at all clear that is the case. Watch the clip; it has some serious discussion on the hole into which Obama has helped dig himself.

If you are not familar with Cenk Uygar, by all means visit the young turks. You can easily find him on You-tube as well.

Friday, November 5, 2010

How the Dems Let the Right Wing Back in the Game

I hate to say it, and hate to see it, but Paul Jay of The Real News is pretty much spot on. Of course, there were other reasons as well; Obama Derangement Syndrome, chronic national amnesia, and a deeply misinformed public.

More at The Real News

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Some Good News, But Mostly Bad

I am not happy about Tuesday's election results, with a few major exceptions, but I am going to hold off on diving into the mess, especially since so many others will do so in the next few days. I'll let the dust settle a bit, and see where we can go from here. 

However, I do want to share with you some commentary from Robert Parry. I have a similar take: I am reminded of, and strangely comforted by, the studies that show that so many American voters do not know what they are talking about and voting on. There is a swath of ignorance in this country that is both astonishing and depressing.  And more on that later as well.  

As Robert Parry has put it:
"This Republican strategy that Reagan popularized in the early 1980s has – over the past three decades – returned the United States to a second Gilded Age of extreme wealth at the top, a shrinking middle class, growing desperation among the working classes, rampant stock speculation, and a bubble-and-bust economy.

Yet amazingly, millions of Americans went to the polls on Tuesday and voted for this approach. In Rust Belt states – such as Ohio and Pennsylvania – which have substantial interest in manufacturing jobs related to the auto industry, voters punished Democrats who saved General Motors and Chrysler, and favored Republicans who would have blocked the bailout.

Voters also sent the conflicting message that they wanted the federal government to focus on 'jobs, jobs, jobs' but also cut the deficit. They then empowered Republicans whose major idea for job creation is to slash taxes for the richest top two percent of Americans, an approach that has been ineffective in job creation but is expected to add about $700 billion in red ink over the next decade."

We political scientists have a technical term to describe this behavior: "fucking idiots."

On the other hand, I was extremely pleased that Colleen Hanabusa emerged victorious in her effort to take back Hawaii's first congressional district. In a race that the media frequently called "hotly contested," or somesuch, Colleen won 53% of the vote (to Djou's 47%). Still, only 55.7% of registered voters went to the trouble to vote.

Another plus was that Democrat Neil Abercrombie easily defeated Republican Duke Aiona in the race for Governor. And when you include the clear victories by Senator Dan Inouye and Representative Mazie Hirono, it was a Democratic sweep for Hawaii's congressional delegation.

Colleen's victory celebration was packed and festive. I am honored to have been able to contribute in some small way.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

"Ask Yourself Which America You Want"

I am headed out the door for a last round of phone banking for Colleen Hanabusa. Russell Simmons provides an appropriate backdrop for what is at stake.

"Don't Vote and We'll Get the Alice in Wonderland Congress From Hell."